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July 2001

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  • Syrian officials and businessmen understand the need for economic restructuring to take advantage of regional and global opportunities. They are determined, though, to undertake it at their own pace and in ways that do not undermine social cohesion.
  • In a country which had become utterly disillusioned by its politicians’ failure to revive the economy, Japan’s new prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, has quickly won huge popularity with calls for radical reform. Japan certainly needs this. And Koizumi intends to start at the key point, with the country’s ailing banks. But the consequences of reform will certainly be painful. If slowing growth and rising unemployment erode his popularity, the old political inertia may stifle Koizumi’s efforts yet.
  • Euromoney asked Wafic Rida Said, businessman and chairman of the First Saudi Investment Corporation, to offer some thoughts on the opening up of Syria.
  • Is Thailand's prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra just an entrepreneurial businessman in a hurry, anxious to bring to the country the same benefits that he won in the telecoms business, where he became a US dollar billionaire and one of world's richest 500 people in quick time? Or does he just love power so much that he will do anything to keep it?
  • Reform, liberalization, infrastructure investment and international borrowing were among the leading topics of discussion at Euromoney's recent conference. Entitled Saudi Arabia: Financing the Future, this, the largest international conference of its scale in the Kingdom to date, took place on May 29-30 at the Al-Faisaliyah Center in the Olaya district of Riyadh. Euromoney organized and hosted the event along with co-organizer Council Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry and co-host Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority.
  • Speculators may be the stars in a bull market but in a falling one they are the villains.
  • Minister of higher education Hassan Risheh - the ministry with responsibility for pre-university students is run separately - is convinced of the importance of tertiary education to Syria's economic future. "Investment in human resources development (HRD) plays a very important contribution to building a sound economy," he says, "and to building an economy which is able to compete in an era when we are seeing globalization all over the world and the opening of economies all around us. But investment in HRD means a complete reform of the system, which is why we are not only talking now about economic reform but also about educational reform in Syria."
  • Owing to an editing mistake, on page 66 of Euromoney's April edition we said that NIKoil was one of the large Russian companies that western investors had pressed the EBRD not to lend to because of poor corporate governance. We would like to set the record straight. NIKoil is one of the pre-eminent investment banking groups in Russia. As part of its commitment to transparency and disclosure it has adopted international accounting standards and is audited by Andersen.
  • Although relatively underdeveloped, tourism is already Syria's second-biggest foreign exchange earner. With infrastructural and personnel development it could be even more lucrative.
  • It was a pleasant and unexpected surprise. On May 30 in a boardroom showdown between president Vladimir Putin and Rem Vyakhirev, the chief executive officer of Gazprom - Russia's gas monopoly and what the Russian press likes to call a state-within-the-state - Putin ousted what one investor calls "one of the more encrusted of Russia's vested interests".
  • The euroland economy stinks of stagflation. Its politicians are faltering on reform amid electoral paranoia, and the threat to jobs from the global slowdown. That means, combined with the European Central Bank's confused interest-rate policy, that the outlook for capital flows into mainland Europe remains poor. I reckon that will continue to undermine the euro. The place to be in Europe is the UK, where I expect sterling will hold firm, despite the risk of possible early entry into the single-currency system.
  • A strange thing happened after the Federal Reserve, the US central bank, announced its sixth rate cut of the year: nothing. Before and after the other five rate cuts this year the stock market reacted with gusto. This time, there was hardly a flicker of recognition.
  • One reason why Syria feels that it does not need to move ahead as quickly with economic reforms as some other regional countries is that it still has plentiful natural resources. Agriculture, for example, accounts for about one-third of the economy, and has benefited from major efficiency gains over recent years.
  • European airport IPOs and secondary share offerings are keeping equity capital markets teams busy. Vendors hope to raise up to e20 billion from selling shares in airports in the next few years. But the upcoming privatizations of Amsterdam's Schiphol airport and Milan's Società Esercizi Aeroportuali airport authority, along with a secondary offering by Unique, the manager of Zurich Kloten, seem set for a rough ride as local and political issues put a damper on investor enthusiasm.
  • Is there systemic danger lurking in the financial sector? To any regulator worth his or her salt, the answer to that question must always be yes.
  • A private equity investment is for life, or at least until an IPO or trade sale comes along - right? Not necessarily. With IPOs and trade sales proving tricky to pull off today, selling to another private equity firm is becoming more common.
  • Being a minority shareholder in Mexico has never been easy. Despite the promise of high returns on investments against the backdrop of long-term economic growth, the struggle for company information and a say in the running of a company can seem endless.
  • Michael Bloomberg offered journalists his financial wisdom in a speech at the New York Financial Writers' Club dinner at the Marriot Marquis in Times Square last month.
  • Before the break-up of the USSR, a tale was often told of two old men sitting on a bench in front of the Winter Palace in Russia's second city. "Where were you born?" asks the first, "St. Petersburg," the second replies. "Where did you grow up?" "Petrograd." "Where do you live now?" "Leningrad." "Where would you like to live?" "St Petersburg."
  • A growth in bank note forgery is what most worries Spaniards about the introduction of a new currency. The euro could easily become a counterfeiter's dream if Spain's central bank does not take sufficient action to alert businesses and the public. The Bank of Spain (Banco de España) believes it has done so. The problem for the Bank for Spain - and other European central banks - is that to prevent false bills being accepted the public needs to be educated about the euro notes, so that people learn to recognise the new currency and can identify fake notes. On the other hand, to release too much information before the euro is actually in circulation is an invitation to counterfeiters to adjust their printing machines and start producing fake notes well in advance. There is a clear trade-off.
  • Syrians don’t trust domestic banks. Many would rather deposit their cash in Beirut than entrust it to the locals. Reform has a long way to go. Meanwhile the government, undaunted by the weak financial infrastructure, is proposing the establishment of a stock exchange.
  • A report published last month warns City employers that they risk losing the fight to attract and retain top people if they do not adopt more flexible work practices.
  • European private-equity firms escaped the full effects of the tech collapse that hit their US peers so hard last year. But they could hardly escape the atmosphere of panic and have trimmed their sails, avoiding riskier start-up-style ventures and giving more attention to buy-outs and blue-chip companies’ disposals of non-core businesses.
  • Argentina's $29.5 billion sovereign debt exchange deal was a great coup for the banks lead-managing it. Liability management deals are making up for a slowdown in the emerging-market debt business. How much it helped Argentina is less clear. Investors participated for technical reasons, not out of faith that the economy is improving.
  • Sporadically, the lights go out in Damascus, although power cuts tend to be short-lived and much less frequent than they used to be, say local businessmen. Nevertheless, Syria clearly needs to channel funds into its power sector. Today, it has installed generating capacity of some 3,600MW, and will need to add an estimated 2,200MW by 2006, representing an annual increase in demand of 6%, which calls for an investment of just over $1.6 billion.
  • Syria’s commitment to the development of export-oriented sectors and new trade ties is paying off, with new incentives for domestic and foreign investors in place. Privatization, though, is not part of the package and the government is pledged to retain a mixed economy.
  • Pity the securitization banker, spending endless days in gloomy Detroit or tedious Wilmington, Delaware, arranging auto loan or credit-card deals. Wouldn't it be better if asset-backed securities were issued from tropical locations with gorgeous beaches and spectacular volcanoes?
  • The US primary convertible bond market has grown rapidly this year, providing low-cost funding to highly rated corporates at a time when other sources of capital are running dry. The market's proponents claim convertibles have matured into a mainstream financing instrument. But the high degree of structuring suggests that many deals this year have been pure volatility plays sold to a new breed of hedge fund investors that might withdraw as quickly as they appeared.
  • Anne Krueger, Timothy Geithner, Gerd Hausler, Kenneth Rogoff
  • In March 2000, following Syria’s first major cabinet reshuffle for more than a decade, Mohamed Mustafa Mero was appointed as prime minister, replacing Mahmoud Zuabi, who had held the post since 1987. Previously the governor of Aleppo, Mero is widely recognized as being fully committed to economic reform in Syria. Last month in Damascus, he spoke to Euromoney about the outlook for the reform process
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