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March 1999

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  • A good dose of Anglo-Saxon culture is what the European Central Bank needs on its executive board, and the quickest way to achieve that is for the UK to join the euro. This isn't UK prime minister Tony Blair speaking, it's Francesco Giavazzi, economics professor at Bocconi University in Milan.
  • "I know success is hard to write about, but you should congratulate the entire financial services industry - the banks, the broker dealers, the custodians, the clearing systems, the market-data providers - for their efficiency, commitment, resilience and professionalism," says Jacques Favillier, Emu project co-ordinator at Dresdner Kleinwort Benson. Several weeks after the birth of the euro, there is still a note of faint disbelief in Favillier's voice that financial markets didn't suffer major disruptions during the changeover weekend. "It's been a big surprise. It's gone far better than I thought," he says.
  • "Clear your desk!" They're terrifying words in most offices. But if you work for ABN Amro, fear not. It's just part of the bank's "clean desk campaign".
  • Talking of Deutsche Bank, when the twin towers give up on Russia it's time to take stock. The bank has had a relationship with the country for a century and more - a relationship someone senior in Frankfurt must think worth preserving at the expense of almost total write-off. But should the bank have caved in? After all, the Russians have generally shown no willingness to accept that the default by a former superpower on its government debt is a serious matter.
  • It's just over two weeks since Márcio Cypriano was named president of Banco Bradesco, Latin America's largest private-sector bank. He's relaxed about it, often chuckling as he formulates an answer. Márcio Artur Laurelli Cypriano's laid-back attitude should be helpful in an environment in which currencies and the rules of the game change frequently. Referring to the Brazilian government's disastrous attempt to make an 8% controlled devaluation of the real on January 13, followed by the currency's collapse when it was allowed to float on January 15, Cypriano says: "In 50 years, we've had 19 currencies and indexers. Many times the indexers are confused with a currency."
  • For a country crippled by bloody civil war, Sri Lanka has seen dramatic progress in privatization over the last three years. Even as bombs blew up the heart of Colombo's business district in October 1997 - an area housing the central bank, the Colombo stock exchange, the Securities Exchange Commission and the Bank of Ceylon - the country earned record revenues from privatization. The sale of the country's telecom monopoly, its second-largest development bank, half a dozen small state companies and several plantation companies, raised SLR22.5 billion ($336 million) in 1997, contributing 11.5% of total government revenue. The budget deficit for 1997 fell to 7.9% from 9.4% in the previous year, no mean achievement for a country that spends around 5% of its GDP on security.
  • Antipathy between the Inter-American Development Bank's biggest shareholders -Brazil and the US - is long-standing. But when Brazil faced financial ruin they struck a new deal: the IDB can now fund IMF-style emergency lending programmes, and turn its soft-currency reserves into concessionary loans. But the bank's smaller members resent how the deal was done, and it has stoked up political and ideological differences among the staff. Brian Caplen reports.
  • The Nordic region, with its concentration of internationally recognized corporates, prosperous retail markets and developed capital markets, is an attractive prize. The race to become the regional powerhouse is on. Euan Hagger reports.
  • A slowdown in domestic economic growth and meltdown in Russia and Brazil have put pressure on financial institutions across the Andean region. Justine Newsome examines what it will take for the banks to survive the storm.
  • Bankers who risk billions every day at work often turn out to be adrenaline addicts in their spare time. Guy Hands, the UK's highest-paid financier and enigmatic leader of Nomura's principal finance group is one such. He has just pumped a sizeable chunk of his £40 million-a-year package into Rockingham motor-racing track in Northamptonshire, the first purpose-built oval track to open in the UK since 1907.
  • One does not mess with the head of the Botín clan, Spain's most powerful banking dynasty, even if you happen to be the boss's daughter.
  • Behind the thriving anarchy of China's coastline there's an industrial hinterland that is depressed, debt-ridden and still largely state-controlled. Few bosses of the state-owned enterprises there have the power to cut their workforce or pay bonuses. Even if they do, the state-owned banks are keeping them and the competition on life-support. Overcapacity, pollution and poverty are omnipresent, part-mitigated by the huge Three Gorges Dam project, which employs 25,000 people and will displace two million. Euromoney's Steven Irvine followed investment scout Richard Tsiang into the interior to see China's true economic heartland - a textile company that raise pigs, a salt plant with its eyes on a broadcast-equipment producer and a television factory that wants to give away its products
  • The euro will fall by a further 10% against the dollar and reach parity with the US currency within a year.
  • In the film "Blame it on Rio", Michael Caine plays a middle-aged man with marital problems who falls for his best friend's daughter during a holiday in Rio de Janeiro. The heady atmosphere of one of the world's most alluring cities is apparently the cause of this lapse in judgement. If only it were just a movie.
  • The launch of the euro seems to have strengthened German banks' competitive advantage, rather than undermining it as some had expected. Despite increased competition, the capital market is going from strength to strength. And feeding on this growth is Frankfurt - home to the European Central Bank - fast becoming the financial epicentre of euroland. Is this all too good to last? Laura Covill reports.
  • Bankers might be forgiven for thinking that when lawyers get their teeth into a juicy case they make it run and run. But, warns Christopher Stoakes, we have still to hear the last of the swaps cases
  • While Europe's states integrate, its regions come to the fore as economic actors. None is more determined to make itself noticed than the Basque Country, historically one of Europe's leading financial and industrial centres. It's part of a growing club of regions who tap international capital markets, looking for cheap funds and self-promotion. It's also a standard-bearer for the argument that euroland regions can be better credits than states. Marcus Walker reports.
  • After months of frustration, the foreign banks negotiating repayment of Russian debt are as divided among themselves as they are against the Russian government. Deutsche Bank's decision to accept the latest offer while leading a 19-bank committee still fighting over terms has caused uproar. Individual banks now have to decide whether to follow Deutsche's example or take legal action in a last-ditch attempt to recover some of the $40 billion in rouble debt on which the government defaulted last August. Jack Dyson reports.
  • There is a growing backlash - academic and political - against privatization. Influential figures have even argued for re-nationalization. But given the wealth of evidence in favour of privatization, this would be a disaster, argues James Smalhout.
  • Olivetti's bid for Telecom Italia will prove a watershed in European corporate finance whether it succeeds or not. First, it shows that the orgy of shareholder value-linked corporate restructuring promised by proponents of the euro will happen, and faster than anyone predicted. Second, it is proof that, however much Europeans may try to prevent it, what happens in the US eventually happens in Europe. This is an unprecedented hostile leveraged bid. At a stroke every European corporation has been forced to acknowledge that it is in play. And at a stroke it has created a US-style environment for investment banks, their corporate advisory teams and the leveraged lenders. Right now all over the eurozone corporations are hiring investment banks to explore defences and acquisitions of their own.
  • As Brazil picks up the pieces after its currency devaluation, it needs to fight off spiralling inflation and recession. The country's ability to regain investor confidence is crucial to the whole of Latin America. Jonathan Wheatley reports
  • The euro is expected to speed the growth of a US-style market in local-authority bonds. In euroland, nations now matter less: cities and regions are becoming economic and financial actors in their own right. Banks are fighting hard to woo them as clients. But would-be investors aren't happy with the poor liquidity. What does this fast-growing market need to succeed? Marcus Walker reports.
  • Merrill Lynch Mercury Asset Management reports that UK FTSE 350 companies, excluding banks, are sitting on £65 billion ($108 billion) of cash, most of it placed on deposit in the interbank market. It further estimates that European corporations, insurance companies and pension funds are together rolling over some $561 billion of liquidity, mainly through interbank deposits. Corporates account for some 70% of that liquidity. These companies haggle with their banks to cut liability costs by a few basis points. They should ask themselves whether they are also earning a competitive return on their cash assets.
  • The comparison between poacher and gamekeeper was inevitable from the moment the Brazilian government put forward Armínio Fraga Neto's name as the new central bank president in February. In a matter of weeks Fraga has gone from star Wall Street investor to stout defender of the real, a currency tattered by repeated attacks from traders.
  • A shiver went through the international markets in February. The disaster in Russia entered a new phase as Unexim, the country's fourth-largest bank by assets, defaulted on its Eurobonds - bonds that are usually held sacrosanct.
  • With non-performing loans at some Thai banks running at horrifying rates, it's perhaps understandable that tough collection methods are needed, but isn't hiring martial arts experts a step too far?
  • It's not a new idea, but aficionados say it was never more relevant than today. To reduce the gross settlement exposures in the $1.2 trillion a day foreign exchange market a handful of banks and brokers have been working on a new way to trade the rates without having to send over the gross amount. They just settle the difference between the spot rate at the time the transaction was agreed, and the rate at delivery.
  • As a wave of consolidation sweeps much larger banking markets in Europe, Portugal's banks are eyeing up potential acquisitions and merger partners. Will limited alliances provide the scope the banks need to compete on the wider European stage? Or are they natural targets for acquisitive banks in Spain and elsewhere? Margaret Popper reports.
  • Developing countries don't need central banks, argues Steve Hanke. They may not even need their own currencies. Argentina should lead the way by unilaterally adopting the dollar.
  • Oman has recently opened the first interbank repo market in the Gulf and East African region. One of the quietest success stories in the world, this small Gulf country is helping to ensure future growth by the establishment of a modern financial and banking system.