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March 2004

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LATEST ARTICLES

  • Private investor
  • Source: www.breakingviews.comis Europe's leading financial commentary service Sanofi's attempted e48 billion takeover of Aventis is just the latest in a string of merger moves in the drugs sector over the past decade. To get an idea of the scale of the activity, consider that the market share of the top 10 companies has risen from 25% in 1988 to around 50% today. And there is much further to go, as pill-making is still a highly fragmented activity compared with other sectors of the economy.
  • The UK has avoided adding an extra layer of complexity to M&A transactions after a legal ruling that the Office of Fair Trading can maintain a degree of discretion in assessing proposed deals. The ruling sends a positive signal that the UK is sympathetic to mergers.
  • ABN AMRO Private Bank has added to the ever-growing jargon bandied about by bankers. "Internet cockpit" is its contribution. The bank's new office in Marbella boasts two of them. The Dutch bank is pulling out all the stops in its latest bid to win international high-net-worth clients with second homes in the Spanish resort. And the internet cockpits seem to be doing the trick. ABN says it has already seen lots of interest, particularly from Dutch clients.
  • Central bank and government profligacy in the west and Japan looks set to buoy up the gold price for some time to come.
  • With just over a year left before they lose the state guarantees that they rely upon for cheap financing, several German Landesbanken still do not have a clear strategy. Investors have reacted by rewarding those that have communicated a strong business plan. Katie Martin reports.
  • Source: www.breakingviews.comis Europe's leading financial commentary service Eric Daniels , the chief executive of Lloyds TSB, has passed over the opportunity to give the UK bank a radical change of direction. Not only that – he has forced out the one board member who was gunning for change, former finance director Philip Hampton.
  • Iran is finding it difficult to cope with high levels of unemployment in a youthful population. Despite vast energy resources, accelerated reform is vital if the economy is to be transformed. Kate Luxford reports.
  • Lehman Brothers has finally finished moving its London headquarters from its slightly gloomy premises in Broadgate to its shiny new tower in Docklands, joining Standard & Poor's and Bank of America as new residents in what is now London's key financial district. The building is so new that the local cab drivers haven't worked out how to get to it yet. And the building is very striking. In keeping with the big banks' one-upmanship in glitzy foyer design, it is super sleek and modern.
  • Asia's leaders are playing a dangerous game of poker with the US, accumulating dollar reserves even as the US currency falls. Excess liquidity is driving stock markets in Asia and threatens to inflate bubbles while economic restructuring is patchy. The game cannot continue indefinitely: the end could be ugly. Chris Leahy reports.
  • India's bond and equity markets spurted into action last month as the government announced over $3 billion-worth of sales of shares in six companies. Indian companies and banks will also tap the market for another $2 billion, about half of which will be foreign currency debt. In addition, the Asian Development Bank closed a $110 million rupee bond, the first local currency bond by a multilateral bank.
  • Iran's banking sector is dominated by five large state-owned commercial banks, accompanied by five smaller ones, which are required to conform to Islamic banking principles. As a rule, the public banks post weak profits, are undercapitalized and over-staffed, and are run by risk-averse managers. James McCormack at Fitch Ratings says the sector's weakness is state induced. "Sectoral credit allocations, deposit rates and lending rates are prescribed by the authorities based on economic development objectives as opposed to credit risk or monetary policy considerations," he says. The banks are thus "direct instruments of public policy". New licences
  • The Dutch B2B group pulls off a large restructuring to survive a liquidity crunch amid heavy trading of its debt by US hedge funds.
  • On February 25, the Bahrain Monetary Agency went on the road to sell a $250 million sukuk – Bahrain's first international Islamic bond. Bahrain's bond follows issues by Qatar and Malaysia. And the news that Citigroup is working with the German state of Saxony-Anhalt on an Islamic bond suggests that, as well as being used to boost the Islamic capital markets, sukuks can be commercially attractive to a broad audience.
  • Alan Greenspan came in for a great deal of criticism following his remarks to Congress at the end of February about social security and deficits. Whether he deserves it or not depends largely on your political colours. But his testimony raises a fundamental issue about ageing populations – an issue that politicians, inside and outside the US, ought to be wrestling with now. In the US today, federal commitments to social security and Medicare programmes are less than 7% of GDP. This is predicted to rise to 12% by 2030. When spending on Medicaid is added in, this percentage will be even higher. These are large sums that will further strain a US budget already crashing back into deficit.
  • At first blush, Thai Union Frozen Products Public Company seems to be a poster child of the new Thai economy.
  • Portuguese banks have come smoothly through the recent slump. But with fewer consolidation opportunities available at home, further growth seems dependent on ventures in neighbouring Spain. Spanish predators still circle. Jules Stewart reports.
  • Indonesia has at last emerged from IMF intensive care to take its own first tentative steps towards full rehabilitation. Banks looks healthier and the country is preparing to return to the international capital markets. Early signs are encouraging, but key challenges lie ahead, including the roll-over of domestic recapitalization bonds. Chris Leahy reports.
  • Offshore bankers are coming under greater scrutiny and pressure to reform. The collapse of Italian dairy products group Parmalat and the EU's decision to target offshore centres and tighten corporate governance have helped to focus the attention of international authorities on this issue.
  • Baudoin Prot, the CEO of BNP Paribas, used a results announcement last month to deny some of the merger rumours involving his firm and to sketch out plans for using the bank's excess capital. As he outlined the bank's 2003 results, which included an impressive 13.1% increase in net income from the corporate and investment banking division, he declined to reveal what BNP Paribas would do if a large US firm bought one of its European rivals. He described such hypothetical strategic plans as "science fiction".
  • Selling off Germany's autobahns and lamp posts are two of the more bizarre proposals of a government desperate to raise cash to bail out an ailing economy. The irony is that while there is broad agreement that changes are needed, the country's consensus system of politics is impeding progress. Ben Aris reports.
  • Iran's State Tax Organization (STO) last month made its ambitions clear: in 2004/05 it is aiming to gather enough tax revenue to cover almost half of government expenditure. To achieve this it needs to record a 38% year-on-year increase in tax collection, or total revenues of almost $11 billion.
  • The US spends and the rest of the world lends. But the US is spending too much, and if Asian central banks don't keep lending, this year could bring unprecedented risk for bond investors. That was the message from Laura D'Andrea Tyson, former chairman of US president Bill Clinton's Council of Economic Advisors, in her keynote address to the 10th Euromoney Bond Investors Congress in London on February 24.
  • Since New York state attorney general Eliot Spitzer went public last year with his investigations into the bias and conflicts of interest in research, the equity research landscape has been changing. A number of analysts at investment banks have set up or joined independent research companies causing a huge influx of new firms on the research scene.
  • Latin American bond markets have maintained unexpected buoyancy so far this year. But the restructuring of Argentina's debt still looms as a prerequisite of the investment flows it needs, and Brazil is yet to institute the reforms that will enable its private sector to generate growth. Trade agreements would help. Felix Salmon reports.
  • The world's largest steel company's M&A team is as big as an investment bank's steel sector corporate finance division. Arcelor reckons, though, that its team's superior sector knowledge makes it more effective at doing deals that enhance core assets, deliver synergies and boost shareholder value. Kathryn Tully reports.
  • How many Deutsche Bank managing directors does it take to change a lightbulb? If last month's press release announcing the hiring in the US of 10 tech bankers from CSFB is any indication, they'd be queuing up round the block.
  • Should vigorous sex be taxed as well as taxing? The German city of Cologne thinks it should.
  • Despite rapid growth in recent years, the investment management industry in China is hampered by volatile flows, strict regulation and an uneasy relationship between fund managers and distributors. Joint ventures with overseas firms have met with mixed success. Julie Dalla-Costa reports.
  • The US extendible MTN market has seen a raft of longer-dated deals of late, tapping investor demand for two- and three-year debt which is not naturally filled by money market instruments or traditional term bond issuance. The standard extendible MTN product is a floating rate note with an initial maturity of 13 months, which investors can elect to extend out to a maximum of five years, with a pre-set pricing step-up every year. These are specifically targeted at money market funds as a higher yielding product, which allow investors to exploit the relative steepness of an issuer's credit curve and still meet 2a7 eligibility requirements.
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