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March 2004

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  • Private investor
  • RediPlus didn't get much of a mention at the time of the acquisition of Spear Leeds Kellogg by Goldman Sachs. Most of the focus was either on the price, initially $6.5 billion, or on what seemed to be an about-face by the investment bank. SLK was best known as a specialist, the market maker on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Goldman had been a prolific investors in its nemesis, the electronic trading platforms, and seemed to regard the specialist model as unsustainable.
  • Standing in his office in Raffeisen's headquarters in Vienna, RZB International's chairman Herbert Stepic points with pride to a large world map dotted with small RZB flags showing the bank's outlets around the globe, including branches in China, Singapore and New York, and recently-opened subsidiaries in Albania and Belarus. His office is more like that of a Cecil Rhodes-type imperial pioneer than a banker, filled as it is with African sculptures and Chinese tapestries.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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".
  • 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.
  • Banks and lawyers in the US face confusion over the tests used to determine their liability on securities fraud.
  • At first blush, Thai Union Frozen Products Public Company seems to be a poster child of the new Thai economy.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Source: is Europe's leading financial commentary service
  • 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.
  • KfW's platform to securitize portfolios of loans to SMEs in Germany has broadened opportunities for the banks involved. It is far from clear, though, that these lenders have taken the steps needed to enhance margins on this business. Katie Martin reports.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Country risk index: The strong currency is damaging economic performance in the eurozone. But the outlook for some emerging markets is brighter, thanks to rising commodity prices and improving prospects for Asia. Paul Pedzinski and Andrew Newby report.
  • 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 Dominican Republic, formerly a star regional economic performer, is officially the most risky country in the Caribbean in 2004. After the collapse of one of the nation's largest banks, investors are looking to presidential elections this May as a way out of the financial gloom. "The country is going through a very delicate time," says Carl Ross, head of Latin American sovereign research at Bear Stearns in New York.
  • Enthusiasts for a Caribbean free trade zone see an opportunity to boost the region's economies. Sceptics recognize the value of this goal but point to many obstacles in the way of greater integration. Leticia Lozano reports.
  • Central bank and government profligacy in the west and Japan looks set to buoy up the gold price for some time to come.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.