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November 2004

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  • Getting regulators to understand complex industries is hard. Insurance companies are finding it harder than most. They are concerned current accounting proposals don't reflect their basic business model, let alone regional and product differences.
  • The senior executive at a French bank leans forward urgently and semi-conspiratorially. After a wide-ranging discussion on the familiar list of hedge fund risks – excessive leverage, style drift, survivor bias in performance figures – he finally has something significant to relate.
  • The Islamic capital market proves its capacity to fund one of the biggest ever deals outside the oil and gas sector in the Middle East.
  • French government and state agency issues have driven France's bond markets this year, with index-linked bonds taking a healthy share. Corporate issuance has been meagre by comparison, but loan markets have been active, M&A looks set to recover and IPOs have performed well, with a solid foundation of privatization issues.
  • Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein is offering UK retail investors a new way into hedge funds by launching the country's first certificates tracking a hedge fund index. These certificates will track the HFRX Global Index, HFR's investable index, and can be traded on the London Stock Exchange. DrKW believes that they offer retail investors an efficient and accessible way into hedge fund performance at a lower cost and for smaller amounts. "We offer daily liquidity and T+3 settlement so the trackers can be traded like equities," says Shahzad Sadique, UK head of covered warrants at DrKW.
  • Prime brokerage revenues could more than double over the next five years to $11.5 billion, according to financial services technology consultancy Celent.
  • There's not much hedge fund managers won't do to raise money and become stars – and not just in working hours.
  • The Gherkin might be London's most celebrated new building but it isn't popular with all those who work in it.
  • Turks of all classes were jubilant about the European Commission's decision last month that their country was ready to negotiate for EU membership. But it soon became apparent that this implied further substantial reform. Sceptics point out reforms already written into law are barely being implemented.
  • Luis Valls, the former co-chairman of Banco Popular, was reflecting on his decision to step down from his post last month. "I've often discussed with politicians the theory that if you face unavoidable decisions early then you can avoid periods of instability," he said. "That is good for the health of the organization as much as it is for oneself."
  • Current data suggest a gradual tailing off of the house price boom is likely in OECD countries. But there's still room for a sharp decline that could fuel recession and have a serious impact on overstretched banking systems and agency lenders.
  • Belief that a single number can capture the degree of risk being taken within a bank or an investment is mistaken, especially when that number is value at risk. Markus Leippold explains why the measure is flawed, points to the dangers of its widespread acceptance by regulators and investors, and suggests an alternative.
  • UK regulator the FSA has given the fund management industry the opportunity to devise its own more transparent system of client commissions. But there is an impending time limit, and a crucial area - the creation of a competitive marketplace for research - is proving a recalcitrant problem.
  • India's Congress-led coalition government has forged agreements with leftist allies to maintain economic liberalization and reforms initiated by the previous administration. But the left has forced it to limit new openings for foreign investment and queried some privatization strategies.
  • In Soviet Russia "speculator" was one of the worst of insults. It summed up all the pejorative associations of capitalist activity that the socialist state instilled in its citizens.
  • When Serbian president Boris Tadic shook hands with Croatian counterpart Stjepan Mesic at a Euromoney conference last month, the sense of history was palpable. This was the first time these two heads of states had met. It was also the first time that a Serbian president had visited Dubrovnik since the historic Croatian port city was badly damaged by shelling during the Yugoslav civil war in October 1991.
  • Panama's economy is set to face the biggest challenge in the Republic's 100-year history. A key decision on whether to press ahead with a project to increase the capacity of the Panama Canal and, more important, to find a way to pay the $5 billion it will cost, is due to be taken shortly.
  • The guest list at the second anniversary party for Hong Kong boutique spa Sense of Touch is a Rolodex of the city's female business elite. As markets rise in the region, so it seems do the stress levels of female bankers, lawyers and other professionals. So they are beating a path to this little shop in SoHo for massages, facials and other pampering.
  • Are Russians getting soft? Mikhail Gorbachev tried - unsuccessfully - to curb vodka drinking. These days, though, it's the hazards of a boom in beer drinking that exercise legislators
  • The covered bond market is growing fast on heavy demand for alternatives to supra/agency debt and on buoyant supply as more and more countries pass enabling legislation. Pfandbriefe might still dominate but expansion is bringing in its wake a wide variety of variants on this classical model.
  • The latest entry route to the lucrative wealth management business appears to be via the back office. Fidelity, which has provided technology services through its brokerage business to family offices for more than a decade, is now creating a stand-alone business that will provide family offices in the US with a platform offering technology-based solutions and wealth management services.
  • With a history as old as the telephone itself, AT&T used to dominate US telecommunications. Now, after strategic blunders involving the disposal of key building blocks of business growth, its rump looks like a bite-sized takeover target. It might even have to sell at a discount to today's price.
  • Few Russian companies have done foreign IPOs, and even fewer have issued domestically. That looks set to change in the next 12 months. Investors should expect more diversity, some big winners - and one or two unpleasant surprises.
  • A five-year battle between the European Commission and Germany came to a head in October as the commissioner for internal markets launched a lawsuit against the German government for flouting EU competition rules. The state has refused to offload its "golden share" in Volkswagen, Europe's biggest car maker, which prevents a hostile foreign takeover.
  • The SEC is pursuing more and more hedge fund abuses. It hopes that requiring managers to register, as passed by the regulator on October 26, will eradicate the problem. It won't. Investors need to see independent valuations.
  • As Singapore moves to meet the challenges of globalization and the greater influence of China and India, once-sleepy Temasek Holdings has been told to hike returns and promote a new vision. The result: frenetic activity.
  • Following more than a decade of stagnation, the world's second-largest equity market has revived this year. Although the key index, the Nikkei 225, is currently flat year to date, the market has bounced back throughout the year such that at one point the index was up more than 17% from its opening levels. The encouraging performance coupled with more volatility has fuelled a recovery in Japan's IPO market that shows few signs of abating.
  • Heinrich Pecina muses on his 15 years working in banking in central and eastern Europe. "It's a strange thing," he says, "but whenever I have worked for a larger institution in the region, after my departure it has ceased to exist." You could call it the curse of Pecina. He started his banking career working for Girozentrale. After he left it in 1990 it was taken over by Erste Bank. He then joined Creditanstalt as head of investment banking, where for the next seven years he built up the firm's brand as one of central and eastern Europe's top investment banks.
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