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September 1999

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  • Just suppose the World Bank's major shareholders decided they could use their money better elsewhere. Who would get the mandate to unwind or sell the bank's loan portfolio and how would it be done? One consultant, who prefers not to be named, suggested this as a hypothetical exercise, but colleagues feared it would be biting the hand that feeds them.
  • Management sages are rife but the office is an unenlightened place. Bob McGinnis, head of consumer asset-backed debt at Greenwich Capital in the US, complained to Euromoney that the French windows in his office didn't open and he couldn't practise his golf swing. When his comments found their way into print he was deluged by self-righteous colleagues and clients deploring his waste of valuable time contemplating leisure. For them the best office is one with no windows and the employees locked inside.
  • Philosophers have debated ethics for thousands of years and come up with more questions than answers. But now a super-smart Swiss asset manager has launched an ethical fund using a quantitative model to determine how naughty or nice companies are. Their efforts may not impress followers of Plato, Kant and Hume but will they persuade socially-concerned investors to part with their cash?
  • Deutsche Bank speaker Rolf Breuer recently boasted that his bank's value-at-risk (VAR) models were the only ones in Germany to be approved by the supervisors in Berlin.
  • Meet the new breed of Asian banker - the ones who survived the crisis and are now able to put their hard-learned lessons into practice. They are leading the way into a new era of openness and transparency in Asia.
  • A new advisory science has been born this year in Europe: how to launch and defend hostile bids. The aggression and free-flowing finance are straight out of America, but the old continent's politics add an extra level of difficulty. The latest landmark battle, following the struggles for Telecom Italia, Gucci and Société Générale, is raging in the French oil sector. TotalFina's raid on Elf Aquitaine, and Elf's counter-attack, highlight once again the primacy of politics in shaping French business. The battle also provides Europe-wide lessons for the M&A tactical manual.
  • Last month Front End had a little jest at the expense of one of the runners in the Chase Corporate Challenge fun run recently held in London's Battersea Park. One brave soul, you may recall, was spotted heading for the finishing line in a Yamaichi T-shirt.
  • Elections have a nasty habit of destabilizing Latin America's fragile financial markets. The latest election-inspired jolt came in July when Eduardo Duhalde, Peronist party candidate for Argentina's presidency, suggested that the country might not need to pay back all its debts. The impact was felt throughout Latin America. Spreads on bonds widened, stock markets fell and currencies weakened. While some Latin issuers have taken advantage of brief windows of opportunity to sell bonds and equities this year, many are struggling to raise finance, while much of the region heads into economic downturn. Michael Peterson reports
  • ARAB 100: Methodology
  • Last year's Russian crisis had one unexpected spin-off. For the first time investors started to differentiate between Russian risk and that of Kazakhstan. It was good news for Kazakhstan as Ted Kim reports.
  • Hyperinflation, a stalled privatization process, a lack of raw materials and a national currency near-impossible to convert have understandably encouraged the view among foreign investors that Belarus is an economic basket-case. But, as Theodore Kim reports, for the adventurous it's one of the cheapest places in the world to do business and it does have an industrial infrastructure so massive that it earned a reputation as the assembly plant of the Soviet Union
  • In the past six months international investors have differentiated central and eastern European countries they once grouped together. Economic performance and market development have varied widely, partly reflecting how badly each country was hit by the Russian crisis. The gap between the richest and poorest is growing, and there is increasing polarization between the first wave of applicants to the EU (Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Estonia, Slovenia), the second (Bulgaria, Romania, Slovak Republic, Lithuania, Latvia), and the former Soviet republics. Rebecca Bream reports on Poland, a leader in attracting foreign interest.
  • The Asian crisis delivered a devastating blow to the region's sprawling conglomerates. For years they diversified and grew rapidly, feeding on a rich diet of debt, much of it in foreign currencies. Then suddenly their markets collapsed and their debt service costs soared. But the bad times are ending and after drastic restructuring the best companies are on the move again. Alex Mathias reports.
  • Last month an earthquake brought Turkey's economy to a temporary standstill. It was already in the throes of a recession. Now it's time to rebuild, take advantage of extra sympathy from the IMF and international capital markets, and perhaps revitalize and reform the country in a way that wasn't politically possible before August 17. Metin Munir reports.
  • Equities might enjoy all the glory at the moment but watch out for credit. This techno-laggard of the financial markets is set for an electronic great leap forward. If proof were needed - even the venerable CBOT has been showing interest. Antony Currie logs on.
  • In the run-up to the European single currency there were expectations of major political changes that might take place after monetary union leading to more decentralized funding, with local authorities and regions issuing more and sovereigns less. Generally in the eurozone this change has been slow in coming. Spain is a key test case. Any significant increase in debt issuance by local authorities may hinge on political horse-trading between the central government and the "fast-track" autonomous regions.
  • "Unreal city," wrote TS Eliot about London in his 1922 poem The Wasteland. If London induced feelings of bewilderment in Eliot one struggles to imagine what he might have thought about Washington DC. Between M Street in Georgetown and Independence Avenue on Capitol Hill are a couple of square miles into which many of the world's most rarefied institutions are concentrated. Here decisions are taken with resounding affects both across the US and the world. Yet the institutions are cocooned from the actualities over which they preside. There is an air of unreality about majestic Washington.
  • The figures are alarming. A worldwide survey by Standard & Poor's shows that 55 rated companies failed in the first half of 1999, defaulting on total debts of $20.5 billion. That easily exceeds the 37 failures and $8.3 billion in defaulted debts in the second half of 1998, when the rising default trend began. What's worrying is that, while common sense and historical data teach that the level and volatility of default rates rises in a recession, the US is in anything but that.
  • The emerging markets are bouncing back - at least some of them are. While they do, the market is holding its breath as crisis-hit countries implement fiscal and monetary reforms. And while economists believe growth rates will improve, they are also resigned to sovereign defaults on foreign debt. Commentary by Rebecca Cicolecchia, research by Alexa Marx.
  • Emerging market bond investors have up to now been extraordinarily ill-served by the index compilers. Only JP Morgan has made a concerted effort to provide a benchmark index to track emerging market debt, and its Emerging Market Bond Index (EMBI) and EMBI+ have as a result become the market standards.
  • As the risk of a round of sovereign bond rescheduling looms, bondholders are dusting off the documentation to see what it says. By Christopher Stoakes
  • A handful of US congressmen have the IMF and World Bank at their mercy. When it comes to fresh capital or even the subject of US withdrawal, these are the guys who have the casting vote, with a mind to their own re-election. Some, like congressman Sonny Callahan, chairman of the House foreign operations committee, are more supportive than others, who'd prefer the IMF to be shut down and the third world left to market forces. The US Treasury and others with a less parochial view have to tread tortuous paths through Senate and House committees to push through the administration's foreign policy. The multilateral institutions have hung back from lobbying on Capitol Hill, but one day it could be a matter of survival. Brian Caplen reports.
  • World Bank guarantees are a new way to help crisis-hit countries back into the private capital markets. But the Bank still wants to lend money. James Smalhout reports
  • The great and the good have come up with a seven-point plan to stave off financial crises and benefit the developing world. Are they building castles in the air or laying the basis of a new financial architecture? James Smalhout reports
  • The dynamics of the US equities market are such that the old system cannot last much longer without fundamental change. Internet trading, the recent appearance of electronic commissions networks, forthcoming shorter settlement times and decimalization of stock quotes are all turning the screw. Antony Currie reports.
  • Eisuke Sakikabara, alias Mr Yen, retired last month as Japan's vice finance minister for international affairs. A forthright bureaucrat who kept the market on its toes with his timely comments, his career path was not typical of MoF officials and included a period in academia. A fluent English-speaker, he talked to Steven Irvine shortly after he stepped down. The only thing he wouldn't discuss was the way the yen was heading - something of a paradox given that the currency was formerly his favourite subject.
  • The announcement from Jamil Mahuad, the president of Ecuador, that the country would not meet a coupon payment on its Brady bonds due at the end of August and that Ecuador intends to restructure its $13 billion of foreign debt, has dismayed banks and investors across the developed world.
  • James Wolfensohn is about to reach a milestone. His five-year term at the helm of the World Bank is coming to an end. US president Bill Clinton will shortly decide whether to reappoint him. James Smalhout examines the record.
  • World Bank president James Wolfensohn believes the Bank is becoming a more caring place, closer to the client it's trying to serve. One advanced management course includes a taste of poverty: living a week in a slum or village. Social aspects must match financial and macro concerns, he tells James Smalhout