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September 2000

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  • To date, most Arab countries have been insulated from outside pressure due to highly protected markets and huge oil reserves. But foreign competition is set to increase, especially for markets joining the World Trade Organization. The biggest banks in small countries will have to look outside their domestic markets for growth, either through acquisitions or alliances. Darren Stubing reports
  • Conversation in Kazkakhstan in recent months has centred on one topic: oil. What appears to be a major new find has excited locals, multinationals operating in the energy sector and buyers of an oversubscribed sovereign Eurobond. The prospect of this impoverished country, where the average wage is barely $100 a month, becoming the next Kuwait has also enabled the nation teasingly to play prospective bride to both the West and Russia. Ted Kim reports
  • There's a lot of hot air in Khartoum, and according to one lawyer working for Talisman Energy, the Canadian oil explorer, not all of it is blowing in from the Sahara. "Well, if you include planting date trees along the roads adjacent to the Nile - well yes, I suppose the infrastructure is improving." He pauses: "Oh wait, they died. Nobody watered them." The taxi driver swerves to miss a huge pothole in the main road and then quickly veers back into the street in an attempt to avoid those sleeping on the footpaths.
  • War, famine, AIDS, corruption: the news out of Africa is always bad. Yet a handful of international banks and investors say that their African operations are hugely profitable and the rest of the world is overlooking wonderful opportunities. A number of sub-Saharan countries are throwing off their reputations for economic mismanagement, liberalizing their markets and promoting the private sector. Chris Cockerill reports
  • Forewarned is Forearmed: or How to survive in some of the riskiest business travel destinations in the world
  • A run on Romania’s biggest bank was stopped in its tracks. The episode highlights nervousness in the system as banks are being readied for sale. Some on the inside say the situation’s not so bad as it looks and that the supervisors are getting tougher. But foreigners are still asking a host of questions, as Erik D’Amato reports.
  • Poland suffered a dramatic bank collapse earlier this year and non-performing loans are building up on the balance sheets of many survivors. But there’s little need to panic. Poland has sold its banking system to foreign entrants attracted by the country’s growth potential. Lots of Poles don’t like what has happened. But it may be the model for the rest of the region. Ronan Lyons reports
  • A year is a long time in the capital markets and who better to demonstrate it than those consummate Financial politicians in Malaysia.
  • In his first months as president Vladimir Putin has been gathering together the threads of power. Oligarchs have been curbed, regional governors put in their place and former KGB colleagues given influential positions. How Putin will use his authority remains uncertain. He seems intent on reforming the tax code and the customs administration and is committed to helping small and medium-size enterprises. But a start has barely been made on economic liberalization and the reduction of state intervention. Ben Aris reports
  • Washington wags used to quip that former IMF managing director Michel Camdessus wanted to be “the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral”. They had a point. Camdessus put the Fund on an ambitious course to be many things to many people during his 13-year tenure. That ended in February and today his successor Horst Köhler is getting back to core principles. He says he wants a leaner, meaner IMF. Now he has to deliver. James Smalhout reports
  • Asia’s equity markets have seen their fair share of triumphs and disasters in the past 12 months, with technology stocks still baffling market watchers in some markets and seducing them in others.
  • By most economic and development measures, China would seem to have taken a firm lead over India in the great race between these two Asian contenders to become regional and global economic superpowers. Yet India, despite its slower economic growth, its poorer yet faster-increasing population and its confused politics, now has thriving new-economy sectors.
  • The last of Poland's large commercial banks to be privatized could prove to be the most troublesome.
  • Bankers and their regulators converging on Prague for the IMF/World Bank meetings this month should be nervous about the vulnerability of the world financial system to attack - not by aliens, hackers or international terrorists but by the shortcomings of thousands of interdependent institutions. Highly correlated and linked financial markets mean contagion can spread in seconds. Short of rebuilding national barriers, like electronic iron curtains, there's no way to isolate ourselves from contamination. The reforming countries of central and eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union are a weak link. They need more help and example from the west. Bringing in foreign strategic investors isn't a panacea, as the following pages show.
  • A fear of foreign influence and a desire to escape the social costs of consolidation have slowed bank reform in Slovenia, but with likely EU membership looming change cannot be put off much longer. Christina White reports
  • "Ever since foreign banks were able to open representative offices we were confident that the door would open wider and wider," says Samuel Lau, manager of HSBC's Beijing branch office. "But we never knew when or how far the door would open. [China's impending membership of] WTO establishes a Firm timetable which is important in terms of planning future resource allocation."
  • Grigory Marchenko, Chairman of the National Bank of Kazakhstan
  • Taiwan avoided the excesses of Asian equity market euphoria last year and has escaped the worst of the stock market corrections in 2000. Some imaginative plays have helped it to the top of the Asian primary equity market this year. But even now concerns about a slowing economy, political uncertainty and a fragile banking system have many analysts believing the market has peaked for Taiwan issuers. Gill Baker reports
  • Protests against her austerity package and calls for her resignation have failed to stop Brigita Schmögnerovà from doing the most exciting job she has ever had. By Jonathan Brown
  • If all goes as planned Komercni banka, the second largest Financial institution in the Czech Republic and the last state-owned bank, will Find itself in the hands of a strategic partner by the end of March 2001. As the privatization draws near, the Czech government appears to have learned from the mistakes it made during previous bank sales.
  • Issuer: Dow Chemical Amount: $300 million Type of issue: Online domestic US corporate bond auction Launch date: August 15
  • When an institution declares that under no circumstances will it reform you can be sure it faces a rocky future. The idea that any economic player, public or private, can carry on acting in the same old way, regardless of external changes, strikes most people as absurd. Yet this is what the Paris Club believes. Events will surely force it to shape up or wind up.
  • For decades America ran huge budget deficits, only balancing the books in the last two years of the most astonishing economic boom on record. Now the two presidential candidates are rubbing their hands at the prospect of spending huge projected surpluses. They should be planning to meet the country’s real long-term financial challenges, rather than frittering the bounty away in popular tax cuts and spending. The age of sound economic leadership in the US may be about to come to an end. Antony Currie reports
  • The great triumph of last year’s IMF/World Bank meeting was the unveiling of an agreement on debt relief for heavily indebted poor countries. But now that the promises are coming due, the international financial institutions are claiming poverty. This is special pleading - they have more than enough resources to cover the entire $45 billion multilateral share of the debt. The familiar cycle of debt and default will repeat itself, Adam Lerrick argues, unless the reform required of borrowing nations is matched by reform in the agencies themselves.
  • Some emerging markets have found the route to salvation, others are a whisker from damnation. By Michael Peterson
  • Remember how the internet was going to put securities firms out of business? It isn’t happening yet. Never before have investment banks made so much money from international capital markets. Volumes are rising across all categories. Underwriting fees are holding steady. And lucrative areas such as capital instruments, leveraged finance and securitization are bursting into life. Meanwhile, the equity markets have been a thrill-a-minute roller-coaster ride. But times aren’t as good for issuers and investors. As prices slide, bond and equity buyers alike have lost money. And issuers have had to jump through hoops to complete deals in crowded and volatile markets. Michael Peterson reports
  • It has been a busy year for presidential and parliamentary elections - and coup attempts. Throw in worker unrest (Peru, Ecuador, Ghana), violent separatism in Indonesia and looming emerging market elections and it would be wise to expect big changes in Euromoney’s first Country Risk ranking in 2001. Keri Geiger reports
  • Other central bank governors may lead a sedate life, contemplating the economy through half open eyes and jumping into action once or twice a year to notch the prime rate up or down by 25 basis points before they go back to watching the fiscal grass grow. Not Turkey’s Gazi Ercel. Metin Munir reports.
  • Equity capital market bankers are in a state of shock. It’s not simply that their market has seen record volumes of issuance this year. It is rather that the international equities market has gone through an entire lifecycle of change in less than 12 months. Michael Peterson reports
  • As delegates file into this year’s World Bank/IMF meetings in Prague, the mood with regard to Latin America will be much more positive than in previous years. In 1998, Brazil was about to devalue, and panic was in the air. In September 1999, Ecuador became the first country ever to default on its Brady bonds, right in the middle of the annual meetings. Come 2000, and Ecuador has successfully restructured its debt, Mexico has had its first ever truly democratic election, ending more than 70 years of one-party rule in the process, and the Brazilian success story continues. Moody’s has upgraded Mexico to investment-grade status, and upgrades from Standard & Poor’s in both Mexico and Brazil are seen as inevitable. But challenges remain, Felix Salmon reports