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September 2001

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  • The reform of Russia’s electricity sector is going faster than that of other utilities. UES chief executive Anatoly Chubais talked to Ben Aris about the proposals and the timetable
  • Société Générale paid Eu1.2 billion for 60% of Komercni Banka as it moved into the Czech Republic in June. The move was criticized as too risky. Now, it appears that it was right on target.
  • Many bankers Euromoney has spoken to are fearful that anti-capitalist and anti-globalization protesters will severely disrupt this year's IMF/World Bank meetings - and some even refuse to discuss the issue on the record because they don't want to give the protesters the oxygen of publicity.
  • On August 13, the two-year versus 30-year US treasury yield curve gapped out to a seven-year high of 184 basis points. The two-year treasury was trading at its lowest ever yield in the 25 years since the two-year security was first introduced, and three-month Libor was even lower at 3.57%. Moreover, with the US economy showing no signs of recovery, short-end rates seem set to move even tighter. The extraordinary steepness of the US yield curve has provided mouthwatering swap opportunities for corporates that would not normally consider conversion of fixed-rate liabilities to floating rate. The greater than normal swap business has also put added downward pressure on swap spreads.
  • The Fed has dscovered the gift of the gab, and it doesn't seem to have done any harm. Not yet, anyway.
  • The Paris Club of official bilateral creditors is promoting the view that holders of sovereign bonds should take their share of the burdens when borrowers need rescuing from default. Jerome Booth argues that this burden-sharing dogma flies in the face of insights that can be gleaned from history and conflates what is essentially politically-motivated lending with market-driven lending. It will, he argues, inevitably damage the debtors it is ostensibly designed to help
  • KBC demonstrates just what happens when deep pockets are used to address pressing commercial imperatives.
  • Under James Wolfensohn the World Bank has beaten off influential enemies through polished public relations, but there are still widespread doubts about the effectiveness of Bank policies. Projects continue to fail and adjustment lending has in many cases been granted without proper safeguards. Bank insiders claim that programmes are increasingly effective but critics point to the weakness of Bank models for measuring success.
  • Washington's battles with big budget deficits may seem like a distant memory, but a familiar refrain from those days has taken on new meaning for the IMF. "Less is more" has been a powerful, if unstated, theme running through many Fund-led packages, ever since the Mexican peso crisis of 1994-95.
  • A small group of western-minded business leaders have banded together to lobby for a Russia free from robber barons and fit for their children by the year 2015.
  • The tango effect is being felt in the international bond and currency markets and in the halls of the central bank in Brasilia, but so far it has had relatively little effect on the average Brazilian.
  • President Putin’s has pushed through a swathe of reforming laws, spearheading his drive to liberalization. But implementation will not be easy. Nor can it be assumed that the liberals will stay in the ascendancy. Business oligarchs and the conservatives are asserting themselves as Putin struggles to pick a way through conflicting interests.
  • Russia’s stock market has ended the first half of the year as the third best performing market in the world.
  • General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's head of state, talks about his country's economic programme, the Afghan Taliban and Islamic fundamentalism.
  • Saudi Arabia’s banks are bracing for a period of intense retail competition by preparing to launch new products, especially for Islamic and internet banking, and developing personal and mortgage lending.
  • The IMF has begun to stress prevention of crises rather than their cure and the new US administration agrees. But that raises numerous imponderables. Should the stress of prevention be on incentives to countries to behave responsibly or on building sound international financial architecture? And if the goal is to seek out better ways of forecasting impending crisis, does the IMF have the legitimacy to release market-moving information of this sort?
  • Hong Kong is facing a crisis - how to fund an increasing budget deficit at a time of almost unprecedented economic downturn.
  • Saudi Arabia has demonstrated strong growth in the midst of the falling global economy, and that growth can be attributed to more than just oil. Natural gas and tourism also have contributed to this boom, but it is unclear whether Saudi Arabia can generate enough jobs for its growing population.
  • The largest banks in Latin America are in its largest economies, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina. Consolidation has created large conglomerates through in-market mergers and acquisition of local franchises by international powerhouses. By Celina Vansetti, data from Moody’s Investors Service
  • When international rating agencies announced a negative outlook on India's sovereign rating in early August, the equity and bond markets barely reacted.
  • Argentina is looking at the worst case of deflation that the world has seen since the US great depression in the 1930s, and it is hard to see where the necessary boosts in confidence and growth are going to come from to break this confidence crisis.
  • Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz is single-handedly staging an economic revolution in Pakistan, selling yet another military government to a sceptical international investor community.
  • In an economic downturn, law firms specializing in financial business can ease the pain by establishing relations with their clients that are not strictly based on individual deals. The clients may also benefit.
  • Pakistan has gone a long way towards stabilizing the economy under its present government, greatly improving the balance-of-payments situation and increasing revenues from taxation: all policies that make multilateral aid a much more practicable proposition. From this base, the government hopes to put in place strategies that will encourage growth, with rationalization of the banking sector and privatization high on the agenda.
  • David Malpass, chief international economist at Bear Stearns, in a speech last month to the National Economists Club in Washington outlines the view that the world economy is entering a long, "saucer-shaped" slowdown. The nub of the problem is deflation, reckons Malpass. The flip side of the greenback's repeated 10% year-on-year gains is a drop in commodity prices of roughly the same amount. That's going to result in hard knocks for many economies.
  • RZB, Austria’s largest private banking group, has been in the race for market share in central and eastern Europe from the beginning. Now, with so many western rivals, RZB looks to new ground in a pair of Bosnian start-ups.
  • Years from now, the banking crisis of today will probably be seen as the beginning of a period when market dominance started to pass to foreign hands.
  • ING’s unique approach to the provision of financial services has placed it among the pioneers.
  • Investors fearful that the crisis in Argentina might spill over into the largest Latin American economy, Brazil, generally draw some comfort from the fact that the country’s central bank is led by former speculator Arminio Fraga. Fraga, who took up his post just after the floating of the real in 1999, has implemented an inflation-targeting system, enhanced bank supervision, and garnered universal respect and admiration. Brazil might have been hit by Argentina, but now the country should be seen as a turnaround story, he tells Felix Salmon
  • "CSFB is just like Laurel and Hardy," says one banker. "It's gotten itself into another fine mess." Following hard on the heels of its problems in Japan, Sweden, the UK, India and the US, it's now in trouble with the Chinese. This time it's nothing to do with the regulators, but a diplomatic faux pas, and an expensive one at that.