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September 2003

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  • Source: is Europe's leading financial commentary service
  • Turkish banks' dependence on earnings from treasury bills has put them in the same ramshackle boat as the government and rendered them apathetic towards innovation and consolidation.
  • Five years after Russia defaulted on its sovereign debt, burning foreign investors, the government is poised to return to international capital markets next year with $2.76 billion of Eurobond issues. Thanks to the country's revival, investors are salivating at the prospect of fresh Russian paper.
  • Banks reported strong results for the first half of the year, so it seems odd that senior executives at US banks are so concerned about stagnant revenues. It has been an issue for two years, but there were ways of getting around it. First came cost-cutting. Then revenue from the consumer sector held up, with sustained buying and remortgaging of houses, and spending on credit. Third was what banks call yield-curve plays and the rest of us proprietary trading.
  • Strong growth and enhanced political stability appear to have broken down the barriers to foreign investment in Russia. But since much of what flows is disguised in various ways, it's hard to state precise figures.
  • Saudi Arabia is making progress in restructuring its economy, but keeping up to speed a move away from dependence on oil itself rests on high oil prices and low interest rates.
  • Ghana has stolen a march on its rivals in the world of peacekeeping operations. The ministry of defence drew down in August the first instalment of a $55 million loan from Barclays that will enable it to upgrade its military equipment and secure higher-margin reimbursement from the UN for a stint in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
  • Bond investors finally appear to be getting the message that exposure to commodities can be a useful hedge in a portfolio. And if they have invested in the right commodities, they could find themselves in an excellent position to profit from any forthcoming US interest rate rise.
  • Advisers: UBS (Cordiant); Goldman Sachs (WPP)
  • A new capital markets law, continued privatization and an eventual opening up to foreign investors should boost Saudi Arabia's equity market.
  • The emerging-market bond bubble may be close to bursting as the US economy shows signs of picking up and bondholders digest a recent rise in yields. It means investors will have to dig harder for opportunities in the CEE region.
  • Bankers are grateful for the bouyancy of the debt capital markets. But they are not letting the rush of business impede their efforts to broaden the range of products they offer clients and cut out unfruitful relationship banking.
  • Investors in the US need to decide which numbers to believe. Typically, statistics such as unemployment or capacity utilization are on average revised up or down by 30% within 12 months.
  • Latin America's poor economic performance in the past decade has overturned analysts' judgements that getting rid of the region's dictatorships and introducing free-market reforms would clear the path to sustainable economic growth.
  • Royal Bank of Scotland is beefing up debt headcount aggressively. In its fixed-income division, RBS Financial Markets, staffing was up 25% last year. This year it aims to accelerate that growth. If it is to fulfil its ambitions to grow from a strong sterling and loan house to a broader business in euros and dollars, it has no choice but to recruit fast.
  • China's A-share market has such a shady reputation that foreign investors might have been expected to revel in their exclusion from it. But its recent opening to outside institutional investors has been greeted with enthusiasm.
  • Politicians in the US and Japan are blaming the low value of the Chinese renminbi for all manner of economic ills in their countries and pressing for its revaluation upwards. Yet many of their own manufacturers are benefiting greatly from the low manufacturing costs in China. Speculators will win if the renminbi rises.
  • The bulk of corporate earnings results for the second quarter of 2003 from S&P500 companies are now in and equity bulls are claiming that they justify the sharp equity rally since mid-March. I'm not convinced. More companies beat analysts' expectations, but then estimates had been revised down sharply.
  • What are the defining traits that good investment bankers share? Energy, creativity, entrepreneurship, willingness and ability to take risk, the strength of intelligence to form independent views of the world and the courage to back them: all traits that tend to be driven out of people when they become institutionalized within large organizations under cynical leaders. Everyone toiling at the coalface in a large bank should take lessons from the stories that follow of those who have quit to set up on their own. There's never been a better time to do it.
  • After falling out with the US over access to Iraq, Turkey is regaining favour with the west as its economy revives. Its long-term goal is EU membership, but how far away does that target remain?
  • Junk mail drives most westerners mad. But if a Russian gets a personally addressed letter on his birthday offering a tempting gift at half price he might be so pleased he will include a thank-you note with his order.
  • There can be a hefty difference between perception and reality on debt markets pay these days. One headhunter recalls: "A senior banker called me when I was on a ski lift at Christmas. He said he was going to get only $1 million in the current bonus cycle. He wanted to know whether he had been hard done by as he thought he was worth $2 million. I got a researcher to check what someone in his position and with his job title would usually earn right now. I called him back and said 'you're worth $600,000, so you're doing well'."
  • There's not a lot new about the fact that German corporates need to think about reassessing their funding mix, but a new survey by Siemens Financial Services suggests that their best ideas about how to go about this are not good enough.
  • The pan-European asset management industry spends more than $9 billion every year managing and distributing product information, according to research by independent consulting firm SPB Marketing. Software company Activiti has created a product that it believes can help large fund managers to cut costs by up to $5 million by increasing the efficiency of the flow of information between firms and consultants and within the asset management firm itself.
  • Although logistics suggest that regional companies should play a major part in reconstructing Iraq, hopes of big gains have had to be scaled down. In some areas, such as telecoms, the odds look to have been stacked against Arab firms.
  • In the July issue of Euromoney, an editing error led us to state incorrectly that Alfa Bank is a subsidiary of Austrian firm RZB. It is not. We would like to make it clear that Alfa Bank is Russian-owned and not a subsidiary of any foreign firm.
  • A cabinet reshuffle should revive Saudi Arabia's economic reforms, with a new capital market law pending.
  • Source: is Europe's leading financial commentary service
  • When Allianz announced its first-half results in August, it fuelled both sides of the argument about Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein's future.
  • "When we launched our Vice Fund, one SRI [socially responsible investing] group said they would pray for us," says Dan Ahrens, co-manager of's Vice Fund.