January 2005

Cover story

Private banking 2005: UBS tops private banking poll

Its high industry rankings suggest that UBS's bold drive to build a private banking business onshore across Europe is paying off. The bank soars above the competition according to our second annual survey. But the cost has been substantial. And there remain plenty of niches in which its rivals can excel and turn good profits. Helen Avery reports.

Safe but sorry

Burnt in recent equity market sell-offs, high-net-worth investors are clamouring for investment products that will preserve their capital. But private bank advisers are on the whole unconvinced that structured products, outside of limited use for tactical asset allocations, offer adequate returns or are sufficiently cheap and transparent to recommend to their clients. Helen Avery reports.

North America

Brady Dougan's new old plan for CSFB

Credit Suisse Group is to restructure again. This time, the plan includes a closer integration of investment banking arm CSFB with the rest of the group. Antony Currie looks hard for changes in the revised strategy for CSFB itself and speaks to its CEO, Brady Dougan, about them. He seems to be reheating his predecessor's plans for the firm, which has spent months reviewing its business without making a great deal of progress.

Equity markets

Small stock markets top five-year returns

Halfway through the first decade of the new millennium, the five-year track records of world stock markets show the leading indices in Europe and America still way down on their highs before the tech bubble burst. Emerging markets, including some of the more obscure, have been the big gainers.

Small is bountiful

In 2004 equity deals for smaller companies were much more lucrative for investment banks than large block trades, which were often disasters from a profit point of view. Heavy competition for deals, with league table positions strongly in mind, helped kept discounts tight. In volatile markets, banks proved willing to cut their own throats in pursuit of ill-paid privatization transactions. Peter Koh reports

Fund management

Alternative fund managers converge

The advantages of sharing specialist industry sector information drawn from private companies, plus a desire to provide complementary asset allocation vehicles to end investors, are drawing private-equity firms and hedge funds into alliances. Private equity firms are hoping to capture some of the client money rushing into hedge funds a number of which are now bidding for whole companies. Julie Dalla-Costa reports.

Emerging Europe

Russian roulette

In a bold but reckless ploy, for much of last year Russia's president Vladimir Putin sought to curb the appreciation of the rouble against the dollar by intervening in the market. But the strategy, designed to protect domestic producers against growing imports, backfired. Along with inflation, capital outflows revived, sparking off the mini liquidity crisis that hit several banks in the summer. Ben Aris reports.

Boom or bust in the Caspian?

Bullish predictions of the size of Caspian oil reserves made in the 1990s now look greatly exaggerated. With the BTC pipeline linking Azerbaijan to Turkey opening this year, Julian Evans asks just how much oil there is in the region, and whether there will be any more finance deals anything like the size of BTC.

Polish banks make a profit breakthrough

Poland's once-beleaguered banks are posting profit growth for 2004 as high as 400% in some cases. Banks are now hungry to increase market share via acquisitions. But who at the table is prepared to cash in their chips? Julian Evans reports.

A gateway to the Balkans

As a possible base for eurozone companies eager to expand in the Balkans, Croatia is a favoured candidate, despite its small domestic market. If the government can curb a tendency to build up external debt and is able to sort out lingering human rights problems it should be able to get EU support behind it for the next round of accession. Ben Aris reports.

Western Europe

Boosted by growth in central Europe

Austria's economy is in better shape than those of most of the states to its west and its companies already have a solid presence in the new EU states in central and eastern Europe. Now it is reforming its financial markets and encouraging foreign investors in order to take advantage of further gains. Ben Aris reports.

Time for a reality check

Revision of Greece's public finance accounts has underlined the need for a big effort to reduce budget deficits. However, the government seems unwilling to tackle crucial areas such as social security reform. Dimitris Kontogiannis reports

Asia Pacific

Buy M for madness till the music stops

Hong Kong investors' addiction to the fast buck has often landed them in trouble. The latest preoccupation, the M share, entails feverish punting in listed stocks that are themselves punting on neighbouring territory Macau's gambling industry. As a clever few rapidly enrich themselves at the expense of the gullible masses, the inevitable result looms. Chris Leahy reports.

REITs hit the streets

Recent IPOs show that that property investment vehicles known as REITs, popular in western markets, might be gaining a foothold in Asia. If REITs win mainstream acceptance they could change the landscape of Asia's markets, offering extra flexibility to property companies and steady yields to investors. Chris Leahy reports.

Roundtable

Debt markets

Federal-Mogul's transatlantic tangle

An immensely complex cross-border insolvency is being worked out in US and UK courts. It pits a US billionaire investor against nearly 40,000 UK pension scheme members, UK insolvency procedures against the US's Chapter 11, and one legal system against the other. It could have long-term implications for any distressed debt investor that makes transatlantic investments. Mark Brown reports.

Investors buoy up US high-yield

Strong demand kept US high-yield new issues flowing fast through the usually quiet end-of-year period. But with the market open to issuers from all sectors with often untested track records, are buyers riding for a fall? Kathryn Tully reports.

Editorial

Streetwise

Streetwise: Not such great expectations

Many companies still play the game of regularly guiding market expectations for earnings to a level that they then proceed to beat. They should watch their language

Front End

Breakingviews

Market Monitor

Emerging markets

Deal Insider

Against the tide

Time to dust down those inflation slide rules

Inflation differentials between countries are returning and investment analysts will reinvent the technology for weighing them. First in the balance will be the US whose assets look set to weigh light against those of Europe and Japan

People