Tuesday 13th October 2015
NEWS TICKER, OCTOBER 12TH 2015: Segulah IV LP has sold Etraveli Holding AB to ProSiebenSat.1 Media AG for some €235m. For ProSiebenSat.1, Etraveli represents its largest international investment in eCommerce to date and it complements its travel portfolio brand 7Travel. Etraveli is one of Europe’s largest Online Travel Agents and is headquartered in Uppsala, Sweden, and operates in 40 countries and four continents. In 2014, Etraveli generated around €900m in Total Transaction Value and €69m in net revenue. In the first six months of 2015, net revenue growth was 34% year on year. Arma Partners acted as exclusive financial advisor to Segulah IV - Joint venture partners Lionstone Investments (Lionstone), a privately owned, US-based real estate investment company, and Hermes Investment Management, the £29.8bn manager focused on delivering superior, sustainable, risk adjusted returns to its clients – responsibly, have acquired One Bunker Hill, a landmark Art Deco office building located in the heart of Downtown Los Angeles. Lionstone and Hermes Investment Management will renovate the 273,000 sq ft building, preserving its character while converting its more traditional offices into creative workspaces suitable for technology, media and entertainment companies desiring a downtown location. Jane Page, CEO at Lionstone, says, “The resurgence of the Downtown submarket of Los Angeles, along with the unique features of this historical property, make this investment very attractive. The partnership will embark on an extensive capital renovation program to reposition the building and transform conventional office space into a creative, amenity-rich environment.” - Morningstar has moved the Morningstar Analyst Rating™ for the Royal Corporate Bond fund to Silver. The fund’s rating was previously Under Review. Prior to being placed Under Review, the fund held a Gold rating. Ashis Dash, manager research analyst at Morningstar, says, “Following a recent Morningstar Analyst Ratings meeting, we have moved the Royal London Corporate Bond fund to a Morningstar Analyst Rating™ of Silver. The fund’s rating was previously Under Review following the announcement that manager Sajiv Vaid would be leaving Royal London Asset Management (RLAM). Prior to being placed Under Review, the fund held a Gold Rating. Jonathan Platt, the co-manager of the fund and head of fixed income at RLAM, took over sole managerial responsibility for the fund in May 2015. Platt joined RLAM in 1985 and has been instrumental in developing RLAM’s fixed income expertise and shaping the fund’s investment approach. While we view Vaid’s departure as a significant loss, the continuity to the investment process provided by a seasoned manager in Platt and the support he receives from a close-knit fixed income team at RLAM continue to drive our positive view on the fund.” - Fidessa group plc (LSE: FDSA) says it is providing CIMB Securities (CIMB), with its derivatives platform. Justin Llewellyn-Jones, Global Head of Derivatives at Fidessa, views the expanded partnership with CIMB as timely given the current trends in global derivatives. "Interest in Asian derivatives is on the rise with exchanges, clearing houses, brokers and vendors all making significant moves in the region," he said. "CIMB's implementation of an integrated system will enable their local, regional and global clients to participate fully in global markets in any way they choose, and take advantage of our real-time monitoring and reporting capabilities as well as our sophisticated algorithms and controls." With the futures and options platform co-located with SGX in Singapore, CIMB's clients will enjoy low-latency access to Asian derivatives markets. They will also be able to take advantage of Fidessa trading screens themselves, enabling them to both monitor order progress and execute their own DMA trades. David Polen, Global Head of Electronic Execution at Fidessa, adds: "Managing execution in Asia has always been a nuanced business. There is a tremendous velocity of regulatory and technical change across all jurisdictions. On top of this, buy-sides require flexibility in how their orders are handled.” – Emerging markets’ foreign exchange reserves have dropped about $650bn (7% of total reserves) since reaching a peak of $9.4trn in June 2014 says Jan Dehn, head of research at Ashmore. Emerging markets control nearly 80% of the world’s FX reserves. Currency movements are the big determinant of reserve levels. Huge shifts in exchange rates, particularly in the value of the USD have affected central bank reserves since mid-2014. Nonetheless, Dehn suggests that reserves in many emerging economies are of a level that any appreciation in the US dollar is unlikely to pose a major risk to their overall reserve position. Dehn says the dollar is now so strong that it is hurting US growth and its strength has become the most important factor influencing the Fed’s decisions on rates. “This means that the two most compelling reasons for the dollar to continue to rally – higher growth and higher rates – are losing steam,” he states - National wealth manager Bellpenny says it has completed two more transactions involving IFA businesses. The deals bring combined funds under management of over £150m and more than 500 active clients. This takes Bellpenny’s total number of acquisitions since launch to 32. The acquisition of Cambridge-based IFA, Ashton KCJ Financial Planning LLP, encompasses around £60m of funds under management. The business was jointly owned by Ashton KCJ Solicitors and Price Bailey LLP. The second purchase is that of Horsham-based IFA, Principals in Practice Limited (PIP) and involves £90m of funds under management - ETF Securities and ISE ETF Ventures have launched an equity index ETF, the ETFS ISE Cyber Security GO UCITS ETF from the ETF Securities product family, in partnership with ISE ETF Ventures on Xetra and Börse Frankfurt. The ETF’s ISIN is DE000A14ZT85. The ETFs’ total expense ratio is 0.75%, has an accumulating distribution and is benchmarked against the ISE Cyber Security UCITS Index. The ETF gives investors access to companies around the world whose business focuses on cyber security, including protecting websites and networks against unauthorised access, developing the requisite hardware and software as well as offering advisory services in this area. The new ETF only includes companies with a minimum market cap of $100m and a minimum daily value traded of $1m. ISE, which is part of Deutsche Börse Group, has calculated the underlying index since August 26, 2015 with a base date of December 31st 2009 - Stocks in China and Hong Kong rallied Monday on stimulus measures from Beijing and signals of reform in the country's telecommunications sector. The Shanghai Composite Index rose 3.3% while Chinese firms in Hong Kong led theHang Seng Index up 1.3%.China's central bank announced over the weekend that it would expand a pilot program that would boost banks' lending abilities. The plan, currently in place in Shandong and Guangdong, allows banks to pledge certain assets to secure loans from the central bank. It will be expanded to nine provinces including Shanghai and Beijing. The Straits Times Index (STI) ended 51.47 points or 1.75% higher to 2998.5, taking the year-to-date performance to -10.90%. The top active stocks today were DBS, which gained 1.55%, SingTel, which gained 2.12%, Noble, which gained16.05%, Keppel Corp, which gained3.91% and UOB, with a 1.84%advance. The FTSE ST Mid Cap Index gained 1.32%, while the FTSE ST Small Cap Index rose 0.93%. - Glencore--the world's largest copper supplier and third-largest copper miner—is reported to have initiated the sale of its Cobar underground mine in Australia's New South Wales state and its Lomas Bayas open-pit operation in northern Chile. The company is reported to have begun the sales in response to a number of unsolicited expressions of interest from various potential buyers. Interested parties will be able to place an offer for one or both of the mines. Cobar was valued at $329m by Glencore at the end of 2013 following a $137m write-down on a revised mining plan, while Lomas Bayas mine, located in northern Chile's Atacama region is valued at $335m. Australian press reports say Bank of America Merrill Lynch and UBS are advising Glencore on the sale. - In Turkey, headline inflation accelerates to 7.9% year on year in September, due to a stronger FX pass-through and higher food prices, says National Bank of Greece. The country’s trade balance improved significantly in August, mainly on the back of a lower energy bill and weaker domestic demand, while core inflation rose to an 8-month high in September, reflecting a stronger pass-through from a weaker TRY (the depreciation of the TRY against the basket of “50%*TRY/EUR+50%*TRY/USD” accelerated to a 1½-year high of 20.9% year on year in September from 16.6% in August). The CBRT’s favourite core inflation measures, i.e., CPI-H (that excludes energy, unprocessed food, alcohol, tobacco and gold) and CPI-I (that also excludes processed food) rose to 8.3% year on year and 8.2% year on year, respectively, in September from 7.8% and 7.7% in August. Furthermore, food prices (comprising 24.2% of the CPI basket) increased by a 4-month high of 10.7% year on year in September against 9.7% year on year in August (adding 0.3 percentage points to headline inflation). – The European Investment Bank has filed a notice with the Luxembourg Stock Exchange that it will redeem all the outstanding notes of its $50m callable zero coupon bonds due October 31st 2042 (ISIN: XS0847990768) at a redemption price of 112.4864000% at the end of this month – Bulgaria reports that its consolidated budget recorded a surplus of 0.7% of GDP in the first eight months of 2015 compared with a deficit of 1.6% in the same period in 2014. This was the best performance since 2008, and was mainly driven by an across-the-board improvement in budget revenue (up 2.2 percentage points of GDP year on year in between January and the end of August). Specifically, tax revenue surged in 8M:15 (up 1.3 percentage points of GDP year on year), largely attributed to strong base effects.

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The Knotty Question of Regulation

Tuesday, 01 July 2008
The Knotty Question of Regulation First came the collapse of its hedge funds; then the mammoth losses tied to mortgage-portfolio write downs. In March, dark clouds circling over Bear Stearns’ Manhattan headquarters suddenly collapsed into a vortex that reduced the former investment giant to a near-worthless pile of debris. Were it not for the sudden resourcefulness of the New York Federal Reserve, things may have turned out even worse. Now a chorus of finger-pointing regulators insist that investment banks be held accountable--before another Bear is let loose. From Boston, Dave Simons reports. http://www.ftseglobalmarkets.com/
First came the collapse of its hedge funds; then the mammoth losses tied to mortgage-portfolio write downs. In March, dark clouds circling over Bear Stearns’ Manhattan headquarters suddenly collapsed into a vortex that reduced the former investment giant to a near-worthless pile of debris. Were it not for the sudden resourcefulness of the New York Federal Reserve, things may have turned out even worse. Now a chorus of finger-pointing regulators insist that investment banks be held accountable--before another Bear is let loose. From Boston, Dave Simons reports.
On the weekend of March 14th , the New York Federal Reserve gave its blessing (in the form of a $30bn no-risk financing agreement) to JP Morgan Chase & Co to acquire the remains of the 84-year-old Bear Stearns for a mere $2 per share, later sweetened to $10. The takeover bid was officially approved by shareholders in late May. Speaking shortly after the crisis was resolved, US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson noted that the Bear Stearns episode “raises significant policy considerations that need to be addressed.” The collapse, said Paulson at the time, underscores the rapidly changing role of non-bank financial institutions as well as the interconnectedness among all financial establishments. These changes “require us all to think more broadly about the regulatory and supervisory framework that is consistent with the promotion and maintenance of financial stability,” he added.

Just as last summer’s illiquidity-fueled downdraft prompted calls for universal limits on leveraging, the Bear Stearns experience has critics taking aim at current regulatory standards. These they argue are in need of a substantial overhaul. An important question arising from this development is: how best to carry out these measures? Another is: if those measure are a good idea, why have they not been addressed sooner?

US Federal Reserve Bank chairman Ben Bernanke vigorously defends the Bear bailout, noting that “recent events have demonstrated the importance of generous capital cushions for protecting against adverse conditions in financial and credit markets”. Detractors offer a much less sanguine assessment. One notable hand-wringer is former St. Louis Fed president William Poole, who thinks that, “It is appalling where we are right now … we’ve become a backstop [sic] for the entire financial system.”

Indeed, by all accounts the Fed checkbook may be in for more plundering in the coming weeks and months. In May, Congress put in an emergency call, imploring the Fed to swap Treasury notes for bonds backed by student loans. And with the peak of the credit crisis still months (or perhaps even years off according to some experts) the Fed may have to contend with many more foundering companies arriving in the dead of night, cap in hand. Was the Fed correct in intervening on Bear’s behalf? John Halsey, a former senior managing director at Bear Stearns, says that, given the circumstances, the Fed had to take action. Had Bear failed, says Halsey, “Our financial system would have failed as well. The dollar, already weakened, would have plummeted, and it would have hastened the inevitability of the dollar’s demise as the world’s reserve currency. Stocks would have dropped, markets would have crashed and stopped trading. In effect, Bear shareholders were sacrificed for the good of the system. That said, I do not think it will have much effect on decision making or risk taking.”

The Fed’s willingness to get behind one near disaster after another fails to address some key underlying issues: namely lack of transparency, as well as the enormous complexity of modern financial products, that has rendered normal pricing metrics obsolete. JPMorgan’s valuation gyration over Bear Stearns’ share price is the latest evidence that all is not right. “Free markets can only function in a system where a company’s creditworthiness can be assessed independent of a letter grade supplied by a rating agency,” remarks Jacki Zehner, founding partner of Circle Financial Group, a New York-based private wealth management operation. In reality, says Zehner, this is simply no longer the case. “Before one can declare that this financial crisis is over, the markets have to be able to make this kind of assessment. Unfortunately, we are not there yet.”

Though the Fed may have had little choice but to step in on Bear’s behalf given the magnitude of the counterparty risk, other companies in a similar predicament but with a slower bleed rate may not be as fortunate. Says Erik Sirri, director of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC’s) trading and markets division, “I think when one of these firms gets into trouble rapidly, liquidity support is needed.” Should that unraveling occur more slowly, however, “that liquidity support may not be needed.”

“Others will fail, though it is not clear what will happen when they do,” says Zehner. “I believe the Fed can and will prevent any sort of systemic collapse which they may have witnessed had they not come to the rescue of Bear. But there will be more problems. Exactly how and where is a difficult bet indeed.”

In the aftermath of Bear, slower client activity, below-normal principal and proprietary trading results and losses from the tightening of structured credit liabilities are just a few of the factors weighing on the investment-banking industry, notes analyst William F Tanona in a recent research paper. Some have been more generous than others. In contrast to Oppenheimer & Co. analyst Meredith Whitney’s assessment of Citigroup’s “antiquated and disparate systems and technology,” Ladenburg Thalmann’s financial institutions analyst Richard Bove sees a much brighter future for the bank. Bove notes that Citi’s turnaround potential is “so significant, it could carry the stock to multiples of its current price.”

While the longer-term picture may be positive--particularly given the prospect of further Fed interventions nonetheless, US banks are in all likelihood looking at a prolonged period of belt tightening and super-scrutiny. “It is truly amazing to see how slow analysts have been in bringing down earnings estimates for the investment banks,” says Halsey. “Of course, at some point soon the bulls will probably be able to point to some very favourable year-over-year comparisons. But the fact remains that the entire sector is going to have to learn to live with much less leverage--and that many of their biggest earning sectors will never recover.”

Is reform needed?

It was the late economist Hyman Minsky who suggested over 20 years ago that “in a world of businessmen and financial intermediaries who aggressively seek profit, innovators will always outpace regulators.” While it may be impossible to prevent changes in the structure of portfolios from occurring, said Minsky, “if the authorities constrain banks and are aware of the activities of fringe banks and other financial institutions, they are in a better position to attenuate the disruptive expansionary tendencies of our economy.”

Speaking at a conference held in Minsky’s honour, Paul McCulley, managing director of fixed-income specialist PIMCO, said that recent events demonstrate how little attention has been paid to Minsky’s words over the last two decades. While initiatives such as Basel I and most recently Basel II may be a step in the right direction, “neither of those arrangements fundamentally addresses the explosive growth of the shadow banking system,” thinks McCulley, referencing the radically leveraged, off-balance sheet vehicles that were so successful in helping institutions sidestep imposed limitations.

To make matters worse, regulators have consistently turned a blind eye to the goings-on within the investment-banking sector, even as the crisis in liquidity was growing more palpable. Their inaction prior to last summer’s meltdown left the banking system vulnerable to the catastrophic run on liquidity that set the stage for innumerable hedge-fund collapses, and ultimately the fall of Bear Stearns, say observers.

In an effort to deflect further criticism, the SEC has wasted little time getting on the case, and has already made clear its intentions to increase the transparency of liquidity and capital positions held by the likes of Morgan Stanley, Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch through its consolidated supervised entities (CSE) program. SEC chairman Christopher Cox said the commission wants the changes to take affect prior to the implementation of the new internationally accepted standards for capital and liquidity as set forth in Basel II. Cox has admitted that insufficient regulatory standards in all likelihood helped foster the conditions that led to the Bear crisis. “It’s difficult for anyone to say the system worked or that the regulatory gap that exists in statute lacks any consequence,” said Cox.

Halsey, however, calls the commission’s sudden interest “laughable.” “Where were they when these problems were developing?” he asks. As it relates to the current real estate crisis, “the SEC, banking regulators and especially the Fed were absolutely facilitators to the mess. Alan Greenspan’s legacy has been destroyed.”

To begin to remedy the situation, all institutions that are given access to the Fed’s discount window “must at the same time have pari passu regulatory oversight,” argues McCulley. While banks will undoubtedly balk at such an arrangement, they may have little choice but to play ball. After all, offers McCulley, “if you have access to the Fed’s discount window, the Fed should (and will, I strongly believe) have the power to supervise and regulate your business.” Such increased oversight could take the form of raising core capital requirements, while increasing risk and liquidity management, he adds.

Although regulators appear anxious to expand their legal authority over the investment banking sector, it’s up to lawmakers to ensure that it happens. Speaking before a Senate panel in May, former Clinton administration SEC chairman Arthur Levitt said that “Congress must face these conflicts of interest issues head on, or at least empower the SEC with the proper oversight and disciplinary powers that will enable them to do the job.” As for the near-term direction of the investment banking sector as a whole, Halsey believes that a fundamental shift has already occurred, one that favours the likes of JPMorgan over Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. While product innovation will once again take place and attract new talent and capital, “it will take years for that to happen. In the meantime, the likes of CDOs, CDSs and all mortgage-related trading will deliver a fraction of the profits that stoked Wall Street for so long.” Accordingly, Halsey sees the prospect for a significant brain drain from the various institutions as return on capital founders. “Bright, hungry guys will continue to leave to pursue innovation and profits at hedge funds. That will hurt banks and investment banks alike.”

Can increased regulation be truly effective so long as institutions are allowed to stay one step ahead through the creation of the kind of product embellishments that helped precipitate the crisis in the first place? Absolutely not, says Halsey. Wall Street can afford to hire the best and the brightest and spend more on financial innovation than regulatory bodies can budget for, says Halsey, and as a result, no individual or group can effectively anticipate innovation. Hence, the need for broad, highly flexible guidelines that can compensate for these future product developments.

“As a young guy at Bear, I remember thinking how creative the people who structured collateralised mortgage obligations (CMOs) must have been to come up the concept of interest only strips (IOs) and principal only strips (POs),” recalls Halsey. “By the time they had become commonplace, we were already onto trading inverse floaters. It quickly became apparent that if you could imagine a cash flow of any kind--backed by any kind of credit; then you could create a bond that mimicked such a cash flow. In short, the possibilities of creating new products with unknowable risks when applied to the financial system are endless.”

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