Saturday 31st January 2015
NEWS TICKER FRIDAY, JANUARY 30TH: Morningstar has moved the Morningstar Analyst Rating™ of the Fidelity Japan fund to Neutral. The fund was previously Under Review due to a change in management. Prior to being placed Under Review, the fund was rated Neutral. Management of the fund has passed to Hiroyuki Ito - a proven Japanese equity manager, says Morningstar. Ito recently joined Fidelity from Goldman Sachs, where he successfully ran a Japanese equity fund which was positively rated by Morningstar. “At Fidelity, the manager is backed by a large and reasonably experienced analyst team, who enjoy excellent access to senior company management. While we value Mr Ito’s long experience, we are mindful that he may need some further time to establish effective working relationships with the large team of analysts and develop a suitable way of utilising this valuable resource,” says the Morningstar release - The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) today released a list of orders of administrative enforcement actions taken against banks and individuals in December. No administrative hearings are scheduled for February 2015. The FDIC issued a total of 53 orders and one notice. The orders included: five consent orders; 13 removal and prohibition orders; 11 section 19 orders; 15 civil money penalty; nine orders terminating consent orders and cease and desist orders; and one notice. More details are available on its website - Moody's Investors Service has completed a performance review of the UK non-conforming Residential Mortgage Backed Securities (RMBS) portfolio. The review shows that the performance of the portfolio has improved as a result of domestic recovery, increasing house prices and continued low interest-rates. Post-2009, the low interest rate environment has benefitted non-conforming borrowers, a market segment resilient to the moderate interest rate rise. Moody's also notes that UK non-conforming RMBS exposure to interest-only (IO) loans has recently diminished as the majority of such loans repaid or refinanced ahead of their maturity date - The London office of Deutsche Bank is being investigated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), according to The Times newspaper. Allegedly, the bank has been placed under ‘enhanced supervision’ by the FCA amid concerns about governance and regulatory controls at the bank. The enhanced supervision order was taken out some months ago, says the report, however it has only just been made public - According to Reuters, London Stock Exchange Group will put Russell Investments on the block next month, after purchasing it last year. LSE reportedly wants $1.4bn - Legg Mason, Inc. has reported net income of $77m for Q3 fiscal 2014, compared with $4.9m in the previous quarter, and net income of $81.7m over the period. In the prior quarter, Legg Mason completed a debt refinancing that resulted in a $107.1m pre-tax charge. Adjusted income for Q3 fiscal was $113.1m compared to $40.6m in the previous quarter and $124.6m in Q3 fiscal. For the current quarter, operating revenues were $719.0m, up 2% from $703.9m in the prior quarter, and were relatively flat compared to $720.1m in Q3 fiscal. Operating expenses were $599.6m, up 5% from $573.5m in the prior quarter, and were relatively flat compared to $598.4min Q3 of fiscal 2014. Assets under management were $709.1bn as the end of December, up 4% from $679.5bn as of December 31, 2013. The Legg Mason board of directors says it has approved a new share repurchase authorisation for up to $1bn of common stock and declared a quarterly cash dividend on its common stock in the amount of $0.16 per share. - The EUR faces a couple of major releases today, says Clear Treasury LLP, and while the single currency has traded higher through the week, the prospect of €60bn per month in QE will likely keep the euro at a low ebb. The bigger picture hasn’t changed, yesterday’s run of German data was worse than expected with year on year inflation declining to -.5% (EU harmonised level). Despite the weak reading the EUR was unperturbed - The Singapore Exchange (SGX) is providing more information to companies and investors in a new comprehensive disclosure guide. Companies wanting clarity on specific principles and guidelines on corporate governance can look to the guide, which has been laid out in a question-and-answer format. SGX said listed companies are encouraged to include the new disclosure guide in their annual reports and comply with the 2012 Code of Corporate Governance, and will have to explain any deviations in their reporting collateral. - Cordea Savills on behalf of its European Commercial Fund has sold Camomile Court, 23 Camomile Street, London for £47.97mto a French pension fund, which has entrusted a real estate mandate to AXA Real Estate. The European Commercial Fund completed its initial investment phase in 2014 at total investment volume of more than €750m invested in 20 properties. Active Asset Management in order to secure a stable distribution of circa 5% a year. which has been achieved since inception of the fund is the main focus of the Fund Management now. Gerhard Lehner, head of portfolio management, Germany, at Cordea Savills says “With the sale of this property the fund is realising a value gain of more than 40%. This is the fruit of active Asset Management but does also anticipate future rental growth perspectives. For the reinvestment of the returned equity we have already identified suitable core office properties.” Meantime, Kiran Patel, chief investment officer at Cordea Savills adds: “The sale of Camomile Court adds to the £370m portfolio disposal early in the year. Together with a number of other asset sales, our total UK transaction activity since January stands at £450m. At this stage of the cycle, we believe there is merit in banking performance and taking advantage of some of the strong demand for assets in the market.” - US bourses closed higher last night thanks to much stronger Jobless Claims data (14yr low) which outweighed mixed earnings results. Overnight, Asian bourses taken positive lead from US, even as Bank of Japan data shows that inflation is still falling, consumption in shrinking and manufacturing output is just under expectations. According to Michael van Dulken at Accendo Markets, “Japan’s Nikkei [has been] helped by existing stimulus and weaker JPY. In Australia, the ASX higher as the AUD weakened following producer price inflation adding to expectations of an interest rate cut by the RBA, following other central banks recently reacting to low inflation. Chinese shares down again ahead of a manufacturing report.” - Natixis has just announced the closing of the debt financing for Seabras-1, a new subsea fiber optic cable system between the commercial and financial centers of Brazil and the United States. The global amount of debt at approximately $270m was provided on a fully-underwritten basis by Natixis -

20-20: Can ABN AMRO stake a comeback claim?

Thursday, 15 December 2011
20-20: Can ABN AMRO stake a comeback claim? It was never going to be simple but chief executive officer Gerrit Zalm had been making steady progress in turning round beleaguered ABN AMRO. The year 2011 started out promising with a strong first half but the eurozone crisis has put a question mark over whether it will return to the public markets by 2014. Despite the uncertainty, Zalm is seen as heading in the right direction. Lynn Strongin Dodds reports on the outlook for the bank. http://www.ftseglobalmarkets.com/

It was never going to be simple but chief executive officer Gerrit Zalm had been making steady progress in turning round beleaguered ABN AMRO. The year 2011 started out promising with a strong first half but the eurozone crisis has put a question mark over whether it will return to the public markets by 2014. Despite the uncertainty, Zalm is seen as heading in the right direction. Lynn Strongin Dodds reports on the outlook for the bank.

ABN AMRO’S fall from grace has been well-documented. The bank had become the symbol of the financial hubris of the pre-Lehman days with its fast past growth, high-profile takeovers and subsequent collapse. By 2007, ABN AMRO was the second-largest bank in the Netherlands and the eighth largest bank in Europe by assets. It had operations in 63 countries, with more than 110,000 employees and almost $63.9bn in revenue.  

The moniker was set to disappear when Royal Bank of Scotland, Fortis and Santander split up its international assets between them in a €72bn deal that was ranked as the world’s largest banking takeover. The financial crisis exploded a year later and the Dutch government was forced to step in to rescue not only the domestic assets of ABN AMRO but also Fortis, at a cost of some €27bn.



The two banks were subsequently merged under the ABN AMRO name and Zalm, a former finance minister who earned a reputation as a fiscal hawk, was called in as chief executive in 2009 to oversee the integration.

His task is to get the bank’s income ratio structurally below 60% and to lay the foundation for a public listing in three years’ time. To this end, Zalm has been busy cutting the workforce by about 9%, bolstering key business lines and resurrecting its energy, commodities and transportation (ECT) operations. It had sold its ECT business to Fortis in 1997 and so it is back in the fold.

Integration is still under way and the goals include improving cost efficiency, rebuilding the bank’s franchise in commercial banking and increasing market share lost in the Netherlands. Zalm is also carefully developing an international presence in the bank’s core competencies such as ECT. It has re-established a foothold in the US oil and gas market by opening an office in Dallas, staffed by a six-person team it lured away from UBS. Moscow and Shanghai are also on the list as cities where it would like to re-establish a presence.

Zalm has also returned the brand to the Dutch high street; a move which, says Claudia Nelson, senior director of Fitch, plays to the bank’s strengths. The combined entity is now the third-largest domestic bank behind rivals Robeco and ING with a market share of 15% to 25% depending on the product line, involving some 6.8m customers.

Zalm has also strengthened the private banking franchise via the respected AMRO MeesPierson brand. The bank targets customers with wealth in excess of €1m and holds around €165bn of assets under management split equally between ABN AMRO, MeesPierson and a widely spread international network. The division is also known for its global diamonds and jewellery group, which specialises in providing lending, cash management, merchant banking and transaction banking services to small and medium enterprises in the industry. Zalm is a master of detail, evinced in his product diversification strategy: he has, for instance, introduced a special service for entrepreneurs both as a private individual and as a representative of their enterprise; while ABN AMRO MeesPierson has created a dedicated service advising a wide range of non-profit organisations.

Analysts remain optimistic about the bank’s prospects on the home front, but they are more circumspect about its global ambitions in the energy sector. The general consensus is that ABN AMRO could have difficulty in competing against French banks such as Société Générale and BNP Paribas, which have a lock on the field in Europe. In fact, ABN AMRO’s former energy team ended up at BNP Paribas after it took over part of Fortis during the demerger.  

Analysts though are encouraged that Zalm appears on track to deliver the bank back to the public markets by 2014. The first-half results in 2011 show net profits of €974m compared to €325m in the same period in 2010 while its core tier-one capital ratio was 11.4%. The cost structure had also been whittled down with expenses dropping to 63% from 75% a year ago.

With the eurozone crisis rumbling in the background, the bank’s third-quarter results showed it had taken a battering as profits were almost erased by a €500m writedown on Greek corporate loans. “Uncertainty as a result of the sovereign-debt crisis, and the impact thereof on the European economy, caused us to impair part of the €1bn Greek government-guaranteed corporate exposures,” Zalm noted at the time.

Nelson says: “It is difficult to know what will happen because all banks in the eurozone will be affected. However, there has been some investor appetite for the Netherlands and there is still scope for ABN AMRO to continue to build up its business.”

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