Tuesday 21st April 2015
NEWS TICKER MONDAY APRIL 20TH 2015: European President Donald Tusk has called an extraordinary European Council on migratory pressures in the Mediterranean for Thursday this week to discuss how to tackle the growing tragedy of hundreds of would-be immigrants dying at sea on the way to trying to build a better life. “The situation in the Mediterranean is dramatic,” says Tusk. “It cannot continue like this. We cannot accept that hundreds of people die when trying to cross the sea to Europe. The objective of the summit is to discuss, at the highest level, what we, the Member States and the EU institutions together, can and must do to alleviate the situation now. I do not expect any quick-fix solutions to the root causes of migration - because there are none. Had they existed, we would have used them long ago. But I do expect that the Commission and the European External Action Service will present options for immediate action. And I do expect Member States will contribute immediately.” – The Nasdaq Stock Market says trading was halted today in ForceField Energy Inc (Nasdaq:FNRG) at 10:21:37 Eastern Time for "additional information requested" from the company at a last price of $3.11. Trading will remain halted until ForceField Energy Inc. has fully satisfied Nasdaq's request for additional information. For news and additional information about the company, please contact the company directly or check under the company's symbol using InfoQuotes on the Nasdaq web site - PEGAS, the pan-European gas trading platform operated by Powernext, successfully launched physically settled Spot and Futures contracts, quoted in pence per therms, for the Belgian Zeebrugge Beach (ZEE) gas hub on April 17th 2015. On the same day, a Daily Average Price index for the Zeebrugge Trading Point (ZTP) in Euros per Megawatt-Hour was introduced. The first transaction was completed on the first trading day at 08:49 AM CET on ZEE May 2015 contract at 45.025 pence per therm with a volume of 25,000 therms. This represented the first cleared futures trade ever made on the Zeebrugge hub. 14 trading members are set up for trading of the new products, with more members currently in the process of being admitted. “With the addition of the new ZEE contracts and with the ZTP and ZTPL (ZTP L-gas) products launched in July 2014, PEGAS is offering new trading opportunities through the widest range of products in two of the most important European hubs”, comments Dr Egbert Laege, chief executive officer of Powernext. Moreover, PEGAS is now providing a new ZTP Daily Average Price (DAP) index which is the weighted average of all transactions during a trading day - The value of real estate trades in Kuwait fell by 27% to KWD956m and the number of transactions fell by 28% to 692 in the first quarter this year according to statistics from the real estate registration department at the Ministry of Justice - The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Arab Monetary Fund (AMF) have pledged to enhance cooperation to respond more effectively to the needs of their common membership in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The AMF and the IMF share common objectives of maintaining macroeconomic and financial stability, and accelerating broad-based and inclusive economic growth and job creation in the Arab region, in addition to strengthening capacity building. Under the MOU, the AMF and the IMF will continue to provide training opportunities to Arab officials, support the development of domestic capital markets in the Arab countries, and strengthen their collaboration on the Arabstat initiative, which aims at the development of efficient statistical systems in the region. The two parties also intend to carry out joint analytical work to inform Arab finance ministers and central bank governors, and to organise high level events on topics of mutual interests and priority for the region – The Kuwait Turk Bank will open in Frankfurt in July offering Shari’a compliant retail banking services having just received a licence from German market authorities. The bank already has a branch in Mannheim, but this new licence will allow it to operate as a fully functional bank in the country - The Joint Committee of the European Supervisory Authorities (ESAs) is organising the third Joint ESAs Consumer Protection Day on 3 June 2015 in Frankfurt am Main. The event will bring together, from all over Europe, thought leaders of consumer/investor organisations, national regulators, EU institutions, academics and key market participants. The keynote speech will be delivered by Jonathan Hill, European Commissioner for Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union. The focus will be on conduct risk; the next decade in the banking, insurance, pensions and securities sectors and the growing digitalisation of financial services. The Joint Committee of the European Supervisory Authorities consists of the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA), the European Banking Authority (EBA), and the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority (EIOPA). The Straits Times Index (STI) ended 21.94 points or 0.62% lower to 3503.25, taking the year-to-date performance to +4.10%. The top active stocks today were SingTel, which declined 1.12%, DBS, which declined 0.80%, Keppel Corp, which closed unchanged, CapitaLand, which declined 1.09% and UOB, with a 0.29% fall. The FTSE ST Mid Cap Index fell 0.32%, while the FTSE ST Small Cap Index fell 0.57%. The outperforming sectors today were represented by the FTSE ST Health Care Index, which rose 1.77%. The two biggest stocks of the Index - Raffles Medical Group and Biosensors International Group – ended 1.02% higher and 5.03% higher respectively. The underperforming sector was the FTSE ST Utilities Index, which slipped 1.65%. United Envirotech shares rose 3.15% and Hyflux declined 1.07% - The performance of the UK buy-to-let (BTL) residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) market remained steady in the three months ended February 2015, according to the latest indices published by Moody's Investors Service. The 90+ day delinquency rate and outstanding repossessions stood at 0.7% and 0.1% respectively in February 2015, unchanged from November 2014. Moody's annualised total redemption rate decreased to 9.3% in February 2015 from 11.2% in November 2014, representing a 17.5% drop - Proserv and hazardous environment specialist JCE Group (UK) Limited have announced a strategic working partnership in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region. The agreement will see Proserv supporting JCE Group by offering its products and services whilst also delivering in-country engineering and technical support. Together, the companies aim to further build on their industry-leading standards of quality, service and reliability, and help cultivate a world-class QHSE culture - Deutsche Asset & Wealth Management (Deutsche AWM) has launched a physical replication exchange-traded fund (ETF) tracking the JPX-Nikkei 400 Index of Japanese stocks. At the same time, three new currency-hedged share classes of existing db X-trackers ETFs have also been listed. db x-trackers JPX-Nikkei 400 UCITS ETF (DR)1 tracks an index of 400 Japanese stocks selected on the basis of quantitative and qualitative screening. As the underlying index is not a standard capitalisation-weighted benchmark the ETF falls into the strategic beta – also known as ‘smart beta’ – category of investments.

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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