Thursday 5th May 2016
NEWS TICKER: MARKET ROUNDUP —Markets tanked today (almost everywhere bar the PRC) as economic data from China and an 18% lunge in profits at HSBC sapped market confidence. The bank reported an adjusted profit before tax of $5.4bn for the first quarter, down 18% on the same period last year. Citing challenging market conditions, the bank reported first quarter(Q1) pretax profit before adjustments of $6.1bn, down from $7.1bn in the first three months of 2015 but beating analysts’ forecasts of a pretax profit of $4.3bn, according to Reuters. In Hong Kong this morning the bank’s shares were up on the news, as expectations had been for much worse. Earnings per share came in at 20 cents, down from 26 cents per share in the same period last year. HSBC held its first-quarter dividend in line at 10 cents per share. In London HSBC fell 3.5p to 449p as the bank said it put in a "resilient" performance in difficult market conditions, with the entire investment banking sector suffering after stock markets tumbled at the start of 2016 amid an oil price rout. However, as we reported earlier today indexes across Europe paid the price of lower than expected manufacturing data from the Caixin/Markit Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' index (PMI), rather than Chinese bourses. The DAX fell 1.5% lower and the CAC40 dropped 1.1%. Commodity stocks were also on the back foot despite the price of oil rising 0.4% to 45.99 US dollars a barrel. Glencore ended the day down 7.5p to 155.5p, Rio Tinto fell 96.5p to 2205p and BHP Billiton slipped 34.8p to 897.4p – AQUISITION—M&A maven Cavendish Corporate Finance has advised bfinance on the investment in the company by private equity funds managed by Baird Capital. Current bfinance CEO David Vafai will continue to lead the consultancy in this next, exciting phase of its growth. He will be joined on the board by Andrew Ferguson, managing director at Baird Capital, and CFO Mark Brownlie, as directors. Also joining the board as chairman is Tim Trotter, who founded public relations group Ludgate, co-founded Citywire, the information service for the global fund management industry and is a non-executive chairman at a number of financial services and asset management related blue-chip companies. The deal with Baird follows a strong period of successes for bfinance. Recent high-profile mandates for bfinance include advising on a $1bn alternative beta strategy programme for a U.S. corporate pension plan, a USD 1.2bn private equity search for Swedish State pension fund AP7, and multiple searches across asset classes on behalf of Australian superannuation funds. The deal marks a strong start to the year for Cavendish. It follows shortly after the sale of Periproducts to Venture Life Plc, the sale of Gloucester Rugby club to new owner Martin St Quinton, the sale of B2B creative marketing agency Twogether to Next 15 Plc and the debt raise for Pets Corner following a highly successful 2015 during which the company completed over 20 deals –AIIB/ADB— In a shift in strategy the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank has signed a financing memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Asian Development Bank, the second partnership signed in the space of a few month by the challenger development bank. AIIB, set up to counter the ‘hegemony’ of Western dominated aid institutions, has been struggling to dispel its image as a rival to existing NGOs. The bank secured a similar arrangement with the World Bank during the International Monetary Fund-World Bank spring meetings in Washington last month. This MoU sets the stage for the banks to share funding costs for projects. The ADB said it is already in talks with the AIIB around ventures in the road and water sectors, the first of which is expected to be a 64-kilometre highway connecting two cities in Pakistan’s Punjab Province. - ASIAN TRADING SESSION - The Nikkei and Topix indexes took the brunt of risk off sentiment today as investors gave a distinct thumb down to last week’s decision by the Bank of Japan not to cut rates further. The Nikkei225 fell 7.41%, while the Topix went down 7.25% in a somewhat bloody trading session. Continuing with the pattern set down for most of this year, the yen by contrast continues to appreciate, touching at one point 105.81 again the dollar, the yen’s highest point for almost two years. The Bank of Japan in response rattled a few sabres, threatening to intervene should the yen appreciate further; but investors continued to test the yen’s upper limit. Yann Quelenn, market analyst at Swissquote noted this morning: “The yen has climbed 13% against the dollar since the start of the year and there a strong support lies at 105.23, which is now clearly on target.” The other story in the Asian session was the surprise move by the Reserve Bank of Australia to cut The Reserve Bank of Australia on Tuesday cut the cash rate to a record low of 1.75 per cent in a bid to head off falling prices and an economic downturn. Market commentators now expect a second cut before the end of the year, although some say the June quarter inflation figure, out in August, will determine the RBA's next move. The latest cut puts Australia firmly into the group of countries with an ultra-loose monetary programme, or should that be a noose around falling interest rates and bond yields. Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens said the decision was based on last week's surprisingly weak inflation figures. "Inflation has been quite low for some time and recent data were unexpectedly low," he said in a statement. The AUDUSD fell to 0.7572 from 0.7720 on the news, though the ASX All Ordinaries rose 1.94% on the day, with the S&P/ASX100 rising 2.24%. The index is now up 6.8% on the month, though up only 1.32% over the year. Aside from China and Australian indexes, boards across the region ran red for most of the session. The S&P BSE Senses was down 1.75%. The Kospi100 was also off by 1.50%, while in Singapore the Straits Times took a beating, losing 4.39% today, bringing it down 0.26% over the month and down 2.58% over the year. The Hang Seng also had a tough day, falling 3.68% today, though it is up by 0.87% over the month and down 5.65% over the year. In China, the Shanghai Composite was up 1.13% in trading today, though it is still down 0.56% over the month and down 15.44% over the year. The Shenzhen Composite had a better day, up 3.29%, and is up 1.45% over the month, but still down 16.45% on an annualised basis. The upbeat market sentiment was interesting, given that the Caixin Manufacturing PMI weakened to 49.4 in May from 49.7 in April, softer than market expectations and marking a 14th month of contraction; data that usually would have sent investors to the hills. Go figure. The data indicated that softness in labour markets and exports continue. Meantime, the central bank set the USDCNY mid-point at 6.4565. There is still mixed data emanating from China. Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s latest China: An Equity Strategist’s Diary research report highlights the nugget that YTD 241 non-government bond issuances have been cancelled or postponed, 120 of which were deferred in April, compared with 315 across the whole of last year. Some 709 bonds worth a total of RMB1.04trn came to market in last month (an 85% success rate). However, says the bank, if the bond market corrects sharply, sectors that rely most on the credit markets to support their day-to-day activities (including developers, banks, brokers, industrials and utilities) could suffer disproportionately as their reliance on credit has grown significantly during the past six months. Among the 120 bond issues affected in April, 70% were from industrials (50 bonds), financials (18) and materials (17). The bank also says a perceived implicit government guarantee on bonds and other moral hazards in the shadow banking sector, including wealth management products, is largely behind the mispricing in corporate credit. With the country’s overall default risk perceived to be low, bonds have become a cheap source of long-term financing for corporations compared to other traditional credit products. At the end of April, an AA+ rated five-year bond yielded 4.3% while the benchmark rate for a one-year to five-year loan was 4.75%. A five-year AA- rated bond offered 6.6%. The overnight repo rate annualised was 2%; seven-day repo, 2.5%; six-month discounted bill, 3%; and the one-year benchmark loan rate came in at 4.35%. Alternative sources of finance cost between 12% and 15% for P2P; 8% for a two-year trust; 19% for private lending in Wenzhou; and 18% to 20% for offline wealth management companies. BAML says a sharp uptick in the number of corporate defaults, coupled with the increasing number of cancelled or postponed bond issuances, shows that the market is starting to reprice risk although this process could last until the end this year. The peak maturing period is April/May with between RMB80bn and RMB790bn of bonds maturing over the period. From June onwards maturities fall to around RMB600bn a month for the rest of the year—SAUDI ARABIA—In another move to liberalise the Saudi Arabian capital markets, the Capital Market Authority (CMA) has approved a request by the Saudi bourse to relax settlement cycles for investors, making the country’s inclusion in the MSCI Emerging Markets Index more likely from next year. It has also announced an overhaul of foreign ownership regulations for listed companies, as it seeks to encourage participation by international institutional investors in a wide ranging programme of privatisations. The CMA announced today that it was widening the definition of Qualified Financial Investors (QFI) to include financial institutions such as sovereign wealth funds and university endowments as well as banks. The regulator says the minimum value of assets under management for QFIs will be reduced to SAR3.75bn (about $700m), compared with the current level of SAR18.75bn ($3.5bn). From the end of June 2017, QFIs will be able to own up to 49% of a company’s capital, “unless company’s bylaws or any other regulation provides for foreign ownership to be limited to a lower percentage". Individual QFIs will be able to own up to 10% of a company’s share capital, compared with the current level of 5%. Foreign investment is now an important element in the government’s wide-ranging economic diversification program, which will also involve partial privatisation of some of the country’s key state owned firms. Over the last few weeks Saudi has signalled its intention to list a 5% stake in Saudi Aramco, a move that could raise in excess of $100bn. The opening of the Saudi stock exchange, the GCC’s largest, to QFIs in June of last year was hailed as a milestone at the time, but has so far failed to attract large scale foreign investment into Saudi equities. Licensed QFIs to date include Blackrock, Ashmore Group, Citigroup and HSBC. However, up to now the firms, in combination own less than 0.1% of the Tawadul’s market capitalisation—STOCK EXCHANGE NEWS—Börse Stuttgart reports turnover in excess of €6.7bn in April 2016. The trading volume was almost on a par with the previous month. Securitised derivatives accounted for the largest share of the turnover. The trading volume in this asset class was more than €2.7bn. Leverage products contributed more than €1.4bn to the total turnover, while the trading volume of investment products was more than €1.2bn. At more than €1.4bn, turnover from equity trading at Börse Stuttgart was around 9% higher than in the previous month. German equities accounted for more than €1.1bn of the total turnover – an increase of more than 7% in comparison with March - while international equities contributed about €299m. Trading in debt instruments generated turnover of around €1.6bn in April, with trading volumes almost as high as in the previous month. Corporate bonds accounted for the largest share of the turnover, with approximately €918m.The order book turnover in exchange-traded products (ETPs) was more than €916m in April. Trading in investment fund units generated turnover of €8m —ASSET MANAGEMENT —Aberdeen Asset Management says pre-tax profits have fallen to £98.8m in the six months to March 31st, down from £185.4m over the same period a year earlier after investors have backed off from emerging markets. The asset management has been affected by changes in end investor asset allocation choices as fund outflows over the period amounted to £38.2bn (£16.7bn on a net basis says the asset management maven); however, the pace of outflows has slowed, compared with the previous six months, when investors withdrew £41.7bn (£22.6bn in net basis). Aberdeen has £292.8bn worth of assets under management, down from £330.6bn a year ago, although it marked an improvement on the £283.7bn at its financial year-end. Despite the challenges, Aberdeen has been active in turning around its fortunes, promising to cut annual costs by £70m by 2017 and has diversified its business proposition by a series of acquisitions, including the takeover of hedge-fund manager Arden, risk-graded portfolio provider Parmenion, and fund-of-funds investment manager—CORPORATE NEWS—Advance Utilico Emerging Markets Ltd says it has has extended its £50m senior secured multi-currency revolving credit facility with Scotiabank for a further two years to April 2018. Shares in Utilico are down 0.1% to 176.75 pence—SPANISH ELECTIONS – Looks like Spain is heading for another hung government. News agency The Spain Report says the latest poll of polls data from Electograph shows only minor changes compared to the results of the last general election on December 20th last year. The order of the parties remains the same: PP, PSOE, Podemos, Ciudadanos and United Left. No party is currently forecast to be close to an overall majority, of 176 out of 350 seats in Congress. Over the past four months, polls have at times suggested a slight shift towards a right-wing PP-Ciudadanos coalition and, in the latest round, the possibility that a joint Podemos-United Left electoral list might overtake the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) as the reference for the Spanish left, says the news agency—POLITICAL RISK—maven Red24 advises professionals to avoid visiting Kabul. The firm reports that yesterday, the US Embassy, issued a statement warning of an increased threat of attacks in the Taleban’s spring offensive (Operation Omari) against Afghanistan's government and its Western-backed allies, including the US, on April 12th. Crowded public areas, police and military interests, foreign embassies, foreign guest houses, hotels and government buildings/sites have been listed as probable targets; no information was provided regarding the timing of any planned attacks. Red24 says Taleban attacks in Afghanistan generally increase during the spring and summer months, which generally extend until September, when warmer weather allows militants greater access through usually snowed-in mountain passes from their traditional strongholds along the mountainous Afghanistan-Pakistan border. “Given the extreme and ongoing threat of terrorism in Afghanistan, such warnings by government authorities are taken seriously and regularly result in additional security force deployments. The warning is particularly pertinent given the attacks carried out in the capital on 19 April, following the launch of the offensive, in which at least 24 people were killed as a result of a car bomb attack, in the vicinity of several government ministries and the US Embassy in the Pul-e-Mahmood Khan and Shahr-E-Naw areas. Further incidents are expected to persist,” says the firm in an alert issued today.

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CBI comments on Barnier speech on Solvency II and infrastructure investment

Friday, 01 June 2012
CBI comments on Barnier speech on Solvency II and infrastructure investment “It’s good to hear Commissioner Barnier recognising the important role insurers have to play as long-term investors in infrastructure. The insurance sector will be critical to funding much-needed upgrades to our infrastructure both in the UK and across Europe, says Rhian Kelly, CBI Director for Business Environment policy, adding: “The European Commission must ensure that it makes commercial sense for insurers to invest in infrastructure, including BBB grade assets.” The full speech by Commissioner Barnier at the Insurance Europe Conference in Amsterdam,  covers reforms to the insurance industry, is reproduced below. http://www.ftseglobalmarkets.com/

“It’s good to hear Commissioner Barnier recognising the important role insurers have to play as long-term investors in infrastructure. The insurance sector will be critical to funding much-needed upgrades to our infrastructure both in the UK and across Europe," says Rhian Kelly, CBI Director for Business Environment policy, adding: “The European Commission must ensure that it makes commercial sense for insurers to invest in infrastructure, including BBB grade assets.” The full speech by Commissioner Barnier at the Insurance Europe Conference in Amsterdam,  covers reforms to the insurance industry, is reproduced below.

You know that my roadmap is the same as that of the G20. In a few weeks’ time we will have put forward some 30 texts covering the whole range of decisions taken by the G20 in response to the crisis.

Europe has shown it is determined to restore stability in its financial system. It must now prove its willingness to put its real economy back on the path of sustainable growth. This should be our priority for the coming months.

I am convinced that, since insurers are a force for stability and continuity on financial markets, and especially as they can invest for the long term, they have a key role to play in getting Europe back on track for sustainable growth.

I am also certain that the three major regulatory projects under way can help them in that role.

First and foremost I am thinking of Solvency II, which is an effective supervisory system. At the end of 2010, insurers had invested more than 7,400 billion euro worth of assets, which is more than 50% of European GDP. It is in the interest of Europe and of policy holders for those assets to be allocated optimally in order to finance sustainable growth.

Similarly, I think a modernised pension fund supervisory regime should allow funding to be channelled properly towards the real economy without undermining the protection of current and future pensioners. These are the stakes in the revision of the IORP Directive (institutions for occupational retirement provision).

Lastly, the financial system will not contribute fully to sustainable growth in the real economy until confidence is restored among its ‘users’. This is the aim of the initiatives we will be proposing for the protection of investors and consumers of financial services. In particular, the revision of the insurance mediation Directive (IMD) comes to mind.

Allow me to elaborate on the three projects I mentioned.

I – Solvency II

As you know, our aim with Solvency II is to introduce for all European insurers and reinsurers an efficient, modern, economic solvency system based on real risks. While it is true that this system was designed in very different economic circumstances from those we have seen in recent years, I think the Framework Directive adopted in 2009 is sufficiently flexible to allow all the changes necessary to take account of the current state of the economy.

These changes are important because the Solvency II regime should allow insurers to fully play their part in the return to sustainable growth in Europe.

Which steps have we taken under Solvency II to recognise the role of insurers as long-term investors?

I would mention three points:

·                     Firstly, a reminder that the framework set out in the Directive was not designed to prevent insurers investing in certain categories of assets. On the contrary, they will have greater freedom to invest since the absolute limits by category of asset currently in force will cease to exist. In addition, the capital requirements will be reduced for insurers who diversify their asset portfolio.

·                     Next, Solvability II recognises that it is better for insurers offering policies with long-term guarantees to invest for the long term rather than the short term. For example, it seems logical for an insurer offering pension policies with guarantees lasting several decades to invest in very long maturity bonds. In such a case, the capital burden under Solvency II would be lower than if the insurer invested in short-term bonds. A very long-term investment of this kind could be used, for example, to fund infrastructure projects and thereby create growth. Thus, Solvency II allows asset-liability management, which is inherent to the insurance profession, to benefit the real economy.

·                     To strengthen insurers’ impact on sustainable growth in the real economy, it is therefore important to foster their ability to provide long-term guarantees. That is what we have been doing over the last few months in close cooperation with the insurance industry and governments in Europe. This has enabled us to come up with a set of solutions that take account of the concerns of several Member States. The discussions on the Omnibus II Directive now include these aspects and I hope the European Parliament, whose role is essential in this matter, will soon reach a balanced agreement with the Council on the issue of long-term guarantees. We are doing our utmost to ensure that the agreement contains various well-tailored solutions to address the concerns expressed by the insurance sector and to avoid certain markets or insurers being penalised by the new system. At the same time, we wish to see swift progress in the discussions as we need to stick to the timetable we have set ourselves.

While we are on the subject of the timetable, I would like to stress one point: in the Commission’s view it is important for Solvency II to enter into force as soon as possible. We have been working on this project with the industry for more than 10 years now.

What are we doing to ensure Solvency II applies from 1 January 2014?

Although our proposal for the Omnibus II Directive was published at the very beginning of 2011, Parliament only took a position on the text at the beginning of spring 2012. This meant that the discussions between Parliament and the Council started quite late. Rapid progress has been made though and I am hopeful that a political agreement will be reached over the coming weeks. However, if nothing happens, there is a major risk that the Solvency II Directive will not be officially amended in time, that is before 1 November 2012.

That is why on 16 May 2012 we made a very targeted proposal to amend Solvency II on this point alone, in other words to change the date of implementation by the Member States. Parliament and the Council should, therefore, decide very shortly that Solvency II will apply from 1 January 2014.

Once the Omnibus II Directive has been adopted, the system will be ready to be put in place very quickly and the Commission will then be able to table the implementing texts (‘Level 2’) completing the Framework Directive. Similarly, the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority (EIOPA) will be able to submit its draft technical standards to the Commission.

II – Directive on institutions for occupational retirement provision (IORPs)

I am aware that the planned revision of the Directive on institutions for occupational retirement provision, also known as the ‘IORP Directive’ or the ‘pension funds Directive’, has given rise to a great deal of concern here in the Netherlands and in other Member States such as Germany and the United Kingdom. The argument I often hear is that pension funds in general have withstood the crisis well so there is no need to amend the existing rules.

However, I would like to insist on the need for this revision. We cannot allow ourselves to look only at the current situation. We also have to take into account the safety of future pensioners and their trust in the system! If we do not start the necessary reforms today, there will be no guarantee that the occupational pensions paid out in 10 or 20 or 30 years will be adequate. This is a matter of our common responsibility towards future generations.

But let me be very clear: contrary to reports in the press and as I have already said on several occasions – including at our Brussels conference on 1 March – we do not intend to apply all the Solvency II rules to occupational pensions institutions.

Nevertheless, European regulation of insurance companies is important for pension funds because of the legal link between the two. The pension funds Directive dating from 2003 currently refers to the applicable insurance legislation – namely, the Solvency I directives! The transition to Solvency II for insurers therefore raises the following question: how can pension funds also be made to benefit from more effective regulation that is better adapted to today’s challenges?

I believe it is important in regulatory terms to maintain a level playing field between insurance companies and pension funds when they supply similar and interchangeable products. I do not wish to penalise either of them.

We must remember that an occupational pension scheme is not an insurance policy. However, in so far as the risks underwritten by an insurance company or a pension fund are the same, I think the prudential rules should also be the same. This is necessary so as not to promote regulatory arbitrage in the single market.

I would stress though that we have not yet spelled out the new rules for pension funds. No final decision has yet been taken on this matter. The preparatory work is under way. Over the coming months, the Commission will continue to work closely with EIOPA – and I welcome Gabriel Bernardino, who is with us here this morning – and all the other stakeholders to ensure that the final text hits the right note. The Commission is mindful of the big differences between the pension systems currently in place in Member States. Those differences must be taken into account in our revision.

Given the complexity and importance of this issue, and particularly the need for first-rate quantitative impact assessments, I have decided to take a few more months to finalise the revision. We therefore expect to table the revised Directive before summer 2013, rather than at the end of 2012.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Although the current discussions on pensions are largely focused on pension funds, in my view insurance companies also have a key role to play in this area. The work on insurance products with long-term guarantees under Solvency II that I mentioned before is heading in the same direction. As I explained, this work will have a profound impact on the ability of insurers to invest for the long term. The same would also apply to pension funds if a similar approach is chosen.

More generally, we will shortly be launching a green paper on this key issue of long-term investment. In this regard, I would like to examine the impact of our proposals, especially Capital Requirements Directive IV (CRD IV) and the Solvency II Directive. I will also seek new ways of encouraging this long-term investment, which is particularly essential for funding major infrastructure projects and the environmental transition.

III – Insurance mediation Directive (IMD)

As I have pointed out, to make the financial system fully serve the real economy, another crucial priority is the protection of investors and consumers of financial services.

In this regard, we shall be proposing three key initiatives in the coming weeks:

Firstly, we want to better protect consumers of packaged retail investment products (PRIPS) by introducing harmonised and transparent information requirements. These products are now so complex and obscure that too often consumers buy them when it is not in their interest to do so. In this context, I can assure you that the rules to be applied will take account of the specific nature of the insurance sector.

Secondly, the Madoff fraud case in the United States, in which some Europeans lost money, has exposed the loopholes in regulating UCITS. Our aim is to provide better protection for those investing in such products by introducing stricter liability rules for the loss of financial instruments kept in a depositary bank.

Finally, a subject that concerns you directly: we want to protect consumers of insurance products, especially by creating a ‘level playing field’ between the different providers of these products. That is why the IMD Directive must include within its scope direct selling of insurance. We think that each policy holder should be given the same level of information and protection, wherever they purchase their insurance guarantee. I will be submitting a text to Parliament and the Council that represents real progress in terms of transparency, including on remuneration, responsible risk management and removing conflicts of interest.

As regards restoring consumer confidence, I also have in mind the confidence insurers inspire when they work together to reduce the risk or limit the impact of the catastrophic consequences that can result from natural or industrial disasters. I intend to publish a green paper open to public consultation on the subject of insurance and disasters. It will be designed as a forum for the exchange of experience and good practice in the Member States. The role of insurers will be acknowledged and discussed and I would invite you all to take part in this very important debate.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Insurers and reinsurers are guardians of stability and continuity on the financial markets. In the current context, they are more important than ever.

In this regard, we must restore confidence in the ability of the financial system to channel funding towards the real economy over the long term while protecting investors and consumers.

By moving in this direction, our proposals on Solvency II, insurance intermediaries and occupational pensions institutions give us an opportunity to help put the European economy back on the path towards sustainable growth.

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