Monday 8th February 2016
NEWS TICKER: Friday, February 5th: According to Reuters, Venezuela's central bank has begun negotiations with Deutsche Bank AG to carry out gold swaps to improve the liquidity of its foreign reserves as it faces debt payments of some $9.5bn this year. Around 64% of Venezuela's $15.4bn reserves are held in gold bars, which in this fluid market impedes the central bank's ability to mobilise hard currency for imports or debt service. We called the central bank to confirm the story, but press spokesmen would not comment - The Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) says official foreign currency reserves stood at $357bn (equivalent to seven times the currency in circulation or 48% of Hong Kong M3) as at the end of January, down compared with reserve assets of $358.8bn in December. There were no unsettled foreign exchange contracts at month end (end-December: $0.1bn) - BNP Paribas today set out plans to cut investment banking costs by 12% by 2019 to bolster profitability and reassure investors about the quality of its capital buffers. The bank is the latest in a line of leading financial institutions, including Credit Suisse, Barclays and Deutsche Bank which look to be moving away from capital intensive activities. BNP Paribas has been selling non-core assets and cutting back on operations including oil and gas financing for the last few years as it looks to achieve a target of 10% return on equity. Last year the bank announced a €900m write-down on its BNL unit in Italy, which pushed down Q4 net income down 51.7% to €665m - Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE)-listed tech company, Huge Group, will move its listing from the Alternative Exchange (AltX) to the JSE main board on March 1st - Moody's says it has assigned Aaa backed senior unsecured local-currency ratings to a drawdown under export credit provider Oesterreichische Kontrollbank's (OKB) (P)Aaa-rated backed senior unsecured MTN program. The outlook is negative in line with the negative outlook assigned to the Aaa ratings of the Republic of Austria, which guarantees OKB’s liabilities under the Austrian Export Financing Guarantees Act – As the first phase of talks between Greece and its creditors draws to an end, International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde stressed to journalists in Greece that debt relief is as important as the reforms that creditors are demanding, notably of the pension system. "I have always said that the Greek program has to walk on two legs: one is significant reforms and one is debt relief. If the pension [system] cannot be as significantly and substantially reformed as needed, we could need more debt relief on the other side." Greece's pension system must become sustainable irrespective of any debt relief that creditors may decide to provide, Lagarde said, adding that 10% of gross domestic product into financing the pension system, compared to an average of 2.5% in the EU, is not sustainable. She called for "short-term measures that will make it sustainable in the long term,” but did not outline what those measures might be. According to Eurobank in Athens, IMF mission heads reportedly met this morning with the Minister of Labour, Social Insurance and Social Solidarity, Georgios Katrougalos, before the team is scheduled to leave Athens today. According to the local press, it appears that differences exist between the Greek government and official creditors on the planned overhaul of the social security pension system. Provided that things go as planned, the heads are reportedly expected to return by mid-February with a view to completing the review by month end, or at worst early March. In its Winter 2016 Economic Forecast published yesterday, the European Commission revised higher Greece’s GDP growth forecast for 2015 and 2016 to 0.0% and -0.7%, respectively, from -1.4% and 1.-3% previously - Fitch says that The Bank of Italy's (BoI) recent designation of three banks as 'other systemically important institutions' (O-SIIs) has no impact on its ratings of the relevant mortgage covered bond (Obbligazioni Bancarie Garantite or OBG) programmes. Last month, BoI identified UniCredit, Intesa Sanpaolo. and Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena as Italian O-SIIs. Banco Popolare and Mediobanca have not been designated O-SIIs. This status is the equivalent of domestic systemically important bank status under EU legislation. Fitch rates two OBG programmes issued by UC and one issued by BMPS, which incorporates a one-notch Issuer Default Rating (IDR) uplift above the banks' IDRs. The uplift can be assigned if covered bonds are exempt from bail-in, as is the case with OBG programmes under Italy's resolution regime and in this instance takes account of the issuers' importance in the Italian banking sector – Meantime, according to local press reports, Italian hotel group Bauer and special opportunity fund Blue Skye Investment Group report they have completed the rescheduling and refinancing of Bauer’s €110m debt through the issue of new bonds and the sale of non-core assets, such as the farming business Aziende Agricole Bennati, whose sale has already been agreed, the Palladio Hotel & Spa and a luxury residence Villa F in Venice’s Giudecca island – Meantime, Russian coal and steel producer Mechel has also agreed a restructuring of its debt with credits after two intense years of talks. The mining company, is controlled by businessman Igor Zyuzin - Asian markets had a mixed day, coming under pressure. Dollar strengthening worries investors in Asia; from today’s trading it looks like dollar weakening does as well. Actually, that’s not the issue, the dollar has appreciated steadily over the last year as buyers anticipated Fed tightening; but it has hurt US exports and that has contributed to investor nervousness over the past few weeks, which is why everyone is hanging on today’s The nonfarm payrolls report, a bellwether of change – good or bad in the American economic outlook. Back to Asia. The Nikkei 225 ended the day at 16819.15, down 225.40 points, or 1.32%; and as the stock market fell the yen continued to strengthen. The Nikkei has shed 5.85% this week. The dollar-yen pair fell to the 116-handle, at 116.82 in afternoon trade; earlier this week, the pair was trading above 120. It is a hard lesson for the central bank, whose efforts to take the heat out of the yen by introducing negative interest rates has done nothing of the sort. Australia's ASX 200 closed down 4.15 points, or 0.08% after something of a mixed week. The index closed at 4976.20, with the financial sector taking most of the heat today, with the sector down 0.7%. In contrast, energy and materials sectors finished in positive territory, buoyed by gains in commodities. The Hang Seng Index closed at 19288.17, up 105.08 points (or 0.55%) while the Shanghai Composite was down 0.61%. down 17.07 points to 2763.95. The Shenzhen composite dropped 20.36 points (1.15%) to 1750.70, while the Kospi rose marginally by 0.08% to 1917.79. Today is the last day of trading on the Chinese exchanges for a week.

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North America

Mercer, a consulting firm in health, wealth and careers and a subsidiary of Marsh & McLennan Companies (NYSE: MMC), has announced the appointment of Simon O’Regan as president in North America.  Previously president of the Mercer EuroPac, region which includes Europe as well as Australia and New Zealand, he is succeeded by Martine Ferland, previously senior partner and leader of the retirement business for EuroPac. Pat Milligan will assume a newly created role focused on growth of the firm’s multinational clients.

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In a speech to the DerivOps North America 2015, CFTC chairman Timothy Massad highlighted market uncleared swaps – SEF confirmations and confirmation data reporting and error trades are now in CFTC sights. 

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State Street Global Exchange today released the results of the State Street Investor Confidence Index (ICI) for February 2015. The Global ICI decreased to 105.2, down 1.4 points from January’s revised reading of 106.6. Confidence among European investors declined the most, with the European ICI falling 8.2 points to 105.9, down from January’s revised reading of 114.1, while in Asia the ICI fell by 5.3 points to 93.8. However, the North American ICI rose by 3.1 points to 104.3.

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Fidessa group plc (LSE: FDSA) today announced a key appointment for its sell-side business, Jay Biancamano is now head of equities product marketing for the Americas. Based in New York and reporting to James Blackburn, global head of equities product marketing, Biancamano will focus on driving the strategic direction of Fidessa's sell-side equities products to provide new and innovative services to its clients which deliver them real business value.

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Apex Fund Services, the independent fund administrator, has appointed Dennis Westley as managing director, North America with immediate effect. Westley will have responsibility for growing Apex’s North American operations and integrating potential acquisitions. Reporting directly to Apex’s Global CEO, Bill Salus, Westley will also manage Apex’s offices in New York, New Jersey, Florida and Toronto.

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Fitch Ratings-New York-09 February 2015: North American Exploration and Production (E&P) companies continued to announce reductions to 2015 capital spending in Q4 earnings calls as a function of lower oil prices, according to Fitch Ratings. Capex cuts are ongoing as the price of West Texas Intermediate has dropped over 50% since July of last year, and now stands at just over $50/barrel.

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Kames Capital has added to its equity capabilities with the appointment of Matt Harding. Harding joins the team as an investment analyst focussing on North American equities, reporting to Marcus Chandler, Kames’ head of North American equities.

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Aviva Investors will manage a new global tactical asset allocation retail mutual fund which is intended to address demand for risk-managed options for equity allocations, and is the latest addition to Virtus’ portfolio of open-ended mutual funds.

The Aviva Investors Multi Strategy range, AIMS, launched in the UK on the 1st of July 2014 and has since gathered over £480 million in assets* from investors looking for products that clearly align with their investment goals. Aviva Investors’ Target Return Fund aims to provide a specified target return by investing in a globally-diversified multi strategy portfolio, while limiting the volatility of those returns compared with global equities.

Commenting on the strategic partnership, Euan Munro, chief executive officer of Aviva Investors says: “Key to our approach is a commitment to delivering outcomes central to investors’ financial well-being and clearly aligned to their investment goals. We believe that our range of solutions can appeal to a broad set of investors from around the world, who in the current low-yield environment are seeking to secure positive returns across various market conditions.

“We’re delighted to be working with Virtus, as not only will the partnership widen Aviva Investors global distribution footprint by providing access to Virtus’ strong product development and distribution capabilities, it will also provide US retail clients with access to Aviva Investors’ specific expertise in the management of outcome-oriented multi-strategy solutions.” 

George R Aylward, president and chief executive officer of Virtus, adds: "When we develop new investment solutions for the mutual fund market, we want to get the best strategies from high-quality investment managers, so we look forward to working with Aviva Investors to offer multi-strategy investment solutions and then adding Aviva Investors as a manager as we expand into other strategies.

"We are particularly pleased to work with Aviva Investors Chief Executive, Euan Munro, who has been a pioneer in the development of multi-strategy investment solutions.  His team has specialised in using a collaborative, disciplined, transparent approach that seeks to create consistent and explainable performance in up and down markets.” The fund is expected to be available to investors in the second quarter of 2015 subject to regulatory approval.

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