31 Dec 2010

Central Clearing: Solution or Problem?

Pushing more business onto central clearing systems is not the ultimate solution in the search for a more stable financial system. The question remains the same: Would the system be able to deal with a (near instantaneous) change of 20 or 30 pct of asset prices? Only then could one be reasonably sure that a market panic could not topple the financial system. But that would require a substantial increase in margin rates and a corresponding reduction in the amount of leverage available to all market participants.

M+A: Success ratio lower than at Russian Roulette

The statement may seem to be a bit extreme but anyone contemplating a Merger or Acquisition would do well to keep this warning in mind. All too often senior management falls in love with an idea or is egged on by advisers who are paid on completion only and therefore have no real stake in the ultimate success of the transaction.

30 Dec 2010

Compensation gravy train: one train in the UK that you can rely on!

A woman has been awarded half a million pounds in a series of compensation payments after accusing four public sector employers of discrimination, unfair dismissal or sexual harassment (Daily Telegraph, 11 Nov 2010). While a disproportionate amount of claims are settled in the Public sector the financial sector is also vulnerable to the frightening rise in red tape and social engineering created with little regard to the realities of private business.

29 Dec 2010

Patchy hiring to follow frenzy at European banks says Reuters

The real test of management will come when business volumes have declined so much that present staffing levels can no longer be justified. Those companies that have hired wisely and responsibly will have to do much less pruning than those that adhere to a irresponsible 'hire and fire' philosophy of human capital (mis)management.

Tulips anyone?

That comes to mind when reading about the frenzied trading in today's story stocks such as Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin. Which bank will it be that is left holding the bag financing a speculative hot-shot when the whole bubble bursts?

Deutsche Bank: rated most exposed by Japanese Regulator

While Deutsche Bank has performed admirably (at least on a comparative basis) during the financial Crash we kept being concerned about the slender margin of safety that is provided by the equity capital basis. DB may be less exposed to sovereign loans in the Eurozone and corporate loans may also be a lower part of its portfolio than in other institutions but that means that the bank is more exposed to financial assets and counter party credits. And the purchase of supposedly 'safe' businesses such as Deutsche Postbank and Oppenheim are by no means guaranteed to provide the high returns that management continues to aim for. News that Deutsche Bank is the lucky (?) owner of the most recent addition to the Las Vegas hotel scene does little to inspire confidence in the bank's risk management skills. Maybe the bank should pay its bonuses in the form of free hotel vouchers until the full extent of its exposure has been recouped.

15 Dec 2010

UBS dress code memo

UBS was (and is?) known for fast-tracking officers of the Swiss Army Militia through its management ranks. We are not sure that the 'new UBS' (post SBC 'Merger') adheres to the same management principles. But given the fact that banks worldwide are inundated with more or less sensible regulations it is amazing that someone in the - still vast - bureaucracy of a large bank finds the time to devise such a detailed prescriptive paper. Rulebooks such as this tome certainly would not surprise anyone if it would be given to fresh recruits in an army barrack. I wonder what it does to promote morale at the workplace?

13 Dec 2010

Deutsche Boerse: another Euro 450 mio written off on ISE

In 2007 the German Stock Exchange (Deutsche Boerse) acquired the International Stock Exchange ISE for more than Euro 2 billion. This write-off follows a provision of Euro 420 million in the last quarter of 2009. Acquisitions are minefields for the unwary and should only undertaken after careful analysis and after consulting advisers that give objective advice based on long financial and markets experience.

12 Dec 2010

Secretive Banking Elite rules Trading in Derivatives?

A New York Times report highlights the lack of official supervision of trading in derivatives. In no industry would it be allowed that the dominating participants collude setting market rules without being subject to impartial outside regulation - be it from consumers or government authorities. When the market in OTC derivatives started it was a tiny cottage industry and supervision was unnecessary. Now the amounts involved are so enormous - multiples of the whole planet's GDP - that leaving the task of supervision to a few market insiders is no longer practical. One can only hope that the top officials of the financial firms concerned realize that - in the interest of society as well as their own - a new regulatory framework is urgently required. Putting the majority of the trading onto exchanges will alleviate the risks of a catastrophic market failure but this will in itself not be enough. The central clearing houses in turn will have to be made as secure as possible and only a substantial increase in margin that has to be posted by ALL market participants will ensure a safe market environment.

Goldman Sachs in controversy about CDS trade

We have for a long time called for more effective regulation of the market in credit derivatives. Therefore we are not surprised when details about Goldman's involvement in some controversial trades were disclosed by Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate permanent sub-committee on investigations.

11 Dec 2010

Deutsche Bank set to leave Postbank alone after merger

We were never sure if the frugal customers of Deutsche Postbank really will make a large impact on Deutsche Bank's profitability. The headline makes us wonder even more. What is the point of buying the bank when it will be managed with such a light touch?

9 Dec 2010

Extensive interpretation of race discrimination by UK courts

It is no secret that nationals from countries where their employer is domiciled often do - or at least appear to - get preferential treatment from their respective employers. This applies to banks and other financial institutions irrespective of their country of origin. This may well be considered unfair by some observers but could on the other hand be justified to some extent. How many Europeans working for a Japanese bank for example are fully conversant with the Japanese Language? And in the future we will have a tough time to find many seasoned professionals able to express themselves fluently in Mandarin, Russian or Arabic. So we noticed with quite some bewilderment that an English court can use legislation intended to fight race discrimination when sitting in judgement about an compensation claim by an English employee working for a French bank here in London. If the Gold Standard would have to be applied in every decision concerning promotion it would mean that in nearly every case the employee who loses out would have a case to sue. In addition, who determines which employee merits promotion more? Should every decision have to be submitted to a court or tribunal before it becomes effective? Politicians, the Courts and pressure groups all combine to make the UK a less efficient and less inviting place to locate a business and court cases such as this one are the worst possible advertisement for UK Plc.

6 Dec 2010

Goldman to write down stake in CMC Markets

News that Goldma Sachs is to write down the value of its £140 million minority stake in CMC Markets is proof for the fact that even the most savvy acquirers sometimes succumb to hype and a good story. Over the years we have seen numerous instances when a gullible financial press has reported valuations of businesses about to be floated that were inspired more by the aspirations of the selling shareholders and their advisers rather than by thorough analysis of the underlying values of the business. Numerous academic studies have demonstrated that at best half of all acquisitions are successful and any firm contemplating strategic transactions would be well advised to consult advisers that are not driven by fees but have the interest of the client at heart.

4 Dec 2010

Some simple rules for banking reform - and no need for a PhD either!

One aspect of banking reform that has been completely neglected would be the requirement to match the maturities of assets and liabilities more closely. While 100 pct will never be practical there should be tight guidelines. Bands of maturities on both sides of the balance sheet should be closely matched to about 90 per cent. Large banks, and in particular trading firms, should not be able to roll a mountain of short term debt to finance highly speculative positions and hope for the best - or the next taxpayer-funded bailout. The huge interbank market is also ripe for more regulation. There simply is no need for a fragile house of cards of interbank positions on which to build a proper lending business. A small amount of interbank lending is always required to smooth positions but every bank should mostly rely on deposits from its own customers (and matched as to liquidity). These rules are simple to monitor, no PHD or even MBA is needed, just sound people with common sense and a health work ethic (in contrast to a bonus ethic)

2 Dec 2010

Regulatory costs out of control

A quick look at numbers released by Brewin Dolphin, a wealth manager in the UK, confirms our fears that regulatory costs have exploded well out of control and that the supposed beneficiary, the ordinary investor and saver, has very little to show for it. At Brewin regulatory costs have now reached 6 percent of turnover, totalling around £15 million. When put in relation to pre-tax profits of £31.4 million or assets under management/advice of £23.2 billion one can see that bureaucracy is just another tax where most of the proceeds go towards paying the running costs of the self-serving bureaucracy (4000 paper-pushers by now and rising rapidly).

FSA vetting procedures - deepening bureaucratic morass

An interesting side-effect of the FSA's vetting procedures for senior banking executives is highlighted in the Financial Times: the widely-applauded push for more female board members may be hindered as the vetting procedures tend to favor experienced males, especially those with an accounting or audit background. As it is difficult to find many senior women with that kind of background companies may struggle to fill vacancies with women candidates. In addition, candidates may be deterred from putting themselves forward and submit themselves to the FSA vetting regime. We are not really of the opinion that favoring women during a search is the right way to go - just the other day an old colleague from Goldman Sachs mentioned to me that any woman aspiring for a more senior role there must make a hard choice between domestic and professional life with any one going to pursue her career in earnest likely to have the backing of a house husband. But on a wider front one has to ask why would any experienced professional want to undergo the humiliation of being 'vetted' by paper-pushers at the FSA that have achieved less and are less capable? Any person worth his salt in Moscow, Tokyo, Hong Kong or New York is well advised to stay where he/she is and say 'thanks but no thanks' to any job offer here in London. And that is without even mentioning the weather, taxes or public transport.

1 Dec 2010

No improvement in pay practices at banks - study

An study commissioned by the Council of Institutional Investors comes to the conclusion that changes to pay practices at major banks in the USA have lead to a deterioration rather than the intended improvement in incentives.