29 Oct 2011

Russia: do not learn the wrong things from Western Bankers

'Senior western financiers (...) gathered in Moscow on Friday to advise Russia on its efforts to transform Moscow into an international financial centre and steel itself against global market turmoil'. (Financial Times).
But the last thing the Russians should do is listen to the Western banking establishment. Neither factually nor morally its exponents are fit to teach the Russians how to organise a stable banking/financial system. After a near-collapse in 2008 and total uncertainty about the future - what could they lecture about in Moscow? Why not first make sure that the banks in the 'West' get fixed once and for all? The blueprints exist, alas the will is not there (at least not as long as it hurts one's pocket if reforms are wholeheartedly endorsed)

Fireproof the British Banking System

'The remorseless logic of the monetary union is starting to bite' (Financial Times). The curse of the bad Deed (Goethe, Faust) haunts us - first the undemocratic introduction of the Euro, now the undemocratic decision of letting Greece off to the tune of Euro 10,000 and more per man, woman and child in that county. Mismanagement on that scale can, will and should only lead to disaster. Big challenge for Britain: how to make its financial system 'fireproof' against any fallout from Euro land. Are regulators making sure that the banking system disentangles itself from any exposure to Euro land? (esp on the asset side of the balance sheet). Other countries that are not part of the Eurozone are well advised to take action as well before it is too late. The same can be said of all companies, institutions and individual investors and savers.

27 Oct 2011

Banks should rely on customer deposits

As in tighter regulation of maturity mismatches, future regulation of banks should also reduce the need for the interbank merry-go-round. Banks should be incentivised to fund the predominant part of their balance sheet with customer deposits. Only very marginal amounts should be financed in the interbank market, more like smoothing out the natural flow of deposits. This way counterparty risk would be greatly reduced.

26 Oct 2011

Yahoo Board looks harder for new CEO

Headlines such as this one illustrate that many boards are completely negligent in one of their key tasks - making sure that there is a proper succession plan in place. That large companies find it so hard to groom candidates for the top position is testimony for poor board practice. Though one of our business lines is recruting senior professional staff we are surprised that most firms are paying much to little attention to this crucial aspect. Personnel Management is not just a support function that should be left to the personnel department that is ranked below the front line divisions in terms of clout and prestige. Instead it should be a core function in every business - and even more so in the financial service industry which basically has no tangible products and relies for its success completely on the quality of its employees.

25 Oct 2011

Today's Banks are by necessity a sort of Ponzi Scheme

Martin Wolf's suggestions for banking reform may all be admirable but they are basically just reshuffling the chairs on the deck of the Titanic. Banking as we know it is to some extent by necessity a ponzi scheme, to accept that longer-term loans are financed with deposits on shorter notice periods is a concept that may work in the days when investors were very loyal (or lazy). A much better solution would be limited purpose banking (as promoted by Laurence Kotlikoff) where banks become some sort of mutual fund.

21 Oct 2011

Advice to the City of London: stop the bureaucratic control freaks before it is too late

Reading Monsieur Barnier's latest utterings (pity he has no pregnant young wife, maybe that would put a stop to his unnecessary activities) makes one wonder what the reaction of the representatives of British interests - be it the cacophony of associations pretending to speak for the 'City' or the arms of Government (FSA, Bank of England, Treasury) will be. Pious talk will get them nowhere against the hunger of the typical continental bureaucrat (statist control freaks) for ever more power. As an Austrian who works in the City for 30+ years I am allowed to say that. Call their bluff or face certain defeat, the choice is there.

20 Oct 2011

Barnier on Rating Agencies: Shoot the Messenger!

If banning ratings that do not suit the political establishment is all that the career bureaucrat Barnier can come up with, it is back to the dark ages of absolutism - as the Philosopher Sloterdijk said in a recent interview our political system is basically the old authoritarian monarchical regime that has been usurped by an equally undemocratic political/party/lobby mafia. The only sensible reform of the rating system would be the elimination of all references to ratings in regulations and the prohibition of ratings that are paid for the entities being rated. None of these two obvious reforms have been brought forward yet.

18 Oct 2011

Deutsche Bank's exposure to Las Vegas Casinos

When a single bank lends nearly USD 1 million per room (!!) to a Las Vegas casino-cum-hotel project one has to wonder what senior management and in particular risk management was up to. It is easy to create large amount of lending volumes (and bonuses) by lending to mega projects in property but this also creates a trap if the business is not supervised closely. A similar risk is created by lending to finance takeovers and acquisitions by financial 'sponsors' as these deals are cheap in terms of manpower expended. One should not be surprised if little or no capacity is left to finance ordinary business.

12 Oct 2011

Highest Income Tax Rates Worldwide - KPMG Study

A handy reckoner for those interested to move to a tax-friendly climate can be found here

4 Oct 2011

Dexia troubles - no surprise given waferthin capital cushion

One glance at the balance sheet of the troubled lender makes it all-too-obvious what is at the heart of the banking crisis: equity capital is just not large enough to support the huge balance sheets that happy-go-lucky bank managements have piled up in the good times. At the end of 2010 total equity of Euro 8.945 billion had to support assets in the amount of 567 billion Euros! Add the fact that many bank balance sheets are financed with footloose 'hot money' and are not even closely matching maturities on the asset and liability side and you have the perfect prescription for a banking shipwreck. And all that under the 'watchful' eye of the regulators.

3 Oct 2011

OTC Derivatives - a dangerous house of cards?

The renewed crisis in the credit markets that has been triggered by concerns about peripheral member states of the Eurozone festers like a slow-burning bush fire. As we have warned before, the regulators and politicians have still not come up with a credible solution (we avoid the expression 'final solution' but that is what the financial markets would really need).
Case in point is the concern about the gigantic gross exposures that nestle within the financial markets - and the extreme level of risk concentration that does little to assuage concerns. No one can really predict what would happen if there is a new bout of extreme market volatility - if key variables like stock markets would move by 20 per cent of more in one day. At a time when markets get excited about wholly inadequate hikes in margin requirements for gold futures for example one has to assume that drastic moves would take the majority of market participants by surprise.
A simple remedy - no PhD's required, or expensive 'accountant.consultants' - would be the introduction of meaningful margin and capital requirements for ALL derivative contracts that are on the books of any bank, fund manager or other counter party.

1 Oct 2011

CDS Death Spiral in full swing again


If you learn nothing from history, you are bound to repeat the mistakes of the past - the horror story of uncontrolled short selling via an easily manipulated CDS market is creating havoc again. Basically the rising spreads are nothing else but a concerted effort to create a run on banks and countries. We warned about this repeatedly during the 2008-09 crash but regulators and politicians have not heeded the warnings, now they reap the whirlwind.