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‘Flash Boys’ Survey, Muslims’ Baby Boom: Compliance

More than two-thirds of financial industry participants, 70 percent, say the U.S. equity markets aren’t fair for all, according to a survey conducted by ConvergEx Group LLC, which provides brokerage and trading-related services. Just over half, 51 percent, also said high-frequency trading is harmful or very harmful.

Those results suggest agreement with the view expressed in “Flash Boys,” a book by Michael Lewis, a columnist for Bloomberg View, that the $23 trillion U.S. stock market is rigged. ConvergEx’s study had 357 respondents, 233 of whom work at money managers such as mutual funds or hedge funds and 73 at broker-dealers or banks. Conducted from April 16 to 21, the survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 10 percentage points.

Despite the negative rhetoric and the worries expressed in their replies, 71 percent of respondents to ConvergEx’s survey said they haven’t altered the way they interact with the stock market.

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Japanese Regional Banks Poised to Resist Regulator’s Merger Push

Japanese regional banks are resisting the financial regulator’s calls to merge, damping prospects for the revival of an industry plagued by falling interest rates and stagnating rural economies.

Nineteen of 24 lenders that responded to a Bloomberg News survey question this month said combining isn’t an option for their future, and five said it is. Financial Services Agency Commissioner Ryutaro Hatanaka urged local bank chiefs in January to consider mergers and alliances to address a worsening profit outlook, according to three people who attended the meeting.

Sluggish growth and a declining population and increasing competition are weighing on earnings. Banks that were against consolidating cited reasons such as their role in the local economy and a wish to stay independent. Those that said combining was an option mentioned the need to expand loans and deposits amid the falling population.

Compliance Action

Qualcomm Receives Wells Notice From SEC on China Activity

Qualcomm Inc. said in a filing April 23 that it received a Wells notice from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission last month in which the agency recommended enforcement action over bribery allegations in China.

The company said it became aware of the investigation in 2012 and started its own inquiry. Qualcomm discovered it had provided employment considerations, gifts and other benefits to “individuals associated with Chinese state-owned companies or agencies,” according to the filing. The total value of the gifts was less than $250,000, and the company is cooperating with inquiries at the SEC and the Justice Department, it said.

The company in November disclosed that China’s National Development and Reform Commission had begun an investigation related to an anti-monopoly law.

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Baby Boom Is Driving Shariah-Compliant Sales in Finance Hubs

Islamic banks are reaping the benefits of a baby boom among Muslim families, encouraging global finance hubs including Hong Kong and the U.K. to focus on serving the Shariah-compliant industry.

Lenders that comply with the religion’s ban on interest will have more than 70 million customers by 2018, up from 38 million last year, helping to double Islamic banking assets to $3.4 trillion over the period, Ernst & Young LLP estimates. Underpinning this is a global Muslim population growth rate that will be more than twice the pace of non-Muslims through 2030, according to a 2011 report by the Washington-based Pew Research Center.

Two-thirds of the 38 million people who bank in compliance with the religion’s tenets live in Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, UAE, Qatar and Indonesia, E&Y estimates. Saudi Arabia and Malaysia will remain the key Islamic financial centers, Ashar Nazim, a Bahrain-based partner at E&Y’s Global Islamic Banking Center, said in an April 17 e-mail interview.

Banks Cutting Commodity Trading Are Seen Ending Link to Equities

Banks’ pullback from commodities trading is weakening the link between raw materials and equities and helping to re-establish supply and demand as the main factor in setting prices, United Nations researchers said.

As banks leave parts of the business, prices of commodities are moving more independently of stocks, the UN researches said. Financial institutions piled into physical commodities and derivatives over the past 12 years, which amplified a run-up in prices for everything from copper to oil before the 2008 financial crisis.

The exodus is nudging futures markets back toward their original function, as a way for farmers, miners and other companies in the commodities business to hedge against price swings.

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