Bershidsky on Europe: Peugeot Turning Chinese?
Here's today's look at some of the top stories on markets and politics in Europe:
U.S. funds went on bank stock buying spree in Europe
Financial Times has calculated that U.S. funds increased their holdings in Europe's 10 biggest listed banks by 40 percent to $45 billion since the euro area posted optimistic economic growth numbers for the second quarter of 2013. A rise in stock values has contributed to this, but the number of shares in euro-area banks held by funds such as Black Rock, T Rowe Price and Waddle & Reed also increased, by 10 percent. The sharp peak in fund investment after the growth numbers were announced shows how much of institutional investment is based on knee-jerk reactions. Now that the third quarter stats are out, European banks do not look so cheap anymore, and funds will probably hold off on further increasing their ownership.
Unilever starts marketing the umbrella brand
On Nov. 20, the world's number two consumer goods producer, Anglo-Dutch Unilever, is launching a worldwide marketing campaign for the company's umbrella brand. The company never did this before, focusing instead on promoting its specific brands, many of them household names like Dove soap, Axe deodorant and Ben & Jerry's ice cream, in specific countries. The new campaign, named "Project Sunlight" and focusing on social networks, will stress the company's social mission. Unilever has just had its worst quarter since the 2008 financial crisis, its stock is on the way down, and it definitely needs more sunlight in its life. The centralized campaign is targeted as much at investors as at consumers. Unilever's competitors such as Procter & Gamble and Nestle will watch with interest.
Russian email and chat service in U.S., on Dutch servers
Mail.ru Group, one of Russia's biggest internet companies, has launched email and chat services aimed at the U.S. market under the my.com brand. The services are geared toward mobile platforms, offering to ensure seamless communications between Apple and Android users. These are essentially copycat offerings, and users will be hard-pressed to see what new functionality the Russian entrant, controlled by Russia's richest man Alisher Usmanov, is bringing to the market. There is one interesting twist, however: My.com data centers will be located in the Netherlands, which Mail.ru chief executive Dmitri Grishin calls a "nice neutral place" outside both Russia and the U.S. In effect, the Russian company is advertising ostensible immunity from both U.S. and Russian spying as a marketing advantage. In fact, intelligence services will be able to intercept mail and chat traffic in transit, no matter where the servers are, but the marketing gimmick itself is a sign of how National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden's revelations are changing the Internet services market.
EU approves first ever budget cut
The European parliament approved, after a protracted struggle, the first ever cut in member states' contributions to the EU's coffers, capping them at $1.3 trillion for 2014-2020. After adjusting for inflation, it is a $47 million decrease from the last long-term budget. This is a victory for the U.K. and other economically strong EU members. They called for even bigger cuts, but Brussels initially wanted an increase, so the compromise is on the right side of the line for those who want a slimmer EU. Simultaneously, the European Court of Justice blocked a 2011 pay rise for EU bureaucrats that, member countries had argued, contradicted their austerity policies. The tide is turning against the powerful, free-spending Eurocracy, even before nationalist parties increase their representation in the European Parliament next year.
Peugeot founding family losing control
The Peugeot family, which holds a 25 percent stake and 38 percent of the voting rights in PSA automaker, met last weekend to give its reluctant consent to a capital deal with China's Dongfeng, the French business daily Les Echos reports. The family had always resisted alliances that would strip it of control, passing on link-ups with Mitsubishi and BMW, but Dongfeng may win where those companies failed before the year is out. PSA has fallen far behind domestic competitor Renault, because of its focus on the depressed European car market. It needs to expand in emerging markets, and it needs a capital injection. Dongfeng promises to provide both. If the deal goes through, the French company will become the first major European automaker to fall into Chinese hands, a game-changing precedent for the industry.
(Leonid Bershidsky is a Bloomberg View contributor. He can be reached at email@example.com).