Bershidsky on Europe: Bond Tremors in Ukraine
Here's today's look at some of the top stories on markets and politics in Europe:
Ukraine bonds plummet as instability continues
Franklin Templeton's $3 billion bet on Ukrainian bonds is looking iffy. Yields on 10-year dollar-denominated government bonds have risen to 10.6 percent from 9.9 percent on Friday, and default insurance on the nation's sovereign debt costs more than 10 percent of face value. With the center of Kiev still flooded with protesters and the parliament about to debate a motion of no confidence in the government, President Viktor Yanukovych has calmly left for a state visit to China. Ukraine is looking more and more ungovernable and a bond default is conceivable.
European investment banks plan deeper pay cuts than U.S. ones
For the third year in a row, investment banks are cutting employees' pay as a way to deliver more value to shareholders in a world of low returns and tightening regulation. And in Europe the cuts are more significant than in the U.S. Royal Bank of Scotland has set aside 27 percent less for investment bank pay in the first three quarters of 2013. Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, HSBC and Barclays envisage cuts of 5 to 17 percent. By contrast, the cuts at Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan amount to 5 percent, 4 percent and 3 percent respectively. The labor market for investment bankers is ceasing to be global. That plays into the hands of those who support the EU's bonus cap for bankers, going into effect next year: Bankers are not emigrating in droves in search of higher bonuses.
Daimler, Lagardere and EADS executives to stand trial for insider trading
French prosecutors have lodged insider trading charges against seven current and former executives in aerospace corporation EADS, as well as Daimler and Lagardere as corporate entities. The prosecutors allege that the suspects, including current Airbus sales chief John Leahy and the two corporations, had insider knowledge of the technical problems facing A350 and A380 aircraft when they sold EADS stock and stock options in 2006. The same suspects were cleared of similar accusations by the French stock market watchdog, but prosecutors persisted and produced the indictment. It is an old case, but managers in France and elsewhere may well need a reminder that it looks bad if they sell shares in their own company just before the stock price tanks.
Greece named Europe's most corrupt nation
Transparency International published the 2013 edition of its Corruption Perceptions Index, naming Greece as the EU's most corrupt nation. It ranks 80th place out of 177 countries (the lower a country is on the list, the higher its perceived official corruption level). Greece, however, was in 94th place last year, so it has cause to celebrate. Spain, however, was one of the biggest losers in this year's rankings, dropping from 30th to 40th globally, because of a series of scandals in its ruling party and royal family. In general, however, Europe is not growing more corrupt despite all its economic woes. As in 2012, there are six European countries in the ranking's top ten. Business cultures that stress integrity are still in place in the Nordic countries and Switzerland.
EU regulator threatens ratings agencies
The Paris-based European Securities and Markets Authority threatened the Big Three ratings agencies – Standard & Poor's, Moody's and Fitch – with "enforcement action" such as fines and possibly even license withdrawal. In a report detailing the results of an ESMA investigation into the rating agencies' work, the regulator accused the agencies of disclosing rating moves to third parties before publication, using junior analysts and support staff to do work normally required of senior analysts, and a number of other deficiencies. The agency did not say when the action might be taken, so the report should be seen as another salvo in the war between the EU bureaucracy and the U.S. based agencies. The Big Three have heard the accusations before, particularly after the 2008 financial crisis, but as there is no alternative to them, they are likely to get away with a few token improvements to please the regulator.
(Leonid Bershidsky can be reached at email@example.com).