Bershidsky on Europe: Germany Gets New Cabinet
Here's today's look at some of the top stories on markets and politics in Europe:
Merkel announces coalition cabinet
Germany's second party, the Social Democrats, voted to support the coalition deal worked out by the party's leaders with Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union. Merkel immediately named her cabinet, in which Social Democrat leader Sigmar Gabriel got a super-ministry formed from the economics and transport ministries and his allies Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Andrea Nahles got the foreign affairs and labor portfolios, respectively. Wolfgang Schaeuble, a Christian Democrat, retained his position as finance minister. Merkel's party has made a number of important concessions to its coalition partner, in terms of both cabinet jobs and policy. Establishing a $11.67 minimum wage and reducing the retirement age to 63 for some workers will cost the German budget $27.5 billion a year. The new government's socialist leanings scare some German industrialists, who do not believe the extra spending is possible without new taxes, though Schaeuble swears that is not the case. The new government needs to prove to business it is not going to take Germany down the same road that France took under Francois Hollande: more taxes and an ineffective, though well-meaning, social policy.
Ukrainian president plans government reshuffle as protests continue
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych fired Kiev city manager Oleksandr Popov and a deputy head of the country's National Security and Defense Council for their alleged role in dispelling a peaceful student protest on Nov. 30. He is reportedly also planning to fire the country's foreign, economy and industry ministers for botching preparations for Ukraine's integration with Europe. The moves, however, are unlikely to stem the mass protests in downtown Kiev which have been going on for 25 days. The protesters want Yanukovych to resign, and fear he will drag Ukraine into a closer union with Russia when he meets President Vladimir Putin on Dec. 17. There is still no solution in sight to the political stalemate in the nearly bankrupt country: There is no obvious scenario that would be acceptable to both sides.
Carrefour buys 127 shopping malls
The French retail group Carrefour is paying $2.75 billion for 127 shopping malls in France, Italy and Spain owned by the real estate group Klepierre. Carrefour will pool these malls with 45 of its own, all located in France, creating Europe's biggest shopping mall group. Carrefour, the world's second biggest retailer after WalMart and the most internationalized, has faced expansion problems in recent years. It was unable to beat out competition in Russia, Thailand and Mexico and exited those markets. In Europe, it is increasingly difficult to open more hypermarkets because of tough regulation and competitive pressures. The mall format is a potential solution for Carrefour as it struggles to find new growth areas.
Credit Suisse starts software marketplace for banks
Credit Suisse is funding a former employee's London startup, which aims to help banks sell each other specialized software. Ian Green, the Swiss Bank's former head of e-commerce for fixed income, currencies and commodities, says the firm, called Eco, will do its first transactions in January. Large banks are, to a large extent, software companies: They develop billions of dollars-worth of applications. All the expensive software, however, is for their own use: The banks are too fiercely competitive and suspicious of each other to share the IT products. Besides, the tasks they set for developers are often too narrow. Green believes his firm can help remedy that and save banks significant amounts of money by sourcing and rating software that can be used by more than one institution. The startup, however, will not be successful unless it's funded by several top banks, not one: a consortium is needed to overcome the mutual distrust.
German Goldman Sachs chief used shell companies to buy real estate in London
Alexander Dibelius, head of Goldman Sachs' German office, bought a $5.8 million London property in 2008, using two shell companies registered in the British Virgin Islands. One of the vehicles was called Soprano Enterprises, apparently after the Mafia family from the eponymous TV series. Dibelius reportedly failed to disclose his ownership of the companies to the German tax authorities. Although the banker denies he was trying to hide anything, the disclosures by the tabloid Bild am Sonntag somewhat devalue his calls for "collective humility" and new values in the banking industry. The accusations will further undermine Goldman Sachs' reputation in Germany, already marred by several scandals.
(Leonid Bershidsky is a Bloomberg View contributor. He can be reached at email@example.com).