Bershidsky on Europe: Deutsche Posts Loss
Here's today's look at some of the top stories on markets and politics in Europe.
Deutsche Bank posts surprise loss.
Deutsche Bank reported a $1.35 billion loss in the fourth quarter of 2013, while analysts expected a $947 million profit. The loss was partly caused by a slowdown in bond and currency trading, but mainly by provisions. The increased capital allocation for bad loans is clearly meant for the bank to pass the European Central Bank's asset quality tests, due to begin this year. There are also provisions for litigation and regulatory fines. Large Europeans banks want to play it safe ahead of the ECB review, and other major financial institutions are likely to increase provisions leading to shocking losses. This is a not a good time to hold these banks' stocks.
Ukrainian opposition loses control of protests.
Protesters in Kiev now largely ignore the parliamentary opposition's calls to keep the peace: Thousands of people clashed with riot police on Sunday and Monday. Stones and Molotov cocktails were thrown, and burned-out police buses clutter the square in front of the city's main soccer stadium. President Viktor Yanukovych, for his part, will not give an inch: on Wednesday, 10 repressive laws limiting the freedoms of speech and assembly take effect after Yanukovych permitted their publication, contrary to the protesters' demands. The situation is radicalized enough that an armed crackdown and a violent attack on government buildings by the protesters are equally possible. With troops and police firmly on Yanukovych's side, the former is more likely.
UniCredit shifts risk to U.S. hedge fund.
UniCredit, Italy's largest bank, is transferring some default risk on $1.23 billion worth of energy and transport projects to U.S. hedge fund Mariner Investment Group, so it can free up capital it is required to hold against the loans. Mariner has set up a specialized business to take over risks from European banks faced with the need to increase capital under Basel III rules. The deal is an early example of what is going to happen on a grand scale after more stringent capital controls come into effect. Banks will shift risks to vehicles that do not face as much regulatory pressure. Growth in the shadow banking sector will soon make the risk landscape incomprehensible to regulators. Putting less pressure on banks would ultimately be safer.
Number two German retailer throws out Coca-Cola.
Lidl, the second biggest food retail chain in Germany, will no longer stock Coca-Cola products, including Fanta, Sprite and Coke. The discount retailer has 10,000 stores across Europe and is involved in a fierce price war with the market leader, Aldi, in which even a 10-cent price differential matters. German consumers, always price-conscious, are now especially demanding, and Lidl figures it can make up for the loss of one of the world's top brands by selling cheaper alternatives, such as Freeway cola. Lidl will continue to stock Pepsi, having negotiated rock-bottom prices with the U.S. producer. The retailer's decision to eliminate Coca-Cola from its shelves may point to a not-so-distant future, in which branding commodity products such as soft drinks will become obsolete and private labels will reign supreme.
Main German car prize compromised by falsification.
Germany's ADAC car club, the biggest in Europe with 18 million members, admitted it to manipulating the vote for its Yellow Angel award, given annually to Germany's favorite car. ADAC communications director Michael Ramstetter resigned after acknowledging that he inflated the number of votes for the winner, Volkswagen Golf, from 3,409 to 34,299. The Yellow Angel is the most prestigious car award in the continent's biggest automobile market, so the entire industry is up in arms. Producers and experts now question the veracity of ADAC's crash tests and breakdown statistics, until now accepted as industry standards. ADAC was one of the country's most trusted institutions, on almost the same level as the Bundesbank, but one slip like this is enough to ruin its reputation.
(Leonid Bershidsky can be reached at email@example.com).