Bershidsky on Europe: Libor Fine for Rabobank
Here's today's look at some of the top stories on markets and politics in Europe:
Rabobank to pay $1 billion Libor fine
Netherlands-based Rabobank faces the second biggest fine in the Libor interest rate fixing scandal to date, at about $1 billion. Only UBS paid more, $1.5 billion, last year. The cooperative lender will pay U.S. and U.K. regulators as well as the Dutch central bank. Rabobank had made a provision for a Libor fine, helping to drive down its profit in the first half of 2013, by 14 percent. The actual penalty, however, is bigger than the bank foresaw, meaning that its earnings will take a further hit. Rabobank is determined to put the 2009 affair behind it, having recently abolished bonuses for its top staff in an attempt to stress its conservative values. Other banks implicated in the Libor scandal should react in the same spirit. Demonstrating responsibility pays: former RBS chief John Hourican, who was not implicated in the Libor scandal but resigned, refusing a $8 million bonus, has now been hired to turn around the bailed-out Bank of Cyprus, a job as high-profile and challenging as they get.
Loeb takes position in Nokia, expects payout
Activist investor Daniel Loeb announced that his hedge fund Third Point has taken a position in the telecom equipment maker Nokia, in the expectation that after the sale of its phone business to Microsoft the Finnish company will return some of its $8 billion cash to investors. Loeb's fund has performed well lately and other investors will want to follow his lead, making it easier for him to pressure Nokia management for a buyback or special dividend. Distributing the cash may not be the company's best option, however. It might need the money to follow in the footsteps of Ericsson, the Swedish company that also got out of the mobile phone business to consolidate its leadership in the network equipment market. If Nokia used part of the proceeds from the Microsoft deal to acquire its ailing French competitor, Alcatel Lucent, it would become a much more formidable competitor to both Ericsson and Chinese companies such as ZTE and Huawei.
Peugeot reconsiders project with GM
The French car maker PSA Peugeot Citroen said it had placed a joint project with GM "under review." It is now unlikely that the two companies will work together on a new platform for small cars as planned, meaning that the $1 billion in annual synergies PSA and GM targeted will not be achieved. That is bad news for PSA, which just announced weak third quarter results: a 3.7 percent drop in sales compared to the same period of 2012, caused by a 10 percent drop in Europe and slumps in Russia and Brazil. The French company has pinned its hopes on China, where its sales grew 28.5 percent in the third quarter. PSA recently opened two factories in China, and partnership with local car producer Dongfeng may hold more promise for the French automaker than any joint efforts with GM.
ECB to ask banks to increase reserves as part of review
As it prepared to review the balance sheets of 130 euro area banks, the European Central Bank told them to set aside 8 percent of their risk-adjusted capital against potential losses. The review is scheduled to begin in November, with the ECB aiming both to revive trust in the euro area's financial system and to uncover any balance sheet holes that may have escaped notice. The real test for the ECB will come if the massive exercise does result in recapitalization demands for some of the banks: How these capital increases will be handled will determine the ECB's effectiveness as a banking regulator.
Greek neo-fascist Golden Dawn loses state funding
The Greek parliament voted overwhelmingly to withdraw state support from anti-immigrant Golden Dawn party, which was entitled to $1.2 million in 2013 because it had been elected to parliament. The party's leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos and two members of the party's parliamentary faction are in jail on charges of participating in a criminal organization. The Greek authorities cracked down on Golden Dawn, which unabashedly used Nazi symbols, after the murder of a left-wing rapper by one of the far-right party's supporters. So far, Greece has been the only European country to fight back resolutely against the rise of ultranationalism, but then Golden Dawn was particularly odious and violent. Its successors will be more cautious and probably more successful: The sentiment that got the party elected has not gone away.
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Leonid Bershidsky at email@example.com