City targets US help in EU hedge fund fight
By Tom Braithwaite in Washington and Martin Arnold in London
Published: July 1 2009 00:24 | Last updated: July 1 2009 00:24
The City of London is hoping to win support from the US administration to head off tough regulation from Brussels on hedge funds and private equity firms.
Delegates from the City of London Corporation, a standard bearer for UK financial services, visited Washington last week to give warning of a threat to British and US companies from a proposed European directive on alternative investment fund managers.
[ . . . ]
The EU directive, a response to public anger at the excessive risk-taking that led to the credit crisis, would require many hedge funds and private equity firms to register with regulators and disclose more about themselves and their investments.
They would also have to meet increased minimum capital requirements and limits on borrowing, which have triggered threats from some big UK hedge funds to move overseas unless the plan is rewritten.
Direct lobbying of the US Treasury and key financial committees in Congress is a shift in strategy from the corporation, which holds regular meetings with members of the New York financial establishment.
[ . . . ]
Under current US proposals, hedge funds would have to register with the Securities and Exchange Commission and both they and private equity firms would have to disclose more information.
But most US proposals for financial regulation have focused on the systemic risks in banks and insurers, not alternative investment funds
My Note –
Considering the financial industry and hedge fund lobbyists wining and dining Washington, many in key positions of power and EU legislators, it will be a wonder if any capital backing is required for their risk-taking before its all over and done.
Regulator calls on UBS to pay
By Scheherazade Daneshkhu in Paris and Haig Simonian in,Zurich
Published: June 30 2009 03:00 | Last updated: June 30 2009 03:00
UBS, the custodian bank to Luxalpha, one of the main European funds invested in Bernard Madoff, should compensate investors for their losses, the French regulator said yesterday, write Scheherazade Daneshkhu in Paris and Haig Simonian in Zurich.
Speaking on publication of the regulator’s annual report, Jean-Pierre Jouyet, president of the Autorité des Marchés Financiers, said custodian banks “are responsible and investors should be compensated”.
($1.4 Billion dollar fund)
[ etc. ]
US spy in rendition trial: ‘I followed orders’
By ARIEL DAVID, AP
7 hours ago
ROME — A former CIA agent on trial for the alleged kidnapping of a Muslim cleric and terror suspect in Milan acknowledged in an interview published Tuesday that he had a role in the operation but insisted he was only following orders.
Italy’s Il Giornale daily published a rare interview with Robert Seldon Lady, the CIA Milan station chief at the time of the 2003 disappearance of Egyptian cleric Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, from a street in the northern city.
“I am not guilty. I am only responsible for following an order I received from my superiors,” Lady was quoted as saying by Il Giornale. “It was not a criminal act. It was a state affair.”
[ . . . ]
Lady and 25 other Americans, all but one identified as CIA agents by Italian prosecutors, are being tried in absentia in Milan charged with kidnapping Nasr as part of the agency’s extraordinary rendition program of transferring suspects overseas for interrogation. It is the first trial in any country involving the CIA program.
Prosecutors say Nasr was transported in a van to a joint U.S.-Italian base in northern Italy, flown to a U.S. air base in Germany and onward to Egypt where he said he was tortured. Nasr has since been released without charge.
He defended the use of illegal methods in covert operations.
“I have worked in intelligence for 25 years, and almost none of my activities in these 25 years were legal in the country in which I was carrying them out,” he was quoted as saying.
Lady also addressed reported mistakes in the Nasr operation, including cell phone traces and other evidence that the spies left behind, allowing Italian police to piece together what had happened.
[ . . . ]
Lady was still in Italy when the case broke, and his villa in the Asti wine region was searched by police.
The CIA has declined to comment on the case.
Five Italian intelligence officers also are on trial accused of taking part in the joint operation with the Americans. The Italian government has denied any involvement, and all defendants, or their lawyers, have denied the charges.
However, in Tuesday’s interview, Lady appeared to acknowledged the kidnapping, though he sought to play down his role.
“I was not on the spot and I didn’t organize the thing, the rendition, the arrest, the kidnapping, whatever we want to call it,” he was quoted as saying.
US spy in rendition trial: ‘I followed orders’
My Note –
Is that story accurate? I’m sure the CIA operated that way since they weren’t trained as choir boys and girls after all – but did the Italian authorities actually trail their nonsense and catch them at it?
Didn’t notice it on the US news –
Belgian prosecutors raid BNP Paribas Fortis HQ
Tue Jun 30, 2009 10:22am EDT
BRUSSELS, June 30 (Reuters) – Belgian prosecutors said on Tuesday they carried out a raid at the headquarters of BNP Paribas Fortis, the Belgian bank now owned by France’s BNP Paribas BNPP.P as part of a market manipulation probe.
“The raids took place in the framework of an investigation which was launched months ago into possible manipulation of share prices,” a Brussels prosecutor said.
He added that the probe focused also, among other things, on whether Fortis withheld information from its shareholders.
[ . . . ]
Belgian prosecutors are also investigating suspected insider trading in financial group Fortis (FOR.BR) by a large shareholder in a separate probe launched in early June.
The transaction under investigation took place at the beginning of October, just before the Netherlands announced its nationalisation of Fortis’s Dutch operations, the first step in the group’s carve-up.
The Brussels prosecutor said at the time that the shares were sold just before the share price plunged.
[ . . . ]
Fortis was carved up by the Dutch, Belgian and Luxembourg governments in October after an 11.2 billion euro ($15.83 billion) cash injection failed to calm investors.
French bank BNP Paribas took control of Fortis Bank Belgium in May after months of delay due to shareholder opposition. ($1=.7077 Euro) (Reporting by Antonia van de Velde; editing by Simon Jessop)
Bank of America accused of anti-consumer practices
Tue Jun 30, 2009 1:02pm EDT
By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Consumer and labor groups demanded Bank of America Corp and other lenders reform their sales practices so that workers under pressure to meet sales quotas do not saddle customers with costly and unnecessary products.
The whistleblowing campaign was announced Tuesday as the U.S. Treasury Department unveiled legislation to create a Consumer Financial Protection Agency, as part of the Obama administration financial regulation overhaul.
People, who said they were former Bank of America employees, alleged that their supervisors drove them to burden consumers with needless debt and fees, to fatten the bank’s earnings and the paychecks of senior executives, and threatened to retaliate if they complained. Some complained their salaries had been too low and that they had to hit quotas to earn needed bonuses.
“This is the kind of information that really needs to get out,” said Representative Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat who sits on the House Financial Services Committee. “Without a strong whistleblower law, we simply are not doing the things we need to do in order to manage risk properly.”
[ . . . ]
Christopher Feener, who said he used to work in the bank’s credit card unit, was among the former workers who spoke out.
He complained that the bank regularly violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and sometimes pushed workers to falsely threaten legal action against customers. He said his team was sometimes pushed to call customers’ neighbors about delinquent accounts, “to embarrass the customer and actually encourage the neighbor to bring over a message.”
Former Greek Siemens executive accused of corruption arrested in Germany
MARIA MARQUART, Associated Press Writer
7:16 AM PDT, June 25, 2009
MUNICH (AP) — A former senior executive of industrial conglomerate Siemens AG who faces money laundering and bribery charges in Greece was arrested in Germany on Thursday, prosecutors said.
Michael Christoforakos, who holds both Greek and German citizenship, was arrested near Rosenheim, southeast of Munich, following a tip-off from the public, Munich prosecutors said in a statement.
The head of Siemens’ Greek branch from 1996 to 2007, Christoforakos is one of seven former Siemens executives targeted in an investigation by Greek prosecutors. They are probing a 1990s contract the company won with OTE, the dominant national telecom operator which was then state-owned.
One former OTE executive has also been charged.
[ . . . ]
According to the charges, former Siemens officials allegedly paid some euro57 million ($80 million) in kickbacks to secure the deal with OTE. Three of the suspects have been jailed in Greece pending trial.
There have been widespread Greek media reports alleging that both Greece’s main parties received cash from Siemens slush funds, but no politicians have been charged.
In May, the governing conservatives blocked an opposition motion for a parliamentary probe into whether any politicians were involved.
In Athens Thursday, former Socialist lawmaker Theodoros Tsoukatos appeared before an investigating magistrate on charges of bribery and money laundering in connection with the scandal.
The court granted Tsoukatos, 57, until July 1 to prepare his testimony. The charges against him concern a donation of 1 million German marks (about euro500,000 or $697,000) he says he received from the German company in 1999 and paid into the coffers of the then-ruling PASOK party.
Another 10 people — including Tsoukatos’ former police guard — face the same charges for allegedly facilitating the cash transfer. They were also given extensions until June 2 to 7 to prepare their testimonies.
Tsoukatos was a Socialist lawmaker and close prime ministerial aide from 2000-2004.
[ . . . ]
EU court thwarts James Bond rights holders in Dr. No case
14 hours ago
LUXEMBOURG (AFP) — A top European court rejected Tuesday legal action by holders of rights to the James Bond films to stop a German media company registering the name “Dr. No” as a trade mark.
The court found that US concern Danjaq “failed to establish that the signs ‘Dr. No’ and ‘Dr. NO’ were used as trade marks or that the title of the film Dr. No was used in the course of trade.”
Had it done the latter, it might have been able to oppose the move by the German firm Mission Productions (OHIM) to register the signs as a trade mark, ruled the Court of First Instance, based in Luxembourg.
Firm wins Dr No trademark despite James Bond company’s opposition
A German company has been given a trademark on the phrase Dr No despite opposition from the American owners of the rights to the James Bond films.
Published: 12:08PM BST 30 Jun 2009
Dr No, the 1962 movie starring Sean Connery, is one of the most famous Bond film titles. But the European Court of First Instance in Luxembourg ruled that, however instantly recognisable the name, it is not a protected trade mark.
The verdict clears the way for a German media group, Mission Productions, to register the name across the EU at the end of an eight-year legal battle.
[ . . . ]
The loser is Danjaq, the company which manages the intellectual property rights to the Bond series of films.
Danjaq claimed there was a risk of confusion because of 007’s association with the terms Dr No and Dr NO, as used in the film and related promotions.
But the judges argued that the essential function of a trade mark was commercial recogntion – and Dr No and Dr NO as used by Danjaq were artistic, and not commercial, signs.
The judgement said: “Those signs, affixed to the covers of the video cassettes or to the DVDs, help to distinguish that film from other films in the James Bond series. The commercial origin of the film is indicated by other signs, such as 007 or James Bond.
[ . . . ]
The appeal ruling follows Danjaq’s earlier failed attempt to oppose registration of the trade mark to the German firm when it was originally approved by the EU’s trade mark office.
Following that decision, Danjaq applied for registration as an EU trade mark of all the other James Bond film titles.
So far 18 have been registered, but EU trade mark approval for the other three names – Casino Royale, Octopussy and Goldeneye has been challenged by other companies and is still pending.
Europe Sets Deal to Share Information on Detainees
By JUDY DEMPSEY
Published: June 4, 2009
BERLIN — European Union interior ministers agreed Thursday to share information on former inmates from the Guantánamo Bay detention center before they were accepted by any of the bloc’s member nations.
Ministers meeting in Luxembourg said the decision was aimed at allaying the security concerns of union members, most of whom have been reluctant to accept any former detainees even though dozens have been cleared for release by United States authorities.
President Obama arrived in Germany on Thursday night with the issue of finding homes for former detainees high on his agenda. Germany has been reluctant to take any unless the United States provides more detailed information about them and also accepts some on its own soil.
Under the terms of the accord, any European Union country that agrees to take former detainees must inform other member states and then share the information it receives from the United States before it makes a final decision. Countries would not be able to veto another member’s decision, but they could press it to reverse course.
$103m suspected fraud uncovered at Keydata
By Matthew Vincent, Lucy Warwick-Ching and Brooke Masters
Published: June 30 2009 18:09 | Last updated: June 30 2009 18:09
Investors in life-insurance based income products offered by Keydata Investment Services may have become the victims of a £103m suspected fraud, according to the administrator appointed by the Financial Services Authority to sell the company.
PwC said on Tuesday that the second-hand life insurance policies backing Keydata’s Secure Income Bonds 1,2 and 3 had been liquidated and the proceeds “misappropriated”, and that income and redemptions had been paid “in an irregular fashion” out of the company’s own funds, rather than from the underlying investments.
[ . . . ]
Keydata’s directors issued a statement on Tuesday night saying “although there had been some delays in payment of income by SLS…in recent months [they] only became aware this weekend that the underlying assets of SLS appear to have been liquidated”.
The Financial Services Authority is now in discussions with the Serious Fraud Office about the potentially missing assets underlying the Secure Income Bond products.
About 5,500 investors had taken out Secure Income Bonds with Keydata, putting in an average of £18,700 each. If it emerges that Keydata has caused these customers to suffer a financial loss and the company is unable to meet its liabilities, the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) may be triggered. This can pay out 100 per cent of the first £30,000 invested and 90 per cent of the next £20,000 – a maximum of £48,000.
The administrator is also seeking confirmation of the status of the underlying assets of Keydata’s Income Property Bonds 1-6, in which 240 investors have invested £2m.
As a result of the irregularties, PwC, has announced that a sale of Keydata “as a whole” will no longer be possible, and that it has been forced to suspend interest payments and redemption rights on a number of products.
No income can be paid out to investors in Secure Income Bonds 1, 2 and 3 and in Income Property Bonds 1-6, and redemption have been suspended while PwC tries to trace the assets underlying these products.
[ . . . ]
A source close to the investigation said: “The major concern was around their financial promotion. These products were marketed as low risk, but a [second-hand life insurance policy] has no redemption date, which makes it most risky. When you look at the income bonds, they were tranche based, so the first investors would redeem before the subsequent investors – and the risk to the first investors was much lower.“
Chill wind of economic data stunts green shoots
By Ellen Kelleher
Published: June 26 2009 18:36 | Last updated: June 26 2009 18:36
There is now clear evidence that the green shoots of economic recovery are withering in the summer sun.
Further proof that Britain’s economy is still in the doldrums came on Wednesday when the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) forecast that the UK economy will contract by 4.3 per cent this year and said it expects only “modest growth” in 2010.
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, it emerged that the US economy had contracted by more than 5 per cent in the first three months of the year.
Since the start of the month, the FTSE 100 is 5.4 per cent lower, the S&P 500 is down 2.4 per cent and the FTSE Emerging Markets index has lost 5.2 per cent.
[ etc. ]
A policy worth copying
Published: June 24 2009 17:17 | Last updated: June 24 2009 17:17
When Ursula Burns, pictured above, takes the helm of Xerox on July 1, becoming the first African-American woman to lead a Fortune 500 company, it will be a milestone for people of colour in the US. Unfortunately, it will also highlight just how few hold top executive positions in corporate America.
In spite of the much-lauded election of Barack Obama, the first black president, Ms Burns joins just a handful of African-American chief executives of big companies, including Ken Chenault at American Express, Ron Williams at Aetna, the health insurance company, and Roger Ferguson at TIAA-Cref, the asset management firm.
Blacks represent 13 per cent of the population in the US, but hold less than 7 per cent of managerial positions, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Their representation on the boards and management of large companies increased rapidly during the 1980s and 1990s, but this trend stalled around 2000.
This is in spite of a vast array of corporate programmes aimed at boosting diversity, and a general consensus in business that diversity at the top is desirable.
[ etc. ]
Representation of black women is particularly low. Even as they have been graduating from college in higher numbers than ever, they hold only 1 per cent of corporate management jobs.
Ms Burns, 50, would hardly have appeared groomed for executive success. She was raised by a single mother in New York City, who made ends meet by taking in ironing and running a daycare centre at home.
Ms Burns joined Xerox in 1981 and was identified as senior executive material early on. She also joined a company that had a strong commitment to diversity. A third of Xerox’s management team are female, and a fifth are members of minority groups. In another first, Ms Burns is taking over from a female chief executive, Anne Mulcahy. (Xerox declined to comment for this article.)
[ . . . ]
Ariel’s Mr Rogers points to the tendency of individuals to stick to their own kind.
“People naturally go to their comfort zone, they call up people they know, people from their club,” he says, describing the way many executives are hired.
Ancella Livers, head of the Executive Leadership Council’s institute for leadership development, adds that companies need to be more conscious of their hiring processes.
“When a company is looking for a slate of candidates, whether for management or board, they need to insist the slate is diverse, and really fully consider all candidates,” she says. “They often think they are doing that, but they often do not.”
Turkey to ‘never give up’ EU bid
Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Brussels, 26 June 09
Mr Erdogan said Turkey deserved better treatment in the negotiations
Turkey has urged France and Germany to back its bid to join the EU, rejecting calls for a special partnership rather than full membership.
“We will never give up,” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters in Brussels.
Turkey’s EU accession talks are going at a glacial pace and risk suspension if Ankara fails to open its ports and airports to Cyprus this year.
France and Germany want to give Turkey a “privileged partnership” with the EU.
But Mr Erdogan insisted “our goal is full membership”.
[ . . . ]
So far, Turkey has opened talks on 10 out of the 35 “negotiation chapters” in the accession process, which started in October 2005.
But eight chapters have been frozen because of Ankara’s refusal to open up its ports and airports to traffic from Cyprus, an EU member.
Turkey says it will not do this until the EU takes steps to end the Turkish Cypriot community’s economic isolation.
Radical shift in the banking power base
By Patrick Jenkins and Jane Croft
Published: June 30 2009 18:50 | Last updated: June 30 2009 18:50
It is barely nine months since the collapse of Lehman Brothers ushered in one of the worst financial crises since the Great Depression. But for the strongest banks, the second quarter of 2009, which closed on Tuesday, has confirmed the upbeat trends of the first quarter.
While banks such as Citigroup, Merrill Lynch, Royal Bank of Scotland and UBS continue to find life difficult, thriving rivals – JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Barclays, Deutsche Bank and Credit Suisse – have benefitted from lively markets for commodity and foreign exchange trading, at profit margins that are between two and eight times higher than before the height of the financial crisis last autumn. At the same time, companies have been rushing to issue new debt and equity.
More fundamentally and sustainably there have been clear shifts in market share between the banks – in everything from UK mortgages to US Treasury bill issuance – as aggressive groups have taken advantage of opportunities left by weakened rivals.
BanksOne investment banker says: “There used to be 15 banks competing. Now there are six. This is a phenomenal environment. I’ve never seen anything like this in 20 years in the business.”
Prime brokerage – the business of providing financing services to the world’s hedge funds – is not an obvious place to make money, given the troubles that the sector has suffered in recent months, as investors have lost large sums and demanded back much of what was left. But for the banks providing the financing, the market still promises to be lucrative.
The likes of Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank and JPMorgan, and to an extent Barclays and BNP Paribas, have been challenging the traditional dominance of Goldman and Morgan Stanley, which once held an estimated 80 per cent of the market between them.
[ . . . ]
Even with hedge fund assets at an estimated 50 per cent of previous levels, the most successful banks reckon they are on track to make just as much money this year as in a boom year, though with lower ratios of lending to collateral and higher prices.
Global Investment Banking Graphic – showing comparative pie charts plus table – (very nifty and easy to read – takes some real focus, though . . . )
Russian MFA on Upcoming Geneva Talks
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 29 Jun.’09 / 19:34
The Russian Foreign Ministry said that “reevaluation” of format of Geneva talks would be required amid “emerging new situation” in the Caucasus.
In a statement released on Monday, ahead of the sixth round of Geneva talks planned for July 1, the Russian Foreign Ministry said that the upcoming meeting would be held against the background of “difficult conditions” amid closing OSCE and UN observer missions in Georgia.
“Despite Russia’s constructive and transparent position in favor of maintaining the field missions of OSCE and UN in South Caucasus, the western partners and Georgia are doing their best to close down the activities of international observers in this volatile region,” it said. “Meanwhile, the situation on the borders is still tense; the Georgian forces and police continue maneuvering near the borders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.”
“It is obvious, that emerging new situation in Trans-Caucasus requires serious reevaluation, including in respect of format and prospects of the Geneva discussions,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
Third round of Russia-U.S. nuclear talks opens in Geneva
(my note – these talks ended on June 24)
MOSCOW, June 22 (RIA Novosti) – The third round of comprehensive Russia-U.S. talks on a new strategic arms reduction pact opened on Monday in Geneva, a Russian diplomat told RIA Novosti.
The first two rounds of Russia-U.S. arms reduction talks were held on May 19-20 in Moscow and on June 1-3 in Geneva. The U.S. team of negotiators is led by Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller, while the Russian delegation is headed by Anatoly Antonov, director of the Foreign Ministry’s Department of Security and Disarmament.
“The talks are being held behind closed doors at the U.S. mission [in Geneva],” the source said, adding that they will continue until June 24.
The Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty (START 1), which expires in December 2009, obliges Russia and the United States to reduce nuclear warheads to 6,000 and their delivery vehicles to 1,600 each. In 2002, a follow-up agreement on strategic offensive arms reduction was concluded in Moscow. The agreement, known as the Moscow Treaty, envisioned cuts to 1,700-2,200 warheads by December 2012.
According to a report published by the U.S. State Department in April, as of January 1 Russia had 3,909 nuclear warheads and 814 delivery vehicles, including ground-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) and strategic bombers.
The same report said the United States had 5,576 warheads and 1,198 delivery vehicles.
[ . . . ]
The Kiel Week (Kieler Woche) is an annual sailing event taking place at the port of Kiel, northern Germany. Since 1882, the year of the first race t, the event has grown into a truly grand sailing festival.
Russian tall ship Mir leading the traditional Tall Ships Parade at the Kiel Week event.
(Very, very nifty ships and ocean pictures – my note.)
Dutch sailing ship Aphrodite.
The Kiel Week (Kieler Woche)
Great Blue Hole
There are many blue holes off the coast of Belize, but the “great” Blue Hole on Lighthouse Reef Atoll is the one most visible in a flyover–and the most famous one for diving. The hole is about 1,000 feet in diameter and 412 feet deep. The Blue Hole sits on the Lighthouse Reef Atoll, about 50 miles east of Belize City.
The late Jacques Cousteau and a filming crew explored the underwater cave whose roof collapsed about 10,000 years ago.
Offbeat Traveler: Belize’s Blue Hole