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from Expert Zone:

The reform club

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(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

That custodian of the English language, the Oxford English Dictionary, describes a bubble as “anything fragile, unsubstantial, empty or worthless; a deceptive show”. Could this description apply to the current frenzy for “reform” that is seemingly sweeping the global economy? The answer is “yes, in part”. While there are some genuine attempts at reform, market expectations for reform will inevitably be disappointed in some parts of the world.

The global financial crisis has prompted politicians to advocate economic reform in two ways. First, the crisis demonstrated that the status quo needed to be changed -- and in many cases that change required sizeable structural change. Second, as the structure of the world economy has changed (lower global capital flows, slower global trade, etc.) so economies have had to adapt the way that their economies are structured.

The inevitable reaction to this is that politicians are scrambling over each other to advocate reform. Reform is seen as a break with the past, and helps governments avoid being tainted with past errors. Advocating reform is a way of containing popular anger about historical mistakes. Looking at the focal points of fiscal, labour market and financial system structures, almost three quarters of the world economy as measured by GDP is assessed as needing some kind of reform in one or another of these areas.

In some cases, the need for reform is seen as being very broad based. Japan’s need for fiscal and labour market reform is at least recognised (though perhaps not put into practice) by Abenomics. The Euro area’s need for a credible change in its banking system structure has been acknowledged by giving the central bank the power to regulate banks, though this is still seen as incomplete.

from Breakingviews:

Jamie Dimon hits final stage of grief: acceptance

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By Rob Cox
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

In coping with the tragedy of the financial crisis, no Wall Street executive has exhibited the five stages of grief like Jamie Dimon. The JPMorgan chief executive has passed through phases of denial, anger, bargaining and depression. His latest annual letter to shareholders finally shows a desire to accept what’s happened and move on.

from The Great Debate:

Are banks too big to indict?

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The great 19th century English jurist, Sir James Fitzjames Stephens, once wrote that murderers were hung not for reasons of revenge or deterrence -- but to underscore what a serious breach of the social compact had been committed.

Federal District Judge Jed S. Rakoff was making a similar point when he recently called attention to the lack of criminal prosecutions in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. Consider the 1980s Savings and Loan crisis. The losses were minuscule compared to this recent paroxysm, but they still led to hundreds of criminal convictions.

from Unstructured Finance:

Jim Chanos, bad news bear, urges market prudence

Prominent short-seller Jim Chanos is probably one of the last true “bad news bears” you will find on Wall Street these days, save for Jim Grant and Nouriel Roubini. Almost everywhere you turn, money managers still are bullish on U.S. equities going into 2014 even after the Standard & Poor’s 500’s 27 percent returns year-to-date and the Nasdaq is back to levels not seen since the height of the dot-com bubble in 1999.

“We’re back to a glass half-full environment as opposed to a glass half-empty environment,” Chanos told Reuters during a wide ranging hour-long discussion two weeks ago. “If you're the typical investor, it's probably time to be a little bit more cautious.”

from Financial Regulatory Forum:

Largest U.S. banks see themselves in “regulatory spiral” with no clear end

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By Henry Engler, Compliance Complete

NEW YORK, Dec. 4 (Thomson Reuters Accelus) - Although five years have passed since the height of the financial crisis, top lawyers at some of the largest U.S. banks see themselves pitted in an escalating, and at times adversarial, battle with regulators, the end of which remains unknown.

At a conference sponsored by the Clearing House on Friday, senior legal representatives from JPMorgan and Bank of America painted a picture of unprecedented enforcement actions and fines across a wide range of issues, adding that the zeal of recent actions could potentially disrupt the supervisory and cooperative relationship that has long existed between banks and regulators.

from Unstructured Finance:

The nine lives of the eminent domain for mortgages debate

By Matthew Goldstein and Jennifer Ablan

Law professor Bob Hockett, widely credited with popularizing the idea of using eminent domain to restructure underwater mortgages, says he continues to be approached by yield-hungry angel investors looking for a way to help out struggling homeowners and make money at the same time.

He said an increasing number of wealthy investors on “both coasts” regularly reach out to him to get more information about how eminent domain would work and get a better read on “the prospects of municipalities adopting one or another variance of the plan.”

from Unstructured Finance:

Carl Icahn in his own words

Icahn's Big Year in investing and activism

By Jennifer Ablan and Matthew Goldstein

We held an hour-long discussion with Carl Icahn on Monday as part of our Reuters Global Investment Outlook Summit, going over everything from his spectacular year of performance to his thoughts on the excessive media coverage of activists like himself who push and prod corporate managers to return cash to investors. We also talked about the legacy he wants to leave.

There was much Icahn wouldn’t talk about on the advice of his lawyer, however. While he said he took a look at Microsoft, he won't say why he decided not to join ValueAct’s Jeffrey Ubben’s activist campaign. He also stayed mum on any plans for his Las Vegas white elephant, the unfinished Fontainebleau Las Vegas resort, which he bought out of bankruptcy proceedings in 2010.

from Unstructured Finance:

Money manager titans who can’t wait until 2014

The year can't end fast enough for some of the world's biggest investors.

Bill Gross, who many like to consider the King of Bonds, lost one of his prized titles last week when his PIMCO Total Return Fund was stripped of its status as the world's largest mutual fund because of lagging performance and a swamp of investor redemptions.

The PIMCO Total Return Fund -- somewhat of a benchmark for many bond fund managers -- had outflows of $4.4 billion in October, marking the fund's sixth straight month of investor withdrawals, and lowered its assets to $248 billion, according to Morningstar.

from Photographers' Blog:

Revisited – A new life in Germany

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By Marcelo del Pozo

Over a year ago now, I was looking for a way to put a human face to the story of Spain’s unemployment crisis – a crisis that is still affecting the country today, with around one in four workers without a job.

GALLERY: A new life with 250 euros

I sent messages to lots of my friends, asking them if they knew any Spaniards thinking of emigrating to find employment. At last, I met Jose Manuel Abel, a former salesman from southern Spain, who, after being unemployed for two years, decided to learn some German and move to Munich for a job to help support his family.

from MacroScope:

Can they kick it? Yes they can

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During the recent round of financial crises, policymakers have done a whole lot of “kicking the can down the road”.

The latest is taking place in the United States where a fiscal stalemate between Republicans and Democrats has forced the first partial government shutdown in 17 years.  It has also raised concerns about a U.S. debt default, should the government not meet a deadline this week of raising the debt ceiling. That has kept short-term U.S. interest rates and the cost of insuring U.S. debt against default relatively elevated.

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