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from Breakingviews:

Sarkozy probe latest sign of sick French politics

By Pierre Briançon

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

France has sunk a little deeper into political paralysis with the corruption probe against Nicolas Sarkozy. The former president, who denies the charges, has been put under formal investigation for trying to convince a judge in France’s highest court to tell him about one of the many judicial probes of his behaviour.

That adds another obstacle on the road to Sarkozy’s mooted political comeback. But the ruling socialists have nothing to cheer about. The whole French political establishment is tainted by a long series of corruption scandals. President François Hollande’s popularity is at record lows. He doesn’t seem able to control either his cabinet ministers or his parliamentary majority. The ultra-right National Front is thriving. And Europe’s second-largest power is slowly drifting towards economic stagnation just as it would need a strong government to convince the French on the necessity of reform.

The two main political parties are too focused on their debilitating problems to contribute much to the public debate. So the French are caught in the spiral of austerity without perspective. The government has chosen to do its best to try to meet the EU-imposed deficit targets through spending cuts and targeted tax increases. What would make sense if the economy was booming is self-defeating when the unemployment rate remains stuck above 10 percent while GDP is barely growing - by only 0.7 percent this year according to the national statistics institute.

from Breakingviews:

Alibaba is case study in U.S.-China legal gulf

By Richard Beales

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

Alibaba’s coming U.S. initial public offering will probably value the Chinese e-commerce firm at more than $100 billion. But will shareholders actually own the business? That’s the timely concern raised by a U.S. congressional commission. Lack of clarity in PRC law is mainly to blame.

from Breakingviews:

Silicon Valley exceptionalism only travels so far

By Jeffrey Goldfarb

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

Airbnb isn’t finding New York very hospitable. The room-sharing site squared off in court last week with Attorney General Eric Schneiderman over information he has subpoenaed about the many Airbnb customers his office suspects are breaking the Empire State’s laws. It’s a good example of what happens when tech entrepreneurs stray from their more accommodating Silicon Valley environs.

from Felix Salmon:

Trish Regan, Einhorn apologist

Ever since the story first broke, more than five weeks ago, that David Einhorn was suing Seeking Alpha, the Israeli financial website has been very, very quiet on the topic. Sometimes they have simply failed to respond at all to requests for comment (including mine); other times, as with Andrew Ross Sorkin, a spokesman will formally decline to comment.

So it was a big deal when Seeking Alpha president David Siegel appeared on Bloomberg TV today, and answered Trish Regan’s questions about the Einhorn lawsuit. Or, at least, it would have been a big deal, if Regan had actually bothered to ask him any of the obvious questions. Like, for instance, whether he’s going to fight it, or what he thinks of the merits of the case.

from Felix Salmon:

Elliott vs Argentina: 3 possible resolutions

Argentina, as everybody knew it would, has gone to the Supreme Court to appeal the bad (and ignoble) ruling against the country by New York’s Second Circuit. The most likely final outcome, still, is that Argentina will default, for the reasons (but not with the timing) I gave last year. But, with this petition, Argentina now has three possible outs.

Call them sovereign immunity, pari passu, and the bondholders’ ransom. None of them is particularly likely to happen — but add them all together, and there’s still a glimmer of hope for Argentina.

from Global Investing:

In Chile, what’s good for stocks will be good for bonds

 

Felipe Larrain, Chile's finance minister is facing a new job come March when incoming center-left government of President-elect Michelle Bachelet takes over. An academic by profession, he intends to either make his way back into the cloistered lecture halls of a university, not necessarily in Chile, or work for some kind of international organization that is outside of the corporate or financial world.

Chile's economy, one of the best run in Latin America, with the highest investment grade credit rating in the region, is however experiencing a soggy point in its economic cycle. Inflation has picked up. There is continued weak economic output and domestic demand is cooling down. The central bank is holding its benchmark interest rate at 4.5 percent and suggests more stimulus is to come in the months ahead. The currency has depreciated but that's not a concern, Larrain said. He was more concerned when the peso was trading in the 430 per U.S. dollar range versus today's 3-1/2 year low of 545, an area he describes as providing equilibrium.

from Felix Salmon:

Is JP Morgan being unfairly singled out?

JP Morgan is the first big bank to suffer a quarterly loss on account of multi-billion-dollar legal bills. It is also the most profitable bank in America (or was, up until this morning). Which means there are three possibilities here: The profits and the fines share a common cause: the internal behavior which produces massive profits also -- eventually -- has a tendency to produce massive fines. The profits and the fines are unrelated: it's just unfortunate bad luck that such a well-run, profitable bank should come unstuck in this manner. The profits in some way caused the fines: regulators feel comfortable going after JP Morgan precisely because it has a fortress balance sheet and can easily pay the fines.

All three of these have a kernel of truth to them, I think. If you look at misbehavior like the Libor scandal or the London Whale debacle, the misconduct in question was clearly driven by traders looking to make as much money as possible. But all banks have traders looking to make as much money as possible, and most of the world's biggest banks have been sucked in to the Libor scandal, in one way or another. And if you look at classic trading blowups, they're pretty uncorrelated with profitability.

from Felix Salmon:

Elliott vs Argentina: Enter the crazy

Back in February, when I made my prediction for how the Argentina endgame would play out, I got the date wrong. I did, however, get the substance right:

One likely scenario is that the appeals court will uphold Griesa’s decision at some point in April or May, forcing a big default in June. At that point, Argentina will probably launch an exchange offer under Argentine law, under which anybody holding currently-performing bonds would be able to swap them into bonds with substantially identical terms, just payable in Buenos Aires rather than New York. Given that Argentine-law bonds have been trading at tighter spreads then US-law bonds for some months now, one can assume that nearly all bondholders would jump at the opportunity to keep on getting their coupons.

from Felix Salmon:

Elliott vs Argentina: It’s not over yet

It's the ruling we were all waiting -- and waiting, and waiting -- for: six months after hearing oral arguments, the Second Circuit has finally handed down its 25-page decision, finding in favor of Elliott Associates and against Argentina. On its face, the ruling is, as Mark Weidemaier puts it, a big loss for Argentina, and "a total win for NML", a/k/a Elliott Associates. The ruling was unanimous -- the rumored dissent never appeared -- and pulls no punches: there's no indication that this was a hard case to decide, or that the lower court's extremely aggressive rulings were anything other than entirely reasonable.

Still, there are some oddities here, starting with the fact that this decision took such a long time to appear. The ruling, written by judge Barrington Parker, is not exactly a model of pellucid clarity; rather, it's messy and scrappy and very narrowly argued. The real power of the lower court's ruling was not that he told Argentina that it needed to pay Elliott: the court has been making such rulings for years, and Argentina has happily ignored all of them. So the district court judge, Thomas Griesa, went nuclear, and roped in virtually the entire global payments system as well. So long as Argentina was in default to Elliott, said Griesa, he would prevent actors like Bank of New York and Clearstream from doing their job and making the payments they're contractually obliged to make to Argentina's bondholders. The entire force of Griesa's ruling, and the reason why this case is such a huge deal, is predicated on its ability to stop money from being lawfully transferred to bondholders after it has left Argentina and entered the payments system.

from Breakingviews:

Bo Xilai trial says little about China rule of law

By John Foley

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

The trial of Bo Xilai is a test of China’s political tolerance, not its rule of law. For foreign capitalists, the latter matters more. It’s almost unthinkable the ousted Chongqing party chief will receive anything other than a guilty verdict. Yet it’s still possible to hope that disputes over investment and contracts will be resolved in a more transparent way.

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