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from Global Investing:

Measuring political risk in emerging markets

(Corrects to say EI Sturdza is UK investment firm, not Swiss)

Commerzbank analyst Simon Quijano-Evans recently analysed credit ratings for emerging market countries and concluded that there is a strong tendency to "under-rate" emerging economies - that is they are generally rated lower than developed market "equals" that have similar profiles of debt, investment or reform. The reason, according to Quijano-Evans, is that ratings assessments tend to be "blurred by political risk which is difficult to quantify and is usually higher in the developing world compared with richer peers.

However there are some efforts to measure political risks, and unfortunately for emerging economies, some of those metrics seem to indicate that such risk is on the rise. Risk consultancy Maplecroft which compiles a civil unrest index (CUI), says street protests, ethnic violence and labour unrest are factors that have increased chances of business disruption in emerging markets by 20 percent over the past three months. Such unrest as in Hong Kong recently, can be sudden, causing headaches for business and denting economic growth, Maplecroft says. Hong Kong where mass pro-democracy protests in the city-state's central business district which shuttered big banks and triggered a 7 percent stock market plunge last month.

As a result, Hong Kong jumped to 70th place in the index from a relatively safe 132nd place in the CUI which analyses governance, political and civil rights and the frequency and severity of incidents to assess the current and future civil unrest picture.

Hong Kong performs comparatively well in the economic, social and rights factors in the CUI, but performs poorly for democratic governance, Maplecroft says:

from Global Investing:

Bond market liberalisation — good or bad for India?

Many investors have greeted with enthusiasm India's plans to get its debt included in international indices such as those run by JPMorgan and Barclays. JPM's local debt indices, known as the GBI-EM,  were tracked by almost $200 billion at the end of 2012.  So even very small weightings in such indices will give India a welcome slice of investment from funds tracking them.

At present India has a $30 billion cap on the volume of rupee bonds that foreign institutional investors can buy, a tiny proportion of the market. Barclays analysts calculate that Indian rupee bonds could comprise up to a tenth of various market capitalisation-based local-currency bond indices. That implies potential flows of $20 billion in the first six months after inclusion, they say -- equivalent to India's latest quarterly current account deficit. After that, a $10 billion annual inflow is realistic, according to Barclays. Another bank, Standard Chartered, estimates $20-$40 billion could flow in as a result of index inclusion.

from Breakingviews:

StanChart shows not all emerging markets are equal

Being labelled an emerging-markets bank can be a mixed blessing. Standard Chartered’s shares have drifted in recent months as investors fret about growth, particularly in Asia. Yet while the bank is feeling the pinch in Korea and Southeast Asia, other markets are picking up the slack. Shareholders probably need to get used to Standard Chartered delivering a more varied performance.

For investors who have grown used to regular double-digit expansion, StanChart’s income growth of 4 percent in the first half looks distinctly pedestrian. Operating profit was equally subdued - and that’s before counting a $1 billion goodwill writedown on the value of StanChart’s South Korean business. Though the charge doesn’t affect cashflow or capital, it’s a reminder of how the country’s financial prospects have dimmed since StanChart expanded into the country through its biggest acquisition in 2005. Government rules to help consumers offload their hefty debts have eaten into earnings: South Korean banks currently earn a return on equity of about 4 percent. In 2005, the industry’s ROE was about 18 percent.

from Breakingviews:

New York watchdog protests too much over insurance

By Agnes T. Crane
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.

 

New York’s financial watchdog is protesting too much over insurance. The state’s brash regulator, Benjamin Lawsky, rubbed fellow overseers the wrong way when he broke ranks to go after Standard Chartered over money laundering. Now he may be doing the same again. His capital-inflation beefs are legitimate, but other U.S. regulators are on the case. What’s needed is coordination, not a vigilante.

from Global Investing:

China data: Lessons from Yongzheng

 Is China's data reliable? With official figures showing the Chinese economy grew by 7.7 percent in the first quarter of 2013, a so-called slowdown or 'soft patch' in the Chinese economy has concerned some marketeers. Whether gross-domestic-product calculations involve macro data or micro data, the overall picture is not so clear, though some say a focus on regional numbers, cement, oil and gas usage would help complement official statistics. Kang Qu, assistant vice president of research at the Bank of China, said at a panel discussion earlier this week organised by the centre for the study of financial innovation, and supported by NowCasting, on calculating official Chinese data there is not so much government focus as in other countries on business confidence indicators but more on GDP prints, which are still under some doubt:
This is a reference when the People's Bank of China makes big decisions.
Difficulty in collating accurate data is perhaps not so surprising, given the rapid urbanisation of the world's second largest economy. Off-beat labour statistics (employing dissimilar methodology to the ILO) are partly skewed due to a large number of temporary registrants that slip the official statistics net. The solution? Jinny Lin at Standard Chartered, who thinks China's real GDP level is more likely around 5.5 percent, suggested this could be taken from the history books. Emperor Yongzheng, China's ruler in the late Qing dynasty, set up an independent body to look at data at the local level, and successfully stemmed tax evasion.

If local data is reliable enough, we should use local data.

photo

Source: Flikr creative commons

Problems are found at a local level too, however. While the current system sets local government officials' bonuses for better GDP growth, there is no penalty for supplying incorrect data, neither are local government officials assessed on the jobs they create but via a points system. Instead local governments have 'soft' and 'hard' targets to attain, according to the panellists, some of which include environmental targets.

from Global Investing:

Indian markets and the promise of reform

What a difference a few months have made for Indian markets.

The rupee is 8 percent up from last summer's record lows. Foreigners have ploughed $17 billion into Indian stocks and bonds since Sept 2012 and foreign ownership of Indian shares is at a record high 22.7 percent, Morgan Stanley reckons.  And all it has taken to change the mood has been the announcement of a few reforms (allowing foreign direct investment into retail, some fuel and rail price hikes and raising FDI limits in some sectors). A controversial double taxation law has been pushed back.  The government has sold some stakes in state-run companies (it offloaded 10 percent of Oil India last week, netting $585 million).  If the measures continue, the central bank may cut interest rates further.

Above all, there have been promises-a-plenty on fiscal consolidation.

The promises are not new. Only this time, investors appear to believe Finance Minister P. Chidambaram.

from Financial Regulatory Forum:

Standard Chartered case may not set model for targeting other banks

By Aruna Viswanatha and Brett Wolf

WASHINGTON/ST. LOUIS, Sept. 5 (Thomson Reuters Accelus) - Benjamin Lawsky's surprise move against Standard Chartered in an Iran sanctions case may have stunned the banking world, but it is unlikely to expand the scope of a series of similar U.S. cases against European banks that are still in the pipeline.
Lawsky, the New York state bank regulator, stunned the British bank, its shareholders and other U.S. authorities when he moved ahead last month with his own case against Standard Chartered, accused of hiding transactions involving Iran, which is under U.S. trade and economic sanctions.

By threatening to yank the bank's New York license and basing the core of his allegations on a much broader universe of transactions than usually covered in such cases, Lawsky initially signaled there was a new playbook on how to bring actions against banks for violating laws against doing business with certain sanctioned countries.

from Financial Regulatory Forum:

Standard Chartered’s big shareholders stay quiet on compliance, say focus is on governance

By Martin Coyle

LONDON/HONG KONG, Aug. 31 (Thomson Reuters Accelus) - Standard Chartered Bank's major shareholders are declining to openly criticise the firm's compliance practices but some cited overall governance issues as their primary interest following its settlement over allegations it breached Iran-sanctions laws. One institutional investor said that it had discussed compliance issues with the bank before this month's $340 million settlement was reached with New York's Department of Financial Services (DFS) for breaches of sanctions with Iran. The UK fund manager, which declined to be named, said that it discussed the allegations in general as well as compliance issues. "Compliance was discussed," the fund manager said without elaboration.

The enforcement action had happened so quickly that the bank had not discussed the issue with Standard Chartered before the matter became public, the source said. Afterwards, he said, several issues connected with the enforcement were raised. Speaking generally, the source said that compliance issues tended to test financial institutions but the investor was more concerned with governance issues "as a whole" rather than individual transactions.

from Financial Regulatory Forum:

Staging “Macbeth” in Manhattan: enforcement in the aftermath of Libor and Standard Chartered

By Justin O'Brien, Thomson Reuters Accelus contributing author

LONDON/NEW YORK, Aug. 31 (Thomson Reuters Accelus) - Despite the lack of commentary from either the White House or federal executive agencies, the Standard Chartered investigation — and the manner in which it was handled — is certain to reignite the festering feud over how to regulate finance. Absent the physical bloodshed, the power struggle for control of banking regulation and how to change its culture finds remarkable parallels in Macbeth, the classic Shakespearean tale of political infighting. As with Banquo's Ghost, the spectre of Eliot Spitzer and his battles with federal counterparts over the purpose of regulation looms large. 

The conflict between state and federal authority has deep and complex roots. They trace back to the tenure of Spitzer as State Attorney General (SAG). How to resolve the conflicts were last, partially, adjudicated by the Supreme Court in 2009 in a case that owes its origins to Spitzer's questionable use of executive authority (Cuomo v Clearing House Association L.L.C.). The Supreme Court then struck down attempts by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency to preclude any state enforcement action against national banks. Simultaneously it upheld the federal agency's sole "visitorial" or supervisory rights.

from Breakingviews:

Besieged StanChart needs governance booster

By John Foley

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

Standard Chartered needs a governance booster. The UK-based bank is under attack from a New York financial regulator over trades for Iranian clients that could see the bank landed with a huge fine, or worse. A stronger board wouldn’t have prevented the assault, but it might help the bank recover more quickly.

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