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from Breakingviews:

Barclays shows why it needs to do a UBS

By George Hay

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

Barclays has shown why it needs to “do a UBS”. Both the UK bank and its Swiss peer had a rotten time in their fixed-income trading operations in the first quarter, numbers released on May 6 show. The difference is that Barclays is only just understanding a problem that UBS attacked 18 months ago.

Weakness in fixed income, currencies and commodities (FICC) is a sector-wide theme: year-on-year, JPMorgan’s FICC business fell 21 percent in the first quarter. Barclays’ 41 percent and UBS’ 38 percent drops are worse not only because of peculiarities like reporting in non-dollar currencies and an unfavourable product mix. Both banks’ FICC units are in flux.

For UBS, that’s not surprising. In October 2012, the Swiss bank became the first major investment bank to pull back from offering the full gamut of advisory, fixed income and equities services. Instead of battling volatile market conditions and onerous regulatory FICC capital requirements, it slashed fixed income and reorganised its business to reassert the primacy of its wealth management franchise. The stock re-rated and is now 30 percent higher.

from Breakingviews:

Banks swap rewards for risk on public deals

By Dominic Elliott

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

Investment bankers are wising up about reputational risk. Deutsche Bank and UBS are now loath to offer long-dated swaps to municipalities. New capital rules making it less attractive to enter into long-dated interest rate swaps partly explain why. But the legal tussles and bad publicity from dealing with public sector clients are a bigger factor.

from MacroScope:

Why should the Bank of England hike rates when it can baby-step?

When the Bank of England decides to start hiking interest rates, it may find that its standard 25 and 50 basis point interest rate moves of old are too blunt a tool for Britain's delicately-poised economic recovery.

Instead, UBS economist Amit Kara suggests the Bank should "test the waters" with rate hikes of 5 to 10 basis points:

from Global Investing:

Perfect storm brewing for the rouble

A perfect storm seems to be brewing for the Russian rouble. It has tumbled to four-year lows against a euro-dollar basket. Against the dollar, it has lost around 7 percent so far this year, faring better than many other emerging currencies. But signs are that next year will bring more turmoil.

While oil prices, the mainstay of Russia's economy, are holding up, Russian growth is not. It is running at 1.3 percent so far this year and capital outflows continue unabated -- $48 billion is estimated to have fled the country in the first nine months of 2013 compared with $55 billion in 2012. Russia's mighty current account surplus has shrunk to barely nothing and could fall into deficit by the middle of next year, reckons Alfa Bank economist Natalia Orlova. Finally, the rouble can no longer count on the central bank for wholehearted day-to-day support. FX market interventions cost the bank $3.5 billion last month  but it also shifted the exchange-rate corridor upwards six times, indicating it is keen to move to a fully flexible currency.

from Breakingviews:

Banks need to lop another quarter off costs

By Dominic Elliott

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

Big has been bad for shareholders in investment banks. That’s according to a report published by consultancy McKinsey on Nov. 20. The 13 largest investment banks made an average return on equity (ROE) of just 8 percent last year - below the 10 percent achieved by the next 200. Given banks’ double-digit cost of capital, the bulge bracket is still frittering away shareholders’ money. More cuts are needed.

from Global Investing:

Beaten-down emerging equities may not be all that cheap

It's generally accepted these days that emerging equities are cheap and that value-focused investors should consider buying. But some disagree  -- analysts at UBS say the alleged cheapness of EM equities rings hollow when you look at the return-on-equity on emerging companies. They don't dispute that the market has de-rated significantly on price-earnings and price-book metrics (at 10.5 times and 1.5 times respectively, they are well below long-term averages). But they argue that these have not been excessive when compared to the decline in profitability.  Emerging return-on-equity pre-crisis was usually higher than developed. Once at a lofty 17 percent, emerging ROE now languishes at 12.7 percent, almost on par with ROE for developed companies. Check out this graphic:

Multiples in EM have de-rated in only lock step with the de-rating in  margins and RoEs relative to the developed world  (UBS write)

from Global Investing:

Turkish savers hang onto dollars

As in many countries with memories of hyperinflation and currency collapse, Turkey's middle class have tended to hold at least part of their savings in hard currency. But unlike in Russia and Argentina, Turkish savers' propensity to save in dollars has on occasion proved helpful to companies and the central bank. That's because many Turks, rather than just accumulating dollars, have evolved into savvy players of exchange rate swings and often use sharp falls in the lira to sell their dollars and buy back the local currency. Hence Turks' hard currency bank deposits, estimated at between $70-$100 billion --  on a par with central bank reserves -- have acted as a buffer of sorts, stabilising the lira when it falls past a certain level.

But back in 2011, when the lira was in the eye of another emerging markets storm, we noticed how some Turks had become strangely reluctant to sell dollars. And during this year's bout of lira weakness too, Turkish savers have not stepped up to help out the central bank, research by Barclays finds. Instead they are accumulating dollars -- "rather than being contrarian, their behaviour now seems aligned with global capital flows," Barclays  analysts write. While the lira has weakened to record lows this year, data from UBS shows that the dollarisation ratio, the percentage of bank deposits in foreign currency, has actually crept up to 37.6 percent from 34.5 percent at the start of the year. Here's a Barclays graphic that illustrates the shift.

from Alison Frankel:

UBS ‘likely’ to settle with FHFA before January trial: bank co-defendants

Remember UBS's attempt to play what it considered a get-out-of-jail-free card in the megabillions litigation over mortgage-backed securities UBS and more than a dozen other banks sold to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac? UBS's lawyers at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom came up with an argument that could have decimated claims against all of the banks: When Congress passed the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 and established the Federal Housing Finance Agency as a conservator for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, UBS said, lawmakers explicitly extended the one-year statute of limitations on federal securities claims - but neglected to extend, or even mention, the three-year statute of repose. UBS argued that FHFA's suits, which in the aggregate asserted claims on more than $300 billion in MBS, were untimely because they were filed after the statute of repose expired.

The judge overseeing almost all of the FHFA MBS suits, U.S. District Judge Denise Cote, denied UBS's motion to dismiss in 2012. The bank, she said, was splitting hairs: Congress clearly intended to give FHFA a chance to evaluate its potential causes of action and believed it was doing so when it extended the statute of limitations. The judge subsequently applied the same reasoning to other banks' motions to dismiss FHFA suits on timeliness grounds, but she also granted UBS permission to take the issue to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. Cote said that whichever way the appeals court ruled, its decision would help resolve the FHFA litigation. If she were reversed, FHFA's claims would be drastically narrowed; if she were upheld, the banks would be more inclined to settle.

from Breakingviews:

Could UBS resurrect partnership investment banking?

By Dominic Elliott

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

Goldman Sachs’s initial public offering in 1999 seemed to hammer a nail in the coffin for the partnership model in investment banking. Now activist investment firm Knight Vinke is suggesting that UBS might adopt something like a partnership structure as part of its plan to split wealth management from investment banking. The breakup idea is overambitious today. Only with time, luck and possibly more capital, could an employee-owned UBS investment bank be made to work.

from Global Investing:

Emerging markets’ export problem

Taiwan's forecast-beating export data today came as a pleasant surprise amid the general emerging markets economic gloom.  In a raft of developing countries, from South Korea to Brazil, from Malaysia to the Czech Republic, export data has disappointed. HSBC's monthly PMI index showed this month that recovery remains subdued.

With Europe still in the doldrums, this is not totally unsurprising. But economists are growing increasingly concerned because the lack of export growth coindides with a nascent U.S. recovery. Clearly EM is failing to ride the US coattails.

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