The Great Debate UK
Lufthansa <LHAG.DE> is milking an antitrust standoff with the European competition regulators to extract maximum cost cuts from Austrian Airlines <AUAV.VI> as it seeks to cement its dominance of central Europe's skies.
The German flag carrier has held back key concessions to the European Commission needed to secure approval for the takeover of the ailing airline while it squeezes further concessions from Austrian's workforce and its biggest shareholder, the Austrian government. It won another 150 million euros in savings from job cuts agreed in a third round of AUA cost-cutting this week.
The EU regulator, which supports airline consolidation in principle, is right to insist that the creation of a central European mega-carrier should not be at the expense of consumer choice on key routes such as Vienna-Frankfurt.
Lufthansa, which has set its own deadline of July 31 to clinch the deal, has the Austrians in a tight spot because the cost to the Austrian taxpayer would be far higher if it walked away. The Austrian government holding company, OIAG, says this could cost about 1,400 jobs and imply total costs of 840 million euros. The state has promised to assume 500 million euros of AUA's 1 billion euros of debt as part of a Lufthansa deal.
The German giant needs to reduce the cost of acquisitions it launched last year before the financial crisis hit air travel.
It has already beaten down Sir Michael Bishop to lower the cost of his majority stake in British carrier BMI [BMI.UL] and has snapped up Brussels Airlines, the successor to bankrupt Belgian flag carrier Sabena.
In the latter case, Lufthansa made concessions to the Commission on routes and take-off and landing slots to avoid restricting competition. But it has balked so far at the most important remedies for the Austrian deal, which concern what would be a monopoly on nine daily flights between Vienna and Geneva, operated jointly with another subsidiary, Swiss, and above all on feeder flights to its Frankfurt Airport hub to connect with its more lucrative transatlantic routes.
If the Commission does not stand firm on these issues, it risks being overturned by the EU's Court of First Instance, to which rivals Air France-KLM <AIRF.PA> and former Formula 1 racing ace Niki Lauda's latest venture, Fly Niki, would undoubtedly appeal.
Of course, Lufthansa could let the Austrian deal founder on EU competition concerns in hopes of picking up the pieces of a shrunken or bankrupt AUA later. But it might face competition were the airline's assets to be sold out of bankruptcy. Both Air France and a consortium of Air Berlin and Fly Niki were interested last time.
So the betting must be that, as with the Belgian deal, it will yield to Brussels' demands to clinch the deal in the end.
Political and economic logic are set to collide in the byzantine decision-making over the future of German carmaker Opel, the main European arm of fallen U.S. auto giant General Motors.
If politics prevail, as seems likely, the cost to German taxpayers will be higher and the chances of commercial success lower.
The aim of the Berlin government and four federal states, which are sustaining Opel with bridging finance, is to save as many German jobs and production sites as possible. That makes political sense ahead of September's general election. But the business logic is that only a greatly slimmed-down Opel can survive in an industry with chronic overcapacity.
In theory, it is up to GM's board to choose among the three offers it expected to receive on Monday from Canadian-Austrian car parts maker Magna <MGa.TO>, Belgian financial investor RHJ <RJHI.BR>, and, less plausibly, Chinese state-owned auto maker BAIC. But there are several other powerful players with a say. They include the trustees responsible for the company since GM entered U.S. bankruptcy in June, the German federal and state governments, Opel's works council and, last but not least, the European Commission, which must approve the restructuring plan as a condition for authorising the state aid.
from The Great Debate:
Germany's politicians seem to have rescued their bad bank. Pushing back the valuation date for toxic assets to before the Lehman collapse has made it more likely that banks will consign their dud investments to the voluntary scheme.
It had looked as if the banks might simply boycott it. However, while the government has scored a political goal, it is no closer to its aim of boosting lending to a credit-starved German economy.
The essence of the scheme is that banks will be able to transfer some 250 billion euros of toxic assets into "eine Bad Bank". In exchange they receive government-backed paper that they can count towards regulatory capital.
from The Great Debate:
Higher taxes? Lower public spending? Devaluation? Inflation? Investment in green growth?
European governments are pointing in very different directions as they debate an exit strategy from the global financial crisis. Despite European Union efforts to coordinate economic policy, there are clear signs that the main European economies will charge off in disarray towards separate exits.
Professor David Bailey works at the Coventry University Business School and has written extensively on globalisation, economic restructuring and industrial policy, with particular reference to the auto industry. The opinions expressed are his own. -
Recent comments by Tom Purves, Chief Executive of the British based but German-owned luxury car firm Rolls-Royce, struck me as interesting on a number of levels this week.
- Nick Hewitt is a historian in the Department of Research and Information at the Imperial War Museum in London. He studied history at Lancaster University and War Studies at King’s College, University of London, where he specialised in naval history. He joined the Imperial War Museum in 1995. The opinions expresed are his own.-
“D-Day at last! Invasion! Hurrah! God save the King!” wrote a Cheshire schoolgirl on the evening of 6 June 1944. For her, news of the successful D-Day landings clearly meant a great deal. But looking back after sixty-five years, what was the historical significance of D-Day?
Arcandor’s chief Executive Karl-Gerhard Eick has warned that if his department store group is forced into insolvency, it will do to the retail sector what the collapse of Lehman Brothers did to finance. It is hard to know whether Eick really believes this, although one has to hope he does not.
A revisionist theory on the causes of the global financial crisis blames surplus countries like China, Japan and Germany as much as highly-leveraged, deregulated finance in the United States and Britain.
Germany is becalmed by a political and economic phoney war five months before this year’s most important European general election. But a lack of real economic debate now risks prolonging the political stalemate and delaying much needed reforms.
LONDON/PARIS, April 23 (Reuters) – Germany is to set up a system of bad banks before the summer recess to hold some 250 billion euros of toxic assets. Finance Minister Peer Steinbruek has assured taxpayers that his solution — called “eine Bad Bank” (there is no German word for the concept) — will not weigh on the budget.