Stocks and Funds
Worries about bad debts and a sliding share price have raised doubts about Chief Executive Peter Sands’ future. The main challenge for the emerging market lender is to boost returns and retain capital as growth slows. If Sands leaves, his successor will face the same issues.
One remedy to capital flight would be to give so-called emergency liquidity assistance to Greek banks. But heavy use of ELA could mean big losses if Greece left the euro. The alternative is to copy Cypriot capital controls. That, though, would be politically toxic in Greece.
Taking a 10 pct stake worth $1.7 bln makes Qatar Airways the biggest investor in British Airways’ parent company. The immediate strategic benefit is limited: the groups already cooperate and IAG gets no new capital. But a deep-pocketed, long-term backer can be helpful.
The search giant reported mediocre Q4 results due to high outlays. The online shopping firm did better but also shelled out hefty sums. Neither can count any longer on economies of scale to boost margins sky-high. They need to make pricey investments just to stay in the game.
Bids and Buyouts
Qatar’s $4 bln swoop on Wharf-owner Songbird didn’t take long. Once big shareholders folded, the defence against the lacklustre offer collapsed. Yet the target’s support team could pocket up to $45 mln. M&A due process certainly doesn’t come cheap.
The convoluted structure at Energy Transfer Equity isn’t doing it any favors. Combining two master limited partnerships it controls may generate some savings. More importantly, it makes the company slightly easier for increasingly skeptical oil and gas investors to understand.
The Gulf state has won over the three other big investors in Songbird, the AIM-listed majority owner of the London financial district. Songbird’s board was caged in: with justification, it sees the $4 bln bid as cheap. But minority investors could suffer by holding out.
Rock-Tenn and MeadWestvaco shareholders will split their combined company evenly, with a balanced board. Investors are already inking in $300 mln of annual cuts, pushing both stocks up. Mergers that look equal, though, can still provoke business and cultural upheaval.
Money and Markets
A 2.6 pct rate of expansion in the quarter and 2.4 pct growth for 2014 hardly represent a boom. But it’s still a stronger story than most developed economies. With pay rising, confidence strong and inflation, interest rates and gasoline prices low, the upside remains promising.
A surprise interest rate cut suggests the central bank is more concerned about the economy than the value of the currency. Worries about the banking sector’s solvency could explain the move. The downside: Russia could end up with both high inflation and a deep recession.
Ben Bernanke is an expert on the famous crash. But Barry Eichengreen argues in his new book that the Fed boss during the 2008 crunch hadn’t learnt the lessons of the boom preceding the bust. Bernanke’s knowledge helped with crisis management, but it is too early to say how much.
The government is selling a 10 percent stake in the lumbering monopoly to meet its deficit target. A pledge to ramp up domestic production makes it easier to lure buyers. Still, investor enthusiasm for Coal India shares will set the tone for a big pipeline of chunky deals.