Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Finance ministers to meet over faltering global growth

Finance ministers from the world's largest developed economies meet in Germany this week against a backdrop of faltering global growth, scant inflationary pressures and a bond market in turmoil.
High on their agenda -- even if unofficially -- will be Greece and how it can stay in the troubled euro zone. Figures due on Friday from the United States that will almost certainly show the world's biggest economy contracted last quarter are also likely to feature.
"With the negotiations between Greece and the rest of the euro area at an impasse, an impatient German Chancellor Merkel has warned that an agreement must be reached before the end of the month," said Thomas Costerg, senior economist at Standard Chartered.
Greece cannot make a payment to the International Monetary Fund due on June 5 unless foreign lenders disburse more aid, a senior ruling party lawmaker said on Wednesday, the latest warning from Athens it is on the verge of default.
Analysts largely agree the country's cash squeeze is increasingly acute and fresh aid will be needed sooner or later to avoid bankruptcy.
Merkel and French President Francois Hollande held talks on Thursday with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on the sidelines of a European Union summit in Riga, hoping to speed the resolution of Athens' debt crisis.
With business growth slowing in the euro zone and factory activity contracting again in China, market watchers have been looking to the United States to drive a pick-up in growth.
But a preliminary Reuters poll last week predicted that adjusted first quarter U.S. GDP numbers USGDPP=ECI due on Friday would be massively revised down and show a 0.7 percent contraction in the first three months of this year.
"The poor Q1 2015 performance follows growth of just 2.2 percent in Q4 2014, so there has been very little growth over the last couple of quarters," said Joseph LaVorgna, chief U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank.
"As a result, market participants have started to wonder again whether the U.S. economy might be in an extended period of secular stagnation."
Revised gross domestic product numbers from Britain on Thursday should say the country's growth at the start of the year was slightly better than first estimated, at 0.4 percent.
The day before, Prime Minister David Cameron will put forward his government's legislative plans after his Conservatives won a surprise majority in the May 7 election.
India will also publish GDP numbers on Friday, with economists predicting Asia's third largest economy expanded a relatively modest 7.4 percent between January and March. [ECILT/IN]
Economic activity in Brazil tumbled in the first quarter, its central bank's IBC-Br index suggested on Thursday, and GDP numbers on Friday are likely to confirm that contraction.
Japan's central bank has been struggling to get any meaningful inflation for decades and despite near-zero interest rates and many multi-trillion yen stimulus programs, numbers due on Thursday will show little inflationary pressure.
With inflation negative in Hungary, its central bank is expected to cut rates by a further 15 basis points to a new historic low of 1.65 percent on Tuesday, despite a sell-off in government bonds that has weighed on the forint.
The Bank of Canada will leave policy unchanged when it meets on Wednesday, and the chances of any further easing has fallen to just 25 percent. [CA/POLL]

Monday, May 25, 2015

shortage of prime office space in rival European financial centres

A shortage of prime office space in rival European financial centres may torpedo plans by some of London's banks to quit the UK capital if Britain opts out of European Union membership.
Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to renegotiate Britain's relationship with the EU and then hold a vote by the end of 2017 on whether to stay in the bloc or leave.
Deutsche Bank (DBKGn.DE), the euro zone's second largest bank by assets, confirmed this week it was considering cutting its UK operations if the country pulled out, and other big global banks are expected to rethink the scale of their UK operations under such an eventuality.
But decamping from their expansive London homes to Frankfurt, Paris or Dublin would be no simple task.
"None of the major European cities could cater for that kind of demand at the click of fingers or even with six months notice," said Mat Oakley, head of commercial research at global real estate consultancy Savills (SVS.L).
"The markets across Europe are pretty tight in terms of vacancy rates and lenders are so risk averse in terms of speculative office development that a bank would have to do a pre-let (commit to rent a property before it has been built), or buy a site," he said.
Both of those options would incur large unnecessary costs if the UK stays in the EU.
"The potential referendum on EU membership bothers many of our clients immensely," said Miles Gibson, Head of UK Research at real estate advisor CBRE (CBG.N).
"Even though we think the PM would campaign for an 'in' vote and would ultimately win, the sooner he can resolve this issue, the better."
London's status as a global financial centre dates back to the 16th century, when it became a hotbed of merchant banking, international trade and commerce strategically placed between the 'Old World' Europe and the 'New World' Americas.
Fortune-seekers have flocked to the capital in every century since and a large financial services industry now thrives in two main financial districts - the historic City and the modern estate of Canary Wharf, built in the late 1980s to accommodate banks keen to cash in on an era of light-touch regulation.
London was home to 143,500 banking professionals at the end of 2014, according to lobby group TheCityUK.
Office occupiers in the UK capital typically allow 11.3 square metres per workstation, according to the British Council for Offices.
London based banks tend to occupy this size of space in large buildings where trading and lending teams can work in close contact. So if they wanted to move 100,000 of staff out of London, they would need to find 1.13 million square metres of equivalent prime space elsewhere.
But there is just 1.46 million square metres of vacant prime and non-prime quality office space in Frankfurt, 941,000 square metres in Paris and 451,111 square metres in Dublin, data from real estate firm CBRE shows.
Some banks have already shifted back-office and support functions to countries like Ireland.
But Dublin is not an easy option for any substantial future move either, having seen the largest annual increase in prime office space occupancy costs - a proxy for demand - worldwide, recording a 34.9 percent rise year-on-year in 2014, CBRE said.
Just 1.8 percent of the city's total Grade A office space - prime real estate in its two best postal districts of Dublin 2 and Dublin 4 - was available to rent at the end of the first quarter 2015, further data from the real estate advisor showed.
As a result, says Savills' Oakley, many of his financial services clients have suggested they are likely to leave the bulk of their operations in place whatever the referendum outcome.
"...The practicalities of hiring or moving 1,000-5,000 staff to comparatively small markets in Ireland, France or Germany were so spectacularly difficult, they couldn't envisage moving lock, stock and barrel," he said.
While other banks may be concerned about the impact of Britain leaving Europe, many of them are pressing ahead with building projects in London that would appear to secure the city's position as Europe's top financial centre.
Goldman Sachs, which employs around 5,500 people in Britain, is building a new 111,500 square metre European headquarters in London's Farringdon business hub.
Separately, construction is underway to create a new 65,000 square metre City base for Swiss bank UBS (UBSG.VX).
And even Deutsche Bank, despite its worst-case scenario contingency plans - is looking to rent additional space in Canary Wharf to house people from several London offices, according to a source with knowledge of the matter. Deutsche employs around 9,000 people in the UK in 16 locations, the bulk of which reside in its Moorgate headquarters.
"It's not as binary as just simply moving out of the UK altogether," said one investment banking source speaking on condition of anonymity.
"There are many reasons why banks are in the UK. Their clients are here, it has the biggest stock exchange in Europe. It's not all or nothing."

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Stonegate Bank, will host the Cuban government's finances.

English: Coat of arms of Cuba. Español: Escudo...
English: Coat of arms of Cuba. Español: Escudo de Cuba. Русский: Герб Кубы. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Stonegate Bank, a Florida-based bank that opened only a decade ago, will host the Cuban government's finances.
It's another step forward in renewing U.S.-Cuba ties that will make it easier for Cuba to eventually reestablish an official embassy in the U.S.
Cuba closed its embassy in the late 1950s. U.S. and Cuban officials are testifying before Congress this week, lobbying to gain approval for the reopening of embassies in the two nations.
"We hope this is the initial step to normalize banking ties between the two countries, which will benefit American companies wanting to do business in Cuba, as well as the Cuban people," Stonegate CEO Dave Seleski said in a statement.
Investors liked this development too: Stonegate (SGBK) stock is up 4% since the news first broke Wednesday.
President Obama began the process of normalizing relations with Cuba in December. Cuba currently has an office in Washington D.C., which has been without a bank for over a year and a half.
One of the biggest hurdles to reunite ties between the U.S. and Cuba is getting their finances on the same page. Many American business leaders have expressed interest going to Cuba, but want to see more financial infrastructure -- American banks in Havana -- before going.
"This is good news, and a long time coming, finally allowing us to move past what has been a stumbling block in the normalization conversations," says Alana Tummino, policy director at the Americas Society.
Stonegate is small regional bank headquartered in Pompano Beach, Fla. It has 21 locations, all in Florida.
Some American businesses already have a virtual footprint in Cuba. Airbnb and Netflix (NFLX,Tech30) are now available in Cuba, although few Cubans have Internet access. Jetblue (JBLU)announced earlier in May that it will offer once-a-week flights between New York and Cuba. Credit cards are also making a push into Havana.
But banks have hesitated to work with Cuba until Stonegate.
In April, President Obama said he would remove Cuba from America's terrorism list. Cuba had been on the list for over 30 years.
Latin American leaders long criticized U.S. presidents for what they called an imperialist approach to the region. But they've warmed up to President Obama now that the end of America's embargo against Cuba is in sight.

Friday, May 22, 2015

five global banks with $5.4 billion in penalties

U.S. regulators hit five global banks with $5.4 billion in penalties Wednesday for trying to rig foreign currency markets in their favor.
Citigroup (C), Barclays (BCS), JP Morgan Chase (JPM), and Royal Bank of Scotland (RBSPF)were fined more than $2.5 billion by the U.S. after pleading guilty to conspiring to manipulate the price of dollars and euros.
The four banks, plus UBS (UBS) , have also been fined $1.6 billion by the Federal Reserve, and Barclays will pay regulators another $1.3 billion to settle related claims.
The first four banks operated what they described as "The Cartel" from as early as 2007, using online chatrooms and coded language to influence the twice-daily setting of benchmarks in an effort to increase their profits.
The guilty banks "participated in a brazen display of collusion and foreign exchange rate market manipulation," said U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
Lynch said bankers conspired to enrich themselves at the expense of "countless consumers, investors and institutions around the world." She declined to comment on criminal charges against individual bank employees, saying only that the Justice Department's investigation is ongoing.
The global foreign exchange market is massive yet lightly regulated. Officials said trading in the eurodollar exchange rate market is five times larger than trading on all global stock exchanges combined. The four banks that pleaded guilty accounted for about a quarter of all activity in that market.
The five banks involved in Wednesday's settlement, plus HSBC (HSBC) and Bank of America (BAC), have now paid about $10 billion in total to authorities in the U.S. and Europe for their part in the foreign exchange scandal.
"These unprecedented figures appropriately reflect this breathtaking conspiracy," said Lynch.
UBS admitted it had engaged in "unsafe and unsound business practices" in foreign exchange markets, and also pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in relation to the London Interbank borrowing rate, or Libor.
The bank had originally struck a deal over Libor with the U.S. Department of Justice in 2012, but the non-prosecution agreement was terminated after its role in the foreign exchange scandal came to light. It said it would pay a fine of $203 million related to Libor rigging.
Related: More bankers ok with breaking the law to get ahead
"The conduct of a small number of employees was unacceptable and we have taken appropriate disciplinary actions," UBS chairman Axel Weber said in a statement.
UBS said it faces no criminal charges related to the currency market manipulation.
But it's already racked up a hefty bill for market misconduct. Over the past year it has agreed to pay $1.1 billion to authorities in the U.S. and Europe for dodgy dealing in foreign exchange. That's on top of around $1.7 billion in penalties since 2012 related to the Libor probe.
Related: Deutsche Bank in $2.5 billion settlement over interest rate rigging

Thursday, May 21, 2015

blockchain, the technology that powers the Bitcoin system

Most people have heard of Bitcoin (XBT) as a system of electronic money -- one that hasn't really caught on yet.
But what gets less attention is blockchain, the technology that powers the Bitcoin system. It's a computer program that automatically processes transactions and creates a perfect, reliable digital record.
High-tech bankers are starting to realize this could revolutionize trading. Nasdaq (NDAQ), a favorite exchange among many technology companies, is making the first move.
On Monday, the stock market announced it will start using a blockchain system to keep records for its Nasdaq Private Market, which handles trading of shares in the pre-IPO phase before a company goes public.
Nasdaq sees the blockchain's perfect recordkeeping as a major step in the right direction for more transparency. The pre-IPO market doesn't typically see as much trading and what does occur is often by a tight circle of employees and early investors.
"Blockchain technology will provide extensive integrity, audit ability, governance and transfer of ownership capabilities," Nasdaq said in its public announcement.
This doesn't mean Nasdaq is using actual Bitcoins as currency. But Nasdaq will be interacting with the Bitcoin system to slip data into the blockchain.
By using Bitcoin's core technology, this is a major acknowledgment of Bitcoin's contribution to finance and trade. This is the first time the world has seen a trading system that doesn't require a trusted middleman. It sounds boring, but in the banking world, it's revolutionary.
It seems odd to equate Bitcoin with better security. The world's first true big digital currency is generally known for two things. One, its popularity in online black markets. Two, the epic fall of Mt. Gox, a major Bitcoin exchange market that wiped out $400 million in people's savings.
But these have nothing to do with the digital currency itself. Bitcoin's perfect recordkeeping actually helped convict a black market kingpin. And computer security experts say Bitcoin's technology actually makes it more secure than any other money transfer system.
Nasdaq's experiment is a limited one. On Monday, the Wall Street Journal referred to Nasdaq's pre-IPO market, which launched in January 2014, as "a fledgling marketplace." But if it works out, expect to see it use the blockchain concept elsewhere.
"Utilizing the blockchain is a natural digital evolution for managing physical securities," Nasdaq CEO Bob Greifeld said in a statement.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Home Depot profits ups

Home Depot Inc (HD.N) reported higher-than-expected quarterly profit and sales on Tuesday and raised its full-year earnings forecast as North American customers spent more on home repairs after a harsh winter.
The world's No. 1 home improvement chain said strong housing contrasted with below-consensus U.S. GDP growth in the first quarter.
"The growth that we see in our business ... supports the view of the continued recovery in the U.S. housing market," Chief Executive Craig Menear said on a conference call.
Stores across the United States catered to customers making home improvements after digging out from a long winter. Departments that outperformed included tools, decor, lighting, plumbing and appliances.
Home Depot raised its profit forecast for the year ending February 2016 to between $5.24 and $5.27 per share including items, from $5.11 to $5.17. Wall Street was looking for $5.23 per share.
It also increased its full-year sales growth forecast to between 4.2 and 4.8 percent from 3.5 to 4.7 percent.
Total same-store sales rose 6.1 percent in the first quarter ended May 3. Analysts on average had expected a 5.5 percent rise, according to Consensus Metrix.
Net income rose to $1.58 billion, or $1.21 per share, from $1.38 billion, or $1.00 per share, a year earlier.
Revenue rose 6 percent to $20.89 billion.
Excluding items, the company earned $1.16 per share. Analysts on average had expected a profit of $1.15 per share and revenue of $20.81 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Atlanta-based Home Depot has said it faces several dozen civil lawsuits after its data systems were breached between April and September last year, when hackers stole about 56 million payment cards.
The first-quarter results included $7 million in breach-related costs, though Home Depot said it cannot yet estimate the full scope of costs related to the breach.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Goldman Sachs has cut its long-term crude oil price forecasts

Goldman Sachs has cut its long-term crude oil price forecasts and recommended investors sell shares in two major oil companies, saying that improved U.S. shale efficiency and higher production from OPEC will more than cover future demand.
The U.S. investment bank's equities team, in a note published on Saturday, raised its projection for the average Brent crude oil LCOc1 price this year to $58 a barrel from $52 and lifted its outlook for U.S. light crude futures CLc1 to $52 a barrel from $48.
But Goldman, closely followed investors including large pensions and hedge funds, said it expects Brent to fall over time, reaching $55 a barrel by 2020.
Brent traded around $67 a barrel at 1100 GMT on Monday.
"We lower our Brent oil price assumption to $60-$65 for 2016-2019, falling to $55 for 2020," Goldman said.
"We see global oil demand being met by U.S. shale, which is
continuing to benefit from efficiency and productivity improvements, and OPEC," the bank's note to clients added.
Goldman said that this "lower-for-longer oil price" would "put significant pressure" on integrated oil companies, forcing a rethink on dividends.
"As a result, we downgrade the sector outlook to 'cautious' from 'neutral'," it said.
The bank downgraded BP (BP.L) and Statoil (STL.OL) to "sell" from "neutral", citing long-term dividend risk for BP and cashflow pressure on Statoil.
Last week the U.S. investment bank described a recent rally in oil prices was "premature", adding that a weakening of prices is required for a rebalancing of the market to resume.
Oil prices have recovered this year after sharp falls through the second half of 2014.
Goldman Sachs said it assumed a $5 a barrel spread between Brent and U.S. crude, which is also known as West Texas Intermediate (WTI), through 2016-2020.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

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Starbucks Still Faces Online Account, Gift Card Fraud
Fraud in Starbucks users' online accounts and gift cards remains a major problem for the coffee chain, with potential victims including those who have linked either a payment card or PayPal to their account, which can be used to transmit gift cards to others with a preloaded balance. The targeting of Starbucks accounts by fraudsters has been an issue for at least several years, and a forum post on the now-defunct Evolution marketplace indicates hackers may have acquired large numbers of Starbucks account credentials. Not long before Evolution's shutdown, a vendor commented "we are in the process of sifting through thousands and thousands of possible logins for Starbucks with balance." People frequently reuse login credentials on numerous Web services, which means hackers will attempt to use those stolen credentials to access other services. This is particularly risky for Starbucks accounts, given that customers can set their cards for automatic top-up from PayPal or a payment card. Offering two-factor authentication and halting the transmission of balances between cards are strategies Starbucks could use to fortify account security.
New York Grants License to ItBit Bitcoin Exchange
New York financial services superintendent Benjamin M. Lawsky has granted the first license to a Bitcoin exchange called itBit. ItBit is now accepting U.S. customers after receiving a banking trust charter from Lawsky and New York's Department of Financial Services. ItBit also announced it had secured $25 million in new financing. The exchange already has been operating in Singapore for foreign customers. Due to the extensive requirements for opening an account with the company, itBit is planning to focus primarily on larger investors and financial institutions. Customers will be able to buy, sell, and hold the digital tokens as an asset. "The technology behind Bitcoin and other virtual currencies could ultimately hold real promise, and it is critical that we set up appropriate rules of the road to help safeguard customer funds," Lawsky says. "Indeed, we believe that regulation will ultimately be important to the long-term health and development of the virtual currency industry."
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Friday, May 15, 2015

Walmart has announced a new partnership with Chinese e-commerce giants Alibaba

American retail firm Walmart has announced a new partnership with Chinese e-commerce giants Alibaba in order to improve growth and sales within China.
The partnership will involve Alibaba’s mobile payment arm Alipay. Walmart’s stores in the metropolis of Shenzhen will be able to pay for goods using Alipay Wallet.
The branches will be provided with scanners that can read barcodes on the smartphone, allowing a transaction to be completed in seconds.
Although Walmart reported a decline in its China sales for the fourth quarter of 2014, it plans to expand its operations in the country. The company stated last month it intends to open another 115 stores in China by 2017.
This partnership looks like it has been in the pipeline for many months. In February, Doug McMillon, CEO of Walmart told investors that the company is “taking the right steps to solidify a foundation for long-term growth.”
Alipay certainly know how to dominate the mobile payment business. Since July 2014, Alipay generated $788 billion in transactions, and had some 190 million active users for its mobile app.
‘‘Alipay will help us serve our customers better by allowing mobile payment in seconds. Increasingly, our customers want convenience,’’ commented Wal-Mart spokeswoman Marilee McInnis.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Castleton Commodities International will buy Morgan Stanley's physical oil business

Castleton Commodities International will buy Morgan Stanley's physical oil business, the largest and oldest on Wall Street, vaulting the Connecticut-based merchant into the big leagues of global crude and fuel traders.
In a long-awaited deal that appears to mark the end of the Wall Street bank's more than three-decade history as a major player in physical oil markets, Castleton will gain several dozen oil tank storage leases, physical oil supply and purchase contracts, and a team of about a hundred traders.
Neither Morgan Stanley nor Castleton released terms of the transaction, but analysts estimated the deal to be valued at slightly more than $1 billion. This principally represents the value of oil inventories in storage or transit. The deal will not be material for Morgan Stanley, the bank said.
Castleton, a Connecticut-based trading group now owned by a private equity group of hedge fund and trading veterans, will have more scale and scope to compete in the massive global oil market.
The deal "aligns well with our goal of becoming a top-tier, global multi-commodity merchant," said CCI's Chief Executive and President William C. Reed II, a former Enron and hedge fund trader who has been running the firm since 2008.
Morgan's Global Oil Merchanting unit has traded around 2 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude and oil products over the past five years, and has 45 oil storage leases for some 30 million barrels, mainly in the United States and Europe, CCI said.
About a hundred front-office staff, including traders and shippers, are expected to move to CCI with the transaction, according to a person familiar with the deal. In total, as many as 200 employees may transfer to CCI, a second person said. The bank's Tom Simpson and Fabrizio Zichichi will lead CCI's global oil trading business, the firm said.
The bank still plans to sell its stake in oil tanker group Heidmar, which was not part of the deal, a source said.