FOREX traders at the centre of a criminal investigation

A criminal investigation has been commenced by the Serious Fraud Office following alleged fraudulent conduct by traders dealing in foreign exchange currencies. The criminal investigation is set to examine the actions of several traders employed at top city banks who have allegedly colluded to fix exchange rates in order to profit from the lucrative £3 trillion a day market.

The SFO were unwilling to name and shame at such an early stage, however it is understood that the collusion spread across top banks and several financial institutions. Regulators worldwide among which are Hong Kong, the US, Switzerland and the UK authorities have taken steps by digging into allegations of exchange rate fixing. However, the SFO marks the first official criminal investigation to take place. 

London is said to be the capital of the foreign exchange rate market where somewhere around 40% of trading takes place. It is in the capital where several traders are facing allegations of collusion following discoveries of online chatroom messages which have discussed business affairs. The Financial Conduct Authority, which is the British financial regulator begun an in depth review of the foreign exchange market in 2013.

The matter was also taken very seriously by the Bank of England who appointed Lord Grabiner QC to investigate whether some of its own members were involved in the currency manipulation which is said to have taken place in the years between 2005 and 2013. To date, over 25 traders some of which work in the world’s biggest banking institutions have been put on suspension or have been fired worldwide as the regulators continue their investigations.

There are large concerns looming especially over the benchmark which is popularly known as the 4pm fix which is used among insurance and pension funds in order to determine what they should pay for foreign currencies. This London fix was established in 1994 and is run in partnership between Reuters and WM. If however, the fix is discovered to have been manipulated then it is almost certain that this would have cost British businesses and investors millions of pounds which in turn would have been pocketed by the fixers.

Some of the world’s biggest banks are concerned that this scandal could likely escalate to the level of the Libor crisis which resolved to multi million pound fines for Britain’s lagers financial institutions. The several banks involved in the Libor rigging scandal have shared fines which combined total to almost £3bn.

Investor Confidence Growth in Worldwide Economy

The Dow Jones Industrial Average has for the first time closed above the 17,000 mark as confidence from investors grows in the world wide economy. The stock index for the US which consists of the biggest companies in business increased by 92 points to close for the day at 17,068.

 

A report which stated that in June there were 288,000 jobs added by the US economy had a positive effect leading investors to push shares higher. Moreover, low interest rates have played their part in the up rise as that has led to investors pouring in money. Among other US indexes to have increased is S&P which saw new heights this year. The Dow recently closed at its 13th highest for the year while on the other hand the S&P 500 reached a 24th highest close in 2014.  

Slowly but surely

An increase in acquisitions and mergers as well as a string of other positive economic news has fired up investors and earned their confidence. All in all making Wall Street a much brighter place to be. The latest positive job figures to be released in the US was the icing on the week for global positivity along with China’s manufacturing productivity reaching a six month high.

Benedict Willis who works for Princeton Securities stated in an interview “the economic data we continue to get is not exceptional, but it is still positive” making his position on the New York Stock Exchange a touch more comfortable.

The worry which many investors had earlier in the year was that the rising stock prices would not be supported by actual growth in the economy. However, Mr Willis stated that so long as the economic figure continue to rise then that should be sufficient to support investor confidence and not raise any concerns. He further expressed his personal confidence in saying that he expected the stock markets to continue rising.

While on this subject, it is important to give credit to the Federal Reserve who have heavily influenced the pouring of money into stocks over the past year and a half by keeping interest rates at rock bottom. The Fed has made tremendous efforts to keep the rates at record lows and have succeeded in their mission which was to encourage banks to provide loans in order to stimulate the economy and with it to progress growth.

AstraZeneca shares soar after Pfizer confirms bid talks

The shares in the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca have risen by more than 14% on Monday, after the US giant Pfizer confirmed that it has an interest in a takeover bid. The UK-based drug maker has been contacted by Pfizer over a multi-billion pound bid. If this deal turns out to be successful, this would be the biggest ever takeover of a UK firm by a foreign company.

The initial offer that Pfizer made was in January 2014 and it was worth £58.8bn. However, it was rejected because according to AstraZeneca this offer seriously undervalued the firm which has more than 51,000 staff. Nevertheless, AstraZeneca pointed out that it believes that its strategy as an independent company will create significant value for shareholders on its own.

For the current offer, Pfizer said that this highly compelling opportunity may realize a significant premium and suggests considerable cash payment. Furthermore, Pfizer reassures the AstraZeneca shareholders that they will be able to have major rights in any combined company. Comparing with other pharmaceutical deals, any bid of this size is expected to come at a premium of approximately 30%, most probably on AstraZeneca’s intact share price from 17 April of £37.81. At the moment the market value of AstraZeneca is more than £50bn which means that it would cost Pfizer around £65 bn. Pfizer has enough cash and a lot of it is off-shore, so it is protected from American tax laws. However, if AstraZeneca does not engage, the bid can become unfriendly. Thus, this bid talks will be a real battle. Nevertheless, Pfizer have emphasized that it has a great respect for AstraZeneca and its proud heritage.

Pfizer thinks that the fact that AstraZeneca has refused to engage so far means that the company is considering its options right now.

AstraZeneca is indeed a global player that manufactures drugs in 16 countries. Its main focus is on treatments for diabetes, cancer, asthma, as well as antibiotics. According to its own statistics, it reported £25.7bn in sales for the past year, with £3.3bn in pre-tax profit. Only in the UK the company has eight sites with nearly 6,700 staff. However, recently the company has experienced a drop in first quarter profits, mainly due to patent losses on important medicines. In other words, the patents on some of its older medicines have expired.

Easyjet is Planning to Initiate 2, 500 Jobs at London Luton Airport

Easyjet has made an official statement that it will create 2, 500 jobs and will double its presence at London Luton Airport if the Government allows expansion plans to be put into motion.

One of the goals that Easyjet has set in front of itself is to increase its passenger numbers from 4 million to 9 million in the period of one year. Also, the company is planning to include more destinations.

However, these plans partially depend on advancements that are supposed to be implemented by the airport. There are demands,  coming from campaign groups who want Easyjet  to be required to quiet the engines of its planes, as well as avoid night flights.

Currently, the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles is reviewing a decision which was taken at the end of 2013 by the Luton Borough Council which approved increasing airport passengers from 10 million to 18 million per year.

The work is planned to be completed by 2026 and is expected that the airport will have twenty passenger screening lanes, nine luggage reclaim belts and more retail and seating areas. All those changes are aimed to meet the prospective growth in passenger numbers.

Nevertheless, despite the review, Easyjet has signed a new 10-year deal with London Luton airport after the new owners Ardian and AENA have shown a long-term evidence of investment and a dedication to develop the site. At the moment Easyjet has 15 aircraft at the airport and 1, 600 staff. The hopes are that there will be 20% increase in capacity during the upcoming year.

The airport does not have to do a new runway in order to show a real and direct contribution to the need for more airport capacity in the South East. However, other organizations point out to the increasing noise trend at Luton Airport and demand that effective action are taken in order to tackle it. There is nothing bad in creating extra jobs and benefits to passengers but issues like noise should not be ignored. Noise is a kind of pollution and therefore, businesses that create noise have to invest in the alleviation of its effects, as well as have to constrain the hours when noise is made. It is expected that Easyjet will make specific proposals that will balance its announcements in the near future.

German Economic Growth Due To Overseas Trade

Official statistics show that the economic growth of Germany in the last three months of 2013 has been driven to a huge extent by overseas trade.

The overall picture is that in the past two years, the performance of the German economy has deteriorated. This marked its slowest expansion since the beginning of the global financial crisis in 2008. According to the statistics, Germany’s GDP in the fourth quarter of 2013 was up with 1.3% compared with the same period in 2012.

A growth by 0.4% is observed in the quarter compared to the third quarter, according to German statistical agency. The main driver behind this increase is foreign trade which accounts for 1.1% points of the overall rise in gross domestic product. However, the figure was hurt with 0.7% by the weak domestic demand. Nevertheless, economic experts express their views that domestic demand will rise now, in the first months of 2014, compared with the end of last year. The reason for this expectation is that the high levels of job security, together with rising incomes will enhance consumer assurance. Also, very low inflation rates will further influence the expected stronger household spending growth in 2014. The government is forecasting a growth of 1.7%

Furthermore, the statistics show that the key economic mechanism in that specific period was the balance of export and imports.

The central German bank, Bundesbank, has stated that German economy is in good shape because of the low unemployment rate and wage growth which has reached normal levels again. Also, low interest rates had been boosting house building and private consumption in Germany, even though trade had been weakening.

Another factor which will assist German economy is other improvements that have been happening in the rest of the Eurozone and the US which are both big export markets. Thus, Germany might be able to outperform the rest of the Eurozone for the next coming years. It is important to note that despite some of these negative statistics, Germany’s economy continues to be a strong point of the Eurozone and has credit for the help it provided in the pulling the single currency bloc out of recession last year.

PPI Claim Facts You should be Aware of

Mis-selling of PPI policies started as early as 1990s. The PPI companies were fined from 2006, but a major spin in the situation was seen only in 2011.  PPI complaints can be made at any time, though there are certain guidelines that will help in getting the claims in an easy manner as possible.

  • If your insurance has been active for the past six years, it would be easier to claim.
  • For a policy that is of an older duration, but in an active stage, or has expired within the past six years, you can still get a PPI refund. For instance, a 12 year old policy that has been paid off within the past six years is eligible for a refund.
  • In case of your policy ending six years back, PPI guide states that even if the banks do not have the concerned paperwork, if you have got the relevant documents, you can still make a complaint. However, the success rate is low in such cases.

Amount You Can Claim

Calculating the exact amount is difficult.  A PPI calculator can assist in estimating the precise amount you will get. The calculation is done by taking into account the time at which the policy was taken, the premium type, and whether you can claim the entire amount or only part of the original amount. Working out the value of the monthly loan payment can be done by entering in the amount of the loan and doing a comparison of the amount you had paid.

If you have ascertained your eligibility for a claim, you can approach the policy provider directly or march through PPI claim agencies. Ensure you go to a reputable one that is regulated by the Ministry of Justice such as The PPI Claims Advice Line – their website is www.PPIClaimsAdviceLine.org.uk.  There are PPI template letters available online which aid in entering the relevant details so that your PPI claims are properly addressed in order for you to enjoy a favourable result.

EUROZONE SLOWS TO A SNAIL’S PACE

The Eurozone economy has posted appalling growth figures for the months July to September with a growth of just 0.1% which is a decrease of 0.2% from the previous three months to that. This poor figures has marked only the second month which the Eurozone has posted a positive number, prior to which was an 18 month long recession which saw trade in the euro are contract month on month. The figure as well as showing further negativity, reveals the sensitivity of the recovery as well as the length of time it will take for the economic trade block to fully recover.

The European economy as a whole is taking a lot longer that expected to bounce back from the financial crisis in comparison to the other regions which suffered from the crash of 2008. With the Euro area having debt problems which bare similarities to those of the United Kingdom and the United States of America, for many of the Member States the debt level has a more political importance than its financial meaning.

Those less powerful members of the trade block have been bailed on unfavourable terms with conditions which lead to government cuts in spending with the overall objective to reduce the country’s debts. The implementation of such money saving policies have adversely affected voters who have been the victims of reduction in wages, an increase in taxes as well as job-cuts and changes to the provision of public services. The economic prospects for the Eurozone appear negative for the near future according to several economists who with high unemployment and a decrease in overall living standards cannot see now the economy can be driven to progression.

Nevertheless, a somewhat optimistic projection has been made for next year by the European Commission who predict at 1.1% growth and a progression of 1.7% in 2015. The US who are alike dealing with major government debt issues are however better at handling the economy with a growth rate for this year so far being 2.8% in comparison to the dismal 0.4% figure of the Eurozone.

No positives can be found either within Europe’s strongest and most influential countries, that of France and Germany. The growth of the German economy in the third quarter was down from 0.7% in the previous to 0.3% whereas France displayed a yet disappointing -0.1% which is identical to the third most important member state’s economy, that of Italy.

 

Woman Nominated For Fed Position By Obama

Federal Reserve vice-chair Janet Yellen has officially been designated by US President Barack Obama to be the next head of the US central bank. He praised her as one of the US’s foremost economists and policy makers. Ms Yellen said if her position is confirmed by the Senate she would do her best “to promote maximum employment, stable prices and a stable financial system”.  She said more action needed to be carried out to support and reinforce the US economy although progress had been made recently.

The president commended Ms Yellen’s ability to build relationships and lend an ear to competing perspectives. He said in her statement that she was “committed to increasing employment and understands the human costs when Americans can’t find a job”.  If Obama’s selection is confirmed by the US Senate, Ms Yellen, 67, would soon replace Ben Bernanke, who has held the position for eight years.

Ms Yellen has served as his deputy for the two years that have passed, and would become the first woman to head the Federal Reserve. She has previously taught at Harvard University and the London School of Economics, as well as holding a series of senior regulatory posts in the US.

In terms of financial outlook, Ms Yellen, is seen as a “dove”, which means she prefers to prioritise promoting employment by keeping rates low rather than worrying too much about inflation. Her assignment had been widely foreseen since former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers withdrew his candidature last month. As Democrats have a tight grip on the 100-seat Senate, Ms Yellen’s appointment would only need six Republican votes to overcome any potential procedural obstructions. On the other hand, some critics are scrutinising her views on monetary policy and her support for previous federal stimulus efforts.

A powerful Republican figure in the Senate recently questioned whether she was the right choice. “Ms Yellen subscribes to the liberal school of thought that the best way to handle our nation’s fiscal challenges is to throw more money at them,” John Cornyn of Texas, the Republican whip in the Senate, said similarly in a statement. “This stimulus obsession is the reason the nation finds itself in the fiscal calamity it does today, and the last thing we need is a leader at the helm of the Federal Reserve who is intent on more quantitative easing that harms our economy.”

Senior Congressman Bob Corker, a leading Republican on the banking committee, said in the following statement: “I voted against Vice-Chairman Yellen’s original nomination to the Fed in 2010 because of her dovish views on monetary policy. We will closely examine her record since that time, but I am not aware of anything that demonstrates her views have changed.”

However, Democrat Senator Charles Schumer insisted that Ms Yellen would win the Senate confirmation “by a wide margin”. Tim Johnson, the esteemed chairman of the US Senate banking committee, said she had “a depth of experience that is second to none”. “I have no doubt she will be an excellent Federal Reserve chairman,” he further added.

Calls For Less QE Cause Rising Tensions In Asian Markets

Last week, Brazil became the latest country to act in order to shore up its currency as investors piled out of emerging markets. The Brazilian currency’s value went down 20% against the dollar since the start of the year, while the rupee is down 15% and the Turkish lira down 10%. The situation reminds many investors of the catastrophic Asian financial crisis of 1997-98. During this crisis, Thailand was the first of the fast-growing “Asian tiger” economies forced to turn to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), as foreign investors lost heart and left and the nation’s thus  currency plunged, sparking a chain reaction.

Back in 1997, it was Alan Greenspan’s decision to push up interest rates that sparked investors to pull out their equity from riskier markets to take advantage of better returns back home. Today, it’s the announced intention of Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, to begin “tapering” its unprecedented $85bn a month programme of quantitative easing (QE), perhaps as soon as next month. The crisis, if there is one, may be caused by the change of heart by the Federal Reserve, thousands of miles away in Washington.

Under the QE project, the Federal Reserve buys up assets, mainly US government bonds or US treasury notes in a bid to push up their prices. This funded purchasing helps to reduce interest rates across the economy and create the conditions for recovery. The notable side-effect of the QE policy is that banks and other investors use the cheap cash to go on a global shopping spree, looking for tempting investment prospects from all over the world. When the money is starts to roll in, this inflates share prices and drives down the cost of government borrowing. It’s easy for authorities in third world countries to believe their own hype – political stability, the rising middle class, a large and growing workforce, huge untapped potential. But when the tide turns, they can suddenly become acutely vulnerable.

However, there are quite a few reasons that can be listed that can be a cause for us to stay optimistic. Many emerging economies have piled up vast stockpiles of foreign currency reserves in the past 15 years in a deliberate bid to avoid being forced into the hands of the dreaded IMF. Few are actually reliant on the type of loans that were a problem back then, and the Federal Reserve is acutely aware of the potential risk of sparking a new financial crisis.

Restricting Speculative Investments: The Volcker Rule

The Volcker Rule forms a key part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Act – specifically section 619 – aiming to restrict banks in the United States from making speculative investments that will not, and do not, benefit their customers.

Though the Dodd-Frank act is already law, the Rule itself is set to come into play in July of 2014 (the Act allows for a two year conformance period), having been the centre of regulatory debates since it was first proposed, and will affect every US federally insured depository institution. It will also affect any company that controls an insured depository institution (IDI). Any private investment funds dealing with the affected banks will also be subject to the rulings.

What does the Volcker Rule do?

The Volcker Rule aims to prohibit banks from engaging in what it terms “proprietary trading” – which is, in the words of the Rule itself, defined as: “engaging as principal for the trading account of the covered banking entity in any purchase or sale of one or more covered financial positions.  Proprietary trading does not include acting solely as agent, broker, or custodian for an affiliated third party.”

The Rule does not stop the banks from trading completely, but it tightens the controls on such activity and requires stronger documentation. It will be overseen and implemented by five separate government entities: the Federal Reserve, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC).

Who will the Volcker Rule affect?

Although the rule primarily bounds only banking institutions in the US, all global banks will likely be subject to Volcker, as any party to a trade that is in the US will be included in the agreement. This means any affiliates of US banks, including overseas bank branches, as well as any foreign banks with operations in the States, will be affected.

Non-banking financial institutions like insurance companies and hedge funds are not affected, and only the larger investment banks – such as Morgan Stanley, who agreed during the financial crisis to become banking institutions – will come under the remit of the Rule.

Ensuring conformity

Any organisations that are affected by the Rule will need to establish a compliance program to address their conformity, and meeting these standards will not be easy for many more complex institutions. Distinguishing market-making from proprietary trading, which is restricted by the Volcker Rule, requires regulators to apply five factors: risk management, source of revenues, revenue relative to risk, customer facing activity and payment of fees and commissions.

Institutions have two years from the date of Dodd-Frank’s enactment, giving a final deadline for compliance of July 21st 2014. During this time, they must perform four key duties:

- Prepare for full compliance in 2014

- Put together a detailed conformance plan

- Show a “good faith” effort to achieve compliance during this period

- Prepare for possible record-keeping and reporting requirements that federal agencies may impose before the 2014 implementation

Tools such as the London Stock Exchange’s UnaVista can help with conformance by providing data consolidation, regulatory reporting, reconciliation and advice for any one affected by these and similar legislations.