Asia markets tentative ahead of Opec meeting

Wednesday 2.30am GMT Overview Markets across Asia were treading cautiously on Wednesday, following mild overnight gains for Wall Street, a weakening of the US dollar and as investors turned their attention to a meeting between Opec members later today. What to watch Oil prices are in focus ahead of Wednesday’s Opec meeting in Vienna. The […]

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Banks, Financial

RBS emerges as biggest failure in tough UK bank stress tests

Royal Bank of Scotland has emerged as the biggest failure in the UK’s annual stress tests, forcing the state-controlled lender to present regulators with a new plan to bolster its capital position by at least £2bn. Barclays and Standard Chartered also failed to meet some of their minimum hurdles in the toughest stress scenario ever […]

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Barclays: life in the old dog yet

Barclays, a former basket case of British banking, is beginning to look inspiringly mediocre. The bank has failed Bank of England stress tests less resoundingly than Royal Bank of Scotland. Investors believe its assets are worth only 10 per cent less than their book value, judging from the share price. Although Barclays’s legal team have […]

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Currencies, Equities

Scary movie sequel beckons for eurozone markets

Just as horror movies can spook fright nerds more than they expect, so political risk is sparking heightened levels of anxiety among seasoned investors. Investors caught out by Brexit and Donald Trump are making better preparations for political risk in Europe, plotting a route to the exit door if the unfolding story of French, German […]

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Dollar rises as markets turn eyes to Opec

European bourses are mirroring a tentative Asia session as the dollar continues to be supported by better US economic data and investors turn their attention to a meeting between Opec members. Sentiment is underpinned by US index futures suggesting the S&P 500 will gain 3 points to 2,207.3 when trading gets under way later in […]

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Categorized | Banks, Financial

AA — a very public repair job

Posted on September 29, 2016

website of AA, breakdown cover provider

AA, which combines private equity-style debts with a stock market listing, already has a list of risk factors longer than a tow truck cable. But the newest danger is that stranded customers will remember the company exists. Half-year “underlying” earnings were flat at £192m, deflated by call-outs from members reminded by TV advertising that “AA” stands for roadside repairs as well as a grade of battery.

For once, the headline earnings figure favoured by the City suggested the trend was unfriendlier than old-fashioned profits before tax. Here, AA swung from £69m scrawled in red ink to £48m written in black. The main reason was a small reduction in finance costs on a £2.8bn debt burden almost double the company’s market worth.

    This sensitivity to debt costs reminds us the AA is a glorious experiment that could yet fail ingloriously. The venerable British business was poorly served by cheese-paring private equity ownership during the noughties. Debts were high, investment was lacking and treatment of patrolmen was shabby.

    Indeed, bankers regarded the AA as a basket case unsuitable for flotation alongside stable mate Saga, a travel and insurance group, in early 2014. But, that summer, ex-Green Flag boss Bob Mackenzie swept in with the backing of a fan club of City institutions to float the company. Net debts were still an eye-watering 7.1 times earnings.

    All things being equal, every pound shaved off debt accretes to equity. In the next year or so, IT investment will attenuate alongside early repayment penalties on loans, permitting refinancing. At a leverage ratio of five times, roughly £700m of enterprise value would switch from debt to equity.

    AA is an opportunity for stock market investors to show they are better stewards than the private equity firms they resent for exploiting their valuation errors. It is Mr Mackenzie’s chance to reap a bonus measured in tens of millions, if he can meet tough return targets. But the shares are well below 2015 highs.

    The car repair veteran says AA’s advertising campaign will wash its face via future renewals. He claims that even as cars have become more reliable, they have got heavier, making motorists less inclined to change a punctured tyre themselves. He had better be right on both counts. Private equity owners and fund managers eject struggling managers without mercy. The only difference is that the bosses of publicly-quoted companies are jettisoned publicly.

    Dane school

    Lombard Business School has long prided itself on instructing students in the real agendas of commerce. The European Commission has just announced an in-depth investigation into the merger between Deutsche Börse and the London Stock Exchange, providing a case study for students on the LBS M&A course. As they light roll-ups behind the bike sheds, they should note the following salient points.

    LSE-Deutsche Börse offer to sell French clearing to appease EU

    Combo of file pictures shows (right) the entrance to the London Stock Exchange LSE (in London on March 4, 2016) and the bull and bear statue in front of the Deutsche Boerse German stocks operator (in Frankfurt am Main on May 26, 2014). Deutsche Boerse and the London Stock Exchange on March 16, 2016 agreed to press ahead with their planned merger to create one of the world's biggest exchanges, insisting the tie-up will succeed irrespective of the outcome of the looming Brexit vote on Britain's future in the EU. Leon NEAL Daniel ROLAND / AFP

    Groups offer to sell Paris-based part of LCH after regulators formally probe merger

    The competition commissioner is Margrethe Vestager, a forthright Dane whose smartphone ringtone is rumoured to be “Ride of the Valkyries”. In recent months she’s spanked Tim Cook of Apple and Li Ka-shing. She will be tempted to don her horned helmet and wreak vengeance on DB/LSE too.

    She says the combo could damage competition in these areas:
    German stocks
    : Shorting the shares of Deutsche Bank is an important growth industry. It is vital elderly New York-based hedge fund managers are protected from rent seekers.
    Repos: Here, members of the shadow banking community advance funds to borrowers who have already pledged the same collateral several times over. This supplies the liquidity banks are now prohibited from providing.
    Rate swaps: Investors take radically different positions using these. One, for example, might believe UK base rates will stay at 0.25 per cent for 30 years. Another might contend faster economic output will push the figure as high as 0.5 per cent by 2036.
    Exchange traded funds: Approval-seeking young people desperately need the jobs these products create on the delta desks of investment banks. Subsequent rogue trader cases provide employment for criminal lawyers.
    Clearing: Barriers to entry are already high. Technology aside, clearing is excruciatingly dull. The necessity of attending industry conferences in Brussels is a deal breaker for many would-be entrants, who become frozen yoghurt entrepreneurs or burlesque performers instead. The systemic risks of pooling €150bn in margins will meanwhile worry central banks.

    Cloud cuckoo land

    A new report has awarded Switzerland the title “Most Competitive Nation”. It is moot whether any country can be described as truly competitive when it lacks a large, flexible workforce and a coastline. But it would be wrong to repeat the old insult that in 500 years of peace and democracy, all Switzerland has produced is the cuckoo clock.

    First, it is a cliché. Second, the cuckoo clock was invented in Germany.