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Why Western Finance Will Continue to Dominate the Stock Markets

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Exclusive conversation with prof. Alessandro Pansa, Finance Professor at LUISS Guido Carli University, Rome and former CEO of Finmeccanica Group (now Leonardo SpA) the ninth-largest defence contractor in the world.

Recently the Shanghai-Hong Kong trade link has been signed, who will benefit the most from this agreement?

It’s an attempt to integrate more and more Hong Kong into the Chinese financial system, so at the moment I can not say who between the two cities will have the greatest benefit.

It is well known that when a territory is financially integrated it can also obtain a political homogenization, something that Hong Kong tends to reject in alternating phases. So it’s hard to say who will receive more benefits. It will benefit for sure China, which will control two financial centers of huge importance that in the end will tend to be integrated with each other to present a single financial center, which is now possible through the use of information technology.

Among the three financial centers of Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore, which of them will prevail among the others in the medium and short term?

Nowadays I should say Singapore, since it contains all the good factors in terms of stability, regulation, independence and the absence of a strong political authority, but all of this depends on the evolution of the chinese financial system, which is much less modernized than we think.

Today about 50% of global financial assets is held by 45 banks, 42 of which are Western, and only three are Chinese, but the chinese banks find a place in this ranking only because of the chinese companies being extremely indebted, so these banks have obviously large credits. From the point of view of financial technology China is still quite underdeveloped, you can not see these large Chinese banks as heads of international placements or financial consortium, even Singapore today represents an advantage thanks to its independence and neutrality and legal certainty system that goes around.

In your last article on Limes you wrote that: “The financial technology controlled by major Western intermediaries, prevails on the capital. The latter – whose accumulation is now concentrated in developing countries – has lost importance and became a kind of “raw material”. It is not worth much because freedom of movement makes it virtually infinite, and it becomes relevant only when, to generate an adequate return, is structured by banks that incorporate it in financial assets to be placed on the markets. All of this makes western banks ver powerful “. My question is: what is this financial technology you are referring to and how is capital structured?

Let’s start from an assumption: Western countries have historically operated as great capital accumulators and exporters; just to give an idea at the end of nineteenth century when Britain was dominating the financial markets in the world, it was a capital exporter for about 80% of the capital that was being produced at home. Today on the contrary western countries are capital importers. Most of the capital production is taking place: in the Middle East, from oil-producing countries and in the Far East. All of this is combined with the freedom of capital movements wanted in particular by US and British governments since the second half of the ’80, that has slowly been spreading around the world.

In a rational world who governs the financial markets? Those who accumulate capital, so it should be the emerging countries whether they are oil producers or countries with higher rates, except that the capital of companies has become practically infinite. In a world where capital movements are free, the need for companies to be financed is a very small percentage of the total world financial assets, that today are about 770 trillion dollars which is considerable amount. Except that capital, if you think about it, at the actual moment is available for each company so it is a good of scarce value unless it is turned into an asset that generates returns. The liberalization of capital movements involved that inactive capitals can not exist anymore.

So in which way you transform capital into an asset that creates returns? Through the financial technology, in other words through what is called financial innovation: the ability to do three things:

1. Building products, such as derivatives,

2. Placing them on the market through the placing power, or the ability to locate financial products; 3. Knowing how to invest properly in them, typical behavior of institutional investors which, by using algorithmic models and artificial intelligence, control a very high proportion of the assets.

Who has this technology? Western countries. They have it, because they are the ones who have historically guided the markets evolution and thanks to that they slowly have taken advantage on the rest of the world.

Regarding the topic of regulation. Why UK has always been a big financial center? Because it found itself to have a friendly financial regulation and legislative system, able thanks to the common law system to adapt the legislation to the needs of capital lenders or borrowers. So now the financial technology is something very expensive. The development of the algorithms and passive trading systems, the so called robotic ones, can be achieved only by the largest banks because they are able to used them by spreading on the huge amount of financial asset the investments, the people and the software to develop this technology.

So here they are those who are now in position to dominate the financial market because they have: competences in terms of financial innovation, placing power that no one has and relationships with institutional investors. I must say that now what really counts is the ability to work the capital.

Think about the Islamic world, if it was different, Islamic finance should prevail, but actually Islamic finance has remained a small segment after all.

By now the technological gap is much wider in terms of years needed by the rest of the world to be able to achieve the level of skills, placing power, credibility and authority of the major Western banks, which control the market.

What were in your career the most difficult moments and how you managed to overcome them?

The most difficult time was exactly when I became CEO of Finmeccanica, because the day before they arrested my President and CEO while I was general manager. Overnight I found myself in charge of a company under investigation by four different prosecutors accused, in my opinion incorrectly, for international corruption in an Italian political system between 2012/2013 not able to adequately protect state enterprises.

On one hand we had to rebuild the international credibility of the group, on the other we had to keep it from bankruptcy by immediately introducing a series of ethical standards that until then were not been adequately developed.

So I assure you that the first few months the only strength I had was in the fact that I had nothing to hide, I was not afraid of anything because I had nothing to fear, this gave me the opportunity to work seriously.

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Economy

Business disorder between Europe and U.S.

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The European Union remains cautious in the economic battle with the White House. U.S. President Donald Trump continues to pursue his protectionist policies in international trade system. This has led to raising concerns and serious discontent among the United States’ European partners.

Disputes between the United States and other countries around the world are continuing on trade and economic issues. The fact is that U.S. President Donald Trump intends to exacerbate tensions until the presidential elections of 2020. Many international experts and analysts believe that a major part of the economic approach to the world of Trump has an electoral and political goal.

Many international analysts now talk about the conflicts between the United States and Europe over imposing sweeping steel and aluminum tariffs as a transatlantic “trade war”.

Conflicts that may extend in the near future and affect the widespread relations between Washington and Europe.

On the other hand, the authorities of Germany, Britain and France have not taken a proper approach to the policies of the President of the United States.Though politicians such as Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel and Theresa May seek to manage the situation and prevent the exacerbation of tensions with Washington, but people, business owners and European opposition parties are so angry at Trump and the U.S. government that the European troika’s authorities aren’t capable to control or even hide it.

One of the most important reasons for the continuation of Trump’s economic policies in the world is the passivity of European leaders against the White House. Under such circumstances, Europe has threatened to retaliate against the U.S. if Trump imposes steel and aluminum tariffs on European exports.

After Trump made his first announcement on the tariffs, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker threatened to put tariffs on American goods in response to Trump’s decision. That could decrease demand for those products inside EU borders and consequently lead to U.S. workers losing their jobs. But practically, European countries did not do anything about this.

Although some European citizens thought that the Chancellor of Germany would have a more determined approach than other European politicians, this was also a mistake!The German Chancellor stated that European Union member states must give the EU trade commissioner a clear mandate for negotiations with the United States over a long-term exemption from U.S. metal tariffs. Markel added: “Of course, we think it’s important that there are exemptions not only for a limited period of time … So far, we have had a very united stance, namely that we view these tariff demands as unjustified and that we want a long-term exemption.”

The fact is that Merkel’s implicit threat, which she didn’t address directly and explicitly because of her conservative policy towards the United States, is the same as the “European countermeasures” against the United States.

For months now, there have been months of anti-European measures taken by the White House and customs duties on European aluminum and steel. However, European countries have preferred to keep Silent instead of confronting Washington!
Indeed, the prolonged U.S.-EU talks on steel and aluminum tariffs is going to increase the dissatisfaction and anger among the European public opinion. It will also affect the performance of American companies in Europe.

First published in our partner Tehran Times

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Economy

Citizen Capitalism: How a Universal Fund can provide Influence and Income to all

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In the face of growing wealth inequality worldwide, more and more people are discussing alternatives to the current laissez-faire capitalism status quo.  Tamara Belinfanti, Sergio Gramitto and the late Lynn Stout offer up their own solution in Citizen Capitalism: How a universal fund can provide influence and income to all.

Our authors have devised up a concept they call the Universal Fund.  It’s like a sovereign wealth fund, but is privately created and funded via private ordering. That means that the Universal Fund is to be created from donations of stocks by companies and philanthropists.  The government would hence be uninvolved; the Universal Fund is not a socialist venture.  Rather, it is in part modeled on the structure of NGOs like the Sierra Club and the Red Cross. The Fund would provide an annual dividend to every citizen, with no maximum income cap.  Though it may seem absurd to send welfare payments to the wealthy, it’s politically savvy framing.  A free public college bill was passed in ultraconservative Tennessee thanks to having no maximum income cap; conservative detractors weren’t able to use the “class warfare” and “welfare queen” arguments. It should be noted that charitable tax deductions, estate tax reductions and lowered tax brackets would act as a de facto government incentive for the wealthy to donate to the Universal Fund.

The goals of the Universal Fund would be to decrease wealth inequality, encourage long-term investment and increase civic engagement in corporate culture.  On the last point, the authors remind us that, “The top 10% [of wealthiest Americans] hold more than 90% of all shares.”  Even in regards to the other 10% of shares owned, most of them are passively owned.  Most small-time investors don’t have time to vote in the annual general meetings of every company in which they are invested in.  Thus, boardroom votes are dominated by two shareholder proxy advisory firms and individual investors who own a substantial percentage of shares, as well as fund portfolio & hedge fund managers.

These Wall Street elites naturally tend to vote based upon their elitist interests.  Thus, they usually make decisions that are insane in terms of employee welfare, long-term corporate growth, executive pay and the environment. For example, `the authors remind us of the recent case of Martin Shkreli, the hedge fund manager who acquired Turing Pharmaceuticals and then raised AIDS medication prices from $13.50 to $750. This is the embodiment of the Reagan-era Golden Rule of maximizing shareholder value.  Not only is this Gordon Gekko truism objectively crazy, it’s actually legally unfounded.  Contrary to what you hear on CNBC or Fox Business, there’s no legal requirement that companies only focus on maximizing shareholder value.  The book relates the following quote from Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito comments in the recent case Burwell v. Hobby Lobby:“Modern corporate law does not require for-profit corporations to pursue profit at the expense of everything else, and many do not do so.”

CITIZEN CAPITALISM points to the ongoing successes of the sovereign wealth funds of Norway and Alaska, an ultraliberal and an ultraconservative society, respectively.  The Alaskan fund generally provides each citizen with a dividend payment of a few thousand dollars each year, via the state’s oil revenues.  The Government Pension Fund Norway is a more pertinent example, since it’s funded through a $1T stock portfolio.  Norway is not only able to fund its citizens’ pensions through the Fund, but also exert a moral influence on the market.  The Fund boycotts various egregious companies, like cigarette manufacturers, and will sell its shares in a company that gets exposed for abusive practices, like say employing child labor.  Our authors likewise want the Universal Fund to use a carrot-and-stick approach in regards to corporate ethics.

The thesis of CITIZEN CAPITALISM is, as the title suggests, rooted in optimism for capitalism.  Though they write about the success of socialist program in Alaska specifically, a conservative state in the US, the authors are convinced that a sovereign wealth fund bill could never be passed in Congress.  Recent polls and election results, however, show that Americans are starting to overwhelmingly favor ambitious government-program proposals like Medicare for All and a Green New Deal.  As I wrote before, the Universal Fund would mostly be feasible due to tax incentives; these government incentives would likely need to be greatly expanded in order to encourage enough stock donations to build the Fund to a substantial size.  Even America’s greatest philanthropists still stockpile billions of dollars in their offshore bank accounts.  Thus, one shouldn’t expect the Universal Fund or other private UBI schemes to become a replacement for state management of wealth inequality through programs like public school funding and marginal taxation.  Nonetheless, CITIZEN CAPITALISM is a stimulating little primer for rethinking the relationship between Wall St and Main St, managing the looming crises of a rapidly aging workforce and automation, plus the balancing of private and public sectors in regards to solving societal problems.

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Economy

Working for a brighter future

Cyril Ramaphosa

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Authors: Cyril Ramaphosa and Stefan Löfven*

We stand at a crossroads as seismic shifts take place in the world of work.

Technological advances are changing the nature of many jobs, and leading to the need for new skills. The urgently required greening of economies to meet the challenge of climate change should bring further employment possibilities. Expanding youth populations in some parts of the world, ageing populations in others, may affect labour markets and social security systems.

On one path, countless opportunities lie ahead, not only to create jobs but also to improve the quality of our working lives. This requires that we reinvigorate the social contract that gives all partners a fair stake in the global economy.

On the other path, if we fail to prepare adequately for the coming challenges, we could be heading into a world that widens inequalities and leads to greater uncertainty.

The issues are complex. As co-chairs of the Global Commission on the Future of Work  we, and our fellow members of the Commission – leading figures from business and labour, think tanks, government and non-governmental organizations – have been examining the choices we need to make if we are to meet the challenges resulting from these transformations in the world of work and achieve social justice.

We call for a new, human-centred approach that allows everyone to thrive in a carbon neutral, digital age and affords them dignity, security, and equal opportunity. It must also meet the changing needs and challenges facing businesses and secure sustainable economic growth.

The opportunities are there to improve working lives, expand choice, close the gender gap and reverse the damage that has been wreaked by global inequality.

But it will need committed action on the part of governments and social partners to turn those opportunities into reality.

So how do we achieve this? Three areas of increased investment are needed:

First, we have to invest more in people’s capabilities: This means establishing an effective lifelong learning system that enables people to skill, reskill and upskill – a system that spans early childhood and basic education through to adult learning. It also means investing in the institutions that will support people as they go through transitions in their working lives – from school leavers to older workers. Making gender equality a reality and providing social protection from birth to old age are also critical. These social investments will not only increase productivity. They will also allow for a more inclusive growth, where informal workers and business can both benefit from and contribute to a sound formal economy.

Second, we must invest more in the institutions of work – including the establishment and implementation of a Universal Labour Guarantee. This will ensure that all workers enjoy fundamental rights, an “adequate living wage”, limits on their hours of work and safe and healthy workplaces. Linked to this, people need to have more control over their working time – while meeting the needs of enterprises – so that they can fulfill the full range of their responsibilities and develop their capabilities.

Collective representation through social dialogue between workers and employers needs to be actively promoted. Workers in the informal economy have often improved their working conditions by organizing. Unions need to expand membership to informal workers, whether they work in the rural economy, on the city streets of an emerging economy or on a digital platform. This is a critical step towards formalization and a tool for inclusion.

We’re also calling for governance systems for digital labour platforms that will require these platforms and their clients to respect certain minimum standards.

Finally, we need to invest more in decent and sustainable work. This includes incentives to promote investments in key areas, such as the care economy, the green economy, and the rural economy, as well as high-quality physical and digital infrastructure. We must also reshape private sector incentive structures to encourage a long-term, human-centred approach to business. That includes fair tax policies and improved corporate accounting standards. We need to explore new measures of country progress to track important aspects of economic and social advancement.

Beyond these critical investments, there is a further opportunity: to place discussions about the future of work at the heart of the economic and social debates taking place at the high table of international policy-making. This could revitalize the multilateral system at a time when many are questioning its legitimacy and effectiveness.

Yet none of this will happen by itself. If change is the opportunity, we must seize the moment to renew the social contract and create a brighter future by delivering economic security, equal opportunity and social justice – and ultimately reinforce the fabric of our societies.

Stefan Löfven, Prime Minister of Sweden, co-chairs of the ILO Global Commission on the Future of Work

ILO

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