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Finastra’s Fusion LenderComm is now live, based on blockchain architecture

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Finastra’s Fusion LenderComm is now live, based on blockchain architecture

Launch builds momentum towards a global marketplace for syndicated lending and loan trading

Finastra today announced that its award-winning1 blockchain-based solutionFusion LenderComm, is now commercially available, as an app on R3’s Corda platform, for financial institutions operating in the syndicated lending market. The launch was announced today at the LSTA Operations Conference in New York.

Following a pilot, which saw Finastra working closely with some of the world’s leading global banks, syndicated lenders and enterprise software firm R3, the solution is proven to streamline information exchange between agent banks and lenders, driving transparency and efficiency in the syndicated loan market.

“The successful completion of the Fusion LenderComm pilot – which included some of the leading syndicated lenders in the world – demonstrates strong momentum towards gaining critical mass for a global marketplace for syndicated lending and loan trading,” said Simon Paris, Deputy CEO at Finastra. “We’re excited to be able to bring this to the wider market today. Our continued investment in technologies such as distributed ledger reinforce our commitment to working alongside other innovators, to bring our clients leading edge solutions that solve their most pressing operational challenges.”

The solution enables financial institutions acting as agents to publish loan data to the ledger and extend self-service capabilities to lenders. Through their own portal, agents can define and then publish lender-specific deal position data to Fusion LenderComm, so individual lenders can drill down into the data without needing to query positions by phone, fax or email, as is typical today. Fusion LenderComm digitizes communication with lenders – driving efficiencies in the process, saving agents time and money, and eliminating operational risk.

Frédéric Dalibard, Head of Digital for Corporate & Investment Banking at Natixis – one of the banks taking part in the pilot – said, “As a leader in the syndicated loan market, Natixis is always eager to provide a best-in-class customer experience to its clients. By allowing the sharing of syndicated loans position data more efficiently between loan agents and participants, Fusion LenderComm addresses a key pain point by automating the costly manual processes traditionally involved in such sharing of information. It has been a pleasure to work with Finastra and R3 on this groundbreaking initiative.”

“Fusion LenderComm creates immediate operational efficiency for both agent banks and lenders through reduced faxes, emails and phone calls from lenders, while creating an immutable record of transactions during the lifecycle of deals. Best of all, agent banks can start publishing select deal information on Fusion LenderComm in a matter of weeks,” said Maynard Ahner, Global Head of Corporate and Syndicated Lending at Finastra.

Powered by Corda, highly secure nodes on the Fusion LenderComm network maintain all transaction history. This gives every lender a personal view of deals they participate in and a time-stamped audit trail.

David E. Rutter, CEO at R3, said, “This is an enormous milestone for blockchain. As the first CorDapp to go live on Corda, Fusion LenderComm is a true example of how inefficient and time-consuming processes can be transformed through the power of blockchain technology. Fusion LenderComm is designed to be fully interoperable with other CorDapps, allowing market participants to achieve further efficiencies and revolutionize the way they operate across different business functions.”

Fusion LenderComm is now available as a low cost service for financial services institutions acting as agent banks, using Fusion Loan IQ, the industry’s leading syndicated loan servicing platform. However, the Fusion LenderComm platform is an open utility for all institutions involved in syndicated lending, regardless of the loan servicing software in use.

Ellen Hefferan, Executive Vice President of Operations & Accounting at the Loan Syndications & Trading Association (LSTA), said, “We are pleased to see the continued momentum of a solution like Fusion LenderComm. The availability of real-time accurate data, to include not only positions but all servicing events, will bring greater transparency and efficiency to the loan market and facilitate ease of reconciliation. It is a win, not only for the lenders who invest, but also the agent banks who service the loans.”

“Banks are looking for ways to harness new technologies to create greater operational efficiencies, keep costs down and boost profitability. The cumbersome methods of sharing information between agents and lenders has been a persistent challenge in the industry but also serves as one of the biggest areas of opportunity,” said Michael Yeo, Research Manager at IDC Financial Insights. “IDC sees blockchain as a key tool for allowing banks to streamline their middle and back office operations, especially in areas which were previously manually driven in their process workflow. Fusion LenderComm is a great example of how blockchain architecture can be used in this way. With its underlying distributed ledger technology, it has the potential to streamline information exchange in the syndicated loan market, while helping reduce settlement times and create the operational efficiencies banks are looking for.”

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IMF lifts global growth forecast for 2021, still sees ‘exceptional uncertainty’

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IMF lifts global growth forecast for 2021, still sees 'exceptional uncertainty' 1

By Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The International Monetary Fund on Tuesday raised its forecast for global economic growth in 2021 and said the coronavirus-triggered downturn in 2020 would be nearly a full percentage point less severe than expected.

It said multiple vaccine approvals and the launch of vaccinations in some countries in December had boosted hopes of an eventual end to the pandemic that has now infected nearly 100 million people and claimed the lives of over 2.1 million globally.

But it warned that the world economy continued to face “exceptional uncertainty” and new waves of COVID-19 infections and variants posed risks, and global activity would remain well below pre-COVID projections made one year ago.

Close to 90 million people are likely to fall below the extreme poverty threshold during 2020-2021, with the pandemic wiping out progress made in reducing poverty over the past two decades. Large numbers of people remained unemployed and underemployed in many countries, including the United States.

In its latest World Economic Outlook, the IMF forecast a 2020 global contraction of 3.5%, an improvement of 0.9 percentage points from the 4.4% slump predicted in October, reflecting stronger-than-expected momentum in the second half of 2020.

It predicted global growth of 5.5% in 2021, an increase of 0.3 percentage points from the October forecast, citing expectations of a vaccine-powered uptick later in the year and added policy support in the United States, Japan and a few other large economies.

It said the U.S. economy – the largest in the world – was expected to grow by 5.1% in 2021, an upward revision of 2 percentage points attributed to carryover from strong momentum in the second half of 2020 and the benefit accruing from $900 billion in additional fiscal support approved in December.

The forecast would likely rise further if the U.S. Congress passes a $1.9 trillion relief package proposed by newly inaugurated President Joe Biden, economists say.

China’s economy is expected to expand by 8.1% in 2021 and 5.6% in 2022, compared with its October forecasts of 8.2% and 5.8%, respectively, while India’s economy is seen growing 11.5% in 2021, up 2.7 percentage points from the October forecast after a stronger-than-expected recovering in 2020.

The Fund said countries should continue to support their economies until activity normalized to limit persistent damage from the deep recession of the past year.

Low-income countries would need continued support through grants, low-interest loans and debt relief, and some countries may require debt restructuring, the IMF said.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

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Leon Black step downs as Apollo CEO after review of Epstein ties

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Leon Black step downs as Apollo CEO after review of Epstein ties 2

By Mike Spector and Chibuike Oguh

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Leon Black said on Monday he would step down as chief executive at Apollo Global Management Inc, following an independent review of his ties to the late financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

While Black, whose net worth is pegged by Forbes at $8.2 billion, will remain Apollo’s chairman, his decision to step down illustrates how doing business with Epstein weighed on the reputation of one of Wall Street’s most prominent investment firms. Black co-founded Apollo 31 years ago.

Apollo said it plans to change its corporate governance structure, doing away with shares with special voting rights that currently give Black and other co-founders effective control of the firm.

The independent review, conducted by law firm Dechert LLP, found Black was not involved in any way with Epstein’s criminal activities. Black paid Epstein $158 million for advice on tax and estate planning and related services between 2012 and 2017, according to the review.

Black, 69, said that although the review confirmed he did not engage in any wrongdoing, he “deeply” regretted his involvement with Epstein.

“I hope that the results of the review, and related enhancements … will reaffirm to you that Apollo is dedicated to the highest levels of transparency and governance,” Black wrote in a note to Apollo fund investors. He will step down as CEO no later than July 31.

Apollo co-founder Marc Rowan, 58, will take over as CEO.

Rowan has often kept a low-key profile compared with Apollo’s other co-founder, Joshua Harris, 56, and spearheaded many initiatives that turned Apollo into a credit investment giant, including the permanent capital base the firm enjoys through its ties to reinsurer Athene Holding Ltd.

The revelations of Black’s ties to Epstein took a toll on Apollo, which Black turned into one of the world’s largest private equity groups. Apollo executives had warned in October that some investors had paused their commitments to the buyout firm’s funds as they awaited the review’s findings.

Apollo shares are down 1% since the New York Times reported on Oct. 12 that Black paid at least $50 million to Epstein for advice and services, when most of his clients had deserted him.

Over the same period, shares of peers Blackstone Group Inc, KKR & Co Inc and Carlyle Group Inc are up 19%, 10% and 23%, respectively.

“We think a large number of (Apollo fund investors) took a ‘pause’, and we believe the outcome (of the review) and changes today will cause most of them to return to allocating to future Apollo funds,” Credit Suisse analysts wrote in a research note.

Apollo shares jumped 4% to $47.65 in after-hours trading on Monday.

“We continue to follow these events closely and will evaluate how Apollo addresses its issues,” the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, one of the largest U.S. public pension funds and an Apollo investor, said in a statement.

Epstein was found dead at age 66 in August 2019 in a Manhattan jail, while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges for allegedly abusing dozens of underage girls in Manhattan and Florida from 2002 to 2005. New York City’s chief medical examiner ruled that the cause of death was suicide by hanging.

FALLING OUT

Black previously said he had paid millions of dollars to Epstein, but the exact size of his payments was revealed for the first time on Monday. Beyond the $158 million in payments, Black made two loans to Epstein totaling $30.5 million in early 2017.

Dechert said in its report that Black’s social ties with Epstein, who built his fortune by endearing himself to powerful figures in high society, went back to the mid-1990s.

Epstein won Black’s trust by resolving an estate tax issue for him in 2012 potentially worth at least $500 million, the report said. He ended up advising Black on various aspects of his personal financial affairs, from his family office and airplane to his yacht and artwork.

Black believed that Epstein provided advice over the years that conferred between $1 billion and $2 billion in value to him, according to the Dechert report. Black said in his note to investors that he had paid Epstein a fee equivalent to 5% of the value he generated on an after-tax basis, and not tied to hourly rates.

Black and Epstein’s relationship deteriorated after Epstein failed to repay $20 million of the loans and Black refused to pay tens of millions of dollars in fees that Epstein demanded, according to the Dechert report.

They severed ties in October 2018, according to the report. Black knew Epstein had been convicted in Florida a decade earlier for soliciting prostitution from a minor, the Dechert report said, but there was no evidence suggesting Black had knowledge of the other alleged crimes before they were publicly reported in late 2018, culminating in Epstein’s July 2019 arrest.

On Monday, Black pledged $200 million toward “initiatives that seek to achieve gender equality and protect and empower women,” as well as helping survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking.

Apollo said it would pursue a “one share, one vote” corporate governance structure that would do away with shares with special voting rights. It said the move could qualify it for listing on the S&P Global indices.

Apollo also said it would seek to give its board more authority to oversee its business, eroding the power of its executive committee led by Black.

The board will be expanded to include four new independent directors, including Avid Partners founder Pamela Joyner and physician and scientist Siddhartha Mukherjee, Apollo said. Apollo co-Presidents Scott Kleinman and James Zelter will join the board and take on increased responsibility running day-to-day operations.

Apollo had about $433 billion in assets under management as of the end of September.

(Reporting by Mike Spector and Chibuike Oguh; Additional reporting by Lawrence Delevigne and Jessica DiNapoli in New York; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall, Leslie Adler and Kim Coghill)

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EU sees no cliff-edge ending for COVID fiscal stimulus

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EU sees no cliff-edge ending for COVID fiscal stimulus 3

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European governments will not need to abruptly end fiscal support for their economies after the pandemic, top officials said on Monday, noting that any withdrawal of stimulus would be carried out gradually and only once the economy has recovered.

Euro zone public debt rose sharply during 2020 and is likely to exceed 100% of GDP this year as governments borrow to help individuals and businesses survive lockdowns.

The higher debt raises concern about how to deal with it down the road and when to start cutting it again, since the EU last year suspended its rules limiting budget deficits and debt, known as the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP).

EU finance ministers are to discuss when to reintroduce any borrowing limits in the second quarter of this year.

“I believe it important that finance ministers debate and reach a common understanding on the appropriate fiscal stance by the summer. This can then serve as guidance for the preparation of their draft budgetary plans for 2022,” the chairman of the euro zone’s group of finance ministers, Paschal Donohoe, said on Monday.

“To avoid any misunderstanding, let me stress that this is not about an imminent withdrawal of fiscal stimulus,” he told the economic committee of the European Parliament.

“We all agree that our immediate priority is to shield our citizens, in particular younger cohorts and those most exposed to the crisis. There must be no cliff-edges,” he said.

Joao Leao, the finance minister of Portugal which holds the rotating presidency of the EU and therefore sets the agenda for EU finance ministers’ work until June, was equally cautious.

“We should not withdraw stimulus too early. We need to make sure the suspension clause for the SGP remains in force at least until we return to pre-crisis economic figures,” he told the committee. “We need to make sure jobs are maintained as well as the production capacity of companies.”

He said first cash from the EU’s 750 billion euro post-COVID economic recovery programme should reach the economy in the first half of the year.

“Real funding should be getting to the economy before the summer or in early part of the summer,” he said.

(Reporting by Jan Strupczewski; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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