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The Management of the Banking Sector and the Economy

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 What have we learned about financial markets and regulations?
Speech by José Manuel González-Páramo, Member of the Executive Board of the ECB, XXVII Reunión Círculo de Economía, Sitgesgonzalez-paramo

It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to speak at this prestigious forum today. The first round of the meetings of “Círculo de Economía” took place exactly 50 years ago (in 1961), constituting a very unique event in Spain at that time. Since then, these meetings have provided an excellent forum to exchange views and ideas on issues of European and global relevance. Today we meet at a time of multiple challenges for our world, so I am sure that inspiring discussions will take place.
For more than three years we have been focused on the challenges that the financial crisis has posed to our economies and our societies. Still, recent developments in European sovereign debt markets as well as ongoing economic difficulties in some euro area countries remind us that the crisis is not over yet. While the ECB continues to confront, in a decisive manner, the tensions in financial markets, it is also involved in the reform of the global financial system that is currently in progress.
I would like to lay out today what I believe are the core areas of the regulatory reform, detailing what has been achieved and what remains to be done.
Introduction
Let me start by saying that under the leadership of the G20, a remarkable amount of work has been done by the Financial Stability Board (FSB) and the Basel Committee regarding financial reform. In Europe, the European Commission has also adopted several new pieces of legislation and many more are underway in order to strengthen the regulatory and supervisory framework.
I believe that we can identify the following key areas of the financial reform: First, strengthening the resilience of financial institutions. This includes the introduction of the Basel III framework for banks, eliminating the too-big-to fail problem as well as ensuring adequate oversight of the shadow banking system. Second, increasing transparency and mitigating the pro-cyclicality in financial markets and finally, third, introducing macro-prudential supervision, which can be considered as the missing link in the pre-crisis era. The crisis has shown the need for a systemic perspective of the financial system that takes into account the interactions within the system as well as with the real economy.
1. Strengthening the resilience of financial institutions.
Let me first start with Basel III, which constitutes the cornerstone of regulatory reform for the banking sector. While Basel II was very much focused on a single ratio (capital to risk-weighted assets), Basel III takes a more comprehensive approach, addressing deficiencies of Basel II and further strengthening the armoury of prudential requirements. Let me highlight the main elements of the new Basel III framework:
Basel III provides for higher minimum capital requirements, a stricter definition of eligible capital and more transparency. The crisis highlighted the urgency of establishing a common definition of capital. The fact that the definition of what constituted Tier 1 capital was neither transparent nor harmonized across countries, contributed to a generalised loss of confidence in the quality of regulatory capital. In addition, it proved necessary to increase the overall level and loss-absorbing capacity of the capital held by banks.
Moreover, Basel III introduces also entirely new concepts, such as non-risk-based leverage ratios and mandatory liquidity requirements. The leverage ratio will offer a transparent measure to the market that will complement the risk-based capital calculations and introduce additional safeguards against model risk and measurement error. The new liquidity buffers will ensure, in the short term, that banks hold sufficient high quality liquid assets to withstand an acute stress. In the longer term, the buffers will increase banks’ incentives to use more stable sources of funding on a structural basis.
Lastly, beyond the micro-prudential dimension of regulation – typically represented by institution-specific solvency requirements – Basel III also introduces macro-prudential elements, most prominently the capital buffer regime. This constitutes an important safeguard to protect the banking sector from periods of excessive aggregate credit growth.
Let me say that, while generally supporting the underlying objectives of the regulatory reform, the industry has been critical towards the new capital requirements. The industry is of the view that Basel III will increase costs for banks, reduce profitability, lead to credit supply restrictions and, ultimately, hurt the economy [1]. Theory and historic experience however demonstrate that those claims are partly based on misconceptions that are important to dispel. Although I will not elaborate in detail, let me highlight the following:
In the long run, benefits brought by the enhanced capital and liquidity regulation can be substantial. They include a reduction in the frequency of crises and hence on the expected output losses associated with systemic events. The new framework should also improve the level playing field for the international banking sector. This is expected to help financial institutions to save costs and to encourage cross-border activities. In turn, this should result in a more efficient financial sector and also bring benefits to non-financial corporations and households through higher competition and increasing availability of financial services.
In the short term, given that financial markets are characterized by information asymmetries and frictions, the new regulatory requirements will most likely imply some transitional costs on the economy through tighter credit conditions. Adverse effects are however expected to be moderate, notably if they are spread over a long implementation period. Estimates by the BCBS as well as by the ECB concluded that a 1 percentage point increase in the capital ratio implemented over eight years would result in a moderate cumulated reduction of GDP of around 0.15 percentage points. Indeed, the new measures will therefore only become fully effective on 1 January 2019. This long phasing-in period should provide the banking sector ample time to adjust to the new regulatory requirements and prevent disruptions in credit flows.
Looking forward, it is of the essence that Basel III is properly implemented at the global level. In addition, it is important that the proposals on the leverage ratio and liquidity risk framework are rigorously calibrated, so that any unintended consequences for individual banks, the banking sector, and financial markets can be timely addressed.
Second, it is important that work is kept apace on systemically important financial institutions, or so-called SIFIs. The financial crisis has evidenced that large, complex and cross-border banks pose exceptionally high risks on the financial system and society at large. By virtue of their “too big to fail” status, these financial institutions assume a systemic dimension which, in the event of a crisis, results in large wealth transfers from taxpayers to the banking system.
Against this background, the G20 has endorsed an ambitious program that aims at reducing the probability of default of a SIFI. As a key priority, it has been agreed that SIFIs should have higher loss absorbency capital beyond Basel III standards. The purpose of these requirements is threefold: first, to increase SIFIs resilience to adverse shocks; second, to internalise the costs of distress they impose on the financial system; and third, to restore proper incentives with respect to their risk-taking.
Let me also highlight that a key element of the SIFI policy framework is to develop strengthened resolution frameworks to ensure that all financial institutions can be resolved safely and quickly, without destabilising the financial system and exposing the taxpayer to the risk of loss.
The FSB is focusing on the identification of the key elements of effective resolution regimes, which will identify the essential features that national resolution regimes for financial institutions, including non-bank financial institutions, should have. Let me mention that the EU is actively participating in the ongoing work and is also taking these global initiatives into account in the design of the European framework.
Third , another important area where work needs to progress relates to the so-called “shadow banking system” . The financial crisis evidenced that systemically important pockets developed in the financial system without any regulatory oversight. A better understanding of the interconnections between regulated and unregulated entities is needed. Moreover, it is important to bear in mind that the introduction of more stringent capital requirements for credit institutions may provide further incentives to shift activities outside the regulatory perimeter.
For this reason, the regulatory reform should not only focus on regulated banks. It should instead be based on a comprehensive system that extends in a proportional way to all actors, intermediaries, markets and activities that embed potential systemic risk. [2] In this area the identification of data gaps and putting in place an effective monitoring framework as well as reinforce the accounting rules on consolidation internationally are key.
2. Increasing transparency and mitigating the pro-cyclicality in financial markets
I would now like to touch upon the measures taken with regard to the regulation of financial markets. Here, reform must ensure greater transparency for the various market segments and products, sufficient competition in all markets, and attenuate as much as possible the pro-cyclicality that derives from information asymmetries, structural features such as ratings, market phenomena such as herding and short selling practices. In this speech I will focus in particular on improvements in the regulation of OTC markets.
Private financial markets cannot function properly unless there is enough information and reporting both to market participants and to relevant regulators and supervisors. The financial crisis evidenced the increasing opaqueness of the financial sector and the resulting counterparty risk externality. Regulatory initiatives that are underway to remedy these issues are therefore of utmost importance.
Let me begin by highlighting the importance of establishing an appropriate regulatory framework for OTC derivatives . OTC derivatives markets have grown exponentially in size over the past decade and they are closely related to the underlying cash, bond and equity markets. However, the development of risk management practices for these products has not kept pace with their growing use and systemic importance as the financial crisis demonstrated in a number of instances, such as the Lehman default and the near-defaults of AIG and Bear Stearns.
Against this background, regulators are currently working to address three issues in particular. First, to foster market transparency through reporting of all transactions to trade repositories, which in turn will disseminate the related data to regulators and the public in line with their information needs. Second, to mitigate counterparty risks through use of central counterparties for sufficiently standardised and liquid products. Third, to ensure the safety and soundness of OTC derivatives central counterparties and trade repositories, given the concentration of risks in these new infrastructures.
•    In the EU, the forthcoming EU Regulation for OTC derivatives, central counterparties and trade repositories is the key initiative to implement these objectives. However, given the global nature of OTC derivatives markets, the EU framework will only be effective if it is consistent with legislative initiatives in other jurisdictions and cross-border cooperation among authorities in ensured. To this end, the new EU rules should be fully in line with the global supervisory and oversight standards for financial market infrastructures that are currently being reviewed by the Committee on Payment and Settlement Systems (CPSS) and the Technical Committee of the International Organization of Securities Commission (IOSCO). The CPSS and IOSCO issued a consultative report entitled ‘Principles for financial market infrastructures’ last March and their guidance is expected to be finalised in early 2012.
Another important initiative relates to the enhanced oversight of Credit Rating Agencies (CRA’s) and the need to reduce the mechanistic reliance on external ratings. Ratings are crucial to investors’ decisions and are deeply embedded in the regulatory architecture. It is therefore essential that ratings that are independent, objective and of the highest possible quality, as shortcomings in rating activity can erode market confidence and adversely affect financial stability. Moreover, the crisis has evidenced that ratings downgrades have contributed to the pro-cyclicality of the financial sector.
In the EU, the Credit Rating Agencies Regulation was adopted in 2009 and regulators and credit rating agencies are currently preparing for implementation of these rules. In our Opinion, the ECB supported the need to reduce reliance on external credit ratings. This could be pursued via two main avenues: first, firms should be required to undertake their own due diligence and internal credit risk assessment. Second, supervisors should focus on developing rules to appropriately combine internally developed credit judgment and external input with varying weights depending on the specific characteristics of the credit exposures. In addition, we fully support initiatives by the European Commission to enhance transparency and disclosure of the rating process and in launching a debate on enhancing competition.
3. Introducing macro-prudential supervision
The aim of macro-prudential supervision is to mitigate and prevent systemic risks to financial stability on the basis of identified vulnerabilities and systemic risk assessments. The financial sector regulations before the crisis very much focused on limiting each institution’s risk seen in isolation rather than on aggregate or systemic risk. As a result, financial institutions were encouraged to pass their risks around the system and to unregulated entities, increasing the vulnerability of the system to large macroeconomic shocks. In Europe, in particular, the crisis highlighted the absence of a proper framework for macro-prudential oversight.
Against this background, a new European System of Financial Supervision entered into force on 1 January 2011. Alongside with national supervisory authorities, who will continue to be responsible for day-to-day supervision of firms, three European Supervisory Authorities have been created – respectively for the banking, insurance and securities markets. A new body, the European Systemic Risk Board (ESRB) has become responsible for macro-prudential oversight of the EU financial system. The primary task of this new body is to monitor the EU’s financial system as a whole identifying sources of systemic risk, and to issue risk warnings and policy recommendations addressing systemic risks. The ECB President will chair the ESRB and the ECB will provide analytical, statistical and logistical support to the ESRB, as well as its Secretariat.
The establishment of the ESRB is a key milestone in how Europe deals preventively with systemic risks. It forms part of wider initiatives across the world, including in the US with the establishment of the Financial Stability Oversight Council.
The European System of Financial Supervision is still in the starting-up phase and it will need time to establish itself. As regards the ERSB I believe that there are three key conditions in order for it to reach its full potential. The first is the need for an adequate infrastructure to identify and analyse systemic risks, which demands state-of-the-art analytical tools. And here I believe the ECB is well-equipped to support the ESRB with its analytical expertise. The second, given the non-binding nature of the warnings and recommendations, is building-up a strong reputation. Indeed, credibility will be key in ensuring addressees implement the recommendations. Also here, I firmly believe that the expertise of the members sitting around the table, in particular the expertise of central banks in analysing financial stability will be crucial in successfully building up this reputation. And finally the third relates to the need to cooperate and exchange information effectively among all members of this new European System of Financial Supervision. The experience of the European System of Central Banks will also prove useful, in this context.
Conclusion
Let me conclude by mentioning that substantial progress has been achieved in key areas of regulatory reform. However, our work is not finished and there is no room for complacency.
In order for the new regulatory regime to be effective, a coherent and consistent implementation of the reforms at a global level is of paramount importance. Only then can regulatory arbitrage be prevented and a level playing field ensured. At the European level the three European Supervisory Authorities have an important task in ensuring a consistent implementation of the regulations.
We cannot forget that the financial crisis and its aftermath have been one of the most disruptive events in decades, causing massive economic and social costs. Tensions originating from a relatively small segment of the international financial market evolved into a global crisis, revealing deficiencies in the regulatory framework which must be addressed. In the aftermath of the crisis, industrialized and developing nations pledged to adopt a common approach to reinforce the resilience of the financial system and ensure its sustainable contribution to growth.
We cannot lose sight of this shared mission and responsibility. Determination and consistency in the implementation of these reforms is therefore now crucial.
I thank you for your attention.

________________________________________
[1]Institute of International Finance (2010): “Net Cumulative Economic Impact of Banking Sector Regulation: Some new Perspectives”, October 11, 2010
[2]Acharaya and Richardson (2009): “Restoring Financial Stability”, Wiley Finance.
Copyright © for the entire content of this website: European Central Bank, Frankfurt am Main, Germany.

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ECB launches small climate-change unit to lead Lagarde’s green push

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ECB launches small climate-change unit to lead Lagarde's green push 1

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – The European Central Bank is setting up a small team dedicated to climate change to spearhead its efforts to help the transition to a greener economy in the euro zone, ECB President Christine Lagarde said on Monday.

Lagarde has made the environment a priority since taking the helm at the ECB, taking a number of steps to include climate considerations in the central bank’s work as the euro zone’s banking watchdog and main financial institution.

She is now creating a team of around 10 ECB employees, reporting directly to her, to set the central bank’s agenda on climate-related topics.

“The climate change centre provides the structure we need to tackle the issue with the urgency and determination that it deserves,” Lagarde said in a speech.

She said that climate change belonged in the ECB’s remit as it could affect inflation and obstruct the flow of credit to the economy.

The ECB said earlier on Monday it would invest some of its own funds, which total 20.8 billion euros ($25.3 billion) and include capital paid in by euro zone countries, reserves and provisions, in a green bond fund run by the Bank for International Settlement.

More significantly, ECB policymakers are also debating what role climate considerations should play in the institution’s multi-trillion euro bond-buying programme.

So far the ECB has bought corporate bonds based on their outstanding amounts but Lagarde has said the bank might have to consider a more active approach to correct the market’s failure to price in climate risk.

“Our strategy review enables us to consider more deeply how we can continue to protect our mandate in the face of (climate) risks and, at the same time, strengthen the resilience of monetary policy and our balance sheet,” Lagarde said.

(Reporting by Balazs Koranyi; Editing by Francesco Canepa and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

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What to expect in 2021: Top trends shaping the future of transportation

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What to expect in 2021: Top trends shaping the future of transportation 2

By Lee Jones, Director of Sales – Grocery, QSR and Selected Accounts for Northern Europe at Ingenico, a Worldline brand

The pandemic has reinforced the need for businesses to undergo digital transformation, which is pivotal in the digital economy. In 2020, we saw the shift to online and cashless payments accelerated as a result of increased social distancing and nationwide restrictions.

The biggest challenge on all businesses into 2021 will be how they continue to adapt and react to the ever changing new normal we are all experiencing. In this context, what should we expect this year and beyond, in terms of developments across key sectors, including transport, parking and electric vehicle (EV) charging?

Mobility as a service (MaaS) and the future of transportation

Social distancing and lockdown measures have brought about a real change in public habits when it comes to transportation. In the last three months alone, we have seen commuter journeys across the globe reduce by at least 70%, while longer-distance travel has fallen by up to 90%. With it, cash withdrawals for payment has drastically reduced by 60%.

Technological advancements, alongside open payments, have unlocked new possibilities across multiple industries and will continue to have a strong impact. Furthermore, travellers are expecting more as part of their basic service. Tap and pay is one of the biggest evolutions in consumer payments. Bringing ease and simplicity to everyday tasks, consumers have welcomed this development to the transport journey. In-app payments are also on the rise, offering customers the ability to plan ahead and remain assured that they have everything they need, in one place, for every leg of their journey. Many local transport networks now have their own apps with integrated timetables, payments, and ticket download capabilities. These capabilities are being enabled by smaller more portable terminals for transport staff, and self-scanning ticketing devices are streamlining the process even further.

Lee Jones

Lee Jones

Ultimately, the end goal for many transport providers is MaaS – providing an easy and frictionless all-encompassing transport system that guides consumers through the whole journey, no matter what mode of travel they choose. Additionally, payment will remain the key orchestrator that will drive further developments in the transportation and MaaS ecosystems in 2021. What remains critical is balancing the need for a fast and convenient payment with safety and data privacy in order to deliver superior customer experiences.

The EV charging market and the accelerating pace of change  

The EV charging market is moving quickly and represents a large opportunity for payments in the future. EVs are gradually becoming more popular, with registrations for EVs overtaking those of their diesel counterparts for the first time in European history this year. What’s more, forecasts indicate that by 2030, there will be almost 42 million public charging points deployed worldwide, as compared with 520,000 registered in 2019.

Our experience and expertise in this industry have enabled us to better understand but also address the challenges and complexities of fuel and EV payments. The current alternating current (AC) based chargers are set to be replaced by their direct charging (DC) counterparts, but merchants must still be able to guarantee payment for the charging provider. Power always needs to be converted from AC to DC when charging an electric vehicle, the technical difference between AC charging and DC charging is whether the power gets converted outside or inside the vehicle.

By offering innovative payment solutions to this market segment, we enable service operators to incorporate payments smoothly into their omnichannel customer experience that also allows businesses to easily develop acceptance and provide a unique omnichannel strategy for EV charging payments. From proximity to online payments, it will support businesses by offering a unique hardware solution optimized for PSD2 and SCA. It will manage both near field communication (NFC) cards and payments from cards/smartphones, as well as a single interface to manage all payments, after sales support and receipt with both ePortal and eReceipts.

Cashless options for parking payments

The ‘new normal’ is now partly defined by a shift in consumer preference for cashless, contactless and mobile or embedded payments. These are now the preferred payment choices when it comes to completing the check-in and check-out process. They are a time-saver and a more seamless way to pay.

Drivers are more self-reliant and empowered than ever before, having adopted technologies that work to make their life increasingly efficient. COVID-19 has given rise to both ePayment and omnichannel solutions gaining in popularity. This has been due to ticketless access control based on license plate recognition or the tap-in/tap-out experience, as well as embedded payments or mobile solutions for street parking.

These smart solutions help consider parking services more broadly as a part of overall mobility or shopping experience. Therefore, operators must rapidly adapt and scale new operational practices; accept electronic payment, update new contactless limits, introduce additional payments means, refund the user or even to reflect changing customer expectations to keep pace.

2021: the journey ahead

This year,  we expect to see an even greater shift towards a cashless society across these key sectors, making the buying experience quicker and more convenient overall.

As a result, merchants and operators must make the consumer experience their top priority as trends shift towards simplicity and convenience, ensuring online and mobile payments processes are as secure as possible.

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Opportunities and challenges facing financial services firms in 2021

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Opportunities and challenges facing financial services firms in 2021 3

By Paul McCreadie, Partner at ECI Partners, the leading growth-focused mid-market private equity firm

Despite 2020 being an enormously disruptive year for businesses, our latest Growth Index research reveals that almost three quarters (74%) of mid-market financial services companies remained resilient throughout the pandemic.

This is positive news, especially when taking into account the economic disruption that financial services firms have had to go through since the crisis began. No doubt 2021 will also hold its own challenges – as well as opportunities – for firms in this sector.

Challenges outlook

Unsurprisingly, the biggest short-term concern for financial firms for the year ahead involved changing pandemic guidance, with 42% citing this as a top concern. With the UK currently experiencing a third lockdown many financial services businesses will have already had to adapt to rapidly changing guidance, even since being surveyed.

Businesses will also be considering the need to invest in working from home operations, and there may be uncertainty over re-opening offices on a permanent basis.  According to the research 30% of financial services firms are planning to adopt remote working on a permanent basis, so decisions need to be made now about whether they invest more in enabling staff to do this, or in their current office premises.

Due to Brexit, UK financial services firms are no longer able to passport their services into Europe, which may cause problems, particularly in the next 12 months as the Brexit deal is ironed out and the agreement is put into practice. Despite this, Brexit was only cited by 24% of financial firms as a short-term concern. While it’s comforting to see that UK financial firms aren’t hugely concerned about Brexit at this juncture, it is going to be vital for the ongoing success of the industry that the UK is able to get straightforward access to Europe and operate there without issue, otherwise we may see these concern levels rise.

Looking ahead to longer-term concerns for financial services businesses, the top concern was global economic downturn, of which 40% of firms cited this as a worry when looking beyond 2021.

Investing and adopting tech

Traditionally, the financial services sector has been slow to adopt digital transformation. Issues with legacy systems, coupled with often large amounts of data and a reluctance to undertake potentially risky change processes, have meant many firms are behind the curve when it comes to technology adoption. It’s therefore promising to see that so much has changed over the last year, with 45% of financial services firms having invested in AI and machine learning technology – making it the top sector to have invested in this space over the last 12 months.

One business that exemplifies the benefits of investing in machine learning is Avantia, the technology-enabled insurance provider behind HomeProtect. The business has undergone a large tech transformation in the last few years, investing in an underlying machine learning platform and an in-house data science team, which provides them with capabilities to return a quote to over 98% of applicants in under one second. This tech investment has allowed them to become more scalable, provide a more stable platform, improve customer service and consequently, grow significantly.

This demonstrates how this kind of tech can help businesses to leverage tech in order to offer a better customer experience, and retain and grow market share through winning new customers. This resilience should combat some of the concerns that firms will face in the next year.

Additionally, half (51%) of financial services firms have invested in cybersecurity tech over the last year, which allows them to protect the platforms on which they operate and ensure ongoing provision of solutions to their customers.

International resilience

Clearly, there is a benefit of international revenues and profits on business resilience. In practice, this meant that businesses that weren’t internationally diversified in 2020 struggled more during the pandemic. In fact, the businesses considered to be the least resilient through the 2020 crisis were three times more likely to only operate domestically.

Perhaps an attribute towards financial services firms’ resilience in 2020, therefore, was the fact that 53% already had a presence in Europe throughout 2020 and 38% had a presence in North America. This internationalisation gave them an advantage that allowed them to weather the many storms of 2020.

Looking at how to capitalise on this throughout the rest of 2021, half (51%) of are planning overseas growth in Europe over the next 12 months, and 43% in North America. Further plans to expand internationally is not only a good sign for growth, but should further increase resilience within the sector.

Conclusion

While there are many concerns, the fact that financial services businesses are investing in technology like AI and machine learning, as well as still planning to grow internationally, means that they are providing themselves with the best chances of dealing with any upcoming challenges effectively.

In order to maintain their growth and resilience throughout the next 12 months, it’s imperative that they continue to put their customers first, invest in technology and remain on the front foot of digital change.

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