A Weekly Digest of The World's Financial Press
Wednesday 24 March 1999
From boardroom to Brussels
change is sweeping
NEW DEMANDS for transparency and accountability are eroding Europe's old tolerance for corrupt backroom deals and cronyism. But ... even though they have resigned (Edith) Cresson and her fellow European Commissioners refuse to admit they have done wrong. Similarly, executives at Telecom Italia and Paribas tried to save their jobs by backroom deals. The takeovers must continue, and a new European Commission president appointed quickly. Only if the clean-up is pushed to its logical conclusion will Europe become less corrupt - and a fairer, more open place to do business.
Monsanto scents a success amid the attacks by Wall Street and European environmentalists
ONE OF the ironies of Monsanto's situation is that even as the ire of investors and environmentalists builds, the company's prospects may be improving. Early returns indicate its arthritis drug, Celebrex, could be the fastest-selling new drug ever. Still, the company will have to convince consumers - and environmentalists - that its products are safe. Opponents say pollen will spread the genes to wild species. Monsanto ... say the chance of genes crossing is remote. They'd better be right for the sake of investors - and of the planet. The last thing we need is salad fixin's that crawl.
Comment by Nelson D Schwartz
Many feel more could be done to encourage competition between beers behind the bar
THE PROBLEM lies in the way the industry is structured. The big brewers control most national brands, and these are the ones the pubcos want. A pack mentality leads to increasingly regimented drinking behaviour. The solution? One is to introduce progressive beer duty, charging lower duty for smaller breweries. This could lead to a flood of niche, speciality beers from the UK's 400 independent brewers. Ten years after the Beer Orders attempted to introduce more competition to the UK beer market, action needs to be taken to stimulate competition which will lead to innovation.
Clinton's debt relief solution for the poorest countries simply does not go far enough
THERE IS a good reason why debt relief produces meagre results: that the starting-point is too stingy. Calculations are based on the fiction that it might be repaid. Many countries default on bilateral debt, even as they repay multilateral lenders. This is absurd: debt relief should free resources. Mr Clinton's initiative to forgive more loans should be cheered. It is unfair to poor countries that just fail to qualify; it is unjust to those that strive to be good debtors. But these are all arguments for more generosity - not for continuing to punish the poor for the sins of their past rulers.
Getting remote terminals for UK futures into the US hinges on lobbying from American players
THERE ARE now five US futures exchanges able to operate electronically through remote terminals in the UK.It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the chairman of the London International Financial Futures Exchange, Brian Williamson, is feeling frustrated at the delays in being granted approval by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to put Liffe's new electronic screens in the US. Liffe can lobby the UK government to try to speed things up. But the most effective lobbyists for Liffe in the US would be the big US derivatives houses themselves.
Why Government handouts
to car companies
SINCE MOST car companies in the UK - and the rest of Europe - are subsidised, it would be difficult for the UK government to refuse all help to save jobs in this case. The cost per job is high. But it is only half the cost to the taxpayer of the 6,100 jobs created by LG of Korea at two plants in Wales. In a world of excessive subsidies to car production, the chance BMW can save Longbridge may justify one last bet. But it must be the last. The UK government and its EU partners should try to end the absurdity of competing to subsidise an industry suffering from chronic overcapacity.
Wall Street Journal
Why trying to avoid bank branch closures across Europe is
ITALY NEEDS bankers. It needs to get rid of some redundant bank tellers and managers, to be sure, but it needs to hire personnel that can sell personal and life insurance and other financial services. A rationalisation of the industry is long overdue in the country where banking was invented, and would in the long run create employment. This will be achieved at a faster rate if the next step in the process is in fact the kind of cross- border mergers that open up the Italian banking industry, long noted for its insularity, to influences from other parts of Europe.
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