Nomura reins in City traders

Tokyo to tighten control over foreign operations
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The Independent Online
NOMURA, Japan's largest securities house, is downgrading its London operation, according to senior executives of the firm. Guy Hands, the high-profile banker who has bought William Hill betting shops, the Inntrepreneur chain of pubs, and 57,000 Ministry of Defence homes for Nomura, is to split his time between the City and the US, where he will help in an attempt to rescue the firm's deeply troubled mortgage-backed securities business.

Nomura's London-based International Markets Division - the debt and equity trading arm of the firm outside Japan - is to come under closer supervision by Tokyo. The same holds true for the proprietary trading desk of Nomura's London operation. And there are persistent rumours, dismissed by the firm, that Simon Fry, the head of Nomura's International Markets Division, is considering other job offers.

"It's part of Tokyo's plan to take back control of international businesses from the foreigners it hired," said an executive.

The shake-up at Nomura London follows the demotion a fortnight ago of Max Chapman, the American chairman of Nomura US and Nomura Europe - and the only non-Japanese ever to serve on the firm's main board - who is now a part-time director of the company. Mr Chapman no longer has authority to make management decisions.

Kenichi Watanabe, a director, declared then: "We gave too much autonomy to our overseas operations. From now on, we will concentrate business decision-making authority at our headquarters."

On 22 October, Nomura announced that in the six months to 30 September, it lost $1.16bn (pounds 690m) in the US, $654m in Europe, and $145m in Asia. Total losses for the period were $1.76bn - more than the losses sustained by US and European securities houses in the period. The firm said it was closing 20 per cent, or 27, of its 137 sales offices in Japan and cutting 15 per cent, or 2,000, of its 13,000-strong workforce.

A spokesman for Nomura London conceded that Mr Hands would be spending time in New York where the firm would "be drawing on his expertise".

He disputed claims that Tokyo had put the London-based International Markets Division on a tighter rein, saying that Nomura has been moving toward a global structure for "debt and equity trading based on consensual management headquartered in Tokyo" for months.

The spokesman said proprietary trading was the most profitable part of Nomura London's business during the six months to 30 September.

"We are starting a new derivatives business with the Industrial Bank of Japan next year, creating 80 jobs," he said. "Does that sound like we're cutting back on proprietary trading?"

The spokesman said that Mr Hand's Principal Finance Group would remain active in London, although its bearish view of the economy meant it would consider new deals with extra caution.

"We will be announcing a deal of William Hill proportions soon," he said.

The spokesman rejected claims that Nomura London was being downgraded. "It's fair to say Tokyo is exerting more control," he conceded. "But London is not like New York. The only part of our business that lost money [in the six months to 30 September] was our emerging markets business."

Of that loss, the spokesman said, pounds 240m, or almost all of it, came from Russia. The loss was so large, he said, because, "we wrote down our Russian debt to 12 cents on the dollar - compared to 33 cents on the dollar by CSFB - to give us leverage in our negotiations with the Russians."