Reuters vents spleen on Euro sloth

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Reuters, the world's biggest news and financial information organisation, has launched a scathing attack on European sloth which, it says, leaves markets unprepared for monetary union.

The main focus of Reuters' spleen is the European Monetary Institute, the forerunner of a fully fledged European central bank.

The EMI, it says, has showed little initiative in resolving key issues in harmonising market conventions, in debt markets in particular, to ensure a smooth transition to the euro in 1999.

"We're still working on the assumption that EMU will happen on time," Andre Villeneuve, Reuters commercial director, said.

"But we're not seeing much effort on the part of the EMI to resolve these issues ... it's beginning to get very urgent now."

Reuters concerns are far removed from the worries about sovereignty, Maastricht Treaty conditions, exchange rate levels and the threat of deflation worrying many of Europe's politicians, not least in the UK.

Instead, they are at the technical sharp end, but no less crucial, it feels, if EMU is to work.

In particular, the EMI has been slow to address harmonisation of terms and conditions of government and corporate bonds, settlement dates and trading mechanisms.

The failure will make it impossible from day one to provide markets with key basic information.

"We need clarity. It sounds very mundane, but it's fundamental to the smooth functioning of these markets," Mr Villeneuve said.

Reuters is one of the UK's biggest corporate success stories since its flotation 13 years ago. Now worth pounds 10bn it is Britain's biggest quoted media group after BSkyB.

International press reports now only provide a small part of its income, with the vast bulk deriving from the provision of financial information and trading systems to money, bond and equity markets.

Mr Villeneuve sought to downplay market concerns about the effect monetary union would have on its revenue.

Last year, foreign exchange accounted for pounds 459m of its pounds 2.9bn global revenues, but trading between European Union currencies only took 7-9 per cent of that, and will be replaced by new opportunities, he said.