Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

Corporate governance : another investor relations trick ?

by Agnes a Paris Mon Dec 18th, 2006 at 04:33:15 PM EST

The widely respected and powerful credit rating agency Standard& Poor's have recently launched a "wide-ranging round table discussion". Topics of conversation are reported to have included executive compensation issues, corporate board structures, the regulation of corporate governance, and the role of non financial stakeholders in companies' decision-making processes. The speakers were top executives of the rating agency. <sic>
As a foreword general considerations come in handy :

In 2006, corporate governance continued to affect investor interests and influence the public policy dialogue globally, and is likely to remain an area of relevance and concern in 2007.
While the numerous corporate governance reforms, laws, and code implemented earlier in the decade in markets around the world have in many ways improved governance standards globally, governance issues continue to present challenges to investors in complex ways that extend beyond regulatory purview. And within the regulatory context itself there is an open and unresolved public debate about the most effective regulatory framework to address corporate governance-related risks and abuses in financial markets around the world.

Introspection within the U.S. about the effectiveness of its more legalistic approach to governance regulation features prominently in this discussion, with Europe's more flexible 'comply or explain' approach offering a more flexible, but possibly weaker, alternative.

Interestingly enough, the European regulatory framework is considered less conducive to efficient corporate governance.
To start with the basics, what would be needed to ensure a decent level of corporate governance ? The French system is undoubtedly flawed, with the so-called "independent" board members paid as much as 75, 000 Euro a year (in a big investment bank)for endorsing the options taken by the regular board members. What are your views on the subject and how is corporate governance implemented in your countries ?

Read more... (6 comments, 1006 words in story)

Christmas listmania : the whole nine yards

by Agnes a Paris Mon Dec 18th, 2006 at 01:30:42 PM EST

Even with a bygone childhood, the capacity to dream (and daydream) is invaluable if we are to survive in that not so tender world of ours. So go for the Christmas listmania, starting with the most probable and going straight to Utopialand :

-4 courses (or beverages) you would have on your Christmas (eve or day, no matter) table to make your palate perfectly content ;

-4 gifts you would make to yourself and your closest relatives if you had really, really deep pockets ;

-4 famous people with whom you would like to share a friendly Christmas lunch (or Boxer day lunch) if you could summon them from the grave ;

-4 things you would change in the world to come were you almighty ;

Enjoy a foray into the Christmas dream, Santa has no limits (for this specific thread).

Comments >> (14 comments)

Art : beauty is in the eye of the market

by Agnes a Paris Sun Dec 17th, 2006 at 12:01:33 PM EST

This diary might end up sketchy, a patchwork of the impressions I've had about art since it changed my life forever. As a child, I strongly believed artists were all in Paradise, for the gift of joy they had bestowed upon us, their fellow mortal human beings. Art was emotion, dazzled amazement, an invaluable gratitude for the stranger who had formalised something I would feel only confusedly.
Museums were full of messages and, if I dare say, friends, as I would go and see the same painting, over and over again, sometimes on a decade span, like and old dear friend from teenage years, whom you meet intermittently but still with the same intensity of sharing. The value of art lied in the emotions it stirred within me, within all the people who gathered in museums, concert halls, opera houses, cinemas. Then I discovered art was more about money than just the museum entrance fee.

Read more... (16 comments, 710 words in story)

Christmas depression : how Santa fuels the economy

by Agnes a Paris Sat Dec 16th, 2006 at 07:41:04 AM EST

from the diaries. -- Jérôme

I was pacing the streets of Paris this afternoon, painfully making my way the crowd of people loaded with Christmas gifs bags and looking stressful as they were about to take the most important job interview whilst their wife endures labour pains or had lost their 4 children in the forest without even having sought it. I was just taking advantage of an unusually sunny day; they were people on a mission.

It occurred to me that no significant economic slump had ever taken place during the Christmas break, and also, that psychological assistance hotlines were recording their peak activity at year end. A psychology student friend of mine told me whimsically that the shopping spree was a mere compensation for the end year melancholia. She conceded that parents of young children might be an exception, because only they have good motives not to wait the post Christmas sale and cannot avoid paying the double for the sake of the enlightening the kids' eyes at the wonders of Santa.

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Take the money and run

by Agnes a Paris Wed Dec 6th, 2006 at 04:40:52 PM EST

A follow-up on my yesterday's diary. True, investment bankers and equity funds can be blamed but none of them ever pretended to be entrusted with caring for the general good. Last century, a wide-spread opinion had it that governments were in charge.

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The truth about the infrastructure bubble : pension funds

by Agnes a Paris Tue Dec 5th, 2006 at 05:20:44 PM EST

Picking up on Jerome's recent front page story on the infrastructure bubble, a few additional facts from the same source, ie Standard&Poor's "pay per view" ratings and research service.

My attention in their research issued on November, the 30th was caught by the fact that the culprits they named were clearly the funds that invested into infrastructure assets, the core topic not being the intrinsic worth of the infrastructure projects themselves, but the dazzling amounts of money investors were ready to put on the table in Merger&Acquisition deals to get hold of the assets.

The asset is only the excuse, the selection of which varies according to global investors' mood, hence debt to EBITDA multiples witnessed today in infrastructure acqusiiton deals. The width of the 12x to 30x bracket indicated by S&P speaks for itself. Over a 7x threshold, the business is start-up like ie no one would pay ten times the EBITDA for a running concern.

It is clear that, as a result of rampant demand, the infrastructure sector is in danger of suffering from the dual curse of overvaluation and excessive leverage--the classic symptoms of an asset bubble similar to the dotcom era of the last decade. When that particular bubble burst many investors lost out.

What's that story again about those who cannot draw the lessons of the past ?

Credit quality is coming under downward pressure as a growing number of infrastructure assets-especially utilities, airports, ports, and toll-road operators-are being privatized or sold or auctioned by existing owners that wish to take advantage of the voracious appetite of infrastructure funds.

Read more... (7 comments, 677 words in story)

Why I hate birthdays (used to)

by Agnes a Paris Tue Dec 5th, 2006 at 04:02:28 PM EST

First everyday is somebody's birthday. So what's so special about that altogether?
Second, birth dates are known for sure in the Western world only. I remember as a schoolgirl in Ivory Coast seeing the birth date of late President Houphouet Boigny altered every year in our schoolbooks, a convenient way to keep him eternal until the natural end of his term eventually arrived (he did not need running for 3 subsequent elections).
Third, I prefer offering gifts than receiving them; the charge of proving happy with the gift does not rest upon my shoulders.

Enough irony. Humor  is a convenient shelter for sure but I have decided to write about my all-favorite subject, myself, so jump below the thread or leave it when it's still time.<s> By the way, writing being considered a way to confront one's demons, it is only natural I give my own self priority.

Read more... (18 comments, 530 words in story)

Relationship killers or Why doesn't anybody stay together anymore

by Agnes a Paris Wed Nov 29th, 2006 at 04:30:49 PM EST

Update [2006-11-30 15:9:34 by Agnes a Paris]: With a lighter tone.
I still remember what I was told on a very good training session when I first started work in project finance. The guy performing the training had worked 25 years as a project financier on both banker's and sponsor's (ie corporate entity) side and he really knew what he was talking about. So he told us about the 5 project killers, which I was amazed to find out how they apply to relationships as well:
1- Political project
2- Geographical remoteness
3- Technical developper still at the beginning of the learning curve
4- Flawed assessment of market needs
As for the 5th one, I forgot, hence the failure of some of my relationships, I guess ;-)

The list may be a start for a discussion and a bit of fun, as Kcurie did with an extract of the dating Rules. It seems obvious that geographical distance puts a strain on a relationship, but what about the learning curve stuff ? Original story below the fold.

Read more... (32 comments, 855 words in story)

Why S. Royal, irrespectively of politics

by Agnes a Paris Tue Nov 28th, 2006 at 08:23:43 PM EST

Warning: this diary is not about facts, it's about perceptions. Politics are based on perceptions, policies on facts, or more precisely the translation thereof into actions with the unavoidable bias of public opinion.
Another warning: by ET standards, I consider my political culture rather poor. I will not write about what I don't know. This lack of political culture is rooted in a childhood lived in a communist country, teen years spent in Africa with very restricted exposure to the media,  consistent reading of Le Canard Enchaine since I settled in France more than ten years ago. True, the third factor should have made up for the first two. Instead, this insider peak fostered a consistent and growing dismay at the French political establishment as a whole, "tous pourris".

My heart drives me to be more interested in what is going on in Poland, my native country, and reason makes me prefer the UK, where you can pass by 10, Downing Street on a ordinary day without being summoned to the opposite sidewalk by the police guarding what we call in France the Palaces of the Republic, even if T. Blair being interviewed on a rainy morning with his steaming cup of tea looks a little mise en scene as well.
Being eligible to vote on local elections in the UK, I do so with the feeling that my vote might bring about more change than it would do in France. Again, this is about perceptions, not reality, which has always been a puzzling concept to me altogether.
I try very hard to understand what is at stake when going to the polls is on the agenda, and am proud to say I never missed an election, as a Polish or French citizen, even when I lived in the UK.

Enough background. There are bound to be numerous diaries on the forthcoming French general elections, and no doubt the informative value of mine is edging towards zero in comparison.
This diary conveys a personal view (again). Which opens the thread to other, potentially discording views. That's what drives me when I write : express what I think, partial and biased as it may be, to make room for other opinions. I would not argue with someone I don't respect, and that's why I like ET.

Why do I stand for Segolene Royal, despite the oblivion I've been so far of her program- my personal issues are there to blame, not to display.

Read more... (37 comments, 728 words in story)

How to lose friends and alienate people

by Agnes a Paris Mon Nov 27th, 2006 at 07:17:13 AM EST

Originally title of a brilliant and witty semi-autobiography by Toby Young.
Thought it was a good way to sum up the below the fold principles, which I initially posted on my short-lived personal blog.
I like sharing, reactions, discussion and, no kidding, disagreements, even if I tend to overract when facing a potential conflict, as many of you have experienced. I take this opportunity to apologise and hope for no hard feelings. That's why community matters, and I feared getting dumb for lack of feed back on my blog.

The below principles, or "my very own guide to perfect relationships" are a parody of self help books. Not that I question the purpose of these publications : they can be very helpful, but as Paul Claudel put it "Nothing can be more dangerous than an idea when you only have this single one".
The more ingredients you put into the cooking jar, the more interesting (and, true, potentially explosive) the result will get.
This diary is for you to react and quote positive counter-examples, if you so wish.

Read more... (59 comments, 679 words in story)

PPPs, the long term perspective and the tax payer

by Agnes a Paris Thu Nov 23rd, 2006 at 06:52:10 PM EST

The construction risks of U.K. public-private partnerships (PPPs; including private finance initiative ie PFI projects, the latter being the legal ancestors of the former) have so far received the bulk of analysts and investors' attention, but this is about to change.
As the initial projects move from the ramp-up phase and into steady-state operations, it is increasingly apparent that the operations, and particularly the lifecycle responsibilities, of project companies (ProjectCos), also carry significant risk.
Many of the operational contracts are determined before construction of the project (including fixed prices), and have yet to be tested under real operating conditions or a period of stress.

The Standard and Poor's rating agency launched mid-2006 a global survey on a portfolio of 30 projects (quite a representative sample) in order to assess the operational risks of PFI projects and the potential consequences for investors, lenders and taxpayers (us).
Quantitative results are still pending, but interesting preliminary conclusions have already been outlined.
The first of them really is groundbreaking news :

Original research undertaken by Standard & Poor's has confirmed our view that the operations of U.K. PPPs are not risk free, and we have identified a number of areas where enhanced analytics are necessary to ensure that appropriate risk-management arrangements have been established.

There are very few projects that have been running long enough to provide quantifiable data on benchmarking and market testing, the interaction between the various players, and the whole life costs of PPP projects, however. The true scale of the likely challenge will only become evident in the next five to 10 years.

God I love these guys' choice of words. Only us investment bankers provide stronger, though less subtle, disclaimers ;-)

The sustainability and cost efficiency of the private finance initiative is an issue we debated over a bunch of diaries earlier this year, so I thought it interesting to convey the information that the common sense comments we then made have been endorsed by the all-times professionals of credit risk.

Read more... (54 comments, 763 words in story)

Gone with the windmill - the saga resumes with poll

by Agnes a Paris Wed Nov 22nd, 2006 at 07:00:27 PM EST

Update [2006-11-23 4:47:53 by Agnes a Paris]: Not having been around for quite a while, I've had second thoughts about the relevancy of the windmill romance for ET's editorial line, so I have inserted a poll. Frankness welcome. For those who remember, I thought that was the best I could do for my comeback.
D. and N. liven up from the archives for new bewitchingly sensual and ruthlessly tragic adventures. If they live up to my ambition their commanding characters will raise emotionality like steam off this e-page.

Links to previous chapters
Chapter nine part 2

Chapter nine part 1

subsequent links then embedded in each of the previous chapters.

Read more... (22 comments, 852 words in story)

football and economic growth : the power of luck

by Agnes a Paris Thu May 18th, 2006 at 08:30:42 AM EST

I understood from posts here and there that some of you had interest in football (shall I say soccer?-well this is supposed to be an European forum) so I thought I would share with you some anecdotes and thoughts that came to me last week.
Work brought me to Germany last week to visit a bunch of stadiums and talk with club managers, coaches and stadium owners.
For those unfamiliar with the topic, the World Cup is taking place in Germany this year, and there is quite a buzz around this event.

Football sure is a powerful cash drain, considering the amounts at stake when clubs transact the transfer of one star player. Further exploring the connections between football and economic growth is another matter, and may seem pretty far-fetched.
Can the power of luck, the thrill of hosting such an event influence the dreary economic indicators of a country? What takes place on a football pitch determines the mood of the nation- and sometimes even a country's economic welfare for the near future.

Read more... (44 comments, 746 words in story)

Some basic facts about the French NHS

by Agnes a Paris Sat May 6th, 2006 at 05:25:47 AM EST

A bunch of diaries by Jérôme and myself were posted last year on French Social Security and health care system, but this exciting topic is always worth a bit of memory refreshment, especially in the current ET mood to debate social issues.

The French health care market is dominated by the public sector, with government funding through the social security system accounting for over 75% of total health expenditure.

From the diaries ~ whataboutbob

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NHS Update : Foundation Trusts & hospital PFIs

by Agnes a Paris Wed May 3rd, 2006 at 11:16:23 AM EST

Warning : serious, maybe borderline boring diary for those who are not interested in the current UK NHS issues.
For the others, a bit of background information on the UK NHS entities, in particular a focus on Foundation trusts and the impact of the "Patient choice" reform on both NHS and Foundation trusts.

Read more... (17 comments, 969 words in story)

Still falling short of enforcing basic labour code provisions

by Agnes a Paris Sun Apr 30th, 2006 at 09:32:53 AM EST

I often post here on ET to convey my indignation and also sense of powerlessness witnessing the evils plaguing people whose only sin is to have been born in the wrong place at the wrong time. Distress is the common fate in war zones of sub-Saharan Africa, in modern cities brothels, and often, right next door to my comfy armchair. Today is not exception, and the situation I am relating concerns someone I met this morning while shopping at a house decoration boutique in the street nearby. Heavy rain is pouring over Paris and I was the only customer in the store so I had a chat with the young woman attending to it.

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France is fantastic by Time Magazine

by Agnes a Paris Wed Apr 26th, 2006 at 06:56:38 AM EST

I thought this would be good material for Jérôme to deconstruct, and am only quoting the most interesting bites of this Time Magazine article, written by their Paris correspondent PETER GUMBEL.
see link
This is the best description of the French pysche ever made since Theodor Zeldin's books.

Read more... (43 comments, 243 words in story)

Why Lord of War is not just another great movie

by Agnes a Paris Mon Apr 24th, 2006 at 04:34:20 PM EST

I have not been around for some time and guess that all political and economic matters of general interest have already been covered so I will go for slightly different kind.
This forum deals with the transmutations and changing destinies of money, where it stems from, how it impacts people's lives, shaping the future of the world. My distant holiday location did not shelter me from the fuss about the skyrocketing oil prices and, oh la la, the threat this poses to the world economy (courtesy of the Chancellor of the Exchequer). What's the big deal?
Between the two shades you cannot find on a bright rainbow, white and black, money's favorite color is not green, as one would have thought, but grey.
The assets underlying the world's two most significant (in value terms) trades belong to the grey zone. Drugs and arms prompt huge cash waterfalls, most of which lands in the vast ponds of legal trade, making the day of the laundering industry and manufacturers of 100, 000 USD worth watches.

Read more... (20 comments, 835 words in story)

Villepin outlines his political ambition for France

by Agnes a Paris Sun Apr 9th, 2006 at 04:04:05 PM EST

We already knew that the French PM has no politics.

The way he expresses his political project for France is creepy enough not to suffer remaining unmentioned.
La  France a l'air à la ramasse, mais observez-la de près elle a les jambes écartées.
Elle attend désespérement qu'on la baise, cela fait trop longtemps que personne ne l'avait honorée.

Rusty translation : France seems to be lagging behind but watch closer, her legs are wide open. She yearns to be screwed, too long has such an honour not been bestowed on her.

Comments welcome. A political leader who gets away with that says a lot about the political class decay.

Comments >> (26 comments)

The stalker and the blog : a lived experience

by Agnes a Paris Fri Apr 7th, 2006 at 05:01:52 PM EST

[editor's note, by AgnesaParis] the story itself has been deleted for privacy reasons.

I am a newbie in the blogosphere: started wandering here when I joined the tribe six months ago and ET is the only forum I attend.
I've never felt attracted to blogs where people put on view their daily lives. It's something I feel incompetent to judge for that matter, as the concept is too weird for me to understand and thus be in a position to blame or approve.
ET belongs to another family of blogs as people shed light on themselves using the prism of the general concern matters. Sometimes sharing intimate events of pain or joy is prompted by the combination of being among familiar and yet anonymous peers.
Before blogs existed, we would talk to the passenger next to us on a train or a plane and found ourselves going through a conversation we would not have with relatives, because we would never see the person again.

The point of this diary is not psycho sociology of blogs, which in itself deserves a whole thread. The way I feel about ET is that it is a community I have chosen, and the option not to interact always exists.
Intimacy remains protected by the fact that we're in a parallel world here, and even if we happen to know other tribers, getting to know them is a choice we made. True, there are lurkers out there, but they respect the different level of intimacy of those who post comments and diaries. Except for trolls.
But what if trolls from the non virtual world use the blog to intrude into one's life? To steal small pieces of intimacy from someone they otherwise failed getting close to ?

Comments >> (68 comments)
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