Here's today's look at some of the top stories on markets and politics in Europe.
Bank of central bankers calls forward guidance dangerous.
Basel-based Bank or International Settlements, often called the central bankers' bank, warned that forward guidance policies adopted by Bank of England, the U.S. Federal Reserve and the Bank of Japan were a danger to the global financial system. Warning markets of future rate movements, BIS economists said in a report, encouraged players take more risks, because they think they know where rates are going to be in the future. Then, if policy or even the forward guidance changes, market overreaction is likely. The BIS report blames a shift in Federal Reserve policy for last year's emerging markets panic. Because investors get so fixated on the forward guidance, a peculiar kind of policy blowback can occur: Central bankers may become reluctant to raise rates, because of the expected overreaction. This is a strong case against ill-conceived transparency. In a way, it's better to keep financiers guessing: It makes them more cautious, which is the outcome regulators are supposed to want.
Spotify secures $200 million credit facility.
The Swedish streaming music company has secured a $200 million credit facility from lenders -- including Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank and Goldman Sachs -- ahead of an initial public offering. By doing so, they are following in the footsteps of Twitter, Facebook and Zynga. Spotify has never announced that it was planning to go the IPO route, but expectations are mounting that it will go public in the U.S. to secure its leadership in the increasingly competitive market for streaming audio. Spotify's recent acquisition of The Echo Nest, a company that provides the technology for music recommendation services, is a step in the same direction. The Swedish startup is still losing money, and it needs resources to finance expansion and establish itself as the Facebook of its niche. We should expect an IPO as early as this year.
Irish and U.S. firms merge into world's biggest banana company.
Fyffes, an Irish-based importer and distributor of tropical fruit, is merging with U.S. group Chiquita to form the world's biggest banana company, ChiquitaFyffes, with $4.6 billion in annual sales. The company will be domiciled in Ireland with its famously mild tax climate, but traded on the New York Stock Exchange. The deal is strictly stock-for-stock, a merger of-near equals that gives Chiquita shareholders 50.7 percent of the new equity. David McCann, Fyffes' executive chairman will run the new 32,000-employee company as chief executive, while Ed Lonergan, chief executive of Chiquita, will become chairman. The banana market has been suffering from overproduction in recent years, so the union of Fyffes, the biggest European distributor, and a U.S. market leader is meant to cut unnecessary losses and improve planning. A flexible global network makes sense in a business that deals with such a highly perishable commodity as bananas.
Forecasts of European car market growth could be premature.
Though the average age of cars on European roads has risen from 7.7 years in 2007 to nine years, and Europeans will soon be replacing their cars and driving market growth, industry forecasts that new car sales will increase 5 to 6 percent this year may be premature. Europe's driving-age population is not growing in France or Germany, and is falling in the U.K. Throughout Europe, alternatives to owning a car are gaining popularity. According to one study, car sharing programs will have 15 million members on the continent by 2020, up from 700,000 in 2011. Because of this, and the persistently high unemployment in key markets like Italy and Spain, car sales in Europe may never return to the peak level of 2007, 14.8 million cars. To the new, smaller, more environmentally conscious generation, a car of one's own is no longer a necessity or a fetish. As usual, car producers are internalizing the change too slowly.
European attitudes toward personal debt diverge widely.
Borrowing habits in different European countries are as different as if the EU nations were on different planets. One in five Germans uses a bank overdraft at least once a month. In France, 26 percent of people take out consumer loans, compared to 10 percent in the Netherlands. Credit card usage rates range from 6 percent in Germany to 28 percent in the U.K. And the further south, the more likely people are to borrow from friends and family: Only 5 percent of the Dutch but 19 percent of Romanians do it. The data begs the question whether the EU really needs a single, centrally-regulated banking system: Clearly, banks in the different EU nations are serving very different sets of needs and habits.
(Leonid Bershidsky writes on Russia, Europe and technology for Bloomberg View. Follow him on Twitter at @Bershidsky.)
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