Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Sher Value: An elegant end.

Just when we thought we are going to be in for a long fight the tables turned neatly with the announcement that Borse Dubai and Nasdaq had arrived at a settlement where by after the purchase of OMX, Borse Dubai will swap all the stock for a stake in both NASDAQ and the London Stock Exchange. In a sense it clearly shows that the spirit of compromise was there on the side of Dubai and that its interest in OMX was not so much about controlling all the stock but to consider viable investments, irrespective of the size of the shareholding. From Borse Dubai’s perspective that is important is that with this deal they get 20% of NASDAQ shares and 25% of LSE stocks, which are significant shareholdings in the exchanges.

The announcement has barely hit the airwaves when there was noise about the ‘implications’ of this deal on ‘US security’. Some have argued that this is reminiscent of the DP World’s take over of P&O which resulted in 6 US ports being owned by DP World and what followed was an over exaggerated drama on security and others aspects. In the end the 6 ports management was sold off to other operators allowing the P&O deal to continue. Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd called for a ‘careful review’ to ensure that there are no security implications from the deal whereby Borse Dubai owns 20% of a US stock exchange.

I find politicians to not only be naïve but also seriously myopic. The honorable Chairman Dodd should ask for the foreign holdings report from the US Treasury department, and indeed he will realize that a 20% stake in their stock exchange is the least of the issues. Foreign Holdings of US treasury debt have increased by 50% between 2003 and 2006. In addition more than half the US current account deficit is funded by foreign government purchases of US Securities(US$448 billion in 2006). Between China, Japan and the Arab oil producing countries they hold 60% of US securities and any decision by them to reduce these holdings will cause a serious damage to the US financial system.

NASDAQ is a US$ 4 billion market cap company, hardly the sort that would cause a national catastrophe if 20% of NASDAQ is owned by Borse Dubai. Indeed as President Bush said a review of the deal is needed and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi call the deal as being different from the ports deal and more a ‘marketplace’ issue and nothing else.

The hawks in Capitol Hill should be careful about raising the hysteria level too much on what is a simple financial transaction. Let me assure you that a 20% stake cannot do any harm to US security as it does not even give the new shareholder the power to appoint a doorman at the exchange entrance. The vulnerability of the US financial system is through the foreign holdings and more a result of economic weaknesses, as indeed a continuing slide of the US dollar makes the investments for foreigners less attractive. So stop worrying about friends buying some stock.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Sher Value: OMX bid

In the long history of bidding wars, the OMX issue will eventually go down as just another bid. However, the detail in the fine line is always difficult to read; quite simply NASDAQ, the US exchange, bid $3.7 billion for OMX the Nordic exchange. A few days later Borse Dubai bid $4 billion all cash for OMX, in comparison to the partial cash, partial stock deal of NASDAQ. I am no rocket scientist but clearly the Borse Dubai deal is better, but the surprise is that the management of OMX led by Magnus Boecker have seemingly thrown in their lot with the NASDAQ bid.

First of all the rules of any bid are that the management of the company does not take sides. Secondly, it would seem that the NASDAQ proposal is for Mr. Boecker to the chairman of the combined company that will be created by the NASDAQ-OMX combination. Mostly importantly, the NASDAQ bid also assures the senior management will be given generous pay rises which are built into the plan that NASDAQ has submitted for the combined company.

In the most lenient analysis one cannot escape the fact that management is being bribed by the offer, and clearly it is in their interests to work against the Borse Dubai bid for the company irrespective of the merits of the case. The Wallenberg family, who own 10% of the OMX stock have also joined the fray with comments indicating that the NASDAQ bid might actually be higher when analyzed compared to the Borse Dubai bid! This I must see because the NASDAQ offer in August included a swap of stock of 0.502 stock of NASDAQ for each OMX share that are ofcourse susceptible to the vagaries of the stock market. Nevertheless to say that $3.7 billion is more than $4 billion is not the sort of thing that one’s math teacher will be very proud off.

We also have to consider the argument that a transatlantic link up for OMX is better than a link with the markets in Dubai. NASDAQ’s bid comes on the heals of its failed bid for the London Stock Exchange, and increasing pressure from changes to the way securities are being traded in the US, i.e. the proposed Goldman Sachs ‘single dealer platform’ which will drive exchange driven benefits more into a seamless electronic trading environment. But then this could all be an ego trip for Bob Greifeld, the CEO of NASDAQ who loves to battle; just consider the recent move to block LSE from issuing new stock to funds LSE’s proposed take over of Borsa Italiana.

Compare the conduct of NASDAQ as it battles at home, goes nasty after a failed bid for LSE and then basically is offering silver spoons to the management of an exchange it is trying to take over.

In contrast for OMX the opportunities that come from joining one of the most dynamic financial plays of modern history cannot be under estimated. In the first instance the liquidity that comes from the Gulf and through Dubai is phenomenal and through my days as a banker I know that fund managers love investments coming from this region. What OMX will find is a new doorway opens to them, rather than enter portals into the US market that are frankly well traversed and over valued. Yet I would close on the note that NASDAQ doesn’t fight clean, but were it another other competitor than Brose Dubai, who don’t like ugly battles, the chances are Bob and Boeckr would find themselves fighting legal battles for what is essentially a pay off to management.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Sher Value: Inflation Monster

We all, without exception, love growth, it symbolizes that we are doing something positive and the benefits of our policies and hard work are bearing fruit. However, as most economists will tell you, growth comes with its challenges and pitfalls. Some of these can be faced through good fiscal and monetary policy and others can be dealt with in terms of a strategic framework, while not all risks from hyper growth can be mitigated, there is little denying that a good framework is usually a good thing to have.

UAE has been experiencing phenomenal growth, with oil prices having averaged close to US$ 60 per barrel for over a year, a massive expansion in the real estate sector, the growth of banking, hospitality and services all abode well for the future. With growth, usually comes the competition of money seeking those goods and services which become more dear resulting in inflation. Classically, the best way to fight inflation is to have a proactive monetary policy, where indicators are watched and action is taken prior to inflation becoming a chronic problem for growth. Central bank regulators usually balance the needs of economic growth by a variety of measures, the most common and perhaps effective, being the use of interest rates and money supply to either spurt the economy on or rein in too much money supply.

However, for the UAE its linkage to the US dollar creates a unique set of issues, most of which being that while domestic growth has been robust, the UAE Dihram has slid by over 15% last year against the Euro alone on account of the UAE Dihram being pegged to the US Dollar. In addition, while not explicitly stated, UAE interest rate policy closely reflects the movements in the US interest rates creating a dichotomy.

Take the current situation, the US needs to get out of a credit crunch and hence has to make lending easier and provide liquidity to the markets by lowering interest rates. UAE on the other hand had to rein in money supply and curb inflation for which it would typically increase interest rates! While it is commonly stated that a delinking for the US Dollar would reduce the value of UAE’s exports (mostly in dollars) and its investments, (also mostly held in dollars) these adjustments would be notional and allow the UAE to either let its currency float (not recommended by me as it needs active monetary management) or to adjust the peg against the dollar. Ideally, I hae argued that the UAE should create a basket of currencies and adjust its rate against the basket on a regular basis. This will also mean that the UAE Central Bank will have to play a more active part in issuing longer term treasuries to soak in the liquidity and redeem them when it needs to provide liquidity.

UAE, as an economy, is dynamic, robust and becoming more integral to the world capital markets and it has to move away from reactive financial management to a more proactive model. Growth is a great story around the dinner table and something we have to be proud of, but inflation is a pretty stubborn customer that could upset the apple cart.