LONDON (Reuters Breakingviews) - Britons are facing another big electoral choice. For the third time in less than four years, voters heading to the polls are confronted with an existential decision. In 2016 they opted narrowly to leave the European Union, tipping the country into a political crisis from which it has yet to emerge. Less than a year later they deepened the turmoil by stripping Prime Minister Theresa May of her majority. Now they must decide whether to give her Conservative party successor, Boris Johnson, a mandate to finish the job. The outcome of the dispiriting contest has big implications for relations with the EU, but also for companies, financial markets, fiscal policy and the future shape of the United Kingdom.
LONDON (Reuters Breakingviews) - There’s a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel for European banks’ glum investors. Ultra-easy monetary policy is here to stay for a while but UniCredit’s latest buyback plans point to the benefits of some new regulatory wiggle room.
LONDON (Reuters Breakingviews) - Britain’s winter election has unleashed a new Halloween ghoul: capitalists. Jeremy Corbyn, the left-wing leader of the opposition Labour party, on Thursday kicked off his campaign with an unusually personal philippic against the likes of retailer Mike Ashley and hedge fund manager Crispin Odey. Britain’s capitalists should brace for a hostile December poll.
LONDON (Reuters Breakingviews) - When in need, help can come from unexpected places. Just ask Christian Sewing. As part of the Deutsche Bank chief executive’s bumper restructuring announced on Sunday, the European Central Bank allowed the lender to cut its common equity Tier 1 ratio target by 50 basis points. A sharp uptick in the yields of Deutsche’s equity-like debt instruments implies this is a mixed blessing.
NEW YORK/LONDON (Reuters Breakingviews) - The hottest acronym in asset management is ESG. Funds that take account of environmental, social and governance factors when deploying capital have already sucked up more than $1 trillion to date. More of them are becoming activist investors, too. Last week alone, Amazon, JPMorgan and BP faced votes at their annual meetings about issues varying from gender diversity to climate risks to the use of artificial intelligence. Chevron and Exxon Mobil are due to face similar scrutiny this week.
LONDON (Reuters Breakingviews) - AstraZeneca is taking a precision approach in the race to treat cancer. The UK drugmaker on Thursday evening said it will pay up to $6.9 billion to work with Daiichi Sankyo on a treatment for breast cancer. Compared to the risk of an acquisition, it’s a relatively painless way of expanding in a hot area.
LONDON (Reuters Breakingviews) - Melrose Industries’ magic touch is missing from its latest deal. The UK engineer, which swallowed 8 billion pound rival GKN last year, boosted sales and margins without slashing investment. Still, a sluggish car industry could challenge its acquisition-driven model.
LONDON (Reuters Breakingviews) - Britain’s new centrist breakaway is a long way from the country’s “Emmanuel Macron” moment. The defection of seven politicians from the left-wing Labour party on Monday invites comparisons with the political realignment that eventually propelled the French President to power. But Britain’s political system penalises small parties. The split probably strengthens Prime Minister Theresa May, and may even help her Brexit deal.
LONDON (Reuters Breakingviews) - Leveraged buyout lenders are in the firing line in 2019. With central banks raising rates and shrinking balance sheets, the happy times for the likes of Blackstone, KKR and Apollo Global Management will subside. But buyout barons will be laughing compared to those who financed their deals. Low rates and the hunt for yield in recent years triggered a boom in risky lending. The volume of leveraged loans in particular reached $1.3 trillion in the United States and Europe in 2018, versus $734 billion in 2007, according to LCD, part of S&P Global. The average U.S. leveraged buyout piled debt equivalent to almost seven times EBITDA in 2018, only marginally below the record in 2007, according to Refinitiv data. The fuel powering bigger and riskier deals should now dissipate. Helped by the downgrading of General Electric, BBB-rated debt is at record levels. Now that investors can earn yields of nearly 5 percent from companies deemed investment grade, junk-fuelled buyouts will get harder. Yet dealmakers have less to fear than in 2007. Assuming 2019 is a slowdown rather than a 2008-style financial crash, companies are less likely to suddenly run out of cash. That will keep defaults far lower than the 13 percent they reached in 2009. And it may help that collateralised loan obligations (CLOs), a kind of securitised investment vehicle that buys loans, account for half of the market now. These vehicles create a stable demand for credit, reducing scope for fire sales. Creditors face a much trickier time. Senior lenders who provide the bulk of the funding are in particular more at risk than in the last cycle, because they now provide a bigger share of the credit. With U.S. deals’ senior debt on average 5.2 times EBITDA, according to Refinitiv, versus 4.4 times in 2007, those at the top of the capital structure will absorb more losses if companies implode. But creditors also have less control. In previous cycles, a company in danger of failing a so-called maintenance covenant would need to keep lenders on side, and pay them extra fees. Now, most deals are “cov-lite”. Debt documents give companies more freedom to take risks or siphon off assets, even when they are struggling. Private equity-held companies can also sell assets without repaying debt and pay themselves dividends. They can even move assets out of creditors reach, and use them to borrow more. That’s what happened with TPG Capital and Leonard Green’s acquisition of retailer J.Crew. The upshot is that there will be fewer defaults, but losses will be much higher than the roughly 20 percent that senior lenders are used to. Unpredictable recoveries mean that loans will be harder to value, and vulture funds will pay lower prices for distressed debt. There’s also still a way for both dealmakers and funders to get hosed. A sudden spate of low recoveries could spook the market and cause prices to collapse. Investors in CLOs, particularly those in the lower-ranking tranches, could lose their income and take severe losses, freezing new securitisations and funding for new deals. But of the two, lenders have far more to fear.
LONDON (Reuters Breakingviews) - Card players can bluff by raising the stakes to induce their opponents to fold. The European Commission played a similar hand on Thursday when it released plans to manage the fallout if the UK can’t agree a Brexit deal with the EU. The proposal looks unrealistic, but it still gives the bloc negotiating leverage and could damage London.