Category Archives: Finance

Companies appear to be gaining market power

COMPETITION forces companies to keep prices low to attract customers. But if a few firms become powerful enough, they can see off competitors and charge more. A new working paper by Jan De Loecker of the University of Leuven and Jan Eeckhout of University College London presents evidence that this is happening across the rich world.

The researchers examine markups—selling prices divided by production costs. At 1, products are sold at cost; above 1, there is a gross profit. Using the financial statements of 70,000 firms in 134 countries, the authors find average markups rose from 1.1 in 1980 to 1.6 in 2016.

America and Europe saw the biggest increases (see chart). But in many emerging markets markups barely rose. In China they fell. That suggests rich-world firms may have been able to increase markups by outsourcing to cut labour costs. Another possibility is that corporate concentration may have increased because of lax antitrust enforcement or the growing heft of companies benefiting from…Continue reading

Two Asian stock exchanges tussle over market data

BUYING and selling shares in India is not for the faint of heart. Its own central-bank governor reckons equity capital is taxed up to five times. Never fear. There is a well-established alternative. Investors can just as easily buy financial instruments that track share prices but are not themselves shares. Such “derivatives” are used across the world to mirror markets in everything from platinum to pork bellies. But they also raise awkward questions: can the exchange that generates prices by matching buyers and sellers stop a rival using the data to create its own derivatives?

A quarrel between the Singapore Exchange (SGX) and the National Stock Exchange (NSE) in Mumbai touches that very issue. Since 2000 global investors wanting exposure to Indian shares but not Indian red tape and tax have gone via SGX. Under a licence from NSE, punters could trade a derivative linked to the Nifty 50, an index which is to India what the FTSE 100 is to Britain or the S&P 500 is to…Continue reading

Coya raises $30 million to launch its insurance service in Europe

Coya, a Berlin-based insurance startup, has raised $30 million in new cash as investors around the world continue to see opportunities in modernizing the insurance industry.

Founded by two early employees at the European credit and risk assessment unicorn startup Kreditech (which raised EUR110 million from the Naspers subsidiary PayU) and two seasoned executives from the European insurance industry, Coya is coming to market in Germany with a new renter’s insurance service.

For Coya’s co-founder Andrew Shaw, the new company was an opportunity to apply his experience creating credit and risk assessment products to an industry whose cumbersome inability to use technology had affected him personally.

The idea for Coya hit Shaw when he was traveling on the Gili Islands off the coast of Indonesia. It was there, while Shaw was trying to get information on his insurance as he recovered from an illness that he decided to start his technologically enabled insurance business.

“I knew I had one or two [policies] somewhere, but couldn’t find them in email or log into the webpage, I felt left alone and realized how insurers are not concentrating on their product experience,” Shaw wrote to me in an email. “A bad insurance experience, plus the opportunity to create awesome technology in an outdated financial space was a challenge I couldn’t ignore.”

In 2016, Kreditech’s first employee launched the company with co-founders Sebastian Villaroel, a fellow former Kreditech employee; Peter Hagen, the former chief executive of Vienna Insurance Group; and Thomas Muenkel, a longtime executive at Allianz and the former chief operating officer of Uniqa Insurance.

Peter Hagen, Andrew Shaw, Sebastian Villaroel, and Thomas Münkel, co-founders Coya AG Berlin/Courtesy: Christian Manthey Photography

The company has raised a total of $40 million for its service from investors including Valar Ventures (the Peter Thiel-backed investment firm), eVentures, La Famiglia, and a slew of angel investors.

With the money, Coya hopes to establish its footprint in its first market — Germany before expanding to the rest of Europe. Powering that expansion is a German insurance license which the company is close to receiving, according to Shaw. Once that license is acquired, the company can access all 550 million European Union residents under the watchful eye of Germany’s regulators.

Although, Coya is starting with renter’s insurance, Shaw and his co-founders have big plans for the company’s platform with insurance products across property, accident, personal liability and personal finance.

The company has 55 people on staff now, and expects to increase its headcount as a result of the new financing, according to Shaw.

Shaw says that Coya is different from many of the other startups pitching insurance products across Europe thanks to its push to receive regulatory approval and issue its own policies. That’s also created more capital requirements for the business starting out.

There’ve been a slew of insurance startups coming to market with novel twists on the service. Among them, Shaw pointed to Lemonade in the U.S., wefox in the Germany, and the UK-based Sherpa as companies bringing innovation to the old industry.

 

The number of new banks in America has fallen off a cliff

THE single-storey main branch of the Texas Hill Country Bank, in Kerrville, sits at the back of a tired shopping centre, in the shade of a six-storey Wells Fargo building. When Roy Thompson, the chief executive, was hired (from Wells) in 2012, three years after it opened, he ran a radio ad campaign to alert locals to its existence. It asked listeners to help a mother (his) to find her child (Roy himself), who had gone missing after joining a community bank.

If Mr Thompson had shared the fate of many small-town bankers, he would have remained missing. Since 2012 more than 2,000 American banks have closed (see chart). Almost all were small, operating in the shadows of big banks with big budgets for marketing, technology and regulatory compliance. For the same reasons, almost no new banks have opened. Before the crisis the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) approved hundreds of bank charters each year. Since 2009 there have been only a dozen in total.

So sudden has been the stop that the FDIC is seeking to…Continue reading

Dear oil helps some emerging economies and harms others

When they are not fretting about the American dollar or Chinese debt, policymakers in emerging economies keep a close eye on the oil market. The price of Brent crude has risen by nearly 50% in the past year to around $80 a barrel. It ranks as the 11th-biggest spike in the past 70 years (adjusted for inflation), according to UBS, a bank. So should emerging markets now worry that oil prices will carry on rising above $100, or that they will tumble below $50? The answer is yes.

Many emerging economies import oil; others export it. As a rule, higher prices hurt the first group and lower ones hurt the second. But it can be more complicated than that. Indonesia, for example, is a net importer of oil, but a net exporter of “energy”, more broadly defined, including coal and palm oil. Since coal, palm and oil prices tend to rise roughly in tandem, Indonesia would benefit overall from $100 oil, according to UBS. Mexico, like America, is also a net importer of crude. But in both countries a higher oil price…Continue reading

Why it makes sense to invest in Treasury bonds

JOHN KENNETH GALBRAITH, a quotable economist, observed that one of the deeper mysteries is why, in a falling market, there is still a buyer for every seller. It is a conundrum that bond investors must now contemplate. Since January the yield on a ten-year Treasury bond has risen (and thus bond prices have fallen) with scarcely a backward step. It is above 3% for the first time in years.

In part, the fall in bond prices reflects a growing acceptance that the Federal Reserve will raise short-term interest rates to 2.75-3% by the end of 2019, as its median rate-setter expects. In part it reflects worries that tax cuts and rising oil prices will fuel higher inflation. And there is anxiety that the supply of Treasuries is about to increase (in order to pay for tax cuts) just as buyers may become scarcer. The Fed itself is running down its holdings. The higher cost of hedging currency risk in dollars is putting off some foreign buyers.

If sellers outgun buyers, prices will continue to fall. Who…Continue reading

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