“Nicht mit Ruhm bekleckert”

“Didn’t dribble glory on themselves,” in predicting the 2008 global financial troubles—from Thomas Thiel’s review of social scientist and publicist Werner Rügemer‘s 2012 book about the world’s three major financial ratings agencies.

In his book, Rügemer discussed the “curious financing model” in which clients pay for the grades they receive. Managerially, Rügemer said, many of the same people are members of the boards of the big three ratings agencies, the companies that own the ratings agencies, and the ratings agencies’ clients. Thiel:

“The deeper Rügemer goes into the ownership relationships, the more there unfolds a conglomerate of hedge funds, banks and companies that is worrying in how functionally interwoven it is. Market leader Standard & Poor’s for example belongs to the media house McGraw Hill, which mainly belongs to large investment funds such as BlackRock and Vanguard. These funds own many companies that are regularly/standardly/by default evaluated by the ratings agencies. In addition, many of the same funds are the shareholders behind Moody’s and S&P, such as the investment giant Capital Group. Seated on the supervisory boards (Aufsichtsrat) of the agencies there are companies like Coca-Cola or the pharma company Eli Lilly, plus banks and insurance companies such as Allianz, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs.”

McGraw Hill owns another agency that is very important for setting world oil prices: Platts. Der Spiegel said Platts is the world’s largest energy information service. On Tuesday, 14 May 2013, the EU raided Platts’ London offices and offices of three big European oil companies, Shell (Holland), Statoil (Norway) and BP (UK), seeking information about price fixing allegedly achieved by slight distortions of data going into Platts. If said international oil price distortion occurred, it may have started in 2002.

Background info from the Wall Street Journal: the international “physical-oil market” is worth $2.5 trillion. “Index-publishing firms like Platts derive their prices from self-reported transaction data from participants in deals.”

(Nicked   mitt   ROOM   bah KLECK aht.)

Bankgeheimnis

“Banking secrecy.” Luxemburg announced on 07 Apr 2013 that they intend to relax their banking code of silence, “no longer strictly refusing” to automatically share information about international accounts with other countries’ tax authorities, starting in 2015. EU countries have also been in negotiations with Switzerland about similar issues for several years, though individually as separate countries and not with the full power of the EU.

Until now, foreigners banking in Luxemburg have paid an anonymous tax of 35% on interest earned there. This will be changed in Luxemburg e.g so that account holders’ names will be included in the information shared with German tax authorities.

German critics say this is insufficient because other Luxemburg income, such as company profits, remains untaxed for foreigners. Also, Luxemburg isn’t the only European tax oasis. Jürgen Trittin of the Green Party criticized Austria, for example, where names of foreign account holders earning interest in Austrian banks are only shared after initiation of criminal proceedings. Green Party finance guy Gerhard Schick wrote that the G20 summit in 2009 actually agreed to end Bankgeheimnis; certainly some reforms were enacted that year though movement has been slow since, until the recent data leak. The ZDF report concluded by saying that economists have warned that if only some tax oases reform their laws, the ones that don’t will profit from acquiring fleeing customers.

Update on 09 Apr 2013: “In principle, Liechtenstein has separated itself from its tax haven past.” Speaking of Liechtenstein, it looks like they had an interesting idea for a new field for financial services experts in former tax oases to move into: ratings agencies that are independent of the big three on Wall Street. The nonprofit Carlo Foundation (carlofoundation.org), said to be the world’s first independent fund rating agency, was founded in Liechtenstein in July 2012.

Update on 22 May 2013: At their summit in Brussels all 27 EU leaders confirmed in principle their finance ministers’ decision to eliminate Bankgeheimnis for “foreign”-held bank accounts, insurance policies and investments starting in 2015. The leaders of the two last holdouts, Luxemburg and Austria, said they too would agree to the automatic exchange of data after the EU as a whole negotiated banking agreements with relevant third-party countries such as Switzerland, Liechtenstein or Monaco. Luxemburg’s prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker said his country is particularly concerned that the same competition conditions apply in finance centers inside and outside the EU. Negotiations with Liechtenstein, Monaco, Andorra, Switzerland and San Marino about automatic exchange of banking data are underway and expected to be concluded quickly, in “two to three months.” If all goes according to schedule, EU leaders could completely eliminate Bankgeheimnis at their meeting in December 2013.

Update on 20 Mar 2014: The 28 E.U. heads of government agreed to end Bankgeheimnis in the European Union, with comprehensive exchanges of tax data. This will also end banking secrecy for foreigners, though that might mean only for foreigners from other E.U. member states. Five third-party countries, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, San Marino, Monaco and Andorra, also agreed to exchange sufficient information to end banking secrecy de facto with regard to interest income, said Luxemburg’s prime minister, saying this fulfilled Luxemburg’s conditions for also agreeing to the new policy.

The O.E.C.D.’s standard for automatic data exchange will be the orientation point, and the E.U. hopes it will become the standard for tax information exchange regulations worldwide, said E.U. Council President Herman Van Rompuy. But today’s breakthrough E.U. policy agreement goes beyond the requirements of the O.E.C.D. standard:

“In future, the data exchange is supposed to apply not only to private persons but also to certain trusts and foundations. The guideline will also apply for stock profits and certain insurance profits, particularly from life insurance and investment funds. The banks are also to be obligated to collect more information in future about the actual economic owners of companies.”

(BONK geh HIGH mniss.)

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