American Finance Has Left Europe In the Dust. The Tables Aren’t Turning. - Kanebridge News
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American Finance Has Left Europe In the Dust. The Tables Aren’t Turning.

Restoring the competitiveness of European banks and asset managers can’t be achieved by tweaking regulations

Fri, Jan 12, 2024 8:44amGrey Clock 3 min

After a decade and a half of seeing the U.S. economy pull ahead thanks to its outsize technology sector, European politicians are desperate to fight back in emerging industries such as green energy. One challenge they face is that America also keeps pulling ahead in the business of financing the investments required.

On Thursday, Luxembourg for Finance—a public-private partnership that seeks to promote the financial industry in the low-tax city state—published a report detailing the different ways in which European banks and asset managers might regain an edge relative to U.S. and Asian peers.

This is part of an effort by officials across the European Union to give firms a break. “Old economy” industries such as car manufacturing face rising competition from China and higher energy costs since Russia invaded Ukraine. The U.S. Inflation Reduction Act also has drawn investment across the Atlantic. Last year, the European Commission tasked former Italian prime ministers Mario Draghi and Enrico Letta with drafting a report on European competitiveness.

Luxembourg for Finance Chief Executive Nicolas Mackel echoes a common refrain: “Europe can take the lead in financial services when we eliminate fragmentation.” His report points out that the return on equity of European banks has bounced back in recent years. But it also showcases the gulf that has opened up relative to U.S. financial firms.

European lenders’ return on equity is now around 8%, compared with 12% across the Atlantic and 10% in Asia, in part as a result of stricter regulations following the 2008 banking crisis. Most European banks trade below book value on the stock market, having returned a negative 14% to investors since the April 2009 trough. Large American banks trade above book value and have gained 113%.

In services particularly exposed to international competition, American banks dominate in Europe too: In 2023, they took the top five positions for mergers and acquisitions deals, Dealogic data shows, with France’s BNP Paribas coming in sixth, and the top six spots for issuing equity.

And this isn’t just about banks. In 2007, top European and U.S. asset managers roughly split the global market between them. By 2022, European fund managers had just 22% of total assets under supervision, with only France’s Amundi playing in the big leagues. This reflects their failure to jump on the train of low-fee passive investment as effectively as U.S. giants such as Vanguard and BlackRock. Ironically, the latter’s dominance in exchange-traded funds resulted from its acquisition of iShares from Britain’s Barclays in 2009.

European officials are taking some useful steps. They admitted in 2022 that a directive aimed at harmonising securities markets, known as Mifid 2, has done more harm than good, and have agreed to amend it. New EU-wide savings products give pensioners greater choice, and might help address the lack of sophistication that characterises European individual investors relative to Americans used to managing 401(k)s. Stringent constraints on what asset managers can offer are being relaxed, and the rules governing sustainable finance—where Europe has an edge—are being clarified.

Meanwhile, the fallout from last year’s Silicon Valley Bank debacle will bring U.S. regulation closer to Europe’s.

Such rule changes might narrow the gap, as investors have recognised: The stock-market discount at which European lenders trade compared with American ones has shrunk over the past three years. But it is hard to see the tables fundamentally turning. In the digital era, economies of scale are even more powerful. The European Union comprises many countries with different languages, whose firms and investors have local financial relationships and strong home biases. The obstacles to eliminating fragmentation are huge.

If Europe can’t compete with America’s private financial muscle, it is doubly problematic that its efforts to mobilise industrial investment through the public sector have been meek compared with the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act. Promoting more sustainability-minded funds isn’t an adequate fix.


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Milestone birthdays and anniversaries, weddings, and graduations are momentous life occasions that some like to mark with large and elaborate celebrations.

And the deep-pocketed set are still in catch-up mode after a party-throwing standstill during the pandemic that went on for many months during the height of the lockdowns and social distancing. Bashes since then have become ever more extravagant and experiential—mere get-togethers, they’re not.

Hosts are also seeking any excuse to throw an event and having parties with the same “wow” factor for far less significant reasons, or for micro-occasions as they’re called, and even “just because,” according to luxury event planners who work with this elite set.

Colin Cowie, a planner based in New York and Miami who regularly orchestrates multimillion-dollar gatherings and was behind Jennifer Lopez’s and Ben Affleck’s wedding, calls it the “event revolution.”

“Large-scale events have become the norm,” Cowie says. “The wealthy, who are used to celebrating their life moments in a big way couldn’t do anything during the pandemic and are now going all out for anything they host.”

His company, Colin Cowie Lifestyle, plans 30% more events today than pre-Covid and has a lineup booked for the next two years. An example includes an upcoming million-dollar dinner party in the Hamptons simply to socialise with friends. It’s an affair with free-flowing Dom Perignon, centre-cut filet mignons, and unlimited caviar.

Colin Cowie Lifestyle plans 30% more events today than pre-Covid
Calen Rose

Other high-end planners also attribute the rise of over-the-top celebrations to a “live life to the fullest” attitude that’s become prevalent in the last few years. But they say that these parties aren’t necessarily about spending more than before—rather, they’re increasingly creative, thoughtful, and, with respect to weddings, longer.

Lynn Easton, a Charleston-based planner, says that her typical wedding used to span two days and entailed a rehearsal dinner plus the wedding itself. “Now, it’s a five-day bonanza with events like a groomsman lunch,” Easton says.

Easton also plans glitzy milestone birthdays such as one for a 60th where the host flew 60 friends and family to a private island. Dinners were multi-hour affairs in various locations around the isle with the showpiece being a five-course meal where the food was presented on dishes that were hand-carved in ice.

Another planner, Victoria Dubin, based in New York and Miami, says that, in a new precedent, the weddings she’s tapped to design kick off with striking welcome meals. She recently planned an al fresco rehearsal dinner at the Brooklyn pizzeria Roberta’s that recreated a Tuscan garden. Elements included potted herbs, lemon trees, vintage olive oil cans, ceramic plates, and table cards presented with palm leaves in limoncello cans.

Another planner, Victoria Dubin, recently planned an al fresco rehearsal dinner at the Brooklyn pizzeria Roberta’s that recreated a Tuscan garden.
Aletiza Photo

Pashmina shawls hung from chairs to keep guests warm, and freshly baked pizzas and Aperol spritzes were in ready supply throughout the evening.

Stacy Teckin, the groom’s mother, hosted the party with her husband, Ian, and says she sought to pull off a dinner that made an impression on their guests. “The wedding was delayed because of Covid, and now that we had the chance to celebrate, we wanted to go all out,” Teckin says. “I’m not sure we would have done that before.”

In another example, acclaimed planner Norma Cohen threw a wild safari-themed bar mitzvah for a client.

A four-day wedding in Paris where the ceremony was in a historic chateau and the host paid for guests to stay at Hotel Crillon
Norma Cohen Productions

The memorable occasion transpired at Spring Studios in downtown Manhattan and saw 400 guests be transported to the African plains: Details included mammoth replicas of wildlife such as giraffes and elephants, servers in safari themed attire, and entertainment dressed like giraffes. The event was one of several over-the-top parties Cohen’s arranged recently.

A four-day wedding in Paris where the ceremony was in a historic chateau and the host paid for guests to stay at Hotel Crillon, one of the city’s most luxurious properties, also ranks high in Cohen’s memory.

Then there’s a destination party in London that Cohen planned for a client who was turning 40. It as a six-day affair with dinners at swanky spots such as Cipriani, the Arts Club, and Cecconi’s at Soho House. The finale was Lancaster House, a mansion in St. James, where guests were entertained by cabaret dancers from the famed Ibiza club Lio Ibiza and feasted on prime rib and lamb chops and imbibed on Krug champagne.

“People today don’t want to host events,” Cohen says. “They want experiences that take you away to a different place and make you forget that the real world exists.”