EU launches last crisis-battling finance reform

’MiFID II,’ the last of the big reforms sparked by the financial crisis, entered into force Wednesday with the promise of improving financial market transparency. (Reuters)
Updated 04 January 2018
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EU launches last crisis-battling finance reform

Paris: An EU directive called “MiFID II,” the last of the big reforms sparked by the financial crisis, entered into force Wednesday with the promise of improving financial market transparency and offering better protection to investors.
“MiFID II marks a real watershed moment for financial regulation,” said Catherine McGuinness, head of the City of London Corporation lobby group.
“It will be the last major piece of regulatory reform following the financial crash of 2008,” she said in a statement Tuesday, adding that “financial and professional services firms have worked hard in recent times to implement these onerous and complex changes.”
It is that very complexity that caused the implementation of the directive, first planned for January 2017, to be postponed by a year to give companies time to adapt.
Some financial market operators in Germany, Britain and France were given even more time, in some cases until July 2020.
Adopted in May 2014 the new rules — whose full name is “Markets in Financial Instruments Directive” — are to address the weaknesses that became apparent during the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009.
They also aim to give retail and institutional investors extra layers of protection.
“The new rules will subject all businesses involved in the distribution and trading of financial instruments across Europe to a changed, and in many cases, more stringent regulatory framework,” rating agency Standard and Poor’s said Wednesday.
“Over the longer term, the disruptive nature of this major regulatory change will become more apparent, and the winners and losers will likely emerge more clearly,” said S&P analyst Giles Edwards. “There will likely be more losers than winners.”
Banks, asset managers, brokers and other market operators will all have to grapple with the new measures and supply proof to supervisory bodies that they are playing by the rules.
This implies, among other things, major new information technology capacity and a deep transformation of workflows to guarantee the viability of information.
For example, the directive forces companies to identify their target investors for each type of security on offer, and measure the level of financial knowledge of customers and their capacity to take on risk.
It also extends protection measures to professional investors that were previously granted only to retail investors, and obliges them to warn clients in the event of strong volatility in their investments.
The directive also strengthens transparency requirements for share investments and broadens them out to other financial instruments, including bonds and derivatives, trades in which must now be reported before and after each transaction. Failure to do so will result in fines.
Financial companies will also have to provide detailed information to clients of the cost of trading in financial instruments, notably by separately identifying charges and commissions.
The aim is to shed more light on the earnings of intermediaries and limit over-the-counter deals seen as too opaque.
There will also be additional controls over electronic trading at great speeds, such as high-frequency trading.
In addition, the directive obliges banks and brokers to charge for research notes written by their analysts for investment fund clients and portfolio managers.
Such notes help investors make informed decisions on companies or economic data.
Research is often used as a marketing tool by banks and brokers when they approach clients but its price is a topic of debate, as is what goal banks and brokers are actually pursuing by disseminating their insights.
“The question the regulators are asking investment banks is: Who is your client?” said Maxime Mathon, head of communications at research body AlphaValue.
“When you are a big investment bank working for an asset management company you sell it your research, but also conferences with management of this or that company. In fact you are at the crossroads between the issuer and the investor,” he told AFP.
It follows, according to Mathon, “that you are no longer independent because you are selling access to a company more than you are selling critical research on that company.”
MiFID II’s call for a breakdown of research costs will, it is hoped, improve transparency.


EU gives Nestle a thumbs down in Kit Kat finger row

Updated 19 April 2018
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EU gives Nestle a thumbs down in Kit Kat finger row

  • Nestle has been locked in a decade-long battle with US rival Mondelez, maker of Cadbury chocolate, over the four-fingered wafer biscuit, which was first sold in 1935.
  • The EU’s intellectual property office allowed Nestle in 2006 to trademark what the court calls the “three-dimensional shape of the ‘Kit Kat 4 fingers’ product.”

Luxembourg: The European Union’s top court should cancel Swiss food giant Nestle’s trademark for the shape of the Kit Kat chocolate bar, the court’s top adviser said Thursday.
Nestle has been locked in a decade-long battle with US rival Mondelez, maker of Cadbury chocolate, over the four-fingered wafer biscuit, which was first sold in 1935.
The EU’s intellectual property office allowed Nestle in 2006 to trademark what the court calls the “three-dimensional shape of the ‘Kit Kat 4 fingers’ product.”
Advocate General Melchior Wathelet said the European Court of Justice (ECJ) should dismiss an appeal by Nestle against a lower court’s 2016 decision to annul the trademark.
“Nestle did not adduce sufficient evidence to show that its trademark had acquired distinctive character,” Wathelet said.
He said the intellectual property office should now “re-examine” its decision.
The Luxembourg-based ECJ often, but not always, follows the advice of the advocate general, its senior legal adviser, when making its final judgment.
The food giant specifically failed to show that the Kit Kat shape was well enough known in Belgium, Ireland, Greece, Luxembourg and Portugal, relying instead on market data from other countries, he said.
The official also said the EU court should reject an appeal by Mondelez against part of the judgment, saying it was “manifestly inadmissible.”
Nestle has already lost a legal bid in Britain — currently an EU member state but set to leave next year — to trademark the Kit Kat shape.