Breakingviews – Corona Capital: Swiss vote, ABN Amro, Aussie wine – Reuters India
ZURICH/LONDON/MUMBAI (Reuters Breakingviews) – Corona Capital is a column updated throughout the day by Breakingviews columnists around the world with short, sharp pandemic-related insights.
– Swiss vote
– ABN Amro
– Australian wine
SWISS MISS. A referendum to reform Switzerland’s constitution to make multinationals in the Alpine state comply with the highest standards for human rights when operating abroad was defeated on Sunday. It’s a victory for big businesses like Nestlé and Glencore, which opposed the measure. One argument that gained traction in the final weeks ahead of the vote was the notion that imposing new constraints on companies during a pandemic would damage the economy.
But the urge for greater accountability isn’t going away: the ballot was supported by 50.7% of voters but didn’t achieve a majority of Switzerland’s 26 cantons. And the failure of the corporate responsibility initiative will trigger legislation that requires companies to increase their due diligence and disclosure on matters including human rights and child labour. It’s a near miss that big Swiss firms will want to draw important lessons from. (By Rob Cox)
DUTCH COURAGE. ABN Amro is doubling down on its pitch to become Europe’s dullest bank. Months after jettisoning its trading unit, the Amsterdam-based lender released new financial targets on Monday. These include 700 million euros in cost savings by 2024, designed to lift its return on equity to a modest 8%.
Assume Chief Executive Robert Swaak succeeds in cranking costs down to 4.7 billion euros a year and revenue stabilises at 7.4 billion euros. In that case, the state-backed bank’s cost-to-income ratio will remain just over 60%, little improved on this year.
ABN’s strategy of delivering dour but more predictable returns is sensible enough. But investors face a long wait for any racier rewards. The bank will only buy back shares when its common equity Tier 1 capital ratio rises above a chunky 15%. The 5% drop in ABN’s share price on Monday morning shows Swaak has yet to light investors’ fire. (By Christopher Thompson)
DOWN, UNDER THE TABLE. Australia has long had a prickly relationship with China, but ever since Canberra pushed for an investigation into the origins of Covid-19, relations with its top trading partner have turned ugly. The newest punishment from the People’s Republic is tariffs of up to 200% on wine: shares of $4.6 billion Treasury Wine Estates dropped 7% on Monday as it scrambled to divert thousands of cases of plonk to other markets.
China has imposed tariffs on commodities including barley, banned imports of items like beef, and issued warnings covering goods from coal to cotton. Yet things could be much worse. The affected commodity groups account for 14% of Australia’s exports to China, and not all exporters are subject to restrictions, Oxford Economics points out. The risk is that future escalation affects primary industries like mining. Unlike wine, however, Australian iron ore may be less easy for China to substitute. (By Una Galani)
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