Article

23.08.2016

Capital Markets Union: It’s Not About Us, It’s About You

How to harmonize capital markets and regulation across Europe? Petra De Deyne, Regulatory Affairs Manager for Global Markets at BNP Paribas, presents the new initiative of the European Commission to build a single market for all 28 Member States of the Union.

After the crisis of 2007-2008, financial stability was the key priority for the European Commission. In order to restore that stability, the resilience of banks needed to be strengthened and systemic risk in the markets needed to be contained, which had Brussels produce that famous “tsunami” of regulation. Today, most of the work to make banks and markets stable again is done and the respective legislation has been or will soon be implemented.

Growth as a priority

The next item on the European Commission’s to-do list is now to create growth. Therefore, corporates need to grow their businesses, invest and expand. Historically, corporates have been very much dependent on bank lending if they want to expand. However, on the back of capital and liquidity requirements imposed by bank regulation, some banks have found it more difficult to fulfil their role of traditional lender. Seeing their bank funding channels drying up, larger corporates turned to capital markets, but did not always meet favourable borrowing conditions and interested investors. For some of the smaller corporates, getting funding had become as good as impossible. A survey done by the ECB and the European Commission in 2014 on the access to finance of enterprises (SAFE) showed that 35% of SMEs did not get the full financing they asked their banks for in 2013.

Looking at the US, we notice that corporates get about three quarters of their funding directly from the capital markets, and rely only to a small extent on bank lending. In Europe the situation is the other way round. So Europe wondered if they could create a funding landscape that would resemble more the US situation. That would mean that those in need of financing would meet directly with those that have money to invest. It would reduce the dependency of the real economy on banks, which would again contribute to financial stability. However, what is needed in that case is a harmonized, well integrated capital market in Europe. And this is where comes in the initiative of the European Commission: build a Capital Markets Union.

So in short, this is what CMU is about: it is a plan to create a single market for all 28 Member States of the European Union, where, on the one hand, funding choices for corporates will be diversified beyond bank lending and where, on the other hand, investment opportunities and the investor base will be broadened.

So what’s the plan?

“The Plan”, which the European Commission published in October 2015, sets 4 clear objectives:

  1. Support job creation and growth
  2. Connect financing effectively to investment projects across the EU
  3. Make the financial system more stable
  4. Deepen financial integration and increase competition

“The Plan” also defines 5 priority areas for action, with over 30 different initiatives for reviews, assessments, reports, initiatives and legislative proposals, all to be taken between now and sometime in 2018.

The first priority is to provide more funding choices for Europe’s corporates and SMEs. Here we will see initiatives to support venture capital and innovative forms of financing, such as crowdfunding. The EU is also thinking about ways to provide necessary data on SMEs to investors, so that they can make well informed investment decisions.

Second, long term investment has to be promoted. An initiative here is to make sure that capital requirements for insurers are reviewed so that they see their investment needs more efficiently met. Measures will also be taken to promote investment in infrastructure projects.

Third, the range of investment choices both for retail and institutional investors has to broaden. In this area, we will see, amongst others, incentives to promote pensions savings and private placements.

The fourth priority is to enhance the capacity of the banks to step up lending. This may sound contradictory, as the idea of the CMU is to move away from traditional lending. However, for a lot of SMEs, banks will still remain the prime source of financing. So Europe wants to make sure that banks can offload more assets from their balance sheet so that they have extra space to lend.

And lastly, the EU wants to dismantle barriers that would hamper cross-border investment across the Member States. This is quite an ambitious area, where certain tax issues will be tackled, and where we will see a certain harmonization as far as national insolvency laws and securities laws are concerned.

Immediate action

Simultaneously with the publication of “The Plan”, the European Commission issued a couple of legislative proposals and 3 consultations, as a matter of launching the short term actions right away and getting the train out of the station.

The European Commission takes immediate action in the field of securitization. This may seem quite controversial as some will still consider this as the root of all evil. However, it is a critical tool to finance the economy and it sits high on the Commission’s agenda. In order to kick start the securitizations market, the EU has come up with a legislative proposal, the purpose of which is twofold:

  • First, it aims at reinstalling confidence. Therefore, a quality label is introduced: “Simple, Transparent and Standardized” securitizations. That means that any “STS” securitisation will comply with over 20 different standards, thus helping investors to better understand these products and ensuring quality. Second, it incentivizes banks to restart the activity again by giving these STS securitizations a better capital treatment, compared to other forms of securitisation.
  • Next to that, the EU has issued a proposal to adjust Solvency II rules for insurers, so that they would have to deploy less capital when investing in long term infrastructure projects or in European Long Term Investment Funds (ELTIFs).

Also note that the European Commission is looking into covered bonds. Currently there are 26 different covered bond frameworks in the EU, an area which could possibly benefit from a certain level of harmonization. While the idea is not to create a single framework for Europe, the Commission would look to promote best practices, step up transparency and remove barriers that would hamper cross-border investments. We also saw a consultation venture capital and a call for evidence on the cumulative impact of financial legislation.

Reduce paperwork

In the medium term, a review of the Prospectus Directive is on the cards. This is a logical move, given that the EU would like to attract many more corporates directly onto the capital markets to issue debt. Making prospectuses cheaper and less burdensome for smaller issuers on the one hand and more user friendly for investors on the other hand, would be a welcome help in that respect.

Another initiative is a Green Paper (this is a first, general exchange of views between the EC and the industry to explore a certain topic) on Retail Financial Services. Here he European Commission is exploring ways to enhance competition and make sure that consumers have access to a broader range of services in order to get the best deal around, when it comes to mortgages, savings products, insurance, banks accounts etc.

In the long term, count 2017/2018, we can expect further steps to support SME growth markets and private placements, along with plans for a pan-European Pension Fund. As already mentioned earlier, matters regarding withholding tax and insolvency law will get attention as well.

Benefits for companies

All in all, CMU certainly has a fully packed and ambitious agenda. Now what’s in it for companies, really? Potentially a lot. However, we appreciate that the road to a real CMU may be a far longer one. 2019 seems awfully close for some of the changes to  happen. Rebalancing financial intermediation for example will most probably be a gradual, organic process that will go hand in hand with political interests, FinTech developments etc., rather than a major shift on a particular point in time.

Also, it will need a change in mind-set and behaviour by all stakeholders involved. The effects of a CMU may be more pronounced for the corporate sectors of certain countries with relatively small capital markets. For these countries, some of the initiatives could be particularly beneficial. Their domestic capital markets may currently not be able to cater for their large corporates, pushing them away to international markets. CMU could bring them back home and expand their markets.

The benefits of CMU will be different for the different types of companies:

  • Start-ups will get special attention, as their innovation and entrepreneurial spirit are key to Europe’s growth potential. At this moment start-ups can turn to crowdfunding, but this is only developing and there is already some investment by business angels. However, these funding channels remain small and local and will not always provide the necessary funding at critical moments in their expansion. The initiatives to step up venture capital for example may be particular beneficial in that respect.
  • Small companies that are struggling to get bank funding, especially in those countries that have been hit the hardest by the crisis, may unlock more funding via securitization. SMEs in particular could be positively impacted, as the intended side effect would be that securitisation allows banks to step up the lending capacity, knowing that bank lending for this type of corporates may remain a very important source of funding. Next to that, the European Commission also wants to work closely together with the SME growth markets, a new market sub-category created under MiFID II to facilitate access to capital for SMEs, to ensure that the regulatory environment for these markets delivers the expected results.
  • Medium and large-sized companies, which may already have access to capital markets, should also feel the effects as CMU will support investors who wish to place larger amounts of capital in the market. The initiative to promote private placements, building on successful experiences such as the one in Germany and through supporting market-led initiatives such as the one by ICMA on the use of standardized documentation could be quite helpful. Tackling tax issues could come in helpful as well.

What is important too is that the European Commission is also planning to review the functioning of the European corporate bond market and to see how market liquidity can be improved. A well-functioning secondary market will be crucial for the success of the primary debt markets.

So all in all, the Capital Markets Union is an ambitious, yet challenging plan of the European Commission. Ambitious because it intends to reengineer Europe’s traditional funding channels. Challenging because of the wide range of issues that need to be tackled to get there and the tight deadline. The outcome should be that corporates meet with investors in an efficient market place, thus broadening the scope of options for both parties to contribute to economic growth.

(Source: Focus Magazine CIB)

 

Article

31.07.2020

Biolectric is achieving growth with its anaerobic digesters

A young Belgian company that installs biogas facilities on farms is growing fast. Here’s how BNP Paribas Fortis is helping its development.

Biolectric is the epitome of the sustainable do-economy: it manufactures and sells anaerobic digesters, which are installed on farms so as to produce ‘green’ energy based on the biogas released from the farm’s own manure.  The green heat and power generated from cow dung make the farm an energy-positive business.  No less important is the fact that this approach reduces emissions of the powerful greenhouse gas methane by up to 70%. The average Biolectric reduces greenhouse gas emission by an equivalent of 2.000 kilometers driven in an modern car.

The company, which started up in 2011 in the East Flanders municipality of Temse as a typical scale-up, nowadays sells anaerobic digesters to farmers all over Europe.

Biolectric is a fast-growing company. In 2019, in order enable further growth, the bank provided the firm with a series of credit facilities, mostly in the form of a ‘sustainable impact loan’.

Sustainability policy

Tom De Winter is Biolectric’s contact at BNP Paribas Fortis. He tells us: “The bank has been working with Biolectric since the very beginning, but the relationship has become much closer since 2017. In order to obtain a better grasp of their technology, I’ve visited the firm several times with expert from our Sustainable Business Competence Centre. It’s very important to be able to understand and evaluate the firm’s technical proposition. When Biolectric founder Philippe Jans and industrial investment company Ackermans & van Haaren (AvH) came to talk to us last year about the imminent onboarding of the company by AvH, and the subsequent creation of a new low-threshold business segment, namely the construction of a facility with its own anaerobic digesters so as to be able to sell electricity to farmers in Belgium, the Netherlands and France, we knew straight away that we ought to go along with them on the project.”

“We weren’t the only bank in the running, but the client had clearly chosen us. The coordinated approach of BNP Paribas Fortis and our clear policy of backing sustainable solutions played a big part in that decision,” explains Tom De Winter.

Biolectric

As a pioneer, Biolectric has independently developed compact anaerobic digesters, known as ‘pocket digesters’, specifically designed to turn cattle dung into electricity and heat. Today there are over 200 of the company’s installations operating all over the world. This technology provides Biolectric farmers with a very nice economical as well as ecological return on their investment.

In 2019 Ackermans & van Haaren, which is also a BNP Paribas Fortis client, acquired a 60% stake in the company from Taste Invest, with founder Philippe Jans retaining the remaining 40%. AvH brings its professional management experience to Biolectric, thus strongly boosting the firm’s growth potential.

Article

08.06.2020

#StrongerTogether Coronavirus government bonds deliver extra €8 billion

The coronavirus crisis prompted the Belgian Treasury to issue additional debt securities. In just a few days, BNP Paribas Fortis and four other Primary Dealers launched a new government bond on the institutional investment market.

Treasury certificates and government bonds (known as OLOs) are an important source of financing for the Belgian State. They offer investors the possibility to lend money to the country in exchange for periodic interest. At the end of December last year, the Treasury assumed it would have to issue debt securities worth €30 billion in 2020. That would happen via an increase in the number of existing bonds, and through two new OLO transactions.

The corona crisis increased the country’s financial needs significantly. So, at the end of March, the Federal Debt Agency decided to issue additional tenders for the OLOs in circulation. It also immediately halted the repurchase of certain bonds, and raised the issuance target for Treasury certificates.

New OLO

An additional measure was the issue of a third new government bond: OLO91. “This is a medium-term loan,” says Jean Deboutte, director of the Treasury. “The maturation date is 22 October 2027. With a zero-percent coupon, this bond is neutral for our annual budget.

“We wanted to bring OLO91 to market as quickly as possible. That has happened in a period of just a few days. It is also the largest ever OLO issue: €8 billion. We have attracted investors from 31 different countries, and around one-fifth of the volume comes from non-European buyers. That confirms the worldwide popularity of Belgian government bonds.”

Primary Dealer

The fast launch of OLO91 is in part thanks to BNP Paribas Fortis. “As a Primary Dealer, we take care of the placement and promotion of the bond among institutional investors,” says Director Debt Capital Markets Stefaan Van Langendonck. “We also reinforce activity and generate liquidity of OLOs and treasury certificates on the secondary market.”

Belgium has 12 primary dealers. They drew up a contract with the Treasury based on the Code of Duties. “BNP Paribas Fortis can rightly consider itself one of the most important intermediaries for Belgian bonds,” says Mr Van Langendonck. “Each year, we are invariably among the top three most active Primary Dealers in the country. Often we are number one.”

Article

02.06.2020

#StrongerTogether Lasea decontaminates masks using lasers

Lasea conceives precision laser solutions for high-tech industry. Faced with the coronavirus crisis, the Liège enterprise revived an old project to decontaminate surgical masks – and respond to the shortage of face coverings.

The secret weapon of Lasea is the femtosecond laser. This has an accuracy of 0.2 micron, 200 times smaller than a hair. Lasea’s high-tech equipment is notably used in horology, electronics, medicine and pharmaceuticals. Given the shortage of surgical masks, the Liège enterprise revived an old project for decontaminating, as Lasea CEO Axel Kupisiewicz explains.

“We had tested laser decontamination 20 years ago. At the time, the project had no commercial outlets. With the coronavirus crisis, we proposed using it to decontaminate used surgical masks. That’s how we joined a consortium managed by the University of Liège to develop a decontamination chain. Usually, it takes many months, even years, to carry out the tests and obtain certification. Thanks to the collaboration between the university and the Walloon government, everything was done in a few weeks.”

Reinvention thanks to a crisis

Lasea proposed two decontamination techniques. “For the first, we used a laser device manufactured by Aseptic Technologies from Gembloux, which we adapted to meet local needs,” explains Mr Kupisiewicz. “For the second, we have entered into a partnership with Optec, in Mons. This latter solution makes it possible to treat three or four times as many masks each day.”

Lockdown has also generated a new dynamic within the business. “We launched a brainstorming session to refine the strategy for the coming years. The result: a new organisation after the move to our new building, financed by BNP Paribas Fortis. On the other hand, the widespread use of videoconferencing has created a new dynamic at the heart of the company. Previously, the Belgian team, who were gathered physically on site in Liège, were in a way privileged in meetings with their French, American or Swiss colleagues, present via videoconferencing. Now, everyone is on an equal footing because everyone is behind their screen by themselves. It’s one of the interesting aspects of lockdown that has created a global spirit in an international group.”

A relationship of trust

“BNP Paribas Fortis has been by our side since the beginning, 21 years ago,” recalls Mr Kupisiewicz. “First via the local branch in Sart-Tilman and now, for seven years, via Corporate Banking. Given Lasea’s developments, enlargement to several banks was necessary, but BNP Paribas Fortis remains the primary bank. I place huge importance on personal relationships and a climate of trust. Be it the branch manager or staff at Corporate, our relationship managers know our activities and our products. It’s important: they understand the issues we face and as a result they know our financial needs.”

“Since the beginning of the crisis, the bank has asked if we need support to develop this project of decontaminating masks. We have been able to implement these solutions by redeploying our teams and we have not needed a large injection of capital. We have, on the other hand, welcomed the moratorium on repayment of capital on all our investment credits.”

Article

18.05.2020

#StrongerTogether Wearable tech guarantees distance between workers

The Antwerp technology company Rombit has developed a safety bracelet for workers in ports and industrial settings. This guarantees social distancing, and also allows for contact tracing in the event of coronavirus infections.

Since 2012, Rombit has developed digital applications for maritime businesses, port terminals, the industry and building sites. Its software and hardware solutions aim to make operational activities more efficient, safe and dynamic. For the purposes of social distancing, the company has now launched a smart bracelet: the Romware Covid Radius.

“This wearable tech guarantees 1.5m distancing,” explains CEO John Baekelmans. “If two employees get too close to each other, it sets off an alert. Thanks to contact tracing, a prevention advisor or confidential counsellor can check which colleagues an infected worker has come into contact with. Their privacy is 100% guaranteed. That is unique.”

Huge interest

The Romware Covid Radius is a variation on the existing Romware ONE: a bracelet that brings together 20 safety functions, including access control, an incident tracking system and an alarm for approaching vehicles. In just two weeks, Rombit optimised a derivative solution that facilitates safe working during the coronavirus outbreak.

“An extensive test of the Romware Covid Radius is being carried out in the Port of Antwerp,” says Mr Baekelmans. “Roll-out to other businesses will follow and they will integrate our safety bracelet into their new way of working. There is already huge interest at home and abroad. We are talking with some major players in the industrial sector.”

Social responsibility

In response to the great interest in the Romware Covid Radius, Rombit has already markedly increased its production in Taiwan. Mr Baekelmans also expects a growing need for short-term financing. “Close cooperation with your lender is essential,” he says. “In BNP Paribas Fortis, we have a good partner.”

“Rombit is part of the BNP Paribas Fortis Innovation hub,” says relationship manager Conchita Vercauteren. “With the hub, the bank supports innovative start-ups and scale-ups that are contributing to a better society. The fact that Rombit wants to distribute its coronavirus solution so widely and at as low a cost as possible clearly testifies to social responsibility.” 

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