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  • Bloomberg

    A Russian Billionaire Is Threatening Nordic Banks’ Dollar Access

    (Bloomberg) -- Should banks be forced to accept a client who could be on the wrong side of the law?A court in Finland is about to decide the answer to that question, and its verdict may have far-reaching implications.Russian billionaire Boris Rotenberg is suing four Nordic banks for not doing business with him. The oligarch, an associate of President Vladimir Putin, is on the U.S. sanctions list. But Rotenberg says his status as a dual citizen of both Russia and Finland means banks based in Europe must process his transactions.The banks in question -- Svenska Handelsbanken AB, Nordea Bank Abp, OP Group and Danske Bank A/S -- disagree. The concern is that they risk losing access to the dollar market if they breach U.S. sanctions.Jakob Dedenroth Bernhoft, a Copenhagen-based lawyer who specializes in compliance and money laundering issues, says whatever is decided in the Helsinki District Court on Monday will set an important precedent.“All the other banks will look at this decision from the court for guidance on what to do in a similar situation,” Bernhoft said by phone.Money LaunderingFor Nordic banks, the notion that they should be forced to process suspicious transactions seems totally at odds with the current climate. Against a backdrop of money-laundering scandals, regulators have ratcheted up compliance requirements and banks are under increasing pressure to identify dodgy customers.There’s already a recent precedent of a European bank collapsing after it came under threat of being excluded from the U.S. financial system: Latvia’s ABLV Bank AS was liquidated in February 2018 after the U.S. Treasury Department proposed banning it, saying the bank helped process illicit transactions.In the case of the Nordic banks, Bernhoft says he thinks they will prevail.“If the banks think the transactions from Russia are dirty money in some way, they are obliged to refuse to receive them,” Bernhoft says.The lawsuit, filed in October 2018, targeted Handelsbanken for refusing to accept cross-border deposits, and Nordea, OP and Danske for not processing payments to vendors for basics including Rotenberg’s electricity bills. According to documents provided to the court, Rotenberg has a current account at Handelsbanken, which the bank has supplied on the recommendation of the Finnish Financial Ombudsman Bureau.Rotenberg has told the court he has never been under suspicion of laundering money.Rotenberg lost the first round in the case in February last year, when the court in Finland dismissed an injunction he had sought against the banks. The main hearing in the case was held in September. Rotenberg’s attorney declined to comment ahead of Monday’s ruling.\--With assistance from Morten Buttler.To contact the reporter on this story: Kati Pohjanpalo in Helsinki at kpohjanpalo@bloomberg.netTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Tasneem Hanfi Brögger at tbrogger@bloomberg.netFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Nokia Has No Excuse for Failing
    Bloomberg

    Nokia Has No Excuse for Failing

    (Bloomberg Opinion) -- Nokia Oyj only really has two competitors in the telecoms equipment business, and one of them — China’s Huawei Technologies Co. — has been all but banned from much of the market. At the same time, phone companies are opening their checkbooks for a new generation of 5G technology that’s only supplied by Nokia, Huawei and the other big rival, Ericsson AB.Pretty ripe conditions for a thriving business? Not for Nokia. The Finnish company on Thursday cut its profit outlook for this year and next, and suspended a dividend payout. Nokia shares fell the most in 19 years. Chief Executive Officer Rajeev Suri urgently needs to stop the bleeding.With a new burst of infrastructure spending by the big telecoms carriers, mobile networks should be a bright spot for equipment makers. Yet they’re Nokia’s biggest problem. Revenue from this business grew just 4.4% in the three months through September. Sales at Ericsson’s networks arm (which includes more than just mobile products) rose 9% in the same period.Ericsson’s performance may be flattered by its decision to cut prices to attract new customers, and then look to make bigger profit from long-term service contracts. Nokia is wary of copying this strategy, which has gone wrong for its Swedish rival in the past after the long-term revenue didn’t appear.But that caution isn’t helping. The gross profit margin at Nokia’s network arm still fell to 29% in the third quarter, down from 34% a year earlier. Suri ascribes that to the higher cost of 5G components. Because adoption of the technology isn’t yet widespread, economies of scale haven’t lowered its expenses. Unfortunately for Suri, Ericsson’s gross margin in the most similar part of its business increased slightly over the same period.Nordea Bank analyst Sami Sarkamies reckons Nokia simply lags behind Ericsson technologically. That makes Nokia’s equipment more expensive to produce. With the company still having to try to compete with Ericsson on price, this erodes profitability.Thursday’s share price decline has erased more than 5 billion euros ($5.6 billion) of Nokia’s market value, leaving it capitalized at 21 billion euros. That’s big, but not too big to be an acquisition target. American authorities are eager to beef up the 5G capabilities in the U.S., given China’s relative strength, so maybe a company like Cisco Systems Inc. or Qualcomm Inc. might be persuaded. A bid at the shares’ one-year-high, touched in January, would represent a 50% premium over where the stock was trading on Thursday. It’s far from certain that would overcome Finland’s concerns about losing a national champion, but it might at least make it think. Suri needs to find some answers quickly to ensure this remains only market talk.To contact the author of this story: Alex Webb at awebb25@bloomberg.netTo contact the editor responsible for this story: James Boxell at jboxell@bloomberg.netThis column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Alex Webb is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering Europe's technology, media and communications industries. He previously covered Apple and other technology companies for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinion©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Bloomberg

    Second Activist Builds Aareal Bank Stake, Eyeing Tech Unit Sale

    (Bloomberg) -- A second activist investor has built a position in Aareal Bank AG and plans to support a full sale of the German real estate lender’s software business.Petrus Advisers Ltd. owns just over 2% of Aareal Bank, the London-based investment firm’s founder, Klaus Umek, said by phone Tuesday.“We think the software unit should be sold -- there’s more potential in there,” Umek said.Aareal Bank is currently working on a sale of as much as 30% of its software and services division Aareon, people with knowledge of the matter said in July. After Bloomberg News reported the stake sale plans, activist hedge fund Teleios Capital Partners called on the bank to sell the entire business. Analysts have valued the unit at about 550 million euros ($599 milllion).German banks are streamlining businesses under pressure in an overcrowded market where lenders are grappling with negative interest rates. Selling the software division could help Aareal to deal with difficulties in its U.K. operations, where non-performing loans for shopping centers have been piling up.Shares of Aareal Bank have risen 2% this year, giving the company a market value of about 1.65 billion euros. A spokesman for Aareal Bank declined to comment.Activists have been stepping up pressure on European banks. Petrus said last week it has increased its holding in Commerzbank AG’s listed online subsidiary, Comdirect Bank AG, to just over 3%. Cevian Capital revealed a stake in Finland-based lender Nordea Bank Abp in December. Investor Edward Bramson’s Sherborne Investors Management LP became one of the biggest Barclays Plc shareholders last year and has slammed the new chairman’s strategy.\--With assistance from Scott Deveau.To contact the reporters on this story: Jan-Henrik Förster in London at jforster20@bloomberg.net;Matthias Wabl in Vienna at mwabl@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Dinesh Nair at dnair5@bloomberg.net, Ben Scent, Matthew MonksFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.