Friday, April 29, 2005

Loetschberg Tunnel Breakthrough

Workers Celebrate Breakthrough
Workers Celebrate Breakthrough,
originally uploaded by romangame.
With a final blast through mountain granite, Swiss engineers linked Europe's north and south by completing drilling Thursday for the world's longest overland tunnel a cavernous shaft that burrows under the Swiss Alps and will shave about an hour off the travel time for skiers in Germany heading down to resorts near the Matterhorn.

The 21-mile Loetschberg tunnel is the latest in a string of engineering feats from the Channel Tunnel linking France to England to a bridge spanning Sweden and Denmark that are breaking down natural barriers in an increasingly borderless Europe.

The Loetschberg, set to open to trains in 2007, will be longer than the current overland record-holder Japan's 16.4 mile Hakkoda Tunnel and will come third overall behind the underwater Seikan Tunnel, also in Japan, and the Channel Tunnel.

Copyright: AP

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Victorinox Buys Wenger

The Real Deal: Swiss Army Knife
The Real Deal: Swiss Army Knife,
originally uploaded by romangame.
Finally we can end all discussions about which one is the real deal: They both are. Smaller, family-run Wenger is bought by Victorinox. The latter is still owned by descendants of Carl Elsener, the inventor of the all-purpose knife. And no, he is not my great great great grandfather, although both our families are citizens of Zug.

DELEMONT, Switzerland Victorinox, of Swiss army knife fame, has purchased its rival manufacturer. The two companies say Victorinox will purchase the smaller, family-run Wenger firm.
The decision gives a needed boost, as both companies have been struggling with slumping sales of Swiss army knives since Nine-Eleven. Airport screeners have been confiscating anything sharp or pointed, including nail files.
The two firms say Wenger needed greater financial backing to restructure and to return to profitability for next year. Wenger will not cut jobs and operations will remain in its current location. The two companies make about 25-point-seven (m) million knives between them each year.

Copyright: Associated Press

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

The Swiss, Schengen and Immigration

This can be found in The Washington Times today. Dont forget to vote in June!

Illegal immigration is a hot-button issue in many countries. Now Switzerland is grappling with the problem, which is exacerbated by not being a member of the Schengen accord. All EU member states except Britain and Ireland have signed the Schengen agreement, which removes internal borders. While Switzerland, which is not an EU member, recently signed the Schengen agreement, ratification depends on a nationwide referendum on the treaty in June. Meanwhile, more stringent checks at the French border are giving the authorities in Vallorbe heartburn, as they scramble to cope with an increasing number of transit rail passengers who lack valid Schengen visas. In the last six weeks more than 250 people traveling by train from Italy via Switzerland to France have been refused entry by French border guards at Vallorbe, the last stop before the French border. A 1960 bilateral accord gives French and Swiss police the right to carry out border checks on each other's territories. Under the accord's terms French border-patrol units survey passengers' documents on the Vallorbe station platforms. Police in Vaud canton are then responsible for ensuring that all those denied entry into France are returned to the country from which they entered Switzerland, and are loudly complaining that the extra border controls are making heavy demands on their time.

American Summary of Swiss Bank Settlement

This is, imo, a pretty sharp summarization of the Swiss bank settlement with Holocaust survivors - from an american viewpoint.
Check out the full article at Global Politician.

In August 1998, Switzerland's two major banks, UBS and Credit Suisse, agreed to set up a $1.25 billion fund to settle claims by holocaust survivors and their relatives. The red-faced Swiss government threw in $210 million. It seems that banks - from the USA to Switzerland - were in no hurry to find the heirs to the murdered Jewish owners of dormant account with billions of dollars in them.

A settlement was reached only when legal action was threatened against the Swiss National Bank and both public opinion and lawmakers in the USA turned against Switzerland. It covers owners of dormant accounts, slave laborers, and 24,000 refugees turned back to certain death at the Swiss border - or their heirs.

A high level international commission, headed by Paul Volcker, a former chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, identified 54,000 accounts opened by holocaust victims - not before it inspected 350,000 accounts at an outlandish cost, borne by the infuriated banks, of $400 million. A similar - though much smaller ($45 million) settlement was reached with Bank Austria and Creditanstalt of Vienna. Another $2 billion are claimed from 9 French banks.

Five major insurance firms - Allianz AG, AXA, Generali, Zurich and Winterthur Leben - formed an International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance to deal with unresolved insurance claims of holocaust victims. Assicurazioni Generali went ahead and set aside $12 million in a compensation fund. But the claims may total $1 to 4 billion.

Surprisingly, calls for the restitution of Jewish real-estate, property, bank accounts, insurance policies, and art works confiscated by the Nazis and their collaborators are fairly recent. The International Committee on Restitution took until 1999 to appeal to the Austrian government to restore assets to their rightful Jewish owners.

Governments from Austria to France and from Belgium to the Netherlands appointed commissions to investigate Jewish claims. The United Kingdom has posted to the Internet a list of tens of thousands of assets confiscated - mostly from refugee Jews - under the 1939 Trading with the Enemy law.

More than $60 million were set aside by 18 governments in the 1997 London conference on Nazi gold. A French commission, chaired by Jean Matteoli, a resistance fighter, identified $1 billion in expropriated Jewish property, including 40,000 apartments and hundreds of thousands of works of art.

Swiss Watches from Rap Superstar

Yo, the Swiss claim to fame in hip hop:!

Jay-Z isn’t letting his executive position at Def Jam hold him back from capitalizing from other business ventures. With jewelry staying a top accessory for hip-hop stars, Hova has signed on to release his own line of watches with Swiss watchmaker Audemars Piguet.

According to the New York Post, the rapper-turned-executive will unveil a limited line of watches to commemorate his 10th anniversary in the music industry. The watches, which will be available in stainless steel, rose gold or platinum, will cost anywhere from $24,000 to $100,000.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Bad News for Swiss Banking

The LA TIMES headlines today are taking a look at swiss banks. Government officials have said it for a long time: Swiss banking laws have become tough. The result: Clients go elsewhere.

Swiss Banks No Longer Have It All Locked Up
Generating new money in Switzerland has been like falling off a log for decades. Times change.

By Haig Simonian, Financial Times

ZURICH, Switzerland — The names may differ, but the style remains the same. Marble halls, lifts that transport clients without pressing any buttons, anterooms and taciturn flunkies serving refreshments: Welcome to the world of Swiss private banking.

It is a model that has worked for decades, centuries even, as foreign potentates, politicians and the plain rich have sought a haven for their wealth.

But recently, behind the immaculate facades, signs have emerged that confidence may be slipping. Data are hard to find in an industry noted for discretion. But what evidence there is suggests that Switzerland, once a byword for private banking, is no longer casting its special spell.

The oldest and most traditional banks, such as Pictet and Lombard Odier Darier Hentsch in Geneva, still bear the names of their founding families. Tightly run by partners bearing unlimited liability, they are under no obligation to publish figures.

Others, such as Zurich's Julius Baer and Vontobel, or Basel-based Sarasin, must be more forthcoming. Though still dominated by founding families, their decisions to issue shares have required more transparency.

Deposits at Sarasin rose just 416 million Swiss francs last year, a mere 1.3% of the 30 billion francs under management. At Julius Baer, a relative upstart tracing its roots back only to 1890, clients actually withdrew 800 million francs, on balance. Nearby Vontobel attracted a net 200 million francs.

"It is difficult to generate new money in Switzerland," said Herbert Scheidt, Vontobel's chief executive.

Even UBS and Credit Suisse Group, the giants of Swiss banking, are struggling at home.

The reasons the flood of foreign money has turned into a trickle lie in tougher controls at the banks and changed attitudes among customers.

New laws on money laundering have eliminated Switzerland's former attractions as a destination for illicit, or just undeclared, money.

Declining personal tax rates in Europe have also reduced the fiscal incentives for stashing money in Swiss accounts. Italy, Belgium, France and Germany have even introduced amnesties to entice wealthy citizens to repatriate funds.

Holding money in Switzerland will become even less appealing after a savings tax on some assets takes effect in July.

Clients, meanwhile, have developed different priorities from the days when asset preservation sufficed. Portfolio performance has gained importance, as has cost consciousness. And not every private bank has delivered.

Moreover, financial pressures have multiplied. The Swiss Bankers' Assn. figures the additional staff and software needed to meet new compliance rules have cost hundreds of millions of francs. Rising customer expectations have also meant higher staffing standards; the days when charm and language skills were passports to a career in private banking are long gone.

But the new circumstances do not mean private banking is unattractive or unprofitable, just that the rules have changed.

Rather than going to Switzerland, clients are now seeking the same prestige and service closer to home. UBS, and, to a lesser extent, Credit Suisse, have adjusted by investing heavily in private banking networks in Europe and Asian financial centers, notably Singapore.

UBS is spending an estimated 1 billion francs on its European Wealth Management Initiative, with growth bolstered by acquisitions of private fund managers across the continent. But such investments are beyond the reach of smaller banks.

The changed circumstances have contributed to renewed rumors about consolidation, with attention focusing on Julius Baer, which surprised analysts with plans to eliminate family control by simplifying its share structure. Most analysts see the move as symptomatic of the new circumstances, and the wish of some family owners to cash in before it is too late.

For in spite of the new challenges, Swiss private banks still appeal to foreign groups keen to improve margins and add luster.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Europe won't ask where its aid to Palestinians goes

This was in the MIAMI HERALD today. It's not good news...

Europe won't ask where its aid to Palestinians goes


What is going on at the European Union, the Palestinian Authority's primary benefactor? Despite the PA's embarrassing history of abetting terrorists and ignoring abject poverty of its own people while tolerating corrupt leaders, EU leaders continue to lavish princely sums on the sordid government. THe EU has forked over $800 million in the past five years, $250 million this year alone, without a clue as to how it is spent. Last month, EU investigators released a long-awaited, two-year report on numerous allegations that its humanitarian aid has been misappropriated and diverted for terrorist pursuits.

The ambiguous, sketchy report uncovered ''no conclusive evidence'' that the money was used for ''armed attacks or unlawful activities.'' A relieved European Commission announced this is 'proof no taxpayers' money'' is expended for such nefarious exploits.

''It's a whitewash,'' charges Rachel Ehrenfeld, author of Funding Evil: How Terrorism Is Financed and How To Stop It. ``You expect them to admit they fund terrorism? There are terrorists on the PA payroll.''

The EU's anti-fraud squad did manage to locate $238 million in donations that were secretly -- and illegally -- transferred to Swiss banks while sheepishly admitting the PA's ''underdeveloped accounting system may have been used for other than the intended purposes.'' Terrorism, perhaps?

While the European Union shuns the terror connection, others don't. The Funding for Peace Coalition, an England-based watchdog group, established what it believes are clear links between EU bequests and violence, highlighting ``the utter failure to monitor where these funds have been directed.''