Europe's financial lifeline from London in doubt

Fri Mar 24, 2017 10:44am EDT
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By John O'Donnell

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - For companies in the European Union, London is the chief gateway to finance. Rerouting the financial lines that run through London will be complex, experts say.

London dominates wholesale banking in Europe, a 5.8 trillion euro ($6.2 trillion) industry that includes financing for companies from big multinationals to family-owned firms that are the backbone of Germany's economy.

London is also the first port of call for companies, such as Italian lender UniCredit, selling shares or raising debt. This is because many fund managers and asset managers have a base in Britain.

The Bank of England estimates that half of the debt and equity issued by EU borrowers involves financial groups in Britain. This could be a London bank organizing a sale of European company bonds, for example.

And London houses the bulk of Europe's derivatives market, where car makers buy protection against swings in the U.S. dollar or airlines guard themselves against a spike in the price of oil. More than 7 trillion euros of trading in such instruments is processed in London daily.

Experts expect EU firms and banks gradually to reduce their reliance on London. Governments in France and Germany want to establish alternatives to London in Paris and Frankfurt.

Over time, some of London's wholesale funding will move to other centers in Europe. Thinktank Bruegel predicts that London's share of this market will eventually shrink from 90 percent to 60 percent.

If mismanaged, however, the migration could raise the cost of funding for European companies, the thinktank said.   Continued...

Canary Wharf is seen at sunrise from the Sky Garden of 20 Fenchurch Street, nicknamed the Walkie-Talkie building, in the financial district of the City of London, February 19, 2016.        REUTERS/Eddie Keogh