Each way of my recent Chicago-NYC trip required a total of 18 hours, from five initially. Air travel in this country simply defies belief.
Part of my trip was occupied by Paul Kedrosky’s Money:Tech conference, which was a great occasion to meet some very smart hedge fund people. More on that later.
On that note:
Iran banks seek to sidestep US curbs
By Anna Fifield in Tehran
Published: February 10 2008 22:08 | Last updated: February 10 2008 22:08
Iran’s first investment banks will start operating next month, part of Tehran’s strategy of opening new banking channels but also part of its effort to circumvent US restrictions on its financial sector.
The three banks will also play a key role in Iran’s plans to step up aggressively on the privatisation of national industries including steel, banking, shipping, airlines and telecommunications, said Heidari Kord Zangeneh, deputy finance minister and head of the Iranian privatisation organisation.
“We are going to activate our private sector and our private banks. . . in order to fight against these [US] sanctions,” Mr Kord Zangeneh told the Financial Times.
The banks, called Amin, Novin and Pasargad, are run by consortia that include privately owned investment companies, some of which are affiliated to private banks, he said.
“This is the first time we have had investment banks and they will do what other investment banks all over the world do,” Mr Kord Zangeneh said. “They will take share subscriptions and act as an intermediary between the privatisation organisation and the stock exchange, helping us divest our state-owned enterprises.”
Iran’s economy is dominated by the state sector, with economists estimating that four-fifths of the country’s value-added gross domestic product comes from the government, especially from oil.
Iran has for years been trying to sell off parts of state-owned companies not deemed crucial to national security – ruling out the main energy companies. However, progress has been painfully slow, despite entreaties from Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, that privatisation is the “most effective way” to counteract the “economic war” being waged by the west.
Mr Kord Zangeneh said Iran would accelerate the process of privatisation, pledging that his organisation would complete the sale of all public companies before the 2015 deadline set out in Iran’s economic plan.
“I promise that if I am here for the next two years, between 80 and 90 per cent of the government will be sold,” he said.
In the short term, Iran will sell a quarter of the National Copper Industry Company, one of the largest Iranian businesses, through the Malaysian stock exchange within the next two months, a stake that Mr Kord Zangeneh said would raise much more than its current $1.5bn (€1bn, £770m) book value.
Tehran was also in talks with the bourses in Hong Kong and Jakarta about floating Iranian state companies there, he said.
Such moves are likely to increase western concerns that Iran is looking east to find investors more concerned about securing energy supplies for themselves than about punishing Iran for pursuing a nuclear programme.