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Australia

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The Australian Government takes a favorable stance towards foreign portfolio investment with no restrictions on inward flows of debt or equity.  Indeed, access to foreign capital markets is crucial to the Australian economy given its relatively small domestic fixed income markets. Australian capital markets are generally efficient and are able to provide financing options to businesses.  While the Australian equity market is one of the largest and most liquid in the world, non-financial firms do face a number of barriers in accessing the corporate bond market. Large firms are more likely to use public equity and smaller firms more likely to use retained earnings and debt from banks and intermediaries.  Australia’s corporate bond market is relatively small, driving many Australian companies to issue debt instruments in the U.S. market. Foreign investors are able to get credit from domestic institutions on market terms.

Money and Banking System

Australia’s banking system is robust, highly evolved, and international in focus.  Bank profitability is strong and has been supported by further improvements in asset performance.

Total assets of the four largest banks is USD 2.6 trillion, 21 percent of the market value of all listed Australian companies.  According to Australia’s central bank, the Reserve Bank of Australia or RBA, the ratio of non-performing assets to total loans was just under 1 percent at the end of 2017, having remained at around that level for the last four years after falling from highs of nearly 2 percent following the Global Financial Crisis.  The RBA is responsible for monitoring and reporting on the stability of the financial sector, while the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority (APRA) monitors individual institutions. Foreign banks are allowed to operate as a branch or a subsidiary in Australia. Australia has generally taken an open approach to allowing foreign companies to operate in the financial sector, largely to ensure sufficient competition in an otherwise small domestic market.

The RBA is responsible for monitoring and regulating payments systems in Australia.  It has recently overseen the creation of the New Payments Platform that came on line in early 2018, allowing fast processing of low value transactions.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

The Commonwealth Government formulates exchange control policies with the advice of the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) and the Treasury.  The RBA, charged with protecting the national currency, has the authority to implement exchange controls, although there are currently none in place.

The Australian dollar is a fully convertible and floating currency.  The Commonwealth Government does not maintain currency controls or limit remittances.  Such payments are processed through standard commercial channels, without governmental interference or delay.

Remittance Policies

Australia does not limit investment remittances.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Australia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Future Fund, is a financial asset investment fund owned by the Australian Government.  The Fund’s objective is to enhance the ability of future Australian Governments to discharge unfunded superannuation (pension) liabilities expected after 2020, when an ageing population is likely to place significant pressures on Government finances.  As a founding member of the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Fund (IFSWF), the Future Fund’s structure, governance and investment approach is in full alignment with the Generally Accepted Principles and Practices for Sovereign Wealth Funds (the “Santiago principles”).

In addition to the Future Fund, the Australian government has a number of “nation-building funds”, the DisabilityCare Fund, and the Medical Research Future Fund.  The Building Australia Fund enhances the Commonwealth’s ability to make payments towards the creation or development of transport, communications, energy, and water infrastructure and in relation to eligible national broadband matters.  The Education Investment Fund makes payments towards the creation or development of higher education infrastructure, research infrastructure, vocational education and training infrastructure, and eligible education infrastructure. The DisablityCare Australia Fund aims to reimburse States, Territories and the Commonwealth for expenditure incurred in relation to the National Disability Insurance Scheme Act 2013 and to fund implementation of that Act in its initial period of operation.  The Medical Research Future Fund provides grants of financial assistance to support medical research and medical innovation.

As of December 31, 2018, the value of the Future Fund totaled AUD 147 billion (USD 103 billion).  The value of the Education Investment Fund totaled AUD 3.9 billion (USD 2.7 billion); the Building Australia Fund totaled AUD 3.9 billion (USD 2.7 billion); the DisabilityCare Australia Fund totaled AUD 14.4 billion (USD 10.1 billion), and the Medical Research Future Fund totaled AUD 9.4 billion (USD 6.6 billion).

Canada

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Canada’s capital markets are open, accessible, and without onerous regulatory requirements. Foreign investors are able to get credit in the local market. Canada has its own stock market, the Toronto Exchange, and there is sufficient liquidity in the markets to enter and exit sizeable positions. The World Economic Forum ranked Canada’s banking system as the second “most sound” in the world in 2018. Among other factors, Canadian banking stability is linked to high capitalization rates that are well above the norms set by the Bank for International Settlements. The Canadian government and Bank of Canada do not place restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions.

Money and Banking System

The Canadian banking industry is dominated by six major domestic banks, but includes a total of 29 domestic banks, 24 foreign bank subsidiaries, 27 full-service foreign bank branches and three foreign bank lending branches operating in Canada. The six largest banks manage close to USD4 trillion in assets.  Many large international banks have a presence in Canada through a subsidiary, representative office, or branch of the parent bank. Ninety-nine percent of Canadians have an account with a financial institution.

Foreign financial firms interested in investing submit their applications to the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) for approval by the Finance Minister. U.S. firms are present in all three sectors, but play secondary roles. U.S. and other foreign banks have long been able to establish banking subsidiaries in Canada, but no U.S. banks have retail banking operations in Canada. Several U.S. financial institutions have established branches in Canada, chiefly targeting commercial lending, investment banking, and niche markets such as credit card issuance.

The Bank of Canada is the nation’s central bank. Its principal role is “to promote the economic and financial welfare of Canada,” as defined in the Bank of Canada Act. The Bank’s four main areas of responsibility are monetary policy, promoting a safe, sound, and efficient financial system, issuing and distributing currency, and being the fiscal agent for Canada.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange Policies

Canada has a free floating exchange rate.

Remittance Policies

The Canadian dollar is fully convertible and the central bank does not place time restrictions on remittances. Canada provides some incentives for Canadian investment in developing countries through programs offered by Global Affairs Canada.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Canada does not have a sovereign wealth fund, but the province of Alberta has the Heritage Savings Trust Fund established to manage the province’s share of petroleum royalties. The fund’s net financial assets were US12.9 billion (C17.4 billion) on March 31, 2018. It is invested in a globally diversified portfolio of public and private equity, fixed income, and real assets. The fund follows the voluntary code of good practices known as the “Santiago Principles” and participates in the IMF-hosted International Working Group of SWFs. 45 percent of the Heritage Fund is currently held in equity investments, 14 percent of which are Canadian equities. The fund is currently heavily invested in the U.S. dollar (16 percent of total currency) with more than USD2.9 billion in reserves.

Germany

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

As an EU member state with a well-developed financial sector, Germany welcomes foreign portfolio investment and has an effective regulatory system.  Germany has a very open economy, routinely ranking among the top countries in the world for exports and inward and outward foreign direct investment.  As a member of the Eurozone, Germany does not have sole national authority over international payments, which are a shared task of the Eurosystem, comprised of the European Central Bank and the national central banks of the 19 member states that are part of the eurozone, including the German Central Bank (Bundesbank).  A European framework for screening of foreign investments, which entered into force in April 2019, provides a basis under European law to restrict capital movements into Germany. Global investors see Germany as a safe place to invest, as the real economy continues to outperform other EU countries and German sovereign bonds retain their “safe haven” status.

Listed companies and market participants in Germany must comply with the Securities Trading Act, which bans insider trading and market manipulation.  Compliance is monitored by the Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin) while oversight of stock exchanges is the responsibility of the state governments in Germany (with BaFin taking on any international responsibility).  Investment fund management in Germany is regulated by the Capital Investment Code (KAGB), which entered into force on July 22, 2013. The KAGB represents the implementation of additional financial market regulatory reforms, committed to in the aftermath of the global financial crisis.  The law went beyond the minimum requirements of the relevant EU directives and represents a comprehensive overhaul of all existing investment-related regulations in Germany with the aim of creating a system of rules to protect investors while also maintaining systemic financial stability.

Money and Banking System

Although corporate financing via capital markets is on the rise, Germany’s financial system remains mostly bank-based.  Bank loans are still the predominant form of funding for firms, particularly the small- and medium-sized enterprises that comprise Germany’s “Mittelstand,” or mid-sized industrial market leaders.  Credit is available at market-determined rates to both domestic and foreign investors, and a variety of credit instruments are available. Legal, regulatory and accounting systems are generally transparent and consistent with international banking norms.  Germany has a universal banking system regulated by federal authorities, and there have been no reports of a shortage of credit in the German economy. After 2010, Germany banned some forms of speculative trading, most importantly “naked short selling.” In 2013, Germany passed a law requiring banks to separate riskier activities such as proprietary trading into a legally separate, fully capitalized unit that has no guarantee or access to financing from the deposit-taking part of the bank.

Germany supports a worldwide financial transaction tax and is pursuing the introduction of such a tax along with several other Eurozone countries.

Germany has a modern banking sector but is considered “over-banked” resulting in low profit margins and a need for consolidation.  The country’s “three-pillar” banking system consists of private commercial banks, cooperative banks, and public banks (savings banks/Sparkassen and the regional state-owned banks/Landesbanken).  The private bank sector is dominated by Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank, with balance sheets of €1.35 trillion and €462 billion respectively (2018 figures). Commerzbank received €18 billion in financial assistance from the federal government in 2009, for which the government took a 25 percent stake in the bank (now reduced to 15.6 percent).  Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank confirmed in March 2019 that they are in merger talks, with the outcome unclear as of April 2019. A merger of the two institutions would create the Eurozone’s third-largest lender after HSBC and BNP Paribas with roughly €1.9 trillion in assets (USD 2.04 trillion), about 150,000 employees, about one-fifth of the private customers in Germany, but a market value of just €25 billion (USD 28.4 billion).  Germany’s regional state-owned banks (Landesbanken) were among the hardest hit by the global financial crisis and were forced to reduce their business activities but have lately stabilized again.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

As a member of the Eurozone, Germany uses the euro as its currency, along with 18 other EU countries.  The Eurozone has no restrictions on the transfer or conversion of its currency, and the exchange rate is freely determined in the foreign exchange market.

German authorities respect the independence of the European Central Bank (ECB), and thus have no scope to manipulate the bloc’s exchange rate.  In a February 2019 report, the European Commission (EC) concluded Germany’s persistently high current account surplus – the world’s largest in 2018 at USD 294 billion (7.8 percent of GDP) – “has slightly narrowed since 2016 and is expected to gradually decline due to a pick-up in domestic demand in the coming years whilst remaining at historically high levels over the forecast horizon.”  While low commodity prices and the weak euro exchange rate explain some of the surplus’ increase in 2015-2016, the persistence of Germany’s surplus is a matter of international controversy. German policymakers view the large surplus is the result of market forces rather than active government policies, while the EC and IMF have called on authorities to rebalance towards domestic sources of economic growth by expanding public investment, using available fiscal space, and other policy choices that boost domestic demand.

Germany is a member of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and is committed to further strengthening its national system for the prevention, detection and suppression of money laundering and terrorist financing.  In 2017, Germany’s Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) was restructured and given more staff. It was transferred to the General Customs Directorate in the Federal Ministry of Finance. At the same time, its tasks and competencies were redefined taking into account the provisions of the Fourth EU Money Laundering Directive.  One focus is now on operational and strategic analysis. On June 26, 2017, legislation to implement the Fourth EU Money Laundering Directive and the European Funds Transfers Regulation (Geldtransfer-Verordnung) entered into force.  (The Act amends the German Money Laundering Act (Geldwäschegesetz – GwG) and a number of further laws).

There is no difficulty in obtaining foreign exchange.

Remittance Policies

There are no restrictions or delays on investment remittances or the inflow or outflow of profits.

Germany is the sixth-largest remittance-sending country worldwide.  Migrants in Germany posted USD 22.09 billion (0.6 percent of GDP) abroad in 2018 (World Bank, Bilateral Remittances Matrix 2018).  The most important receiving states for remittances from Germany are EU neighbors such as France, Poland, and Italy. Around USD 8 billion was sent to developing countries, out of which Lebanon, Vietnam, China, Nigeria and Serbia were the biggest receivers.  Remittance flows into Germany amounted to around USD 17.36 billion in 2017, approximately 0.4 percent of Germany’s GDP.

The issue of remittances played a role during the German G20 Presidency.  During its presidency, Germany passed an updated version of its “G20 National Remittance Plan.”  The document states that Germany’s focus will remain on “consumer protection, linking remittances to financial inclusion, creating enabling regulatory frameworks and generating research and data on diaspora and remittances dynamics.” The 2017 “G20 National Remittance Plan” can be found at https://www.gpfi.org/sites/default/files/documents/2017 percent20G20 percent20Financial percent20Inclusion percent20Action percent20Plan percent20final.pdf    

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The German government does not currently have a sovereign wealth fund or an asset management bureau.  Following German reunification, the federal government set up a public agency to manage the privatization of assets held by the former East Germany.  In 2000, the agency, known as TLG Immobilien, underwent a strategic reorientation from a privatization-focused agency to a profit-focused active portfolio manager of commercial and residential property.  In 2012, the federal government sold TLG Immobilien to private investors.

United Kingdom

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The City of London houses one of the largest and most comprehensive financial centers globally.  London offers all forms of financial services: commercial banking, investment banking, re-insurance, venture capital, private equity, stock and currency brokers, fund managers, commodity dealers, accounting and legal services, as well as electronic clearing and settlement systems and bank payments systems.  London is highly regarded by investors because of its solid regulatory, legal, and tax environments, a supportive market infrastructure, and a dynamic, highly skilled workforce.

The UK government is generally hospitable toward foreign portfolio investment.  Government policies are intended to facilitate the free flow of capital and to support the flow of resources in product and services markets.  Foreign investors are able to obtain credit in local markets at normal market terms, and a wide range of credit instruments are available. The principles underlying legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent, and they are consistent with international standards.  In all cases, regulations have been published and are applied on a non-discriminatory basis by the PRA.

The London Stock Exchange is one of the most active equity markets in the world.  London’s markets have the advantage of bridging the gap between the day’s trading in the Asian markets and the opening of the U.S. market.  This bridge effect is also evident as many Russian and Central European companies have used London stock exchanges to tap global capital markets.  The Alternative Investment Market (AIM), established in 1995 as a sub-market of the London Stock Exchange, is specifically designed for smaller, rapidly expanding companies.  The AIM has a more flexible regulatory system than the main market and has no minimum market capitalization requirements. Since its launch, the AIM has raised more than USD 85 billion (GBP 60 billion) for more than 3,000 companies.

Money and Banking System

The UK banking sector is the largest in Europe.  According to TheCityUK, more than 150 financial services firms from the EU are based in the UK.  As of November 2017, EU banks in the UK held USD 1.9 trillion in assets, which represents a decline of USD 425 billion (or 17 percent) in the span of a year.  The sharp drop was a consequence of the Brexit vote, as European Banks trimmed their exposure to UK assets. The financial and related professional services industry contributed approximately 6.5 percent of UK Economic Output in 2017, employed around 1.1 million people, and contributed some GBP 75 billion in tax revenue in 2017/18, or 10.9 percent of total UK tax receipts.  The impact of Brexit on the financial services industry is uncertain at this time. Some firms have already moved jobs outside the UK, but most believe the UK will maintain its position as a top financial hub.

The Bank of England serves as the central bank of the UK by maintaining monetary and fiscal stability.  According to Bank of England guidelines, foreign banking institutions are legally permitted to establish operations in the UK as subsidiaries or branches.  Responsibilities for the prudential supervision of a non-European Economic Area (EEA) branch are split between the parent’s Home State Supervisors (HSS) and the PRA.  However, the PRA expects the whole firm to meet the PRA’s Threshold Conditions. The PRA has set out its approach to supervising branches and its appetite for allowing international banks to operate as branches in the United Kingdom in this Policy Statement and this Supervisory Statement.  In particular, the PRA expects new non-EEA branches to focus on wholesale banking and to do so at a level that is not critical to the UK economy. The FCA is the conduct regulator for all banks operating in the United Kingdom. For non-EEA branches the FCA’s Threshold Conditions and conduct of business rules apply, including areas such as anti-money laundering.  Eligible deposits placed in non-EEA branches may be covered by the UK deposit guarantee program and therefore non-EEA branches may be subject to regulations concerning UK depositor protection.

Although there are no legal restrictions that prohibit non-UK residents from opening a business bank account, in fact banks refuse to open accounts without proof of residency.  Setting up a business bank account as a non-resident is in principle straightforward. However, in practice most banks will not accept applications from overseas due to fraud concerns and the additional administration costs.  To open a personal bank account, an individual must at minimum present an internationally recognized proof of identification and prove residency in the UK. This is a problem for incoming FDI and American expats. Unless the business or the individual can prove UK residency, they will have limited banking options.

The UK has the most substantial financial services sector in the EU by reason of history, time-zone, language, legal system, critical mass of skill sets, expertise in professional services and London’s cultural appeal.  The UK’s withdrawal from the EU will impact the financial services sector and poses some risk to this financial stability. A period of prolonged uncertainty could increase sterling volatility, the risk-premiums on assets, cost and availability of financing, as well as relationships with EU-based financial institutions.  

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

The British pound sterling is a free-floating currency with no restrictions on its transfer or conversion.  Exchange controls restricting the transfer of funds associated with an investment into or out of the UK are not exercised.

Remittance Policies

Not applicable.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The United Kingdom does not maintain a national wealth fund.  Although there have at time been calls to turn The Crown Estate – created in 1760 by Parliament as a means of funding the British monarchy – into a wealth fund, there are no current plans in motion.  Moreover, with assets of just under USD 12 billion, The Crown Estate would be small in relation to other national funds.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future