Morning Briefing Global Edition

The Land of Bilk and Money

milk and honey
Foreign companies had some inside help bilking German tax authorities.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    • My Handelsblatt Morning Briefing Global Edition gives you an overview of the most important news from Germany and Europe – in a concise two-minute read.
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  • Facts

    Facts

    • Germany’s Finance Ministry has proposed lowering the maximum guaranteed interest rate for life insurance from 1.25 to 0.9 percent.
    • Commerzbank apparently played an active role in helping foreign investors exploit a tax loophole that artificially lowered German tax payments by around €1 billion annually.
    • Satoshi Nakamoto published the Bitcoin payment system in 2008.
  • Audio

    Audio

  • Pdf

Today Indiana goes to the polls for its presidential primary. Things are looking good for frontrunners Clinton and Trump – with Mr. Humble predicting: “If we win Indiana, it’s over.” And it probably is.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz – aware of his long odds – played down a possible loss. He seemed to quiet his own fears, saying a defeat would still leave him with a chance at the Republican nomination in July. It wasn’t long ago he was calling the Hoosier State a must-win.

Cruz knows how to play the crowd. George W. Bush once said it best: “Some folks look at me and see a certain swagger, which in Texas is called ‘walking.’”

 

Bigger than life U.S. asset managers Blackrock and Vanguard are the lords of capitalism. They think in trillions, not billions. And – with help from banks and financial engineering – know how to hustle an annual €1 billion out of German tax authorities. It’s called “dividend stripping.”

Data obtained by New York-based ProPublica, analyzed by Handelsblatt, German television broadcaster ARD and The Washington Post, unearthed how the deals worked. And it turns out Germany’s No. 2 bank Commerzbank – bailed out with €18.2 billion in taxpayer funds – was one of the biggest marketers of the loophole.

 

That essentially means the guaranteed interest rate no longer guarantees anything.

Who’s benefiting from Europe’s rock-bottom interest rates? German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble. His budget is wondrously robust, while he doles out bad news to others. Now his ministry has proposed the maximum guaranteed interest rate on life insurance be lowered from 1.25 percent to 0.9 percent. That essentially means the guaranteed interest rate no longer guarantees anything.

Germany’s insurance association criticized the move, calling it unnecessary and saying insurers were still earning more than 2 percent returns on investments. As if to prove it, insurer Allianz reported a €2.2-billion surplus for the first three months of the year.

 

The Saudi Binladin Group was once an economic force to be reckoned with on the Arabian Peninsula. That all changed when more than 100 people were killed in a construction site accident in Mecca last year. The Saudi government stopped ordering from the company – founded by the father of late al Qaeda boss Osama bin Laden.

Now a mass layoff of up to 90,000 employees is apparently on the agenda. Disgruntled workers are setting company buses ablaze. It looks like no one can save this dynasty’s image now.

 

“The net we are making is a net that we don’t want. A net of surveillance, data mining and despotism.”

Eben Moglen, Columbia University law professor

Straight from the shoulder at Berlin’s premier Internet activist conference re:publica. “The net we are making is a net that we don’t want. A net of surveillance, data mining and despotism.” That’s what Columbia University law professor Eben Moglen said in his opening speech.

That makes the band Radiohead’s online disappearing act seem logical: empty Facebook page, no Tweets, blank website. But then again, maybe it’s just a gimmick for the launch of their new album.

 

Satoshi Nakamoto. Somehow it sounded sexy. It made sense that Bitcoin, the currency of the Internet age, would be founded by someone living under the alias “Nakamoto.”

But Craig Steven Wright? The Australian computer programmer has revealed that he’s the architect of the cybermoney, saying he wants to do away with the negativity surrounding his invention. Some people doubt whether Mr. Wright is really Mr. Right. One way or another, it looks like Irish author George Bernard Shaw was onto something when he said: “I often quote myself. It adds spice to my conversation.”

 

My Handelsblatt Morning Briefing Global Edition is an e-mail newsletter sent to your inbox at around 6 a.m. Wall Street time. It gives you the most important news from Germany and Europe. To contact me: jakobs@handelsblatt.com

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