Courtesy Reuters

Global Financial Centers


The transformation of global capital markets into a new supranational order is continuing apace despite the current market crisis. Nationally based financial operations are shrinking and internationally oriented operations are taking their place. Globalization usually implies decentralization. But while the international network of financial centers is indeed expanding, a leaner system dominated by a handful of strategic cities is evolving. As financial operations disperse around the world, only a few cities will have the resources to be dominant. First among them are London and New York, with their enormous concentrations of resources and talent. These two will conduct the most critical and complex financial operations of the future. A secondary network of smaller economic capitals will be headed by Frankfurt, boosted by Europe's economic and monetary union. The ultimate status of battered Hong Kong and Tokyo remains murky as markets wait to see what will be left in the wake of the Asian crisis. Although Singapore and Sydney are strengthening their positions, it is difficult to imagine them replacing Tokyo's resources and Hong Kong's expertise.

The emerging financial system will sharply differ from earlier versions, which were strings of closed domestic markets with a few scattered global centers such as the offshore markets and Swiss international banking. Traditionally, each national center duplicated all financial functions for its own economy, and collaboration between national markets was crude and rare. Today, however, cooperation is on the rise. Leading financial services firms are now setting up operations across the globe while traditional national centers are becoming home to foreign firms with global operations. Leading cities like London and New York are executing complex operations for firms and governments from myriad countries, packaging capital in innovative ways while working with secondary cities through affiliates and direct exports of financial services. In contrast, other cities in the global network are playing "gateway" roles, such as monitoring capital flows or issuing bonds. One example is Argentina's $1 billion government bond in November, the

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