The dismantling of apartheid in South Africa has begun to open doors again for many U.S. companies and securities firms that had been shut out of doing business with state and local governments.
Based on recent figures compiled by the Investor Responsibility Research Center, 152 U.S. companies have employees or direct investment in South Africa. Forty-five, have placed their employees or opened their Offices, or subsidiaries there since July 1991, when former President Bush lifted the 1986 ban on new U.S. investment in South Africa.
Several of the returning companies had disinvested during the 1980s.
The crumbling of apartheid has benefited the under-writing community as well.
"It's a new day and times have changed," said L. Patrick Oden, managing director of CS First Boston and head of the firm's infrastructure group.
CS First Boston occasionally was snagged by some localities with tougher sanctions, mainly because of its ties to Credit Suisse, which had South African links. Although First Boston officials often argued that the ownership structure of the company shielded them from a South African connection, & few local governments still elected to limit dealings with the firm.
But now, we just don't run into that anymore," Oden said, adding that he is not aware of any local sanctions that currently affect the firm's underwriting capabilities.
Recently, for example, CS First Boston bid successfully on an escrow for a Los Angeles refunding and last fall it participated in the winning syndicate for Los Angeles Department of Water and Power bonds. The city's strict policies previously limited First Boston's opportunities to compete.
Kidder, Peabody & Co. and Ltd. man Brothers also participated in the syndicate and benefited from the easing of the Los Angeles ordinance. Kidder's parent company, General Electric Co., and Lehman's parent, American Express both had ties to South Africa.
Until South Africa's efforts in recent years to abolish apartheid, American business there had waned. In the 1980s, disinvestment pressures spurred many U.S. companies and securities firms to sever ties by either selling or closing subsidiaries and offices in South Africa.
Firms that chose to maintain a presence often were penalized because of local and federal government sanctions in the United States. Some underwriters, like CS First Boston, were barred from doing business with localities because of business ties to South Africa, whether direct or through parent company connections.
Indeed, any ties or hints of ties that a securities firm had with South Africa were often used against it by other firms when they were competing for bond business.
In a report this month, the investor research center said, "Of particular concern to U.S. companies, and a major factor in the decisions of many to disinvest from South Africa in the 1980s, were state and local selective contracting policies that made it difficult for companies to obtain local government contracts if they had business ties to South Africa."
Now, however, all that is changing - or has already changed - and opportunities are springing up again for companies that previously were shut out of obtaining certain local contracts.
Los Angeles, for example, quit enforcing its regulations and contract provisions within weeks of Mandela's speech.
Previously, the city disqualified some municipal ordinance firms - all the time or they just didn't bid at all said," Gerald Capodieci, assistant treasurer of the city.
Some firms that bid on bonds hesitated to sign a required disclosure form about South Africa-related business because of uncertainty over what they were signing, Capodieci said. Those companies were disqualified, even if the had no interests in South Africa.
There were also red-tape issues associated with maintaining the ordinance.
"It was a significant task just to maintain a list of South Africa-free companies," Capodieci said. "Where do you draw the line was the permanent question. There's a lot of interconnection between companies."
Shortly after Los Angeles rescinded its regulations, Chicago lifted a ban on city business with firms that have connections to South Africa.
The ordinance, repealed in November, prohibited the city from entering into any bond-related contracts with firms that, during the term of their contract with the city, provided professional services to South Africa, a South African business, or any business for the "express purpose of assisting operations in or trading with any private or public entity located in South Africa."
Ironically, one of the cities that was toughest on South Africa-linked business made an exception for securities firms.
When former New York City Mayor David N. Dinkins signed one of the nation's most stringent contract laws affecting companies doing business in South Africa, it contained a loophole. The law allowed the city, one of the largest general obligation bond issuers in the nation, to use_securities firms that had connections or dealings with South Africa, either though a parent company or a subsidiary.
City officials while sensitive to the concerns raised by anti-apartheid groups argued that they needed the firms to distribute the billions of dollars of debt the city sold each year. However, city officials quietly pressured the firms to either slowly break business ties or develop programs that assisted blacks in South Africa, such as management training and education programs.
With the winds of change picking up South Africa, New York City has now decided to review its contract laws.
Like New York City, Virginia and a number of other governments adopted strict laws that penalized companies that did business in South Africa, but the regulations had minimal effect on securities firms.
State finance officials and dealers in Richmond said Virginia's ban did not affect underwriters serving the state because none were found to have any substantial ties to South Africa. Accordingly, the ban, which was rescinded in September after three years, was not an issue for underwriters while it was in force.
This hasn't created any major problems, and my file is very thin on this," said a spokesman for Paul Timmreck, the state finance secretary.
"I have not heard of any effect whatsoever," said Donald Whitley, manager for PaineWebber Inc. "It has not been an issue of much discussion" among bond underwriters and dealers, he said.
"To my knowledge, the lifting of the ban has not affected us," said A. Lynn Ivey, manager of the public finance department for Scott & Stringfellow Inc, which generally confines its business to Virginia.
Peter Ramsey, manager of public finance for NationsBanc, said his firm was not affected by the ban while serving as financial adviser to the Virginia Port Authority and as, co-manager for some state transportation issues. "We have always been able to bid on Virginia paper," Ramsey said.
Neighboring Delaware had no restrictions pertaining to South Africa the use of underwriters, so recent events have had no effect on its practices according to Debra Von Koch, director of bond finance. Restrictions in Wilmington, which were lifted last fall also did not affect underwriters, according to George Founaris, the city's finance director.