Old policies force funeral insurance group Yarden to dig into reserves: FD

Funeral insurance group Yarden is in trouble and its financial buffers have sunk to 'alarming levels', the Financieele Dagblad said on Monday. The third biggest Dutch funeral group has made several efforts to strengthen its capital base, on the orders of the Dutch central bank, but these have so far failed to book the desired results, the paper said. Yarden, which has a workforce of 700 and one million policy holders both insures against funeral costs and operates crematoria, and has run into trouble with a portfolio of old policies. The portfolio is made up of 'natura' policies, which guarantee to provide a complete funeral, including coffin, car and cake, rather than a fixed amount of money, but the value no longer reflects the cost of a funeral, the FD said. In 2007 the company changed the conditions of the policies, limiting them to a fixed amount of money - €3,733. Policyholders went to court and won, forcing Yarden to provide full funerals instead. The company has set aside €84m to pay for this, but insiders told the FD that the true figure should be nearer €200m. Yarden director Ron Bavelaar told the FD that the company does not have a liquidity problem. The solvency ratio is under pressure from 'the make-up of the portfolio, low interest rates and new rules for funeral insurers,' he said. Yarden and the central bank have been working to build up the buffers for two years, he said.  More >

Hudson's Bay to close Saks Off Fifth in NL

Hudson's Bay offshoot Saks Off 5th is closing its doors in Amsterdam and Rotterdam at the end of June, the company said on Wednesday, via Instagram. 'After saying goodbye to Germany we are sad to announce that Saks OFF 5TH will be leaving the Netherlands as well towards the end of June!  But there will be a big final sale,' the company said in a short statement. The news follows mounting speculation that the company's European expansion is in trouble. Last week, German paper WirtschaftsWoche reported the parent company of Hudson's Bay's European operations was considering closing shops in the Netherlands this year, or letting the company go bankrupt. And at the end of last year, the Telegraaf reported that the new owners - German retail group Karstadt - are 'extremely concerned’ about the major investments the company is making in the Netherlands and the disappointing earnings. The paper based its claims on internal documents which show the company has lost more than €80m in the Netherlands this year. At the end of 2017, the company changed its strategy in the Netherlands to bring in cheaper product lines and last February plans to open a total of 20 department stores were scrapped. Hudson’s Bay currently operates 13 stores in the Netherlands. Many of these are located in premises which were used by the V&D department store chain before it went bust. The first store opened in September 2017.   More >

Cuts loom, warn big Dutch pension funds

Some of the biggest Dutch corporate pension funds are warning that cuts are still likely next year, despite booking good results in the last few months. Pension funds are required to have assets equal to at least 104% of their liabilities but the big funds are all below this, as low interest rates continue to have an impact. The giant civil service and healthcare pension funds ABP and Zorg en Welzijn currently have coverage ratios of 99%, while engineering fund PMT is sitting on 100%. ‘Interest rates have reached their lowest level since Zorg en Welzijn was set up,’ director Peter Borgdorff said in the new quarterly update. ‘The risk of having to make cuts has never been greater.’ Borgdorff told broadcaster NOS that it now even more imperative that ministers, employers, unions and pension funds work out ways of ensuring the Dutch pension system is future-proof. Talks The talks collapsed at the end of last year when the three big unions pulled out. The unions say the government is not doing enough to meet their demands for a slower rise in the official retirement age – which is going up in line with life expectancy projections and is set to reach 67 by 2021. Experts believe that the Dutch pension system – a combination of a state pension (AOW) and corporate pension schemes – needs to be reformed because the aging population is putting more pressure on the current pension system and pension funds are having to pay out to more people for longer. The rise in self-employment is also having an impact, with fewer people paying into company and sector-wide schemes.  More >

Dutch start-up women strike back

‘Pregnant and running a company with all those hormones? I feel sorry for your husband' and 'we must keep using your pretty face because it won't last for ever' - these are just two examples of sexist comments recently directed at female entrepreneurs in the Netherlands, the Financieele Dagblad said on Wednesday. A group of business women began collecting examples of the sexist behaviour of potential investors earlier this year, in reaction to a recent report about the financing of start-ups launched by women. That report concluded start-ups led by men are far more likely than those let by women or mixed teams to get funding from venture capital groups. The researchers analysed the investments made by 40 funds and found that just 1.6% of the start-ups they put money into were led by women. Just 6.8% had a mixed team at the helm. The comment list was started by Eline Leijten, who founded the artist booking platform Plugify and gathered 29 comments within a week, the FD said. The experiences ranged from unwanted sexual approaches to incredulity about a €1m turnover target and questions about children. The start-up research, published last September, also led junior economic affairs minister Mona Keijzer to take steps to change the male dominance of government committees set up to award grants and subsidies to start-ups.  More >

MPs back changes to corporate tax rules

There is majority support in parliament to change the rules governing corporate losses so that companies like Shell would have to pay tax on its profits in the Netherlands, the Financieele Dagblad said on Wednesday. The left-wing green GroenLinks, the socialist party SP and the Labour party PvdA have submitted a motion which would change the current rules and can count of the support of two coalition parties - D66 and ChristenUnie - the paper says. 'We are not angry with Shell, but we have to change the law,' GroenLinks MP Bart Snels told BNR radio. 'All multinationals do is use the laws which we make.' The move follows revelations made by Trouw last year in which it emerged Shell is unlikely to pay any corporation tax in the Netherlands, apart from via its 50% share in gas company NAM. Shell and other multinationals make use of a tax provision which allows them to write off losses incurred when liquidating a foreign subsidiary from their Dutch profits. But Snels argues this goes against other tax regulations aimed at preventing subsidiaries being held liable for tax in more than one country. The measure has now been put out to public consultation and MPs on the parliamentary finance committee will discuss the issue with industry representatives on Thursday.  More >

Gas imports outstrip domestic production

Gas imports outstripped Dutch produced gas for the first time last year, as the government continues to phase out production in the Groningen fields. Overall, energy consumption in the Netherlands fell slightly, due in the main to a reduction in the amount of coal used in coal-fired power stations, which fell for the third year in a row. Gas accounted for 40% of total energy usage, oil just under 40% and coal 11%. The rest came from renewable sources, nuclear power, waste processing and imports. Last year the amount of gas extracted from under Groningen province fell 16%, the fifth successive year of decline. The government is phasing out the use of Groningen gas because of the earthquakes caused as the ground settles. The government has also launched an ambitious but controversial plan to phase out the use of gas in the Netherlands. It has already removed the requirement that all new homes be connected to the gas grid.  More >

New rules on taxing savings on their way

The cabinet is looking into ways of cutting the amount of tax paid by people whose assets are primarily in the form of savings, tax minister Menno Snel has told MPs. The government currently uses 'fictitious interest rates' of upwards of 2% to decide how much income people have from their assets, and levies tax of 30% on that amount. Currently, most savings accounts have interest rates of around zero and people are paying tax on income they don't have. Snel told MPs he wants to try to remedy this. One option would be to levy tax based on the actual interest earned on savings, while continuing to tax property and other investments at the fictitious rates, Snel told MPs. Snel says he hopes to present the plans to parliament along with the rest of the budget in September.  More >