Posts in category Business and finance


ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Computer-game tournaments go mainstream

Neymar, watch out

FIREWORKS detonated, smoke wafted over the stage and confetti began to fall. Seventeen thousand fans cheered the European players of Team Liquid, with monikers like “MinD_ContRoL” and “MATUMBAMAN”, who had just triumphed over a Chinese side to win The International, a tournament held in Seattle’s KeyArena on August 7th-12th. In the stands Max Martinez, a 25-year-old bartender from Phoenix, was in a state of nirvana. “This is like my Super Bowl,” he said.

But the players in this tournament had no need to catch, throw or run. Their most important muscles are those in their fingers. MinD_ContRoL, a bespectacled Bulgarian named Ivan Ivanov, excels at a computer game called “Dota 2”. Valve Corporation is the producer of “Dota 2”. It has put on The International since 2011, offering more than $10m to this year’s winners. The prize money is particularly rich, but the tournament itself is not unusual. E-sports, in which computer…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

A trade dispute threatens America’s booming solar industry

LAST year California Solar Systems (CSS), a small installer of residential solar panels, decided to “Buy American”. It turned to Suniva, a Chinese-owned firm that makes photovoltaic panels in Georgia and Michigan, rather than use cheap imports. But according to CSS’s boss, Bastel Wardak, Suniva was unable to deliver what it promised, leading to unacceptable delays. He then tried SolarWorld, a more expensive producer in Oregon whose panels could also be marketed as “Made in the USA”. But troubles at SolarWorld’s German parent put a stop to that. Now Suniva and SolarWorld are seeking new protections from America’s International Trade Commission (ITC). On August 15th Mr Wardak was one of many to testify that the two firms did not deserve them.

The case pits American solar-cell makers against solar-panel installers. It could have big implications. Solar was the biggest source of power-generating capacity built in America last year, thanks to falling prices (see…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusiness and financeFINANCEFinance and economics

Hedge funds try to promote sports betting as an asset class

Chasing the money

WHEN he was 12, Warwick Bartlett bought “100 Famous Greyhound Systems”, a guide for betting on dog races. After spending a year tracking every stratagem and picking the best two, he went to the races to take his first punts. He lost. Mr Bartlett, now the boss of GBGC, a betting consultancy, says it taught him a good lesson: “A system can win for a period of time. And then it’s had its day.”

Two trading companies are trying to prove him wrong. Melbourne-based Priomha Capital, which claims to be the “world’s premier sports hedge fund”, wagers on European football, cricket and golf. Founded in 2010, the firm manages about $20m. Stratagem, a rival based in Britain that styles itself as a technology business, wants to raise $25m from rich individuals.

Both argue that techniques imported from the investment world can help turn sports betting into an alternative asset class. By crunching data, they analyse the pricing…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusiness and financeFINANCEFinance and economics

The Catholic church becomes an impact investor

The pontiff makes an impact

“YOU cannot serve both God and money,” admonishes the Bible. But the church has always tried. In the Middle Ages monasteries were what would now be termed social enterprises. They would produce bread, books or other goods. A Franciscan monk is credited with codifying double-entry book-keeping.

These days the Catholic church and related institutions control many billions of dollars. Some is invested to earn income; some is given away for good works. The two activities have been seen as separate. But, in the pontificate of Pope Francis, that divide is blurring. “Impact” investing—intended to make money and do good at the same time—is growing in importance. It is also creating some controversy.

In 2014 the pope, speaking to a conference in the Vatican on impact investing, called on Christians to rediscover “this precious and primordial unity between profit and solidarity”. His church has responded. Some…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusiness and financeFINANCEFinance and economics

China modernises its monetary policy

QIN SHIHUANG was the emperor who first unified China, through bloody conquest more than two millennia ago. Known for starting the Great Wall and burying scholars alive, he has a new claim to fame: the central bank has drawn on his construction of a national road system to help explain its new monetary system. In a report on August 11th, the People’s Bank of China seized on an idiom derived from his road-building experience: it had “shaved off mountain peaks and filled valleys” in managing liquidity.

The modernisation of monetary policy is in its own way a monumental project for China. Over the past two decades, the central bank’s conduct of policy had two defining features. It focused on the quantity, not the price, of money. And it relied on inflows of foreign cash to generate new money. Both features are now slowly changing, bringing China closer to the norm in developed markets, an essential transition for an increasingly complex economy.

Start with interest rates. These used to be of secondary importance in China. Regulators instead used quotas to dictate how much banks lent and in effect fixed their deposit and lending rates. This made sense when China was in the early stages of moving away from a planned economy. Crude targets were still needed. But as a bigger, rowdier financial system took shape, these targets became less relevant. With the…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusiness and financeFINANCEFinance and economics

The Trump administration is investigating Chinese trade practices

BEING tough on China was a constant theme of President Donald Trump’s election campaign. On August 14th he had another chance to wield his presidential pen to show that he is making good on his promises—in this case of a “zero-tolerance policy on intellectual-property theft and forced technology transfer”. With the cameras rolling, he formally instructed Robert Lighthizer, the United States Trade Representative, to consider launching an investigation into China’s alleged crimes. “This is just the beginning,” was Mr Trump’s final flourish for the news bulletins.

His record of translating signatures into policies is patchy. Two others, launching investigations into whether imports of steel and aluminium threaten America’s national security, seem to have fizzled. But whereas proposals for import restrictions on these commodities met fierce resistance from consumers and America’s allies, China’s trade practices provoke much more agreement. It is one of the few…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Marine contractors have made huge leaps in productivity

Ship shape

THE Innovation, a 147-metre ship docked in Rotterdam, looks like a cross between an oil rig and a robot from a “Transformers” film. Her crane has been loading on giant pipes throughout the night. Soon the ship will travel to sea, where an automated hammer will drive the pipes into the ocean floor to support wind turbines. “Everything in our industry has become larger,” says Koen Vanderbeke of DEME, a Belgian dredging firm that owns the ship. “But we’ve become smarter, too.”

Unlike their counterparts on dry land, marine contractors have made big leaps in productivity in recent years. From dredging and land reclamation to offshore construction of oil platforms, costs have dropped even as the speed and quality of work have increased. In Belgium, home to two of the world’s five biggest dredgers, efficiency gains have been so large that they have skewed productivity figures for the entire building…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Efficiency eludes the construction industry

NINE years ago the first concrete was poured for Berlin Brandenburg airport. It was expected to open in 2012, to cost €1.2bn ($1.8bn) and to welcome 34m passengers each year. Today the only people in its terminals are those with hard hats. Six times over budget, the project has had 66,500 building errors in need of fixing. Last year its spokesman was sacked after calling the project a “shit-show” and saying no manager who was not “addicted to pills” could guarantee an opening date.

Berlin’s airport is an extreme example of a broader problem. Superficially, the construction industry would seem healthy enough. The global market is worth $10trn. Euler Hermes, an insurer, expects 3.5% growth this year. Yet more than 90% of the world’s infrastructure projects are either late or over-budget, says Bent Flyvbjerg of Saïd Business School at Oxford University. Even the sharpest of tech firms suffer. Apple’s new headquarters in Silicon Valley opened two years behind schedule and cost…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

China’s digital-payments giant keeps bank chiefs up at night

IN WESTERN countries it is common to talk about American technology being dominant. From an Asian perspective that seems off. Fresh from visiting the region, where buskers and kerbside fishmongers can be paid by presenting a phone, Schumpeter has found it a shock being back in New York. There, buying most things involves signing bits of paper and PIN numbers are viewed as dangerously transgressive. Only 2% of credit- and debit-card transactions in America are authenticated with PIN numbers; 19bn cheques are written in the country every year.

Asian firms have leapfrogged ahead, offering a new model of financial technology. Exhibit A is Ant Financial, a payments company affiliated with Alibaba, one of China’s two giant internet firms (the other is Tencent, whose WeChat messaging app is ubiquitous and supports payments). Ant is popular in China and has ambitions outside it. Already the world’s most valuable “fintech” firm, worth $60bn, it has 520m payments customers at home and its…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

American business leaders break with Donald Trump

“I’VE never known it to be an embarrassment for a business leader to be associated with an American president,” declares Max Bazerman of Harvard Business School. Donald Trump, in particular, has positioned himself as a businessman-president, whose corporate acumen would unleash a new era for American business. Investors seemed to believe him—his election prompted a giddy “Trump bump” in the stockmarket—and corporate bosses flocked to his side. This week they fled. For many, it seems as much a clear-eyed business calculation as a moral awakening.

Some distanced themselves more quickly than others. The trigger was Mr Trump’s reluctance to condemn neo-Nazis and white supremacists who staged violent protests in Virginia on August 12th. Kenneth Frazier (pictured), chief executive of Merck, a big pharmaceutical firm, was the first to leave Mr Trump’s advisory council on manufacturing. On August 14th Mr Trump denounced racist groups in a scripted statement. But the bosses of Under Armour, a sporting-goods outfit, and Intel, a computer-chip giant, defected, too.

On August 15th Mr Trump appeared once again to equate white supremacists with demonstrators opposing them. As word leaked the next day that chief executives might resign en masse, Mr Trump swiftly tweeted that he was disbanding his manufacturing council and his strategic and policy forum,…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Involuntary bumping seems to be a thing of the past

IF AVIATION had an astrological sign, 2017 would surely be the Year of the Bump. Most infamously, it was the year that a United Airlines passenger who refused to leave an overbooked flight in April was dragged violently from the plane. There followed airline policy changes to reduce involuntary bumping, a novel system to make bumping less inconvenient, and even bipartisan action in Congress to render involuntary bumping illegal.

Such headlines suggest that the practice is spiralling out of control. In fact it is at its lowest level since the government began recording data in 1995, according to a Department of Transportation Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Airlines want tighter control of alcohol sales in British airports

TRYING to stop Britons from boozing can be a forlorn task. Drinking has been woven into the nation’s culture for centuries, from the “loose-tongued” pilgrims of Chaucer to the apprentices who ran amok on London’s streets in the 16th century. According to Susie Dent, a lexicographer, English has 3,000 words for being drunk. Some take that list as a challenge. Whether at football matches or funerals, children’s parties or cheese-rolling, Britons turn almost any occasion into an excuse to get ramsquaddled (thanks, Ms Dent).

A visit to a British airport is a crash course in this culture. Regardless of the time of morning, the bars are full and the English breakfasts come accompanied with pints of Guinness. That is an increasing problem for airlines….Continue reading

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ApprovedBusiness and financeFinance and economics

A firm that shares a name with its founder earns higher profits

A GOOD business name can be pricey. An entrepreneur looking for the perfect one can hire a naming agency to offer ideas, but that can cost tens of thousands of dollars. That may explain why many founders follow the example set by the American President and name their businesses after themselves. A recent article* by academics from the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University in North Carolina suggests that doing so does not just save money—it can also boost profits.

The study looked at small businesses in western Europe. It relied on a sample of almost 2m firms, data for which are contained in a commercial database called Amadeus. The database includes information about owners, managers and financial performance from 2002 to 2012. Firms in the sample tended to be, on average, fairly young, with few shareholders and employees. Checking against the surnames of the largest shareholders, the authors found…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

The problem of contaminated air on planes

AT 30,000 feet the skies may be clear, but the oxygen certainly is not. Anyone who has wheezed his way through a long plane journey will know that cabin air is hardly pristine. Nearly all aircraft draw in air by way of the plane’s engine compressor. It is common for a small amount of oil to leak over the engine, which then contaminates the stuff that passengers and crew members breathe. Most of the 3.5bn passengers who traveled by plane in 2015 were probably exposed to at least a low level of contamination. But frequent exposure can come with debilitating symptoms, including memory impairment, dizziness and vision problems.

A recent study from the University of Stirling and the University of Ulster reveals the scale of the problem. Researchers examined hundreds of aeroplane crew members and discovered a direct link between air contamination and respiratory, cognitive and even neurological health…Continue reading

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