ApprovedBusiness and financeFINANCEFinance and economics

Tokyo’s showy tuna auctions do not augur economic growth

KIYOSHI KIMURA does not like to lose. For the past six years he has outbid all comers for the first bluefin tuna of the year sold by Tokyo’s famed Tsukiji fish market. Last week Mr Kimura, who owns a chain of sushi shops, paid ¥74.2m ($642,000) to win the first fish. That nets out to some $3,000 per kilogram.

Folk wisdom has it that high tuna-auction prices signal future economic buoyancy. Mr Kimura has said that he pays the exorbitant prices to “encourage Japan”. But that rationale seems fishy.

After a rival Hong Kong bidder baited him, Mr Kimura paid three times as much for the Tsukiji tuna in 2013 as in the previous year—a record-high ¥155.4m. GDP growth did not replicate that rise, however, sinking from 1.7% to 1.4%. In fact, Japan’s economic fortunes and Tokyo’s season-opening tuna prices seem to float rather erratically (see chart). A deep dive by The Economist suggests that tuna prices explain only 6% of the fluctuation in GDP. The correlation is a red herring.

Environmentalists, meanwhile, are gutted. Bluefin tuna are endangered; stocks have plunged by 97% from their peak,…Continue reading

Read more 0 Comments
ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

A rush to patent the blockchain is a sign of the technology’s promise

FOR fans of bitcoin, a digital currency, the year got off to a volatile start. On January 5th one bitcoin changed hands for nearly $1,150—almost as much as the record set three years ago. It has since dropped by 33%. Elsewhere in the land of monetary bits, things move more slowly but trouble is brewing: a potential patent war looms over the blockchain, a distributed ledger that authenticates and records every bitcoin transaction.

Heated fights over intellectual property are nothing new in promising technology markets. But given that the blockchain is expected to shake up everything from the way precious diamonds are safeguarded to the way shares are traded, the legal fights could be especially fierce.

On the face of it, the blockchain does not lend itself easily to staking out intellectual-property claims. Bitcoin’s creator, known only by his pseudonym, Satoshi Nakamoto, published a paper about his invention, coded the first implementation and then disappeared—meaning that the core of the technology is now part of the public domain and only important additions and variations could be patented. And the blockchain’s components are widely known. In America court decisions as well as a new law on the granting of patents make it difficult to claim ownership for such financial innovations.

This hasn’t stopped firms from trying to get patent…Continue reading

Read more 0 Comments
ApprovedBusiness and financeFINANCEFinance and economics

China’s reputation for low-cost manufacturing under attack

WHEN China was gripped by political turmoil in the 1960s and 1970s, Cao Dewang cut his teeth as an entrepreneur. Mao’s chaotic rule forced him out of school and he took to the street, a scrappy teenager selling fruit and cigarettes. Looking back, Mr Cao has said that it was actually a good time to do business: the government was too busy waging ideological campaigns to enforce its regulations. Mr Cao went on to become a billionaire, as China’s biggest manufacturer of automotive glass. Last month he sparked controversy by complaining that life was tough for businesses in China. There are, he said, far too many regulations—especially taxes and fees. These days the government is much more effective in enforcing them.

Mr Cao hit a nerve with his claim that it was more costly to run a business in China than in America. He should know. His company, Fuyao Glass, bought an old General Motors factory in Ohio in 2014 and announced plans to invest $200m there. Mr Cao claimed that the overall tax on manufacturers is 35% higher in China than in America. Once China’s higher land and energy costs are factored in, the advantages of its lower labour costs…Continue reading

Read more 0 Comments
ApprovedBusiness and financeFINANCEFinance and economics

Singapore tries to become a fintech hub

IN AN era when architectural masterpieces curve and bloom (Zaha Hadid), or shimmy and fold (Frank Gehry), designers of central-bank buildings remain reassuringly fond of right angles. The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), the city-state’s central bank and financial regulator, is housed in a boxy tower just south of the central business district. But tucked into one corner is a room called “LookingGlass@MAS” that desperately wants to be Silicon Valley: witness the scruffily dressed young men, whiteboards on wheels covered in buzzwords and the kitchen along one wall.

This is the MAS’s fintech lab, where Singapore is trying to put its own twist on the technologies disrupting the financial sector. A report from Citigroup published in 2016 warned that as fintech lets customers do more online and cuts into banks’ lending and payments activities, European and American banks could lose almost 2m jobs in the next ten years. Similar fears stalk Singapore, home to more than 200 banks, and dependent on finance for 12.6% of GDP.

In London, Berlin and San Francisco, many fintech innovators are betting against the big banks. Singapore,…Continue reading

Read more 0 Comments
ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

A handful of startups are launching ride-hailing for children

“HELICOPTER parent” may sound like an insult, but given the chance, most parents would probably opt for the help of a chopper to zoom little ones between school, football practice and piano lessons. Getting children where they need to go is a huge hassle and expense, especially in homes where both parents work. Hailing rides through firms like Uber and Lyft has made life more convenient for adults. But drivers are not supposed to pick up unaccompanied minors (although some are known to bend the rules).

Youngsters represent a fresh-faced opportunity. Ride-hailing for kids could be a market worth at least $50bn in America, hopes Ritu Narayan, the founder of Zum, one of the startups pursuing the prize. These services are similar to Uber’s, except they allow parents to schedule rides for their children in advance. Children are given a code word to ensure they find the right driver, and parents receive alerts about the pick-up and ride, including the car’s speed. These services promise more rigorous background checks, fingerprinting and training than typical ride-hailing companies.

Annette Yolas, who works in sales at AT&T, a wireless…Continue reading

Read more 0 Comments
ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Africa’s largest iron-ore deposit has tainted all who have touched it

Now everyone sees red

ON THE flanks of the Simandou mountains in south-eastern Guinea live remote colonies of West African chimpanzees. They alone should be grinning over the fate of those who have sought to turn their tropical habitat into Africa’s biggest iron-ore mine. No one else is laughing. Rarely has such a group of billionaires, hedge-fund barons, mining firms, government officials and go-betweens been snagged in such a woeful saga.

In theory, the prospect of digging up 2bn tonnes of ore from a country that is among the poorest on Earth should be encouraging, if corruption is kept in check. The government of Alpha Condé promised to do so upon taking office in 2010. But in reality the line between paying go-betweens to help win concessions and lining officials’ pockets is so blurry that it can cause mining firms endless trouble.

In recent months the plotline has shifted. During the past half-decade the businessman painted as the saga’s pantomime villain has been Beny Steinmetz, a globe-trotting Israeli diamond merchant, worth billions, whose lurid battles over Simandou with Rio Tinto, one of the…Continue reading

Read more 0 Comments
ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

A controversial transaction sits at the heart of Liberty Media’s takeover of Formula One

ON JANUARY 17th shareholders of Liberty Media Corporation, an American firm controlled by John Malone, a billionaire, are expected to approve a transaction that many hail as the sports deal of the decade. In September 2016 Liberty agreed to buy the Formula One (F1) motor-racing franchise from CVC, a private-equity group, for $8bn. F1, which generates annual revenue of $1.8bn, is now central to Liberty’s global plans: in a sign of the importance he attaches to the deal, Mr Malone has installed Chase Carey, a former president of Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox, as F1 chairman. The main Liberty subsidiary is to be renamed Formula One Group.

The deal has lots of attractions. For F1 it offers a potential solution to the problem of who will take over from Bernie Ecclestone, its 86-year-old impresario. There was no credible succession plan for the man whose wheeling and dealing has long held together the sport and its fractious collection of racing teams. With Mr Carey leading the search, there could be.

As for Liberty, F1 offers the sort of live, exclusive content it needs to lock in audiences that are peeling off to on-demand streaming…Continue reading

Read more 0 Comments
ApprovedBusiness and financeFINANCEFinance and economics

Argentina is admitted to a widely tracked bond index

EMERGING markets have not been the same without Argentina, a country that embodies the promise and peril, the romance and the rockiness of the asset class. In 1988 it was one of the ten original members of the most popular emerging-market equity index, introduced by MSCI. In the late 1990s it was also the biggest member of the benchmark-bond indices compiled by JPMorgan Chase. But once it defaulted at the end of 2001, Argentina was exiled from global debt markets. And after it subsequently imposed capital controls on “hot money”, its shares suffered a similar banishment, ejected from MSCI’s index in 2009. It became a remote “frontier market”, like countries such as Bangladesh.

Since Mauricio Macri succeeded Cristina Fernández de Kirchner as president at the end of 2015, Argentina has been finding its way back from the financial periphery. It has floated its currency and lifted capital controls, recently abolishing a remaining requirement that foreign investors keep their money in the country for at least 120 days. In April the government sold $16.5bn of dollar bonds to international investors in a single day (a record for an…Continue reading

Read more 0 Comments
ApprovedBusiness and financeFINANCEFinance and economics

Inflation is on the way back in the rich world, and that is good news

IT WAS telling that Germany, a country with a phobia of rising prices, in the first week of 2017 reported a jump in inflation. Its headline rate rose from 0.8% to 1.7% in December. After two years of unusually low price pressures, inflation across the rich world is set to revive this year. Much of this is because of the oil price, which fell below $30 a barrel in the early months of 2016 but has recently risen above $50 (see chart). Underlying inflation, too, seems poised to drift up. That is good news. The story for 2017 is not of inflation running too hot but rather of a welcome easing of fears of deflation.

To understand why, consider the three big drivers of inflation in the rich world: the price of imports, capacity pressures in the domestic economy and the public’s expectations. Start with imported inflation. A year ago, global goods prices were falling because of a slide in aggregate demand and a seemingly endless glut of basic commodities and manufactures. China’s economy wobbled. Emerging markets in general were in a funk; two of the largest, Brazil and Russia, were deep in recession.

Things look perkier now. Emerging markets…Continue reading

Read more 0 Comments