Posts in category Business


ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

It is easier than ever to fund an indie film, but harder than ever to get people to see it

Atypical success

IT MIGHT seem a great time for indie cinema. The Academy Awards on February 26th will be something of a showcase for films not financed by a major studio. “Manchester by the Sea”, a contender for six Oscars, including best picture, was a darling of the Sundance Film Festival last year. Kenneth Lonergan’s masterpiece (one scene is pictured) about family and loss has earned $46m in cinemas in America and Canada, a spectacular return on its production costs of $8.5m. Amazon, which bought distribution rights, will benefit.

Movie buffs can find all manner of films online that are made more cheaply still. “The Break-In”, a horror film shot by Justin Doescher on his girlfriend’s iPhone for less than $20, has earned him more than $20,000, with more than half a million people having watched at least part of it on Amazon’s streaming-video platform.

For every success story there are thousands of indie films that go unwatched. The digital age has made it easier than ever to make a film, but also harder than ever to break through the clutter of entertainment options to an audience. Chris Moore, a…Continue reading

Read more 0 Comments
ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

The rise of artificial intelligence is creating new variety in the chip market, and trouble for Intel

“WE ALMOST went out of business several times.” Usually founders don’t talk about their company’s near-death experiences. But Jen-Hsun Huang, the boss of Nvidia, has no reason to be coy. His firm, which develops microprocessors and related software, is on a winning streak. In the past quarter its revenues increased by 55%, reaching $2.2bn, and in the past 12 months its share price has almost quadrupled.

A big part of Nvidia’s success is because demand is growing quickly for its chips, called graphics processing units (GPUs), which turn personal computers into fast gaming devices. But the GPUs also have new destinations: notably data centres where artificial-intelligence (AI) programmes gobble up the vast quantities of computing power that they generate.

Soaring sales of these chips (see chart) are the clearest sign yet of a secular shift in information technology. The architecture of computing is fragmenting…Continue reading

Read more 0 Comments
ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

India’s hostels for the upwardly mobile

Rite of passage

IF SEVERAL hundred million Indians do migrate from the countryside to cities between now and 2050, as the UN expects, it will be a fiendishly busy few decades for Vivek Aher, who runs a low-cost hostel, one of five, on the outskirts of Pune, a well-off city three hours’ drive from Mumbai. A fair few of the new arrivals will have their first experience of urban living bunking in one of the hostels’ 1,350 beds. Should recent experience be anything to go by, most of the new arrivals will test Mr Aher’s patience by tacking posters on his hostel’s walls, or endlessly complaining about the Wi-Fi.

India has two main drags on economic growth. One is the difficulty of finding a job, especially in the places people live. The other is a chronic shortage of cheap housing. Aarusha Homes, Mr Aher’s employer, started in 2007 to help people seize economic opportunities far from home. Its rooms are basic and cheap. They include up to six beds, a bathroom for every three or four residents, some common areas and little else. Rent ranges between 3,500 and 10,000 rupees ($52-$149) a month including food.

Most…Continue reading

Read more 0 Comments
ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Toymakers bounce back in the land of adult nappies

WILLIAM ELLIOT GRIFFIS, an American educator who travelled to Japan in the 1870s, noted that in the previous two and a half centuries, “the main business of this nation was play”. He described toyshops filled as full as Christmas stockings and plenty of grown-ups “indulging in amusements which the men of the West lay aside with their pinafores”.

Griffis would have found it familiar walking today around Hakuhinkan Toy Park, one of the largest toy stores in Tokyo. Teens, office workers and grandparents are mostly to be seen perusing its 200,000-odd knick-knacks across five floors. Its director, Hiroyuki Itoh, says he wants the store to be a place where everyone can play. After work, suited salarymen come to spend ¥200 (under $2) for a five-minute whizz around a 36-metre slot-car racetrack. In another corner a gaggle of university students fiddle with displays of toys from the era of their childhoods.

Playthings aimed at the over-20s make up 27% of Japan’s domestic toy sales, according to figures from Euromonitor, a market-research firm. That grown-up portion of the market has been crucial for Japan’s three biggest players,…Continue reading

Read more 0 Comments
ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

3G missed Unilever but its methods are spreading

Rejected suitor

JORGE PAULO LEMANN (pictured), a Brazilian investor, is ill-accustomed to failure. On February 17th Kraft Heinz, backed by Mr Lemann’s 3G Capital, said it had bid $143bn for Unilever, a maker of food and personal products. 3G has gobbled many a consumer firm, slashed costs, then bought an even bigger one. Even so, the Unilever bid was surprising in its audacity—the merger would have been the second-largest ever. As shocking, it collapsed two days later.

Kraft Heinz had hoped to continue talks in private, but news of its offer leaked out. Its management appeared to have badly misjudged the depth of Unilever’s attachment to its culture and its pursuit of long-term, “sustainable” growth. Unilever’s outright rejection meant that 3G and Warren Buffett, who was expected to help fund a deal, faced the prospect of going hostile against a revered firm. It was a rare stumble. But the episode doesn’t spell the end of its model. More deals are likely. And Kraft Heinz is already changing how Unilever and other rivals operate.

Times are hard for big consumer companies, once among the world’s…Continue reading

Read more 0 Comments
ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Are technology firms madly overvalued?

IS THE technology industry in La La Land? There are alarming signs. House prices in San Francisco have risen by 66% more than in New York over the past five years. Even at the height of the dotcom bubble in 2001, the gap was lower, at 58%. Shares of technology firms trade on their highest ratio to sales since the turn of the century. Four of the world’s most valuable firms are tech companies: Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft and Amazon. Snap, a tiddler with $400m of sales and $700m of cash losses in 2016, is expected to list shares on March 1st that will give it a valuation of over $20bn.

For companies and investors in any industry, it is hard to work out if you are living in a bubble. To help, Schumpeter has created three sanity tests for global tech firms. These examine their cashflow, whether investors differentiate between companies, and whether forecasts of their future earnings suffer from a fallacy of composition. The exercise suggests that tech valuations are frothy, but not bubbling.

The first test is cashflow, and the industry passes it with flying colours. In 2001 about half of all listed tech firms were unable to convert…Continue reading

Read more 0 Comments
ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

The rise of “deep-tech” is boosting Paris’s startup scene

EUROPE will never create a hub of tech firms and investors to rival Silicon Valley, many experts on entrepreneurship concur. Its markets are still fragmented along national lines, flows of capital into the region are limited and because of lingering, conservative attitudes to risk, few startups grow to rival American champions. “Europe is toxic”, argues Oussama Ammar, an outspoken founder of an incubator in Paris. “Life that should happen, does not happen”, he says.

But some digital life does flourish, spread among cities rather than fixing in one spot. Fintech firms cluster in London. Gamers and music-sharing sites do well in the Nordic countries. Berlin has a crop of companies that go beyond the kind of me-too consumer sites incubated by Rocket Internet, a notorious startup factory: new companies with expertise in the “internet of things”, for example. Milan, with strong medical universities, has flourishing biotech startups.

The most striking case of fresh growth is in Paris. Mention of France has long elicited sighs from venture capitalists. Its rigid labour laws and hefty taxes on wealth and on stock options have meant that…Continue reading

Read more 0 Comments
ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Samsung’s boss is arrested on bribery charges

IN ONE of the many interrogations Lee Jae-yong has undergone in connection with a presidential influence-peddling scandal, he said that he would surrender management control of Samsung, the South Korean electronics giant that he is running on behalf of his incapacitated father, Lee Kun-hee, “if there is anyone better than me”. He may now be forced to do so. On February 17th Mr Lee was arrested on suspicion of bribery, embezzlement, perjury, moving assets abroad illegally and concealing evidence of criminal profit, after a local court agreed to a request from a special prosecution team for a pre-trial detention.

Last month investigators accused Mr Lee of paying 43bn won ($36m) in bribes to organisations tied to Choi Soon-sil, a confidante of South Korea’s president, Park Geun-hye (who is herself under investigation by the constitutional court). The prosecution team’s first request for a pre-trial arrest warrant was rejected. But the court reversed its decision, it said today, after prosecutors put forward additional evidence. (The court denied, however, a request to arrest another Samsung executive, Park Sang-jin, on similar charges.) The move…Continue reading

Read more 0 Comments
ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Traditional media firms are enjoying a Trump bump

DONALD TRUMP calls it the “failing” New York Times in his tweets, but his presidency has breathed new life into the newspaper and other mainstream media outlets. The New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal have all received boosts in subscriptions and page views; cable news networks, such as CNN and the Fox News Channel, are getting huge increases in viewers at a time when most other channels are losing them; and even the long-suffering stocks of newspaper companies are rallying. Since the election shares in the New York Times Co have risen by 42%, outperforming even the mighty Goldman Sachs.

Why the boost? The unprecedented nature of political events has kept American eyeballs glued to pages and screens. The pace of change, especially since the election, compels Mr Trump’s fans and foes alike to stay abreast of developments. Many do so using Twitter (see article). But…Continue reading

Read more 0 Comments
ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

New models for new media

Not watching Twitter

FOR months Twitter, the micro-blogging service, has received the kind of free attention of which most companies can only dream. Politicians, corporate bosses, activists and citizens turn to the platform to catch every tweet of America’s new president, who has become the service’s de facto spokesman. “The whole world is watching Twitter,” boasted Jack Dorsey (pictured), the company’s chief executive, as he presented its results on February 9th. He has little else to brag about.

But Donald Trump has not provided the kind of boost the struggling firm really needs. It reported slowing revenue growth and a loss of $167m. User growth has been sluggish, too: it added just 2m users in that period. Facebook added 72m. The day of the results, shares in Twitter dropped by 12%. Because news outlets around the world already report on Mr Trump’s most sensational tweets, many do not feel compelled to join the platform to discover them. Others are put off by mobs of trolls and reams of misinformation.

And not even Mr Trump could change the cold, hard truth about Twitter: that it can never be…Continue reading

Read more 0 Comments
ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

France’s PSA Group may plan to buy Opel, GM’s European operation

AFTER sweeping past a significant milestone, drivers rarely slam their vehicles into reverse. Yet General Motors (GM), which last year joined Toyota and Volkswagen in an elite group that sells over 10m vehicles a year, may be on the brink of such a manoeuvre. On February 14th the American firm and PSA Group, which makes Peugeots and Citroëns, sprang a surprise by confirming that they were in talks that could lead to the French carmaker buying GM’s European operation. GM’s decision to downsize has many merits, but the advantages of getting bigger are much less clear-cut for its European counterpart.

The two carmakers say a deal for Opel (which carries the Vauxhall brand in Britain) is only a possibility. But GM’s global might is not reflected at Opel, and it is probably keen to offload a carmaker that it has owned for nearly 90 years. Opel has done little other than disappoint in the recent past. Its 6% share of the European market puts it behind seven other brands and the business has lost money for years.

GM has considered offloading Opel before. In 2009, as it struggled in bankruptcy protection in the wake of the financial…Continue reading

Read more 0 Comments
ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Planet’s satellites offer customers a new world view every day

BUILT by the Indian Space Research Organisation, the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle threw itself into the sky at 3.58am GMT on February 15th. It took with it a record-breaking 104 satellites—88 of which belonged to a single company, Planet, a remote sensing business based in San Francisco. Planet now has 149 satellites in orbit—enough for it to provide its customers with new moderately detailed images of all the Earth’s land surface every single day.

The satellites Planet makes—it calls them “doves”—measure 10cm by 10cm by 30cm. The first doves, launched five years ago, could send back pictures of just 3,000 square kilometres a day. But the satellites have followed a trajectory of improvement much closer to that seen in cell-phones—from which they get some of their components—than the established satellite industry. The latest doves can cover 2.5m square kilometres a day.

The expanded fleet of satellites will send over 3 terabytes of data a day to more than 30 receiver stations spread around the Earth. After processing to remove distortions and to locate each image, the data will be in the cloud and ready for the company’s…Continue reading

Read more 0 Comments
ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Electric cars are set to arrive far more speedily than anticipated

THE high-pitched whirr of an electric car may not stir the soul like the bellow and growl of an internal combustion engine (ICE). But to compensate, electric motors give even the humblest cars explosive acceleration. Electric cars are similarly set for rapid forward thrust. Improving technology and tightening regulations on emissions from ICEs is about to propel electric vehicles (EVs) from a niche to the mainstream. After more than a century of reliance on fossil fuels, however, the route from petrol power to volts will be a tough one for carmakers to navigate.

The change of gear is recent. One car in a hundred sold today is powered by electricity. The proportion of EVs on the world’s roads is still well below 1%. Most forecasters had reckoned that by 2025 that would rise to around 4%. Those estimates are undergoing a big overhaul as carmakers announce huge expansions in their production of EVs. Morgan Stanley, a bank, now says that by 2025 EV sales will hit 7m a year and make up 7% of vehicles on the road. Exane BNP Paribas, another bank, reckons that it could be more like 11% (see chart). But as carmakers plan for ever more battery power, even…Continue reading

Read more 0 Comments
ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Sales of green vehicles are booming in Norway

TO JUDGE by the gleaming rows of Teslas, Nissan Leafs and other electric cars parked in the snow in central Oslo, Norwegians might already have given up on the internal combustion engine. Before long they probably will. Battery-powered cars and plug-in hybrids together accounted for 29% of all new car sales last year. The 100,000th battery-powered unit sold in December.

Norway first introduced tax perks to boost the electric-car market in the 1990s. But sales only sparked in the past five years or so after slicker vehicles with better batteries appeared. Now the country’s 5m citizens constitute the most developed national market for electric cars anywhere. Christina Bu, who heads the country’s association for electric cars, expects 400,000 electric-only vehicles on the roads by 2020, and predicts 70% of new sales will be of zero-emission cars. As range increases and price falls, demand will rise faster.

Though less than 5% of the total fleet of cars in Norway are electric, the country’s transport minister calls it “realistic” to expect an end to sales of new cars powered by fossil fuels by 2025. Fiscal incentives, not an…Continue reading

Read more 0 Comments
ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Investors flock to buy a piece of Mexico’s leading tequila-maker

OVER the course of more than 200 years in the tequila business, Jose Cuervo will have been responsible for a fair few moments of giddy pleasure. Last week, it got one of its own thanks to a successful initial public offering (IPO). It was eight times oversubscribed and raised 18.6bn pesos ($920m) in exchange for 15% of the company.

Jose Cuervo, which is based in the western state of Jalisco, is one of the country’s best-known brands, and has been run by the same family for 11 generations. It dominates the Mexican tequila industry; sales in 2015 came to 18.5bn pesos. It also holds an assured place in the history of mixology: the original margarita cocktails were purportedly made with Jose Cuervo tequila.

Long considered a candidate for flotation, it eventually published a prospectus in September 2016. The IPO was delayed, though, seemingly to allow the company to take stock of the impact of Donald Trump’s election victory in November. Since then the peso has dropped over 10% against the dollar, and Mr Trump’s desire to rework, even to rip up, the North Atlantic Free-Trade Agreement, and perhaps impose a border tax on Mexican exports to America has sent…Continue reading

Read more 0 Comments
ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Tata’s governance is still faulty

Chandra in, Cyrus out

PROFIT is to good corporate governance what tides are to swimming trunks: when the former is high, absence of the latter tends to go unnoticed. The ebbing of profits at Tata, India’s largest conglomerate, in recent years has prompted a power struggle that in turn has exposed the often dysfunctional relationship between several dozen businesses, holding companies, people and charities that use the Tata name. The struggle is now over: on February 6th, Cyrus Mistry, Tata’s boss until last October (pictured on next page, on the right) was finally booted out of the company. Natarajan Chandrasekaran (on the left), the boss of one of the group’s key operating firms, Tata Consultancy Services, takes over as chairman on February 21st.

Executives at the 149-year-old group hope that will close a grim chapter in its history. Mr Mistry, whose family owns an 18% stake in Tata Sons, the main holding company, which is unlisted, reacted badly to being evicted as its chairman last year. The move to oust him was set in motion by Ratan Tata, the group’s 79-year old patriarch (and Mr Mistry’s interim successor)….Continue reading

Read more 0 Comments
ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Ralph Lauren and Macy’s tell a similar tale of woe

NEW YORK’s fashion week, which will start on February 9th, promises the usual show of glamour, but a more fascinating industry display came a week earlier. On February 2nd Ralph Lauren, a well-known brand, said that the executive it had hired in 2015 to overhaul its business would leave. On February 3rd the Wall Street Journal reported that Macy’s, America’s biggest department store, might be bought by Hudson’s Bay, a smaller Canadian rival. Each is an institution of American retailing. Each is a reminder of how hard it is to keep pace.

Consumer habits have changed especially rapidly in their world. Frocks, bags and shoes are now disproportionately bought online compared with other goods. Last year clothes and accessories accounted for a fifth of e-commerce, estimates Cowen, a financial-services firm; far higher than their 8% share of total retail spending. Cowen expects Amazon to surpass Macy’s as America’s top clothing seller this year.

For manufacturers, such as Ralph Lauren, the picture is more mixed. For some clothing firms, particularly small ones, Amazon offers a new way to reach…Continue reading

Read more 0 Comments
ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Internet firms’ legal immunity is under threat

GOOGLE, Facebook and other online giants like to see their rapid rise as the product of their founders’ brilliance. Others argue that their success is more a result of lucky timing and network effects—the economic forces that tend to make bigger firms even bigger. Often forgotten is a third reason for their triumph: in America and, to some extent, in Europe, online platforms have been inhabiting a parallel legal universe. Broadly speaking, they are not legally responsible, either for what their users do or for the harm that their services can cause in the real world.

It is becoming ever clearer, however, that this era of digital exceptionalism cannot last for ever. Governments and courts are chipping away at the sovereignty of internet firms, and public opinion is pushing them to police themselves better. Given their growing heft, this shift is likely not just to continue but to accelerate.

When the internet went mainstream in the mid-1990s, online firms feared being held liable if their services were used in illegal ways—for instance, when subscribers posted copyrighted content or defamatory information. The danger was underlined in…Continue reading

Read more 0 Comments
ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Snow-making companies in a warming world

Better than mud

THE creamy glide of fresh powder sends skiing enthusiasts into ecstasies. Scraping over brown patches and dodging lumpen rocks inspires far less enthusiasm. Thousands of families will hit Europe’s slopes this month, hoping that snow conditions will be more favourable than at the start of the season in December. A warming world is changing precisely how, when and where snow falls. For the winter-sports industry, such shifts could hit profits harder than a springtime avalanche.

The snowfall season has become shorter in places such as the Alps, says David Robinson of Rutgers University in New Jersey, as snow arrives later and melts earlier than it once did. Resorts at lower altitudes are among the most vulnerable. Since the 1970s the duration of the snow season, averaged over the northern hemisphere, has declined by five days a decade, according to the European Environment Agency. Huge regional variation exists, however, both in Europe and elsewhere. Californian slopes that were unable to open in recent years because of snow shortages had to close at the start of 2017 because too much of the stuff had…Continue reading

Read more 0 Comments
ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Grab battles Uber in South-East Asia

Overtaking manoeuvres

SCOOTER-DRIVERS in bright green helmets enliven the dusk of rush hour in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s commercial centre. This conspicuous fleet is carrying round clients of Grab, a South-East Asian ride-hailing firm. Its operations, connecting travellers with taxis, private cars and motorbike taxis in six countries, straddle a region that is twice as populous as America and swiftly urbanising. Its future seems assured, if it can compete with Uber, a deep-pocketed American competitor.

Grab started life at Harvard Business School, where its 34-year-old boss, Anthony Tan, met his co-founder, Hooi Ling Tan (the pair are unrelated). Its headquarters are in Singapore. Anthony’s father runs Tan Chong Motors, a car assembler and distributor which is among Malaysia’s largest companies, but he does not have funding from the family outfit.

Mr Tan denies that he is building South-East Asia’s answer to Uber, and says he is more inspired by Chinese technology firms such as Tencent, an online-gaming and social-media firm that owns WeChat, a fantastically popular mobile-messaging service, and Alibaba…Continue reading

Read more 0 Comments
ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Shareholder democracy is ailing

DEMOCRACY is in decline around the world, according to Freedom House, a think-tank. Only 45% of countries are considered free today, and their number is slipping. Liberty is in retreat in the world of business, too. The idea that firms should be controlled by diverse shareholders who exercise one vote per share is increasingly viewed as redundant or even dangerous.

Consider the initial public offering (IPO) of Silicon Valley’s latest social-media star, Snap. It plans to raise $3-4bn and secure a valuation of $20bn-25bn. The securities being sold have no voting rights, so all the power will stay with Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy, its co-founders. Snap’s IPO has echoes of that of Alibaba, a Chinese internet giant. It listed itself in New York in 2014, in the world’s largest-ever IPO, raising $25bn. It is worth $252bn today and is controlled by an opaque partnership using legal vehicles in the Cayman Islands. Its ordinary shareholders are supine.

Optimists may dismiss the two IPOs as isolated events, but there is a deeper trend towards autocracy. Eight of the world’s 20 most valuable firms are not controlled by outside shareholders. They…Continue reading

Read more 0 Comments
Business

SnapRoute Snags $25M With AT&T, Microsoft Backing

SnapRoute, a developer of open source networking software, announced that it has raised $25 million in Series A financing led by Norwest Venture Partners with new support from AT&T and Microsoft Ventures. SnapRoute, founded by CEO Jason Forrester and other former Apple engineers, plans to use the funding to speed up the development of open source networking software for Fortune 500 firms.

Read more 0 Comments
ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

The market for alternative-protein products

MOST people like to eat meat. As they grow richer they eat more of it. For individuals, that is good. Meat is nutritious. In particular, it packs much more protein per kilogram than plants do. But animals have to eat plants to put on weight—so much so that feeding livestock accounts for about a third of harvested grain. Farm animals consume 8% of the world’s water supply, too. And they produce around 15% of unnatural greenhouse-gas emissions. More farm animals, then, could mean more environmental trouble.

Some consumers, particularly in the rich West, get this. And that has created a business opportunity. Though unwilling to go the whole hog, as it were, and adopt a vegetarian approach to diet, they are keen on food that looks and tastes as if it has come from farm animals, but hasn’t.

The simplest way to satisfy this demand is to concentrate on substitutes for familiar products. “Meat” made directly from plants, rather than indirectly, via an animal’s metabolism, is already on sale for the table and barbecue. Impossible Foods, a Californian firm, has deconstructed hamburgers, to work out what gives them their texture and…Continue reading

Read more 0 Comments
ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Beating Apple, Xiaomi and the gang in China

DONGGUAN, a southerly Chinese city near Hong Kong, is better known for cranking out cheap trinkets than for producing high-end equipment of any kind. And yet, amid the grit and grime is a gleaming low-rise factory producing some 50m smartphones a year for OPPO, a firm started by China’s BBK Electronics but which is now run independently.

Inside, as well as the usual assembly lines and serried workers, the factory has dozens of staff in quality engineering and testing, conducting 130 different tests on OPPO’s phones before they are released to the market. Such zealous pursuit of quality would be expected of factories that produce phones for Apple—the world-class facilities run by Taiwan’s Foxconn in nearby Shenzhen house similar teams. But it is unusual at a firm that makes relatively inexpensive handsets for the local market.

OPPO, and its sister firm, Vivo, also a child of BBK, started out in 2004 and 2009 respectively, making cheap and cheerful phones like plenty of other obscure Chinese manufacturers. They probably didn’t even register on Apple’s radar. Xiaomi was the Chinese handset-maker to watch; urban sophisticates, enticed by…Continue reading

Read more 0 Comments
ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

TVs: the next testing scandal?

Plug and pay

VOLKSWAGEN, a German carmaker, has been disgraced for designing clever software that allowed it to cheat on emissions tests for diesel cars. A different scandal, with shades of the VW affair, has been building up in America’s television market. South Korea’s Samsung and LG, along with Vizio, a Californian firm, stand accused of misrepresenting the energy efficiency of large-screen sets. Together, they sell over half of all TVs in America.

In September 2016 the Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC), an environmental group, published research on the energy consumption of TVs, showing that those made by Samsung, LG and Vizio performed far better during short government tests than they did the rest of the time. Some TVs consumed double the amount of energy suggested by manufacturers’ marketing bumpf. America’s Department of Energy (DoE) has also conducted tests of its own that have turned up big inconsistencies.

Not all TV-makers are at fault: the NRDC found no difference in energy-consumption levels for TVs made by Sony and Philips. But class-action lawsuits have already been filed against the…Continue reading

Read more 0 Comments
ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

America’s booming pet health-care business

AT THE 42,000-square-foot clinic in Hollywood that is owned by VCA, an animal-hospital chain, you may find a Pomeranian on a course of stem-cell therapy or a Shih Tzu having a hip replacement. There is even an underwater treadmill for cats. As pets are treated more and more like members of the family, so they are getting more health care. That also means they are racking up bigger vet bills for their owners.

That is the backdrop to the purchase in January of VCA by Mars, a firm best known for selling chocolate and sweets, for $9.1bn. Analysts whistled at the 31% premium Mars offered on VCA’s share price at the time, but they also agreed that the deal reflects the industry’s vitality. Spending on animal clinic visits in America has increased from a total of $13.7bn in 2012 to almost $16bn last year.

The deal is not as out of character for Mars as it may appear. Sales of chocolate are declining. The company is second only to Nestlé in the market for pet food in America, but competition from sellers on Amazon has sent the firm towards animal health. It was in 2007 that Mars bought Banfield Pet Hospital, then VCA’s largest rival. Since then…Continue reading

Read more 0 Comments
ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Logistics companies fear the return of hard borders

DURING the day, Leipzig’s airport is quiet. It is at night that the airfield comes to life. Next to the runway a yellow warehouse serves as the global sorting hub for DHL, a delivery firm owned by Deutsche Post of Germany. A huge extension, which opened in October, means it can sort 150,000 parcels each hour, says Ken Allen, DHL’s CEO. It was built as business soared. But the express-delivery industry faces a new challenge: the return of trade barriers due to the protectionist bent of Donald Trump and because of Brexit.

The slower-moving shipping and air-cargo business has long been in the doldrums as a result of slow overall growth in trade in recent years. Yet the rise of cross-border e-commerce has still meant booming business for express-delivery firms. On January 31st UPS revealed record revenues for the fourth quarter of 2016; FedEx and DHL are expected to report similarly buoyant results next month. Since 2008 half of the increase in express-delivery volumes has come from shoppers buying items online from another country.

Falling trade barriers have greatly helped them. When DHL and FedEx were getting going, in the 1970s,…Continue reading

Read more 0 Comments
ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

The challenges for ExxonMobil’s new boss

WITH an institutional culture that lies somewhere between the marines and the boy scouts, ExxonMobil tends to avoid personality cults. Even so, it is surprising how little is known about Darren Woods, the chief executive who last month succeeded Rex Tillerson, America’s new secretary of state. Mr Woods’s Wikipedia biography is a few lines long. Rather than reveal the year of his birth, ExxonMobil just says he is 52. Never mind: the most significant fact about him is that he comes from the refining and chemicals side of the business, which hums along so efficiently that ExxonMobil is widely considered the world’s best “integrated” oil company. Yet it is upstream—the exploration and production part—where his hardest tasks lie.

On January 31st the company reported another year of plunging profits, which have buffeted its share price since 2014 (see chart). It earned less in a year than it used to earn in a quarter, and also less than Exxon made before its $80bn merger with Mobil in 1999. Profits among its “Big Oil” peers have likewise been clobbered by falling oil prices over the past two and a half years. It is also not…Continue reading

Read more 0 Comments
ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Snap’s IPO will be the largest in years

WHEN Snapchat first became popular in 2013, many thought the messaging app would disappear almost as quickly as its vanishing messages. Instead, it has become one of the most intriguing internet firms to emerge in years. When Snap, Snapchat’s parent company, goes public at an expected valuation of $20bn-25bn—the IPO is expected in March—its market debut will be the most closely watched since Alibaba, a Chinese e-commerce giant, floated in 2014. Snap’s offering documents may be filed publicly as soon as this week.

Snapchat has captivated youngsters in the West with its quickly disappearing content and playful features. It appears to have connected with youth more successfully than older rivals such as Facebook (or its messaging service, WhatsApp). Users share digitally enhanced photos and videos of themselves vomiting rainbows and morphing their faces into animal masks. Around 41% of Americans aged 18 to 34 use the ephemeral messaging service every month, and 150m people globally spend time on it every day. 

Older grown-ups should pay attention too. Snapchat is experimenting with new technologies, such as augmented reality (AR) and…Continue reading

Read more 0 Comments
BusinessBusiness and finance

Silicon Valley’s criticism of Donald Trump

EARLY in 2016 Schumpeter went to a dinner with one of Silicon Valley’s luminaries, a man of towering intelligence and negligible humility. Asked about the upcoming election, he scoffed: it didn’t matter who America’s president was. Politics had become irrelevant, he said. Technology firms, and their leaders, would carry on fashioning brilliant products and generally carrying out God’s work on Earth, regardless of who occupied the White House. Cue smirks and more Hawaiian Kampachi all round.

Now Silicon Valley has thrust itself into a presidential stink. Technology groups were the first among big firms to slam Donald Trump’s executive order of January 27th, which temporarily bans people from seven mainly-Muslim countries in the Middle East from entering America. Tim Cook, Apple’s boss, criticised it to employees. Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook said he was “concerned”. Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, told staff he was “upset” on the day of the order, and a day later the firm’s co-founder, Sergey Brin, was spotted among hundreds of protesters at San Francisco airport.

Just a month earlier all these technology firms and more…Continue reading

Read more 0 Comments
ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Bridge International Academies gets high marks for ambition but its business model is still unproven

AT THE Gatina branch of Bridge International Academies, on the outskirts of Nairobi, Nicholas Oluoch Ochieng has one eye on his class of five-year-olds and the other on his tablet. On the device is a lesson script. Every line is written 7,000 miles away, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. There an American team analyses 250,000 test scores every ten days from Bridge’s 405 Kenyan schools, and then uses the data to tweak those parts of a lesson where pupils find themselves stumped. Teachers, if they are instructing the same grade level, give identical lessons, and timetables are standardised, too. So when Mr Ochieng’s pupils read from their books, the same words should be reverberating off the walls of each Bridge nursery. 

That chorus should soon grow louder. Founded in 2008, Bridge has grown into one of the world’s largest groups of for-profit schools—and the largest targeting poor pupils. It has 100,000 pupils spread across Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Uganda and India. Bridge says it aims to teach 10m children—the size of Britain’s pupil population—within the next decade.

Bridge’s ambitious target sets it apart from the low-cost…Continue reading

Read more 0 Comments
ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Qualcomm is again under attack for living large off its patent portfolio

“SHOULD five per cent appear too small, be thankful I don’t take it all.” The Beatles wrote “Taxman” in 1966 to protest at Harold Wilson’s exorbitant “supertax” rates. Critics of Qualcomm, the world’s biggest chip-design firm, would say the lyric is a clue to the company’s business practices. Its methods have attracted a barrage of legal complaints. The latest came on January 25th, when Apple, a smartphone maker, sued it in China for abusing its clout in mobile processors and demanded 1bn yuan ($145m) in damages. Just days earlier Apple had filed a similar lawsuit in California asking for $1bn.

America’s Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued a separate complaint against the firm this month. In late December, the equivalent body in South Korea fined it a whopping $853m, which hurt its quarterly results, announced this week. These cases follow two similar ones in 2015: Chinese regulators imposed an even higher fine, of $975m; and the European Commission found Qualcomm guilty of having sold chips below cost to hurt rivals.

Qualcomm is no household name, but most people with mobile phones use its technology….Continue reading

Read more 0 Comments
ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Political dating sites are hot

Looking for a bit of Trumpy pumpy

AFTER Donald Trump was elected president, Maple Match, an online dating app which connects Canadians and Americans, was inundated with people signing up. The app promised to make it easy for Americans to find a Canadian partner to save them from the “unfathomable horror” of a Trump presidency. Joe Goldman, the app’s Texas-based founder, says it has taken on the perceived ethos of Canada: welcoming, open and tolerant. “We’re building bridges when people are talking about building walls and our users like that.”

TrumpSingles.com is forging connections, too. Its founder, David Goss, wants to make it easier for Trump supporters to find each other. The site’s earliest users were in Los Angeles, New York and Philadelphia, which are Democratic strongholds. Now its users are in every state. They are also signing up from abroad, including in Britain and in Russia. Mr Goss and his team personally approve each of the site’s 26,000 users to weed out trolls. The site was able to increase its monthly fee from $4.95 to $19.95 in December following Mr Trump’s election victory. It enjoyed a…Continue reading

Read more 0 Comments
ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Formula One’s new American owner gives Bernie Ecclestone the heave-ho

FOR nearly 40 years, he showed skill and stamina at the wheel of Formula One (F1). But this week Bernie Ecclestone ran out of track. The sport’s new owner, Liberty Media, was at pains to portray its replacement of him as chief executive (by Chase Carey, a former president of Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox) as smooth. But the straight-talking octogenarian has never been one to stick to the script: he complained he had been “forced out”.

Liberty, which is controlled by John Malone, a billionaire, agreed to buy the sport last year, in a deal worth $8bn; the deal was completed on January 23rd. That provided an exit for CVC, a private-equity group which had purchased control in 2006. Mr Ecclestone gets the title of “chairman emeritus” as a sop—he said he doesn’t know what the title means—and will, said Liberty, “be available” to advise the board.

His exit was not a total surprise, though the timing had been unclear; he had talked about remaining involved in running F1 for another two to three years. Liberty may wish to draw a line under the Ecclestone era as a precautionary measure. F1 was often mired in litigation during…Continue reading

Read more 0 Comments