Business and finance

The best books on finance and economics

THE late Hans Rosling is best known for his Ted talks (here is one on the wonders of the washing machine). Sadly he died last year. But before he did so, he worked with his son and daughter-in-law to write “Factfulness: Ten Reasons Why We’re Wrong About the World—And Why Things Are Better Than You Think.” It is a wonderful book, full of humour and humility, and it paints an optimistic picture of progress. Take his 13-question test and you will probably be surprised. For example, has the proportion of people in the world living in extreme poverty over the last 20 years almost doubled, stayed the same, or almost halved? Over the last 100 years, has the number of deaths per year from natural disasters more than doubled, stayed the same or more than halved? In both cases, the answer is the mos...

Korean Air’s “nut rage” sisters step down

FOUR years ago, Cho Hyun-ah, an executive at Korean Air made headlines around the world when she threw a fit because she was served macadamia nuts in their packaging rather than on a serving dish in first class on the airline. She reportedly insulted the cabin crew, threw documents at them, and forced them to kneel and beg forgiveness. At the time, she was a company vice president, and she made the plane return to its gate in order to remove the offending flight attendant. After spending several months in prison for breaking aviation-safety laws, Cho Hyun-Ah was able to return to her father’s conglomerate, this time managing hotels rather than Korean Air. But a new scandal may have finally accomplished what “nut rage” could not. This month, police opened an investigation into Hyun-ah’s you...

Americans will no longer have to sign for credit-card purchases

AMERICANS, and people who travel to America, have good reason to celebrate this month. By the end of April, the four major credit-card networks in the country will all stop requiring retailers to collect signatures from customers when completing transactions. Visa, the world’s biggest credit-card issuer announced in January that signatures would no longer be required from month for retailers in North America with chip card readers. For Mastercard, the world’s second largest, the same change became effective on April 13th, covering purchases in the United States and Canada. American Express, in third place globally, is dropping the signature requirement this month for retailers around the world. Discover, the fourth, is doing so in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Altho...

How Heineken beer survives in Congo

THE Bralima brewery in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), is an island of modernity in a city where chaos is the norm. Inside a building near the docks where barges begin the journey up the Congo river, conveyor belts rattle as thousands of glass bottles are washed and filled with amber liquid. A generator hums to power the new brewing machinery, creating enough booze to fill 28,000 crates every two days. Yet the real achievement of Bralima, which is owned by Heineken, a Dutch brewer, is not making the beer. It is what happens when it leaves the factory. Congo is one of the worst-connected, most dysfunctional countries on Earth. Four times the size of France, it has almost no all-weather roads. In large parts of eastern DRC, the state is a fiction and rebels c...

Sir Martin Sorrell leaves WPP in a sorry state

DURING his spectacular rise from London beancounter to the globe-trotting boss of WPP, the advertising powerhouse he created out of a backstreet wire-basket and trolley company, Sir Martin Sorrell was rarely sentimental. The man who helped turn a ramshackle but chic industry into a global force poached accounts mercilessly and often pitted his own firms against each other in the quest for clients. Not for nothing did the late David Ogilvy, one of the industry’s founding patriarchs, reputedly describe him as an “odious little shit” when WPP came after the Ogilvy Group in the late 1980s at the dawn of its decades-long acquisition spree (see chart). But Ogilvy later became WPP’s non-executive chairman, and the company turned into the world’s largest marketing conglomerate with more than $20bn...

Amazon is not the only threat to legacy post offices

IT MAY be hard to imagine a world without cheap postal services, but 200 years ago sending mail was a luxury. Posting a letter from London to Edinburgh cost an average daily wage. In 1840, after a proposal by Rowland Hill, an inventor, Britain launched the Penny Post, the world’s first universal mail service. The state-run post office was given a mail monopoly in return for delivering letters to any address in the country at the same rate. Cheaper postage proved wildly popular and the flows of information it enabled boosted economic growth. But the scheme’s finances proved controversial. The low cost of the service hit profits and the government introduced income tax to fill the fiscal hole. That did not stop the idea of a “universal service obligation” for post spreading across the entire...

A potential merger between IAG and Norwegian should worry flyers

WHEN flag carriers such as British Airways (BA) ruled the skies, only the rich could afford to fly across the Atlantic. That was until Freddie Laker, a British entrepreneur, came along. His dream was to open long-haul travel to the masses. In 1977 he launched Skytrain, the first low-cost long-haul flights between London and New York. “Thanks to Freddie Laker you can cross the Atlantic for so much less,” declared Margaret Thatcher in 1981. “Competition works.” But within a year of her speech Laker Airways had gone bust, amid accusations of predatory pricing. Get our daily newsletter Upgrade your inbox and get our Daily Dispatch and Editor’s Picks. Since 2013 Norwegian, another low-cost carrier, has been trying to make Laker’s dream a reality. Last year it painted his face onto one of ...

An American ban puts China’s ZTE in peril

TALK of restricting the use of Chinese telecoms equipment in the West is growing. This week the curbs went the other way, when America banned its companies from selling hardware and software for seven years to one of China’s state-owned tech champions, ZTE. On April 16th America’s Department of Commerce said that China’s second-largest telecoms firm had trampled on a settlement reached in March 2017 over ZTE’s illegal shipments since 2010 of American-made technology—telecommunications equipment to Iran, and routers, servers and microprocessors to North Korea—in known violation of trade sanctions. The one at risk of being crippled by an embargo is now ZTE. In 2016 UBS, a bank, estimated that 80-90% of its products relied on American parts. Jean Baptiste Su of Atherton Research, an American ...

Some American startups are borrowing ideas from China

“WHEN you enter [the marketplace] with that level of hubris and arrogance, you don’t create trust.” So declared a member of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors this week. He was upset about the sudden appearance of dockless electric scooters, rented via smartphone, all over the city. Several American startups are battling each other and the authorities to promote them. They are clean, cheap and convenient. The snag is that some users ride them wildly or dump them willy-nilly after use. On April 17th the city passed an ordinance requiring a permit to park scooters on its pavements. Similar clashes have taken place elsewhere. Bird, a Californian startup that raised $100m in venture-capital funding last month, launched its rental service for electrified scooters in September at its home base...

A new bankruptcy code is reshaping Indian business

ENRIQUE IGLESIAS, a Spanish pop singer, plays an unlikely part in the story of Indian capitalism. His presence at a party to mark Vijay Mallya’s 60th birthday, in December 2015, was, literally, a showstopper. A flamboyant booze heir, Mr Mallya was then best known for founding Kingfisher Airlines, which had earlier imploded because of its debts. Given that he had personally guaranteed some of these loans, the self-proclaimed “king of good times” was assumed to have been chastened. Upon hearing of Mr Iglesias’s performance, bankers—and politicians—started asking how Mr Mallya had continued to live so large. The party had lasted for three days. Mr Mallya is hardly the only embattled Indian tycoon to have cocked a snook at his bankers. Some “promoters” of companies, as founding shareholders of...

Hong Kong defends its dollar peg in both directions

THE Hong Kong dollar is one of the most and least manipulated monies in the world. For over 34 years the territory’s monetary authority, the HKMA, has kept it pegged to America’s currency at around HK$7.80 to the dollar, resisting all temptations to let it fall or rise. In 2005 it refined the peg with two promises: to buy dollars at the price of HK$7.75 and to sell them for HK$7.85. Get our daily newsletter Upgrade your inbox and get our Daily Dispatch and Editor’s Picks. The strength of the Hong Kong dollar has obliged the HKMA to keep the first promise many times since. Its purchases of American dollars have even drawn the accusation that it manipulates its currency for competitive advantage. In fact, the HKMA has always been ready to manipulate its currency upwards, too. But since...

Indicators that signal financial-market trouble are flashing

WATCHING financial markets can be like watching a horror film. A character walks into the darkness alone. A floorboard creaks. The latest spooky sign is the spread between the three-month dollar London interbank offered rate (LIBOR) and the overnight index swap (OIS) rate. It usually hovers at around 0.1%, but has recently climbed to 0.6% (see chart). As it widens, bankers are bracing for a jump scare. Get our daily newsletter Upgrade your inbox and get our Daily Dispatch and Editor’s Picks. To see why, consider what each rate represents. LIBOR is the rate that banks charge other banks for unsecured loans. The OIS rate measures expectations for the federal funds rate, which is set by the central bank. As LIBOR rises above the OIS rate, that suggests banks fear it is getting riskier t...