Business and finance

Are strikes making a big dent in Ryanair’s profits?

ALL should be rosy at Europe’s largest low-cost airline. Ryanair’s passenger numbers are growing and costs per seat-kilometre flown are—just about—lower than its competitors’. But investors have been sent into a flap by its announcement on July 23rd that its profits in the first quarter fell 20% year-on-year, which sent its share price down nearly 7% on the day. Growing demand for pilots and cabin crew is having an effect. Last September the airline was forced to cancel over 2,000 flights owing to a pilot shortage. To attract enough staff to keep up with its breakneck expansion it has been improving pay and conditions, as well as recognising trade unions for the first time. That decision has already made itself felt: this week Ryanair is cancelling more than 600 flights because of striking...

Fiat Chrysler appoints a new boss

THE question of who would replace Sergio Marchionne has been in the air for a year or more, ever since the boss of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) announced that he would step down in 2019. But the way the answer came was both shocking and sad. Complications after a routine operation around three weeks ago have had a devastating effect on the health of the 66-year-old, who was hard-working even by the standards of big-name CEOs. Not only will Mr Marchionne leave the helm of FCA earlier than planned but he will also quit as boss of Ferrari, a sportscar-maker, which he had been expected to lead until at least 2021. A sudden deterioration in Mr Marchionne’s condition forced FCA’s board to meet on Saturday 21st July to confirm that Mike Manley, boss of the Jeep brand, would take his place. Rep...

The case for treating disabled travellers better

TRAVELLING for work can be expensive, uncomfortable and unpleasant, even for those without a mobility issue. But spare a thought for people who do, many of whom get appalling service from train firms and airlines around the world. The latest case to have hit the headlines is that of Tanyalee Davis, a Canadian living in England, who has said that she was left feeling so humiliated that she “wanted to crawl under a rock and die” after a recent train journey from Plymouth to Norwich. Ms Davis, who uses a mobility scooter as she has a form of dwarfism, was forced to move from an unreserved wheelchair space to make way for a pushchair (pushchairs do not have priority for such spaces). When she complained, the guard announced to the train that they would be stopping indefinitely at the next stat...

Income-share agreements are a novel way to pay tuition fees

TO PAY for his professional flight degree at Purdue University in Indiana, Andrew Hoyler had two choices. He could rely on loans and scholarships. Or he could cover some of the cost with an “income-share agreement” (ISA), a contract with Purdue to pay it a percentage of his earnings for a fixed period after graduation. Salaries for new pilots are low. Mr Hoyler made $1,900 per month in his first year of work. Without the ISA, monthly loan payments would have been more than $1,300. Instead, for the next eight-and-a-half years he will pay 7.83% of his income. He thinks that, as his pay accelerates, he will end up paying $300-400 more each month than with a loan. But low early payments, and the certainty that they would stay low if his earnings did, made an ISA the better option, he says. “I’...

What Venezuelan savers can teach everyone else

ASK the chief investment officer of a fund-management firm how to spread your investments and you will be told to put so much in stocks, so much in bonds and something in hedge funds or private equity. Chances are that white-elephant buildings, eggs and long-life milk will not feature. But in Venezuela, where the inflation rate is in the tens of thousands, things that people elsewhere would shun for fear they will lose value have become stores of real wealth. That is why you can see scaffolding and other signs of a building boom dotted around Caracas, the capital of a country that has endured an economic collapse. Businesses need to park their earnings where they will not be wiped out by inflation. A smaller-scale response to galloping prices is the emerging “egg economy”. Eggs hold their ...

Football talent scouts become more rational

CHEERS erupted from Calais to Cannes when Kylian Mbappé, a 19-year-old striker, thumped in France’s fourth goal in the World Cup final on July 15th. Among the smuggest onlookers were the accountants at Paris Saint-Germain, Mr Mbappé’s club. He was already a prized asset before the tournament, having broken the record for goals scored by a teenager in the Champions League, Europe’s premier-club competition. CIES Football Observatory, a research organisation, reckoned then that his club could charge €190m ($223m) for him. But an electrifying World Cup, with four goals, has surely increased his value. That, at least, is how the transfer market usually responds to international tournaments. According to 21st Club, a consultancy, each time a player found the net in the World Cup and European Ch...

In China, a rare public spat between officials as debt pressures build

LIKE other countries, China has bureaucratic infighting. But it does better than most at keeping tussles hidden from outside view, especially under Xi Jinping, a president who brooks no dissent. So it has been highly unusual to see a spat between the central bank and finance ministry spill into the open. It reveals cracks in the government’s façade of unity as a campaign to control debt exacts a toll on the economy. The disagreement started on July 13th when Xu Zhong, head of the central bank’s research department, spoke at a forum in Beijing. Officially, China is committed to a “proactive fiscal policy”, meaning that the government will spend to prop up growth. But Mr Xu argued that the finance ministry was not delivering what it had promised, thus making deleveraging more painful. Get ou...

The stress that kills American workers

WORK can make you sick and shorten your life. That is the argument of a hard-hitting book* by Jeffrey Pfeffer, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. In an obvious way, that claim is outdated. Health-and-safety rules help explain why deaths from accidents in American workplaces fell by 65% between 1970 and 2015. But one problem has not gone away: stress. As many as 80% of American workers suffer from high levels of stress in their job, according to a survey entitled “Attitudes in the American Workplace”. Nearly half say it is so debilitating that they need help. Firms are at least aware of the issue. A study in 2008 by Watson Wyatt (a consultancy that is now part of Towers Watson) found that 48% of organisations said job-related stress affected performance. But only 5% of...

As inequality grows, so does the political influence of the rich

SQUEEZING the top 1% ought to be the most natural thing in the world for politicians seeking to please the masses. Yet, with few exceptions, today’s populist insurgents are more concerned with immigration and sovereignty than with the top rate of income tax. This disconnect may be more than an oddity. It may be a sign of the corrupting influence of inequality on democracy. You might reasonably suppose that the more democratic a country’s institutions, the less inequality it should support. Rising inequality means that resources are concentrated in the hands of a few; they should be ever more easily outvoted by the majority who are left with a shrinking share of national income. Get our daily newsletter Upgrade your inbox and get our Daily Dispatch and Editor’s Picks. Indeed, some soc...

Netflix suffers a big wobble

EVEN the most celebrated firms have their hiccups. On July 16th Netflix, an online-streaming giant, presented disappointing news to investors: it had added just 5.2m new subscribers in the second quarter of 2018, well below its projected number of 6.2m. Shares plunged by 14%; they have since recovered some ground. This most recent bout of volatility may say more about the firm’s soothsaying abilities than the strength of its underlying business. Although Netflix’s subscriber growth fell short of its own projections, it was still in line with that of past quarters (see chart). In percentage terms, Netflix registered a bigger miss against projected subscriber growth in the second quarter of 2016, when its shares fell by 13%. The firm has also had much bigger forecasting misses on the upside....

Vanadium is the latest beneficiary of the battery craze

OPEN a toolbox, pull out a spanner and you may be holding a bit of the answer to global warming: vanadium, a metal named after Vanadis, the Scandinavian goddess of beauty. Used mostly in alloys to strengthen steel, its appearance may not live up to the romance of its name. Yet vanadium could become a vital ingredient in large clean-energy batteries, in which case it will shine a lot brighter. Its price has already been rising faster than cobalt, copper and nickel, all of which are used in lithium-ion batteries (see chart). The main reason for the run-up is prosaic. About nine-tenths of the world’s vanadium is used to harden steel; China has tightened standards on the strength of rebar to make buildings more earthquake-proof. Mark Smith, boss of Largo Resources, which mines high-purity vana...

Universities withstood MOOCs but risk being outwitted by OPMs

“THERE’S only two things you do in the navy,” says Vice-Admiral Al Harms, former commander of the USS Nimitz, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier that is one of the world’s biggest ships. “You fight, and you train to fight. Hopefully, most of the time you’re training.” The navy got Mr Harms hooked on continuous education, and in his 60s he felt the need for a top-up, so he took the online MBA programme of the University of Illinois (UoI), alongside his son. “I found it a very cool way to learn. You have the self-directed portion, working by yourself, and the enriching portion with class projects.” When the web started to shake up higher education a decade or more ago, it was widely expected that the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) it spawned would disrupt universities in the same way th...