Business and finance

What really happened to EgyptAir Flight 804?

GULLIVER is not the type of person to kick up a fuss on his travels, least of all when lucky enough to be at the front of the plane. But his patience was pushed to the limit a couple of years ago, when his EgyptAir flight from Cairo to London was blighted by the near-constant stench of cigarette smoke wafting in from the cockpit. Shackled by British meekness and an unwillingness to challenge a flight crew, your asthmatic correspondent suffered the coughs and tried instead to focus on work. Conversations with Egyptian friends later revealed that on-board cigarette smoke is hardly a rarity when flying with the North African flag-carrier.  Naturally, anecdotes such as this provide only a snapshot of an airline’s safety standards. But it is a deeply disturbing snapshot given the stalled invest...

Is North Korea the next Vietnam? Don’t count on it

AS AMERICA presses North Korea to abandon nuclear weapons, it has pointed to Vietnam as an example of the prosperity that awaits the isolated state. “It can be your miracle in North Korea as well,” Mike Pompeo (pictured), the secretary of state, said on July 8th, on a visit to Hanoi. It is not the first time Vietnam has been held up as a model for North Korea. Over the years, officials from the two countries have discussed lessons from Vietnam’s reforms. North Korea sees Vietnam as less threatening than China and more of a peer, making it a more welcome mentor. But North Korea’s economic path is likely to be more fraught. Yes, there are similarities. Like North Korea’s economy today, Vietnam’s used to be largely collectivised. The Vietnamese Communist party’s ability to retain power at the...

A Chinese music-video app is making WeChat sweat

A PUBLIC spat between two warring and wildly popular Chinese apps has had the feel of a teenage dance-off. “Sorry, Douyin Fans”, ran an article from the short-video app on its WeChat account, in which it accused the mobile-messaging service of disabling links to Douyin’s most popular videos. “All hail Douyin the drama queen,” retorted Tencent, WeChat’s parent, which said it had acted because the content was “inappropriate”. Get our daily newsletter Upgrade your inbox and get our Daily Dispatch and Editor’s Picks. On June 1st Tencent sued Douyin’s parent company, Bytedance, for 1 yuan (15 cents) and demanded it apologise for its accusations—on its own platforms (and presumably without the snark). Tencent also alleged unfair competition. Within hours Douyin counter-sued for 90m yuan. B...

Law firms climb aboard the AI wagon

LONG hours have been the bane of the legal profession for ages; few of them involve thrilling courtroom antics. As a junior corporate lawyer at Davis Polk & Wardwell, a law firm in New York, John Bick remembers spending most of his waking hours poring over contracts looking for clauses that could complicate or kill off a deal. Even once he became a partner he still had to pitch in on due diligence for large transactions. In 2015 nearly a third of British lawyers were looking to leave the profession, according to the job searches of more than 1,000 of them by Life Productions, a career-change consultancy, perhaps because of the drudgery. Such dissatisfaction may recede in future. Now on his firm’s management committee, Mr Bick is drafting in artificial intelligence (AI) to do the gruntw...

Even stockmarket bulls are more cautious than at the start of the year

BEARS sound clever; bulls make money. This piece of financial acumen, imparted by a trader to a colleague, is hard to beat for brevity. It also makes a good point. There is something about market pessimism that endows bears with an aura of wisdom that is not always deserved. The cautious sound clever because they appear to have weighed the odds. Optimists seem heedless by comparison. Yet it is only by taking on risk that investors can hope to make money. Get our daily newsletter Upgrade your inbox and get our Daily Dispatch and Editor’s Picks. So it is telling that even bulls are now sounding cautious. The economy and stockmarket in America have had a good run, after all. The expansion, which started in 2009, is now the second-longest on record. Unemployment is low. The Federal Reser...

Despite falling foul of the #MeToo movement, Lululemon is soaring

BOSS wanted for firm with tarnished reputation in troubled industry. On the face of it, the vacancy to become chief executive of Lululemon doesn’t ooze appeal. It is a clothing company, an industry that has been battered in recent years. And its previous two bosses have both left under a cloud. In February its chief executive, Laurent Potdevin, resigned for conduct that the firm said fell short of its standards on integrity and showing respect for all employees. Industry observers considered his sudden departure to fit into a succession of corporate resignations sparked by the #MeToo movement against impropriety in the workplace. Mr Potdevin’s exit came three years after Lululemon’s founder, Chip Wilson, left the firm after more than a decade running it. Mr Wilson won notoriety for his on-...

Why the euro zone hasn’t seen more cross-border bank mergers

MERGERS of euro-area banks from different countries, a banker jokes, are “very much like teenage sex. There’s a lot of talk, but little action. And when it does happen, there’s a lot of disappointment.” In recent months gossip has linked each of France’s three biggest banks (BNP Paribas, Crédit Agricole and Société Générale), as well as UniCredit, Italy’s largest, with Commerzbank, Germany’s second-biggest listed bank. Lately chatter has connected UniCredit and Société Générale. But no big, cross-border takeover is imminent. A stream of deals in the 2000s—notably UniCredit’s purchase of HypoVereinsbank, another leading German lender, in 2005—has slowed to a trickle (see chart, top panel). Policymakers at both the European Commission and the European Central Bank (ECB) would like the flow t...

Big corporates’ quest to be hip is helping WeWork

WITH his flowing locks and hip clothes Adam Neumann, co-founder and chief executive of WeWork, looks less like a property baron than the frontman of a rock group. He speaks expansively on the subjects of character, destiny and God. His four-year-old daughter wanders through his office during an interview with The Economist. Yet Mr Neumann, a veteran of the Israeli navy, also has a reputation for being an intense and demanding businessman. Both sides to his character come together in WeWork. Mr Neumann thinks of his property startup as a profit-making version of Israel’s famed communal farms—a sort of “capitalist kibbutz”. Shaking up the market for commercial offices globally is the firm’s mission. WeWork’s “co-working” offices, in more than 250 locations and over 70 cities worldwide, are a...

MoviePass’s useful financial horror show

EVEN by the standards of Hollywood, it sounds an unlikely pitch—an app that offers almost unlimited access to cinemas for $10 a month. The service, called MoviePass, pays cinemas full price for nearly every ticket that filmgoers use. By design, it loses more money the more people use it. The ending seems to be predictable. But might it have a twist? MoviePass has burned far more cash even than its executives anticipated since introducing the unlimited plan in August last year. It has attracted more than 3m subscribers and will lose “at least” $45m this month, according to a filing to the Securities & Exchange Commission on July 10th by Helios & Matheson, a data firm which bought a majority stake in MoviePass last year and now owns 92% of it. Helios & Matheson reported it had lo...

A welcome upgrade to apprenticeships

THE Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) in South Yorkshire, England, looks like the very model of a modern industrial site—bright, shiny, airy and clean. In June 1984 it was the site of a traumatic moment in British history—the Battle of Orgreave, when picketing miners clashed with police as they tried to stop lorries collecting supplies from a coking plant. The incident symbolised Britain’s post-war record of industrial decline and bitter strikes. The old coking plant is long gone. In its place is a promising attempt to create jobs for a new generation of workers, and to tackle an ancient and ridiculous British class divide. An important part of this divide is that universities have long been seen as a place for academic subjects, calling for essays and equations. People who got...

Life as you know it is IPOver

DEAR chief executive. First, congratulations. You have decided to float your firm’s shares on the stockmarket. After years of toil behind the scenes, it’s time for the big stage. You probably feel pretty good right now, especially after those insightful bankers from Goldman Sachs said that your firm is one of the most impressive that they have ever seen in their careers and that they are generously going to give you a discount on their normal fee and charge you only 4% of the IPO proceeds. Unfortunately, though, things will now get much worse before they get better. An IPO is like having children: months of waiting, an agonising delivery and afterwards your world is never the same again. At least you are not alone. American IPO volumes are at their highest level for three years. In New Yor...

Development-impact bonds are costly, cumbersome—and good

IF A girl in a poor country goes to school, she will probably have a more comfortable life than if she stays at home. She will be less likely to marry while still a child, and therefore less likely to die in childbirth. So, not surprisingly, there is an Indian charity that tries to get girls into school and ensure they learn something, and there are Western philanthropists willing to pay for its work. What is noteworthy is how they have gone about this transaction. On July 13th the Brookings Institution, a think-tank, presents the results of the world’s first large development-impact bond, which paid for girls’ education in the northern Indian state of Rajasthan. In this novel way of funding charitable work, a financial institution gives money to a charity, which tries to achieve various s...