How two-wheelers are weaving their way into urban transport

THE streets of Beijing are thronged with two-wheeled contraptions. Some appear to be conventional petrol mopeds but as they zoom through red lights at pedestrian crossings their eerie silence and lack of exhaust reveals...

Giddy property prices are a test for Swedish policymakers

ULF DANIELSSON is thinking of buying a holiday home—or even a new house, so that he, his wife and two children can have a garden and more space than in their flat in Uppsala....

Most stockmarket returns come from a tiny fraction of shares

IN his book about the use of language, “The King’s English”, Kingsley Amis describes a tug-of-war. On one side are “berks”, careless and coarse, who would destroy the language by polluting it. On the...

A wave of new environmental laws is scaring shipowners

THE shipping industry has encountered rough seas over the past decade. Between 1985 and 2007 trade volumes shot up at around twice the rate of global GDP but since 2012 their rate of growth has barely kept pace, leaving the industry...

Sino-American interdependence has been a force for geopolitical stability

IN THE 1990s America and Europe had a trade dispute over bananas. No one worried that tanks might soon roll as a result. But trade is about more than economics. The European Union, the...

The murky future of two Latin American oil giants

IT SEEMED like such a comeback. When Pedro Parente took over as boss of Petrobras in 2016, Brazil’s state oil firm was drowning in $130bn of debt. It had lost $200bn in shareholder value,...

How open is America? – What tariffs?

“JUSTIN has agreed to cut all tariffs and all trade barriers between Canada and the United States,” claimed President Donald Trump to laughter on June 8th, at the G7 summit in Quebec. The next...

China’s tighter regulation of shadow banks begins to bite

THE teller at ICBC, China’s (and the world’s) biggest bank, ushers a new, well-heeled customer into a private room. It is not for VIP treatment but a stern warning. The customer wants to invest...

Can the solar industry survive without subsidies?

A LITTLE over a decade ago, when JinkoSolar, a Shanghai-based company, entered the solar business, it was such a novice that when it visited international trade fairs, all it had was a bare table...

As Western lenders retreat, African banks see an opportunity

ADE AYEYEMI’S office in Lomé, the capital of Togo, is a good place to think about crossing borders. Ghana is ten minutes’ drive away. From his window the boss of Ecobank can watch trucks...

Rate rises affect global markets—and may feed back to America

ON JUNE 13th the Federal Reserve raised its benchmark interest rate by a quarter of a percentage point, the seventh such increase since it began shouldering rates away from zero in December 2015. Markets...

A new breed of German startups

At a rooftop bar in Berlin on May 29th, the glitterati of Germany’s startup scene toasted a new arrival. Silicon Valley Bank, a commercial lender which counts as customers half of American startups that...

Artificial intelligence is awakening the chip industry’s animal spirits

SUPERCOMPUTERS usually fill entire rooms. But the one on the fifth floor of an office building in the centre of Bristol fits in an average-sized drawer. Its 16 processors punch more than 1,600 teraflops,...

In developing countries, many people cannot afford not to work

AMERICA’S unemployment statistics attract close attention, even from presidents. Early on June 1st President Donald Trump tweeted that he was looking forward to the latest figure (3.8%), released that morning. China’s unemployment numbers, by...

A case for owning euro-zone shares

IN AN episode of “Seinfeld”, a 1990s television comedy, George Costanza, a serial failure played by Jason Alexander, decides that every instinct he has is wrong. So he resolves to do the opposite. He...

Buying GitHub takes Microsoft back to its roots

ALMOST to the day 17 years ago Steve Ballmer, then boss of Microsoft, the world’s biggest software firm, called Linux a “cancer”, meaning that the open-source operating system would spell the death of proprietary...

The number of new banks in America has fallen off a cliff

THE single-storey main branch of the Texas Hill Country Bank, in Kerrville, sits at the back of a tired shopping centre, in the shade of a six-storey Wells Fargo building. When Roy Thompson, the...

There is madness, but perhaps also method, in America’s trade policies

DIVINING meaning in the Trump administration’s trade announcements is a thankless task. No sooner does a policy seem settled than it is thrown up in the air once more. On May 23rd, days before...

Turkey’s central bank has streamlined its fight against inflation

THE baroque era in Turkish architecture lasted deep into the 19th century, leaving behind lavish buildings, such as the Lily Mosque in Istanbul and waterside pavilions that seem to float on the Bosphorus. The...

Are you stuck in a “bullshit job”?

SISYPHUS, king of Corinth, was condemned for all eternity to push a boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll down again. David Graeber, an anthropologist, thinks that many modern workers face the...

American tech giants are making life tough for startups

IT IS a classic startup story, but with a twist. Three 20-somethings launched a firm out of a dorm room at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2016, with the goal of using algorithms...

Activist investors go after a German industrial icon

FEW industrial scenes offer the drama of a steelworks in full flow. Perched high in a cabin, a technician guides a bucket the size of a house to send 250 tons of lava-like molten...

A Hungarian startup could beat Ryanair at its own low-cost game

JUST a few hundred metres from Budapest airport’s runways, the wails of scorched airline passengers echo around an industrial estate. But no real people are being harmed. Here Wizz Air, a rapidly growing Hungarian...

American firms reveal the gulf between bosses’ and workers’ pay

HOW much should company bosses be paid relative to their employees? It depends who you ask. Plato argued that the richest members of society should earn no more than four times the pay of...

Why even bears about the government-bond market can find merit in Treasuries

JOHN KENNETH GALBRAITH, a quotable economist, observed that one of the deeper mysteries is why, in a falling market, there is still a buyer for every seller. It is a conundrum that bond investors...

Labour laws in 104 countries reserve some jobs for men only

EVEN as rich countries seek to rid workplaces of subtle gender bias, in many developing ones discrimination remains overt. According to the World Bank, women are barred from certain jobs in 104 countries (see...

Dear oil helps some emerging economies and harms others

When they are not fretting about the American dollar or Chinese debt, policymakers in emerging economies keep a close eye on the oil market. The price of Brent crude has risen by nearly 50%...

Why it makes sense to invest in Treasury bonds

JOHN KENNETH GALBRAITH, a quotable economist, observed that one of the deeper mysteries is why, in a falling market, there is still a buyer for every seller. It is a conundrum that bond investors...

European firms are increasingly tackling the scourge of bribery

ONE of the more extreme recent cases of corporate bribery is that of LafargeHolcim, a giant Swiss-French cement-maker which was accused in 2016 of funnelling money to armed groups controlling roads and checkpoints around...

Bad loans remain a concern in Italy and across southern Europe

ITALY’S next government, a coalition between the populist Five Star Movement and the far-right Northern League, is giving investors plenty to worry about. Leaked plans, hastily abandoned, suggested it might want to leave the...

How psychotherapy improves poor mothers’ finances

IN 2005 and 2006, in northern Pakistan, some 900 pregnant women took part in an unusual experiment. All were in their third trimester and suffering from depression. Most families in the area rely on...

Central banks should consider offering accounts to everyone

A RECESSION strikes. Central banks leap into action, cutting interest rates to perk up investment. But what if, as now, there is not much cutting to do, with rates already at or close to...

Gazprom is enjoying a sales boom in Europe

FEW firms have more power to heat up the cauldron of global geopolitics like Gazprom, the state-backed Russian energy producer. It supplies more than a third of the natural gas that Europeans use for...

Markets may be underpricing climate-related risk

AS A citizen, Dave Jones worries that climate change may imperil his two children, and theirs in turn. What exercises him, as California’s insurance commissioner, is the way in which a transition to a...

Portugal’s energy giant may sell to a Chinese state-owned utility

SHOULD Europeans worry that China Three Gorges (CTG), a state-owned firm, wants to buy EDP, a utility that is Portugal’s biggest company? It is three years since one local banker, Fernando Ulrich, called Portugal...

How a few companies are bitcoining it

IN A recent video Jeremy Sciarappa, a YouTuber, flips the lid off a red box in his living room to reveal a silver machine the size of a shoebox, whining noisily. The contraption is...

NAFTA negotiators are struggling to meet a congressional deadline

AS FAR back as the campaign trail, President Donald Trump had promised to renegotiate or rip up the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). But Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House of Representatives,...

How Turkey fell from investment darling to junk-rated emerging market

MANY of the most famous hedge-fund trades have been bets that things were about to go wrong. Think of Enron’s bankruptcy or the souring of subprime mortgage bonds in America. The best trade made...

For European firms, resisting American sanctions may be futile

“DONALD TRUMP is the sort of guy who punches you in the face and if you punch him back, he says ‘Let’s be friends’. China punched back and he retreated. The Europeans told him...

China’s vanished current-account surplus will change the world economy

NOT long ago China was a leading culprit in global economic imbalances. Whether blame was ascribed to its undervalued yuan or its frugal people, the problem seemed clear. China was selling a lot abroad...

World economic growth is slowing. Don’t worry—yet

IN 2017 the global economy broke out of a rut. It grew by 3.8%, the fastest pace since 2011. Surging animal spirits accompanied a rebound in business investment across the rich world. Global trade...

A WTO ruling on aircraft subsidies raises the risk of a tariff war

THE manufacture of airliners may be the world’s most globalised industry. Only two firms make big civil jets: Boeing of America and Airbus of Europe. Most of their revenues—55% for Boeing and 70% for...

Americans, tired of high-priced drugs, are fighting back

IF ONE concern unites Americans, it is the high prices of prescription drugs. One incident in particular tarnished much of the pharma industry: in 2015 the price of an antiparasitic drug, Daraprim, jumped from...

The latest video-game fad shows off a DIY ethic

TWENTY years ago schoolyard fads revolved around clothes and music. Now they are as likely to involve video games. The latest must-have is “Fortnite Battle Royale”, a lighthearted multiplayer shooter in which up to...

American shale-oil producers are on a roll

JUST over a year ago Harold Hamm, billionaire boss of Continental Resources, one of the biggest shale-oil producers in America, issued a stern warning to his fellow frackers. Drill with restraint or we will...

How Flixbus conquered the European coach market

Digging in its wheelsMANY Europeans see long-distance coach travel across America as glamorous. That may be a legacy of a Clark Gable film from 1934 called “It Happened One Night”, about a romance between two...

A Canadian startup applies machine-learning to corporate bond issuance

WITH the exception of a few governments big enough to run their own auctions, anyone wishing to issue bonds must seek bankers’ help. A hefty fee will buy assistance in calibrating the size, structure...

Big investors are giving university digs an upgrade

The way we wereTHE words “Unite Students” are emblazoned on Aston University’s residence halls and on signs all over campus. They are the name of a firm that builds, buys and manages student accommodation...

Lessons to a columnist’s previous self

IN A British television show, “Doctor Who”, the titular character is able to travel anywhere in time and space in his Tardis police box. Given access to that technology, what useful message would this...

Argentina’s economic woes – Macrinomics

ON MAY 8th, as the peso continued to tumble, Mauricio Macri, Argentina’s president, addressed his nation on television. His government had opened negotiations with the IMF for a credit line in order to “avoid...
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