The French government experiments with venture capitalism

Don’t be coy, carp about the foodAS A boy, Antoine Hubert used to catch butterflies. These days, the agro-engineer has eyes only for meal worms. In a demonstration factory near Dole in eastern France,...

Our Big Mac index shows fundamentals now matter more in currency markets

IT IS usually considered quaint to predict foreign-exchange movements by reference to whether currencies are dear or cheap. Metrics such as The Economist’s Big Mac index, a lighthearted guide to exchange rates, hint at...

The threat of tough regulation in Asia sends crypto-currencies into a tailspin

IT HAS been another week of vertiginous swings in the prices of bitcoin and other crypto-currencies. This time, the moves have mostly been downwards, with some days seeing falls of over 20%. Views on...

Why driverless cars may mean jams tomorrow

THE most distractingly unrealistic feature of most science fiction—by some margin—is how the great soaring cities of the future never seem to struggle with traffic. Whatever dystopias lie ahead, futurists seem confident we can...

Why the oil price is so high

PERHAPS the most vexing thing for those watching the oil industry is not the whipsawing price of a barrel. It is the constant updating of theories to explain what lies behind it. In March...

Natural disasters made 2017 a year of record insurance losses

THAT 2017 suffered from more than its fair share of natural catastrophes was known at the time. In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, the streets of Houston, Texas, were submerged under brown floodwater; Hurricane...

Accountancy takes root in the inhospitable soil of Afghanistan

Waiting for the auditorWHEN Afghan lawmakers were debating rules of conduct for accountants, some were confounded by their strictness. Why should those found guilty of murder, asked one member of parliament, be struck off?...

Donald Trump’s difficult decision on steel imports

EVERY Tuesday, senior members of the administration gather in the White House to discuss trade. They are divided between hawks, who argue that America needs to be tougher in its defence against what they...

Should internet firms pay for the data users currently give away?

YOU have multiple jobs, whether you know it or not. Most begin first thing in the morning, when you pick up your phone and begin generating the data that make up Silicon Valley’s most...

Bitcoin is no long the only game in crypto-currency town

IT STARTED as a joke. Dogecoin was launched in 2013 as a bitcoin parody, using as its mascot a Japanese shiba inu dog, a popular internet meme. The crypto-currency was never really used, except...

A new market for old and ugly fruit and vegetables takes shape

Multiple roots to successNO ONE knows quite how much fruit and vegetable produce never reaches the grocery checkout till. A fifth perhaps—or maybe twice that—is judged to be beneath commercial standards. So it is...

Bitcoin is no longer the only game in crypto-currency town

IT STARTED as a joke. Dogecoin was launched in 2013 as a bitcoin parody, using as its mascot a Japanese shiba inu dog, a popular internet meme. The crypto-currency was never really used, except...

Peter Sutherland, former head of the GATT and the WTO, dies

LIKE the showman he sometimes was, Peter Sutherland, on December 15th 1993, concluded seven years of torturous trade negotiations by banging a gavel. He received a standing ovation. Mr Sutherland, who died on January...

Is the bubble only starting?

READY for a melt-up? Investors are generally upbeat about the prospects for equity markets this year but one intrepid fund manager thinks it is likely that American share prices could rise by 50% in...

Hard lines

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Countries rarely default on their debts

VENEZUELA is an unusual country. It is home to the world’s largest reserves of oil and its highest rate of inflation. It is known for its unusual number of beauty queens and its frightening...

Have yourself a dismal Christmas

ONLY an economist would think to ask whether Christmas is efficient. In 1993 Joel Waldfogel, then a professor at Yale University, turned a lunchtime conversation with colleagues into a paper entitled “The deadweight loss...

Intangible assets are changing investment

WHEN you work as an equity analyst at an investment bank, your task is clear. It is to comb all the statements made by corporate executives, to scour the industry trends and arrive at...

What 2018 has in store for the markets

WHAT is in store for economies and markets in 2018? Around this time of year, a large number of analysts and fund managers are giving their views. Among the most interesting and thoughtful approaches...

Cars, jewels, wine and watches have been good investments

DIAMONDS, they say, are for ever. They can be pricey, too. On December 5th 173 lots of jewels auctioned by Sotheby’s raised $54m. They included several pieces belonging to Sean Connery, known for playing...

Oil and gas supply disruptions ripple around the world

The Baumgarten blastCALL it the hydrocarbon equivalent of the butterfly effect. As oil and gas supplies tighten during the northern winter, disruptions as remote as a hairline fracture on a piece of Scottish pipeline,...

The revised Basel bank-capital standards are complete at last

HOWEVER long a storm lasts, clearing up takes longer. On December 7th Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank and head of the committee that approves global bank-capital standards, declared that revisions to...

China’s leading economists are in high demand and short supply

EVERGRANDE, a Chinese property firm, is a big spender. It was until recently the country’s most indebted developer. It also owns a football club with one of the highest payrolls in China. It has...

The WTO remains stuck in its rut

“THERE is life after Buenos Aires,” soothed Susana Malcorra, chair of the 11th ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Multilateralism may not be dead, but it has taken a kicking. Expectations were...

Will America’s economy overheat in 2018?

USUALLY politicians pretend that good economic news on their watch is no surprise. But America’s recent growth figures have been so positive that even the administration of President Donald Trump has allowed itself to...

When politicians and executives get caught out

POLITICIANS and executives are held to different standards. That is pretty clear when it comes to issues such as sexual harassment, notwithstanding the resignation of Al Franken or the rejection by voters of Roy...

Europe is seeing more collective lawsuits from shareholders

LIKE the ghosts that haunted Ebenezer Scrooge, the scandals of years past—summoned up by angry shareholders—will not let companies rest. In Britain this year, the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) paid £900m ($1.2bn) to...

Hedge funds embrace machine learning—up to a point

ARTIFICIAL intelligence (AI) has already changed some activities, including parts of finance like fraud prevention, but not yet fund management and stock-picking. That seems odd: machine learning, a subset of AI that excels at...

A full-scale Venezuelan default could push up oil prices

Who believes in Nicolás?ON NOVEMBER 30th, as oil tsars from the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and Russia met in Vienna, Venezuela’s former oil minister, Eulogio del Pino, once one of their...

The markets believe in Goldilocks

ANOTHER week, another record. The repeated surge of share prices on Wall Street is getting monotonous. The Dow Jones Industrial Average has passed another milestone—24,000—and the more statistically robust S&P 500 index is up...

African countries are building a giant free-trade area

“AFRICA must unite,” wrote Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first president, in 1963, lamenting that African countries sold raw materials to their former colonisers rather than trading among themselves. His pan-African dream never became reality. Even...

Are digital distractions harming labour productivity?

FOR many it is a reflex as unconscious as breathing. Hit a stumbling-block during an important task (like, say, writing a column)? The hand reaches for the phone and opens the social network of...

As WTO members meet in Argentina, the organisation is in trouble

“EVERYBODY meets in Buenos Aires,” said Cecilia Malmstrom, the European Union’s trade commissioner, days before heading there for the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) biennial gathering of ministers, which opens on December 10th. Some non-governmental...

Contraception does even more good in poor countries than thought

Happier familiesFEW tasks in developing countries are as tricky—or as important—as convincing parents to keep their daughters in school longer. One way of doing so is to make contraceptives available, concludes a new working...

Marijuana businesses, excluded from finance, are forced to use cash

MANY marijuana growers in northern California, America’s biggest source of the stuff, had expected this autumn’s harvest to be the largest ever. After all, recreational marijuana becomes legal in the state in January. Instead,...

Republicans grouse about tax models they once supported

THEY have been at this a long time. In 1994 Republicans, newly in charge of Congress, held hearings on what would come to be called “dynamic scoring”. Bills, they said, should be evaluated using...

Europe’s banks face a glut of new rules

FOR those oddballs whose hearts sing at the thought of bank regulation, Europe is a pretty good place to be. No fewer than five lots of rules are about to come into force, are...

As bitcoin’s price passes $10,000, its rise seems unstoppable

MOST money these days is electronic—a series of ones and zeros on a computer. So it is rather neat that bitcoin, a privately created electronic currency, has lurched from $1,000 to above $10,000 this...

What cheese can tell you about international barriers to trade

Slicely does itBEN SKAILES, a British cheesemaker, is busy as Christmas ripens demand for his Stilton. Foreigners make up a third of demand for his dairy, Cropwell Bishop Creamery. This exporting achievement is not...

Brazil puts its state development bank on a diet

Lula spots an Anglo-SaxonIN 2009, as Brazil was buffeted by the global financial crisis, its president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, was seething. The mess, he complained, was the fault of “blue-eyed white people,...

India’s new bankruptcy code takes aim at delinquent tycoons

A SMOOTH bankruptcy process is akin to reincarnation: a company at death’s door gets to shuffle off its old debts, often gain new owners, and start a new life. Might the idea catch on...

How to spot the next crisis

WHILE the world of geopolitics looks as risky as ever, the markets seem to go on their sweet way, recording new highs for equity indices. In large part, of course, this is down to...

Why scan-reading artificial intelligence is bad news for radiologists

THE better artificial intelligence gets, the greater the popular concern that smart machines will soon usher in a labour-market catastrophe. In Chandler, Arizona, Americans can at this moment hail a ride from a car...

Italy’s new savings accounts fuel a boom in stockmarket listings

ITALY seems an unlikely place to be enjoying a boom in new listings on the stockmarket. It is full of family-run small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that mostly rely for their finance on banks;...

A purge of Russia’s banks is not finished yet

Elvira’s mad againWHEN Elvira Nabiullina took over the governorship of the Russian Central Bank (CBR) in 2013, she faced a bloated and leaky finance sector with over 900 banks. Since then, more than 340...

How to survive as a bank in Afghanistan

ECONOMISTS think of the opportunity cost of money as one reason to hold a bank deposit: rather than skulk under a mattress, cash could earn interest. In volatile, war-torn Afghanistan, neither option appeals. Money...

Sustainable investment joins the mainstream

IN 2008, when she was in her mid-20s and sitting on a $500m inheritance, Liesel Pritzker Simmons asked her bankers about “impact investing”. They fobbed her off. “They didn’t understand what I meant and...

Buying local is more expensive than it looks

RANDY KULL, a businessman based in Illinois, sells traffic signs. His products have international appeal, with signs for anglophones (STOP), Spanish-speakers (ALTO) and horses (WHOA). But for some customers, he must stay local. When...

The craze for ethical investment has reached Japan

JAPAN is prone to fads—usually in fancy desserts or fashion ripe for Instagram. A less photogenic one has hit finance: investing in assets screened for ESG (environmental, social and governance) factors. In 2014-16 funds...

In a pre-Brexit skirmish with the City, Eurex takes on LCH

SEEN from the continent, it just isn’t right. LCH, a firm mostly owned by the London Stock Exchange (LSE), dominates the clearing of interest-rate derivatives. Each day it clears $3.4trn-worth, counting both sides of...
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