Business and finance

1. Is North Korea the next Vietnam? Dont count on it., 12 [−]
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 Vietnams reforms. North Korea sees Vietnam as less threatening than China and more of a peer, making it a more welcome mentor. But North Koreas economic path is likely to be more fraught.Yes, there are similarities. Like North Koreas economy today, Vietnams used to be largely collectivised. The Vietnamese Communist partys ability to retain power at the same time as freeing markets must appeal to Kim Jong Un, North Koreas dictator, who has vowed to improve his countrys economy. In 1985, on the eve of Vietnams

2. A Chinese music-video app is making WeChat sweat., 12 [−]

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 Douyins most popular videos. All hail Douyin the drama queen, retorted Tencent, WeChats parent, which said it had acted because the content was inappropriate.

On June 1st Tencent sued Douyins parent company, Bytedance, for 1 yuan (15 cents) and demanded it apologise for its accusationson its own platforms (and presumably without the snark). Tencent also alleged unfair competition. Within hours Douyin counter-sued for 90m yuan. Bytedance and Tencent later swapped accusations of tolerating smear campaigns against the other on their apps, and filed police reports about defamatory posts.

Rarely has an upstart so piqued Tencent, a Chinese gaming and social-media titan which in November became Asias first... Continue reading

3. Law firms climb aboard the AI wagon., 12 [−]

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 firms management committee, Mr Bick is drafting in artificial intelligence (AI) to do the gruntworklike many others at top law firms in New York and London. The shift could transform lawyers work and slash costs for clients.

Prestigious firms make their money by throwing large... Continue reading

4. Even stockmarket bulls are more cautious than at the start of the year., 12 [−]

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.

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 Reserve is hawkish. This mix tends to kill a bull market sooner rather than later. The question is how much further stocks can rise. Is there still time for bulls to make money? Or will being a bear save you money as well as make you sound clever?

In this debate, each side has a distinctive way of looking at... Continue reading

5. Despite falling foul of the #MeToo movement, Lululemon is soaring., 12 [−]

Stretch targets

BOSS wanted for firm with tarnished reputation in troubled industry. On the face of it, the vacancy to become chief executive of Lululemon doesnt 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 Potdevins exit came three years after Lululemons founder, Chip Wilson, left the firm after more than a decade running it. Mr Wilson won notoriety for his on-air proclamation in 2013, after the company had to recall nearly a fifth of its yoga pants for being too sheer, that some womens bodies just dont... Continue reading

6. Why the euro zone hasnt seen more cross-border bank mergers., 12 [−]

MERGERS of euro-area banks from different countries, a banker jokes, are very much like teenage sex. Theres a lot of talk, but little action. And when it does happen, theres a lot of disappointment. In recent months gossip has linked each of Frances three biggest banks (BNP Paribas, Cr?dit Agricole and Soci?t? G?n?rale), as well as UniCredit, Italys largest, with Commerzbank, Germanys second-biggest listed bank. Lately chatter has connected UniCredit and Soci?t? G?n?rale. But no big, cross-border takeover is imminent.

A stream of deals in the 2000snotably UniCredits purchase of HypoVereinsbank, another leading German lender, in 2005has slowed to a trickle (see chart, top panel). Policymakers at both the European Commission and the European Central Bank (ECB) would like the flow to revive. The euro areas banking markets are still essentially national ones. European banking remains as fragmented today as it was in 2012, notes Magdalena Stoklosa... Continue reading

7. Big corporates quest to be hip is helping WeWork., 12 [−]

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 Israels famed communal farmsa sort of capitalist kibbutz.

Shaking up the market for commercial offices globally is the firms mission. WeWorks co-working offices, in more than 250 locations and over 70 cities worldwide, are a blend of small private spaces and large public areas designed to encourage a sense of community among its users. The firm rents huge chunks of space from landlords, kits them... Continue reading

8. MoviePasss useful financial horror show., 12 [−]

There goes $242m

EVEN by the standards of Hollywood, it sounds an unlikely pitchan 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 lost $242m in the nine months to June 30th and that its monthly losses would increase as the service becomes more popular. The firm wants to issue more shares and... Continue reading

9. A welcome upgrade to apprenticeships., 12 [−]

THE Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) in South Yorkshire, England, looks like the very model of a modern industrial sitebright, shiny, airy and clean. In June 1984 it was the site of a traumatic moment in British historythe Battle of Orgreave, when picketing miners clashed with police as they tried to stop lorries collecting supplies from a coking plant. The incident symbolised Britains 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 their hands dirty making stuff did not go to college. But as of last autumn apprentices at the AMRC have been able to study for degree courses. When they graduate they will have an engineering degree from... Continue reading

10. Life as you know it is IPOver., 12 [−]

DEAR chief executive. First, congratulations. You have decided to float your firms shares on the stockmarket. After years of toil behind the scenes, its 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 York Dropbox and Spotify recently listed. Even Michael Dell, who took his computer firm private in 2013 and grumbles about the myopia of stockmarkets, is taking his firm public again, through a merger. In China a... Continue reading

11. Development-impact bonds are costly, cumbersomeand good., 12 [−]

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 worlds 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 specified outcomes. If a neutral arbiter rules that it has succeeded, a donor or philanthropist repays the investor, plus a bonus. If it fails, the investor loses some or all of its money.

This is... Continue reading

12. Donald Trump insists on trade reciprocity. But what kind?., 12 [−]

IN THE sixth episode of The Apprentice, a reality-television show first broadcast in 2004, Donald Trump, as always, fired a contestant vying for a job in his company. She was, he said, the worst negotiator. And she had failed to fight back when belittled by her teammate. The episode was entitled Tit For Tat.

That same principle of reciprocity guides Mr Trumps trade policy as president. And it is animating his tariff war with China. On July 6th America imposed 25% duties on Chinese imports worth about $34bn. (Another $16bn-worth will be hit in due course.) China responded by slapping tariffs on a similar amount of American goods (including a cargo of soyabeans aboard the Peak Pegasus that arrived at the port of Dalian mere hours later).

The two sides disagree, however, about which is tit and which tat. China believes it is responding dollar-for-dollar to American aggression. But America too believes it is retaliating: punishing China for trade and... Continue reading

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