Posts in category Business


ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

The bosses of two famous French firms struggle to keep customers

You see her after the third glass

ALEXANDRE RICARD wants to talk boxing. He runs Pernod Ricard, a firm that sells Chivas whisky and Absolut vodka, among other drinks. Formed by his grandfather in 1975, with roots in a Pernod distiller set up in 1805, it is the world’s second-largest seller of wine and spirits, with a market capitalisation of €32bn ($37bn). He brags that Floyd Mayweather, an American pugilist with 19m Instagram followers, recently endorsed one of the company’s tequila brands. Such a “key influencer” on a digital channel “gives us speed and scale”, says Mr Ricard.

Celebrity endorsements are an old ploy: French singers, actors and racing drivers used to push Pernod Ricard’s liquor. But with 90% of sales in markets outside of France, punchier efforts are needed. Two years ago the firm commissioned a global study of boozing habits, which totted up all “moments of consumption” for drinkers, identifying 20 important ones in…Continue reading

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Tech giants are building their own undersea fibre-optic networks

Only 6,599km to go

WHEN Cyrus Field, an American businessman, laid the first trans-Atlantic cable in 1858, it was hailed as one of the great technological achievements of its time and celebrated with bonfires, fireworks and 100-gun salutes. Alas, the reason for the festivities soon went away. Within weeks the cable failed.

On September 21st the completion of another trans-Atlantic cable was welcomed with much less ado. But it is remarkable nevertheless: dubbed Marea, Spanish for “tide”, the 6,600km bundle of eight fibre-optic threads, roughly the size of a garden hose, is the highest-capacity connection across the ocean. Stretching from Virginia Beach, Virginia, to Bilbao, Spain, it is capable of transferring 160 terabits of data every second, the equivalent of more than 5,000 high-resolution movies. It is jointly owned by Facebook and Microsoft.

Such ultra-fast fibre networks are needed to keep up with the torrent of…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Ford has a clear plan to fix its present failings

Hackett plays it safe

LIKE any mechanic with a misfiring car, Ford’s new boss has had his head under the bonnet working out what needs attention. Jim Hackett emerged on October 3rd with a checklist of repairs to present to investors, who have been awaiting his diagnosis since he took over in May. The list is short but the engineering is complicated: restore Ford’s competitiveness while preparing for a future of electric vehicles (EVs), self-driving cars and transport services. But those expecting a radical overhaul were probably disappointed.

Mr Hackett’s predecessor, Mark Fields, was shown the door by Bill Ford, the firm’s chairman, for failing to make a persuasive case that he was reinventing Ford as a mobility firm at the forefront of automotive technology. Despite acknowledging to investors that he and Mr Ford agreed that his new job was “about the future not the past”, Mr Hackett was clearest about how to make Ford fit for the…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Dirt-cheap mobile data is a thrill for Indian consumers

A swami gets the religion

THE security guards at the foot of Antilia, a 27-floor private residence in Mumbai, while away the days just as all bored Indians have been doing in recent months—watching movies on their phone. Using a mobile network to stream endless Bollywood epics would until recently have been an unthinkable luxury, even in the rich world. In India it now costs less than a cup of street-side chai.

Thank the tycoon lording it in the skyscraper’s upper reaches. As boss of Reliance Industries, Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man, has spent more than $25bn on building Jio, a state-of-the-art mobile-telecoms network. The delight of the guards at Antilia, and of the roughly 130m Indians who have signed up to the service since it launched in September 2016, is matched only by the misery of Mr Ambani’s rivals.

Jio’s rise is nothing short of spectacular. It took less than a year for it to be delivering more data than any other mobile…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

After a bite of Apple, Margrethe Vestager targets another tech giant

MARGRETHE VESTAGER’S assault on technology firms she deems to have improperly massaged down their tax bills continued this week with a tilt at Amazon. The internet retailer faces a bill of €250m ($293m) for back taxes over what the European Union’s competition commissioner considers to have been an illegal sweetheart deal with Luxembourg.

The order requiring the Grand Duchy to recover the money follows a well-publicised three-year investigation. It is the latest in a series of tax-avoidance cases brought by the European Commission against multinationals, most of them American. Last year, Ireland was ordered to recover €13bn from Apple—smashing all past records for EU corporate-tax cases.

As with Apple, the commission concluded that Amazon received illegal state aid—in the retailer’s case between 2006 and 2014—through a tax-cutting arrangement that was unavailable to its rivals. This came in the form of a ruling from Luxembourg’s tax authority,…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Facebook and the meaning of share ownership

ONE group of Facebook friends that Mark Zuckerberg recently decided were not worth hanging out with were its public shareholders, who expected to cross-examine him (via a lawyer) on September 26th in a Delaware court. At issue would have been Mr Zuckerberg’s plans to refashion the social-media firm’s share-ownership structure more in his favour.

There is not a scintilla of doubt over who controls Facebook. Not only does Mr Zuckerberg, its founder, serve as its CEO and chairman; owning 16% of its shares, he controls 60% of the voting authority through a special class of stock with ten times normal voting rights. A year ago, Mr Zuckerberg decided he would like to sell a large slug of his holdings (worth $74bn) without diluting control. The firm made a plan to distribute non-voting shares enabling him to reduce his economic interest to 3% without affecting control.

That prompted litigation. Shareholder votes can be directly meaningful on many issues, including management pay…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Rivigo is helping the Indian truck-driving industry out of a jam

Time to freshen up the model

THERE are 36 gradations in India’s archaic caste system, from the priestly to the supposedly untouchable. And then, somewhere below that, are the long-haul truck-drivers. Plying the subcontinent’s potholed highways for weeks at a time, few can settle into anything like a home life. Their marriage prospects are grim; venereal diseases and sore backs from sleeping in cramped cabs are but two occupational hazards. Despite an oversupplied national job market, the industry has struggled to attract the roughly 1m new drivers it needs each year to keep everything from Amazon packages to car parts moving. Can technology help?

To fend off shortages, most truck owners have done precisely what economists suggest, which is to increase pay. Drivers can now command nearly 40,000 rupees ($610) a month, a decent white-collar wage—and not far from double the level of trucker pay just three years ago. Rivigo, a startup based in Gurgaon, an…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

A shareholder pact is rocked by Liliane Bettencourt’s death

A face of the firm

DEATH does not end all uncertainties. News that Liliane Bettencourt, a glamorous 94-year-old Parisian heiress, died on September 20th has provoked a flurry of investor speculation over L’Oréal, the world’s biggest cosmetics company. She had held a controlling stake in the firm her father, an inventor of hair dyes, founded in 1909. Its market value has since grown to be a whisker short of €100bn ($117bn).

Her death brings few immediate consequences. An Alzheimer’s sufferer, she had been declared legally unfit to manage her concerns. That followed a scandal, made public in 2010 after her butler secretly recorded politicians, lawyers and friends as they bilked her for millions of euros. The case still haunts Nicolas Sarkozy, an ex-president. He seethed in October that opponents had stymied his return to politics by repeating allegations he profited from the “sordid Bettencourt affair” (he was cleared of charges over it in…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

McDonald’s wages a food fight in India

Bakshi gives McDonald’s the shakes

IN MOST ways the McDonald’s outlet in Jangpura, a gentrifying neighbourhood in south Delhi, looks like one anywhere else, with bright displays, plastic seating and a familiar menu. But this week a disconcerting sign warns that “unpredictable” conditions have affected tomato supplies; none are available. Not bad though for a store that McDonald’s has been trying to close since September 6th. Over a third of its 400 or so outlets in India were supposed to shut their doors then—yet nearly all are still slinging McSpicy Paneers to customers.

War rages between McDonald’s India and Vikram Bakshi of Connaught Place Restaurants Limited (CPRL), who first brought the American chain to India in 1996 as a local partner in a 50-50 joint venture, starting in Delhi (along with another franchisee, Hardcastle Restaurants, which went into the southern and western states). Over the next two decades, Mr Bakshi expanded in the north…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

American entrepreneurship is flourishing, if you know where to look

It’s hard to keep them down for long

AT FIRST glance, it seems that America’s economy is losing its mojo. Many economists, most notably Robert Gordon of Northwestern University, have lamented that productivity growth seems to be anaemic when compared with earlier golden eras (see Free exchange). A gloomy chorus of business leaders has echoed what media outlets have by now turned into a mantra, that American entrepreneurship is in steady decline. Surely America’s overall competitiveness, then, is plummeting?

The answer from one influential think-tank, the World Economic Forum (WEF), is no. In its latest update to its long-running annual ranking of global economic competitiveness, published on September 27th, America rose from third place to second, ranking below only Switzerland.

This is partly…Continue reading

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Yandex, Russia’s biggest technology company, celebrates 20 years

ARKADY VOLOZH, the bearded co-founder of Yandex, Russia’s largest search engine, bristles at his company being branded the “Google of Russia”. Far from emulating the American firm, Yandex launched in 1997, a full year before Google, he points out. More crucially, the moniker poorly describes what Yandex offers today, which is a group of products and services that includes taxis, shopping, payments, music and education. “Really we’re the Silicon Valley of Russia,” says Mikhail Parakhin, Yandex’s chief technology officer.

That may only be a slight overstatement. Yandex’s Russian presence is immense; it accounts for just over half of the search market and 61% of online advertising, and its sites attract over 60m visitors each month. Like American tech giants, it is also expanding its offline logistical capabilities, signing recent deals with Uber, a ride-hailing firm, and with Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank, to build out its transportation and e-commerce…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Who’s afraid of disruption?

LAST week Schumpeter met two tech tycoons who control businesses in total worth $600bn. In both cases the mayhem around them was what you would expect if Beyoncé hit town, minus the musical talent and looks. Hotel floors were locked down by the official secret service; the corridors were crammed with lines of petitioners and in one case a Wall Street boss gatecrashed the room in order to hug his idol.

The message from both titans—you ain’t seen nothing yet—was imperious. Over the next decade, they say, conventional industries will face an onslaught from tech competitors wielding vast financial resources, new technologies and massive reserves of data. It is a view that has swept through traditional firms’ boardrooms, too, where enthusing about virtual reality and singing the praises of Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s boss, is almost obligatory. The notion of disruption, with its promise to destroy the status quo and then renew it, is the most fashionable idea in global business since the…Continue reading

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Business

Innovation Requires Market Enablement

In this age of tech industry consolidation, one has to wonder what will happen with the pace of innovation as a few large companies begin to dominate. In personal computers, the WinTel marriage continues to control the technology, while Dell, HP and Lenovo control the devices. Similarly, in smartphones, Apple and Samsung, which both design their own chips and devices, dominate the market, especially in North America.

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Online matchmaking businesses in India have many ways to woo

Arranged by algorithm

“IT WAS 2012…I was number 37,” says Ashwini, referring to the badge that was pinned on her shirt pocket. Her task was to go onto the stage and introduce herself to around 70 eligible bachelors and their parents. Families then conferred and, provided caste and religious background proved no obstacle, would approach the event’s moderator asking to meet number 37. At midday girls would wait for prospects to swing by, again with parents on either side. A brief exchange might establish the potential bride’s cooking skills or her intention to work after marriage. If the two sides hit it off, they would exchange copies of their horoscopes. Nearly 50 men lined up to meet Ashwini that day, speed-dating style. No one made the cut. She later married a colleague.

Such gatherings form an important part of the wedding industry, worth around $50bn a year, in a country where arranged marriages continue to be the norm. India has 440m…Continue reading

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Streaming has pushed Latin music into the mainstream

“MI GENTE” lures listeners with a mesmerising hook, a thumping beat and lyrics about breaking down barriers. A collaboration between J Balvin, a Colombian reggaeton star (pictured), and Willy William, a French producer, the latest product of this summer’s Latin craze is crooned almost entirely in Spanish. (The title means “My People”; reggaeton borrows from hip hop, reggae and rap.) The song topped the charts on Spotify, a streaming service, for weeks. “To be a crossover artist, you used to have to sing in English,” said John Reilly, Mr Balvin’s publicist. Now six of YouTube’s top ten music videos are predominantly in Spanish. In August the Billboard Hot 100, which tracks streams, sales and radio plays, sported seven Latin hits. Just five graced the chart in all of 2016.

Latin music is helping the music industry to arrest years of decline. Its growth is far outpacing that of other genres. Last year Latin America yielded just $598m out of total global recorded-music…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Behind the veil of Saudi Aramco

IF SAUDI ARAMCO is a state within a state in Saudi Arabia, then the blandly named Oil Supply Planning and Scheduling (OSPAS) is its deep state. To enter it, you pass tight security at Aramco’s suburban-style headquarters in Dhahran, in the east of the kingdom. The transition is eye-opening. Suddenly, English is the common tongue even among Saudi “Aramcons”, as its workers are known. Female employees, their faces uncovered, lead meetings of male colleagues. The crisp banter is common to engineers everywhere. A toilet break is called a “pressure-relief” exercise.

Deep within, OSPAS is even further removed from the kingdom outside. The few executives with clearance to enter call it the “nerve centre” of the world’s largest oil company. Using 100,000 sensors and data points on wells, pipelines, plants and terminals, it directs every drop of oil and cubic foot of gas that comes out of the kingdom (10% of the world’s oil supply), monitors it on giant screens as it heads to…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Ryanair cancels more than 2,000 flights over the next six weeks

Not his biggest cock-up said O’Leary

RYANAIR, an Irish airline, is known for three things: low fares, the brash way in which Michael O’Leary, its chief executive, advertises them, and its record for sticking to its flight schedules. The last of these is key to its appeal: many businessmen chose Ryanair more for its punctuality than its cheapness. And so the announcement on September 15th that it is cancelling over 2,000 flights between now and the end of October—around 2% of its capacity over the period—is more serious than it may at first seem. Ryanair’s share price fell by more than 5% in the aftermath.

The problems began in early September when Ryanair’s on-time record plunged, owing to a pilot shortage. To restore punctuality, it cancelled many flights at short notice; passengers were marooned around Europe. Up to 400,000 people booked on the 2,000 scrapped flights risk missing business trips and holidays.

Mr O’Leary says the…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

What if large tech firms were regulated like sewage companies?

THREE-QUARTERS of Americans admit that they search the web, send e-mails and check their social-media accounts in the bathroom. That is not the only connection between tech and plumbing. The water and sewage industry offers clues to the vexed question of how to regulate the Silicon Valley “platform” firms, such as Alphabet, Amazon and Facebook. The implications are mildly terrifying for the companies, so any tech tycoons reading this column might want to secure a spare pair of trousers.

In America and in Europe a consensus is emerging that big tech firms must be tamed. Their dominance of services such as search and social media gives them huge economic and political clout. The $3trn total market value of America’s five biggest tech firms (Apple and Microsoft are the other two) suggests that investors believe they are among the most powerful firms in history, up there with the East India Company and Standard Oil.

Trustbusters in need of instant gratification want to break…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Boeing takes off on a flight of hypocrisy against Bombardier

“WE WON’T do business with a company that is busy trying to sue us.” So said an uncharacteristically stern Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, alongside his British counterpart, Theresa May, in Ottawa on September 18th. The two had teamed up to take on Boeing. The giant American aeroplane-maker is pressing Donald Trump’s administration to impose duties on commercial jets made by Canada’s Bombardier. Boeing says its smaller rival is using Canadian government subsidies to sell aircraft to Delta, an American carrier, at below cost price.

Few in either country question that Bombardier has had vital financial support from the Canadian and British governments since 2005 for its small jetliner, the C-Series. As the plane’s development costs soared, to $5.4bn, Bombardier struggled to find buyers for it; financial trouble followed. An estimated C$4bn ($3.4bn) in state support, including C$2.8bn in 2015, stopped a nosedive. It was not until 2016 that the aircraft’s future seemed…Continue reading

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Big technology firms are newly in the hot seat at home

Jane Doe and friend

ANTITRUST, privacy, hate speech—whenever the European Union tries to rein in tech giants, Americans accuse it of protectionism. That argument has always been simplistic, but now it is harder to make; scarcely a week passes in Washington when companies like Apple and Google are not in politicians’ crosshairs.

The latest target is Facebook. Earlier this month the firm revealed that 470 accounts that appeared to be controlled from Russia had bought advertisements worth a total of $100,000 on the social network between June 2015 and May 2017. Alex Stamos, Facebook’s chief security officer, said they aimed at “amplifying divisive social and political messages”.

This was the first time Facebook had acknowledged that Russia may have used the social network, leading the team of Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating possible links between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and the Russian government, to issue a…Continue reading

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Toys “R” Us files for bankruptcy

ASK young American parents about Toys “R” Us and they are likely to be able to sing a jingle from their childhood: “I don’t wanna grow up, ’cause maybe if I did, I couldn’t be a Toys ‘R’ Us kid”. For children of the 1980s, Toys “R” Us was a mecca at the strip mall, an awe-inspiring array of dolls, trucks, board games, bikes, art supplies and much more. Many of them noticed when on September 18th, the chain filed for bankruptcy.

Dave Brandon, the company’s chief executive, emphasised that shops would carry on operating as usual and claimed that the best era of Toys “R” Us was still to come. “These are the right steps to ensure that the iconic Toys “R” Us and Babies “R” Us brands live on for many generations,” he declared. A Chapter 11 bankruptcy, many analysts agree, is a sensible way to deal with the chain’s $5bn of long-term debt. So Toys “R” Us is not dead. But its future is hardly certain.

The company in many ways…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Global LNG giants turn to poor countries for new markets

Bringing rivers of the liquefied stuff

WHEN it comes to liquefied natural gas (LNG), the supermajors have supersized appetites. The likes of Royal Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil and BP make discoveries described as “elephants”; their cost overruns alone can run into the tens of billions of dollars; and projects take the best part of a decade to complete. For years, the industry has demanded fixed, long-term contracts from their customers to justify the size of these megaprojects.

The producers also have pretty big problems. They are in the midst of a vast expansion in Australia and elsewhere just as the shale revolution and the start of American LNG exports has brought an unexpected burst of gas onto markets, clobbering prices for the foreseeable future and forcing producers into concessions. Demand in rich countries such as Japan and much of western Europe appears to be in long-term decline.

At least one big customer, China, is making life easier….Continue reading

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New rail routes between China and Europe will change trade patterns

ASTANA in Kazakhstan is one of the world’s most remote capitals, surrounded by thousands of kilometres of empty steppe. This summer Astana attempted to launch itself onto the global stage by hosting the World Expo, which closed on September 10th and underwhelmed many attendees. But there are other ways to have an impact. On the city’s north side, away from the Expo’s exhibits, a series of diesel trains, each pulling dozens of containers, roll through the old railway station. Most are heading from China to Europe. Last year over 500,000 tonnes of freight went by train between the two, up from next to nothing before 2013. Airlines and shipping firms are watching things closely.

The trains rumbling through Astana result from a Chinese initiative, in tandem with countries like Kazakhstan, to build a “New Silk Road” through Central Asia. The earlier overland routes were once the conduits for most trade between Europe and China and India; they faded into irrelevance…Continue reading

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A legal vulnerability at the heart of China’s big internet firms

COMPANIES’ legal structures are usually mind-numbing fare. But occasionally it is worth pinching yourself and paying attention. Take “variable interest entities” (VIEs), a kind of corporate architecture used mainly by China’s tech firms, including two superstars, Alibaba and Tencent. They go largely unremarked, but VIEs have become incredibly important. Investors outside China have about $1trn invested in firms that use them.

Few legal experts think that VIEs are about to collapse, but few expect them to endure, either. One sizeable investor admits loving Chinese tech firms’ businesses while feeling queasy about their legal structures. Like scientists appalled by their monstrous creations, even the lawyers who designed VIEs worry. They are “China’s version of too-big-to-fail”, says one. As well as being spooky, VIEs are another instance of how China’s weak property rights hurt its citizens.

What are VIEs? Over 100 companies use them. Since the 1990s private firms have sought to break free of China’s isolated legal and financial systems. Many have done so by forming holding companies in tax havens and listing their shares in New York or Hong Kong. The problem is that they are then usually categorised as “foreign firms” under Chinese rules. That in turn prohibits them from owning assets in some politically sensitive sectors, most…Continue reading

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The business of sperm banks

Fruit of a global supply chain

BROWSING websites that list sperm donors is weirdly similar to online dating. “Sanford is the total package,” begins one online ad, describing his strong jawline and piercing blue eyes. With a degree in finance and a “charming demeanour”, he is more than a pretty face. You can listen to a voice recording from Sanford himself. If all that wins you over, you can have his baby without ever having to go on a date. For $635, Seattle Sperm Bank (SSB) will post you a vial of his frozen swimmers.

The fact that the main customers for many sperm banks are now single women explains the marketing technique. “They tend to be highly educated, impatient and picky,” says Ole Schou, founder of Cryos International, the world’s largest sperm bank, based in Denmark’s second-biggest city, Aarhus. Its website is designed to resemble Match.com, a dating site, because “finding a donor should be as close to finding a natural partner as…Continue reading

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Is Margrethe Vestager championing consumers or her political career?

EVEN her enemies admire the bloody-mindedness of Margrethe Vestager, the European commissioner in charge of competition policy. Last autumn, not long after she had ordered Apple to pay €13bn ($14.5bn) in back-taxes to Ireland, to the fury of many in America, she flew across the Atlantic on a charm offensive. The Americans were not charmed; Ms Vestager was unmoved. Buckling up for the flight home, she tweeted that she had never felt so European.

Since she assumed her current role in November 2014, Ms Vestager has had several high-profile clashes with American tech firms. In May she fined Facebook €110m for misleading EU trustbusters about its takeover of WhatsApp, a messaging service. In June a long-running investigation resulted in a €2.4bn fine on Google for using its search engine to promote its own comparison-shopping service. EU trustbusters have also charged Google with using its Android operating system to promote its mobile-phone apps and services over those of rivals. That…Continue reading

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Why do European companies bother to hire ex-politicians?

THIS month Gerhard Schröder starts a new job. Shareholders in Rosneft, a Russian energy giant with a market value of nearly $60bn, are set to appoint Germany’s ex-chancellor as a board director on September 29th. Russia’s government, Rosneft’s majority-owner, nominated Mr Schröder, who is pals with Vladimir Putin. Despite Western sanctions imposed on the firm after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014, Mr Schröder’s move is no surprise. He has worked for years with Gazprom, another energy arm of the Russian state, to promote a gas pipeline to western Europe.

His ties to Russia win him few friends at home. His successor as Germany’s leader, Angela Merkel, calls his behaviour “not OK”. She also vows to reject offers of “any posts in industry once I am no longer chancellor”. Other politicians are happier to follow Mr Schröder’s example. It emerged last month that a former German president, Christian Wulff (pictured), is also employed by a foreign company. He advises…Continue reading

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China moves towards banning the internal combustion engine

“A DEFINING moment for the auto industry.” That is how usually restrained analysts at Sanford C. Bernstein, a research firm, described the news that China’s government wants to move towards a ban on gas guzzlers. On September 9th, Xin Guobin, vice minister of industry and information technology, told an automotive conference in Tianjin, a grimy industrial city near Beijing, that the government is developing a long-term plan to phase out vehicles powered by fossil fuels.

The news reverberated around car firms, for which China is the largest market. William Russo of China’s Gao Feng Advisory, a consultancy, who was previously a senior executive at Chrysler, says China is simply far too big to lose out on. “If China says no more fossil-fuel powered cars, global carmakers must follow.”

No timeline for a ban was suggested. China already has ambitious medium-term goals for automotive efficiency and climate change, including a cap on carbon emissions by 2030. Experts…Continue reading

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Rivalry between Apple and Samsung in smartphones will grow fiercer

NEVER shy about hype, on September 12th Apple’s boss, Tim Cook, presented the firm’s latest iPhones to a packed auditorium in its glitzy new headquarters in Cupertino. He made a grand prediction: its new, premium phone, the iPhone X (pronounced “ten”), will “set the path of technology for the next decade”. Set to be released this November, ten years after the first iPhone launched, the iPhone X has new features such as an edge-to-edge OLED screen (a thinner screen that does not use a backlight), wireless charging, facial-recognition technology and a dual-lens camera.

On the same day, Samsung, a rival smartphone-maker, held a lower-key event in Seoul. Koh Dong-jin, president of Samsung Electronics’ mobile business, announced that next year Samsung could reimagine the smartphone entirely and launch a new design with a foldable screen, which can close like a small book. On September 15th its latest premium smartphone, the Galaxy Note 8, will go on sale, boasting many of the features offered by the iPhone X.

Both are trying to convince consumers to spend around $1,000 for their new gadgets. Samsung’s new phone will cost $960; Apple’s high-end iPhone X will cost $999, 45% more than the average selling price of an iPhone in 2016. (The iPhone 8, simpler than the X and available for sale in September, will start at $699.)

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A craft-beer boom with Chinese characteristics

EVIDENCE unearthed at Mijiaya in Shaanxi province proved that the Chinese have an ancient tradition of making beer. Brewers were operating 5,000 years ago, using grains such as millet and Job’s tears (a kind of pearl barley). This year a couple of small-scale brewers lovingly recreated that Neolithic ale. The cloudy, hop-free beverage would challenge even the bravest microbrew devotee. Ladislao Raphael of Moonzen Brewery in Hong Kong describes it as “sour and funky”.

Yet Mr Raphael and his fellow craft-beer evangelists are winning converts. The Chinese market, which is the world’s largest, is dominated by mass-produced lager. But craft breweries are sprouting up around the country—by 2016 there were around 150, up threefold from 2015. Consumption of their brews has surged by two-thirds over the past five years, figures from GlobalData show, even as overall beer-swilling declines. This mirrors a global pattern: consumers often crave better beers as they get richer. Trend-setters…Continue reading

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