All posts on March, 2016


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Lynda.com’s new Learning Path program plans the courses needed to land the job you want

Lynda.com has launched a program called Learning Paths to help you land your next job, curating its courses by specific job titles. The idea is to give you a starting point to learn more about a particular profession. To start, the online education company offers 53 job titles with multiple courses listed under each one […]

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Disney hopes Marvel: Avengers Alliance 2 will blast its way to success on mobile

One of Disney’s most successful social games to date is Marvel: Avengers Alliance, which debuted on Facebook in 2012 and grew to 70 million players. Now, the sequel is coming out, but in a very different world — with target platforms in the $34.8 billion mobile game market. Disney Interactive Games and Marvel Entertainment are […]

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Sprint now lets you get Amazon Prime for $11 per month, $132 per year. But why?

ANALYSIS: U.S. telecommunications giant Sprint has a “unique offering” in store for its customers today — it will now let them sign up to Amazon Prime for $11 per month as an add-on to their usual monthly plan. There’s little question that Amazon Prime, replete with streaming video and music, and super-fast deliveries on goods, is […]

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Machine Zone’s Gabe Leydon freaked out East Coast media, now will speak at SF Mobile Summit

VB EVENT: Within two years, a relatively unknown company called Machine Zone has exploded to become one of the largest mobile gaming companies in the world, all on the back of a single successful mobile game, Game of War. The company’s CEO, Gabe Leydon, has since become one of the sharpest critics of the multi-billion dollar ad industry. […]

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Intel event highlights college student games that should be published right now

One of the delightful surprises at the recent Game Developers Conference in San Francisco was the Intel University Games Showcase, which featured some of the most innovative games being built by teams of college students. I attended the event in the vast upper level of the Metreon and was very pleasantly surprised at how good the demos […]

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Zynga hopes Willy Wonka slots mobile game will be its golden ticket

Zynga said earlier this year that it is launching 10 new games that could turn around its fortunes in mobile games. And it is launching one of those titles this morning. The social-mobile game company is targeting a broader group of gamers with its mobile titles, and it hopes the billion-plus casual mobile gaming fans […]

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ApprovedBusiness and financeFINANCEFinance and economics

The Burma road

Ripe for investment

SPEND a day in Yangon, shuttling among new high-rises and bars before retreating to your boutique hotel, and you can almost believe that after decades of isolation, Myanmar is squarely on the road to prosperity. Spend more than a few days, however, and the cracks start showing: intermittent power cuts, ancient sewage systems, insufficient housing for an influx of migrants from the countryside.

The situation is worse in rural Myanmar, where much of the population lives not just in extreme poverty, but also mired in debt. Bad roads make it costly to get goods to market and impede investment. Around three-quarters of the country’s children live in homes that lack electricity. Myanmar’s voters hope their first freely elected government since the 1960s, which took office this week, will change things for the better.

The task ahead is daunting: within South-East Asia, only Cambodia has a lower GDP per person. Its infrastructure (both physical and financial) is somewhere between crumbling and non-existent; its laws are archaic and, after decades of isolation and underinvestment in education, its…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Recovery phase

Hoping for a miracle

DISASTER struck Malaysia Airlines twice in 2014. In March, flight MH370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, a Boeing 777 carrying 239 passengers and crew, disappeared an hour after take-off. Experts think it crashed in the southern Indian Ocean, though no one is sure why. Only a few fragments of debris have turned up, off Africa’s coast. Four months later Russian-backed militia in eastern Ukraine shot down MH17, another 777, killing all 298 people on board. Two years on, Malaysia’s struggling national carrier is still flying, but its financial health remains under scrutiny.

Both crashes appeared to have been beyond the firm’s control but hurt business nonetheless. Customers deserted the airline. Chinese flyers feared it was jinxed: sales in China, a crucial market, fell by 60% immediately after the first crash. Shortly after the second disaster, in August 2014, Malaysia’s government renationalised the airline, rescuing it from collapse.

In fact the airline was in a mess before the two tragedies. Malaysia last made a profit in 2010. In 2013 the firm lost $356m. As demand for air travel in the…Continue reading

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Ante upped

TEN years ago African bonds were a rare sight. Of all the countries south of the Sahara, only South Africa had ever sold a dollar-denominated bond to foreign investors. Since then, 16 more have. Excluding South Africa, African countries issued $6.75 billion of dollar debt last year, just short of the record $7 billion sold in 2014. But depreciating currencies, low commodity prices and a rise in interest rates in America are taking the shine off.

Africa’s bond bonanza suited both investors and governments. With government bonds in their own countries offering measly returns, rich-country pension funds looked to Africa for higher yields. And by issuing debt in dollars, African governments could avoid the double-digit rates they pay to borrow at home. For a while, optimism reigned. Ghana’s debut dollar bond was four times oversubscribed. Zambia, buoyed by a copper boom, did even better: its ten-year bond, issued in 2012, was 24 times oversubscribed, and sold at a yield of 5.6%—lower than the equivalent Spanish bond at the time.

Governments were able to issue bonds thanks partly to debt cancellation, which brought down external debt in…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Analyse this

WHAT is the most influential contemporary book about the world economy? An obvious choice is “Capital in the Twenty-First Century”, a 696-page analysis of inequality by Thomas Piketty, a French economist. There is another candidate: “Valuation”, a 825-page manual on corporate finance and shareholder value. Some 700,000 copies of it encumber the bookshelves of MBA students, investors and chief executives around the globe.

Inequality and shareholder value are linked in the minds of many folk, who blame investors and managers for stagnant wages and financial crises. Ruthless corporations are a big theme in America’s election campaign. The near-collapse of Valeant, a drugs firm, seems to illustrate a toxic business culture. Its shares have fallen by 73% this year. It is restating its accounts and is in negotiations with its lenders and under investigation by regulators. Valeant describes itself as “bringing value to our shareholders”. While there is no indication of fraudulent or illegal practice, the company could end up joining a pantheon of corporate fiascos that includes Enron (which pledged to “create significant value for our…Continue reading

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Bucking the trend

AT THE beginning of the year the dollar was on a tear. In trade-weighted terms, it had risen by almost 20% since the start of July 2014. With the Federal Reserve tightening interest rates for the first time since 2006, the greenback seemed destined to head higher.

In fact, doubts were already emerging. In mid-December fund managers polled by Bank of America Merrill Lynch thought that being bullish about the dollar was the most overcrowded trade in the financial markets and that the currency was overvalued.

The dollar continued to rise for the first three weeks of the year but then the tide turned: since January 20th, the currency has fallen by 3.8% in trade-weighted terms (see chart). The main reason may be a perceived shift in Fed policy; as the year began, investors were expecting three or four rate increases in 2016. The latest statement from the central bank suggests that only two rises are on the menu.

The dollar’s ascent may have played a part in the Fed’s stance, since a stronger currency, by itself, represents a tightening of monetary conditions. The central bank has lowered its forecast for growth this year…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Hail, César!

Mr Alierta found his chair comfortable

SIXTEEN years was surely too long for anyone to remain as boss of Spain’s largest telecoms company, Telefónica. During his spell in charge, César Alierta, 70, who at last agreed to hang up his receiver this week, created a giant. Telefónica expanded far and wide in Latin America and Europe, yet the benefits to shareholders were hard to see.

A former stockbroker who was famously fond of cigars, Mr Alierta became one of the most powerful businessmen in Spain. Under his guidance, Telefónica’s debt-fuelled expansion mirrored Spain’s own overheated economic boom and subsequent slump. Early on he had shown caution: his tenure began with his cleaning up the mess that resulted from Telefónica’s dud investments during the dotcom bubble. Then, like bosses at other big Spanish firms such as Santander, a bank, Mr Alierta was tempted to splurge. Telefónica bought BellSouth’s Latin American mobile operations in 2004; acquired O2, a British telecoms firm, in 2006; and invested in China. By 2007 its market value exceeded €100 billion ($150 billion).

Its heft did help…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Blinded by the light

Some prospects are still dazzling

IN SOME respects this is a bumper era for solar energy. Last year, for the first time, the world invested more in photovoltaic cells than in coal- and gas-fired power generation combined. This year, new solar installations in America are expected to more than double (see chart ). China, which now has more solar capacity than any other country, plans to triple it by the end of the decade.

Yet this week two of the rich world’s most prominent solar-power developers have been flirting with disaster. Cheered on by yield-hungry creditors and investors, they had expanded too quickly, reliant on heavy borrowing and financial engineering. Not for the first time, some energy firms fooled themselves into believing that newfangled technologies and funding mechanisms could let them defy laws of financial gravity.

On March 29th SunEdison, an American firm that…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Million-dollar babies 

THAT a computer program can repeatedly beat the world champion at Go, a complex board game, is a coup for the fast-moving field of artificial intelligence (AI). Another high-stakes game, however, is taking place behind the scenes, as firms compete to hire the smartest AI experts. Technology giants, including Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Baidu, are racing to expand their AI activities. Last year they spent some $8.5 billion on research, deals and hiring, says Quid, a data firm. That was four times more than in 2010.

 In the past universities employed the world’s best AI experts. Now tech firms are plundering departments of robotics and machine learning (where computers learn from data themselves) for the highest-flying faculty and students, luring them with big salaries similar to those fetched by professional athletes.

Last year Uber, a taxi-hailing firm, recruited 40 of the 140 staff of the National Robotics Engineering Centre at Carnegie Mellon University, and set up a unit to work on self-driving cars. That drew headlines because Uber…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusiness and financeFINANCEFinance and economics

Double-crossed

THE bookmaker on Aldgate High Street, on the fringes of London’s financial district, attracts its fair share of risk-takers. But across the road, at the offices of LCH.Clearnet, part of the London Stock Exchange Group (LSE), the really big bets are handled. It and other clearing-houses now occupy a central position in high finance. They ensure that trillions of dollars are paid out on derivatives contracts each day. A decade of dealmaking has created five big beasts of clearing: LSE, Deutsche Börse, CME Group, ICE and HKEX. A planned merger between LSE and the Germans would reduce that to four.

LSE and Deutsche Börse take their names from their respective bourses. But they now make more money from their clearing-houses, LCH.Clearnet and Eurex Clearing. That is because the clearing of derivatives has become central to the modern financial system.

Imagine two banks want to hedge against interest-rate movements, but in opposite directions. They sign a contract that will lead to a payment from one to the other if rates rise, and the reverse if they fall. The potential loss or gain is theoretically unlimited, since there is no…Continue reading

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Hot in the city

GLOBALISATION has created a handful of metropolises that attract people, capital and ideas from all over the world, almost irrespective of how their national economy is doing. House prices in such places, unsurprisingly, outpace the national average. In our latest round-up of global housing, we find that prices have risen in 20 of the 26 countries we track over the past year, at an (unweighted) average pace of 5.1% after adjusting for inflation. Prices in pre-eminent cities in these countries, however, have risen by 8.3% on average.

In a survey conducted last year, fewer than one in nine residents of Amsterdam, Berlin, London, Paris, Stockholm and Zurich thought that it was easy to find reasonably-priced housing. In these cities, house prices have risen at an average pace of 6.5% a year over the past three years (again, unweighted), compared with a national average rise of just 3.2%. The value of homes in four cities on the Pacific—San Francisco, Vancouver, Sydney and Shanghai—has increased by 12% a year over the past three years, twice the average national pace.

The supply of housing is rather inelastic, so in the short term…Continue reading

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Money bags

“WE ARE on a wild ride,” Tom Mangas, the boss of Starwood, an American hotel group that owns the Westin and Sheraton brands, wrote to employees this week. He was referring to the bidding war over Starwood between Marriott, another American hotel operator, and a group led by Anbang, a Chinese insurer. Anbang this week raised its offer to $14 billion. But Mr Mangas could just as well have been talking about the wave of China-led mergers and acquisitions that is sweeping over the world economy.

Chinese firms with little international experience and lots of debt have emerged as the biggest buyers of global assets. They have announced nearly $100 billion in cross-border M&A deals this year, already more than their $61 billion of foreign acquisitions last year (see chart). To be sure, announcing deals is not the same as closing them. Between losing out to other bidders and rejection by regulators, China’s investment tally…Continue reading

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