All posts on June, 2016


ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

From noodles to poodles

Pots of money no more?

SOARING sales of instant noodles have for years been a reliable indicator of the insatiable appetites of China’s rising consumer class. China is the world’s biggest market for these flash-fried snacks infused with monosodium glutamate (MSG), a chemical that makes flavourless food more palatable. Locals slurp down over 40 billion packets each year. Now comes news of a nasty noodle meltdown. It is less a sign that China’s long consumer boom is waning than that Chinese tastes are changing.

The volume of instant noodles gobbled last year fell by 12.5%, according to a new report on China’s consumer market from Bain, a consultancy, and Kantar Worldpanel, a market-research firm. The consequences for firms such as Tingyi, whose Master Kong noodles are found everywhere from railway canteens to kitchen cupboards, have been severe. Profits for China’s biggest instant-noodle firm fell by 36% in 2015, to $256m, as hungry Chinese consumers turned their backs on its wares. Even more shocking, the volume of beer sold in China—the world’s biggest guzzler—fell by 3.6% last year, largely because of plunging…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusiness and financeFINANCEFinance and economics

Grand dodgy

The tax-dodgers are being scrutinised too

JUNE 29th was judgment day in a case that has changed the face of corporate tax-planning. Antoine Deltour (pictured) and Raphaël Halet, two ex-employees of PwC, an accounting firm, and Edouard Perrin, a French journalist, had been tried in Luxembourg for their role in leaking documents that revealed sweetheart tax deals the Grand Duchy had offered to dozens of multinationals. The defendants denied the charges, which included theft of documents and violation of secrecy, arguing that their exposure of dodgy tax practices was in the public interest. Luxembourg insisted the deals were both legal and unremarkable.

The whistle-blowers faced up to ten years behind bars. However, the prosecutor—perhaps sensitive to the strong public and, in some places, political support for them abroad—called for suspended sentences of 18 months. In the end the judge handed Messrs Deltour and Halet suspended sentences of 12 months and nine months, respectively. But a conviction is a conviction; Transparency International, an anti-corruption group, called it “appalling”. Mr Perrin, who had published an…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusiness and financeFINANCEFinance and economics

Faltering flagship

A soggy outlook in the shipyards

HOW best to prop up the companies that power South Korea’s export-driven economy as the rest of the world slows? The government’s previous answer, the so-called “one-shot” bill, aims to help the worst-affected industries to restructure by offering tax breaks for firms that sell subsidiaries and by reducing the red tape around mergers. Parliament approved it in February; it will come into effect in August. But Park Geun-hye, South Korea’s president, thinks more is needed. On June 28th she proposed a stimulus of 20 trillion won ($17 billion).

South Korea’s exports have fallen every month year-on-year since January 2015. In early June the central bank trimmed its benchmark interest rate by 0.25 percentage points, taking it to an all-time low of 1.25%. Nonetheless the government this week revised down its forecast of GDP growth this year from 3.1%, which it predicted in December, to 2.8%. Ms Park said that the economic situation inside and outside the country was “more serious than ever”.

Britain’s recent decision to leave the European Union, South Korea’s…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusiness and financeFINANCEFinance and economics

Prophets and profiteers

FOUR out of five hedge-fund managers had expected Britain to vote to remain in the European Union, according to a poll by Preqin, a data firm. But a handful saw Brexit coming and invested accordingly. They made hundreds of millions by betting against assets that were likely to suffer from an Out vote. Crispin Odey’s London-based fund, which manages around $10 billion and has had a terrible year, jumped nearly 15% on the day after the vote. That was thanks to short positions on the shares of a number of British firms (including Aberdeen, an asset manager, and Berkeley Group, a builder) and a big investment in gold. Others, such as Atlantic Investment Management, prospered by betting against sterling, which fell this week to its lowest value against the dollar since 1985.

Another successful approach was to do what hedge funds were originally set up to do: hedge (not many do these days). “Did we see it coming? No,” admits Lukas Daalder of Robeco, a Dutch asset manager, who says he was able to limit damage by recognising the vote was too close to call. He tried to surprise-proof his portfolio by betting that sterling would fall against the dollar and by…Continue reading

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