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Beware of performance figures

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GOLFERS are familiar with the concept of a “mulligan”—the chance to retake a shot. Give an averagely talented player enough mulligans and he or she will get one close to the hole. And a version of the mulligan exists in fund management too.Readers will be familiar from past blog posts with the idea that actively managed funds cannot be relied upon to beat the index. Many of these studies are conducted in the US market, which is probably the most efficient (and thus hardest to beat) in the world. But the same is true in Europe.Figures from S&P Dow Jones Indices show that, over the ten years to December 2017, less than 15% of euro-denominated European equity funds beat their benchmark; for emerging market funds, it was less than 3%; and global funds, under 2%. For sterling-denominated funds,

Airlines in America are in a race to improve their meals

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IN THE 1950s—when the International Air Transport Association (IATA), a cartel of airlines, used to set fare levels and service quality on international routes—there were few differences between major carriers. One way to persuade passengers to choose one airline over another was to offer better meals as entertainment on board. And so an arms race to serve fancier food on transatlantic flights began. It came to an end in 1958, when SAS, a Scandinavian carrier, was fined $20,000 by IATA for serving open sandwiches that, contrary to IATA’s rules, contained overly fancy ingredients such as ox tongue, lettuce hearts and asparagus. The quality of food on board flights has fallen greatly since. Liberalisation of the aviation industry in the 1980s and 1990s, with IATA losing its power over fares,

AT&T’s merger with Time Warner goes on trial

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AN ANTITRUST trial over AT&T’s $109bn acquisition of Time Warner, which begins on March 19th, will have more keen observers than one courtroom can handle. Disney, Comcast, 21st Century Fox, Verizon, Charter Communications, CBS and Viacom will be watching. So will Netflix, Amazon and Google.The reason is simple. If AT&T wins the case against the Justice Department, and the “vertical merger” of the distribution and content businesses goes through, a wave of consolidation deals will follow. Companies that rely on large numbers of people to watch video will want to bulk up to compete with each other and Silicon Valley’s mightiest.Comcast may make a hostile bid for Fox’s assets, setting off a bidding war with Disney, which has already agreed a $66bn deal with Fox. (Comcast already wants to buy

Which firms profit most from America’s health-care system

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EVERY year America spends about $5,000 more per person on health care than other rich countries do. Yet its people are not any healthier. Where does all the money go? One explanation is waste, with patients wolfing down too many pills and administrators churning out red tape. There is also the cost of services that may be popular and legitimate but do nothing to improve medical outcomes. Manhattan’s hospitals, with their swish reception desks and menus, can seem like hotels compared with London’s bleached Victorian structures.The most controversial source of excess spending, though, is rent-seeking by health-care firms. This is when companies extract outsize profits relative to the capital they deploy and risks they take. Schumpeter has estimated the scale of gouging across the health-care

Unilever picks Rotterdam

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PROUDLY overlooking the River Thames, Unilever House looks more royal palace than office building. Built on the site of a Tudor estate, for nine decades it has been the London home to Unilever, one of the world’s largest consumer-goods firms. Since a merger of British soapmakers and Dutch margarine merchants in 1929, Unilever has been a dual-nationality company. It is legally domiciled in Britain and the Netherlands, with headquarters in both the London building and in Rotterdam.The appeal of dual citizenship has faded. After a year-long review, on March 15th Unilever’s board announced plans to move its legal base to Rotterdam. (The firm will continue to have a listing in London, and claims no British jobs will be lost.) Many in the City of London finger Britain’s decision to leave the Eur

Germany’s two biggest utilities strike a deal

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Windy with a chance of profitsWHEN Johannes Teyssen took control of E.ON in 2010, it was Germany’s second-biggest company after Siemens, an industrial giant. From its headquarters in chic Düsseldorf, the utility looked down on RWE, its longtime rival, based in Essen, a down-at-heel former coal-and-steel town 40 minutes’ drive away.The illusion of superiority did not last. The following year Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, reacted to the meltdown at Fukushima in Japan by starting a process to shut down Germany’s nuclear-power plants, on which both companies relied. Other aspects of the Energiewende, or energy transition, added to their woes, as lavish support for renewables clobbered the country’s wholesale electricity prices. The companies’ profits slumped, as did their share prices (