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Active fund managers hold fewer and fewer stocks

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THE past decade has been tough for conventional “active” fund managers, who try to pick stocks that beat the market. They have been losing business to “passive” funds—those that try to replicate a benchmark, like the S&P500 index. Passive funds have much lower fees.Figures from Inalytics, a company that analyses fund managers’ portfolios, suggest that active managers are changing strategy in response. The average number of stocks in global equity portfolios has halved, from 121 to 61 (see chart). In a sense, active managers have become more active, making bigger bets on individual stocks. This makes their portfolios less like the index, meaning they can beat the market by a larger margin. But they can also do a lot worse. The portfolios examined by Inalytics have outperformed, but in the l

Ericsson and Nokia are now direct rivals. How do they compare?

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“SUCCESS is toxic”, says Risto Siilasmaa, Nokia’s chairman, as snowflakes swirl in the wind outside. Asked what lesson to draw from his firm’s collapse, which started a decade ago, he underlines the dangers of doing too well. In its heyday, Nokia was a monster; its market capitalisation surpassed $290bn in mid-2000 and by 2007 it accounted for 40% of global handset sales. Yet its dominance in hardware, which encouraged a relaxed attitude towards software, bred failure. It is now worth $33bn.No executive at Ericsson, Nokia’s big European rival based some 400km to the west near Stockholm, would put it quite that way. But the experience of the Swedish firm has been strikingly similar. Early this decade Ericsson provided 40% of the world’s mobile infrastructure and its market capitalisation ho

Pakistan’s Murree Brewery shrugs off restrictions on its products

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Tipple from a teetotalitarian landQUARTER-LITRE bottles of whisky whizz down a conveyor belt past Mukhtar Ali, a quality-control employee at Pakistan’s Murree Brewery, the only legal beer-and-spirit maker in this Islamic country. Nearby labourers pack Vat No.1, a cask-aged spirit, into boxes. An elderly man with a long beard tapes them up. Asked over the roar of imported German machinery if they have ever taken a sip of the amber liquid, each shakes his head. “It’s haram,” (meaning forbidden), says Mr Ali.The 155-year-old institution causes some spluttering nonetheless. Founded for British troops of the Raj, it can sell only to the 3% of the 207m-strong population that is comprised of foreigners and non-Muslims. But many of its products end up in Muslim hands, as illustrated by the predile

An arcane business structure loses its charm

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WHEN British soapmakers merged with Dutch margarine merchants to form Unilever in 1929, the logic was clear. Both firms shared a key ingredient, animal fat, and were starting to step on each other’s toes as they diversified. Unilever is one of the world’s largest consumer-goods firms. A dual-nationality company, it has headquarters in both Britain and the Netherlands and is regarded as a national treasure in both places.Before the month is out, however, it is expected to plump for Rotterdam as its sole headquarters (Britain’s quandary over Brexit is doubtless a factor). It is not alone in rethinking its arcane arrangement. According to FTI Consulting, a business-advisory firm, of the 15 companies that have used a “dual structure” at one time or other over the past 25 years, only six remain

CFIUS intervenes in Broadcom’s attempt to buy Qualcomm

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IT WAS only five months ago that President Donald Trump lauded Broadcom, a chipmaker, as “one of the really great, great companies” for announcing its plan to move its legal headquarters to America from Singapore. With such praise in the bank, the firm’s chief executive, Hock Tan, may have expected his subsequent offer for a rival, Qualcomm, to enjoy an easy ride. Its course has been anything but smooth. The $142bn bid, which would be the largest-ever tech deal, was rebuffed by Qualcomm’s management. Broadcom next turned to shareholders, asking them to elect its nominees to Qualcomm’s board at a meeting scheduled for March 6th.Then, in a dramatic twist, the Committee on Foreign Investment into the United States (CFIUS), which oversees the national-security implications of foreign transacti

Markets fret about America’s turn toward protectionism

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IN THE run-up to the presidential election of 2016, investors were nervous about Donald Trump. They liked his tax-cutting, anti-regulation promises, but fretted about his foreign and trade policies. Some dubbed the two agendas “Trump lite” and “Donnie Darko”.Almost as soon as it became clear that Mr Trump would become president, the markets decided to believe in the optimistic version. His tweeting and decision-making may have been erratic, but investors seemed to forgive the president his peccadilloes as a wife might her errant husband: “He may not be faithful but he’s a good provider.”Fears about trade conflict almost disappeared. In last month’s survey of global fund managers by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, just 5% regarded a trade war between America and China as the biggest risk fac

Mining data on cab rides to show how business information flows

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AS COMPUTING power has grown, it has become easier to uncover information hidden inside datasets that seem totally unconnected. Some recent studies have used this approach to reveal business-related information flows. One linked the movements of 18th-century share prices with the arrival of ships bringing news. Another looked at the relationship between business activity and the movements of corporate jets. A third mined White House visitor logs for the names of executives and examined their companies’ subsequent stockmarket returns.A paper in this vein published on March 5th pores over a dataset released by New York City’s government covering more than 1bn cab rides between 2009 and 2014. David Finer, a graduate student at University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, analysed trips c

America’s companies have binged on debt; a reckoning looms

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AMERICA’s companies have been powering ahead for years. Amid growing profits, the recession that began in 2007 seems an increasingly distant memory. Yet the situation has a dark side: companies have binged on debt. For now, as the good times have coincided with a period of record-low interest rates, markets have been untroubled. But a shock could put corporate America into trouble.No matter how it is measured, the debt load looks worrying. When calculated as a percentage of GDP, the total debt of America’s non-financial corporations reached 73.3% in the second quarter of 2017 (the latest available data). This is a record high. Measured against earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA), the net debt of non-financial companies in the S&P500 hit a ratio of 1.5 at o

How digitisation is paying for DBS

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MOST banks gush about digital technology, fearing all the while that some born-digital usurper, large or small, will do to them what Amazon has done to retailers, Uber to taxi-drivers and Airbnb to hoteliers. Some have reorganised themselves to become nimbler, copying startups by forming small teams to generate, test, reject and improve ideas at speed. Apps are improving, new products are appearing and online marketplaces are being built. Only a few are turning enthusiasm into money. One of those is DBS.Singapore’s (and South-East Asia’s) biggest bank is a stockmarket darling. Its share price has roughly doubled in the past two years, outstripping the gains of Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC) and United Overseas Bank (UOB), its main local rivals (see chart). The price exceeds DBS