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FDA wants to help unproductive drugmakers

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SCOTT GOTTLIEB, the thoughtful head of America’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has had a busy first year. He has launched the process of lowering nicotine levels in cigarettes, approved self-testing kits for breast-cancer genes and waved through the most new medicines in two decades, as well as a record number of copycat drugs (see article). There is one thing he and his regulatory agency are doing less of, however—regulating. New rules were at a 20-year low in 2017, according to analysts at PwC, a consultancy. Instead, the FDA is providing more guidance to industry. This approach, Mr Gottlieb hopes, will help pharmaceutical firms in America develop drugs more efficiently. Since that is where most drug development happens, the FDA’s philosophy matters beyond American borders.Given th

Europeans fret that Chinese investment is a security risk

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“WE ARE not naive free traders. Europe must always defend its strategic interests,” said Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, last year as he introduced plans to screen foreign investment into the European Union. America has had such rules since the 1970s; they are set to tighten further. The EU used to be more relaxed about acquisitions by foreigners. Now it too is toughening up.The target is China, whose firms have been on a shopping spree (see chart). Purchases of fripperies such as football clubs and hotels have been curbed by the Chinese authorities, but investment continues to flow into technology and infrastructure, notes James Zhan of the UN...Continue readingPowered by WPeMatico

The world’s three biggest engine-makers hit a snag

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It never walks. But does it run?IT USED to be the world’s two biggest makers of airliners that would invariably deliver new designs late and over budget. A decade ago the cost of Airbus’s A380 superjumbo soared by about €5.5bn ($6.6bn) after engineers got its 330 miles of cables in a jumble. Boeing’s rival 787 Dreamliner exceeded its forecast costs by a whopping $20bn, give or take; its parts, once assembled, did not fit together properly. But just as both planemakers are mending their ways—Airbus’s A350 and A320neo and Boeing’s 737 MAX arrived in a much more timely and economical manner—manufacturers of the engines which power the aircraft are beginning to stall.On March 15th Boeing revealed that the new engines, the largest ever made, for its new 777X wide-body airliner had completed the

Corporate citizens of somewhere

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WHEN it comes to companies and their passports, there is a flutter of activity in the air—and a reek of hypocrisy. This month Qualcomm, an American-domiciled tech giant which does 65% of its business in China, booked most of its profits last year in Singapore, and pays little tax at home, successfully lobbied the Trump administration to block a hostile takeover on the ground that its independence was vital to ensure American strategic supremacy over China. The predator was Broadcom. It is listed in America but domiciled in Singapore, where it gets tax perks. On November 2nd, four days before its bid, it announced a burning desire to shift its legal base to the home of the brave.In Europe, Unilever, which a year ago demanded that the British authorities help it fend off an unwelcome takeove

The EU wants to make finance more environmentally friendly

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TO GAUGE an issue’s importance, a guest list is a good place to start. The one for a conference in Brussels on March 22nd to discuss the European Union’s “action plan” on sustainable finance features heavy-hitters including Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, and Michael Bloomberg, a former mayor of New York who campaigns on climate change. Given that sustainable finance is well-established, what action does the EU think is needed?Investing with an eye to environmental or social issues, not just financial returns, has become mainstream in the past decade. According to the Global Sustainable Investment Alliance (GSIA), $23trn, or 26% of all assets under management in 2016, were in “socially responsible investments” that take account of environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues. New

Wall Street looks overvalued

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FEW measures of stockmarket valuation are as controversial as the cyclically adjusted price-earnings ratio, or CAPE. American equities have looked expensive on this measure for most of the past 20 years, which is why many bulls tend to dismiss its usefulness. It is pretty clear that the CAPE does not help investors to time the market.But a new paper* from Research Affiliates, a fund-management group, explains why many criticisms are overblown. The strongest case for the measure is that a higher ratio tends to be associated with lower long-term returns. A study of 12 national markets shows that a 5% increase in the CAPE, from 20 to 21, say, tends on average to reduce the total ten-year expected return by four percentage points.The attraction of the CAPE is that it smooths out the vicissitud...

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,