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
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 (
“The Next Steve Jobs”“THE Next Steve Jobs” is how Inc., an American business magazine, described Elizabeth Holmes when her photograph appeared on its cover in 2015. They may share an affinity for black turtlenecks but the reputations of Ms Holmes and Apple’s celebrated late boss could not be more different. On March 14th Ms Holmes was accused of fraud by America’s Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). She has agreed to pay a $500,000 fine, not serve as an officer of a public company for ten years and turn over much of her stake in Theranos, the startup she founded (she has neither admitted nor denied wrongdoing).Only a few years ago Ms Holmes, who is 34 years old, was touted as the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire, a shatterer of Silicon Valley’s reinforced-glass ceiling.
RENAULT unveiled the EZ-GO, a concept for a robotaxi, at the Geneva motor show, which opened on March 5th. Nissan, in conjunction with DeNA, a Japanese software firm, recently began trials of driverless taxis in Japan. The two companies are pursuing their own paths towards the future of mobility. Yet both are bound together in a close alliance, which celebrates its 20th anniversary next year. In 2016 they were joined by Mitsubishi. Last year the trio sold 10.6m cars between them, one in every nine worldwide.It is a unique carmaking liaison, neither a full merger nor as loose as the many tie-ups forged to spread the cost of developing pricey pieces of technology. Each firm remains autonomous but shares a growing number of links in the supply chain with the other two. It all looks hugely suc...
Ms Jiang and Mr Liang, salespeople of the yearLIANG TAO shifted 80 pink Givenchy bags in 12 minutes. Becky Fang offloaded 100 turquoise Mini Cooper cars in just five. Both are wanghong, literally “red-hot on the web”. Every day millions of Chinese trawl social media for wanghong posts or tune in to live-streams for opinions on everything from a French fashionista’s essentials to rampant sexism in China. The fans are helping this new breed of Chinese internet star to monetise their popularity—and to shake up the country’s e-commerce industry in the process.Unlike conventional luxury-and-beauty brand ambassadors, many wanghong have built their fan bases through compelling online content rather than a famous name. Some of the most successful are not especially glamorous. “Pudgy Luo” is a midd
AS AMERICA’S oldest airline still aloft, Delta makes much of its southern roots. At its biggest hub, Atlanta airport, the company museum recounts how it became the world’s second-biggest carrier. The answer: by buying up domestic rivals. With few takeover targets left at home, Delta’s chief executive, Ed Bastian, is looking abroad. But his plans for more foreign joint ventures (JVs) face regulatory headwinds.Last year Mr Bastian announced a flurry of JVs. In May Delta launched one with Aeromexico and in June another with Korean Air. In July Delta formed one of the world’s biggest JVs with Virgin Atlantic of Britain and Air France-KLM, a European group. In December it sealed one with WestJet, Canada’s biggest low-cost carrier. It wants closer relations with China Eastern and GOL of Brazil,
ON THE morning of December 7th 1941, George Elliott Junior noticed “the largest blip” he had ever seen on a radar near America’s naval base at Pearl Harbour. His discovery was dismissed by his superiors, who were thus unprepared for the Japanese bombers that arrived shortly after. The mistake prompted urgent research into “receiver operating characteristics”, the ability of radar operators to distinguish between true and false alarms.A similar concern motivates research at the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) in Basel, Switzerland. Its equivalent to the radar is a set of economic indicators that can potentially detect the approach of financial crises. A prominent example is the “credit gap”, which measures the divergence between the level of credit to households and non-financial f
Property, periodTHE tsunami of 2011 left gaping holes reminiscent of war zones in the landscape along the coast of Tohuku, in the north-east of Honshu, Japan’s main island. Car navigation systems gave directions to landmarks that had vanished into the sea. The subsequent reconstruction effort hit an unexpected roadblock: missing landowners. Officials were stunned to find that hundreds of plots were held in the names of people who were dead or unknown.The deluge threw the problem into particularly sharp relief in Tohuku, but it is widespread elsewhere too. A report last year for the government by a panel of experts estimated that about 41,000 sq km of land, or 11% of Japan’s surface, was unclaimed, most of it in rural regions. By 2040, it warned, the area could more than double. The cumulat
BITCOIN, Ethereum, XRP, Stellar, Cardano: the infant world of cryptocurrencies is already mind-bogglingly crowded. Amid the cacophony of blockchain-based would-be substitutes for official currencies, central banks from Singapore to Sweden have been pondering whether they should issue digital versions of their own money, too. None is about to do so, but a report prepared by central-bank officials from around the world, published by the Bank for International Settlements on March 12th—a week before finance ministers and central-bank heads from G20 countries meet in Buenos Aires—offers a guide to how to approach the task.The answer? With care. For a start, it matters who will be using these central-bank digital currencies (CBDCs). Existing central-bank money comes in two flavours: notes and c
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP has not yet started a global trade war. But he has started a frenzy of special pleading and spluttered threats. In the week since he announced tariffs on steel and aluminium imports, countries have scrambled to win reprieves. Australia, the European Union and Japan, among others, have argued that, since they are America’s allies, their products pose no risk to America’s security. If these appeals fail, the EU has been most vocal in vowing to retaliate, in turn prompting Mr Trump to threaten levies on European cars.In China, ostensibly the focus of Mr Trump’s actions, the public response has been more restrained. Officials have said the two countries should strive for a “win-win outcome”, a favourite bromide in their lexicon. As a rival to America, China knows that an