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Accountancy takes root in the inhospitable soil of Afghanistan

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Waiting for the auditorWHEN Afghan lawmakers were debating rules of conduct for accountants, some were confounded by their strictness. Why should those found guilty of murder, asked one member of parliament, be struck off? That is a sign of the challenges facing the professional body for bean-counters, Certified Professional Accountants (CPA) Afghanistan, which was launched last month.Attempts to establish a home-grown profession start from a low base. Back in 2009 Kabul, a city of around 4m, had fewer than 20 qualified accountants. Neither standards nor oversight for the profession were in place. Most local outfits were branches of firms from elsewhere in South Asia or farther afield.Boring old accountancy might not seem a priority for a war-torn country. But in business it can foster tru...

Natural disasters made 2017 a year of record insurance losses

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THAT 2017 suffered from more than its fair share of natural catastrophes was known at the time. In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, the streets of Houston, Texas, were submerged under brown floodwater; Hurricane Irma razed buildings to the ground on some Caribbean islands. That the destruction was great enough for insurance losses to reach record levels has only just been confirmed. According to figures released on January 4th by Munich Re, a reinsurer, global, inflation-adjusted insured catastrophe losses reached an all-time high of $135bn in 2017 (see chart). Total losses (including uninsured ones) reached $330bn, second only to losses of $354bn in 2011.A large portion of the losses in 2011 was caused by one catastrophe: the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Losses in 2017 were largely trace...

Predicting doom for the bond market

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INVESTORS are dragging their attention away from the stockmarket for a moment to figure out what is going on in the other main part of their portfolios: government bonds. Yields have been rising so far this year and Bill Gross, one of the sector's gurus, has said the long bull market (which dates back to the early 1980s) is finally over.This certainly seems to be the month for big calls; the noted equity bear Jeremy Grantham has already pointed to the potential for a "melt-up" in the stockmarket. Mr Gross, who runs money for Janus but made his name at Pimco, said that the 25-year trend lines had been broken  for both the five- and ten-year bonds. The end of the bond bull market has been called many times, dating back at least to September 2011. There...Continue readingPowered by WPeMatico

Investment banks’ cull of company analysts brings dangers

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THEY are not extinct, nor even on the endangered-species list. But company analysts, once among the most prestigious professionals in the stockmarket, are being culled. New European rules, with the catchy name of MiFID2, have just dealt analysts another blow. A study by Greenwich Associates estimates that the research budget may drop by 20% this year.In their heyday in the late 1980s and early 1990s, analysts could make and break corporate reputations. A “buy” or “sell” recommendation from the leading two or three analysts in an industry could move a share price substantially. Fund managers, and many financial journalists, relied on analysts to spot those companies that were on a rising trajectory, and those where the accounts revealed signs of imminent trouble. And the best analysts were

Supersonic jets may be about to make a comeback

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IN OCTOBER 2003, the age of supersonic passenger travel came to an inauspicious end. That month British Airways withdrew from service its last Concorde jet, a Franco-British aircraft from the 1970s that could fly at twice the speed of sound. Since the 1940s executives in the aerospace industry had predicted that the future of passenger travel would be supersonic. But since the retirement of Concorde there have been no passenger jets that can fly that fast in service. Worse still, even conventional sub-sonic jetliners these days fly slower than their equivalents from the 1960s.In 2017 the race to break the sound barrier gained new momentum. In December Aerion, an aerospace start-up from Nevada, Lockheed Martin, a defence giant, and GE Aviation, an enginemaker, announced a joint venture to d...

South Korea’s antitrust tsar has a good shot at taming the chaebol

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AS KIM SANG-JO was preparing last May to make the switch from snappy shareholder activist to a regulatory role as South Korea’s fair-trade commissioner, he had a simple message for the country’s big conglomerates: “Please do not break the law.” Not one to make bosses quake in their brogues, exactly. And yet the chaebol, as the country’s family-controlled empires are known, are responding to his call for reform. Addressing complaints about governance, a few have brought far-flung businesses into a simpler holding-company structure. Others have set up funds to provide support to suppliers, which have long accused the giants of treating them badly. Another group is paying out record dividends to once-disregarded shareholders.Mr Kim was preaching, if not yet to the converted, then to the disco