What really happened to EgyptAir Flight 804?

GULLIVER is not the type of person to kick up a fuss on his travels, least of all when lucky enough to be at the front of the plane. But his patience was pushed to the limit a couple of years ago, when his EgyptAir flight from Cairo to London was blighted by the near-constant stench of cigarette smoke wafting in from the cockpit. Shackled by British meekness and an unwillingness to challenge a flight crew, your asthmatic correspondent suffered the coughs and tried instead to focus on work. Conversations with Egyptian friends later revealed that on-board cigarette smoke is hardly a rarity when flying with the North African flag-carrier. 

Naturally, anecdotes such as this provide only a snapshot of an airline’s safety standards. But it is a deeply disturbing snapshot given the stalled investigation into EgyptAir Flight 804, which crashed into the Mediterranean Sea during a routine flight from Paris to Cairo in 2016, killing all 66 people aboard. This month, France’s air-crash investigation agency, BEA, took the unusual step of criticising…Continue reading

This post was originally published in the Economist.

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What really happened to EgyptAir Flight 804?

Is North Korea the next Vietnam? Don’t count on it

AS AMERICA presses North Korea to abandon nuclear weapons, it has pointed to Vietnam as an example of the prosperity that awaits the isolated state. “It can be your miracle in North Korea as well,” Mike Pompeo (pictured), the secretary of state, said on July 8th, on a visit to Hanoi. It is not the first time Vietnam has been held up as a model for North Korea. Over the years, officials from the two countries have discussed lessons from Vietnam’s reforms. North Korea sees Vietnam as less threatening than China and more of a peer, making it a more welcome mentor. But North Korea’s economic path is likely to be more fraught.

Yes, there are similarities. Like North Korea’s economy today, Vietnam’s used to be largely collectivised. The Vietnamese Communist party’s ability to retain power at the same time as freeing markets must appeal to Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s dictator, who has vowed to improve his country’s economy. In 1985, on the eve of Vietnam’s <em…Continue reading

This post was originally published in the Economist.

Is North Korea the next Vietnam? Don’t count on it

A Chinese music-video app is making WeChat sweat

A PUBLIC spat between two warring and wildly popular Chinese apps has had the feel of a teenage dance-off. “Sorry, Douyin Fans”, ran an article from the short-video app on its WeChat account, in which it accused the mobile-messaging service of disabling links to Douyin’s most popular videos. “All hail Douyin the drama queen,” retorted Tencent, WeChat’s parent, which said it had acted because the content was “inappropriate”.

On June 1st Tencent sued Douyin’s parent company, Bytedance, for 1 yuan (15 cents) and demanded it apologise for its accusations—on its own platforms (and presumably without the snark). Tencent also alleged unfair competition. Within hours Douyin counter-sued for 90m yuan. Bytedance and Tencent later swapped accusations of tolerating smear campaigns against the other on their apps, and filed police reports about defamatory posts.

Rarely has an upstart so piqued Tencent, a Chinese gaming and social-media titan which in November became Asia’s first…Continue reading

This post was originally published in the Economist.

A Chinese music-video app is making WeChat sweat

Law firms climb aboard the AI wagon

LONG hours have been the bane of the legal profession for ages; few of them involve thrilling courtroom antics. As a junior corporate lawyer at Davis Polk & Wardwell, a law firm in New York, John Bick remembers spending most of his waking hours poring over contracts looking for clauses that could complicate or kill off a deal. Even once he became a partner he still had to pitch in on due diligence for large transactions. In 2015 nearly a third of British lawyers were looking to leave the profession, according to the job searches of more than 1,000 of them by Life Productions, a career-change consultancy, perhaps because of the drudgery.

Such dissatisfaction may recede in future. Now on his firm’s management committee, Mr Bick is drafting in artificial intelligence (AI) to do the gruntwork—like many others at top law firms in New York and London. The shift could transform lawyers’ work and slash costs for clients.

Prestigious firms make their money by throwing large…Continue reading

This post was originally published in the Economist.

Law firms climb aboard the AI wagon

Even stockmarket bulls are more cautious than at the start of the year

BEARS sound clever; bulls make money. This piece of financial acumen, imparted by a trader to a colleague, is hard to beat for brevity. It also makes a good point. There is something about market pessimism that endows bears with an aura of wisdom that is not always deserved. The cautious sound clever because they appear to have weighed the odds. Optimists seem heedless by comparison. Yet it is only by taking on risk that investors can hope to make money.

So it is telling that even bulls are now sounding cautious. The economy and stockmarket in America have had a good run, after all. The expansion, which started in 2009, is now the second-longest on record. Unemployment is low. The Federal Reserve is hawkish. This mix tends to kill a bull market sooner rather than later. The question is how much further stocks can rise. Is there still time for bulls to make money? Or will being a bear save you money as well as make you sound clever?

In this debate, each side has a distinctive way of looking at…Continue reading

This post was originally published in the Economist.

Even stockmarket bulls are more cautious than at the start of the year

Despite falling foul of the #MeToo movement, Lululemon is soaring

Stretch targets

BOSS wanted for firm with tarnished reputation in troubled industry. On the face of it, the vacancy to become chief executive of Lululemon doesn’t ooze appeal. It is a clothing company, an industry that has been battered in recent years. And its previous two bosses have both left under a cloud.

In February its chief executive, Laurent Potdevin, resigned for conduct that the firm said fell short of its standards on integrity and showing respect for all employees. Industry observers considered his sudden departure to fit into a succession of corporate resignations sparked by the #MeToo movement against impropriety in the workplace. Mr Potdevin’s exit came three years after Lululemon’s founder, Chip Wilson, left the firm after more than a decade running it. Mr Wilson won notoriety for his on-air proclamation in 2013, after the company had to recall nearly a fifth of its yoga pants for being too sheer, that some women’s bodies “just don’t…Continue reading

This post was originally published in the Economist.

Despite falling foul of the #MeToo movement, Lululemon is soaring

Why the euro zone hasn’t seen more cross-border bank mergers

MERGERS of euro-area banks from different countries, a banker jokes, are “very much like teenage sex. There’s a lot of talk, but little action. And when it does happen, there’s a lot of disappointment.” In recent months gossip has linked each of France’s three biggest banks (BNP Paribas, Crédit Agricole and Société Générale), as well as UniCredit, Italy’s largest, with Commerzbank, Germany’s second-biggest listed bank. Lately chatter has connected UniCredit and Société Générale. But no big, cross-border takeover is imminent.

A stream of deals in the 2000s—notably UniCredit’s purchase of HypoVereinsbank, another leading German lender, in 2005—has slowed to a trickle (see chart, top panel). Policymakers at both the European Commission and the European Central Bank (ECB) would like the flow to revive. The euro area’s banking markets are still essentially national ones. “European banking remains as fragmented today as it was in 2012,” notes Magdalena Stoklosa…Continue reading

This post was originally published in the Economist.

Why the euro zone hasn’t seen more cross-border bank mergers