ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

The trials of Juno

IN THE pharma business, Juno Therapeutics, a small firm based in Seattle, is just a stripling. It is three years old, has not a single drug approval to its name but is nonetheless valued at $2.8 billion. That value is derived from the fact that it is on the forefront of the most promising area of cancer treatments in decades: immuno-oncology.

Juno’s edge comes from its attempts to master one of the most important parts of the immune system: the T-cell. It is developing a so-called CAR-T therapy, in which its scientists extract T-cells from a cancer patient, modify them with gene therapy so that they can recognise cancer cells, and then put them back in the patient’s body ready to attack. The process has a reputation for inducing rapid remissions in cancers of the blood for patients who have exhausted all other options.

Small, innovative biotech firms such as Juno are intriguing because nowadays they are the main engine of global drug innovation. Alexis Borisy, a partner in Third Rock Ventures, a venture-capital firm in Boston, notes that pharma companies now buy in three-quarters of their pipelines, and develop only…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

The trials of Juno

IN THE pharma business, Juno Therapeutics, a small firm based in Seattle, is just a stripling. It is three years old, has not a single drug approval to its name but is nonetheless valued at $2.8 billion. That value is derived from the fact that it is on the forefront of the most promising area of cancer treatments in decades: immuno-oncology.

Juno’s edge comes from its attempts to master one of the most important parts of the immune system: the T-cell. It is developing a so-called CAR-T therapy, in which its scientists extract T-cells from a cancer patient, modify them with gene therapy so that they can recognise cancer cells, and then put them back in the patient’s body ready to attack. The process has a reputation for inducing rapid remissions in cancers of the blood for patients who have exhausted all other options.

Small, innovative biotech firms such as Juno are intriguing because nowadays they are the main engine of global drug innovation. Alexis Borisy, a partner in Third Rock Ventures, a venture-capital firm in Boston, notes that pharma companies now buy in three-quarters of their pipelines, and develop only…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusiness and financeFINANCEFinance and economics

Spectral forms

Will they Passera?

FROM the mists of Italian banking, new shapes are emerging. One is at last becoming flesh: on October 15th the shareholders of two lenders, Banco Popolare and Banca Popolare di Milano, approved a merger that has been months in the making. The substance of another—Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, the world’s oldest bank as well as Italy’s most troubled—is still shrouded, but it is likely to become clearer at a meeting of Monte dei Paschi’s board on October 24th.

The merged bank, to be called Banco BPM, will surpass Monte dei Paschi to become Italy’s third-largest lender. Its creation is a small triumph for Matteo Renzi, the centre-left prime minister. Last year Mr Renzi introduced a reform obliging Italy’s ten biggest popolari, or co-operative banks, to become joint-stock companies by the end of 2016. The hope was that this would spur takeovers, yielding fewer, stronger, more efficient banks.

The Banco BPM deal, which promises annual savings of €290m ($318m), or 10% of the combined cost base, is Mr Renzi’s first result. Two awkward obstacles stood in its…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Well-connected

INSIDE the atrium of a gleaming new building on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, trainee air stewards flit between the classrooms and aeroplane simulators that surround a large indoor swimming pool. The expensive aviation academy belongs to Ethiopian Airlines, and seems a world away from the unrest that on October 9th prompted the government to declare a national state of emergency. The firm’s CEO, Tewolde Gebremariam, brushes off the idea that the airline will be affected. “We are not concerned,” he shrugs.

He has reason to be confident about the business. Ethiopian is Africa’s largest and most profitable airline, earning more than its rivals on the continent combined. Its expansion has been rapid: by 2015 it served 82 international destinations, with 13 more added this year. According to unaudited figures, it nearly doubled its profits in the last financial year (see chart). And that is amid national turmoil.

It helps that its regional rivals are competing only feebly on routes in Africa. According to the International Air Transport Association, African carriers are likely collectively to record a net loss of $500m this year….Continue reading

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Running out of time

TO MOST investors, Venezuela looks less like a market than a mess. The IMF expects output to shrink by 10% this year and inflation to exceed 700%. As the bolívar’s value has plunged, multinational firms have announced billions of dollars of write-downs. For much of this year, however, some strong-stomached investors have scented an opportunity. They rushed to buy bonds issued by the government and by the state-owned oil company, PDVSA.

They have been rewarded handsomely. Venezuelan government bonds have outperformed other emerging-market sovereign bonds tracked by JPMorgan (see chart). The government, led by Nicolás Maduro, boasts it has never missed a debt payment. Indeed he has given priority to debt service over other urgent needs, such as importing food. Mr Maduro is keen not to scare off the foreign creditors sorely needed by PDVSA.

However, Venezuela looks increasingly stretched. Two big PDVSA payments, of $1 billion and $2 billion, are due on October 28th and November 2nd. Last month the company proposed a bond swap to ease a looming payments crunch: investors holding PDVSA bonds maturing in 2017 (which are not…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Techno wars

THE most striking battle in modern business pits the techno-optimists against the techno-pessimists. The first group argues that the world is in the middle of a technology-driven renaissance. Tech CEOs compete with each other for superlatives. Business professors say that our only problem will be what to do with the people when the machines become super-intelligent. The pessimists retort that this is froth: a few firms may be doing wonderfully but the economy is stuck. Larry Summers of Harvard University talks about secular stagnation. Tyler Cowen, of George Mason University, says that the American economy has eaten all the low-hanging fruits of modern history and got sick.

Until recently the prize for the most gloom-laden book on the modern economy has gone to Robert Gordon of Northwestern University. In “The Rise and Fall of American Growth”, published in January, Mr Gordon argues that the IT revolution is a minor diversion compared with the inventions that accompanied the second industrial one—electricity, motor cars and aeroplanes—which changed lives profoundly. The current information upheaval, by contrast, is merely altering a narrow range of…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Countdown

LIKE most technology tycoons, Elon Musk exudes disdain for finance. Convertible bonds and lease accounting are problems for Wall Street, while the visionaries in California focus on driverless cars and space travel. Yet while he might be loth to admit it, Mr Musk has become America’s most audacious corporate financier as well as its best-known entrepreneur. In just over a decade he has created an empire valued at a cool $44 billion despite its heavy losses (see chart). A blend of financial laboratory, corporate labyrinth and buttock-clenching thrill ride, Musk Inc has pushed the boundary of what was thought possible.

As has been the case for a decade, Mr Musk’s businesses face a difficult struggle to sustain their market valuations over the next 18 months, and to bolster confidence he is expected to unveil new financial measures and also new products over the next few weeks. Mr Musk has repeatedly defied the odds. But…Continue reading

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It knows their methods

When you’ve eliminated the impossible…

JOINING “Hamilton”, a Broadway show, and concerts by Adele, a British soul diva, on the list of tickets-to-kill-for in New York is a screening in an ugly new office building that recently popped-up in the East Village, a place best known for offbeat culture. There is a ten-week-long queue to see simulations by Watson, IBM’s cognitive artificial-intelligence platform.

Initially known for stunts such as beating the world’s best chess player, Watson has been seeking a wider audience. It has found a vast potential one in the world of financial regulation. Rules have become so sprawling and mysterious that even regulators have begun asking for a map. In response, a market is springing up: for “regtech”, fintech’s nerdy new offspring.

On September 29th, IBM announced the purchase of Promontory, a 600-strong consultancy whose senior staff include former officials from the Federal Reserve, the World Bank, the Securities and Exchange Commission and other regulators. The hope is that person and machine will combine into a vast business. Promontory was founded in…Continue reading

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Turning the tables

All wood, few trees

WALK through the workshop of Vinayak Home, a furniture-making outfit based in the outskirts of Jodhpur in the state of Rajasthan in north-west India, and the results of globalisation are evident. Sleek hardwood furniture that would suit Scandinavian interiors is being readied for shipment; carpenters distress the paint on a newly-made chest of drawers to make it look as if it has come straight from a flea market in Brooklyn. But the company’s order book suggests that globalisation is fading. Vinayak Home is one of a cluster of Rajasthan furniture-makers that used to do nothing except export to Europe and America, but nearly all of what they make today they ship into Indian living rooms.

Jodhpur, on the edge of a desert with few trees to feed sawmills, is an unlikely woodworking hub. But when tourists came to survey the arid landscape and the 15th-century fort that overlooks the city, many also admired the hardwood carvings by skilled artisans (pictured). When India liberalised its economy in the early 1990s, a small group of European exporting agents encouraged independent furniture-makers. Then volumes…Continue reading

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Who’s scary now?

JAMES CARVILLE, political adviser to Bill Clinton, the former president, famously said that he wanted to be reincarnated as the bond market so he could “intimidate everybody”. He was frustrated by the administration’s inability to push through an economic stimulus for fear of spooking investors and pushing bond yields higher.

More than 20 years later, the world looks very different. Many developed countries have been running budget deficits ever since the global financial crisis of 2008; their government debt-to-GDP ratios are far higher than they were in the early 1990s. Yet the bond market looks about as intimidating as a chihuahua in a handbag; in general, yields are close to historic lows.

In the 1990s “bond-market vigilantes” sold their holdings when they feared that countries were pursuing irresponsible fiscal or monetary policies. In Britain even fear of a “hard Brexit” is only now being reflected in rising gilt yields—and they are still below the (very low) levels seen before the vote to leave the EU in June. Even developing countries with big budget deficits can borrow easily. This week, for example, Saudi Arabia…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusiness and financeFINANCEFinance and economics

Who’s scary now?

JAMES CARVILLE, political adviser to Bill Clinton, the former president, famously said that he wanted to be reincarnated as the bond market so he could “intimidate everybody”. He was frustrated by the administration’s inability to push through an economic stimulus for fear of spooking investors and pushing bond yields higher.

More than 20 years later, the world looks very different. Many developed countries have been running budget deficits ever since the global financial crisis of 2008; their government debt-to-GDP ratios are far higher than they were in the early 1990s. Yet the bond market looks about as intimidating as a chihuahua in a handbag; in general, yields are close to historic lows.

In the 1990s “bond-market vigilantes” sold their holdings when they feared that countries were pursuing irresponsible fiscal or monetary policies. In Britain even fear of a “hard Brexit” is only now being reflected in rising gilt yields—and they are still below the (very low) levels seen before the vote to leave the EU in June. Even developing countries with big budget deficits can borrow easily. This week, for example, Saudi Arabia…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusiness and financeFINANCEFinance and economics

Subtract and divide

AMERICA’S presidential contest offers voters a stark choice. Hillary Clinton represents continuity with the Obama administration—not a bad pitch to voters, given low unemployment, steady job growth and a recent upturn in the rate of increase of real incomes. In the opposite corner is Donald Trump, standing on a radical platform of protectionism, draconian immigration restrictions, massive defence spending and construction of a big, beautiful wall along the Mexican border. Mr Trump’s dangerous economic nationalism demands an explanation. Is he the predictable consequence of years of hardship for many Americans?

Two broad theories vie to explain Mr Trump’s ascent. One camp sees him as an inevitable backlash against economic-policy priorities that have left many Americans behind. As America and the world have grown more economically integrated, growth in household incomes has stagnated and inequality soared. The costs of freer trade were borne most acutely in Southern and Mid-Western manufacturing towns exposed to competition from cheap Chinese imports. A series of recent papers shows that the most affected labour markets have…Continue reading

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