ApprovedBusiness and financeFINANCEFinance and economics

That sinking feeling

THE fear that a creaking pension system will fail to provide for swelling ranks of retirees is held by some economists to be one reason why many Japanese prefer hoarding their cash to spending it. Any meddling with the ¥140 trillion ($1.27 trillion) pot that funds the state pension is politically fraught—as Hiromichi Mizuno, the first chief investment officer of the ultra-conservative Government Pension Investment Fund (GPIF), is finding out.

In October 2014 the GPIF made an historic shift in its asset allocation, trimming its pile of Japanese government bonds and doubling its holding of stocks (see chart). For the next three quarters, its returns duly rose along with stockmarkets. In the financial year that ended on March 31st 2015 the fund made its highest-ever return, of 12.27%. The intention, however, was not so much to juice returns as to prepare for the return of inflation. The Bank of Japan’s massive monetary easing was supposed to be on the verge of pushing prices up again after a decade of deflation, thereby eroding the value of Japanese bonds.

Since those heady beginnings, however, Japanese shares, and some…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Life in the fast lane

ON THE face of it business executives and Formula One drivers have nothing in common, other than the fact that they do their jobs sitting down. Racing drivers hurtle round a track, touching speeds of 350km an hour. Office-bound managers may occasionally wheel their chairs from one side of their desks to the other. Drivers risk a high-speed pile-up if they lose concentration. Executives merely risk spilling coffee on a Hermès tie.

Yet one of the motor-racing world’s gurus now spends much of his time talking to chief executives. Aki Hintsa, a Finnish surgeon, was chief medical officer for the McLaren F1 team for 11 years. His clients have included two former world champions, Sebastian Vettel and Mika Hakkinen, as well as Lewis Hamilton, the current holder. Dr Hintsa’s relationship with the business world started informally when a CEO friend turned to him in despair, complaining of burnout. His business, Hintsa Performance, employs 30 people, applying his methods from discreet offices in Geneva and Helsinki. It earns more than 80% of its revenues from working with management teams and individual bosses.

Can business people really learn from…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusiness and financeFINANCEFinance and economics

Heist finance

BARELY an eyebrow is raised these days when the credit-card details of retailers’ customers are stolen en masse; such crimes are attempted or committed daily. But when banks’ own funds are pinched, it is time to pay attention—especially when the theft involves hijacking banks’ connections to the global payments system. This week the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT), a network that thousands of banks around the world use to move money, described a recent spate of cyber-heists, which netted $90m. Gottfried Leibbrandt, SWIFT’s boss, described them as a “watershed moment”. The threat now, he said, is not just to banks’ reputations, but to the very existence of those that fail to protect themselves.

Investigators are still trying to piece together how thieves pulled off a spectacular hack that siphoned $81m out of Bangladesh’s central bank in February, let alone who was behind it. This was one of the biggest-ever bank robberies, but it could have been worse: $850m of the bogus transfer requests were blocked. The stolen money went to a bank in the Philippines, then on to casinos. Where most of it went from…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusiness and financeFINANCEFinance and economics

Ignorance isn’t bliss

IT IS not the “unknown unknowns” that catch people out, but the truths they hold to be self-evident that turn out to be completely wrong. On many issues, the gap between public perceptions and reality is very wide. The polling company Ipsos Mori found that Americans think 33% of the population are immigrants, for example, when the actual number is 14%. A 2013 poll found that Britons thought 24% of the population was Muslim—almost five times the correct figure of 5%.

Misperceptions about economic policy are common, too. Asked to name the top two or three areas of government spending, 26% of Britons cited foreign aid, more than picked pensions or education. In fact, aid spending is a small fraction of the other two and only 1% of the total.

Some of this is to do with innumeracy. Only a quarter of Britons could work out that the odds of throwing two consecutive heads in a coin toss was 25%. People are also heavily influenced by anecdotal evidence and by fears for themselves or their families—hence the tendency to overestimate the prevalence of crime or teenage pregnancy. (Asked how many teenage girls get pregnant each year, Americans…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusiness and financeFINANCEFinance and economics

Make me

“IF VOTING made any difference they wouldn’t let us do it,” quipped Mark Twain, an American writer. Some governments, however, think voting makes such a difference that they oblige voters to do it. Voting is compulsory in 26 countries around the world, from Argentina to Belgium. To those elsewhere worried about declining voter turnout, compulsory voting may seem tempting. But it is not a shortcut to a healthy democracy.

Turnout has fallen from around 85% of eligible voters across the OECD in the late 1940s to 65% today, according to the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), an NGO. For many, the changing composition of the voting electorate is as worrying as its dwindling size. Voters in Britain and America are disproportionately rich, well-educated and old. That, studies suggest, skews policymaking. In late-19th-century America, for example, rules barring most blacks in the South from voting seem to have resulted in a much lower ratio of teachers to children in black schools. Government…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusiness and financeFINANCEFinance and economics

Wait and hope

OPINION polls suggest that Brexit won’t happen. Ladbrokes, a bookmaker, is offering 4-to-1 against. But pollsters and bookies have been wrong before: what if on June 23rd Britain chooses to quit the European Union? The world’s biggest banks, for which London is a second home if not their first, have plenty of other worries: profits are thin, regulators nagging, investors impatient. The referendum is an extra headache they could do without. Banks must nevertheless be braced for turmoil should the odds be upset. And if Britain votes to leave, they will face an awkward decision: should they shift business away from Europe’s financial capital?

Banks do not have to answer that question yet. They hope they never will. Already under pressure to cut costs, they are not spending oodles on contingency plans and won’t until they have to. For now, they regard the referendum chiefly as a market event, with a known date, which could cause volatility and strain liquidity. The most obvious place to look for trouble is in the exchange rate, where there has been some pre-poll turbulence. Between the turn of the year and early April sterling slid by 9% against the…Continue reading

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Business users get live chat in Office Online

Microsoft’s attempts to catch up with Google in the online collaboration space took a step forward Wednesday, when the company announced that it’s giving business users live chat in Office Online. 

The new feature will allow users to discuss documents stored in SharePoint and OneDrive for Business using chat sessions powered by Skype for Business.

When more than one person is working on a shared document inside Word, Excel, OneNote, or PowerPoint Online, they’ll see a chat button show up in the Web app’s toolbar. When clicked, it’ll open a chat sidebar so everyone with the document open can discuss it. 

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Salesforce picks AWS as preferred public cloud provider

Salesforce has named Amazon Web Services as its preferred public cloud provider for services like Sales Cloud, Service Cloud, and App Cloud, expanding an existing partnership to provide the back end for the software-as-a-service provider.

AWS already hosts several Salesforce services like Heroku, SalesforceIQ, and the recently announced IoT Cloud. This latest deal will help Salesforce to expand internationally without having to build its own data centers in order to comply with local data sovereignty laws. 

That’s important as Salesforce tries to pick up more customers in countries that have strict requirements about where data is stored. Salesforce isn’t the only company to turn to AWS in this capacity: Dropbox will store data with AWS in Germany starting later this year

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What’s old is new again with MIT’s latest bug finder

Debugging code is a perennial headache for software developers, but scientists have announced a new technique that could make the process significantly easier.

Developed at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and the University of Maryland, the method essentially bridges the gap between the traditional technique of symbolic execution and today’s modern software, making it possible to debug code far more efficiently.

Symbolic execution is a software analysis technique that can be used to locate and repair bugs automatically by tracing out every path a program might take during execution. The problem is, that technique doesn’t tend to work well with applications written using today’s programming frameworks.

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IoT security is getting its own crash tests

The thousands of endpoints in IoT systems may have to protect themselves against thousands of dangers. A decades-old IT lab wants to tell you if they’re up to the task.

On Wednesday, ICSA Labs announced a program to test the security features of IoT devices and sensors. If the products pass, ICSA will give them a seal of approval. It can also keep testing them periodically to make sure they’re still safe.

Consumers and enterprises are wary about security in the Internet of Things, where hardware, software and even use cases are brand new in many cases. Tiny connected devices that run all the time in the background could be vulnerable to completely new kinds of attacks.

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What’s old is new again with MIT’s latest bug finder

Debugging code is a perennial headache for software developers, but scientists have announced a new technique that could make the process significantly easier.

Developed at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and the University of Maryland, the method essentially bridges the gap between the traditional technique of symbolic execution and today’s modern software, making it possible to debug code far more efficiently.

Symbolic execution is a software analysis technique that can be used to locate and repair bugs automatically by tracing out every path a program might take during execution. However, the technique doesn’t tend to work well with applications written using today’s programming frameworks.

To read this article in full or to leave a comment, please click here

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Salesforce picks AWS as preferred public cloud provider

Salesforce named Amazon Web Services as its preferred public cloud provider for services like Sales Cloud, Service Cloud and App Cloud, expanding an existing partnership to provide the backend for the software-as-a-service provider.

AWS already hosts several Salesforce services like Heroku, SalesforceIQ and the recently announced IoT Cloud. This latest deal will help Salesforce to expand internationally without having to build its own data centers to comply with local data sovereignty laws. 

That’s important as Salesforce tries to pick up more customers in countries that have strict requirements about where data is stored. Salesforce isn’t the only company to turn to AWS in this capacity: Dropbox will store data with AWS in Germany starting later this year

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10 ways Apple’s Siri can help you get things done

Apple’s increasingly intelligent voice activated assistant, Siri, is expected to become available on Mac OS X and through third party apps on introduction of an SDK at WWDC in a few weeks. So, how can Siri help you get things done on iOS, and now might it help you on your Ma?

Launch apps

There are hundreds of thousands of apps available on the App Store, which means most iOS users have hundreds of apps on their device, stashed inside different folders on different screens. Often this means we find ourselves scrabbling through the pages on our device to find the app we need, we don’t need to – just launch Siri and say “launch [insert name of app]”.

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