ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Cancer drugs are getting better and dearer

THE debate in rich countries about the high price of drugs is a furious and frustrating one. The controversy is already having an impact on spending on drugs, suggest new figures from the QuintilesIMS Institute, a research firm. The rate of growth in spending on prescription medicines in America fell to 4.8% in 2016, less than half the average rate of the previous two years (after adjusting for discounts and rebates). Michael Levesque of Moody’s, a rating agency, reckons that pressure over pricing is contributing to a deceleration in earnings growth at pharma firms. Public scrutiny constrains their flexibility over what they can charge and allows payers to get tougher.

In one area, however, earnings are expected to keep rising: cancer. Oncology is the industry’s bright spot, says Mr Levesque. The grim fact is that two-fifths of people can now expect to get cancer in their lifetime because of rising longevity. This is one of the reasons why the number of new cancer drugs has expanded by more than 60% over the past decade. The late-phase pipeline of new medicines contains more than 600 cancer treatments. New cancer drugs are being approved more quickly.

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ApprovedBusiness and financeFINANCEFinance and economics

America’s Treasury ponders issuing 40-, 50- or 100-year bonds

HOW can governments borrow most cheaply? The answer matters hugely for taxpayers. Take America: it has $14trn in outstanding national debt, fully three-quarters of GDP. Interest payments alone are expected to reach $280bn this fiscal year—ie, more than three times the combined budgets of the Departments of Education, Labour and Commerce.

The problem largely comes down to deciding how much long, medium and short-dated debt to sell. Almost every country issues a combination of these maturities. In the current low interest-rate environment, however, many argue that governments should sell proportionately more long-dated bonds to make sure they are able to pay historically low rates for many decades to come, thereby saving taxpayers money in the long run.

Some countries have already ploughed ahead. In recent years Britain, Canada and Italy have sold 50-year bonds; Mexico, Belgium and Ireland have issued 100-year debt. The latest country to flirt with the idea is America: last month the Treasury sent out a survey to bond-dealers to gauge market appetite for 40-, 50- and 100-year bonds. On May 3rd officials said that Steve Mnuchin, the…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Harvard Business School risks going from great to good

YOU will all be aware that a book has just been published about our institution, Harvard Business School (HBS). Entitled “The Golden Passport”, by Duff McDonald, it makes a number of unflattering claims about the school’s ethics and its purpose. While often unbalanced, it is likely to galvanise hostility to HBS both inside Harvard University, of which we are a part, and among the public. This memorandum, circulated only to the most senior faculty members, assesses HBS’s strategic position.

Our school has been among the country’s most influential institutions since its foundation in 1908. Our forebears helped build America’s economy in the early 20th century and helped win the second world war. HBS educates less than 1% of American MBA students but case studies written by our faculty are used at business schools around the world. Our alumni fill the corridors of elite firms such as McKinsey. Many bosses of big American companies studied here. Even in Silicon Valley, where we are relatively weak, about a tenth of “unicorns”—private startups worth over $1bn—have one of our tribe as a founder.

We have a business model that monetises the Harvard brand…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

America’s food-truck revolution stalls in some cities

The burghers rise up

IT WAS in 2008 that an out-of-work chef named Roy Choi began selling $2 Korean barbecue tacos from a roaming kitchen on wheels, tweeting to customers as he drove the streets of Los Angeles. Mr Choi’s gourmet food truck has since inspired a reality-TV programme and a hit Hollywood film, and helped jumpstart a $1.2bn industry.

Within the food industry, the food-truck business, built on unique dishes, low prices and clever use of social media, is the fastest-growing segment. Restaurants fret about an army of trucks stealing customers but such concerns are unwarranted. According to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, counties that have experienced higher growth in mobile-food services have also had quicker growth in their restaurant and catering businesses.

Although many cities have treated food trucks as a fad, a nuisance, or a threat to existing businesses, others have actively promoted them. Portland, Oregon, known for its vibrant culinary scene, has had small food carts on its streets for decades. After a study in 2008 by researchers at Portland State University concluded that the carts benefited residents, the city…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Axel Springer’s digital transformation

VISITING the top floor of Axel Springer’s tower in Berlin is like travelling back to a lost age. The German publisher’s Journalisten Club is a suite of wood-panelled rooms filled with antique books, leather armchairs and classical paintings. “It is a symbol,” says Mattias Döpfner, the publisher’s chief executive.

Whether it still makes sense as a symbol is unclear, for Axel Springer’s business has shifted rapidly away from print media (though it still owns Bild and Die Welt, two leading German dailies) towards an array of digital businesses. In 2000 it had almost no digital revenue; by the end of last year over 72% of its operating profit came from digital activities. Profits have increased by 37% over the past decade, from €434m ($473m) in 2006 to €596m last year.

Four years ago Axel Springer sold off several newspapers and magazines, including the Hamburger Abendblatt and the Berliner Morgenpost, for $1.2bn. In 2015 it nearly bought the Financial Times, a British paper with a strong online presence but…Continue reading

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Worries mount about car finance in America and Britain

THOUSANDS of second-hand cars, ranging from dented clunkers to Bentleys, glisten under the evening floodlights at Major World, a car dealership in Queens, a borough of New York. “Business has been good,” says a crisply-dressed salesman, scurrying between prospective customers. Almost everyone who wants to buy a car at Major World can get approved for a loan, he explains, regardless of their credit score, or lack of one: when banks turn buyers down, the dealership offers them its own in-house financing.

In both America and Britain new-car sales reached record levels last year (2.7m cars in Britain and 17.5m in America), as did second-hand-car sales in Britain. So too did car loans: £31.6bn ($42.8bn) in Britain and $565bn in America. Even folk with poor credit records (“subprime” borrowers) have been able to find financing. So some are asking whether this latest credit boom might have sown the seeds of a new crisis.

In America worries have centred on rising delinquencies in subprime asset-backed securities (ABSs) based on car loans. Bundling car-loan repayments into ABSs to sell on to investors represents an important source of financing, particularly for non-bank lenders. Cumulative net losses on subprime car-loan ABSs issued in 2015 are at levels not seen since 2008—over 6% after only 15 months.

Some hear echoes of the financial crisis….Continue reading

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Might legalising the rhino-horn trade actually help the rhino?

Pricier than snake-oil, and deadlier

A DEAD rhino, with a bloody stump in place of its horn, means different things. For the species it is the danger of imminent extinction; for wildlife-lovers it is barbarism; for law-enforcers it is failure. For its poachers it means income; the horn will be exported illegally to fetch tens of thousands of dollars. For economists, it means market forces are at work.

South Africa is in the throes of a poaching epidemic. Official figures show poachers killed 1,054 rhinos in 2016, up from just 13 in 2007. In Kruger National Park, home to the world’s largest rhino population, numbers are dropping despite a fall in recorded poaching incidents. Tom Milliken of TRAFFIC, a wildlife-trade monitoring network, worries that poachers have become better at hiding the carcasses.

The problem is international. The rhino-horn supply-chain sprawls from South Africa, home to nearly three-quarters of the world’s rhinos, to Asia, and in particular to Vietnam, where rhino horn is coveted as medicine, prescribed for fevers, alcohol dependency and even cancer.

Prohibitionists call for better law-enforcement. Demand for…Continue reading

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