Monday, August 07, 2017

Professional eSports Are Taking Off In Finland – Pro Players Now Officially Recognized As Athletes

Via Business Insider:

The Finnish Central Tax Board considers esports competitors to be athletes. According to a decision freshly issued by the board: "A broad interpretation of sports, in addition to physical competition can also mean mental games of skill, where success is primarily based on something other than physical performance".

The subject of the rendered decision is a Finnish tax resident playing videogames for an American organization. In the contract between the player and the team, the player is committed to participate in tournaments, practice games, marketing events, interviews and photo shoots. The player is paid a monthly salary and various other bonuses, such as part of the tournament winnings.

The ruling is not merely symbolic either, as earnings officially deemed to be income from professional sports activities can be partially invested in a tax-sheltered investment fund meant to smooth out the transition as one's sports career starts winding down.

In other esports news, major Finnish electronics chain Gigantti has announced their arrival to the professional gaming scene by picking up the entire former roster of Ninjas in Pyjamas – a Swedish esports organization – and reforming it as Team Gigantti. All team members are full-time players and Gigantti claims to be committing to esports for the long run.

While the squad failed to qualify for the Overwatch World Cup in an event held in Sydney, Australia a week ago, Team Gigantti didn’t take long to claim their first notable win: a 3-0 victory in the finals of ASUS ROG's Assembly Summer Overwatch tournament in Helsinki, Finland on 4 August.

Team Gigantti will next compete against Europe's top teams in the Overwatch Contenders league that begins the week of 14 August.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Finland’s Booming Construction Industry Faces A Labor Shortage – Despite High Unemployment

Via Business Insider:

The construction industry is classically cyclical and it comes as no surprise that in Finland it is currently suffering from a dearth of management and manual workers. The surprise is that this is a country where the unemployment rate remains stubbornly high at 8.9%.

According to the Confederation of Finnish Industries, 37% of member companies report they are suffering from a shortage of personnel, which is 3% more than a year ago.

"The last time it was this high was in 2007 when the sector was red hot and the economy was growing at a rate of 5.2%", the CFI's Chief Economist Penna Urrila told evening daily Iltalehti. He went on to add that the main problem until now was demand, but that has now been superseded by recruitment difficulties.

The root of the situation can perhaps be traced back to the removal of site manager training courses between 1997-2007, which, in turn, led to retirees being asked to return to work. Specialized construction management tertiary education has returned, but the ten-year gap has caused a demographic chasm that is proving difficult to bridge.

Similarly, the Finnish Construction Trade Union accuses Finnish firms of not looking ahead.

"Construction firms should look 2-3 years ahead like they used to in order to ensure there is a sufficient workforce", said the FCTU Deputy Chairman Kyösti Suokkaa, who went on to point out that when there is no work, a skilled employee is simply fired, which hardly encourages people to take up construction jobs.

"This does not happen in the engineering industry. There, nobody expects somebody to come in and know how to use a computer lathe immediately, and then, when there is no work, kick him [or her] out", Kyösti Suokkaa said.

"I am sorry [to say this], but in Finland there would be thousands of people ready to switch to the construction industry if it only was possible. When I started working on a construction site I was 15. Now it's impossible for anyone under 18 to get near one – which is Finland's biggest problem. It's not a question of pay, as current set rates are attractive".

It would seem that foreign workers are the obvious solution and many Estonians, Russians and Poles are working in Finland, but statistics show that their numbers are no longer increasing in proportion to the total workforce. Even so, the Federation of Finnish Construction Industries currently claims a total of 20.000 foreign workers, which is six times more than are in the union, as many are self-employed.

However, the construction boom in both commercial and residential properties – with the latter supported by high demand for low-interest mortgages now on offer – has led to some calls that a bubble is once again forming.

"Risk increases when building permits raise residential costs too much, which the developer then passes on to investors", comments Juha Metsälä, CEO of home builder Pohjolan Rakennus, "The authorities now have good cause to create reforms that cut costs".

Mortgage lender Hypo's Chief Economist Juhana Brotherus is not so concerned for the moment, seeing no bubble yet. "Both the Finnish industry and consumer confidence indexes indicate that Finland's economy is heading forwards and upwards. And the construction boom is being driven by the market, mainly producing new compact apartments".

This comment refers to the late-80s boom when property speculation was fed by irresponsible bank lending which led to Finland's economy crashing by over 10% in 1991. The remedy was to devalue the Finnish currency, markka, in order to create an export-driven recovery, but caused unemployment to peak at over 22%.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Denmark Now Has More Electric Car Charging Docks Than Petrol Stations — But Will They Be Used?

Via Business Insider:

The number of electric car charging docks across Denmark have overtaken the amount of petrol stations, finds a new report from the Danish Energy Association.

With more than 1300 charging pods, E.ON is by far the biggest provider in Denmark. The company acquired a 770-station strong charging network from U.S.-based operator Better Place after it went bankrupt in 2013. Moreover, the German utility giant recently launched a mobile charging solution with parking app Easypark, which enables customers to use their phone when charging.

But despite all the flourishing electric vehicle infrastructure, the prospects for Denmark catching up with Norway in terms of EV-adoption look bleak right now. The country's EV-sales have plummeted after the Danish government decided to cut back subsidies for electric vehicles.

So far in 2017, only 182 electric cars have been sold in Denmark overall, and just 17 of those sales have been to private consumers, according to The Copenhagen Post. That’s a steep decline from the 4.605 sold in 2015 (albeit a sales spike that ensued in anticipation of the subsidy cutbacks).

There is little doubt that electric vehicles will become the norm in the next decade, as evidenced by Volvo's commitment to phase out conventional car engines. But whether or not government shoulds use taxpayer money to make that future arrive faster, remains a point of contention.

The Danish government miscalculated its attempt to expose EV-makers to market forces, as it's now revisiting its policies in order to smooth out the transition — and consequently, to make all those charging stations more relevant again.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Finnair Was Named The Best Airline In Northern Europe For The 8th Consecutive Year

Via Business Insider:

After holding the title over the past seven years, it should not come as a surprise that Finnair has once again been named Northern Europe’s best airline at the World Airline Awards. The award is based on a customer satisfaction survey organized by Skytrax, comprising 325 airlines and 19 million survey participants.

It may actually be misrepresenting to limit Finnair’s prestige to Northern Europe. The airline consistently performs well also on the global scene. For example, Finnair has been named one of the safest airlines in the world, and amongst the most punctual. Also, last year AirHelp found Finnair to be one of the ten best airlines in the world, based on quality performance, delay time and claim processing. The same ranking found Norwegian Air Shuttle and Icelandair to be amongst the ten worst airlines in the world – which may be reason to say that ‘being the best in Northern Europe’ kind of misses the point.

High performance is no reason for Finnair to get lax though. The airline is putting special emphasis on improving the passenger experience by developing its digital services. Earlier this year, Finnair participated in a trial of face-recognition check-in technology at Helsinki airport (which incidentally is one of the 10 best airports in Europe) in collaboration with airport operator Finavia. This year Finnair also became the first airline to accept the Chinese digital payment service Alipay onboard its planes, also in conjunction with the adoption of the technology at Helsinki airport. All long-distance flights by Finnair now also offer its Nordic Sky Wi-Fi service. It’s clear that being an innovator is part of the airline's strategy to survive in the ever more competitive space.

“Digital development is one of our central strategic goals, but we’re continuously improving all aspects of the customer experience, like, for example, our collaborations with high-profile cooks in business class on long-distance flights, and the improvement of our lounge experience through new partnerships”, says Piia Karhu, Senior Vice President of Customer Experience at Finnair.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Finnish Innovators Have Invented A New Material To Wrap Up The Packaging Market – No Plastic, No Harmful Chemicals And Completely Recyclable

Via Business Insider:

Kotkamills has developed a new paperboard material that can be totally recycled after use. The material is water- and greaseproof, but that is achieved without using plastics, and it also does not contain harmful fluorochemicals. Packaging for food and drinks normally uses polyethylene coating to achieve the same features, which makes recycling difficult and expensive, so waste board is usually incinerated.

Kotkamills, based in the southern Finnish coastal town of Kotka, has developed a chemical combination, which changes the paperboard’s properties to make it naturally resistant to grease and liquids – at least long enough for its use by consumers. The company’s coffee cups were recently tested by YLE and were found able to hold hot and soft drinks for more than two days.

The resistance even worked for alcoholic beverages, though only for a couple of hours. But YLE pointed out that 39% of all disposable paper cups on the market are only able to contain spirits for a few hours – and that’s still more than enough for the overwhelming majority of consumers.

The new coating is, needless to say, a closely guarded secret. Kotkamills CEO Markku Hämäläinen revealed that he and a colleague developed the chemical mixture to form a coating that combines the proofing needed whilst the product is being manufactured with seams that keep together and do not tear or leak when being used.

The end product is totally recyclable after the ink has been removed during the pulping process and involves no fluorine compounds whatsoever. The quality is high enough that the recycled pulp can even be made into copy-grade paper, as the paperboard contains a large amount of short fibre.

The new packaging product, marketed under Kotkamills’ AEGLE brand, has already received certification and orders from Germany, Norway, UK as well as Finland.

“It’s mostly folding box board for consumer products such as packaging for medicines, cosmetics and alcohol”, Hämäläinen says, “Though a combination of folding box board and barrier board is also used for food packaging such as chocolate and frozen fish”.

Although Hämäläinen cannot name potential customers for the cup stock, it is whispered that major brand owners such as McDonald’s and Starbucks have shown interest in Kotkamills’ ISLA-brand paper cup, which awaits final certification after having passed thorough testing.

“Now we will start marketing the cups and I am sure orders will come fast as the brands are eagerly waiting to use it as soon as the necessary qualifications have been granted - by August at the latest”, he told Business Insider Nordic.

“Fluorochemicals are still widely used in fast food packaging, even though studies have shown them to be unhealthy and may cause cancers,” Hämäläinen, “Our products are moisture-resistant without presenting a health hazard”.

Kotkamills’ new main owner, Finnish private equity MB Funds, was behind the €170 million ($196 million) conversion of a board machine last year as part of a €210 million upgrade of the whole Kotka plant. With 400.000 tons in annual capacity “There is more than enough to satisfy European annual demand of a maximum of 300.000 tons, some of which do not need plastic-free quality for all uses, so we will target the USA, which is much bigger”.

Hämäläinen is confident of the new products’ success. Green should turn into gold as there are no similar rival products, neither in folding board packaging nor disposable cups.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Xi Wraps Up Three-Day Hong Kong Trip

Via Xinhuanet:

President Xi Jinping ended his three-day trip to Hong Kong Saturday after attending celebrations for the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong's return to China, and the inauguration of the fifth-term Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government.

He also inspected the special administrative region.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Stockholm Issues 90 Percent Of All Stock Market Capital In The Nordics – Here’s The Secret Behind Sweden's IPO miracle

Via Business Insider:

From early stage startups all the way to the stock market, the last decade has proved that Sweden is doing something right.

This year – well on track towards a new record in the amount of Swedish listings – Nasdaq Stockholm’s main market has issued 1.4 billion euros in capital, which is almost 90 percent of the Nordic total of 1.6 billion. The ratio on the alternative First North markets have been equally skewed towards Sweden.

Moreover, three three companies with the largest IPO’s in the Nordics this year – Munters, Ambea and Medicover – have all rung their bells in the Swedish capital. The same was true of the three largest IPO’s in 2015 – all Swedish.

Adam Kostyál, the Head of Listings of EMEA at Nasdaq Inc, is mighty impressed with these fertile conditions; which he thinks is underpinned by Swedish households’ positive attitude towards equity.

"What other markets can learn is that it’s a very active market, and a very knowledgeable one. This means that households are willing to take on the risk of managing equity ownership. That’s fundamentally interesting, because the rest of Europe is against that. It’s more debt-driven", he told BI Noric during a record-breaking morning last week, when five companies listed simultaneously on Nasdaq Stockholm.

Although last year saw Copenhagen dominate Nasdaq Nordic, with listings of payment giant Nets Group (€2.1bn) and DONG Energy (€2,3bn), Stockholm’s main market raised 90% percent of the Nordic capital in 2015 as well. An dominance that's unrivalled not only in the Nordics, but in most of Europe too.

“In Sweden, you have a perfect ecosystem. A good retail base, on top of which you have an institutional base of small and medium-sized funds, investors and advisors that can thrive around this ecosystem. They can then recommend [the stock market] going forward, both for companies and for investors. So this is what we’re missing in the rest of Europe. Also on the Nordic level this is quite unique”.

Kostyál notes that Nasdaq is looking to share some of the learnings across the Nordics.

"We are working actively in all markets where we are present - including Copenhagen and Helsinki - to see what we can recommend, both regarding tax aspects and different incentives, to make sure that we can develop this kind of market in each geography".

Nasdaq Nordic - 2017 YTD

Nordic Listings: €1.6 bn

Stockholm Listings: €1.4 bn

2017 – Largest IPO’s to date (all in Stockholm)

Munters €414 million

Ambea €209m

Medicover €208m

Nasdaq Nordiq – 2016

New Listings: €7.2 bn

Stockholm Listings: €1.6bn

Nasdaq Nordic – 2015

New Listings: €5 bn

Stockholm Listings: €4.5bn