Thursday, December 29, 2016

Oculus Acquired Danish Eye-Tracking Technology Company The Eye Tribe

Via Business Insider:

Facebook's Oculus has acquired Danish company The Eye Tribe, Robert Scoble first reported Tuesday on his Facebook page.

Without stating a price, Oculus then confirmed the acquisition to TechCrunch on Wednesday.

The Eye Tribe, founded in 2011, develops eye-tracking software that enables eye movements to control consumer devices, the company's website says. It began shipping its "Eye Tracking Software Development Kit" to developers in 2014.

The company's cofounder Sune Alstrop explained more about what the technology can do to TechCrunch back in 2014: "This technology can basically go into any kind of device, everything from your smartphone, to your watch, or your car to automatically detect if you're falling asleep behind the wheel, or in games where you could use your eyes to shoot. This is the kind of technology that's applied in fighter planes today, it's million dollar technology that we're bringing to the mass market".

But it's the technology's application to virtual reality (VR) which most likely got Oculus interested. After visiting the Copenhagen-based startup, Scoble said: "Eye sensors will radically improve VR and AR [augmented reality]".

TechCrunch says: "[The Eye Tribe's technology] lets VR systems save computational power by only generating perfect graphics where you're looking. Essentially it creates a focal point that moves with your eyes".

According to Crunchbase, The Eye Tribe has so far raised just over $3 million (£2.4 million), a pinch compared to the $21.6 million (£17.6 million) eye-tracking company Eyefluence had raised before being acquired by Google in October.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

5G Promises To Transform The World Again

Via TechCrunch:

We may be on the cusp of a new, simpler world.

From the current era of “peak complexity”, this new era will produce a step-change in society. It builds a platform for growth while empowering the developing world to leapfrog the competition.

At Huawei’s Mobile Broadband event last month, I saw what a 5G future looks like — ultra-fast, always on connectivity, making life more simple. A world based on data and collaboration, with automated intelligence and sensor-equipped surroundings, becomes a canvas to create businesses, to educate, and to make life more efficient.

The evolution of technology is often based on assumed, rather than real, criteria.

We often focus on the technology itself, rather than the behaviors and businesses it makes possible and the expectations it changes. Far too often, we are pushed into a solution before a new way of thinking or technology produces the true paradigm leap. It’s why vinyl, cassettes, CDs, and MP3s seemed appropriate at the time, before the real “game-changer” of music: subscription-based streaming.

The internet seemed more than adequate in the days of dial-up. We were amazed at what was possible, rather than what wasn’t. We didn’t pine for images or videos to load instantly because the expectation didn’t exist. Broadband internet changed that; we didn’t go online, we were online.

The next shift is about to happen, and it’s 5G.

3G meant we could access everything, everywhere and quickly. Selfies, life broadcasting, and microblogging were all made possible from rapid and constant data transfer. It is hard to see how, in 2005, we went to sleep without knowing what someone we didn’t really like across the world was having for lunch. It was this environment of data transfer, most notably from GPS-enabled phones, that made businesses such as Uber, WhatsApp, Instagram and Seamless possible.

4G changed the atomic unit of the web to video. It delivered Snapchat Stories, Periscope, and Facebook Live. The power of creating the moving image was in everyone’s hands.

Crowdfunding and free-to-publish video platforms gave everyone the potential of a global reach. With this comes 360-degree video and basic virtual reality, giving us the inroads to content that feels tactile and immersive.

The deeper effect of 4G is that it has killed patience and the feeling of being out-of-touch. Dating became the act of a nonchalant swipe with Tinder; booking a hotel became drawing the outline of a bed on Hotel Tonight; buying clothing or accessing your bank account was done with a press of the thumb. 4G has given us seamless, immediate, and frictionless transactions. They are delivered through interfaces and interactions which feel personal and rich.

However, humanity hasn’t advanced at the same speed as bandwidth. Soon, we’ll expect 4K content on our phones, and the ability to “swipe” it to large TV screens. What becomes of the set-top box, the TV channel, or the DVR in this environment?

Similarly, expansive data processing systems mean that the Internet becomes the backbone for daily life. Intimate and rich personal data combined with AI means that it becomes predictive: a web of apps accessed via IM, Google Now, Siri or Alexa, predicting our needs and informing our wants. It is a vast, ambient, assistive layer, rather than a place to “surf”, as we once called it.

To accommodate this, handset manufacturers should open their platforms and data in order to allow services and partnerships to be built on top. Our phones have become more important than we ever imagined, but they will soon become even more central to our lives. From wallets to security passes to visas and passports, our phones will become the digital center to our lives: much like home servers promised to be in the 2000’s.

Every business needs to think about this. M-commerce won’t be an isolated use case, but the primary way in which we consume. It will require a shift in thinking. We have to reboot our understanding of how media relates to people’s lives. The screens around us can become platforms for creating meaning. With 5G, technologies now on the horizon such as the conencted car and true virtual worlds will become commonplace to everyone.

We need to consider how to harness the amazing opportunities created by the plethora of new channels that are coming our way. Until now, we have defined media channels around a particular device. However, this starts to make less sense in a world where everything is digitally-connected and where everything is stored in the cloud. It also means that brands will become, and should become, transformational to our lives.

For each consumer, a brand carries a constellation of different meanings. Brands need to dig deep into the aspirations and attitudes of consumers in order to identify the meanings that resonate with them the most. The connections based on these insights drive greater involvement, trust, and desire, and will help to cement the relationship with the consumer.

In the run-up to 5G, finding ways to connect with consumers through their devices — and how they interact with them — will be the principal aim of brands, entrepreneurs, and innovators. What 5G connectivity and IOT really do is to create a platform for services, partnerships, and businesses to be built upon.

This journey will take us from our world where mobile is everything to one where forging meaningful connections through a an interconnected web of new platforms will bewhat matters.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Sweden Is The Best Country In The World To Do Business

Via Business Insider:

Over the past 11 years the US has declined from being the number one country to do business in to 23rd place, in Forbes' annual ranking.

Meanwhile, Sweden has climbed from 17th place and finally become King of the Hill.

The other nordic countries are not far behind: Denmark #6, Finland #8, and Norway #9.

Forbes' ranking is based on a comprehensive compilation of data on 139 countries gathered from reports by Freedom House, Heritage Foundation, Property Rights Alliance, Transparency International, World Bank Group and World Economic Forum.

The countries receive scores in 11 categories: protection of property rights, innovation, tax burden, technology, prevalence of corruption, freedom (personal, trade and monetary), bureaucracy, investor protection and stock market performance.

Sweden ranks among the top ten countries in seven of these categories.

Sweden has undergone a transformation to reach the top.

Sweden has reached the top position despite ranking 27th in the tax burden category. For comparison, Denmark ranks 7th, Finland 13th and Norway 25th.

That being said, Sweden used to rank 38th - when it had an eight percentage points higher tax on profits, as Forbes points out.

That isn't the only way Sweden has changed over the past decade. Forbes paints a picture of 'a transformation built on deregulation and budget self-restraint with cuts to Sweden’s welfare state'.

The reductions in the scope of the Swedish welfare state has allowed tax cuts, incentivized employment, and, together with some scrapped taxes on wealth, successfully made Sweden consistently ranked the most or one of the most competitive economies in the world.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Sweden And Indonesia Sign Defense Collaboration

Via The Swedish Wire:

Sweden is increasing its position in defense export in the Southeast Asian region.

Defense contractor Saab Group opened a new office in the Philipines last month, and is reportedly in pole position to secure a deal to sell its JAS 39 Gripen fighter aircraft to the Philippine Air Force.

In early November, a business delegation led by Sweden’s Minister of Enterprise and Innovation Mikael Damberg coincided with the opening of the country’s new embassy in the capital Manila.

Now, Sweden and Indonesia have signed a memorandum of understanding to deepen their defense cooperation through, among others, technology transfers and joint research and development.

The MoU was signed by Indonesia`s Minister of Defense Ryamizard Ryacudu and Swedish Defense Minister Carl Anders Peter Hultqvist on Tuesday, Tempo.co reports.

"We have officially built the cooperation. In future, we will improve this cooperation", Ryamizard said.

Swedish Minister Hultqvist welcomed the signing of the agreement.

"Cooperation between Sweden and Indonesia has been established long before and the signing of the memorandum of understanding is a step forward to deepen the defense cooperation between the two countries", he said.

Saab is not new to fighters sales in Asia. In fact, it provided Thailand with 12 Gripen C/D fighters and is discussing with the Thai government a further order for this aircraft, which is the precursor of the brand-new Gripen-E platform, Asia Times said.

Bangkok has been Sweden’s second-largest defense client in the 2010-2015 stint, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

In Southeast Asia, Saab is also focusing on the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia as potential buyers of Gripen jets.

Among Nordic states, Sweden has the lion’s share in the transfer of arms and weapon systems to Indo-Pacific customers; it stood at some US$2.5 billion from 2000 to 2015, the fourth-largest amount throughout Europe.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Volvo Cars In Full Speed Towards IPO

Via The Swedish Wire:

Gothenburg-based automaker Volvo Cars, which is owned by China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co, has raised 5 billion Swedish crowns (429.03 million pounds) from a group of Swedish institutional investors in a step towards a listing of the Chinese-owned company.

"Today's move is another step towards Volvo Cars' long expressed ambition to act as a listed company", the company said in a statement.

Pension funds AMF, the First Swedish National Pension Fund (AP1) and insurance company Folksam had bought the shares that could later be converted into listed ordinary shares.

The timing for an IPO is perfect. Volvo has flourished under Geely’s ownership, boosting sales and profits as well as building factories in China and the U.S. as part of its ambition to challenge the German premium manufacturers. Lately speculations have surfaced more frequently that the the automaker was considering a listing.

It plans to sell 800.000 cars annually by 2020 — a third of those produced in China — with 200.000 for domestic sale and the rest for export.

The company could also take advantage if the current bullish stark market sentiment, analysts say.

The Swedish car maker was bought by Chinese Geely in 2010. China sales have been a major force in Volvo’s recovery from years of poor performance under Ford, the Financial Times said. Sales have tripled over the past three years, making China Volvo’s largest single-country market.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Swedish Game Maker Starbreeze Acquires Indian Dhruva Interactive

Via The Swedish Wire:

Starbreeze, a Stockholm based game maker, has acquired Indian art production company Dhruva Interactive for $8.5 million.

Starbreeze Studios is one of northern Europe’s largest independent studios with many block buster games under our belt.

Founded in 1997, Dhruva is India’s leading game developer with over 320 employees, providing art production services to the global games industry. Dhruva has three state-of-the-art studios, two in the southern Indian city of Bangalore, and a studio in the northern Indian city of Dehradun, located at the foothills of the Himalayan mountains.

Dhruva will continue to operate under its own brand.

Through the acquisition, Starbreeze secures its art production needs for projects such as OVERKILL’s The Walking Dead and Nozon’s VFX production, improves the quality of its in-house production projects and lowers its operating costs. It will also enable Starbreeze to provide full end to end services to its participating publishing partners and to add significant value to its VR ecosystem.

“Bold plans need the right partners and Content is King. We have worked with Dhruva Interactive for several years and know them well. I am confident that bringing Dhruva into the Starbreeze family will strengthen Starbreeze as a global entertainment company”, said Starbreeze CEO Bo Andersson-Klint. “Dhruva will continue to operate independently under its own brand and run business as usual with existing partners, while greatly contributing to Starbreeze pipeline and adding pronounced value to our publishing services and VR ecosystem”.

“Starbreeze has been a great client, and over time we realized that Starbreeze is exactly the kind of company that we’d like to evolve with. They have strong games, an awesome vision for VR, similar culture and a skilled management team”, said Dhruva CEO and Founder Rajesh Rao. “Our talent art teams contribute to the some of the biggest and most visually stunning games in the industry today. As part of the Starbreeze family, we will be able to add cutting edge VR content to our repertoire as well. It’s an extremely exciting time”.

Deal is expected to close at end of Q1 2017, subject to approval processes for foreign investors in India.

Sweden "Preparing For War" With Russia: Media

Via The Swedish Wire:

Local Swedish media wrote Friday that Sweden has issued advice to local authorities urging them to prepare their civil defense infrastructure and procedures "in terms of war" amid growing concerns about Russia aggression.

The move is believed to be part of the country's return to the Cold War era "Total Defense Strategy", announced last year in response to the "worsening international situation" and "increased uncertainty in the immediate area", the Independent said.

“What is new is that the security situation in our region has deteriorated and that therefore we must prepare ourselves in terms of war and of conflict", Magnus Dyberg-Ek of the the "Totalförsvarsplaneringen" Total Defense Strategy, told Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet (SvD).

“We have sent out the letter in part because local authorities want clear instructions so that they know how to act in a crisis situation”.

He added: “This strategy is not new – we used it during the Cold War and will now strengthen coordination regarding civil defense".

"There is nothing to suggest that war is likely, but we have been given an order from the government to plan for it”, Svante Werger, the press officer for MSB, told the Sydsvenskan newspaper.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Yuck! McDonalds To Sell Scandinavian Operation As People Reject American Fast-Food

Via The Swedish Wire:

American fast food has become so unattractive to people in Scandinavia that McDonalds’ now plan to sell its operations in the region, according to local news media.

The hamburger giant is reportedly planning to sell its Nordic operation and is in the process of finding buyer to take over the role as main franchiser for Denmark, Norway, and Sweden.

The price will amount to around $420 million, according to Berlingske Business who said a buyer already has been found. It added that the firm has contacted several Danish pension funds regarding the sale.

Swedish business daily Dagens Industri resently said that the Scandinavian market has become increasingly unattractive to McDonald's in recent years as competition from local fast-food chains has become increasingly successful.

McDonald's Chief Executive Steve Easterbrook has vowed to transform the 60-year-old chain into a "modern, progressive burger company". He has introduced the all-day breakfast, banned the use of medically important antibiotics in U.S. chicken, and has been working to speed up service and make it friendlier.

The world's largest fast-food chain's total revenue fell almost 3 percent to $6.42 billion during the third quarter. That was down for a ninth straight quarter, largely due to the sale of restaurants to franchisees.

Perfect Timing For Volvo Cars IPO

Via The Swedish Wire:

Volvo Car Group, which is owned by China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co, has denied media speculation that the company is planning an initial public offering.

Swedish business daily Dagens Industri said that Volvo Cars and its Chinese owner could decide this year on whether to go public in 2017.

The timing for an IPO would however be perfect, following rising sales and profits. Lately speculations have surfaced more frequently that the the automaker was considering a listing.

It plans to sell 800.000 cars annually by 2020 — a third of those produced in China — with 200,000 for domestic sale and the rest for export.

The company could also take advantage if the current bullish stark market sentiment, analysts say.

The Gothenburg-based firm sold 473,528 cars in January through November, up 7% year-on-year, helped by strong demand for its XC90 SUV, the first new model developed under Geely ownership and leaving it poised for its third straight year of record sales, Reuters said.

The news bureau added that Volco also returned to international bond markets earlier this year, with its first corporate bond raising 500 million euros ($533 million), followed by its first Swedish bond issue last month.

The Swedish car maker was bought by Chinese Geely in 2010. China sales have been a major force in Volvo’s recovery from years of poor performance under Ford, the Financial Times said. Sales have tripled over the past three years, making China Volvo’s largest single-country market.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Sweden Has Run Out Of Garbage And Is Forced To Import

Via Business Insider:

A fascinating story about Sweden is circulating in media outlets around the world this week. In short, Sweden is so good at reusing garbage for energy that the country has run out and has recently been forced to import trash from other European countries to keep its garbage burning facilities running.

In essence, Yes, this is almost true - Sweden is crazy good at recycling.

Sweden is exceptionally good at recycling and putting garbage to use. More than 50% of the country's energy is generated from renewables and only 1% of Swedish household waste ends up in landfills. 20% of the energy for Sweden's district heating systems are generated by garbage incinerators.

Here's where the story falters:

1. Sweden does not really import garbage from other countries.

If Sweden bought trash from other countries to run its energy facilities that would be one thing. But Sweden's deal in this is a lot sweeter than that. The countries that send garbage to Sweden pay Sweden for the service of taking care of their waste. So Sweden actually makes a profit from taking on free fuel for energy.

2. Sweden is not forced to take on garbage - it just happens to be a gold mine.

The heat generating facilities charge about $43 per ton of trash, according to Svenska Dagbladet. In 2014, Sweden was sent 2.3 million tons - so that's almost $100 million in revenues... Other countries should probably learn to take care of their own shit - it's a gold mine.

3. Sweden has not suddenly run out of garbage to burn.

Swedish facilities have had an overcapacity for burning garbage for a long time - if only Sweden's domestic garbage production is considered.

Taking in garbage from other countries began many years ago. In part because Sweden was early in putting a tax on fossile fuels, back in 1991. Also, because heating is one of the major uses for energy for any country located so far to the North, incineration is particularly effective in Sweden - the heat can be distributed directly to district heating systems without being transformed into electricity.

With that said, Sweden's international garbage collection has grown quickly in recent years. Between 2005 and 2014, the amount imported increased fourfold. 2,3 million tons in 2014 corresponds to about 820 garbage trucks per day.

Burning garbage actually reduces CO2-emissions - in comparison to the alternative.

In Sweden, the discussion goes that it would be preferable to properly sort and recycle garbage instead of burning 85-90% of it. Incineration does of course contribute to CO2-emissions.

However, the net CO2-emissions from burning the garbage of other countries is actually negative, compared to the alternative of letting those countries take care of their own trash.

The net CO2-emissions for trash from England, Ireland or Italy burnt in Sweden is actually negative. This includes enviroinmental effects of deposits, transports and energy production.

Fortum estimates that CO2-emissions are decreased by 290-570 kg per ton garbage recieved from other countries.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Norwegian Serial-Entrepreneur Anita Schjoll Brede Wants To Accelerate Research With Her Artificially Intelligent Scientist

Via Busimess Insider:

For the past ten years of Anita Schjoll Bredes career, she has worked in nine different industries, for- and non-profit, and has, amongst an array of other businesses, developed e-learning tools, worked with reducing energy consumption and built a racecar. She has worked in her home country, Norway, in Kenya as well as in tech-Mekka Silicon Valley and studied at six acknowledged universities.

With the motto ”I do things I don't know how to do”, Anita now looks to artificial intelligence.

Business Insider Nordic met up with Anita at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in London for a talk about her most recent startup, Iris AI.

Could you please tell me about Iris AI?

“We are a cross-European start-up registered in Norway. We are one year old and we are building an AI scientist. Right now it is a tool for research and development, people who work with research on a daily basis, to map out the scientific content around their innovation or their project. So Iris AI is a machine learning based platform, where the basic functionality is you take one piece of scientific text, like a research paper, drop it into the tool, Iris’ machine reads it and extracts the key concept of what this paper is about and sends them back to you with relevant open access research”.

Starting out studying Drama and Theatre in Oslo, Norway, a 20-year-old Anita began her career in an industry far from technology. Along with her fellow students she founded Experia, teaching body language and doing team-building projects with companies like Deloitte.

Since then, Anita has studied Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of California, and Management of Science and Engineering at Stanford University, before eventually returning home to achieve a master degree in Entrepreneurship and Business Design at Chalmers University of Technology in Norway.

In 2015 Anita was admitted to the Graduate Studies Program focusing on Solving Humanity’s Grand Challenges at the acknowledged Silicon Valley-think-tank Singularity University. This changed her view on technology, innovation and our future in general, and this was where Iris AI took shape.

Given her affection for studying, developing learning tools and educating locals in solar power, an artificially intelligent scientific assistant seems like a major step for her educational process. But how did she come up with the idea?

Is Iris AI founded on your own personal frustration?

“It definitely is. One of the experiences that lead to Iris was a start-up company I did, actually when I was at Chalmers University. It wasn’t technically frustration related to writing a paper or anything like that, but I was doing energy optimization of heat exchanger networks in the process industry. I was trying to find researchers and research on the topic, because it was very technical and I knew we needed some serious evidence, and I just couldn’t find any. I did not know the field enough to know what to search for. I knew I had to search for something, but didn’t know where to start”.

"Later on at the Singularity University, we were talking about research and science, and that was one of the experiences that stood out for me: ‘What if I could have had easy access to science at that point, and found the right papers and the right people?’ I could have moved so much faster and actually made that company happen”.

Working with artificial intelligence, it is a must that Iris can mimic cognitive abilities such as learning and understanding data in order to solve problems. But what are the future prospects of a machine that educates itself, and what is the vision for Iris AI in the near future?

“Right now it is about getting our funding in place. We have just secured our first five customers, so it is about delivering a product to them and getting the business model proper going. Over the next two to three years, Iris is going to become a more proactive research assistant, so not just contextual navigation like today, but an actual assistant that can tell you ‘Hey, shouldn’t you be reading this?’ or ‘check out the method in this section’ ”.

“And then of course we come to our ten-year vision, which is an artificially intelligent scientist who will read your content and come up with a hypothesis of what she has read, while having the ability to actually test that hypothesis in a robotic lab or a simulation environment, and then publish the results. But that’s ten years into the future”.

Are you working with any partners in Scandinavia?

“Yes we are, both customers and R&D partners. In Scandinavia we are working with Chalmers Technical University in Goteborg, a Norwegian research institute and a German university. These are all the R&D partners. As for clients, Kone, the Finnish infrastructure company are among our first clients, so we are going to host a Scithon (science hackathon) with them this spring”.

You have created four companies in industries ranging from theater to energy optimization – what are you driven by?

“The thing is I don’t have a big plan, there is no master plan. It feels completely random in a way, but it makes a lot of sense now that I suddenly run this company doing AI for science – that was not part of my plan.

Doing really tricky, hard things that are going to be difficult excites me. I guess, for me, one of the biggest motivations in life is when people say, ‘No, you can’t do that’ – I’m like ‘I’m going to show them I can’. It is a little scary sometimes. But I guess it’s one of those things where it just happens”.

“I get a lot of opportunities and I work hard and have drive. For me it’s not about the money. I mean, it would be fun to make a big exit at some point in my life, so I can give back and do some proper investing in really cool companies, not just photo or travel apps, but do some impact investment. It would be fun, but that’s not what drives me. I want to make a difference; I want to build something that matters. I want to build something that actually makes this world a better place”.

Final question. You've built a race car and several companies, taught children solar light entrepreneurship and you're a futuristic entrepreneur – are you the female version of Elon Musk?

“Haha, no no no, he is a genius...and a jerk I hear. He’s a hard person to work for, and I like to think I am nicer than that. And I’m not, haha".

Monday, December 12, 2016

Central Bank Of Denmark Is Considering An e-krone Based On Blockchain - But Tech Is The Least Of The Problems Involved

Via Business Insider:

Cashless society is already a reality for most of the population of the Nordics. Unlike the US, the Nordics have a lot of trust in digital payments. In Denmark, even the homeless are going cashless, and 80% of the transactions in the country take place digitally. Now the Danish central bank is considering going all in with a digital currency, Bloomberg reports.

Business Insider recently reported that the Swedish Riksbank is looking to implement a digital currency within two years, and the UK is similarly eyeing digital currencies. Who will be first, time will tell, but first there are some problems to consider.

The most close at hand solution for a digital currency is to use blockchain technology - which Bitcoin is also based on. Danish Central Bank Governor Lars Rohde tells Bloomberg that technology is the least of their worries.

“We’re not preoccupied with the technology, because we know that issue well”, Rohde said.

Any central bank using blockchain as the basis of a digital currency will have to adress a lot of issues that are not tech-related. Lars Rhode brings up a couple in the interview with Bloomberg:

Blockchain would make all transactions traceable, which means there would be a technical possibility for the central bank to monitor private citizens. This is usuallly not something people are over enthusiastic about - even if the Nordic populations are relatively used to much of their personal information being publicly available.

In the event of a financial crisis, the central bank would "indirectly end up doing a bailout, because we become a creditor to all the banks", Lars Rohde tells Bloomberg.

Cecilia Skingsley, deputy governor of Sweden's central bank Riksbank, brings up the following issues in an interview with the Financial Times: traceability, delivery method, and interest.

Skingley does, however, point out that there are other technological alternatives to blockchain. And what the final solution will look like is yet uncertain.

What is certain is that digital currencies are coming - the benefits are just too big. According to Bloomberg, cash is twice as expensive on a societal level compared to credit cards or other digital payment methods, in the estimation of the Danish central bank.

“The big advantage will concern small and micro payments. It’ll be cheaper, faster, and easier for you and me to do electronic payments”, Rohde tells Bloomberg.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

The Future Of IKEA: Moving From The Potato Fields Into The Heart Of The City

Via Business Insider:

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, IKEA's CEO Peter Agnefjäll revealed that the furniture giant is increasingly adopting a strategy to bring it even closer to customers: moving into the urban environment.

“The recipe for success so far has been we build quite big stores out in the potato fields, whereas we see by 2050 [that] 70% of the world’s population will live in cities. And there are not so many potato fields in the center of London, so obviously we need to do something to keep IKEA accessible,” Agnefjäll told the WSJ.

The floorspace required for an IKEA store gets pretty pricey when you look at more central real estate, however. The solution is real estate investments that serve multiple purposes. WSJ explifies with a Copenhagen development project that IKEA has invested in. The building will be a combine office, hotel, apartments and an IKEA store.

This scheme does not eliminate higher costs entirely, but the trade-off is that the urban retail stores will be more accessible both in views of customers and deliveries.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

A Chunk Of Polar Sea Ice Bigger Than India Has Vanished

Via Business Insider:

Sea ice off the coast of Antarctica and the Arctic hit record lows in November, and scientists are now reporting that, as of December 4, we’ve lost 3.76 million square kilometers of the stuff - more than the total area of India.

As startling as that is, at this point, we shouldn’t really be surprised - last month, temperatures in parts of the Arctic rose 20 degrees Celsius (36°F) above normal, and 2016 is on track to be the hottest year on record.

"There are some really crazy things going on", Mark Serreze, director of the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) told Alister Doyle for Reuters.

"It's an extraordinary departure from the norm", added Anders Levermann from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany.

Serreze and his team report that in November 2016, Arctic sea ice extent averaged 9.08 million square kilometers (3.51 million square miles) - the lowest November for Arctic sea ice on record.

That’s 800.000 square kilometers (309.000 square miles) below November 2006, which held the previous record for the lowest levels of sea ice in November.

It’s also 1.95 million square kilometers (753.000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 long-term average for November.

Antarctica, which has so far appeared more resilient to the effects of rising temperatures than the Arctic, also started to rapidly decline in November, and it too set a record low for the month.

NSIDC reports that once Antarctic sea ice reached its annual maximum extent on August 31 - way earlier than expected - it's been declining fast, and it’s now 1 million square kilometers (386.000 square miles) below the previous record low, set in 1986.

It’s also 1.81 million square kilometers (699.000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average, bringing the total amount of sea ice lost from Earth’s two poles to 3.76 million square kilometers - roughly equivalent to the area of two Indonesias, and more than double the area of Alaska.

The "almost unprecedented" disappearance of sea ice comes at a time when the Arctic sea ice is usually starting to recoup its losses from the previous summer, but with unusually high temperatures in the sea and atmosphere right now, it hasn’t been given the chance to recover even slightly.

"It looks like a triple whammy - a warm ocean, a warm atmosphere, and a wind pattern all working against the ice in the Arctic", Serreze told Oliver Milman atThe Guardian.

While the Arctic’s fate has been pretty straightforward over recent years - above average temperatures equals above average sea ice loss - Antarctica has posed more of a challenge for scientists to decipher.

Despite sea ice in the Arctic having never been so depleted, the melt-off in Antarctica has been far more subtle, and at some points in recent years, its sea ice has actually expanded.

But now that we’ve seen 1 million square kilometers disappear into the ocean - more than double the previous 1986 record - the cracks (literally) are starting to show.

As Serreze told Reuters, the twin record lows might be "blind dumb chance", but the worry is that, "Antarctica is the sleeping elephant that is beginning to stir".

One sign that Antarctica is headed for a delayed, but devastating, response to climate change was the appearance of thousands of strange blue lakes back in August - the exact same kind that caused Greenland’s ice sheet to lose a whopping 1 trillion tonnes of ice between 2011 and 2014.

"[East Antarctica is] the part of the continent where people have for quite a long time assumed that it’s relatively stable", one of the researchers who spotted the lakes, Stewart Jamieson from Durham University, said at the time.

"There’s not a huge amount of change, it’s very, very cold, and so, it’s only very recently that the first supraglacial lakes, on top of the ice, were identified".

As you might have guessed, none of this has positive implications for the fate of humanity, because all that sea ice is melting into the ocean and in doing so, it amplifies the warming process by exposing the 'dark sea' that was once beneath it to sunlight, and this in turn causes more ice to melt.

We've already lost five Pacific islands to rising sea levels this year, we might have to start looking at this as the eventual reality for humanity:

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

The Nordics Are Ramping Up Their Fintech Ecosystems With Three New Innovation Hubs

Via Business Insider:

After London, the Nordics are Europe's second hotspot for fintech. The first innovation wave produced success stories like Klarna and iZettle in Sweden; MobilePay in Denmark, and Holvi in Finland.

The next wave is well underway, as one in ten investments in the Nordics go to fintech startups, according to TechCrunch.

Sweden is the leader, having attracted almost a fifth of European fintech investment in 2015. It is now on track for another record year.

Now, Nordic fintech entrepreneurs are getting dedicated physical facilities to match this success.

2017 will see New dedicated Fintech hubs in Stockholm and Copenhagen; in addition to a corporate-sponsored accelerator in Oslo.

These initiatives follow the trend that bigger Fintech hubs like London, Singapore and New York have set with their numerous fintech incubators, often in partnership with leading banks, insurers and investors.

The new Nordic hubs and accelerators should help early stage startups in The Nordics get mentoring, networks and access to partners. Most of the Fintech investments in the Nordics are indeed in the smaller $1-3 million range, according to Neil Murray of The Nordic Web. He told TechCrunch:

"[..] Despite the increasing amount of investment, the ecosystem is still at a fairly early-stage and the Nordics potential to be a fintech hub is still in its infancy”.

Here are the new Nordic hubs.

Stockholm FinTech Hub KPMG announced last week it will launch Sweden's first physical platform for fintech innovation. Other partners include NFT Ventures, Invest Stockholm and venture capital firm BLC Advisors.

Stockholm FinTech Hub, launching in Q1 2017, is independent and not-for-profit. It will also host startups from the emerging InsurTech and RegTech areas, and bring together relevant actors within the financial sector, in order to boost innovation:

“Stockholm FinTech Hub will be an enabler and a vital link between startups, regulators and established financial institutions" said Matthew Argent, co-Founder of the Stockholm FinTech Hub and partner BLC Advisor, to Finextra.

Argent continued:

“The ecosystem of FinTech-startups and high growth companies in Sweden is one of the best in the world. But to keep the excellent standards up in a global market we need to evolve the support ecosystem that supports these companies".

Copenhagen Fintech Copenhagen is already a Fintech hotspot with its annual Money 20/20 conference, which gathers the world's leading investors and entrepreneurs. '

Now it has announced "the first fintech hub in the Nordics". The Copenhagen Fintech co-working space is a partnership between Financial Services Union Denmark, the City of Copenhagen and the Danish Bankers Association. Some 40 fintech entrepreneurs have already moved into the hub, according to Copenhagen Fintech. At the hub's launch, Copenhagen's mayor told about the city's ambitions to Computer Weekly:

“I want Copenhagen to be a city laboratory for designing and testing new technology”

Oslo: DNB NXT Accelerator Norway's biggest bank, DNB, is keen on following the Fintech boom. It recently joined forces with a local incubator, StartupLabs, to launch the "DNB NXT Accelerator", which incentivizes entrepreneurs to come up with solutions that the bank can use.

Other Norwegian developments: last month, a separate accelerator located outside Oslo, called Fintech Factory, just completed its first Fintech cohort.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Skype Co-Founder Niklas Zennström Just Backed A Mini Plane Company In €10 Million Round

Via Business Insider:

Niklas Zennström, Skype's cofounder and former CEO, is backing a company building car-sized aircraft in Germany through his venture capital firm Atomico.

Lilium Aviation, a two-year-old Munich startup, received €10 million (£8.4 million) on Monday from Atomico and other investors to help it develop the personal electric planes that are capable of vertical take-off and landing (VTOL).

Founded by four entrepreneurs in 2014, Lilium envisages building a quiet, lightweight commuter aircraft that will be capable of flying between cities at a height of 3,000m. It is gearing up to test its first full-sized prototype early next year.

With an expected range of 300km and estimated top speed of up to 300km/h, the Lilium Jet is aiming to make inter-city travel, faster than any widely available mass transit system. San Francisco to Palo Alto would take less than 15 minutes, while Munich to Frankfurt would take just over an hour.

"This is a really good example of founders who are using deep technology to take on a very big problem", said Zennström, who has joined the board of the company, at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference. "The way we deal with transportation today is broken. There are congestions and to get from East London to West London takes forever. There is pollution in our cities with carbon dioxide so we get climate change".

"Of course you have electrical vehicles and autonomous vehicles to deal with some of those things but really to solve it in a big way we think you need to take to the skies".

Atomico, which was set up in 2006 and has raised over $600 million (£472 million) to invest in startups, also backed Lilium in a smaller undisclosed round in June. Lilium said it intends to use the new money to expand its existing team of 35 aviation specialists and product engineers.

Other companies are also building personal planes but they're going about it in a different way. "Others are taking the concept of a drone and making it really big", said Zennström. "The problem with a drone is the propellers have to create lift all the time so it's going to use a lot of electricity. But Lilium, they're just using thrust to get it up and then it transitions to flight mode with the wings using much less energy. About the same as an electrical car. It's extremely energy efficient".

Lilium claims that its aircraft - powered by 36 directable electric fans, mounted along the wings and front pods - will be quieter than helicopters and other competitors, while also requiring less infrastructure.

Lilium CEO Daniel Wiegand said in a statement: "When we founded Lilium we had a single, simple goal - to design the best possible means of transportation for the 21st century. With our technology we can triple the radius of people's lives while preserving our environment, avoiding congestion and eliminating the cost of infrastructure. We can also flexibly connect whole states to single metropolitan areas".

"A personal vertical take-off and landing aircraft has been the dream of generations. It is the ultimate means of transportation. Together with Atomico we share the vision to make this dream come true for everybody, in the form of the VTOL Lilium Jet".

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Hong Kong Remains Freest Society And Economy

Via The Swedish Wire:

More than 20 years after cutting ties with the U.K., Hong Kong has maintained its economic vitality, even as concerns swirl about the health of China, according to free market think tank Fraser Institute.

The institute's annual Economic Freedom of the World report showed Hong Kong topping the list of the world's most free economies, with Singapore, New Zealand, Switzerland and Canada rounding out the top five. However, America mired in the 16th spot for the second consecutive year, the institute noted.

"Economic freedom leads to prosperity and a higher quality of life, while the lowestranked countries are usually burdened by oppressive regimes that limit the freedom and opportunity of their citizens", said the report's authors, Fred McMahon and Michael Walker, in a statement.

Hong Kong has also been ranked the world’s most competitive economy by a Swiss institute. The World Competitiveness Yearbook 2016 released by Switzerland’s International Institute for Management Development (IMD) on Monday saw Hong Kong rise from second place last year to first place. It was followed by Switzerland, the US and Singapore.

Financial Secretary John Tsang said in a statement on Tuesday that he was delighted by the ranking.

“In light of the fierce competition in the global arena, we will strive to uphold our prevailing competitive edge and continue to search for new growth areas, so as to strengthen our position as an international financial, trading and business centre and enhance Hong Kong’s long-term competitiveness”, he said.

What's more, Hong Kong has reaffirmed its No 1 status as the freest jurisdiction in the world. The city again topped the global Human Freedom Index survey, beating off Switzerland, New Zealand, Ireland, and Denmark. The index measures 76 indicators of personal, civil, and economic freedoms, in 156 countries and jurisdictions.

However, Beijing’s increased involvement in the city’s affairs puts that top ranking in danger, the Fraser Institute of Canada has warned.

“While the freedom index doesn’t measure democracy, democracy remains the best safeguard of personal freedoms, so if China encroaches on its ‘one country, two systems’ relationship with Hong Kong, we can expect Hong Kong’s ranking to drop”, said Fred McMahon, the Dr Michael A. Walker Research Chair in Economic Freedom at the Fraser Institute and editor of the study.

Deloitte believes that Hong Kong, which is a long-established financial center, ranks highly on the GFCI yet lower than that of London, Singapore, and New York. Although higher than London and New York in terms of DB, Hong Kong has the lowest GII among the five cities.

Friday, December 02, 2016

654.000 People Living With HIV/AIDS In China

Via The Swedish Wire:

Today is World Aids Day, and the state-owned Xinhua News Agency reports that “there were 654.000 people living with HIV/AIDS in China by the end of September, with 201.000 deaths”. According to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sexual transmission accounted for 94 percent of infections. In addition, there were 96.000 new cases reported in the first nine months of 2016.

Xinhua also notes today that a “domestically developed, long-acting injectable HIV drug has been put forward for approval by the China Food and Drug Administration, and will become the first of its kind to be generally available if approved”. The drug is known as Albuvirtide.

Meanwhile, The New York Times has published a Q&A with Dr. Gao Yaojie, a retired gynecologist who uncovered a major HIV outbreak in central China in the late 1990s. The outbreak remains a sensitive topic in China even now, as it was caused by “an unsanitary blood collection and sales network, abetted by local officials”. Impoverished residents of Henan Province were selling their blood. After plasma was extracted, “the rest of the pooled blood, now often carrying HIV or other infections, was reinjected into donors, so they could give more frequently”.

Sweden the first country to achieve UNAIDS/WHO 90-90-90 target

Sweden has become the first country to achieve the UNAIDS/World Health Organization (WHO) 90-90-90 target, research published in HIV Medicine shows. At the end of 2015, 90% of HIV cases in Sweden were diagnosed, 99.8% of people were linked to care and 95% of people taking antiretrovirals for at least six months had a viral load below 50 copies/ml.

“We believe that Sweden is the first country to achieve the UNAIDS/WHO 90-90-90 goal”, comment the investigators.

Antiretroviral therapy (ART) has dramatically reduced rates of HIV-related illness and death and the infectiousness of people taking treatment.

UFO And Light Phenomenon In Los Angeles

Via Unknown Country:

This object and light form appeared above the Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles on November 29. The witness reported to MUFON that he had taken the pictures without noticing the object, only the light form.

There was also a less clear event in Northridge, CA on the same night, and we have unconfirmed reports of other events in the Los Angeles area as well.

The Hollywood Hills sighting is graded A.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Volvo Cars Faces 10% Luxury Car Tax In China

Via The Swedish Wire:

China will slap on a 10% sales tax on luxury cars starting in December, local Chinese media said Thursday citing a notice issued by the State Administration of Taxation.

People in China buying Volvos may therefor have to think twice before investing in the Swedish car model.

The tax on cars – including the Ferrari GTC4Lusso, Bentley Bentayga, and Aston Martin DB9 – is a bid to combat conspicuous consumption, promote more efficient vehicles and reducing green house gas emissions, local media said. The State Council has approved the change.

The Swedish car maker was bought by Chinese Geely in 2010. China sales have been a major force in Volvo’s recovery from years of poor performance under Ford, the Financial Times said. Sales have tripled over the past three years, making China Volvo’s largest single-country market.

Volvo sold more than 63.000 cars in China in the first nine months of 2016, up from 57.000 in the same period last year.

It plans to sell 800.000 cars annually by 2020 — a third of those produced in China — with 200.000 for domestic sale and the rest for export.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

UFO Flap In Turkey

Via Unknown Country:

This is one of a number of videos of unusual lights that were observed over the Turkish capital of Istanbul and other locations across the country on the night of November 26. The video begins with a small light, then moves to something larger and more complex. It ends with the unexpected sound of a jet passing an apartment building at low altitude and frightening the occupants. There is also some footage of people having difficulty with an escalator, but it doesn't seem to be related.

The usual YouTube trolls are seen making the usual comments that it's all fake, etc., etc., in the comments section. In fact, the large light with the smaller ones moving around it may well be a genuine unknown. Also, the extent of comment on social media about the sightings that people were experiencing across the country that night make prosaic explanations less likely.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

How Trumpism Will Impact Sweden's Economy

Via The Swedish Wire:

SEB: Nordic Outlook: Trumpism will have an uncertain impact - Swedish economic optimism, Riksbank done with rate cuts

As we approach 2017, the world has become both more exciting and more frightening from an economic and political standpoint, according to SEB's economists in the November issue of the quarterly Nordic Outlook report. With the United States preparing to test a new fiscal stimulus strategy, there is new hope for economic growth now that monetary policy has reached the end of the road. But strong and growing anti-establishment forces are changing the domestic and foreign policy playing field in troublesome and unpredictable ways. SEB's forecast scenario confirms stronger, but far from impressive, global economic expansion - hampered by such factors as inequitable wealth distribution and heavy debt. In Sweden, domestic driving forces - including residential construction and public sector consumption, combined with somewhat stronger exports - will lead to continued robust growth in 2017. The Riksbank is finished with its key interest rate cuts, but the bank will be forced to buy government securities for another while.

Our picture of the international economic outlook has not changed especially much since our last Nordic Outlook in August. Sentiment indicators have rebounded, and financial markets have reacted in an unexpectedly positive way to the possibility of more growth-oriented economic policies in the wake of Donald Trump's US presidential election victory. The outlook for emerging market (EM) economies will improve somewhat, as Russia and Brazil emerge from recession and Chinese growth decelerates at a controlled pace. Average economic growth in the 35 mostly affluent member countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) will be 1.7 percent this year, down from 2.3 percent in 2015. In 2017 and 2018, annual GDP growth in the OECD countries will be 2.0 percent. Considering that many central banks are maintaining historically low key interest rates and are making large-scale purchases of securities (quantitative easing or QE policies), this is a rather mediocre growth rate.

Yet political conditions have changed dramatically since the United Kingdom's "Brexit" referendum on withdrawal from the European Union and the US presidential election. Anti-establishment forces are ascendant and may become even stronger in the important elections that will take place in Western Europe during 2017. A general shift among established parties towards prioritising national considerations - at the expense of international obligations - is likely. Fiscal stimulus measures may gain a more prominent role in the economic policy framework, and this may improve growth potential. But large and growing uncertainty about global trade and security policies is opening the way for completely new scenarios, which may have major negative economic consequences in the long term.

American fiscal "battering ram" will have global impact

The election of Donald Trump as the next president of the United States is expected to lead to more expansionary US fiscal policies - a yearly dose of stimulus equivalent to some 0.5-1.0 per cent of GDP in 2017 och 2018 - based on tax cuts equally divided between households and businesses, as well as infrastructure investments. This is well below the dose of stimulus that Trump announced during his election campaign. We are uncertain about the coming administration's actual ambitions and about its chances of piloting these policies through Congress. Because of heightened political uncertainty and the potentially negative effects of various Trump proposals on international trade, we are making minor adjustments in our US forecast: GDP will increase by 1.6 percent this year, accelerate to 2.3 percent growth in 2017 and expand by 2.2 percent in 2018. This is somewhat higher than the potential rate of about 2 percent. The expansion is being held back by weak productivity growth, which hampers capital spending, and by demographic headwinds that slow consumption. Unemployment will fall to 4.5 percent (below equilibrium) by the end of 2018, and the increase in average hourly earnings will accelerate to 3.5 percent in 2018: a level that is compatible with the Federal Reserve (Fed)'s 2 percent inflation target.

EU political map being redrawn - stability of euro may be undermined

The power and momentum of populism is expected to be confirmed by the 2017 elections in the Netherlands, France, and Germany, and perhaps also in Italy in the aftermath of its December 2016 constitutional referendum. Governments and established political parties will eventually be under pressure to pursue more expansionary fiscal policies, for example by boosting defence expenditures due to the changing security policy situation. In March 2017, we expect the contours of the European Union's new roadmap to be unveiled during celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. In our assessment, the advocates of EU federalism will be forced to lower their voices so as not to provoke public opinion in member countries in a risky way. Established political parties, especially on the left, will be forced to find new strategies and alliances in order to slow the advance of new populist parties. EU economic policy regulations and cooperation will be under stress, with the risk of escalating tensions - for example between Germany and various other euro zone countries. Despite political anxiety, Brexit uncertainty and weaknesses in their banking systems, we expect the euro zone economies to grow by 1.8 percent this year and then decelerate cautiously to 1.6 percent both in 2017 and 2018.

The Brexit process is surrounded by big question marks. The British economy has been resilient - in line with our expectations - but we expect a slowdown in GDP growth to 1.4 percent next year (compared to 2.0 percent this year and 1.7 percent in 2018). New legal proceedings will take away the UK government's power to activate the EU "exit clause" by itself. This leads to three conclusions: the country's withdrawal from the EU may be delayed, a "soft Brexit" is more likely and the possibility of a new British election in 2017 will open up.

Our earlier forecast scenario for several major EM economies is proving correct. Their economic growth bottomed out last spring. In Russia and Brazil the worst GDP declines are now past, and both economies will return to positive growth in 2017. India remains the bright spot among the BRIC economies. We also expect China to deliver good annual growth of 6-6.5 percent, but high indebtedness, a shaky housing market and industrial overcapacity will continue to challenge economic policymakers in Beijing.

Fiscal policy may ease burden on monetary policy, but shift is complicated

Various elements of Trump's economic policies are well in line with what economists and international organisations have called for over a long period. New fiscal and structural policies may increase demand and boost potential US growth capacity. This may ease the burden on central banks, in a situation where the effectiveness of monetary policy is becoming weaker and weaker, while its disadvantages - greater economic inequality, weaker reform pressure and risks of increased financial market instability - are becoming increasingly evident.

But shifting the policy mix towards fiscal and structural measures is far from unproblematic; political decision-making processes take time and the independence of central banks is being questioned in countries like the US, the UK, and to some extent Sweden. Some central banks may also be forced into further extending their QE programs in order to soften the threat of rising long-term bond yields in countries with weak government finances, such as Italy. The Bank of Japan's new tools for directly controlling the entire yield curve may also be adopted by other central banks. Our main scenario is that in December the European Central Bank (ECB) will extend its securities purchases by six months until September 2017, later providing cautious signals that it plans to phase them out during 2017. The Bank of Japan will not change its current sharply expansionary monetary policy.

The international low-inflation environment will be tested during 2017-2018 as resource utilisation reaches relatively high levels. Meanwhile the UK and the US are on their way towards becoming more closed economies. This will tend to weaken global disinflationary forces and cause national conditions to have a greater impact on inflation. Inflation expectations in financial markets have already climbed a bit. The Fed will hike its key interest rate in December and then carry out rate hikes every six months during 2017 and 2018 to a level of 1.50-1.75 percent. Global concerns, the risk of a stronger dollar and a downward adjustment in the neutral key interest rate will hold back the Fed. The Bank of England and Norges Bank in Norway will hike their key rates during 2018, while the ECB will keep its refi rate unchanged. We expect US and German government bond yields to climb by 60-90 basis points, reaching higher levels than we had previously anticipated. The EUR/USD exchange rate will move close to parity during 2017 and later rebound towards 1.10 by the end of 2018.

Sluggish economic recovery in several Nordic and Baltic countries

The expansionary economic policies that have been employed to ease the negative effects of falling oil prices will contribute to a modest recovery in the Norwegian economy, but Norway's dual-track GDP growth will reach only 1.3 percent this year and 1.4 percent in 2017. In 2018 growth will reach 1.8 percent, aided by stronger private consumption. Norwegian inflation will fall when currency rate effects fade. Finland will also experience weak growth, although its outlook has improved. GDP will increase by 0.8 percent this year, accelerating to a 1.0 percent rate next year and 1.2 per cent in 2018 - supported by increased capital spending and other factors. Fiscal austerity will continue. In Denmark the recovery will broaden. GDP will increase by only 1.4 percent this year but then climb to a 2.1 percent rate in 2017 and 2.4 percent in 2018. Growth will be supported by a stronger labour market that will improve consumer purchasing power, while higher capacity utilisation and rising home prices will boost capital spending.

Economic trends in the three Baltic countries will also point in the right direction, with household consumption as the most important driving force, but challenges to the competitiveness of these countries - due to such factors as high pay increases and demographic headwinds - will limit their growth potential. Estonia's GDP will increase by only a weak 1.3 percent this year but accelerate to a 2.2 percent rate in 2017 and 2.8 percent in 2018. In Latvia, too, current growth is unsatisfactory, but we expect EU funds and private consumption to push GDP growth from 1.6 percent this year to 3.5 per cent in 2017, followed by a 3.0 percent expansion in 2018. In Lithuania, lower public sector investments are hampering economic growth, but the commercial real estate market is stable and the country will show the strongest economic expansion in the region at 2.2 percent this year. After that, there is good potential for Lithuanian growth to end up at 2.5 percent in 2017 and 3.0 percent in 2018.

Swedish GDP growth will remain well above trend - households hesitant

Although forecasters have lowered their estimates of Sweden's economic outlook in recent months, we are sticking to a more optimistic view. We expect GDP to increase by 3.7 percent this year. Next year, too, the economy will grow at well above trend, with GDP gaining 2.8 percent. In 2018 various bottleneck problems will contribute to a slowdown to 2.3 percent. The foremost GDP drivers are public consumption (due to refugee resettlement) and capital spending (due to the housing shortage). An undervalued krona will gradually provide support to exports. Mixed signals about household consumption are a downside risk: despite strong job growth, good real wage increases and positive wealth effects, the savings ratio is at a record-high 16 percent of disposable income. Households seem to be sceptical about the future, due to uncertainty about international conditions, Sweden's domestic political situation and the Riksbank's negative interest rates.

Swedish inflation has stabilized at a higher level - between 1 and 2 percent - but underlying cyclical forces are not yet strong enough to result in stable inflation of 2 percent. We expect next year's collective labor agreements to run for two years and lead to wage and salary increases 0.2 percentage points higher than the 2016 agreements. Including wage drift, pay hikes will be 2.9 percent in 2017 and 3.1 percent in 2018, up from this year's 2.6 percent. At the end of 2018, unemployment will stand at 6.5 percent. We expect CPIF inflation (consumer price index minus interest rate changes) to end up at 1.6 percent in 2017, in line with the Riksbank's latest forecast. CPI inflation is expected to reach 2 percent at the end of our forecast period, while CPIF will remain below this target. The foreign exchange market, which at present is underweighted in the Swedish krona, is awaiting the Riksbank's signal that it will be shifting its monetary policy; we believe this signal will come in late spring 2017. This will strengthen the krona despite its near-term weakness: at the end of 2017 the EUR/SEK exchange rate will be 9.30 and the USD/SEK rate will be 8.80; at the end of 2018 these rates will be 9.05 and 8.25, respectively.

Fiscal stimulus - key interest rate hike late in 2017

Swedish public finances are continuing to provide upside surprises, helped by large tax revenues in a domestically driven economy. Looking ahead, however, public finances will be squeezed as economic growth decelerates while strains caused by demographics and migration/integration expenditures grow. We expect public finances to be close to balance throughout our forecast period. Meanwhile general government gross debt will fall to 38 percent of GDP. Increased expenditure pressures on local governments will increase tensions between them and the central government, and we expect further central government grants aimed at avoiding large local income tax hikes. This will help boost the dose of stimulus in the budget for 2018, which is an election year.

Continued low inflation and the ECB's extension of its QE program suggest that the Riksbank will extend its own program of government securities purchases by another six months until June 2017, but reduce its scale (SEK 30 billion, compared to SEK 45 billion during the second half of 2016). A further key interest rate cut is unlikely, however, among other things because it would divide the bank's Executive Board. Although CPIF inflation will not quite reach 2 percent by the end of 2018, we expect the Riksbank to hike its key rate in late 2017. The main reasons for such hikes are that the level of inflation will have stabilized, credit growth will be high and central banks in other countries will be phasing out their asset purchases and/or hiking their key interest rates. New Riksbank rate hikes during 2018 will bring the repo rate to 0.25 percent by the end of 2018.

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Giant Swedish Christmas Goat Has Been Set Ablaze Again

Via Business Insider:

A small Yule Goat made of straw is common in Swedish homes, and the Gävle Goat is a giant version of it, that is placed at Slottstorget in Gävle every Christmas since 1966.

Unfortunately, the Gävle Goat has become a popular target of arsonists. Since its first appearance in 1966, the goat has been burned to the ground or vandalized more often than not. Last year it burnt down on the 27th of December.

This year, celebrating its 50th anniversary, the goat didn't even survive for 24 hours. Just a couple of hours after the inauguration the Goat was on fire.

The event was caught on camera. A witness tells the Swedish news paper Expressen that he saw a man jumping over the fence, pouring a liquid over one of the Goat's legs and then setting it on fire. No arrests have been made.

The goat will not be rebuilt this year.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Fidel Castro Dead At 90

Via Jezebel:

Following nearly five decades in power, Fidel Castro, the former Cuban president, has died at the age of 90. El Commandante, whose 1959 revolution overthrew the American-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista, survived some 638 attempts on his life devised by the CIA and Cuban exiles.

Despite the United States’ best efforts, Castro established a communist state fewer than 100 miles from the coast of Florida. Castro has receded from public life in the past decade, ceding power to his brother, Raúl, in the wake of an emergency intestinal surgery in July 2006. His impact on Cuban life, however, remains inestimable. From the Guardian:

His greatest legacy is free healthcare and education, which have given Cuba some of the region’s best human development statistics. But he is also responsible for the central planning blunders and stifling government controls that – along with the US embargo – have strangled the economy, leaving most Cubans scrabbling for decent food and desperate for better living standards.

The man who famously declared “history will absolve me” leaves a divided legacy. Older Cubans who remember brutal times under Batista tend to emphasise the revolution’s accomplishments. Younger Cubans are more likely to rail against gerontocracy, repression and lost opportunity. But even they refer to Castro by the more intimate name of Fidel.

Castro repeatedly outwitted his American counterparts, besting Kennedy in 1961, Carter in 1980, and Clinton in 2000. “No sober person in Latin America wants to adopt the Cuban system. But wherever he went in Latin America he received a raving ovation”, Wayne Smith, a veteran U.S. diplomat who worked in Havana, told the Los Angeles Times. “Why? Because he stood up to the United States, told us where to go, and got away with it”.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and the loss of the $6 billion in annual subsidies from Moscow, in conjunction with economic sanctions enforced by the United States, sent Cuba’s economy into a tailspin until Raúl Castro—who trained leftist guerrillas around the world in the 1970s and 80s—negotiated an easing of trade restrictions in December 2014.

“I’ll be 90 years old soon”, Castro said earlier this year, just before his birthday, at a Communist Party congress. “Soon I’ll be like all the others. The time will come for all of us, but the ideas of the Cuban Communists will remain as proof that on this planet, if one works with fervor and dignity, they can produce the material and cultural goods that human beings need and that need to be fought for without ever giving up”.

Friday, November 25, 2016

This Swedish Billionaire Has Issued A $5 Million Award For Anyone Who Comes Up With A UN 2.0

Via Business Insider:

Laszlo Szombatfalvy, one of Sweden’s most successful investors of all time, is urging on the younger generation to re-think global governance.

Now he has issued a large award for the best idea to replace the current global governance system, centered on the United Nations. This was reported by Jill Bederoff at Veckans Affärer.

Laszlo Szombatfalvy is something like the Warren Buffett of Sweden.

Like Buffett, he started life in very humble circumstances. He arrived to Sweden from Hungary in 1956, when his native country faced Soviet oppression.

The 88-year old finance sage has some of the world’s best investing track records. Over 45 years, he has achieved an average annual return of 30 percent.

His philanthropy aims to solve global problems.

Szombatfalvy is donating more than half a billion Swedish krona ($50m USD) through his fund, Global Challenges Foundation.

Szombatfalvy believes the world is going in the wrong direction, largely due to a failing global governance system:

He told Veckans Affärer: ”The biggest threats to humanity stem from the global community’s inability to deal wit them effectively.”“[The Politicians] cannot agree on the necessary measures [for climate change]. Even less are they able to agree on how to divide the costs between countries; or the responsibilities for future generations. Now it’s only short-term national interests that dominate”.

He wants to engage the younger generation, to get the world in a better shape. He believes radical measures are required to tackle inequality.

“Rich people need to take more responsibility”

His fund’s Global Challenges Prize is awarding $5m USD “in prizes for the best ideas that re-envision global governance for the 21st century”.

The Foundation's website explains further: “Entrants should focus on designing a decision-making structure or framework that could galvanize effective international action to tackle these risks. The proposed model may encompass an entirely new global framework or a proposed reform for existing systems”.

The competition, called ‘A New Shape’, is open to any individual or organization, and at least $1 million will be awarded to the winner. The fund is accepting proposals until May 2017.

Here are Szombatfalvy’s 4 advice for young people:

1. Be conscious of the fact that you are not only your own country’s citizen; you are a global citizen.

2. Realize that your children’s and grandchildren’s living conditions to a growing extent will depend on other countries’ citizens, even more than on their compatriots.

3. Understand, that without a global governance system that can tackle global risks, the likelihood of major catastrophes will become incomparably higher.

4. Demand action from your elected politicans! Vote out the incompetent people – you cannot afford them!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Half Of Sweden's Population Is Now Using This Insanely Popular App

Via Business Insider:

The payment app Swish is insanely popular in Sweden. The app is a collaboration between some of the largest banks in the country and allows the users to send small amounts money to each other, so far without a fee.

"Can I swhish you?", is heard everywhere in Sweden. Especially when it comes to splitting up restaurant tabs. Some vendors even use the app as a payment method, instead of cash.

The app was launched in 2012 and is adding 100.000 new users every month. According to Getswish AB, the number of users now surpass 5 million. That means more than half of Sweden's population is now using the app.

This October 16.2 million transfers were made on Swish, totaling 8.19 billion Swedish crowns.

In Denmark, a similar app, Mobile Pay, is used by an even higher proportion of the population. It is installed on more than 90 percent of all smartphones, and used by over 3 million people out of a population of approximately 5,6 million.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Swedish Police Is In A Lousy Shape, But The Chief Is Refusing To Resign

Via Business Insider:

The Swedish police is in dire straits. Results are falling, senior officers are quitting, and others are openly critical of the organization.

During parts of the summer, one patrol was in charge of policing an area in the north of Sweden almost as big as Denmark.

The Swedish goverment has made it clear that the police has to improve. Minister for Home Affairs Anders Ygeman told the Swedish news paper Dagens Nyheter this August that he wants results to improve before the end of this year.

But things are looking bleak.

According to an examination recently conducted by Dagens Nyheter, the number of criminal investigations has now fallen to levels not seen before in modern times. The number of investations fell with 9 percent between January and October this year.

To counter the negative trend, hundreds of civil investigators were recruited in september. But even so, the fall in the number of investigations accelerated during October.

Many say that the culprit is the new police organization. It is more heavily centralized than before, but critics say that important local knowledge was lost in the process.

At the center of the storm is director general Dan Eliasson. He is a former director general of the Swedish Migration Authority and Swedish Social Insurance Agency. He has been heavily criticized during his tenure, for his lack of police experience, for politically sensitive statements he has made while in office and for the difficulties the police organization is facing.

So far Eliasson has refused to budge, and he still has the support of Anders Ygeman. When confronted by Dagens Nyheter with the falling number of investigations, Eliasson said: "It's going to improve goddamnit, to speak proper Swedish".

Even Leif GW Persson, professor in criminology at the Swedish National Police Board and a well-known author and tv celebrity, as well as friend of Dan Eliasson is calling for him to resign.

He writes that the police chief, "and everyone that is thinking like him" needs to be fired.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

DRAMA: Trump Reportedly Explodes At Media Bigwigs In Off-Record Meeting

Via Business Insider:

President-elect Donald Trump on Monday reportedly lashed out at several top media executives and their outlets in a high-profile meeting, according to The New York Post.

Prominent journalists and executives from CNN, NBC, CBS, and Fox were among those in attendance at the meeting at Trump Tower.

"Trump kept saying, 'We're in a room of liars, the deceitful dishonest media who got it all wrong'. He addressed everyone in the room calling the media dishonest, deceitful liars. He called out Jeff Zucker by name and said everyone at CNN was a liar, and CNN was [a] network of liars", a source told the Post.

Trump specifically took aim at Zucker, CNN's president, telling him: "I hate your network. Everyone at CNN is a liar, and you should be ashamed", according to the Post.

Those in attendance were under the impression that the media's access to Trump would be discussed, but instead got an earful from Trump.

Earlier, Kellyanne Conway, Trump's senior adviser who ran his presidential campaign, called the meeting "excellent" and "unprecedented", praising the fact that it was arranged in two days.

Conway later denied that Trump lashed out at the media during the meeting.

"No that's not true at all. I sat right to his left. He did not explode in anger", Conway said during an appearance on Bloomberg's "With All Due Respect".

She added: "By the way, it's an off the record meeting, so whoever said that and mischaracterized it should think twice. But no he did not explode in anger. He's the president-elect. He won … winning solves a lot of problems. Winning makes a lot of statements. I'm really happy he reached out to them after a very long and bruising, hard fought, not always fairly covered campaign".

The meeting came as the media has scrutinized Trump for his lack of press access. He has not held a press conference since winning the election and has yet to accommodate a protective pool, which would allow a member of the media to be with him at all times.

Last week, Trump broke protocol and left Trump Tower to have dinner in New York City without alerting a pool of journalists waiting outside of his home.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

McCain: If Trump Tries To Bring Back Waterboarding, He'll Be In Court In A "New York Minute"

Via Business Insider:

Sen. John McCain of Arizona issued a forceful warning to the incoming Trump administration on Saturday, declaring that any government agency that reinstates waterboarding will be taken to court in a "New York minute".

McCain, who himself survived torture while he was a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War, made the remarks at the Halifax International Security Forum in response to a question about Congress' power to rein in a president on issues such as waterboarding.

"I don't give a damn what the president of the United States wants to do, or anybody else wants to do - we will not waterboard, we will not torture", he said to applause.

"My friends, it doesn't work. If you inflict enough pain on somebody long enough, they're going to tell you whatever they think you want to hear to get it to stop".

During his campaign, Trump advocated for reinstating waterboarding and "enhanced interrogation techniques" as a means to question suspected terrorists. He even expressed a desire to use torture methods more severe than waterboarding.

"I would absolutely authorize something beyond waterboarding", Trump told ABC's George Stephanopoulos in February.

McCain said waterboarding and other torture methods are prohibited by federal law and the Geneva Convention, and argued that no judge in the country wouldn't view torture as a violation of those laws.

"My god, what does it say about America if we're going to inflict torture on people?" he said.

"It makes it hard for us to make the argument about the moral superiority of our government and our way of life".

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Google And Sweden's Hippest Museum Are Making It Possible For Anyone To Have Their Own Photo Exhibition - First Out Are Rebecca And Fiona

Via Business Insider:

Since its opening in 2010, the Swedish Museum of Photography - Fotografiska - has exhibited some of the biggest names in photography.

In a new collaboration, Google and Fotografiska will take the democratization of photography one step further than Instagram and make Fotografiska's wallspace available to less famous names - you, or me, or anyone - in a special exhibition lasting from November 23 to December 4.

The project, called Re:Collection Gallery, recognizes that 9 in 10 Swedes have old developed photographs, and one fifth of these have over a 1.000 analog photographs laying around - unable to be shared with the world because they're not in a digital format.

These are the photos Fotografiska wants to display during the Re:Collection Gallery exhibition.

Google is behind the initiative of the exhibition and is also powering it with a newly developed app called Google PhotoScan, which scans old photographs and converts them to a digital format, improving the picture quality in the process. And this app will be used for the Re:Collection Gallery exhibition(s).

Anyone can apply to get their analog photography collections scanned, remastered and displayed at Fotografiska. It's as simple as publishing an analog photo on Instagram with the hastag #RecollectionByGoogle. Fotografiska suggests taking the opportunity to share a photo of someone dear to you.

"With Re:Collection Gallery we're digitally exhibiting amateur photographs that bear old memories and new stories. As an inclusive metting place for all of Sweden we want to inspire the people and hope to be able to show many unique and touching stories in the coming weeks", says Karl Skoog, marketing director at Fotografiska.

First out sharing their personal photos will be the Swedish DJ duo Rebecca and Fiona, on display November 23-24. After that the exhibition will feature new collections daily based on the analog photos of selected applicants. Fotografiska will choose which pictures are to be displayed and each applicant will receive a time slot when Fotografiska features their pictures exclusively - so, in effect, this is a chance to have a personal exhibition of your life at one of Sweden's most high-profile museums.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Ecuador Says Sweden Should Promise Assange Will Not Be Extradited

Via Reuters:

Ecuador's Foreign Minister said WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should receive guarantees that he will not be extradited if he faces justice in Sweden after four years of living in the South American nation's embassy in London.

Assange, who enraged Washington by publishing a flood of secret U.S. diplomatic cables, fled to the embassy fearing that Sweden could end up sending him on to the United States where he could face prison for leaking U.S. secrets.

"If we can obtain guarantees that Mr. Assange will not face extradition to the third country, I think it's fine for him to face Swedish justice - if there are charges, because there are still no charges", Foreign Minister Guillaume Long said in an interview on Wednesday with an Ecuadorean radio station.

But a Swedish government official said on Thursday it would not be possible to offer Assange or Ecuador a guarantee, as Sweden has not been asked by the United States to extradite him.

"It would actually breach the constitution if the government would give such a guarantee in advance", Cecilia Riddselius of the Swedish Ministry of Justice's Division for Criminal Cases and International Judicial Co-operation said.

Swedish Chief Prosecutor Ingrid Isgren posed questions through an Ecuadorian prosecutor at the embassy earlier this week, but did not give any comment on the case.

Assange, who has repeatedly denied the rape allegation, sought refuge in Ecuador's embassy in August 2012. He is wanted in Britain for breaching bail.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

After Saving Denmark With Sex, This Travel Agency Is Back With A Hilarious New Campaign And A Clever Price Discrimination Model

Via Business Insider:

The Danish travel agency Spies Rejser has taken it upon itself to promote pregnancy and thereby save the welfare system from the perils of an ageing population. After promoting vacation as a means to more babies with the campaigns 'Do it for Denmark' and 'Do it for Mom', Spies Rejser has now turned to a different problem.

Yes, it seems to imply that not having sex leads to death.

More children are finally being born, and the travel agency laments to inform the Danish population that more children unfortunately leads to less sex. That, however, can be remedied by booking a vacation, ensuring sex throughout life, Spies Rejser suggests. And it should not be taking lightly because having more sex improves both health and quality of life - thereby alleviating stress on the welfare system.

However true this may or may not be, the ad campaign is somewhat of a phenomenon. Spies Rejser takes the 'sex sells' principle to the next level - although the most recent campaign is not as sophisticated as their previous roundabout approach of suggesting that aspiring grandparents should treat their children to vacations in order to make babies...

More children → bigger discount. This approach recognizes that children are super-expensive. In Sweden, for example, the cost of raising a child until their 18th birthday has been estimated to SEK 1.4 million (~$160,000) by Swedbank.

So the more children you have, the less you can afford a vacation. Spies Rejser's discounts may not do much to offset the cost of having a family, but it does at least take in the difference in purchasing power of different family constellations. And the travel agency manages to get away with this price discrimination with a wink and a smile.

In 2014 Spies Rejser also promoted pregnancies by offering Danes who had conceived during their trips a couple of years worth of baby supplies, and this very informative ad for 'child-friendly holidays'. Can sex save Denmark's future? Apparently the actress in the ad was 'Made in Paris', along with 10% of Danish children conceived on holidays. The ad cites a survey saying that Danes have 46% more sex while on holiday than at home.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Finland Succeeded In Making The Unicode Consortium Adopt A Sauna Emoji – But It Didn’t Go Exactly As Planned

Via Business Insider:

Saunas are literally part of the furniture in Finland. The country has more than three million saunas – more than cars.

Finland has achieved an historic digital milestone.

The country’s best known symbol, the sauna, has now been approved as a new emoji by the Unicode Consortium, a gate-keeper of the global smartphone language, Unicode.

Hence Finland is now the first country in the world to have a national emoji, The Wall Street Journal reports.

It was in December 2015, when Finland unveiled its proposals for national emojis. Since then, Petra Theman, director of public diplomacy for Finland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has been the main lobbyist for initiative. Theman told WSJ: “Finland is not known for many things. We don’t have the Eiffel Tower. But we do have the sauna”.

Among the four emoji proposals Finland sent to the Consortium, two have now been approved: one sauna emoji, and one woollen socks emoji. They will be available with the Consortium’s upcoming release of the latest version of the character set, Unicode 10.

The secretive Unicode Consortium consists currently of 18 people, who approve emojis that are in heavy use among both Android and iOS smartphone users. Once an emoji has been approved, it cannot be removed.

But there is one thing that may disappoint Finns.

The characters sitting in the sauna were not approved, due to their nudeness. Instead, The Foreign Ministry worked together with the Consortium and settled on a character wearing a towel.Thielman points out that Finns are always naked in the sauna: “The added towel makes it a bit more difficult for Finns to relate to it”.

Either way, these news should make Finns look forward to the next emoji update.