Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Norway’s Giant Pension Fund Hits One Trillion Dollars – Here Are Its 10 Favorite Stocks

Via Business Insider:

The gigantic sovereign wealth fund of Norway passed a milestone this week. Its market value reached one trillion dollars for the first time on Tuesday.

Statens pensjonsfond utland, as it is called in Norway, is actively managed and invests in a wide range of asset classes.

The fund is betting heavily on stocks, which accounts for almost two-thirds of the portfolio (65.1 percent). The rest is divided between fixed-income (32.4 percent) and unlisted real estate (2.5 percent).

Perhaps Norway should send a thank you letter to Apple after reaching the one trillion dollar mark. It has contributed a lot during a successful year, while the stock has gone from being the third largest position to number one.

In August, the fund released its report for the second quarter of the year where one can find the largest stock holdings.

Here are the top 10 stock holdings (as of June 30th):

1. Apple. Total market value of Norway’s stake: 58.2 billion kroner (USD 7.5 billion).

Silicon Valley’s most iconic company has increased its market value by a whopping 38 percent in one year. Now, hopes are high for the upcoming models Iphone 8 and Iphone X.

2. Nestle. Total market value of Norway’s stake: 50.6 billion krone (USD 6.5 billion).

Swiss food and drink company and owner of global brands such as Nespresso, Smarties and Kit Kat.

3. Alphabet. Total market value of Norway’s stake: 42.7 billion krone (USD 5.5 billion).

Google’s mother company which together with Facebook dominate online advertising.

4. Royal Dutch Shell. Total market value of Norway’s stake: 40.1 billion krone (USD 5.1 billion).

Ranked as one of six “supermajor” oil companies in the world and headquartered in the Netherlands.

5. Microsoft. Total market value of Norway’s stake: 39.3 billion krone (USD 5.0 billion).

The late 1990-s biggest company by market cap is now one of Apple’s toughest competitors.

6. Novartis. Total market value of Norway’s stake: 37.4 billion krone (USD 4.8 billion).

The Swiss pharmaceutical company is one of the largest pharmaceutical companies and manufacturer of well-known drugs, including Ritalin and Lamisil.

7. Roche Holding. Total market value of Norway’s stake: 35.6 billion krone (USD 4.6 billion).

Also a Swiss multinational pharma company known for drugs such as Valium and Rohypnol.

8. Amazon. Total market value of Norway’s stake: 29.7 billion krone (USD 3.8 billion).

Jeff Bezo’s startup has grown to become the largest online retailer in the world.

9. HSBC. Total market value of Norway’s stake: 28.5 billion krone (USD 3.7 billion).

British multinational bank with 4,000 offices in 70 countries.

10. Johnson & Johnson. Total market value of Norway’s stake: 26.9 billion krone (USD 3.5 billion).

Global pharmaceutical consumer goods company based in New Jersey.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

You Can Now Buy A Garlic Press Or Other Kitchen Tools From An IKEA Vending Machine In Central Stockholm

Via Business Insider:

Ikea is serious about its foray into central Stockholm. In its latest stunt, aimed to raise awareness for its newly opened kitchen pop-up store, the Swedish furniture giant has placed a vending machine selling kitchen tools in the subway station of Hötorget, in the city center.

“We want to show in a playful way that Ikea is available wherever, not only in our department stores", says Miki Tabakovic, deputy country sales director for Ikea Sweden, to retail site Market.se.

Although its main job is to nudge bypassing commuters to a visit in the 400 square meter Ikea kitchen showroom just a stone's throw away, the vending machine is a pop-up store unto itself. Among the products sold is Ikea's classic garlic press KONCIS.

“It’s a fully functioning vending machine. You can pay with card and get your product instantly. We sell garbage presses, egg slicers and other small items”, says Tabakovic.

The vending machine, due to stay up for a couple more weeks, is outfitted with a message encouraging customers to "get a kitchen to go with their garbage press", and offers the exact address to the showroom. In a related stunt, Ikea has outfitted a Stockholm archipelago ferries with the punchline: “Ride the ferry to the kitchen”.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Why Are Women Banned From Mount Athos?

Mount Athos is the capital and heart of the Orthodox Christian world, and it consists of 20 monasteries and approximately 2.000 monks.

Women are not allowed within 500 meters of the shore, and even female animals are somewhat prohibited from walking on Mount Athos.

Now, why is this?

Why would a region bigger than Albania and richer than Greece be prohibited for women?

After the resurrection of Christ the disciples of Christ were given different parts of the world to evangelize.

The part given to the Mother of God to evangelize was Mount Athos, and that is one of the reasons why the Holy Mountain is very special to this day.

But there is also another reason for banning women, connected with Orthodox tradition.

One of the traditions is that the Virgin Mary was blown off course when she was trying to sail to Cyprus and landed on Mount Athos. And she liked it so much that she prayed to her son that she should be given it as her own and he agreed.

Mount Athos or Agion Oros is called "the garden of the Mother of God", dedicated to her glory, and she alone represents her sex on Mount Athos.

It is also believed that the presence of women might distract the monks, tempting them away from true celibacy, and lead them into sin.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Anti-EU Parties Face Funding Cuts

Via EUobserver:

Anti-EU parties and their affiliated foundations may see their EU funding reduced by over half, amid a broader push by the European Commission to revamp internal European Parliament rules.

Frans Timmermans, the EU commission vice-president, told reporters on Friday (15 September) that the reform is designed to address loopholes and allow authorities to more easily claw back taxpayer money, in case of fraud.

"These proposed amendments in the existing regulation in no way, I want to stress that, in no way dictate what programs European parties should follow", he said.

The move is part of a so-called democracy package presented by Timmermans, ahead of the 2019 European elections.

It follows a series of scandals over the past two years that have seen top-ranking MEPs embroiled in fraud allegations, as well as virulent anti-EU parties and foundations accused of siphoning off and illegally spending public money.

It also follows public uproar amid revelations that the far-right Alliance for Peace and Freedom (APF), which includes neo-nazis among its ranks, received €400.000 from the EU parliament.

The plan now is to reduce the EU parliament's budget for European political parties, in what Timmermans said would then increase the share of the total funding distributed in proportion to the number of MEPs elected.

"The budget for European political parties is distributed equally among of all them, no matter how big or small. This in our view is not proportionate to true democratic representation in parliament", he said.

European political parties were granted over €30 million for 2017. Fifteen percent of that was distributed equally, with the remaining 85 percent distributed in proportion to each party's share of elected MEPs. The plan now is to reduce the 15 percent share to five percent.

But such a system would cut EU money to the APF by over 44 percent.

The ultra-nationalist Alliance of European National Movements (AENM), the right-wing European Alliance for Freedom (EAF), and the European Christian Political Movement (ECPM) would all also register a 44-percent cut.

The biggest loser, at over 66 percent, is the anti-abortion and catholic nationalist party, Coalition for Life and Family (CVF), which has received almost €300.000 this year alone.

Meanwhile, the more mainstream parties like the centre-right EPP, centre-left S&D, and liberal Alde would see little to no reduction and even some gains.

The Greens would drop by 0.8 percent, Alde increase by 1.5 percent, and no change for EPP and S&D.

Money blues

Pan-European parties and their political foundations are also required to raise at least 15 percent of their own money before they can access EU funding.

Many are finding it difficult to reach the minimum threshold and have instead inflated their figures by using "contributions in kind", a practice that is nearly impossible to audit.

"We also uncovered a number of very questionable practices, blatant conflicts of interest, retrospectively paid commissions", said Didier Klethi, the EU parliament's director of finance, over the summer during a discussion in the constitutional affairs committee.

Other dubious methods include getting people to donate money in exchange for lucrative contracts.

Such tactics were used by the Institute for Direct Democracy in Europe (IDDE), a think tank linked to the Ukip-dominated Alliance for Direct Democracy in Europe.

One Swedish organisation donated €12.000 to IDDE in return for a €20.000 contract. Another from Iceland gave €10.000 and ended up a with €36.000 contract, according to internal EU parliament documents seen by EUobserver.

The EU commission's solution "to reduce incentives for questionable practices" is simply to make it much easier to get EU grants.

In practice, that means cutting the co-financing threshold from 15 percent to 10 percent for European political parties and to 5 percent for European political foundations.

2019 election deadline

Given the slow pace of the EU legislative process, it is not clear if such reforms will be ready for the 2019 elections.

German centre-right MEP Rainer Wieland, who is steering the reforms at the EU parliament, expressed some doubts over it in July.

"We should do everything that we can to ensure that by 2019, the year of the elections, these rules can be applied", he said.

A more realistic scenario, he added, would be to have the rules in place in early 2020.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Swedish Pop-Star Turned Philosopher: “Bitcoin Is A Bubble That Will Ruin Millions Of Small Savers”

Via Business Insider:

Philosopher and former pop-star Alexander Bard has been right before when making predictions on the future of capitalism. This time he sees a paralyzed bitcoin community and worries about the prospects of millions of savers "who stand to lose everything when the bitcoin bubble bursts".

The sudden surge in popularity of bitcoin, the world’s first and biggest cryptocurrency, has been nothing short of spectacular. In the last five years, its value has spiked a whopping 15.400 percent. This has no doubt made some investors rich, including programming expert Alexander Bottema, who told his story to VA Finans recently.

On the other hand, the warning bells are tolling. Among the sceptics is the Swedish philosopher and futurologist (and earlier synth player in the band Army of Lovers) Alexander Bard.

“Bitcoin has developed into a classic tulip bubble. The price has been pushed up by hoards of Chinese and Japanese small investors who have bought bitcoin with borrowed money at low rents. It’s clear that the currency is now very unstable and could crash soon”, he says to VA Finans.

“The Chinese market is super sensitive for crashes, and the question is how we will be able to handle millions of small savers in Japan and China, who have had their assets wiped out”.

Bard thinks the bitcoin community needs to get its “shit together”, and that there are two big problems.

One of them is slow transaction processing speeds: “Bitcoin can only manage seven transactions per second, which is way, way too slow if [the currency] is ever to have a decisive influence”.

The other in is the community’ inability to make decisions.

Not surprisingly, Bard is certain there will be many booms and busts in various cryptocurrencies, and warns people from relying on them for things like pensions and savings for grandchildren.

Despite all the gloomy predictions, Bard sees long-term potential in cryptocurrencies, and thinks that their underlying technology, the blockchain, could revolutionize just about everything.

“We have built our entire civilization on contracts. That was the first thing we did when we discovered writing. To suddenly be able to create safe contracts with thousands of strangers, and trust them – that could change everything”.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

China Focus: China Steps Up Building Science And Tech Power

Via Xinhuanet:

China has made a series of achievements in science and technology over the past month as the country quickens its pace in becoming a leading science and tech power by the middle of the century.

China has been a leader in quantum technologies, which eliminate the possibility of wiretapping and secure communication. In early September, it was announced the Beijing-Shanghai quantum communication network has met requirements to open for service.

The 2.000-km network, the world's first, will be used for secure data transmission in the military, finance and government affairs fields.

The country has also completed a test of its high-throughput satellite Shijian-13, designating it as Zhongxing-16. With a transfer capacity of 20 Gbps, the satellite is capable of providing better Internet access on planes and high-speed trains, as well as in less-developed regions.

In a step toward launching a Mars probe around 2020, planners have mapped out a 400-million-yuan (61 million U.S. dollars) development plan to turn a red rock basin in Qaidam basin in northwest China's Qinghai Province into a Mars scientific research base and eco-tourism site.

The base is expected to consist of a "Mars community" and a "Mars campsite". The campsite will have a number of experimental module-like accommodations.

Underground research has also moved swiftly. Researchers recently acquired hot dry rock (HDR), with temperatures of 236 degrees Celsius, from 3.705 meters below Gonghe basin in Qinghai Province.

HDR is usually buried 3.000 to 10.000 meters under the earth's surface. It can be used to generate clean electricity via its high temperatures. The breakthrough means China is a step closer to easing environmental problems related to the greenhouse effect and acid rain.

China has made innovation the core of its 13th five-year plan (2016-2020), with the aim of becoming an "innovation nation" by 2020, an international leader in innovation by 2030, and a world powerhouse in scientific and technological innovation by 2050.

"We will accelerate R&D and commercialization of new materials, artificial intelligence, integrated circuits, bio-pharmacy, 5G mobile communications, and other technology to develop industrial clusters in these fields", said a government work report issued this year.

Such efforts will help the country improve convenience of transportation, raise living standards, resolve energy resource shortages, and boost economic development.

Developers said on Wednesday that track has been laid for China's longest high-speed railway at high latitudes, and the railway is scheduled to open in June 2018.

Running at 200 km per hour, the 343-km railway linking Harbin, capital of the northeast province of Heilongjiang, and Jiamusi in the same province, runs through four tunnels and over 120 bridges. It will cut travel time to 1.5 hours from 7 hours.

On the environmental front, an in-orbit test of China's first orbiting carbon observatory satellite was successfully completed in September. Scientists will convert magnetic signals received from the satellite into visible spectral signals, and then calculate the concentration of carbon dioxide.

While development of science and technology promises a better future, it also saves the lives of millions of people today.

According to a study published in late August, Chinese scientists have found a compound that helps a tumor-targeting virus kill liver cancer more effectively while sparing healthy cells, offering new hope for treating the world's second most common cancer killer.

A therapy that uses viruses to selectively kill cancer cells is rapidly progressing through clinical evaluation, but the therapeutic efficacy in humans has been less than expected from pre-clinical studies, according to the study published in the U.S. journal Science Translational Medicine.

China needs science and technology more than ever and the country's scientists should occupy the world's science and technology high ground, said Bai Chunli, president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).

The quickest and easiest way to achieve innovation is through a global cooperation network to boost innovation.

The G20 Blueprint on Innovative Growth, adopted at the Hangzhou summit in September last year, commits governments to creating a favorable environment for creativity and development.

Scientific innovation was also a central topic at the Belt and Road forum in Beijing in May, with China proposing a Belt and Road Science, Technology and Innovation Cooperation Action Plan.

A science and technology cooperation network along the Belt and Road will be completed in 2030, Bai said.

Friday, September 08, 2017

The "Warren Buffett Of Sweden" Shares 5 Pieces Of Saving Advice That Will Help Anyone Become A Millionaire

Via Business Insider:

Roughly one in ten Swedes are millionaires today (in the local currency). Per H. Börjesson, the founder and CEO of investment company Spiltan, thinks there could, and should, be many more.

Börjesson's bestselling book "Here's how all Swedes can become millionaires" has a simple message: The key to becoming financially independent is to follow a number of simple savings advice, and stick with them through thick and thin. The book had a big impact in Sweden, especially as it came out in the depths of the financial crisis.

Börjesson is an avid disciple of investor legend Warren Buffett, and often quotes his advice: "Everybody can become rich on stocks, but you need to be ready to commit for at least a decade". Börjesson's track record with Spiltan, one of Sweden's foremost investment companies, has earned him (along with a handful of other Swedish financiers) the informal nickname "Warren Buffet of Sweden".

Here are Börjesson's 5 key pieces of advice to young people starting out today (and to anyone else for that matter), according to Veckans Affärer (VA).

1. Start each month by saving 10 percent of your income

When some of his readers question the feasibility of this advice, he reponds: "I notice all the time how people spend money on things that are not necessary, such as eating lunch in a restaurant instead of preparing your own, buying coffee on your way to work, lottery tickets and cigarettes etc".

”Absorb the oldest and best investment advice there is: save 10 percent of your salary each month, before you do anything else. Don't wait", Börjesson told Dagens Industri.

2. Live within your means, i.e. don't let your costs surpass incomes

3. Buy shares or equity funds

"If you buy shares in a company, then investment companies are a good alternative. When it comes to funds, choose index funds with low fees, or active funds. You can also buy individual quality stocks".

4. Hold on to your assets

"The best thing is to never sell all of your shares. But you can use some of your assets for an apartment or for that dream holiday".

5. Be very careful when listening to investment advisors

Börjesson says that you shouldn't rely too much on "experts", but instead make independet decisions when it comes to your money. When buying your index funds, make sure that the fees are low. That way, you will be able to keep most of the returns.

"The most tragic thing is that even the people who do a good job saving each month, cannot become millionaires if they accept bad advice from advisors who are really just salesmen", Börjesson says.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

China Remains Persistent In Denuclearizing Korean Peninsula: Xi

Via Xinhuanet:

Chinese President Xi Jinping told his U.S. counterpart, Donald Trump, in a telephone conversation late Wednesday that Beijing remains persistent on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

During the phone conversation, Xi and Trump exchanged their views on the current situation on the peninsula.

Xi said China has been adamant in preserving international nuclear non-proliferation regime, maintaining peace and stability on the peninsula, and resolving the nuclear issue through talks.

The Chinese president said the general direction should head toward a peaceful settlement of the issue, adding that dialogue combined with a set of comprehensive measures is best for seeking a long-term solution.

Trump said Washington has been deeply concerned over the ongoing situation on the Korean Peninsula, and attaches importance to China's essential role in resolving the issue.

He pledged to step up communication with the Chinese side in a bid to find a solution as early as possible.

Also during the phone talks, Xi noted that exchanges and cooperation between China and the United States in various areas have been moving forward.

He added that the two countries' diplomatic, security and economic teams have maintained close communication, and the two sides are preparing for the first round of dialogue on social and people-to-people exchanges, as well as on law enforcement and cybersecurity.

Xi said China attaches great importance to Trump's visit to China later this year, hoping both sides can work together to ensure the visit a success.

For his part, Trump said it is very important for him to keep close communication with Xi and strengthen coordination over major international and regional affairs.

The U.S. leader said he is looking forward to visiting China and meeting Xi again this year.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Nordea Is Moving Its Headquarters To Helsinki

Via Business Insider:

The Nordics’ largest financial group, Nordea Bank, decided today in a board meeting that it will move its headquarters from Stockholm to Helsinki, Finland.

Nordea announced the decision in a press release. Casper von Koskull, President and CEO of Nordea tried to downplay the effects of the controversial decision: "We will continue to deliver value for all customers, as we will keep on working with the Nordic operating model in the same way as we do today. We remain relentlessly committed to all of our four home markets and look forward to continuing to create strong products and solutions for our customers and contribute to the Nordic societies and economies", he says.

"The decision is the outcome of six months of careful study and analysis of the competitive conditions and challenges facing Nordea", says Björn Wahlroos, chairman of the Board of Directors.

The fact that Finland is part of the European Union's banking union, Nordea argues, means that it will be subject to the same rules as other European banks.

"We see the move as an important strategic step in positioning Nordea on a par with its European peers", Wahlroos continues.

Nordea employs some 31.600 people across Finland, Denmark, Sweden and Norway. It is currently Sweden's 12th largest company in terms of revenue. In 2016, it posted some 9.9 billion euros in operating revenue, of which 4.6 billion euros was operating profit.

At odds with the Swedish government

The trigger for Nordea's decision emerged this spring, when it argued that the Swedish government's proposed hike to resolution reserve fees — a pool of buffer money reserved for banking crises — would make it too expensive to stay in the country. Nordea said the new fee would see its annual costs rise by SEK 5 billion (∽$570m) per year, and said it considered a move to either Copenhagen or Helsinki.

The government subsequently lowered its original resolution fee proposal, but it was not good enough for Nordea.

Nordea's says in its press release that, depending on the exact time of the move "the net present value of resolution fees, deposit guarantees and other transitional effects will be positive by approximately EUR 1.000-1.100m". In other words, the move aims to save the bank a billion euros.

Some saw the bank's behavior as a veiled threat towards the Social Democrat-run government, which had previously taken aim at the financial sector by proposing raised taxes on salaries.

"I think they have been caught by their own greed", said Jonas Sjöstedt, the leader of Sweden's Left party, to Dagens Industri, referring to Nordea.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Xinhua Insight: Xi Sails BRICS Ship On Epic Voyage

Via Xinhuanet:

In stormy waters it is common for fishermen in southeast China to set out to sea in groups.

Each boat has its own captain, but they will discuss fishing strategies when they return from a voyage. Over cans of beer, they argue but soon find common ground and set the time for the next sail.

Leaders of the world's five major developing countries were doing something similar when they met in Xiamen for the annual summit themed "BRICS: Stronger Partnership for a Brighter Future".

The BRICS nations of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa are like five boats on a fishing trip. Each has its own cause, but they sail in one direction with a common aim.

At this crucial juncture lessons need to be drawn, and the "captains" need to set the direction for the journey ahead.

In Xiamen, Xi Jinping chaired the BRICS summit for the first time as Chinese president. He debuted in the 2013 Durban summit on his first foreign trip as head of state, and has played an active role in the group ever since.

Xi summed up the work of BRICS over the past decade, "treating each other as equals and seeking common ground while shelving differences".

BRICS has always favored dialogue over confrontation, partnership over alliance, he said.

This wisdom has formed the spark of China's foreign policy with Xi at the helm. And it has been brought into BRICS cooperation.

Days before the Xiamen summit, a military standoff between China and India at the foot of the Himalayas ended peacefully, a clear example of using the wisdom.

Tarun Vijay, head of India-China Parliamentary Group of the Confederation of Indian Industries, said it is important for the world's two largest developing countries to speak with a common voice in multilateral arena.

He cited a Chinese proverb to describe the future of BRICS, "When brothers work together, their strength can break metal".

Meeting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the Xiamen summit, Xi said China is ready to boost political trust with India. A healthy and stable bilateral relationship is in line with the fundamental interests of the two peoples.

At the summit, BRICS leaders are constantly reminded of the sea. The logo is a sail in five colors. The conference building, a nearby hotel and the city's airport terminal are all in the shape of a ship.

Xi knows this culture well, as he was Xiamen's deputy mayor in the 1980s. He loves to spice up his speeches with illuminating seafaring metaphors.

On Monday night, Xi invited his foreign colleagues to watch an evening gala, themed "Setting Sail for the Future".

"It is time to set sail when the tide rises", he said.

RESPONSIBLE BLOC

BRIC was coined by former Goldman Sachs economist Jim O'Neill in 2001 to describe four emerging economies with fast growth and great potential. The framework took shape in 2006. Four years later, South Africa joined. BRIC grew into BRICS.

Initially formed on economic prowess, the group has increasingly found a common voice on thorny geopolitical issues.

In Xiamen, BRICS leaders were quick to respond to the latest nuclear test in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, which detonated a hydrogen bomb the day the summit opened.

In their joint declaration, BRICS leaders expressed "deep concern" over the ongoing tension and prolonged nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula, saying that it should only be settled through peaceful means and direct dialogue.

The declaration also touched upon issues in Syria, Yemen, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

One day earlier, Xi called on BRICS countries to shoulder their responsibilities in upholding world peace.

"We should take a constructive part in the process of resolving geopolitical hotspot issues and make our due contributions", he said.

With Xi, China has emerged as a responsible power on world stage. Looking to help empower the emerging countries, China has increased its responsibility in global governance from climate change to peace-keeping.

In the years leading up to the Xiamen summit, China hosted the leaders of APEC, the G20, and countries participating in the Belt and Road Initiative.

Xi told the press after the summit that BRICS leaders agreed to deepen political and security cooperation and enhance mutual strategic trust.

Playing a bigger role in security was part of the four-point proposal Xi raised at the BRICS Business Forum. The president talked about creating new impetus for economic growth in BRICS countries, improving global governance and building extensive partnerships.

Wang Wen, a professor at Renmin University of China, said the proposal had clear input from the governance wisdom and will help BRICS gain strength.

OPEN ECONOMY

Economic cooperation remains at the foundation of BRICS, and Xi has been calling for openness and larger representation of the developing countries in global economic governance since his first BRICS summit appearance in 2013.

With anti-globalization and inward-looking mentality on the rise, Xi in Xiamen repeated his support for an open global economy, multilateral trade and fight against protectionism.

"Emerging market will be hurt most by protectionism," Xi said. "Openness, inclusiveness, and win-win cooperation are the only viable option".

Together, BRICS represented 23 percent of global GDP in 2016 and had contributed to more than half of global economic growth in the past decade. But it has not all been plain sailing, as demand shrank, financial risks rose and commodity prices slumped.

Larissa Wachholz, a partner at Brazilian consulting firm Vallya, said Xi's focus on economic growth, win-win development and equal partnership is important to Brazil.

The Brazilian economy just climbed out of recession in the first quarter of 2017.

Opening the BRICS Business Forum, Xi encouraged BRICS countries to pursue innovation-driven development created by smart manufacturing, the digital economy and sharing economy.

This came no surprise to Lenovo chairman Yang Yuanqing, who is all too aware that China is leading the world in Internet technology.

The digital economy, with a market scale worth 22.6 trillion yuan, has risen to take up 30 percent of GDP in China.

Meanwhile, leading Chinese tech companies are expanding overseas.

In India, Alibaba's subsidiary partnered with local mobile payment company Paytm and boosted its number of users from 30 million to 200 million, the company said.

"Chinese companies are willing to share their experience as they explore the overseas market", Yang said. "Seizing the opportunities of the digital revolution, BRICS can achieve impressive growth and overtake developed countries".

Xi said the new technological revolution has brought developing countries precious chances to play catch-up.

"Losing it, the developing countries will see the divide between them and the developed world grow wider", he said.

The first ever Dialogue of Emerging Market and Developing Countries became another bright spot at the Xiamen summit.

BRICS PLUS

Leaders of Mexico, Egypt, Tajikistan, Guinea and Thailand were invited by China to sit at a roundtable with BRICS leaders.

Though outreach programs have existed in past BRICS summits since 2013, it was the first time the program had such an extensive representation - from almost every region of the world.

Xi said BRICS cooperation was more than about just five countries, but carried the expectation of the entire international community.

He had earlier used an idiom to sum up the mindset behind such partnerships: "One should help others as he establishes himself and bear the well-being of the world in mind".

Xi said BRICS leaders supported the "BRICS Plus" approach proposed by China to strengthen South-South cooperation.

People all over the world are beginning to realize the sheer potential of BRICS for cooperation among developing countries.

"BRICS is really going to shock people in terms of what is able to achieve", said South African businessman Iqbal Surve.

Xi called out to his colleagues: "Let us set sail from Xiamen and join hands to usher in the second 'golden decade' of BRICS cooperation".

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Hydrogen Bomb In NKorea’s Biggest Nuclear Test Yet

Via Debka:

North Korea celebrated its sixth and most powerful nuclear test Sunday, boasting it had launched a hydrogen bomb outfitted for intercontinental ballistic missiles. The US Geological Survey recorded a 6.3 magnitude earth tremor, felt and confirmed in Seoul and China, from North Korea’s test side in Punggye-ri in the northeast region. It was manmade and attributed to this test, which seismic experts with Norway’s Norsar believe had an explosive yield of about 120 kilotons.

The Vienna-based Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty said the test is evidence that North Korea's nuclear program is “advancing rapidly”.

Seismologists also noted a second tremor of a 4.1 magnitude, which occurred at the same location minutes after the first one and they categorized as a “collapse”.

As tensions around the peninsula ratcheted up further, US National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster addressed the test in an emergency phone call with his South Korean counterpart, Chung Eui-yong, for about 20 minutes after the detonation.

No response was forthcoming from the White House or the State Department.

The North Korean leader Kim Jng-un inspected the new H-bomb at his nation’s Nuclear Weapons Institute, according to a Sunday statement from the state-run Korean News Agency. The bomb was portrayed as part of North Korea’s stated program to build a nuclear arsenal capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.

In July, North Korea conducted a pair of ICBM tests for the first time.

Weeks after a North Korean ballistic missile flew over Japanese air space, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe issued a statement on Sunday saying “If North Korea has indeed gone ahead with a nuclear test, it is completely unacceptable and we must lodge a strong protest”.

Xi Stresses World Peace, Security At BRICS Business Forum

Via Xinhuanet:

Chinese President Xi Jinping said Sunday BRICS countries should uphold global peace and stability, stressing a vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security.

"We BRICS countries are committed to upholding global peace and contributing to the international security order", he said while delivering a keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the BRICS Business Forum scheduled for Sept. 3-4 in the southeastern coastal city of Xiamen.

This year, the BRICS countries have held the Meeting of High Representatives for Security Issues and the Meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs and International Relations. The countries have put in place the regular meeting mechanism for permanent representatives to the multilateral institutions, and convened the Foreign Policy Planning Dialogue, the Meeting of Counter-Terrorism Working Group, the Meeting of Cybersecurity Working Group, and the Consultation on Peacekeeping Operations.

These efforts aim to strengthen consultation and coordination on major international and regional issues and build synergy among BRICS countries, Xi said.

"We should uphold the purposes and principles of the UN Charter and basic norms governing international relations, firmly support multilateralism, work for greater democracy in international relations, and oppose hegemonism and power politics", he said.

He also called on BRICS countries to take a constructive part in the process of resolving geopolitical hotspot issues and make due contributions.

"I am convinced that as long as we take a holistic approach to fighting terrorism in all its forms, and address both its symptoms and root causes, terrorists will have no place to hide", he said.

When dialogue, consultation and negotiation are conducted to create conditions for achieving political settlement of issues such as Syria, Libya and the Palestine-Israel conflict, the flame of war can be put out, and displaced refugees will eventually return to their homes, he said.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Finland's Prosecutor General Suspended Indefinitely On Suspicion Of Corruption

Via Business Insider:

For a country that prides itself on its honest character, the ongoing investigation into nepotism over a prolonged period by one of the country's top legal eagles has comes as a shock - or rude awakening, depending on the viewpoint.

Prosecutor General Matti Nissanen is the subject of scrutiny by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) for conflict of interest and violation of official duties by hiring his brother's company for training purposes over the course of eight years.

Finland usually rank's high on Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index and is currently ranked third out of 176 nations with a score of 89/100. Only Denmark and New Zealand score higher when it comes to the important morality stakes, though TDI says cuttingly, "No nation comes close to a perfect score," with the top two on 90.

The NBI was reported by state broadcaster YLE to have completed its preliminary sleuthing and given the brief to the Chancellor of Justice - not the Prosecutor general's office as would be the case in other circumstances.

The company involved, Deep Lead, has, as its Chair, Colonel Vesa Nissinen who also happens to be the Director of the Finnish Defence Research Agency as well as a majority owner of the company. YLE reports that Deep Lead has been paid €74.000 ($90.000) for providing training services up to 2015.

The story broke last February in Finland's highly respected current affairs weekly magazine Suomen Kuvalehti.

As the relationship started three years before Matti Nissinen became Prosecutor General in 2010, he refutes breaking any laws, but admitted that he had made, "A mistake in handling the matter". Accordingly, he requested to be put on leave in March with his deputy taking over temporarily. This leave has now turned into indefinite suspension and will in all likelihood be permanent as President Ninnistö is to name a new permanent prosecutor general soon.

The NBI for its part states that Nissinen should not have been involved at all in the decision to contract Deep Lead, which had rather suspiciously been his idea originally. Equally damming is a long complimentary appraisal of Deep Lead's work on the company's website by Matti Nissinen.

I feel badly for the whole prosecutor's office because of this, Matti Nissinen was quoted as saying, "As nobody else has done anything except me. I'm prepared to help as much as l can. It is now out of my hands, l don't have any skeletons waiting to come out and l expect justice to prevail".

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

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Visa Makes Investment In Klarna, Fueling The Swedish Unicorn's Banking Business

Via Business Insider:

Visa and Klarna announced today they have reached an agreement for Visa to make an equity investment in the Swedish fintech company.

The announcement comes just two weeks after Klarna secured its Swedish banking license. The two companies are also committing to a strategic partnership with the aim to accelerate online and mobile commerce, says a joint press statement.

With a partnership, Visa will get better access to the online merchant realm whereas Klarna — according to CEO Siemiatkowski — will be able to “strengthen its global presence and product portfolio”, giving the Swedish payment company access to Visa's s 50 million offline and online customers.

“The Visa and Klarna partnership is a natural fit. We both understand consumer credit and the value of consumer centricity in developing innovative payment solutions”, said Seimiatowski.

The pair is targeting a growing online retail sales market, which is expected to grow 12 percent per annum in Western Europe by 2021 according to Forrester.

“Visa has invested in Klarna for its proven expertise in consumer credit and online purchasing. Together, we share a vision for how today’s online and mobile commerce experiences can be as simple as they are in the real world”, said Jim McCarthy, executive vice president, innovation and strategic partnerships, Visa Inc.

”They have their bank licence, a broad customer base and plans to expand beyond their current markets. Klarna is a natural partner," Bill Gajda, Visa's Head of Innovation said to Di Digital.

The end goal of the partnership seems clear: to acquire as many merchants as possible both online and offline, and provide them with a broad range of payment and personal finance products.

The two companies didn’t disclose how much equity Visa will receive, and said that further details on the partnership will come at a later date.

Visa's planned investment is part of a global strategy to open up the company's ecosystem to digital players and follows on previous bets in U.S. payment giants Stripe and Square (10 percent stake in the latter). Visa has also recently opened an in-house startup accelerator, Collabs.

Valued at more than $2 billion, Klarna has become a leading online payments provider with more than 60 million customers and 70.000 merchants across Europe. Its Visa partnership will provide it instant heft in a pivot into personal banking services, and might also ease its entry into the U.S. market.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The US Is "Flatlining" In Social Progress Compared To Countries Like Finland And Denmark

Via Business Insider:

While much of northern Europe continues to provide affordable healthcare, promote equality, and minimize poverty rates, across the Atlantic the US is getting more divided and less tolerant.

In the 2017 Social Progress Index, a ranking of 128 nations looking at quality of life, the US is 18th out of 128. Michael Green, the CEO of SPI, said the US was "flatlining", primarily due to its falling scores on measures of tolerance and inclusion.

"Compared to other countries with similar GDP, the US is lagging in its homicide rates, terrorism, and its traffic deaths", Green told Business Insider.

But the country also fell well below other nations, including Denmark, Finland, Germany, Canada, and Sweden, because of its poor scores on information and communication. The category measures a country's access to the internet, mobile phone subscriptions, and level of press freedom.

"A surprisingly low number of people have access to the internet in the US" relative to the rest of the industrialized world, Green said. The US ranks 27th in the world. It also showed a weak performance in environmental quality (33rd), health and wellness (34th), and nutrition and basic medical care (36th).

The strongest category for the US was education. The country placed first, but Green points out the ranking did not take cost into consideration.

Declining scores in tolerance and inclusion highlight the growing political and cultural divides taking place in the US, most noticeably in the wake of the 2016 presidential election. A Gallup poll published in late November 2016 found the number of Americans who viewed the country as divided was at a record-high 77%. SPI's ranking shows US discrimination against minorities ranks 39th in the world. Religious tolerance ranks 92nd.

Enough countries show poor scores in tolerance and inclusion, in fact, that Green believes the data reveal how fractured much of the world has become in matters of immigration.

The US joins France, Kuwait, and Saudia Arabia as the only countries that stood out for their poor performance relative to their GDP. Generally speaking, countries with higher GDPs were more socially progressive, according to SPI's ranking.

Countries such as Uganda and Ghana showed great improvement since 2014, Green said. The rise of mobile phones in East African nations has enabled more people to come online, boosting their countries' overall scores.

Green said that in order for under-performing countries like the US to improve their scores in 2018 and 2019, they'll need to embrace long-term investments in protecting people's rights.

"The US is not under-performing because of the Trump administration or the Obama administration", he said. "It's about the story of long-term under-investment in the justice system, in the education system, in healthcare. Those are the real challenges".

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Macron Faces Challenges After Foretold Victory

Via EUobserver:

On Sunday (18 June), French president Emmanuel Macron will have achieved the most spectacular takeover in French modern history.

But he will face risky challenges: managing a massive but heterogeneous and inexperienced majority in parliament in a country that is socially unstable.

According to the latest opinion polls, Macron's party, La Republique en Marche (LRM, The Republic on the Move), could capture up to 470 seats in the second round of the legislative elections.

That would amount to more than three-fifths of the 577-seat National Assembly, the French parliament's lower house.

It would leave the two main traditional parties, the center-right Republicans and the Socialist Party, with only 70 to 90 seats and 20-30 seats, respectively.

The far-right National Front (FN), whose leader, Marine Le Pen, faced Macron in the run-off for the presidential election in May, would get one to five seats, behind the radical-left Unbowed France (five to 15 seats).

Le Pen's defeat, as well as her poor performance in the presidential debate against Macron and an internal party controversy over whether to continue to defend a French exit from the euro, have demobilised FN voters during the legislative campaign.

The victory of LRM, a political movement that was founded only a year ago and is still not officially organised as a party, will follow Macron's own victory with 66.1 percent against Le Pen in his first ever political campaign.

Macron chose a Republican prime minister, Edouard Philippe, with a government that includes members of the right, centre, and left, as well as non-politicians.

In the process, he destabilised the established parties and will benefit from France's political tradition by which voters give the new president a majority.

Restive public opinion

But Macron's triumph remains fragile.

In the first round, last Sunday (11 June) only 47.62 percent of registered voters cast a valid ballot. The turnout is expected to be as low on Sunday, and would be the lowest since the 5th Republic was established in 1958.

"The new majority should not make the mistake of thinking that voters gave them a blank cheque", political scientist Yves-Marie Cann told Les Echos newspaper. "They have been lucky that there was no mobilisation against them".

According to a poll by OpinionWay published on Thursday, only 48 percent of people said they wanted that Macron has a majority.

If he is unlikely to have to deal with strong opposition in parliament, Macron could face a restive public opinion when he tries to introduce controversial measures such as a reform of the labour code to make lay-offs easier.

French voters have shown that they were ready to push out their leaders and vote for radical candidates on the left and right.

But Macron and Philippe could also have to manage a chaotic majority in the assembly.

'Avoiding a mess'

"We're going to have many elected people, almost too many. We will have to supervise them to avoid a mess", Macron was quoted as saying by the Canard Enchaine weekly, which is usually well-informed.

Big majorities are usually difficult to manage, because "subgroups or political clubs are created", political scientist Olivier Rozenberg pointed out in Liberation, a daily.

In addition, LRM is an assembly of people with different political views who are disillusioned with their traditional parties on the left and right, as well as of people with no political experience at all.

Next week, as the new MPs take their seats, Macron will participate in his first EU summit in Brussels.



Almost two months after his shock election, he will start to be tested on both his domestic and his EU ambitions for reform.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Finland’s Government Crisis Resolved Last Minute By Unexpected Rupture Of The Finns Party

Via Business Insider:

Monday’s political crisis caused by the election of hard-line ultra-nationalists at the Finns Party conference last weekend has passed – but not for the Finns Party itself. While driving to the President’s Naantali summer residence to hand in the government’s resignation, Prime Minister Juha Sipilä got the news that over 20 Finns Party MPs had resigned from their party and formed a new parliamentary group called ‘New Alternative’.

Sipilä turned round and held a different media conference at Turku Airport to explain that, “There is now no need to resign,” and that the government would continue – subject to a vote of confidence – with the new band of defectors. The split in the Finns Party started Tuesday morning when two MPs announced they could not accept the new leadership under party chair Jussi Halla-aho and his fellow travellers who are virulently anti-EU and anti-immigration to the point of being racist. Resignations then flooded out to the media.

The final figure of rebels is 21 with one wavering, leaving the Finns Party bloc just 15 MPs. But all the big guns, meaning three ministers, speaker of the Eduskuntatalo (parliament) and parliamentary group leader were all among the band who jumped from the FP ship. First and foremost was ex-FP leader for 20 years until last Saturday and current Foreign Minister Timo Soini.

“The group is ready to continue as part of the Sipilä government with the same programme and constitution,” said MP Simon Elo, who is now the new grouping’s spokesman.

“Today we are not just politicians but also acting on behalf of our country. It’s not just about Halla-aho’s election, but those elements that have taken over the party.” He echoed many others stating that the party was not now the one he joined.

The swiftness and decisiveness of the split caught commentators and others completely by surprise – none more so than the new Finns Party leader himself. “It was expected that one or a few MPs might go, but I didn’t expect such a large scale movement”, he bleated.

“Among the people (who have gone) were individuals of whom I would have least expected. All were disappointing, but some more than others”.

His rump Finns Party is left with just 15 MPs now and the rift has rippled out throughout local government too. While the scale came as a shock, the reasoning behind it was obvious. Halla-aho and his cohorts now in charge of the Finns Party have a chequered past of blatant racist comments and speeches not to mention his position as MEP when holding strong anti-EU opinions. This attracted accusations of hypocrisy due to his willingness to take Brussels money while still intending to run the party from there.

Other losers, though on a much smaller scale, are the two parties that were swilling to step into the void left by the Finns Party. The Swedish People’s Party and Christian Democrats are now dreaming of what might have been. But they would have only brought 15 MPs, leaving a putative coalition with a majority of just one with 101 seats in the 200-seat parliament.

With a minimum of 21 MPs, the ‘new’ government of the Centre and National Coalition parties with New Alternative has a more comfortable 107. Maria Louhela, still Speaker and New Alternative member said that a vote of confidence would probably take place next week. So while the government may breathe a sigh of relief, for the Finns Party it will be a sharp intake of breath and an aspirin to ease the sudden headache and find a new image to replace its current tarnished reputation, as many media have stopped calling it populist – it is now ‘ultra-nationalist’.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Finnish Government Is Falling Due To New Finns Party Leader

Via Business Insider:

The election of MEP Jussi Halla-aho has plunged Finland into a political crisis, with many expecting the three-party right-wing coalition to collapse over his strident anti-EU, -euro and anti-immigrant stances. The Finns Party leadership is now occupied by far right-wingers with the party congress last weekend choosing MPs Laura Huhtasaari as first vice-chair and Teuvo Hakkaraine as joint second vice-chair.

Previous leader for twenty years, Timo Soini, who is the current Foreign Minister, took a more moderate and practical position. He took over from the defunct Finnish Smallholders Party when it was in danger of extinction and led it to a high of nearly 20% of votes in parliamentary elections.

Both Halla-aho and Hakkarainen have been convicted of racist crimes in 2012 and 2016 respectively. In his acceptance speech, the new leader was not conciliatory at all, drawing up future policy battle lines instead. He criticised other parties, which includes his now coalition colleagues, for their positive EU viewpoints especially on integration.

Parroting typically modern populist parlance, he said the EU's freedom of workers policy distorted labour markets and the euro weakened nations to control their budgets. Although he admitted that leaving the EU was not possible now, he said, "I believe staying in the EU is not in Finland's long-term interests".

"Our job as the only Eurosceptic party is to instigate and maintain critical well-founded discussion on the topic. We should seek allies in countries which are also sceptical about loss of national sovereignty".

So links will be established with the Swedish People's Party and Danish People's Party, which together would give the Finns Party leverage in the European Parliament and Nordic Council.

Crisis Meeting

But just as Halla-aho and colleagues were celebrating what they assumed is a new dawn, government coalition partners, Centre Party and National Coalition Party (Kokoomus) and their leaders proved notto be in the mood for surrender.

PM Sipilä called immediately for a meeting today (Monday) due to Halla-aho's decision that Soini could not continue as FM. "The Finns Party is a completely new party with new policies now," Sipilä growled, adding that no negotiations on immigration or other previously agreed government programmes would take place.

NCP leader and Finance Minister Petteri Orpo stated his party would re-consider whether it should remain in a Finns Party government coalition. "The NCP will not stay unconditionally," he said, "This is matter of principles.. Finland is open, rich in languages and culture".

Others are waiting in the wings, with both the Swedish People's Party and Christian Democrats announcing they would possibly be willing to be part of a new coalition. The SPP, despite its name, is based on the Swedish language and is mainly a broad umbrella of opinions, but not anti-EU or immigrant.

However, whatever the outcome, the fact is that the Finns Party is sinking in the polls - the last in April showing support at 9%. In 2015 Finns Party got 17.7% of the vote and 38 MPs. Now at half that figure and with, by Finnish standards, an extremist holding the reins, its future looks grim. In addition to his conviction, it recently came out that Halla-aho had a child with a woman with whom he had a long affair.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Danish Math Wizards Use Big Data To Cut Airport Waiting Time In Half – And Next They’re Doing The Same With Hospitals

Via Business Insider:

Danish startup Copenhagen Optimization has become the go-to-guys for making airports run more smoothly. Like they did at Genève Aéroport where the average waiting time was reduced by more than 50%.

“It’s all about numbers”, says Anders Dohn, Managing Partner and co-founder at Copenhagen Optimization, ”At the core, we have a number of sophisticated mathematical models that we apply to each specific operational area. We use data to find patterns we can utilize in terms of optimization. For instance, we know that passengers use more trays at the security checkpoint in the winter because people wear more clothes. But with our model, we predict the pressure on security, treating each day as unique. That allows for a much more efficient allocation of resources”.

Since 2015, the startup has worked with 20 airports around the world, improving their operations. At Dublin Airport, passenger throughput increased by 10% and in Stockholm Arlanda, peak in check-in counter demand was decreased by 5.5%.

The passenger leaves a data trail through the airport.

The math experts have chosen to work with airports for two main reasons. Firstly, both Anders Dohn and his co-founder Kasper Hounsgaard have practical experience from managerial positions at Copenhagen Airports. Secondly, airports have vast amounts of data at their disposal, enabling them to follow the passenger's every step, almost.

”The passenger submits data all along the way, from checking in to having the boarding pass scanned at an airport shop. Furthermore, many airports have Wi-Fi or sensor technology to track passengers within the airport.

That means that we know when the passengers arrive, how long they stand in line, how long they take to pass through security, where they are in the airport and how many passengers are boarding the plane”, says Anders Dohn.

Airports are late on strategy and technology.

With all that data at their disposal, you would expect airports to excel at analyses and forecasts but that is not the case.

”Other industries like retail are way ahead of airports when it comes to tracking people”, Kasper Hounsgaard explains, ”I think it is cultural. Airports are really good at making things work in real-time. But they can improve planning by working in more structured ways with data and thinking long term”.

In order to help airports getting better - and to expand the business - Copenhagen Optimization recently launched software-as-a-service solution, Better Aiport. The client can subscribe to services such as Better Border Control and Better Forecast.

Next destination: Hospitals

Airports are not the only people-intensive facilities in need of optimization, and the Danish startup is now turning to hospitals. ”The challenge is similar to airports. You have a large number of people that need to move through the infrastructure, but at the same time you must pay attention to their situation and needs”, says Kasper Hounsgaard.

The startup is working with the pathology department at Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen, Denmark's largest hospital.

”The department handles a large number of different samples and the prioritization of tasks is complex. We analyze the extensive data available to help them improve their processes”, Anders Dohn explains.

Copenhagen Optimization has been in operation for two years and employs 15 people. It has been without external funding until recently when the company got additional capital from The Danish Growth Fund (Vækstfonden), and three private investors.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The 1000 Richest Families In Scandinavia Evade A Third Of Their Taxes, Finds A New Bombshell Study

Via Business Insider:

A new study indicates that Scandinavia's wealthiest families are moving their money abroad to avoid paying taxes.

Research study: The richest families in Scandinavia avoid paying up to a third of their taxes

The study estimates that the 1000 richest families in Scandinavia have withheld as much as 32 procent of the taxes they would otherwise be required to pay.

The researchers behind the study imply that the wealth gap in Scandinavia in the last ten years has increased more than previously thought. The study's results, published on Monday, have made waves in Norway, Denmark, and Sweden.

“Up until now there’s been an assumption that most of tax evasion is done by small business owners who bend the rules, but these results show something completely different. It’s actually the wealthiest people who are avoiding taxes to the largest extent”, said Annette Alstadsaeter, a professor at Handelshoyskolen in Oslo involved in the study, to SVT.

Alstadsaeter worked together with her research colleagues Niels Johansson at Copenhagen University and Gabriel Zucman at Berkelely in California. Their estimates are partly based on the Panama Papers and Swissleaks (an extensive leak of Swiss bank accounts) as well as an investigation into Swedish tax evasion previosuly done by SVT.

The rich prefer Swiss bank accounts

Based on their study, the trio could conclude that the wealthier the individidual, the higher the likelihood of tax evasion. This is likely because the rich have better opportunities to hide money abroad.

Having compared bank account details in Swissleaks with tax declarations in Denmark and Norway, the researchers posit that almost all Swiss bank accounts set up by Scandinavians are being used for tax evasion.

“Normally it’s not illegal to have a bank account in Switzerland. But this shows that 95 percent of the accounts are not included in tax declarations. This means we’re talking about tax evasion”, Alstadsaeter said to SVT.

The study also found that as a whole, tax evasion leads to three percent less tax revenue in Scandinavia. The researchers do not know the identities of the concerned individuals, as bank account details were anonymized ahead of the study.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Helsinki Airport Has Successfully Trialled Using Face-Recognition Technology Instead Of Travel Documents

Via Business Insider:

Finavia, Helsinki-Vantaa airport’s operating body, has just concluded its most advanced test of facial recognition technology to date. Run in cooperation with Finnair and digital solutions company Futurice, the test-run was conducted over a period of three weeks in May, to follow-up on a preliminary trial last year.

Phase two was conducted in the Finnair normal priority passenger check-in and 1.000 frequent flyers were invited to take part. The participants used a trial app to send their face profiles to the test software platform. The travellers were then forwarded to a designated check-in desk that contained the facial recognition tech.

The fact that image recognition technology can now recognize your face didn’t prevent passengers from liking the seamless check-in.

“I’m happy to report that the customers involved in this latest test were delighted with their experience, so of course, even though we are in assessment stage concerning the facial recognition technology in a holistic sense, this bodes well for larger-scale utilisation in the future”, says Heikki Koski, Vice President of Helsinki Airport for Finavia.

The goal is to apply the technology on a much larger scale.

Though the tests are preliminary, the hopes are that they will eventually lead to a point where biometric scanning in departure and transfer halls will become the norm. One day, it may be that all you need to bring to the airport is your good self, and the rest will be taken care of by itself behind the scenes.

“We want to make air travel flow even smoother and be involved in further developing the customer experience”, says Heikki Koski, Vice President of Helsinki Airport for Finavia. “Facial recognition is part of the larger megatrend of biometric identification, and it will enable ‘hands-in-your-pockets-travelling’, where you no longer need any travel documents. When all travel-related information is digitized, it takes less time and is easier to get through the checkpoints at the airport”.

The system used in the test was supplied by Futurice, and built using existing hardware/software and cloud-based services.

“We use facial-feature-based face recognition technology, which turns facial images into untraceable biometrics IDs”, says Tugberk Duman, Project Manager at Futurice. "This enables us to identify registered passengers on the go without having to store images. This test will provide useful information on the use of this solution for environments with large customer flows and tight security needs”.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Plato's Cave Is Real According To Einstein, Feynman And Others

Via Above Top Secret:

I'm watching the really good show on NatGeo called Genius about Einstein and he showed with Relativity that we live in a timeless universe and the evolution of any 3D experience isn't objective reality. He said:

“Since there exists in this four dimensional structure [space-time] no longer any sections which represent ‘now’ objectively, the concepts of happening and becoming are indeed not completely suspended, but yet complicated. It appears therefore more natural to think of physical reality as a four dimensional existence, instead of, as hitherto, the evolution of a three dimensional existence”.

From his book Relativity

We're looking at Plato's Cave.

He also said the distinction between past, present and future is just a persistent illusion. So in this context, we can't look at our universe as any sort of objective reality. It's subjective relative to four dimensional spacetime.

There's all sorts of spacetimes different than ours that are outside of our light cone. They could be in curved spaces different than ours based on their reference frame.

For 3 dimensional objects, we can experince different times and different space based on our acceleration. The things that are constant are the speed of light and spacetime intervals. So an object traveling close to the speed of light will will experience time ticking more slowly and their length will contract and it will get smaller.

So time is connected to spacetime intervals between events. The faster you go towards C means spacetime interval ticks between events gets slower and more stretched out. Here's a couple of videos that talk about spacetime intervals.

So this raises questions about things like free will which I believe is answered by quantum randomness and things like the free will theorem which speaks to the quantum nature of consciousness. So events can be seen in different order and in different ways by observers in different reference frames.

Say you have observer A and observer B.

Observer A sees these 3 events in order.

JFK's election

The Cuban Missle Crisis

JFK's death in Dallas.

Observer b can be moving in a different reference frame because they're accelerating at a different speed and are at a different angle relative to observer A. So observer B sees:

JFK's election

The Cuban Missle Crisis

He doesn't observe JFK's death though. His past light cone just contains these 2 things and not JFK's death. The question becomes, does observer B have to observe JFK's death or can JFK assassination just become an assassination attempt? JFK then serves 2 terms and lives to be 85 in the future light cone of observer B.

Einstein would say, observer B would have to see JFK's death. This is because he didn't think God played dice with the universe therefore he didn't like quantum randomness or things like entanglement.

If he were here today, he would probably support parallel universes because quantum mechanics doesn't lock observer B into observer A's worldline. So just because observer A saw JFK's assassination it doesn't mean observer B has to see the same thing if JFK's assassination hasn't happened for observer B yet.

Richard Feynman saw time in a similar way with sum over histories which indicates the direction of our ordinary clock time is simply a path in space which is more probable than other directions.

Other worlds are just other directions in space, some less probable, some equally as probable as the one direction we experience. Sometimes our world represents the the path that's unlikely. Feynman's summing of all possible histories could be described as a timeless description of a multitude of spacetime worlds all existing together in a simultaneous way. Here's Feynman talking about the universe as a glass of wine (Plato's Cave).

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Two Former Nokia Engineers Did What Google And Apple Wouldn't - Now Their Software Runs On 1.5 Billion Mobile Devices

Via Business Insider:

The success story of Realm is annoyingly simple.

”We were a couple of Danish engineers with an idea but no connections to Silicon Valley whatsoever. So we contacted Y Combinator by filling out a form and then they invited us over for a meeting”.

That was three years ago when Alexander Stigsen and his co-founder Bjarne Christiansen came up with the idea for a mobile database while working for Nokia in Denmark.

Databases need to run on the device itself, not on some remote server.

Today, Realm is running on more than 1.5 billion devices. Apps using Realm include Netflix, Starbucks, Ikea, Samsung, and BBC.

”Every interaction is moving to mobile. That means more and more data on the device, hence the need for a mobile database at the same place. The more data you can keep within the actual app the faster the app can work and respond to the user. Traditional databases run on online servers. Our database runs on the devices themselves”, Stigsen explains.

The Realm Mobile Database is now the most popular third-party database in the world replacing SQLite, the default database for both Android and iOS.

Too overwhelming for Google and Apple, so this startup stepped up.

While the need for mobile databases is evident, the development is a complex endeavor.

”It takes a long time, three to four years, to build a modern mobile database. That is why even the big vendors like Apple and Google do not have their own mobile databases. It just seemed overwhelming and they never really got started. This is where we saw a market opportunity”.

The market is about apps and getting through to the user. In order to achieve that, apps need all the speed and responsiveness they can get.

”The mobile space is extremely competitive. The average users have 20 apps on their phone while they have millions to choose from. You need a high performing app to be part of that club”.

Serverless is the new black in mobile apps development.

The impatient user is also the driving force behind the latest trend in mobile, serverless. That doesn’t actually imply not having servers, but a new degree of cloud computing where the app developer gets cloud functionalities such as code execution.

”Serverless is a huge trend right now because the traditional way of running apps is too slow. With a fully serverless interface, you can build an entire app on your platform in the cloud. That is why we see a move towards serverless with services like Google Cloud Functions”, Stigsen explains.

The need for faster data is ever increasing as the developers are pushing new functions craving data such as Augmented Reality (AR) and collaboration.

”We see a clear move towards interactive features and AR where the user interacts with the surroundings in a digital way. There are lots of opportunities for developers but they still need the app to be fast. We also see an increase in the use of collaborative tools for the workplace such as Slack. It is a natural next step towards the mobile platform for the enterprise”.

Realm has received a total of $29 million in funding to date. Investors include Y Combinator, Khosla Ventures, and Scale Venture Partner.

Monday, May 22, 2017

EU Leak: Sweden Has To Adopt The Euro By 2025

Via Business Insider:

Frankfurter Allgemeine has taken part of documents detailing plans to introduce the euro in all member countries by 2025 – including Sweden.

The leaked "reflection paper" outlines discussions between EU officials who met on Monday to prepare for an upcoming EU-commission meeting on the future of the euro on May 31st, writes SVT.

According to Frankfurter Allgemeine, the officials discussed a target that would force all EU members to join the euro by 2025.

The idea woule be to give the EU-parliament "democratic control" over the euro area's fiscal policy, as opposed to the current setup, where euro area finance ministers make decisions behind closed doors.

But shortly after the leak became public, it was refuted by EU-commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis, who took part in Monday's meeting. He claims the true purpose of the plan is to "complete" euro area cooperation, not to force member countries into the currency.

"Of course we do encourage all member states to join as soon as they meet the prerequisites. But there is no specific time limit", Dombrovskis said, according to news agency Direkt.

Under the current EU treaty, Denmark would have the right to opt out if a "forced" decision were to be taken.

Additional EU-countries without the euro are Czech Republic, Croatia, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary.