ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Print my ride

A bumper business

ANOTHER milestone has been passed in the adoption of additive manufacturing, popularly known as 3D printing. Daihatsu, a Japanese manufacturer of small cars and a subsidiary of Toyota, an industry giant, announced on June 20th that it would begin offering car buyers the opportunity to customise their vehicles with 3D-printed parts. This brings to drivers with more modest budgets the kind of individual tailoring of vehicles hitherto restricted to the luxury limousines and sports cars of the super-rich.

The service is available only to buyers of the Daihatsu Copen, a tiny convertible two-seater. Customers ordering this car from their local dealer can choose one of 15 “effect skins”, decorative panels embellished with intricate patterns in ten different colours. The buyers can then use a website to tinker with the designs further to create exactly the look they want. The skins are printed in a thermoplastic material using additive-manufacturing machines from Stratasys, an American company. The results are then stuck on the front and rear body panels.

Copen buyers will like selecting unique add-ons…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Oi boy

A bad call

“OI” IS a cheerful, informal greeting in Brazilian Portuguese. But after the telecoms operator of the same name made the largest bankruptcy-protection filing in Brazilian history on June 20th, the country may finally be saying goodbye to its hopes of creating a strong, state-backed national champion. Brazil’s interim government says it will not bail out the company, which is in debt to the tune of 65 billion reais ($19 billion). State-controlled banks have not been prepared to forgive what the firm owes to them. Parts of the company could be sold off to foreign buyers.

Oi was once treated more favourably by the government. The product of a state-sponsored merger eight years ago aimed at building a homegrown giant in a market dominated by foreign firms, Oi was even regarded as a potential global player. It is the country’s largest fixed-line firm, but has struggled to compete with international rivals in the much more lucrative mobile market, where it is Brazil’s fourth-largest operator, despite lots of official funding and regulatory changes in its favour.

Like many…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusiness and financeFINANCEFinance and economics

Theft is property

IS IT theft if no rules are broken? That is what users of the DAO, a futuristic investment fund, were left pondering after June 17th, when an unknown attacker made off with around 3.6m “ether”, an online currency similar to bitcoin. As cyber-heists go, it was a big one: the ether were worth about $55m at the time of the attack, about a third of the DAO’s assets. But the DAO, which stands for Decentralised Autonomous Organisation, does not have rules as such, or staff to enforce them: instead, it has computer code, which is supposed to embody its purpose and to operate automatically. If the attacker found a flaw in the code, whose fault is that? Indeed, some cyber-libertarians are arguing that whereas the heist was not a crime, altering digital ledgers to retrieve the lost ether would be an affront to the whole project.

Like bitcoin, ether relies on a “blockchain”—a public ledger, distributed among lots of the system’s users, which records all transactions. Bitcoin’s blockchain handles mainly financial transactions, but ether’s can run computer code, including self-executing “smart contracts”, like those underpinning the…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusiness and financeFINANCEFinance and economics

Speed bumps in the night

IT IS a ruse familiar to officials the world over: if you have embarrassing or controversial news, release it on a Friday, the later the better. The decision on June 17th, a Friday, by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Wall Street’s main regulator, to approve a new stock exchange sounds mundane. But the fact that the briefing explaining the agency’s reasoning was scheduled for 8pm gives a sense of the awkwardness of the topic.

IEX, the newly approved exchange, has one distinctive feature. Whereas most share-trading venues pride themselves on the speed with which trades can be executed, IEX promises to slow down transactions deliberately, with a “speed bump” of 350 millionths of a second. This idea has been controversial for two reasons. First, it is hard to reconcile with rules that oblige an exchange to execute a trade immediately, at the best available price, even if that means sending it to a rival market. Second, by attempting to slow things down, IEX is taking aim at a system it believes is rigged to favour ultra-fast high-frequency traders (HFTs) at the expense of the investors and companies that stockmarkets are supposed to…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

All about the base

THE project to understand the human genome has long promised to revolutionise the way that diseases are diagnosed, drugs are designed and even the way that medicine is practised. An ability to interpret human genetic information holds the promise of doing everything from predicting which drugs will work on a particular patient to identifying a person’s predisposition to develop diseases.

Genomic information is already transforming some medical practices. Sequencing has changed the way that fetuses are screened for Down’s syndrome, from a risky invasive test to one where abnormalities in fetal DNA can be picked up from blood drawn from the mother. In time this sort of method will extend to other genetic disorders and other medical applications. One area of promise is treating some types of cancer. Using blood tests to detect genetic changes in tumours could allow doctors to discover more quickly when drugs are no longer effective. This is so promising that there is already speculation that performing such “liquid” biopsies could be a $11 billion business by 2022.

Realising the vast potential of genomic medicine is a commercial project…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusiness and financeFINANCEFinance and economics

Two stumbles forward, one back

LAST November, two days after India’s ruling party suffered a drubbing at local polls in the state of Bihar, the government unexpectedly opened a dozen new industries to foreign direct investment (FDI). A gushing official called it “the biggest path-breaking and the most radical changes in the FDI regime ever undertaken”.

On June 20th, two days after Raghuram Rajan, the respected governor of India’s central bank, abruptly announced that he would soon step down, the government covered its embarrassment with another impromptu salute to FDI. The slim package of enticements, amounting to a slight lowering of barriers in some of the same industries, has made India “the most open economy in the world for FDI,” said the office of Narendra Modi, the prime minister.

Hyperbole is not unexpected from a government keen to burnish its liberalising credentials. But it has not lived up to its cheery slogans (“Startup India”, “We Unobstacle”, “Minimum Government, Maximum Governance”). Two years after clinching a sweeping electoral mandate, and with the opposition in disarray, Mr Modi’s reform agenda should be in full swing. Instead,…Continue reading

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