Economist 1/12/16

  1. The EU expects Italian GDP to rise 1.5%, but last year’s quarter-on-quarter figures suggested growth was slowing (from 0.3% in the first two quarters to 0.2% in the third).Confindustria’s researchers called Italy’s lacklustre recovery “a real puzzle”. The prime minister is energetic and reform-minded. His left-right coalition has done good things. It has begun to reform the civil-justice system and the bureaucracy; the sluggishness of the first and the complexity of the second are long-standing obstacles to investment.Traditionally, however, it has been surging exports that have pulled Italy out of recessions. Despite a weak euro, export growth this time has been disappointing.Traditionally, however, it has been surging exports that have pulled Italy out of recessions. Despite a weak euro, export growth this time has been disappointing.
  2. HERE’S a cheering thought for the middle-aged who stare wistfully out to sea: at 27.5, the average age of the world’s top ten surfers (as determined by the ASP) is only a few years younger than the average age for the top ten golfers on the PGA tour (31).No doubt someone who knows about golf can offer some reasons as to why the top pros seem to be getting younger, but let’s ignore that for the moment and focus on those gnarly surfers.One answer has to do with technology. Boards have developed in leaps punctuated by periods of stasis. At the moment stasis rules: the boards ridden by competitive surfers have not changed a huge amount in the past 20 years, whatever the companies that make and sell the things would have you believe.Another is that while surfing well demands brawn it also requires two further skills: an ability to judge waves, which must be learned over time; and excellent balance, which can be maintained into middle age.
  3. Jacob Zuma seems to be wondering how to share custody of the country with his ex-wife. Mr Zuma must retire as South Africa’s president in 2019. He appears to favour Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, to whom he was married until 1998, as his successor.A quiet race is under way to pick the next president of the ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC). The winner will inevitably become president of the country, too. For Mr Zuma, there is much to commend his ex-wife. For a start, she has not been accused of trying to poison him.Furthermore, Ms Dlamini-Zuma has plenty of political experience. She currently chairs the AU. She has served as South Africa’s health minister (under Nelson Mandela), foreign minister (under Thabo Mbeki) and home affairs minister (in her ex-husband’s cabinet).The other strong contender is Cyril Ramaphosa, a union-leader-turned-tycoon who is now deputy president. He has the tacit support of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), a part of the ruling alliance.
  4. WANG JIANLIN’s firm Dalian Wanda, is now China’s biggest private property developer, with shopping centres opened, or coming soon, in 100 cities. Last year its revenues rose to 243 billion yuan ($40 billion), up by 30% on a year earlier (see chart 1). The $3.7 billion flotation of its property division in December sent his personal fortune soaring past $25 billion: he vies with Alibaba’s Jack Ma for the title of the country’s richest man. Now China’s land king is going global and diversifying from property.In the glittering ballroom of the Sofitel Wanda hotel in Beijing, he toasted a $1.2 billion deal to buy InFront Sports & Media, which holds some of the marketing rights to FIFA’s World Cup. The previous month he took a 20% stake in Atlético Madrid football club. Mr Wang is also on track to become the world’s biggest owner of five-star hotels, with billion-dollar investments in Sydney, London, Chicago and Los Angeles.
  5. Hollywood moguls were perplexed when some Asian guy they hadn’t heard of bought AMC, a big but struggling American cinema chain, for $2.6 billion in 2012.Mr Wang wants to transform Dalian Wanda into a global entertainment colossus capable of beating Disney, which plans to open Shanghai Disneyland next year. He is dreaming up acquisitions that will increase his group’s annual revenues by 2020 to $100 billion, a fifth to come from outside China. He insists it can become a global force like Google and Walmart.All this is helping the group with its defences against the spread of e-commerce, which is hitting many Chinese shops hard.As part of this plan, Wanda is now wiring up all of its shopping centres with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth sensors so that shoppers can be monitored intensely.

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