Economist 2/2/16

  1. Toshiba’s financial plight has deepened following an accounting scandal that began early last year and that obliged Toshiba to restate its profits to the tune of ¥152 billion ($1.3 billion). An investigation ordered by the firm concluded that, under the guidance of Atsutoshi Nishida, its boss from 2005 to 2009, employees began doctoring losses into paper profits and continued doing so under two subsequent bosses.  The government’s professed zeal for corporate reform ought to mean that, in dealing with Toshiba, it departs from old-style industrial policies, says Hidemi Moue of Japan Industrial Partners, a private-equity firm which hopes to snap up some of the stricken firm’s businesses.Toshiba was allowed to miss several financial-reporting deadlines and remain listed last year as its accounts were being investigated
  2. In parallel, Mr Abe’s bid to make Japan more open to foreign investment is being tested by an offer from Foxconn, the Taiwanese assembler of Apple’s iPhones, for Sharp, a once-great but now near-bankrupt electronics firm.Sharp’s two Japanese creditor banks will spurn Foxconn and sell the firm to a government-backed fund, the Innovation Network Corporation of Japan (INCJ), for a lower price. One reason for this would be bureaucrats’ fears that Sharp’s liquid-crystal display (LCD) know-how could benefit foreign rivals.Toshiba may also turn to the INCJ, which may buy its electrical-appliances operations, then perhaps seek to meld them with Sharp’s white-goods businesses and those of Hitachi, another conglomerate that has revived itself through disposals.Even if the INCJ does a good job in rationalising the troubled businesses of Toshiba and Sharp, shareholders may lose out if this means turning down higher offers for them.
  3. Last year over 23,000 people ended their own lives in Japan. The good news is that the number has fallen for six years in a row—a trend elsewhere, too. Part of the reason for the decline of Japanese suicides is economic: with business and personal insolvencies at a relative low, fewer people are losing their jobs or going bankrupt—a common motivation for Japanese suicides, along with worries about health. But prevention has also improved. Nearly a decade ago the government adopted policies to stop suicides. They include classes at schools, extra municipal staff trained in suicide-prevention, and better training in mental health among medical staff.Yet the rate at which younger adults kill themselves has not fallen by as much as for older folk—indeed, suicide is the leading cause of death for 15- to 40-year-olds.
  4. luk thep, or “child angel” —a factory-moulded moppet which some believe can be imbued, through a blessing, with the spirit of a child. Luk thepare increasingly being seen out and about in Bangkok, the capital, with their grown-up owners, who feed, water and dress them in the hope of receiving good fortune in return. The fad has not amused Prayuth Chan-ocha, the former general who leads Thailand’s nannying government, which came to power in a coup in May 2014. He implied on January 25th that adults ought not to waste money on plastic kids.Luk thep became fashionable last year, boosted by endorsements from soap stars and other minor celebrities.Some wonder whether Thailand’s falling fertility rate—at 1.5 children per woman among the lowest in South-East Asia—explains the strong demand for magic dolls.
  5. ON FEBRUARY 1st,Google’s parent company, Alphabet, won a contest of its own, vaulting past its longtime rival, Apple, to become the most valuable listed company in the world by market capitalisation. Alphabet supporters are chuffed with the firm’s strong quarterly earnings and new corporate structure, announced last August. This was the first time Alphabet has shared more information about the performance of the firm’s “moonshot” projects, such as self-driving cars and Nest smart thermostats. In 2015, these projects (ie, not including the core advertising business, Google) had an operating loss of around $3.6 billion—a hefty figure but less than some analysts had feared.

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