Economist 2/5/16

  1. Two years ago, to much dismay, the three biggest countries in the sport united to effect a coup at the International Cricket Council (ICC), the organisation that sits atop the game. The governing bodies of cricket in India, England and Australia insisted that their men be permanently installed at the head of powerful ICC committees. They also called for the fixture list to be liberalised, so that they could cherry-pick their opponents (and play more games amongst themselves). Worst of all, they demanded the ICC redistribute funds away from smaller and amateur teams and towards the giants.At the latest ICC meeting, held in Dubai this week, it was clear that they already had. At Mr Manohar’s insistence, the ICC board agreed to carry out a “complete review” of the restructuring that had been undertaken in 2014. The guarantee that representatives from England, Australia or India would run the executive and finance committees has already been thrown out. The role of ICC chairman is to be made independent. These are important moves that indicate a clear change of direction.
  2. HSBC—one of the two most pivotal banks in the global financial system, according to regulators, alongside JPMorgan Chase—exudes permanence.It has not made a yearly loss since its foundation in 1865.Yet behind that invincible aura lurks an insecurity: where is home? When Western and Indian merchants founded the bank in Asia in 1865, they considered basing it in Shanghai before settling on Hong Kong.. The results of a ten-month review of its domicile are likely to be announced on February 22nd. The main choice is between staying in London—where HSBC shifted its holding company in 1990-93, in anticipation of the return of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty in 1997—or going back to its place of birth.
  3. HSBC’s seesawing skew towards Asia is one of four factors that explain its 151-year quandary over where it should be based. The others are the ethnicity of its managers, Britain’s love-hate relationship with finance and the status of Hong Kong.In the 1980s all four pointed to London. The bank was diversifying into America and Europe (by 2004 Asia yielded just a third of profits). London felt natural to the cadre of expatriate Brits that ran it.Three of the four factors now point back towards Asia. Asia yields 60% of profits. This could rise to 75%.Rising interest rates would boost lending margins most in Asia, which has a surplus of deposits, which need not be repriced as quickly as debt. HSBC is far more Asian than its Western rivals.HSBC’s management is now multi-national, although its board has too few Asians on it.And Britain has got hostile. Briefly after the crisis public and elite opinion distinguished between the British banks that blew up and those that did not.Critics worry that British depositors and taxpayers subsidise the bank by funding its foreign operations and implicitly guaranteeing its liabilities.Hong Kong’s government would welcome the bank back, as would its regulator, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA). Moving to Hong Kong would probably cut HSBC’s tax bill and capital requirements a bit and the degree of regulatory and political friction a lot.
  4. Seldom has any country been so transformed by one industry as the Philippines has by call centres.This loosely defined industry now employs some 1.2m people and accounts for about 8% of the Philippines’ GDP. The country is especially strong in call centres: it has already overtaken India, even though India has about 12 times as many people.Companies put call centres in the Philippines for three reasons, says Alfredo Ayala of the Ayala Corporation, a conglomerate, who set up one of the first ones. The country’s telecoms market had been deregulated, holding costs down. The government designated call centres, or “contact centres”, as they are formally known, an export industry and cut their taxes. And firms wanted to diversify beyond India. A fourth reason, which Filipino businessfolk discuss rather delicately, is their customers’ prejudice. Americans, in particular, simply prefer talking to Filipinos than to Indians.
  5. Overall, though, the call-centre explosion has been a colossal boon for Filipinos who speak good English. With so many employers to choose from, they can demand gyms, cafés and computer-games rooms, as well as higher pay. Experienced workers can often find managerial jobs. And though the night shift is hard, it is far better than being a maid in Saudi Arabia. The Philippines has long exported workers: remittances are worth around 10% of GDP.Software robots are only going to become faster, cleverer and cheaper. Sarah Burnett of Everest, a research firm, predicts that the most basic jobs will vanish as a result. Call-centre workers will still be needed, not for repetitive tasks, but to coax customers into buying other products and services. That is a harder job, demanding better language skills.
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