Economist 7/28/16

  1. JUST like cooking a culinary masterpiece, making a hit Broadway show requires the right ingredients.On the whole musicals tend to be more lucrative than plays, especially if they are based on Disney movies. Using data from the Ulmer Scale, an index which rates Hollywood actors on their “bankability”, we found that having a big movie star boosted income tremendously.Factors outside the producer’s control also affect revenues. We found that productions which eventually win major Tony awards, performed better in their first year, though newspaper reviews seemed to matter less.shows tend to do better around Christmas and New Year. Even though its turnover has been artificially suppressed by its producers’ reluctance to raise ticket prices too sharply, “Hamilton” already has a strong claim as the most successful Broadway show of all time, and is on pace to shatter all existing records.
  2. Lawyers and indigenous leaders have long called for government action to cut Australia’s high rate of aboriginal youth imprisonment.The Northern Territory, a federal dependency, has one of the worst records. Indigenous people are almost a third of the territory’s population, compared with 3% for Australia as a whole. But they account for 96% of youngsters aged between 10 and 17 in detention.Nationwide, Amnesty says young indigenous Australians are 26 times more likely to be in detention on an average night than their non-indigenous counterparts. The high detention rates echo broader problems: indigenous Australians are poorer, unhealthier and do worse in school than their compatriots. 
  3. LUFTHANSA lowered its revenue forecast last week amid declining bookings, particularly on long-haul flights to Europe, citing “increasing political and economic uncertainties.” “Luxury Awaits Above the Clouds” is the title of Lufthansa’s Airbnb listing, the first flight to be offered on the site, according to Quartz , which first reported the curious manoeuvre. Simply posting it to Airbnb required some creative contortion on the part of the airline, which had to check all the boxes required for more typical Airbnb hosts.The listing, of course, is little more than a gimmick. Airbnb charges a hefty fee for bookings, and it’s hard to imagine anyone paying that when they can book for free on more traditional platforms.Still, it is not inconceivable that the model could change. As more travellers, and business travellers in particular, look to Airbnb instead of hotels, booking sites like Orbitz and Priceline that can package flights and lodging lose some of their appeal, since they don’t have options for private accommodation.
  4. 1MDB was launched in 2009, the year Mr Najib became prime minister of Malaysia. It was supposed to bring investment to Malaysia by forging partnerships with foreign firms. But by 2014 it was struggling to service debts of more than $11 billion. Questions about it multiplied last year when it was discovered that around $700m had entered Mr Najib’s bank accounts shortly before a close election in 2013. On July 20th America’s Justice Department began proceedings to seize more than $1 billion of assets, which it alleged had been purchased with funds siphoned out of the firm. It is the largest single action the department has ever launched.The goodies concerned include luxury properties, artworks by Van Gogh and Monet, and a jet, according to court filings. Authorities say 1MDB’s money was also spent on gambling and used to make the “Wolf of Wall Street”, a film about a high-living swindler starring Leonardo DiCaprio. It was made by a production company co-founded by Riza Aziz, the stepson of Malaysia’s prime minister, Najib Razak.
  5. Rajinikanth is no preening Bollywood star, but a balding 65-year old doyen of Tamil cinema who has acted in over 200 films, generally playing a lovable rogue. He is paid around $10m-12m a picture for this shtick.Whatever the storyline, Rajini’s movies tend to do well. His recent release ‘Kabali’, raked in $16m on its opening weekend in India and another $12.6m overseas, smashing box-office records. On Friday July 22nd, tickets fetched 1,500-5,000 rupees ($23-$75) on the black market. Indeed, for all his onscreen brio and dash, the bus conductor-turned-superstar is a courtly man off it. He wears a white dhoti, drives his own car, sports no makeup, donates money to charity and pleads with his fans not to treat him like God.

Economist 4/7/15

  1. NIGERIA made history in its 2015 presidential elections. In the March 28-29th vote, deemed mostly free and fair, Muhammadu Buhari became the first opposition leader to eject an incumbent president at the ballot box. Goodluck Jonathan, whose People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has been in charge since the end of military rule in 1999, accepted his loss with grace. Despite pumping roughly 2m barrels of oil per day, most of its population lives in abject poverty. Much of the blame for that falls on elected politicians, who have spent years lining their pockets with the booty.Mr Buhari, who swept to power in a coup in the 1980s, had contested three previous elections without coming close. His chances changed in 2013, when four of those parties merged to form the All Progressives Congress (APC).His reputation as tough on security and corruption grew legendary.This time, biometric-voting technology made fixing the outcome more difficult.
  2. China’s official threshold for rural poverty is an annual income of 2,300 yuan ($370) per person. But the criteria for classifying a village or county are complex and often revised. Though dozens of places have been listed and delisted every few years since the 1990s, the total has remained curiously fixed—at 592. An official designation was worth an extra 560m yuan for the county each year from the central government.A commentary last year in the Legal Daily claimed that many places were misusing the funds and had fudged their figures to qualify as impoverished. Officials from the State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development, which manages the list, have acknowledged widespread abuses.
  3. For decades Malaysia has allowed Islamic courts to operate in parallel with secular ones, handing down rulings on civil matters to Muslims. Federal law limits the sentences such courts may deliver to three years in jail, a moderate fine or six strokes of the cane. But that is not enough for some members of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), which has run Kelantan since 1990. At the very least they want fiercer lashings—up to 100 strokes for drinkers and adulterers. But they are also pushing for courts to have the power to order adulterers to be stoned to death. They want national lawmakers to vote on the issue,What distinguishes the latest row is the ambiguous position of Malaysia’s ruling party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).  UMNO has long opposed hudud, but behind the scenes it has lately been encouraging PAS, even though that party forms part of the opposition. A terrible performance of UMNO’s coalition at the 2013 election has convinced UMNO to refurbish its former identity as a fierce defender of ethnic Malays and of Islam, the religion to which all Malays are assumed to adhere.These dark clouds explain why Malaysia’s ethnic-Chinese and Indian citizens—and many moderate Muslims—are not reassured that hudud is promoted by its advocates only in the conservative north.t remains uncertain whether Parliament will vote on the bills that PAS has introduced.
  4. IN IRAN’S glory days in 1974, it pumped a record 6m barrels of oil a day (b/d). Revolution, war, politicking, mismanagement and sanctions have all taken their toll. Production is 2.8m now. If an outline deal on Iran’s nuclear programme, discussed this week, is firmed up, it should begin to reverse that trend by opening new export markets and bringing in foreign investment to develop the world’s fourth-biggest oil reserves. But lifting sanctions generally takes longer than imposing them. Though President Barack Obama can temporarily suspend America’s curbs on Iran’s finances and exports, permanently ending sanctions would require the approval of a highly suspicious Congress. getting production back anywhere near 1970s levels will be a long job. Ms Sen says that some of the country’s older fields are declining at an annual rate of 15%. They will need perhaps $30 billion a year spent on them, for a number of years, just to stem the decline in productivity, let alone reverse it.Attracting the Westerners back would require not just an end to sanctions, but big changes to Iran’s oil and gas laws. These do not allow foreign ownership, but instead reward international oil companies for their investments with a slice of the revenues, a scheme known as “buy-backs”.
  5. FOR three decades China has been a steelman’s paradise. Steel Consumption in China has risen at an average rate of 15% a year since the turn of the century, and at 689m tonnes last year it made up almost half of the world’s total usage. China’s annual growth rate has slowed from double-digit figures to around 7%. Analysts at Morgan Stanley, an investment bank, believe that this is the year in which the country’s consumption and production will reach its apex, to decline gently thereafter .Aside from the risk of undermining the rationale for investments such as these, what are the potential knock-on effects of China hitting peak steel? Trade wars, for a start. Unable to peddle all of their output at home, Chinese steel producers have been exporting increasing quantities—to the consternation of producers elsewhere, who accuse them of dumping. On March 25th the European Union said it would impose anti-dumping duties of up to 25.2% on various stainless-steel products from China.