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The hacker group blamed for this weekend’s ransomware attack on the Colonial petroleum pipeline has insisted it only wanted to make money and regretted “creating problems for society”. In a statement posted on Monday, the criminal group known as DarkSide said it was “apolitical” and attempted to deflect blame for the attack on to “partners” that had used its ransomware technology. The hack has taken a key US oil pipeline offline for three days, threatening to drive up fuel prices and forcing the US government to bring in emergency powers to keep supplies flowing. “Our goal is to make money, and not creating problems for society,” DarkSide said, adding that it would “check each company that our partners want to encrypt to avoid social consequences in the future”.Ransomware attacks involve hackers taking control of an organisation’s data or software systems, locking out the owners using encryption until a payment is made. DarkSide emerged as one of the leading ransomware outfits last August, and is believed to be run from Russia by an experienced team of online criminals. Silicon Valley-based cyber security company CrowdStrike has traced DarkSide’s origins to the criminal hacking group known as Carbon Spider, which “dramatically overhauled their operations” last year to focus on the fast-growing field of ransomware. “We are a new product on the market, but that does not mean that we have no experience and we came from nowhere,” DarkSide has said previously. Brett Callow, an analyst at the cyber security group Emisoft, said: “DarkSide doesn’t eat in Russia. It checks the language used by the system and, if it’s Russian, it quits without encrypting.”He added that the group rented out its services on the dark web. “DarkSide is a ransomware-as-a-service operation. I assume the attack on Colonial was carried out by an affiliate and the group is concerned about the level of attention it has attracted.”In a sign of how ransomware has become a professionalised industry, DarkSide operates its own “press office” and claims to have an ethical approach to choosing its targets. DarkSide’s website claims that “based on our principles”, it will hold off from attacking medical institutions such as hospitals, care homes and vaccine developers; the providers of funeral services; schools and universities; non-profits and governmental organisations. That stands in contrast to the rest of the ransomware industry, for whom healthcare providers and the public sector are among the largest targets. Colonial Pipeline is a private company owned by investors including Shell, KKR and Koch Capital. IT security firm Kaspersky said DarkSide aimed to “generate as much online buzz as possible”. “More media attention could lead to more widespread fear of DarkSide, potentially meaning a greater chance the next victim will decide just to pay instead of causing trouble,” Kaspersky researcher Roman Dedenok said in a recent blog post. Its previous targets reportedly include property group Brookfield, Discountcar.com, a Canadian subsidiary of car rental group Enterprise, and CompuCom, a US-based IT support provider owned by the parent company of Office Depot. Arete, which provides incident response services to victims of cyber crime, has found that DarkSide most commonly targets professional services and manufacturing companies, with its ransom demands ranging between $3m to $10m, though the security news side Bleeping Computer has found evidence of smaller ransoms in the hundreds of thousands of dollars too. In an email interview with security blog DataBreaches.net, a DarkSide representative calling themselves “DarkSupp” said that the outfit researched how much their target might be able to pay — for instance, by looking at their insurance coverage — before deciding how much ransom to demand. “We only attack companies that can pay the requested amount,” DarkSide has said previously. “We do not want to kill your business.”According to screenshots from one victim published by Bleeping Computer, DarkSide sends each target a clear list of instructions entitled “Welcome to Dark”. Specific details and samples of the stolen data are presented and victims are warned that these will be automatically published online for at least six months if they refuse to pay. This technique of both locking victims out of their systems and also threatening to embarrass them by making the stolen data public is known as “double extortion”. The DarkSide hackers also try to reassure their victims that they will play by their own rules, saying: “We value our reputation. If we do not do our work and liabilities, nobody will pay us.” It even offers to provide technical support, “in case of problems” using the decryption tool that their victims receive when they pay up. Ransomware attacks jumped 62 per cent last year according to firewall developer SonicWall, including more than 200m hits in the US. That was partly driven by the pandemic, as businesses forced to flee the office grappled with the task of securing their remote employees, as well as the rise of bitcoin, through which many hackers demand payment. A recent survey by insurance group Hiscox found that more than half of those targeted by ransomware pay up.
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Iron ore prices jumped more than 10 per cent in Asia trading on Monday on growing expectations that the global economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic would extend beyond China and buoy commodities markets.Futures prices for iron ore in Singapore rose to more than $226 a tonne, a record in dollar terms. In Dalian, China’s main commodities trading hub, the price of the most active futures contract was also up 10 per cent.The price rise followed a run of recent highs for the steelmaking ingredient, which alongside other raw materials has been supported by strong demand from a rapidly recovering Chinese economy, and is also expected to benefit from government support measures around the world. The physical iron ore price has hit a record of almost $230 a tonne on Monday, according to S&P Global Platts. That in turn has boosted the share prices of large iron ore producers including Rio Tinto, whose shares powered to a record high £67.05 on Monday. Big producers such as Rio only require a $50 a tonne to break even.“It’s more than just China now . . . it’s the whole strength of recovery in the steel industry globally,” said Justin Smirk, senior economist at Westpac. “I think the reality is the market’s still incredibly tight, we’ve still got very, very strong steel prices.”In China, the price of steel reinforcement bars — widely used in the construction industry — have risen to $865 a tonne, up from $660 a tonne at the start of the year. “These are record price levels and surpass the highs seen in the pre-2010 boom period,” Clarksons Platou Securities wrote in a note to clients.Chinese steel production leapt 19 per cent in March despite Beijing’s efforts to crack down on production as the government strives to meet its environmental targets.China’s imports have risen on the back of its appetite for raw materials, alongside a jump in its exports. Data released on Friday showed imports grew 43 per cent in April year on year, though that was partly because of a low base last year when the pandemic hit global trade. The robust recovery of China’s economy, which returned to pre-pandemic growth rates at the end of last year, lost some momentum in the first quarter. Iron ore imports in April fell compared with March. Iron ore trade exports from Australia to China have come under scrutiny on the back of geopolitical tensions that have resulted in tariffs on shipments such as barley, beef and wine. As a result, Chinese mills are scrambling to lock in supplies of Australian ore.Colin Hamilton, analyst at BMO Capital Markets, said Monday’s surge in Singapore and Dalian had been triggered by concerns that bank funding for Australian iron ore in China may be harder to come by in the coming months “given the current geopolitical tension between the countries”. “We would not be surprised to see suggestions of a temporary pause in purchases from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology or China Iron and Steel Association . . . and we expect more Chinese rhetoric around prices being too high over the coming days.”Michael Lovecchio at brokerage StoneX speculated about whether the iron price jump could be attributed to underlying market demand, “Chinese/Australian tensions getting worse” or “simply Chinese retail speculation”.Raw materials in China have pushed producer prices higher this year, with data released on Tuesday expected to show a jump of more than 6 per cent. China recorded negative PPI in the time between the emergence of the pandemic last year and the start of 2021.Warren Patterson, head of commodities strategy at ING, suggested that the prospect of inflation was driving investor demand for commodities.Iron ore is “a real asset, so it’s seen as a good inflation hedge . . . I think that is why we’re seeing a lot of investor money going into commodities”, he said.“We’re definitely getting to levels where I think price action is detaching from the actual fundamentals,” he added. Video: What does ESG-friendly really mean?
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BioNTech beat expectations in its first-quarter earnings, swinging to a €1.6bn profit and pledging to invest proceeds from its Covid-19 vaccine in becoming a “powerhouse” in cancer therapies. The German biotech, which has developed its vaccine with Pfizer, forecasts current 2020 contracts to supply 1.8bn doses are worth about €12.4bn. But this could rise further as BioNTech expects to have manufacturing capacity for up to 3bn doses this year.The company has already signed contracts for 2022 with Canada and Israel, and is in talks with other governments eager to prepare for waning immunity or new variants by buying up booster shots. Ugur Sahin, BioNTech’s chief executive, said the world would have “more than enough” vaccines in just nine months as it rapidly expands manufacturing. He said there was “absolutely no need” to waive patents, a proposal recently backed by the US to try to increase distribution of vaccines to developing countries. Sahin said the company’s goal was to build a “21st century immunotherapy powerhouse”, using the messengerRNA technology behind the vaccine for drugs that harness the immune system to fight cancer. BioNTech has started three early stage trials in oncology so far this year and expects to begin three more. It has 14 oncology product candidates in 15 ongoing trials. The company also expects to start dosing participants in a trial of a flu vaccine, developed with Pfizer, in the third quarter.Its Marburg facility in central Germany has the capacity to deliver 1bn doses a year, and the company said it was now contributing more than 50 per cent of the manufacturing of the drug substance worldwide. BioNTech is also expanding internationally, signing a deal with Singapore on Monday to open an office and regional manufacturing facility in the state, and building a plant in China as part of a joint venture with Fosun Pharma. The biotech reported diluted profit per share of €4.39, higher than the average analyst estimate of about €3, for the three months to the end of March. The company made a pre-tax profit of €1.6bn, compared with a loss of €53m in the same period the year before. Total sales were more than €2bn, including the company’s share of the gross profit from the territories where Pfizer sells the vaccine and BioNTech’s direct sales in Germany and Turkey. Shares in BioNTech, which have soared 268 per cent in the past year, were up 8 cent in early trading in New York.
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Société Générale plans to shift the focus of its investment bank towards corporate finance and advice as the French lender tries to move away from the kind of trading risks that pushed it to a first full year loss in decades.The company said on Monday it would push “a client-centric strategy”, allocating capital “in favour of financing, advisory and transaction banking” to cut its reliance on more volatile trading flows.The pledge comes after its equity derivatives business, which has been core to the bank’s identity for decades, pushed SocGen to a loss last year after the pandemic forced companies to cancel dividend payments, tearing holes in some of the structured products the bank sold to clients. As a result, SocGen slashed the level of risk being taken by its equity division. It culled top ranks and created new products in an overhaul that sacrificed up to €250m in revenue but should reduce the cost base by €450m by 2023. This part of the business has since rebounded to its best performance since 2015, helping boost SocGen profits in the first quarter and easing pressure for deeper changes.The lender is now going to try to “deliver predictable performance” from its markets business, division head Jean-François Grégoire told investors on Monday.“Last year, impacts from a unique market dislocation led us to review the management of structure products that were clearly too problematic in extreme market conditions,” Grégoire said. “We quickly decided to de-risk.”SocGen said on Monday that its overall global banking and investor solutions business (GBIS), which encompasses both trading and investor funding, will now target return on “normative equity” — the bank’s measure of adjusted returns — of more than 10 per cent from 2023, against about 7 per cent currently. The bank is seeking to achieve average revenue growth of approximately 3 per cent between 2020 and 2023 for the financing and advisory businesses while the markets business is aiming for “stability”.SocGen wants to “normalise” revenues in GBIS at about €5bn in 2023, while targeting a cost base of €5.5bn-€5.7bn in 2023. It stood at about €5.8bn in 2020.“All in, incorporating SocGen’s new target fully would lead to a [roughly] 8 per cent lift to consensus 2023 earnings,” noted analysts at Morgan Stanley.SocGen’s shares were up almost 3 per cent in early afternoon trading in Paris, bringing their gains this year to almost 50 per cent. However, the bank’s share price, at €25.64, is still below the point at which chief executive Frédéric Oudéa took over in 2008, after the Jérôme Kerviel rogue trading scandal.Oudéa’s current term as CEO runs until 2023 and the revamp of the investment bank is one part of a strategy shift that will be key to his legacy.
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Old ideas are like old clothes — wait long enough and they will come back into fashion. Thirty years ago, “industrial policy” was about as fashionable as a bowler hat. But now governments all over the world, from Washington to Beijing and New Delhi to London, are rediscovering the joy of subsidies and singing the praises of economic self-reliance and “strategic” investment.The significance of this development goes well beyond economics. The international embrace of free markets and globalisation in the 1990s went hand in hand with declining geopolitical tension. The cold war was over and governments were competing to attract investment rather than to dominate territory. Now the resurgence of geopolitical rivalry is driving the new fashion for state intervention in the economy. As trust declines between the US and China, so each has begun to see reliance on the other for any vital commodity — whether semiconductors or rare-earth minerals — as a dangerous vulnerability. Domestic production and security of supply are the new watchwords.As the economic and industrial struggle intensifies, the US has banned the exports of key technologies to China and pushed to repatriate supply chains. It is also moving towards direct state-funding of semiconductor manufacturing. For its part, China has adopted a “dual circulation” economy policy that emphasises domestic demand and the achievement of “major breakthroughs in key technologies”. The government of Xi Jinping is also tightening state control over the tech sector.The logic of an arms race is setting in, as each side justifies its moves towards protectionism as a response to actions by the other side. In Washington, the US-China Strategic Competition Act, currently wending its way through Congress, accuses China of pursuing “state-led mercantilist economic policies” and industrial espionage. The announcement in 2015 of Beijing’s “Made in China 2025” industrial strategy is often cited as a turning point. In Beijing, by contrast, it is argued that a fading America has turned against globalisation in an effort to block China’s rise. President Xi has said the backlash against globalisation in the west means China must become more self-reliant. The new emphasis on industrial strategy is not confined to the US and China. In India, Narendra Modi’s government is promoting a policy of Atmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India), which encourages domestic production of key commodities. The EU published a paper on industrial strategy last year, which is seen as part of a drive towards strategic autonomy and less reliance on the outside world. Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission president, has called for Europe to have “mastery and ownership of key technologies”.Even a Conservative administration in Britain is turning away from the laissez-faire economics championed by former prime minister Margaret Thatcher, and seeking to protect strategic industries. The government is reviewing whether to block the sale of Arm, a UK chipmaker, to Nvidia, a US company. The UK government has also bought a controlling stake in a failing satellite business, OneWeb. Covid-19 has strengthened the fashion for industrial policy. The domestic production of vaccines is increasingly seen as a vital national interest. Even as they decry “vaccine nationalism” elsewhere, many governments have moved to restrict exports and to build up domestic suppliers. The lessons about national resilience learnt from the pandemic may now be applied to other areas, from energy to food supplies.In the US, national security arguments for industrial policy are meshing with the wider backlash against globalisation and free trade. Joe Biden’s rhetoric is frankly protectionist. The president proclaimed to Congress: “All the investments in the American jobs plan will be guided by one principle: Buy American.”In an article last year, Jake Sullivan, Mr Biden’s national security adviser, urged the security establishment to “move beyond the prevailing neoliberal economic philosophy of the past 40 years” and to accept that “industrial policy is deeply American”. The US, he argued, will continue to lose ground to China on key technologies such as 5G and solar panels, “if Washington continues to rely so heavily on private sector research and development”. Many of these arguments will sound like common sense to voters. Protectionism and state intervention often does. But free-market economists are aghast. Swaminathan Aiyar, a prominent commentator in India, laments the return of the failed ideas of the past, arguing that: “Self sufficiency was what Nehru and Indira Gandhi tried in the 1960s and 1970s. It was a horrible and terrible flop.” Adam Posen, president of the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, recently decried “America’s self-defeating economic retreat”, arguing that policies aimed at propping up chosen industries or regions usually end in costly failure. As tensions rise between China, the US and other major powers, it is understandable that these countries will look at the security implications of key technologies. But claims by politicians that industrial policy will also produce better-paying jobs and a more productive economy deserve to be treated with deep scepticism. Sometimes ideas go out of fashion for a reason.gideon.rachman@ft.com
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Stanley Ho, the legendary gambling tycoon who died one year ago this month, left behind a complex inheritance.That is perhaps not surprising for a man who had fewer recognised partners (four) but more children (17) than Henry VIII. It also made for some interesting board proceedings at his flagship Macau gaming company, SJM Holdings.SJM’s board is now headed by Daisy, the late patriarch’s daughter from his second marriage. One of her two co-chairs, Angela Leong, was Ho’s fourth wife. His third wife, Chan Un Chan is also an SJM director.For the better part of a decade, as Ho’s health faded, SJM was the subject of what people close to the protagonists call “the war between the second and fourth families”.This war was finally won by the second family in 2018, when Daisy succeeded her father as SJM’s chair. Less than a year later, the second family further consolidated its grip on Ho’s empire when Daisy’s older sister, Pansy, announced an alliance giving her effective control over SJM’s parent company.The question now is whether Daisy can chart a new course for SJM, whose development was constrained by Ho’s conservatism.When Macau’s gambling market was liberalised in 2002, ending Ho’s 40-year monopoly, new entrants led by Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands built huge new resorts on the Cotai strip — a vast land reclamation that linked Macau’s two previously separate outlying islands, Coloane and Taipa.Adelson, who passed away in January, and his top executives were often dismissive of Ho, who clung stubbornly to a collection of no-frills casinos on Macau’s densely populated peninsula. A November 2006 picture showing Stanley Ho, centre, at his 85th birthday with, from left, daughters Daisy, Pansy, Maisy, Josie and son Lawrence in Hong Kong © Ym Yik/EPA/Shutterstock When I sat down for an on-the-record interview with William Weidner, then president of Sands, just ahead of the 2007 opening of the Venetian Macao, I expected him to be respectful of Adelson’s new arch rival. Instead, he said that on his first visit to Macau in 1980, Ho’s Lisboa casino reminded him of “the cockfight scene in The Deer Hunter”. “We in Las Vegas,” Weidner added, “couldn’t believe a place as poorly executed as the Lisboa did as well [financially] as it did.”Ho remained wedded to his old business model of catering to high-rolling “whales” in quiet VIP rooms. But Adelson was convinced that China’s emerging middle class, when not losing money at his baccarat tables, wanted Las Vegas-style resorts, shows and convention centres.When it was opened in the summer of 2007, the $2.5bn Venetian had 3,000 hotel rooms and 1.2m sq ft of convention space. As one of my impressed friends said at the time “it’s like gambling in an airport, but bigger”.The popularity of Macau’s new generation of casino resorts, which soon propelled the territory far past Las Vegas as the world’s biggest gambling market, proved that Adelson had a better understanding of his Chinese clientele than Ho ever did.Ho, however, was not one to admit defeat. In his first — and last — SJM chairman’s note, in the group’s 2008 annual report, he said the company would continue to “focus on the business of gaming that we know best and provide an attractive product aimed at a targeted clientele”. He also proudly described the Macau peninsula as SJM’s “home base”.In one sign of the group’s long period of drift, from 2009 to 2017 Ambrose So, SJM’s caretaker chief executive, would sign the opening business overview in its annual reports before finally handing the pen over to Daisy in 2018.Over the next few months — and some 14 years after the Venetian transformed Macau — SJM will finally venture out from Ho’s long shadow with the opening of its Grand Lisboa Palace integrated resort on Cotai.The timing could hardly be less auspicious, as Macau continues to stagger from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Last year, the territory’s visitor arrivals and gross gaming revenues fell 85 per cent and 79 per cent respectively, compared with 2019. But visitor numbers are finally starting to pick up after Macau reopened its borders to travellers from mainland China in August.For SJM, much will depend on its June appointment of a new chief operating officer, Frank McFadden. Ho originally poached McFadden from Adelson in 2006 to oversee the opening of SJM’s current flagship casino, the Grand Lisboa.McFadden, an Irishman who often told friends he was looking forward to retirement in County Donegal, has made it clear that he thinks a new era beckons for SJM. “My mandate,” he told Inside Asian Gaming magazine shortly after his appointment, “is for change”.tom.mitchell@ft.com
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The US Environmental Protection Agency has announced a sweeping curtailment of a group of potent greenhouse gases used in air conditioners and refrigerators as the regulator advances revived emissions goals under the Biden administration.The EPA moved to phase down the use of hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, by 85 per cent over the next 15 years. It expects its new rule would cut the equivalent of 4.7bn tonnes of carbon dioxide — roughly three years’ worth of US power sector emissions — between 2022 and 2050. “By phasing down HFCs, which can be hundreds to thousands of times more powerful than carbon dioxide at warming the planet, EPA is taking a major action to help keep global temperature rise in check,” Michael Regan, EPA administrator, said on Monday. Congress directed the regulator to reduce HFC output and use in an omnibus bill that passed last year. While the Trump administration rolled back dozens of environmental regulations as part of a deregulatory drive — including delaying the ratification of global deal on HFCs — President Joe Biden has made climate change a priority. Last month, Biden committed the US to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 per cent by the end of the decade, from 2005 levels, and he has rejoined the Paris climate agreement. While a handful of states have already introduced measures to reduce HFC use, the EPA rule would propose the first national limit on the chemicals. “This rapid move by the Biden EPA to start phasing down these extremely potent climate pollutants will deliver enormous public health and climate benefits to all Americans,” said David Doniger, senior strategic director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group. “Replacing HFCs is a critical and totally do-able first step to head off the worst of the climate crisis.” HFCs are used in refrigeration, air-conditioning, building insulation, fire extinguishing systems and aerosols. They have become increasingly widespread in recent decades as a substitute for a different group of chemicals, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which damage the ozone layer.CFCs were phased out under the 1987 Montreal Protocol. But HFCs have turned out to be a potent greenhouse gas and there has been a growing clamour to also shift away from using them.Under the Obama administration, the US signed up to a deal in Kigali, Rwanda, to phase out HFCs but the Trump administration did not send it to the Senate for ratification. The EPA said that a global phaseout could prevent up to 0.5C of planetary warming by 2100.Biden’s two chief climate lieutenants — climate envoy John Kerry and White House climate adviser Gina McCarthy — helped to negotiate the Kigali agreement. Biden is seeking its ratification by Congress.
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“China will grow old, before it grows rich” is one of those things people like to say at conferences — usually followed by a dramatic pause. The implication is that China’s rise to global dominance will soon hit a giant barrier: demographics. China’s low fertility rate means that its population will shrink and age over the coming decades. Last week the FT reported that China’s population has already begun to fall — a few years earlier than the UN had predicted. A large, expanding and youthful population has driven the rise of nations for much of human history. Great powers needed warm bodies to put on a battlefield and citizens to tax. Napoleon’s conquests were preceded by a population boom in France in the 18th century. By the 20th century, France’s population had fallen behind Germany and Britain; a source of justified anxiety for the French elite. But a shrinking and ageing population may not have the same gloomy implications in the 21st century. The great-power struggles of the future are unlikely to be decided by vast land battles. In the recent war between Azerbaijan and Armenia, unmanned drones played the critical role on the battlefield. Britain’s recent strategic review cut the army, while investing heavily in technology. If technological prowess, rather than hordes of young men, is the key to future power then China is well placed. The country has cutting-edge capabilities in fields such as robotics and artificial intelligence. With a population of 1.4bn people — which is likely only to decline gently until mid-century — China will not be short of manpower either.It is the structure rather than the size of China’s population that will be the real challenge. By 2040, around 30 per cent of the country will be over 60. More old people will have to be supported by a smaller working age population, slowing economic growth. China may never achieve the per-capita wealth levels of the US. But even if the average Chinese is only half as rich as the average American, the Chinese economy would still easily surpass America’s in overall size. China will soon lose its title as the world’s most populous nation. The populations of India and China are roughly equivalent. But by the end of the century, UN projections suggest that the India’s population will be 1.5bn, compared with 1bn people in China. (Some other academic studies put China’s population in 2100 below 800m). But the Indian economy is just a fifth the size of China’s. So the wealth and power gap between the two countries will not close quickly.China’s population slump was hastened by its one-child policy, abandoned in 2015. But Chinese demographic trends are fairly typical for east Asia. The Japanese population peaked at 128.5m in 2010 and is now falling. The UN projects Japan’s population to be just 75m by the end of the century. The trends in South Korea are similar.The shrinking and ageing of populations is also taking place in parts of Europe. Italy’s population has already begun to fall. Even the US is slowing down. The latest census shows that America’s population is now 331.5m — but growing at its slowest rate since the 1930s. Demographers speculate that America, like Europe and east Asia, may soon be grappling with the problems of an ageing population.Overall, the world’s population is expected to keep growing from 7.8bn today to roughly 11bn by 2100 — with most of the growth in Africa and south Asia. The population of Africa alone is set to double between now and 2050. By sheer weight of numbers, countries such as Nigeria and Pakistan, will gain global influence. But they are also likely to remain relatively poor and politically unstable — with climate change worsening the prospects for much of sub-Saharan Africa. Some of the fastest population growth is taking place in already failing states such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Niger.Demography will continue to shape world politics, as it always has. But the historic connection between a growing and youthful population and increasing national power is giving way to something more complex. The most significant division may now be between rich and middle-income countries — where populations are static or falling — and poorer countries, where populations are expanding fast. Left unchecked, the natural corrective tendency would be mass migration from the Global South to Europe, North America and east Asia. But east Asians are currently much less open to immigration that the west. Even though Japan’s population could almost half by 2100, the Japanese are clinging to social homogeneity in preference to mass migration. China, which has a very ethnically-based view of citizenship, will probably make similar choices.By contrast — despite the current political rows about immigration in the US and the EU — the west is likely to remain comparatively open to migrants. Western societies will gain economic dynamism as a result. But they could also lose political stability — since the backlash against immigration has helped to drive the rise of politicians such as Donald Trump.The big question of geopolitics will be not who has the larger population — but whether China or the west have made the right call on mass migration.gideon.rachman@ft.com
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As the US has seemed to get a grip on its Covid-19 crisis, Canadians have been angered by a chaotic government response that has allowed a third wave to take hold and led to a delayed vaccine rollout.It is a contrast driven home by the fact that Canada’s case count, when adjusted for population, now exceeds that of the US for the first time since the pandemic began.“It’s such a reversal of how we felt as Canadians for the last four years of Donald Trump,” said David Coletto, chief executive of Abacus Data, a polling firm. “It’s a bizarro world for us to now look down south and say: ‘What do you mean they’re doing better than us?’”While there are hopeful signs that Canada has turned a corner in the fight against its steepest wave of Covid-19 cases, hospitals in the country’s largest city of Toronto are at full capacity and health officials are nervously watching the spread of a variant first identified in India.“The current plateau is very precarious,” said Dr Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of the Ontario government’s Covid-19 Science Advisory Table during a presentation Thursday. “This is a place where you can either start to drive down the pandemic . . . or if we see a change [in lockdown measures], as we have seen in the past we could see substantial exponential growth and really a continuation of the third wave or a fourth wave.”Cases of Covid-19 have risen right across Canada during its third wave but the hardest-hit provinces are Alberta in the west and Ontario, the most populous.Alberta introduced fresh restrictions last week after reporting a record high 2,430 new cases, with Ontario reporting 3,370 on Saturday. The seven-day average in that province peaked on April 17 at 4,370. Ontario also reported 900 patients in intensive care, its highest figure since the start of the pandemic.At least one Toronto hospital began moving patients to other hospitals in the past few days because of dwindling oxygen supplies.Ontario’s premier, Doug Ford, has in recent months overseen a shambolic pandemic response that has whipsawed for businesses and residents. After declaring the province’s second state of emergency in January, he then pushed for Ontario’s economy to reopen throughout February as cases and hospitalisations fell.The province allowed restaurants to reopen to patio dining in late March, only to reverse course two weeks later as the third wave took hold. Restaurants Canada, a lobby group, estimates that businesses spent C$100m (US$83m) preparing for the aborted reopening.Ford’s government declared a third state of emergency two weeks ago and imposed new social curbs, including shutting playgrounds and authorising arbitrary police stops of residents. A fierce backlash forced the premier to reverse both measures within days. “We got it wrong,” he told reporters while choking back tears.Health officials say the government’s continued focus on restricting outdoor activities such as golf, tennis and camping is misguided because workplaces and indoor spaces have seen the most outbreaks.Last week, after months of pleading from doctors, Ford’s government introduced a sick-pay plan that will compensate workers up to $200 a day for three days to encourage them not to return to work if they are unwell.Experts say the measure will not be enough, given the length of time it takes to recover from Covid-19 or to quarantine after an exposure. “It’s tokenism,” said Dr Ashleigh Tuite, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto. “Having three days is better than no days but if you want to do this in a way that would be meaningful, it needs to be a minimum of 10.”Ontario’s third wave has been made worse by a vaccine rollout that was slow to start and has been mired in finger-pointing between the province and Justin Trudeau’s federal government.Critics say Trudeau’s government was too slow to sign agreements with vaccine makers and did not move fast enough to secure domestic manufacturing capacity. The federal government has in turn accused provinces such as Ontario of leaving too many doses sitting in fridges.When Canada fell behind many other countries in administering doses earlier this year, it adopted a strategy similar to that of the UK in which second doses of vaccines are delayed by several months.As a result, 32 per cent of Canada’s population has received one dose, putting it in third place among major economies. However, only 2.9 per cent are fully vaccinated, compared with 21 per cent in the UK and 30 per cent in the US.“We’re seeing patients come into hospital quite sick after they’ve had their first dose and some of them well beyond the first two weeks when it becomes effective,” said Dr David Jacobs, chair of the Ontario Specialists Association and a vocal critic of Trudeau on social media.“So we’ve neither managed to get herd immunity with the volume of vaccines we’ve received and nor have we protected individuals with only one dose. Trudeau has failed on both fronts.” In recent days Ford has focused his criticism on Trudeau’s handling of Canada’s border controls, which allowed more contagious variants to gain a foothold. As of this week, 90 per cent of coronavirus cases in the country are the B.1.1.7 variant, which first emerged in the UK. Public Health Ontario has recorded three-dozen cases of the variant first detected in India.“Last week the Indian variant was reported in Ontario,” Ford said on Friday. “I can tell you it didn’t swim here.” On April 22 the Trudeau government bowed to pressure and suspended flights from India and Pakistan.Ford has since called on Trudeau to require anyone entering Canada by land from the US to face a three-day mandatory quarantine in a government-approved hotel, which is currently only required for people arriving by air. He pointed to reports of international travellers flying to US airports and either walking or taking taxis into Canada.Trudeau on Friday said his government was considering the request but suggested existing safeguards such as testing and self-quarantine rules were working.So far, it is Ford who is paying the steepest price politically for the third wave. A survey by Abacus Data found the share of Ontario’s population with a positive impression of Ford had fallen from 39 per cent in mid-April to 28 per cent last week.“For most of the pandemic people felt he was doing as good a job as he could with his ‘Aw shucks’, Uncle Doug approach,” said Coletto. “With the third wave, people started to ask why it got so bad and they’re more likely to blame him.”
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Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky is struggling to salvage a deadlocked peace process that was supposed to end a simmering conflict with Russian-backed forces in the country’s far east. Moscow’s massive military build-up on Ukraine’s eastern border and in occupied Crimea last month, followed by a partial troop withdrawal, was “from the Kremlin’s perspective a clear success”, Kurt Volker, former US special representative to Ukraine, wrote last week. Russia’s sabre-rattling left “Ukraine looking vulnerable, the west having demonstrably shied away from a military show of force and [Vladimir] Putin having strengthened his position” in the region.Zelensky, who was elected in 2019 on a promise to end the war in the Donbas region, has few options for breaking the deadlock, having failed to galvanise Kyiv’s western allies behind further economic sanctions against Russia and with Washington’s willingness to engage in a new diplomatic effort unclear.The former comedian is finding it hard even to get Putin to the table for peace talks alongside leaders of western countries backing Kyiv. Zelensky has been forced to acknowledge that the Russian president may not, for now, want peace in Donbas where 14,000 combatants and civilians have been killed — unless Kyiv agrees to terms politically unacceptable to any Ukrainian leader.A Ukrainian soldier near the front line in the town of Pisky, Donetsk © Aleksey Filippov/AFP via Getty ImagesA senior Ukrainian official admitted it had taken Zelensky two years to “face reality”. “Ukraine is committed to peace and is ready to do everything in its power to achieve such peace,” said an adviser to the president. “However, it takes two parties to want peace and Moscow’s recent belligerent behaviour cast significant doubt on its intent,” the adviser added.Zelensky told the Financial Times last week that he wanted the US and UK to join the so-called Normandy group of Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia to help break the impasse.He also called for changes to the Minsk peace accord negotiated by the Normandy four, which has not been implemented, with Kyiv and Moscow at loggerheads over terms and sequencing. But the Kremlin refuses to renegotiate the deal. “There is no way of changing it without, in fact, terminating it,” Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, said last week in response to Zelensky’s appeal in the FT.Paris and Berlin, meanwhile, fear walking away from the Minsk accord could provoke Moscow. Scrapping it would also make it harder to sustain EU sanctions against Russia.Andriy Yermak, Zelensky’s chief of staff, admitted in a television interview last week that Kyiv did not have a chosen diplomatic strategy.“It is necessary to continue working in all directions and in all formats,” he said. “Because in the end we do not know what format will bring peace to our land, when we can return all our territories, all our people and end the war,” Yermak added.In his first year as president, Zelensky scored a quick victory after negotiations in Paris with Putin, French president Emmanuel Macron and German chancellor Angela Merkel. He convinced Russia and its separatist proxies controlling two breakaway regions in Donbas, Ukraine’s industrial heartland, to exchange hundreds of prisoners of war. However, the process has since stalled and a fresh ceasefire agreed in July 2020 broke down earlier this year.In his first year as president, Volodymyr Zelensky, far left, scored a quick victory after negotiations with Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron and Vladimir Putin convinced Russia to exchange prisoners of war © Ludovic Marin/Pool/EPA-EFE/ShutterstockKyiv insists it is not required to grant permanent autonomy to the breakaway areas, fearing such a status would thwart its aspirations to join the EU and Nato. Moscow and its Donbas proxy “republics” have refused to yield control to Kyiv over the region and border before elections can be held as a step towards reintegration with Ukraine.Zelensky last month pushed for one-to-one talks with Putin, something he has avoided so far during the conflict. Putin declined Zelensky’s request to meet on the front lines and offered to discuss bilateral relations — not the Donbas war — if Zelensky came to Moscow. Putin added that on the issue of Donbas, Zelensky should hold talks with leaders of the Russian-backed breakaway republics, which the Ukrainian president refuses to do.“Putin demonstrated that he has not the least bit of desire to yield anything of interest to Zelensky let alone reach a peace agreement,” said Danylo Lubkivsky, director of the Kyiv Security Forum. “Only collective international pressure can force Putin to free these captive Ukrainian territories.”Zelensky hopes that a bigger role for US president Joe Biden, either alongside France and Germany or in bilateral talks with Putin, might help to nudge Moscow towards compromise.Russian forces take part in a military drill at the Opuk training ground not far from the town of Kerch, on the Kerch Peninsula in the east of the Crimea © Russian Defence Ministry/AFP via Getty Images“It’s strategically important to bring in Biden . . . America should be back at the table to restore Ukraine’s territorial integrity on two tracks, Crimea and Donbas — because this is the matter of global security,” Lubkivsky added.But Kyiv is unclear how forcefully Washington will commit to a new peace initiative. While Biden is a friend of Ukraine, his administration contains Obama-era officials who were sceptical of deeper US involvement six years ago. Secretary of state Antony Blinken will visit Kyiv on May 5.How the US and other western powers could help Ukraine regain its territorial integrity was a “vexing problem”, George Kent, a senior Department of State official, told the Kyiv Security Forum last week. The challenge, he said, was “to try to change Russia’s cost calculus and its behaviour”. One way the US could increase pressure on Moscow would be to extend US sanctions on dollar-denominated Russian debt issuance to the holding of such debt, Kent said. But changing Russian behaviour “is not easy. And no one has come up with a winning solution.”Sarah Lain, a Kyiv-based researcher at the Royal United Services Institute, said even just expressions of western solidarity with Kyiv were important. Many capitals now see the Ukraine-Russia conflict as “part of their Russia policy” rather than some bilateral dispute.“This is important for Zelensky’s standing,” she added.Maria Zolkina, an analyst at the Kyiv-based Democratic Initiatives Foundation, said “the only chance that Russia under Putin could return control over these territories at acceptable terms for Ukraine is if Russia finds itself under deep financial and technological constraints”.“But the problem of the west is that nobody will impose such sanctions, worrying that it will only increase Russia’s hostilities,” she added.Some Ukrainian analysts and officials are resigned to a long, frozen conflict and say Kyiv’s best strategy is to rebuild its economy and modernise its state. A Ukrainian official described it as the “West German strategy”: focus on outlasting Putin and forging peace after a new leadership comes to power in Russia, but from a position of relative strength.
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It was a pause just long enough for the astute Berkshire Hathaway investor to notice. Charlie Munger and Warren Buffett were sparring over whether Berkshire — the $631bn conglomerate they oversee — could ever be too large to manage. “Greg will keep the culture,” Munger, the 97-year-old vice chair, said in their back and forth. It was an observation that made Buffett very briefly miss a beat. Greg Abel is Berkshire’s 58-year-old vice chair who shepherds the company’s non-insurance investments. These include the Burlington Northern Railroad, wide-ranging manufacturing businesses and the utilities that he once ran as chief executive. He is also one of the two men most frequently tipped to one day take over from Buffett. While a succession plan has been drawn up by the board, the heir apparent has been kept from the wider world. It is a secret that has captivated Berkshire shareholders for at least a decade and is among the big questions that plague the company given Munger and Buffett’s ages. Buffett will celebrate his 91st birthday this August. On Saturday, investors were given their closest look yet at Buffett’s two top lieutenants: Abel and his colleague Ajit Jain. On stage, the pair sat side-by-side with Buffett and Munger at the year’s annual meeting, taking questions and defending their strategies. Abel spent much of his time making the case for Berkshire’s renewable energy investments and why the company did not need to adopt a shareholder proposal that would require it to report on measures its companies are taking on climate change.Ed Walczak, a portfolio manager at Vontobel, was among the investors who noticed the comment by Munger, which came late in the day’s three-and-a-half hours of questions. He said it was interesting that the response surfaced when neither Munger nor Buffett had been asked directly about who would take over.“The good news with Greg was he had the answers on his tongue. There was no question or ambiguity in his responses,” he said. “Let’s hope Charlie is right that the culture can be replicated.”Abel played a more high-profile role on Saturday, after a rather subdued showing the previous year when he joined Buffett at a sombre annual meeting and played a supporting role to his boss. This year he offered his thoughts on the inflation pressures affecting Berkshire, the takeover battle for rival rail operator Kansas City Southern, as well as how he spends his days at work. Greg Abel is one of the two men most frequently tipped to take over from nonagenarian Warren Buffett © Bloomberg “I’m trying to understand what our competitors are doing, what’s the fundamental risks around those businesses, how they’re going to get disrupted,” he said. “It always comes back to are we allocating our capital properly in those businesses relative to the risk?”James Shanahan, an analyst at Edward Jones, said Abel came across as a “very capable” executive and that the meeting benefited from both his and Jain’s presence. The pair offered insight into one area where investors have complained they are slightly starved of information: how the company’s underlying operating businesses are performing.Given the “Berkshire playbook, which does not have an active investor relations function, Greg’s sharing of information and transparency was a welcome change”, said Cathy Seifert, an analyst who covers the company at CFRA Research.Abel and Jain were promoted in 2018 to vice chairs of the company, cementing their status as frontrunners for the chief executive role and making them among the most visible Berkshire executives alongside Todd Combs and Ted Weschler, who help manage Berkshire’s investment portfolio. Buffett said at the time that the promotions were “part of a movement towards succession”.But Buffett’s succession plan has drawn fire from some big shareholders. BlackRock this year voted against Walter Scott, head of the board’s governance committee, citing “limited disclosure on succession planning,” among other things. Buffett’s outsized leadership role at Berkshire makes the succession risk even greater, BlackRock said.“There is this parlour game about succession,” Seifert said. “From Berkshire’s perspective the succession issue has been resolved and to paraphrase . . . they’ve got Greg.”Abel or one of his contemporaries will face challenges when they inherit Berkshire, even if the company is not immediately in flux. Buffett plans to donate the vast majority of his wealth, which is primarily held in shares of Berkshire Hathaway’s class-A stock. As those shares are converted to class-B and sold on to new investors, the group may face more pressure from its shareholders and potentially draw scrutiny from an activist, Seifert said.Buffett himself has conceded this point. In 2019 he said “there are no perpetuities” and Berkshire “needs to deserve to be continued in its present form”. Pressure is already building. Investors this year have increasingly voiced frustration with Berkshire’s efforts on climate change. A shareholder proposal on climate change disclosures garnered about 25 per cent of the votes cast, a figure that belies the widespread investor support for Berkshire to adopt the measures. Buffett’s class-A stock has 10,000 times the voting power of the class-B common stock that is more widely held by the general public. Big holders of that class-B stock, including BlackRock and Norges Bank, voted in favour of the proposal.“Remaining shareholders that voted in support of the resolution sent the company a strong message about the importance of acknowledging climate risk,” said Dan Bakal, a director at Ceres, a sustainable investor network.Shanahan added that Buffett’s stake distorted the outcome of the vote, but that over time the shift by the shareholder base would leave a mark on the company. “I think that he kicked the can down the road, but it’s inevitable that investors and other stakeholders will demand disclosure about progress.”Buffett spent part of Saturday defending how he had steered the company through the crisis and justifying why the Berkshire board advised stockholders to vote against two shareholder proposals. In characteristic fashion, he also joked about the two nonagenarians at the top.“People talk about the ageing management at Berkshire,” he said. “I always assume they’re talking about Charlie, when they say that. But I would like to point out that in three more years [when Munger turns 100], Charlie will be ageing at 1 per cent a year. No one is ageing less than Charlie.”Additional reporting by Patrick Temple-Westeric.platt@ft.com
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Manchester United fans stormed into the English football club’s stadium and on to the pitch on Sunday to protest against the team’s owners, the American billionaire Glazer family, and their previous plan to join the abandoned breakaway Super League.Fans at Old Trafford chanted, set off flares and unfurled banners calling for the Glazers to make an exit from Manchester Manchester. The New York-listed club has been approached for comment.Joel Glazer, the team’s co-chairman, apologised last month after being forced to cancel plans to form a breakaway Super League for an elite group of Europe’s best known football clubs, including Spain’s Real Madrid and Italy’s Juventus. Under the proposals, the founding clubs would have been guaranteed a place in the league every year, which goes against the tradition of European football in which clubs compete to take part in top-level competitions. Fans on the pitch at Old Trafford © Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty The protest comes ahead of a clash between Manchester United and rival Liverpool, which is owned by John Henry’s Fenway Sports Group, another American investor who apologised to fans for backing the Super League.The match has been delayed as a result of the fans’ actions, according to the Premier League. It had been due to start at 4.30pm UK time, and a Covid-19 compliance officer for the league will need to make sure it is safe to play.Fans remain angry that Manchester United backed the Super League. Their unhappiness with the Glazers goes back to the family’s acquisition of the club in 2005, a £790m leveraged buyout that saddled it with debt, costly fees and interest payments. The family also extract dividends from the club, a rarity in the business of football. Gary Neville, the former Manchester United player and an influential pundit, said on Sky Sports that it was the right time for the Glazers to sell the club, which had failed to win the Premier League since 2013.“It would be the honourable thing to do,” he said.Ahead of the match, Ed Woodward, Manchester United’s executive vice-chair, who announced that he would step down at the end of the year after the frosty reception to the Super League, apologised to fans for the team’s role in the abandoned project.“I can assure you that we have learned our lesson . . . and we do not seek any revival of the Super League plans,” he told supporters at a meeting on Friday.
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Some of Credit Suisse’s largest shareholders will attempt to remove the board member in charge of risk oversight, in protest at twin scandals that have cost the bank and its clients billions and tarnished its reputation.Andreas Gottschling — a 53-year-old German who has served as chair of the risk committee since 2018, earning a $1m annual fee — has come under fire after the Swiss bank lost at least $4.7bn from the collapse of family office Archegos.That came shortly after Credit Suisse had to suspend $10bn of supply-chain finance funds linked to controversial financier Lex Greensill, whose insolvency could cost the lender’s clients as much as $3bn. The bank has been forced to raise $1.9bn to shore up its capital and has cancelled investor payouts.David Herro, vice-chair of Harris Associates, which says it owns 10.25 per cent of the stock, said: “It’s the director’s job to represent the shareholders and to watch over management . . . Not only should Mr Gottschling be voted down, but I’m actually surprised in light of current events that he hasn’t already resigned.”Herro added he hoped the arrival of a new chair — former Lloyds Bank chief executive António Horta-Osório — on April 30 would lead to an overhaul of the board with more banking expertise recruited.Harris will be joined by the Ethos Foundation, which represents 200 Swiss pension funds that own between 3 and 5 per cent of the lender.“Our clients are really angry about what has happened,” said Vincent Kaufmann, chief executive of Ethos. “Other members of the risk committee have not been there very long so we will give them more of a chance. [Gottschling] took over in 2018 as chair. This now requires a change.”Norway’s oil fund also said on Sunday it would vote against the re-election of Gottschling, as well as five other board members including lead independent director Severin Schwan. The world’s largest sovereign wealth fund owned 3.43 per cent of the stock at the end of last year, according to its most recent disclosure.Credit Suisse and Gottschling declined to comment.Last week, influential proxy adviser Glass Lewis advised shareholders to vote against Gottschling. It said the Greensill and Archegos scandals “cast significant doubt on the efficacy of the board’s oversight of the company’s risk and control framework . . . Gottschling holds ultimate accountability”.However, its proxy peer ISS did not counsel investors to oppose the board member.Even with the backing of Norges, it is unclear if Harris and Ethos can gather enough support to unseat Gottschling. Last year, Herro led a public campaign backed by Ethos and hedge funds Silchester International Investors and Eminence Capital to remove chair Urs Rohner and keep ex-chief executive Tidjane Thiam in his role.He failed. Thiam stepped down, the chair was re-elected and continued until the end of his term. Rohner said at the time that other large shareholders, including BlackRock, had been more supportive of him and that the investor unrest was “not something which worries me a lot”.Gottschling started his career as a quantitative analyst at Deutsche Bank and has also worked for McKinsey and as chief risk officer of Erste Bank. He is also a director at Deutsche Börse.As a director, he was involved in multiple conference calls on the risks presented by Greensill last year. They were prompted in part by FT stories revealing that SoftBank was using Credit Suisse’s supply-chain finance funds to route hundreds of millions of dollars to struggling companies it owned.Ultimately, Gottschling sided with those who thought Greensill was a valuable entrepreneurial client with whom it was worth continuing business, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter. While the SoftBank circular financing scheme was stopped, the Greensill-linked SCF funds subsequently grew to $10bn. Gottschling was also a supporter of Lara Warner, Credit Suisse’s ex-chief risk and compliance officer who was removed this month.Another person close to the bank said Gottschling did not participate in calls about Greensill outside normal risk committee discussions and did not personally “back” him.Greensill and Archegos are not the only risk management failures during his tenure. In 2018, Credit Suisse lost about $60m after it was left holding a block of shares in clothing company Canada Goose when its stock plunged. A year later, the bank lost $200m when New York hedge fund Malachite Capital failed.Additional reporting by Richard Milne
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One resigned after being accused of raping a sex worker. Another is reportedly being investigated on suspicion of having sex with a 17-year-old. A third has been demoted after being accused of raping a 16-year-old in the 1980s. So goes the news of the past two weeks about three politicians in three legislatures in two countries, the US and Australia. Even by modern political standards, it has been a hectic time for sexual misconduct allegations.Coincidentally, I once worked in the same places as all these men. So I find myself asking, yet again, what it is about the world’s parliaments that make them seem so toxic — and why are they taking so long to change?I was a very junior reporter in the early 1980s when I was sent to cover the New South Wales parliament in Sydney, which until last week contained an MP named Michael Johnsen. He quit after reports that he had offered a prostitute $1,000 to have sex in his Parliament House office and sent her lustful texts during Question Time. Party bosses, already dealing with allegations Johnsen had sexually assaulted the woman, said his time was up. His alleged behaviour in parliament, as one leader put it, “would not pass the pub test”.Was anything like that happening when I was there? Very possibly, though I can say with confidence there was no sexting back then, on account of it being more than 20 years before the first iPhone went on sale.It was the same at the national parliament in Canberra, where I spent the last years of my twenties. Political journalism teaches much about human behaviour but what has happened over the past eight weeks in Canberra has been jolting. Christian Porter has been moved from his post as attorney-general after being accused of raping a woman more than 30 years ago. A former ministerial staffer has said she “woke up mid-rape” in parliament house two years ago after going there at night with a senior male colleague. Four other women said the same colleague assaulted them, and images emerged of another government aide masturbating on a female MP’s desk.Canberra is for once making bigger waves than Washington DC, where Florida congressman Matt Gaetz has been fighting allegations he had sex with an underage woman and broke federal sex trafficking laws. Having been a foreign correspondent in Washington in the Clinton years, this case seems more regrettable than remarkable, especially after the Trump years. Either way, we still don’t know the outcome of the inquiries into this latest string of allegations, all of which are denied by the three men involved. If any of these politicians do end up with a case to answer though, it will not be a surprise.For a start, workplaces do not get much more hostile than a parliament. By design, these places are full of active combatants eager to do each other in. But parliaments also share two of the traits most closely linked with high rates of sexual harassment in other workplaces: a lot more men than women, and what researchers call an “organisational climate” that effectively tolerates harassment. In other words, a leadership that fails to protect complainants, punish culprits or take complaints seriously. Some good has come as a result of the latest spate of allegations. In both Washington DC and Australia, there is a growing recognition that legislative bodies should address their historic lack of HR departments or the processes for dealing with misconduct that have been common in corporate life for years. These systems are not always perfect, nor, indeed, is the complaints scheme set up in the UK parliament after a wave of sexual misconduct allegations engulfed Westminster in 2017. But they do at least exist. Even better, conservative political leaders, in Australia at least, have flagged the need for the gender quotas their parties have long resisted, in order to even up hopelessly imbalanced parliaments. It’s about time. Men make up half the global population but hold 75 per cent of seats in global parliaments on average. In Australia’s lower House, the figure is 69 per cent. In the US it’s 73 per cent. Ultimately, change won’t happen until the people who decide what behaviour is acceptable look a lot more like the people who elected them.pilita.clark@ft.comTwitter: @pilitaclark
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The super-rich bought more homes in London than any other city in the world last year, according to new figures from estate agent Knight Frank, with buyers lured by the weak pound and the end of the UK’s Brexit saga. Buyers from around the world spent almost $4bn on so-called super-prime properties in the UK capital, which are classified as anything with a price tag of $10m or more. That is more than the total spent on super-prime homes in any other city last year, with London leapfrogging Hong Kong and New York, according to Knight Frank. Despite travel restrictions and the fact that the UK’s housing market was effectively locked down between March and May 2020, the number of sales above $10m in London last year was up on 2019, with Russian, French and Chinese buyers particularly active.The influx of money from overseas came as many London residents looked to the suburbs and the countryside in search of more space in the era of homeworking. “The story all last year was that people were moving out of cities. But quietly there were some big purchases taking place,” said Liam Bailey, global head of research at Knight Frank. In all, 201 super-prime properties were sold with an average price of $18.6m. In 31 of those transactions, buyers paid $25m or more. One of biggest sales of the year was the purchase of a £42m Belgravia mansion by British industrialist Sanjeev Gupta, revealed last month by the Financial Times.Buyers of $10m-plus homes in London and elsewhere are a narrow, international set, motivated and constrained by entirely different factors to those that move the mainstream housing market. Where they choose to buy signals as much about the relative attractiveness of a city’s tax regime or its safety as a place to store wealth as it does about livability.Despite the pandemic, the $19bn spent on super-prime properties across a dozen cities monitored by Knight Frank last year was just 5 per cent less than the 2019 total.London’s attractiveness has been burnished by the conclusion of Brexit negotiations and the fact that average prices in the most expensive postcodes are down around 20 per cent from a 2015 peak, said Bailey.Another large factor driving strong sales was the cheapness of the pound against the dollar and euro, he added. Super-prime sales in New York fell 48 per cent last year as wealthy buyers looked to sunnier coastal cities in the US such as Palm Beach, Los Angeles and Miami.  Trade in Hong Kong, which had the highest number of $10m-plus sales in 2018 and 2019, fell 27 per cent, hit by political uncertainty and tough coronavirus measures, said Bailey.“There’s still a cachet to a London residence even if you’re not in it for months at a time. If you’re super wealthy you will have a plane, a helicopter, a superyacht and your place in London,” said Nathalie Hirst, a London-focused buying agent whose clients are hunting homes with a budget of up to £100m.“I had clients predicting doom and gloom, Armageddon, but the property market has carried on,” she said.
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Sanjeev Gupta’s GFG Alliance is working on plans to raise new loans against parts of the group outside the UK, and on generating cash from an expedited sale of goods, as the metals tycoon battles to save his empire. The group is taking these measures to shore up its finances while it continues to look for alternative long-term funding after the collapse of its main lender. Greensill Capital filed for insolvency earlier this month, forcing GFG, which has $20bn in turnover and employs 35,000 people across four continents, to scramble for funding. The UK government rejected a direct plea by Gupta on Friday for more than £170m to help with working capital, as well as additional funds to cover operating losses in the short-term at the group’s British operations while it restructures its debt. The proposal suggested an investment vehicle be created to provide financial returns over a period of time. Concerns have been mounting over the fate of Liberty Steel, the alliance’s steelmaking business and the UK’s third-largest producer. GFG employs close to 5,000 people in Britain, of whom around 3,000 work in the steel industry. Ministers, however, said they were anxious about GFG’s opaque structure and fear that any handout could end up leaving the UK. “Our priority is the UK sites and jobs, not this corporate entity,” said one government figure. GFG has stepped up “self-help” measures to stave off financial collapse, according to people familiar with the situation. These include selling stocks of scrap metal and accelerating the sale of finished goods in order to help raise working capital. The company is also in talks to raise money against those assets outside Britain that have no debts against them. The cash raised could then be transferred back into the UK operations, one person said. GFG’s most valuable asset is believed to be InfraBuild, its Australian business.Another option being considered is raising money against some of the group’s UK operations. One sticking point, however, is understood to be securing permission from Greensill, which holds security over certain GFG assets. Complicating the situation is that administrators to Greensill are still trying to establish the identity of all the investors in the finance company and their position within the financing chain. GFG said Greensill’s difficulties had “created a challenging situation” but stressed the group had “adequate funding” to meet current needs. It said it was taking specific actions at its UK speciality steel businesses to “stabilise the business and improve cash flow”. A government spokesperson said it was closely monitoring developments around Liberty Steel and continued to engage closely with the company, the broader UK steel industry and trade unions. The Financial Times reported last week that ministers have drawn up contingency plans to take over the running of GFG’s British operations in the event of a collapse. The Treasury supported British Steel in the same way in 2019 before it was finally sold to a Chinese steel group. MPs on the business select committee (BEIS) are drawing up plans for an inquiry into the Gupta steel business in the UK, including his links to Greensill Capital, his connections with politicians and his support from the government. However, Tory MPs are understood to have vetoed any attempt by the committee to force David Cameron — who lobbied chancellor Rishi Sunak on Greensill’s behalf — to break his silence. The Beis committee is expected to announce its inquiry within a fortnight. The FT recently revealed that when Cameron was prime minister he gave Greensill, an ally of former cabinet secretary Jeremy Heywood, a desk in the Cabinet Office and a role as a “crown representative” adviser. Meanwhile, the Sunday Times reported that Cameron signed off a loan scheme in 2012 for NHS-linked pharmacies even though an official report rejected Greensill’s proposals — and that the Australian financier used his position to lobby 11 departments for private work. 
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The chief executive of Warner Music has called into question the financial sense of some of the high-priced back catalogue acquisitions of recent months, after a string of deals for songs by the likes of Fleetwood Mac and Barry Manilow signalled a modern-day gold rush in music rights.  “Both in 1849 and later in the Yukon, more people went broke than they did make money,” said Steve Cooper, chief executive of Warner, the world’s third-largest music company.  “When you . . . pay north of a certain multiple, you’re beginning to move into the world of finance that lacks a certain amount of discipline,” he told the Financial Times. “I praise the people that can figure out how to make money when they pay 25 times [a song’s historic annual royalties]. God bless.”  A combination of low interest rates and the rise of streaming has spawned a scramble for music rights. London-listed Hipgnosis has raised and spent £1.2bn on the rights to hit songs since it floated in 2018 and has been on a buying spree, having struck deals with Neil Young, Jimmy Iovine and Lindsey Buckingham already this year.  Hipgnosis has on average paid 14.76 times songs’ historic annual income to acquire some of the rights to hits by artists such as Barry Manilow, Fleetwood Mac and Bon Jovi. But founder Merck Mercuriadis has said that for some catalogues he had paid a multiple as high as 22, prompting scorn from some music executives and industry analysts.  “At the moment it’s a very favourable rate environment, and what we see is a lot of people moving money from traditional fixed income to . . . what they believe is fixed-income structure,” said Mr Cooper, referring to the predictable royalty payments that songwriting catalogues generate.  Bidders including private equity groups, specialist buyers and music labels have battled for the catalogues of older established artists, whose music has enjoyed a new lease on life thanks to streaming — effectively doubling the value of music rights over the past decade.  Warner Music itself has benefited from an industry-wide revival in music revenues as people shifted listening to paid subscriptions on Spotify and other audio streamers, generating a new source of income for music owners in a digital era. Mr Cooper’s comments came as Warner Music reported its highest quarterly revenue since the company was spun out of Time Warner in 2004.  The record label behind artists including Lizzo and Ed Sheeran reported that total revenue grew to $1.3bn in the three months to the end of December, up 6 per cent from a year ago. The company posted adjusted net income of $114m, down about 10 per cent, which Warner attributed to unfavourable changes in exchange rates on euro-denominated debt.  Digital revenue in the quarter, which includes streaming on Spotify as well as royalty fees from social media companies, grew 17 per cent from a year ago to $825m.  As streaming on Spotify matures, social media has been cast as the next frontier in how music labels can extract money from their songs. Warner Music in December signed a new licensing deal with TikTok, setting royalty payments when songs from Warner artists are played on the Chinese-owned social media app.
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Bobi Wine, the pop singer campaigning to become Uganda’s president in Thursday’s election, has lost count of the number of times he has been violently harassed since he threw his hat in the electoral ring. “I don’t know how many times I’ve been arrested. But, for the last 69 days, I’ve been arrested almost every day but detained only about 11 times. I’ve been shot at four times. “All this time it is my car that has been shot by live bullets deflating all the tyres. And one of the times the bullets shattered through my windscreen, I am only glad that I’m still alive,” he told the Financial Times as he campaigned in eastern Uganda. At 38, Mr Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, is the main challenger to President Yoweri Museveni, 76, a former rebel fighter who has been in power since 1986 when he overthrew Milton Obote, whose rule followed the brutal dictatorship of Idi Amin. Mr Wine styles himself the “ghetto president” after his tough upbringing in a Kampala slum. Mr Museveni, initially hailed as part of a new generation of leaders on the African continent, is reluctant to give up power, said critics. Already scores of people have been killed in violence ahead of the latest poll — and there are fears that this vote could go down as the most violent in Uganda’s history. Mr Wine said more than 100 people were gunned down by security forces in November. Mr Museveni said that 54 died in “senseless riots”. “Democracy is on trial across east Africa,” said Sarah Bireete, director of the Center for Constitutional Governance in Kampala. She cited John Magufuli’s victory in Tanzania last year, which was disputed by the opposition, adding that Ugandan democracy could “completely take the back seat” when the results are announced later this week. “This has been the most violent election in Uganda’s history because Museveni’s grip on power has been greatly challenged — especially by the young voters,” she said. EU electoral observers will not attend the vote after complaints that their advice has been ignored. Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has said her office is “deeply concerned by the deteriorating human rights situation” ahead of the vote. On Monday, Facebook shut some Ugandan government accounts for seeking to manipulate public debate ahead of the elections, drawing anger from Mr Museveni’s retinue. “Shame on foreign forces that think they can aid and plant a puppet leadership on Uganda,” his spokesman Don Wanyama wrote on Twitter. “You can take away our platforms, you won’t take away Museveni votes.” Late last month, electoral authorities suspended campaigning in several parts of the country citing coronavirus risks. Mr Wine, who last week urged the International Criminal Court to investigate human rights abuses in the run-up to the vote, was accused of breaking Covid restrictions, and slammed an Ugandan electoral commission for taking Mr Museveni’s “orders”. Mr Museveni tweeted that electoral authorities “bundled us with those violating rules”, stressing his willingness to oblige with the coronavirus rules “no matter how unfair it is to us”. Mr Museveni, who still retains strong support in rural areas, has presided over rapid economic growth, which slashed poverty. His campaign has underlined infrastructure works and a pledge to turn Uganda — whose economy has expanded tenfold since he first took power, propped up by foreign donors and lenders — into a middle-income country. Bobi Wine inside a police van in Luuka district, eastern Uganda: ‘For the last 69 days I’ve been arrested almost every day’ © Abubaker Lubowa/Reuters Riot police detain a supporter in Luuka: Bobi Wine has inspired the young by challenging a gerontocratic ruling elite © Abubaker Lubowa/Reuters Critics say he has taken advantage of incumbency and a strong party machinery to win successive elections, securing 60.8 per cent of the vote in 2016. In 2017, Uganda’s parliament lifted the 75-year age limit for the presidency, allowing him to stand again. Despite having a weaker party structure, Mr Wine, who was elected to parliament by a landslide in 2017, has inspired young people, particularly in urban centres, with a message of standing against a gerontocratic ruling elite. “Uganda is a young country, so it might seem right now that the demographics are in his favour, that may also be another reason why he represents a real threat,” said Jackie Asiimwe, a Kampala-based human rights lawyer, of the singer. More than 75 per cent of Uganda’s population is below the age of 30, with the landlocked country having one of the highest youth unemployment rates in sub-Saharan Africa, at 13.3 per cent, according to the World Bank. With Mr Wine promising more jobs and a return to the rule of law, Mr Museveni’s team has acknowledged his sway with younger voters. “The only people candidate Kyagulanyi was having are the young people who he was promising heaven even when he may be delivering hell,” Emmanuel Dombo, spokesman for Mr Museveni’s party told Uganda’s NBS Television. In the run-up to Thursday’s poll, Mr Wine has been campaigning in a bulletproof vest, starting each day with a prayer and “some shadow boxing to heal from the previous day and to prepare myself physically and mentally for the day ahead”. Last month, one of Mr Wine’s bodyguards died. Mr Wine claimed military police ran him over while the military police said the bodyguard fell from a car. Mr Wine last week sent his family to the US for their safety. Mr Wine’s ragga music — a mix of rap and reggae — often focused on politics. He sang: “Our leaders become misleaders . . . Freedom fighters become dictators.” Now he is calling on Uganda’s almost 18m registered voters “to come out massively to vote. We’re going to vote against the regime. It is going to be a protest vote.”
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US cities are losing their allure for renters, placing early signs of strain on the $1.2tn market in bonds backed by mortgages on apartment blocks. The coronavirus pandemic is still rolling through the global population and working from home remains the norm in many professions, pushing some city residents to pack up and leave. Data company Trepp has identified 50 so-called multifamily loans with a balance of $1.5bn where the occupancy rate of buildings dropped by 15 percentage points cent last year. Investors in commercial mortgage-backed securities, where loans backed by properties like apartment buildings are bundled together to underpin the sale of fresh debt, are watching closely. “Is this the tip of the iceberg?” said Manus Clancy, head of research at Trepp. “Our thought is that the number of loans struggling with low occupancy levels has to go up.” Trepp’s data underscores the risks in the commercial mortgage market. Despite investor exuberance spurred on by the prospect of a widely administered vaccine helping to push CMBS prices higher, it could still be some time before people return to working in office buildings in major cities where rents are steep. “In the big urban cities we are seeing occupancy sinking,” said Mr Clancy. “It is expensive to live in these places and right now you can’t do anything with the available amenities and you are not going to the office. Those were often the reasons people stayed in their apartments. It’s not surprising these things are dwindling.” The occupancy rate of the NEMA luxury San Francisco apartment building that sits opposite Twitter’s corporate headquarters dropped to 70 per cent in 2020. The $200m loan behind it, backing a single-asset CMBS forged in 2019, has recovered in value since the darkest point of the pandemic’s blow to global markets. But it remains well below pre-pandemic levels. The triple B rated tranche of the deal is priced at 95 cents on the dollar, having traded at a premium of more than 115 cents on the dollar early in 2020.  In New York, the 75-unit Chelsea29 apartment building on 29th street, boasting a roof terrace and fitness centre, has seen its occupancy drop to 75 per cent. It makes up just 2 per cent of a $1.3bn CMBS deal from 2019 that trades around 90 cents on the dollar, having clawed back ground since March. The fall in occupancy tracked by Trepp affects only 4 per cent of the loans that had reported numbers by late 2020. Analysts and investors have expected a drop-off in rent payments for some time given the dwindling fiscal stimulus support. But the strain comes alongside early signs that remaining tenants are also beginning to struggle to pay their rent. Analysts at the New York Fed warned of an “eviction cliff” in a white paper last month. The pandemic and related job losses “have limited residential and commercial renters’ ability to pay monthly expenses and landlords’ ability to keep current on mortgages,” the authors Marisa Casellas-Barnes and Jessica Battisto wrote. The National Multifamily Housing Association found that just over 75 per cent of households made a full or partial rent payment for the month by December 6, down almost 8 percentage points compared to the same point in the previous year. It marks the biggest year-on-year drop since the onset of coronavirus. The month ended with just shy of 94 per cent of tenants paying their rent. “A rising number of households are struggling to make ends meet,” said Doug Bibby, president of NMHC. “As the nation enters a winter with increasing Covid-19 case levels and even greater economic distress . . . it is only a matter of time before both renters and housing providers reach the end of their resources.”
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Bank stocks, stuck in investors’ doghouse for years, are back in favour, gaining further support after Senate run-off races last week that flipped control to the Democratic party. The sector suffered a rough 2020 as coronavirus lockdowns threatened to spark a rush of loan defaults, drawing out a period of marked underperformance since long-term interest rates began to fall in 2018, compressing profit margins. But US bank indices have outperformed the wider market by more than 25 percentage points since Pfizer and BioNTech announced on November 9 that their Covid-19 vaccine had proven highly effective. “The banks are going from the land of misfit toys, where they were in the summer, to being an area of interest for investors,” said Charles Peabody of Portales Partners, a research house specialising in banks. “People are picking up the phone when we call.” Investors are now hunting for stocks likely to feel the benefit of the vaccines-led rebound, while the prospect of the Democratic party controlling the White House and both chambers of Congress has also fuelled inflation expectations, triggering a rise in long-term interest rates that bodes well for banks’ profits. On Wednesday, after the Georgia results came in, US bank shares rose by almost 7 per cent, their biggest daily gain since November. The coronavirus crisis made a run of poor performance much worse. The KBW bank index lost a quarter of its value from late 2018 to late 2020, underperforming the S&P 500 by almost 50 percentage points. The valuation of the index, as measured by the price/earnings ratio, is now about half of the wider market’s, Autonomous research points out. Historically, the banks’ discount has averaged 25 per cent. “The underperformance of banks versus the overall market in 2020 was really extreme — we had to go back to 2000 to find something similar, and when that reversed, banks outperformed for eight years,” said Ben Mackovac, portfolio manager for the Strategic Value Bank Partners fund, which invests in community banks. The shift in sentiment is most visible in the attitude towards Wells Fargo, which has not yet recovered from its 2016 fake accounts scandal. Labouring under an asset cap imposed by regulators, the bank lost more than half its value early in 2020. Since November, however, it has received five upgrades from Wall Street analysts, and the shares have rallied almost 40 per cent. Rallies are visible outside the US, too. In Europe, an index tracking bank stocks on the benchmark Stoxx 600 index climbed 30 per cent in November, its best month since 2009. Gregory Perdon, co-chief investment officer at Arbuthnot Latham, said the bullish trade for banks is squarely on in Europe as long as US 10-year government bond yields stay at around 1 per cent or higher. One veteran investor in financials remains sceptical. Dave Ellison, the portfolio manager of Hennessey Funds’ large and small-cap financials funds, said that while banks have enjoyed a relief rally, very low rates and low growth are here to stay. “A 3 per cent cost of funds and a 6 per cent return on a mortgage? Those days aren’t coming back,” he said. “How do you grow customers? Not on price — the cost of capital is already zero. Not on service — you can’t compete with Apple or Google.” His portfolios are dominated by non-bank financial services companies, such as PayPal and Visa. But optimists point to several factors. Some think shareholders are in line to benefit from a rush of share buybacks from banks in the coming months — a step that the US Federal Reserve reopened for lenders in late 2020. Autonomous estimates that large US banks’ excess capital stands, on average, at 18 per cent of their market capitalisation, suggesting they could buy back a meaningful proportion of their own shares. Shares in smaller banks, meanwhile, could benefit from consolidation. In recent years, investors have reacted coolly to bank mergers, balking at the big premiums paid for targets. Increasingly, however, banks are doing low- or no-premium mergers of equals, on the model of the $28bn BB&T-SunTrust deal of 2019, which created Truist. In December, Huntington Bancshares agreed to buy TCF Financial for about $6bn, a small premium, taking the total volume of deals in 2020 to $32bn, in line with recent years’ totals, despite the virus. The final catalyst is rising interest rates and a steepening yield curve — a bigger gap between short and long-term rates. A steeper curve means higher profits, as it increases the difference between banks’ cost of funding and what they earn by lending. Both the release of pent-up economic demand as the pandemic eases, and supportive monetary policy, should in theory lead to a steeper curve. David Konrad, a banks analyst at the broker D.A. Davidson, said that with the economy emerging from the Covid-19 crisis, “it’s hard to imagine that in the back half of next year we don’t have a steepening curve”.  Until recently, analysts and investors say, bank stocks have been seen as a trade rather than a long-term play, except among the small fraternity of investors who specialise in the financial sector. For the group to take another leg up, they argue, requires generalist investors to buy in. For much of the last year, said Mr Konrad, the bank space has been “a knife fight among hedge funds fighting for positioning”. But a recent pick-up in yields on US government bonds has started to interest generalists, he added.
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Even at the moment of maximum uncertainty in March, some companies were prospering. As stock markets plunged, the likes of Moderna, Zoom Video and Peloton rode a wave of enthusiasm for businesses that might help us cope with, or exit, the pandemic. Those remain the winners of 2020. But a rebound in investor appetite means a broader range of stocks also ended the year higher, in spite of crippling lockdowns and huge death tolls. Back in June, we ranked companies based on dollars of equity value added. An updated list of those biggest winners appears in a chart below. That method gives outsized importance to companies that were already huge (not to diminish Apple’s extraordinary feat of adding almost $1tn of market capitalisation in the past 12 months). A ranking based on percentage gains in market value, on the other hand, gives too much weight to smaller companies that had big share price rises. So we have adopted a hybrid for our end-of-year rankings: a percentage gain with a floor of $10bn market value at the start of 2020, using data from S&P Global. Geographically, China outperforms the US, with 36 companies in the list to 30. Sectorally, it is technology heavy but with plenty of variety, from Argentinian ecommerce group MercadoLibre to Swedish private equity firm EQT. Many of the winners are beneficiaries of the pandemic; others look like bubble stocks. Some will turn out to be both. Tom Braithwaite 1. Tesla Sector: Automotive / HQ: Palo Alto, us 787% increase in market value $669bn end-2020 market value Some thought Tesla’s $75bn valuation at the start of 2020 was looking bubbly. By the time it entered the S&P 500 in December it was almost nine times higher — more than the next seven carmakers combined. Whether there is any logic to this is hotly debated. Tesla is expected to have produced about 500,000 cars over the year — half the amount Elon Musk projected in 2016. But it has now recorded a profit in five straight quarters, the industry shift to electric vehicles is unquestioned and investors believe its technology is years ahead of the competition. Patrick McGee in San Francisco 2. Sea Group Sector: home entertainment / HQ: SINGAPORE 446% increase in market value $102bn end-2020 market value South-east Asia’s most valuable company showed Covid resistance in all three of its core businesses: gaming, ecommerce and digital payments. Its Free Fire mobile game won millions of new players in 2020 while its Shopee platform has become the region’s most downloaded ecommerce app. Sea is now moving deeper into finance after recently obtaining a coveted digital banking licence in Singapore. But the company is still struggling to become profitable, with net losses widening in the third quarter. Mercedes Ruehl in Singapore © Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters 3. Zoom Video Sector: video conferencing / HQ: SAN JOSE, us 413% increase in market value $96bn end-2020 market value Zoom became almost synonymous with communication during the pandemic. In the space of a year, the number of customers with at least 10 employees using the service jumped nearly fivefold. It will be a tough act to follow. Big companies such as Google, Microsoft and Cisco have Zoom in their sights, and the large number of small customers on month-to-month contracts has left it vulnerable to a fall-off when the pandemic eases. Richard Waters in San Francisco 4. Pinduoduo SECTOR: ECOMMERCE / HQ: SHANGHAI, CHINA 396% increase in market value $218bn end-2020 market value The ecommerce group’s rise was turbocharged by the pandemic as hundreds of millions of Chinese shoppers turned to their smartphones rather than malls. The economic downturn raised demand for Pinduoduo’s ultra-cheap goods, with revenues up 70 per cent in the first nine months of the year. It also swung closer to profitability as it reined in discounts — and an antitrust investigation into its chief rival Alibaba also helped. Ryan McMorrow in Beijing © China Daily/Reuters 5. BYD SECTOR: AUTOMOTIVE / HQ: SHENZHEN, CHINA 359% increase in market value $78bn end-2020 market value Chinese electric carmaker BYD recovered rapidly from a coronavirus-induced slump in sales after the July release of its sporty Han sedan, a competitor to Tesla’s popular Model 3. It is the first BYD model to use the company’s recently developed “blade” battery, a smaller and more energy-dense power pack. The sales bump has helped the Warren Buffett-backed group, an early frontrunner in the world’s largest electric vehicle market, regain ground lost to Tesla and Chinese start-ups. Christian Shepherd in Beijing. 6. CrowdStrike Sector: cyber security / HQ: Sunnyvale, us 357% increase in market value $47bn end-2020 market value Demand for CrowdStrike’s cyber security software has boomed as companies set up remote workforces and accelerated plans to move data to the cloud. The company, which floated in June 2019, made its name after uncovering Russian hackers inside the servers of the US Democratic National Committee around the 2016 election. Another boost came in December with news of a state-backed hacking campaign targeting US federal agencies and the private sector. The hackers attempted to target CrowdStrike but were unsuccessful, while rival FireEye was compromised. Hannah Murphy in San Francisco 7. Shanxi Xinghuacun Fen Wine Factory Co Sector: BEVERAGES / HQ: SHANXI, china 346% increase in market value $50bn end-2020 market value A Chinese spirits maker known for its broad product line, Xinghuacun Fen benefited from China’s post-coronavirus recovery. The company, once a regional player in the northern province of Shanxi, has also benefited from expanding nationally. In Shanghai, one of the nation’s most competitive liquor markets, Xinghuacun Fen reported a more than 50 per cent jump in revenue in 2020. Sun Yu in Beijing 8. LONGi Green Energy Technology Sector: ENERGY / HQ: XI’AN, CHINA 296% increase in market value $53bn end-2020 market value The world’s largest producer of silicon solar wafers had a strong 2020 on expectations that China will rapidly increase the amount of solar energy installations to meet its climate change commitments. In December, President Xi Jinping said the country would grow the share of non-fossil fuels in its primary energy consumption to 25 per cent by 2030, with a target of more than 1,200 gigawatts of wind and solar capacity — compared with just over 200GW of cumulative solar energy capacity at the end of 2019. Henry Sanderson in London 9. Pinterest Sector: social media / HQ: San Francisco, us 291% increase in market value $41bn end-2020 market value The online pinboard service’s popularity has soared during lockdown as entertainment-starved people turned to its platform, drawing advertisers as brands took advantage of the ecommerce boom. Monthly average users were up nearly 40 per cent year on year in the company’s latest quarter; revenues almost 60 per cent. The world’s most wholesome social media network also managed to steer clear of controversies around hate speech that have plagued rivals such as Facebook and Twitter. Hannah Murphy © Michael Nagle/Bloomberg 10. Twilio Sector: TECHNOLOGY / HQ: San Francisco, us 279% increase in market value $51bn end-2020 market value Twilio’s rapid growth has drawn little public fanfare. The San Francisco-based company’s application programming interfaces, or APIs, plug into the computer code behind popular apps such as Instacart and Uber, allowing them to communicate with customers through text and voice. Demand has risen during the pandemic, leading to 51 per cent revenue growth in the first nine months of 2020 compared with the previous year, though it is still losing hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Miles Kruppa in San Francisco 11. CATL Sector: auto parts / HQ: Ningde, China 271% increase in market value $125bn end-2020 market value A rebound in sales of electric cars in 2020 helped propel Chinese battery maker Contemporary Amperex Technology into the country’s Nasdaq-style ChiNext exchange. CATL supplies lithium-ion batteries to some of the largest car companies in the world, including Daimler and BMW, and has about half of the Chinese battery market. Its batteries were used in some Tesla electric cars made in Shanghai. CATL has its sights on the European market and is building a battery factory in Germany. But it faces stiff competition from Korea’s LG Chem, which overtook CATL last year to become the world’s largest battery maker. Henry Sanderson © Square, Inc 12. Square Sector: DIGITAL PAYMENTS / HQ: SAN FRANCISCO, us 265% increase in market value $98bn end-2020 market value Square’s core business providing point-of-sale tech to small merchants has taken a back seat during the pandemic, with its side hustle Cash App becoming very much the main event. Like PayPal’s Venmo, the app allows for instantaneous transfer of cash between people and businesses. But its additional features — for banking, trading and crypto — have meant that, while it has only half the users of Venmo, analysts estimate Cash App makes a lot more money from each of them. In the third quarter Cash App generated $2.1bn in revenue, a fivefold increase on the same period the previous year and 70 per cent of Square’s $3bn total. Dave Lee in San Francisco 13. China Tourism Group Duty Free SECTOR: CONSUMER DISCRETIONARY / HQ: BEIJING, CHINA 239% increase in market value $84bn end-2020 market value China’s largest operator of duty-free shops has reported a sharp rebound in business since the country’s pandemic was brought under control. It more than doubled net income in the third quarter of 2020 following a loss in the first, as global travel restrictions prompted Chinese tourists to travel domestically. It also profited from a new policy that lifted the buying quota for Chinese duty-free shoppers. Sun Yu © Imaginechina Limited/Alamy 14. WuXi Biologics SECTOR: HEALTHCARE / HQ: WUXI, CHINA 230% increase in market value $54bn end-2020 market value The pharmaceuticals contract research and manufacturing group has benefited from coronavirus-induced shutdowns of competitors outside China and expanded its overseas presence during the pandemic. WuXi Biologics, a unit of the parent group WuXi AppTec, has completed a new manufacturing facility in Ireland and signed leases to operate at least four drug development, testing and manufacturing facilities in Germany and the US. Christian Shepherd in Beijing and Wang Xueqiao in Shanghai 15. Xiaomi Corporation SECTOR: TECHNOLOGY / HQ: BEIJING, CHINA 227% increase in market value $108bn end-2020 market value Huawei’s horrible year has been a windfall for China’s other big smartphone maker. With Washington’s Huawei sanctions spurring Android users around the world to turn to Xiaomi’s low-cost devices, it has risen above Apple to take third place in global smartphone market share. Its stock was added to Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index this summer and it crossed the $100bn market cap mark in December. Ryan McMorrow 16. Snap SECTOR: SOCIAL MEDIA / HQ: SANTA MONICA, US 226% increase in market value $75bn end-2020 market value Snap was hit by a freeze in the digital advertising market when the pandemic first took hold but the social media group has since recovered to post record revenues as users flocked to the service during lockdowns and marketers returned. The company also benefited from an advertiser boycott of larger rival Facebook. Hannah Murphy 17. Chewy Sector: ECOMMERCE / HQ: FLORIDA, US 221% increase in market value $37bn end-2020 market value Surging pet ownership means hungry dogs and cats: more than 70 per cent of Chewy’s sales now come from customers enrolled in automatic replenishment of food and other essentials. Investors see greater opportunity still in the online retailer pushing into the wider pet economy: its tele-health offering, Connect With A Vet, was launched in October. This kind of move, and building out its own delivery logistics, has meant an overall revenue increase — up 45 per cent year on year in the third quarter — was swamped by growing costs. But at 18 per cent market penetration, Chewy still has plenty of pet-loving homes to reach. Dave Lee Jeff Green, chief executive of The Trade Desk © Ann Johansson/FT 18. The Trade Desk SECTOR: TECHNOLOGY / HQ: VENTURA, US 221% increase in market value $38bn end-2020 market value A year ago The Trade Desk was a promising adtech business that was smaller than the large advertising groups it serves. By the end of 2020 its market capitalisation exceeded those of WPP, Omnicom and Publicis combined. The company provides software that acts as a brokerage platform for buyers of digital advertising, taking a cut from transactions and earning fees from supplying data. Analysts estimate it generated a relatively modest $807m in revenue in 2020; investors are betting on a boom in automated digital advertising that spreads to televisions, podcasting and billboards. Alex Barker in London 19. Chongqing Zhifei Biological Products Sector: pharmaceuticals / HQ: Jiangbei, China 211% increase in market value $35bn end-2020 market value In early December, Chongqing Zhifei Biological Products became China’s fourth pharmaceutical group to start final stage safety and efficacy trials for a Covid-19 vaccine. The vaccine — developed by Anhui Zhifei Longcom Biopharmaceutical, a subsidiary of Chongqing Zhifei, jointly with state-run think-tank the Chinese Academy of Sciences — uses part of a protein on the outside of the virus that causes the disease to prime the immune system. Early-stage trial results published in late December, but not yet peer reviewed, found no or mild adverse reactions in most of the 950 participants and antiviral antibodies in more than 95 per cent. Christian Shepherd 20. DocuSign Sector: INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY / HQ: San Francisco, us 212% increase in market value $41bn end-2020 market value A few months of working remotely caused organisations to accelerate their digital plans by up to four years, estimated Dan Springer, chief executive of DocuSign. The e-signature company, which enables users to automate contract management, took advantage of the acceleration by expanding its product range. Its artificial intelligence tools sift through documents to flag risks, and the company will soon offer the ability to notarise transactions entirely over video. “When customers go from paper-based processes to digital agreement processes, they do not go back,” Mr Springer said. Patrick McGee 21. M3 SECTOR: technology / HQ: Tokyo, japan 210% increase in market value $64bn end-2020 market value Sony-backed M3 operates an online portal for medical professionals and is now the 15th most valuable company in Japan, with a $62bn market capitalisation on just $1.3bn in annual revenue. Shares have nearly tripled over the past year as a Covid-19 surge in online healthcare stocks coincided with Japan’s temporary easing of restrictions on remote medical care. M3 started in 2000 with investment from Sony subsidiary So-net. After rejecting calls from activist Daniel Loeb to sell its 34 per cent stake, Sony now has a tie-up with M3 to combat the pandemic. Kana Inagaki in Tokyo © Bloomberg 22. Shopify Sector: Ecommerce / HQ: Ottawa, Canada 201% increase in market value $139bn end-2020 market value Amazon’s stock may be up by almost two-thirds in 2020 but its fast-growing Canadian rival has almost tripled in value to nearly $150bn. More than 1m merchants, from corner shops to Heinz, use Shopify’s technology for online storefronts, checkout systems and connections to Instagram and TikTok. It even managed to show it could make a quarterly profit. Still, investors are encouraging Shopify to keep building its own logistics network and help sellers to match Amazon’s rapid deliveries. Tim Bradshaw in London 23. Meituan SECTOR: ECOMMERCE / HQ: BEIJING, CHINA 194% increase in market value $224bn end-2020 market value China’s “everything app” was hit hard by lockdown, as authorities closed restaurants and consumers shied away from food delivery. But Meituan bounced back in the second half of 2020, with growth at its food delivery business making up for sluggish travel sales. Investors are betting better days lie ahead with the end of the pandemic potentially in sight and Meituan continuing to take food delivery share from Alibaba’s Ele.me. It now boasts 477m annual users. Ryan McMorrow MercadoLibre has rapidly grown to become Latin America’s biggest company © Jonne Roriz/Bloomberg 24. MercadoLibre Sector: ECOMMERCE / HQ: BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA 194% increase in market value $84bn end-2020 market value Thanks to the burst in online shopping since the outbreak of Covid-19, MercadoLibre (or “free market” in Spanish), has become the biggest company in Latin America. The region’s answer to China’s Alibaba is now worth $83bn on Nasdaq having more than doubled its value over the past year. Chief executive and founder Marcos Galperín told the FT that his company would keep growing for at least another decade, given that the digital transformation of retail is at an early stage in Latin America. Benedict Mander in Buenos Aires 25. Adyen SECTOR: PAYMENTS / HQ: AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS 189% increase in market value $71bn end-2020 market value It would be easy to put Adyen’s 2020 success down to rival Wirecard’s demise. But that would ignore the €55bn Dutch payment processor’s continued rise in one of capitalism’s most hotly contested spaces. Its technology, which allows customers such as Nike to use one payment platform across all their global storefronts, has led to rapid top-line growth and 60 per cent ebitda margins — a rare combination in a world of lossmaking tech hopefuls. Jamie Powell in London © Imaginechina Limited/Alamy 26. Alibaba Health Information Technology Sector: healthcare / HQ: Hong Kong, china 186% increase in market value $40bn end-2020 market value Selling pills online has increased Ali Health’s annual shopper count to 65m and brought year-on-year sales growth of more than 70 per cent for several quarters. In the six months to September 30, revenue grew 74 per cent to Rmb7.1bn. The pharmaceutical arm of Alibaba’s business has also benefited from returning customers buying more frequently and an expansion of its stock of medicines. Ryan McMorrow 27. Samsung SDI Sector: electronics / HQ: yongin, South Korea 182% increase in market value $39bn end-2020 market value Booming demand for TVs, tablets and other mobile devices has boosted this specialist maker of electronics for semiconductors and display panels. Samsung SDI also makes batteries for electric vehicles as well as mobile devices and has reported growing orders for EV batteries. Its EV market share rose from 3.7 per cent in 2019 to 6.2 per cent in the first nine months of 2020. Operating profit was up more than 60 per cent in the July-September period on a year earlier. Song Jung-a in Seoul © SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg 28. Kakao Sector: technology / HQ: jeju, South Korea 182% increase in market value $31bn end-2020 market value As operator of South Korea’s most popular chat app, Kakao has done well from surging demand for mobile shopping, games, and other online entertainment during the pandemic. Operating profits rose nearly 50 per cent in the January-September period from a year earlier and its large user base has facilitated expansion into markets including online finance and mobility. Song Jung-a 29. Luzhou Laojiao Sector: CONSUMER STAPLES / HQ: LUZHOU, CHINA 178% increase in market value $51bn end-2020 market value Among China’s biggest makers of premium liquor, Luzhou Laojiao’s history stretches back more than four centuries. Helped by the nation’s post-pandemic economic recovery, the company enjoyed a 14.5 per cent rise in revenue in the third quarter of 2020 following a drop in the first. Stronger demand for high-end baijiu, a must-have firewater at business banquets, lifted average prices of the distiller’s flagship Guojiao 1573 brand by almost a fifth. Sun Yu 30. LG Chem Sector: chemicals / HQ: Seoul, South Korea 174% $55bn increase in market value LG Chem controls about a quarter of the electric vehicle battery market, up from 10 per cent in 2019. It supplies many of the global automakers and has overtaken China’s CATL to become the top EV battery maker by market share. Its stock is trading near a record high, up about 250 per cent from a three-year low in March. Song Jung-a 31. East Money Information SECTOR: FINANCIAL SERVICES / HQ: SHANGHAI, CHINA 169% increase in market value $41bn end-2020 market value A surge in online trading following China’s post-pandemic market boom has given a lift to the nation’s leading digital investment platform. East Money Information more than doubled its revenue and tripled its net income in the third quarter of 2020 from a year before, as China’s equity market rally boosted commission income for stock trading and mutual funds. Sun Yu 32. Aier Eye Hospital Group  SECTOR: HEALTHCARE / HQ: CHANGSHA, CHINA 169% increase in market value $47bn end-2020 market value Aier Eye Hospital, the operator of China’s largest network of private ophthalmic clinics, has tapped into the country’s growing demand for eye surgery due to an ageing population and a government campaign to reduce short-sightedness in schoolchildren. These trends have brought the group, which mainly provides corrective laser surgery, eye checks and cataract operations from its more than 600 hospitals, steady revenue growth and stable profit margins since 2015. Christian Shepherd in Beijing and Wang Xueqiao in Shanghai 33. Datadog Sector: technology / HQ: new york, us 168% increase in market value $30bn end-2020 market value Fast-growing software company Datadog, which offers monitoring and analytics tools for the cloud, emerged from relative obscurity to become one of the top-performing IPOs of 2019. In 2020 it reached new heights, thanks to an investor push into cloud-based software companies. It has touted new partnerships with Google and Microsoft, two of the largest cloud data storage providers. Datadog’s next challenge: showing it can keep up its 61 per cent year-on-year revenue growth while becoming profitable. Miles Kruppa 34. Kingsoft SECTOR: TECHNOLOGY / HQ: Beijing, china 167% increase in market value $29bn end-2020 market value While Microsoft and Google have been fighting for share in the overseas office software market, China has strived to create homegrown champions. Under Beijing’s drive to ensure all software used in critical infrastructure is “autonomous and controllable”, Kingsoft has become the default provider for government offices, state-owned enterprises and banks. The company recently launched more online collaboration tools, taking full advantage of Google’s absence from the Chinese market. Yuan Yang in Beijing 35. Roku Sector: technology / HQ: San Jose, US 167% increase in market value $42bn end-2020 market value This maker of video dongles and connected TV software was already having a good year as people found themselves at home and looking for entertainment. But November’s results silenced any remaining doubters. Even as Netflix’s growth waned in the third quarter, Roku accelerated, logging 14.8bn streaming hours, up 54 per cent year on year. A deal with AT&T in December to carry HBOMax will bring Wonder Woman into Roku’s 46m living rooms. Investors who bought at March lows of below $60 will have quintupled their money. Tim Bradshaw © Roy Liu/Bloomberg 36. JD.com SECTOR: ECOMMERCE / HQ: BEIJING, CHINA  165% increase in market value $136bn end-2020 market value When China’s lockdown hit, JD.com was the only ecommerce group reliably delivering packages, bringing hordes of new shoppers to its platform. It has since built on that lead, while expanding into far-flung cities and villages with ultra-cheap shopping app Jingxi. Already listed in the US, the company added a Hong Kong listing this summer and unlocked value by spinning off a number of businesses. JD Health, first to list, is now valued at roughly $60bn in Hong Kong. The coming year may bring the IPOs of JD Digits and JD Logistics. Ryan McMorrow 37. SF Holding SECTOR: DELIVERY LOGISTICS / HQ: SHENZHEN, CHINA 160% increase in market value $61bn end-2020 market value China’s second-largest courier company is among the biggest beneficiaries of an online shopping boom that has persisted even after lockdowns lifted. Fierce price wars among the country’s logistics groups have forced it to lower fees and offer more low-cost services but revenues still grew more than a third to Rmb109bn in the first three quarters of 2020. In November, when the country’s “Singles Day” online shopping festival takes place, SF Express delivered more than 900m packages, up almost 60 per cent on the year before. Yuan Yang 38. Rongsheng Petrochemical Sector: INDUSTRIALS / HQ: HANGZHOU, CHINA 155% increase in market value $29bn end-2020 market value Rongsheng is the listed arm of Zhejiang Rongsheng Holding Group, one of the biggest players in China’s petrochemical industry. The company is a major buyer in the crude oil market, where prices have collapsed in 2020. It is also the majority owner of Zhejiang Petrochemical, a vast complex that was built in 2019 and combines refining and petrochemicals. In 2019, Saudi Aramco signed an agreement to acquire a stake in the company. The shares of Rongsheng are up 101 per cent year to date. Thomas Hale in Hong Kong 39. Shenzhen Mindray Bio-Medical Electronics SECTOR: HEALTHCARE / HQ: SHENZHEN, CHINA 150% increase in market value $79bn end-2020 market value The medical monitors, ventilators and virus reagents that Mindray produces have been in high demand during the pandemic, prompting a steep rise in profit. But after the world returns to normal, will the company keep growing? It has been developing new businesses and in October established an animal-medicine subsidiary to produce veterinary equipment. Qianer Liu in Shenzhen and Nian Liu and Yuan Yang in Beijing 40. T-Mobile US SECTOR: TELECOMS / HQ: Bellevue, us  150% increase in market value $167bn end-2020 market value Despite a turbulent year in which flamboyant chief executive John Legere left after sealing a $59bn merger with rival Sprint, and with SoftBank quickly selling down its large Sprint stake, critics’ predictions that T-Mobile would lose market share were confounded. Third-quarter results in November revealed it had pushed its customer base above 100m and that it was about a year ahead of schedule in integrating Sprint. New chief executive Mike Sievert argued the company was “profitably outpacing” rivals in the 5G race. Nic Fildes in London 41. Vestas Wind Systems SECTOR: ENERGY / HQ: AARHUS, DENMARK 142% increase in market value $48bn end-2020 market value Clean energy had a great year in 2020, and Vestas, the world’s largest maker of wind turbines, has seen revenues and profits rise. The Danish manufacturer’s revenues have grown 50 per cent over the past two years as volumes increased, even though the price of wind turbines fell. The growth has put Vestas in expansion mode: the company recently retook control of its offshore wind subsidiary (which had been spun out as a joint venture in 2013), and is expanding its work in project development. Leslie Hook in London 42. Fortescue Metals Group Sector: mining / HQ: Perth, Australia 141% increase in market value $56bn end-2020 market value One of the year’s biggest beneficiaries of the soaring iron ore price, which hit a nine-year high in December, has been Fortescue Metals Group — and its founder and chairman Andrew Forrest. Huge Chinese demand for the steelmaking ingredient has turbocharged profits at the Australian miner, allowing it to pay $3.7bn dividends and adding to the already considerable fortune of Mr Forrest, who owns 36 per cent of the company. Neil Hume in London 43. Foshan Haitian Flavouring and Food SECTOR: CONSUMER STAPLES / HQ: FOSHAN, CHINA 139% increase in market value $100bn end-2020 market value China’s largest soy sauce maker profited from the nation’s post-lockdown consumption recovery, with net income up more than 20 per cent from the year before in both the second and third quarters of 2020. The strong performance was helped by Haitian’s nationwide distribution network, which covers more than 90 per cent of China’s 2,000 counties. Sun Yu 44. EDP Renewables SECTOR: ENERGY / HQ: MADRID; SPAIN 138% increase in market value $24bn end-2020 market value As one of the world’s leading renewable energy companies, EDPR is primed to benefit from both US president-elect Joe Biden’s $2tn climate plan and the EU’s Green Deal. EDPR stands out as a “pure play” renewables group with 11.5 gigawatts of installed wind and solar capacity in the US, Europe and Brazil. Energias de Portugal, its parent company, has invested more than €20bn in renewables since 2006 and plans to lift green energy generation from below 70 per cent of its total capacity to 90 per cent by 2030. Peter Wise in Lisbon 45. Okta Sector: technology / HQ: San Francisco, US 135% increase in market value $33bn end-2020 market value The maker of cloud-based security and identity management technology has more than doubled its share price in 2020 and beaten Wall Street forecasts for three quarters in a row since the pandemic began. News this month of one of the biggest and most sophisticated hacking campaigns ever — which exploited widely used software to spy on governments and businesses around the world — will have only reminded IT managers that good access management tools are vital. Tim Bradshaw 46. StoneCo SECTOR: PAYMENTS / HQ: Sao Paulo, brazil 134% increase in market value $26bn end-2020 market value As Wirecard collapsed, payments upstart StoneCo was flying as it shrugged off the Covid-19 turmoil to almost double its market capitalisation in 2020 to $26bn. Founded in 2012, the start-up floated on Nasdaq six years later with backing from investors including Warren Buffett. Focusing on small and medium-sized retailers in Brazil, Stone has thrown down the gauntlet to the country’s big banks by expanding into other services such as credit. Michael Pooler in São Paulo 47. Wuliangye Yibin SECTOR: consumer staples / HQ: yibin, china 134% increase in market value $174bn end-2020 market value This Chinese liquor maker managed to maintain double-digit revenue growth throughout the pandemic, weathering the external shock by expanding its group buying business and online sales. Wuliangye’s strong brand awareness among China’s business community, the main source of demand for the country’s spirit of choice, baijiu, helped sales recover faster than many of lesser-known rivals following the end of nationwide lockdowns. Sun Yu 48. RingCentral Sector: technology / HQ: Belmont, us 134% increase in market value $34bn end-2020 market value Zoom became a verb in 2020 and millennials prefer texting, but RingCentral shows that businesses still need telephones — even if only in the cloud. RingCentral’s main product turns a physical phone into an app, though its video and corporate messaging tools have also been updated. Founded in 1999, RingCentral is now enjoying the latest round of dotcom mania: working from home. Though it remains unprofitable, its shares have doubled this past year, thanks to a $1bn-a-year subscription business that is growing at nearly 30 per cent a year. Beating analyst estimates in November reassured shareholders there would be life after Zoom. Tim Bradshaw 49. BeiGene SECTOR: PHARMACEUTICALS / HQ: BEIJING, CHINA 132% increase in market value $23bn end-2020 market value The cancer treatment specialist is likely to become the first Chinese pharmaceutical company with three listings — in New York, Hong Kong and soon, if approved, Shanghai. Established a decade ago, BeiGene achieved total revenue of $209m for the first three quarters of 2020 after two self-developed products hit the market. And despite never reporting a profit, its global development footprint and bounteous research and development lines have made the company a hot stock. Yuan Yang 50. Siemens Gamesa SECTOR: RENEWABLE ENERGY / HQ: BILBAO, SPAIN 132% increase in market value $28bn end-2020 market value The world-leading wind turbine manufacturer enjoyed a steady climb during the pandemic, benefiting from governments’ plans to focus economic recovery plans on renewable energy. Following several legal disputes between the main shareholders, Siemens in February cemented control of the business, buying out Iberdrola’s 8.1 per cent stake for €1.1bn to take its own holding to 67 per cent. Daniel Dombey in Madrid 51. Nexon Sector: technology / HQ: Tokyo, japan 130% increase in market value $27bn end-2020 market value The South Korean gaming group founded by billionaire Kim Jung-ju has benefited from global lockdowns and school closures. Downloads of KartRider Rush+, the mobile version of its hit racing game, have topped 20m since its mid-May launch. Despite a delay to the mobile launch of another popular title Dungeon & Fighter in China, Nexon churned out record revenues of ¥79.4bn ($766m) for the third quarter. Sales in South Korea increased 114 per cent from a year earlier. The stock has also been supported by plans for a ¥100bn share buyback over the next three years. Kana Inagaki 52. Jiangsu Yanghe Brewery SECTOR: CONSUMER STAPLES / HQ: Suqian, CHINA 127% increase in market value $54bn end-2020 market value The Chinese liquor maker has made significant progress in moving up the value chain following its successful launch of several middle- to high-end products in the second half of 2020. The efforts helped raise the company’s revenue 8 per cent in the third quarter of following four consecutive quarters of decline. Sun Yu 53. Zalando Sector: ECOMMERCE / HQ: BERLIN, GERMANY 125% increase in market value $28bn end-2020 market value From locked-down fashion mavens to shoppers avoiding crowds, pandemic-era retail was such a boon for Zalando that it raised its profit forecast twice in 2020. Europe’s largest online fashion retailer now expects full-year earnings before interest and tax to be more than double the €166m it reported previously. The Berlin-based group is investing €50m, including waiving commissions until March, in an effort to triple the number of brands that sell across its platform in the coming year. Erika Solomon in Berlin  54. Nvidia Sector: technology / HQ: Santa Clara, us 125% increase in market value $323bn end-2020 market value Nvidia capped a banner year, rising to become the world’s most valuable chipmaker by market value, by agreeing the industry’s biggest-ever takeover. The pandemic provided a tailwind for some of Nvidia’s businesses, though others — such as sales to carmakers — were hit. Demand for high-end video gaming chips held up, while the cloud computing boom touched off by the pandemic led to sustained data centre investments by its customers all year. The acquisition of chip designer Arm Holdings, scheduled to close within a year, was questioned by some on Wall Street but could provide the foundation for Nvidia’s next phase of growth. Richard Waters 55. Spotify Sector: MEDIA / HQ: STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN 123% increase in market value $60bn end-2020 market value Instrumental meditation, Michelle Obama and a buzzy year-end marketing campaign. This was the recipe for Spotify’s rip-roaring year on the stock market. As the pandemic took hold, the company said users opted for “wellness” podcasts and instrumental music to counteract the stress of the coronavirus crisis. It added 20m subscribers from the start of the year to the end of September, reaching 144m paying customers globally. It also unveiled exclusive podcast deals with stars including Joe Rogan and Mrs Obama, fuelling optimism about its future. Anna Nicolaou in New York 56. EQT Sector: FINANCIAL SERVICES / HQ: Stockholm, Sweden 121% increase in market value $24bn end-2020 market value The private equity group spent 2020 snapping up businesses while many rivals remained cautious. A fall in performance fee revenue as the pandemic hit its companies spooked shareholders in August. But assets under management, which determine steady management-fee income, hit €46.5bn in the third quarter, up €6bn on a year earlier. Investors are betting the fast-paced dealmaking at EQT, which listed in 2019, will lead it to raise larger funds. Kaye Wiggins in London 57. Sany Heavy Industry SECTOR: INDUSTRIALS / HQ: changsha, CHINA 120% increase in market value $45bn end-2020 market value China’s infrastructure boom, a product of Beijing’s pandemic relief stimulus, has enriched Sany Heavy Industry. The nation’s leading construction machinery maker reported a 57 per cent jump in profits in the third quarter of 2020 following a 33 per cent slump in the first quarter. It has also benefited from equipment upgrades as a large number of construction machines near the end of their useful life. Sun Yu 58. Zijin Mining Sector: MINING / HQ: LONGYAN, CHINA 118% increase in market value $34bn end-2020 market value Rising copper and gold prices have improved the fortunes of China’s Zijin Mining. Both metals are up more than a fifth due to China’s economic recovery and investors seeking a haven. Zijin also resolved a dispute with the government of Papua New Guinea that will allow the Hong Kong and Shanghai-listed company to reopen the Porgera gold mine with its joint venture partner Barrick Gold. It also owns a 40 per cent stake in the Kamoa-Kakula copper project in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is set to become the world’s second-largest copper mine. Henry Sanderson 59. Viatris Sector: pharmaceuticals / HQ: Pittsburgh, us 117% increase in market value $22bn end-2020 market value The drugmaker is a new kid on the block rather than a winner that has been around all year. It was formed in November from a combination of Mylan and Pfizer’s Upjohn unit, creating a large company focused on selling generics, particularly outside the US. The new company intends to cut $1bn of costs in four years, with a restructuring plan that includes closing or divesting up to 15 factories, and cutting the 45,000-strong workforce by 20 per cent. Hannah Kuchler in New York 60. PayPal Sector: ONLINE PAYMENTS / HQ: SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA 116% increase in market value $274bn end-2020 market value At risk of being outflanked by Square, PayPal announced in November that it too would allow users to buy, sell and manage bitcoin on its service. The move sent PayPal’s stock to an all-time high and gave bitcoin a huge boost too, given that the volatile currency could now be used to buy things directly from PayPal’s almost 30m merchants. But even before then, PayPal had enjoyed strong growth with record levels of processed payments; the company reported $247bn in total payment volume during the third quarter. Its cash transfer app Venmo continued to be a highlight. Increased competition appears to have reawakened PayPal’s innovative side. Dave Lee 61. Sartorius Stedim Biotech Sector: Pharmaceuticals / HQ: Aubagne, France 116% increase in market value $33bn end-2020 market value The French company was born out of a merger of Stedim and Sartorius AG’s biotech division in 2007. Like its parent company, it had a bumper year in 2020. Customers stockpiled the lab equipment it makes and sales were pushed higher by surging demand related to Covid-19 vaccines, treatment and testing. Since March, its share price has more than doubled. Donato Paolo Mancini in Rome 62. Yonyou sector: technology / HQ: Beijing, china 115% increase in market value $22bn end-2020 market value China’s answer to Salesforce and SAP is booming thanks to business demand for software during the homeworking era. Despite a 7.8 per cent drop in revenue and a Rmb15m ($2.3m) net loss for the company as a whole, Yonyou’s cloud-based software sales grew 76.4 per cent in the first three quarters of 2020. To further tickle investor excitement, Yonyou also plans to spin off a unit that serves the car industry and list it in Shanghai. Yuan Yang 63. Celltrion Sector: healthcare / HQ: Incheon, South Korea 115% increase in market value $45bn end-2020 market value The company is developing an antiviral antibody treatment for Covid-19. South Korea’s health authorities have allowed the CT-P59 treatment to be used for Covid-19 patients with life-threatening complications although the new drug is still undergoing clinical trials. Investors are upbeat about the company’s acquisition of a business previously owned by Japanese rival Takeda, and a touted merger of three Celltrion affiliates. Song Jung-a 64. Luxshare Precision Industry SECTOR: TECHNOLOGY / HQ: DONGGUAN, CHINA 114% increase in market value $60bn end-2020 market value Headed by a former factory worker from Taiwanese rival Foxconn, Luxshare has had 60-fold sales growth since listing in 2010 thanks to a string of supply contracts with the likes of Apple. A maker of the US group’s AirPod wireless earbuds since 2017, the company in August became the first Chinese assembler of iPhones. With other clients including Huawei and Tesla, Luxshare is seen as part of China’s “red supply chain” — companies that win orders from big global businesses with government help. Yuan Yang 65. Changchun High & New Technology Industry SECTOR: Healthcare / HQ: changchun, china 114% increase in market value $28bn end-2020 market value This state-owned drugmaker based in China’s industrial north-east has recorded steady profit margin growth in 2020, in large part because of the popularity of its growth hormones that help children gain extra inches. The group, whose products range from the latest pharmaceuticals to traditional Chinese medicine, received a boost in March with the approval of its new nasal spray influenza vaccine. Christian Shepherd 66. Advanced Micro Devices Sector: tech manufacturing / HQ: Santa Clara, US 112% increase in market value $110bn end-2020 market value The revival of chipmaker AMD is proof that fallen tech stars sometimes have impressive second acts. AMD’s latest generation of personal computer and server chips have given it a clear lead over longtime rival Intel. It is also benefiting from a decision a decade ago to stop making its own chips and focus on design instead. With Intel struggling with its own advanced manufacturing efforts, the decision to outsource to TSMC has left AMD with a further edge. A $35bn all-stock purchase of Xilinx late in the year marked an effort to broaden AMD’s product range and reinforce its newfound position. Richard Waters 67. Nippon Paint Holdings SECTOR: manufacturing / HQ: osaka, japan 111% increase in market value $35bn end-2020 market value Masaaki Tanaka, chief executive of Nippon Paint Holdings since early 2020, engineered a complex $12bn deal in the middle of the pandemic with the company’s largest shareholder Wuthelam Holdings, a private business founded by one of Singapore’s richest billionaires. The combined group, which brings together two of Asia’s biggest paints and coatings businesses, considers the crisis as a chance to pursue further acquisitions across the fragmented $150bn industry. Kana Inagaki 68. Worldline Sector: PAYMENTS / HQ: PARIS, FRANCE 110% increase in market value $27bn end-2020 market value Worldline’s jump in value since the start of the pandemic could be a little deceiving since the French payment services business bought its rival Ingenico earlier in 2020 in a €7.8bn deal to create a European champion. But it has still prospered in its own right as customers eschewed the use of cash, turning instead to online purchases and contactless payments in shops. Chief executive Gilles Grapinet said there had been “a more permanent shift in the way we do shopping in general in the western world”. David Keohane in Paris 69. Neste Sector: ENERGY / HQ: ESPOO, FINLAND 110% increase in market value $56bn end-2020 market value Finnish group Neste was long known as an oil refiner but in recent years has pivoted decisively to renewable fuel. The company, in which the Finnish state still has a 36 per cent stake, is now the world's largest producer of renewable diesel. Neste is in the process of making its biggest investment ever by expanding its refinery in Singapore, which turns cooking oil and other waste and fat into renewable fuels. Richard Milne in Oslo 70. Offcn Education Technology SECTOR: consumer discretionary / HQ: BEIJING, CHINA 109% increase in market value $33bn end-2020 market value A tutoring company known for prepping would-be civil servants for their exams, Offcn’s services have been in high demand as surging unemployment prompted jobseekers to seek secure jobs at government agencies. But it has also made progress in branching into other areas, with its civil service exam preparation business accounting for 53 per cent of its total revenue in the first half of 2020, down from 64 per cent a year earlier. Sun Yu © Bloomberg 71. Delivery Hero Sector: FOOD DELIVERY / HQ: BERLIN, GERMANY 109% increase in market value $31bn end-2020 market value Despite never having made a profit, a surge in takeaway food orders during the pandemic propelled Berlin-based Delivery Hero into the blue-chip Dax index in 2020. Founded just nine years ago, the start-up now operates in almost 50 countries. It has pursued rapid growth via acquisitions and by moving into so called “q-commerce” — the delivery of groceries and household staples. Entry into less-developed markets, such as Iraq and Venezuela, seems to be paying off — in November, the company delivered a record 5m orders in a single day. Joe Miller in Frankfurt 72. Sartorius AG Sector: Pharmaceuticals / HQ: Gottingen, Germany 107% increase in market value $29bn end-2020 market value The German company that makes equipment for biopharma and pharmaceutical companies enjoyed a bumper year thanks to demand related to Covid-19 tests, therapeutics and vaccines. For the first nine months of 2020, its sales grew a quarter and its order intake almost 40 per cent. Deutsche Bank analysts say the company “has become a textbook example of how to under-promise and over-deliver on guidance”. Since the pandemic was declared in March, its share price has more than doubled. Donato Paolo Mancini in Rome 73. Samsung Biologics Sector: healthcare / HQ: Incheon, South Korea 102% increase in market value $50bn end-2020 market value This subsidiary of Samsung that makes biopharmaceuticals on a contract basis is expanding capacity to meet surging demand from global drugmakers. In 2020, it won orders worth $1.65bn from customers including GSK and AstraZeneca, up from $265m in 2019. It has also signed deals with Vir Biotechnology to produce Covid-19 antibody products and with Eli Lilly and AstraZeneca to produce Covid-19 treatments. Song Jung-a 74. ServiceNow SECTOR: cloud software / HQ: Santa Clara, us 102% increase in market value $107bn end-2020 market value A platform for automating backroom processes inside large organisations is not the sort of company to catch the headlines. But Wall Street’s love affair with cloud software companies in 2020 has made ServiceNow a clear winner. A fifth of its customers are in industries that have been badly hit by the pandemic, potentially weighing down on growth. But its technology has played a role in helping workers collaborate remotely during the crisis. ServiceNow is also one of the companies set to benefit from the increasing automation of work. Richard Waters 75. LG Electronics SECTOR: CONSUMER DISCRETIONARY / HQ: Seoul, SOUTH KOREA 100% increase in market value $21bn end-2020 market value For much of 2020 LG Electronics benefited from booming consumer and business demand for its appliances and devices. The South Korean tech powerhouse was buoyed further by a decision in December to spin off part of its electric vehicle components business and set up a $1bn joint venture with Canadian group Magna International. The move will help capture the fast-growing global EV parts market. Edward White in Seoul 76. China Feihe SECTOR: CONSUMER STAPLES / HQ: BEIJING, CHINA 99% increase in market value $21bn end-2020 market value The pandemic has done little to keep China’s leading infant formula maker from expanding its footprint as domestic consumer brands continue to climb the value chain. While foreign brands still dominate the infant formula market, local players such as Feihe have played catch-up in small cities thanks to effective marketing campaigns and rapid expansions of distribution networks. Sun Yu 77. Orsted SECTOR: RENEWABLE ENERGY / HQ: Fredericia, Denmark 99% increase in market value $86bn end-2020 market value Renewables had a record-breaking year while the rest of the energy sector floundered, and the world’s largest developer of offshore wind farms was a standout performer, with steady growth in operating profit. The company, whose ambition is to become the world’s first “green energy supermajor”, is waving goodbye to longtime chief executive Henrik Poulsen, with former Lego executive Mads Nipper taking over from January 1. Leslie Hook 78. Freeport-McMoRan Sector: mining / HQ: phoenix, us 99% increase in market value $38bn end-2020 market value Over his long career Richard Adkerson, chief executive of Freeport-McMoRan, the world’s biggest publicly listed copper miner, has seen everything from market crashes to dealmaking booms. But even he must be surprised by the China-driven consumption frenzy that has boosted demand for copper and put a rocket under Freeport’s share price. Production volumes are set to expand next year and the company looks well placed to benefit from surging demand for the copper required to build out the green economy. Swelling profit margins are also likely to lead to a resumption of dividends. Neil Hume 79. Atlassian Sector: CLOUD SOFTWARE / HQ: Sydney, Australia 98% increase in market value $58bn end-2020 market value Atlassian was founded in a nation better known for digging up minerals than developing technology. But the Australian software company is emerging as a global leader in its sector during the pandemic. It sells software that enables developers and IT teams to collaborate, manage and share information and it is growing rapidly. Revenues increased by a third to $1.6bn in the year to the end of June 2020, compared with the previous 12 months. Founded on the strength of a A$10,000 credit card debt in 2002 by Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar, it now serves 182,000 customers. Jamie Smyth in Sydney 80. Veeva Systems SECTOR: cloud software / HQ: pleasanton, us 97% increase in market value $41bn end-2020 market value As one of the first specialised cloud companies to sell to a single industry — in its case, pharmaceuticals and life sciences — Veeva has become the most visible exponent of one of the software industry’s most promising new trends. Recent acquisitions were hurt by the crisis: both Crossix, a service for holding patients’ data, and Physicians World, a speakers bureau for healthcare professionals, have suffered more than other parts of Veeva’s business. But the company also said the pandemic had accelerated the uptake of its digital communications and remote working tools. Richard Waters 81. Slack Technologies SECTOR: ENTERPRISE SOFTWARE / HQ: SAN FRANCISCO, US 97% increase in market value $24bn end-2020 market value The messaging system was at risk of missing the stock market’s work-from-home boom in 2020. Much of the soaring demand for video conferencing and other communication services passed it by, putting Slack’s more complex set of collaboration tools in the shade. But a $27.7bn cash-and-stock takeover offer from Salesforce late in the year, partly buoyed by that company’s surging share price, turned 2020 into a landmark year for Slack investors after all. Richard Waters 82. Cadence Design Systems SECTOR: semiconductors / HQ: San Jose, us 96% increase in market value $38bn end-2020 market value A surge in orders from chipmakers in China made it a strong year for Cadence, which, along with Synopsys, dominates the market for the tools used to design chips. It was unclear whether customers were bringing forward purchases to beat tighter export restrictions, as Washington clamps down on a key part of the technology China needs to build a domestic chip industry. But even if sales there slip, Wall Street believes the need for new chip designs to feed the AI and cloud computing boom will continue to lift the company. Richard Waters 83. Ocado Group SECTOR: retail / HQ: Hatfield, UK 95% increase in market value $23bn end-2020 market value UK online grocer Ocado has been turning customers away because it will not have enough warehouse capacity to serve them until well into 2021. Its investors are unperturbed; bigger order sizes have boosted the efficiency and profitability of its existing operation, run as a joint venture with Marks and Spencer. Chief executive Tim Steiner thinks the increased popularity of online food shopping will increase demand for the technology and knowhow that Ocado licenses to others, and that is the real driver of its share price. Jonathan Eley in London 84. Haidilao International Sector: Food & Beverage / HQ: Beijing, china 92% increase in market value $41bn end-2020 market value China’s Haidilao chain of restaurants sells hot pot, a spicy broth associated with the country’s southern Sichuan province. It closed its venues at the end of January but began reopening in March. Despite the pandemic, the company opened 173 restaurants in the first half, taking its total to 935 and allowing it to win market share from smaller competitors. The majority of its restaurants are in mainland China but it also has an international presence. Thomas Hale in Hong Kong 85. Align Technology Sector: medical devices / HQ: San Jose, us 92% increase in market value $42bn end-2020 market value The company behind the “invisalign” teeth-straightening brand is planning global expansion, targeting countries including Brazil, Russia, Turkey, and India. The digital orthodontics pioneer sells the iTero scanner to help clinicians map mouths. While business was knocked by the lockdowns, the stock soared as the company beat expectations in the third quarter. Lured by marketing campaigns including social media influencers to target teens, people returned to the orthodontist. Hannah Kuchler 86. Idexx Laboratories Sector: animal health / HQ: portland, us 90% increase in market value $43bn end-2020 market value The animal health company enjoyed strong growth in diagnostics for pets and livestock but it also ventured into tests to detect if humans have Sars-Cov-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. Idexx said in October that the animal health market had experienced a “V-shaped recovery”. People had rescheduled postponed clinic visits for their pets, while tests for swine and poultry soared in Asia-Pacific. Revenue rose 19 per cent to $722m in the third quarter, with Covid-19 tests contributing 1 percentage point of growth. Hannah Kuchler 87. Synopsys SECTOR: semiconductors / HQ: mountain view, us 89% increase in market value $40bn end-2020 market value An explosion in new types of chips — from those used in cars and other everyday objects that make up the “internet of things”, to specialised processors for AI and cloud data centres — lifted revenue growth at Synopsys into the double digits. Like rival Cadence, it is facing a possible hangover this year after a one-off jump in sales to China. But the prospect that its chip design tools will still be required to create new processors for a wide range of uses has left investors hopeful for 2021. Richard Waters 88. West Pharmaceutical Services Sector: pharmaceuticals / HQ: Exton, PA, US 88% increase in market value $21bn end-2020 market value The almost 100-year-old medical supplies company is a specialist in the equipment that so many Covid-19 drug and vaccine makers need, including vials and syringes. It produces about 40bn devices and components each year at 25 manufacturing sites. In October, it raised its full-year guidance to net sales of about $2.1bn. Hannah Kuchler 89. Geely Automobile Sector: automotive / HQ: Hong Kong, china 87% increase in market value $34bn end-2020 market value China has been the sole bright spot on a bleak auto map, with premium sales faring particularly strongly and a sharp rise in electric car demand. Geely, whose parent company owns Volvo, has ridden both waves. It plans to raise extra funds for the electric performance brand Polestar, and to formally merge with Volvo next year. A new listing in Shanghai, bringing the company onto the newly formed Star Market for technology companies, gave shares a late boost. Peter Campbell in London 90. Hengli Petrochemical SECTOR: CHEMICALS / HQ: DALIAN, CHINA 85% increase in market value $30bn end-2020 market value Hengli enjoyed a banner year increasing revenue 35 per cent year on year in the first nine months as demand for its petrochemical products rose. Hengli is China’s largest producer of PTA, a chemical that goes into polyester, and brought new production capacity online during the year. The company was also able to maintain high capacity in its refining business while oil prices were low. Still, risks could lie ahead for Hengli — its majority shareholder has pledged about a quarter of its shares as collateral for loans. Ryan McMorrow 91. Delta Electronics sector: TECHNOLOGY / hq: Taipei, Taiwan 85% increase in market value $24bn end-2020 market value The maker of power and thermal management products has not had a straightforward year. Forced to delay its factory building in India because of the pandemic, Delta also cited US-China tensions in flagging a further reduction to the 65 per cent share of its manufacturing done in China. But as a big supplier of electric and hybrid vehicle components, including charging systems, the rise of new-energy cars has driven a sales boom. Yuan Yang 92. Genmab Sector: Biotech / HQ: Copenhagen, Denmark 84% increase in market value $27bn end-2020 market value Danish biotech Genmab surged in 2020 after advancement in the development of its antibody-based epcoritamab blood cancer treatment showed investors it could replicate initial success in this field. It also agreed a deal worth up to $3.9bn with US company AbbVie to develop that drug and two other molecules. Crucially, the deal gives Genmab access to the US market. Investors have taken notice, with shares more than doubling from lows in March. Donato Paolo Mancini in Rome 93. Midea sector: electrical appliances / hq: Beijiao, china 82% increase in market value $105bn end-2020 market value The resilience of Chinese white-goods company Midea’s business model has been credited with enabling it to withstand the pandemic. Stronger online sales and diversification of production helped the group deal with the closure of bricks-and-mortar stores during lockdown. The company also recovered from a more personal crisis, with Chinese police disclosing in July that billionaire founder He Xiangjian had been rescued from a break-in at his home. Ravi Mattu in Hong Kong 94. Polyus Sector: mining / HQ: Moscow, rUSsia 82% increase in market value $28bn end-2020 market value As Russia’s biggest gold miner, it is not difficult to increase your value when prices surge on investor fears. But a sharp rise in the share price in 2020 is also thanks to a flow of positive news from its upcoming mega mine, which the company said will be the world’s largest. Sukhoi Log, a remote deposit in eastern Siberia, is estimated to hold 40m ounces of gold, roughly a quarter of Russia’s unmined reserves. Some savvy dealmaking led to Polyus accelerating the buyout of the deposit’s minority shareholder, leaving it sole owner of the $2.5bn project. Henry Foy in Moscow 95. Nidec Sector: manufacturing / HQ: kyoto, japan 81% increase in market value $74bn end-2020 market value The world’s largest manufacturer of motors used in everything from Apple iPhones to Sony PlayStation games consoles and automatic sliding doors has a five-year plan to spend up to $9.7bn on development for electric vehicles. The company’s billionaire founder Shigenobu Nagamori has forecast that 2025 will be a “watershed moment” for its ambitions to boost the sale of motors used in electric vehicles. The stock is one of the top brokerage picks for 2021 for its expected role in the transition to EVs. Kana Inagaki 96. Kweichow Moutai Sector: Beverages / HQ: ZUNYI, CHINA 80% increase in market value $384bn end-2020 market value The maker of China’s best-known distilled spirit, which is often used to seal business deals, maintained its status as an investor favourite. Revenues grew at their slowest rate in five years in the fourth quarter but the company benefited from the country’s strong economic recovery from coronavirus, with shares ending the year at a record high. Ravi Mattu 97. Henan Shuanghui Investment & Development Sector: Food & Beverage / HQ: LUOhe, china 80% increase in market value $25bn end-2020 market value Henan Shuanghui is the China subsidiary of Hong Kong-listed WH Group, the world’s largest pork producer, which owns more than 70 per cent of the business. An outbreak of African swine fever in 2018 led to the culling of millions of animals and rising pork prices; in July, they were up 86 per cent compared with a year earlier. In the nine months to the end of September, net profits were 23 per cent higher year on year. Thomas Hale 98. Marvell Technology SECTOR: data infrastructure / HQ: Santa Clara, US 79% increase in market value $32bn end-2020 market value Amid a rapidly consolidating chip sector, Marvell has used deals to carve out a bigger potential market and stake its claim to being one of the survivors. Late in the year, the $10bn purchase of data centre networking company Inphi left it with a broader set of products for cloud-computing customers. That matched an earlier networking acquisition that pushed it deeper into 5G wireless communications infrastructure, and has strengthened its position in two of the biggest growth markets for chips. Richard Waters 99. MediaTek SECTOR: SEMICONDUCTORS / HQ: HSINCHU, TAIWAN 79% increase in market value $42bn end-2020 market value MediaTek designs the chips powering smart TVs and smartphones, placing it in a quarter of homes globally and one-third of mobile devices. In 2020 it benefited from the ongoing 5G upgrade and locked down consumers buying TVs and other electronics. Revenue was up 45 per cent in the third quarter and analysts forecast continued growth as shoppers buy low cost 5G smartphones, many of which run on MediaTek’s affordable chips. Ryan McMorrow 100. Amazon SECTOR: ecommerce / hq: seattle, us 79% increase in market value $1.6tn end-2020 market value At some point in the year’s third quarter, the number of people working at Amazon surpassed 1m, the result of a series of unprecedented hiring sprees throughout the year, first to handle pandemic panic, then the Christmas rush. By pushing its Prime Day sales event back, from July to October, Amazon was able to lengthen the holiday shopping period, reducing the strain on its delivery network and providing an added sales boost in its fourth quarter. As a result, revenues may exceed $100bn for the first time in the company’s history. But it has been costly. Amazon’s profits have been kept strong by the dependable cloud, and a rapidly growing online advertising business that should give Google and Facebook serious pause for thought in 2021. Dave Lee
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This holiday’s biggest blockbuster was not a film. Wonder Woman 1984, the superhero sequel which might have dominated box offices in any other year, made less than $17m in US cinemas over its opening weekend — half what last year’s Star Wars film made in its first day.  Instead, as Covid-wary audiences chose couches over cinemas, the buzz was stolen by a carnal costume drama released to the nearly 200m Netflix subscribers whose binge-watching during the pandemic has lifted the streaming service’s market value to $240bn.  In Bridgerton, a Regency romp based on Julia Quinn’s novels, corseted debutantes circle eligible bachelors. Rakes smoulder, gossips meddle and bosoms heave. It is a genre as hoary as the hospital drama, and it was propelled to the top of Netflix’s most-watched list by Shonda Rhimes, the executive producer who made the medical soap Grey’s Anatomy the biggest hit on Disney’s ABC network.  Yet she and showrunner Chris van Dusen, her one-time assistant, have turned a period drama into a contemporary conversation piece: Bridgerton is a modern-scored, feminist reimagining of 19th-century England and several of its stars are black. The contrast with the pale-faced casts of previous romance adaptations turns a piece of froth into something more subversive.  The series is the first Rhimes production to appear since she signed a reported $150m deal with Netflix in 2017, and lands at a pivotal moment in her career. At 50, she has become one of television’s most bankable talents, and with each hit series — Private Practice, Scandal, How To Get Away with Murder — the qualifiers have fallen away. She is no longer just one of her industry’s most successful women or African-American producers: she is, as she defiantly declared in 2018, “the highest paid showrunner in television”.  Estimates of Ms Rhimes’ wealth congregate around $140m, though Shondaland, her production company, discloses no figures and she says the details of her Netflix contract were misreported. Tellingly, though, she made her boast after Netflix struck a reported $300m deal with Ryan Murphy, who made Glee for Fox.  The defections of two of television’s most prolific producers sent shudders through the networks, as they showed how aggressively streaming services were competing for content. Ms Rhimes had been chafing over creative freedom at ABC, and the last straw was when a Disney executive baulked at giving one of her sisters a pass to one of its theme parks, reportedly asking her, “Don’t you have enough?”  Ted Sarandos, co-CEO and chief content officer of Netflix, had good reason for offering her a freer rein as television’s streaming wars are becoming more intense — and expensive. The likes of Disney+, HBO Max and Peacock now challenge Netflix, Amazon Prime and Apple TV+, and the money being poured into production has rocketed.  Only the biggest shows stand much chance of cutting through, making reliable hitmakers increasingly valuable. While promoting Bridgerton, Ms Rhimes is completing Inventing Anna, the story she adapted of a fake heiress swindling her way through New York’s elites, and working on an adaptation of Recursion, Blake Crouch’s sci-fi thriller.  The Netflix relationship is just one aspect of Ms Rhimes’ quest for scale. She is producing podcasts with iHeartMedia and writing lessons with MasterClass; she has launched partnerships with Dove, Microsoft and Peloton. Her website brims with empowering blog posts. (“If you don't like your story, rewrite it.”)  The self-described introvert who had been “horrified” to hear that she would be sitting with Barack and Michelle Obama at an event in 2013, admitted to Oprah Winfrey three years ago that her characters lived much more exciting lives than hers. But she is now creating a multimedia empire that the older entrepreneur would recognise.  Ms Rhimes started rewriting her story in 2014 when, stung by a sibling’s observation that she was constantly turning down invitations, she resolved to spend a year saying “yes” to “the stuff that terrifies me”, from public speaking engagements to shelving work to play with her three adopted children.  By the end of her “year of yes”, the Democratic donor had befriended the Obamas and given a barnstorming graduation speech at Dartmouth, her alma mater. Commencement speakers usually advise graduates to follow their dreams, she told her audience, but “I think that’s crap”. Dreams do not come true on their own, she said: “It's hard work that creates change.” Since holding colour-blind casting calls for Grey’s Anatomy, Ms Rhimes has been working to change television by making it look more like the diverse world she knew growing up as the sixth child of two academics in a middle-class Chicago suburb. Speaking in 2018, she said her “sweat and tears” meant that she “no longer needed to battle men to get to the top of a mountain” but she still needed to set an example. Shondaland’s landmark deal will be up for renewal this year. Netflix needs hitmakers like Ms Rhimes, but its history of ending shows abruptly if the numbers are not working suggests that nothing is guaranteed. So a lot is riding on the escapist fluff of Bridgerton. The market for the kind of talent that can offer an advantage in the streaming wars is every bit as unpredictable as the marriage market in Regency England.  andrew.edgecliffe-johnson@ft.com
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Léone Meyer vividly remembers the first time she saw her father’s cherished painting — Bergère rentrant des moutons (‘Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep’) by the Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro — in the basement of the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.  It was four years ago, and the painting, which had been looted by the Nazis during the second world war from her Jewish adoptive parents, had finally been returned to France by a museum in Oklahoma.  “The tears came into my eyes,” said Ms Meyer, now 81. “I almost saw the silhouette of my parents before me.” Nearly 80 years after her biological mother, brother, aunt and grandmother were deported and murdered at Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp in Poland, Ms Meyer has found herself embroiled in the continuing struggle to locate and return looted works of art traded around the world after the war. Two court battles are now under way over the fate of her Pissarro. The court cases in France and the US centre on an unusual agreement struck in 2016 between Ms Meyer and the University of Oklahoma, which previously had the painting on display at its Fred Jones Jr Museum of Art.  In Paris, Ms Meyer is challenging the validity of the deal, which accepted her as the rightful owner but required a rotation of the painting every three years from 2021 between France and Oklahoma in perpetuity. The court’s reasoning was that the Fred Jones museum had been gifted the painting by an owner who bought it in good faith from a New York gallery without knowing it was Nazi war spoil.  The painting on a display screen behind Mike Reynolds, Oklahoma state representative, at a meeting discussing its possession after Léone Meyer had sued for its retrieval © AP Léone Meyer says her wish remains to give the painting in full to the Musée d’Orsay in Paris: ‘It’s very important that this painting returns here’ © Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty Ms Meyer wanted to give the painting to the Musée d’Orsay, but it refused the bequest because it is not allowed to take on perpetual obligations to pay for regular transport overseas. The risk now is that by failing to donate the work of art to an institution in France under the terms of the deal, she will be obliged to hand it to the US state department for its Art in Embassies programme. “Why don’t they just give it to her? She’s in her eighties and a Holocaust survivor,” said her lawyer, Ron Soffer. “Many museums in the world would say, ‘Here, you can have it’. For her it’s a matter of principle.” Ms Meyer worked as a paediatrician but is also a retail heiress rich enough to buy Impressionist paintings if she wants to. The painting belonged to Ms Meyer’s adoptive father, Raoul Meyer, a businessman who joined the French resistance and ran the Galeries Lafayette shopping empire after the war. He was also a musician and art lover who was “very attached” to his small collection of paintings, she said.  The Meyers had hidden their works of art in a safe at a bank in south-western France in 1940, but the Nazis seized the collection and sent it to Switzerland after the Allied landings in 1944. The painting was one of about 100,000 works of art looted from Jews in France during the German occupation. It holds particular significance to Ms Meyer because of the painting’s importance to her adoptive parents, a couple who brought her into their family at the age of seven from a Jewish orphanage outside Paris in 1946. “It’s about respecting the memory of my parents, a desire for justice, and the idea that this period allowed the killing of millions of people in the camps, including my biological family,” she said.  A court in Oklahoma, meanwhile, has ordered Ms Meyer to abide by the 2016 deal, which was validated by US and French courts, and to abandon the legal proceedings in France or be held in contempt of court in the US.  “At the end of the day what the [Oklahoma] museum wants is to have the painting on the wall,” says Olivier de Baecque, the university’s lawyer in Paris. “Mrs Meyer should respect the decisions of the justice system . . . The essence of a settlement is for the parties to make concessions. “When you do a deal like that you need to compromise and if you don’t respect such compromises then there will be no deals in looted art cases.”  Pissarro’s representation of the shepherdess opening a farmyard gate to her sheep, painted in 1886, has had a typically roundabout postwar journey back to France since the war.  Raoul Meyer located it in Switzerland but lost a court case there in 1953 when he tried to reclaim it. It was later acquired by New York art dealer David Findlay, who sold it to a family that gifted it to the Fred Jones museum 20 years ago. Ms Meyer located it there in 2012 and began the process of reclaiming it.  It was only after the so-called Washington Conference in 1998 called for art looted by the Nazis to be identified and ownership resolved that the art world began to look more closely at the issue, said Mr Soffer. “That’s when people started paying attention to provenance, and people started doing due diligence,” he said. “If they [the museum in Oklahoma] had done due diligence they would have been alerted to the fact that the painting is on the French government list of art looted by the Nazis.” Michel Jeannoutot, president of the CIVS, a French commission to indemnify victims of anti-Semitic looting during the occupation of France, said there was “a general movement in Europe and in the US as well to have ‘clean’ museums, in which works of art are exhibited that have clear provenance”. As she awaits the judgment of the two courts, Ms Meyer says her wish remains to give the painting in full to the Musée d’Orsay, which specialises in Impressionism and has similar rural images by Pissarro in its collection. “This painting has been wandering around the world for nearly a century,” she said. “It should stop. It’s very important that this painting returns here.” 
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Donald Trump’s administration has stepped up its long-running trade dispute with the EU over aircraft subsidies, saying it will increase tariffs on aircraft parts and beverages from France and Germany. The move was announced by the Office of the US Trade Representative late on Wednesday and will apply from January 12 — shortly before Joe Biden is sworn in as US president. The USTR said it would raise the levies on the grounds that the EU had improperly applied tariffs on $4bn worth of American products last month by calculating them based on trade volumes since the coronavirus pandemic erupted this year. The EU measures were authorised by the World Trade Organization. Washington said Brussels had therefore imposed duties on “substantially more products” than it would have if the tariffs had been calculated based on a “normal period”. The $4bn in tariffs imposed by the EU followed the US targeting of $7.5bn in EU goods from October 2019, which was permitted by the WTO as a penalty for subsidies to European aircraft maker Airbus. The EU tariffs, in turn, were authorised in response to US subsidies benefiting Airbus rival Boeing. Both the Trump administration and the EU have said they want to resolve the dispute but the two sides have failed to reach an agreement, which will form one of the biggest tests of rapprochement between Washington and Brussels on trade under Mr Biden. The European Commission said it regretted the Trump administration's move, warning that it “unilaterally disrupts the ongoing negotiation between the commission and USTR to find a settlement to the long lasting aircraft disputes”. “The EU will engage with the new US Administration at the earliest possible moment to continue these negotiations and find a lasting solution to the dispute,” the commission said in a statement on Thursday. The products targeted for higher tariffs in Washington’s latest move include “aircraft manufacturing parts” as well as “certain non-sparkling wine” and “certain cognac and other grape brandies”. The higher tariffs will only apply to French and German products. The fight over aircraft subsidies has simmered for years but escalated sharply during Mr Trump’s presidency alongside tensions on digital taxes introduced in the EU, metals tariffs imposed by the US and car levies threatened by Washington. Airbus said the US tariffs were “counterproductive in every way” and hoped that “Europe will respond appropriately to defend its interests and the interests of all European companies and sectors, including Airbus”. Video: US foreign policy: Joe Biden's priorities in 2021
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Argentina’s economy minister played down the prospects of an early deal with the IMF to repay a controversial $44bn loan, as the country’s year-old leftist government tries to build a domestic consensus on how to end its economic crisis.  After successfully restructuring $65bn of foreign debt with private creditors in August, the government’s attention has turned to talks with the IMF, which began this month. Markets hope this will lead to a new programme that could help to reverse a crisis of confidence that has stoked fears of an imminent devaluation of the peso. “We are fine. We have the instruments to maintain [exchange rate stability],” insisted Martín Guzmán, economy minister, in an interview with the Financial Times. He argued that there was no need for Argentina to seek further help from China, after the central bank renewed a currency swap deal with the Asian country for $19bn in August for another three years, to bolster alarmingly low foreign exchange reserves. “The most important aspect is to get [the new programme] right. We want to move at a solid pace but require common understanding and legitimacy. We are not going to rush this,” added the 38-year-old economist. A deal by March or April “would certainly be acceptable”, he said. “That doesn’t mean it won’t come before that, but there are no guarantees.” The negotiations with the IMF come as Argentina seeks a way out of a three-year long recession. That downturn began after a currency crisis in 2018 that prompted the fund to come to the rescue with a record-breaking $57bn programme — making Argentina the institution’s biggest debtor by far. The recession was made worse by the coronavirus crisis, which prompted the government of President Alberto Fernández to implement one of the longest and strictest lockdowns in the world. Mr Guzmán spoke from his offices opposite the presidential palace in Buenos Aires over the din of tens of thousands of rowdy Argentines who had gathered to pay their respects to Diego Maradona, the legendary footballer who died on Wednesday. The economy minister played down calls from independent economists for Argentina to seek further cheap financing from the fund. “We have to be very careful when borrowing in foreign currency,” he said, warning that exports had been weak over the past seven years, a key factor in the sustainability of Argentina’s debt. But some say the alternatives are worse: unable to borrow on the international capital markets, Argentina is forced instead to resort to covering the bulk of its expenditure through new money printed by the central bank, which pushed the monthly inflation rate up to 3.8 per cent in October.  Nevertheless, Mr Guzmán said that it would be “beneficial” to secure more funding from other multilateral institutions such as the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, especially to finance public infrastructure projects.  As Argentina prepares to embark on its 22nd programme with the IMF over the past six decades, Mr Guzmán insisted that austerity — the linchpin of most of those programmes — was not the answer to the economy’s woes.  “The 2018 programme was based on that same tenet and it didn’t work. The evidence is overwhelming that fiscal adjustments in recessions don’t work — and it’s not what we’re doing,” he said. Mr Guzmán insisted that restoring order to Argentina’s fiscal accounts did not mean reducing spending. In fact, Argentina was increasing spending in real terms in high-impact areas, he said. Similarly, Mr Guzmán pledged that a devaluation was not on the cards, although he admitted that the gap between the official and parallel exchange rates was a problem. “It will take time [to fix], as we can’t remove capital controls [yet],” he said, pointing to the need to accumulate foreign exchange reserves first.  “When you look at the trade numbers, the official exchange rate is at the right level . . . the situation with the [parallel exchange rate] is to do with financial flows that have nothing to do with the real economy,” he said, adding that “the IMF understands that a devaluation would have destabilising consequences at an economic and social level”. Mr Guzmán also rejected accusations by some analysts of inconsistencies in economic policy, which they say are caused by contrasting priorities among the ruling coalition that ranges from pragmatic centrists to more ideologically driven members on the hard left.  Recent overtures to the private sector by Mr Guzmán — based on an understanding that sustained economic growth requires private investment — conflict with anti-business moves from other players in the coalition, notably the country’s Congress. Critics point to a law aimed at preventing shortages, a wealth tax going through Congress and a scathing letter sent to the IMF by a group of senators loyal to Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the powerful vice-president. “It all goes in the same direction,” insisted Mr Guzmán. “In a crisis in the context of a pandemic, the state plays an important role to protect the most vulnerable and co-ordinate actions to maintain stability — but that is a role that will no longer be necessary in an economy that has restored macroeconomic stability,” he said. Achieving sustained economic growth in the longer term once the economy has been stabilised is perhaps Argentina’s greatest challenge, however. Mr Guzmán highlights the importance of developing domestic capital markets in order to allow greater saving. That would in turn allow greater investment by the private sector, which he hopes will become “a fundamental engine for the economy”.
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Americans were splashing out billions of dollars from their smartphones and laptops on Black Friday as those who have never shopped online before fuel a boom in ecommerce, leaving shopping malls deserted. Despite good weather across much of the US, mall watchers reported sharply lower footfall than usual on what is traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year. “It’s a very sad Black Friday” for bricks and mortar, said David Bassuk, co-head of retail at AlixPartners. Amazon, Walmart and Target were on track to be among the biggest corporate winners from a surge in digital spending, consolidating their lead over struggling rivals as shoppers who are new to online purchasing turn to retailers with the strongest digital offerings. By mid-morning on the east coast, online sales were set to increase between about 20 and 40 per cent from 2019 levels on Black Friday, according to estimates from Adobe, although the analytics group pared back earlier forecasts for an even bigger jump. It recorded $5.1bn worth of ecommerce orders on Thanksgiving — almost half from smartphones. Retailers including Walmart have sought to spread demand over a much longer period than usual, offering promotions as far back as October, reducing sales on the day itself. While shoppers were able to pick up bargains in person, and chains including Best Buy opened stores as early as 5am, most promotions were also available online. Several retailers were taking customer temperatures at the door and some were asking them to provide personal details for track and trace. Stores in Los Angeles, Chicago and other cities were limited to 25 per cent capacity. With coronavirus case numbers spiking, health authorities urged restraint. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classified shopping in crowded areas as a “higher risk activity” that helps spread Covid-19. About 9 per cent of online sales so far this week have come from customers who are new to internet shopping, according to Taylor Schreiner, director of Adobe Digital Insights, who said that such consumers “tended to skew older and hailed from rural parts of the country”. The ecommerce surge is the latest sign that, despite the reluctance to shop in person, a sizeable section of the population — those who have remained in work and been able to save money from staying at home — is willing to spend. Chess boards were proving particularly popular, thanks to the hit Netflix mini-series The Queen’s Gambit, as was the PlayStation 5, which has been in short supply. But retailers are nervous about the economic outlook as the pandemic drags on. “Consumers still face uncertainty with rising Covid cases and high unemployment,” said Sonia Syngal, chief executive of Gap, the clothing retailer, this week. Converting additional shoppers to ecommerce threatens to cause more lasting damage for clothing chains, department stores and other bricks-and-mortar operators already ravaged by the crisis. In New York, shopping centres that are usually bustling were a “ghost town” on Black Friday, Mr Bassuk said. “There are definitely a lot of people in New York. They’re just staying put.” He added: “The second wave [of coronavirus] couldn’t have come at a worse time for retailers. It’s really hitting hard right now. Consumers want to be healthy for the holiday and they’re just being overly cautious.” Bricks-and-mortar footfall in the run-up to the peak shopping season was sharply lower than usual levels, down 31 per cent year on year in the third week of November, according to RetailNext. Initial figures indicated that Amazon, together with those bricks-and-mortar based retailers with the strongest online offerings, were increasing their lead over weaker operators. In the week leading up to Black Friday, digital sales at Amazon jumped 65 per cent from 2019, Edison Trends figures showed. At Walmart and Target, two of the strongest bricks-and-mortar operators, they rose 167 per cent and 80 per cent, respectively. Ecommerce business at other companies has also risen sharply, but from a lower base and at a less dramatic pace. Online sales rose 19 per cent at Nordstrom, 23 per cent at JCPenney and 54 per cent at Macy’s.
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