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Posted February 2013

 

USA - Will AB-InBev's sale of a Mexican brewery to Constellation appease U.S. regulators?

So this is AB-InBev's Plan B. On 14 February 2013, AB-InBev announced that they will sell all of Grupo Modelo’s U.S. business to wine company Constellation. As part of the deal, AB-InBev have agreed to divest themselves of Modelo's newest brewery in Mexico in Piedras Negras and grant perpetual licenses of Modelo's brands to Constellation for USD 2.9 billion (EUR 2.2 billion). This is on top of the already agreed upon sale of the 50 percent stake Modelo holds in U.S. importer Crown for USD 1.85 billion (EUR 1.4 billion).

In effect, should this deal receive regulatory approval, the Corona brand will have two owners: Constellation in the U.S. and AB-InBev in Mexico plus the rest of the world. This resembles the Foster's situation. Today Heineken own the Foster's brand in Europe while SABMiller own it in all other markets. Read on
 

Belgium - AB-InBev revises synergy projection from Modelo deal upwards

On the face of it, AB-InBev’s executive suite does not seem to be all that concerned that they will have to relinquish a brewery and give up Modelo's U.S. business entirely to receive regulatory approval for their USD 20 billion deal to buy the rest of Mexico's Grupo Modelo that they don’t own yet.

As AB-InBev see it, they will receive USD 4.75 billion (EUR 3.6 billion) from Constellation for the remaining 50 percent interest in U.S. importer Crown and the Piedras Negras brewery and the perpetual brand licenses.

Ever bullish, AB-InBev actually said on 14 February 2013 that, having done their sums again, they think they can actually squeeze approximately USD 1.0 billion in synergies out of the Modelo deal - up from their previous estimates of USD 600 million. About 40 to 45 percent of the synergies should be realised from lowering costs, while 55 to 60 percent would come from lower selling, general and administrative expenses over the next three to four years.

Readers should take this announcement with a pinch of salt. Although "synergies" are part of the beauty of beer industry transactions, few outsiders are actually capable of verifying the usually given synergies projections. Besides, who is to say that AB-InBev's original estimate was not purposefully low so that they could revise it upwards when needed to sway analysts and investors?

The announcement certainly did the trick as on the day it sent AB-InBev’s stock up more than 5 percent to USD 92.76 per share.

One thing is certain: AB-InBev's interest in buying the other half of Mexico's brewer Modelo had nothing to do with the U.S. market. No doubt, Corona and the rest of the Modelo brands in the U.S. mean big business and good profits. In 2012, Modelo's beer sales in the U.S. topped 14 million hl for the first time according to beerinsights.com.

However, when it comes to growth prospects, Mexico and the rest of the world would have figured much more prominently on AB-InBev's strategy sheet. Mexico is the number six beer market worldwide in terms of volumes, growing 14 percent to 65.5 million hl from 2005 to 2011, according to Impact Databank.

In Mexico's tight beer duopoly, Modelo controls around 60 percent of the market compared with Heineken-owned FEMSA's 40 percent. Beer is the most popular alcoholic beverage and per capita consumption stood at 61 litres in 2011, according to the Barth/Hansmaennel report. Add to that rather favourable demographics - 2 million people reach the legal drinking age of 18 every year - and you will perhaps understand why Mexico has been foremost on AB-InBev's mind.

In terms of profits, Mexico already ranks as the world's fourth-largest profit pool at USD 1.7 billion (EUR 1.3 billion) as measured in EBIT in 2011 behind the U.S., Brazil and Japan.

Guess how much in extra profits will AB-InBev be able to extract from Modelo once they can lay their hands on the business? Modelo's EBITDA margin is not bad: AB-InBev forecasted a 33 percent EBITDA margin for 2012. But AB-InBev's Brazilian unit AmBev does much better: 46 percent. It does not take much guessing which way Modelo will head once it receives the famous AB-InBev makeover: its margin and profits are sure set to rise.

The other thing that AB-InBev will do is to push the Corona brand globally. The brand currently holds the number one import ranking in 38 countries. AB-InBev see big potential for Corona to be a dominant global brand, alongside their flagship brand Budweiser, winning over beer drinkers in growing markets.

Losing the U.S. business to Constellation may be painful to AB-InBev but something they could be more than compensated for in the long run by Corona's growth in and outside Mexico.

 

USA - Worries over beer price hikes not allayed by revised AB-InBev-Constellation deal

When the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) sued to stop the deal between AB-InBev and wine company Constellation in January 2013, it argued that combining the nation’s number one and number three beer sellers would drive up prices for consumers.

The DOJ probably had a point here. Even when owning the Corona importer Crown Imports outright, Constellation would still have been held captive by AB-InBev/Modelo and their pricing policy. Whatever prices AB-InBev/Modelo would have set in the future for the Corona brand, Crown could not have done anything but pass the increases on to U.S. consumers.

To all appearances, the revised deal between AB-InBev and Constellation abolishes Crown’s dependency on AB-InBev/Modelo. With its own brewery in Mexico plus the full rights to the Modelo brands in the U.S., Constellation will be “home alone” to play, so to speak.

However, to the DOJ the question remains: What kind of player will Constellation/Crown be in the future? As the DOJ saw it, Crown was a maverick player - pricing its beers competitively to take market share from its rivals.

This is what Crown has done over the past few years. It kept prices more or less flat while AB-InBev and MillerCoors raised theirs. This way it not only increased its volume sales, it also put a powerful damper on beer prices in general, thanks to Corona being such a dominant brand in the U.S. market.

Interestingly, when vetting the original AB-InBev-Modelo deal, the DOJ’s investigators discovered that at Crown there had been a heated debate for years between Constellation and Modelo, its joint owners, over how to price Corona in the U.S. market. While Modelo’s Mexican owners strove to increase U.S. market share through lower prices, Constellation pushed to follow AB-InBev’s price leadership to maximize its own short-term profits. The dispute became so heated that in December 2009 Modelo filed suit against Constellation for a breach of its fiduciary duty.

You can imagine that Crown’s pricing policy would have annoyed AB-InBev no end. Although they owned the majority of shares in Modelo, they did not have the majority say on Modelo’s board. The Mexican owners had the decisive vote on strategy. Read on

 

USA – The new SABMiller CEO has his job cut out for him – by his predecessor

In the din of brewers’ corporate Newspeak, one voice has always stood out: Graham Mackay’s. While his colleagues preferred to drone on in a language that could have been some obscure Mongolian dialect for all we knew, the outgoing Executive Chairman and former CEO of SABMiller could be trusted to talk about issues that really mattered in plain English that even a dumb blonde understood – had she been interested in the consolidation of the brewing industry.

In an interview with Reuters (chapeau to my colleagues for getting Mr Mackay to sit down and talk) on the sidelines of the Consumer Analyst Group of New York conference in Boca Raton, Florida, on 19 February 2013, Mr Mackay, said that one of the biggest challenges facing Alan Clark, the incoming CEO of SABMiller, will be continuing to grow the business as strongly in a world with fewer acquisitions to make.

Mergers and acquisitions have "gotten stickier," Mr Mackay explained because there are fewer companies around that can be bought, driving up price expectations.

In a rare flash of modesty (or was he merely ironic?) Mr Mackay called the new generation of SABMiller bigwigs "much cleverer than I am ... but it will get harder [for them] to drive out growth because the consolidation phase has passed its first flush." Read on
 

Finland – Down down down

Whoever put out the estimate how much Heineken’s Finnish subsidiary Hartwall could fetch if sold seems highly optimistic. In early February 2013 the UK’s Sunday Times newspaper reported that Dutch brewer Heineken was seeking to sell Hartwall, the Finnish arm of the former Scottish & Newcastle brewing group it bought in 2008, for about GBP 500 million pounds (EUR 590 million).

According to the website largestcompanies.com, Hartwall’s turnover in 2010 was EUR 322 million (USD 425 million). Its rival Sinebrychoff, which is owned by Carlsberg, achieved slightly over EUR 350 million while Olvi managed EUR 285 million. The three companies dominate the Finnish alcohol and non-alcoholic beverages industry.

It’s hard to make an educated guess on Hartwall’s margins as Heineken does not release country-by-country financials. Since Heineken closed Hartwall’s northernmost Lapin Kulta Brewery in 2010 and concentrated operations in Lahti, profitability must have improved, but whether this was enough for Hartwall to reach Heineken’s Western European average of 12.4 percent (EBIT margin) in 2012 I am not sure. Read on
 

Netherlands – Shame on Europe

Is there no end to brewers’ woes in western Europe? Heineken reported on 13 February 2013 that it was thanks to Africa, Asia and the Americas driving volume and revenue growth, that the brewer managed to offset weak European markets in its 2012 financial year.

In the Americas, including Mexico’s FEMSA which Heineken bought in 2010, Heineken sold 4.2 percent more beer. In Africa, where it dominates in Nigeria, volumes rose 3.6 percent. Operating profit in the regions rose 7.9 percent and 9.8 percent respectively.

However, in western Europe, where austerity has accelerated a general decline in beer consumption, volumes fell 2 percent with operating profit down 6.6 percent. Read on
 

Denmark – Carlsberg disappoints investors

Brewer Carlsberg left analysts in a tizzy after they cancelled their medium-term profitability goal. The February 2010 target to boost operating profit to 20 percent of sales in three-to-five years has “proved difficult to use”, Carlsberg said on 18 February 2013, adding that “several events, both within and beyond our control, have and will continue to impact margins.”

The change in long-term financial targets is probably the most disappointing element in the report”, the Sydbank analyst Morten Imsgaard was quoted as saying. He added that this “helps paint a picture of a brewery which is not entirely in control of factors which are decisive for earnings.”

Since Carlsberg set the margin target, the European economy has been wobbly while Russia, their biggest single market, has seen a government-led clampdown on beer sales.

Carlsberg said that beer demand in Russia had been stagnant while the western European market declined about 1 percent to 2 percent in 2012. Fortunately, demand in Asia increased. Read on

 

USA - Consumers to benefit if Obama administration blocks AB-InBev-Modelo merger

Media support is rallying behind the U.S. government to prevent AB-InBev’s pending transaction to acquire the remaining shares in Mexico's brewer Modelo that it does not already own.

On 9 February 2013, in a leader, the New York Times newspaper wrote that consumers will benefit if the Justice Department’s antitrust suit to block AB-InBev, the country’s largest brewing company, from acquiring one of its competitors, is successful. It added that this kind of action was seen less frequently in the Bush administration.

The New York Times newspaper is considered a more liberal voice in U.S. media, so it coming out in support of the Justice Department should not really surprise.

This article came hard on the heels of AB-InBev's statement of the previous day that Constellation Brands and Crown Imports have joined AB-InBev in fighting the U.S. Department of Justice in the courts on 8 February 2013. Read on

 

Finland - Is Heineken preparing for an exit?

In a brief news item, the UK's Sunday Times reported on 3 February 2013 that Heineken is rumoured to be looking to sell its Finnish subsidiary Hartwall for EUR 590 million (USD 790 million). Heineken acquired Hartwall as part of the Scottish & Newcastle transaction in 2008, which it conducted jointly with Carlsberg.

Although only a rumour, Heineken responded quickly. On 4 February 2013 Heineken announced that they have merely started a "strategic review". During this review, Heineken will evaluate strategic options for Hartwall to drive continued growth for the business, within or outside of the Heineken group. The strategic review is expected to be finalised before the end of the year.

Market observers concur that Heineken cannot have been too keen on acquiring Hartwall in the first place. But the company fell into their lap as Carlsberg could not take on Hartwall themselves. At the time of the S&N takeover, Carlsberg already owned the Finnish Sinebrychoff beverage business - since 1999 - and obviously feared competition concerns. Read on

 

China - CR Snow/SABMiller buys Kingway Brewery

Gaining market shares seems to be brewers' top priority. Or how should we interpret SABMiller's recent acquisition of the loss-making brewer Kingway otherwise?

SABMiller said on 5 February 2013 it agreed to buy China’s Kingway Brewery Holdings for 5.38 billion yuan (USD 863 million) through its Chinese joint venture with China Resources Enterprise, CR Snow, thus beating competition from AB-InBev and Beijing Yanjing Brewery. The transaction price includes about USD 33 million worth of loans, it was reported.

China's major brewers have been circling Kingway for over a year after Heineken and its partner APB decided to sell their 22 percent stake in Kingway in May 2011. At the time of Heineken's exit Kingway was valued at USD 730 million, but Heineken still wanted out in order to focus on the more profitable premium segment. On average, brewers in China earn about USD 2 per hl, while earnings in the premium segment are probably 10 times this sum. Read on

 

Myanmar - Carlsberg re-enters Southeast Asia’s fast-growing beer market

After Carlsberg began posting job openings for Myanmar nationals in mid-summer on its website, speculation was rife that Carlsberg was seeking to return to Myanmar following the easing of international sanctions which had forced the brewer out of the country in the mid-1990s.

On 1 February 2013 Carlsberg announced it has formed a joint venture in Myanmar with privately-owned Myanmar Golden Star Breweries (MGS) to brew and market Carlsberg beers in the country. Carlsberg will own 51 percent in the new joint venture.

MGS, which is controlled by local tycoon Thein Tun and produces Myanmar's leading cola brand Star Cola, is well known to Carlsberg. It was Carlsberg's original partner in Myanmar before political circumstances made Carlsberg leave the country. Previously, Carlsberg's beers were only imported into the country and sold there. Read on

 

Europe - How to stem the erosion of the beer category? Sell a Radler.

It's kind of funny that a beverage that is basically a simple beer mix and was already invented over 90 years ago by a Munich publican, is finally becoming an international phenomenon. Radlers or shandies have proven very popular in several central European markets like Hungary, Austria, Croatia and Slovakia, where they have captured between 3 and 6 percent of the beer market. In the Czech Republic Radlers have instilled some vigour into the languishing beer market category. Same in Poland, where Radlers were introduced last summer to offset a sluggish market.

Judging from what they say, SABMiller and Heineken have set high hopes for these products. In fact, in November 2012, Heineken's Alexis Nasard boasted to analysts that "Radler is one of the examples of a global innovation that we do on local brands. It's been executed in 13 markets last year, in eight markets this year and a lot more next year and we aim for it to be a global initiatives by the end of 2013 almost entirely. Radler is a great initiative because it's value enhancing, we sell it at a premium. It is also creating new drinking occasions in beer, because there are lots of instances where people are not sure they want to drink a beer. [...] It is refreshing, it is less alcohol, it is 2% [ABV], it is more accessible to many people who don't really like the bitterness of beer. So it's gathering new consumers and new consumption opportunities and it's been a success so far."

Mr Nasard said it all: Radlers are easy to make; they already come in all kinds of flavours - lemon, cherry, elderflower, pink grapefruit, blackcurrant, to name but few; they are usually sold at a higher price than beer and they allow brewers to reach target groups that would not touch a beer.

Brewers' keenness to launch Radlers is fed by two realisations. Beer consumption in Europe is declining. Many youngsters will drink anything but beer. Thus, marketing Radlers may be the only way to prevent them from defecting to other drinks. This may be a defensive move, but so what. At the same time, brewers can use Radlers pro-actively to tap into the growing number of middle class consumers in emerging markets, who want to be tempted with new products that are easy-to-grasp yet prestigious.

In effect, Radlers can help brewers stem consumers' migration to other drinks, such as energy drinks or cocktails, while taking them gently back into the beer fold. Although it's a disputed issue among brewers if Radlers should taste of beer or not - the pro-camp usually argues that it is an alcoholic beverage and therefore should taste of beer - the fact is that consumers enjoy Radlers for all kinds of reasons: because they are refreshing, lower-in alcohol, as well as fruity and sweet in taste (a boon with women).

Radlers may have been around Germany like forever, but the beauty is that Radlers are still not a well-defined category. There is no dogma. That's why no one knows or really cares if a Radler should be made with a lemon pop or lemon juice. Radlers are a free-for-all category. Anything goes.

Obviously, major brewers have no problem launching Radlers into markets wherever they deem them suitable, thanks to their greater marketing clout. But Radlers can benefit smaller brewers too, provided they understand that some flavours may have a short lifespan. However, with risks and investments being manageable, should a flavour bomb one year, brewers can always try out a new one the following year.

 

USA – Crown Imports’ fate is hanging in the balance

The future of beer importer Crown Imports, which ranks third in U.S. beer sales volume behind Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors, looks decidedly uncertain after the U.S. government announced it will sue to block the attempted merger of AB-InBev and Mexico's Grupo Modelo on 31 January 2013.

The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia as the United States of America versus AB-InBev and Grupo Modelo.

After months of behind-the-scenes discussions with AB-InBev, the U.S. government has filed a lawsuit seeking to stop AB-InBev from buying the half of Mexican brewer Grupo Modelo that it does not already own, saying the USD 20.1 billion deal could mean higher U.S. beer prices.

The government's move not only calls into question the completion of one of the biggest deals of 2012 but also a related deal that was set to change the fortunes of the world's largest wine company, Constellation Brands. Read on
 

South Africa – Diageo enters sorghum beer segment

That’s an interesting move. SABMiller got out of sorghum beer production in South Africa over a decade ago and now Diageo is getting into it. The world’s leading drinks company on 28 January 2013 said it will acquire a 50 percent interest in a joint venture, co-owned by India’s Vijay Mallya, for USD 36 million (EUR 26 million).

According to the lawyers Herbert Smith Freehills, who advised on the deal, Diageo and Dr Mallya are also considering an extension of the joint venture to other emerging markets in Asia (other than India) and Africa.

On November 9, 2012, Diageo and Dr Mallya entered into a memorandum of understanding to form a 50:50 joint venture, which would own United National Breweries' (UNB) traditional sorghum beer business in South Africa.

The transaction is conditional on consent from the South African competition authority and is expected to complete in the first half of this year.

Sorghum beer – also called “tradition beer” – is estimated to account for 15 million hl of annual consumption in South Africa. That’s half the volume of “clear” beer, i.e. European type lagers. However, industrial production of sorghum beer only represents 30 percent or less of consumption as the bulk of it is still homebrewed.

With six breweries across South Africa, down from 18 a decade ago, UNB dominates the traditional beer business. It is the successor to National Sorghum Breweries (NSB), a failed Black Economic Empowerment company, of which it took control in 1996.

In 2000, UNB also took over Traditional Beer Investments, the sorghum division of then SAB, because SAB did not believe in a profitable future for commercial sorghum beer. Although UNB’s Indian owners have frequently said that they turned the business round, profits must have been wafer thin most years as volumes have declined consistently.

UNB brews six different brands, including Chibuku, which is found throughout Africa, where it is produced by different companies.

The nature of traditional beer, in that it is an actively fermenting product with a very limited shelf life, necessitates on-the-ground and hands-on management requiring a decentralised operational base.

While Heineken refrains from brewing sorghum beer as it is a comparatively low margin business, SABMiller is actively involved in sorghum beer brewing in several African markets in an effort to steadily move consumers away from homebrew to commercial brews. SABMiller brews Chibuku in Zambia, Malawi, Botswana, Mozambique, Swaziland, Tanzania and Ghana as well as in Zimbabwe through its joint venture, Delta.

SABMiller’s Chibuku sells at 50 percent to 70 percent of the price of a lager. Its innovation, Chibuku Super, enables wider distribution through increasing the shelf-life beyond the usual three days to 60 days.

 

Australia – SABMiller tries to revive Foster’s fortunes

It seems that SABMiller have realised that the previous Foster’s management axed too many experienced brewing/technical staff, thus creating an embarrassing shortage. That’s why in January 2013 there were ten technical job vacancies at Foster’s published on the website seek.com.au.

SABMiller’s unit Foster’s has reported further declines in sales for the October-to-December 2012 quarter, despite its flagship Victoria Bitter (VB) reporting its first gain in sales for more than a decade.

SABMiller, which acquired Foster’s for AUD 12.3 billion in December 2011, reported a 4 percent decline in underlying sales by volume for the three months to the end of December 2012, compared with the same period a year earlier.
However, the sales decrease was in line with the overall beer market, and SABMiller noted the pace of decline had slowed from the 8 percent fall seen in the July-to-September 2012 quarter.
Read on
 

Netherlands – Local brewers should seek better economies of scale, says new Rabobank report

Why the recent interest in small brewers? Is it because the big multinational brewers have realised that their brands are often more vibrant than their own mega-brands? Or because they have found out to their distress that they depend on the smaller guys to keep consumer interest in the beer category alive?

Be it as it may, there is no denying that small operators are struggling in their mostly mature markets.

As Dutch Rabobank argues in a recent report “Battling the Brewing Giants - The changing face of competition for local brewers” (18 January 2013), over the past decade, the global brewing sector has gone through a consolidation process. The leading four brewers — AB-InBev, SABMiller, Heineken and Carlsberg — which had a market share of just 16 percent in 2001, today account for nearly half the global beer volume.

Recent activity suggests that this process is continuing. Rabobank’s research shows that, as the top four brewers grew through acquisitions, many of the smaller local brewers stood on the side lines and are now finding themselves competing with global giants, rather than with other local niche players.

Although there is a problem with definition as to what constitutes a local brewer – is it the microbreweries with their tiny beer volumes or big brewers like Germany’s Oettinger brewery (5.9 million hl in 2012) that operate in one market only – Rabobank says that in terms of volume, the local brewers’ market share has remained fairly stable over time, with local brewers selling 100 billion litres and having a 53 percent market share in 2011 (2001: 56 percent), meaning that organically local brewers have not lost significant market share to the acquisitive multinational giants.

That’s the good news. However, the bad news is that local brewers have lost out to the multinationals in terms of profits. “In 2011, local brewers made up just 25 percent of the profit pool, declining from a 45 percent share in 2002,” says Rabobank analyst Francois Sonneville,

“The brewing giants have been able to increase their share of profits through efficiency gains and implementation of a premiumisation strategy in emerging markets where premium beer brands are more profitable. In absolute terms, local brewers have also benefited from the growth of the profit pool as their operating profits have increased over the years. This should give local brewers some peace of mind at a time when mature market conditions are deteriorating, driven by the recession and reductions in disposable income”, he added.

Unfortunately, for local brewers, there is no guarantee that the multinational brewers will stick to their policy of profits over volumes. Eventually, they might decide to change their strategy and focus on volume growth rather than profit.

In order to compete, Rabobank advises local brewers to evaluate their cost structures and consider alternatives, such as joint purchasing or co-manufacturing, which could give them greater economies of scale.

This is what consultants have been telling local German operators for two decades now. Did they heed their advice?

Perhaps local brewers in other markets will see the light sooner than the Germans.

In its 2013 global beverage industries’ outlook (29 January 2013) Rabobank predicts that beer will be one of the slowest growing beverages categories in volume, achieving only a low single digit increase globally.

As concerns consumer trends, Rabobank notes that in markets where consumers are trading up, leading brewers will continue to make acquisitions of niche products to add to their strong brand portfolios. “Trading up will help brewers to increase the profit pool, but consumers will be very demanding, and as the quality of beer becomes more important, it will become necessary for brewers to pay greater attention to their sourcing strategies”, Rabobank says.

 

Sweden – Craft versus pseudo crafts

First the U.S., then Australia and now Sweden. As Brauwelt International will argue in an upcoming report on “Craft Brewing in Europe”, micro brewers currently find themselves embroiled in a hot debate over what constitutes an authentic craft beer. With craft beer becoming more popular in several markets, we see more and more crafty-looking me-too launches by the big operators. However, all too often the multinational brewers feel compelled to disguise the origins of their craft beers, probably knowing all too well that ownership is a sore issue in the definition of craft beers. Read on
 

UK – Obesity is the new frontier

Getting your timing right is everything in politics. So why did the issue of obesity dominate the UK’s media during the last week in January? Was it because the Public Health Minister, Anna Soubry, had persuaded eight new companies to sign up to the UK government’s Calorie Reduction Pledge, with leading soft drinks brands Lucozade and Ribena joining the likes of Britvic, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo in reducing the amount of sugar and calories in some of their products?

No, it was because she had said something outrageously insulting at the UK’s Food and Drink Federation’s ‘Delivering Healthy Growth’ stakeholder event on 22 January 2013. She reportedly began her address with some remarks about fat people she had seen when out and about. "When I walk around my constituency, you can almost tell somebody's background by their weight," she said. "Obviously not everybody who is overweight comes from a deprived background but that is where the propensity lies." She added that when she was at school, the poorer children were "skinny runts" - but that now the opposite was true.

Of course, the timing of her address was crucial. Over in Davos, where 2,500 top leaders from government and business had gathered to make connections and lobby the movers and shakers at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF), one of the issues discussed was obesity.

Obesity is far from a personal problem only. It imposes costs on both public and private sectors and is a drag on economic growth.

However, the business leaders meeting in Davos couldn’t agree on what they can or should do to address it. Read on

 

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