Planet Business

‘Sub-core’ assets, trouble at Sports Direct and how Microsoft likes to party

Image of the week: Rock-star economist

Paul Krugman is big in Japan. The Nobel Prize-winning economist was in Tokyo this week to have a chat about the global economy at the official residence of Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, and the Japanese press were keen to have a word. True to form, Krugman revealed he had urged Abe to abandon a sales tax increase pencilled in for next year and instead opt for greater fiscal stimulus. Krugman has already been influential in Japan, helping persuade Abe to delay raising the sales tax in 2014, while fellow Nobel winner Joseph Stiglitz, another anti-austerity star, has also cautioned against the latest scheduled rise. (Photograph: Reuters / Franck Robichon)

In Numbers: Whiskey v whisky

€410 million


Value of Irish whiskey exports from 15 distilleries (many of them newly operating), according to the Irish Spirits Association. It's not bad going, but. . .

€4 billion

Estimated value of exports from the ever so slightly larger Scotch whisky business. Representatives of the two industries met on Monday in an annual tradition that coincides with the Six Nations match between Ireland and Scotland.


Percentage increase in Irish whiskey sales volumes in the United States last year, making it the best-performing spirits category in that market for the period. Fortune called it "the luck of the Irish".

The lexicon: Sub-core

Companies love talking about core assets, or the parts of the business they either won't or can't sell anytime soon. Assets identified as non-core might as well have a giant "for sale" sign draped across them, if they haven't already got one foot in the graveyard of corporate regrets. Johnston Press, however, favours another term: "sub-core". The media group has identified no fewer than 59 titles, including several in Northern Ireland, as sub-core, meaning it wants to either get rid of them or operate them at an even lower cost. The journey from enthusiastic birth to unloved sub-core status can be a swift one indeed: Belfast Vibe, a one-year-old Johnston website aimed at millennials, is on the list.

Getting to know: Phil Spencer

Not to be confused with the Phil Spencer who co-presented Location, Location, Location, this Phil Spencer is the head of Microsoft's Xbox division, who has apologised for the "unequivocally wrong" presence of scantily-dressed female dancers (styled as schoolgirls) at a Microsoft-hosted party at a San Francisco game developers conference. One woman invited to the party as a guest, not as the entertainment, took pictorial evidence of this latest example of tech industry "bro" culture, blurring the faces of the dancers. The incident "represented Xbox and Microsoft in a way that was absolutely not consistent or aligned to our values", said Spencer. In the 1990s, he oversaw the development of Microsoft CD-Rom titles like digital encyclopaedia Encarta. The world has moved on.

The list: Trouble at Sports Direct

London-listed retailer Sports Direct controls the Heatons chain and has been looking to expand its business in Ireland, which it dubs “a nation of sports fanatics”. But the Mike Ashley-founded company has a few creases it might like to iron out first.

1 Misfiring interview “We are in trouble, we are not trading very well,” Ashley told The Times this week. Despite having warned on profits in January, its shares promptly sold off again.

2 ‘Gulag’ allegations Sports Direct has been trying to fend off accusations that staff at its Derbyshire warehouse work in Victorian conditions. The “media circus” has resulted in a “public vilification” of Sports Direct, Ashley claims.

3 Political bother The billionaire has declined to attend a parliamentary committee hearing into Sports Direct’s treatment of staff and MPs are furious.

4 Share price slump Its share price has more than halved since last summer, forcing its relegation from the top-flight FTSE 100 index.

5 Investor discord There are grumblings that the Newcastle United owner treats Sports Direct not as a public company, but as his plaything.