By Paul Hodges

The toy industry is going through difficult times as Lex highlighted recently. Profits at Toys R Us have halved since 2009, whilst Mattel is suffering due to poor sales of Barbie dolls. A dismal Christmas at the UK’s Mothercare led the departure of its chief executive. Read more >>

by Nassos Stylianou and John Burn-Murdoch

Between May 22 and 25, some 400 million people will be eligible to vote in the European Parliament elections. But how many of them will actually turn up at the ballot box?

Following 2009 treaty changes, the European Parliament will for the first time have a more direct role in electing the president of the European Commission , the EU’s executive arm, giving May’s election added significance.

Despite the increasing influence of the European Parliament, the percentage of those voting to elect its members has fallen in every election, from 62 per cent in 1979’s inaugural direct elections through to 43 per cent in 2009.

At the last European elections five years ago, less than half of those eligible voted in 18 of the 27 member states. In six countries, the turnout was below 30 per cent. In one country, Slovakia, less than one in five of those eligible voted.

Turnout in Germany, France and Italy – founding members of the common market – has eroded by more than 20 percentage points since then. In the UK, turnout was already low at 32.3 per cent in 1979 and levels have remained consistently below 40 per cent ever since.

However, several of the newer member states such as Estonia, Latvia and Bulgaria recorded a surge in turnout in 2009.

 Read more >>

by Andrew Jack

From trade embargoes to arms blockades, sanctions have long been an extension of conflict by non-military means. Since the start of the twenty-first century, there has been growing use of “targeted” sanctions that draw on intelligence to pinpoint individuals for travel bans or asset freezes. The United Nations, the European Union and the US have announced a wide series of measures, while other organisations including the African Union and individual countries have also issued them with varying degrees of success.

There is fierce debate about the effectiveness of sanctions, with at least two organisations seeking to assess their mixed impact. Our interactive graphic draws on the global analysis by the Peterson Institute for International Economics and the Targeted Sanctions Consortium, based in Switzerland. Read more >>

By Paul Hodges

Two remarkable global demographic developments have occurred since 1950. Yet only recently have their impact on companies and the economy begun to be properly understood.

Life expectancy has risen by 50 per cent since 1950 (red column) to average around 70 years today, due to advances in disease prevention and knowledge about healthier lifestyles.

Total fertility rates have halved over the same period (green shading). The average woman now has only 2.5 children, as increased life expectancy means large families are no longer so essential for economic survival. Read more >>

by Thomas Hale

Fears of an incipient housing bubble in London – and concerns about the UK property sector in general – are soaring as quickly as the prices themselves. But not all bubbles are created equal – especially when it comes to first-time buyers.

How might rising house prices affect first-time buyers? The graph below shows the average UK house price compared to how much of the average take-home pay first-time buyers spend on repayments.

The most striking thing about the graph is the way price correlates so strongly to the stretched nature of first-time buyer households until mid-2009, at which point the two lines start to move in opposite directions. Prices have begun to go up again, but first-time buyers have become consistently less stretched across the UK. Read more >>

(c) Getty Images

By Henry Foy

Ten things to know about the 48 hour London tube strike that began last night:

1. 3.4m people use the tube every day, according to Transport for London (TFL). Not today they didn’t.

2. The strike is all about jobs. Boris Johnson and TFL, which runs the Tube, wants to close all tube ticket offices by 2015, at a cost of 750 jobs.

3. TFL say the public support the plans. Eighty-two per cent of respondents to their survey backed the move to close ticket offices, it said. But the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union, which is taking part in the strike, said a survey it commissioned found 65 per cent of tube users felt industrial action as a last resort was justified.

4. Forty-three stations, or 16 per cent of the total station network, were completely closed on Wednesday morning, TFL said. Read more >>