Quartz Daily Brief—Asia edition—Ukraine sanctions, Wal-Mart thinks small, marketing nostalgia, WhatsApp

February 20, 2014
February 20, 2014

What to watch for today

A new read on whether Mexico’s growth is holding up. The country has sidestepped the worst of the emerging market sell-off that rattled nerves in financial markets this year. Observers are still concerned about growth, however. Mexico is expected to post fourth-quarter GDP growth of 0.6%, down from 0.8% a year earlier.

The UN pushes for more aid to Syria. A draft resolution to bolster humanitarian aid to Syria finally goes to a vote at the UN Security Council today after almost two weeks of negotiation. The bill’s main obstacles are Russia and China, which have already vetoed three resolutions condemning Syria’s government.

Singapore makes it harder to be rich. Singapore unveils its budget for 2014, which is expected to tackle the country’s growing income inequality by boosting its low-income support schemes and health care funding. The government could also raise the top income tax rate and impose duties on luxury purchases.

The global economy gets a fix-it plan. Finance ministers from the world’s major economies meet today at the G20 Summit in Sydney, Australia. The agenda will focus on how the central banks can work together to fix the global economy, particularly the recent turbulence in emerging markets.

While you were sleeping

Ukraine was sanctioned amid escalating violence. European Union ministers agreed at an emergency meeting to impose sanctions—including asset freezes and visa bans—on Ukrainian officials responsible for the use of excessive force. Violence at anti-government demonstrations killed 21 protestors on Thursday after a truce agreed late Wednesday was not honored.

Venezuela let its opposition leader slightly off the hook. A Venezuelan court cleared opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez of charges of murder and terrorism, following claims that he incited violent riots that resulted in at least five deaths. Lopez is still charged with arson and conspiracy, and could face 10 years in prison if found guilty.

Wal-Mart said small neighborhood convenience stores were key to its growth strategy. Wal-Mart offered weaker-than-expected guidance for 2014, saying squeezed low-income American consumers have less disposable income to spend in its stores due to food stamps reductions and higher payroll taxes. The king of big box retail also highlighted plans to open more small stores.

Investors tried putting the fizz back in PepsiCo. Activist investor Nelson Peltz, whose firm Trian Partners owns a $1.2 billion stake in PepsiCo, will rally the company’s other investors to back his divestment campaign. Peltz wants PepsiCo to separate its food and beverage divisions (paywall) in the face of declining soft drink sales in North America.

Spanish mega-bank BBVA looked to Portland, Oregon to further its digital ambitions. The 157-year old bank snapped up Portland’s online banking startup Simple for $117 million in cash, a move that shows how hard it could be for Silicon Valley to disrupt retail finance on its own.

Quartz obsession interlude

Roberto A. Ferdman on how Venezuelan unrest is dividing South America. “Sometimes it takes a crisis to find out who’s got your back. Such is the case for the government in Venezuela, where massive, and at times deadly, protests are being waged against the country’s leadership. On one hand, neighbors like Argentina, Bolivia, and Ecuador have made clear their unconditional support for Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro. On the other, leaders in placed like Colombia, Chile, and Peru have not. These alliances largely—but not always—reflect political and economic interests.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

Facebook had no choice but to buy WhatsApp. The messaging app posed a serious threat to the social network’s existence.

Marketing’s latest mechanism is nostalgia. Sex sells—but so do ’90s pop culture icons.

US president Barack Obama missed his chance to save Syria. By failing to act when Syria used sarin gas last year, America’s threats have lost their power (paywall).

Ukrainian unrest is the last vestige of the Cold War. It’s Russia against the Western bloc all over again.

Get rid of Ivy League endowment funds. They’re anti-meritocratic and an inefficient allocation of resources.

Surprising discoveries

Now you can join the mile-low club. Lovers Deep is a luxury submarine available for £175,000 ($291,690) per couple per night.

Meryl Streep gets more Oscar mentions than God. In the last decade the American actor has racked up four mentions in award-ceremony speeches, compared to God’s three.

Global warming will lead to more crimes. Warmer weather increases the rate of murder, rape, assault, and theft by up to 3%, according to one research firm.

Queen Victoria smoked marijuana. Governmental demonization of cannabis is a recent thing

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, accounts of royal marijuana usage, and defenses of Ivy League endowments to hi@qz.com. You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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