What to watch for today
Last-ditch talks on Ukraine. US senators meet with the interim Ukranian government in Kiev and US secretary of state John Kerry sits down with Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in London, ahead of Crimea’s referendum to join Russia on Sunday. Meanwhile, Russian troops and armored vehicles are massed along Ukraine’s eastern border.
A negative UK balance of trade. January data are set to show a £3 billion ($4.98 billion) trade deficit—roughly in line with the average for the past two years—fueled by high consumer demand, low industrial output, and low oil and gas exports.
America sees the glass as half-full. A Reuters/University of Michigan poll is set to show a rise in consumer confidence for the third consecutive month. Yesterday, US retail sales grew by 0.3% after declining for the previous two months, and new unemployment claims fell to a three-month low.
While you were sleeping
A possible lead on Malaysian Airlines #370. Reuters quoted unnamed sources saying that the plane was “deliberately flown” towards India’s Andaman Islands, a sparsely inhabited chain between the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea, suggesting that hijacking played a role in its disappearance. US search planes are combing the area.
Indian inflation eased up. The wholesale price index rose 4.68% year-on-year in February, versus 4.99% the month before, due in part to a 10% drop in food prices. Signs that inflation is slowing may allow India’s central bank to delay further interest rate rises.
Tencent had a bad week in China. China’s central bank banned a new payment system that was set to be rolled out by Tencent and its rival Alibaba, and dozens of politically prominent accounts on Tencent’s WeChat service were abruptly deleted. CEO Pony Ma was conspicuously absent at annual parliamentary meetings in Beijing.
Barclays is planning an investment bank overhaul. A new strategy (paywall) will be announced this summer and the struggling division’s two leaders may be replaced amid rising costs, falling profits, and oversize bonuses.
Quartz obsession interlude
Steve LeVine on why the West is failing to understand Vladimir Putin. “A question not being asked is whether Putin came back to power a very different leader from the one elected president in 2000 and again in 2004; whether, while the Washington lunch group along with Russia hands around the world were microscopically scrutinizing the words and body language of that Putin, a mutation with a very different cognitive and ethical core assaulted Crimea. A figure less pragmatic, higher-risk, and much more likely than his progenitor to act out Russian glory in its imperial prime.” Read more here.
Matters of debate
China is simultaneously understating and overstating inflation. The statistics tell conflicting stories.
Medical school takes too long. With a global shortage of doctors, 14 years of training is excessive.
The anti-vaccine movement is killing people. Measles have returned to New York.
DIY funerals are taking off. Avoiding the middle man in after-death care can be cheaper and more environmentally friendly.
Teslas are polluting China. Electric cars require large amounts of Chinese-mined graphite, which is fouling air, water, and crops.
India wants people to eat more bugs. The country could be headed for famine, and insects are an alternative source of protein.
America’s health kick is spoiling TV dinners. Younger consumers are opting for fresher food.