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Quartz Daily Brief—Asia Edition—SAS, shadow banking, volatility, beards

Good morning, Quartz readers!

What to watch for today

A presidential seal of approval for Myanmar. Barack Obama becomes the first US president to visit the country, in an attempt to show off his administration’s newfound attentiveness to Asia. A new investment law was recently passed, but critics say Obama is lending credibility to a regime that, though it has opened up in recent years, is still rife with corruption and deep in human-rights abuses. Somewhat implausibly, the president claims that his visit is “not an endorsement” of the regime, and will symbolically stay away from the administrative capital, Naypyidaw. In Rangoon, meanwhile, they are welcoming him in true American style: with graffiti.

What next for SAS? After airline management rejected an offer from the cabin crew and pilots’ unions, Scandinavia’s biggest airline is teetering on the brink. Management had given the unions until Nov. 18 to agree to savage pay and job cuts, saying that otherwise the airline, which has been undercut by low-cost rivals and suffers from an over-dependency on short-haul routes, could go bust.

The US reports existing home sales, which are expected to stay steady, a hopeful sign for the economy; also closely watched, though, will be tomorrow’s new housing starts, which are expected to show a downswing.

Over the weekend

Freedom is in sight for China’s yuan. China’s central-bank governor,  Zhou Xiaochuan, who has presided over a gradual loosening of exchange-rate policy, said that the next step for the renminbi would be full convertibility, allowing it to be used not just for trade. China has given strong hints of this in the past, but has been nervous about exposing itself to the volatility that would come with the lifting of capital controls.

Shadow banking is bigger than anyone thought. The size of the shadow banking system, which allows banks to carry out transactions off their balance sheets and avoid certain kinds of regulatory restrictions, is now $67 trillion, nearly 10% bigger than previously estimated. Regulators are trying to come up with ways to keep it under their thumbs too.

Fighting between Israel and Hamas continued. Since the latest exchange of violence began on Nov. 14, three Israelis and some 70 Palestinians are reported to have died. On Nov. 18 the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange posted its biggest gain in a month, seemingly on the hope that a truce would be declared soon. In Egypt, by contrast, public anger over the Israeli bombardment of Gaza and political deadlock over the rewriting of a constitution made stocks fall.

No easy ride for Rice. Republican lawmakers are spoiling for what may be the first serious fight of Barack Obama’s second term over the possible nomination of Susan Rice, the American ambassador to the UN, as secretary of state. They say they will call her before Congress to explain why, in a statement about the attack on the US diplomatic mission in Benghazi last September, she said that it was the spontaneous result of a political protest rather than, as subsequently emerged, an al-Qaeda terrorist attack. The White House insists she was merely repeating the best intelligence from the CIA available at the time.

Quartz obsession interlude

Steve LeVine explains how to do an oil deal in Nigeria. “There are always are middlemen, multi-million-dollar fees, meetings in luxury European hotels, and hijinx, because at least one of the parties is usually rough around the edges. The part about the trouble getting paid—that happens fairly often as well.”

Matters of debate

Though Republicans retained a majority in the House of Representatives in the Nov. 6 election, they can’t claim they have a mandate.

If Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party wins the election on Dec. 16, as expected, it may mark a return to the one-party rule that held sway for half a century.

Mourning Bal Thackeray, India’s “charismatic fascist”, who died on Nov. 17, is as complicated as he was.

Volatility? Gotta learn to love it. Nassim Nicholas Taleb of “black swan” fame offers five rules for doing so, including the gnomic “Rule 1: Think of the economy as being more like a cat than a washing machine.”

Surprising discoveries

Do you own a historic house? Whatever it is, we’ll bet you a bottle of 10,000-year-old Scotch that it’s not as historic as this one.

A policeman caught smoking hashish in the United Arab Emirates told the court he was “just going through a phase.”

The real reason why rebel fighters wear beards.

Best wishes from Quartz for a productive day. Please send any news, queries, oil deals, and drug-taking excuses to hi@qz.com.

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