Quartz Daily Brief—Europe edition—Corporate tax, China’s yuan, Alibaba-Sina, investing in condoms

November 19, 2012
November 19, 2012

Good morning, Quartz readers!

What to watch for today

More tax pressure on US multinationals. Pressure is mounting on companies including Google and Starbucks to justify UK tax payments that MPs say are unjustifiably low. British Business Secretary Vince Cable on Sunday urged authorities to clamp down on “completely unacceptable” corporate tax avoidance. Google paid only £3.4 million in British corporation tax last year on revenues totalling about £2.5 billion, it is claimed. Apple, meanwhile, has been hit for back taxes in Australia.

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. While rewarding Myanmar’s progress so far, he 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? The Scandinavian airline, which has been fighting to stay afloat, has just inked deals with two labor unions out of eight it has been negotiating with in a bid to slash costs. The airline, half-owned by the governments of Sweden, Denmark and Norway, had said a deal with unions on wage cuts, changes to work hours and pensions must be reached by Sunday if it were to stay in business. But talks were extended into today.

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

And the winner of France’s opposition primary is… everyone? The poll to choose the next leader of France’s opposition Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) has been marred by vote-rigging allegations, as both candidates claimed they had won. The UMP has been without a leader since Nicolas Sarkozy lost the May election.

Maersk looks for dry land. Danish conglomerate AP Møller-Maersk gave a downbeat forecast for the fate of the global container-shipping industry by signaling that it will switch investment to its other businesses. Nils Andersen, chief executive, told the Financial Times his firm would cut back investments in Maersk Line, the world’s biggest operator of container ships, in favor of its oil, drilling rigs, and ports divisions.

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. As the latest exchange of violence enters its sixth day, three Israelis and some 80 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 she didn’t call the attack on the US diplomatic mission in Benghazi last September a terrorist act in a statement she made a few days later. The White House insists she was merely repeating the best intelligence from the CIA available at the time.

China’s eBay may buy a stake in China’s Twitter. According to a newspaper report, Alibaba, the owner of e-commerce site Taobao, is planning to buy 15%-20% of Sina Weibo, valuing the microblogging service at $3 billion, as against a stock-market implied valuation of $1.8 billion.

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.

More US states could legalise cannabis. That is, if Colorado and Washington’s experiment goes well and shows the “sky hasn’t fallen”, drug policy researchers say.

VolatilityGotta 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.”

The staying power of Gangnam Style. Yes, yet another very serious essay about a very silly video.

Surprising discoveries

The banana king goes strategically bust. Vladimir Kekhman, a fruit importer who once called himself “the emperor of the banana”, has become the first Russian to declare bankruptcy in a foreign court, in an effort to protect his assets from seizure.

One word: condoms. Malaysia’s rubber industry is perking up, thanks to the insatiable demands of Asia’s growing population of young adults.

Do you own a historic house? 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.”

Nations who consume more chocolate produce more Nobel Prize winners. But can the link be explained?

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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