Quartz Daily Brief—Americas Edition—US hiring, Sandy aid, Wegelin closes, Mars rocks

January 4, 2013
January 4, 2013

Good morning, Quartz readers!

What to watch for today

US jobs nudge upwards. The first official estimate of unemployment in the final month of 2012 will be released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics; economists expect a moderate increase of 140,000 net jobs. Strong performance might be a nice capstone for the past year, but the economy is still wobbly and could be dented by continued spending cuts and political wrangling post-fiscal-cliff.

House to take up limited Sandy aid package. The US House of Representatives is expected to vote on $9 billion in immediate assistance for flood insurance for victims of superstorm Sandy while postponing action on another $51 billion in help for two weeks. The move comes after leading New Jersey and New York Republicans reacted with outrage when the aid package was shelved earlier in the week following congressonal passage of a compromise tax deal.

All you ever wanted to know about global services. Numbers due out shortly for the US come after figures earlier today showed service activity in the UK fell at the fastest pace since 2009. India reported its fastest growth in three months and services in the euro zone reached a five-month high, building on positive news from China earlier in the week.

Brazilian economists expect industry to shrink. Today the country’s government will release statistics on industrial production for Nov. 2012; with forecasters expecting a downturn and swap rates falling.

While you were sleeping

Wegelin to close. Wegelin & Co, Switzerland’s oldest private bank, is to cease operations after pleading guilty in a New York federal court to helping Americans evade taxes on at least $1.2 billion for nearly a decade. It agreed to pay $57.8 million in restitution and fines. The bank, founded in 1741, had previously vowed to resist the US charges.

India getting tax ideas from the US? Chakravarthy Rangarajan, chairman of the Indian prime minister’s economic advisory council, said his government should look at raising the income tax rate of 30% on the highest earners and taxing dividends as it works to narrow its budget deficit.

Thailand lost rice title. After three decades as the world’s top rice exporter, Thailand fell behind both India and Vietnam in 2012 as its shipments dropped 36%. Exports fell after the government fulfilled an election promise to buy farming crops at prices well above market levels.

SEC closed Sokol investigation. A lawyer for David Sokol, who until 2011 had been seen as a possible successor to Warren Buffett at Berkshire Hathaway, said the Securities and Exchange Commission notified him that no action would be taken over alleged insider trading. Sokol left Berkshire after Buffett discovered he had bought shares in a company shortly before Berkshire agreed to acquire it.

South Korean police questioned intelligence agent. Police investigating allegations of attempts to manipulate public opinion before last month’s presidential election questioned a National Intelligence Service agent. The police said they had evidence she had clicked to  “like” “or “dislike” online posts about the election about 200 times, mostly on liberal websites, using 16 different online identities.

Indonesia to probe killings. The attorney general’s office is to begin looking into civilian killings in the 1960s and 1980s after years of calls for action. An estimated 500,000 or more people, a high proportion ethnic Chinese, are thought to have been killed after an alleged 1965 coup attempt fueled an anti-communist purge.

Quartz obsession interlude

Tim Fernholz on how multinational CEOs adroitly navigated the fiscal cliff to their advantage: “Major business leaders joined the White House in media events to pressure Congress to raise income taxes and make a fiscal cliff deal in search of corporate tax reform that would make it easier for multinational corporations to move money around. They got two major elements of that in the extenders. A provision allows US companies operating overseas to convert “passive” profits like interest payments and rents into lower-tax “active” investment vehicles, largely benefitting financial services companies or industrials, like GE, with major financial units. Another provision allows tech and pharmaceutical companies to move intellectual property to subsidiaries in low-taxed or no-tax countries. These are the kinds of rules that allow companies like Pfizer and Google to pay low taxes, and recently attracted public censure for Starbucks in the United Kingdom.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

Should the central bank be a central planner? What the Fed really needs is a US sovereign wealth fund.

Is al Jazeera a news network? Thus asks Elliott Abrams, a former Middle East policy supremo in the Bush White House, who argues the company fails to alert viewers by its name or on its website that it is controlled by Qatar’s government.

The missed opportunity of Les Mis. At a time when revolution is in the air in the Middle East, the movie could have returned to the novel’s balance between revolution and religion as vehicles for progress, rather than taking a cynical view on revolution.

Do professors even need universities anymore? Freelance academics might be the future of education.

America’s banks are black boxes. What kind of regulation could make these behemoths comprehensible to average customers or investors?

The case for currency wars. Just not trade wars. You can tell the difference, right?

Surprising discoveries

More resilient screens. Corning, the glassware company whose “Gorilla Glass” is in more than 1 billion smartphones, tablets, televisions and notebook computers, next week will unveil a new type of glass that it says will be 50% more resistant to breaks and 40% less prone to visible scratches.

Smaug the Dragon is a monetary phenomenon. A macroeconomic analysis of The Hobbit. 

Martian rock with water in the Sahara. Scientists are studying a rock bought from a Moroccan meteorite dealer that, unlike previous meteorite fragments that have come to Earth from the red planet, appears to have the relatively high water content matching rocks examined on Mars by NASA rovers.

Google has removed its China censorship warning. The search engine has quietly removed a feature that alerted users in China who tried searches with certain terms that those searches could lead to service disruptions “outside Google’s control”.

A new ground-based location system could make GPS work indoors. The military is excited, and so are robots.

A French ISP is automatically blocking online ads. The tech update boggled consumer minds, but could inspire ire among content creators.

And a reminder: Quartz is hiring. As we expand in 2013, we’re looking for a new corporate reporter and science/technology writer. Tell your journalist friends.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, and Saharan water rocks to hi@qz.com. You can follow us on Twitter here for updates during the day.

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