Good morning, Quartz readers!
What to watch for today
US banks pay up for turfing people out of their homes. Federal regulators are expected to announce a $10 billion settlement with 14 banks over claims of foreclosure abuse. The banks would extend $6 billion to homeowners behind on their mortgages and in danger of losing their homes, while $3.75 billion would go to 4.4 million people who went through foreclosure in 2009 and 2010.
Obama to nominate Hagel for defense. US President Barack Obama is expected to nominate former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel, a Republican, for Secretary of Defense. Hagel, a veteran of the US war in Vietnam, may face stiff opposition from former Republican colleagues who think he is too unfriendly to Israel and too soft on Iran. Some officials say the president will also announce his nominee for a new CIA director to replace David Petraeus. Leading candidates are Michael Morell, the acting director, and John Brennan, counterterrorism and homeland security adviser.
IMF discusses loan for Egypt. International Monetary Fund officials are to meet with Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and others to discuss a potential $4.8 billion loan to help stabilize the country’s struggling economy.
Draghi speaketh—in semi-secret. European Central Bank president Mario Draghi will speak about “the political shape of the new Europe” in Berlin at 7:30pm CET. A transcript of the discussion will not be published following the conference, which is sponsored by German newspaper Die Welt. It comes ahead of the ECB’s first rate decision of 2013, due Thursday Jan. 10.
New Ghana leader takes office. John Mahama, previously vice president, is to be sworn in as president, though the main opposition party is boycotting the inauguration, alleging fraud in last month’s polls in which Mahama officially won 50.7% of the vote and avoided a run-off.
Karzai comes to Washington. Afghan President Hamid Karzai is set to meet with President Obama in Washington early this week, as the US weighs whether to leave fewer troops than considered earlier after it pulls out of Afghanistan in 2014, as well as how quickly to bring home the 66,000 service personnel it currently has there.
Relaxed rules liquidity rules for banks. In a boon for banks, regulators from the Basel Committee announced this weekend that rules defining the safe and easy-to-sell assets they would have to hold will be more flexible than expected and won’t be fully enforced until 2019, four years later than initially proposed. Under the looser rules banks will be able to count some kinds of stocks and securitized mortgage debt towards their required holdings of “safe” assets.
While you were sleeping
Berlusconi seeking to be economic minister. Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said his party had reached an agreement to run in next month’s elections together with the Northern League and that he had a preference to become economy minister, rather than prime minister, if the coalition won.
Lenovo introduced its table PC. No, that’s not a typo. The Chinese computer maker showed off what it calls the first “interpersonal computer”, a 27-inch touchscreen machine that, laid flat, allows four people to use it together and responds to movements by up to 10 fingers at the same time. Targeted as a gaming device, the IdeaCentre Horizon Table PC runs Windows 8 with a multi-user interface on top, and will come packaged with air hockey paddles, joysticks and “e-dice” that communicate directly with the computer.
Bad news for Japanese carmakers. Domestic sales in December declined 3.4% from a year earlier, the fourth consecutive month sales fell, as the expiry of government incentives hurt demand for fuel-efficient models. Those subsidies, however, boosted sales for the year 26%. Toyota reported that Lexus sales rose 32% but overalls domestic sales for the company declined 3.4% in December. Sales declines in China for the major Japanese carmakers slowed from the previous few months.
Staff strike at Chinese newspaper. Editorial staff at Southern Weekend, a Guangzhou newspaper known for pushing the limits of censorship, have halted work in the first such move in the country in more than two decades. The row over censorship was touched off by the replacement of a front-page new year’s editorial on political reform with one glorifying one-party rule. Many people also protested outside the newspaper to demonstrate support for the journalists.
Cerberus to sell down Aozora stake. Cerberus Capital Management plans to sell down its stake in Japan’s Aozora Bank from 58% to 8% through a global share offering that would be valued at around $1.8 billion.
China wealth fund reported to eye Daimler. The China Investment Corp., the country’s sovereign wealth fund, is in talks to buy a 4%-10% stake in Daimler, the German car and truck producer, according to local reports.
China to halt “reform through labor.” Meng Jianzhu, head of the Communist Party’s Political and Legal Affairs Committee, told a legal conference that China would stop using the reform, or re-education, through labor system that was set up in the 1950s and which allows police to imprison offenders for up to four years without trial. About 200,000 Chinese are believed to be held in re-education centers and Beijing is expected to replace the old detention system with a new one.
Taiwan reports strong exports. The country reported overseas shipments rose 9% in December from a year earlier, twice the pace of growth economists expected. Imports grew 1.6%—less than expected. Demand from China and Europe powered the growth in exports, while US shipments declined. HTC, the Taiwanese smartphone maker, reported a 91% decline in fourth-quarter profits, as it lost ground to Apple and Samsung.
Quartz obsession interlude
Naomi Rovnick on how the slumping demand for potash undermines the rationale of investors in commodities who assume Indian and Chinese demand will keep growing: “Indian farmers tend to be extremely poor and their Chinese counterparts are not too wealthy either. They are bound to look for bargain alternatives to potash where they can. Successive food scandals and snafus in China, from poisoned milk to exploding watermelons, provide ongoing evidence of farmers choosing price over quality. China is also cutting back on potash strategically. Earlier this year it delayed new purchases to strengthen its negotiating position with suppliers; it eventually won a huge discount from Canadian producers.” Read more here.
Matters of debate
Ignore forecasts. Wall Street got pretty much everything wrong in 2012.
China to get a Jinping jolt. Nicholas Kristof’s case for Xi Jinping as a reformer, contrary to the common view of the new leadership as conservative.
How much government debt is too much? Nobody knows.
The US should repeal the Second Amendment. The latest on the US gun quandary.
The e-book moment is over. Why the printed book is proving resilient.
Japan tries to play it cool through TV. The government’s “Cool Japan Fund” is supporting the launch of TV channels around Southeast Asia to promote Japanese culture and products, in an attempt to catch up to South Korea’s newfound cultural cachet.
Cambodia launching electric cars. Heng Development has shown off the first electric-powered cars from its new factory, also the country’s first car plant. The Angkor model is to sell for less than $10,000 and is designed to go a maximum of 60 kilometers per hour.
So that’s what a cat burglar is. Brazilian prison guards apprehended a white cat with drill bits, hacksaw blades, a mobile phone and other paraphernalia taped to its body. “It’s tough to find out who’s responsible for the action as the cat doesn’t speak,” one of them explained helpfully to the press.
Twitter doesn’t play nice. The microblogging service is making it tough for researchers to parse massive Tweet troves.
POSSLQs, fusbands, mujeres and baby-daddys. The US still doesn’t know what to call people with unmarried partners.