Good morning, Quartz readers!
What to watch for today
US earnings season starts with an industry bellwether. Alcoa, the leading aluminum blue-chip, will announce its fourth-quarter and full year 2012 earnings after the market closes. Materials companies are often seen as indicators of general economic health, though this quarter is expected to be exceptionally ugly for them. China’s economic slowdown last year reduced demand for aluminum, and the consensus estimate for Alcoa is a loss of 7 cents a share for the fourth quarter, and 24 cents a share for the year, according to Zacks.
The world’s largest and most has-been technology show opens. The week-long International Consumer Electronics Show used to be the must-go technology conference of the year. Now, though, many of the biggest names—Amazon, Google, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft and Nokia—will either not be in Las Vegas, or will have much scaled-back presences. Apple won’t be there either, but never went anyway.
Karzai arrives in Washington. Afghan President Hamid Karzai begins a three-day visit to the US as doubts grow about his ability to stabilize the country ahead of the NATO withdrawal next year. US President Barack Obama seems increasingly eager to accelerate the troop pullout. The transition to all-Afghan forces will dominate Karzai’s talks with senior US officials.
Chávez’s condition rattles Venezuela: Lieutenants of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez convey the air of business as usual as he lies stricken and silent in a Havana hospital three days before his scheduled inauguration. The opposition insists that Chávez has to take the oath of office as scheduled Jan. 10, or else there must be new elections. But Vice President Nicolás Maduro says Chávez will remain president regardless of whether he is sworn in on time. Venezuelan bond traders are nervous, sending down the price of the bonds of PDVSA, the state oil company.
While you were sleeping
US banks make big mortgage settlement. Ten banks agreed to pay about $19 billion to settle claims arising from the US mortgage crisis. Bank of America will pay $10.35 billion, including $6.75 million to buy back 30,000 mortgages, the quality of which it allegedly misrepresented to Fannie Mae, the lending agency to which it sold the loans. And BofA and nine other lenders will pay about $8.5 billion to settle accusations that they wrongly handled mortgage paperwork, resulting in foreclosure against hundreds of thousands of homeowners. The cash will be divided among more than 3.8 million complainants.
Obama names top national-security staff. US President Barack Obama can expect opposition in the Senate by nominating Republican Chuck Hagel, a maverick Vietnam veteran and former senator who has expressed opinions about Israel and Iran that—outside of Washington—would be regarded by many as quite normal. John Brennan, meanwhile, nominated to head the CIA, has stirred the ire of critics who say that, while serving in the spy agency, he was complicit in torture committed under former President George W. Bush.
Five rape suspects arraigned in Delhi. A judge ordered a closed trial for the five men accused of gang-raping and murdering a 23-year-old woman and brutalizing her male companion. Two lawyers who volunteered to represent the accused were heckled in a raucous courtroom. A sixth defendant, who is 17, may be tried separately as a juvenile. The next hearing is scheduled Jan. 10.
Distressed Arctic oil rig towed to safety. Emergency crews towed a wayward Shell oil vessel from Sitkalidak Island, off the Alaskan coast, to safe harbor in Kiliuda Bay. The Kulluk had run aground on Sitkalidak in turbulent seas on Dec. 31, but was rescued after a high tide lifted it. The affair casts new doubt on oil companies’ ability to drill in the Arctic.
A resignation in Berlin after another airport delay. A fifth delay to the completion of Berlin’s new international airport has prompted the city’s mayor, Klaus Wowereit, to resign as project supervisor. The 4.3-billion euro Willy Brandt International Airport, begun in 2006, was initially supposed to be finished in 2011. Its latest estimated opening is loosely after 2014. Even before construction, it underwent 15 years of planning.
Quartz obsession interlude
Steve LeVine on the 14 rules for making sense of geopolitical news, and forecasting what comes next: “Nations are eccentric. But they also have threads of repeated history through which we can discern what comes next. For five centuries, since Ivan the Terrible, for instance, Russia has been characterized by one-man rule, an exaggerated sense of identity, and an acceptance of often deadly cruelty toward individual citizens. Therefore, it is not surprising that those traits are the bricks and mortar of Vladimir Putin’s rule today.” Read more here.
Matters of debate
Innovation is not a default virtue. There are 21 situations in which innovation is not ideal.
A good word for the euro. Why Latvia wants to join one of the world’s most unrewarding clubs.
When it’s okay to speak with psychopaths. In small doses, the clinically insane can be sensibly insightful.
Are Africans really on their way to a new day? Not necessarily, if you look at a different set of economic metrics from the usual ones.
Knocked off the rice perch. A controversial farmer-support program might be one reason why Thailand is now the world’s third-biggest rice exporter, not the first.
A surprising barter market in detergent. Some US drug dealers are willing to swap marijuana and even cocaine for Tide.
A monster is a monster is a monster. Thalattoarchon saurophagis, whose fossil remains have just been found, was 30 feet long and dwelt under the sea 244 million years ago—in Nevada.
Fraudsters are uncreative on email. You can spot people involved in fraudulent activity within companies by the common phrases they use.
Hacks, spooks, cops. Journalists do call each other hacks. Many policeman refer to each other as cops. But do spies address each other as spooks? The public wishes to know.
Where diamonds come from. If you are wearing a diamond, the chances are that it spent at least some time in the Indian town of Surat.