Quartz Daily Brief—Europe Edition—Tough guy Osborne, Spanish turmoil, Ping An sale, RIP Canadian pennies

February 4, 2013
February 4, 2013

What to watch for today

Just how bad was 2012 for Amplats? The world’s biggest platinum miner announces its earnings for a year filled with strikes at its South African mines. The company, a big employer, has been in tense negotiations with the government over mothballing mines and slashing its workforce.

First day of trading on Iraq’s biggest post-war IPO. The share offering for 25% of Asiacell, the biggest Iraqi mobile-phone firm, closed on Feb. 2, slightly oversubscribed, with foreigners buying 70% of the shares. Its effect on trading could be interesting: Asiacell’s shares will be worth half the Baghdad stock market.

Mariano Rajoy fights for his political life. Spain’s prime minister is under pressure to resign over allegations that a slush fund channeled secret payments to members of his Popular Party including Rajoy himself, which he denies. An online petition calling on him to quit had amassed over 800,000 signatures at the time of this writing.

George Osborne gets tough on banks. On the same day that British parliament introduces the banking reform bill, which is aimed at making the sector safer, Britain’s chancellor of the exchequer will warn that banks that do not ensure adequate safeguards to “ring-fence” retail banking from the riskier investment arm could be forcefully split up.

Canada stops counting its pennies. The country will stop minting one-cent coins, thus saving C$11 million (US$11 million) a year in costs. Will America ever follow suit?

Over the weekend

More resignations at Barclays… The British bank’s finance director and general counsel are reportedly stepping down. It’s seen as an attempt by the bank to start with a clean management slate after the Libor rate-setting scandal and new allegations that it padded its balance sheet using a loan to Qatar.

… while RBS’s fines will come out of managers’ pockets. Fines the Royal Bank of Scotland owes to US regulators over the Libor scandal will have to come out of money set aside for staff bonuses. It’s expected to be a pretty gloomy bonus season for bankers in the US this week too.

Ping An deal finally went through. Chinese regulators approved the sale of HSBC’s $7.4 billion stake in Ping An, a huge Chinese insurer, to Dhanin Chearavanont, a Thai businessman. Dhanin’s CP group raised the money for the deal privately after the Chinese bank financing it pulled out last month, setting off speculation about its fate. HSBC will make a $2.6 billion profit on the sale, helping it cover various fines it owes regulators.

Blackstone moved closer to investment banking. The giant alternative assets manager acquired an underwriting license, going the way of rivals KKR and Apollo. The move is being seen as an attempt by listed private equity firms to diversify sources of revenue.

Cubans voted. The island held elections for the National Assembly of Popular Power, which meets twice a year and whose candidates are all chosen by the Communist party. Turnout was expected to be around 95%.

Myanmar held its first literary festival. Hot on the heels of BarCamp, a massive international tech conference, the country that is just shaking off decades of military rule held a star-studded gathering of writers.

Quartz obsession interlude

Steven Chu’s legacy. Tim Fernholz and Christopher Mims argue that the Nobel physics laureate who served as Barack Obama’s first-term energy secretary served as little more than a figurehead: “the aspirational vessel into which the nation poured its green energy hopes.” However, Steve LeVine argues that Chu “may eventually be seen as the most consequential person to hold the post since it was created in the 1970s,” having seeded centers for research and innovation in energy and materials science that could potentially drive a US economic revival.

Matters of debate

America needs more babies. The country’s falling fertility rate threatens to pitch it over a “demographic cliff” of rising welfare costs, declining innovation and dwindling power.

Is the “Great Rotation” a fairytale? Evidence for a rush out of bonds and into stocks, taken as a sign of better economic prospects, is thin.

Saving Cyprus could mean funding Russian oligarchs. Angela Merkel faces a tough choice in the Mediterranean.

The world should learn from the Nordic countries. Their government services are expensive, but at least they work.

The problem with Abenomics. Japan’s prime minister may not need an independent central bank when he’s battling deflation, but he will when it turns to inflation.

Surprising discoveries

The remains of King Richard III? Scientists will reveal today whether a skeleton dug up under a parking lot might be the reviled 15th-century monarch.

Russian judges do have some shame. A judge has offered his resignation after a video showing him sound asleep during a defense lawyer’s speech was posted online.

Burkas for babies? La, say Saudis. Twitterati in the desert kingdom ridiculed a cleric who argued that even baby girls should be fully covered to protect their modesty.

Best of Quartz. Read our most popular recent stories.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, judge videos, and baby-clothing ideas to hi@qz.com. You can follow us on Twitter here for updates during the day.

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