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Quartz Daily Brief—Americas edition—China’s uneven slowdown, European manufacturing heats up, watchful central bankers, Ai Weiwei sabotage

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What to watch for today

Central bankers in wait-and-watch mode. Both the European Central Bank and Bank of England are expected to leave rates unchanged, after ushering in a new era of frank talk at their policy meetings last month.

Automakers rev their engines. Analysts expect US car sales in July to increase about 15% compared to last year, as record-low interest rates and pent-up demand led consumers into dealerships. Japan will release car sales figures too—will Toyota’s sales growth outpace Ford’s for the first time since March 2010? Even as sales pick up, there are more cars parked on US dealer lots than there have been in almost five years

Packed earnings calendar. What analysts expect: Exxon Mobil’s sharp drop in revenue as its oil and natural-gas production continues to decline; Kraft Foods’ strong sales growth on the back of new products and increased advertising spending; Time Warner Cable’s strong broadband subscriber addition and reduced pay-TV subscriber losses. Plus more from AIG, ConocoPhillips, and Procter & Gamble.

While you were sleeping

Mixed China manufacturing data. The government’s official PMI index, which mostly surveys large state-owned companies, rose more than expected from 50.1 in June to 50.3 in July. (A number above 50 indicates expansion.) But the HSBC PMI survey, which looks at smaller firms, fell from 48.2 to 47.7—its lowest level in 11 months.

European factories are humming, with German and euro zone PMI indexes returning to growth and Britain accelerating to its fastest rate in more than two years.

Shell earnings plummeted to $2.4 billion in the second quarter versus $6 billion a year earlier due to higher costs and sabotage at the company’s facilities in Nigeria.

Sony beat expectations, with quarterly operating profits of 36.4 billion yen ($369.7 million) handily outpacing analyst estimates and giving the company ammunition in its battle with activist investor Dan Loeb.

Other earnings: AstraZeneca sales slid as the drugmaker warned of higher operating costs amid generic competition; BMW profits rose 8.8% despite tighter margins; Lloyds returned to profitability as the UK government prepares to sell its stake; Societe Generale profits more than doubled on a surge in securities trading.

Stoli went rainbow. Gay bars are boycotting Russian vodka because of the country’s anti-gay legislation, but most Stoli is made by Luxembourg-based SPI Group, whose CEO is touting the company’s LGBT-friendly credentials on Facebook.

Tourists flee a Thai oil spill. Thousands of beachgoers are leaving the island of Koh Samet (Coconut Island) after a ruptured oil pipeline operated by state-controlled energy company PTT sent 50,000 liters of crude into the Gulf of Thailand.

Mugabe claims victory in Zimbabwe. The longtime president’s ZANU-PF party said it won in a landslide; Prime Minster Morgan Tsvangirai’s opposition party said the contest was marred by “monumental fraud.”

Quartz obsession interlude

Zachary M. Seward on why it’s so difficult to figure out what Larry Summers, the front-running candidate for Fed chairman, is thinking. “In speeches and informal talks over the last few years, Summers has developed a new kind of disclaimer before commenting on controversial subjects. He often prefaces his remarks by saying something along the lines of, ‘If, at the end of this, you feel like you’ve understood me completely, then you have misunderstood me.’ It’s a riff on what Alan Greenspan, who served as Fed chair for more than 18 years, famously told Congress in 1987.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

Is Huawei wiring Africa for surveillance? The Chinese telecoms firm is offering exceptionally competitive prices, generous financing, and running networks to win local governments’ trust.

All this talk about inequality won’t help the poor. It could undermine support for free markets and hurt economic opportunity.

Your company is only as good as your writing. Poor grammar and jargon-riddled writing can hurt companies’ prospects.

Three questions for whoever takes over the Fed. What would they do on the “zero lower bound,” nominal GDP targeting, and bank equity requirements?

Surprising discoveries

Ai Weiwei’s guide to closed-circuit sabotage. The Chinese artist and dissident shows how to turn a spray paint can and a corkscrew into an anti-surveillance device.

Poorly designed apps are making us fat. Wasting cognitive resources makes us less able to resist temptation.

Why more and more movies begin with “A”. Because Americans are too lazy to scroll all the way through the alphabet.

Dom Pérignon originally tried not to make champagne. The monk who invented sparkling wine was brought in to prevent the bubbles from forming.

$4.1 million for four days in jail. A student in San Diego got a big payout after he was forgotten in a prison cell.

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