Quartz Daily Brief—Europe Edition—Fed’s no taper surprise, Google vs. Death, Facebook distrust

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What to watch for today

More cracks in the US housing market. Sales of previously-owned homes in August are expected to fall 2.6%, another sign rising that mortgage rates are hampering housing demand.

British shoppers get only a bit more bullish. Consumers are expected to push sales just 0.5% higher from July to August, compared with 1% from June to July. UK retailers think talk of a recovery in consumer spending is premature.

Analysts grill Microsoft. At its first analyst meeting in two years (paywall), the software giant will have to answer questions on its search for a new CEO and the Nokia acquisition.

Gloomy earnings reports. Packaged-foods company ConAgra, which cut its full-year earnings outlook (paywall) earlier this month, is likely to report muted earnings due to weakness in the consumer foods segment. Pharmacy chain Rite Aid’s losses are likely to narrow, but the focus will be on the latest takeover rumors.

Enjoy the moon cakes. Chinese markets are closed for the Mid-Autumn Festival holiday on Thursday and Friday.

While you were sleeping

The Fed didn’t taper, to widespread surprise. The US Federal Reserve said it wanted to see more evidence of sustained economic recovery before winding down its stimulus measures. The move sent US interest rates plunging, powered the S&P 500 to a fresh all-time high, and offered a reprieve to struggling emerging market currencies. Here are four reasons why the Fed held its fire.

Google wants you to live longer. The internet giant launched a new venture, Calico, which will use big data to determine what really extends lives. Calico will be headed by Apple chairman and former Genentech CEO Art Levinson.

BlackBerry is swinging the axe. The struggling smartphone maker is reportedly preparing to lay off (paywall) up to 40% of its 12,700 workers by the end of the year. BlackBerry also launched its flagship Z30 smartphone on Wednesday, though most people were probably too busy downloading Apple’s new iOS 7 to notice.

Iran released 11 political prisoners. The country’s most prominent human rights activist, Nasrin Sotoudeh, was among those released ahead of president Hassan Rouhani’s visit to the UN general assembly in New York next week. Separately, the White House is considering direct talks between Rouhani and president Obama.

Syria said destroying its chemical weapons could take a year. Bashar al-Assad said scrapping the stockpiles is “a very complicated operation, technically,” that will cost about $1 billion. He continued to maintain that rebels were behind a deadly Aug. 21 attack.

Singapore police arrested 14 people in a soccer match-fixing probe. Authorities swept the city-state and detained 12 men and two women accused of being part of a crime syndicate that rigged games.

The NSA made Americans distrust Facebook. CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company’s “trust metrics” have taken a hit in the wake of Edward Snowden’s leaks.

Quartz obsession interlude

Ritchie King on how most Americans, except the young, have been progressively losing health coverage. “The big dump of data from the US Census Bureau yesterday shows that a higher portion of Americans had health coverage in 2012 than in 2011, but it was a minor uptick: 84.6% as opposed to 84.3%. The overriding trend is that the number of uninsured Americans has been growing faster than the population at large. That is, except for two age groups: children under 18 and those between 18 and 24.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

Janet Yellen is the Fed chair the economy needs. She supports monetary easing to juice growth, opposes sharp deficit reductions, and favors tougher regulations to prevent bubbles.

Grand Theft Auto V highlights game makers’ moral obligations. How evil should video games allow us to be?

A shorter working week is good for both the economy and society. Part-time workers are more productive hour-for-hour, and can be better parents and citizens.

Why international adoptions are failing. Older children are a growing share of adoptees, and they have a harder time adjusting to new families.

Fighting brain drain kills innovation. If you keep talented people from leaving jobs, it’ll be even harder to find talented employees to fill jobs.

Surprising discoveries

GE’s prenatal marketing. A tiny logo on sonogram photographs is giving expectant parents a “primal” brand experience.

Market bubbles are an artifact of the brain. New research suggests that they’re driven by a biological impulse to predict how others will behave.

Designer insects join the fight against pests. Genetically modified insects could soon be preventing their natural counterparts from ruining olive crops in Spain.

Snakes in space. European researchers are exploring the feasibility of sending snake-like, highly-maneuverable robots to explore other planets.

Vietnam’s moon cake indicator. Customers in Hanoi aren’t buying many mung bean-filled pastries, demonstrating the country’s cooling retail sales climate.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, insect designs, and moon cake sales figures to You can follow us on Twitter here for updates during the day.

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