Quartz Daily Brief – Americas Edition – Spotify, central banks, muppets

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Good morning Quartz readers!

What to watch for today:

US vice-presidential debate. VP Joe Biden and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan go at it in what is expected to be a fiery follow-on to last week’s game-changing Obama-Romney matchup. Some fresh polls show Romney ahead for the first time this year.

Coca-Cola looks to buy into digital music industry. The drinks company is in talks to purchase a small stake in Spotify, the privately held Swedish and American music streaming service. Coke has already started integrating Spotify music into its Facebook timeline.  This is more imaginative than asking net users to “like” a product on Facebook, which often does not drive sales.

Unrest in Indonesia. October 12 marks the tenth anniversary of the Bali bombing. Indonesian authorities are preparing for potential terrorist attacks on dignitaries and officials who attend commemorative events.

While you were sleeping:

Lagarde urged action. In a speech at the IMF and World Bank meeting in Tokyo, the IMF chief told the US and euro zone governments to take decisive steps to end jobless rates she called “terrifying and unacceptable.” Probably easier said than done.

Japan sent China a friend request. Speaking at that same meeting, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda called for talks to contain economic damage from its dispute with China over some uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. China symbolically did not send its most senior finance officials to Tokyo for the IMF/World Bank event.

Central banks cut rates. South Korea cut benchmark interest rates 25 basis points to 2.75% and slashed its economic growth estimate for 2012. Recent data showed a significant slump in exports and manufacturing activity. Brazil lowered its benchmark rate–the Selic–to 7.25% from the current level of 7.5% because of worries about exacerbating inflation, which has inched up despite the dramatic plunge in economic growth (from 7.5% in 2010 to 0.49% in the second quarter of this year). Critics say the rate cut is a misguided attempt to correct the sharp slowdown.

China money supply keeps shrinking. The official data are not out yet, but according to one influential Chinese newspaper the nation’s four largest banks cut lending in September. This contradicts market speculation that China’s central bank has been increasing liquidity to boost slowing growth, though perhaps the jump-start is yet to come.

Burberry confirmed China sales are slowing. But other markets are doing well. In its trading update the luxury goods maker said that, overall, same store sales rose 1% in the three months to September compared to last year. Surprisingly, Hong Kong revenue was robust. Could it be that, with Beijing taking an anti-corruption stance in the wake of the Bo Xilai scandal, wealthy Chinese have shifted the bulk of their luxury spending over the Hong Kong border?

Carrefour offset euro zone weakness. The French supermarket chain and world’s second largest retailer is doing well in Latin America.

Quartz obsession interlude:

Tim Fernholz on an experimental approach to the modern state: “What if a corrupt or ineffective government could simply be disconnected from the country and replaced with a better version, like loading a new operating system into an old computer? Octavio Rubén Sánchez Barrientos, an adviser to Honduran president Porfirio Lobo Sosa, had been mulling over variations on that idea since 2004.” Read more here.

Matters of debate:

The Obama administration has failed to engage with Africa. Todd Moss of the Center for Global Development argues the case.

Did Chinese iPhone workers really strike last week? Media took a NGO’s word for it but failed to find further confirmation and Apple’s Chinese supplier denied the story. This column pieces the evidence together.

Ghana’s opposition thinks votes now come from Facebook, Youtube and Twitter.  Scrap knocking on doors and handing out leaflets. The New Patriotic Party has a social media-centric campaign (and 120,000 “likes” so far).

Chewing tobacco is a food. India’s food safety board has decided it is.

Surprising discoveries:

A Goldman Sachs internal investigation found 4,000 staff emails mentioning “muppets.” Almost all of them were references to last year’s movie.

Why fingernails scraping on a blackboard bothers people so much. Scientists find that our brains actually amplify unpleasant sounds.

A human calculator. A 22-year-old Japanese abacus instructor, Naofumi Ogasawara, took just three minutes and 11 seconds to add 10 10-digit numbers together 10 different times—a new world record for addition.

Best wishes from Quartz for a productive day. Please send any news, queries, and the number of occurrences of the word “muppet” in your inbox to

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