What to watch for today
Janet Yellen is confirmed as Fed chair. The US Senate is expected to greenlight Yellen’s nomination as the central bank head. Assuming it does, she’ll take over from Ben Bernanke at the end of the month.
Record low temperatures in the US. An Arctic cold front could bring the lowest temperatures in 20 years to much of the country, with half the nation at 0 °F (-18 °C) or lower. Thousands of flights were canceled—and Disney’s Frozen won the weekend box office.
CES kicks off. The Consumer Electronics Show, the industry’s mega-jamboree, formally begins tonight in Las Vegas with keynotes by the heads of Intel and Audi. (Connected cars are going to be one of this year’s big themes).
Over the weekend
China economy data continued to disappoint. The HSBC services purchasing managers’ index (PMI) for December dropped to 50.9 from 52.5, staying barely above the level that indicates expansion. A wide range of December economic measures have shown a sharp fall-off in activity as government support has receded.
Israelis and Palestinians agreed on gas, at least. The two sides made no breakthroughs in their latest peace talks, but the Palestinian power utility signed a 20-year, $1.2 billion deal with US-based Noble Energy and its Israeli partners for gas from Israel’s offshore Leviathan gas field.
A $930 million satellite deal foundered due. A United Arab Emirates purchase of French intelligence satellites fell apart after the buyers discovered US-made components that would have enabled remote access to secure data.
Jihadists took Fallujah. An al-Qaeda affiliate, ISIL, took control of the city where some of the bloodiest fighting of the Iraq war took place. Iraqi forces said they could kick out the militants in two to three days, but it’s still a severe blow to the government of Nouri al-Maliki.
Thais took to the streets again. Demonstrators are ramping up protests in a bid to shut down Bangkok on Jan. 13, topple prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, and block next month’s election. The country’s crucial tourism sector is already hurting (paywall).
Bangladesh held a failed election. Fewer than half the parliamentary seats in the country’s 10th general election were contested because of an opposition boycott, and 18 people died in clashes between police and protesters
Bitcoin bounced above $1,000. The crypto-currency, which had at one point fallen almost 50% from its December record of $1,238 per bitcoin, shot back up on news that online games-maker Zynga would start accepting bitcoin for in-game purchases in some of its games.
Quartz obsession interlude
Matt Phillips translates Fed chairman Ben Bernanke’s parting shot on the US economy. “‘The FOMC’s decision to modestly reduce the pace of asset purchases at its December meeting did not indicate any diminution of its commitment to maintain a highly accommodative monetary policy for as long as needed.’ Translation: Even though the Fed is getting out of the bond-buying business, the Fed Funds rate is going to stay low for quite some time… In short, Bernanke still thinks the economy is pretty weak.” Read more here.
Matters of debate
The UK housing crisis embodies everything that’s wrong with neoliberalism. Thatcher’s sell-off of public housing is still haunting Great Britain.
Cancer will never be defeated. Unlike viruses, germs, and heart disease, tumors are the result of a basic evolutionary compromise.
The US looks worryingly similar to ancient Rome. The republic’s collapse was heralded by similar political paralysis.
Fiat’s troubles are far from over. CEO Sergio Marchionne swung an amazing deal with the Chrysler acquisition, but the company is still on extremely shaky ground.
Africa needs a Marshall Plan. A program of reform, infrastructure-building and industrial development is the only way to contain a vast jobs shortfall in the next few years.
The pope can’t get his phone calls answered. Pope Francis called a small convent in Spain on New Year’s Eve, but nobody answered.
Ancient Egypt’s master beer-brewer. Archaeologists have unearthed his tomb.
The US has over 3,000 religiously-named places. Lots named after saints, of course, but also a Bridge of the Gods, a Stairway To Heaven, and six Santa Claus Lanes.
The world leaders with the longest names. The winner: Hery Martial Rajaonarimampianina Rakotoarimanana of Madagascar.