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Quartz Daily Brief—Americas edition—BoE and ECB decisions, retailer woes, Indian rail opening, Velveeta shortage

What to watch for today

The ECB meets in Frankfurt. President Mario Draghi kicks off the first rate-setting meeting of the year amid the bloc’s slow recovery, and economists expect the bank to leave the benchmark rate unchanged at 0.25%.

Mark Carney’s dilemma. Though fourth-quarter unemployment almost certainly fell to 7%—the level at which the Bank of England said it would consider raising rates—the economy appears to be softening. Market consensus is that the BoE will hold firm.

Family Dollar’s earnings. The performance of the discount store, sometimes read as an indicator of consumer sentiment, has not been great recently.

A giant solar flare hits Earth. A spike in radiation may expand the aurora borealis as far south as Colorado and central Illinois, and disrupt GPS and other satellite services.

While you were sleeping

British retailers had a blue Christmas. Tesco, Marks & Spencer, and Morrison all reported disappointing sales over the holiday season (paywall), putting pressure on their top executives.

India opened up the rails, announcing that it would seek foreign investment in its giant, creaking state-owned rail network to create new high-speed and other services.

Malaysian industrial output rose, up 4.4% in November from a year earlier, beating estimates due to a surge in mining.

Uniqlo’s profits jumped. Quarterly operating profit at the Japanese chain’s parent company rose 13%, exceeding expectations thanks to higher spending per customer.

China’s inflation slowed. prices rose 2.5%, versus 3% the previous month. That puts the overall 2013 rate well below Beijing’s 3.5% target, which could give policymakers room to implement reforms.

South Korea held steady on interest rates. As expected, the country’s central bank kept its rate unchanged at 2.5% and maintained its 2014 economic growth forecast of 3.8%.

Danone cried over spilt milk. The yogurt maker is seeking compensation for some $407 million it lost when New Zealand dairy exporter Fonterra issued a recall last year over potentially tainted milk powders.

Quartz obsession interlude

Gwynn Guilford on how billions of dollars in secret cash are smuggled into China. “[Exports] are not vanishing into a wormhole. They never existed in the first place. In the first half of 2013 alone, nearly $100 billion sneaked into China in the form of faked export invoices, according to research by non-profit Global Financial Integrity… Where’s all this money coming from? It probably has something to do with the US Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing program.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

You say huckster, I say entrepreneur. Business leaders, like con men, excel at peddling optimism.

The WTO demonstrators were right. Mocked for the 1999 Seattle protests, the anti-globalization organizers’ concerns were actually spot-on.

The world economy is mostly back on track. But the looming global problems are political in nature, says George Soros.

Surprising discoveries

Everyone thinks they’re special, including prison inmates in England who rated themselves as kinder and more moral than the average person.

The coming “cheesepocalypse.” Americans are eating so much Velveeta there’s a shortage. Meanwhile, their butter consumption is at a 40-year high.

The first close-up of a distant exoplanet… The Gemini Planet Imager in Chile snapped an image of a planet that’s several times larger than Jupiter and more than63 light years from Earth.

…and a possibly dangerous asteroid. NASA spotted a 0.4 mile-wide asteroid that could come perilously close to Earth, but not within the next century.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, Velveeta stockpiles, and images of faraway exoplanets to hi@qz.com. You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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