Quartz Daily Brief—Asia Edition—NSA reforms, US bank earnings, internet of bees, cocaine economics

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

What to watch for today

Obama’s views on government spying. The US president will outline what changes he wants to see to NSA surveillance programs in the wake of the Snowden leaks. He’s pointedly chosen the anniversary of Eisenhower’s farewell address, when he warned of “the potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power.”

A look at the UK’s holiday cheer. Retail sales numbers will be released by the Office for National Statistics. Sales are forecast to have grown by over 3% in December from last year.

Will Morgan Stanley beat the bulls? Analysts predict fourth-quarter profit of $927 million, but Bank of America’s strong earnings report earlier this week could be a hint of even healthier numbers.

And perhaps General Electric too? GE’s profit and revenue are expected to have soared in the fourth quarter. The company is currently working to narrow its scope by getting rid of non-core businesses, including its banking division.

How America’s industry weathered the cold. The US releases both housing starts and industrial production data for December. The month’s cold weather is likely to have reduced construction activity (pdf).

India welcomes book-lovers. What bills itself as the largest free literary festival on earth kicks off in Jaipur. Visiting luminaries will include Jhumpa Lahiri, Jonathan Franzen, and Amartya Sen.

While you were sleeping

Best Buy has seen better days. The US electronics retailer’s same-store sales for December, which includes the all-important holiday season, fell by 0.9% from a year ago. A lot of things went wrong, including its usually spry smartphone sales.

European auto woes continued. Auto sales in the European Union jumped by 13% in December, but ended 2013 down 2% from the year prior. It marks the sixth consecutive year of decline.

Citigroup is slumping. The international bank’s fourth-quarter profits rose 125%, but its revenues fell 5%, including an 8% drop in North America. The bank’s bond trading business performed particularly poorly—revenues tumbled by 15%.

Goldman Sachs is, too. The bank’s fourth-quarter results beat analyst estimates, but profit was down 19% from last year. Goldman blamed “macroeconomic concerns and uncertainty” for hurting its bond, currency and commodity trading. Its bonuses are shrinking, too.

Egyptians supposedly voted for a new constitution. State media say 98% of voters approved the new military-backed constitution in a referendum, boycotted by the Muslim Brotherhood, that saw only a 37% turnout.

Microsoft bowed to Moscow. The owner of Skype said it would comply with proposed Russian legislation requiring online services to store user and call data for six months and hand them over to the government.

Quartz obsession interlude

Mark DeCambre on what mobile phones have meant for brick-and-mortar bank branches. “Bank of America plans to trim nearly 20% of its brick and mortar retail branch network—a process which effectively began back in 2009. The bank has already reduced its retail branches by 950 branches, or 15.5% over the past four years and is aiming to cut about 150 more in 2014. At the same time, it’s spending about $3 billion a year to improve its technology and infrastructure around mobile and banking.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

Careful where you click. Even Amazon’s cloud service is ridden with malware.

Photoshop is losing its edge. 2014 could be the year web browsers replace it.

There’s no way to stop the next financial crash. You can’t tell if prices are in a bubble until that bubble bursts.

Stop freaking out about cellphone reception on planes. The result will actually be quieter trips.

Samsung should be worried about its smartwatch. Chinese tech counterfeiters are so unimpressed with its potential that they aren’t even copying it.

Surprising discoveries

Bye bye beepocalypse. Scientists have found a way to pinpoint the causes of the global bee die-off by attaching little sensors to bees’ backs.

Subtle scholars. Way more Americans read books than you think.

Let them weep. It appears babies may actually be rabid “fake criers.”

Economic blow. Cocaine exports account 2,5% of Colombia’s GDP, the same proportion as the mining industry does for the US.

The eye of a storm chaser. Mind-boggling photos of mother nature’s wrath.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, bee sensor data and storm photos to You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

Sign up for the Quartz Daily Brief here, tailored for morning delivery in Asia, Europe & Africa, and the Americas.