Quartz Daily Brief—Europe edition—Russia slows, Bernanke exits, Japan inflates, the 1% freak out

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What to watch for today

The Fed’s first female chair. It’s Ben Bernanke’s last day in the hot seat, as Janet Yellen steps up to the US central bank’s top position on Saturday. Her mission: wind down the Fed’s stimulus without damaging the global economy.

Russia’s slowing growth. Analysts predict that Russia’s economy expanded by 1.5% in 2013, the weakest growth in four years. The country relies heavily on oil and gas exports, which suffered from low demand due to Europe’s economic woes.

The state of Europe’s job market. The euro zone’s unemployment rate has hardly budged for the last year, hovering around 12.1%, and markets aren’t holding their breath for a shocker today. But even a tiny drop would point toward a post-crisis recovery.

Mexico’s interest-rate decision. Most expect no change from today’s Bank of Mexico meeting, but policymakers will  somehow have to answer to Mexico’s rising inflation, which hit 4.6% this month.

Thailand braces for elections. Prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government is pressing forward despite the risk of violent clashes with protesters who have vowed to disrupt Sunday’s vote. Here’s how it could all play out.

While you were sleeping

Japanese inflation sped up. Prices rose 1.3% in December, a shot in the arm for the Bank of Japan’s goal to reach 2% inflation. Some analysts remain skeptical it can go much beyond that.

Microsoft moved closer to a new chief. Satya Nadella, the company’s head of enterprise and cloud computing, is set to replace outgoing CEO Steve Ballmer. If he takes over, expect Nadella to aim Microsoft squarely at Google and Amazon in the cloud services wars.

Amazon made a profit and still disappointed investors. Though revenue grew 20%, it was the slowest increase since 2009, and the fact that profit more than doubled didn’t mollify the markets; perhaps they’re used to Amazon’s penchant for sacrificing profit for growth.

Libya sued Goldman Sachs for outsmarting it. The country’s sovereign-wealth fund filed a lawsuit accusing Goldman of showering the fund’s staff with gifts and smooth-talking them into “worthless” trades that netted Goldman a hefty profit.

Good news for US growth. The economy expanded by 3.2% in the fourth quarter, buoyed by the country’s highest consumer spending in three years.

The year of the horse began. Asians marked the lunar new year with fireworks and dancing dragons. In China, hundreds of millions of people travel home for the celebrations (but pets hate them).

Quartz obsession interlude

Heather Timmons on life after banking in Hong Kong. “Rather than leaving Hong Kong in search of the next banking hot-spot, a growing number of finance pros have started businesses, from last-minute hotel booking websites to crowd-funding groups to organic farms. The career-hopping has helped push start-ups to 16% of new investments in Hong Kong last year, from 11% in 2010, Bloomberg reported today. In many cases, they’re going directly after their old employers’ business.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

The one percent are freaking out. Global bank bashing and Obama’s push against income inequality are driving America’s wealthiest to mass paranoia.

The Super Bowl doesn’t boost the US economy. Predictions of multi-million dollar cash injections are usually just hype.

China can’t let its housing bubble pop. If it does, the damage to household wealth and consumption would be devastating.

Stop listening to Tony Blair on the Middle East. He’s usually on the wrong side of history.

Surprising discoveries

Blockbuster lives south of the border. There’s still a thriving video-rental market in Mexico.

The gynecologist will see you now, sir. The American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology relaxed its ban on male patients.

The Seinfeld cast is re-uniting. In the timeless words of George Constanza, “I’m back, baby, I’m back!

The Cronut became the C®onut. Many bakeries worldwide have imitated the croissant-donut hybrid, but now the name is sacrosanct.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, Seinfeld quotes and alternative pastry names to You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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