Quartz Daily Brief—Asia edition—Sochi shenanigans, mixed media fortunes, leaky politics, Skype exorcisms

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What to watch for today

The Sochi Olympic shenanigans begin. Russia’s first post-Soviet Olympic Games kick off today, ushered in by many a scandal. The event, running about five times over budget, has been marred by claims of embezzlement and corruption, boycotts over Russia’s human rights record and athlete withdrawals due to dangerous courses.

Americans win some, lose some in their latest farm bill. US president Barack Obama will sign the new $1 trillion farm bill (paywall), giving US farmers better crop insurance to mitigate risk and consumers better meat labeling. Too bad for American households that federal food stamps get slashed.

Brazil fends off inflation, sort of. Thanks to a weakening currency and seasonal falloff in certain types of spending, Brazil’s monthly inflation is expected to ease to 0.61% in January, shrugging off December’s decade high of 0.92%. That still leaves annual inflation at 5.67%, above the government’s 4.5% target.

The US jobs tally perks up. December was a rough month for US job numbers; a brighter figure for January (an expected 185,000 added jobs) should pave the way for more tapering by the US Federal Reserve.

Investors steel themselves for ArcelorMittal’s earnings. Shareholders are crossing their fingers that this year the world’s largest steel company will pull back into the black after suffering from weak global demand. Perkier emerging markets and a recent spike in steel imports to the US might help.

While you were sleeping

General Motors withered on the vine. General Motors’s profits fell 13% to $1.04 billion, or $0.67 per share, in the fourth quarter. But it wasn’t all bad news; Some of those holes were one-time costs, European losses weren’t as severe as last year, and the company ended the year with more cash in its pocket. GM also dished out its first dividend in nearly six years. 

Another insider trading target bit the dust. US federal prosecutors notched up their seventh conviction against sullied hedge fund SAC Capital. Mathew Martoma was found guilty of profiting $275 million by trading shares of major pharmaceutical companies using insider information about clinical drugs trials.

Media companies fought for ad dollars. AOL posted fourth-quarter profits of $36 million, largely boosted by a 14% jump in advertising revenues (paywall). Meanwhile, profits at The New York Times fell 63% to $65.6 million, partially dragged down by weak digital ad sales.

Russia agreed to fund Hungary’s nuclear expansion. Hungary will build two new nuclear reactors, thanks to a €10 billion ($13.6 billion) loan from Russia. Although the Hungarian government approved the bill with an overwhelming majority, critics fear dependence on Russia and a lack of transparency.

Russia pitched a fit about US-Ukrainian ties.

 An apparent recording of two senior US officials discussing the anti-governments riots in Ukraine was

leaked and tweeted by the Russian government

. The voices of US assistant secretary of state Victoria Nuland and US ambassador to Ukraine Geoff Pyatt seem to discuss boosting the Ukrainian opposition with the help of the UN, while shunning the EU.




David Yanofsky on how America’s rising imports are killing the planet. “The US exported $61.7 billion more goods and services in 2013 than 2012, shrinking the trade deficit by $63.1 billion, according to data released today by the US Census Bureau. As a portion of US GDP, the trade deficit shrank to 2.8% from 3.3%. The shift reflects a resurgence in American manufacturing and fossil fuel extraction, as well as a healthier world economy, which created new opportunities for tourists to visit the US. This is good news for the US economy, but the growth in these sectors is also striking for its impact on the environment. Travel and energy services are the largest contributors to household carbon emissions.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

The Fed’s central economic theory is flawed. Asset prices aren’t all that relevant to the broader economy.

Generation Y needs to reclaim power from the baby boomers. The generation’s faithless political apathy is self-defeating (paywall).

Scottish independence is a very real possibility. Scots are swinging toward breaking with Britain.

Philip Seymour Hoffman didn’t know how to be happy. It wasn’t just the drugs and depressing acting roles.

Surprising discoveries

Criminal gangs are peddling hallucinogenic French flowers. Smoking hydrangea plants gives you a cheaper high than weed.

Exorcisms have entered the 21st century.  Over Skype, apparently.

An Apple phone on Android isn’t just crazy talk. Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak thinks it would be a good idea.

The black market has a blue hue. Tiffany blue, in fact: The jeweler’s boxes are in high demand.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, technology hybrids and marijuana alternatives to You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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