Quartz Daily Brief—Asia edition—GE’s sell-off, McDonalds’ wage war, Amazon’s Prime price hike, edible insects

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What to watch for today

Talks on Russia and Ukraine. John McCain and seven other US senators will meet with the interim government in Kiev, at the request of Ukrainian leaders. Meanwhile, US secretary of state John Kerry meets his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in London. He will try to dissuade Russia from annexing Crimea, which holds a referendum on joining Russia on Sunday.

An insight into Japanese economics. Minutes from the Bank of Japan’s monetary policy meeting could shed light on the central bank’s announcement last month to inject more cash into the economy with a series of lending programs. The government’s monthly economic outlook could also offer clues about tackling recent sluggishness.

A fashionable first day of trading. Shares in English fashion website debut on London’s alternative stock exchange, giving the online retailer a £560 million market cap ($930.5 million). The owning Kamani family will sell shares at 50p a pop, taking their holding from 82% to 38.5%.

While you were sleeping

General Electric moved away from the money game. General Electric unveiled plans to float Synchrony Financial, its North American consumer lending unit, as part of a pivot by GE back to its industrial business and away from finance. GE said up to 20% of the unit will be listed in an IPO set for later this year.

A Hollywood studio paid up for misleading investors. Lions Gate, the studio behind Mad Men and Hunger Games, agreed to pay $7.5 million to settle SEC charges. The studio created millions of new shares and gave them to a pro-management director, but didn’t tell other shareholders the aim was to block a takeover attempt by activist investor Carl Icahn.

Americans returned to the shops. US retails sales rebounded in February, growing by 0.3% after declining for the previous two months. That pleasantly surprised economists, who thought the cold weather would hamper shoppers’ spirits. New claims for unemployment benefits in the US also fell to a three-month low.

Staffers sued McDonalds for wage theft. Employees of the burger chain in New York, California and Michigan launched a lawsuit claiming that they were forced to work overtime without extra pay. Some workers said McDonald’s altered pay records, while others said they had to cover the costs of dry-cleaning their uniforms, pushing their pay below minimum wage.

Chile slashed interest rates again. Chile’s central bank cut borrowing costs by 0.25 points to 4% in its fourth rate reduction in six months. In January, Chile’s economy grew just 1.4% from the year earlier—its slowest expansion in almost four years—and the country is also tackling rising unemployment and a manufacturing decline.

South Africa built a wall around its mines. The government pushed through a ruling that will guarantee the state a 20% stake in any new energy venture, plus additional shares at an agreed price. The bill is designed to ensure South Africa benefits from its rich minerals, but some warn it could cause big firms like Exxon and BHP Billiton to invest elsewhere.

Another airline cut out Venezuela. Avianca, Colombia’s biggest airline and Venezuela’s third-biggest foreign carrier of airline traffic, said it will cut 73% of its flights to Venezuela. Airlines have been pulling out since the country began holding their ticket revenues hostage in an attempt to stem the hemorrhaging of its foreign reserves.

Quartz obsession interlude

Steve LeVine on why the West is failing to understand Vladimir Putin. “A question not being asked is whether Putin came back to power a very different leader from the one elected president in 2000 and again in 2004; whether, while the Washington lunch group along with Russia hands around the world were microscopically scrutinizing the words and body language of that Putin, a mutation with a very different cognitive and ethical core assaulted Crimea. A figure less pragmatic, higher-risk, and much more likely than his progenitor to act out Russian glory in its imperial prime.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

Bill Gates is the world’s most optimistic man. First he fixed computers. Next stop: human civilization.

Medical school takes too long. When there’s a global shortage of doctors, 14 years of training is excessive.

Britain has the perfect balance with Europe. It’s part of the EU but not of the euro, and a movement in either direction would be bad news, argues George Soros (paywall).

Amazon’s Prime price hike shows it’s finally interested in making money. It’s hard to remember the last time Amazon raised prices—but the originally $79 was pretty arbitrary, anyway.

The anti-vaccine movement is killing people. Its members are to blame for the return of measles return to New York.

Surprising discoveries

India wants people to eat bugs. The country could be headed for famine, and insects are an alternative source of protein.

The founder of the web never thought the internet would be used for “kittens.” That’s not why Tim Berners-Lee invented the WWW 25 years ago.

The US Mint is printing curved coins. They won’t buy you much, though—they’re in honor of the Baseball Hall of Fame’s 75th anniversary.

The five-second rule actually works. The amount of time food stays on the floor affects how much bacteria it picks up.

America’s health binge is killing frozen meals. Shoppers under the age of 45 are opting for fresher food.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, edible bugs, and frozen food (if it hasn’t been on the floor too long) to You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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