Quartz Daily Brief—Americas edition—Apple’s earnings, China’s slowdown, Big Pharma’s shakeup, Einstein’s brain

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What to watch for today

Ukraine goes back on the offensive. The Easter truce is over and the government has resumed “anti-terrorist operations” in the east of the country. Russia faces further sanctions if it does not help de-escalate tensions in the region, American officials have warned.

Apple is still going strong… As always, iPad and iPhone shipments will be closely scrutinized when the company announces its latest quarterly earnings, but pressure is mounting on CEO Tim Cook to release some new products.

… but Facebook may be losing steam. Its recent blistering pace of revenue growth might drop in today’s earnings. However, it’s been a big quarter for the social-media company, in which it spent $21 billion on messaging service WhatsApp and virtual-reality company Oculus VR.

A close shave for Procter & Gamble. The growing ubiquity of beards has been hurting razor blade sales at P&G’s Gillette division (which is reportedly due soon to unveil its latest bizarre creation), but a boost from emerging markets may bolster the company’s latest earnings.

New home sales in the US. The data could support other signs that America’s beaten-down housing market is springing back to life. Prices were up sharply in February, and new home sales hit a five-and-a-half year high the month before.

While you were sleeping

China’s factory activity continued to contract… The HSBC/Markit flash purchasing managers’ index rose to 48.3 in April, from 48 in March. That still means that factory orders are shrinking, but the government has already ruled out a sweeping stimulus package. This morning in China, the yuan touched a 16-month low.

… while European activity grew. Purchasing managers in the euro zone are the most bullish they’ve been in nearly three years, according to the region’s latest index readings. Following the recent pattern, accelerating activity in Germany offset weaker readings in France.

Pirates struck off Malaysia. In an audacious raid, pirates boarded a Singapore-owned oil tanker in the Malacca Straight, one of the busiest waterways in the world, and pumped out more than half of the tanker’s five million liters of diesel into their ships before escaping. Three missing crew members have led some to believe that it was an inside job.

UK government borrowing fell. The British government borrowed £107.7 billion ($181 billion) in the year to March—a reduction from £115.1 billion the previous fiscal year. It is likely that the Conservative-led government will celebrate its belt-tightening as the reason for the drop in borrowing. The government wants to eliminate its budget deficit by 2017-18.

Egypt announced a scramble for energy money. The government announced it needs to invest at least $5 billion in its power grid to prevent power cuts in the coming summer. Dwindling domestic gas production, an ageing power grid, and decades of neglect have combined to bring the situation to near crisis point.

Quartz obsession interlude

Heather Timmons explains the logic behind the drug industry’s latest massive shakeup. “Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline, and Eli Lilly just announced a complicated four-part deal worth about $28.5 billion. When the dust settles, the three companies will look very different from before and, crucially, from each other. Big Pharma is under assault from generic drug makers, legal challenges to patents on blockbuster drugs, and the rise of low-cost drug makers based in emerging markets. To survive, the biggest players are building dominant positions in narrower business lines or pursuing drugs that target rare diseases. Diversification is out, and specialization is in.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

Gold is for poor people. Among Americans, at least, if you’re rich you prefer buying property.

America’s middle class is no longer the most affluent. After-tax incomes are higher in Canada and the poor are better-off in parts of Europe.

Google should buy Dropbox. It’s all about creating the ”internet of you“.

Vladimir Putin is modeling himself on Russian emperors of old. Except that he has their voracious expansionism, but not their love of European culture.

There ought to be a World Environment Organization. We’ve got the WHO, FAO, WMO, UNESCO… so why not a WEO?

Surprising discoveries

Apple will let anyone test its new OS updates. You need to sign a hefty non-disclosure document first, though.

Evernote is the next company to go wearable. Now you can record those great ideas that arrive during a jog.

Einstein’s brain wasn’t that special. Studies on various pieces of his brain, purporting to show it was different from those of ordinary people, are flawed.

The government isn’t abusing your data; it’s losing it. “Miscellaneous errors” cause more data breaches than insider abuses, criminal activity or theft.

Prisons in Texas are deadly hot. The state has strict rules for how heat should be handled on pig farms; for the incarcerated, not so much.

London’s forgotten fraudster. In the early 1700s, a blond, blue-eyed “fake Asian” convinced the British he had been kidnapped from Taiwan by a Jesuit priest.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, prison temperature readings, and fraud excuses to You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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