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Quartz Daily Brief – Americas edition – Credit Suisse split, Grexit, Hewlett-Packard, Europe in space?

By Kevin J. Delaney
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Good morning, Quartz readers!

What to watch for today

Mining giants of the world, unite! Glencore, the world’s largest commodities trading firm, will almost certainly be eating the whole of mining firm Xstrata, and the bill will come to $31 billion. In addition to voting on the merger over the course of today at Glencore’s headquarters in Zug, Switzerland, shareholders will decide on whether to spend $200 million on retention bonuses. If the deal is approved without bonuses, it could backfire.

The US reports new housing starts. Today’s numbers are likely to be somewhat lower than September’s four-year high of 872,000, but later this year the trend could turn positive, due to record-low mortgage rates and improvements in the labor market and consumer sentiment. Yesterday’s data on sales of existing homes and earnings from Lowe’s, a home-improvement firm, gave cautiously optimistic signals that the housing sector, a big driver of the US economy, is continuing to recover. Retailer Bestbuy also reports earnings (paywall) today, which should indicate whether US consumer sentiment is improving.

EU meets to decide how much to prolong Greece’s agonyAt a meeting of the 17 euro-zone nations in Brussels, options for postponing Grexit will be discussed, including lowering rates on the country’s bailout loans. A decision last week to give the country until 2022 instead of 2020 to bring its debt-to-GDP ratio down to 120% has frustrated the International Monetary Fund, whose head, Christine Lagarde, says she will come to the talks “patient and resilient“.

Hewlett -Packard reveals the extent of its misery. The personal computer giant is set to release fourth quarter earnings today at which it will close the books on a dismal 12 months and try to forecast a rosier future. Analysts expect this will be the fifth consecutive quarter revenues have declined. HP is not only a victim of tablet sales hurting the PC market. It has also been undercut aggressively by China’s Lenovo, which in October knocked HP off its perch as the world’s top PC maker, according to research firm Gartner. CEO Meg Whitman, who was hired 14 months ago to turn the company around, needs to fend off calls by some analysts for a break-up of the iconic tech company.

Space travel? Can we afford it? Europe decides. Science ministers from 20 European countries began a two-day meeting in Naples today to decide on a proposed $15.3 billion space exploration budget for the next three years. It is unclear whether European governments feel they can afford to reach for the moon or build rockets, especially with the black holes in Greece’s finances. The European Space Agency, which funds space projects, knows the constraints. “I am not living on a different planet,” E.S.A. director general Jean-Jacques Dordain told the New York Times.

Will mediation save Twinkies? Hostess and unions decide. Struggling Twinkie maker Hostess Brands is set to open talks with labor unions today in a bid to save the business. So for anyone who is speed eating Twinkies in a bid to save the business, you can lay off the Polysorbate 60, Red 40, mono and diglycerides and calcium sulfate for now. Here is Quartz’s take on why Hostess is hobbling. It may be the unhealthy products, not wages, that are the company’s real problem.

While you were sleeping

Credit Suisse said it will do the splits. The Swiss bank is separating its investment bank outside Switzerland (paywall) from its its global private bank, wealth management and Swiss investment banking business. In a statement, the bank said it was preparing for a “new regulatory reality”. Depending on how the two units are structured – that is as yet unclear – the split may protect the Swiss government and private bank clients from any casino-like risk taking in its investment banking operations.

Foreign investment in China slumped again. Data showed that foreign investment in China fell for the 11th time in 12 months. The statistics are hard to analyze, though. Sometimes foreign investment in China really does come from foreigners. Other times transactions are faked by Chinese people who want to avoid tax or secrete cash out of the country, disguising illicit money flows as foreign investment to fool the regulators.

A farming expert took over disgraced official’s former city. The Chinese city of Chongqing, where the disgraced Bo Xilai was party chief until being ousted in March, has a new leader. Sun Zhengcai is a farming expert and former agriculture minister. Chongqing’s economy is powered by property development. But perhaps the Beijing government has decided the real estate boom cannot last, and chosen Sun to take Chongqing in a new direction.

India to public: we will arrest you for criticizing politicians on Facebook. Two Indian women have been arrested for making allegedly unacceptable comments on Facebook. One criticized the shutdown of Mumbai to mourn the death last Saturday of Hindu nationalist politician Bel Thackerey. The other woman “liked” the comment. This is not the first time Indian authorities have clamped down on people for criticizing politicians on social media.  

Another major credit ratings agency downgraded France. Moody’s followed Standard & Poor’s in stripping France of its prized AAA credit rating. The downgrade was expected in France, but nonetheless piles pressure on Socialist President Francois Hollande to fix France’s public finances and bolster growth.

Quartz obsession interlude

Quartz’s Tim Fernholz asks whether the markets are being a little too optimistic about the chances of a timely resolution to the fiscal cliff. What could finally make them lose their cool? “Perhaps Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, who can decide whether tax withholdings should be at their pre- or post-fiscal cliff levels in the new year, depending on how likely a deal looks. If he chooses post-cliff, and people immediately feel the bite of higher taxes in their paychecks, it could spur fears of recession and a sell-off that would, at last, scare Washington into action.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

Why Wal-Mart is so worried about holiday labor strikes. The mega-retailer filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board in an attempt to head off a strike of workers this Friday Nov. 23, the day after Thanksgiving, traditionally one of the biggest shopping days of the year in the US. It’s a sign that the resolutely anti-union company is taking the strike threat seriously. For a company that’s all about low prices, an organized workforce could represent an existential threat.

China’s half-built luxury ghost towns are monuments to risky shadow bankingNot enough people can afford to live in them. And they are funded by retail investors who think they bought high-yield, low-risk investment trusts.

Cheer up, GOP. The US media has been flush with stories about why no Republican will ever be elected president ever again (we exaggerate, but just a bit), but these concerns could be overblown. It’s a political party, after all, and politicians will be nothing if not flexible in the face of a changing, less-white constituency.

To  help solve Gaza mess, Egypt needs a better PR team. Egypt is commendably trying to broker a truce in Gaza but keeps making PR gaffes. This is what a cease-fire brokered by a pragmatically pro-Gaza Egypt would look like. A less likely outcome: a peace brokered by Bill Clinton. And here’s the story of the conflict, in numbers.

Ugly endangered creatures also deserve to be saved. The public focuses on the cute ones, while less photogenic animals can get ignored.

Surprising discoveries

Store mannequins are spying on us. Retailers including Benetton Group have fitted cameras inside mannequins that collect data on store visitors’ age, race, and gender. This is being done to analyze customers and boost sales.

With friends like these, Microsoft Surface doesn’t need enemies. Oprah has been tweeting in support of Microsoft’s new Surface tablet—from an iPad.

Love bonus. In China’s version of Silicon Valley, the Chengdu cloud computing company will give employees a bonus of $180 for falling in love with a coworker, and between $80 and $160 for falling in love with a worker at a rival tech company.

With friends like these, Australia doesn’t need enemies either. In the 1980s, Australia’s intelligence service spied on the US to obtain codes to enable a radar that could detect enemy aircraft, after US officials refused to hand them over.

Greeks flee cities. Greeks are retreating to ancestral villages to live as they might have in the 19th century.

CorrectionIn yesterday’s Americas edition of the daily brief we called Goma the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is of course Kinshasa. Goma is the capital of the DRC’s North Kivu province.

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