What to watch for today
Ongoing negotiations in Ukraine. Separatists are meeting with the Ukrainian military in Luhansk in an attempt to reach some sort of peace agreement. But the government clearly isn’t hopeful: The 2015 budget boosts defense spending to over 5% of GDP, after this year’s conflict shrank the economy by an estimated 7.5%.
New Year’s flight cancellations. French unions are asking their members working for easyJet to take today and tomorrow off because they feel they’re not getting their fair share of the budget airline’s massive 21.5% increase in profits this year.
Spanish small businesses start shuttering. In 1964, the Franco government introduced a law that kept rents tied to inflation. It was extended in 1985 and 1994, but now it’s expiring, putting 65,000 businesses and 190,000 people at risk of losing their way to earn a living. At least there’s a new safety net that kicks in next month.
So-so news for China’s economy. The HSBC/Markit manufacturing index for December is expected to come in at 49.5, meaning a slight contraction. Just yesterday, however, Korean automaker Hyundai announced it would build two factories in the country.
A small spike in car sales in India. Today is the last day that government tax breaks on automobiles are in effect. Starting Jan. 1, the factory-gate tax on small cars and motorcycles goes up from 8% to 12%; on SUVs it goes from 24% to 30%. The government’s priority is reducing its debt (paywall).
While you were sleeping
Oil prices shrugged off the “Libya effect.” A barrel of Brent crude was going for less than $57, a new five-year low, despite fires so severe at Libya’s el-Sidr oil port that the country has asked US firefighters to come in and offer a helping hand. A Libyan official said on Saturday that the country has lost 850,000 barrels (paywall) due to the flames.
Alexei Navalny defied his house arrest and got arrested. Right after getting a suspended sentence for alleged fraud (while his brother was jailed), the Russian anti-corruption blogger joined a protest and was promptly detained. He wasn’t alone, either, activists say over 100 other people were arrested.
The UN security council said no to a Palestinian state by 2017. As expected, the US said no to the proposed resolution; so did Australia. The Palestinian Authority, which got UN non-member observer status in 2012, is now likely to step up its campaign to join other UN institutions and put pressure on Israel in the International Criminal Court.
Dubai International dethroned Heathrow. With 68.9 million passengers so far this year, the UAE’s airport has overtaken London’s, with 67.8 million, as the busiest hub for international traffic. (Atlanta, in the US, is the busiest airport overall.) The emirate recently budgeted $32 billion to expand its second airport, Al Maktoum, to handle 120 million passengers.
A grocery delivery firm is now worth $2 billion. San Francisco startup Instacart, which offers same-day deliveries, raised a $220 million funding round, valuing it at five times more than it was worth just six months ago. The founder of Webvan, which folded in 2001 after trying the same business model, is also taking a second crack.
Quartz obsession interlude
Jason Karaian on the profession that needs a tighter leash. “Are all bankers liars? Of course not. Then again … in an experiment recently published in the scientific journal Nature, bankers distinguished themselves by their dishonesty. Asked to report the results of unsupervised coin flips in return for financial rewards, bankers bent the truth more than any other group.” Read more here.
Matters of debate
American politics will have to change now that the recovery is here. Republicans can’t argue with 5% GDP growth and job creation, and Democrats can’t argue with cheap gasoline.
Ukraine’s revolution failed. The country’s half-baked 2015 budget keeps the old corrupt systems running and puts shackles on the economy’s potential to grow.
Now is the time to reach out to Russia. With oil at five-year lows and the ruble losing nearly half of its value in just one year, maybe the West should offer some compromises (paywall).
Iran is getting away with murder. Its government is backing the Assad regime in Syria and the West seems to not mind because its too busy trying to reach a nuclear deal.
Cities should buy sports teams, not build stadiums. Teams are often far cheaper, and the revenue from a stadium rarely ends up in the community’s hands.
Portugal has an internet of vehicles. In the city of Porto, over 600 buses and taxis are equipped with WiFi routers that not only offer internet access, but also collect data from connected devices such as waste bins.
The US has 30 active states of emergency. Including one that president Jimmy Carter enacted during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis.
Obesity will mean more buses. The US Federal Transit Authority wants to raise official average weight of an American from 150 to 175 lb, meaning fewer people will soon be allowed on a bus.
Time doesn’t heal broken hearts. Acute stress-induced cardiomyopathy—a.k.a. “broken heart syndrome”—leaves signs of heart damage even after several months.
There’s a Koran made entirely from herbs. The pages and ink are all handmade from plant products; it took the artisan 23 years.