Quartz Daily Brief—Migrant ghost ships, Asian manufacturing gloom, reusable SpaceX rockets, explosive Swiss bridges

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What to watch for today

Italy takes control of another migrant ship. The Ezadeen, a merchant ship flying the Sierra Leone flag, is headed towards the Italian coast carrying an estimated 400 migrants—but without a crew. Earlier this week almost 1,000 migrants were rescued from a separate vessel headed to Italy, whose crew also abandoned ship.

Signs of stabilization in Spain. The country will give an update on its unemployment figures for December. The number of jobless shrank sharply in November, raising hopes that the euro zone’s fourth-largest economy may finally be pulling out of its slump.

The US economy’s year-end picture comes into clearer focus. The Institute for Supply Management’s gauge of manufacturing activity will give a reading on the state of the US industrial economy for December. Analysts will also parse November data on US construction spending for indications that an uptick in homebuilding and government construction will continue into 2015.

While you were sleeping

Indonesian air traffic control took two minutes to respond to #8501’s final request. The ill-fated AirAsia plane requested a change in its flight plan to avoid bad weather, but the response came late, according to Wisnu Darjono, director at AirNav Indonesia. The plane never responded; the search for its fuselage is ongoing, but has been hampered by bad weather.

Former New York governor Mario Cuomo died. The legendary orator and longtime lib leader who served three terms as the governor of New York died at the age of 82, hours after his son Andrew was sworn in for a second term in the same job.

A New Year’s GM recall. The US auto maker issued a recall for 83,000 SUVs and pickup trucks over an ignition defect, adding to the 2.5 million vehicles it recalled last year. Overall, the US auto industry issued recalls for one out of every five cars on the road in 2014.

Hyundai forecast slower sales growth. The South Korean auto manufacturer and its Kia affiliate predicted 2.5% sales growth in 2015—its lowest rate in 12 years, and far below 5.8% growth in 2014. Hyundai cited more competition in the US and uncertainties in Russia in the year ahead.

Chinese factory activity slipped. Official data showed the purchasing managers’ index fell to 50.1 in December, from 50.3 in November, barely above the 50.0 mark that separates expansion from contraction.

Indonesian inflation hit a five-year high. The consumer price index rose 8.4% in December (paywall) from a year earlier, largely due to reduced fuel subsidies. Core prices rose 4.9%, up from 4.2% in November.

South Korean manufacturing stabilized. The HSBC purchasing managers’ index was 49.9 in December (paywall), representing the ninth consecutive month of contraction in factory activity. Exports also declined for the ninth month, while new orders rose for the first time in four months.

Quartz obsession interlude

Tim Fernholz on how Elon Musk’s space company is about to change space-flight as we know it. Typically, the first stage of a rocket that carries a payload into space is abandoned, falling into the sea. But SpaceX has been developing the technology to land and reuse those stages—a challenge considering the SpaceX Falcon 9’s stage 1 rocket is 14 stories tall and re-enters the atmosphere traveling 1,300 m per second. Read more here.

Matters of debate

China’s Gmail ban is a shot in the foot. Even in an authoritarian state, business still needs to get done.

Prepare for a Grexit. Greece will leave the euro zone—if not this year, then soon after.

Nobody knows what a ”flat white” coffee is. Starbucks’ latest US offering is going to cause controversy.

Stefan Simchowitz is the Michael Milken of the art world. Or is he its Mark Zuckerberg?

Don’t bother with that discounted gym membership. It’s probably not worth it.

Surprising discoveries

Men are afraid of round numbers. They’re most likely to cheat at 29, 39, 49, and 59 (and 33, for some reason).

Lemur poop could save Madagascar’s forests. Villagers are paid to spread it around, where it helps trees to sprout.

Switzerland’s border-crossing bridges were wired to explode. The Cold War-era defense system is being dismantled.

Apple’s spaceship HQ includes a 99-year-old barn. It was meticulously dismembered and reconstructed.
Even monks get enraged by airline customer service. “I will pray for you. But you have not been helpful,” United Airlines was warned.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, flat whites, and gym memberships to You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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