Quartz Daily Brief – Asia Edition – Japanese gloom, European fracking, Libor fines, Toutatis

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Good morning, Quartz readers!

What to watch for today

Japan’s manufacturers are gloomy. With a snap election just two days away, the Bank of Japan’s Tankan survey will be released today. Indications are that it will show the most pessimistic mood among large manufacturers since the 2008 global financial crash; earlier this week GDP data confirmed Japan to be in its fifth technical recession in 15 years. Prior to 2008, the Tankan survey had showed optimism at a 16-year high.

US states will make Obamacare a headache to implement. Today is the deadline for states to say whether they’ll set up their own healthcare exchanges, the online marketplaces through which people without health insurance will be obliged to buy it under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. It looks like at most 18 states will opt to run their own exchanges, leaving the federal government the task of setting up the rest.

Walmart workers protest in 10 countries. They will try to increase public pressure on the retail chain after rallies against its aggressive anti-unionization practices in the US, and the deadly fire in a Bangladesh factory that Walmart admitted it didn’t know was supplying it with clothes.

You can buy a Casablanca piano at auction. Not, unfortunately, the one Sam played at Rick’s Café Américain in Casablanca, but the other one, which makes a brief appearance in the movie at a Parisian café called La Belle Aurore. Even so, Sotheby’s expects the battered and rather tuneless relic—the real sound of which was never actually heard in the film—to fetch from $800,000 to $1.2 million.

While you were sleeping

Germany and Britain gave fracking the go-ahead. Germany’s government defeated a motion by Greens and leftists to ban hydraulic fracturing across the country, where it has been in use for decades, the same day that the British government decided to allow exploratory fracking. France and Bulgaria have banned the method of extracting shale gas, as has the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Eurozone finance ministers approved a Greek debt package. The deal, which for now averts a threatened exit of Greece from the euro zone, is worth €49.1 billion ($64 billion) between now and March, out of the €109 billion total that constitutes Greece’s second bailout package. The breakdown includes €16 billion for recapitalization of Greek banks, €11.3 billion to finance a debt buyback, and €7 billion for budget financing. Another €7.2 billion will be released next month for Greek banks, and the remaining €7.6 billion euros will be paid monthly as long as conditions are met.

The price for rigging Libor has gone up. Swiss bank UBS appears to face a $1 billion global penalty to settle charges that it misstated its daily valuation of the benchmark interest rate in order to profit. In June, Barclays paid a $450 million fine in the same case.

Rival Egyptian political groups conducted final campaigning for the first round of national voting. Ten areas including Cairo and Alexandria go to the polls Dec. 15 on a new national constitution supported by President Mohamed Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood. The second round, for the rest of the country, will be held Dec. 22.

EU antitrust officials approved a settlement with Apple and four publishers. As part of the agreement, the publishers—Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Macmillan and Hachette—will discard a 2010 pricing agreement intended to undermine Amazon’s low e-book prices. 

But Apple lost a patent infringement case for its iPhone camera. After a week-long trial, a US jury decided that Apple infringed on three patents held by MobileMedia Ideas. A determination of damages is next.

Chinese commemorated the 75th nniversary of the Nanjing Massacre. In the massacre, rampaging Japanese troops killed some 300,000 Chinese over a six-week period, and hundreds of thousands of women were raped. Sirens wailed in Nanjing City on Dec. 13 to mark the anniversary of the start of the violence.

Quartz obsession interlude

Christopher Mims on the five most disruptive technologies of the year. “The most disruptive technologies in 2012 include energy storage technology no one thought would ever work, gesture-based interfaces that will make touch screens look as quaint as floppy disks, and computers and connectivity so cheap they’re adding billions more people to the internet.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

Is America’s growth strategy for Africa backfiring and helping China? When you favor one country’s imports, you can incentivize other nations to set up manufacturing there to capitalize on the arbitrage. The US’s African Growth and Opportunity Act has no rules-of-origin provisions, so the Chinese gamed it.

Are we living in a time of accelerating technological advance? Or is it a time of depressing scientific stagnation?

Chinese authorities are sensitive about public discussion of internal migrants. In Shanghai, Zhan Quanxi has been detained because his 15-year-old daughter Haiti griped on her Sina microblog account about their treatment since leaving Zhuhai, where she grew up.

Surprising discoveries

Much of Europe, and later China, too, face aging populations. But that may not be a problem for economies of the nations involved as long as productivity remains at modern levels.

Neither China nor the US like depending on outsiders for energy. But the virtue of energy self-sufficiency may not withstand scrutiny.

If you are crossing a street while texting, you are 3.9 times more likely to do something unsafe. You also will get where you are going slower than your rival paying full attention to the crosswalk.

The US tax return form 1040 has grown from 27 lines of information to 77 since 1913. And the instruction booklet has swollen from two pages to 189. Quartz tracks the tax form’s evolution over the years.

In four years, 4179 Toutatis will swoop again in the direction of the Earth. On Dec. 12, the three-mile wide asteroid did so safely. A question is whether to try to divert it—or any other possibly dangerous asteroid—from striking the planet, an effort that would require up to five years of preparation.

Do you read The Economist, or only claim to? If the latter, you are not alone.

Best wishes from Quartz for a productive day. Please send any news, feedback, piano bids or texts (but not while crossing the road, please) to You can follow us on Twitter here for updates during the day.

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