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Quartz Daily Brief—Iraq IPOs, unemployment data, Al Jazeera buys, Louis XVI’s DNA

By Zach Coleman

What to watch for today

Iraq’s biggest IPO. Asiacell, a mobile phone operator, is seeking to raise at least $1.35 billion by floating 25% of its share capital on the Baghdad market in the first major IPO since the 2003 US-led invasion. Qatar Telecom holds a majority stake in the profitable company, which claims to have a 43% market share by revenue and 9.9 million subscribers.

Google to announce settlement of FTC probe. The agreement with the US Federal Trade Commission is expected to include changes to the way Google uses content from other sites and allow advertizers to export data while ending the 20-month investigation into whether the search company unfairly skews search results to favor its own services and misused patents to thwart competitors in smartphone technology. Meanwhile, a lawyer for Microsoft argued that Google had set obstacles to YouTube access for Windows Phone users.

Formal charges brought in the India gang-rape and murder case. Police are expected to present a charge sheet accusing five men of gang rape, murder, kidnapping, criminal assault and robbery in the case of a 23-year-old girl who was attacked by a group of men on a bus in New Delhi and died days later of her injuries. A sixth defendant will be tried in juvenile court. The prosecution is seeking the death penalty in a case that has cast an ugly light on the state of sexual harassment and the feebleness of the justice system in India, and provoked violent protests.

New unemployment data from Spain and Germany. While both countries appear to be feeling the effects of the euro crisis, jobless data will likely demonstrate the contrast between core and periphery. Germany is expected to report an unemployment rate of 6.9% (the same as in November with a small number of jobs being lost). Spain is expected to lose another 50,000 jobs in December; about one in four Spaniards were unemployed at the end of the third quarter.

US gets a new Congress. The 113th Congress will convene today after November’s election, in which the whole of the House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate were up for grabs as well as the presidency. While fresh faces might help shake up a deadlocked legislative branch, the ranks have changed little. The Democrat-controlled Senate gains a total of two Democrats (Republicans lost a net two seats). The Republican-controlled House will see a thinner majority after losing 6 seats (Dems won a total of 12).

More on US jobs and the Federal Reserve. ADP non-farm payroll data and initial jobless claims (a precursor to official unemployment figures) come out today, and could hint at whether the impending fiscal cliff deterred companies from hiring last month. We’ll also hear from the Federal Reserve, which continues to ease monetary policy in an attempt to boost employment.

While you were sleeping

Al Jazeera bought Current TV. The Qatar-based cable news company bought Current TV, a struggling cable channel founded by former US vice president Al Gore. Al Jazeera, which has struggled to get US distribution for its English-language channel, will launch a new US channel via Current TV’, but Time Warner Cable, a key distributor for Current TV, said it was dropping the channel “as quickly as possible.” The deal, which analysts valued  at up to $500 million, should still expand Al Jazeera’s reach from 5 million to 40 million US homes.

Zipcar agrees to sell to Avis for $491 million. Traditional rental car heavyweight Avis Budget will  pay $12.25 per share for Zipcar, which rents out vehicles by the hour. The companies hope that their distinct customer bases will complement each other. For example, Avis has plenty of unrented cars on its lots on Saturday and Sunday, while Zipcar is often sold out only on the weekends.

Markets across the world rallied to start the new year. Much of that optimism can be attributed to the fiscal cliff deal in the US. Politicians successfully averted the most pressing spending cuts and tax increases that could have shorn up to 5% off US GDP growth in 2013. However, as Quartz writers observe, the temporary solution is nothing much to celebrate, leaves various questions unresolved, and isn’t a good sign for lawmakers’ new year resolutions.

Quartz obsession interlude

Steve LeVine on why Mother Nature is hounding oil companies in the Arctic: “Strong winds and sometimes 50-foot waves are preventing emergency workers from boarding a grounded oil drilling vessel off the Alaskan coast, according to the US Coast Guard. The accident appears unlikely to cause major environmental damage, but further complicates an already grueling experience by Shell getting drilling going in the Arctic. As a whole, the Arctic is estimated to hold 25% of the world’s remaining oil and natural gas, and is becoming more accessible to oil exploration because of global warming. Yet even as the ice melts, the seas have not calmed, and are not forecast to.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

Canada won’t discuss its curious case of melting money. The Bank of Canada released 134 mostly blacked-out pages from an investigation into allegations that $100 dollar banknotes melt in high heat. The bank maintains that the bills have been adequately tested and are sufficiently weather-resistant, but won’t release more details for fear they’ll endanger Canadian national security.

The fiscal cliff deal doesn’t help the economy. PIMCO’s Mohamed El-Erian explains why the latest US budget deal underwhelms.

“National narrow-mindedness is experiencing a revival in the EU.” Is the appetite for change drying up in the European Union?

Surprising discoveries

$5 billion under the mattress. Indian tax investigators seized what appears to be $5 billion in US Treasury bonds from the modest rural home of a low-profile financial broker. The broker told investigators he got the bonds from a Brazilian friend and wanted to build an oil refinery, but they have been sent to Delhi for investigation.

What might Google want in North Korea? Its executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, is planning to go there with Bill Richardson, former governor of New Mexico, who is on a “humanitarian mission”.

Slower email responses. It is taking people around 10% longer, on average, to answer their email than it did a year ago.

Yes, that’s Louis XVI’s blood. Scientists concluded with 95% certainty that a now-decomposed garment that was evidently dipped in the French king’s blood after his beheading by guillotine in 1793 held DNA similar to that found in the mummified head of his predecessor, King Henri IV.

Pakistan’s religious Facebook is apparently in dire straits. MillatFacebook, a “religio-nationalistic” take on its secular namesake, sent a poorly worded email to followers begging for money to help pay for its US-based servers.

And finally: Quartz is hiring. As we expand in 2013, we’re looking for a new corporate reporter and science/technology writer. Tell your journalist friends.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, suggestions and stuffed mattresses to hi@qz.com. You can follow us on Twitter here for updates during the day.

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