Good morning, Quartz readers!
What to watch for today
US earnings season starts with an industry bellwether. Alcoa, the leading aluminum blue-chip, will announce its fourth-quarter and full year 2012 earnings after the market closes. Materials companies are often seen as indicators of general economic health, though this quarter is expected to be exceptionally ugly for them. China’s economic slowdown last year reduced demand for aluminum, and the consensus estimate for Alcoa is a loss of 7 cents a share for the fourth quarter, and 24 cents a share for the year, according to Zacks.
The world’s largest and most has-been technology show opens. The week-long International Consumer Electronics Show used to be the must-go technology conference of the year. Now, though, many of the biggest names—Amazon, Google, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft and Nokia—will either not be in Las Vegas, or will have much scaled-back presences. Apple won’t be there either, but never went anyway.
Karzai arrives in Washington. Afghan President Hamid Karzai begins a three-day visit to the US as doubts grow about his ability to stabilize the country ahead of the NATO withdrawal next year. US President Barack Obama seems increasingly eager to accelerate the troop pullout. The transition to all-Afghan forces will dominate Karzai’s talks with senior US officials.
Chávez’s condition rattles Venezuela: Lieutenants of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez convey the air of business as usual as he lies stricken and silent in a Havana hospital three days before his scheduled inauguration. The opposition insists that Chávez has to take the oath of office as scheduled Jan. 10, or else there must be new elections. But Vice President Nicolás Maduro says Chávez will remain president regardless of whether he is sworn in on time. Venezuelan bond traders are nervous, sending down the price of the bonds of PDVSA, the state oil company.
While you were sleeping
Samsung neared a profit record. The South Korean electronics group said it expected to record a quarterly operating profit of $8.3 billion for the last quarter of 2012, but weaker seasonal demand is expected to hurt earnings for early 2013.
China media protests spread. In a rare act of defiance, the country’s major web portals, including Sina and Sohu, which are carrying a government-mandated editorial criticizing the journalists striking at Guangzhou’s Southern Weekend in a protest over censorship, have added disclaimers that the editorial does not represent the views of the portals.
Japan to buy European bonds and make everyone happy. The country will use foreign reserves to buy bonds issued by the European Stability Mechanism. By helping prop up the euro zone, Japan thus gets to achieve its key policy goal of pushing down the value of the yen too, without being criticized for it.
Hedge fund chief to take over Sears. US retailer Sears Holding said that Lou D’Ambrosio was stepping down as chief executive to deal with family health matters and that Edward Lampert, the chairman, would take over the role. Lambert’s ESL Investments controls more than a third of Sears’ stock.
Distressed Arctic oil rig towed to safety. Emergency crews towed a wayward Shell oil vessel from Sitkalidak Island, off the Alaskan coast, to safe harbor in Kiliuda Bay. The Kulluk had run aground on Sitkalidak in turbulent seas on Dec. 31, but was rescued after a high tide lifted it. The affair casts new doubt on oil companies’ ability to drill in the Arctic.
Quartz obsession interlude
Steve LeVine on the 14 rules for making sense of geopolitical news, and forecasting what comes next: “Nations are eccentric. But they also have threads of repeated history through which we can discern what comes next. For five centuries, since Ivan the Terrible, for instance, Russia has been characterized by one-man rule, an exaggerated sense of identity, and an acceptance of often deadly cruelty toward individual citizens. Therefore, it is not surprising that those traits are the bricks and mortar of Vladimir Putin’s rule today.” Read more here.
Matters of debate
Innovation is not a default virtue. There are 21 situations in which innovation is not ideal.
A good word for the euro. Why Latvia wants to join one of the world’s most unrewarding clubs.
When it’s okay to speak with psychopaths. In small doses, the clinically insane can be sensibly insightful.
China imports rice. The country has suddenly become a major importer of rice but market players debate whether the cause is rising domestic consumption or arbitrage of government price controls.
The US should form a “league of democracies”. A group formed of the G7, Australia and South Korea could usefully work together to sanction countries developing weapons of mass destruction, protect civilians against mass atrocities, and resist the establishment of exclusive spheres of influence.
Are Africans really on their way to a new day? Not necessarily, if you look at a different set of economic metrics from the usual ones.
The Philippines debates gun control. A series of shootings in the country has revived calls for tighter regulation.
A surprising barter market in detergent. Some US drug dealers are willing to swap marijuana and even cocaine for Tide.
The man with the golden gun. Honduran police seized a gold-plated, jewel-encrusted AK-47 assault rifle, valued at more than $50,000, with two silver magazines and other weapons during a raid on a ranch.
Domino’s goes upmarket in Japan. The US-based pizza chain has begun offering “luxury” items, starting with a Kobe beef-topped pizza selling for Y5,800 ($66) for a large. Cheaper versions come with black Wagyu or black Angus beef.
An “Earth analogue” is on the way. NASA has added 461 “new planet candidates” since last February to its roster, which now totals 2,740 possible planets and includes four close in size to Earth and at at a distance from their suns suggesting they could have liquid surface water.
But does it taste like Pepsi? Est Cola, launched by Thai Beverage in November after the end of a six-decade bottling and distribution deal with PepsiCo, has already crowded Pepsi out of many eateries. It looks oddly similar, too.
A monster is a monster is a monster. Thalattoarchon saurophagis, whose fossil remains have just been found, was 30 feet long and dwelt under the sea 244 million years ago—in Nevada.
Poisoned for his cash? Chicago police have opened a murder investigation after determining that cyanide killed an Indian immigrant who bought a winning $1 million lottery ticket last June and died a month later.
Pakistan’s fast-food boom. America’s drones may not be welcome, but its calories are. US chains are seeing a surge in franchising.
Fraudsters are uncreative on email. You can spot people involved in fraudulent activity within companies by the common phrases they use.
Hacks, spooks, cops. Journalists do call each other hacks. Many policeman refer to each other as cops. But do spies address each other as spooks? The public wishes to know.
Where diamonds come from. If you are wearing a diamond, the chances are that it spent at least some time in the Indian town of Surat.