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Quartz Daily Brief—Europe edition—ECB rates, China exports, Honest Abe, embryo sharks

By Zach Coleman
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

What to watch for today

The ECB holds it steady… The European Central Bank is expected to hold interest rates at 0.75% at a policy meeting. Spain and Italy also hold their first bond auctions of the year.

…while the BoE eases. The UK’s central bank could announce more monetary easing at its policy meeting.

America appoints a boring budget guy. President Barack Obama is expected to nominate his chief of staff Jack Lew as Treasury secretary. Lew, a debt expert rather than a Wall St high-flyer, is “the boring man America needs now”, writes Quartz’s Matt Phillips.

Hugo Chávez’s inauguration, minus Hugo Chávez. Venezuela’s cancer-ridden president is too sick to attend the swearing-in today, having been re-elected last November. But he may be in his last days after 14 years of rule.

Diamonds are forever, or at least for another three months. Tiffany & Co. reports fourth-quarter earnings. So does British supermarket chain Tesco.

While you were sleeping

China’s shockingly strong exports. Shipments rose 14.1% in December from a year earlier, close to triple the pace economists expected and well above November’s 2.9% rise. The unexpected robustness lifted stocks and currencies in the region.

The not-so-much-Better Alternative Trading System. The stock-exchange operator BATS, the third largest in the US, discovered a programming error that caused more than 440,000 share trades since 2008 to be executed at a price below the required best available bid.

AIG won’t sue the hand that fed it. American International Group has decided that it will not join a lawsuit alleging that the US government ripped off shareholders when bailing out the insurance firm.

Foxconn palms being examined for grease. The Taiwan-based company responsible for assembling millions of iPhones and other electronic devies said that Chinese officials are investigating allegations that an executive accepted bribes from suppliers.

Schmidt to North Korea: Get online. Bill Richardson, former US ambassador to the United Nations, said he and Google chairman Eric Schmidt told North Korean officials during their visit that “The citizens of [North Korea] will be better off with more cell phones and an active Internet.”

If Congress won’t control guns, Obama will. ”The president is going to act. Executive orders, executive action, can be taken,” US vice president Joe Biden said while convening a commission on gun control. Last month, 20 children were killed in a school shooting in Connecticut.

Morgan Stanley downsizes. The financial services firm says it is laying off 1,600 employees, with half of the cuts in the US and the rest from its international offices.

Quartz obsession interlude

Gwynn Guilford on honest Abe. “Japan’s new leader, Shinzo Abe, has the toughest job in the world right now. Not only does he face another recession, near-zero interest rates, falling wages, deflation and the highest debt-to-GDP ratio (220%) in the world—he’s also vowed to reverse these trends. His approach has so far involved mainly bravado and the bullying of anything that stands in his way, including the country’s central bank, which he recently threatened to relieve of its independence… Japan’s churning cast of prime ministers have tried it all, and to little avail. But what they haven’t tried is everything all at once. That’s exactly what Abe’s now gearing up to do.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

Predictions for Xi Jinping’s presidency are harmful. By imputing intentions and capabilities to China’s president elect when he has yet to take office or make policy, analysts can drive misguided expectations and miscalculations.

Global civilization is headed for collapse. Unless we can solve the problems of food and energy sources, and the poisoning of the planet.

Phablets are taking over the world. The phablet is an extra-large phone that’s almost as big as a tablet, combining aspects of both. Apple refuses to make them, but not for long, writes Quartz’s Christopher Mims.

2013 will be the year of stagnation. Might as well get used to it: This year, both developed and emerging economies will have slower growth.

What Bernie Madoff and the European Union have in common: Ponzi schemes. ”In the private sector, when someone assumes new loans to cover earlier losses but still claims the money is well-invested it’s called fraud… In the public sector it’s called a debt crisis,” writes Mark Brolin for Quartz.

Decriminalize heroin. Legalizing and taxing drugs could eventually put illegal producers out of business, not to mention give governments new tax revenue, say researchers making an economic case for legalizing drugs.

Surprising discoveries

US not spending any less on oil imports. Volumes are down, but projected spending as a share of GDP will be higher this year than during the 1973 oil crisis.

India’s informal economy has shrunk—relatively. In the first such study in nearly three decades, India’s National Institute of Public Finance and Policy has estimated that the underground economy represents at least 10% of the country’s GDP. The institute put the proportion at about 20% in a 1984 study. Mind you, the economy was a lot smaller then.

Americans love animals more than they hate financial crime. The US spends more on the Fish and Wildlife service than the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Australia, still so hot right now. It’s so hot in Aussie country that gasoline evaporates before you can pump it. Also, did you know Australia hasn’t had a recession since the early 1990s?

Embryo sharks sense danger. Scientists studying bamboo sharks, a species that hatches from eggs, found that even as embryos, they reacted to electrical fields mimicking the signal produced by approaching predators by wrapping their tails around their bodies and holding still.

New Zealanders eye the exits. A poll found that 3.5% of New Zealanders are looking to go overseas temporarily to find work and 1.9% are considering permanent emigration.

Google’s executive chairman and Kim Jong Il have something in common. They like to look at things.

Worst flu in America in more than six years. So says Google Flu Trends, which tracks disease by what people are searching the web for.

Mobile-home installer? Bad career choice. They have the highest unemployment rate in the US. The lowest: judges.

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