Quartz Daily Brief—Europe and Africa edition—GOP debate, Taiwan elections, spermbots

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What to watch for today and over the weekend 

Taiwan goes to the polls. The island elects a new president and legislative leaders on Jan. 16, and the opposition Democratic Progressive Party is widely expected to win, thanks to a new generation of voters and an economy that is going nowhere. Relations with China, which considers Taiwan a rogue province, could suffer.

How do you solve a problem like North Korea? Defense officials from South Korea will lobby their Chinese counterparts to rein in Pyongyang, which conducted what it said was a hydrogen bomb test earlier this month. South Korea has said China should not “allow the situation on the Korean peninsula to deteriorate further.”

Bank earnings continue. Citigroup is expected to announce a small increase in revenue but a big jump in earnings from last year, when it set aside $3.5 billion for litigation and other charges. Wells Fargo is expected to report relatively flat earnings despite an uptick in revenue. PNC, US Bancorp, and BlackRock also report quarterly results (pdf).

While you were sleeping

Republicans battled it out. In the last debate before the Iowa caucuses, Sen. Ted Cruz and Donald Trump ratcheted up the attacks on one another, and all the candidates upped their attacks on Barack Obama.

Haier neared a deal to buy GE’s appliance unit for over $4 billion. The Chinese appliance maker outbid other corporate bidders for the century-old business unit, according to the Wall Street Journal (paywall).

Indonesian officials identified a probable mastermind. They said Bahrun Naim, a radicalized Indonesian believed to be living in the ISIL stronghold Raqqa, was likely behind the bomb attack in Jakarta yesterday. Meanwhile ordinary Indonesians showed solidarity and humor on social media.

Brown-Forman cashed in on Southern Comfort. The Kentucky spirits company sold Southern Comfort and another premium liqueur, Tuaca, to Louisiana-based Sazerac for $544 million. Southern Comfort—once beloved by Janis Joplin—has lost market share in recent years as other flavored whiskeys, such as Sazerac’s Fireball, have become popular.

JPMorgan Chase had a blockbuster quarter. The biggest US bank by assets pulled in $5.4 billion in quarterly profit, a 10% increase over the same quarter last year and well above analysts’ expectations. Despite the rosy results, CEO Jamie Dimon warned that large sectors of the global economy look shaky: “Hopefully this will all settle down and is not the beginning of something really bad.”

Minority actors were shut out of Oscar nominations. For the second year in a row, the Academy of Motion Pictures chose an all-white list for its best actor and best supporting actor awards. Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s film The Revenant earned 12 nominations in total, followed by Mad Max: Fury Road with ten.

Quartz obsession interlude

Tim Fernholz on a stakeout aimed at the world’s wealthiest crooks. “What are corrupt government officials and drug cartels to do with their ill-gotten cash? All too often, according to US officials, the answer is to buy expensive real estate through an anonymous shell corporation.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

Is saving the planet a legal defense? Activists charged with blocking a trainload of shale oil say they did it to stop climate change.

A luxury handbag is a better investment than the stock market. The Hermès Birkin has a better long-term return than the S&P 500.

Hollywood refuses to celebrate female protagonists. Unless they’re victims, or choosing between male suitors.

Surprising discoveries

Scientists are building Facebook for whales. Facial-recognition software will help measure their dwindling populations.

Germany has an app to help refugees fit in. Ankommen (“welcome” in German) helps immigrants find a job and learn language and customs.

“Spermbots” could solve male infertility. Micromotors attached to sperm can help them reach the egg.

A missing woman from 1974 is a hit on Spotify. Connie Converse recorded some stunning songs before she disappeared.

Three little girls performed an insane song-and-dance routine at a Donald Trump rally. “Cowardice / Are you serious / Apologies for freedom / I can’t handle this.”

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, investment handbags, and whale friend requests to You can follow us on Twitter for updates throughout the day.

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