Saudi threats, Italy’s budget, hamster commissioner

Good morning, Quartz readers!

What to watch for today

Italy submits its budget to the European Commission. Brussels will not likely appreciate Rome’s plan to run budget deficits well above what was agreed to with the EU. Officials are worried Italy could spark a sovereign debt crisis like the one Greece triggered in 2010.

China’s largest trade fair opens. Many of the exporters gathered at the Canton Fair in Guangzhou are in a somber mood due to the intensifying trade war between China and the United States. A local battery manufacturer told Reuters its US clients “are not increasing their orders.”

Bank of America reports earnings. In July, the bank reported lower revenue from investment banking, prompting CEO Brian Moynihan to say the M&A team “knows they can do a better job and are after it.” Investors will no doubt follow up on that (paywall).

Over the weekend

Saudi Arabia threatened to retaliate against any punitive measures. The No. 1 oil exporter noted its “vital role in the global economy” after Donald Trump said he could take action against it (paywall) over the disappearance of journalist and government critic Jamal Khashoggi. Turkey says it has recordings of Khashoggi’s murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Brexit talks failed (again). A hoped-for deal on Britain’s exiting the European Union fell apart late Sunday, after the two sides could not agree about the Irish border. Members of British prime minister Theresa May’s cabinet are mulling resignations, rather than being forced to publicly back certain positions.

Conservatives lost ground in southern Germany. The Christian Social Union lost its absolute majority in Bavaria for only the third time in post-war history, a blow to chancellor Angela Merkel, who chairs the sister Christian Democratic Union. The left-leaning Greens made the biggest gains.

Sothebys sold the five most expensive bottles of wine ever. They all came from Burgundy producer Romanee-Conti, including a 1945 bottle that fetched $558,000, 17 times higher than the upper estimate. A second bottle from the same year sold for $496,000.

Stephen Hawking’s final warnings to humanity emerged. In his last writings, the late physicist predicted a breed of “superhumans” would take over, thanks to genetic engineering. Artificial intelligence, meanwhile, could develop “a will that is in conflict with ours.”

Quartz Obsession interlude

Michael J. Coren on flying cars looming on the horizon. “Earlier attempts at flying cars tried to replace the helicopter… Today’s efforts tend to involve wings, which, thanks to the magic of lift (see Bernoulli’s Principle), enables flying electric vehicles to travel farther and more efficiently. These improved designs make affordable point-to-point air travel suddenly feasible, and a compelling business proposition.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

Vegans should avoid avocados. If, that is, they are opposed to the exploitation of bees.

Sustainable investing won’t go mainstream anytime soon. Getting companies to comply with environmental, social, and governance standards is too difficult to implement across the board.

The admissions process is broken at elite colleges. A racial-discrimination lawsuit against Harvard looks set to reveal many of the flaws.

Surprising discoveries

“Pantsdrunk” is a thing in Finland. Kalsarikännit involves stripping to your undies, grabbing some snacks and booze, and binge-watching.

Princess Eugenie’s wedding dress showed off her scoliosis back scar. She wanted to honor others who’ve had similar surgeries and to challenge unrealistic beauty ideals.

There’s a thriving black market for selfies with passport scans. The more “add-ons,” or additional forms of identity offered, the higher the price.

South Africa has the best ads for chicken restaurants. Intense competition has the likes of Chicken Licken garnering global attention for its viral commercials.

There’s a “hamster commissioner” in Austria. Friedrich Vondruska’s job is to protect dozens of wild common hamsters at a Vienna university.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, viral restaurant ads, and dresses with a back story to You can follow us on Twitter for updates throughout the day or download our apps for iPhone and Android. Today’s Daily Brief was written and edited by April Siese and Steve Mollman.