Good morning! Here's what you need to know.
— The UK unemployment rate dropped to 7.1% from 7.4%. Economists predicted it would fall to 7.3%. The pound surged on the news. The Bank of England's previous forward guidance said that it would review its interest rates policy at 7.0%. This suggests the era of easy monetary policy could end sooner than later in the region.
— Just a week after leaving office, former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen have been indicted by a federal grand jury for charges related to their acceptance of more than $135,000 in gifts, vacations, and loans from then-Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams Sr. in exchange for business opportunities.
— Mohamed El-Erian unexpectedly announced his resignation from PIMCO, the $2 trillion money management firm. El-Erian will stay at PIMCO until mid-March and then remain affiliated with Allianz, PIMCO's parent company, in an advisory role. "What happens longer-term is an open question," El-Erian wrote PIMCO colleagues in an internal memo obtained by Business Insider. "I have no plans as of now. What I do know is that I am looking forward to something different after an initial 15 year career in international public policy (at the International Monetary Fund, and straight out of universities) and an immediate second 16 year career in finance and investment management (overwhelmingly at PIMCO)."
— Asian were higher in overnight trading. Japan's Nikkei climbed 0.16%, Korea's KOSPI was up 0.33%, and Hong Kong's Hang Seng finished 0.21% higher. European markets were relatively mixed, and U.S. futures were pointing lower.
— Police forces in Russia killed one Islamist leader and searched for another ahead of the Sochi Olympics. "In Sochi, which plans to host hundreds of thousands of visitors during the games, security forces were searching for Ruzanna Ibragimovaya, 23, who may have arrived to the Olympic host city on January 11-12," Reuters reports. Russian police are searching for Ibragimovaya and other s0-called "black widows," wives of killed extremists who they believe may carry out attacks at the Games.
— Tech companies eBay and Netflix will report earnings later today. Wall Street analysts are expecting an EPS of $0.80 and $0.64 respectively for the two companies. "The future of net neutrality and increased competition are valid and substantial concerns. Simultaneously Netflix’s DVD rental by mail service is being converting to streaming video subscriptions, which puts more of Netflix’s eggs in 1 basket which is going to come under enormous pressure," wrote Estimize. "On the other hand, the more optimistic are looking forward to NFLX’s further expansion to overseas markets." This morning, IBM missed Q4 revenue expectations due to "weakening demand for its servers and storage equipment, particularly in growth markets like China," Reuters reports.
— Bitcoin mania continues, this time with two Las Vegas casinos announcing they will become the city's first to accept the digital currency. Executive Director Derek Stevens said the D Las Vagas Casino Hotel and the Golden Gate Hotel and Casino (both owned by the same company) will begin accepting bitcoins after customers requested it.
— Australian inflation surged unexpectedly. Consumer prices climbed 0.8% last quarter, "reducing the chance of another cut in the official cash rate by the Reserve Bank of Australia in the near term," reported the Sydney Morning Herald.
— The Bank of Japan maintained its easing program. The BOJ will stick to its plan to grow the monetary base by an annual $671 billion, a move largely expected by market analysts. But: "The strength of Japan’s economic recovery will be tested after the sales tax is increased to 8 percent in April from 5 percent, a move that economists forecast will trigger a 4.1 percent annualized contraction in the second quarter," Bloomberg reported. And Canada's central bank will make its policy announcement today, with no change expected. "We suspect, given the extreme market positioning (evident in the futures market) a neutral Bank of Canada statement could spur a bout of short-covering in the Canadian dollar," wrote BBH's Marc Chandler.
— Unrest in Thailand continues as a "key leader of the pro-government Red Shirt movement shot and wounded outside his house in the country's north-east," ABC reports. "The government issued the 60-day emergency decree late on Tuesday (local time), handing security agencies wide powers to detain suspects, impose a curfew and limit gatherings," according to the report.
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