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December 10: Last “Normal” Christmas, Blackouts in Sri Lanka, Google fakes Gemini presentation (Recap Ep256)

The week began with Sri Lanka experiencing a nationwide power outage attributed to a system failure. Meanwhile, a foreboding sentiment emerged as experts warned that the current Christmas season might be the last celebrated in what we perceive as ‘normal’ times. The World Economic Forum added to this sense of unease, predicting that 2024 could bring about “cataclysmic” changes. Further aggravating the situation, a report highlighted a significant shrinkage of the middle class, with only the top 30% of households affording what was once within reach of the top 60% in past decades.

In the commodities market, Saudi Arabia announced a daily production cut of 2.2 million barrels as part of OPEC+. Concerns about oversupply led to the possibility of deeper supply cuts in the first quarter of 2024, and the crude market experienced its lowest levels since late June. Retail gas prices hit their lowest point since January, just ahead of the holiday season. The complex dynamics of the oil market, including a stronger-than-expected US jobs report and plans to refill the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, resulted in the longest weekly losing streak since late 2018.

Financial news featured YouTube personality Logan Paul’s announcement of a $1.5 million plan to compensate investors after his CryptoZoo NFT project experienced a rug pull. In the UK, house prices rose for the second consecutive month, albeit still 1% lower than the previous year. India’s central bank held its key lending rate for the fourth consecutive time as inflation slowed for three straight months, while Russia’s upcoming elections could see Putin retain power until 2030.

On the political front, India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party secured victories in regional votes, providing a significant boost to Prime Minister Narendra Modi ahead of the upcoming national election. Venezuelan President Maduro won a sought-after referendum regarding sovereignty over the oil-rich region of Essequibo, though lackluster turnout suggested a declining government influence. Additionally, Putin’s announcement of running for a fifth presidential term in Russia’s 2024 elections drew attention, potentially extending his tenure until 2030.

Economic indicators presented a mixed picture as job openings in the US fell to the lowest level since March 2021, while Japan’s GDP shrank. Corporate news highlighted the struggles of companies like Virgin Galactic, Alaska Air Group, and Shopify, each facing unique challenges and market responses. Meanwhile, Google faced scrutiny for misleading AI presentations, and the European Union took steps to regulate AI use, including in biometric surveillance and systems like ChatGPT.

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