China rattles markets, the search for alien life and explaining the Sunni-Shia divide

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China’s entire equity market shut early — again — after the threshold for its new “circuit breaker” was breached within the first 30 minutes of trading.

Stocks plunged for the second time this week after the renminbi saw its biggest one-day weakening since China’s surprise devaluation in August. Currency concerns have spooked China’s markets, which have gone into a replay of last summer’s meltdown and left policymakers struggling to contain the fallout.

Global equities reacted by sliding to three-month lows. As risk appetite evaporates, pushing base metals sharply lower, traders are seeking the perceived safety of gold, the Japanese yen and “core” government bonds. (FT)

In the news

How to react to North Korea’s defiance? The US, South Korea and Japan have said they will be united in their response to North Korea’s claim to have successfully tested a hydrogen bomb. The UN Security Council has also agreed to start drawing up new measures against North Korea. But scepticism remains over whether the North really did conduct such a test. Did they or didn’t they and why does it matter? (BBC, FT)

Netflix expands global push The video-streaming website launched its service in 130 more countries, tripling the number of markets where it offers an inexpensive alternative to cable or satellite television. (FT)

A grim year for emerging markets Developing economies last year recorded their slowest growth since the immediate aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis and are facing the prospect of an equally grim 2016, the World Bank has warned. (FT)

Oil slides below $35 Oil’s volatile start to the year continued on Wednesday after Brent crude sank below $35 a barrel for the first time since 2004 as a relentless rise in global production overshadowed geopolitical upheavals. (FT)

Star Wars smashes US records The Force Awakens, the latest in the sci-fi film franchise, has unseated Avatar to become the top film of all time in North America. Disney said the film had by Wednesday already earned enough to surpass the $760.5m taken in by Avatar over its lifetime. (BBC)

It's a big day for

Free speech A year after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, and as the French satirical magazine’s latest issue draws fire from the Vatican, free speech organisations around the world have come together to proclaim the importance of protecting dissenting voices — and to attack those governments that have increased surveillance in the wake of the murders. (Guardian)

Medical marijuana users New York officially launches marijuana as a form of medical treatment, becoming the 23rd US state to do so as the taboo surrounding its legalised medicinal use starts to shift. (Yahoo)

Food for thought

Pierre Boulez, avant-garde champion The maverick composer and conductor has died at his home in Germany, aged 90. As a conductor, he led some of the finest orchestras in the world. As a composer, he challenged himself to work with new, modern sounds and “made French music shine throughout the world”, said François Hollande, France’s president. He towers over recent musical history because he was one of the few representatives of the future in an age increasingly dominated by the past. (Rolling Stone, FT)

Explaining the Sunni-Shia divide Since the 7th century, Islam has been divided into two main denominations, Sunni and Shia — a schism that continues to impact the Middle East to this day. The FT’s Heba Saleh looks at the reasons behind the split and the main differences between the two branches of Islam. (FT)

The cost of staying in London Thousands of finance jobs have no need to be done in the English capital — one of the world’s costliest cities — some banks have admitted. The financial institutions are looking at ways to reduce their cost base and moving middle and back-office staff from the city is becoming an increasingly real prospect. (FT)

The triumph of email In the mobile internet age, checking email has for many become both a nervous tic as well as a tether to the office. It works the way it is supposed to but people seem to hate it more than ever. Why does one of the world’s most reviled technologies keep winning? (The Atlantic)

Looking for aliens Scientists previously thought ancient star clusters were inhospitable to life, but astrophysicists Rosanne Di Stefano and Alak Ray have identified a “sweet spot” that would allow planetary survival. If there is an advanced society in an environment like that, “it could set up outposts relatively easily, because we’re dealing with distances that are so much shorter”, said Ms Di Stefano, who suggested the Terzan 5 cluster at the centre of the Milky Way as the most likely candidate for life. (Nature)

Video of the day

Why Cameron will survive Europe vote FT editor Lionel Barber and political columnist Janan Ganesh discuss the decision by UK Prime Minister David Cameron to allow his ministers a free vote in the 2016 referendum on membership of the EU. (FT)

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