What do we want? The seven and a half things we need to know today. When do we want it? Now. Here they are:
Thing One: Dow 36,000 Here We Come: Let's face it, we all hate the stock market. It has routinely taken large piles of our money and set them on fire repeatedly for the past 12 years, all while an army of grinning hucksters tell us to keep throwing more money in. Well, guess what, it's sucking us in again! The Dow Jones Industrial Average jumped to a nearly four-year high Thursday, and individual investors are reluctantly starting to put cash into the market, writes Jonathan Cheng in The Wall Street Journal. That's right, come on in, folks, everything will be fine. Widespread investor skepticism suggests we're not yet in some kind of crazy bubble or anything. The rally yesterday was driven largely by some very real signs of improvement in the economy, including a big drop in new claims for unemployment benefits. Still, everybody should be very aware that we saw just this sort of run-up, with investors inching back in just at the end of the rally, last spring, before everything went pear-shaped.
Thing Two: Greece Inching Toward Endgame: Watching Greece and its European paymasters debate has been a study in Zeno's dichotomy paradox: In order to get to their destination, they have to get halfway there, and to get halfway there, they have to get a quarter of the way there, and so on to infinity, never quite reaching the finish line. The Greek endgame is always just ahead, in other words, and has been for weeks and weeks and weeks. One reason for the stock market's rally Thursday was this belief taking hold again, for the 753rd time. Germany abandoned a plan to split Greece's money in two, and a deal to give Greece a fresh pile of money seems as near as ever, notes Reuters. The ECB plans to swap its low-priced Greek bonds for new Greek bonds to avoid taking a haircut. All of this seems like good news on the surface. Except Germans are still grumbling about how they don't trust the Greeks. Greeks are still grumbling about the Germans. And private bondholders are grumbling about how the ECB gets to avoid a haircut on Greek bonds when they don't, notes Felix Salmon. The endgame approaches, all right, but it may not be as neat as everybody seems to expect.
Thing Three: Inflation Nation: Friday brings some more interesting economic data. At 8:30 a.m. ET, the Bureau of Labor Statistics offers its reading on consumer price inflation for January. Economists think CPI rose 0.3% after being flat in December. Stripping out food and energy costs, because who uses that stuff anyway, "core" CPI is expected to rise just 0.1%, matching December's gain, according to Briefing.com. This is going to sound strange, but inflation is not America's biggest problem right now. Sure, gasoline prices are apparently going to the moon, but that could only cause consumers to stop spending on other stuff, which could hurt the longer-term trend in broader inflation. The Fed's biggest worry remains a deflationary spiral. There's no sign of that yet, fortunately.
Thing Four: Google Is In Your Browser, Watching Your Stuff: Google and other companies have been tracking your iPhone's travels on the World Wide Interwebs, whether you like it or not, The Wall Street Journal reports. The WSJ did get Google to shut down the code that let it follow the Safari browser, bypassing privacy preferences, but Google protested that the WSJ made what was happening seem more nefarious than it really was.
Thing Five: Airwaves For Sale: As part of the deal to extend a payroll tax cut, jobless benefits and Medicare reimbursements, Congress is going to raise cash to cover some of this stuff by auctioning off parts of the public airwaves, the New York Times reports. The airwaves, now given to TV stations for free, will be used to create more wireless networks while raising about $25 billion for the government.
Thing Six: CFPB Puts Debt Collectors In Its Sights: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau wants oversight of debt collectors, credit bureaus and other parts of the consumer-credit ecosphere, the Washington Post reports. The industry will cry and cry over this, but consumers at the margins of the financial system need protection.
Thing Seven: Who Pays The Mortgage Settlement: The Financial Times writes that the bulk of the roughly $40 billion ultimate cost of the mortgage-foreclosure settlement will be borne by taxpayers, contra the arguments of government officials -- including HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan in an interview with The Huffington Post yesterday -- that banks will bear the brunt of the cost. The FT writes: "a clause in the provisional agreement – which has not been made public – allows the banks to count future loan modifications made under a 2009 foreclosure-prevention initiative towards their restructuring obligations for the new settlement, according to people familiar with the matter. The existing $30 billion initiative, the Home Affordable Modification Programme (Hamp), provides taxpayer funds as an incentive to banks, third party investors and troubled borrowers to arrange loan modifications."
Thing Seven And A Half: Burying The Hatchet: Two news items this morning will either restore your faith in humanity's ability to forgive or make you throw up in your mouth a little. First, Rihanna is going to include the man who punched and bit her, Chris Brown, in a remix of her song "Birthday Cake." Second, LeBron James says he might be willing to take his talents back to the Mistake By The Lake, after already breaking Cleveland's heart once.