You haul sixteen tons, and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt. You know seven and a half things, though, and you're set for the day. Here they are:
Thing One: Gas Pains: Some day we will drive to our local combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell in an automobile powered by an oil baron's bitter tears, but until that day we have to keep shelling out for gasoline. The price of dead dinosaur juice is very high, and rising right before our very eyes, if we watch it long enough (about 10 cents every two minutes, if this video is to be believed). Gas is about $3.65 a gallon nationally, on average, according to AAA, and expected to head to $4 during the spring driving season.
Republicans are using pricey gas as a cudgel to beat up President Obama, with Newt Gingrich promising to bring gas down to $2.50 a gallon, by inventing a unicorn/car hybrid or fracking the core of the earth or something. The president protests it's not his fault and that drilling more isn't going to help much -- in fact, the U.S. is already producing more oil than it has in eight years. He is pushing to end drilling subsidies for the oil and gas industry, which would not help (of course, you could argue energy prices should be higher, to encourage us to find alternatives). But he is right in saying that the oil market is global, affected by tensions with Iran and a bajillion new car drivers in China and India. Those factors have helped push crude oil to a seventh straight gain this morning, up to nearly $109 a barrel on the Nymex.
What are you paying at the pump? We want pictures of your receipts and the gas price signs you're seeing in your hometown. Send them to us at email@example.com.
Thing Two: What A Draghi: Europe needs to take its bitter fiscal medicine, even if it means economic pain in the short run, ECB chief Mario Draghi said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. He said belt-tightening now will lay the groundwork to make markets more confident in the future. He did not say how these future confident markets would operate in an economy brought to utter ruin by austerity in the present. Details, details! Speaking of economies brought to utter ruin by austerity in the present, Greece begins a swap with private bondholders today while it continues to jump through hoops in an effort to get its latest pointless loan from Europe. European stocks, which Draghi says are the first stats he looks at in the morning, are higher this morning for the first time in four days.
Thing Three: Sears For Sale: The hottest stock in America right now is Sears Holdings, which has nearly doubled in price so far this year, writes Steven Russolillo over at my old stomping grounds. The reason? Sears is very carefully laying the groundwork for future greatness by eating its seed corn, writes Peter Eavis at The New York Times. It's selling off a bunch of stores to raise nearly $800 million to plug its giant cash gusher, but those may be some of its most profitable stores. But who cares, in the long run we'll all be dead, cheered Wall Street, which drove the stock up nearly 20 percent yesterday.
Thing Four: How Are We Doing? We get a couple of pieces of mildly interesting economic data today. At 9:55 a.m. ET the University of Michigan offers up its final reading on consumer sentiment for February. Economists think this index nudged up to 73 from a first read of 72.5, according to Briefing.com, which is down from a January reading of 75. Got all that? It means, basically, that consumers are still feeling relatively blecch, though not as blecch as they felt back in the recession. And anyway, what matters is what consumers do, not how they feel. At 10:00 a.m. we get new-home sales data for January. Economists think sales ticked up to an annualized pace of 315,000 units from 307,000 in December. Back in the good old days when the housing market was on its crystal meth binge, we were building like 1.4 million new houses a year. Update: Both numbers came in better than expected.
Thing Five: Apple Pie: America's Most Beloved Company, Apple, on Thursday agreed to give shareholders more of a say in picking its directors. That could put pressure on other U.S. companies to follow its lead, the Financial Times writes. Yet another reason for other U.S. companies to shake their fists in rage at Apple, the Marcia Brady of the U.S. economy. And Marcia may very well give you some of its $100 billion in cash! It just needs more time to think about it. Do not rush Marcia.
Thing Six: AIG's Big Fat Fake Profit: One of the many Jan Bradys of the U.S. economy, AIG, on Thursday reported a whopping quarterly profit of nearly $20 billion, with nothing more than a stroke of its pen. An accounting change here and there, and voila, $20 billion! We should not gripe or scoff, however, as the big jump in AIG's stock price after this bit of accounting legerdemain took the U.S. government's 77 percent stake in the company to break-even. Recall, AIG would not exist today -- nor would the U.S. economy -- had the U.S. government not bailed it out during the Global Financial Crisis.
Thing Seven: Size Doesn't Matter: So, funny thing, a government program to give cash to U.S. small businesses is putting cash in the hands of such mom-and-pop outfits as IBM and Lockheed Martin, writes The Huffington Post's Marcus Baram. Hilarious! In fact, big companies have taken about three-quarters of the cash intended for small businesses.
Thing Seven And One Half: South Beach Talents Put In Effort, Win Game: It was a David-versus-Goliath showdown for the ages: Jeremy Lin and his scrappy New York Knicks against the swollen egos and massive paychecks of the LeBron James-led Miami Heat. Except Goliath stomped all over David. Apparently the All-Seeing Eye of the Heat, in their Tower of Mordor, had watched Lin getting all of the national adoration they thought they deserved, slowly growing angrier and angrier about it, until they decided they were actually going to break a sweat and put some effort into at least one game of basketball, just long enough to teach this Lin upstart a lesson. And they did, double-teaming him relentlessly and forcing him into his worst game so far as they rolled over the Knicks.