One is the loneliest number that you'll ever do. Seven and a half, on the other hand, is a far friendlier number, and it's the number of things you need to know each day. Here's today's supply:
Thing One: Corporations Are People, My Friend: We all know by now that corporations are people just like you and me. The Supreme Court and Mitt Romney have said as much, so it's pretty much settled. And we all know that, just like you and me, corporations should be allowed to spend their billions on political campaigns without any limit. And they should definitely be allowed to take part in atrocities overseas without having to worry about being dragged into court over it. Who didn't indulge in a little casual genocide when they were backpacking through Europe? We were young! Well, somebody apparently thought this was such a bad idea they made a federal case out of it, literally. It's called Kiobel vs. Royal Dutch Petroleum (great guy, that RDP). The Supreme Court hears arguments on the case today, writes Mike Sacks of The Huffington Post. If the justices vote along party lines, as judges have throughout the course of the case, then they will probably vote to exempt companies from being held responsible for atrocities overseas -- which, as it turns out, is completely the opposite of how individual people are treated. Fortunately, the justices can rely on international law, which they usually despise, to exempt corporations from personhood just this once, writes Mike, creating a Cognitive Dissonance Vortex that will open up and swallow the Earth whole. Problem solved.
Thing Two: Paying Taxes Is For Suckers: One other way that corporations are just like people is that they have to pay taxes, too, just like you and me. The only difference is that, while you or I could very well be hauled off to the hoosegow for paying only 2 percent of our income in taxes, a company like General Electric can get away with paying about 2 percent of its income in taxes for an entire decade, writes Alexander Eichler of The Huffington Post. "If you'll think back to your high school math classes, you'll recall that 2.3 percent is less than 35 percent," Alexander observes. "That means GE is paying well below the top marginal corporate tax rate of 35 percent -- the same tax rate that business leaders, politicians and conservative commentators have repeatedly deplored as high enough to impede economic growth."
Thing Three: In The Eurozone: Speaking of problems solved, European stocks are higher this morning after European confidence indexes came in higher than expected -- even though Europe is sinking into a recession, Standard & Poor's declared that Greece was in "selective" default on its debts, the ECB suspended acceptance of Greek bonds as collateral and Spain may be just a wee bit shy of meeting its budget targets. Details, details. Stocks are higher partly because Angela Merkel somehow managed to get Germany's parliament to vote for the next big sack of money to be delivered to Greece, and because the ECB is set this week to roll out another massive short-term lending program. The last such lending program was a whopping success, letting European banks make free money by buying once-toxic Spanish and Italian bonds, the FT writes. Who says money doesn't solve everything, particularly when that money is bottomless and somebody else's?
Thing Four: Econorama: Back in the States, we get our own bucket full of economic data to chew on this morning. At 8:30 a.m. ET we get orders for durable goods made in U.S. factories in January -- think refrigerators and airplanes. These are expected to drop after a big gain in December, but it's a jerky data series. At 9:00 a.m. we get the Case-Shiller home-price index for December. These are some fairly old numbers, but they are expected to show that house prices were still falling in December, showing no sign yet of the housing bottom other economists say they're seeing in other numbers. Finally, at 10:00 a.m. we get a consumer confidence reading from the Conference Board, a private research firm. This is expected to tick up again, but is still historically low. The question, as always, is what consumers do, not how they feel. We are capable of spending money even when we feel pretty bad, as long as we actually have money to spend.
Thing Five: Dow's Lucky 13,000: The Dow Jones Industrial Average, a stock index built back in the days when men were men and cars got 40 rods to the hogshead as Yahweh intended, is nearing 13,000. Again. And again and again. Why does anybody care about this? Jim Browning of the Wall Street Journal goes in search of that knowledge and finds that, while market mavens scoff at the media's focus on such round numbers, milestones like this do seem to cause the market to pause and reflect on how far it has come, the people it has hurt along the way, and whether it should keep climbing or start falling, sending everybody into a panic. Do the right thing, Dow.
Thing Six: Yahoo Versus Facebook: Yahoo may be getting a little long in the tooth as tech companies go, but it may yet get its hands on some of that upstart Facebook's bajillions in IPO money. That's because Yahoo can still sling a patent lawsuit with the best of them, and it thinks it can get some patent cash out of Facebook. That was the warning it gave the upstart whippersnapper on Monday, Reuters writes.
Thing Seven: Black Hole Sun: Since the hacking scandal began that engulfed his News Corporation (former employer of this here blogger), Rupert Murdoch has tried contrition, and now he's trying defiance. Neither are working yet. After hacking and bribery accusations were leveled at his flagship tabloid, the Sun, Murdoch parachuted into London, bucked up the troops and launched a Sunday edition. The cop leading the investigation of the Sun fired back yesterday, the Guardian writes, saying the Sun had "established a 'network of corrupted officials' and created a 'culture of illegal payments.'"
Thing Seven And One Half: A Couch Potato Gathers No Muscles: If you thought putting a Wii in the hands of a slothful child was going to help whip him or her into shape, then you might need to think again, Reuters writes. "All that virtual boxing, bowling and dancing along with video game systems might not be helping kids meet their daily exercise requirements, a new study suggests."