Leap Day comes along only once every four years, but you need to know seven and a half things every day. Here's your daily allotment:
Thing One: All About The Benjamin: Ladies and gentlemen, it's time once again for America's least-favorite game show, the Not My Fault Game, also known as the Federal Reserve chairman's semi-annual monetary policy testimony before Congress. Here's how it's played: Ben Bernanke, after spending several hours this morning staring at the mirror in a state of existential despair, trudges up to Capitol Hill, where he sits himself down in front of the House Financial Services Committee for several more hours of existential torment.
Members of the House, meanwhile, spend the morning smoking crack, chugging whiskey and listening to death metal in preparation for grilling the chairman for hours in long, psychotic, generally ill-informed rants, in which they will blame him for high gas prices, high unemployment, the poor long-term record of the Washington Nationals, male pattern baldness and more. He will meekly protest that some of these things are not entirely his fault, while also trying desperately to avoid any appearance of signing off on their various harebrained schemes to destroy the Republic. If he survives the day, he gets to do it all over again in front of the Senate on Thursday. Oh, and don't say anything wrong, Ben, or you'll crash the markets!
Thing Two: LTRO Speedwagon: While you were hopefully sleeping this morning, the European Central Bank announced that some 800 banks had elbowed up to its Free Money window to get about 530 billion euros in low-interest loans for three years. This is the ECB's second cash-for-trash program, known colloquially as the LTRO, in the past few months. And it might be the last, as the central bank has now lent about a trillion euros. The program is generally given credit for saving Europe, America and the rest of the planet's economy from being turned into a charred hellscape forever, so that's good. Demand for cheap money was a little higher than expected this morning, and market mavens are scratching their heads about whether that's a good thing or not. I'll go out on a limb and say that free money is always a very good thing, until it isn't, at which point it becomes a horrible thing. You're welcome.
Thing Three: More Numbers To Crunch Today's another big day for economic data, with the government taking a second crack at guesstimating fourth-quarter GDP growth, the Fed releasing its always-thrilling "Beige Book" report of anecdotes about the economy and the release of the Chicago Purchasing Managers Index. Though of "little economic value," as Briefing.com puts it, the Chicago PMI can move markets because traders think it predicts the national purchasing managers index, due on Friday.
Thing Four: Good News And Bad News For Banks The good news: Banks posted their biggest annual profit in five years last year, according to a new FDIC report, and they increased their lending at the fastest pace in four years -- all good news, writes Victoria McGrane of The Wall Street Journal. The not-as-great news is that bank profits have been padded by taking cash out of their rainy-day reserves meant to cover losses. Meanwhile, the banking sector is generally unloved and under investigation: The government's insider-trading probe has reached a top manager at Goldman Sachs, according to the WSJ. And several big banks around the world are under investigation on charges they have possibly manipulated a key overnight bank lending rate, which forms the basis of borrowing costs around the world, according to a Reuters report.
Thing Five: CDS Stress Test: The international body that oversees the credit-default-swap market, where banks, hedge funds and other investors buy insurance against companies and governments failing to pay their debts, plans to decide on Thursday whether the recent agreement between Greece and some private creditors to drastically cut the value of its bonds constitutes a "credit event," which will trigger CDS contracts and force some banks to pay big bucks. We don't know if the financial markets are ready to handle such an event, writes Peter Eavis in the New York Times.
Thing Six: Shiny Apple: Everything's just coming up roses for Apple these days. It's America's biggest public company and arguably the most-important stock in the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq. Its share price hit another record high yesterday on news it is just a week away from unveiling what could be the iPad 3, Bloomberg writes. Meanwhile, it may also soon be handing out a dividend to shareholders, according to Bloomberg's guessing/analysis.
Thing Seven: New Windows: Meanwhile, in the world of old-growth technology, Microsoft is set today to unveil Windows 8, in a bid, Reuters writes, to restore the relevance of the ancient and often fluky operating system. Excitement!
Thing Seven And One Half: Move Over, Tebow, Here's Angelina: Angelina Jolie's repeated exposure of her leg at the Oscars the other night seemed to be a desperate bid for attention, and mission accomplished. The Internet is taking it, like the Internet is prone to do, as an excuse to make a bunch of occasionally funny pictures. So now Jolie-ing is the new Tebow-ing, Huffington Post Comedy reports.