Thing One: Sexy Sexy Economic Sex: We should put a brown wrapper around this blog post today, or do an age check or something, because this is going to be the sexiest, hotttttest blog post ever written. It will blow your mind. OK, not really. The truth is there's a bunch of economic data coming today. There's no other way to put it. And it will be incrementally better than the last bunch of economic data, which was OK but not great. Which could mean an incremental improvement in people's lives, and could also help determine the next president (more on that later). So please stop nodding off and pay attention. We'll start with the most important, before we lose you.
First thing, we get weekly jobless claims. They're supposed to hold steady around the 350,000 mark -- high, but better than they were a year ago and certainly better than at the height of the recession. Baby steps.
At the same time we also get consumer income and spending data for January. These things are the foundation of our entire economy, so they're kind of a big deal. Both are expected to be up a few ticks from December. Feel the pulse-pounding excitement.
Then we get a read on the factory sector in February from the Institute for Supply Management. Wake up! Drink some coffee. This is sort of an important indicator, too. Economists think it rose a bit, showing expansion in the factory sector for the 31st straight month, the longest streak since 2003-06.
OK, that's it: The economy is not falling off a cliff. It's not the best economy ever, but it's not the worst, either. It's enough that President Obama is building his reelection campaign around it, writes Helene Cooper of the New York Times. But the first person who calls it a Goldilocks economy gets a free lifetime subscription to The Econometrics Journal of the Royal Economic Society. Do not test me.
Thing Two: Auto Sales For The People: Another good read on the economy today, which does not involve dry numbers but real, noise-making, carbon-spewing cars and trucks, comes when auto makers report their February sales throughout the day. And business is expected to be good, the Washington Post writes. The auto sector has been one of the brighter spots of the economy, as people are having to finally replace their aging Yugos and Yarises for something newer. They are also buying smaller cars, the WaPo notes, because of high gas prices.
Thing Three: Gas Prices: Do We Hear A Five? Did somebody mention high gas prices? Because the New York Times warns us that gas prices could go to five dollars a gallon, because of tensions in the Middle East and rising demand in emerging markets. "For the typical driver who pumps 60 gallons a month of regular unleaded gasoline, a 50-cent increase in price means an extra expense of $30 a month," the NYT writes. So this is a threat to the Goldilocks economy and a thorn in President Obama's side, though there's truthfully not much he can do about it.
Thing Four: ISDA Greeks Default Yet? This morning in an underground bunker in a secret location, probably an uncharted island somewhere around the Azores, a cabal known as ISDA met to decide that Greece's recent deal to slash the value of its bad debts did not constitute a "default," technically. That means we won't have to find out whether the financial system can handle billions of dollars in payouts on Greek credit-default insurance. But it also means investors could start to lose faith in the value of the credit-default insurance market, which could have broader repercussions. Katy Burne and Tom Lauricella write in The Wall Street Journal that the decision-making process was transparent as mud "and rife with potential conflicts of interest," given that investors with a stake in Greece might have been among the people making the decision.
Thing Five: European Vexation: In other Europe news, euro-zone factory activity contracted for a seventh straight month in February. And the head of Germany's Bundesbank launched a broadside attack against the European Central Bank's money-pumping rescue efforts, the Financial Times writes, part of Germany's ongoing Nein Nein Nein approach to fixing Europe's problems.
Meanwhile, European leaders are holding a two-day confab to discuss how to add to their giant swimming pool full of bailout cash. And Spain managed to sell some bonds this morning without having to promise its first-born children, with help from the European Central Bank ponying up some money. So naturally European stocks are higher this morning, because all is well, just as long as that sweet, sweet cash keeps flowing.
Thing Six: Bonus Round: You have no doubt by now heard the deeply sad news that Wall Street bonuses are down. But Kevin Roose of the New York Times points out that they are not down nearly as much as bank profits are down, giving you a sense of priorities on Wall Street.
Thing Seven: Bank Of America, PR Ninja: If there were a Customer Alienation Olympics, Bank of America would win the gold medal. And probably the silver. Netflix might get the bronze, but it would be close. America's favorite bank is testing out some brand-new fees in various parts of the country that would subject customers to fees "unless they agree to bank online, buy more products or maintain certain balances," write Dan Fitzpatrick and David Enrich in The Wall Street Journal.
Thing Seven And One Half: The first people in North America may not have been Asians crossing the Bering Strait from Siberia, as archaeologists have long believed, but rather Europeans skirting the Arctic Circle and settling on the East Coast more than 20,000 years ago. That's the heretical theory a few archaeologists are putting forward, according to the Washington Post. Their evidence is thin, but they've got a handful of spear points that are way older than they should be and that match up with tools made by a mysterious European people that lived on the Iberian peninsula during the Ice Age. The theory is starting to be greeted with just a smidgen less skepticism these days.