You may meet five people in heaven, but until that time, you'll need to know seven and a half things each day. Here they are:
Thing One: Apple Put On Notice: Forget about the War on Christmas. There is now an assault on America's other High Holy Day, the day its biggest and most beloved public company, Apple, introduces its latest incrementally updated gadget that we all must immediately buy.
Casting a dark cloud on that day is the news from the Wall Street Journal that the Justice Department has notified Apple and several publishers that it plans to accuse them of colluding to pump up the prices of e-books. Apple and the publishers did not comment to the WSJ, which said settlement talks were underway. Cheaper e-books could result.
Cheaper e-books you say? More cash, then, for us to buy Apple's latest incrementally updated gadget, introduced to a breathless nation yesterday. The consensus on the new iPad seems to be that it has more than enough upgrades -- sharper display, access to the faster 4G LTE wireless network, better photo capabilities, etc. -- to keep Apple's tablet far, far ahead of a very thin pack of rivals. People are generally expected to shell out the hundreds of dollars necessary to get these incremental upgrades, and Apple will continue to be America's biggest public company for a while.
The main question for the day was why the new iPad didn't get its own name -- no iPad 3, no iPad 2S -- just "new iPad," which generated a lot of "New Coke" jokes on the Twitters. Apple said they did it this way because they didn't want to be predictable. Bianca Bosker of The Huffington Post does a better job of selling the new tablet's namelessness than Apple does, suggesting it conveys a sense of iconic permanence, like Madonna, who does seem to have been around forever.
Thing Two: Get A Jobless: There's another major holy event this week, Econo-Nerd Christmas, also known as the February jobs report, due on Friday. Today we get more preliminaries, including the latest weekly read on new claims for unemployment benefits. The number, due at 8:30 a.m. ET, is expected to keep hovering around the 350,000 mark. Earlier, the consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas said its tally of job-cut announcements for February rose 2 percent from a year ago to 51,728. Not great, not awful.
Thing Three: Job Number Crunching: One of the things to watch for in Friday's jobs report, and in the months ahead, is whether seasonal-adjustment quirks have made recent job numbers look better than they really are, Reuters writes: "Several Wall Street economists believe the government is mismeasuring seasonal shifts in the labor market, and suggest the jobless rate's sharp winter drop was partly an illusion."
Meanwhile, the Labor Department worries that its monthly jobs numbers may be leaking to Wall Street somehow, giving some traders an unfair advantage, and it has hired the same security firm that guards the nation's nuclear arsenal to study its security procedures, CNBC reports.
Thing Four: Speak, ECB: The European Central Bank meets this morning to make its latest decision on interest rates. It is widely expected to stand pat, despite a recession in the euro zone and the ongoing sovereign-debt crisis, because of its singular mandate to fight inflation, Bloomberg writes. Update: Sure enough, the ECB kept rates unchanged.
Thing Five: Greeks Bearing Debt: Elsewhere in Europe, Greece continues to slowly pile up a stack of private investors willing to trade in their old bonds for new, cheaper bonds, taking big losses in the process. Just about 60 percent of bondholders have agreed to the plan so far, Bloomberg reports, though Greece really needs more like 95 percent participation in the debt-swap plan. So at some point it's going to have to force some creditors to take losses, which could start trouble -- although Bloomberg says everybody expects this already, so no trouble will ensue. We'll find out. In the meantime, though, this latest bout of optimism about Greece has European stocks higher this morning.
Thing Six: China, BRICS Bank: China is offering loans to other emerging markets in the BRICS bloc -- Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa -- denominated in its currency, the renminbi, the Financial Times reports. China is trying to promote the use of its currency around the world, supplanting the U.S. dollar as an international currency. Of course, it may not move too quickly on that front, as it still owns about a trillion of said dollars.
Thing Seven: Backing Away From AIG: The U.S. government plans to sell about $6 billion of its stake in the insurance giant AIG, which it bailed out during the financial crisis. Even after that sale, the government will still own about 70 percent of the company, Bloomberg writes.
Thing Seven And One Half: Wear Your Sunglasses: Yeah, this is probably nothing, but just in case you haven't heard, we should be getting smacked with a ginormous solar flare right about now. "The massive cloud of charged particles could disrupt utility grids, airline flights, satellite networks and GPS services, especially in northern areas," the AP writes. Just so you know what's going on when the power goes out, your pilot comes on the air to announce you're lost, or your car keeps wanting to take you to Hoboken for some reason.
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