BUSINESS
03/14/2012 07:46 am ET | Updated Mar 14, 2012

Bank Stress Tests: Seven And A Half Things To Know

I have no idea what "25 or 6 to 4" means, but I do know that you need to know seven and a half things each day. Here they are:

Thing One: Tried And Truthy: In post-crisis America, bank stress tests are an annual and somewhat embarrassing thing now, like Groundhog Day and prostate exams. This year's round of tests, the results of which were announced Tuesday afternoon, were a little more rigorous than others have been, resulting in four of the 19 too-big-to-fail banks being ordered to do remedial work on their capital plans.

But the big takeaway for most newspapers and investors this morning is that the banking system generally appears healthy enough to survive a major shock. Bloomberg suggests most of the too-big-to-fail banks have built up "fortress balance sheets," and The Wall Street Journal argues that the test results show the unpopular bank bailouts were a good idea.

Ah, but there's a reason those bailouts were so unpopular: The public assumes, not unreasonably, that the government is still supporting these banks in many ways. Meanwhile, though banks are taking some of the cash they're piling inside their fortresses and giving it back to shareholders or starting to pay their executives big salaries, they aren't really lending it out to consumers much. They may start to do that if the economy keeps improving, but for now that's still just a hope.

Thing Two: Dow 36,000, Here We Come: Speaking of hope, the stock market had its best day of the year on Tuesday, pushing the Dow to its highest level since December 2007 and the Nasdaq Composite index to its highest close since November 2000. Stocks got off to a good start on a report that February retail sales beat expectations. A modestly less dour Federal Reserve also helped. But they really took off when JPMorgan Chase, reportedly by accident, announced a plan to raise its dividend, which made the market think it and all other banks had passed the Fed's stress tests. After the results actually came out, stock futures flattened, and they're still flat this morning. The question about the stock market remains: Does anybody care? Is anybody buying these stocks besides hedge funds, robots and hedge-fund robots?

Thing Three: Finicky Fed: As I mentioned, there was a Fed meeting yesterday! It was maybe the most boring Fed meeting in history. The Fed really did nothing interesting, except to ever-so-mildly upgrade its view of the economy, but it still doesn't think the economy is strong enough to get off the Fed's life support of super-cheap money yet. The lack of news in the Fed's statement had Fed watchers resorting to somewhat ridiculous Kremlinology to justify their existences. The Fed used the word "moderate" instead of "modest" to describe its growth forecast, for example, which is totally more optimistic.

Thing Four: Less Cheap In China: For years now, American workers have grumbled about how cheap labor in Asia took all our jobs. That labor is getting less cheap by the day, The Wall Street Journal reports. Workers in China and throughout Asia have started demanding higher wages, looking for a bigger share of their countries' growing wealth. That's pushing companies to look for even poorer places on earth to find workers willing to work for peanuts.

Thing Five: Apple Scalpers Scalped: Things are tough all over in China, in fact. The Los Angeles Times reports that scalpers of Apple products are suffering in China as Apple is finally starting to meet the blistering demand for its devices there. The LA Times writes: "the company's expansion is dealing a blow to a unique part of China's Apple experience: a thriving underground system of smugglers and unofficial resellers who had unwittingly become key players in the brand's still-growing distribution network."

Thing Six: Encyclopedia Gone: Also going the way of the dodo: The Encyclopedia Britannica, which announced it will stop publishing a print edition, ending a 244-year tradition. It will now do battle with Wikipedia online. The Financial Times writes: "The emergence of the web decimated sales of Britannica. From a peak of 120,000 sets sold in 1990, sales fell sharply, with just 8,500 sets of the 2010 edition shipped."

Thing Seven: Just Default Already, Seriously: You may have heard that Greece is totally out of the woods, now that it has tightened its belt to the very first notch and gotten approved for its latest round of bailout money. You heard wrong! A new European Commission report suggests Greece will need to take even more austerity measures to meet budget targets in the years to come, Reuters reports. They're going to wish they'd just defaulted two years ago.

Thing Seven And A Half: Happy Birthday, Einstein: Albert Einstein was born on this day in 1879 in Ulm, Germany. He died on April 18, 1955.

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