The Ultimate Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything is 42. But there are only seven and a half things you need to know each day. Here they are:
Thing One: Housing On The Rebound, Again And Again: Some people are just eternal optimists about housing: Let's call those people either "real estate agents" or "Barron's reporters." All the way through the housing crash both were saying that the market would turn around at any second. They're still saying it.
Barron's had a cover story this weekend titled "Home Prices: Ready to Rebound." The author called home prices now "stunningly affordable" (assuming you can get a mortgage) and that "maybe, just maybe, home prices will bottom and begin to turn by the spring of 2013—if not before."
The optimists have to be right one of these days. And there are some bottom-y hints out there: The Treasury Department will soon announce that it turned a profit of $25 billion on mortgage bonds it bought during the crisis, the Wall Street Journal reports. (Of course we'll want to check the math on that profit -- Treasury has used some shady accounting to show profits in the past.)
Meanwhile, banks are lining up to buy foreclosed homes in bulk from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, The Wall Street Journal reports -- though some banks still don't find home prices quite so "stunningly affordable."
All this housing news comes ahead of a week chock full of new housing data, including the National Association of Home Builders index of home-builder sentiment, due today.
Financial blogger Barry Ritholtz points out that the same Barron's author also wrote in the summer of 2008 that home prices were about to bottom. At the time, Ritholtz called that report "terribly wrong, and many years too early" and declares this latest one "probably modestly wrong and a few years too early."
Thing Two: Apple To Offer Bite: Apple is now the most valuable public company in America, with a market worth of nearly $546 billion and a cash stockpile of $100 billion. With such great power comes responsibility, as Spider-Man's uncle would tell you, and Apple plans to hold a conference call at 9:00 a.m. ET today to discuss what it plans to do with its cash mountain. Investors assume it's going to pay them a dividend, The New York Times writes, which could explain why its stock has rocketed to an all-time high in recent weeks. That has helped drive the broader stock market higher, which raises the question -- once Apple pays its dividend, can Apple stock, and the rest of the market keep going?
Thing: Deep Wells: Speaking of big companies, the world's biggest bank by stock-market value is Wells Fargo, believe it or not, the Los Angeles Times observes. By way of comparison, it's worth a little less than $179 billion, or less than half of Apple. Though Wells has fewer deposits than JPMorgan Chase, which is by that (arguably more important) measure the largest bank in the U.S., the rise of Wells symbolizes how the center of the banking industry is shifting away from Wall Street and toward Main Street, the Times writes.
Thing Four: UPS Wants TNT:Could this be a sign of economic recovery? Global shipping company UPS has offered to pay $6.8 billion to buy Dutch shipping giant TNT Express. If shipping companies are feeling frisky enough for this sort of activity, then maybe they see the shipping business as good.
Thing Five: Everything's Fine In Greece Now: Greece holds an auction this morning to settle $3.2 billion of credit default swaps, which are essentially insurance policies against a Greek default. Greece defaulted, so the policies must be paid, and the auction helps determine how much. Greece's prime minister, Lucas Papademos, told the Financial Times his country is more than half way to recovery and that the people and politicians there are more than willing to suffer still more austerity to avoid bankruptcy or another bailout. Sure thing.
Thing Six: Obama's Cash Problems: Everybody knows by now that money equals speech, meaning rich people have freer speech than us poors. Unfortunately for President Obama, the rich people are not "speaking" on his behalf quite as much as they did four years ago, the Washington Post reports: "President Obama is struggling to draw in big-dollar donations, with half as many people writing large checks to his campaign than at this point four years ago."
Thing Seven: The Garden State: Quick, name the least-corrupt state in the United States right now. If you said "New Jersey," you should go back to bed and re-start your day because there's something wrong with you. But you would also be right, according to some questionable new study out today, Reuters reports: "Despite a well-deserved reputation for scandals, New Jersey is among the state leaders in the fight against official corruption, with most states doing a poor job, according to a wide-ranging study released on Monday."
Thing Seven And One Half: The Art Of Video Games: And you thought those hours you massacred playing video games was a waste: You were studying art! A new exhibit at the Smithsonian American Art Museum about the "art of video games" is such a smash hit that "the video game exhibit - the first ever at a major American museum - has caused so much excitement it will travel to 10 other cities, illustrating a growing understanding of the public fascination with games."