The average person blinks 16 times a minute, but only needs to know seven and a half things each day. Here they are:
Thing One: Plus Ca Change: If you only get your information from Fox News, you might have thought France was already socialist. Well, it wasn't -- until Sunday's election.
Riding a wave of anti-austerity sentiment, Socialist presidential candidate Francois Hollande edged French President Nicolas Sarkozy to become the first socialist French president since Francois Mitterand in 1995. It was the biggest setback in an ugly day at the voting booth for the pro-austerity forces of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose own ruling coalition lost a state election on Sunday. More troublingly for financial markets, Greece's politics are once again in turmoil, after the ruling coalition there was spanked by a group of anti-austerity parties. European stocks and the euro are lower this morning will the mess is sorted out.
But one thing is clear: After more than two years of being prescribed a steady diet of austerity, voters in Europe are losing their patience. Austerity has hobbled economic growth in even some core European states, which has exacerbated the debt problems that forced them into austerity in the first place. Some belt-tightening is still necessary, as even Hollande has acknowledged, but it's not a bad time to stop and think about the pacing of it. One question now is how successful the anti-austerity forces can really be, with Merkel still controlling the money in Europe, the Wall Street Journal notes.
The WSJ also points out that Sarkozy tried at the last minute to promise a crackdown on immigration, in an appeal to the far-right supporters of Marine Le Pen. The voters rejected him, in what might or might not be a lesson for Mitt Romney and the U.S. Republican party: Promoting austerity and bashing immigrants might not be a recipe for political success.
Thing Two: Guns Not Butter: But if there is a lesson to be learned from Europe, the Republicans don't seem to be learning it yet, or at least they're pretending not to. House Republicans, led by their boy wonder, Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), are expected today to unveil their grand plan for avoiding the $1.2 trillion in automatic budget cuts that loom at the end of the year, the legacy of last summer's disastrous budget talks. The GOP plan is all heart, proposing big cuts in social programs in order to avoid cuts to the military budget, Reuters writes. This may just be a negotiating stance, but the Republican stance and the Democrat stance are barely within shouting distance of each other, Reuters notes, raising the risk of yet another budget disaster.
Thing Three: Buffett Sits This One Out: America's most beloved rich man, Warren Buffett, has been lagging the stock market lately, notes the Wall Street Journal's Jason Zweig. That is typically a bad sign for the stock market, as the sage Mr. Buffett has tended to avoid the boozy bubbles that eventually left everybody else soaked. The one thing that is different this time is that most of the rest of the country is behaving like Warren Buffett, too, The New York Times notes -- everybody's sitting out the stock market these days, leaving it to the flash-trading robots.
Thing Four: Brokers Costing You Billions: And if you want a specific example of why everybody hates the stock market, and Wall Street, and stocks, just read this New York Times story about a new study that finds stock brokers may be costing investors and pension funds $5 billion a year by routing trades to stock exchanges that give them kickbacks for their business, rather than finding the cheapest and best trade possible for their clients.
Thing Six: Ally In Trouble Again: Ally Financial, the auto-and-home financing company formerly known as GMAC, is once again on the verge of bankruptcy, Reuters reports, less than three years after getting the last of a series of government bailout checks. "Interviews with more than a dozen people directly involved in the company's restructuring at various points over the last three years reveal how missed opportunities, competing interests, lax oversight from the government and bad luck have stymied Ally, shining new light into one of the least scrutinized bailouts of the financial crisis."
Thing Seven: Backing Slowly Away From AIG: In better news for the government, the Treasury Department announced yesterday it was selling $5 billion of its interest in bailed-out insurance giant AIG back to the public. Bloomberg writes that the sale will slash the government's stake in AIG from 70 percent all the way down... to 63 percent.
Thing Seven: Avengers Smash: So, did anybody see The Avengers this weekend? Wait, apparently everybody did: The movie earned more than $200 million on its opening weekend, breaking Harry Potter's record from last year, and has made more than $640 million worldwide in less than two weeks, the Wall Street Journal writes. Once again, Disney's $4 billion purchase of Marvel Entertainment a few years back looks like kind of a good deal, the WSJ notes.
Thing Seven And One Half: Broken Axis: On this day in 1939, Germany and Italy announced the original Axis of Evil, the Rome-Berlin Axis. Six years later to the day, Germany unconditionally surrendered to Allied forces at Rheims, France, ending World War II in Europe. Italy had surrendered to the Allies nearly two years earlier.
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Calendar Du Jour:
3:00 p.m. ET: Consumer Credit for March
Heard On The Tweets:
@luna17activist: Hollande talked about a 75% tax rate for the richest. It's that kind of left wing rhetoric that makes you unelectable. Oh, hang on...
@ReformedBroker: Thank God for the carried interest tax loophole, the ONLY thing standing between us and 10% unemployment right now.
@mattyglesias: Developed country heads of government in office in 2008 who are still around: Merkel, Reinfeldt, Netanyahu, Harper, Stoltenberg.
-- Calendar and tweets rounded up by Khadeeja Safdar.And you can follow us on Twitter, too: @markgongloff and @byKhadeeja