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Thing One: There But For The Grace Of Bernanke: As much as I enjoy griping and moaning in this here newsletter about the U.S. economy and its policy makers, I will say this much: At least we're not Europe.
The glaring differences between the fortunes of the world's two most massive economies (if you take all of the European Union as one big knitted-together creature) just keep getting more glaring-er by the day. Yesterday, for example, the U.S. reported that retail sales jumped 1.1 percent in February, crushing expectations, as consumers overcame higher gas prices, higher payroll taxes and the shame of the Super Bowl power outage to keep driving the economy forward. Inspired by their example, the Dow Jones Industrial Average yesterday posted its ninth-straight winning day, the longest such streak since 1996. The U.S. dollar is at its highest level against rival currencies since July 2010, the Wall Street Journal writes. USA! USA!
Of course, because this is Seven And A Half Things, we've got caveats! A lot of the surge in retail sales was due to higher gas prices, and consumers had to eat into their savings to boost their spending, which is probably not sustainable. Who the heck cares what the Dow does? And a stronger dollar will eventually become a bad thing, hurting exporters.
But still, these caveats pale in comparison to the problems facing Europe. European Union policy makers begin a two-day meeting in Brussels this morning sharply divided over what to do about Europe's long and lingering recession, now in its second year. With their morning waffles they'll read that European employment fell 0.3 percent in the fourth quarter. The euro zone's unemployment rate could crack 12.5 percent by the end of the year, estimates Howard Archer, chief European economist at IHS Global Insight.
And the scary part is that the economic travails may only have begun for Europe. Business Insider's Matthew Boesler points out that Europe hasn't even begun yet to work down its debt, a process that the U.S. started long ago. It turns out that U.S. policies, though imperfect and too budget-conscious, have at least given U.S. consumers enough breathing room to work off their debt burdens. The Fed has been far more aggressive than the European Central Bank in helping the economy, and the U.S. government has, at least until the past couple of years, been a wee bit less austerity-focused than Europe has. European policy makers are finally going to start mixing a little more stimulus into their austerity cocktail, Bloomberg writes, to the chagrin of Germany. But the damage is done, and should serve as a reminder to those of us here in the U.S. who for some bizarre reason want to emulate Europe.
Thing Two: Good News: No Grand Bargain: Speaking of austerity obsessions, it looks as if President Obama is going to have a hard time striking a "grand bargain" on cutting the deficit, which is also good news for the U.S. economy. He's giving it his darnedest, though, bless him, meeting with House Republicans yesterday in the vain hope of convincing them to accept tax increases as part of the bargain he seeks, offering to sacrifice some Poors and Olds in exchange. I'll give you one guess as to how that went over. OK, you guessed it: The GOP will sacrifice all the Poors and Olds it darn well pleases, but will not raise one penny in taxes.
Thing Three: China Has New President, Some Natural Gas To Sell You: Congratulations to Xi Jinping, who was elected to be China's president for the next 10 years in a tension-free session of China's "parliament." One of his top jobs will be to continue China's slow takeover of the United States, I was recently told by my tin-foil hat. To that end, a Chinese private company, ENN Group, plans to set up fueling stations across the U.S. to service trucks running on natural gas, Reuters reports, in China's latest effort to ride the coattails of America's glorious fracking boom.
Thing Four: New Galaxy Discovered: What would Steve Jobs think of this? The kind of anticipation that once was reserved for appearances by the late Apple founder and CEO is starting to be applied to the product rollouts of Apple's chief rival, Samsung, which today unveils its latest offering, the highly anticipated Galaxy S4, at an event in New York. In other Apple-rival news, the head and founder of Google's Android division, Andrew Rubin, has stepped down unexpectedly, amid talk that he wasn't quite playing well with others, the Wall Street Journal writes.
Thing Five: All That Glitters Apparently Not Gold: By now, you know that banks can manipulate interest rates all day and every day. Did you know that they can also manipulate other stuff, too, like gold? It's true: The process of setting the daily gold price is not all that different than the process of setting the imaginary short-term interest rate known as Libor, and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission is looking into allegations that the gold price is about as reliable as Libor, which is to say not at all, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Thing Six: Lego Builds Billionaires: All of those tiny plastic blocks all over your living room carpet may be stabbing your feet, sure, but they are also making a few Danish people fabulously wealthy. Lego's revenue jumped 25 percent last year, making it the biggest toy-seller in the world and turning the three children of Lego's Danish owner into billionaires, Bloomberg writes.
Thing Seven: Ann Curry's Revenge: The Today Show, America's longest-running reality show/soap opera, is in trouble, writes Brian Stelter of the New York Times, as suddenly the answer to "Where In The World Is Matt Lauer?" is "The Doghouse." Apparently the viewing public blames Lauer for the unceremonious ouster of co-host Ann Curry last year. His popularity conveniently plummeted just after he signed the most expensive morning-TV contract in history, Stelter notes. And now there's talk of Lauer's getting the boot, with Today's ratings lagging those of Good Morning, America.
Thing Seven And One Half: Happy Pi Day: Today, March 14, is Pi Day, in celebration of number pi, the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, the value of which is 3.14 plus an infinite number of other digits after that. So get out there and, um, count stuff, I guess?
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Calendar Du Jour:
8:30 a.m. ET: Weekly Jobless Claims for March 9
8:30 a.m. ET: Producer Price Index for February
Heard On The Tweets:
Can someone tweet about whether there's a new Pope?
— daveweigel (@daveweigel) March 13, 2013
DENNIS RODMAN IS THE 266TH POPE!!!!!
— Timothy Connolly CFA (@SconsetCapital) March 13, 2013
#HabemusPapam Francis I first act will be to forgive Argentina's debt.
— David Gaffen (@davidgaffen) March 13, 2013
The Pope saw his shadow, six more weeks of pope jokes.
— Adam Dorsey (@adamdorsey) March 13, 2013
— lancegould (@lancegould) March 13, 2013
i have some pope jokes, lightly used, half off
— Oliver Willis (@owillis) March 13, 2013
-- Calendar and Tweets rounded up by Alexis Kleinman