Six hundred and sixty six is the number of The Beast, but seven and a half is the number of things you need to know today. Here you are:
Thing One: Iran So Far Away: Iran has cut off oil exports to six European countries -- France, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain -- Reuters reports, citing Iranian state television. It's not clear exactly what impact this will have on global oil markets, but it comes at a time when tensions with Iran had already driven Nymex crude-oil prices to nearly $102 a barrel, with some analysts saying US gasoline prices could rise to $4 a gallon or higher. Not what the US economy needs right now.
Thing Two: Europe: A New* Hope: Everything is coming up roses in Europe this morning! OK, not really roses. Dandelions at best, or maybe milkweed. But still something green. The European economy shrank in the fourth quarter for the first time since 2009, the EU's stat-keeping gnomes declared this morning. But! France and Germany were not as awful as economists had predicted. France's economy actually expanded, defying forecasts of shrinkage. That helped make the overall numbers a little better than expected. Put that fantastic news together with a pledge from China's central-bank governor that China would keep investing in the euro zone (wait, was this ever actually in doubt?), and you've got a recipe this morning to push European stocks and the euro higher, along with US stock futures.
Thing Three: Data Deluge: Today also brings a four-bagger of US economic data, starting at 8:30 a.m. ET with the New York Fed's Empire State index of New York factory activity. Then comes a 9:15 a.m. Federal Reserve report on industrial production for the whole US of A. Rounding third base at 10:00 a.m. is the National Association of Home Builders index of just how depressed the nation's home builders are these days. Sliding into home at 2:00 p.m. are the minutes of the latest Fed monetary policy meeting. That was the meeting at which policy makers stretched out their promise to keep interest rates low into 2014, so it might be more interesting than these minutes usually are.
Thing Four: Let's Make A Deal: Yesterday we told you that the GOP had abandoned its opposition to extending a payroll tax cut. Now it appears they're also ready to make a deal on extending unemployment benefits and Medicare reimbursements, too, the Washington Post (and everybody else, really) reports. It's a President's Day miracle. Just don't count your eggs before they hatch, or whatever, The Huffington Post's Luke Johnson and Arthur Delaney warn.
Thing Five: Obama's Recovery Boost: The Democrats may have been negotiating from a place of growing strength, according to a new New York Times/CBS News poll, which finds that optimists about the economy now outweigh pessimists, helping push President Obama's approval rating to 50% for the first time since the death of Osama bin Laden. "Consecutive months of job growth, the bullish stock market and improving consumer demand appear to be benefiting — for now, at least — a president who stated outright three years ago that his chances for a second term would depend on his ability to persuade the country that its economy was on the mend by this very month," the Times writes.
Thing Six: Goldman Analyst Analyzed: Henry King, a Goldman Sachs technology analyst who kept close tabs on the tech supply chain from Taiwan to help make "prescient calls" on the industry, is now under federal investigation for alleged violations of insider trading laws, The Wall Street Journal's Susan Pulliam and Michael Rothfeld report. Nobody -- not Goldman, not King, not the Justice Department -- would respond to the Journal on the record.
Thing Seven: Yahoo Serious: Yahoo's efforts to sell its Asian assets for a multi-billion-dollar sum hit a snag yesterday as talks with China's Alibaba Group broke down, leading to a selloff in the company's stock price. Meanwhile, activist investor Dan Loeb of the ThirdPoint hedge fund tried to get a slate of directors appointed to Yahoo's board.
Thing Seven And A Half: The Linsanity Grows: If you thought Linsanity was going to tucker out soon -- or that the nascent but inevitable backlash would gather more steam -- it got another jolt of energy last night when the Cinderella story of the year, Jeremy Lin, sank a buzzer-beating three-point shot to cap a come-from-behind 90-87 victory for the New York Knicks over the Toronto Raptors. Writing for ESPN, Mike Ganter pointed out that Lin had struggled for stretches of the game, turning the ball over five times in 24 minutes, but then "pretty much singlehandedly turned what appeared to be a certain loss into yet another unexpected win by himself, the sixth in a row for this Knicks team that is riding the Linsanity wave for all its worth."