Food critic extraordinaire Marilyn Hagerty has dozens of facts in her must-read review of the Grand Forks Olive Garden, but you only need to know seven and a half things today. Here they are:
Thing One: Greece's Controlled Demolition: Greece this morning is in the middle of a controlled demolition, like a building rigged to collapse carefully on itself to avoid spilling out onto the sidewalk and surrounding buildings.
Greece announced this morning that it had managed to twist the arms of more than 80 percent of private holders of its Greek-law bonds into taking new bonds that are worth less than half of their face value. It will force several more holdouts to take the bond swap, invoking what are known as "collective action clauses." This will make about 100 billion euros of Greece's debt pile magically disappear, and it will let Europe give Greece another loan to keep it going for several more months.
But make no mistake: This is a sovereign default, although some are trying to spin it as something other than that. the Wall Street Journal calls it for what it is, and some time after 1:00 p.m. in London on Friday the International Swaps and Derivatives Association might call it that, too. Correction: ISDA was supposed to rule on this on Friday, i.e. today, not Thursday, as I wrote in an earlier version of this post. Also, still no word from ISDA on their decision.
It is not a messy collapse, and most analysts are convinced it will not roil financial markets. But the bond market still expects that Greece's massive debt load and weak economy mean it will continue to not be able to pay its debts -- the new Greek bonds, trading in the "grey" market, are priced for another future default. So we could be doing this all over again at some point.
Thing Two: Jobs Friday: Now that Greece has been given another swift kick into the future, all eyes will turn back to the United States for the February jobs report, due at 8:30 a.m. ET. Economists think the economy generated 206,000 new nonfarm payroll jobs last month, down from 243,000 the month before, according to Briefing.com. The "whisper number" on Wall Street is significantly higher, though, with traders really expecting anything from 250,000 to 300,000. The unemployment rate is expected to hold steady at 8.3 percent. These are obviously the most important economic numbers of the month, for families that need work, and for politicians that need to keep their own jobs. Economists will pay close attention to the growth of the labor force -- the unemployment rate can fall if people just give up looking for work, and some suggested that's why unemployment fell last month. They'll also be looking to prove or refute claims that recent job-market numbers have had more to do with good weather or seasonal adjustment problems, rather than real growth. Update: It was a fairly solid report, with 227,000 jobs created and the unemployment rate holding at 8.3 percent.
Thing Three: Chinese Music To Your Ears: China this morning reported sharper-than-expected declines in factory output and retail sales in the first two months of the year, the weakest fixed-asset investment since 2002 and a drop in consumer inflation to 20-month lows. To Reuters, these numbers suggest that China's economy is on a glide path to a gentle, soft landing, rather than an out-of-control slide. The global economy certainly hopes so.
Thing Four: BofA Makes A Deal: This was reported by The Huffington Post's own Ben Hallman way back on Wednesday night, but the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times are only just today reporting it in their dead-trees editions, so we'll go ahead and mention it again this morning: As part of the $25 billion mortgage-foreclosure settlement deal, Bank of America is cutting a side deal to write down the loans of about 200,000 homeowners.
Thing Five: Obama's Housing Push: The mortgage settlement, and other housing-related projects the Obama administration has announced recently, are part of a renewed effort by the president to address the lingering pain in the housing market, the Washington Post writes. The new measures include some the administration has rejected as unworkable in the past. They follow heavy criticism from the left for past efforts that were seen as falling short. They're also meant to stand in relief against the laissez-faire approach of his Republican opponents for the White House.
Thing Six: Evicting God: Banks may be working things out with some homeowners, but at the same time they are foreclosing on churches at the fastest pace on record, according to a Reuters report. "In 2011, 138 churches were sold by banks, an annual record, with no sign that these religious foreclosures are abating, according to CoStar. That compares to just 24 sales in 2008 and only a handful in the decade before."
Thing Seven: Fresh Trouble For Murdoch: As if News Corp. didn't have enough troubles right now, British regulators are looking into whether British Sky Broadcasting, in which News Corp. has a major stake and where Rupert Murdoch's son James is chairman, is "fit and proper" to have a broadcast license, the Financial Times writes. This comes at a time when the Murdochs are embroiled in the hacking-and-bribing scandal involving their British tabloids.
Thing Seven And One Half: Happy Birthday, Barbie. On this day in 1959, Mattel introduced the Barbie doll at the American International Toy Fair in New York. Ken came into her life two years later.