04/02/2012 07:45 am ET

Not So Golden Years: Seven And A Half Things To Know

An asteroid just missed Earth yesterday by 143,000 miles, meaning you still need to know seven and a half things today that do not involve scrambling for survival in a post-apocalyptic hellscape. Here they are:

Thing One: Risky Business, Lame Returns: Happy April. In our top story today, pension funds still exist. In a related story, pension funds are struggling to generate decent returns on their investments, which means it's getting ever harder to pay pension money to retirees (which also still exist, apparently).

So in desperation some pension funds have been turning away from plain-vanilla index funds and bonds and the like for some rougher trade like private equity, hedge funds and probably Ponzi schemes, reports Julie Creswell in The New York Times. OK, maybe not that last one, but at least real-estate ventures, which are pretty much the same thing as Ponzi schemes.

Here's the sad-larious part: The only thing pension funds are getting out of these riskier bets are higher fees. Their returns, meanwhile, are lousy -- lousier even than the returns pension funds are getting by sticking to plain-vanilla bets, the Times writes.

Thing Two: Student Loans Are Forever: Speaking of retirees, a large number of Americans are heading into their golden years still saddled with student-loan debt, about $36 billion of it, according to a Federal Reserve study cited by the Washington Post. "As a result, consumer advocates say, it is not uncommon for Social Security checks to be garnished or for debt collectors to harass borrowers in their 80s over student loans that are decades old."

Thing Three: Factory Follies: This is a big week for U.S. economic data, leading up to the big March jobs report on Friday. The fun kicks off today with the Institute for Supply Management's manufacturing index for March. Economists think the ISM's factory index ticked up a bit from February, meaning the factory sector expanded for a 32nd consecutive month. This is nothing more than a sentiment index, grumble the grouches at, but Wall Street pays attention to it.

Thing Four: Another European Vexation: Wall Street also keeps an eye on Europe, which is always wanting to put its money in a blender. This morning, we got a slew of economic data from Europe, and the numbers weren't good, with euro-zone unemployment hitting a 14-year high and manufacturing shrinking for the eighth straight month. Meanwhile, Europeans apparently think there's a can-kicking contest at the Olympics in London this summer because they sure are building up their skills in that department. The latest to get in on the fun are the European banks, briskly kicking their own troubles down the road, with math, write David Enrich and Sara Schaefer Munoz in the Wall Street Journal.

Thing Five: Hey, You'll Find Out Eventually: There are many awesome things about the JOBS Act, which pours cement around the ankles of investor protections and throws them into the ocean, in the name of making life easier for start-up businesses. One new thing we're discovering is that the act temporarily keeps hidden from public view any disagreements between a soon-to-be-public business and its regulators, a clause that would have delayed investors from finding out about accounting tussles between the SEC and Groupon, writes Michael Rapoport in the Wall Street Journal.

Thing Six: Foreclosure Fines: Faulty foreclosures are not just a problem for the big five mortgage-servicing firms in the recent $26 billion foreclosure settlement with the government. The Fed has recommended fines for bad foreclosure practices at eight other, smaller firms, including HSBC, SunTrust and Goldman Sachs, the New York Times writes.

Thing Seven: Bitcoin Of The Realm: The hot new toy/Ponzi scheme/weapon of financial destruction sweeping Wall Street is something called Bitcoin, which is fake online money that some people think will become a new global currency. "Bitcoin has become the Wild West of finance, with a proliferation of websites offering loosely regulated replicas of the services familiar to those in the financial industry," writes Naomi O'Leary of Reuters. What could possibly go wrong?

Thing Seven And One Half: Never Forget: On this day 30 years ago the Falklands War began, when Argentina seized the Falkland Islands from the United Kingdom, sparking a two-month war that resulted in the deaths of more than 900 people and a rise in the popularity of Margaret Thatcher after the UK retook the islands. Happy Birthday, Falklands War.