05/10/2012 07:55 am ET

Hellenic Handbasket: Seven And A Half Things To Know

Americans need two and a half hours of moderate exercise each week and need to know seven and a half things about the world of business each day. Here they are:

Thing One: Hellenic Handbasket: Who'd ever have guessed that the fate of the U.S. stock market could hang on one European socialist?

Actually, that's sort of commonplace these days, after more than two long years of the European debt crisis. Novel or not, it's the situation today, as the U.S. and other markets watch Greek socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos take one last stab at cobbling together a new Greek government that will stick with an austerity plan and get the country all of the bailout money it needs. Venizelos seems unlikely to succeed, writes Reuters. If he doesn't, then there will be new elections, and there's a very real and growing risk, writes Bloomberg, that Europeans could finally lose patience and boot Greece out of the euro zone.

A messy Greek exit could open the door for the crumbling of the entire euro zone, which will have repercussions around the world. Such worries have driven U.S. stocks lower for six straight trading days, the worst such streak since last August. And unfortunately, we don't just have Greece to worry about: Spain, a much bigger economy, is melting down again, too, with its borrowing costs shooting up to the highest levels since last fall and its banks trembling. The government took a 45 percent stake in the country's third-largest bank, Bankia, and says it wants all of its banks to build up a bigger cash stockpile. Europe's endless financial disaster continues, helping to keep the entire global economy weaker than it has to be.

Thing Two: Gay-Marriage Stimulus Plan: President Obama's endorsement of gay marriage, while a landmark moment for civil rights in this country, isn't necessarily a business story -- but legalizing gay marriage nationwide would be a shot in the arm to the economy, writes Matt Yglesias at Slate: "Weddings are expensive, so a sudden change in the legal framework would be a shock to economy-wide aggregate spending as a whole bunch of long-standing committed same sex couples rushed to celebrate with friends and family." Matt doesn't mention it, but this stimulus plan is also deficit-friendly. No government spending, just a whole bunch of people getting married.

Thing Three: Robo-Signing's Day In Court: If you were disappointed by the government's fairly lame mortgage-foreclosure settlement, take heart: There may be more justice in store for mortgage servicers. The Florida Supreme Court hears arguments today in a mortgage-foreclosure fraud case that holds massive risks for the banks, possibly throwing hundreds of thousands of foreclosures into doubt, Reuters writes.

Thing Four: Fitter Fannie: Well, here's something you don't hear every day: Fannie Mae is profitable and doesn't need government bailout money. In fact, we haven't heard that in several years, writes Annie Lowrey of The New York Times. But that's what happened in the first quarter, thanks partly to a (relative) improvement in the housing market: "A slowdown in the decline of home prices and in the number of homes entering serious delinquency allowed the company to eke out a profit after paying its dividend to the Treasury."

Thing Five: FDIC's Euthanization Plan: Speaking of big, stupid institutions that need government bailouts, America's biggest banks will almost certainly at some point in the future try again to blow up the economy with whatever financial death ray JPMorgan Chase dreams up in its basement laboratory, so the government needs to have a plan to deal with that, beyond just throwing more money away. That's why the Dodd-Frank financial reform law gave the FDIC the power to dismantle big, failing banks in a way that hopefully does not blow up the rest of the financial system. The FDIC is expected to unveil its plan about how to do that today, writes the Wall Street Journal. Skepticism abounds.

Thing Six: Chinese Banks Come To America: And as if we didn't have enough government-dependent, debt-laden banks flopping around the U.S. already, the Federal Reserve has agreed to let three ginormous Chinese banks do business here, too, the Wall Street Journal writes: "The Federal Reserve effectively is giving its seal of approval to China's bank-regulatory system, a big step for U.S. regulators given their past concerns about the adequacy of Chinese supervision of banks." The move could even lead to the Chinese takeover of some U.S. banks, the WSJ writes. Hey, China's got all our cash, why not let them buy all of our banks? Solves several problems at once.

Thing Seven: Pfizer's Pfarewell: They had a good run, but Pfizer's finally going to let its former golden-egg-laying goose, the cholesterol drug Lipitor, go, Jonathan Rockoff of the Wall Street Journal writes. Although it will leave some serious fingernail marks in the goose's hide: "Lipitor, which at its peak generated $12.9 billion in annual sales for Pfizer, began facing generic competition as soon as its patent expired in late November. Typically a drug maker would have given up on marketing a medicine once cheaper rivals entered the market. But Pfizer sought to wring as much revenue from Lipitor as it could for as long as it could while generic competition was still in its infancy, with the help of heavy marketing, promotions and price rebates."

Thing Seven And One Half: Bad Day At The Mangyongdae Funfair: Let's say you're a brand new North Korean dictator trying to prove your dictatorial chops. You've just watched your very best credibility-boosting idea, a big macho missile launch, break up and fall flaccidly into the sea, an humiliation on a global scale. What should you do next? Why, crack down on your nation's shamefully shoddy amusement parks, obviously. Bloomberg reports: "North Korea leader Kim Jong Un publicly rebuked officials for the 'pathetic' management of an amusement park in Pyongyang in an effort to bolster his image five months after taking power in the totalitarian state. Kim toured the Mangyongdae Funfair in the capital and pointed out a broken pavement and chipped paint on rides while plucking weeds, the official Korean Central New Agency said yesterday." Boom. The pride is back.

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Calendar Du Jour:

Economic Data:

8:30 a.m. ET: Initial jobless claims for the week of 05/05
8:30 a.m. ET: Trade balance for March
8:30 a.m. ET: Export and import prices for April
2:00 p.m. ET: Treasury Budget for April

Corporate Earnings:

Before Market Open:
AMC Networks
Oaktree Capital


After Market Close:

Heard On The Tweets:

@LaMonicaBuzz: I can't wait for tomorrow! These days where Europe is doomed at breakfast, saved by lunch and just "meh" by the close are so much fun. Ciao!

@BarackObama: "Same-sex couples should be able to get married."—President Obama

@TheStalwart: Huh. A gay rights group just happens to be ringing the NYSE closing bell today. Seems like a genuine coincidence.

@rilaws: Bumping into each other on elevator while leaving ABC, Barack Obama and North Carolina awkwardly clear throats, shift a little, whistle.

@amaeryllis: I'm going to bet people saying President Obama's support "means nothing" never comforted a 15 yr old gay kid asking why everyone hates him.

-- Calendar and tweets rounded up by Khadeeja Safdar.

And you can follow us on Twitter, too: @markgongloff and @byKhadeeja