BUSINESS
07/31/2012 08:01 am ET

Fed, ECB Fight To See Who Can Do Less: Seven And A Half Things To Know

Thing One: Are You Ready For Some Nothing? In this week's marquee Olympic event, the 1000-meter Stimulus Resistance -- which, if you're not familiar, is pretty much like dressage for economists -- the Fed and ECB are favorites to win the gold.

Representing the United States of America is the Federal Reserve. Its team captain is Ben Bernanke, wildly popular in America as the Beard That Cannot Be Sheared. Team Fed goes first in the Resistance event this week, with a two-day policy meeting starting today. They've got a serious challenge in resisting helping the economy. After all, the U.S. currently has an 8 percent unemployment rate, and the Fed sees it staying nearly that high for about the next year and a half. The economy is stumbling along at a less than 2 percent growth rate, which won't get that unemployment rate down any time soon. The economy could use some help. In fact, some members of Team Fed want it to go for the gold with a surprise move this week. But the Americans have a long history of resisting stimulus, and they might just wait until September to decide to do anything, writes Fed scribe Jon Hilsenrath of the Wall Street Journal.

The task is even taller for the European Central Bank, led by team captain Mario Draghi, the Italian Root Vegetable, or Scallion. The Europeans are the reigning champions of not doing anything to help their economy, but it is getting increasingly difficult for them to ignore a lingering recession throughout Europe. Nor can they ignore the fact that, until Draghi sort-of hinted at stimulus last week, Spanish and Italian bond yields were at unsustainably high levels. The ECB meets on Thursday, and you would think they'd be the first to lose the stimulus-resistance fight. But their secret weapon is team anchor Germany, which pushed back hard against Draghi's sort-of promise last week and will not stimulate any economy without a fight. It could be weeks before the ECB acts aggressively, writes Reuters. Let the Games begin! Also, the economic hardship!

Thing Two: Who Needs Libor Anyway? So you know that LIBOR rate, which has been used in every loan since Adam Smith was in short pants? The one that has caused a spot of trouble for banks who have been manipulating it constantly since forever? Well, now a U.K. government reviewer suggests that maybe that interest rate is hopelessly flawed and should be done away with altogether, the Financial Times writes. I hope the U.K. government is not also in charge of watching barn doors, because they might only get around to closing them after all of the farm animals have fled. In the case of Libor, banks are gearing up to pay billions in fines -- RBS may be next, following Barclays -- and every plaintiff's lawyer in America is calling his doctor to report an erection lasting longer than four hours.

Thing Three: Also Being Manipulated... But wait, there's yet another obscure and yet incredibly important interest rate being manipulated, writes Nathaniel Popper of The New York Times: The Municipal Market Data rate, which helps set the borrowing costs of states, towns, and other municipalities around the country. You know, those things that are going broke all the time? "Christopher Taylor, the executive director of the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board until 2007, said that during his years at the agency he heard frequent complaints that the opaqueness of the M.M.D. rates allowed them to be 'manipulated' by banks that hold many municipal bonds."

Thing Four: Wrist Slap For Worst Company In America: Accretive Health, the medical debt-collector famous for trying to pry wallets away from people bleeding in emergency rooms, has been slapped with a wafer-thin $2.5 million fine by the state of Minnesota. On the brighter side, the company will be kicked out of Minnesota for six years, writes the Huffington Post's Jeffrey Young.

Thing Five: Time To Care About Incremental Development In Consumer Accessory: Times may be hard, but at least we have this to look forward to: The latest iteration of Apple's iPhone is coming on September 12, maybe, writes HuffPost's Jason Gilbert, later backed up by Bloomberg, which says, yes, definitely September 12. But this one's going to be totally different, guys. It's going to have a bigger screen and be a little thinner and cost a bajillion dollars, insiders say.

Thing Six: Market Manipulation Is Easy: If you think the stock market is a rigged casino constantly being manipulated, then you're right. Scott Patterson of the Wall Street Journal writes today about a day-trading firm where people where shorts and Adidas like they're Team Zissou or something. Regulators claim the firm has been manipulating the market so well that other day traders copied its ideas.

Thing Seven: And the Cypress Trees Are Just The Right Height: Willard Mittens Romney, who would like to be your president, has a lot of things he really likes about Israel's economy: Its health care system, for example, which has managed to keep health costs under control -- with something that looks a lot like Obamacare/Romneycare, notes the Washington Post's Ezra Klein. He also attributes Israel's success to its "culture," i.e., not being Arab, a nifty dog-whistle for the racists back home, writes HuffPost's Peter Goodman.

Thing Seven And One Half: So Many Media Tempests, Not Enough Teapots: Yesterday was a terrible day to be in media, or something. Jonah Lehrer resigned from the New Yorker after admitting he just made up quotes by Bob Dylan -- which, dang, Jonah, you didn't think anybody would notice? NBC cried and cried to Twitter about a grouchy reporter for The Independent tweeting a publicly available email address of an NBC executive, and Twitter suspended the reporter's account. And an ex-Vogue reporter admitted she was totally fooled by the fashionable wife of the "meek"- looking Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad into thinking they were just another cute power couple, only with slightly more murder and repression than Brangelina.

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Calendar Du Jour:

Economic Data:

8:30 a.m. ET: Personal Income and Spending for June

9:00 a.m. ET: Case-Shiller 20-city Home-Price Index for May

9:45 a.m. ET: Chicago PMI for July

10:00 a.m. ET: Conference Board Consumer Confidence for July

Corporate Earnings:

Before Market Open:

Archer Daniels Midland

Aetna

Goodyear

Pfizer

U.S. Steel

Heard On The Tweets:

@JamesGRickards: #EuropeanCommission announces plans to make #LIBOR rigging a criminal offense http://t.co/NUYkhBXM. What was it before, pattycake?

@MattGarrahan: Ominous: Twitter has shut down @guyadams' account after #NBC complained about tweets he wrote that criticised its #Olympics coverage.

@moorehn: Team Guy Adams. (Never met him but he may be my intellectual soulmate). NBC creates a martyr. Nice work, peacocks. http://ind.pn/MOJyiC

@ReformedBroker: Manchester United plans to raise $1 billion in US IPO. Company plans to spend it like Beckham.

@alanbeattie: Bain Capital just started following me on Twitter. Quick, need to look busy.

-- Calendar and tweets rounded up by Khadeeja Safdar.

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

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