02/19/2013 07:41 am ET

Stock Market May Be Investors' Least-Bad Option: Seven And A Half Things To Know

Science has determined that people need to know 7.5 things per day, on average, about the world of business. You can't argue with science. Lucky for you, The Huffington Post has an email newsletter, delivered first thing every weekday morning, boiling down the day's biggest business news into the 7.5 things you absolutely need to know. And we're giving it away free, because we love you, and also science. Here you go:

Thing One: Not-Unhappy Days Here Again: Let's face it, this has not been a great millennium to be invested in the stock market.

Just about 13 years ago, in the first year of the Gregorian Calendar to begin with a "2," the dot-com stock bubble was just about to begin its fiery collapse, snuffing out billions of dollars in market wealth. Terrorist attacks and accounting scandals followed, punishing the market even more. Less than a decade later, after a brief recovery, the worst financial crisis and recession since the Great Depression tormented stock investors again, driving prices back to their post-Enron/dot-com-bust lows. Though stocks have rebounded since, the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index is not worth much more today than it was 13 years ago. It was around 1,500 points then and is at just about that level today. Had you avoided the stock market altogether during that time, you'd be doing just fine.

But this 13-year round trip to nowhere has got to end some day, right? The S&P 500 is now within shouting distance of its all-time high, set back in October 2007. Investors, who in recent years would rather have hung out with a sneezing guy on the subway than buy stocks, are starting to think to themselves, hey, wait a minute, there hasn't been a market disaster for nearly five years now, and the market has doubled since the crisis. They are starting to edge warily back into the stock market, writes Tom Lauricella of the Wall Street Journal. The market's closely watched "fear gauge" has had its longest low stretch since early 2007, when the subprime meltdown was still just a gleam in John Paulson's eye.

There are reasons not to rush to join the crowd on this one. The crowd is not super great at market timing, exactly. The S&P 500's all-time high was reached long after the financial crisis had already begun. Too little fear breeds complacency, and then greed. The market is increasingly run by high-speed-trading robots that occasionally lead to terrifying market glitches. With the economy still weak, policy makers in Washington (with the exception of the Federal Reserve) are busy trying to find creative new ways to slash government spending and slow the economy even further.

The trouble is, where else are you going to put your money? Bonds and cash offer little to no yield, and an improving economy (even slightly improving) tends to make them less valuable. At some point the stock market will start to look like the least-bad option. In this millennium, that's about as good as it gets.

Thing Two: China's Hack Attack: A series of recent hacking attacks on U.S. companies can be traced back to a mysterious unit of the Chinese military known as the Comment Crew, according to a new study by security firm Mandiant. Apparently, despite its relatively benign name, this unit does not just go around leaving snarky comments on web sites. The New York Times writes that recent targets of the Comment Crew include companies involved in America's infrastructure. Hey, Comment Crew, we're ruining our infrastructure just fine on our own, thanks. China's government denies any knowledge of or involvement in these hack attacks.

Thing Three: BP Thinks It Has Paid Enough For The Gulf Spill Already, Thanks: After paying more than $30 billion in various settlements over the Gulf oil spill, BP has apparently found the boundaries of its contrition. It has refused to settle civil claims with the Justice Department and will instead take its chances with a trial scheduled to begin next week. BP thinks it will ultimately have to pay less than $5 billion in that case, instead of the $21 billion or more some experts estimate, the Financial Times writes.

Thing Four: Two Bad Companies + Banker Fees + ? = Profit! Up until yesterday, if you had held a gun to my head and ordered me to name three big-box office-supply chains, I would have said, "Staples, Office-Something" and then soiled myself and cried. This is scientific proof that there is just not room enough in the world for OfficeMax and Office Depot to exist simultaneously, and they are doing the sensible thing and talking merger, the WSJ reports.

Thing Five: Pasta Shouldn't Taste Like Glue, Should It? The horse-meat scandal roiling Europe has now affected Nestle, which says that it has found just a smidgen of horse DNA in some of its "beef" pasta meals for sale in Italy and Spain. Just a week ago, the Swiss company declared that its products were equine-free.

Thing Six: Simpson-Bowles Comedy Team Launches New Tour: America's least-beloved funnymen Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles have worked up some fresh material and are hitting the road today for another tour of deficit-scolding, the WSJ writes. They've got yet another new plan for slashing America's budget deficit, one that will yet again be ignored -- and a good thing, too.

Thing Seven: Gas Prices On The March: Here's one more reason to doubt the economy is taking off: Gasoline is getting steadily more expensive. Retail gas prices have risen for 32 straight days, the WSJ writes, to $3.73 a gallon, a four-month high and a 13 percent increase since Jan. 17. Fortunately, the reason behind the rise is fairly routine: Refineries have shut down for regular winter maintenance.

Thing Seven And One Half: Guess What. I Got A Fever. And The Only Prescription Is More Walken: My time off has given me space and distance to realize that his newsletter just doesn't have enough Christopher Walken in it. To remedy that, let's take a look at Walken's high-school yearbook profile, via Reddit (by way of Uproxx). A sample: "A watchful dreamer, he will speak up quite suddenly with some witticism, and then lapse back into silence."

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