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Thing One: Slowdown Fever: When perpetually anemic Japan is the only major economy in the world not actively trying to slow itself down, then the world's economy has a problem.
China is the latest, and arguably most important, economy to tap the brakes on its own growth. China's government over the weekend announced its intention to keep trying to pop its dangerously swollen real estate market. And early Monday it announced a target for economic growth of 7.5 percent per year, well below the double-digit growth rates of the past several years, the Wall Street Journal writes.
These are not exactly new developments: China has already been trying to slow its runaway growth and morph itself from an export-driven economy to one more like America, built on consumer spending on Taco Bell and iPhones. It has also repeatedly tried to raise interest rates and take other steps to slow down its ridiculous property market, which has for years left eerie, empty ghost cities of the sort "60 Minutes" showed America on Sunday night.
The worry is that China's previous efforts to curb its real-estate enthusiasm appear to have failed, with scary implications for China's economy and the rest of the world, the New York Times writes. If China can't get a handle on its bubble, then the risk of its popping keeps growing. And the bigger the bubble, the nastier the blowup, as U.S. homeowners could tell their Chinese counterparts. Even if China does get its property market in check, then that will still slow economic growth. Thus the news that China was taking further tightening steps led to the worst selloff in China's stock market in two years, the NYT writes.
Wall Street on Monday mostly ignored China's travails. U.S. stocks edged higher, pushing the Dow Jones Industrial Average closer to a record. Maybe we should pay closer attention. Once upon a time, China's economy rose and fell with the well-being of economies elsewhere, including the U.S., Europe and Japan. Now it is the world's growth engine and its second-biggest economy, recently taking the title of top oil importer away from the U.S., the Financial Times writes. And while Japan, under new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is doing what it can to bring its half-dead economy back to life, the U.S. and Europe are busy running misguided experiments in austerity that will keep their own growth anemic. If China's not going to be taking up their slack, then the world economy is in a world of hurt.
Thing Two: Youngs Avoid Debt: Meanwhile, back here in our own hobo village of the U.S.A., young people are apparently for some reason avoiding debt almost as much as they avoid watching shows on NBC, the Wall Street Journal writes. Maybe after watching their parents weeping for the past several years over the state of their own finances? Just guessing. Total debt among people under the age of 35 has fallen to its lowest levels in 15 years, according to the WSJ -- and this is despite the fact that student-loan debt has been exploding.
Thing Three: Second Thoughts About Austerity: Having successfully pushed President Obama into swallowing their austerity medicine, some Republicans are starting to wonder if their whole deficit-panic schtick might have reached its limit, the Washington Post writes. A few Republicans, let's call them Primary Fodder, are fine with slashing spending but loath to make drastic cuts to Social Security and Medicare, the WaPo writes. Don't worry, Obama will do that cutting for you, apparently. Meanwhile, the austerity already in train in this country is affecting community colleges, undermining Obama's plan to re-educate workers to compete in a 21st-century global economy, Reuters writes. That way austerity can keep ruining our economy for generations to come.
Thing Four: Cyprus Joins Bailout Club: Yet another European economy is in line for bailout money, after euro zone finance ministers on Tuesday agreed in principal to rescuing Cyprus. The island nation has the good fortune of asking for help later than, say, Greece, which was forced to endure years of damaging austerity in exchange for its bailout cash. European finance ministers appear finally to be questioning the wisdom of that formula, suggesting they may loosen their requirements for future bailouts, Bloomberg writes.
Thing Five: Stealth Subsidy To Corporate America: While everybody else in the world is feeling austerity's bite, U.S. companies are not only immune, but collecting massive tax breaks at the expense of the rest of us. Among their many perks are tax-free bonds that are intended for public works but are often used by companies, saving investors in those bonds untold billions of dollars in taxes, the New York Times writes. About $65 billion in tax-free bonds have been issued by state and local governments on behalf of corporations in the past decade, the NYT estimates. Though the subsidy goes to bondholders, really, it makes these bonds more attractive to buyers, lowering the cost of borrowing for the companies.
Thing Six: FCC Thinks Phones Should Be Free: The FCC yesterday sided with consumers over the issue of whether they should be allowed to unlock their cellphones to switch wireless carriers. The Obama administration is going to urge Congress to overturn a ruling last year by the Library of Congress that such phone unlocking is illegal. That could make cellphone service cheaper by encouraging rate competition, the New York Times writes.
Thing Seven: Put The Money In A Brown Paper Bag: Citigroup executives took home a whopping $579 million in the past three years from a profit-sharing plan that was rejected by Citi shareholders last year, Bloomberg estimates. The plan has also been criticized by corporate-governance experts. In response, Citi recently made its pay plan only "slightly less terrible," Reuters noted.
Thing Seven And One Half: Dark Day For Music, Comedy: On this day in 1963, country music star Patsy Cline died in a plane crash at the age of 30. And on this day in 1982, John Belushi was found dead of a drug overdose at the age of 33. Ugh. Quick, here are some amusing cat pictures to cheer you up.
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Calendar Du Jour:
10:00 a.m. ET: ISM Services Index for February
Heard On The Tweets:
An auto-tweeting IsAppleBiggerThanExxon.com site would put half of financial journalism out of work.
— Paul Kedrosky (@pkedrosky) March 4, 2013
— Kevin Roose (@kevinroose) March 4, 2013
-- Calendar and Tweets rounded up by Alexis Kleinman