This news just in: Greece has not gone anywhere; it is still in Greece.
Almost like the musical "Chicago," where the leading characters equate homicide with free publicity, Greece -- which has survived on a diet of negative publicity for the past two years -- quietly survived the Tuesday deadline when it was supposed to collapse under the weight of debt obligations it could not afford.
The $170 billion international rescue package, which was on-again-off-again for the past year, has put Greece on page 3, as finance leaders now contemplate the rubble Europe faces as a new starting point.
Markit Economics said Thursday the Purchasing Managers Index for the eurozone fell to a three-month low in March, slipping from 49.3 in February to 48.7 in March. Numbers below 50 mean manufacturing is contracting on the continent.
Alarmingly, Germany's PMI remained positive, but hit a three-month low and output dropped in France for the first time in four months, Markit said. Those are the region's largest and second-largest economies showing weakness. For the region, new orders fell for the eighth consecutive month.
In a separate report, Eurostat said factory orders in the eurozone dropped 2.3 percent from December to January.
U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner both told a House panel Wednesday that Europe had made progress, praising intervention by the European Central Bank, but stopping short of gushing when it came to the international rescue fund.
Both Bernanke and Geithner said Europe needs a bigger cushion to protect the continent from additional economic shocks.
"In the past few months, financial stresses in Europe have lessened," Bernanke said. Geithner, in turn, said, "The European economies at the center of the crisis have made very significant progress."
In part, this is a not-so-subtle bait and switch. The collapse of the mortgage market in the United States, beginning in 2006 or so, froze up the financial sector, which in turn put the brakes on the economy. This collapse went viral, spreading through Europe, as well.
Now, however, the United States can reset its clocks. The financial stress tests given to 19 of the largest U.S. banks recently showed all of them on sound footing, able to survive additional economic shocks, including decline stock prices and unemployment reaching 13 percent (it's currently at 8.3 percent).
Having put the matches and the lighter fluid away, in other words, Geithner can now point to the brush fires and say they were started by other brush fires.
It seems all too neat. When Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., asked Bernanke if he was comfortable saying "there's no AIG hiding in the woods," Bernanke said, "We don't see any similar problems."
Geithner said the United States was in a "much stronger position than the continent as a whole." He also scoffed at the idea that the U.S. economy be compared to problems in Greece.
One of the differences between the United States and Greece, Bernanke said, is that Greece does not have its own currency. The U.S. economy is also much more diverse than the economy of Greece, he said.
Much more diverse? Does Bernanke realize the United States runs a trade deficit with Ireland -- about $2.3 billion per month. It runs a trade deficit with Mexico -- roughly $4.5 billion per month. With Canada in March, the U.S. trade deficit was $4.8 billion.
Is Mexico, Canada or Ireland more diverse than the United States? That hardly seems likely.
What Europe needs next is to get its economy back on its feet, to figure out how to return to growth. If that's the case, the United States is exactly like Greece, Germany, France, Spain, Italy and others.
It's not time to fall asleep at the wheel just yet, fellas.
In international markets Thursday, the Nikkei 225 index in Japan rose 0.4 percent while the Shanghai composite index in China was flat, falling 0.1 percent. The Hang Seng index in Hong Kong rose 0.22 percent while the Sensex in India fell 2.3 percent.
The S&P/ASX 200 in Australia added 0.46 percent.
In midday trading in Europe, the FTSE 100 index in Britain fell 0.83 percent. The DAX 30 in Germany slipped 1.48 percent. The CAC 40 in France gave up 1.58 percent and the Stoxx Europe 600 lost 1.15 percent.
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