S&P Report on Euro Zone Ratings Seen Next Month (Reuters)
Standard & Poor’s is expected to release its eagerly awaited verdict on debt ratings for 15 euro zone countries in January, two independent European government sources told Reuters. “We have got an informal signal from Standard & Poor’s that they will come only in January,” said one source who declined to be named because exchanges with the rating agency are confidential. “In conversations we have had, they have let this be known if you read between the lines,” he added.
Italy To Kick The Cash Habit As Monti Cracks Down (Bloomberg)
Floriana d’Andrea, a Naples musician, carries rolls of euro notes when she buys instruments and audio gear, a practice she’ll have to change as Italy sets new limits on cash payments in a bid to curb tax evasion. “I bought some expensive sound equipment and the shop owner jacked up the price when I asked for a receipt,” said d’Andrea, 41, who paid 1,600 euros ($2,093) in cash in the transaction. She has a credit card, but rarely uses it, she said. Prime Minister Mario Monti, in office just over a month, wants landlords, plumbers, electricians and small businesses to stop conducting large transactions in cash, which critics say helps them evade taxes. The government on Dec. 4 reduced the maximum allowed cash payment to 1,000 euros from 2,500 euros. “If they force us to use credit cards, prices will go up,” said d’Andrea, noting that many retailers offer discounts to customers who pay in cash and don’t demand a receipt, in effect splitting with them the savings from evading the country’s 21 percent sales tax. She may curtail future purchases if she’s unable to use cash, d’Andrea said.
House, Senate Clear Payroll Tax Accord (WSJ)
The House and Senate on Friday approved a two-month extension of the payroll-tax cut, averting an increase that would have left workers with less take-home pay next year. Passage came after a nearly weeklong impasse that ended when House Speaker John Boehner (R, Ohio) bowed to increasing pressure from within his own party and agreed to the short-term extension. The $33 billion package also provides extended federal unemployment benefits for two months, avoids a cut in payments to doctors who treat Medicare patients and compels the Obama administration to act within 60 days on a permit for TransCanada Corp.’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline expansion. The deal, which forestalls a Jan. 1 tax increase on 160 million workers, represents a retreat for the House GOP, which had been at odds with Senate Republicans and party elders who feared a backlash in the 2012 elections if the tax break was allowed to expire. The agreement is essentially the same package negotiated by the Democratic-controlled Senate that Mr. Boehner’s House rejected earlier this week.
Fed’s Once Secret Data Now Release To The Public (Bloomberg)
Bloomberg News today released spreadsheets showing daily borrowing totals for 407 banks and companies that tapped Federal Reserve emergency programs during the 2007 to 2009 financial crisis. It’s the first time such data have been publicly available in this form. To download a zip file of the spreadsheets, go to http://bit.ly/Bloomberg-Fed-Data. For an explanation of the files, see the one labeled “1a Fed Data Roadmap.”
AIG’s Benmosche Extends His Stay (WSJ)
Mr. Benmosche said in an interview that he plans to run New York-based AIG beyond next year, his health permitting. The 67-year-old, who was diagnosed with cancer in late 2010, previously indicated he planned to return to retirement sometime in 2012. “I’ve talked to the board and said that if I stay healthy—and I’m still hopeful—I would like to stay on for another year,” he said. “I want to stay active and energized, and having too much time on my hands is not healthy, I think.”
Pigeons Can Learn Higher Math, Study Finds (NYT)
By now, the intelligence of birds is well known. Alex the African gray parrot had great verbal skills. Scrub jays, which hide caches of seeds and other food, have remarkable memories. And New Caledonian crows make and use tools in ways that would put the average home plumber to shame. Pigeons, it turns out, are no slouches either. It was known that they could count. But all sorts of animals, including bees, can count. Pigeons have now shown that they can learn abstract rules about numbers, an ability that until now had been demonstrated only in primates. In the 1990s scientists trained rhesus monkeys to look at groups of items on a screen and to rank them from the lowest number of items to the highest. They learned to rank groups of one, two and three items in various sizes and shapes. When tested, they were able to do the task even when unfamiliar numbers of things were introduced. In other words, having learned that two was more than one and three more than two, they could also figure out that five was more than two, or eight more than six. Read more »