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The ECB and the Big Bazooka

The European Central Bank (ECB): The big bazooka. There are plenty of important events this week, from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's presser to the Group of 20 nations (G20) to nonfarm payrolls. But the story most closely watched is ECB President Mario Draghi's first press conference tomorrow. Why? Not just because many believe he may cut interest rates a month early, it's that many are betting he will reiterate that he is going to continue to buy sovereign bonds.

And not in a timid way. The new Greek referendum crisis, many believe, has forced his hand and he will now have to risk a major confrontation with Germany, which exercises effective control over the ECB.

Greece
Jorg Greuel | Getty Images
Greece

Germany also may not be able resist going along with the program. This is no longer idle speculation: Irish Finance Minister Michael Noonan told state broadcaster RTE that the ECB will be forced to go all-in and pledge a "wall of money" to buy bonds.

I want my euro and eat it too: A newspaper survey of Greek voters noted that three-quarters of those polled said they wanted to stay in the euro, but that 60 percent viewed the recent European Union deal negatively because it harms their national sovereignty. Greek protestors blocked a military parade commemorating Greek resistance in World War II, shouting "traitors" at President Karolos Papoulias and other officials.

On the never-ending referendum question: I noted yesterday that under the Greek Constitution Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou cannot simply call for a referendum. It has to be voted upon and passed by an absolute majority of Parliament. It's not clear that Papandreou can now command an absolute majority, and if he fails a confidence vote Friday it's still not clear there will even be a referendum.

Elsewhere:

1. MasterCard easily tops estimates ($5.63 a share vs. $4.82 a share consensus) as consumers continued to spend more. Purchase volumes jumped 17 percent, propelling it to better-than-expected topline growth. The stock is set to open at a new historic high, rising 58 percent on the year, one of the best-performing stocks on the S&P 500.

2. Clorox beats estimates (98 cents a share vs. 93 cents a share consensus). Sales were up 3 percent, slightly better than expected, as volume growth and price increases across its product categories helped. Although the consumer product maker grew its U.S. market share, much of its sales growth came from strong overseas results. Guidance for the year of $4 a share to $4.10 a share is reaffirmed, but it’s mostly below $4.09 a share consensus as margins are expected to be flat.

3. Sony falls 5 percent, nearing a 2.5 year low, after reporting a quarterly loss and warning of yet another annual loss this year. The electronics maker had hoped to earn 60 billion yen this year; instead, it now forecasts at 90 billion yen loss for 2011 — its fourth consecutive year in the red. It’s ugly across the boards too: Sony cut sales forecasts for TVs, DVD players, cameras, and computers, and the big exporter is also struggling with a very strong yen. It hopes to cut its troublesome TV division losses by half next year, but doesn’t expect that division to be profitable again until March 2014.

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