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My big fat Greek [insert the appropriate word here]

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Leaders to talk The leaders of Greece, Germany and France are holding a telephone chat today to discuss the widening crisis in the euro zone and the mounting fears that Athens is headed for default. But observers don't expect much to come from the talks, which has become increasingly the case where the 17-member monetary union is concerned.

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According to the initial chatter, George Papandreou, Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy aren't expected to brief reporters on the outcome.

"Greek media report Papandreou will present a strict timeline for implementation of Greek measures and he will ask Merkel and Sarkzoy to put pressure on their domestic banks to accept the terms of the Greek PSI (private sector involvement), while the French government says Sarkozy will be asking for pledges and guarantees," said Elsa Lignos, senior currency strategist at RBC in London.

"Things are changing in Greece – e.g. the topic of public sector employee dismissals is now being more openly discussed. But with bond markets fully discounting a Greek default, most will call this too little, too late. Nevertheless for now at least, we think both sides are still trying to avoid immediate default."

Also playing into markets today are comments from EC president Jose Manuel Barroso, who said proposals will soon be introduced for a euro zone bond, and the Italian government winning a confidence vote on its austerity measures.

China has conditions, too As the world looks toward China for salvation, Beijing has its conditions, too.

Premier Wen Jiabao today warned leaders of the struggling western world to get their houses in order, and move more quickly to recognize China as a market economy, Carolynne Wheeler reports from Beijing. His comments come as the so-called BRICS group - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - prepare to meet in Washington next week to study ways of helping the euro zone out of its mess, perhaps by buying debt.

"We have been concerned about the difficulties faced by the European economy for a long time, and we have repeated our willingness to extend a helping hand and increase our investment," Mr. Wen said. "To show one's sincerity on this issue [of the market economy] a few years ahead of that time is the way a friend treats another friend."

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As our Washington correspondent Kevin Carmichael reports today, the idea of the BRICS proposal is akin to the Marshall Plan after the Second World War, when the United States moved to help stabilize Europe. But there are questions today about how much help the developing powerhouses can give in bailing out the Old World.

"Clearly they aren't going to buy all the debt, but a substantial purchase is certainly within the BRIC's means and would go some ways to calming the crisis," said Benjamin Reitzes of BMO Nesbitt Burns.

"However, considering Chinese purchases of European peripheral debt over the past year have provided only temporary relief, a small purchase won't likely have much impact … go big or go home."

Mr. Reitzes noted that the foreign exchange reserves of the BRIC countries, minus South Africa, were almost equal to the debt of Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain in the first quarter. For his findings, see the accompanying infographic or click here.

Moody's dings French banks Moody's Investor Service took some of the uncertainty out of the markets today, with an expected downgrade of two of France's biggest banks, which have a hefty amount of Greek debt on their books.

Moody's cut the ratings of Société Générale and Crédit Agricole by one notch.

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"The long awaited downgrades of French banks started this morning with ratings agency Moody's downgrading Société Générale, Crédit Agricole on their exposure to sovereign debt with Credit Agricole staying on review for a further downgrade, due to the current persistent fragility in bank financing markets," said CMC Markets analyst Michael Hewson.

"Surely it can only be a matter of time before BNP Paribas follows in their wake, as the bank announces a restructuring plan to increase capital, probably in order to head off a downgrade at the pass, as Moody's holds fire and extends the downgrade review period on the bank."

Big and fat One wonders what Nia Vardalos thinks of all the headlines and comments that her 2002 hit movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding gave birth to amid the escalating troubles in Athens. Here's my offering:

My big fat Greek debt: This is, of course, the heart of the problem, a swollen debt burden nearing 150 per cent of gross domestic product

My big fat Greek recession: The economy contracted at an annual rate of 8.1 per cent in the first quarter, and 7.3 per cent in the second.

My big fat Greek jobless rate: Unemployment is running at 16 per cent, though that's down from the record 16.6 per cent in the spring.

My big fat Greek bailout: Two, actually. The first one was worth €110-billion, last year, and a second is in the works.

My big fat Greek cutback: The latest austerity package - and many are calling for more cuts - means tens of thousands of jobs lost in the public sector, lower wages, higher taxes and a selloff of Greece assets.

My big fat Greek work stoppage: There's usually someone on strike at any given moment as social unrest mounts amid the cutbacks.

My big fat Greek bond yield: Oh, something in the area of 75 per cent on two-years.

My big fat Greek bankruptcy? This is what markets fear, and expect, actually, a default that would ripple through Europe's financial sector. The question is whether it would be orderly or chaotic.

U.S. sales flat The American consumer is showing more signs of caution amid a slowing economy.

Retail sales in the United States were flat last month, according to the U.S. Commerce Department today, a troubling sign for consumer spending amid high unemployment and a stalled recovery.

This comes just one day after the U.S. Census Bureau reported on the deteriorating finances of Americans in the post-recession era.

"Sales during the month were held back by declines in deparment stores, clothing and furniture outlets, with other categories generally showing modest improvement," said Peter Buchanan of CIBC World Markets.

"While there may be some tendency to attribute at least part of the softness to disruptions from Hurricane Irene, the data provide little evidence that the consumer sector is picking up solidly after a disappointing flat [second-quarter] performance."

Hathor dismisses Cameco bid Canada's Hathor Exploration Ltd. has rebuffed uranium giant Cameco Corp. , saying its $520-million takeover bid isn't worth it.

"Hathor's board of directors is firmly committed to ensuring that Hathor shareholders receive full value for their investment in this company, something this offer does not provide," James Malone, who chaired the special committee that studied the bid, said in a statement.

Calling the bid predatory, the company outlined several reasons for rejecting the bid.

Chrysler, union approach deadline Chrysler Group LLC and the United Auto Workers union are negotiating against the clock, which is ticking down to a midnight deadline that will see their four-year contract expire.

Chief executive officer Sergio Marchionne left the International Motor Show in Frankfurt to head for Detroit, Bloomberg News reports, as the deadline drew nearer.

The union has already extended its contract with Ford Motor Co. and would likely do the same if a deal isn't reached in time.

In Economy Lab If the definition of insanity is trying the same things over and over again and expecting different results, then the men in the white suits need to go to the White House right away, David Rosenberg writes.

In International Business Germany must choose between a euro zone disturbingly different from the larger Germany it expected or no euro zone at all, Martin Wolf of The Financial Times writes.

In Globe Careers The online release last week of amorous e-mails between Conservative MP Bob Dechert and Shi Rong, a journalist with Xinhua News Agency, is illuminating the peculiar role of workplace e-mail in the lives of office workers across Canada. The Globe and Mail's Simon Houpt reports.

From today's Report on Business

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About the Author
Report on Business News Editor

Michael Babad is a Report on Business editor and co-author of three business books. He has been with Report on Business for several years, and has also been a reporter and editor at The Toronto Star, The Financial Post and United Press International. His articles have appeared in major newspapers around the world. More

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