Happy Birthday, Bull Market! Morning Business Memo

Wall Street stocks climb a wall of worry. That old saying has certainly been true recently. The bull market will be 3 years old Friday. Since the dark days of the global financial crisis, the Dow Jones index and Standard & Poor's 500 have doubled in value. March 9, 2009, was the day stocks finally stopped falling after the worst plunge since the Great Depression of the 1930s. After tumbling nearly 57 percent from its October 2007 all-time high, the S&P has come roaring back, erasing all but 12 percent of the losses suffered in the big downturn. The market rise came at a time when many small investors either pulled out of stocks or sharply reduced their holdings.

The Greek debt crisis is back on the stock market's front burner, moving stock averages down and now up. Hopes are rising that enough banks, hedge funds and other private investors will sign up to a debt-relief deal by this evening's deadline, allowing Greece to avoid default. The debt swap agreement is part of the Greek government's efforts to cut their debt burden and qualify for a new bailout. Why does this matter? A messy default by Greece could lead to new turmoil on financial markets.

Americans stepped up their borrowing in January to buy more cars and pay for school. The Federal Reserve says consumer borrowing rose by nearly $18 billion in January, following similar gains in December and November. Borrowing rates today nearly match the pre-recession level. One big reason is the growing burden of student debt.

Spooked by rising gasoline prices? Look at your most recent utility bills. The mild winter in most parts of the country has cut the cost of heating for most Americans. Natural gas prices slipped more than 2 percent Wednesday to close at a 10-year low.

Are you fed up with high bank fees? Many people have switched to credit unions. According to the National Credit Union Administration, Credit Union membership reached an all-time high of nearly 92 million last year. "One of the best antidotes to high bank fees is to investigate a credit union," says Mark Solheim of Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine. "Seventy-eight percent of credit unions give you free checking as opposed to only 45 percent of banks that offer free checking."

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