Wal-Mart, which, in recent months, has taken away stools from older cashiers in order to encourage them to quit, required workers—including those with young children—to be on call 24 hours a day, and seen its stocks fall the most since July, has decided to make some changes. It’s going to start appreciating its workers more, and not because it’s been widely criticized for failing miserably to do so in the past and not because that may be a reason why people don’t want to shop there anymore (which relates back to the thing with the stocks). Just because, you know, that’s what good people do, and Wal-Mart is nothing if not run by good people. What follows is one of the ways Wal-Mart is going to start being nicer to its workers. Keep in mind that someone (or probably a bunch of someones) were brought in to come up with this idea, probably sat around a conference table for a while, probably had to work late a bunch of nights, before someone snapped his fingers and said, “you know what, I’ve got it,” everyone else said “hey, you, I think you do got it,” and, finally, someone else, who signs off on things like this, came in, said, “wow, this is great work guys,” and put his name on a dotted line, authorizing this great, humanitarian idea:
The program includes several new perks “as a way of saying thank you” to workers, like a special polo shirt after 20 years of service. Sarah Clark, a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart, said the program was a “a more formalized, contemporary approach” to communicating with and collecting feedback from its fast-growing work force.
Asked if absence for a family emergency, like a sick child, would be authorized, Kory Uselton [a 35-year-old overnight floor cleaner at a Wal-Mart in Tyler, Tex.] recounted, his manager said, “No, it’s not.”
Wal-Mart Says Thank You to Workers [NY Times]
Or at least just the party in Wall Street’s pants.
The shopping mall is not the only place where prices are falling. Stocks tumbled yesterday in their steepest slide since July, after a weak sales estimate by Wal-Mart spurred concerns about the holiday shopping season and fed broader worries about a slowing economy.
The sell-off on Wall Street spoiled what had largely been a steady run-up in stock prices in recent weeks. In the last month and a half, the Dow Jones industrial average broke through 12,000 for the first time, and the broader Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index rose to its highest level in six years.
Stocks Drop Steeply After a Bull Run [NYT]
We love Target as much as the next guy, and Wal-Mart’s, you know, Wal-Mart, but does anyone else feel like we’ve walked in on Jim Cramer’s own Fatal Attraction moment in this week’s issue of New York?
What’s ailing Wal-Mart? People don’t mind shopping at a down-market, politically incorrect store, if the prices are low enough. That was always Wal-Mart’s game. But now the other guys have figured it out. A number of Wal-Mart’s competitors now offer similarly low prices and a better shopping experience. Take Target. Wal-Mart’s sloppy aisles, dowdy clothing, and junky presentation have all the charm of GUM, the grim old monopolistic chain of the former Soviet Union. Target, meanwhile, is a joy. And its in-house merchandise, the key to its bountiful profit margins, rivals the stuff you can find in much more expensive stores—at price points that still make you feel like you’re getting the deal of the century.
Maybe he’s trying to show us a “softer side of J. Cra,” but it really just makes us uncomfortable. Even the diehard Cramer fans who won’t be truly happy until he lights the Mad Money set on fire are going, “Um, yeahhh, well, we’re gonna take off now, this was real.” All in favor of chair-throwing manic rages over moments like these, say “I.”
Attention, Wal-Mart Shoppers [NYM]
In fairness, our friends at the New York Sun point out that this isn’t the first time Andrew Young has stuck his foot in his mouth.
…an earlier Andrew Young affair — the one in which he resigned as President Carter’s ambassador at the United Nations after meeting with an official of the Palestine Liberation Organization in violation of what was then American policy.
The Commentary article noted that in the aftermath of the resignation, Mr. Young denounced Israel for having “become the oppressor” of the Palestinians, for engaging in “terroristic” raids and “constant bombing” in Lebanon, and for “losing their moral advantage.” A New York Times op-ed piece from a professor sympathizing with Mr. Young followed, saying that the resignation “brings into sharp focus the immense power of the Israeli lobby in this country.”
The Commentary article put the Young affair in the context of the Cold War, noting that during the trial of the Russian Jewish dissident Anatoly Shcharansky, “Young noted tellingly that America, too, has political prisoners.”
The Andrew Young Affair [New York Sun]
We interrupt the official two-minute hate directed against former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young to bring you the sobering thoughts of Steve Sailer, who reminds us that:
[E]ven for food and dry goods, Young is right that African-Americans would have perfectly rational reasons for preferring a Wal-Mart in their neighborhood to “vibrant” immigrant-run corner shops.
Wal-Mart provides a much wider selection at much lower prices. As Matt Fellowes of the Brookings Institute has noted in an op-ed entitled The High Price of Being Poor [Los Angeles Times, July 23, 2006], in black and Hispanic Compton, California,
“Instead of large, modern grocery stores, there are more than 200 tiny bodegas, which generally charge higher prices.”
So it’s a good thing that major retail chains have been expanding to black neighborhoods in recent years as the crime rate has come down.
Andrew Young Was Right, Not That Anyone Dare Admit It [VDare.com]
We were feeling defensive of Wal-Mart this morning, but now that we find out CEO Lee Scott is taking a month long vacation, we’re less sympathetic. If lunch is for wimps, what are month-long vacations for?
Wal-Mart CEO Takes Month Long Hiatus [CNN/Money]
Alcatel Jumps on Plan to Buy Lucent in $13.4 Bln Swap (Bloomberg)
It’s official; they’re merging. 8,800 jobs will be cut, Lucent’s Patricia Russo will be the first female CEO of a large French company, and nothing says bubble like Alcatel, the acquirer, jumping 8.8% on the news. The merger will be judged, obviously, on cost savings, which are possible given the bloat that these two aging giants must have — at least they didn’t say synergies. All in all, pipes are back. Om Malik notes the return of second-rate optical stocks, whose shares have surged in the past few months — at least they’re not calling them internet backbone companies.
Microsoft’s Big Year (Barron’s)
Will this finally be the year of Ol’ Softy. After basically flatlining since 2001, Barron’s thinks the company may be back. Of course, they’ve been on the brink of being back before, but this time Barron’s means it. The case for the company is based on an upcoming product release cycle, the biggest in the company’s history, and renewed IT spending among corporations. It’s a bold argument, as the magazine calls the company a growth stock once again. At the same time, the company seems to be poorly run. Product delays, which have always been part of their reputation, seem to be getting worse, and it’s unclear that when (if?) the new Vista operating system will be released, it will have enough features to drive a rapid upgrade cycle. Remember when people were waiting in line on midnight the night before Windows 95 was released? Could you imagine anyone doing that on a cold night this coming January?
Capex Revival, For Real This Time? (WSJ)
Here’s an argument we’ve heard a lot in the last year: When the consumer finally weakens because their credit card is tapped out, and their home stops rising in value so they can’t use it as an ATM anymore, capital expenditure will make up for the loss and save the economy. But will companies actually start investing, or is this just wishful thinking? After several years of saving money, there has been a tickup in hiring and investment, with capex expected to grow by 6.5% this year, slightly higher than the recent average. Still, it looks spotty and the article is only able to cite a handful of examples, like Hasbro buying a puzzle maker (so?), or Guess re-modeling 30 of their stores. Hmm… capex rebound, maybe not so much.
Euronext looking for partner (Telegraph)
Stock exchange merger mania may continue, as Euronext may be the next suitor to try for LSE’s hand. Both Australia’s Macquarie, and more recently the Nasdaq, have been rebuffed when proposing to London. We’ll be really disappointed if, in ten years, we don’t have one single, global, 24-hour, 7-days a week electronic exchange that doesn’t list every publicly available stock, bond and commodity. So from our perspective, get mergin’ quick.
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