Opening Bell: 3.22.06

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Citigroup's Weill to Retire Next Month (WSJ)
The drawn out coronation will finally be complete, as Citigroup chairman, Sandy Weill, will give up his seat to CEO Chuck Prince. Weill's been looking to hightail it out of there for some time, and the board is ready to grant him his wish. Everyone at the company seems pretty positive on Prince for "sharpening their strategic focus" and "nurturing the company's core platform", though it hasn't exactly translated to the bottom line, as witnessed by the company's moribund stock performance of late.
Hedge Fund Manager Fears Football Players He Defrauded (CNN Money) (via Dealbook)
One (allegedly) fraudulent hedge-fund manager messed with the wrong clients. Attorneys for manager Kirk Wright have told papers that his client is hiding out, on the lam, fearing retribution from various current and ex-NFL players. The attorney claims that some of them even found the man's house, and harassed workers there, asking where Wright was. The Atlanta-based manager, who has his own arrest warrants out, probably wishes he lived in Greenwich right now.
Morgan Stanley To Move Research Jobs To Asia (WSJ)
Aah, so it begins. Mack the knife, picking some fat off the bone, will move 50 or 60 research (read: glorified data entry) jobs to India, to reflect the reality that electronic trading has been cutting commissions. Yes, 50 or 60 jobs is nothing, but it's bound to get bigger and the effect of Morgan's restructuring will reverberate around the street. Given how much excess there is at all the major houses, investors will clamor for the improved margins and cost-reductions they're seeing done at Morgan. Damn, there goes our base. Next Up: Dealbreaker Bombay.
Making Speculation Fun And Affordable (Forbes)
Forbes has an interesting profile of Thomas Peterffy, who wants to take advantage of the bull market in speculation. Instead of the usual 50% margin requirements on retail stock investing, he wants to drive it down to 20%, making it much easier to place risky, highly-leveraged bets on securities. There's no doubt that consumers want it. Thirst for this kind of leverage has pushed the mom and pop investor to dabble in more exotic markets, like crude futures, Forex, and futures on the German DAX, etc. Basically, people really like to gamble (witness the rise of poker over the last few years), why not let them do it on Wall St. ? Besides, they provide liquidity, right?


A Profile Of Jamie Dimon (Fortune)
Under The Counter puts it best: Man we had no idea Jamie Dimon was such an asshole. Apparently the JP Morgan executive is fond insulting people, yelling at them, and rationing dry towels in his own home. Oh yeah, and he thinks salaries have gotten out of hand at JPM.

Blank-Check IPOs Probed (The Street)

Last week, ex-Apple executive Steve Wozniak was the latest to launch a so-called "blank check" IPO. The companies have no operations or businesses, just the promise to investors that they'll do something, like buyout another company. If it sounds like a pretty sweet deal, that's because it is. If the insiders wanted to launch a VC fund, they'd have to show good performance before they started profiting themselves. In a blank check company, the insiders can grant themselves stock options, and immediately have a sizable, and valuable, equity stake. The whole process feels a little seedy, so no surprise that the NASD is quietly investigating the process.

Wen Can Take His Yuan And Shove It (RGE Monitor)

Economist Brad Setser has some sound advice for Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. If he doesn't like US talk of protectionism, or any other of our economic policies, China is under no obligation to keep funding our debt. Of course, the same can be said about US politicians who scold China for their policies, yet keep voting to borrow more money from them. It seems obvious, that politicians on both sides blow a lot of hot air.
Wal-Mart To Target Upscale Shoppers (AP)
Will it play in Peoria Plano? Seeking to expand beyond their typical base of lower-income discount shoppers, Wal-Mart is opening a new store in wealthy suburb of Plano, TX., today. The store will have a sushi bar, $500 bottles of wine, and microbrewed beer. It's really easy to pigeonhole the well-to-do these days -- sushi, overpriced beer, uh, er, and yeah voila, new format store! Officials have been mum on when we can expect to see one in the West Village, though you can probably find out on Curbed.
Microsoft Delays Windows Vista Debut Again (WSJ)
Did you hear? Quite a shock -- Microsoft announced a major product delay. Vista, which will be the newest incarnation of the company's Windows operating system, has been delayed again. Originally, it was scheduled for release in 2005. Now instead of second half of '06, it will come out in January of '07. They figure if consumers can wait this long, they can probably push it back a few months. To be fair, it's only the consumer version being delayed, though missing the Christmas season could hurt PC sales.
France Parliament Passes Restrictions On Apple's iTunes (NYT)
Taking some time away from riots to chill with their music, the French parliament pushed a bill that would block the sale of device-locked material, i.e. the songs that Apple sells on iTunes must be playable on devices other than the iPod. This is seen as a blow to the businesses model, whereby Apple sells Serge Gainsbourgh tracks at a loss, only to hook people in to buying iPods for a big profit. Some analysts expect the company to quit the country.

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