Opening Bell: 4.11.06

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Skilling’s Debut (WSJ Law Blog)
You have to love a defendant that actually defends himself. There's no "well, technically that wasn't criminal" or "unethical? maybe, but criminal, never", as the former Enron CEO vigorously defends himself and his company, which he continues to claim was a picture of health. Yesterday's revelation was Skilling hoped (he now claims) to get a teaching post at Harvard Business School after his retirement. The happy retirement only lasted about three weeks, before things started collapsing at his old company -- like some other embattled executives, he blamed short-sellers.
Japan Central Bank Ends Easy Money Policy (AP)
You can't know the soul of an economy until it's tested in some way, like not having access to free central bank capital. For the first time in 5 years, last month, Japan's central bank moved interest rates over the zero line, forcing consumers and businesses to say whether they're for real in their newfound spending. If anything, it seems that the traditionally cautious Japanese are going in the extreme other direction, as day trading is soaring in popularity there.
Over-Share from Dr. Evil’s Hideaway (Jeff Matthews)
Remember when people thought that Bill Gates was some software genius... or at least a visionary? He gave all these starry-eyed speeches about how one day we wouldn't need a wallet, and we would talk to computers, etc... well he's still giving the same speech and nothing he does says that extraordinary. If anything, he seems somewhat unaware of new technologies and possibilities. Jeff Matthews lampoons a recent Fortune cover story on the man: It is, I think, a sad read. Gates’s words come across not as insightful and informative in the Jack Welch how-I-get-things-done management style, but as the self-impressed noodlings of a man in control of a very large, very rich and very powerful organization who appears to have lived almost frozen in time—the Doctor Evil of the software business, who sees the world the same way he saw it thirty years before without wanting to believe how radically it has changed. An overstatement, you say? Well, Gates begins the article by describing—and I am not making this up—the three computer screens on his desk. These three magical screens are “synchronized to form a single desktop” which allows him to drag items “from one screen to the next.” This, he solemnly declares, “has a direct impact on productivity.” Yes, the CEO of the world’s largest software company begins “How I Work” by lovingly describing a desktop computer setup that sits on every trading desk in every high-rise office building from Wall Street to Moscow by the hundreds: multiple screens linked to the same computer.


Comcast To Sell Cable, Telephony At Wal-Mart (Press Release)
Bring out the activists, unions and church groups; Wal-Mart is set to partner with Comcast to sell cable and VoIP services out of the retail giants stores. But what will this do to local stores that sell telecom related products? Surely, this is an unfair abuse of power!
Focus on science behind a study, not who is paying for it (Chicago Sun-Times)
Peter Pitts makes a common sense argument that could be applied to many things: When you hear an argument or a study, focus on the facts, not the person saying it. The column pertains to a recent study, funded by Pfizer, showing that, yes, in fact one of their drugs can be used to fight cholesterol. The results were criticized since the study was funded by Pfizer -- an absurd criticism for various reasons. Probably most people should be reminded why this is silly, and apply it to other areas like business and politics.
UBS to Buy Piper Jaffray's Private Client Network (Bloomberg)
The new-old cliche about the US economy is that we don't make anything anymore, that we just push assets around and buy houses, or, at best, design things. This is all rubbish probably, though there does seem to be a lot of pushing around these days, swapping assets and the like. The latest is this news, whereby UBS will pay up to $875 million in cash and acquired debt for Piper Jaffray's private client network (what is that, a Rolodex?) and integrate it into their own wealth management division.
Save Yourself (NY Times)
Could doubts about the future viability of social security be the best thing for the economy? What about unclear savings statistics that constantly warn that every American is on the verge of bankruptcy? Perhaps, at least, social security fears help avoid the moral hazard whereby people think they can do anything, and not worry about their retirements. This is a good thing; people should worry about their retirements. The Times, today, looks at various perspectives on retirement and, surprise!, there are a few responsible Americans out there.
US Economy's Latest Output: Better Jobs (CS Monitor) (via Cafe Hayek)
This is the stuff that scares the pants off of the bond market. Not only is the US producing jobs, it's still producing high-end value-added jobs. Yikes! This calls for two or three more rate increases! A few examples: In St. Louis, AFB International is enlisting both technicians, paid $30,000 to $40,000, and PhD scientists, offered $80,000 to $100,000, in its quest for the perfect pet food. In Delaware, Honeywell plans to hire people at $40,000 to $100,000 to work in a data-storage center. In southern California, some of the latest openings involve working on the railroad, for $35,000 to $70,000 a year. Union Pacific plans to add 2,000 employees altogether. Anecdotal? Sure, but $40,000 - $100,000 to work in a data storage center? Who missed the last boat to Mumbai? Of course, some think that anyone optimistic about the jobs picture is Stunningly Clueless About Employment.
Boeing's China hand guides strategy to beat back Airbus (Seattle Times)
Boeing can thank the large US-Sino trade imbalance for their dominance over Airbus in China. Trade tensions and US politician's sabre-rattling have made the Chinese eager to throw us one bone, in our desire to actually sell something to them. That bone is Boeing planes. But, not to be outdone, Airbus is moving some of their manufacturing to China, which has to make their government happy. It probably won't remain a one-sided affair.
Bank Of NY: Reduced Profits For Four Years (Reuters)
The asset-swap between BONY and JPMorgan will reduce the former's earnings, to a varying extent, over the next four years. If this is true, the move should probably be commended, and they deserve kudos for their candor. When was the last time you heard about such a sacrifice? As it is, the Bank of NY retail branches, while cash generators, were clearly laggards. You can walk by them, and see that they haven't been updated since 80's. In fact, might want to pop in one soon, before JPM gives them a once-over.

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