Opening Bell: 5.10.06

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Executives Take Company Planes as if Their Own (NYT)
Let's come right out and ask it. Is The Times' obsession with CEO pay verging on cliché? Apropos of nothing, The Times looks at the burning issue of CEOs who get to use company jets for personal reasons. Clearly looking for a scandal, The Times notes that rising jet fuel costs and a change of tax law makes these personal trips more expensive for shareholders, while quoting one North Carolina State Treasurer (?!) as saying, "You can compare it to crack cocaine. Once they get used to having the plane there waiting for them, they don't want to go back." Huh? That's how most people feel about everything that they like, like clean sheets. Perhaps this weekend Gretchen Morgenson will write about how some CEOs like to practice putting in their office while technically on company time.
World Bank Says China Needs Currency Appreciation (WSJ)
The US and its cronies at the World Bank sound more and more like the Mafia every day. The World Bank warned China that it should let its currency rise since it would be so unfortunate if they happened to be branded as a currency manipulator by the US. That being said, being branded with a scarlet C doesn't really have any meaning, though one could only imagine the song and dance that Chuck Schumer would perform on the floor of the Senate in such an event. Actually, despite the fact protectionism is a disaster, such a scene might actually be worth it.
Oil hovers on Iran factor (CNN)
We sure love our causal headlines. So it makes sense that oil would spike on the latest saber rattling out of Iran -- fine. And, we guess, if Bush and Ahmadinejad played a round of gold, oil could drop sharply. But how can oil hover (basically not move) on Iran. Perhaps the oil market is waiting to see the proverbial whites of Ahmadinejad's eyes before it decides what to do next, though that still doesn't qualify as "hovering on Iran factor". That being said, let's look at the situation probabilistically. The market is probably factoring a slight chance that we'll go to war, but while slight the ramifications on the market could be huge. Realistically, oil probably wants to go down, but all this hovering and spiking and Iran and whites of eyes is keeping it high. Not that this should count as consolation to anyone paying the gas man -- perhaps the BLS will start calculating implied deflation by factoring out one-time effects like a war.
CDC confirms additional eye infections (Marketwatch)
The continuing questions about the blinding eye fungus that may or may not be due to Bausch and Lomb contact lens solution is a stats wonk's dream. So the data keeps rolling that suggests most people who have been treated for the infection were Bausch and Lomb customers. But there are others, some used a competitor's product, while others didn't use any contact lens solution. And, of course, the number of people to actually get the fungus is incredibly low, so there's already some debate about statistical significance. And there's another issue -- a lot of cases probably wouldn't have been reported to the CDC were this not an international story. So when you look at the spike in numbers, you can't assume that's a true spike. We really don't know what common infection rates were, pre-now. If you've any done any chartwork in this area, please send it along.


Economists Give Bernanke a B+ For First Three Months on Job (WSJ)
Whoa, tough crowd. He only has one interest rate hike under his belt, and already some of Bernanke's fellow economists have given him Cs. One even gave him a D, though we imagine he was some Austrian-trained whack job who is pissed that Bernanke hasn't moved us over to a free banking model yet. Factoring him out, Bernanke probably would have gotten an A, so that's the grade we're going by. Besides, you always have to drop the extremes.
Republicans agree on tax cuts extension (CNN)
When the going gets bad, the Republicans go for badly thought out "tax cuts". Of course, Dealbreaker readers know there haven't been any tax cuts, and so the idea of "tax cuts extensions" is a unique kind of rubbish. Our skepticism surrounding the tax cuts is not borne from any dislike of money. In fact, we view the IRS as just the militant wing of a constitutional kleptocracy. But these "tax cuts" just shift the burden from our checking account to our credit card. And since we're getting maxed out on many of them, at the end of our introductory rates, and really don't need more frequent flier miles that we'll never use, we'd rather just pay our bills upfront.
Copper Increases to $8,000 a Ton for First Time as Metals Rally (Bloomberg)
At the same time that gold touches $700, copper has hit the magical $8,000/ton price level, as all of the metals are rallying now. It seems like there are only two possible explanations. One Is Iran. If every move in oil can be traced to Ahmadinejad's farts, then perhaps this explains why other industrial commodities are moving in exactly the same way. The other possibility is that the thousands of metal miners in Mongolia, South America, South Africa and Northern Canada are all part of the oil company cabal. The only problem with this theory is that it's supposed to be difficult to coordinate a cabal with only a five members, adding several thousand to the mix should make it much tougher. Really, since nobody wants to identify the real cause (probably something to do with supply & demand), we'll have to go with the conspiracies.
GM doing heavy lifting for the Dow (Chicago Tribune)
Well if that isn't the scariest headline we've seen all year. GM is unique among stocks in that it only jerks around in increments of 5% and it's had several up days this year, and is thus a major contributor to the Dow's record-breaking run. So if we want the index to keep powering forward, we all need to become GM bulls.
Toyota's 4th-Quarter Profit Rises 39% on U.S. Sales (Bloomberg)
While GM's earnings bounce around on accounting tricks, union deals, one-time gains, etc. Toyota's been making money the old-fashioned way, growing revenue, gaining market share and cutting costs. The company is the Google of autos. They continue to grow at an astounding clip, their biggest competitors are struggling mightily and it's hard to see what could trip them up. That's far different than saying nothing will trip them up, only that in both of these cases, nobody can draw a scenario in which Toyota or Google can be beaten. But hey, GM now has $400 million more in their war chest for the fight.

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