Opening Bell: 5.16.07

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Wal-Mart's 1st-Qtr Profit Rises 6.3% on Easter, Spring Sales (Bloomberg)
Wal-Mart posted a strong quarter fueled by Easter and spring... uh, cause Easter and spring didn't happen last 1st quarter? The company has been lagging its rival Target, which is probably why Bloomberg saw fit to include this gem: The stock has gained less than 1 percent in the year through yesterday, compared with a 1.1 percent increase for Target, the second-largest U.S. discount retailer. It's almost certainly this %.1 difference that's spurring CEO Lee Scott to invest heavily in remodeling their stores, adding sushi, organic foods, and higher-end clothing. Update: The company has also warned that sales would be hit on gas prices. Too bad you can't have Easter and spring every quarter.
Credit agencies punished (SF Gate)
Those non-profit credit-counseling services that always seemed oddly competitive and smarmy are no longer non-profits. All 41 of them (they all seem to have names like Ameridebt didn't they?) had their non-profit status revoked, as it was determined that they functioned primarily for the benefit of officers and directors, who profited handsomely. Typically, the advantage of being a non-profit is tax-exempt status, but in the case of the credit counseling agencies, the non-profit status probably served as a good way to get customers looking for an ally.
Bush Proposes Sending Troops to Border (Washington Post)
At a cost of several billions of dollars, President Bush will attempt to affect a marginal change to the number of illegal immigrants who come across the Mexican border to work each year. According to the media and the President and his dwindling base, the border is broken and needs fixing, though it's not at all clear what happened in the recently to convince everyone of this. How did they all come to this at once; and when did this become a national priority. The President, according to his handlers, will also push for new tax cuts in an attempt to appease his base with 'red meat', but here his base and our astute readers are on par. For as you know there never has been a tax cut, and it's likely that more tax cuts won't be enough to appease the core -- they want to see spending cuts. They want to see entitlement reform and that the President doesn't have the will or political capital to do.
Lawyer: Talks Underway in Quattrone Case (AP) (via Wall St. Folly)
Will it truly be the year of vindication, or will the disgraced class of 2000 suffer some major setbacks in 2006? Obviously, you've got the biggie coming up in a matter of weeks, that being the Lay-Skilling verdict. But we've also seen the return of Henry (now a tech blog prince), Mary Meeker (who just managed to hang around by being quiet), The Jacob Internet Fund, and perhaps Quattrone. He's already been tried twice, with a second conviction and 18 months of prison time overturned. Prosecutors say they want to try him again, but he can make a reasonable argument that enough is enough. Then, of course, there's the question of whether he can petition the SEC to work on the street again. Who would hire him? Who knows; he'd probably start is own boutique firm, or hedge fund.


Lens Cleaner Is Recalled Worldwide (NY Times)
Bausch & Lomb has finally announce a worldwide recall of their ReNu With MoistureLoc (an abomination of the English language if every there was one) contact lens solution. At the moment, other lens solutions within the ReNu family will stay on the market, as it's not clear that the problem extends further than MoistureLoc. At this moment, it's probably a good idea for investors to be patient until they can see the proverbial whites of Bausch & Lomb's eyes.
Supreme Court Buries Patent Trolls (Forbes)
It seems a little strong to say that the patent trolls were buried, but they were dealt a bit of a setback yesterday in the case of eBay vs. MercExchange, which had come before the high court. At issue is the "but it now" feature of online auctions, which MercExchange claimed to have patented. There's still nothing that will stop people from filing obvious patents and then harassing other companies, but the court ruled that an injunction is not always the appropriate remedy in cases of infringement. This is a major sword to hold over the offending company's head, and thus makes it easier to get them to settle -- even in cases where the patent in question is dubious. Again, injunctions can still happen, and there's bound to be a lot of patent-related legal garbage, but this takes away one specific weapon from the trolls. That's a far cry from being buried.
Verizon stock takes hit on $50 billion lawsuit (CNN money)
As you may have heard, two Jersey lawyers are suing Verizon for turning over customer data to the feds. The move they say is a defined legal breach and obligates the company to pay $1,000 to each customer. Success is probably unlikely; the company should be able to gain a sympathetic ear in court by arguing that they were just cooperating with their own government. Perhaps Verizon and the NSA had a deal worked out from the beginning, with Verizon saying "Man, I don't know man... you promise you've got my back if anything happens, I mean seriously, I don't want to get into any trouble, just trying to help out." That being said, if the gains any traction, they might have to put off that Vodafone buyout a little longer.
Stocks: Is the Bear Lurking? (BusinessWeek)
S&P has some sage advice to help you figure out whether we're about to enter a bear market or not: watch the action of the stock market. If you see the indexes dropping sharply, then it means a bear market is more likely. Hmm, that's some really good wisdom they're passing on. Furthermore, they claim that the recent pullback in stocks was, in there worlds "like clockwork". What does that mean? They saw it coming? It happens every time stocks hit this level (well, maybe). Really though, what does "like clockwork" mean when it comes to stocks?
The Four Horsemen of Web 2.0 (Nyquist Capital)
The last time around it was Cisco, Oracle, Sun, and EMC. This time around it's Google, Apple, AMD, and Hewlett-Packard, all companies that people have become convinced can do no wrong. While lover for these companies (and their stocks) seems limitless (as it was the first time around with their forbearers), it's not clear that any of them are as dominant as they're perceived to be. Each has a less-sexy rival (Yahoo, MSFT, Intel, Dell, etc.) that while down still have extremely solid positions. Yet the divergence in valuation is staggering. This isn't to say that the market is making a mistake, only that people should think about how many times they want to dip into the guacamole with the same nacho.

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