Opening Bell: 6.20.06

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In Wal-Mart's Home, Synagogue Signals Growth (NYT)
Bentonville, Ark. sounds like one of those "buckle of the bible belt" sort of towns, to use a popular cliché among writers. So it's notable that per the growth of Wal-Mart's corporate headquarters and the pool of talent the company has brought there, it has a growing (though still small) Jewish community (They're called 'Wal-Mart Jews', which is brilliant.). The town recently had its first synagogue built, and it was persuaded to put up a menorah on the town square. This is one of those stories that's going to make the fiercest anti-Wal-Mart, urbane New Yorker smile for just a moment, for the same reason that "Shalom Y'all" got extended play on the local PBS station. One interesting thing to note is that some Jewish employees embraced their faith for the first time upon moving to Bentonville as a way of keeping their identity after being pulled out of their community. So if you're working on the street, but get transferred to some backwater branch of your firm ('Equities in Abilene', perhaps?), this might be your life.
Nestle-Craig Deal Boosts Small-Cap Diet Companies (Food Ingredients First)
We once offended a writer for using the term "bowels of the trade press" in a past Opening Bell, so we won't use that term here. But it's always fun to plumb the depths of obscure publications trying to get a moment in the sun. So in the wake of Nestle's planned buyout of Jenny Craig, there's a rush to highlight the other small-cap diet companies out there on the market. Did you know that Medifast jumped 9% yesterday, after the news? One analyst from Jackson Securities (no, we've never heard of them either (perhaps a jab about the bowels of the finance industry is in order) claims to see the next big thing in dieting. Get ready for it: portion control. It's not clear how you profit from portion control, or why you'd ever bet on the restraint of the American eater, but if you can find a pure play, let us know. Also rising was eDiets, which tacked on 5.6%
Is power sexy? (Orgtheory.net)
Here's something to chatter about. The unthinking, knee-jerk answer to the above question is that yes, of course power is sexy. If you've got power then you're attractive, it's as easy as that. But a new study claims a few wrinkles in this theory. For example, men find women with power attractive if she's somehow distant from them, unattainable in some way. Turn the same woman into a wife, and it doesn't matter if she's a secretary or the Secretary General of the UN. Women are the opposite. They don't actually find the vague concept of power attractive, but in a group of known entities, they'll be more attracted to the powerful among them. Caveat Emptor in applying this knowledge in any practical way.
Mittal Says Bid Is Gaining Support
Yeah, we've been here before. A couple weeks ago all systems looked good, and then last week it looked like it might all be off. Now Mittal claims to be feeling confident that the proposed purchase of Arcelor will go through as a growing number of shareholders want the deal to go through. If anything, Arcelor's extreme anti-shareholder actions have done a good job convincing shareholders how bad life really is under current management. Another sign is that Arcelor just canceled a planned vote on a share buyback due to ongoing talks with Mittal.


German state says Deutsch Boerse offer goes too far (Reuters)
It doesn't look like the Deutsch Boerse has much of a shot of breaking up the NYSE-Euronext wedding. Euronext already seemed to be giving the German suitor the cold shoulder and now the market's own state claims that the exchange is going too far. It said that under certain circumstances it might even block the deal.
Russia's Surging Steel Industry May Seek Role on a Global Stage (NYT)
If there's one good result of Arcelor's rubbish surrounding the Mittal buyout, it may be the increased spotlight on the Russian steel industry. In a bid to prevent itself from being bought, Arcelor announced a surprise merger with Russia's Severstal, which everybody basically saw as a Red Herring more than a serious merger announcement. But the sector may benefit from the attention. This week, the country's richest person just made a major investment into the steel company Evraz for $3 bln. What the industry is seeking to do now is consolidate into a few major powers that can negotiate with buyers. This is a monumental task for the global steel industry, which is plagued by thousands of weak players with little pricing power. In fact, the vision of a few main powers at each country is probably optimistic, as most countries (possibly not even Russia) don't warrant a standalone steel giant.
Social Security: A plan both parties can love (CNN Money)
As a friend likes to say, the scariest thing you can hear is that a given bill has "bi-partisan support" or that lawmakers have reached across the aisle to forge an alliance on a given issue. Though Social Security reform effectively died, a new proposal is being touted as an option with something in it for everybody. For conservatives, the plan would allow for greater flexibility, individual accounts and investment. For Democrats, the plan offers more tax hikes, a gradual increase in the payroll tax. It's not clear, however, why the Democrats love this idea, since the payroll tax remains one of the most onerous impositions on the working poor. All in all, it's hard to say much about the plan from a short article, but it seems unlikely to go anywhere. Also, it never ceases to be strange when an article talks about how the payroll tax is split between the employee and the employer. That's an accounting trick; it's all paid for by the employee, since that money comes out of the employer's cost of labor.
Bill would aid telecom, media deals (The Deal)
Even liberals have finally seen that all the hype about media conglomeration is just that, hype. If you look at the Herfindahl index, a common measure of how consolidate an industry is, it doesn't come close to that of most national industries. If you're a journalist who lives by Romenesko you might have convinced yourself that your puny newspaper is somehow in the fourth branch of government, and that you need protected status, but that's rubbish too. So in light of all the problems facing big media in this brave new world it makes sense that regulations on them would be lifted to that they're free to merge and hook-up and do all those things that make academics cringe in order to survive. Ted Stevens is sponsoring said bill.
Wives offered for rent in India (AP) (via Marginal Revolution)
In India a gender disparity has created a market in wife rental, as husbands rent theirs out to the highest bidder. Here's our question: If this were legal here, how would it be accounted for in the CPI? Would the cost of having a wife be calculated, or would we opt for the controversial "husband's equivalent rent"? as we do with homes. Any economists wish to opine?

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