Opening Bell: 6.8.06

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Oil falls below $70 on death of al Qaeda's Zarqawi (Reuters)
Zarqawi's gone. That's good news for the oil market because he was always the one sitting in on OPEC meetings encouraging production cuts; he was a real hawk that way. It'll be interesting to see if the market jumps on this news. How many billions in unlocked value will his death create? If Carly Fiorina and McNealy felt bad when they saw their stocks jump right after their departure was announced, imagine how this guy will feel if the whole market rallies. Man, that's got to be a shot to the ego, though the riches of heaven and the attendant virgins should help ease the blow somewhat.
Bowing to Pressure, Arcelor Plans to Talk With Mittal Steel (NYT)
There have been so many false starts and close encounters during the Mittal/Arcelor bidding process, that it seems wise to shrug off each piece of news as probably meaningless. Since the beginning of the saga, Arcelor has engaged in two planned mergers (the latest with Russia's Severstal won't go through for awhile), but in both cases they've failed to deter Mittal. So under growing pressure from shareholders that are fed up with the company's self-immolating ways, Arcelor is finally sitting down at the negotiating table with Mittal. They won't admit that they're actually discussing the merger, but come on, they're discussing the merger.
Estate-Tax Overhaul Gains Ground (WSJ)
Yesterday morning things weren't looking so good for the children of the wealthy. It appeared that any reform of the death tax (heh, no need to hide how we see it) would fail to pass the Senate. But the two parties may be close to compromise to eliminate the tax for everyone but the super wealthy? Apparently only the super wealthy need to be punished but not the regular old wealthy. When does the law actually go into effect? It's got to be really harrowing for those people on their deathbeds now, trying to eek out a few more months
American losers students prefer iPod to beer (The Register)
If you thought the grand opening of the Cube in Midtown was the surest sign of Apple mania, think again. A new survey finds that college students now prefer sitting alone, fiddling with their iPod to drinking beer. It must be the trance-like state that you can fall into as you spin your thumb across the scroll wheel. Seriously though, we have to agree with The Register on this one: losers. To be fair, there may be some problems with the poll's methodology, it asked college students what was 'in' these days, and the iPod was given as an answer by 75% compared to just 59% for the drink. In fact, beer has to share second place with the tiresome facebook.com. We'll say it again, just cause it's fun: losers. Perhaps if you have an intern around the office, today, you might want to make sure they have their priorities strait.


Greenspan foresees inevitable shift to hybrid vehicles (Courier Journal)
Even as chairman of the Fed, Greenspan had a tendency to stray occasionally from the topic. Once, he famously opined on natural gas prices in front of Congress. Yesterday, he predicted a shift to hybrid vehicles if oil stayed higher. Nothing too earth shattering there, perhaps, but still amusingly banal from someone with such typically inscrutable oratory. If there's anything that will fuel the next set of hybrid buyers, however, it's likely to be incentives from corporate America. Check 'em out -- Bank of America is offering employees $3,000 toward such a purchase, Google $5,000 (of course). There's probably more. And we all know that Wall St. seems to have a fondness for them.
Stiff Overhaul of Mine Safety Rules Passes Congress (NYT)
If the Sago mine disaster was the Enron of the mining industry, it appears they've gotten their Sarbanes-Oxley. It probably won't get as much attention as that infamous bit of legislation, but it's hard to imagine that any congressionally mandates "stiff overhaul" that passes 381-37 could really be great legislation. Generally, whenever you hear that something has bi-partisan support, you should be concerned; and when industry and labor leaders agree on something, it should be a double worry. Oh and just in case you weren't worried enough, it's now up to the Mine Safety and Health Administration (yes) to actually spell out the regulations. It must be like Super Bowl time for them -- MSHA, this is your time to shine!
Crude Oil Falls as U.S. Inventories Rise, Iran Considers Plan (Bloomberg)
Nobody can say the oil market isn't thinking really short term these days. Forget inflation, questions about growth, the hot developing markets, etc., think about the weather this weekend. It's been pretty mild, no? There hasn't been much need to run the air conditioner yet has there? Nope, our energy usage has probably been stable -- for the last week so energy inventories have remained solid. Meanwhile Ahmedinijad appears to be in a good mood, what with the World Cup and all. So, might as well sell the dirty stuff. Next week? We'll deal with that then.
Vonage: A Screaming...Buy? (BusinessWeek)
You couldn't see this one coming; after a disastrous IPO, which we've covered extensively, some analysts are going positive on Vonage. Two small analysts firms that had started off with negative ratings have already changed their tune, giving Vonage a buy. And it's not just because the company might be a buyout target; the analysts argue that there is a real valuation gap between Vonage and other telco peers. More importantly is the contrarian call that the price of internet telephone service will remain stable. Remember when Skype announced free domestic calls the week before Vonage came public, and Cablevision offered a steep discount on international calling? Everyone assumed that the erosion of pricing was full on -- and it certainly appears to be -- but if consumers aren't concerned about price, but instead want features, then perhaps Vonage can compete. But if the analysts had a sell when it came public, does that mean they're going to switch their ratings after Vonage gains a couple of points? Why weren't these arguments valid a week ago?

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