Opening Bell: 7.20.06

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Talk of Automaker Alliance Makes Michigan Uneasy (NYT)
You'd think that batterred GM shareholders would have it in their best interest to look closely at the terms of any Renault hook up. But any deal involving an iconic, manufacturing belt behemoth is necessarily going to draw a lot of interest from politicians, all of whom would like to weigh in on the deal. And of course, their financial expertise isn't usually top notch. Here's Michigan Rep. John Dingell doing his due diligence: “My daddy used to say if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. As of this time, I’m applying this useful lesson of caution.” Is that a position John? Of course, the memories of Chrysler, which many feel was robbed from Michigan by the Germans looms large in the minds of politicians. And of course, though many feel that the only way for GM to survive is to restructure their labor contracts, politicians want assurances that there will be no jobs lost... and this is where politicians and shareholder might not see eye to eye.
YUKOS CEO quits before "sham" meeting (Reuters)
The CEO of Yukos, who's understandably frustrated about what's happened with his company, has finally had enough. Yukos was to meet with creditors tomorrow about re-arranging its billions in debt (much of it still in back taxes to the Russian government), but it was clear to Steven Theede that the meeting would be a sham, and that the creditors were bent on the destruction of the company, not in seeing it actually restructure. Of course, the liquidation of Yukos couldn't come at a better time for its nemesis, Rosneft. Rosneft happens to have a few billion laying around from a successful IPO, and would love to get its hands on more Yukos refining assets, which will be sold off. At this point, it seems they might as well take everything.
Wal-Mart Healthcare Law Is Struck Down (LA Times)
Wal-Mart won a major court case yesterday, as a judge rejected a Maryland law requiring the employer to spend at least 8% of its payroll on healthcare. Well, the law wasn't directly about Wal-Mart, just any company that employed 10,000 people in the state... which was only Wal-Mart. When reading the tea leaves for the company, laws like these were seen as one of the biggest threats, as other states might have become interested in passing something similar. With any luck for them, the court's rejection of this will cause other states to think twice.
Looking to party some more
There's always that awkward moment at the party, when everyone's out to go and then someone stands on the table starts chanting "keg stand". And what's worse is when your ride home starts cheering, and you know you're gonna be stuck there for another hour or two. So we had a good day yesterday; that was nice. Then we got some earnings which were just ok. Apple was good, but they're a unique story. eBay didn't do terrible, which was a relief. Intel, not so much. So to hope that this collection of ho-hum earnings will fuel the party on feels like it's pushing it. Maybe it can happen, but we wouldn't want anything to get awkward.


Putting a Number on Happiness (WSJ)
Carl Bialik, the Journal's "Numbers Guy" picks up on a story that was floating around last week -- that the tiny island nation of Vanuatu was the happiest place on the planet. This is actually a two-part story. The first part is that the organization who put out the study clearly cooked the books. As part of their methodology to divine happiness (surveying people wasn't part of it), they divided various quality of life indicators by greenhouse gas emissions. So, though the US does pretty good in quality of life, because we use a lot of carbon-based fuel, we did really badly. It should be obvious that this is a major problem when simply talking about happiness. Ok, but whatever, the group has the right to do whatever study they want. The real problem is that many in the media just reported it as fact. So willing were they to accept anything that sounded like an official, they bought what should've been in retrospect some obvious clap-trap. So yeah, Vanuatu probably isn't he happiest place on earth. As for your guesses, there are as good as this study.
Air travelers must stomach advertising on barf bags (Pittsburgh Post Gazette)
Frankly, this always seemed like an obvious place for advertising -- there's just no reason not run ads on the barf bags. If airlines hadn't been doing this because they were too sensitive about "going there", well that's their mistake. So it's good to see US Airways, which is troubled like all the rest of them, not throw money down the toilet by wasting this space. Advertising on planes has the potential to be lucrative. Last year, Ryan Air made a point that it wanted to be less reliant on ticket revenue, and replace that with more in-flight advertising. The company already makes much of its revenue from on-board sales, like drinks and food and other add-ons. Still, this would seem to represent a bad business model, like the one popularized (and unpopularized soon after) in the 90's whereby people were given free computers in exchange for watching ads. It didn't work then, and it probably won't work now with airline tickets.
MSHA orders stronger seals for underground mines (Lexington Herald-Leader)
After this January's disaster at the Sago mines, it's no surprise the strict new regulations about mine safety have been put in place. The new regulations require seals to be used that can withstand twice the blast than those that were already in place. Naturally, in a time like this, the mine owners are in no position to fight anything that looks like it will increase mine safety, but one can only hope that the new sweeping regulations aren't the Sarbanes-Oxley of mining -- simply a cosmetic change that's quite burdensome, but does little for safety.
Macy’s Will Be Subject of New TV Reality Show (NYT)
We've long ago passed the point where we're saying, "they're making a reality TV show out of that!?" Still, a show about the inner working of Macy's is a little surprising. It's not even going to be a game show, or follow a frustrated customer as they run around the store trying to buy as much stuff as possible in 30 minutes. It's just going to follow the life of a typical employee, as they do things like stock shelves, or decide what promotions are going to run. It sounds like pretty good advertising for Macy's, though really it sounds like the female equivalent of those great engineering shows they run on Discovery, such as a special on how the bullet train works.
H-P Gains on Dell for Primacy In PCs as Market Growth Slows (WSJ)
The headline says the PC market slowed in the last quarter, which is true, but it may come as a surprise that the box business still grew some 10% on a global basis. That's down from 15% in the year ago period, which is blazing growth for an industry that's been kicking around as long as it has. The numbers this quarter might have been a bit higher too, but the various analyst firms think that the Europeans took a month off of shopping to watch the World Cup. This sounds possible, but it might also be bunk. Also in the quarter, HP gained on Dell for US market share, though it still trails by around 10%-12% depending on whose numbers you use.

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