Opening Bell: 7.26.06

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Facing charges far from home, family (Houston Chronicle)
If the NatWest Three are to ever see England again, they're going to have to convince the residents of Houston not to do to them what they've done to most other people involved with Enron. So, the surest way to do that is by launching a charm offensive in the local media, well before their trial starts. One of them, David Bermingham, sits down with the Houston Chronicle in an interview about the ordeal, in which makes a point to say that all three of them are family men with young children at home, and have done no crime. He also makes pains to be nice towards the US, explaining how the US Marshals, aboard their flight to Houston, were extremely polite, and that he doesn't blame US prosecutors for obeying the law. All the blame, Bermingham says, it at the feet of England, which has been disgraceful. No doubt we'll be parsing his words for awhile in Dealbreakerland, to figure out what an Englishman in Houston is supposed to be doing while waiting out the long months before his trial.
Blackstone May Enter Bid for HCA (WSJ)
Will Blackstone be the Barbarians at the Gate? Looking, perhaps, to emulate the immortalized bidding war for RJR Nabisco, there's rumors that the deal to buy HCA may yet run into competition. Though a consortium of firms agree to buy out the hospital chain, there's a window of opportunity for HCA to solicit competing bids, provided they furnish the original bidders with a substantial breakup fee. But when you're talking levered deals around $31 billion, what's a $300 million packet of sweet and low. HCA has until mid-September to find another bidder, but we hope something gets going quick, since it's bound to be fun.
SEC's Cox Says Hedge Fund Regulation Is `Inadequate' (Bloomberg)
It's sad to see former objectivists get drunk with power. First it was Alan Greenpsan at the fed, and now Christopher Cox, talking up the need for congressional legislation to deal with the burgeoning hedge fund industry. One wonders, if we could only have them look in a magic mirror, where they could see a 20-year old version of themselves shaking their head in dejected disapproval, would that make a difference? If they had to sit down for coffee with their younger selves, would they have the heart to tell them they'd become a sell out? Or would they play a long and pretend to still be men of ideals? Chris Cox, if you're reading this...
Goldman Finds Investing for Itself Rewarding (NYT)
It seems that Goldman Sachs is to be described as an endless Nile River of cash or the (and all apologies stated in advance) next Enron. And remember, before Enron's meteoric collapse, people described it in ways suggesting that its new economy profit mechanism could simply run forever. There's nothing to suggest similar problems at Goldman, other than the way people glowingly talk about the company. Now, the traditional model has been overturned. I-banking is merely a loss leader, while the real money comes from its prodigious direct investment (private equity) activity. And while everyone knows that the real beneficiaries of Goldman's success are its employees, Paulson netted is cool $12 million last year via special private equity partnerships made available only to top executives. Yeah, that doesn't sound familiar. Of course, the company has completely convinced the observers that what looks like a black box just isn't, or that the business is too complicated to be described in ledger format. Ok, we'll take 'em at their word.


General Motors Posts $3.2 Billion Net Loss on Buyouts Charge (Bloomberg)
The early retirement, and subsequent buyout, of thousands of GM workers better be worth it, as it hit the company for $3.7 billion in charges in the last quarter. But overall, GM and Wall St. may be pleased with today's earnings report. The company posted a substantial operating profit, with the 'operating' being a major qualifier, we're sure. It probably means that they sold their cars for more than they cost to make, which is a start. But we're somehow doubtful, that even excluding the one-time charge, the company is actually back in black. Still the, er, positive news should ease some of the pressure on Wagoner, and offer him an out should he decline a deal with Carlos Ghosn.
Asia still upbeat despite talks' collapse (Taipei Times)
When it comes to waiting around for major international breakthroughs on trade, patience is certainly a virtue. Despite the collapse of trade talks over the US' inability to budge on agriculture subsidies, the Asian bloc claims to still be optimistic about a breakthrough... even if it takes another 5 years. That seems like a healthy take. Really, what's another 5 years at this point?
Bernanke's wealth creeps up, along with the rates (Boston Globe)
Congrats to Ben Bernanke who's wealth may or may not have jumped in the last year. According to filings, his personal wealth is somewhere between $1.15 million and $2.49 million, which is a higher range than a previously reported $953,000 to $2.12 million. But as you'll notice, there's no evidence of a jump in his wealth. He may have had $2 million last year and $1.5 million this year. It's only speculation whether Ben had a good year in the market or not. It's a little like when companies raise their earnings forecast, but the low end of the range is still below the former high end -- and you know everyone's just looking at that high number, which is obviously what's going on here.
Virtue, $100 not his only rewards (Chicago Tribune)
Perhaps you've seen this documentary that they keep playing on Showtime, Reversal of Fortune, about a homeless man who finds $100,000 in cash. The documentarians set it up, only to see the man painfully (and totally predictably) squander the money over the course of a few months. He buys three cars (two for friends), gobs of alcohol, and well, that pretty much finishes him. Of course, he insists all along that he plans on saving the money, and won't waste it, but, uh, not so much. So it's good to see that not all money-finding homeless are as reckless as the guy in the movie. One man in Detroit found $21,000 worth of saving bonds in the trash, but then tracked down the owners and gave it back. When the owners only gave him a $100 reward for his troubles, the community was outraged, and now he's received donations up to $4,000, for being such a good guy.
How to Unemploy Immigrants (Marginal Revolution)
It's startling the way the immigration issue just slices and dices up any notion you have about political fault lines. It's obvious in a way; is Lou Dobbs a conservative or a liberal? Who knows. The latest to attempt to screw with your head is an op-ed by none other than Michael Dukakis in the times suggesting that the way to solve our immigration problem is to raise the minimum wage and enforce it, which will prompt unemployment for unskilled immigrant workers. Wow, so Dukakis admits that increasing the minimum wage leads to unemployment. And as Alex Tabarrok wonders, would the times have felt comfortable running the same thing if it were acknowledged that such a move would hurt Americans who fall into low-skilled, low pay lines of work? Good question. Any takers?

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