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Opening Bell: 7.7.06

Brussels set to fine Microsoft up to €400m (Guardian)
Ever notice that Europe often seems stuck in the 90's? They pine for Bill Clinton, love the UN, still think that Creed is a really great band (well, Germans do anyway), and most importantly are still pursuing anti-trust actions against Microsoft. Despite the obvious (well, obvious to anyone who follows business) fact that the Microsoft monopoly is rather porous, and that several companies have inflicted damage against the company, the EU is insistent on penalizing it. The latest is a pretty significant fine until the company turns over more technical information to its competitors. The fine will be backdated to last December.
Lopez Obrador Prepares to Contest Mexico Election, Calls Rally (Bloomberg)
Before the Mexican presidential election, both sides did the same song and dance about promising to abide by the results, support the opponent, and do nothing to jeopardize the country's fragile democracy. Apparently they had their fingers crossed behind their backs (giving a new definition to "gotcha" politics), because the country may be about to have its Florida recount moment. The apparent loser, Lopez Obrador, is calling for a vote-by-vote recount while at the same time asking supporters to rally in his cause this weekend. But while he sees irregularities, these allegations haven't been backed up by any of the international election observers. So if you're long the Peso, hoping for good time under Calderon, probably no reason to worry just yet.
Wal-Mart Warms to Al Gore (WSJ Washington Wire)
Wal-Mart is clearly one of the most politically shrewd companies out there. For one thing, the company always takes a beating in the press and by politicians, yet rarely sees any tangible backlash to it (actions by the Maryland legislature over healthcare being a notable exception). And while much of the company's criticism comes from the left (or at least the Democratic party), it's made targeted overtures to it. For example, it's argued, at times, for an increase in the minimum wage. What, from Wal-Mart!? Of course, because most of the company's employees make well over the minimum, meaning that it wouldn't affect the company's labor costs all that much. But such a move might damage its competitors, including the mom & pops that it's supposedly trying to drive out of business. So, it's smart of them to invite Al Gore to come talk about global warming. It makes them look good and let's them tout continuing advances to their supply chain that makes it more energy efficient. And next time Al Gore is stumping for president, it's less likely that he'll single the company out for being a bad earth citizen.
Bomb tunnel, flood city (Daily News)
The Daily News is reporting that the FBI has uncovered a plot to bomb the Holland Tunnel with the goal of flooding the Financial District. The desire to take a shot at such an important economic location is obvious, though experts suggest the plan wouldn't work because that area is above the water level and not prone to flooding. Agents have arrested alleged ringleader Amir Andalousli, which is awesome, though they're still looking for others who may have been involved in the plot.

Lincoln's Leadership Lessons (Forbes)
What is it that makes people want to turn our vaunted historical figures into management consultants? You've seen those books with titles like "Jesus In The Boardroom" "Eisenhower on Efficiency and HR" "Thomas Edison, Chief Technical Officer". Perhaps this is backwards and really it's businessmen who like to see themselves as latter-day Edisons or Jesuses. That's why when you're at the airport, you can see the Northeast sales head for Johnson Patio Supply intently reading "The Art of War" or "The Prince", because he knows he's the descendent of great men, and really want to kick some major ass on the next conference call. Either way, Forbes has an interview with Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin on what business executives could learn from the leadership of President Lincoln. Yeah, pretty weak stuff, though a perfect segue into this bit of hilarity, recently passed on to us, about what the Gettysburg Address might have looked like had it been delivered as a PowerPoint presentation.
The Financial Paradox of Our Time? (Jeremy Bowyer)
For some reason, gold talk tends to be the domain of cranks. That's doubly so when the people talking about gold also have talk radio shows, where they probably talk about the UN, why the income tax is illegal still today and medicinal silver. But here's a discussion by a radio host on gold that sounds surprisingly well grounded in reality. The basic question has to do with the strong run in the price of gold (over the last few years), while the bond market has remained flat. These would seem to be contradicting indicators on the state of inflation. Well, he resorts to "it's different this time"-ism, arguing that our ability to extract gold from the earth is not keeping pace with the economy, and so the price is rising out of whack. He also notes that there have bee periods of the opposite -- massive increases in gold availability leading to inflation for gold-backed economies. If it's a lazy Friday for you, might be worth a read.
[CME Housing Index] Number Of Contracts Probably Better Indicator Than Prices Right Now (Matrix)
Jonathan Miller checks in for a quick look at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange's nascent housing exchange. At this point, volume is light -- perhaps too light to divine a trend on the state of housing. But the volume of housing contracts on various cities indicate where people are hedging, and thus concerned. Surprisingly, Miami is far out ahead, with LA close behind. Also surprising is that volume for New York housing futures is definitely down near the bottom, whil said futures are predicting a 3.99% drop in hope prices. But don't prices only move up?
Advanced Micro Shares Fall After 2nd-Qtr Sales Miss Forecast (Bloomberg)
Every couple of weeks there's story that suggests that finally, Intel is close to putting a chill on AMD's mojo. The company's announced cooler chips, more energy-efficient chips, and of course cheaper chips to try to staunch its bleeding of market share. Finally, AMD is taking a breather as it announced somewhat disappoining results after the bell last night, amid Intel's cost cutting. For the year, the stock is down 22%, while Intel is up 5%.
What New Jersey Makes, the Government Takes (Reason)
If you're going to Atlantic City this weekend, there looks to be a good chance that the casinos will be ka-chinging again sometime soon. As Reason's Taylor Buley points out, it's wise of the state to have the casinos somehow be tied to the operations of government. Most people (except us of course) just accepted it as natural that the casinos would shut down when the government did. But we're it not for this major inconvenience and annoyance to a lot of people, it's likely that few people would actually notice the government being shut down. It's the same as the '94 shut down: "Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich discovered, the real danger in a government shutdown isn't the Hobbesian nightmare but the Emperor's New Clothes. Once the citizens get a sense of how little they miss the services Uncle Sam and Uncle Jon are providing, we may have a real revolution on our hands. But clever Jersey lawmakers built in a safeguard by not allowing casinos to operate without the state-employed inspectors who surely do a bang-up job of something or other."