Opening Bell: 8.8.06

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Fed may pause U.S. rate rises, but stay on guard (Reuters)
After more than two tortuous years, today may finally be the day. The Fed masters may be, at this moment, preparing to unhook the stifling yoke of oppression. But there's no guarantee of this. They may yet turn the crank again, and again, until we're bloodied beyond the point of recognition. At the hour, cautious optimism reigns, though the voice of doubt is louder than it was even yesterday. Sure growth has slowed, but inflation hasn't. Is Bernanke ready to take up the dove crown so quickly? Go forth brave traders; prepare to meet thy fate.
Chilean copper mine hit by strike (BBC)
Back in the 90's, before the whole War on Terror stuff, columnist Thomas Friedman wrote wide-eyed, awe-struck pieces about globalization and its wonders that typically went something like this "I was in a Japanese internet cafe, using an American computer, which contained parts from Taiwan, while surfing to a French news site that had the best reporting on an election in Somalia, whose outcome hinged upon the importation of rice from India...!" Ah, we miss those days. If he still wrote pieces like that, we'd sense him the simultaneous stories of a major copper strike in Chile and an increase in criminals stealing air conditioning parts so they can sell the copper. Actually, commodity-related street crime has been on the up all year; it's fascinating the way your local robber responds to price signals. They probably know more about the price of metals than you do.
Living Long Enough To Get A 50 Year Mortgage (Matrix)
Back when we were younger, we knew people who made mortgage payments every 2 weeks, in pursuit of of paying less over the life of the mortgage. But those days seem long gone; the pursuit of cheaper housing has been utterly trumped by the pursuit of the lower monthly payment. It's not about building up equity, or getting a good deal, it's all about getting the biggest possible loan you can afford with the smallest monthly payment. And to think, last year people were still shaking their heads over 40 year mortgages. Now those look conservative compared to 50-year mortgages, and why should it stop there. But as these mortgages stretch out, you have to wonder about the condo-owner admonishing you for still being a renter. "Don't you know that rent doesn't build up equity?", they'll say. Or, "I just like knowing that where I live is mine". Before you let the conversation go any further, be sure to get the terms of their mortgage out on the table. And feel free to un-friend these obnoxious blowhards.
Wal-Mart Raises Wages, Inserts Wage Caps (AP)
Responding to the continued onslaught of activism and legislation against the company, Wal-Mart is instituting an across-the-board increase in wages, meaning most workers will see a 6% pay increase. The company insists the move is to make it competitive with other retailer, as opposed to political concerns. The company will also institute a wag cap, so that at any given position, one can not continue to receive raises indefinitely. This is not an unheard of practice, though it hasn't stopped its detractors from calling the move out. Chris Kofinis, an activist from Wakeupwalmart.com called the wage caps "shameful" and an effort to drive out senior employees. But the company insisted that no employee currently making above the cap would see a pay cut, so his concern sounds more like rhetoric.


Google pays $900m to monetize children via MySpace (The Register)
Google successfully outbid its internet rivals to become the sole search provider on the social-networking site MySpace, which is owned by News Corp.'s Fox Interactive Media. Fox bought the site last year for close to $500 million, so the fact that its search rights are worth $900 million, for just a few years, is pretty nice pay. As for Google, it continues to signal their ability to pay up for traffic; the company dropped $1 billion for a stake in AOL, just to ensure that AOL would continue to use the Google search engine. And tech pundit Nick Carr wonders thus: One wonders if Google will refuse to run ads near MySpace's naughty bits, as is its practice for other AdSense partners, or whether MySpace is a "friend with privileges." And speaking of MySpace, a popular tech blog raised the possibility that Fox may, at some point, look to spin off Fox Interactive Media, into its own company. It seems unlikely, but if it happened, the bubble will have finally come back. NBCi anyone?
TheStreet.com Hitches Ratings Service to Its Wagon (Dealbook)
Apparently, TheStreet.com didn't feel there were enough meaningless ratings out there on stocks, so it went and bought the Weiss Group, a company that attaches ratings to thousands of mutual funds and stocks. The company uses proprietary quantitative analysis to come up with its numbers. Of course, TheStreet.com plans to modify the Weiss Groups's methodology somewhat, as it will blend their numbers with Cramer's proprietary 5-second analysis/gut instinct rating to produce a more refined score.
Post-Castro Capitalism? (Forbes)
Assuming that Castro dies, and assuming that Raul doesn't hold on to power for very long, and assuming that whoever replaces him isn't ideologically the same, and assuming that the Cubans rise up and embrace freedom, and assuming that their view of freedom entails a relatively free market, it's not too soon to start talking about what a capitalist Cuba would look like. Of course, there are some American companies particularly interested in trade with Cuba. Agriculture companies would like to go there for sugar. Hospitality companies would like to cash in on tourism, while telecom companies would love to wire it up with an all-fiber, all-IP, high-speed network. Well, that might one might be a little bit down the road. In the meantime, expect interest among mining companies, who are desperate for fresh resources to tap Cuba's pristine nickel reserves.
Softbank Posts Profit on Web Users, Vodafone Japan (Bloomberg)
Softbank is another one of these companies we haven't heard much about since the tech bubble burst. The publicly traded, VC/Internet-Holding firm, which was much like their CMGI, somehow hung around and is now getting attention again. Yesterday, the company even announced a $5 million investment into the freakin' Huffington Post. Granted the site's roster of celebrity bloggers probably demand more than your typical Dealbreaker grunt, but $5 mil? And if you want to read more about Softbank's chief Masayoshi Son, here's a BW profile on the man (May 2000, natch). It's not mentioned here, but at the top of the bubble, he started referring to himself as the next emperor.

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