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Opening Bell: 9.14.04

Americas: A burst of optimism on oil (Bloomberg)
The idea that the market has been rallying due to oil is a little strange. Let's just say, we're not totally convinced the two are related. Let's start with the fact that it's not as though the market's weren't doing well as oil marched steadily higher over the last few years. These were solid years for stocks. Perhaps if we were coming out of a bear market, we might expect some gains on plummeting energy prices, but that's not the case. The key point of optimism, apparently, is that sagging prices at the pump may be a boon to the consumer, who is apparently teetering on one foot, about to fall to the matt. First, that may not be true; it's possible that the consumer is in fine health, not going down anytime soon. If they are wobbling, the much bigger danger would seem to be housing than gas prices. If people are really using their houses as ATMs, as everyone been saying (for a very long time), saving $.50/gallon at the pump won't make a difference when the housing well dries up, and they're stuck with an unfinished condo and -$50,000 in equity.
Philanthropy Google’s Way: Not the Usual (NYT)
Google: they're young, brash, and they play by their own rules. And its philathropic wing? Let's just say, this ain't your father's philanthropy, and certainly not the philanthropy of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. The company wants to, as the cliché goes, do well by doing good. The division will actually a for profit subsidiary of the main Google, which will of course obligate it to pay taxes. But even considering this, the company thinks that its for-profit status will allow it greater flexibility to do things like invest in venture capital. The move shouldn't be as surprising as it sounds; businesses are good for society. Investment is good for society. People benefit when others do individuals do innovative things. And since the track record of the plain vanilla philanthropic institution isn't so hot, why not take a different route. Man, if does better than the Bill and Melinda Gates organization, which is one of the biggest charities in the world, what a slap that would be.
House prices far too high, warns IMF as upward surge resumes (Times Online)
We've mentioned it before, but the British housing market could be a good guide to see how our own might play out. After years of supposedly unsustainable gains, housing prices dipped, but only for a year. They're now firmly on the upward course. When the housing prices did dip, a lot of people were saying, just look at Britain, this is what we're in for; now they're not saying much, because the scenario has been a surprise. For some reason the IMF is warning about British housing prices; we're not sure why, and it sort of seems outside of their purview. But, if a Fed Chair can talk about natural gas prices, anyone can talk about anything.
'Big-box' veto sticks (Chicago Tribune)
Mayor Daly's veto of the big box living wage law held up last night, as the city council failed to garner enough votes for an override. Proponents of the bill, which would have obligated big box retailers (like Wal-Mart to pay at least $10/hour in wages and another $3/hour in benefits. Had it passed, it would certainly mean that any of these stores (like Wal-Mart) would have had to move to the suburbs, and that shoppers wanting to go to these stores (like Wal-Mart) would have had to leave the city. Of course, proponents of the bill claim that they'll be back with an even more aggressive bill. Ah, setting wage regulations out of spite, brilliant.

California's Lockyer Takes On Hewlett-Packard While Campaigning (Bloomberg)
As egregious HP's misconduct was, we've wondered whether the reaction hasn't gone a little far. No, not talking about the reaction in the media and blogs (this is our bread and butter, man), but by politicians and law enforcement. Spying and identity theft go on all the time, and as cases go, this is fairly low on the evil list. So it makes perfect sense to see that the California AG is a Spitzer-like politician, and that he's currently running for state treasurer (actually seems like a bit of a step down). It doesn't even sound like he's sure what laws any indictments will fall under. Somehow we doubt that he won't get around to taking some action before the election.
Old, 'safe' painkillers found to cause same heart ills as new (Globe and Mail)
There's that old cliché in the pharmaceutical industry -- "If aspirin came out today, it couldn't get approved by the FDA". We're not really sure what that mean, or, rather, why it couldn't, but it's probably true. There doesn't seem to be a very high risk threshold when it comes to drugs; suddenly everything's a heart risk, as doctors (and lawyers, and business executives) race to see what's the latest, hottest pill that might give someone a heart attack. In case you're wondering, the latest ones are meloxicam, indomethacin, and yes, even ibuprofen.
Russian anti-corruption official shot dead (The Guardian)
Russia is still a pretty messy place. Andrei Kozlov was the Russian official in charge of rooting out corruption and cleaning up the Russian banking system. He battled against money launderers and shut down multiple banks that had engaged in it. With a job description like that, it's not hard to put the pieces together and figure out why he was assassinated. The article points out that the last major assassination was of an official who was involved in distributing fishing licenses. We hope that's referring to the big commercial ones, not just the ones that people pay $15 to get so they can fish over the weekend in a stream. That would be really messed up.

Wal-Mart Signs Star Designer For Exclusive Housewares Line (WSJ)

Pretty soon the 't' in Wal-Mart will be silent, as urbane middle class pronounce the name with Franco-flare that turned Target into Tar-zhay. First the company started adding sushi bars to its stores in upscale areas like Plano, TX. Then it appeared at fashion week. Now it's ripping a page right out its competitor's playbook, and has hired a designer to produce a line of housewares to be sold at Wal-Mart. Colin Cowie, who designed Oprah's 50th birthday, had been under contract with J.C. Penney for the last two years. His new line with Wal-Mart will be called, predictably C-squared. We doubt many of you will deign to buy anything from the line, but it's good to remember the name C-squared, in case you're at a party and you see one of your friends with items from the line. Hold your laughter, please, until you make it to the bathroom.
Foreclosures spiked in August (CNNMoney)
So it begins. The deadly, boa-constrictor, poisonous, rattle-snake, killer-bee, great white shark mortgages that have no pity for the chumps who didn't read the fine print are taking people down. Foreclosure's jumped by 53% year over year in august, and 24% over the previous month. So, will this crescendo into something big as many expect and put the economy in the tank? Or will it jump, but remain at a modest level? Well, that's the question.