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Opening Bell: 9.18.06

US Treasury chief backs strong dollar (AFX)
As we've said before, we've never been quite sure what the Treasury Secretary really does other than to jib-jab, jibber-jabber, and jawbone the dollar. If that were his job description, for real, it would explain why most articles about anyone in that position concern their opinion of the dollar. And most of the time, they claim to support a strong dollar. Even when they support a weak dollar, they actually support a strong dollar. Like when John Snow would say "The dollar needs to weaken for us to close the trade gap... but I still support a strong dollar." What the hell was that? It seems they can't really do their job, since somehow it's unpatriotic to support a weak dollar. So, just in case there were any question about it, Hank Paulson supports a strong dollar. Good man.

Ford, GM said to have talked about combining (Reuters)

A Monday without several merger announcements always feel a little bit hollow, doesn't it? It makes you wonder what all the executives and bankers were doing over the weekend? Must've been wasting their time. To be fair, it was a great summer weekend in NYC, and there won't be too many more like it this year, so perhaps all the bankers insisted on postponing all the deals one more week. So, in the absence of a merger, here's an interesting story alleging that GM and Ford have talked about combining, though the talks aren't ongoing, and they haven't gone all that far. It's hard to imagine that the combination would yield anything more than a heaping pile of garbage, which was probably recognized early on in the talks.
Warner opens video library to YouTube (FT)
Recognizing the power that YouTube has a promotional tube, Warner Music has agreed to open its videos up for the site, and make them available to fans for, ahem, mashing up. That's when kids, like the guy on the Apple vs. PC ads take a video and re-edit it in some way (usually to make it worse). It's great that people will be allowed to do that -- for real it is -- but we shudder to think of the word mash-up getting bandied about during a high level legal discussion between the two companies. Did the suits at Time Warner have some 19-year old kid sit in on the discussions translating all the new netspeak for them?
Is 'Dr. Z' Kaput as Chrysler's TV Pitchman? (WSJ)
Say it ain't so. It looks like Chrysler may move on from the 'Dr. Z.' ads featuring CEO Dieter Zetsche. We like ads with chief executives in them. Others, though, have seen the ads as duds. As one advertising expert put it "Dr. Z was a crazy move, We are not in an era where CEOs are seen as rock stars." Yes we are goddammit. And if we're not, we should be. Thankfully, nothing is official yet. But recent announcements of steep losses at Daimler may push the company to go in a new direction advertising-wise. One humorous result of the commercials is that many viewers mistakenly assumed that Dr. Z was a made up person. Hmm, did people think that the Dunkin Donuts man wasn't the CEO either? He was, right? Right?

Wal-Mart takes aim at China credit-card market (MarketWatch)
For the size of its economy, China has an atypically small credit card industry. But you just know that in a few more years, after a critical mass of people have tasted the dangerous joys of putting on the plastic, people are gonna be credit card crazy. Wal-Mart is teaming up with a local bank to offer the first credit card issued by a foreign retailer. Could it catalyze the industry the way the Sears card did in the US, which at one point was the most widely held card around? At the moment Wal-Mart has just 60 stores, but that's likely to expand much further over the coming years. Perhaps the company's ambitions as a financial institution will face less regulatory hurdles in communist China than it does in the US.
Japanese Line Up for American Beef (AP)
After lots of talking, false starts and headlines that you scrolled past, American beef is back on the menu in Japan. Our fine cow meat was banned in 2003, out of fears that the US might be a home for rampant mad cow disease (by the way, despite what the media would have you believe, the link between mad cow disease, and whatever humans get is far from proven.) One of the biggest purveyors of American beef in Japan is the restaurant chain Yoshinoya. They've reintroduced it on their menu, calling it "Resurrection Festival for the Beef Bowl". Wonderful news for America's cattlemen.
Scania Rejects MAN Takeover Offer (AP)
Again, because there isn't much in the way of merger news today, all of the merger news is about mergers that aren't happening. Scania, a truck maker, has rejected a takeover offer from German glom Man AG. There's still a chance that it could go through, if the shareholders vote for it in large enough numbers, but the board has rejected it unanimously, saying the offer undervalues the company.
More Retailers Shop Business Schools for Talent (WSJ)
Here comes the borification of the fashion industry. An increasing number of clothing retailers are looking to MBAs from top schools to help the companies strategically and managerially. MBAs, just out of school, are marginally fashion-savvy, we suppose. They still dress like students, oftentime, though they do know how to slick up on days that they're due to deliver a powerpoint to their classmates.
Let the Dog Out! (Marginal Revolution)
The more radical free marketeers out there like to complain about the state's monopoly of justice, and argue for things like competing police forces, competing courts, competing law, etc. It's a little hard to imagine how it would work, though we have elements of it in society. Private arbiters act like judges, and security guards and other private law enforcement are often employed. Bounty hunting, too, brings an element of markets and incentives to the business of tracking down criminals. Economist Alex Tabarrok has done a lot of work on the business of bounty hunting, and so he sadly notes that Dog the bounty hunter, who has his own TV show, was arrested on Friday and will be extradited to Mexico. His crime is that he picked up an American wanted on Rape charges in Mexico, where bounty hunting is illegal. No wonder they're so behind economically.