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Opening Bell: 9.27.06

Canada's slipping on the world stage, WEF study shows (Globe & Mail)
Even with the commodities boom, and investors around the world converting their Dollars into Loonies so that they can invest in Alberta Oil Sands, Canada is in a long slow downward drift in terms of economic competitiveness. According to the World Economic Forum, Canada has fallen to 16th place from 13th place last year, and on a related survey that looks at business competitiveness, the country is in 15th. Of course, the country is still extremely rich by global standards, though people cite the chief reason for this as its proximity to the US. Then again, there must be something more, since it doesn't seem to do a whole lot for Mexico. The US owns the #1 spot for business competitiveness year after year.
GM reportedly demands billions for tie-up (WSJ)
GM apparently has some self-image issues. It wakes up every morning and brushes its teeth while looking in a rose-tinted, slimming mirror. How else to explain the fact that the company reportedly wants billions to join a Nissan/Renault alliance. Sure GM is big, but nobody would be foolish enough to confuse size with stature. We're not saying it needs Nissan or Renault, but it certainly looks like the more desperate party in all of this, and it's really unlikely that Team Ghosn will shell out billions to have GM join it.
Qwest Beats the Odds, So Far (NYT)
Last year, when Qwest was competing with Verizon to buy the re-formed MCI, there was not amount of money that it could offer that would would convince MCI shareholders that it was the superior choice. Everyone assumed that this was a desperate last flail from a company that had no future. Either it would go bankrupt itself one day, or it would be force to sell off too many assets. But, the Times brings our attention back to the company and finds that it's doing ok, socking away cash, cutting costs, and making a modest profit on a wireless reseller agreement that it has with Sprint. Now the company is trying to figure out what to do with its mountain of cash. It may buy a competitor, or perhaps it will send some cash the way of the shareholders. That being said, it's not like Qwest is out of the woodwork or anything. There's some major upheaval going on in its industry, and Qwest doesn't seem particularly well suited to thrive in it. But, it's done alright so far, and it'll be interesting to see how long it can play its luck.
Vioxx Is Cleared in Heart Attack (Bloomberg)
Chalk another one up for Merck. The company had two things going for it in this trial. For one thing, the plaintiff isn't dead. Yes, it sucks to have a heart attack, and there were probably a lot of medical bills and associated anguish. But it's hard to get the full sympathy of the jury if your wife isn't a widow, and your children aren't half-orphaned. Here you are, standing there, plainly alive for everyone to see. The other factor in Merck's benefit was that the man started using Vioxx after the company put a stronger warning label on the bottle, suggesting that the pills may increase the possibility of a heart attack. This was the first such case, and it's going to be hard for any of the post- warning label plaintiffs to argue that the company was still acting irresponsibly at that point.

Equality & War (Stumbling and Mumbling)
Discussions about material inequality are relevant to this site, because Wall St. remains a big cause of inequality. No, not because the financial system pushes the poor down, or even because the financial system is run on the backs of the poor. It's just that the industry makes a lot of people rich, and to be rich is by definition to be unlike your fellow men. But is there an unpatriotic element to extreme wealth, especially during a time of war? A group of liberal economists have produced a paper that says the more egalitarian side of a war tends to win, which in our current case would favor the across-the-board poor among the Iraq insurgency. The cite historical examples such as the North's victory over the Confederate states as well as North Vietnam's win. We're not sure how they went about calculating the Gini coefficient, for some of their examples, but assuming that the point of the paper was probably to confuse and enrage, it doesn't seem like that big of a deal.
KKR to unveil world's largest buyout fund (Telegraph) (via Dealbook)
It doesn't look like the private equity boom is going anywhere, at least not for awhile. KKR's has almost finished funding for its latest global fund, and word is that it will come in somewhere around $16.5 billion. That's a lot of money to play with. It also tops Blackstone, which had held the record at $15.6 billion.
NYC Mulls Ban on Trans Fats in Eateries (AP)
The most offensive thing we ever saw was someone wearing a t-shirt that said "Don't Partially Hydrogenate Me....". At the time we thought this was ridiculously stupid, but at least we thought this was beyond the realm of possibility. Banning trans fatty acids? Well the NYC Health Department wants to do just that, saying trans fats are worse than cigarettes, which are banned in restaurants. That maybe true, but we thought the whole reason to ban cigarettes was to protect workers and non-smokers and their "right to breathe". We assume nobody is shoving trans fats down patrons throats involuntary. C'mon NY, don't be Chicago.
Goldman Sachs gets Russian brokerage licence (Reuters)
Congratulations to Goldman Sachs. After just a few weeks of study, the company managed to pass its Russian Series 7 exam, earning it a three year brokers license in the country. Think that's so easy? You try doing it in Russian. Earlier in the year, the company had tried to buy the Russian Aton, but after that failed, the company shelled out the $500 for the study books, and decided to go about the process itself. Goldman's just the latest in a string of companies to enter the market in recent years.
Health insurance premiums up 87 percent since 2000 (Chicago Sun-Times)
Yep, we still have mad inflation in the healthcare seen... no wonder we have to regulate the industry so tightly, if we didn't then unscrupulous doctors and insurance companies would no doubt just jack premiums higher. That being said, we can think of a few reasons for the problem: AMA limiting the supply of doctors and lower wage technicians, FDA making drug discovery more expensive, AMA standing athwart machine-based diagnostics that would make doctors less necessary, tax incentives for employee-sponsored health insurance (taking any burden off the actual consumer), doctor visits required to get hastily scrawled note for a few pills, aging population, poorly designed entitlement plans, medical malpractice, lack of IT in the industry. Meanwhile, Wal-Mart is looking to go with more high-deductible, low-premium plans for new hires, which is a good idea, but we guarantee it will be vilified.
Sharper Image CEO Gets Sacked (Forbes)
In the end, there was only one Ionic Breeze. People don't often thing much about the Sharper Image, except for the exact moment they find themselves in front of one in a mall, or a tourist shopping area of a medium-sized city. And then at that moment, they pause for a second, and think "Do I need to get off my feet for a few minutes and sit down on the vibrating chair?" But after seeing the line of kids, they keep on walking -- out of sight, out of mind. This was and is the Sharper Image's problem, but it's no longer the problem of Richard Thalheimer, who got sacked yesterday amid the company's continuing slump. Few people realize that the only big seller the company ever had was the Ionic Breeze air purifier. But soon, other companies entered the space, the market matured, and all they were left with were vibrating gizmos. And really, how far can that get you?