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Opening Bell: 9.29.06

China lets yuan rise a bit on dollar (China Daily)
You wouldn't exactly call it a floating currency, or anything like that, but the Chinese government is slowly letting the Yuan appreciate against the Greenback. The currency broke through the all-important -- but entirely psychological -- 7.9/dollar mark, a crucial level if we're ever going to reverse the trade deficit. And how important is this number? According to local economist Brad Setser, the RMB/dollar is the most important price in the world, more important than the price of oil or the treasury rate. All kudos to Hank Paulson for going over there and giving them what for about currency appreciation. But wait, doesn't this mean we'll have to start paying more for stuff made in China? Um... yay?
EU law violated in US banking data transfer scandal (
Remember that little mess from a few months ago, when the New York Times revealed that the US was monitoring the SWIFT international money transfer system? Right, you remember, the one that caused some politicians to suggest that the Times had engaged in treason. Even the Journal got into the act of Times bashing. Now Belgium's prime minister is saying that the system was a violation of Belgian law, though he acknowledged that SWIFT (based in Belgium) was in a legal "no-mans land". It's not clear whether Europe is really upset about the SWIFT breach or all of the European business execs on US jails. Let's just say, if I were America, I wouldn't be taking any stopovers in Europe for the time being... you know, just to be safe.
Wal-Mart employee health coverage downsized (CNNMoney)
Another day, another ludicrous article about Wal-Mart. As we mentioned recently, the company announced that it would lower the premiums on health insurance for its employees while raising the deductible. It sort of balances yet out, and might not seem like a big deal, but it's good for employees. It means the healthy ones get to keep more of their money, while the sick ones end up paying the same amount. Maybe the sick ones end up paying a little more, but that's ok, because they see the doctor more, so there's a logic to it. Because it's insurance though, it still does what insurance is supposed to do, which is to protect the individual from an unexpected calamity that wipes them out financially. But the critics, of course, see the whole thing as shameful, saying that the increased deductible "all but negates" the lower premiums. What does "all but negate" mean? And yes, it sort of should negate the lower premium. From Wal-Mart's stance, it says the majority of its insured employees wouldn't hid this deductible in the year, so the plan will save them money. The horror.
U.S. Fugitive in Options Case Displeased by His African Jail (NYT)
The more we hear about Kobi Alexander, the more we realize that he's pretty lame as far as fugitives go. After having the gall to try and get bail (ha!), he's now complaining about the quality of the food in his Namibian jail. We imagine it sucks too, but then again, that's the price you pay for fleeing to a country that doesn't even have an extradition treaty with the US. He could've gone to Italy or France if he'd wanted, where the food is probably better, but then he'd probably already be back in Brooklyn facing charges. And he's been spending the last several weeks at this resort and casino in Namibia. Ok, maybe he knew he was bound to get caught, and wanted to spend his last days of freedom in style. But if he were a serious fugitive, he'd have gone out into the country, and dropped off the grid, as opposed to staying at resort.

Wendy's gets go-ahead to spin off Tim Hortons (London Free Press)
One time someone told us how shocked he was to learn that Wendy's owned the donut joint Tim Hortons, and how that was disturbing evidence of an increasingly oligopolistic economy. Even though we don't really believe in all that stuff (to each unto his own), we could think of a lot more disturbing things. Well, you got your wish. Wendy's, which had taken Tim Hortons public earlier this year is now going to distribute its remaining ownership in the company to its shareholders. Now, if Wendy's ever owns Stan Mikita's donuts, then we're gonna file something with the FTC.
Blackberry going down (Silicon Valley Sleuth)
Maybe if this were two years ago, we'd start this entry off with a Crackberry joke. But, no. Yesterday, Research in Motion turned in some nice results on the back of strong Blackberry sales, which sent the stock higher. But what about the long term? Industry analyst firm IDC says that over the long term, the Blackberry doesn't have much of a future, as larger mobile handset players like Motorola and Nokia get their act together and carve out a slice of this market. I hope IDC isn't thinking about the Motorola Q when it sees the company vanquishing RIM. Really, it's pretty weak. Nokia definitely has a lot of cool stuff coming down the pipe, though none of it has very good names like Blackberry or Razr... or even KRZR (yes, a future phone from Moto).
Mark Cuban: Only a 'moron' would buy YouTube (Reuters)
Professional loudmouth Mark Cuban really really doesn't like YouTube. He's said so a number of times, but he knows that mentioning YouTube is a really great way to get in the press these days. So now he's saying that only a moron would buy YouTube, and that if the company had big-money backers, the site would get sued into oblivion. Here's what we don't get. How can he go on this big rant without saying "Oh, and by the way, when Yahoo bought from me and made me a billionaire, that was really moronic of them, seeing as we didn't even have a business yet." We'd feel really self-conscious bashing the idea of buying a web video firm without acknowledging our own forays into the space.
HP Buys Boutique Gaming PC Maker Voodoo (AP)
Hey look at that, down here at the bottom, some HP news, and it's not about the leak investigation. Somehow, even while they've been dealing with all of this nonsense, the company managed to put together an acquisition of high-end PC gaming company Voodoo, which comes just a few months after Dell bought out Alienware, another small PC maker whose boxes targeted the hardcore gaming set. It's a small but rapidly growing market, and it adds more muscle to the PC side of the equation, which has to battle the XBOX and the PS3, which play are on the console side. If you're interested, check out any of Manhattan's fine gaming cafes, where kids come in after hours to play World of Warcraft with their friends, on some pretty sick boxes.