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Opening Bell: 10.3.06

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Online Gambling Still in the Cards? (BusinessWeek)
So is online gambling really banned or what? That's the question being asked after Senate Majority leader Bill Frist surreptitiously slipped anti-gambling legislation into a bill about port security. Technically, the answer may be no. The bill really goes at the funding mechanism for online gambling, banning banks and credit cards from dealing with online casinos. But this really isn't how they operate anyway. For example, one method of funding your online account is by buying a phone card from an affiliated company, and then using the PIN from the card to transfer money to the casino. It's basically money laundering for the rest of us. So, there may be hope left; freedom may survive, if only due to a technicality. That being said, it's hilarious to see how blatantly some private enterprise enjoys these laws. Representative of brick-and-morter casinos are applauding the measure, and they're even couching it in language other than "this is gonna be great for business'".
Political gridlock: Good news for big stocks (CNNMoney)
It pays to be skeptical of stories like this one, which claim some relationship between political cycles and action in the stock market. And everybody has a different idea of what the stock market likes. Some say that markets rally under Democrat presidents, others say the market doesn't like to party shifts since the market has a famous allergy to uncertainty (oh yeah, like we're Thailand, and can't manage a transition of power). And sometimes the market rallies when it seems that the Republicans are in control, and will be able to pass more tax cuts. And now this guy's saying the markets love political gridlock. We'd like the latter to be true; Congress can only do bad things. But ultimately, we have to guess, that any correlation between political cycles and market cycles is weak at best.

Dow Gives Up All-Time High (LA Times)

Ok, let's give this another whirl. For the past few sessions we've been trying to hit an all-time high on the Dow to no avail. We've come close a few times, with the market puncturing the number mid-day, but the conviction-less rallies haven't been able to sustain themselves through the close. There's a fair amount of excuse making going on, as some analysts are pointing to quarterly rebalancing to explain the weakness.
Memo Suggests When Hurd Knew of Phone Data (WSJ)
HP has hit a sweet spot in the ablution process, because by now we all have scandal fatigue. And because revelations about the company's investigation are still emerging on a daily basis, each individual fact simply gets blurred into the last. Furthermore, the pace of revelations has gone on a constant arc. Everyday, it gets slightly worse, sort of like a frog in a pot of boiling water. You just don't realize how far we've come. Now new (leaked) memos suggest that Hurd clearly new of plans to obtain phone records since last summer. There's still a little wiggle room, because it's still not known whether Hurd knew of the tactics. But what tactics to obtain director's phone records could possibly be legitimate?

G.M. Applying Its Sales Skills to Its Comeback Story (NYT)
The GM 'comeback' story is rather strange, seeing as nobody seems to be applying much scrutiny to the question: is GM actually coming back? It seems, in a way, that people just assume the company must be coming back, that some combination of higher sales, and higher prices, and lower healthcare costs are driving it back to black. So, finally, the Times asks whether the comeback is real. There do appear to be some positive things happening. The company's selling price is firmed, and it's been able to cut back on rebates. But, by all accounts, the company's market share is in free fall. The CEO responds saying that it's not market share that's important, but whether the company is profitable wherever market share stabilizes. Meanwhile, according to a study, Detroit automakers make $2,400 less in profit, per car, than their Japanese counterparts.
Yes, in My Backyard: Tiny Sauget, Illinois, Likes Business Misfits (WSJ)
The Journal has a profile of Sauget, IL; a small town that has embraced unwanted businesses like liquor stores, chemical plants, gambling enterprises etc. And because it's willing to take the businesses that its puritan neighbors nearby reject, the town has come into a fair amount of prosperity. Some might call it the Vegas of the Midwest, though if we recall that title already belongs to Branson, MO. Nay, Sauget sounds more like the Dubai of the Midwest, an oasis of activity surrounded by a sea of prohibition. We only imagine who treks for hours from neighboring hamlets for a night in Sauget, the way the 19 year old sons of oil magnates spend weekends in Dubai. Now it just needs an indoor ski park, and it's all set.
Sony failed to fully study battery problem - report (XFN)
Could exploding laptop batteries by Sony's Vioxx? A new report indicates that the company has known about problems with its batteries, and their proclivity to explode for a long time, but chose not to follow up on the issue... just like Vioxx. But, fortunately for Sony, the number of people whose batteries exploded is small and finite. Either your battery exploded or it didn't, and most people didn't. So that's good. But the effect it could have on its partners in computer manufacturing, who have to be pretty upset about the hassle their customers are going through, could be toxic. And if the company is seen as dragging its feet on quality issues, it can't help it at all.
Across Nation, Housing Costs Rise as Burden (NYT)
It's strange how the tenor of the housing discussion can change with such fluidity. Today, the Times has a report that will surely generate a lot of discussion, about how expensive housing has become, and how much people have to pay these days -- whether they're buyers or renters -- to get into a home. The article glibly tosses into the first line a point about how this is particularly damaging and difficult in light of stagnating incomes (a point that should be debated). But what happened to housing as being an engine of wealth creation? Nobody was complaining about high housing prices when it was making people rich. And then there's the word from a Brooking scholar that people will "hang on" or "stretch themselves" just to stay in the market for a desirable home, which is a code for "You peasants go back to something you can afford, and leave my neighborhood. Stop stretching yourselves".