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Opening Bell: 11.29.06

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Hank's New Lady (NY Post)
The Post claims that ex-AIG CEO Maurice "Hank" Greenberg is aggressively buying shares of the New York Times in a bid to bust the dominance of the Sulzberger family. Everyone knows that Hank is interested in a newspaper, and it's been assumed that he'd go after low-hanging fruit, like the Tribune, some company that nobody really cares about that's dying to sell itself off. But the Times is a different beast entirely, due to its family ownership, stature, and the fact that it's New York, not Chicago. There's probably not much prospect for ownership changes at the company, but there's no doubt that Greenberg would be a rather activist shareholder, trying to give voice to a bunch of others who are angry at the company management. Meanwhile, you have to assume the Sulzbergers have gone soft after all these years, and are far from battle-tested.
NASD, NYSE Say They Will Merge Their Regulatory Bodies (Washington Post)
In a historic agreement, similar to great treaties that have ended wars, the NASD and the NYSE have agreed to merge their regulatory bodies, so as to avoid duplication of efforts. Both exchanges will operate under one set of rules. At a press conference, SEC chairman Christopher Cox said, "our work here is done", and gave all SEC employees two weeks notice, and six-months worth of pay, "now that these two private companies have a good enforcement system in place, there's no need for our services". Oh wait, he didn't say that at all, rather he called the move a "definitive first step toward a historic change that will simplify and strengthen the current self-regulatory structure in the United States," whatever the hell that means. Of course, all around, there were promises that regulation and oversight would not diminish.
Oil Trades Near a Two-Week High on Signs of Colder U.S. Weather (Bloomberg)
The oil market really is a tease. Every time it seems like the bottom is going to drop out, like it's going to fall to $55 or something, it snaps right back up. You'd almost think it were being manipulated or something. Now it's above again on signs of colder weather in the US. That's really not a bad prediction, if you're going to make one. Every day we're getting closer to winter, and winter unfortunately tends to herald the so-called "cold-weather season". But then the leap from colder weather to higher oil prices sort of evades us, seeing as everyone knew this cold weather was coming. Or maybe this year, because of how nice it's been in much of the country, people just refused to believe it.
Court allows U.S. suit vs. Realtors to proceed (MarketWatch)
The most ridiculous (by far) part of Freakonomics is when the National Association of Realtors is compared to the Ku Klux Klan because both organizations have to keep a tight grip on information. Gimme a break. That's not to say the NAR isn't some slippery bastards, something that Jonathan Miller's done a good job pointing out. And realtors certainly operate as a cartel, limiting who can join their ranks, and the prices they can charge for their services. So we have no problem seeing the courts allow a suit against them the DOJ to go forward. But still, comparing them to the Klan does seem a bit extreme.

Ryanair ups Aer Lingus stake to 25% (MarketWatch)
Ryanair probably won't be able to buy out Aer Lingus; it's own CEO Michael O'Leary has admitted as such. But that won't stop the company from giving its rival the hug of death, as it slowly acquires more of it on the open market. Their stake is now up to 25%. This can't make Lingus feel too comfortable, and should the company have any major stumbles, there's no doubt that one of its biggest shareholders will once again try to become active in the company in some manner.
Pfizer to cut sales staff by 20%; pricing blamed (Chicago Tribune)
2,200 unemployed sales people formerly at Pfizer can blame Wal-Mart for being out of a job. Well, not exactly, but the company did say that price erosion due to increased competition from generics was behind the move to sack 20% of its sales force. And Wal-Mart's much-criticized $4 generic drugs can't be helping any. So all of the mom & pop pharmacists have some new company in the unemployment lines. Is social erosion worth the price of cheap drugs?
Does Cubs’ New Star Have a Message from the Tribune? (Dealbook)
As the Tribune company goes through structural changes, analysts are trying to read the tea leaves at the Chicago Cubs, the baseball team owned by the company. What does it mean that they just made a monster deal for Alfonso Soriano? Does it mean that the company is planning on unloading the team, and that the big deal is an indication that they don't really care about the teams finances? Or is it a signal that they're going to hold on to the team, because if they were looking to sell it, they wouldn't have saddled it with such a big cost right now. Hard to day, though the latter makes a little more sense. If they really did have any immediate plans to dump it, you'd think they'd do everything they can to get it into tip-top fiscal shape, so they could extract the maximum from a purchases.
Eyeing a Billion Tea Drinkers, Starbucks Pours It On in China (WSJ)
The Journal takes a look at Starbucks' efforts to expand in China, and notes one major problem, a lot of the Chinese don't like the taste of Starbucks coffee, as they're more accustomed to tea. It probably doesn't help that Starbucks coffee always tastes burnt, which is a brilliant move by the company, because then people will pay $5 for a dressed up sweet drink that masks the flavor of the underlying black stuff. But tastes change; people's tastebuds acclimate, and there's always the addictive nature of a big shot of caffeine, something that tea can't quite match. So one gets the feeling that they'll break through. They better break through; President Hu made a promise to President Bush that the trade balance would be, um, balanced.
2nd Group May Make Bid for Biggest Casino Company (NYT)
Harrah's, which is already being pursued by one private equity firm, may have a new suitor. The group is led by Penn National Gaming, and hedge fund D.E. Shaw. It's not clear whether a full-scale bidding war will emerge for the casino operator, but shares have been floating higher, so either way, it looks like good news for the shareholders.