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Opening Bell: 1.11.07

U.S. trade deficit narrows (Bloomberg)
Lately there's been a lot of stuff (including an excellent piece in Barron's) trying pick apart the trade deficit, arguing that it's purely an accounting trick and an illusion. A lot of it is pretty compelling, and we'd almost gotten to the point where we have no concern at all about it. As long as the economy and the trade deficit grew in tandem, everything seemed hunky dory by us. But, what's this, the trade deficit narrowed in its most recent period? Now we're worried. Supposedly, the weaker dollar and higher foreign demand for American goods helped close the shortfall. Sorry, that doesn't make us rest any easier. When things are going good, you just want 'em to keep going, even if they don't mean anything.
Oil falls as product supplies mark 1-month rise (MarketWatch)
Here's some more "disturbing" data. The price of crude oil has fallen to below $54/barrel, a 19-month low. Now don't even try to say you're excited about this. It means we're using less oil. So either the economy's got a lot more efficient in the past year (possible) or there's less economic activity than there was a year ago (also possible). Yeah, there's that whole warm weather thing. But, we can't go on blaming that forever, seeing as it's getting chilly again, and the connection between heat and crude oil always seemed a little tenuous.
Cisco sues Apple over use of iPhone name (AP)
Yesterday, we asked how Apple could possibly launch a new product, with so much riding on it, without having squared away all the details of its naming. As you know, by now, iPhone is a registered trademark of Cisco, and the word was that the two companies had been in negotiations leading up to the announcement. Well, those negotiations seem to have broken down, and now Cisco's taking Apple to court. For its part, Apple seems completely uninterested in dealing with Cisco. The company says Cisco's trademark is tenuous, noting that other companies already use the name iPhone for other products. This is a pretty surprising stance, and it seems like the company does run the risk of trouble in court. Again though, for a company that plans things so meticulously, with an absurd attention to detail, why did they let this one slip by?
Wal-Mart trashes garbage (Fortune)
Wal-Mart management says that it's joining the zero-waste movement, the idea that organizations can operate in manner such that they don't throw anything away, and can recycle anything they don't use anymore. Putting aside the (important) question of whether industrial recycling is really as good for the environment as its advocates claim, the idea of zero-waste doesn't sound as utopian as first comes off. Start with the idea that waste is waste. In other words, if you're throwing a lot of stuff away, and emitting a lot of gaseous stuff, then you probably don't have a particularly efficient operation. A lot of the raw material your bringing in is going in unused. Now, Wal-Mart is the master of blunting its opponents critiques, but it's not in contradiction with its goal of being extremely efficient an lean to pursue such a goal. Still won't get its critics off its backs.
Group Considers $38 Billion Bid for Equity Office (Dealbook)
Already, the Blackstone group's announced buyout of Equity Office was to be the largest private equity deal of all time. But sometimes the biggest isn't big enough. Word is that the offer may be topped by a competing bid from a group of buyers including Cerberus Capital Management, Starwood Capital and Walton Street Capital. Still, at this point, it's nothing official, just innuendo and speculation.

Airbus and Boeing - it's that time of year and Airbus will hit 40% (Flight International)
We mentioned recently that Airbus has a knack for cooking their end-of-the-year order tally and coming in ahead of expectations. Last year, they shocked the world when the claimed to have a bigger market share than Boeing, but this year, that seems virtually impossible. In fact, if they tried to claim that, given all of their mishaps and canceled orders, they'd probably just be laughed at. Still, when you add things up and put it together, they'll still probably get a 40% market share, which isn't as shabby as you might think. And the company's had a strong January already, despite some lingering wiring problems, maybe the company isn't as dead as we thought.
China Sets Stronger Exchange Rate for Yuan (WSJ)
The Chinese Yuan was allowed to drift into higher territory, and for the first time surpassed the Hong Kong dollar in terms of value. The Yuan trades at 7.7945 to the dollar, while the Hong Kong dollar, which is pegged to the US dollar trades at 7.7964. It may not seem like a lot, that extra $.0015, but it's always the slight house edge that crushes you. And some are speculating that it will put pressure on Hong Kong to peg to the Yuan (apologies, but apparently we still don't really understand the legal and political arrangement between Hong Kong and mainland China).
Virgin boosts beauty bank (Airline Business)
There's no doubt that having a private jet, or even a netJets card would be pretty nice, but flying commercial does have its perks for the well-heeled. In its premium classes Virgin is now offering massages to its road weary travelers. They take you into a curtained off area, and give you a choice of one of the three treatments: Back in the Clouds, Hot Hands and Handsome Hands Manicure. Now, are you will to pay a masseuse to come along for the whole flight on your private plane just for a 20-minute massage somewhere over the Atlantic?
StubeBayHub, eStubHubBay or Whatever. eBay Pays $300 Very Large For StubHub (alarm:clock)
eBay hasn't had the best of luck with its acquisitions lately. At least this one is a profitable company, with a solid business. The auction giant is shelling out $310 million for StubHub, an online ticket broker. It's not hard to see how the business fits in with eBay's business. Already there's a lot of tickets for sale on eBay, and bringing in a crowd that's a bit more knowledgeable about the business, and fraud prevention should be a good thing.