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Opening Bell: 1.2.07

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Branson plans low-cost airline (The Sun)
He may have been thwarted in his plans to develop an American Virgin, but it looks like Richard Branson is moving on to grander ambitions. His new plan is to build the first global discount carrier, offering flights from Europe to Asia for a fraction of what they run now. Of course, you can pretty much be certain that American passengers will be spared from having to deal with this menace, but for some people it may be worth catching a flight to London, just to get a cheap flight to Bangkok.
Power-Sipping Bulbs Get Backing From Wal-Mart (NYT)
Whenever Wal-Mart does something that's vaguely "progressive", it produces a curious and awkward article from the New York Times. Actually, that's being nice. As the company revved up its foray into organic foods, the paper of record unleashed a bizarre piece, the gist of which seemed to be that it would be better for the poor not to eat, than to eat cheap food from Wal-Mart. Now it's unsure how to handle the fact that Wal-Mart is going to heavily promote energy-efficient light bulbs. Is it a cynical ploy? Can they be given a pass just this once? Of course, if you think about the fact that efficiency, energy-efficiency and Wal-Mart all go hand in hand, then it makes perfect sense. Still, what's the catch?
Biggest Wild Card In Forecaster Ranks: Inflation (WSJ)
The business of pro economics forecasting seems like a thankless task. For one thing, it seems like a crapshoot. For another, it's not like an embarrassment of riches is heaped upon those who happen to be correct. You can be an idiot trader and make millions one year because you were on the right side of history. If you guess right on the final economic numbers, then you get a little blurb on January 2nd in the Journal. This year, saw a major reversal of fortune for many analysts midway through the year. As you'll recall, the pessimists ruled the day earlier this summer, when the market was slumping, and everyone was Google 'stagflation' for the first time. But, the optimists did a gut check, stuck with their guns, and as the ship righted itself, they started to look ok.
European Economies: Manufacturing Growth Slows (Bloomberg)
Will 2007 see a continuation of the 2006 economic miracle? Will Old Europe keep digging out of its grave? Or will order be restored in the universe? Register one vote for the latter. Manufacturing growth (manufacturing puts the 'old' in 'old Europe') slowed for the first time in Nine Months amid creeping interest rates, and a strong Euro that discouraged foreign purchasers. Granted, the numbers weren't too far off from the forecast, so it's too early to tell if it will amount to anything meaningful. Still, they should watch out, or Germans might have to go back to getting cheap lunches at Ikea.

Audiences Spend Another 'Night at the Museum' (WSJ)
Just in case you didn't buy the idea that in Hollywood, nobody really knows much of anything. Night at the Museum is dominating the box office charts.
Middle-Class French Join Sleep-In Over Homelessness (NYT)
Once again, the French have taken the lead in proving their commitment to égalité. Several middle class Frenchmen have been spending their nights out in tents, in an effort to "embarrass" the government into doing something about homelessness. And unlike Cindy Sheehan's groveling in a ditch, which did little to "embarrass" George Bush into anything, the protest has already worked. Jacque Chirac now says he supports strengthening the right to housing. Man, that worked quick. It's easy to affect change in French.
Rolls Royce to unveil convertible (CNN)
Say you've already bought your penthouse, but still have a little bit of bonus money left over, then check out this slick-looking Rolls-Royce convertible. The company doesn't have many convertible lines (this is their first in five years), so it should be a real conversation piece. And at $407,000, it's eminently affordable.
Slovenia Adopts Euro As New Currency (AP)
There goes the neighborhood. Just kidding, no offense to anybody of Slovenian origin, but Slovenia is now a full-fledged EU member state, pink currency and all. Good timing too. Just in case Old Europe starts to backslide, it'll be nice to have some fresh up and comers waiting on the bench to fund their pensions.