Opening Bell: 1.22.07

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City firms caught in FBI gaming inquiry (Independent)
Question: Doesn't the FBI have something better it can be doing than worrying about online gambling? Answer: No, and they're damn serious about this too. In case you're unclear about this, get it into your head, the US government has really taken a hard, serious stance against wagering over your computer, and if you're in that business at all, it's probably not a bad idea to get out. And, to be honest, even that might not be enough, as the NETeller guys have found out the hard way. According to sources, subpoenas have been issued at several London banks that may or may not have at some point been involved financially with some online gambling firm. It's not clear what they want, or who they're hoping to arrest next. Just, seriously, watch out.
What To Expect At Davos (BusinessWeek)
What reminds you of the 90s? Is it a Clinton running for national office again? What about Brad Pitt at the Gold Globes telling reporters that Babel is an important lesson, because it served as a reminder that we're all the same? Or what about rich dudes, rock stars, philanthropists and UN top brass hobnobbing about saving the world? That's what the World Economic Forum in Davos offers, a brief respite from the cold post -/11 oughts, harkening back to a time when all was good, and the doomsday clock wasn't set at 11:55. As for specifics, Maria Baritromo gives a preview of the gossamer.
Citigroup to buy ABN Amro's mortgage unit (MarketWatch)
Is the smart money optimistic about housing? Citigroup (ahem, Citi) announced the purchase of ABN Amro's mortgage unit for $3 billion, which currently has 1.5 million customers in the US. Clearly, if the bank thought that there would be prolonged weakness in housing and lending, then it wouldn't be dropping this kind of money to expand its housing activities. Meanwhile, look across the Atlantic. Housing prices are surging again, and many have said that the UK housing market is like 18 months ahead of ours. Maybe when the stock market deflates that liquidity will pour back into housing and the virtuous cycle will continue.
Ford, Toyota See Alliance Potential (WSJ)
And the mating dance continues. Remember when GM was meeting with Carlos Ghosn? Nothing came of it, of course, but during the whole thing, Ford kept saying "hey guys, maybe we'd be interested in doing a deal". Nobody listened because Ford was never part of it -- they were just pretending to be. Now however, they may have their own deal to make GM envious. Word is that the laggard automaker is in talks with Toyota about... something. No real idea what any alliance would look like. Maybe they'll build a fuel cell together, or maybe they'll share excess capacity. Who knows -- for Ford shareholders, the key is that they're something -- anything -- and if it's with a lean Japanese maker, that's even better.


China Mobile to Make First International Purchase (Bloomberg)
The mobile business tends not to be too international. When companies have tried to expand abroad (DoCoMo), they tend to make some bad choices (like when DoCoMo invested in AT&T Wireless). Of course, Vodafone is something of an exception. So it's interesting that China Mobile is expanding into Pakistan, buying out PakTel, where it hopes to replicate its success in the rural Chinese market. Hmm, parts of the rural US are underserved. Maybe China Mobile can rescue those areas from technical oblivion.
Congress weighs US Air/Delta merger proposal (Washington Post)
In all likelihood, the US/Air Delta merger isn't even going to happen -- but don't fear, just on the off chance that it does, the Congress is ready to make sure that any such merger won't trigger a round of industry consolidation.
NFL's biggest winner: Bulls, not bears (CNN Money)
Apparently, when "old" teams make it to the Super Bowl, then that bodes well for the stock market. And when young teams make it, well that's a bad sign. So because the Bears and the Colts are in, then it's safe to ignore Cramer and hold all your stocks. And then, of course, the winner of the Super Bowl probably has some impact on the presidential politics so it's really all a long chain reaction, the stock market being just one domino in the rally.
Buyout for Truck Company (NYT)
Ben Stein's latest column is a rant against the management at Caremark for rejecting a theoretically more lucrative offer than the one offered tot he company by CVS. Too bad he only writes one column at a time, and can only address one outrage at a time. Otherwise, he'd have probably written about the founder of Swift Transportation Services, a trucking company, getting taken private in a buyout from its founder. Clearly, the shareholders are getting screwed by this management buyout, but Ben Stein wasn't there to protect them. Hmm, seeing as Ben Stein is becoming almost Gretchen Morgan-like in the singularity of his focus, is it reasonable to wonder whether being at the Times might just have that affect on people?

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