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Opening Bell: 1.24.07

Punch and Wetherspoon report steady Xmas at pubs (Reuters)
Shoppers on both sides of the Atlantic failed to hit the shops in droves this Christmas, but it appears they didn't hold back on holiday cheer of a different sort. At least that's the case in Britain where big pub chains are traded publicly. Punch and Wetherspoon turned in a brisk performance at its 9,300 locations. Interestingly, with a national smoking ban looming (feel better, it's not just NY), the chain decided to ban smoking pre-emptively at many of its locations, a move that appears not to have hurt performance.
China to diversify FX reserves (Information Processing)
No, really, this time they mean it. Really, seriously. This time China is actually going to diversify its foreign currency reserves away from pure dollar holdings. What, you're not convinced? No, seriously, why don't you see it? They have to. Oh, yeah, sure this has been said a lot in the past, but this time it's for real. Better watch out, this could be trouble. Just wait until China really starts dumping its Dollars. Seriously, this time it's for real. Honestly!
Searching for a tech rally (CNNMoney)
After a bunch of disappointing results, two longtime punks finally turned in some okay numbers. First, Sun Microsystems -- the last bubble darling not to have rebounded -- finally returned to black, as Jonathan Schwartz tries to pull off a Mark Hurd act (although nobody would ever compare McNealy to Carly, lest they want to get smacked). Its shares gained 8% on the news. And at Yahoo, another internet has-been, shares rose moderately after the CEO promised that good times were right around the corner. The numbers themselves weren't particularly exciting, but the CEO promised, so that was apparently good enough.
Reworking the A-List (NYT)
Earlier this week, we derided the Davos forum for essentially being a big 1990s class reunion, out of touch with the modern economy and political situation. Maybe we were being too harsh. Hey, neither Angelina Jolie nor Bill Clinton are in attendance this year. You're probably not going to find Kofi Annan either. Of course BIll Gates is still there, he is after all the richest man in the world. But so is YouTube's Chad Hurley. Then again, so is Bono, so you see the event has a hard time giving up on its past. As for American politics, the big name is John McCain, speaking about the situation in Iraq. Until he loses the upcoming election, he still gets some time as the Republican that even internationalists can like. After that though, his time is up.

B&G buying Cream of Wheat cereal (
Kraft foods is unloading its Cream of Wheat brand to Jersey-based B&G foods. Is this a smart idea? Maybe if you believe that global warming will make it normal for winter weather to hover around 45 degrees. But if that was just a fluke, and that cold snap returns -- as everybody's now predicting -- then they might regret not having a warm cereal in their lineup. Then again, who still eats Cream of Wheat?
Murdoch Joining With Chandlers On Tribune Bid? Would Be Minority Partner: Report (Paidcontent)
The business of "old media" might be sort of boring were it not for all of the fantastic personalities at the helm. Take the Tribune sale. Who cares? It's the Chicago Tribune and some old broadcast tv stations. This should really be getting as much at attention as if Deluxe, the maker of checks (yes, paper checks) were going to be sold to private equity. This is less exciting, in some sense, than the beeper market. Ah, but then there are so many feuds and families. The editor at one of the Tribune's properties openly defied management when it came to reducing staff. And now it looks like Rupert Murdoch is going to get in on the action, so whatever you say about the underlying business, at least the business side is greaet fun to watch.
Wrigley Bites Into Korkunov Candy (The Moscow Times)
Gum maker Wrigleys has bought an 80% stake in Russian chocolatier Korkunov Candy. So here's the question: does this mean they're finally going to do a trial launch of chocolate gum?
Big Bank Stops Effort to Change Law Limiting Growth (NYT)
We recently mentioned that Bank of America had quietly been lobbying for a change in the laws that would allow the company to hold more than 10% of national banking deposits. According to the Times, the company is backing off this effort, at least for now. According to CEO Ken Lewis, the company's lobbying efforts were sending the wrong signal, and that it had no interest in being as aggressive as it made itself out to be. So, two weeks ago, the chief decided to pull the plug on the idea. Still, with the company at 9% of domestic assets, it's easy to imagine it revisiting the issue at some point down the line. Perhaps if Barney Frank loses his chairmanship in a few elections they might give it another go.
Germans put price on protesting (BBC) (via Marginal Revolution)
We're not sure what any of you would need to stage a protest about (low bonus pay?), but just in case you do, you can now rent a protester (well, if you're in Germany. Yes, the whole introduction is a little far-fetched). Realizing that the image projected by the dirty, protesting hippy was leading to a sub-optimal result to protests, a company has organized good looking models to be rented out to carry signs and chant on whatever issue the renter is interested in. Sounds like a market flaw being corrected to us.