Opening Bell: 1.4.07

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More Apple stock-option fallout -- now investors sue (SF Chronicle)
Given the staggering performance of Apple shares in recent years, and the way it's generally held up during the creeping stock options mess, it's hard to imagine why any shareholder would be upset. And yet, the first shareholder lawsuit has been filed, as some enterprising lawyer no doubt duped a handful of shareholders into believing that it's worth suing over a few million in options. Meanwhile, on the other side of the coin, some are trying to claim that it' the government that's really under the gun here, and that it must come up with the goods, or pack its bags. Sorry to say it, but the government isn't under that much pressure. So what if it leads a long meandering fishing expedition, and ultimately finds very little? Is someone going to vote the SEC out of office, or the local DA? Not likely. Is the government going to lose its customer base or face a shareholder suit of its own? Probably not gonna happen. Now how long before an article uses the word iSuit.
Russia faces customs fee on oil exports (LA Times)
So much for a thaw in the relationship between Russia and Belarus. Russia's smaller, but geographically important neighbor, has opted to slap a $45 tax on ever ton of oil that Russia ships through its borders. This just sounds like trouble, and we have a hard time imagining Russia ever giving Belarus an extra dime.
Exxon Accused of Trying to Mislead Public (NYT)
The Union of Concerned Scientists has issued a report claiming that Exxon has been behind a masterful disinformation campaign to confuse the pubic about global warming. But considering all of the anti-big oil rhetoric coming out of the environmentalist camp, they'd be fools not to try countering with a message of their own. And then when you look at how much this big propaganda campaign actually cost Exxon, it only comes to $16 million over 6 years. That's like, what, a couple of Super Bowl ads and a foldout spread in the Journal? The report acknowledged that this really isn't all that much money, so it ads that the money has been "remarkably effective".
Nardelli Exit Package Called `Egregious,' May Bring New Rules (Bloomberg)
When even Dealbreaker expresses some, ahem, amazement over an executive pay package, you just now that the apoplectic rage is going to reverberate through the halls of Congress and the New York Times for months to come. And, thanks to Mr. Nardelli, we might even get some fresh legislation on the matter. The ousted CEO's exorbitant exit package (don't worry, we'll find a defense for it soon enough), may be just the symbol of all that's gone wrong necessary to galvanize the opposing forces. So, with Barney Frank had of the finance committee has promised to hold hearings, and would like to introduce legislation regarding executive pay. Thanks a lot Home Depot.


The 'Six Sigma' Factor for Home Depot (WSJ)
There's nothing more dispiriting than listening to a conference call of a struggling company, cheerily announcing that good times are ahead because they're adopting a Six Sigma improvement system. As if this system were some sort of panacea, they bring in all sorts of "Black Belts" and consultants, that promise they can turn any company into the next GE, and any CEO into the next Neutron Jack. Well, it certainly failed Nardelli at Home Depot, a fact that's being touted by QualPro, a developer of another performance management regime in use at Lowe's. Of course, there are probably plenty of other factor's at play that were much more important that Six Sigma. Honestly, we'd be pretty surprised to find any correlation between a stock's performance and their adoption of Six Sigma; actually we'd go out on a limb and guess that maybe it could be a contrarian indicator, since companies that get all excited about it are the ones that have some internal problems to deal with.
Super prices for Super Bowl ads (CNNMoney)
Speaking of the aforementioned Super Bowl ads, CBS has set the bidding for Super Bowl XLI at $2.6 million for a 30% second spot, a bit higher than last year's $2.5 million. What's interesting is not the price paid, per se, but who's paying it. Will it be anything like the Super Bowl in 2000, which features numerous ads for .coms and discount brokers? Both of those things are hot again, but maybe we'll just get a tame GoDaddy ad instead. And of course, we'll get plenty of beer ads, which for some reason a lot of people still find amusing. We get it! Guys have weird priorities when it comes to beer.
Toyota Revs Up Its Push in U.S. (WSJ)
Toyota continues to singlehandedly revive the US auto industry, that is assuming you accept the fact that Toyota is becoming a US automaker. As the company enjoys its rapid ascent atop the global industry, at the expense of the Big Three, it's looking to build yet another, its eighth, American auto plant, again to be located somewhere in the south. Both Nissan and Toyota have found a good home in the southern states, do to their much more flexible labor laws, and the relative lack of competition for skilled workers. And, defying the stereotype that American workers are paid up and lazy, Toyota management says that American workers do an excellent job at picking up and implementing the company's famous lean production system.
Cisco offers $830 million for IronPort (InfoWorld)
When it comes to acquisitions, Cisco is but a shadow of its formers self. It no longer makes two or three buys per month, opting instead to make larger purchases with a broader strategic purpose. One of the big trends in networking technology has been to embed more intelligence into the infrastructure itself. Cisco, as you may have noticed from their print ads, is trying to carve out a big slice of the security market for itself, and will now bolster its efforts with the acquisition of IronPort, which does basic security stuff like messaging, anti-virus and spam filtering.
Middle-class woes? A letter to Lou Dobbs. (Christian Science Monitor)
Continuing on the populism vs. anti-populism meme, Don Boudreaux, econ professor at George Mason, pens an excellent open letter to Lou Dobbs in the pages of the Christian Science Monitor. Basically, all of this populism, fleecing of the middle class, elimination of the middle class nonsense is nonsense and stilts, which Bourdreaux lays out pretty well.

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