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Opening Bell: 1.5.07

Saying the No. 1 Ranking Is Worth Keeping, G.M.’s Chief Vows to Fight Toyota (NYT)
Its ranking as the number one global automaker is really just about the only thing that GM has left to brag about. And it's such a hollow number one that we feel they'd almost be better off if by ceding it, just in case it's still causing them any delusions of grandeur. But the company's CEO says he'll fight to retain the top seed, even though most analysts think that this is the year Toyota takes over the mantle. This can't be good for GM shareholders. Companies that are worried about a position tend to do crazy stuff to hold onto it, and place the idea of market share and volume ahead of, say, profitability and the stock price. Better to just let go, and embrace the role of underdog.
Boeing likely beat Airbus for year (Seattle Post Intelligencer)
To the uninitiated, this headline "Boeing likely to beat Airbus..." sounds utterly absurd. Likely? Isn't it definitely? Didn't they trounce Airbus by any measure? Well, if you believe Boeing management, Airbus is good at one thing, and one thing only: cooking the order numbers. Everybody knows that Boeing outperformed Airbus, when it comes to actual units shipped, Airbus has a knack for hitting its number. We'll find out on January 17th.
Holiday-Sales Figures Leave Big Gaps (WSJ)
There's been a lot of talk about how bad this year's holiday shopping season was for retailers (Gap just came out with numbers, they look atrocious). But maybe the jury is still out. The Journal points out that these numbers don't include sales from gift cards, which have become an enormous part of the business for many companies. Those numbers officially get clocked in upon redemption. And they also don't include web sales, which is becoming increasingly important for more and more brick and mortar retailers (click and mortar, anyone?). So we'll give them a pass for now, just because they've already taken a lot of heat.
'Moneyball' Comes to NetSuite (Red Herring)
Just in case you missed this one yesterday, Mr. Moneyball himself, Billy Beane, has taken a board seat with private, but soon to be public, software company NetSuite. NetSuite, which boasts Oracle CEO Larry Ellison as a major investor, is in the same red hot on-demand software business that is in. It's seen as likely to do an IPO rather soon. The appointment of Beane, in hindsight, seems like it was only a matter of time. There's so much love in the business community for Moneyball that it only makes sense for its practitioners to actually get taken on by companies that want their insights. So who's next? Some might say it will be Theo Epstein of the Boston Red Sox, or maybe the original Sabremetrician Bill James. How about another guy profiled by Michael Lewis, the coach of the Texas Tech football team. Mike Leach also is seen as one who spins gold out of hay, working with a team that's never been able to recruit as easily as other Texas universities. Someone get this guy a COO slot.

Crude Oil May Fall as Mild U.S. Weather Curbs U.S. Fuel Demand (Bloomberg)
We tend to be skeptical of most climate-based or seasonal explanations for changes in energy prices, particularly when it's real short term ("It was a warm weekend, so traders sold off natural gas upon returning to the floor on Monday..."). That being said, this winter has been so warm in so much of the US and Europe that it's not hard to imagine a dip in fuel consumption. In fact, many New York City apartments are colder these days than they normally are because the outside temperature doesn't dip low enough for the heat to kick in. Don't even try to say that doesn't make sense, because it's totally true. So, this week, the oil markets really cratered (possibly due to the warm weather), and it if continues, prices may fall further still.
FTC fines weight loss pill firms $25M (AP)
The makers of of over-the-counter weight loss pills have been slapped by an FTC fine for using deceptive advertising. Sorry ladies and gents, those things don't really work, even if Anna Nicole Smith says so. That being said, it still seems like the FTC has an odd double standard when it comes to ads for pills. The $25 million spread among multiple companies doesn't really seem all that steep, and there's no doubt that such misleading ads will continue (that's ok by us, free speech is a big deal). But then a company like Pfizer gets into trouble because an ad for Viagra makes it look like a pleasure pill (more sex), as opposed to a health pill (treating ED), even though that's a meaningless distinction, and far less misleading than anything put out by Trimspa.
Home Depot says ex-CEO Nardelli surrenders $3.29 million in stock (MarketWatch)
This should make Gret-Gret happy. Ex Home Depot CEO Bob Nardelli is surrendering $3.29 million in stock. It's related to taxes, and has nothing to do with his severance package. Still, he's $3.29 million poorer than we all thought he was.
Cisco strikes again (Oligopoly Watch)
We mentioned yesterday that Cisco announced the purchase of IronPort, which is in keeping with their longstanding aggressive acquisition strategy. The pace of buys has slowed down a little bit from the 90s, when they'd buy a few companies a month but overall, it's still rather impressive. Oiligopoly Watch has the run down and finds that the company did 8 in 2006, and another 10 in 2005. Pretty impressive. The blog asks whether Cisco will be able to digest all these buys. In fact, digesting acquisitions seems like the one thing it's actually good at.