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Opening Bell: 1.9.07

Great Expectations Juice Up Apple's Trade Show (WSJ)
Could today finally be the day? Really, could it? Tech industry analysts have marched to their death trying to predict the launch of an Apple phone. Now the holdouts can taste it. And while rumors always proliferate on the pages of Apple blogs and message boards, today it's the Wall Street Journal which says that Apple will finally announce a phone that fuses the iPod and the cell phone, with Cingular to be its distributor. These are heady times at the company. Phone or no phone, it's got a lot of new products to sell, and of course there's that whole gnawing backdating thing to content with. While tech traders may occasionally glance at the newswires to see what comes of Steve Jobs' MacWorld keynote, those on the left coast will literally halt all activity during the duration of the speech.
LSE steps up fight against Nasdaq with bullish figures (Reuters)
The LSE bolstered its case that it can get along just fine without the NASDAQ, thank you very much, posting a 53% rise in earnings based on higher trading volume and more listing activity. The NASDAQ, for its part, again urged LSE shareholders to accept its "full and fair" offer. At the moment, the NASDAQ owns 30% of the LSE, but its plans have been stymied of late, and it's not clear what action they'll take going forward.
Chavez moves Venezuela toward socialism (BusinessWeek)
You had a really bad day yesterday, if you happened to own shares of Venezuelan telecom CANTV. It's not too often that a company you've invested in gets singled out by a state leader as one that will be nationalized. And in case you're wondering what happens when you're company is spoken about in such a way, well, the NYSE halted trading in CANTV immediately. You're basically screwed. Don't expect Chavez to pay you anywhere near fair market value. In fact, don't expect anything at all. For Chavez' part, it's clear he subscribes to the old "commanding heights" view of the economy, that the really big important sectors are too strategic to not be in the hands of the people. But then, why doesn't he just tell Venezuelan's to go out and buy some stock?
Hedge-Fund Borrowing Examined by Fed, SEC, European Regulators (Bloomberg)
It's pretty easy to see what's going on with this story. Stymied in its efforts to regulate hedge funds, the SEC (along with partners in Europe and elsewhere in the Fed) is examining the companies that do business with hedge funds. It's sort of a back way to poke their nose into the hedge fund's business, since after all, banks certainly aren't immune to scrutiny. At issue is whether banks are doing a good job managing their lending to hedge funds, and whether the money is lent out with suitable scrutiny. Why is this a inter-continental investigation? Seems like the banks should be able to handle this question, and if the loans are poorly-executed, then they'll suffer. Or is that just too straightforward.

Grasso Spars With New York Over Taxes (Dealbook)
In addition to all of the ongoing battles about his pay, Dick Grasso is apparently in arrears with the city, which says he owes it $1.8 million. We certainly won't be the first to say that the NYC income tax, neigh the concept of a city-wide income tax in general, is bunk. How many times have you had your entire tax return gobbled up by what you owe the city? Is NYC really that much more expensive to run, per capita, than other cities, that it can't fund operations on sales, property and hotel taxes? And maybe if we didn't spend time banning smoking and transfats, we could make the city's operations a little leaner. Anyway, perhaps this is just ranting, but we have full sympathy with Grasso on this point. Fight the man, Dick!
Can an Itsy-Bitsy Auto Survive In the Land of the SUV? (WSJ)
Yes, in a time of high gas prices, people want fuel-efficient cars. And yes, with the weather this warm, some people think they need to buy a hybrid, for the sake of the environment, even though no amount of driving could ever cause less greenhouse gases to be emitted. But, sorry, nothing will ever convince Americans to get behind the wheel of a Smartcar. The damn things look like a covered golf cart. Yet DaimlerChrysler is hoping that Americans will do just that, and it's using the Detroit auto show to show off its vision for them. Now if they just make it so that the Smartcar runs on a lithium battery that needs to be plugged in while at home, then we're getting somewhere.
The Value of The Label (Vinography)
With hedge funds buying things like art and wine these days, here's a little experiment that you should probably know about, which reveals something bout the human mind. Apparently, at wine auctions, prices for a bottle are consistently lower when the bidders have had a chance to taste the wine beforehand. In other words, untasted, people will pay a premium for the unknown factor, for the chance that the brilliant vintage will do wonderful things to the tongue. But it never happens; the mysterious perfect one never quite exists. There are certainly some broader lessons to be had outside the wine world here. Probably.
Wall Street To CES - Yawn (GigaOM)
Does Wall St. have tech fatigue? Maybe. Despite all of the hoopla of the big Consumer Electronics Show happening in Vegas (the best roundup for which can be found at Barron's Tech Trader Daily), nothing that's going on is really getting the Street too excited. And why would it? There's not much exciting stuff being announced these days. As much as people would hate to admit it, most of the new stuff feels uninspired and pedestrian. A new slim phone? Who cares. Verizon is going to let you watch some MTV clips on a few selected phones? Whatever. All seems fairly minor in the grand scheme of things.