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Opening Bell: 2.21.07

EU Fines Otis, Four Other Elevator Makers for Cartel (Bloomberg)
A few months ago, we pointed out that Europe was none too happy about an apparent elevator cabal, as the main players in the industry apparently kept an artificial floor on prices. So, the EU has levied a cool $1.3 billion fine on United Technology's Otis unit, along with four others, including ThyssenKrup. This fine is the biggest fine for a cartel since 2001, when the EU smashed the vitamin cartel. Just to be clear, Neelie Kroes is not to be messed with.
Justices Overturn $79.5 Million Tobacco Ruling (NYT)
We could've sworn that the era of big tobacco settlements was supposed to have been over a long time ago. Didn't the tobacco companies agree to some mega settlement with the states to put this stuff in the past? Either way, the industry clocked in a nice victory at the supreme court as the justices ruled 5-4 to overturn a $79.5 million judgment against Philip Morris. At issue was whether the jurors, when deciding on a payout, were seeking to punish the industry for its broader harm, as opposed to simply the harm its products did to the one individual "involved" in the suit. We put involved in quotes, since the smoker himself was dead -- his widow brought the suit. It's not clear what happens now, but the industry has a nice precedent and ruling it can take anywhere it wants to argue for lower damages.
Canadian hedge fund managers face proficiency tests (FT Alphaville)
It's not clear what they're going to look like, but apparently Canadian hedge fund managers will have to pass some sort of proficiency test if the want to keep plying their craft. Just so you have a heads up, you should probably go buy the Princeton Review's Hedge Fund Manager Study Guide now, or at least take the Kaplan classes that they offer. And if it works in Canada, American managers better start studying as well.
Nissan offers U.S. workers early retirement as truck, SUV sales slip (MarketWatch)
First, Nissan forced its workers to move from sunny California to sunny Tennessee, a move that angered many of them, probably quite understandably. And now that they've arrived in Tennessee, they're being told that they're no longer wante don the assembly line. The company, which is starting to face some headwinds (Carlos who? Thought so) is offering Detroit-style buyouts to a few thousand assembly-line workers, encouraging them to take an early retirement. We know what that means.

US Airways CEO's Wings Clipped (Forbes)
It's got nothing to do with fraud or embezzlement, but the CEO of US Airways is slated to spend a day in the tank on March 15th to repay his debt to society for drunk driving. Fortunately for the company and him, it's just a day. It would be scary if he were gone for, say, a whole week, only to find that the company survived just fine without him. One interesting tidbit is that the drunk driving incident came on the same day that Delta officially rejected US Airways' sweetened takeover bid. Perhaps that's why the judge was fairly lenient, and is it was clear there were plenty of extenuating circumstances explaining why he was an emotional wreck.
Can JetBlue Keep Soaring? (Forbes)
All of the JetBlue bashing is getting a bit much. Hasn't something like this happened at every airline over the years? There wasn't this much handwringing about Fronteir, when it left thousands of people stranded last year, during Christmas no less. So yeah, maybe there will be some people who won't fly it again, opting instead for more expensive flights without TVs in the seat in front of you. However, this is likely to be a small number of people. Of course, the company is not without its problems. These last couple years have been tough, as profitability has waned. So if it continues to have problems, they'll most likely be related to general struggles, as opposed to anything stemming from this past week.
To Save Later, Some Employers Are Offering Free Drugs Now (NYT)
We recently met some with a horrible cough, and when pressed for why they hadn't seen a doctor, we were told it was because they were uninsured. This made sense to us for about a second. People, after all, face numerous unexpected expenses over their day to day lives for which they have to pay out of pocket. If his tire blew on his car, he wouldn't not get a new tire because he had to pay for it himself. Sure, doctors are pricey, but for something like a cough, getting a quick appointment and a prescription for some antibiotics won't break too many people. In fact, arguably, going to the doctor should be a higher priority, since the consequences of letting the sickness get worse are, well, worse. Apparently, some employers are recognizing this fact, offering their employees free pills and other cheap medical care so that they don't have to pay for serious medical treatment down the road. Seems to make sense.
Spooky CEO Research (Organizations and Markets)
Here's some interesting financial research on the unpleasant subject of death. Apparently, death is no good when it comes to business. If the CEO dies, or if someone close to the CEO dies (like a child or spouse), business performance tends to suffer in the following period. Just so you know, this effect does not manifest itself when a board member dies. Sorry, it just doesn't. Not even when an independent board member dies.
BRIs, not BRICs … (RGE Monitor)
For some time,there's been a lot of talk about the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, and China), but in a way it's China that gets all of the attention. It may be time to pay more respect to the BRIs, at least if you're looking at global monetary issues. Those are three countries are accumulating foreign assets at a torrid pace, leading to large capital account surpluses. Combine that with their superior interest rates, and it's no surprise that people are borrowing money to invest in those economies. Of course, the issues of capital account deficits/surpluses is a whole issue up for debate. But if you think you've got it figured out, then here's the situation for you to exploit.