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Opening Bell: 2.23.07

Wal-Mart Presses Suppliers To Enhance Their Diversity (WSJ)
The Wal-Mart PR machine continues to crank into overdrive. The company is angling to be a force for diversity and social change, urging its suppliers to hire more minorities and women. Of course, it says, it doesn't really know how it's going to enforce this. There's an interesting development going on here actually. As Wal-Mart is really in a class all of its own in terms of size and influence it increasingly resembles a government. It simply makes statements like, "we support diversity and we want suppliers to hire more minorities", in the same way that Nancy Pelosi might. Ultimately, however, central planning doesn't work. And it could be that the company's biggest undoing is that its executives, without feeling much pressure from competitors, start to feel more like technocrats than managers.
Officials Reject More Oversight of Hedge Funds (NYT)
For the time being, everything is kosher in hedge fund land. Treasury secretary Hank Paulson has concluded, after a recent study on the question, that there's no need for increased regulation or oversight over the industry -- at least for now.
Oil Trading Slow on U.S. Inventory Drop (AP)
Remember when oil was close to $50, and it appeared it might go all the way down to $40. There was all this panic in the middle east and furious calls for output cuts. Well, no more. The price of oil is now solidly above $60 (closer to $61 in fact), and inventory is dropping in the US. Even gasoline is getting expensive again. hope you enjoyed the good times while they lasted.
Why Toyota Is Afraid Of Being Number One (BusinessWeek)
With each passing day, Toyota lurches a little closer to being the world's biggest automaker, surpassing Detroit, the home of the automobile. Given the fierce populist leanings of so many in power, the company probably has a good reason to be scared. On both sides of the aisle, politicians express displeasure at the rise of both corporations, and in particular foreign corporations. So the company needs to improve its PR chops. it already has a pretty big setback last week, when it was revealed that the driver of a Toyota car had cheated in preparation for the Daytona 500. Apparently, the team needed to put in some vaseline-like substance in the fuel to rev up the horsepower. And in general, Toyota's race cars haven't been all that impressive. Maybe this is intentional; let them get beat up in the place were Americans are paying attention -- NASCAR -- while Toyota beats up the rest in the area that it really matters.

Microsoft hit with $1.52 billion patent suit damages (Reuters)
Microsoft got dinged with a gnarly little $1.52 billion patent infringement judgment as it had been sued by Alcatel-Lucent for improperly using the company's intellectual property behind the mp3 file format. Now, obviously these kinds of things get appealed all the time, and Microsoft has its own claims against Alcatel-Lucent, so it may be awhile before the company has to pay any of this. By far the best response comes from Goldman's Rick Sherlund who says not to worry and that it's no big deal. Why? Because analysts can just pro forma that baby out and pretend it never happened. How convenient.
Whole Foods Shares Climb After Purchase of Wild Oats (Bloomberg)
Back in our day, when a company announced the merger of a significant, but underperforming, rival, the acquirer's stock invariably went down. Even if the market "liked" the merger in some way, the stock still got hit because to pay the premium to the acquired company, the acquirer had to give up a little value. Furthermore, mergers always bring some uncertainty and unforeseen delays. But these days are different. It appears the market is incredibly optimistic, and sees no reason to knock Whole Foods. Yesterday's it turned in its biggest gain in years. Certainly, this says something pretty loud about market psychology.
As Asia Keeps Cool, Scientists Worry About the Ozone Layer (NYT)
How 80s, an article about the ozone layer. Actually, there was a brief time period when the ozone layer was the big green cause but global warming was starting to be known; people would routinely mix up the two in their conversations, complaining about the big hole over Antarctica because people's cars emitted greenhouse gases. Anyway, as we've mentioned before, there's been a real shift in environmental attitudes of late. Back when the nations were first hammering out Kyoto, there was a general consensus that the developing countries should get a pass -- even though this really made the whole thing useless. Now, no pass for India and China. They need to stunt their growth for the sake of the earth. Now apparently, the rise of air conditioners in these countries is contributing to the ozone problem. Ah, but at least it'll keep them cool when the earth gets too hot.
Brazilian Homebuilder Plans $774M IPO (AP)
The American homebuilders have really sucked wind lately, but maybe things are going a little better in the southern hemisphere. Gafisa SA, one of Brazil's largest homebuilders, announced plans to do an American IPO, which it hopes will bring in $774.3 million.