Opening Bell: 3.16.07

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Ex-Telecom CEO Fields 'Black Box' Trial Defense (WSJ)
The upcoming trial of former Qwest CEO Joseph Nacchio represents one of the final chapters of the golden age of corporate fraud. All of the other miscreants have pretty much been dealt with, and now we're down to him. When it's over, someone can finally write the book on the whole thing. It's possible that the Nacchio trial will actually be the most interesting of all of them, in part because the case is fairly clear cut, and also because of Nacchio's novel defense strategy. The charge is simple insider trading -- that he sold his stock before it plunged, knowing that bad news was set to come out. This is a lot easier to understand than whatever the Enron guys were charged with. We're still not sure exactly what their crime was (something about barges in Nigeria and a failed movies on-demand service?), although Skilling did once call an analyst an asshole on a conference call, so that's pretty damning evidence. Nacchio's defense is that he personally knew of some big contracts with the federal government that were coming down the line, and that he, in fact, had every reason to be optimistic about the company's prospects. He also said the deals were related to national security, which is why they were being kept quiet. Of course, the prosecution claims this is nonsense, because ultimately public sector deals were a small part of Qwest's business, so there's no way that these contracts could've saved the day. It really should be fascinating trial, in part because it gets at a serious logical flaw in insider trading, which is that you'll never get in trouble for not-selling stock, when you know of good news at a time that you would have otherwise been a seller.
China Adopts Landmark Property Law (Forbes)
You've come a long way baby. A law, 14 years in the making, guaranteeing its citizens the right to property, was finally passed in China. This isn't really going to change anything, since the Chinese have had the de facto right to property for some time, but the symbolism shouldn't go unnoticed. Heck, where' our right to property spelled out? We came pretty close early on, but ultimately, "life, liberty and the pursuit of property" was changed to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" at the last second, vexing scholars for centuries to come.
Nasdaq Hires Former Ohio Congressman (NYT)
The NASDAQ has hired former Congressman Michael Oxley as a non-executive vice chairman, a role which will see him meet with company executives to discuss matters of public policy. But does the NASDAQ know who this is? Perhaps the exchange should've delved more deeply into his voting record, because Michael Oxley is the Oxley in Sarbanes-Oxley!! Is it even save for him to walk into the executive offices at many companies? Will he need to come with bodyguards? Hopefully, someone from the NASDAQ is reading this and can correct this oversight before it's too late.
GM admits accounting gaffes (Detroit Free Press)
Oh, and it looked like GM was starting to do so well. Guess not. The company, which recently booked a "profit" is now telling shareholders that they probably shouldn't trust a damn thing they read in the company's financial statements. It says that it's founds its accounting practices and controls to be ineffective. Part of the blame goes to poorly-trained staff, said the company. In related news, GM is asking the union for concessions, which isn't really news since it really isn't new, but yeah, so much for being out of the woods.


Private equity piranhas don’t help their image problem (FT Alphaville)
The rivalry between hedge funds and private equity firms is getting nasty, and we like it. Increasingly, buyout firms are insisting that their debt not be financed by hedge funds? Why? Because they know that things could go bust, and in such a scenario they'd much rather be negotiating credit terms with genteel, statesman-like bankers than with the bloodthirsty folks who run hedge funds, and will do whatever it takes to generate another %.25 return.
Japanese Guru Jailed (Sky News)
Takafumie Horie, the former chief of Japanese internet highflyer Livedoor has been sentenced to two years in prison for his role in helping the company lie about its earnings. It was quite a scandal when it first broke, since apparently such things don't seem to happen as much their as they do here. Somehow, two years in jail sounds a lot more reasonable than the 15+ years that many Enron-era execs have received. It's a stiff punishment, but it's not the death penalty, which to many graying American execs, a long sentence effectively is.
Nissan Chief Drops American Duties (Reuters)
Stock in Carlos Ghosn has definitely dropped over the past several months. Remember last summer when just about every car company in the world was trying to figure out a way that Ghosn could be their CEO, too? It didn't happen, and now GM & Co. might be relieved. Ghosn is dropping his personal oversight over the Americas region, following a profit decline at Nissan, it's first in seven years. Officially, this has nothing to do with a loss of confidence in Ghosn, but rather a desire to see him not get stretched too thin.
No Raise, but No Tears, for Warren Buffett (NYT)
Real life American folk hero Warren Buffett will not get a pay raise in the coming year, and will make just $100,000 salary. Buffett doesn't believe in big stock option grants, so that's pretty much what's he's going to make this year, save for any gains in Berkshire-Hathaway. Is Buffett underpaid? Well, let's put it this way. When they finally hire someone to replace him, are they going to be able get someone qualified for just $100,000? P.S. We just realized that the New York Times business section is running a spate of fresh articles tackling the issue of executive pay. Is this their favorite issue or what? Could that be any more tired?
JetBlue sidelined by East Coast storm (CNNMoney)
The "Last Blast" of winter that everyone's waking up to today will result in numerous cancellations at jetBlue today and possibly this weekend. it'll probably result in cancellations at other airlines -- like any other airline that flies out of New York, which is all of them -- but that's not news. It's only news when jetBlue cancels its flights, because it's still tagged with the label of chronically unable to cancel flights during inclement weather.
Best Buy rethinks the time clock (Business2.0)
Business2.0 has a very Business2.0-y look at Best Buy's progressive scheduling policy, which gives workers a lot of flexibility about when they get their work done. In addition to "revolutionizing" the experience of working in retail, the company is also launching a consulting service to help other companies realize the benefit of this bold system -- which we still don't really get. That being said, it would be great if the Opening Bell could be written any of the day, more in line with the author's schedule. Maybe 10:00?

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