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Opening Bell: 3.29.07

Ed. Note: As you almost certainly realize, today marks the one year anniversary of the 'Breaker, and thus a year of waking up early, scanning the headlines and then doing little more than cutting and pasting the first paragraph of a handful of articles into this post. If case you haven't figured out, the Opening Bell is pretty much the same every day. There's the oil story, the private equity story, the "what the hell are Senate Democrats up to now?" story, the Iran/Iraq story, the useless academic study that we find interesting story, the boring story, the metals story, the irrelevant story, and the car story. Find one of each, and the job is done. We'd love to take a few moments and reflect, but when you're desperately racing against the clock to dash out a post, that's not really a luxury you can afford.

Oil Falls as EU's Solana Urges Dialogue to Solve Iran Dispute (Bloomberg)
We're not really sure how the EU's Javier Solana urging dialogue between the UK and Iran really helps things much, in particular how it helps ease the oil crunch, but it would be great if Solana could make statements like this every day, because it does seem to have a nice soothing effect on the markets. Still, the stuff remains high, with recent trades in the high 63s. And yes, a year ago, we were writing about the exact same stories. Despite being in a war in Iraq, it's always been Iran that moves the market, always on fears of something or other.
Thomson Financial Plans International Wire News Service; Post AFX-Buy (PaidContent)
This is great, Thomson FInancial has plans to move aggressively into the wire news service space following its purchase of AFX. Of course, we needed more articles about how the Dow rose by 23 the other day because of some talk about a merger that didn't effect any companies in the index. What's really great though is that the newswire has plans to deliver several articles, get this, written by robots. In particular, stories about earnings, will be automatically generated. Honestly, it's hard to imagine that they'll be much worse than the current standard-issue earnings story that appears these days after a company reports.
Ethanol Creates A Pricing Puzzle For Corn Farmers (WSJ)
The agriculture futures market is a place where young guys in suits trade all day long, screaming at each other in a pit, in what's ultimately a high stakes poker game. But it's never really described this way, is it? Instead, when someone is asked to explain futures, they always give the archetypal example of the farmer that wants to lock in a certain price for corn, and the speculator that's willing to offer them said price. That's fairly different from the reality, but the fiction makes things easier to understand for most people. Of course, corn does come from farms, some whom still have actual farmers who tend to the crop. And some of these farmers do actually do things like hedging and locking in forward prices, something that's gotten more complicated in light of soaring commodities prices, the boom and ethanol and the subsidies for it.
“The world’s most successful market for smaller companies” (FT Alphaville)
It's not clear how you define "most successful market", let alone "most successful market for smaller companies", but either way, it's a title that London's AIM is eager to take for itself. AIM is very much the new NASDAQ. For the most part, serious tech companies of all stripes list on the NASDAQ and that's that. But if they're real small, and they don't think they can be bothered with things like Sarbanes-Oxley, they can boat their way over the Atlantic and list on the AIM, which SEC commissioner Roel Campos recently likened to a casino (as opposed to the rest of the market?), but honestly, what kind of casino would deliver investors gains totaling 12% over 11 years? Mmmhmm, thought so.

Income Gap Is Widening, Data Shows (NYT)
Congratulations you guys, your share of the nation's income has gone up again, while those in the bottom 99% of the country actually saw a slight decline in incomes over the past year. Critics are bound to run with this data, although you'll notice that in debate or on TV, they'll always mangle it, often using "the top 1%" or "the top 10%" completely interchangeably. Of course, we'll have to wait for our preferred gaggle of market-oriented blogs chimes in before get to commenting on the figures, but we're sure there's a flaw somewhere.
Colleges Hiring Lenders to Field Queries on Aid (NYT)
While the intelligentsia complain about too much easy credit for the poor, we'd love to see them decry the wide availability of government-backed student loans, which are given out with rather loose terms. After all, if you can't afford your payments on month (or year), just send them a letter and explain why. Good news is they can never foreclose on your diploma. Bad news is, your diploma probably won't prove to be the good investment you thought it would be.
Citigroup to Add Jobs in Asia; Cuts Loom Elsewhere (Bloomberg)
So Citigroup is cutting jobs here but hiring in Asia. We've never been comfortable with the idea of simultaneously hiring and laying off, even if the new hires are in different regions with cheaper salaries. The way we see it is that existing Citi employees should at least be given the option of learning Chinese or Hindi and transferring to one of the new offices at whatever pay level the new hires are getting. Probably most won't take it, but a few will, and they'll be grateful.
Skybus 'anticipates' a late-May liftoff (Today In The Sky)
Wired recently came out with its list of the top 40 most innovative companies (Google #1, duh), and it noted that it had dropped jetBlue from the list. It wasn't because of the company's debacle, which claimed 12 hours of your editor's life, but because the idea of low-cost flying has become passe. But, passe is not the same thing is finished. The cheapies are going to have a new competitor to deal with called "Skybus Airlines". We get the impression that it really wants to be the Greyhound of aviation. Like, we get the impression that you wouldn't want to just hang around the Skybus terminal, or if you do, you probably want to keep your bags in sight.