Opening Bell: 3.7.07

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Companies Say Backdating Used In Days After 9/11 (WSJ)
The Journal, this morning, makes a major move to kill of any rational discussion about backdating. Basically, it points out that a number of backdated grants coincided with the market "swoon" following the the 9/11 attacks, and that such timing was tantamount to profiteering from terrorism. It had already been known that there was a spike in options granting following the attacks, which companies chalked up to coincidental timing, and the need to motivate executives during a difficult period. But now the B-word, backdating, has been connected with 9/11, and the practice immediately takes on new levels of evil.
Zetsche not sold on selling Chrysler (Detroit Free Press)
Most of the news reports on Chrysler have acted as though it's a done deal, that it's only a matter of when (and to whom), not if, Chrysler will be sold. But maybe that's still not certain. While the company is certainly shopping it around, apparently Dr. Z. is not totally committed to letting it go.
Airbus chief asks politicians not to interfere (IHT)
Ha! The head of Airbus is urging politicians not to interfere with a plan to eliminate some 10,000 jobs form the trouble plane maker. Talk about wishful thinking. Political interference is in the company's soul, and there's nothing French politicians like to do more than give companies are hard to time for making layoffs. You put the two together -- layoffs... at Airbus -- and you've got the perfect storm of political interference. And of course, the future of Airbus has emerged as a major issue in the current French presidential election, with all sides supporting the idea of a major government bailout.
No momentum seen for bulls (CNNMoney)
Yesterday's rally was nice, but don't go on thinking that all that turmoil is over. It's never that easy. Early indication -- which could always change by the time you're reading this -- is that the market is set to resume its southward ways. As for the big global ping-pong game between the US markets and the Asian markets, the Asian markets generally performed well last night.


Complex credit card practices under fire (AP)
We may be forced to change one of our longstanding theses. See, we had always assumed, logically, that a good way for an industry to avoid government regulation was to take proactive measures to mollify politicians. So, for example, if Wal-Mart were to raise their wages unilaterally, it might stave off minimum wage legislation. But now we're beginning to think the opposite. If a company or companies do change their policies in some way that congress likes, then the move is seen as a "proof of concept" that change is possible, and that other companies could make the move without hurting themselves. And so it is that Citigroup this past week eliminated the practice of "Universal Default" -- raising rates on a credit card holder if they failed to pay one of their other lenders. In all likelihood this won't stop the government from trying to regulate the practice, and if anything it will embolden politicians who will seek to get the practice banned everywhere.
Leeson, Who Ruined Barings, May Return to Trading (Bloomberg)
You gotta love second chances. Nick Leeson, who spent a few years in a Singapore prison for toppling Barings bank with his wayward trades, has said he might get back into the game. Well, he won't be trading for any bank, but he said he's been playing around with currencies in his spare time, when he's not working as a manager for an Irish soccer team. Leeson said he's preparing for the proper moment to trade his own money full time, adding that, "You wouldn't believe how many people have asked me to manage their money." No, we wouldn't.
F.C.C. Chief Questioning Radio Deal (NYT_
After Sirius and XM announced their intent to merge, various analysts tried handicapping the deal. Many put a 55%-60% of it being approved, and some have already lowered their odds to closer to 50%. Another round of downgrades may be in order, as apparently the chief of the FCC is pretty skeptical on whether there will be any benefits to consumers. In particular, Mel Karmazin's recent testimony to Congress has done little to win him over.
Venture Capitalists Want to Put Some Algae in Your Tank (NYT)
Stop the presses, some people think that algae is the key to our energy independence. Maybe it is, but we've been hearing about algae for a long time. This particular article talks about plans to turn the green muck into some sort of burnable biofuel, but that's not even the most exciting application of algae. There are also scientists working on ways of getting algae to emit hydrogen, which would solve one of the major problems with any hydrogen-based energy scheme -- how to get hydrogen without expending more energy than that hydrogen is capable of producing.

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