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Opening Bell: 4.23.07

Barclays Agrees to Buy ABN Amro in $91 Billion Deal (Dealbook)
It may not be the last chapter of the story, but the two sides would certainly like it to be, as Barclays bank has announced the purchase of ABN Amro, in a whopping $91 billion deal. Assuming it all goes through, the new concern will be the fifth largest in the world Of course, the assumption that it will go through is just that. In fact, a counter bid is expected, with RBS likely to play the role of spoiler. In fact, while mergers often boost the stock market (for a day), European shares actually sagged on the news, ostensibly on fears that a major bidding war would drag down financial shares.
U.S. Food Safety Strained by Imports (AP)
The continuing poisoned pet food brouhaha has taken a new turn over the past several days. What started off as an issue at one slow-growth, private label company from Canada has turned into a major international issue, with some pointing the blame at China. Not only are they blaming China, but there's some conjecture that the whole thing may have been intentional. Naturally, some are wondering how we can have confidence in the food supply for humans if the pet food supply is so easily compromised. Could this little incident precipitate a major protectionist backlash? After all, we can tolerate cheap electronics from China, but probably not poison. As long as the issue does stay confined to pets, we're probably ok, but if it makes the big leap, then get ready for all hell to break loose.
Gender Pay Gap in U.S. Starts Right After College, Study Says (Bloomberg)
The work and wages of men and women seems to be a hot topic once again these days. Despite the fact that these discussions are always dripping with politics, they tend to be fairly interesting, in part because they run the whole gamut of academic disciplines (economics, education studies, gender stuff, politics). A new study out, that's sure to get a lot of attention, claims that the pay gap for men and women appears immediately out of college, and that it persists (and widens), even when controlling for things like career choices and family situation. The conclusion, then, is that the pay gap is almost certainly the result of discrimination. But, there seems to be something amiss here. Apparently, women engineers are paid more than their male counterparts (at least according to the study), which is so counterintuitive (particularly if you assume that discrimination is a major factor in wages), that it's virtually impossible to reconcile the fact with the overall study. What's more, the makers of the study say that the key to reversing this gap is for women to go into more technical careers after college. But, then, if this were to reverse the gap, doesn't this suggest that the issue is not one of discrimination, but of personal choice? So, we're left as confused as ever.
UAW Group, Tracinda Discuss Bids for Chrysler (WSJ)
There were reports last week that Kerkorian's Tracinda group was not one of the favored parties to take Chrysler off of Daimler's hands. But, it must have enough of a shot so that the UAW feels its worth meeting with to discuss stuff. You have to figure that the union is pretty terrified of seeing Chrysler come under the control of an investment firm. They're not used to dealing with these guys. They're used to dealing with car guys Remember, car CEOs have to meet with the President from time to time, so they have an image to keep up. Somehow, we'd bet that Kirk Kerkorian will never get a White House invite. Meanwhile, the UAW also plans to meet with Daimler management to discuss the current state of negotiations, so hopefully something will leak from that.

EU confirms formal cartel charges against car glass makers (AFX)
Europe really has a no tolerance attitude towards cartels, well except for political cartels. A few months ago, it was the elevator cartels that came under the EUs wrath. Now it's the car glass manufacturers. No names were named, but presumably the offending companies know exactly who they are.
VCs invest heavily in health care (San Jose Mercury News)
As venture capitalists hunt for the next YouTube, in turn fueling the web 2.0 bubble, it's good to see that snazzy, consumer web applications aren't the only things of interest. There's been a surge of healthcare-related VC activity over the past quarter. A lot of it, naturally, is in biotech, as early-stage companies that remain 10 years out from having any revenue tend to eat up a lot of cash.
Organics a bust for Wal-Mart? (Oligopoly Watch)
Last year, Wal-Mart undertook a number of moves to try making itself more appealing to Yuppies in places like Plano, Texas (yes, despite the name, it's a rather well-to-do area near Dallas). It started selling organic foods (packaged and produce), sushi and couture. Word is, however, that the company's push into organics isn't doing so hot, which must be a profound relief to the various small natural food stores around the country. Can't say it's too surprising. The people who buy organics tend to hate Wal-Mart; in fact, most of them probably hated Wal-Mart even more after the company said it would make a push into this area. Meanwhile, Wal-Mart's shoppers are there to get a deal; if they wanted to pay more for a tomato, they wouldn't be at the Wal-Mart grocery store. So, despite its attempt to broaden its appeal, it might've simply been impossible. Our opinion is that the company should do a total about face. They should start parading Norman Borlaug around and get him to explain why, in fact, organics are bad for the environment, in an attempt to shame the hippies away from the local food co-op.
Sarkozy, Royal Emerge in French Vote (WSJ)
The French economy obviously needs a lot of help. They can start by getting rid of the 35-hour work week and the mandatory six weeks of annual vacation. This would probably instantly make a significant contribution to the employment picture and to GDP. Of course, that's just the start; furthermore, we get the impression that the work issues are sort of the third rail of French politics, sort of like Social Security (use to be) here. So in two weeks, the country is all set for a heads up race between the ambitious, center-right Nikolas Sarkozy, and the socialist, Segolene Royal, who would almost certainly be the best looking head of state in the world. If you're hoping for a serious effort at reform, it's hard not to assume that Sarkozy is more likely to get something done. Currently, polls predict a solid victory for him, but the old saw about two weeks being a lifetime in politics probably applies just as well in France as it does here.