Opening Bell: 4.5.07

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Oil prices rise (AP)
According to every article that we read, it was the goings on of the Iranian hostage crisis that was affecting the price of oil. So you'd think that now that they've been released, oil would fall, right? Well check this out, oil prices rose in Asian trading on anticipation of, get this, summer driving season. What!? So a potential enormous catastrophe gets averted and traders start freaking out over the lamest of excuses, that people are going to visit grandma? And it should be noted that it might snow in NYC this weekend, as well as the rest of the northeast, which means we've got some time before summer starts. If the warm winter was our Al Gore summer, are we now in Dick Cheney winter?
Ford Chief Sticking to His Road Map for Turnaround (NYT)
All eyes are on Chrysler these days, and before that all eyes were on GM, but for the most part, Ford has never captured the public's imagination, at least not since the days of its founder. Now, the company's chief executive Alan Mullally is trying to drum up some enthusiasm over the country by proudly proclaiming that the company's cost-cutting roadmap is on track, and that it should turn a profit in 2009. How inspiring indeed. He insists that nothing major is needed to turn the ship around. Meanwhile, at the New York Auto Show Mullally envioled the Ford Flex, which looks like an oversized Mini.
Backdating Was Pervasive At Bookseller (WSJ)
Big-box bookstore chain Barnes & Noble said that it's found widespread evidence of backdating, but that there was nothing nefarious going on because the company's managers were under the (apparently) mistaken impression that it was all cool. Of course, this is probably what almost all backdaters thought, so this excuse probably won't get them off the hook if the Feds come a-knockin'. Still, it seems pretty obvious at this point that the widespreadness of the practice is what led many to assume that it was above board.
China Again Raises Reserve Ratio (WSJ)
No, really, this time China is going to stem the runaway over-investment in the economy in hopes of cooling things down a little. Seriously, the Chinese government really doesn't want the economy to over heat, and so it's raising reserve requirements on banks. See, there's nothing the government wants more than for things to overheat and then crash, so it's really really serious about gently tapping the breaks.


Google CEO, co-founders get $1 salary (BusinessWeek)
We can't be the only ones who are really bored of the whole $1 salary thing. Sure the Google guys are rich as hell, billionaires even, but they should at least be paid minimum wage. Perhaps someone can explain how a $1 salary is even legal. Maybe it works the same way as with waiters and waitresses, who aren't entitled to minimum wage, although from what we recall, there's been a lawsuit about that. Anyeway, how about $1,000 or $.01 or $5 next year?
Grocers to unite if union goes on strike (San Diego Union Tribune)
One of the last bastions of hardcore organized labor is the southern Californian grocery industry, where the major grocers have been dealing with on again/off again strikes for years. Word is that another strike could be in the works, and now the grocery stores are fighting back. No, they're not bringing in the Pinkertons to bust some melons, but have come to an agreement amongst each other to lock out union members should they decide to strike. Organized industry vs. organized labor, it's only fair.
Wal-Mart Apologizes to Groups That Were Focus of Surveillance (WSJ)
After the story broke yesterday that Wal-Mart had an extensive surveillance program that monitored any group it perceived to be a threat, including activist shareholder groups, the company is busing out the mea culpas. It's specifically apologizing to the shareholder groups, since, as Elizabeth Nowicki point out, they do still own the company, even if they can be a nuisance. Would love to get a reaction from Professor Bainbridge on whether there's anything particularly more wrong about spying on shareholders over anyone else. Hey, if it's in the name of shareholder value, can it be that bad?
Cemex Cements Approval in Bid for Rinker (Dealbook)
Every time there's news of a major concrete merger, we're tempted to use the headline "aggregates industry aggregates", but our tradition here is to just go with the headline supplied by the underlying article. It makes things easier. Furthermore, we already used that headline once a while back, which would make using it again as something akin to copying from ourselves. That being said, Mexico's Cemex, which is already the third biggest cement maker in the world has won approval from the DOJ to buy Australia's Rinker for over $11 billion. That's a pretty big one, although as part of the deal, Cemex will need to sell of some of its US operations.
Prosecutors Rest Case Against Ex-Chief of Qwest (Dealbook)
It can take a really long time for some of these big corporate crime trials to get started, like years and years it seems. But once they get going, you have to admire how quickly they roll along. Already, the prosecution in the Joe Nacchio case rested after it got more than a dozen managers from the company to say that there were deep concerns about the company's stock price. As we pointed out last week, Qwest just won the rights to several billion in government contracts, which should be all of the evidence that the defense needs, since Nacchio's original claim was that he knew of big deals in the pipeline when he sold his shares.

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