Opening Bell: 5.10.07

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Success Eats Away At Whole Foods Market (TheStreet)
Being from Austin, it's a little painful to see cracks in a homegrown success story like Whole Food success story (Dell has been painful enough). Then again, every company has to get its comeuppance, which is what the company is now in the process of receiving. Sure, it continues to open new stores, and apparently the one on Houston even has a sushi conveyor belt, although we haven't been able to verify that first hand. But everyone sells sushi now, and everyone sells organic foods. Basically, a Whole Foods store isn't unique like it used to be, and the company is feeling the pain. Plus, the high-end grocery space is getting more crowded. In the east, there's Wegmans, which ostensibly makes Whole Foods look like an Albertsons. And then supposedly there's a chain called Eataly, coming from Italy, which will make Whole Foods look like your little Korean grocer down the street. So it's finally getting tested, something its investors aren't used to.
European Stocks Fall, Led by Rio; E.ON Declines on Rate Concern (Bloomberg)
There's been a lot of talk about another wave of metal mergers lately, but some are saying that this is all just noise and chatter, without anything to back it up. We hope not. Nevertheless, some are believing it, as metal shares in Europe drooped today. But don't worry, this is bull market. One day slumps happen all the time, and it doesn't mean anything. When you're at all-time highs, like Rio Tinto was, you have to expect some pullbacks before you can move higher.
Hershey Cuts Its Profit Forecast on Increased Ingredient Costs (Bloomberg)
We mentioned awhile back how much we hate "the dairy question", when reporters try to zing politicians by asking them how much a gallon of milk costs. It always seemed unfair, particularly to those who find milk to be gross, or if you're lactose intolerant. But now it's on the verge of becoming a genuine political issue as the price of milk continually edges up. Not only is breakfast more expensive, but companies that use milk in their products, like Hershey, are starting to take a pounding to their bottom line. Maybe Hershey should take a hint though. Milk chocolate sucks. Stick to the dark stuff. It's healthier and much tastier.
April Same-Store Sales May Decline Due to Earlier Easter Holiday (WSJ)
Just as a heads up to all you big-box investors out there (for shame), results are expected to be weak on account of the early Easter and the cold April. In other words, just like every other period in the history of retail, stores will have some excuse available to them if they don't hit their goals.


Senate passes safety bill for drugs (LA Times)
Great news, the Senate is throwing a lot more money at the issue of drug safety, as more scientists will be assigned to the task of looking for drug side effects, while a massive computer database will constantly be screening for anything that looks suspicious. It's hard to know where to being, but let's just say that we're really reluctant to believe that this will result in anything better for patients. If more drugs are flagged for being "unsafe", it will almost certainly be at the expense of patients getting drugs that could actually help them. For a little more perspective, here's Derek Lowe on the subject.
The Real Owner of All Those Planes (NYT)
The Times has a worthwhile profile this morning of Steven Udvar-Hazy. Oh, you don't know who that is? He's the head of International Lease Finance Corp, which owns more planes than anyone else in the world and leases them out to airlines. Leasing planes has been a popular thing for sometime, as it can help airlines smooth out their costs and keep a fresher fleet. This business has turned Udvar-Hazy into a billionaire, and in term of clout, he's a non-pareil, as his company has significant sway over the likes of Boeing and Airbus in terms of plane design.
The Enronesque prosecution of Conrad Black (Houston's Clear Thinkers)
One of our favorite legal observers is Houston attorney Tom Kirkendall, and fortunately, he's been following the Conrad Black case, since with everything else that's going on, it's been a bit off the radar. Plus, you can't really rely on most media reports to really tell the proper story, so it makes it hard to follow the action. At this point in the trial, Kirkendall contends that this is Enron II, which depending on your point of view, could mean a number of different things. In his view, it means that once again, the prosecution is appealing to the jury's bias against rich people to make it look like there was a crime, when in reality, it's not clear that anything was done wrong. It's a worthwhile read, as it should help get you up to speed. He also recommends reading Mark Steyn's dedicated blog on the subject.
Rosneft Buys More Yukos Assets (Dealbook)
It's been a little while since friend Vladimir did anything to consolidate the world's energy sector, state-owned firm Rosneft has "purchased" more assets from the bankrupt Yukos. Of course, the state is the reason that Yukos is bankrupt in the first place. There's some economic term for this behavior, something like "crowding out" of private investment. Or maybe that doesn't quite do this situation justice.
Yahoo Shutting Down Auctions (TechCrunch)
You couldn't really call it "competition" for eBay, but just in case, Yahoo is shutting down its long-running auction site. Despite the fact that it's been around for several years, the traffic was always anemic, as there's just no reason not to be selling on eBay if you want to auction off your vintage sneaker collection. Gone, forgotten, missed by nobody.

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