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Opening Bell: 5.16.07

Is Gazprom Vladimir Putin's retirement haven? (MarketWatch)
In a sense Vladimir Putin is already the president of Gazprom, but then again, Vladimir Putin is ostensibly the elected president of a functioning democracy, so definitions are really flexible. Whereas our politicians generally do charitable work and lectures after their time in office, Putin's interest may not be so selfless. Some believe that the big man is gunning for the top spot at Gazprom, which would allow him to keep his significant role in the world's energy market. Plus, he'd probably make more money. If it's true, it makes all of his moves in office look far more calculated, as he's one by one picked off any possible threats to his ascent. Putin really is the The Prince.
Deere Net Falls Less-Than-Expected 16 Percent on Tractor Sales (Bloomberg)
Today, we are all in the ethanol business. The beauty of corn right now is not just that it's gold, or that it has beautiful golden locks of hair, but that everything it touches turns to gold as well. If you even breathe in a sweet corn field you'll profit from the demand in ethanol. For one great chart that sums it all up, check out Deere, which is enjoying the world's commodity boom, demand for food in China, and most of all corn, corn corn. Ethanol baby.
Oracle agrees to buy Agile software for $495 mln (Reuters)
M&A lovin' bankers have had no better friend than Oracle over the past several years. The company does new deals every few months, and they're not small by any means. This latest one was just $495 million, but that's on the low end. Just a few weeks ago, it bought out business intelligence maker Hyperion for $3 billion, and there's no doubt that more are on the way. If you can think of a possible deal, you should let 'em know, cause they'll probably be intrigued.
Sony Q4 loss widens, sees sharp upturn ahead (Reuters)
Sony's been a rough story for some time, but it promises that things are on the mend (and investor seem to believe that they are). Despite another deep loss, it says that good times are just around the corner, as a new LCD JV helps it reduce costs, while PS3-related economies of scale start to kick in. They better hope that's true. It's a little hard to imagine that the PS3 turns out to be the savior its hoping for considering the fact that it's struggled against the XBOX 360, not to mention the ultimate black swan of the video game business, the Wii.

Jorgensen bring M&A expertise to Yahoo (MarketWatch)
Yesterday, Yahoo announced that Blake Jorgensen, one of the co-founders of Thomas Wiesel, would be its new CFO. The conclusion that everyone is drawing is that the company is looking to make deals, deals deals. And it probably won't be on the selling end, since it doesn't need an investment banking CFO to do that. Already, there's been a ton of speculation about what internet companies should hook up with which other ones, but you can expect that to increase big time now.
Charting Chrysler's next move (San Francisco Chronicle)
Ok, we know that Cerberus, the private equity firm that's acquiring Chrysler, is "notoriously secretive" or whatnot. But maybe it would be a good idea if all of the world' PE firms, or maybe just the big ones, put on PBS special about how their business works, because there seems to be a lot of misunderstanding. David Lazarus as the San Francisco Chronicle is bemoaning the fact that "...what Cerberus has its eye on isn't a remaking of Chrysler as the leading automaker of the 21st century, going toe-to-toe with Toyota for dominance of hybrid-vehicle sales. Rather, Cerberus is looking to capitalize on its investment in a money-losing business by slashing costs, wringing additional concessions from autoworkers and generally sprucing up the balance sheet for whoever buys the company next. " Of course the firm has designs on restructuring Cerberus. If a group of people think that they could be Chrysler and remake it into an alternative vehicles powerhouse, then they'd have done that. The fact that nobody stepped up probably suggests that that wasn't realistic. That doesn't stop people from bashing Cerberus though, which is ridiculous.
Now Departing: Airline Careers (NYT)
In our experience, either you're a plane person or your not. Either you're one of those people that stands out on the fields outside of JFK to get a glimpse of the new Airbus, or you really couldn't care less. We've known plane people -- some mechanics, some pilots -- and it's definitely a unique group. Movies like the Aviator and the Right Stuff confirm this view. An interesting article in the Times talks about professional plane people, people whose whole lives have been consumed by planes, and who eventually went to work for airlines as pilots and mechanics. What's interesting is that the industry's recent spasms (from which it's mainly recovered) left a lot of them jaded. Fed up with the business of it all, a number of plane people finally just quit, having lost their love of the game. In a way, though, this is to be expected over time in any industry, as it becomes more automated and less exotic. The Journal is also looking at the subject, noting that many airlines, for the first time, are struggling to fill positions.
Greenspan Joins Fellow Legend, Pimco's Gross (WSJ)
Long before Greenspan became Greenspan, he produced custom reports about the markets, which he sold to clients. Now he's getting back to his roots, as he's signed up Bill Gross' bond house PIMCO as his first client. The real question is whether, post-fed, Greenspan can still write a sentence that someone else actually understands. Judging from many of his recent comments, he still can't seem to shake his desire to speak in Fedspeak, which is fine when you're talking to the dolts on Capital Hill, but not so great when you're talking to a paying client. On the other hand, it may be just sort of a show deal for PIMCO, sort of like when companies hire Rudy Giuliani to be a consultant ("yes Rudy, whatever you want, here take our money"). Maybe now that Greenspan's getting back to his roots, he'll start playing jazz music again.
Why Taxpayers Should Take Note Of Chrysler Deal (WSJ)
Alan Murray is warning that the healthcare liabilities of Chrysler may one day wind up in the hands of US taxpayers. Actually, we'd really be surprised if it didn't. And if Cerberus thinks it can find some way to offload some of the burden onto the public, you can be sure it'll try. Of course, it's not just Cerberus, but the other major automakers as well. Then again, considering that we already have a healthcare ticking time bomb, what's a few thousand more union workers?