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Opening Bell: 6.7.07

Inquirer owner interested in Dow Jones (BusinessWeek)
Man, how awesome would it be if a supermarket tabloid bought out Dow Jones? Definitely rooting for the Inquirer to win the bidding now. Oh wait. The Inquirer isn't the same thing as the Enquirer is it? Nope, it's not. Boring. Turns out the the Philadelphia Inquirer could see itself bidding for Dow Jones if a formal bidding process is opened. Still, there's nothing stopping the Enquirer from jumping in and putting more stories about Abbie Joseph Cohen love children on the front page (not that there are any, of course, just that that's the kind of thing they'd public).
Japan's Toyota Motor hybrid gas-electric vehicle sales top one mln mark (AFX)
We're sill not convinced that Priuses and other hybrids are the boon to the environment that they're claimed to be. Still, from a business standpoint, hats off to Toyota for selling over one million of 'em. There's no question that three big factors, national security, concern over global warming and rising oil prices, have combined to create a damn near perfect storm for stuff like this and Toyota's timing couldn't have been more spot on. The perfect storm is also leading to an explosion of venture capital investments into clean tech, which hopefully will pay off in the not-too long run.
Vioxx Plaintiff Faces Choice: Slashed Award or New Trial (WSJ)
Vioxx hasn't been in the news as much as it was last summer, but it would seem that Merck continues to do very well in court. Heretofore, most juries have returned verdicts that were favorable to Merck. And now, one of the few juries to have awarded the plaintiff a major windfall, has been slapped down by a judge, as a $50 million payment has been reduced to $1.6 million. That's still a nice payoff for a non-fatal heart attack, and if Merck had to pay every plaintiff that much money, it'd be in serious trouble. But, it definitely takes some of the sting off of that particular case.
Drop in U.S. Home Sales, Prices Likely to Accelerate (Bloomberg)
We're beginning to think that the housing market has hit a bottom. How come? Because the National Association of Retailers has put out a study calling for accelerating price and volume drops in the market. This is real capitulation here, since the NAR have been bulls' bulls for so long. The predicted price drop still doesn't seem that big (just 1.3%), but if you're leveraged (which all homeowners are), then that could sting a bit more.

Productivity slows, costs rise (Boston Globe)
Productivity, arguably the most important economic indicator, is down, grew at a slower rate last quarter than had been anticipated. It's still up, but on the whole (if you believe that these things are measured accurately), it's not a big gain. That being said, you really ought to click through and read the article, because it's accompanied by a great picture, which shows eight construction workers leveling concrete on a highway. While they're probably doing something important (wouldn't want uneven concrete), there's something very New Deal/communist about the picture, in that it looks rather futile.
China to Revise Rules on Food and Drug Safety (NYT)
China, which is obviously quite cognizant of the potential for international backlash over its tainted exports, looks set to overhaul its system for expecting food and drugs. In a sense, this is probably good, in that it should (hopefully) tamp down criticism. But over the long run, it's no great victory if the Chinese system starts to resemble our wasteful and bureaucratic FDA, although that seems inevitable. When they finally decided to drop all vestiges of communism, maybe they'll privatize that function too.
Chinese Auto Parts Enter the Global Market (NYT)
Despite big predictions for the Chinese automotive industry, the prevailing sentiment is that it's going to by some time still before you can walk into a showroom and drive off with a Chery QQ (not that you'd want to). But apparently the Chinese share of the car parts market is really starting to take off, as parts exports have increased six-fold in the past five years. 2007 already looks set to decimate the record set in 2006. And when companies like Chery finally do start exporting finished cars, look out for even more growth from these parts makers.
As Insurers Flee Coast, States Face New Threat (WSJ)
Last year's hurricane season was fairly benign, but just as 2005 might have been a bit of a freak, so too might've 2006. So, the big exodus of home owners away from the coast continues, leaving homeowners fewer options to insure their homes. You might say that the market has spoken and that people should just leave these areas. But, fortunately the government is there to allow people to avoid listening to what the market is saying. Increasingly, homeowners are getting their insurance from the government, meaning taxpayers. So folks in inland Mississippi are paying so that people can live in Biloxi. What's needed is the emergence of a sub-prime insurance industry to fill the gaps that established carriers won't touch.