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Opening Bell: 11.21.07

Oil Prices Rise Above $99 a Barrel (AP)
So you know what's going to happen, right? Yup, crude oil will break the century mark tomorrow on a day we're taking off in the spirit of thanksgiving, and we won't be around to commemorate it. Sure, we'll have our own private celebration among friends and family, but you know we'd rather be partying with you, or readers, on such a momentus occasion. Let's just hope we're wrong and that the inevitable is staved off until Friday, when at least a couple of you/us will be hanging around.
Target Profit Declines 4%; Warm Autumn Is Blamed (NYT)
Weak retail environment? Nah. Housing slump? Never heard of it. The real problem this quarter at Target: a warm autumn. Um, since when isn't it still warm when Q3 ends? Seriously... Q3 is just a warm quarter. If the company was really planning on something else, they need to bust open their copies of the Old Farmers' Almanac and get a better sense of what the weather is actually like during that time.
Big Buybacks Begin to Haunt Firms (WSJ)
Look: sometimes it makes sense to buy a certain company's stock and sometimes such a purchase will prove to have been a mistake. Everyone knows that. But for some inexplicable reason, that obvious logic is thrown at the window when a company is buying its own shares -- then it's always considered a good thing. The stock could be way overvalued and the company might have to borrow out the wazoo at a 15 percent interest rate, and you'll still hear analysts on the call chiding management for not buying back shares fast enough. So we're definitely not surprised that a reasonable number of these buybacks are proving to be a mistake... and yet we have no expectation that the demands of investors will diminish. Buy! Buy! Buy!
Bounty of the Bog Gets Pricier (WSJ)
In addition to everything else, the price of cranberries has been on the up-up-up. We're tempted to just blame the weak dollar, but apparently there are a number of unique factors, including bad weather (depressing supply) and increased interest in their health benefits (anti-oxidants, anti-UTI). Anyway, it's bad news for retailers since the more money spent on cranberry sauce the less money spent on GPS devices.

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Proton Shares Post Record Decline as VW Talks End (Bloomberg)
We only note this since we used to live in Malaysia and are big fans of the Proton Saga -- the state-owned car that doesn't get enough coverage in the Western press. Anyway, apparently the company's shares took a sharp hit following news that alliance talks with VW broke down.
IPhone Must Be Offered Without Contract Restrictions, German Court Rules (NYT)
Seriously, what's up with Europeans and their allergy to the free market? We're not Euro-haters here and for the most part it's a pretty capitalistic continent. They might call it Democratic-Socialism or whatever, but basically, Europe is mainly about business. Still, they do have an odd streak. Like going after Microsoft and Google over antitrust stuff or nationalized health care (rimshot!). And now they're complaining about Apple's business model for selling the iPhone... but really, who gives a damn? Why are the courts and politicians really getting involved in this? Doesn't make much sense.
Scenes from Zimbabwe's Hyperinflation (Paul Kedrosky)
Paul K pulls out some amusingly depressing facts about inflation in Zimbabwe. Turns out it's so bad that ATMs can only hold enough cash for four users... so they're pretty much going unused/unfilled. But, as Ben Bernanke might say, it really doesn't matter what happens to Zimbabwe's currency, since Zimbabweans can just buy goods denominated in the local currency. No harm no foul.
All sides in stem cell debate claim vindication (CNN)
We don't really know the science behind this latest stem cell "breakthrough"... but we're going to go way out on a limb here and predict that it's not nearly as groundbreaking or promising as it's hoped to be... or if it is that big, it'll take a long time to see any results.. Of course we hope to be proven wrong.