Opening Bell: 12.6.07

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5-Year Mortgage Rate Freeze Looms (AP)
So President Bush is apparently set to introduce price controls on mortgages. Is it a good idea? As always the devil is in the details. For those of you who have never read the Opening Bell before, the preceding sentence is obviously a joke. The day we really mean a statement like "the devil is in the details" when it comes to price controls is the day we need to quit this job and get some extra sleep each morning. If anything, the angel is in the details, because the devil is right there in the headline. So, if you know of some wrinkle that somehow makes this less bad or good than it seems, by all means let us know.
Thomas H. Lee Partners Closes $8.1 Billion Fund (Dealbook)
Private Equity firm Thomas H. Lee has closed its largest ever fund, according to Dealbook. At $8.1 billion, there's clearly a big appetite still for fresh private equity investments, even if the financing isn't there on the mega deals. With so much cash, but tighter financing, it's worth asking what a fund like this will do with its money. Lots of smaller deals? More club deals that require less leverage to complete? Something's gotta give.
A Dark-Horse Candidate for Citi’s Top Job? (Dealbook)
We've documented Citi's inability to fill its top slot already, and the upshot may be that it's forced to go into the minor leagues a little bit. Word is that it's looking at Michael A. Neal, the head of GE Commercial Finance. Why Neal? Cause he's from GE, the world's best business school. We like what the first commenter to the Dealbook post said: We have too much experience with these “ex-GE” folk: anyone remember Kidder Peabody? Home Depot? Several others? Not everyone from GE is Jack Welch. There are plenty of better people out there. Keep on looking. Actually, we'd argue that not even Jack Welch (the man) is Jack Welch (the myth), though that's a debate for another time.
Hollywood Writers Cite Movement in Talks (AP)
As they say, strikes never reveal new information, so technically, a strike shouldn't make it any easier to come to a labor agreement. Typically, both sides end as losers, so from a pure economic standpoint, it would seem that strikes should never happen, yet they do all the time. Perhaps it's not about information but about blowing off some steam. You know -- you get into a fight with someone, so you walk away for a minute, or sleep on the couch. Anyway, some hopeful early signs that the two sides are making progress, but probably nothing to get excited about. After all, what's the best that can happen -- new episodes of Letterman? Whoo.

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Are Comcast's Woes a Harbinger? (BusinessWeek)
Comcast has all but said, over the last couple days, that we're in a recession. They haven't said the "R" word yet, but they have said the "W" word, weak. So is what Comcast is telling us some sort of harbinger? Actually, a harbinger is usually a sign of things to come, no? What Comcast is talking about is the right here and now. Maybe the question is whether other telecom and cable operators will experience the same woes. To the extent that Comcast is telling the truth, and not just using the economy as an excuse for bad performance, sort of hard to imagine that the woes would be confined to the Comcast footprint.
Dell Board OKs Share Repurchase Plan (AP)
Dell share repurchases have eaten up much of the company's cash flow over the past several years, so when it hit accounting troubles, and decided to suspend the plan, that was arguably a good thing -- especially since Dell shares have been such a punk investment. So while we're sure there are some fund managers out there getting excited at the news that the company is renewing its buyback program, we have to wonder (as always) whether it's that good of news. Just thing. If they'd had this in place a week ago, their recent buys would already be 12 percent underwater. Nice ROI.
OECD Tells Fed, ECB to Avoid Rate Cuts, Sees Rebound (Bloomberg)
We didn't really know the OECD tried to dictate monetary policy, but maybe that's part of its mission. All we know about the OECD is from a one-day field trip we took to their Paris HQ, where a spokesperson kept saying the organization promoted the economies "from Vancouver to Vladivostok"... seriously, she used that line like 10 times. Anyway, they don't think we or the ECB should cut rates, and that the the credit crunch isn't going to derail the global economy.
Apologetic, Facebook Changes Ad Program (NYT)
Microsoft's massive investment into Facebook seems to have come right at its recent high water mark, in terms of popularity and mindshare. Since then, the company has taken a beating over an ill-conceived ad program, that stoked fears over privacy. We're not real big on privacy ourselves -- it's pretty overrated, not to mention non-existent for anyone who's ever used Google. But in our view, the real issue is not privacy, it's that the program, Beacon, didn't seem very appealing to users. "Privacy" was not the issue, it just happened to be the closest, easiest word to describe a host of other concerns.
Turning Kitchens Into Laboratories to Find Treats for the Allergy-Prone (NYT)
As a severe allergy sufferer (nuts... yes, we've been allergic to peanuts since long before it become a trend), we're always excited about new developments in the anti-allergy world. Unfortunately, there's often a lack of substance to back up the hype, particularly on such things as vaccines. In the meantime, the next best option is greater awareness and an increase in nut-free foods, which is apparently an increasing niche (lovely how the markets do that). A number of companies are selling pastries and such that are made for our set. Unfortunately, we're not real big on sugar and sweets... so it's nice in theory.
Yes, U.S. Manufacturing Can Compete (Evolving Excellence)
Yes, the death of US manufacturing has been quite exaggerated.
Airline's 'MILF' Promo Not What You Think (ABC News) (via Jeff Nolan)
Actually, Spirit Airlines' MILF campaign is exactly what we thought it would be. Why, doesn't everyone think "Many Islands, Low Fares" when they hear that acronym?

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