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Opening Bell: 2.27.08

Toll Brothers Swings to Loss (WSJ)
The big homebuilder, whose properties you sometimes see in NYC, reported a loss of $96 million, down from $54.3 million. Net signed contracts in the quarter fell 50 percent to $375.3 million. None of this sounds too surprising. The company did do a $153.3 million after-tax writedown, so it sounds like they would've otherwise been profitable, which may be the biggest surprise, unless we're misinterpreting. Here's the announcement. Here's one of the reasons the company is having a rough go of it, according to Robert Toll: "Ceaseless talk of a recession continues to dampen the mood of consumers in general, whether or not a recession actually occurs. For home buyers, we believe this drumbeat, coupled with concerns over mortgages, the direction of home prices, and foreclosures, has kept pent-up demand on the sidelines." Hey Rob, want us to stop talking recession? Make some money! See it goes both ways.
2008 Dem Nominee (Intrade)
If the markets are to be believed, HRC didn't do anything to help her case at last night's Dem debate. The former first lady now trades at a mere $.16 on the dollar -- Obama trades at $1.00 minus that. We didn't watch, suffice to say, past the first two minutes, since we had an unwatched episode of The Wire on the on-demand deck. Man, The Tribune Co... where will they cut costs next?
Sustainable Industrialized Food? (Check Out)
Ok, so we're totally addicted to a new blog. It's the Check Out blog and it's a group blog written by product buyers at Wal-Mart -- officially sanctioned of course. And it's actually provocative, which is unheard of for a corporate blog, save a few. It was the first source to disclose that Wal-Mart was dropping HD-DVD, and today it talks about the book The Omnivor's Dilemma, and how that relates to Wal-Mart's items. Is it all a lot of PR? Concievable, but it's got a certain fresh quality to it. Other recent posts have to do with toy safety and Apple TV.
Roubini: Recession May Last Up to Six Quarters (Big Picture)
Whenever they trot out a real bear, you know, a bear's bear, it's Nouriel Roubini, who's been calling for a deep recession for some time. Over at Big Picture, a video of him predicting that a recession will last for six quarter. Okay, that'd be rough, but that's just like a year and a half. We can get through that, no? By the way, the prognosticators at a buyouts conference also put the credit crunch end at about 18 months, so maybe there's some wisdom of crowds going on here. Or maybe this just seems like a safe number. Not too long, not too short.

EU May Give Size Of Microsoft Fine (WSJ)
The EU's front aggressive Microsoft has a revolving quality to it. It's not just that they're always launching one investigation after another, it's that each investigation is at different stages. So while Microsoft is dealing with fresh charges, brought a few months ago, relating to technological interoperability, they're on deck to get find for a period of non-compliance with a 2004 anti-trust ruling. The fine could come at any moment, and according to WSJ, it could be as high as $2.2 billion. Scrap that, turns out it's $1.3 billion.
Starbucks Takes a 3-Hour Coffee Break (NYT)
The NYT got a press pass to probably the most exciting store closing ever, as they got to experience Starbuck's three hour shuttering and the training that went on during that time. While the rest of Manhattan, nay the world, started twitching from withdrawals, baristas were retrained to love the coffee. They were told that Starbucks is all about the coffee again, starting now, and to that end, they were encouraged to smell the coffee more (literally), enjoy its colors and more generally regain the company's "soul of the past". It's hard to imagine Starbucks really competing on the coffee front with more boutique coffeeries, which keep innovating with their brewing techniques. Seriously, the state of the art has vastly surpassed the big chain. But, who knows, maybe things will improve.
Gartner: Start Planning IT Cost-Cutting Now (Data Center Knowledge)
Those companies that take analyst firms like Gartner as gospel may start paring down on their tech spend, per a new report from the group encouraging cost cuts. Yes, but, but, shouldn't tech be immune from a recession, after all, it's productivity enhancing? Important thing to remember any time you hear a company make that argument: Almost all products are productivity enhancing, or else nobody would buy them.
Google's Decline (no link)
We're not going to link to anyone in particular on this, but we've noticed a lot of bloggers claiming to have been ahead of the curve in predicting Google's price decline. We're curious how many actually traded on their gut, and how many folks are patting themselves on the back for once having written "huh, Google does seem to be getting rich these days." back in November.