Opening Bell: 4.17.08

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Merrill Lynch posts steep first-quarter loss on write-downs (AP)
At first blush, Merrill's earnings don't look so good, though who knows how these things play out during the day. The company posted another wide loss -- $2.14 billion -- which was deeper than analysts estimated. Revenue also came in below expectations, which may be the real story here. Here's the actual release. While the headline gives the basic numbers, the subheadline trumpets: "Record Quarterly Net Revenues in Global Wealth Management." Well that's something. Another something: 4,000 jobs are expected to be cut, says the company in the report.
U.S. Proposes Auctioning Runway Slots to Curb Delays at La Guardia (NYT)
This is interesting: The US Department of Transportation, in hopes of finding some way to ease flight delays, is looking to trial a system of auctioning runway slots at La Guardia. We're not sure how well it would work, and it's just a modicum of the regulatory reform we'd like to see, but we like it. Why not go for it. If you can find some way to determine a market price for something that's not being priced on a market, then we're all for it. Of course, the response to the proposal has been laughably predictable. Governor Paterson called the proposal "woefully misguided", while saying it would end up costing consumers more (as we say, better to pay in money than in time). While the president of an industry group said: "It is truly mystifying, with the airline industry in a financial meltdown due to overwhelming fuel prices, that D.O.T. decides now is the time for a costly economics experiment at La Guardia.” Dumb.
SLM Has Loss as Student Loan Business Looks `Broken' (Bloomberg)
Another horrendous quarter from Sallie Mae, which remains unable to sell its portfolio of student loans. How come though. Do they really think the bright eyed college kids of America will one day turn out to be deadbeats. Well, they're probably right. At least everyone we know is.
Yahoo-Google Deal Advances (WSJ)
A week later, and Yahoo's search ad test with Google is going well... so well that the two are closer to signing a real deal, whereby Yahoo would outsource search ads to Google on some ongoing basis. It's not exactly clear how that would work, nor would such an agreement necessarily thwart Microsoft. Nor would this necessarily pass anti-trust muster. But the trial is due to an end in a week, but there'll probably be movement before then.


Unionized Atlantic City casino dealers still lack contracts (AP)
Unionization will only offer you so much. That's what dealers an AC have found out. They're united, but united sans contracts, which sort of makes the whole point of a union a little moot. Said one dealer at Caesers: "We played by the rules, won an election, and wanted to deal fairly and squarely... But the company still doesn't get it. That's why we are stepping up this fight." The whole thing reminds us of a time we were playing poker at Binion's in Vegas and the dealer kept apologizing for the slow pace of cocktail delivery: "they're unionized."
Dozens Involved In Wild Brawl In Nyack (WCBSTV.com)
Ok, not technically finance or business related, but sometimes we like to throw in a regional story of interest. Check out this major brawl in Nyack that involved such weapons as knives, bats, claw hammers and an ax.
Rio Tinto soars on raised bid talk (FT Alphaville)
It's our regret that we haven't more closely covered the BHP Billiton-Rio Tinto dramatics in closer detail. Apparently there's renewed chatter of a higher hostile between from the world's #1 base metal miner. Nothing's certain, and a spike in Rio Tinto shares yesterday may have just been the result of a positive outlook.
Shareholder Democracy and the Myth of the Mom and Pop Investor (Conglomerate)
An interesting discussion about the significance of the "mom and pop" investor, and how their (non?)-existence affects debates over shareholder democracy. Our gut says that the mom and pop investors really care the least about shareholder democracy stuff. Seriously, when was the last time you heard some random guy grousing about a dual class structure or independent board members. Usually those things are brought up by activists, and even then, it's not a matter of philosophy, but just a desire to get their noms on the board.

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