Opening Bell: 5.13.08

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Wal-Mart Reports Record First Quarter Sales and Earnings
Hey! Look at that. People still buy stuff. Even those who aren't in the Whole Foods Prius set. Wal-Mart reported a record first quarter and said sales were up 10 percent year-over-year. And it'd been awhile since we'd closely watched WMT's share price, but there it is, knocking on its 52-week high. Perhaps the pool of those who would deign to step into a Wal-Mart has been growing, though we're loathe to call anything defensive, or anti-recessionary.
Losses at XM and Sirius as They Pursue a Merger (Reuters)
XM and Sirius really need to stop competing with each other. Approval from the FCC and a subsequent merger wouldn't eliminate competition -- after all there's regular radio, HD, radio and iPods. But they're still killing each other on the off chance that they may not be allowed to get married. Both continued the tradition of heavy losses yesterday, although Sirius is obviously the strong one, having posted much higher growth and lower costs. But again, still not even close to profitability.
Société Générale’s First-Quarter Profit Drops 23.4% (NYT)
It's been rough at Soc-Gen but it could be worse. At least analysts had been looking for something a bit worse than what the battered bank reported. At least they made a profit, for one thing, which can't be said for all of its peers. And at this point, the Kerveil thing seems to be ancient history. Good for them. Too bad for us.
Are Polar Bears Really an Endangered Species? (American)
Apparently it's not a trivial question. President Bush has to decide by Friday whether or not to put them on 'the list', and if he does then it could prompt all kinds of debate about whether global warming is leading to their extension (like if a glacier melts do they fall into the ocean?) and then that leads to some energy policy issues. Somehow we can't imagine it'll really be that big of a deal either way. No doubt there are plenty of school children whose teachers have made them write letters to Bush urging him to put polar bears on the endangered species list. But doubtful that his decision will have much of an effect on the course of history.
Retailers dropping like flies (Oligopoly Watch)
Wal-Mart might be doing okay, but here's some counterpoint. This has been a bad year for several retail chains, which have been joining the ranks of the bankrupt that might make the airlines blush. Ok, not that bad, but still. Some ones to have declared: The Sharper Image, Fortunoff, Bombay and Company, Wickes Furniture, Lilian Vernon and Linens 'n' Things. And then there are several others teetering on the brink. One issue according to Oligopoly Watch: "As has often been pointed out, there is an obscene excess of retail space in the US, and while Americans like to shop till they drop, they are now dropping." Another reason: "Do and did anyone ever buy anything from The Bombay Company? Just asking." Right on.


Lowest NYSE Volume of the Year (Big Picture)
Killjoy Barry Ritholtz points out how weak volume has been on this latest rallying, arguing it's a sure sign of a bear market. Some other bears agree and are getting ready to reload up on shorts (like, oh sure, they haven't been short during this whole runup).
Guess What Stock Market Is at a New High? (CrossingWallStreet)
Yep, it's our neighbors to the great white north. Toronto, the nexus of energy, intelligence, a strong Loonie and tech. But there's more to the rally than just Americans trading in their dollars to Canadian ones in order to prospect for oil in Alberta. There's also that thing called the Blackberry, which is showing no signs whatsoever of getting dislodged. It's the country's largest company by market cap, and is becoming like Nokia to Finland, or Skype to Estonia.
Does the high oil price reflect a bubble? (Marginal Revolution)
Lots of debate on this question, duh, cause oil is damned expensive. Krugman says no. Cowen... eh, to be honest, we're not sure where he stands, but he's thought provoking nonetheless. Our friend Paul Kedrosky will be on CNBC during the 8 o'clock hour debating this question, and he'll certainly have something interesting to say on it. Our view: no bubble, doesn't mean it can't come down sharply. Hope that's not too middling for you.
Jindalmania (Megan McArdle)
Sorry, it's political. But Megan usually writes with an econ slant, so it's okay to link to her. Anyway, she liked what she heard from LA gov Bobby Jindal, and from what little we've heard of the guy, he sounds cool to us.

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