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Opening Bell: 6.30.08

Don't Forget the Middle People (NYT)
Wherever you go, it's always about the middle class. In the election, you rarely hear talk about the actual, real poor. Maybe you fight vaguely against poverty or something, but that's about it. It's all middle class all the time. Seems that even in Hollywood, where the actors are mulling a strike, they're making their complaints about the industry's "middle class". And they got the NYT to explain how third tier actors are having a tough go of it these days, for all sorts of reasons. Some will sound really familiar: like outsourcing voiceover work overseas. Then there's the attack on cheap, substitute goods: too much reality TV programming!
Falling Prices Grip Major Stock Markets Around the World (NYT)
Great news: world markets are just as bad as the US ones. That's great in the sense that we shouldn't feel too bad about slipping back into bear market territories after one of the worst June's of all time. Also good news: June is almost over, so we can get back to starting to go up again.
Property Insurers Confront Rising Catastrophe Losses (WSJ)
All this flooding in the midwest: what's it costing the insurers? Recent catastrophe claims are totaling $5 billion, and total for the year stand at 8.9 billion which is close to the entire loss for 2007. It could pretty much guarantee that the industry sees an underwriting loss for the year, though perhaps that not in the bag just yet.
Volatility Drops Most Since 2001 as Dollar Fall Slows (Bloomberg)
Everytime oil spikes another $5, you hear a lot of fretting about the continued decline in the dollar. But apparently that's really slowing down. One index of currency volatility has dropped severely as the pace of the dollar's declines have slowed. Anyway, the point this article is trying to make is that the deceleration of the dollar's decline may avoid severe forms of intervention, such as government's stepping in and buying or selling.

High U.S. gas prices pinch NASCAR fans (Reuters)
Eventually they'll get around to doing every demographic imaginable. This time, they came up with NASCAR fans as another hook to writing about high gas prices. It's not the most convincing piece. No doubt it's gotten a lot more expensive to drive out to a raceway. And some NASCAR fans come out in those big Winnebagos, which are practically criminal at this point. Alas, some stadiums are having no problems selling out. An interesting fact in the piece is that NASCAR has more corporate sponsors than any other sport, though that's actually pretty obvious, given that every square inch of a NASCAR event is emblazoned with some logo. Also, here's the stock of International Speedway, trading near its 52-week lows. No wonder they were so cooperative on this article.
The GOOG->MSFT Exodus: Working at Google vs. Working at Microsoft (Dara Obasanjo)
Not really business related, but an interesting blog post from a Microsoftie (and son of the Nigerian President) on people leaving Google to work from Microsoft. No doubt he might see things through Windows-colored-windows, but still worth a read.
Are Fuel Surcharges on Award Tickets a GOOD Thing?? (View from The Wing)
For those of you who travel a lot, who frequently earn free flights via frequent flier miles, this might be an interesting debate. It seems United has started charging a fuel surcharge on "free" rewards flights. So you can fly free from NYC to SFO by cashing in some miles, but ala, you'll have to pay $50 for fuel. This story hasn't been getting much attention as the baggage fee stories, it seems, but to us it's more interesting. Does anyone have any thoughts on this yet? Is it "fair"?
Higher education and human capital II (Information Processing)
As alums of the University of Texas at Austin, this is a really, really, really shocking study. It seems some folks analyzed the earning power of various graduates by major. Of course, business and engineering folks earned well. But the very top earners? Folks who did this major called "Plan II". Basically, it's this quasi-honors program where kids get to make up their own major and study whatever they want. And students who were in Plan II were hella obnoxious about it, wearing Plan II t-shirts and bumperstickers that said "I don't have a major but I Plan II." Ugh. Anyway, we'll be reading the full study later. Longhorns out there, any thoughts?