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Opening Bell: 05.22.09

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William Richards is off today. OB brought to you by anal_yst.
Ezra Merkin Quits Synagogue Post (NYT)
And just after being nominated chairman. Might've had to do with losing a bunch of members a truckload of money.
The Road To Bankruptcy (The Atlantic)
"At the end of his book's harrowing account of mortgage mistakes and credit card crises, NYT reporter Edmund Andrews writes: "While our misadventure had certainly been more extreme than those of many other Americans, our situation was not all that unusual." And indeed the book reads like the story of an American Everyman, easily sucked in to the alluring world of easy credit as he struggled to blend a new family. The terrifying implication is that it could happen to you--to anyone who leads with their heart and not their head.
But en route to that moral, it turns out the story has been tidied up a little. Patty Barreiro, Andrews' wife, has declared bankruptcy twice. The second time was while they were married, a detail that didn't make it into either the book or the excerpt that ran in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine."
Sears Holdings Swings to Q1 Profit (
"In this challenging economic environment we are pleased with the progress we have made in improving our gross margin rate, controlling inventories and further reducing our cost structure," said W. Bruce Johnson, Sears Holdings' interim chief executive officer and president. "Our efforts had a clear impact on our overall results as both net income attributable to Holdings' shareholders and Adjusted EBITDA increased significantly during the first quarter as compared to last year."
This is all well and good and surely cause for a huge pop in the stock, BUT (and forgive me for raining on Eddie's parade), the main driver of this quarter's profit was reduced advertising and payroll expenses. Yea, good luck repeating that every quarter until the economy "recovers." Lemme know how that works out for ya'.
PIMCO's Gross: US could lose AAA rating (Reuters, via FT)
O noes! Sayeth the (formerly) Moustachio'd one:

The United States will face a downgrade in "at least three to four years, if that, but the market will recognize the problems before the rating services -- just like it did today," Gross told Reuters.

I know its too much to hope that within 3-4 years time no reasonably sane investor will give a flying fuck what S&P/Moodys has to say, but its not like the fundamentals are a big secret here. US issues metric asston of debt, re-inflates asset bubbles...shit eventually hits fan. Of course, given the various precedents set by the Gov't over the past year or two, I think its obvious that if any rating agency were to even loosely consider a downgrade on US Sovereign ("Sovereign") debt, the PPT would be all over that shit like white on rice. Goes Live (HT Stacy-Marie Ishmael @ FT Alphaville)
Oh, sweet irony (emphasis mine):

A primary goal of is to improve access to Federal data and expand creative use of those data beyond the walls of government by encouraging innovative ideas (e.g., web applications). strives to make government more transparent and is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. The openness derived from will strengthen our Nation's democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.

Eureka! No longer shall we be relegated to screwing around on BEA, ERS, EIA, and Census' individual sites! Its about damn time our Gov't got their shit together and gathered the labyrinthine maze of disparate Agency information together in an organized, searchable (and machine-readable) location, no? It aint' perfect, but its a start in the right direction.
GM and UAW reach deal with U.S. government on restructuring (Reuters)
Don't get too excited, nothing to see here, same shit, different day/etc. The UAW members haven't even voted on the "concessions" yet, so I'm not quite sure why this is "news," but whatever, who am I to get in the way of the clusterfuckage?

General Motors Corp cleared a key obstacle in its restructuring on Thursday as the United Auto Workers agreed to cut labor costs and accept new terms for a $20 billion union retiree healthcare obligation...GM's roughly 54,000 UAW-represented U.S. factory workers are expected to vote on the agreement next week. Details of the agreement are being withheld until workers are briefed on the proposed changes to its 2007 contract, the union said in a statement.

Serious for a second, this BS posturing needs to stop. GM's inevitable bankruptcy is going to be a carbon-copy of Chrysler's. Honestly, does anyone actually think otherwise?
For those of you lucky enough to be cuttin' out of work early today or already off (voluntarily), enjoy the long weekend. For the rest of the peanut gallery, get to work on that vending machine challenge.