When an embattled CEO is quoted as saying "nothing could be further from the truth," The Business Press Maven knows that chances are we're pretty close to the truth. But for the sake of argument (and at the risk of being dead wrong), let's take General Motors ( GM) CEO Rick Wagoner at his word this morning. The Wall Street Journal
reports that in preparation for the big powwow with Renault-Nissan on Friday, Wagoner said he was "completely open" to an alliance. ( Editor's note: To access some of these stories, registration or a subscription may be required. Please check the individual links for the site's policy.) Wagoner is under shareholder pressure (see: Kirk Kerkorian) to get his hand held by Carlos Ghosn, who has the turnaround knack and runs Renault-Nissan with an innovative eye toward (gasp) making cars of a sane size that people actually want to buy. How completely open Wagoner is to producing cars of a sane size that people actually want to buy will be borne out starting Friday. But on the subject of The Wall Street Journal and the truth, the two never seemed more in sync than with Tuesday's headline: " Time Warner Expects Offering AOL Free Will Be Costly" Well, duh. Take a service, Time Warner's ( TWX) AOL, that no one really needs in its current incarnation, start giving it away and guess what? You're going to lose some money. So it was with some surprise and his typically off-putting smirk that The Business Press Maven awoke this morning to the headline, " Report on AOL Blasted." Time Warner, in damage-control mode or maybe even believing what it was saying, released a statement Tuesday calling the story malarkey. But let's wish Time Warner luck in what feels like its millionth attempt to salvage something from the AOL merger, which will go down in the record books as the one of the dopiest ever. The Business Press Maven will always remember Steve Case at that press conference, unable to contain his glee at having sold his dial-up outfit with no easy future in a broadband world for so much. Steve, The Business Press Maven has not stopped genuflecting in your general direction.
If you want a Time Warner call holder to fail to convince you that the company's stock is still a good bet,
read James Stewart, also in The Wall Street Journal. A big reason: the anecdotal "I use the product." Stewart went for the high-speed Internet/voice/digital cable package so I guess he's saying you should rush out and buy calls too. We'll have to meet somewhere else, though, because I won't be on the line. Instead of missing opportunities while talking about General Motors and Time Warner, let's head over to Investor's Business Daily, which entertains with a decent primer on what they see to be an emerging (with too much competition, be careful of it submerging) software niche: on-demand software that helps smaller companies with their customer relationship management. RightNow Technologies ( RNOW) and Salesforce.com ( CRM) are two of the players; even Microsoft ( MSFT) is getting into the game. The on-demand approach (I detest that piece of jargon so if you have a better way of saying it, let me know) means that smaller companies can pay for software as they need it instead of up front, and don't have to spend tons on hardware and in-house tech support. There may be dangers, the article rightly notes, in big software firms getting involved because the lower-scale products might take business away from their traditional business fare. And while you're at Investor's Business Daily, take a quick gander at the recent growth in money market funds. There's nothing like a peppery trend petering out. I don't know how many trend stories I've read over the last several years about how the influx of Hispanic immigrants and even the baby boomers' trillions of dulling taste buds would lead to more adventurous, spicy food preferences for Americans. Well, the Chicago Tribune reports that this little local outfit over in Oak Brook called McDonald's ( MCD) is pulling its spicy chicken sandwich. It was introduced in January with pomp and circumstance because of all these new trends that would change the way Americans ate. Well, never mind. I'm still in mourning the McRib sandwich, which is only a dim menu memory after a mighty debut more than a quarter century ago.
While businesses often look for trends in all the wrong places, high gasoline prices will change behavior. That's why I liked the connection Motley Fool
made between recent Wal-Mart ( WMT) and Costco ( COST) reports. The volume of transactions was falling, but the dollar value of those transactions was rising. In other words, people are cutting down on shopping trips and buying more in bulk (can Americans buy in any more bulk?) while there. There were some good "yet" headlines on Genentech ( DNA), which reported some stellar numbers ... yet also announced that sales of Avastin had narrowly missed estimates. I award first prize to The New York Times' take. Meanwhile, another San Francisco company, the Gap ( GPS), which hasn't seen a fashion trend of late that it hasn't missed -- now has to deal with the departure of its Old Navy stalwart president. Read the details in Women's Wear Daily.