Another weekend after a relatively mellow week of semi-vacation here at Slate (though the unstoppable parade of genius that is Randy Cohen's News Quiz continues unabated). That means, of course, that it's time once again for Cocktail Chatter, our weekly collection of guaranteed conversation starters (or stoppers, depending upon your intonation and inflection) from the world of business. [I've included background information you might need in brackets.] Whatever you may say about them, these items will make you sound more interesting than "No, really. It's not the heat. It's the humidity." We think.
1. "GTE and Bell Atlantic announced a $52-billion merger this week, and the market barely blinked. At this point, we all just assume there's going to be a Big Three of the telecom industry, and the sooner we get there, the better."
2. "Of course, GTE shareholders were annoyed that the deal was a takeunder. Gotta be troubling to find out that someone buying an entire company thinks it's worth much less than you were paying for your tiny piece of it. Gotta be really troubling to find out that the people running the company think the very same thing." [Bell Atlantic paid less for each GTE share than GTE stock had been trading at on the day before the deal was announced.]
3. "Then there are AT&T and British Telecom, which are also pairing up. The companies insist there will be no culture clash. Yeah, that Eisenhower-Montgomery relationship worked really well, too. Anyone remember A Bridge Too Far?"
4. "This is truly the Weeble stock market: It wobbles, but it won't fall down. The task now is to revise estimates for third-quarter earnings downward so far that if companies make any profit at all, it'll seem like a rousing triumph."
5. "Clorox reported earnings on Wednesday that absolutely blew away analysts' estimates. It was one of the few truly great performances of the quarter. The piece I'm waiting to read is the one explaining how the rise of the middle class in the Third World is having an enormously beneficial impact on bleach manufacturers because of the middle class' affection for white sheets. I suspect that such a piece would be patently false, but I'm still waiting to read it."
6. "Phrases like 'quarter of a point' or 'half a point' don't mean anything when it comes to Internet stocks. These stocks move only in increments of five-dollars-a-share or more. Hey, we're living on Internet time. Why walk when you can run?"
7. "The coolest new product in history (well, okay, in the last six months) came out this week: the Sony VAIO ultralight notebook. It's 0.9 inches thick, weighs less than a kitten, and is covered in magnesium. Finally, we have a laptop that looks like it belongs in the Museum of Modern Art."