Weirdly, there's been a lot of apparently good news lately—about unemployment claims, factory orders, and productivity. Ah, but it's not blue skies for everybody in the land of money and markets this week. Here's what else is going on.
Counting Andersen Out: Arthur Andersen has lately been dumped by Merck, Delta, and by an accounting firm trade group that apparently feels it will have an easier time lobbying for mercy without the baggage of the club's most notorious member. In light of this, Moneybox is formally severing all ties with Arthur Andersen. I have nothing to do with those people. Trust me.
The Welch Affair: The Wall Street Journal reported that (married) former GE CEO Jack Welch had a "romantic relationship" with a Harvard Business Review editor—or rather the paper slipped that into a report about internal squabbling at HBR. While some found it curious that the Journal used this backdoor method, I found it curious that HBR apparently allowed Welch such an extensive vetting of the Q & A with him that the magazine published; he even scotched their planned headline.
Steely Decision-Making: George W. Bush's proposed tariffs on foreign steel to buy some "breathing space" for the ailing domestic steel industry played poorly around the world, as Slate's June Thomas explains here. (It also played badly where I live.) The president spun the tariffs as a defense of America's "free-trading" soul. Chris Suellentrop explains the legal backdrop of the maneuver. Meanwhile, Bush passed the buck to Congress on the question of whether to organize a bailout to cover the billions of health and pension costs lost by former employees of dying steelmakers. Earlier this week Moneybox readers met one ex-steel man who can afford not to worry about that.
Lettermanomics: Much agonizing surrounded the news that ABC might bumpNightline off the air to make way for David Letterman. The New York Times' Bill Carter had the best inside baseball on the story, and among other things he notes that if costs associated with the Late Show total around $70 million a year (including about $30 million for Dave), that still leaves a profit of "$40 to $60 million." Even at the low end of that scale, the show's revenue of $110 million, which,just for fun, is more than five times the 2001 revenues of the widely hyped TiVo, the personal-video recorder firm, in which CBS is also an investor.
Disney Memories: Speaking of the Nightline thing, remember, when Disney bought the Fox Family channel last year, the company suggested that this was good news for consumers because some of its best ABC shows would get "a second airing" on ABC Family? Among the shows said to be in line for such treatment: Nightline. "For five years," Disney's Michael Eisner noted at the time, "we've been talking to Ted Koppel about how do we utilize the 25 years of one of the greatest news and public-affairs libraries in America. The history of Nightline alone is an enormous resource for us." Perhaps history is the operative word there.
Hewlett-Packard and Compaq, Continued: Institutional Shareholder Services, a firm that advises institutional investors, recommended support of the HP-Compaq merger. "ISS has missed the point," responded grumpy Walter Hewlett through his Vote No site. Here is HP's Vote Yes site, and here's a good story from the Wall Street Journal comparing the proxy squabble to a political campaign.
7 UPdate: About a dozen people wrote in to tell me that 7 UP's new unspokesman, Godfrey, hails from a reality TV show called The It Factor. (Thanks to definitive reality TV site Reality Blurred and readers Lara E. and Ben O. for that link.) Apparently the show is currently in reruns on Bravo, and I'm told there's an episode in which Godfrey gets the 7 UP part. Now you know.
Were You Invited? To Jeffrey Skilling's wedding, I mean.
Playlist: "Barricades & Brick Walls," by Kasey Chambers, from the album of the same name. "Lightbulb," by Call and Response. "1999," by Dump, a side project of Yo La Tengo bass player James McNew; this song is the highlight, for me, of a collection of Prince covers called That Skinny Motherfucker With the High Voice? Perhaps there's not much overlap between Prince fans and Moneybox readers, but just out of curiosity, the first person to e-mail me the name of the Prince song from which that line is taken gets a free copy of the curiously underrated business comic book Titans of Finance. [Update: We have a winner in the Prince-song contest. Details will be revealed in next week's "Minimal Disclosure."]