Magazine

Immigrants On The March


Washington kept a weather eye on the "Day Without an Immigrant" protests and boycotts on May 1, but it's unclear whether these demonstrations will further the cause of legislation offering eventual citizenship to millions of workers. Senate leaders from both parties said they would restart talks on a compromise this month, although aides think the marches were counterproductive. Images of crowds waving the Mexican flag and talk-radio rage over the national anthem in Spanish may stoke the GOP's populist wing, which is fighting probusiness forces eager to accommodate low-wage labor.

The House version of immigration reform, which focuses on border security and criminal sanctions, won't pass the Senate. But many states are responding to the impasse by proposing their own laws cracking down on illegals and the companies that employ them.

See "The Immigration Tightrope"

Next time, Ben Bernanke may stick to chit-chat. The Fed Chairman upset the markets by talking monetary policy at the White House Correspondents' Assn. dinner with CNBC anchor and BusinessWeek columnist Maria Bartiromo. Stocks and bonds dipped on May 1 after she reported that he told her the press had misread his testimony before Congress as being more dovish than he intended. The party talk also sent the dollar up, interrupting a five-month slide against the euro and the yen that's largely due to strong growth abroad. Meanwhile, Washington said that GDP grew at a dandy 4.8% annual rate in the first quarter, and the Institute for Supply Management noted an uptick in manufacturing in April.

Following in the large footsteps of Venezuela's Hugo Ch?vez, Bolivian President Evo Morales nationalized the oil and natural gas industry on May 1. Ch?vez has also been wresting assets away from Big Oil. Another Ch?vez admirer, Peru's Ollanta Humala, says he will assert more state control over that nation's copper and gold mines and natural gas resources if he wins a runoff in late May for the presidency.

See "Bolivia's Risky Game"

It's the mother of all private-equity IPOs, at least for now. Kohlberg Kravis Roberts planned to raise $1.5 billion by selling shares in an investment fund to small-fry investors as well as the usual institutions and fat cats, but demand proved so fervent that KKR hiked the offering to $5 billion. The shares began trading on May 3.

The baseball action these days isn't all on the diamond. On May 1, Aramark, the Philadelphia outfit that runs the concessions at many major league parks and college cafeterias, was put in play like a hot ground ball. CEO Joseph Neubauer and a host of private-equity power hitters offered nearly $6 billion in cash to take the company private. Standard & Poor's quickly put Aramark's BBB- credit rating on negative watch, but the stock jumped 21%, to a 52-week high of $33.90, on the day of the offer. Investors seem to figure higher bids will come in.

Is Microsoft (MSFT) doing a war dance? In announcing burly revenue and profit growth for the third quarter, it also signaled much stiffer costs ahead, a suggestion that it may be bracing for combat with Google (GOOG) and Yahoo (YHOO)! The markets liked neither the surprise nor the lack of specifics and whacked the stock by 11% the next day. Meanwhile, The New York Times reports that Google is grumbling to the Justice Dept. and the European Commission that the default settings on Microsoft's latest browser, Internet Explorer 7, steer Web searchers to -- surprise! -- MSN.

An Apr. 28-30 CBS News poll reports that 90% of those surveyed think Washington should do more to keep gasoline prices low. There's one little problem: Congress can't figure out how. Senate Republicans proposed a $100 gas rebate but dropped the idea in the face of ridicule. They also scrapped a plan to increase taxes on fuel inventories. While D.C. pols pondered their next move, nine states sued the Bush Administration on May 3 for going easy on mileage standards for light trucks.

The controversy over suspiciously timed stock option grants claimed its first victims on May 1 as Kobi Alexander, CEO and founder of voice-mail software provider Comverse Technology (CMVT), and two other managers quit. The company is investigating whether Alexander or others got options improperly backdated to ensure low strike prices. UnitedHealth (UNH) Group Chairman William McGuire, also under fire for his $1.6 billion in options good fortune, issued a non-apology at the annual meeting, saying he was sorry the company was "in the spotlight."

Canada's Research In Motion (RIMM) no doubt hoped it could stop paying patent lawyers in the wake of last month's $612.5 million settlement with NTP. Think again. On May 1 wireless messaging outfit Visto, based in Redwood City, Calif., filed a patent-infringement lawsuit against the BlackBerry maker. Visto sued RIM the same day it won a patent judgment against Seven Networks.

See "RIM's Latest Patent Problem"

She sure got tired of the La-Z-Boy quickly: Patricia Woertz, who "retired" in March, aged almost 53, after 29 years at Chevron (CVX), was named CEO of agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) on Apr. 28. That makes ADM the biggest (by revenue) publicly traded company to be run by a woman.

Louis Rukeyser, dean of TV financial journalists, whose show Wall Street Week ran for 32 years on PBS and educated millions about the market, died on May 2.

Toyota (TM) may be the car company that rarely makes mistakes, but a recent lawsuit alleges it made a big one. A former employee, Sayaka Kobayashi, claims in a $190 million complaint against the company and its North American President and CEO, Hideaki Otaka, that she was sexually harassed. In the lawsuit, Kobayashi says Otaka, who was her boss during 2005, made unwanted sexual approaches toward her twice over a three-month period last year. Kobayashi says she spurned the advances, but Otaka persisted in his attentions.

If Kobayashi's charges are true, the case offers a corporate primer in how not to handle such matters. She alleges that when she reported the harassment to Toyota executives -- who were beneath Otaka in the chain of command -- she was told to work it out with him one-on-one. On another occasion, she says, an official offered her cash to leave the company. Otaka and Toyota declined comment except to say that the company has "zero tolerance" for sexual harassment.


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