There are at least a hundred billion galaxies in the universe, but only seven and a half things you need to know today. Here they are:
Thing One: Wal-Mart's Woes: Wal-Mart is like Texas: Everything's bigger there. Including public-relations nightmares. Wal-Mart's just keeps getting bigger.
The Washington Post reports that the company has been lobbying hard to "eviscerate" the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the 1977 law it is accused of violating, which outlaws bribing foreign officials to, oh, say, open a couple of thousand big-box stores. This would seem to be an issue of interest to Wal-Mart, according to this weekend's blockbuster New York Times report that it had constantly bribed Mexican officials for years and then tried to cover it up.
Meanwhile, Wal-Mart, which has said it is looking into the NYT report, vowed to tighten internal controls to make sure it is complying with the same law it wants to gut. We learned that the Justice Department has been investigating Wal-Mart for months. And Alice Hines of The Huffington Post reports that the bribery allegations are making Wal-Mart's expansion plans in New York and Los Angeles a lot harder. Then again, it seems everybody does it, including maybe Hollywood, the NYT reports.
Thing Two: Apple Shines: Muhammad Ali must be very proud of Apple, which has played the rope-a-dope almost as well as he did. After weeks in which Apple's stock price plunged and people fretted openly about the possibility that its sales were slowing down, America's Greatest Company last night reported quarterly earnings that not only trounced Wall Street estimates but went around to trounce all of Wall Street's families' and friends' estimates, too, like a corporate Keyser Soze. Apple stock jumped 7 percent overnight, recovering weeks of losses in a few hours. Apple thrived on iPhone sales, particularly in China, where low wages are apparently no obstacle to buying unnecessarily luxurious phones.
Thing Three: Murdoch's Revenge: If Rupert Murdoch is going down over this whole hacking scandal thing, he's going to take down the UK government with him. Rupert's son James, during a long grilling yesterday by government investigators, told them of the cozy relationship he had with Prime Minister David Cameron's media minister while Murdoch's News Corp. was trying to take over British Sky Broadcasting. Rupert himself is testifying this morning.
Thing Four: Whistleblower's Cover Blown: The Securities and Exchange Commission often upholds the law like Barney Fife, only with a little less authority and competence. Case in point: During an investigation into a dark-pool operator called Pipeline Trading Systems, the SEC let slip the identity of a Pipeline whistleblower, report Scott Patterson and Jenny Strasburg of the Wall Street Journal. Pipeline settled the allegations without admitting or denying wrongdoing. The SEC has been trying to encourage whistleblowers to come forward with cash rewards. This won't help.
Thing FIve: No Bonus For You: Louis Freeh, the trustee wrapping up MF Global's affairs told Congress yesterday he wouldn't let any remaining MF Global executives get bonuses, the Wall Street Journal writes. "Mr. Freeh's remarks come several weeks after the Senate passed a resolution urging him to drop any plans to pay bonuses to MF Global executives.... The resolution cited an early March report in the WSJ that Mr. Freeh was weighing proposing performance-based bonuses of up to hundreds of thousands of dollars each for the executives."
Thing Six: Doctor Debt Collector: As if people in the hospital didn't have enough problems already, now they've got to worry about debt collectors bothering them, The New York Times reports: "The tactics, like embedding debt collectors as employees in emergency rooms and demanding that patients pay before receiving treatment... cast a spotlight on the increasingly desperate strategies among hospitals to recoup payments as their unpaid debts mount." The Huffington Post's Jeffrey Young writes that some hospitals have even been demanding up-front payments at emergency rooms.
Thing Seven: China Cracks Down: China, which already does not have what you would call a liberal attitude toward the Internet, is cracking down even harder on web communications in the wake of the Bo Xilai scandal, the Wall Street Journal writes: "The popular Twitter-like microblogging service Sina Weibo on Tuesday deleted the accounts of several users, including that of Li Delin, a senior editor of the Chinese business magazine Capital Week, whose March 19 post helped fuel rumors of a coup in Beijing. The service announced the move to many of its more than 300 million user accounts, thereby turning it into a public lesson in the consequences of rumor mongering."
Thing Seven And One Half: See You In Hell, Food: OK, we give up. Saturday Night Live writers have taken over Pizza Hut, right? Is that what's happening? Because that is the only rational explanation for a company that, unsatisfied with putting freaking hot dogs in a pizza crust, is now offering diners the choice of cheeseburgers or chicken nuggets in their pizza crust. Seriously, what the hell? We can't even make fun of this, it's so terrible. Can somebody stage an intervention with this company? Send Herman Cain over there to tell them how to run a pizza chain?
Calendar Du Jour:
8:30 a.m. ET: Durable goods orders for March
12:30 p.m.: Federal Reserve Open Market Committee interest-rate decision
2:15 p.m.: Ben Bernanke press conference
Heard On The Tweets:
@LaMonicaBuzz: Imminent. $AAPL numbers are imminent. I tell you! IMMINENT!
@ReformedBroker: Hologram Steve Jobs rumored for the $AAPL call
@zentrader: Apple's effect on the markets is all the more proof that the US economy is a mirage.
@justinwolfers: Garnish is a funny word. Think about it: garnishing your wages sounds nice--like you're decorating it with parsley. But I bet it's not nice.
-- Calendar and tweets rounded up by Khadeeja Safdar.