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A Hard Shove

Kirk Kerkorian is one powerful hombre. His point man, Jerome York, had barely been named a General Motors (GM) director on Feb. 6 before the GM board began moving on a laundry list of York/Kerkorian demands, er, suggestions. At the top of the list: slicing the $2 dividend down the middle, a move GM expects to add up to more than half a billion in cash savings this year. And now the pain is being felt even at the top. CEO Richard Wagoner Jr. will take a 50% salary cut in fiscal 2006, or about a million bucks; his direct reports, including car czar Robert Lutz, will get 30% less than before. And those 2005 bonuses? Fuhgeddaboudit. Besides saving the auto maker a tidy sum, York and Kerkorian hope the givebacks in the executive suite will put the union in a less surly mood -- and more willing to make its own concessions next year.

See "At GM, the Kerkorian Effect Already?"

So, eating fat-free yogurt and fruit doesn't help ward off illness after all. Or so says a new study of 49,000 American women, released on Feb. 8. It finds that eating a low-fat diet doesn't reduce the chances of getting cancer or heart disease. Does this mean you should hop in the SUV and head to the nearest fast-food joint? Probably not. Health studies have a nasty habit of being overtaken by . . . new studies.

It's more Band-Aid than cure-all. On Feb. 7, Pfizer (PFE) announced it was considering selling or spinning off its consumer business (2005 revenues: $3.9 billion). Analysts figure the unit, which makes such over-the-counter brands as Listerine and Benadryl, could fetch up to $11 billion. The news sent Pfizer stock up nearly 6% the next day, to about $26. But the plan doesn't come close to easing the drugmaker's real headache: expiring patents on its biggest drugs and a scarcity of new blockbusters in the medicine cabinet. Still, CEO Henry McKinnell Jr. seems to be getting the message from weary shareholders, who have watched Pfizer's stock go pffft for half a decade.

See "Pfizer Feels Investors' Pain"

Is the McMansion dead? Probably not. But companies that build those gazillion-square-foot palaces are feeling a little less expansive. On Feb. 7, Toll Brothers (TOL), the nation's No. 1 builder of luxury homes, announced that the value of orders for its quarter ended Jan. 31 were down 21% over the previous year. It was another sign that the U.S. housing market is coming back to earth with what optimists hope won't be a thud. Toll Brothers' revelation, which took analysts by surprise and hammered the stock, was followed by the news that inventories of existing homes are rising inexorably in major cities around the country. All of which is better news for buyers than it is for sellers.

See "Is the Bell Tolling for Housing?"

Carl Icahn sometimes seems like Don Quixote, tilting at windmills in his, well, quixotic, battle to bend Time Warner (TWX) to his will. On Feb. 7, the corporate gadfly released a novel-sized report -- 371 pages, authored by Lazard (LAZ) -- laying out his restructuring vision. His plan is to break the company into four publicly traded pieces: publishing, cable, and AOL, along with a studio-cable unit. Icahn also wants TW to buy back $20 billion in stock. So far, most shareholders have panned the plan. But Icahn may be having some impact on CEO Richard Parsons. TW on Feb. 6 sold its book publishing unit to France's Legardere for $537.5 million. And TW is planning to spin off a 16% stake in its cable unit and buy back $12.5 billion in stock.

If you can't find a buyer, do the next best thing: go public. On Feb. 8, Vonage Holdings, the top independent provider of Internet-based phone service in the U.S., announced that it will float a $250 million offering in the coming months. Vonage also named a new CEO, former ADT Security Systems President Michael Snyder.

President George W. Bush's proposed federal budget is great news if you happen to be at the Pentagon. The $2.77 trillion budget Bush sent to Congress on Feb. 6 set aside an extra $28 billion for defense, for a total of $439 billion. Homeland security would get another $1 billion. In an effort to balance the books, Bush takes a whack at domestic programs, including Medicare and education. Reining in such popular programs is likely a nonstarter in an election year. And the budget would still leave a deficit of $354 billion for fiscal '07.

See "Death, Taxes, and George W. Bush"

Meet the new Pepsi Generation. Sales at the U.S. beverage and snackmaker grew a fizzy 15% during the quarter ended Dec. 31. And much of that growth happened in overseas markets, which accounted for more than a third of PepsiCo's (PEP) $10.1 billion in fourth-quarter revenues.

Toys 'R' Us has a new CEO, former Target (TGT) Vice-Chairman Gerald Storch, 49, who was named on Feb. 7. Sorting out the toy merchant will be anything but child's play. Eleven months after Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, Bain Capital Partners, and Vornado Realty Trust (VNO) paid almost $7 billion for Toys, a turnaround remains a work in progress. A January announcement that the company will close 75 of 892 U.S. stores and lay off 3,000 people left analysts cold.

Good news for real estate addicts. On Feb. 8, (EXPE) founder Rich Barton unveiled his site, which uses public records to crunch appraisals for about 40 million U.S. homes -- all without sharing personal data or meeting with a sales rep. The ad-supported site crashed repeatedly after heavy publicity attracted swarms of visitors. But Barton kept cool: Keeping a promise to Zillow's developers, he shaved his head down to a brush cut as a reward for getting the beta version up on time.

See "A New Home Site on the Block"

As everyone knows, Apple Computer (AAPL) has been on quite a tear in recent years. So how come this high-flying stock has lost some altitude? Just a few weeks ago, the much lionized maker of iPods and Macs eclipsed the $72 billion market cap of Dell (DELL). That was quite a feat since Dell's sales dwarf Apple's by four to one. Well, the giddiness didn't last long. As of Feb. 8, Apple's stock had fallen 20% from its Jan. 13 high of $85.59. Did the news that Apple had passed Dell tell investors that the stock was getting ahead of itself? That may be part of it. More likely, investors are bailing out over concerns of slower-than-expected demand for Apple's new Intel (INTC)-equipped Macintoshes. Factor in, too, the sense among Macolytes and investors that Steve Jobs's next big product introduction may be several months away. Even lower-priced iPods, unveiled Feb. 7, failed to lift the stock north of $70.

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