Today's Business Press

Icahn In, Yang Out?

If you can’t beat the board, then you might as well join it. That seems to be the strategy of antagonist—sorry—activist investor Carl Icahn as he agreed to take three seats at an expanded Yahoo executive table yesterday.

Fortune’s “Go West” column suggests this constitutes an “amicable end to a nasty spat”; it also notes that with Icahn inside the Yahoo tent, the end may be near for CEO Jerry Yang. Indeed, writes the Wall Street Journal, Icahn isn’t likely to be placated by his new role. It points to his saber-rattling on the board of Blockbuster, where, since he joined in 2005, “the company’s CEO and most of the top management have left”.

Yang may well realize his days are numbered, and that’s why he’s lined up former AOL head Jonathan Miller to join Yahoo’s rejigged board, says the New York Times. The choice of Miller, the Times quotes an investor saying, “could be a succession plan cloaked as something else.”

If you dropped off into a coma around 1980, this next item may seem very familiar. The NYT tells us that Ford is “about to drastically alter its focus to building more small cars,” and the WSJ reports that GM is teaming up with utilities across the country to help bring its new electric car to market. The U.S. auto industry is in free fall, having seen a 10 percent decline in new car sales this year, with the light-truck and SUV market bearing the brunt. Last time we read this type of news—sometime toward the collapse of the Carter administration—the wholesale shift to smaller, cleaner cars was undermined by a collapse in global oil prices and some seriously substandard small-car engineering by the Big Three. This time both Ford and GM can count on solid European small cars to bring to market. As for the price of crude oil? It’s not headed south anytime soon.

Pity poor Apple (well, just for a minute). It sold more Macs (2.5 million) in Q3 than ever before—a 41 percent increase over last year. Its iPod sales grew by 12 percent, and it beat Wall Street earnings expectations by a healthy 11 cents a share, and still its share price dropped 10 percent in after-hours trading on Monday. The reason: market concerns about a sluggish final quarter, says the San Francisco Chronicle. Others might argue that investors bought on the buildup and sold on the news. But, asks the Guardian, could continued speculation over the health of CEO Steve Jobs be a factor? That echoes anonymous but plausible charges made in Monday’s New York Post.

Not that other companies aren’t suffering as well. Plummeting consumer confidence is hurting American Express. It reported that the economic climate “has weakened significantly” over the last six months as it posted a “smaller-than-expected second-quarter profit,” writes Fortune. Amex stock dropped 11 percent on the news.

So, a lackluster economy is hitting much of America, but are women faring worse? According to this NYT thumbsucker, “For the first time since the women’s movement came to life, an economic recovery has come and gone, and the percentage of women at work has fallen, not risen.” One way of looking at this is that women may finally have reached a kind of equal workplace status with men—both sexes are being hit in equal measures by “downturns, layoffs, outsourcing, stagnant wages or the discouraging prospect of an outright pay cut,” notes the NYT. There’s progress for you.

Quote of the day: “Partnering with William Morris will enable me to broaden the scope of my career in creative and innovative ways.” That’s Alex Rodriguez  commenting on his new Hollywood agency deal to burgeon his image. Some Yankee fans might think that keeping a lower profile would be a better strategy.