Narnia Rocks, Microhoo Shocks, E*Trade Walks

Iron Man got the summer box office season started with a bang two weeks ago. It handed the baton to The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian over the weekend. The second installment in Disney's (NYSE: DIS  ) franchise generated an estimated $56.6 million in ticket sales during its opening weekend, easily overtaking Marvel's metal man for the multiplex top honors.

Caspian won't have to keep the baton warm for long. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull opens on Thursday, likely limiting a good chunk of next weekend's Narnia popcorn-eaters to those who got turned away at the sold-out Indy screens.

Caspian's take could have been better for Disney. The first movie in the series opened to $65.6 million at the box office domestically. It may not seem like much of a drop-off at the multiplex, but keep in mind that ticket prices were slightly lower three years ago.

Disney will still gladly accept Caspian's grosses, though. It has plenty of Narnia books to fuel the cinematic franchise over the next few years. The original also grossed more abroad than it did domestically, making the softer stateside opening less ominous than you may think.

Perhaps more importantly, Disney also has Wall-E, the next Pixar no-brainer, hitting the box office next month. If a sword-wielding prince can't do the trick, a robot in search of purpose in a barren world should be just what the mouse ordered.

News to go
It's not over until Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) says it is. The software giant issued a statement yesterday, announcing that it has raised alternatives to Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO  ) that do not include an outright purchase. The statement suggests that Microsoft may consider stepping back into buyout talks in the future. Way to go, Mr. Softy; it's official. You have become the creepy ex-boyfriend that can't take a hint.   

Discount brokerages apparently know how to buy and sell. E*Trade (Nasdaq: ETFC  ) is selling its stake in India's Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services (IL&FS) to HSBC. Cashing out will result in $145 million in proceeds to E*Trade, for a pre-tax gain of roughly $20 million to $30 million. Is it wrong for E* Trade to cut loose with an overseas investment when its challenges have been domestic? Perhaps, but it's good to know that E* Trade can still make money in a trade.

The nearly three-month strike at American Axle & Manufacturing (NYSE: AXL  ) appears to be ending, now that the United Auto Workers union has come to a tentative agreement with the company. The work stoppage had idled plants at a key General Motors (NYSE: GM  ) supplier. If you didn't notice the emptier showrooms, it's probably the result of the iffy economy's rough impact on big-ticket items like GM cars. There is no such thing as a convenient strike -- both sides in any labor dispute would love to avoid any work stoppage -- but at least the timing on this one won't set GM back much.

The cover story in this weekend's Barron's taps Oracle's (Nasdaq: ORCL  ) Larry Ellison as "the smartest man in Silicon Valley." His rivals may beg to differ, but the always-quotable Ellison has certainly done enough things right over the past 30 years to transform Oracle into the world's largest seller of business software. He's the tech world's James Bond, if Bond had a passion for yacht racing and shrewd acquisitions

The pain at the pump will only get worse, with oil prices hitting a new high on Friday. Peaking at $127.82 a barrel, prices have hit new all-time highs in all but two trading days over the past two weeks.

As a public service, let me offer a few bumper sticker slogans that will look sharp the next time you head to the gas station:

  • My other hybrid is a hybrid
  • Filling up my car is a pain in the gas
  • The Motley Fuel
  • Jed Clampett for President
  • Will pump for fuel.

Have a great day out there.


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