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Today's Agenda in the Markets

Stocks were set to start the week lower after concerns about sub-prime mortgage lending dented enthusiasm for a very busy Merger Monday.

Deal News

Long seen as a takeover target, Schering-Plough is instead a buyer today. The New Jersey-based drug company announced a surprise deal to buy Akzo Novel's Organon BioSciences business for $14.4 billion. KKR, in another big deal, said it would buy Dollar General for $7 billion. Ford is also expected to have a deal for Aston Martin today. According to Reuters, the buyer is a bidding group fronted by former Benetton and BAR motor racing team boss David Richards. Trump Entertainment , meanwhile, hired Merrill Lynch to explore its options.

Citigroup's $11 billion bid for Nikkko Cordialfaces more opposition from shareholders, and the Tokyo Stock Exchange announces it will allow Nikko to retain its listing status.

Chips Ahoy

Our Jim Goldman says semiconductors are front and center with Texas Instruments call later today, following a surprise earnings warning from AMD and National Semiconductor earnings last week. Nat Semi profits were down 45% but the company gave an improved outlook for its bookings.

Sharpening the Edge

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce issues a report today in response to the growing chorus of concern that the U.S. is losing its edge to foreign markets. The same concern is the topic of a roundtable called by Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson for tomorrow which includes former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan and Paul Volcker and Warren Buffett, among others. Much of this worry comes from Wall Street which blames U.S. regulation and enforcement for set backs the U.S. has faced in the race to command business in the global capital markets. The Chamber's report was unveiled in The Wall Street Journal this morning and suggests a revamp of the SEC, an end to quarterly earnings guidance and an increase in retirement savings. Some of the measures that are seen as impeding business were adopted to protect shareholders.

Blockbuster

Internet buzz and marketing on MySpace.com apparently worked for the makers of the bloody, action film "300." The Warner Brothers movie depicts the 480 B.C. battle at Thermopylae where 300 outnumbered Spartans fended off the million-strong Persian army. The movie took in $70 million, a record for a March opening, says the L.A. Times.