On The Radar
What TO Watch In The Weeks Ahead
By Kate Bonamici FORTUNE reporter and Barney Gimbel FORTUNE writer-reporter

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Wal-Mart (Research) may one day enter the world of retail banking, but not without a tussle. A host of worried observers--independent bankers, the National Association of Realtors, Alan Greenspan--have aligned against the prospect. On April 10 and 11 the FDIC will hold public hearings on the retailer's application to procure a limited bank charter. Between 1999 and 2002, CEO Lee Scott and crew were rebuffed three times in efforts to tiptoe into financial services. Now Wal-Mart says it has greatly scaled back its ambitions. The new application would only give Wal-Mart a role in processing its own debit and credit card transactions; it wouldn't allow it to make loans or take deposits. "A zebra never changes its stripes," says Camden Fine, CEO of the Independent Community Bankers of America, who fears the discounter could later expand the charter. He vows to move the battle to Congress should it be approved. Either way, the debate will rage on. Take that to the bank. -- Oliver Ryan

GM Looks to the Sky

Expect long lines of eager customers at Saturn showrooms this month as the first allocation of Sky roadsters rolls in. A slick two-seater with hard-edged masculine styling, the Sky is more refined and has a cushier ride than its sister car, the hot-selling Pontiac Solstice. (Prices start at $23,690.) Saturn dealers had better brush up on crowd control: For years they've been subsisting on a meager diet of uninspiring econo-boxes. Should GM (Research) investors be cheered by this sign of life? The Sky may create a lot of buzz but not a ton of profit; it is likely to account for only about 0.5% of GM's U.S. sales. -- Alex Taylor III

Cover Your Assets

Nervous about that oft-discussed real estate bubble? Starting this month you--as well as home-builders and mortgage lenders--can hedge exposure to residential real estate on the futures market. Or bet that it keeps rising. The Chicago Mercantile Exchange (Research) is launching derivatives based on single-family housing prices in ten U.S. markets, including Boston, Chicago, and Miami. For now, investors can buy quarterly contracts one year out. "We're growing this market in baby steps," says the CME's Sayee Srinivasan. With real estate, expect a stampede. -- Ellen Florian Kratz

The Futures Market

March 27 An arbiter is set to rule on whether the major tobacco companies can cut $1.2 billion off their payments to the states under the 1998 master settle-ment agreement.

April 1 Forget cake: iPods for everyone! It's Apple's 30th birthday.

April 3 Coca-Cola (Research) launches its new "fusion drink," Coke Blak: cola with a "rich essence of coffee." Beware of low-flying Crystal Pepsi jokes.

April 11 Equity International's Gulf Coast Reconstruction Summit aims to shed light on federal and private plans for the $100 billion--plus earmarked for post-Katrina rebuilding.

April 28 First coffee, then music, now movies. It's opening day for Lions Gate's (Research) Akeelah & the Bee, the first movie to be marketed by Starbucks Entertainment.

Oliver Ryan, Alex Taylor III and Ellen Florian Kratz contributed to this article. Top of page