Opening Bell: 8.20.07

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Countrywide laying off loan-origination staff (MarketWatch)
We wouldn't blame you if you got that sinking feeling that the pace of layoffs in the financial industry is only going to quicken. Obviously, it's going to hit folks in the credit/mortgage area hard at first, but of course, nobody's an island. Word is that Countrywide started the layoff process this weekend (not surprising at all really), as it's been stung pretty bad by the latest news. Since they've already said they'd slow down on buying mortgages, they pretty much had to cut back in that area.
How Solid Is the Deal for Tribune Company? (NYT)
The market is pretty skeptical about every deal out there right now, but it's particularly worried about the situation at Tribune, which is waiting to close a deal with Sam Zell. Of all the spreads, this one remains one of the widest, although management insists that everything is going along just swimmingly. Er, rather, they insist that despite continued deterioration in its core business, the company is still meeting the necessary preconditions for the sale. Quite comforting indeed.
Nasdaq Reviews Options for LSE Stake (WSJ)
The NASDAQ has announced that it will review its stake in the London Stock Exchange. It originally acquired the position en route to a planned acquisition, but when that fell through, it really just became an overly fat investment holding. And you have to figure there's a few folks hanging around NASDAQ headquarters that understand portfolio diversification. The company could be looking to raise money for a higher offering of Nordic exchange OMX, which has drawn the interest of Dubai Bourse.
Asian Markets Rebound After US Rate Cut (AP)
On Friday, the European markets started rallying in the afternoon, because that's when the Fed came out with its news about the discount rate. But the Asian markets never got their rally, so they had to sweat it out over the weekend, waiting for their chance to start chipping away at the mondo losses they suffered last week. Stocks were solidly higher throughout the region, despite having to listen to a whole weekend's worth of naysayers, pessimists who don't see how a 50 bsp cut could really have much of an effect on anything. Fools! We can only hope it carries through to US markets back today, starting a virtuous cycle, but we'll just have to wait on that one.

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Pantaloon to Sell Shares; Plans IPO of Finance Unit (Bloomberg)
A couple of weeks ago, there was an interesting story in the New York Times about Indian mass retailer Pantaloon and its strategy of making its stores a mess in order to appeal to the typical Indian shopper, whose primary shopping experience came from outdoor markets. So, instead of stocking only fresh vegetables in the grocery aisle, for example, it would throw in a bunch of "turned" items, so as to give shoppers the thrill of hunting through the bushel to find a good one. Anyway, the company is getting set to expand its consumer finance offering, which sounds a lot like a certain American compan
y, although said American company has been stymied by regulators. Anyway, perhaps we could take our cues from India at some point down the road about embracing a more market system. Just a thought.
Mortgage funds not drying up in local market (Montgomery Advertiser)
Just so you know, if you've got good credit, stable work history, and you're looking for a plain-vanilla mortgage, you've got nothing to worry about -- at least in Montgomery, Alabama. Locals in Montgomery don't have to worry too much about the fallout, because for the most part, it hasn't really had much of an effect there, outside of the subprime market. The Alabama Housing Authority, which buys up mortgages, insists that they've got plenty of cash and that rates are still low. Good to hear, no?
After Foreclosure, a Big Tax Bill From the I.R.S. (NYT)
After the .com collapse, there were a bunch of horror stories about these paper millionaires that lost everything, but then still ended up owing the IRS millions of dollars, based on some reverse loophole. It may have been apocryphal, but one .communist was said to have commit suicide upon learning of the situation. The Times is reporting on this year's equivalent situation, whereby the resident of some foreclosed properties may owe income tax on the canceled debt. The essence is that canceled debt is treated by the IRS as income, which isn't completely ludicrous, since in a way that's exactly what it is. But, from a practical standpoint, structuring the tax system that way doesn't make a lot of sense. You might look for this to become a political talking point, especially if the stories start piling up.
Skype Says Service Outage Was Caused by Massive Restarts (WSJ)
If you work in any sort of traditional environment, then you probably didn't notice it, but eBay's Skype division went down at the end of last week, causing immeasurable headaches to a host of folks in various 2.0 industries, like professional blogging, for whom Skype is a lifeline. Management at the eBay unit insisted that nothing catastrophic occurred and that it hadn't suffered an attack. Now it's saying that the issue was the result of a massive number of people downloading a new version and then restarting their computer all at the same time. Ah, makes perfect sense. That'll happen every time.
NFL Network Gets Blocked As Cable Takes Tough Stance (WSJ)
We hope this isn't a hint of what will happen with the Fox Business channel, but cable operators are said to be balking at the NFL's terms for an all-NFL network. This is actually pretty amazing. The popularity of the NFL these days is practically limitless. You can turn on sports talk radio in early May and there'll be some caller talking about Tampa Bay Buccaneers mini-camp prospects. It's ridiculous. It's not that we have got anything against football -- it's just that we need some balance. So the fact that the cable operators aren't rolling over to get an NFL channel on their decks is a good sign that at least NFL love in this country is finite, which is a start.

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