Opening Bell: 2.12.08

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Allianz Shares Fall on Concern About AIG's Accounting Problems (Bloomberg)
The old market for lemons in action: AIGs accounting appears to have been lemonish, so Allianz SE's might be too. Shares of Europe's biggest insurer fell 4.3 percent following news that the American insurance giant didn't know how to value its assets. Allianz recently put out numbers, but they haven't been certified by auditors. Apparently there's a reason to pay attention to that caveat.
Feds to Unveil New Mortgage-Help Plan (AP)
A group of banks and the federal government are expected to announce today some sort of aid plan to troubled homeowners that will allow them to try sticking it out in their homes and forestall foreclosure by 30 days. Our first assumption, of course, is that it's just a band aid over a gaping gash. But we also wonder how the banks can offer this to homeowners when the banks are rarely holding the mortgages. Presumably, either the banks or the federal government will be making that extra month's payment themselves to the mortgage holder, though we don't really know how that works.
Dow gurus may wish for one last puff (Tribune)
A long time ago (like eight years ago), we were watching an interview with Maria Bartiromo (she was the interviewee) and she was talking about the mania for markets in the public consciousness at the time. So she related some anecdote about getting into a cab and the driver immediately asked her where the DJIA was it. The story was meant to convey the fact that a) even cabbies know what the Dow Jones is and b) even they can recognize Maria Bartiromo. But what struck us was c) that the driver was mainly interested in the Dow, as opposed to say the S&P 500 or the Wilshire. Anyway, we still wonder why people get so excited about the Dow, when everyone know its measurements is bizarre and its components are somewhat arbitrary.
Dem. Pres. Primaries (Intrade)
As always, our election-morning check of the political markets. Today we've got the so-called Chesepeake Primaries, though apparently Potomac Primaries are more geographically meaningful. Whatever, we're not seeing much value here. Obama is priced for a big win in all three states, trading above $.90 in Virgina and Maryland, and there's not even any trading in DC... just can't make a market for it. The CW is that he'll win in these states pretty handily and the market reflects that without hesitation.


GM, UAW Reach Agreement On Worker Buyout Program (WSJ)
More paying people to stop working. It's quite the trip down memory lane whenever we read about buyouts at GM, since that was one of the big things we covered in the early days of the Opening Bell. This time it will offer some workers up to $62,000 bucks to retire early. 46,000 of the company's 74,000 workers will be eligible to take the money and run. Meanwhile, the company reported another loss today.
Yahoo!'s "Just Say No" Defense: What Are They Thinking? (Information Arbitrage)
Nobody was surprised when, yesterday pre-market, Yahoo came out and said it was rejecting Microsoft $31/share bid. Not only had the news leaked, but the company had no other choice, since they'd already rejected quieter overtures in the past. Certainly, the board couldn't accept a hostile offer that it had rejected in private. The presumption is that the two sides will get together and hammer out a price, maybe in the mid-$30s. Microsoft's response was also typical and fairly canned. We think it would've been cooler if they'd just dropped. "Okay, you won't take it... fine, find for yourself." Larry Ellison might've done that, maybe coming back with a lower, unrefusable offer six months later.
US Weekly’s Circulation Rises 10% in Soft Year (NYT)
We've been calling for the pricking of the celebrity bubble for a lot longer than most people. So we can only assume that the surprising spike in US Weekly's ratings and the launch of Mainstreet.com is the top we've been looking for.

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