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Opening Bell: 2.15.08

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Berkshire Hathaway reports 8.6% stake in Kraft Foods (Marketwatch)
Warren Buffett's little investment vehicle -- this company known as Berkshire Hathaway -- announced that it has an 8.6 percent stake in Kraft Foods. What's surprising is that it didn't already have one. Kraft Foods just always seemed like such a Buffett stock, no? It did to us, anyway. How many times have you heard some commentator on CNBC say they bought the stock cause their daughter (and it's always the daughter) was addicted to their macaroni & cheese? Setting aside the issue of carbohydrates for a sec, you'd think he'd have been all over that already.
MBIA, Ambac Rescue May Be Set Before Ratings Are Cut (Bloomberg)
Monoline bailout, Take II. Sitting before a House tribunal committee, Eric Dinalo promised that this time something is going to get done. Maybe there's no plan in the works, but when you're being grilled by Congress, you say there is, even if there's not. Man, yesterday during the Bernanke hearings, it was incredible how he was treated by all these Senators who claimed to have seen the problems of the economy coming for years and years.
Banks `At Risk' of Another $120 Billion in Writedowns, Says UBS (Bloomberg)
A UBS analyst is calling for another $120 billion of writedowns at various banks. Perhaps that's true, but maybe he's just trying to point out, following UBS' big loss, that other ain't no good either.
Some Cities Are Spared the Slide in Housing (NYT)
Pretty much as soon as we moved out of Austin to come to New York to write the Opening Bell, we started telling people that housing in our old city was probably a good deal. Seriously, we were total housing market skeptics, except for that one city. Part of it was based on low price-to-rent ratios, while the rest had to do with other factors affecting the economy. But we left and missed out on the boom. As this piece in the Times, bylined-in-Austin as a matter of fact, points out, some cities have ignored the housing bust. There really are two Americas.

United, Continental Said to Hold Advanced Merger Talks (Dealbook)
God, even we're starting to believe that some airline merger is on the verge of happening. Of course, we've been hearing this for the past few months, that talks are heating up, but this time they really are, and they're advanced too.
Citigroup Fund Bars Exit By Investors After Bad Bet (WSJ)
All in a day's work: A Citigroup hedge fund specializing in corporate debt had to suspend withdrawals after investors tried to yank 30 percent of the fund's $500 million in assets. The fund wasn't even doing that badly, it only had an 11 percent loss last year. Anyway, the fund's manager is gone and Citi had to inject $100 million into it. Moving on...
UW study: Rules add $200,000 to Seattle house price (Seattle Times)
Speaking of housing, a University of Washington study suggests that various regulations in Seattle designed to "preserve character" and stuff like that contributed $200,000 to the median value of homes from 1989 to 2006. During that time, the media home value went from $221,000 to $447,000, so you're pretty much talking about the whole increase, or most of it. As much as we'd like to believe this, because it does seem like an indictment of dumb housing rules, we're a tad skeptical, especially because it means that there'd have been virtually no growth in housing values over a 17 year period, which just doesn't sit right with us. Apparently other cities have a similar effect, but only half as much. Anyway, because it's early, and because we haven't had time to read the study, we're going to hold off on really breaking it down. But maybe you can think of something? Or maybe we'll get to it later on.
Poll Mash-Ups Gain Currency, Critics (The Numbers Guy)
Interesting question: Can you just take poll numbers from various sources, smash them together, and get better, more rounded numbers? The site Real Clear Politics has obviously made this a popular thing. Anyway, something to think about. Meanwhile, Intrade has Obama slipping a little bit off of his highs, perhaps due to the sense that Clinton is back "on message" and that Obama's highs were a bit too high.