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Opening Bell: 2.18.08

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Northern Rock Takeover Marks Risky Bet for U.K. (WSJ)
Who's in charge over there... Hugo Chavez? No, in all seriousness, the UK has just decided to up and nationalize Northern Rock, the troubled bank, which has drawn only partial nibbles from the private sector, following its subprime-driven turmoil. Shares will be deslited immediately, though the government has called it a "temporary" solution. Among the private money backers that had been interested were Richard Branson and JC Flowers.
Beef recall is largest in history (Tribune)
This is the kind of stuff that will make even the most omnivorous omnivore feel a little bit concerned about the provenance of their food. The USDA has initiated a record 135 million lb beef recall, following reports of bad practices at a certain abattoire, such as killing cattle that was so sick it couldn't stand. Guess they weren't feeding them enough antibiotics.
Ambac in Talks to Split Itself Up (WSJ)
After FGIC made similar noises, word is that Ambac is considering halving itself, hiving off its healthy (for now, so we believe) muni bond unit, while letting its derivatives insurance unit go naked. Not surprisingly, it's complex work, and it's still not clear to us how it's supposed to play out. But theoretically it can be done and Ambac is exploring it.
In a Hotel Deal, Showtime Fights HBO’s Dominance (NYT)
We always feel a twinge of nostalgia for a time we never quite knew, when driving through small town America, where little hotels and motels still announced proudly "Air Conditioning. HBO." Never seemed that impressive to us, but then again, maybe if we had been born 20 years earlier. Anyway, maybe the signs will get their first makeover in 20 years to "Air Conditioning. HBO. Showtime.", as the L Word and Dexter channel will soon announce a deal to make it available in Sheraton's 74,000 hotel rooms. First Sheraton, next, the world.
Sony's Mr Blu-ray finally gets to forget Betamax (Reuters)
In case you didn't hear, the mult-year format wars appear to have come to an official end, following a string of presumptive obits. Wal-Mart announced it would go Blu-ray only on Friday and word is that Toshiba, the very company behind HD-DVD, is set to wave the white flag. All of this is good news for Sony, and as the article implies, redemptive, given its backing of the failed and much-maligned Betamax. Had it lost again, it would have brought an intense amount of shame --- probably more than it could handle. But by winning, the shackles of history are unhooked