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Opening Bell: 2.22.08

Florida Schools, California Convert Auction-Rate Debt (Bloomberg)
One of our favorite leading economic indicators, the actions of the Palm Beach County Schools is getting out of the auction-rate debt market. Also important, but historically not quite as meaningful: so is Seattle's Valley Medical Center. This part is actually pretty interesting: "Palm Beach school officials started working on a conversion plan in December when rates topped 4 percent. They reached 9.75 percent this week, short of the 15 percent penalty rate. The district's interest payment for this week's auction was about $220,000, up from $107,000 during a week in December."
AQR's Biggest Hedge Fund Fell Almost 15% Through Mid-February (Bloomberg)
No turnaround yet for Clifford Asnes' AQR, at least according to reports. The fund is down to $2.9 billion, from $4 billion in the fourth quarter, with losses of 15 percent in February alone.
Feds take a look at LV cash flow (Las Vegas Review Journal)
This got picked up on Drudge, so expect the economic implications to reverberate... word is that the Feds are going to start scrutinizing all of the cash that sloshes around Las Vegas nightclubs. And people are talking about how even some doormen pull in $500k. If true, we can pretty much guarantee that they're not reporting income anywhere near that. Probably like a 10th. Things is, Vegas is swimming in cash. Folks come in, take $1000 out of an ATM, and anything that doesn't get plunked down at a table, probably goes into someone's pocket or bra, and from then on disappears in the eyes of the government. No doubt, if they really started looking into this, it would not be good for the Vegasion economy.
Microsoft to Reveal Software Secrets on Internet (WSJ)
Microsoft held a conference call yesterday during which they probably used the word "open" like 15 times. Seriously, just over and over again. Basically, the call was a love letter to Neelie Kroes at the EU, as it tries to convince her that it knows how to play nice with competitors and the open source community. To be honest, we didn't understand all of the technological and legal specifics. But, gut check: a lot of mostly hot air. And the stock didn't move on the news, which is probably sign that it was a non-event.

What 10-Ks have in common with Barack Obama…(Footnoted)
Amusing stuff about the Marriot 10k, having made a lot of changes (hence the Barack comparison) between this year and last year. We've seen it too -- seemingly arbitrary word changes, which leave you scratching your head as to whether some lawyers sat around debating questions whether the hotel's decor should be characterized as "whimsical" or "provocative".
Texas Democratic Primary (Intrade)
They debated in my hometown last night. And apparently they talked about healthcare a lot, which isn't much of a surprise, since that seems to be a biggie. Anyway, the Texas firewall isn't looking so hot for Clinton. In the polls it's nearly a dead heat and in the markets, Barack is now at like $.70, in a state where a good chunk of the Democratic electorate is Latino.
Liquid Courage (American)
Good title. No, it's not alcohol, but oil. And the story is all about how when oil prices are up, countries like Russia get more cocksure with their foreign policy. Of course, we've been reading this story in different forms for a couple of years, and we always kept thinking that as soon as the trend broke, the world would return to a state of peace. But with oil back at $100, that's not looking so good.
Sale of Mine Stake May Strengthen Rio's Hand (WSJ)
Rio Tinto, trying to avoid a sale to the big bad BHP, announced a $1.7 billion sale of its stake in a US gold mine. The acquirer, Barick gold, paid far, far above the $600 million that analysts had expected the stake to be worth, which, as the WSJ points out, helps bolster Rio's arguments that it's worth more than what BHP wants to pay for it. Basically, if the perception of the value of its holdings are off, then the whole thing is off. Pretty straightforward. Maybe Yahoo can sell its stakes in Alibaba and for three times what analysts are estimating, though even hot China internet stocks aren't as exciting as gold and base metals.
Don't Worry. Public Radio is Here to Save the Economy (Paul Kedrosky)
Earlier this week, we mentioned those pins you could get that say "I support the US economy." Well now Public Radio is joining the act, putting up a web widget where you can submit idea on how to, well, save the economy. Will it be any more effective? Doubtful. Maybe they can do a little segment on each of their suggestions at the end of each MarketPlace.