Opening Bell: 7.29.08

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Alcatel-Lucent Announces Chairman Serge Tchuruk and CEO Pat Russo to Step Down
When Lucent merged with Alcatel, it was always known that CEO Patricia Russo would stand down before too long, basically once the integration was done. Actually, it's a little surprising she stayed in her post this long, given that they've been merged for quite a while, and the fact that the combination has yet to bear any fruit. It posted yet another loss this morning. Beyond that, the company's chairman is stepping down, as it prepares to do a bigger board shakeup that will see a smaller board and fresh faces. Out with the old entirely.
Unilever hangs on to European laundry list (FT)
Everywhere you look, folks are selling units here and there, just to pocket some extra cash. Unilever has should its laundry business in the US, though it's keeping the European laundry business. The US unit was sold for $1.45 billion to Vestar Capital Partners. Given the voracious appetite for cash, it seems like it might be a good time for the Vestar Capitals of this world... selectively picking up assets from sellers desperate for scratch. It's kind of like being in the pawn broker business, no?
Still no mark to market (Information Processing)
The math on Merrill's big stake sale: "Mortgage-backed assets with face value of $30.6B were just sold by Merrill for $6.7B. 1) obviously, this reflects huge losses and forward looking expectations of a very high default rate on the underlying mortgages (over 50%?) 2) but, amazingly, this 80% loss on the securities only gives a kind of upper bound on their value: Merrill had to provide 75% of the financing to the buyer! Even with an 80% haircut Merrill might not have found a real buyer for the assets at this price." He then notes the similarity to the go-go .com days when companies, to make their number, would finance their customers' purchase of expensive networking gear -- though that was before the bloom was totally off the rose. Also, at that time, companies were financing gear purchases by giving their customers stock, which was pretty crazy.
Monitor110 Learnings: The Good, The Bad, and The Really Bad (InformationArbitrage)
The death of Monitor110 got a lot of attention a couple weeks ago, particularly as the company had raised quite a bit of money and was the recipient of a lot of media attention over the last couple years. Anyway, key principal and investor Roger Ehrenberg has written a couple of excellent post-mortems that are well worth your time. So check it out.


Blaming Biofuels For Food Prices Ignores Reality (Beef Magazine)
It would seem as though the beef industry -- which stands to lose a lot from soaring grain prices -- isn't buying into the idea that biofuels are the villain. It's nothing quite so sexy, says Beef magazine. Just plain old energy prices going up up up, affecting every aspect of the food supply chain. Pretty straightforward and hard to argue with.
Doha trade talks stall over farm imports (FT)
Speaking of all that jazz, the headline "Doha trade talks stall over farm imports" has to be the most common article title there is. It's right up there on "Oil spikes on Nigerian supply disruptions." But really, what's the deal with this WTO rounds that go on forever and ever and are negotiated in places other than Doha for most of the time.
Civil society (Marginal Revolution)
A Haitian refugee, accused back home of committing various atrocities against humanity, has been dinged for mortgage fraud in the US. Though mortgage fraud is bad, notes Tyler Cowen, it's a testament to our society how much less bad mortgage fraud is than what he did at home. If you don't know anything about the bizarre sage of how Toto Constant wound up in the US, this excellent Atlantic article from 20001 is a must-read.
British Airways says in merger talks with Iberia (Reuters)
Another big airline merger perhaps... not much details yet, and there's still no guarantee that it will happen. Already, BA owns over 13 percent of Iberia.

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