Under The Radar News - Wednesday

by: SA Eli Hoffmann

IMF discredits decoupling. The IMF warns that emerging economies will not be immune from a global economic slowdown.

Economic low self-esteem. Confidence in the global economy fell for a third straight month. Bloomberg's Professional Global Confidence Index fell to 14.3 from 21.0 in January, with Asians being the most pessimistic. North American users were the most pessimistic about economic growth in their region. Respondents in every economy except Hong Kong expect further stock market declines.

Yahoo and News Corp. burning midnight oil. Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO) and News Corp. (NASDAQ:NWS) are in the midst of marathon discussions of a deal that would spin Fox Interactive into Yahoo, coupled with cash from NWS and a private equity fund that all-in-all totals $15B. The total deal would value Yahoo at $50B, and leave News Corp. with a more-than 20% stake. It is believed Yahoo would have to outsource its search to Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) in order to make the deal work.

Yahoo: More defections. Bradley Horowitz, head of Yahoo’s (YHOO) Advanced Technology Division, has defected to Google (GOOG). Most new products go through the unit, and Horowitz often represented YHOO at industry events.

Cuts at Cisco. Sources say Cisco's (NASDAQ:CSCO) new CFO Frank Calderoni is about to initiate layoffs "big enough to raise an eyebrow."

Analyst downplays Chavez ploy. Oppenheimer analyst Fadel Gheit says Venezuela's cutting ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) out of its oil supply chain will not affect the company, noting the energy giant will have no problem finding other sources of crude. "Exxon buys oil in 35 different varieties -- more flavors than Baskin Robbins," he said. Venezuelan oil is heavier than most, requiring more extensive refining.

Liz's Ellen Tracy to go for $50M. Liz Claiborne (LIZ) is selling its Ellen Tracy brand to a consortium led by private-equity firm Radius Group and apparel firm Windsong Brands. The $50M deal will also include 17 outlet stores. A deal could be announced as soon as today. LIZ has been selling and shuttering many of its labels as part of a restructuring strategy.

MySpace looks to SlingShot startups. News Corp.'s (NWS) MySpace will announce as soon as today SlingShot Labs, a $15M business that looks to spawn internet startups. CEO Rupert Murdoch and MySpace CEO Chris DeWolfe will oversee the venture.

WellPoint halts controversial practice. WellPoint's (WLP) Blue Cross of California will no longer ask doctors to alert it to medical conditions that may void a patient's policy. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton called practice another "example of how insurance companies spend tens of billions of dollars a year figuring out how to avoid covering people with health insurance."

Mobile net - game changer? Softbank (OTCPK:SFTBF) CEO Masayoshi Son says wireless internet growth will change the fundamentals of online content, moving revenue generation from 80-90% advertising to 20% -- while micropayments for high-value content will fill in the void. Marco Boerries, head of connected life at Yahoo (YHOO), disagrees: He says online content providers will have to find ways to "re-invent" mobile advertising using factors such as user location.

$1B Bebo rumors won't go away. In the face of wide spread skepticism, TechCrunch insists Bebo has been in discussions with a number of potential buyers, and actually signed a deal on Monday to be acquired for $1 billion. Google (GOOG) and MySpace (NWS) were supposedly interested.

Analysts differ on ORCL/CRM deal. Regarding rumors of Salesforce.com (NYSE:CRM) approaching Oracle (NASDAQ:ORCL) about an $8.9B deal to sell itself, Cowen analyst Peter Goldmacher says that, "While we would not be surprised if Salesforce made such an overture, we would be very surprised if Oracle didn’t laugh them out of the building." AMR Research's Rob Bois, meanwhile, says the deal "would make sense for Oracle... it takes one of their bigger competitors out of the mix," while questioning how it helps Salesforce.

Lawsuits cast shadow over Fannie. Fannie Mae (FNM) is facing a $7B (24% of its market cap) class-action lawsuit that alleges it illegally profited by investing money from escrow accounts of 4,000 owners of government insured moderate- and low-income housing. This, on top of the $6.3B shareholder lawsuit it faces over an earnings overstatement that led to a $400 million fine and the ouster of then CEO Franklin Raines.

Guru makes light of Buffett offer. Turnaround specialist Wilbur Ross told CNBC he doesn't think bond insurers Ambac (ABK) and MBIA (NYSE:MBI) will bite on Warren Buffett's (NYSE:BRK.A) offer to reinsure up to $80B in muni bonds. CNBC said Tuesday ABK was the unnamed firm that has already rebuffed the offer.

Palm pumps Centro; analysts wary. Palm (PALM) CEO Ed Colligan said in an interview Wednesday sales of Centro, Palm's entry-level smart phone, have exceeded expectations. He said he believes Palm finally has the product it needs to penetrate the consumer market and conquer Europe, while downplaying the effects economic softness could have on consumer sales. Some analysts are skeptical the long-awaited device can spark a turnaround at the troubled company.

Bubble-region homes still overpriced. Despite a year of falling home prices in former bubble regions like California and Southern Florida, homes remain wildly overvalued compared to average personal incomes. Prices would have to drop 33-40% to come back into line with the norm.

Investor homes in on Retalix. Ishay Davidi's First Israel Mezzanine Investors has acquired a 12% stake in Retalix (NASDAQ:RTLX), making it a controlling shareholder. FIMI may move to shake up the board, possibly replacing CEO Barry Shaked as chairman.

Barron's likes Coke bottler Andina. Barron's is bullish on Embotelladora Andina (AKO.A), a lightly-traded Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO) bottler that yields 7.3% and 13% growth. Even if shares tag along with earnings and the stock's yield, investors get a total return of 20% a year.