Under The Radar News - Wednesday

by: SA Eli Hoffmann
  • Where art thou jumbo? Despite Congress's attempt to make it easier to get jumbo ($417K-$730K) mortgages , borrowers and mortgage brokers say the new loans are either impossible to find or carry ridiculously high interest rates. It's "so much of a failure that it's really unbelievable," FCMC Mortgage's Daniel Shlufman says. A recent move by Freddie Mac (FRE) to buy $15B of the jumbos could jumpstart the stalled process. The new system is supposed to expire by year-end.
  • Another failed stimulus. Less than 2,000 homeowners facing foreclosure have been helped by an FHA program endorsed by President Bush, even though at least 1.5M people are behind on their payments. The FHA asserts more than 150,000 people have availed themselves of its help. But statistics show the vast majority of them were non-delinquent homeowners, to which it retorts: "They came to us before they got into trouble. We’d rather have them come to us before they fell behind on their loans." Lawmakers and analysts assert the program is a failure, and has not eased the foreclosure crisis.
  • AMD talks up new chip. AMD's (NYSE:AMD) next-gen CPUs will be radically different than its current AMD64 architecture, although it's not saying how. "If I look at the next generation architecture of our CPU, then it will definitely not be, how can I say, comparable with the Phenom. It will look completely different," AMD's Giuseppe Amato says, adding the new design will, "solve problems that today we think can never be addressed by hardware."
  • Ok, but do they explode? Sources say new laptops from Dell (NASDAQ:DELL) and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) will use Samsung's lithium-ion batteries, which supposedly have 7% more capacity, 10% more in-use time, and are quicker to refresh. A slight to industry leader Sony (NYSE:SNE).
  • Sweet and sassy. Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) will unleash two new drink lines together with FQ2 earnings this evening -- smoothies with fresh fruit and whey powder, and a "sweet, icy" beverage developed with an unknown Italian company. The former is an attempt to cater to the health-conscious, while the latter will be priced cheaply -- a rich drink for a poor consumer. Stay tuned: Starbucks warned last week of soft earnings, and said it would offer investors this afternoon a three-year outlook.
  • When record profits aren't enough. Many of the 300-odd Rockefellers who collectively own an influential stake in ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) are concerned senior management "has tunnel vision and is too absorbed with the challenges of daily management" to ask hard questions about the future of fossil fuels. They want Exxon to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and to explore if it should be more active in developing sustainable energy technologies. The illustrious family's willingness to take a stance may encourage other shareholders to do the same.
  • Pat on the back. Sources say Alcatel-Lucent's (ALU) board is looking for a new CEO to replace Patricia Russo. Ben Verwaayan, outgoing CEO of BT Group plc (NYSE:BT), is the front runner. Pressure has been mounting to replace Russo amid disappointing results since the 2006 merger of Alcatel and Lucent.
  • Software plays catch up. Stanford University is launching a joint effort with Sun (JAVA), AMD (AMD), Nvidia (NASDAQ:NVDA), IBM (NYSE:IBM), Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) and Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) to research how software can better use chips capable of multi-threaded, multi-core processing. The so-called Pervasive Parallelism Lab will rival similar efforts announced last month by Intel and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) to finance new labs at University of California, Berkeley and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
  • Don't you dare do that again! The special committee set up to oversee the Wall Street Journal's editorial integrity is ticked off it wasn't notified earlier about the resignation of managing editor Marcus Brauchli. The board conceded "there was no practical way to 'unresign' Brauchli and start the process over," but said it expects to be kept "thoroughly informed" during the search for a successor. The conflict calls to mind a teacher who dismissed her class early on condition they behave well tomorrow.
  • Short selling gets short shrift. Senator Dodd, on the recent collapse of Bear Stearns (NYSE:BSC): "This goes beyond rumors. This is about collusion." James Chanos, a prominent short seller: "Show me the evidence. It's always easier to blame someone else, some unnamed market force than the people responsible." Short hedge funds made an average 7.43% in Q1, and investors who have seen their portfolios decimated are looking for a scapegoat.
  • Exporters diss the dollar. Chinese exporters are asking European customers to pay in euros, not dollars, thank you very much. The dollar's down 4% vs. the yen this year, after losing 7% last year. But some importers are so excited about the euro's strength vs. the dollar that they are bucking the request and refuse to make the change. Exporters are looking at bolstering their domestic business to minimize their currency risk.
  • Hope it's not too late. Managed-hosting provider Rackspace filed for a $400M IPO with the NYSE. The much-adored company came under criticism recently for two serious outages. Tumblr founder David Karp left Rackspace despite its offer to cut fees by 80%, saying it's cheaper for him to load up on redundant servers than to depend on Rackspace's promise of 100% up-time.
  • New age ads. Ad agencies "should just stop talking about what was," executives at an advertising conference say, and "stop whining." Presentations of digital media from Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), Microsoft (MSFT) and Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) took the front stage. NBC's (NYSE:GE) Ben Silverman says ad agencies need to think more about integrating brands into the plots of programs, rather than focusing on traditional ads that are easier-than-ever to skip. Digital media will "create new opportunities for advertisers and new opportunities for information," Google CEO Eric Schmidt said. "The scale of this is underappreciated."
  • Mobile melee. A battle appears to be brewing between Google (GOOG) and the Mobile Marketing Association, which released conflicting mobile-display ad standards last week. Search Engine Watch says the MMA's standards render Google's useless.
  • Netflix lacking quality assurance? A Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) devotee claims he's been receiving counterfeit DVDs from the company, despite its assurances that "human eyes check every disc that comes back." Others claim they have been receiving DVDs that contain the message, "This DVD for is for sale only."
  • Not all hype. Music-blog aggregator Hype Machine reportedly has been offered $10M by Viacom (NYSE:VIA).