Bond insurers were headlining again today after Financial Guarantee Insurance
declared its intention to split the solid parts of its business from the rotten ones -- that is, municipal bonds vs. those tied to risky structured finance securities -- according to New York state Insurance Superintendant Eric Dinallo, who made a suggestion to that effect on Capitol Hill yesterday. "We cannot allow the millions of individual Americans who invested in what was a low-risk investment lose money because of subprime excesses," Dinallo had declared yesterday. Governor Eliot Spitzer, for his part, had warned that "if we do not take action, this could be a financial tsunami that causes substantial damage throughout our economy." FGIC's move came a day after Moody's cut its rating to A3 , down six notches from the crucial triple-A rating that bond insurers must retain in order to run their collective business. Struggling rivals MBIA ( MBI) and Ambac ( ABK), the rankings of which are also in peril at the major credit-ratings agencies, remained quiet today as their shares took respective slides of 5.6% and 5%. Also falling, Vision-Sciences ( VSCI) announced that it reached an agreement with Pentax, resolving pending disputes and dismissing all related legal proceedings over pricing, volume and delivery schedules for items supplied by Pentax. It's also delaying of the filing and release of its third-quarter earnings, and release of its results for the first nine months of fiscal 2008, due to the recent resignation of the company's newly-hired controller. Shares were trading down 77 cents, or 19.6%, at $3.16. Elsewhere, American Medical Systems ( AMMD) suffered a downgrade Friday but was trading up $1.61, or 12.2%, at $14.81. On Thursday post-close the company reported a fourth-quarter loss after a profit in the year-ago period but beat analyst expectations on an adjusted basis excluding legal and technology licensing charges. American Medical expects to earn between 84 cents and 99 cents a share on an adjusted basis, on revenue of between $500 million and $520 million for 2008, while analysts polled by Thomson Financial were looking for 69 cents a share on $522.8 million. RBC Capital downgraded the stock to sector perform from outperform on Friday. Mortgage lender Countrywide ( CFC) saw some mixed trading after announcing a 7.47% January delinquency rate as a ratio of unpaid principal balance, and a 1.48% foreclosure rate on that same basis, up from December's respective figures of 7.2% and 1.44%. That also represents a shared surge from year-earlier percentages of 4.32% for delinquencies and 0.77% for foreclosures. Shares of the Calabasas, Calif., company were losing 2.4% at $21.14. Also losing ground, Ultralife Batteries ( ULBI) shares dropped 16.9% to $14.04 after forecasting a fourth-quarter operating loss of about $2.5 million on revenue of $36.5 million. The Newark, N.Y.-based company had previously guided for a profit in the range of $2.7 million to $3.5 million on $41 million to $44 million in revenue. Analysts polled by Thomson Financial are looking for an operating profit of $3 million. Cognex ( CGNX) managed to rise on the down day. Shares rocketed 26.3% to $19.43 on last night's fourth-quarter earnings. The Natick, Mass., maker of vision systems for manufacturing-process automation, or machines that can see what they're doing, posted income of $11.1 million, or a quarter a share, vs. $9.5 million, or 21 cents a share, in 2006. The Street was expecting 20 cents a share. Needham & Co. upgraded the stock to strong buy from buy.