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Blockbuster receives $290 million hedge fund takeover bid

Blockbuster, the bankrupt video rental company, said on Monday that it had agreed to sell itself to a group of creditors for about $290 million as a way to jump-start an auction process that could yield a higher bid.

The offer by the hedge funds — a group composed of Monarch Alternative Capital, Owl Creek Asset Management, Stonehill Capital Management and Vaerde Partners — is what is known in bankruptcy proceedings as a stalking horse bid, which sets a base price that other potential suitors must trump.

Together, the creditor group, called Cobalt Video, owns more than 50 percent of Blockbuster’s senior secured notes, and each member is part of the company’s creditor steering committee.

One question is what the billionaire investor Carl C. Icahn, another major creditor, plans to do.

As part of the purchase agreement with Cobalt, Blockbuster must begin closing down 609 stores, according to a court filing. Cobalt has also reserved the right under certain circumstances to convert Blockbuster’s bankruptcy case into a Chapter 7 liquidation.

By seeking a sale, Blockbuster is hoping to hasten its exit from bankruptcy protection. The company filed for Chapter 11 in September, burdened by a hefty debt load and pressured from online rivals like Netflix and Redbox.

For South Korea, blazing internet speed isn’t fast enough

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea already claims the world’s fastest Internet connections — the fastest globally by far — but that is hardly good enough for the government here.

By the end of 2012, South Korea intends to connect every home in the country to the Internet at 1 gigabit per second. That would be a 10-fold increase from the already blazing national standard and more than 200 times as fast as the average household setup in the US.

A pilot gigabit project initiated by the government is under way, with 5,000 households in five South Korean cities wired. Each customer pays about 30,000 won a month, or less than $27.

“South Korean homes now have greater Internet access than we do,” President Barack Obama said in his State of the Union address last month. Last week, Obama unveiled an $18.7 billion broadband spending program.

While Americans are clip-clopping along, trailing the Latvians and the Romanians in terms of Internet speed, the South Koreans are at a full gallop. Their average Internet connections are far faster than even No. 2 Hong Kong and No. 3 Japan, according to the Internet analyst Akamai Technologies.

Bald mice given an anti-stress treatment find their fur

Mouse researchers conducting stress hormone experiments have stumbled onto a surprising new discovery — a potential treatment for hair loss.

Scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the Veterans Administration were working with genetically altered mice that typically develop head-to-tail baldness as a result of overproducing a stress hormone.

The experiment wasn’t focused on hair loss. Instead, it was designed to study a chemical compound that blocks the effects of stress on the gut. The researchers treated the bald mice for five days with the compound and then returned them to the cages, where they scampered about with several furry mice from a control group.

Three months later, the scientists went back to the cage to conduct additional experiments. They were surprised by what they saw inside — all of the mice had full heads and backs of hair. The once-bald mice, eventually identified through ear tags, were indistinguishable from their normal, furry cage mates.

Dr. Million Mulugeta, co-director of the preclinical stress biology program at UCLA, said he looked inside the cage and at first wondered why the bald mice weren’t there. “I asked my colleague, ‘How come these mice aren’t distinguishable from the others?’” he said. “We went back to our data log, and we realized all the mice had grown hair. It was a totally unexpected finding.”

The serendipitous discovery was reported Wednesday in the online medical journal PLoS One.

British spirits maker Diageo agrees to buy Turkish company

Diageo, the British spirits maker, agreed Monday to buy Mey Icki, a Turkish liquor company, for $2.1 billion, in a deal that will expand Diageo’s global reach.

The move is the first multibillion-dollar deal by Diageo in more than a decade and its latest step to push into developing markets in search of new areas for growth.

“Turkey is an attractive, growing market for Diageo,” Paul Walsh, Diageo’s chief executive, said in a statement. The acquisition will give Diageo “an outstanding platform from which to accelerate the long-term growth of our premium international spirits brands in Turkey,” he said.

Diageo, based in London, said the acquisition would increase its earnings per share by about 1 percent in the first year. The company plans to finance the takeover through cash and debt.

Mey Icki, which was acquired by TPG Capital in 2006 for about $800 million, had begun talks with Diageo in December, according to a person briefed on the matter. But it has also pursued a potential initial public offering, hiring four banks — JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse and Bank of America Merrill Lynch — to advise on any stock sale. The company is the biggest producer of raki, a popular alcoholic beverage consumed in Turkey. It has access to roughly 50,000 retail outlets across Turkey.