Opening Bell: 03.21.12

Hartford Bows to Paulson Wish to Exit Annuity Business (WSJ, earlier)
Bowing to pressure from hedge-fund titan John Paulson, Hartford Financial Services Group said Wednesday it would exit its annuity business and weigh a sale of a large portion of its life-insurance operation. The move will allow Hartford to focus on its property-casualty unit, where the company got its start more than 200 years ago, as well as its group benefits business and its “high return” mutual fund operation, Chief Executive Liam McGee said in a statement. The announcement marks a substantial change of strategy for Hartford, which has long resisted calls to separate its life insurer from its property-casualty arm. Mr. Paulson, whose hedge fund is Hartford’s largest shareholder, became the latest to push for such a move when he took to the company’s fourth-quarter-earnings call in February to criticize management and urge them to “do something drastic” to boost the share price.

Bernanke As Professor Tries To Buff Fed’s Image (NYT)
Mr. Bernanke, one of the most powerful men in Washington, has agreed to moonlight as a college professor, delivering four lectures on central banking over the next two weeks. He also will read some student papers…“It always surprises you to realize that this guy actually exists and he’s not just on TV,” said Max Sanders, a 19-year-old from New York. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hear lectures from him,” said Noah Wiviott, 21, of New Jersey. “He clearly knows what he’s talking about.” Not everyone, however, found him convincing. Yuqi Wu, a 20-year-old student from China, said she did not agree with Mr. Bernanke’s criticism of her government’s monetary policy. “I definitely support the Chinese government’s position,” she said.

Buffett Seizes Lead in Bet on Stocks Beating Hedge Funds (Bloomberg)
Warren Buffett made a friendly bet four years ago that funds that invest in hedge funds for their clients couldn’t beat the stock market over a decade. So far he’s winning. The wager that began on Jan. 1, 2008, pits the Omaha, Nebraska, billionaire against Protégé Partners LLC, a New York fund of hedge funds co-founded by Ted Seides and Jeffrey Tarrant. Protégé built an index of five funds that invest in hedge funds to compete against a Vanguard mutual fund that tracks the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index. The winner’s charity of choice gets $1 million when the bet ends on Dec. 31, 2017.

Banks Seek Delay On Volcker Rule (WSJ)
The Volcker rule, which restricts banks’ ability to trade with their own money, is set to take effect July 21, whether or not regulators have a final rule in place, according to the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial overhaul law. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said last month that regulators likely wouldn’t have a rule in time. A group representing banks and others involved in bundling and selling loans is warning that deals worth hundreds of billions of dollars may need to be shut down because of wording in the law requiring compliance with a rule that doesn’t yet exist.

Cops arrest Occupy Wall Street protesters in Union Square (NYP)
Cops shut down Union Square and kicked out a large crowd of Occupy Wall Street protesters last night, arresting nine demonstrators last night and this morning, just days after larger clashes at the group’s former encampment downtown.

I love lava lamp (Politico)
Another amusing exchange as Mitt Romney walked past a Chicago Google employee with a big blue lava lamp (turned off) on his desk: “That’s a big lava lamp, congratulations,” Romney said.

Wilbur Ross: Long-Term Bond Bubble Getting Ready To Burst (CNBC)
“I think the greatest bubble that is about to burst is the 10-year and longer Treasury, because the idea that inflation is gone forever and for all time, and therefore these artificially low rates can last, is silly,” the president of W.H. Ross & Co. said in an interview.

Bernanke: Fed Is Ready To Act If Europe Falters (Reuters)
“In the past few months, financial stresses in Europe have lessened, which has contributed to an improved tone of financial markets around the world, including in the United States,” Bernanke said in testimony prepared for a House hearing Wednesday. Bernanke stresses, however, that a full resolution of the crisis “will require a further strengthening of the European banking system; a significant expansion of financial backstops, or “firewalls,” to guard against contagion in sovereign debt markets.”

Greece Names New Finance Minister (WSJ)
Greek Deputy Finance Minister Philippos Sachinidis will be the country’s new finance minister, replacing Evangelos Venizelos, the prime minister’s office said Wednesday.

Erin Burnett ‘annoyed’ she was used in RNC’s ‘War on Women’ ad (The Cutline)
The Republican National Committee rolled out a new ad over the weekend called “Obama’s War on Women,” linking comedian and Obama campaign backer Bill Maher’s controversial comments about Sarah Palin to the administration. The 90-second spot featured several TV news personalities, including ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews and CNN’s Erin Burnett. “At first I was kind of amused I was included,” Burnett said Monday. “Then I was annoyed. I certainly don’t agree that Democrats are in a war on women.”

U.S. travelers to Olympics may bring home measles, CDC warns (Reuters)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that the Olympics in London, as well as the Euro 2012 soccer cup in Poland and Ukraine, will be huge draws for American travelers and will increase the risk for measles infection. The virus is much more prevalent in Europe, leading to eight deaths and 26,000 illnesses last year. “Disease knows no borders,” said Rebecca Martin, director of the CDC’s Global Immunization Division. “We are concerned about Americans coming back from the Olympics this summer and unknowingly infecting others.”

50 comments (hidden to protect delicate sensibilities)
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Comments (50)

  1. Posted by Guest | March 21, 2012 at 10:16 AM
  2. Posted by guest | March 21, 2012 at 10:18 AM

    "Mr. Romney likes to congratulate people. For what, exactly, is not always clear."

  3. Posted by Whoops | March 21, 2012 at 10:24 AM

    Given my experience thus far, I think it's rather appropriate to call JP a "titan."

    -Kronos

  4. Posted by AIG Sports Quant | March 21, 2012 at 10:32 AM

    Not so fast. If he's a titan, why doesn't he ever their owner, Bud Adams?

  5. Posted by Ambac quant | March 21, 2012 at 10:45 AM

    how do you ever someone ?

  6. Posted by Guest | March 21, 2012 at 10:54 AM

    Yuqi Wu then went on to mention, somewhat tangentially, China's perfect human rights record, the pristine environmental conditions in all major Chinese cities, and government transparency.

  7. Posted by BrotherLehman | March 21, 2012 at 10:56 AM

    In other news, the CDC announced that there was absolutely no chance American tourists would return home from the Olympics with cravings for mushy peas, the Sun tabloid, or "football" actually played with the feet.

  8. Posted by cool kid | March 21, 2012 at 10:57 AM

    You've never evered someone?

  9. Posted by Guest | March 21, 2012 at 10:58 AM

    Amyl nitrate and a steam room.

  10. Posted by 2 Dragons | March 21, 2012 at 11:08 AM

    I am on an everquest right now!

  11. Posted by UBS Pun Quant | March 21, 2012 at 11:11 AM

    Yuqi for Wu, I live in America!

  12. Posted by IgnorantBastards | March 21, 2012 at 11:29 AM

    Great piece!

  13. Posted by Matt's Mum | March 21, 2012 at 11:54 AM

    Or a stinking cold. As a Brit I'm afraid of stepping on that island because I invariably bring a nasty cold back to infect my American brethren.

  14. Posted by Matt's Mum | March 21, 2012 at 11:55 AM

    Who is Erin Burntnett?

  15. Posted by Hey! | March 21, 2012 at 12:36 PM

    You sloshed your moquito on me during that rant. And the day is young.

    -Guy at the Bar Next to You at Minetta's

  16. Posted by Guest | March 21, 2012 at 12:37 PM

    He's in a huge cult. Of course he's a fucking wack job.

  17. Posted by Geezer Oil Trader | March 21, 2012 at 12:42 PM

    You know those buttons on men's coat sleeves? You think they're useless as tits on a boar hog? Actually, that French leader "Napolian" ordered those things put on uniform sleeves so the troops wouldn't wipe their noses on their sleeves when the had the grippe. Now, I learned that from a guy named Whaley who used to be in the oil business as a broker and he was married to that Adair gal in Houston after a bad first marriage, don't you know. He hated cats but told some pretty good jokes and had a hilarious story about relieveing himself on a hog hunt as a she-hog came walking up when he had the wrong weapon in his hand. That was back when you could make 2 or 3 cents a barrel brokering an oil deal ON THE PHONE and not with all this electronic bullshit and all. I got to go golfing now.

  18. Posted by Bain Cap LP Dude | March 21, 2012 at 12:42 PM

    Well that's just like your opinion, man.

  19. Posted by pazzo83 | March 21, 2012 at 12:56 PM

    I think Goldman's call for $150/bbl crude for 2011 was pretty solid.

    – H Camping

  20. Posted by Kivisto | March 21, 2012 at 1:01 PM

    Obviously, the market is wrong.

  21. Posted by Bandersnatch | March 21, 2012 at 1:15 PM

    When does a huge cult become an established religion?
    – Wondering in Waco

  22. Posted by Bandersnatch | March 21, 2012 at 1:18 PM

    Not sure anyone here cares. Try a therapist or a bartender.

  23. Posted by PermaGuestII | March 21, 2012 at 1:19 PM

    Speak for yourself re- The Sun.

    -former UK resident with a deep appreciation for Page 3.

  24. Posted by pazzo83 | March 21, 2012 at 1:22 PM

    You are probably looking for this site: http://www.zerohedge.com

  25. Posted by Interview Quant | March 21, 2012 at 1:23 PM

    Sounds like someone didn't fare too well at round 1 of an interview for a position with the GS research dept.

    Alternatively, is that you Liam, trying to insist the GS research and Paulson's urging you to adopt said plan isn't the reason for the spin?

  26. Posted by pazzo83 | March 21, 2012 at 1:25 PM

    That hurt….

    – M Levine

  27. Posted by Whoops | March 21, 2012 at 1:31 PM

    Please tell us if you find the answer.

    -Mssrs. Travolta and Cruise.

  28. Posted by Touch Base Later | March 21, 2012 at 1:37 PM

    Can we get an article posted please? I have needs you know…

  29. Posted by Touch Bess Later | March 21, 2012 at 1:41 PM

    I'm struggling here too.

  30. Posted by trojan_ | March 21, 2012 at 1:46 PM

    She also added, rather gleefully, "Wait until Mr. Bernanke tastes what I put in his Coke!"

  31. Posted by 760 GMAT; 3.6 GPA | March 21, 2012 at 2:10 PM

    Great attitude…

  32. Posted by early_hominid | March 21, 2012 at 2:19 PM

    Introducing foreign substances into our precious bodily fluids without the knowledge of the individual. That's how your hard-core commie works.

  33. Posted by trojan_ | March 21, 2012 at 2:19 PM

    +/- 300 years and a few heads of state/emperors on board
    -J.C.

  34. Posted by Guest | March 21, 2012 at 2:20 PM

    It's only an established religion because he has coin to fund pro-Mormon propaganda in an attempt to make him seem normal. The nominee for a record breaking spending, losing election. Dream big, wack job.

  35. Posted by Huésped | March 21, 2012 at 2:21 PM

    Religions get a pass if they were founded pre-Enlightenment. Afterwards, they're all cults.

  36. Posted by Huésped | March 21, 2012 at 2:23 PM

    I could see Page Three girls catching on

  37. Posted by Huésped | March 21, 2012 at 2:24 PM

    It's called self-healing.

  38. Posted by MK Lallana | March 21, 2012 at 2:29 PM

    Hey!

    -Proud Conservative and former Northwestern Mutual Employee

  39. Posted by Laxbro | March 21, 2012 at 2:39 PM

    I don't trust anyone that doesn't drink.

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  41. Posted by PermaGuestII | March 21, 2012 at 2:47 PM

    Shouldn't you be making a tinfoil hat?

  42. Posted by PermaGuestII | March 21, 2012 at 2:57 PM

    When did you first become… well… develop this theory?

  43. Posted by Tseug | March 21, 2012 at 3:07 PM

    Somewhere, out there, there's a village that's missing you sorely.

  44. Posted by early_hominid | March 21, 2012 at 3:23 PM

    That's between me and my internet service provider.

  45. Posted by Shecky Utah Native | March 21, 2012 at 3:24 PM

    Q: Why do you always take 2 Mormons hunting with you?
    A: If you only bring one he'll drink all your beer.

  46. Posted by buboe | March 21, 2012 at 7:53 PM

    You mean this one isn't working!?!
    +frantically pats head+

  47. Posted by buboe | March 21, 2012 at 7:54 PM

    Yeeeehah!

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