Opening Bell

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.”

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50 Responses to “Opening Bell: 03.21.12”

  1. Whoops says:

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


  2. Guest says:

    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.

  3. BrotherLehman says:

    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.

  4. Matt's Mum says:

    Who is Erin Burntnett?

  5. pazzo83 says:

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

    – H Camping

  6. Kivisto says:

    Obviously, the market is wrong.

  7. Touch Base Later says:

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

  8. neil says:

    <img src=>I think it's rather appropriate to call ?? who cares?<img src=>

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