Archive for December 2012

Holiday Bell: 12.31.12

Cliff’s Edge Draws Close (WSJ)
What happens Monday could go some way to determining the short-term fate of the U.S. economy and the reputation of the government, both of which have been dinged by the spectacle of endless seemingly circular negotiations. Carrying the baton late into Sunday evening were Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky) and Vice President Joe Biden. A spokesman for Mr. McConnell said Monday morning that the two men “will continue to work toward a solution.” In the past two weeks, at least three different sets of negotiation teams have sought a way out…Still, some remained hopeful elements of a deal were on the table and could be brought into alignment at the last minute. “We’re very close,” said Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D., Md.). “It is like a kaleidoscope,” meaning there are many moving parts that can look beautiful or ugly depending how they’re arrayed.

Experts Forecast The Cost Of Failure To Compromise (NYT)
In the event no compromise is found, however, the Congressional Budget Office and many private economists warn that the sudden pullback in spending and the rise in taxes would push the economy into recession in the first half of the year. Under this outcome, Mr. Gault said, the economy could shrink by 0.5 percent over all of 2013. With the clock ticking, some observers bolstered their criticism of Washington. “If we have a recession, it’s unforgivable,” said Bernard Baumohl, chief global economist at the Economic Outlook Group. “For the first time in modern history, we will have a self-inflicted recession in the U.S.”

New Year’s Countdown To Higher US Taxes Starts (Bloomberg)
The IRS has said it will issue guidance by today on paycheck withholding for 2013, which depends on the income-tax rates Congress is debating. Higher rates would mean less take- home pay for workers starting as early as the first paycheck in January. Both Democrats and Republicans support extending current rates for families making less than $250,000. They disagree on whether to raise levies for top earners. Rates are scheduled to increase for all income levels Jan. 1 if Congress doesn’t act.

Parties Pivot To Blame (WSJ)
If Congress and the White House fail to strike a deal to avert the so-called fiscal cliff, Republicans are under few illusions as to who will get much of the blame—even if past polls suggest there will be plenty to go around. “The poor Republicans will get the brunt of it, which may be unfair, but such is life,” said Republican Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, a former White House budget chief under George W. Bush. “The Republicans are seen as the obstinate ones, where at the very least, the president and his side are equally so.” Polls since the November election have found Americans more ready to blame the GOP than President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats if the two sides fail to reach a deal to avoid the wave of tax increases and spending cuts coming Jan. 1. A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll earlier this month showed 24% would blame Republicans while 19% would blame Democrats.

Merkel Says Euro Zone Crisis Far From Over (Reuters)
FYI.

Mario Batali wins biz feud over UK chef Gordon Ramsay (NYP, related, related)
Batali says the prickly Brit star has agreed to give up on using the name The Spotted Pig for a London eatery — amid outcry that he had swiped it from Batali and his partners. “It didn’t make him look great,” Batali said of Ramsay’s recent trademarking of the name in the UK. “I don’t think it was an intentional shot across the bow by Gordon,” Batali told the Eater Vegas blog. “His team is just [trying] to build businesses. There’s got to be a thousand other animals they could have chosen besides The Spotted Pig. A striped minx, for example.”

Experts Back Deutsche Whistleblowers (FT)
Accounting experts say Deutsche Bank appears to have improperly accounted for billions of dollars of credit derivatives trades by failing to value adequately the risk that its trading counterparties could walk away.

Jersey woman charged at boyfriend with hammer after he refuses to pay for laundry, reports say (NJ)
Jazmin Duran, 24, was arrested and charged with aggravated assault, terroristic threats, criminal mischief, domestic violence, possession of weapon, unlawful possession of a weapon, resisting arrest police reports said. Police were called to Garfield Avenue near Armstrong Avenue at 2:52 p.m. on a report that a man was locked in the bathroom and his girlfriend was hitting the door with a hammer, reports said. When police arrived, the 49-year-old boyfriend, was still locked in the bathroom, reports said. After a brief struggle, police were able to detain Duran, reports said. When he came out he told police that Duran was mad at him and attacked him with a hammer, reports said. The victim said that he was undressing to get in the shower while talking to his girlfriend about getting her eyebrows done, when she asked for him to pay for doing her laundry, reports said. He responded that he didn’t have money to pay for her laundry, reports said. He said she became irate and began to scream, reports said. Read more »

Opening Bell: 12.28.12

Blackstone seen sticking with SAC despite insider trading probe (Reuters / Matthew Goldstein)
Three sources said the asset management arm of Blackstone, which has $550 million invested with SAC Capital, is in no rush to redeem money from the Stamford, Connecticut-based hedge fund. Blackstone has had at least three discussions with the $14 billion hedge fund’s executives about the insider trading investigation and talked to its own investors, which include state pension funds, endowments and wealthy individuals.

Hitler parody leaves French bank BNP red-faced (IN24)
French banking giant BNP was left red-faced this week after it emerged managers were shown a motivational video featuring a parody of a famous scene from the film “Downfall” in which Adolf Hitler is portrayed as the boss of Germany’s Deutsche Bank. It’s a scene that has been parodied thousands of times before to comic effect. But it appears not many people have seen the funny side of one particular version made by executives of French bank BNP Paribas…In the video, which was shown to around 100 managers from around the world at a seminar in Amsterdam last year, Hitler is turned into a fuming boss of Germany’s Deutsche Bank reacting furiously to news that BNP has gained an edge in the foreign exchange market. But far from being motivated, many of the managers who saw the video were outraged. “We could not believe the bank had actually dared to do that – make an analogy between our competitors and the Nazi regime. It took us a few minutes to take it in,” one BNP employee told French daily Liberation, who revealed the story this week. “We were shocked. Nobody knew how to react. Some Jewish employees from the United States did not find it funny at all,” another employee told the paper. “If this video had been shown by an American bank it would have been a major scandal,” an angry BNP source added. Rather surprisingly the video is believed to have been uploaded to the bank’s internal Intranet site before the management realised it might prove embarrassing and quickly removed it. A spokeswoman for BNP told FRANCE 24 on Friday that the bank’s senior management were totally unaware the video had been made until they were contacted by Libération this week. The spokeswoman said BNP’s CEO Jean Laurent Bonnafé had called his counterpart at Deutsche Bank Jürgen Fitschen to personally apologise for the stunt. In a statement in Libération the bank added that the message in the video was “contrary to the values of BNP.”

Obama Summons Congress Leaders as Budget Deadline Nears (Bloomberg)
Obama, who had been negotiating one-on-one with House Speaker John Boehner, will meet today with Republicans Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, both Democrats.

Cliff Talks Down To The Wire (WSJ)
It is still possible the two sides can reach a deal, especially with the leaders meeting Friday. Any resolution would be a scaled-back version of the package Mr. Obama and congressional leaders had anticipated passing after the November election. The White House is pressing for the Senate to extend current tax rates for income up to $250,000, extend unemployment benefits, keep the alternative minimum tax from hitting millions of additional taxpayers and delay spending cuts set to take effect in January. The 11th-hour strategy carries enormous risk because it leaves no margin for error in Congress’s balky legislative machinery. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) said the prospects for passage of a bill before the last day of the year are fading rapidly. “I have to be very honest,” he said. “I don’t know time-wise how it can happen now.”

Spain’s PM does not rule out asking for European aid (Reuters)
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said on Friday he did not rule out tapping the European Central Bank’s bond-buying program for troubled euro zone governments but said Spain did not expect to have to ask for aid for now. “We are not thinking of asking the European Central Bank to intervene and buy bonds in the secondary market,” he said at a news conference in Madrid. “But we can’t rule it out in the future.”

Banks pay $4.5M for muni charges (NYP)
Citigroup and Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch are among five firms that will pay $4.48 million to settle regulatory claims they used funds from municipal and state bond deals to pay lobbyists. Local authorities were unfairly asked to reimburse payments that the firms made over five years to the California Public Securities Association, a lobbying group, to help influence the state, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, which oversees securities firms, said yesterday. The firms inadequately described the fees, wrapping them into bond-underwriting expenses, Finra said…The banks, also including Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley, agreed to pay $3.35 million in fines and reimburse certain California bond issuers $1.13 million.

Porsche Wins Dismissal of US Hedge Fund Lawsuit Over VW (Reuters)
A five-justice panel of the New York State appeals court in Manhattan unanimously found that Porsche had met its “heavy burden” to establish that the state was the wrong place in which to bring the lawsuit. That panel reversed an Aug. 6 ruling by New York State Supreme Court Justice Charles Ramos that let the case by hedge funds including Glenhill Capital LP, David Einhorn’s Greenlight Capital LP and Chase Coleman’s Tiger Global LP proceed. The funds accused Porsche of engineering a “massive short squeeze” in October 2008 by quietly buying nearly all freely traded ordinary VW shares in a bid to take over the company, despite publicly stating it had no plans to take a 75 percent stake.

IPOs Slump To Lowest Levels Since Financial Crisis (Bloomberg)
IPOs have raised $112 billion worldwide this year, the least since 2008, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Initial sales in western Europe dropped to one-third of last year’s level, while concern about China’s economy helped cut proceeds in Asia by almost half. U.S. offerings raised $41 billion, little changed from last year, as Facebook’s IPO spurred a monthlong drought in U.S. deals.

Avery Johnson Jr. vents on Twitter after dad, Avery Johnson, is fired by Brooklyn Nets (NYDN, RELATED)
The ex-Nets coach’s teenage son took to Twitter to vent after news broke that his dad had been given a pink slip by billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov and the Nets. “This is a f—— Outrage. My dad is a great coach, he just got coach of the month and they Fire him. #Smh. Completely new team he had,” Johnson Jr. wrote on Twitter. “The expectations were way to high for this team. We didn’t even have a losing record…. Didn’t even give my dad a full season. #OUTRAGE,” Johnson Jr. continued. Johnson was fired a day after the new-look Nets fell to .500 following a listless road loss to the Bucks. The canning comes on the heels of Deron Williams saying he’s never been comfortable playing in Johnson’s offense. Williams, who did not play in Wednesday night’s loss, is mired in a season-long shooting slump with field goal and 3-point percentages at career-worst levels. “I’m sorry (our) best players couldn’t make open shots. Yeah that’s my dad’s fault totally,” Johnson Jr. tweeted. Read more »

Holiday Bell: 12.27.12

Debt Ceiling Nears As Talks Stymied (WSJ)
The Treasury Department said Wednesday the government would hit its legal borrowing limit by Monday, setting in motion emergency measures to keep the government operating for several more weeks and serving as a reminder that the nation’s budget wrangling could continue well into 2013. The Treasury’s financial maneuvering is designed to put off until February or March the prospect of a full-blown debt crisis. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s two-paragraph letter to Congress didn’t specify when the emergency measures might be exhausted, blaming the “significant uncertainty that now exists with regard to unresolved tax and spending policies for 2013.” The White House and congressional leaders have shown no signs of progress toward crafting an agreement to avoid the year-end tax increases and spending cuts known as the fiscal cliff.

Rajaratnam Pays $1.45 Million Over Gupta Insider Tips (WSJ)
As part of a consent agreement signed by Mr. Rajaratnam earlier this month and approved by a federal judge on Monday, he agreed to disgorge more than $1.29 million, representing his profits or losses avoided as a result of his alleged trading on Mr. Gupta’s tips, and to pay prejudgment interest of $147,738.

SeaWorld Files For IPO (WSJ)
Though the number of shares and the price range for offering haven’t been determined, the filing pegged it at up to $100 million.

IBM Insider Net Expands (Reuters)
Federal prosecutors charged Trent Martin, a research analyst at a Connecticut brokerage firm, with trading and tipping others before computer giant IBM’s $1.2 billion acquisition of SPSS in 2009, expanding a related insider-trading case filed last month. Martin was also charged with passing the information to others, including two stockbrokers and his roommate. The group allegedly netted more than $1 million.

Shark Tank Explodes In Shanghai Mall (NYDN)
Security video inside a Shanghai shopping mall captured the terrifying moment an aquarium with live sharks burst open, injuring at least 15 people and leading to the death of dozens of animals. The chaotic scene on Dec. 18 inside the Shanghai Oriental Shopping Center left many of the victims with cuts from the broken glass, while one of them suffered a broken ankle, according to the China Daily. Many of those hurt were mall employees. In addition, three lemon sharks and dozens of smaller fish and turtles were killed when the 33-ton tank exploded, sending water and glass cascading through part of the shopping center, the BBC reported. At least four people were standing right in front of the display at the time. “It was horrible, like a bomb explosion,” one mall vendor told the China Daily. “Some pedestrians were pushed (6-1/2 feet) away by the force of the water.” Officials were investigating whether low temperatures in Shanghai combined with shoddy building materials to make the shark tank — built just two years ago — suddenly rupture. This isn’t the first time the display has been damaged: A broken water pipe in June led to the death of three sharks, according to reports. Mall officials have apparently had enough and told local media they don’t plan to rebuild. Read more »

Holiday Bell: 12.26.12

Budget Talks Cloud Outlook (WSJ)
Lawmakers returning to town this week will see whether they can agree on a plan to avoid the full brunt of the fiscal cliff, the combined $500 billion in tax increases and spending cuts set to begin next week. Little if any progress was made in the talks before Congress and President Barack Obama left town last Friday for Christmas. The president plans to leave his vacation in Hawaii late Wednesday night, returning to Washington on Thursday, the White House said. Aides in both parties say they expect a potential solution to start taking shape by the end of the week. But with so little time, hopes are dimming for anything other than a partial agreement, which would prolong the uncertainty and leave in place some tax or spending measures that act as a serious drag on the weak recovery. This could even trigger another recession, exacerbating the global economic slowdown.

Grand Bargain Shrinks as Congress Nears U.S. Budget Deadline (Bloomberg)
“At this point there’s zero percent chance of a big deal and maybe a 10 percent chance of a small deal before Jan. 1,” said Stan Collender, a former staff member of the House Ways and Means Committee and the House and Senate Budget committees who is now at Qorvis Communications in Washington. He has predicted a no-deal scenario since before Memorial Day, and said the past two weeks of inaction reinforced his projection. At this point, Collender said, whether the Senate moves first won’t matter. “Nothing will move House Republicans if they don’t feel like getting moved,” he said. “They’ve never been swayed by the Senate before.” The remaining option for averting the cliff, he said, would be if Boehner risks his House speakership to put to the floor a tax deal that would get a majority of Democrats to support it and few — perhaps less than 50 — Republicans. “The Republican caucus would never forgive him,” he said. “The statesmanlike thing to do would be to say I’m the speaker of the House, not the head of the Republican party. That is the equivalent of never running for speaker again.”

Some ‘Cliff’ With Your Coffee? Starbucks Urges Unity (Reuters)
Chief Executive Howard Schultz is urging workers in Starbucks’ roughly 120 Washington-area shops to write “come together” on customers’ cups on Thursday and Friday, as U.S. President Barack Obama and lawmakers return to work and attempt to revive fiscal cliff negotiations that collapsed before the Christmas holiday.

Herbalife Goes On Offensive (WSJ)
Herbalife Ltd. said it has hired a strategic adviser and will hold an analyst and investor meeting next month in an effort to thwart a wave of criticism reignited by investor William Ackman. In addition, Herbalife is working with law firm Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP in connection with the dispute, according to people familiar with the matter. It wasn’t immediately clear what kind of counsel Boies Schiller might provide…The company’s moves, announced Monday, come after Mr. Ackman last week revealed that his firm has been betting against Herbalife shares for months in a negative wager that he characterized as “enormous.” He also said the nutritional-supplement maker operates as a “pyramid scheme.” He said distributors, or salespeople, for the Los Angeles-based company make more money by recruiting other distributors than by selling the company’s diet and nutritional products. Herbalife last week called Mr. Ackman’s stance “a malicious attack on Herbalife’s business model based largely on outdated, distorted and inaccurate information.”

NJ Pension Fund Sues NYSE-Euronext on ICE Deal (Reuters)
The New Jersey Carpenters Pension Fund on Friday filed a complaint in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan contending that NYSE-Euronext breached its duty to maximize returns for shareholders. The lawsuit seeks class-action status on behalf of other NYSE-Euronext shareholders and aims to block the sale.

Titan to Withdraw Money From SAC (WSJ)
Titan Advisors LLC recently told clients that it had decided to withdraw its entire investment from SAC, said clients who received phone calls from Titan. “They’ve told us they still think SAC is a good firm but Titan doesn’t need the headline risk, and we sure don’t,” said Tom Taneyhill, executive director of the Fire & Police Employees’ Retirement System of the City of Baltimore, on Friday…Titan’s departure is significant given SAC’s long-standing relationship with one of Titan’s founders. Titan co-founder George Fox began investing in SAC in the mid-90s, several years after Mr. Cohen started what became the firm in 1992.

Madoff, in Christmas Eve Letter, Says Insider Trading Has Gone on ‘Forever’ (CNBC)
In a Christmas Eve letter from the medium security federal prison in North Carolina where he is serving a 150-year sentence for running a massive Ponzi scheme, Madoff tells CNBC that insider trading has been around “forever.” He also rails against what he calls a lack of transparency in the financial markets, and says the growth of hedge funds is forcing market players to take outsized risks in order to earn decent returns. […] “(O)ne would be led to believe that with the recent spate of insider trading prosecution that insider trading is a new development,” Madoff writes. “This is false. It has been present in the market forever, but rarely prosecuted. The same can be said of front running of orders.” Read more »

Write-Offs: 12.21.12

$$$ Lawsuits cast darker shadow over banks than Libor fines [Reuters]

$$$ Pershing Square launches www.FactsAboutHerbalife.com [FAH]

$$$ Majority of Wealthy Support Taxing Themselves: Poll [CNBC]

$$$ ICE Would Owe $750 Million if NYSE Deal Blocked [WSJ]

$$$ Daily Intel is live-blogging the Mayan apocalypse [DI]

$$$ That’s it for us today. We’ll be on a light schedule next week, and will see you back here full time on January 2nd. Happy holidays!
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UBS’s $1.5 billion settlement for manipulating interbank lending rates is the fourth separate regulatory finding against the Swiss group in as many years – underlining the failure of bank executives to reform the corporate culture…Just last month, a London jury convicted one of UBS’s former traders, Kweku Adoboli, of the biggest banking fraud in British history after he lost $2.3 billion in rogue trades. The FSA also fined the bank 29.7 million pounds ($39.2 million) for allowing the unauthorized trades. The trading loss is now seen among UBS staff as the new benchmark of wrongdoing, with reports of relief among employees that the bank’s $1.5 billion global Libor settlement was “only half an Adoboli.” [FT]

  • 21 Dec 2012 at 3:04 PM

Robust Christmas Tree Sales Mean… Something? Maybe?

The early numbers aren’t encouraging in terms of holiday sales. But let’s ignore them and rely on this instead: Read more »

I didn’t really understand this morning’s Journal headline – “Regulatory ‘Whale’ Hunt Advances” – since the whale in question, JPMorgan’s Bruno Iksil, has been caught, harpooned, killed, flensed, picked clean by sharks, and his skeleton mounted in the American Museum of Unfortunate Trades. So the OCC’s hunt is … somewhat late no?

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, led by Comptroller Thomas Curry, is preparing to take a formal action demanding that J.P. Morgan remedy the lapses in risk controls that allowed a small group of London-based traders to rack up losses of more than $6 billion this year, according to people familiar with the company’s discussions with regulators.

The OCC, the primary regulator for J.P. Morgan’s deposit-taking bank, isn’t expected to levy a fine, at least initially.

I submit to you that:

  • JPMorgan has at the very least talked a good game about remedying the lapses in risk controls that led to the Whale’s losses, insofar as it’s wound down the trade, fired everyone involved, appointed new risk managers, changed the models, moved the relevant portfolio out of the division that used to house it, and otherwise done everything in its power to make its chief investment office a no-cetaceans zone, and
  • If the OCC disagrees, and thinks that JPMorgan hasn’t taken commercially reasonable risk-management steps to remedy the lapses that led it whaleward, then there may be bigger problems than can be fixed by a notice saying “oh hey you might want to look into that.”

Anyway. Yesterday the OCC also released its Semiannual Risk Perspective for Fall 2012; December 20 is technically fall but the document has data through June 30 so that too seems a bit behind the times. The OCC: your time-shifted banking overseer.

But it’s an interesting, and broadly encouraging, read in a circle-of-life way. Things are, or were in June, pretty good, or at least improving, credit-wise:1 Read more »