Opening Bell

Holiday Bell: 12.24.13

Big Rally to Pump Up Wall Street Bonuses (WSJ)
A strong rally in financial markets over the past two months is expected to add a last-minute boost to bonus packages for Wall Street’s traders and investment bankers, partially offsetting an otherwise grim year. The winners in financial firms this year are likely to be equity traders, who have reaped gains from soaring stock markets, and investment bankers, who have benefited from a pickup in initial public offerings and other deals. But the recent rally is unlikely to provide much help to bond traders, who have endured one of their toughest years since the financial crisis.

Ackman Takes Another Swipe At Herbalife (NYP)
The dicey recruiting methods used by Herbalife distributors, which the company said would be banned as of June 30, are still happening, hedge-fund titan Bill Ackman claimed in a letter sent Monday to his investors. Herbalife, fighting claims by Ackman that it is a pyramid scheme, said it would ban distributors from selling leads through related companies that troll the Internet for new recruits. The Herbalife distributors would then sell the recruit names for about $50 to $100 a piece to newer distributors. The practice, considered indicative of a pyramid because it focuses solely on recruitment, is believed to have become even more lucrative than selling Herbalife products. Despite the ban, the practice “continues to this day,” Ackman wrote in the letter to investors in his Pershing Square hedge funds.

Swiss Banks Employ Army of Advisers for U.S. Amnesty Plan (Bloomberg)
Switzerland’s 300 banks have enlisted an army of auditors, lawyers and in-house workers as they race to meet a Dec. 31 deadline on whether to seek U.S. amnesty for helping American clients evade taxes. Banks in Switzerland, the largest cross-border financial center with $2.2 trillion of assets, are closely examining accounts before joining a disclosure program that’s the broadest assault in a five-year U.S. crackdown on offshore tax evasion.

NYSE proposes ‘kill switch’ to help catch trading errors (Reuters)
Intercontinental Exchange Group’s NYSE Euronext unit has filed a plan with regulators to offer firms that trade on the New York Stock Exchange a “kill switch” that could cut off trading if preset levels were breached…Under the NYSE proposal, the exchange’s member firms will have the option of pre-setting certain trading thresholds that when hit would block the firms’ orders.

My ‘Orgy’ With Leonardo DiCaprio (NYP)
I’m playing a high-end hooker, one of about 20 hired by rogue financier Jordan Belfort [played by Leonardo DiCaprio] to accompany him and his broker friends on a debauched flight from New York to his bachelor party in Las Vegas. “Oh my gosh,” jokes P.J. “You’re gorgeous! What am I gonna tell my wife? I’m so happily married, I can’t even look at you!” It feels surreal to be on a set in Brooklyn, made up as the interior of a luxury jet, and about to shoot an R-rated sequence showing simulated sex, binge drinking and a huge amount of drug-taking. But this is what I’ve signed up for. Dressed in red silk lingerie, red leather jacket, red fishnet stockings and red Manolo Blahniks, I slip off my robe and take a deep breath. It’s not every day you get a call from a casting director inviting you to audition for a Martin Scorsese film. But that’s what happened to me this spring. “It will involve some nudity,” the casting agent warned. “Martin has asked for you, personally, at least eight or nine times.” My first reaction was: “I can’t do it! I’m not taking my clothes off! I’ve never even cursed on camera!” But then I thought about it: “This is Martin Scorsese. How can you say no?” […] I stayed pretty much fully clothed in my red leather jacket and lingerie, which is more than I can say for P.J., who plays Nicky Koskoff in the film. He was the most naked of all the people in the scene, wearing a thong made out of candy Smarties with a sock over everything underneath. Needless to say, I think he felt very uncomfortable…Meanwhile, the girl who was on top of Jonah Hill — she really got spanked. She can’t have been Method acting, because she was complaining so much. “I’ve got broken blood vessels all over my a$$,” she said. But she wanted to be with the principal, so she got what she wanted.

Cohen Said to Have Warned Friend About Possible Federal Investigation (Dealbook)
By the summer of 2009, the billionaire investor Steven A. Cohen appeared to be growing suspicious that federal authorities were gathering evidence about insider trading in the hedge fund industry. When a former employee approached Mr. Cohen that summer, seeking a job at SAC Capital Advisors, his hedge fund, Mr. Cohen called a friend at another hedge fund and told him to be careful about talking to the former trader, according to people briefed on the matter. The phone call, which has not been previously reported, suggests that Mr. Cohen and potentially others in the hedge fund industry were gradually becoming aware of the broad investigation into insider trading, despite attempts by authorities at that time to keep it secret.

NFL Christmas-Tree Power Rankings (WSJ)
With the holiday season upon us—and the playoffs right round the corner—The Wall Street Journal contacted all 32 of the NFL’s teams and asked them to send photos of the Christmas trees located at their facilities. All but three teams submitted entries…For the most part, the better the team, the better the tree. Among the top 12 tree teams, there were nine playoff (or potential playoff) teams. That said, the Patriots, Broncos, Colts and Packers weren’t exactly lighting it up. The most elaborate tree (by far) was housed in the NFL’s most-expensive stadium: Jerry Jones’s palace to all things Cowboys. But fancy trees are clearly not a Texas thing—the least impressive tree (a trio of shrubs, really) resided in Houston. Cincinnati’s modestly sized tree punched above its weight thanks to homey touches like pompon tinsel—and its impressive view of the field. Arizona scored well with our panel thanks to the giant lifelike bird perched on top of the tree (we didn’t ask any questions).

Italy Approves ‘Google Tax’ on Internet Companies (Bloomberg)
Italy’s Parliament today passed a new measure on web advertising, the so-called “Google tax,” which will require Italian companies to purchase their Internet ads from locally registered companies, instead of from units based in havens such as Ireland, Luxembourg and Bermuda. The tax has stirred controversy, with some lawyers saying it probably violates European Union laws regarding non-discrimination over commercial activity and could be subject to legal challenges. In July, at the request of the Group of 20 nations, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development proposed a blueprint to fight strategies used by companies such as Google Inc. (GOOG), Apple Inc. and Yahoo! Inc. (YHOO) to shift taxable profits into havens. Italy is the first major European government to pass legislation to combat the problem of moving corporate taxable earnings into havens, which costs Europe and the U.S. over $100 billion a year, since the OECD proposal.

Companies Binge On Share Buybacks (WSJ)
U.S. companies in the S&P 500-stock index bought back $128.2 billion of their own shares in the third quarter, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices. That is the highest level since the fourth quarter of 2007. Combined, stock buybacks and dividends totaled $207 billion in the third quarter, also the highest in nearly six years, according to the data provider.

70,000 -light home Christmas display draws crowds in California (NYDN)
Tom BetGeorge is setting a bold new standard for Christmas decorations on his block with a dazzling 70,000-light display that reels in the crowds. The 34-year-old resident of Newark, Calif., moved into his home a year ago and wanted to make a big splash with his holiday light display. The music director for a conservatory told the Daily News he was helping with a dance number for a group of female students for a show in April. It was then he discovered a computer program to design a light show. “I said wait a minute. I could do this at my house for Christmas,” he said.
BetGeorge started building a 17-foot guitar and 19-foot piano for his front yard. The giant wooden instruments took two months each to build, he said. “I’m a little bit of a perfectionist. I said if I’ll do this, I’ll do it right.” His ensemble also includes four singing trees on the roof and an alluring sequence of 70,000 lights to highlight everything. The show is played to “Christmas Can-Can” by the band Straight No Chaser. BetGeorge said the band even contacted him after seeing the video and sent him their approval. The shows runs on a loop every night from 5:30 to 11 p.m. and have been a big attraction in the Bay Area, he said. And the display hasn’t even hurt his relationship with his neighbors, who BetGeorge said saw how much work he put into it. The light from the show bleeds into one neighbor’s home, but even he hasn’t complained, he said.

Programming Note: We’re on an abbreviated, vacation-esque schedule. Opening/closing wraps and brief sprinkles of moral support should the urge to reach out and touch you strike us (or Bridgewater Associates takes a play from First Round Capital’s playabook).

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14 Responses to “Holiday Bell: 12.24.13”

  1. Guest says:

    First, bitchez!

  2. segoviacobain says:

    50 to 100 for an Herbal life lead? What am I missing here? When I first became a broker, a WHOLE PAGE of Stratton Oakmont clients was only 75. The Herbal life leads must include a nude photo or something.

    That said, those juiced up "Glengarry Glen Ross" leads will always be like traveler's checks on Wall Street.

  3. ThatzNotOkay says:

    I can honestly say I've never conducted a job interview for a street job where I've worried that the candidate was wearing a wire.

  4. Guest says:

    Tom BoyGeorge's 70,000 lights aren't that impressive if they are LEDs. If they were incandescent, I'd be really wow-ed at how stupidly wasteful he was.

  5. Guest says:

    “I’ve got broken blood vessels all over my a$$"

    Go on…

    -j. gundlach

  6. Guest says:

    Happy holidays to those that have to work.

    – Joyous Analyst

  7. Guest says:

    Is that all it takes to get in a Scorsese film?

    – Jonah Hill

  8. OpportunityCost says:

    I would certainly like to find out where this WSJ got his source that the market rally would pump up bonuses for equity traders. As an equity trader myself, I sure haven't seen that trend. On the buy-side, all the money is going into passive products and ETFs meaning revenues are still shit. On the sell-side, those guys don't get paid off notional value of the shit they trade, they get paid off commission, i.e. cents per share, and considering volumes are still abysmal and down YoY I certainly don't know what the fuck this "journalist" is talking about.