Opening Bell: 03.21.14

Icahn may add reps to Herbalife board but won’t add to stake (NYP)
The billionaire investor was approached by Herbalife after it learned it was the subject of a regulatory probe and asked him to add more of his people to the board, according to sources. While Herbalife said in a regulatory filing that talks between it and Icahn over an added board seat were ongoing, it was not known that the Los Angeles company had approached Icahn about the issue soon after it learned of the Federal Trade Commission probe. While Icahn, who has a 17 percent stake in the distributor of weight-loss shakes, has not made up his mind yet on whether he will name an added board member, he has determined he will not buy more Herbalife shares as part of that deal, sources said.

Regulators Fine Former Credit Suisse Trader (WSJ)
British authorities accused a former senior Credit Suisse AG trader of trying to sell the Bank of England more than £1 billion worth of government bonds whose price he had driven up during a spate of fervent buying, an affair the regulator described as a brazen, if unsuccessful, attempt to rip off taxpayers. The U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority deemed the trading abusive and fined the trader, Mark Stevenson, £662,700 ($1.1 million). It is the first time it has imposed a penalty for manipulation in U.K. government-bond markets.

Airbnb Is in Advanced Talks to Raise Funds at a $10 Billion Valuation (WSJ)
Airbnb Inc., which once sold novelty cereal boxes to stay afloat before emerging as a threat to the hotel industry, is close to becoming one of the world’s most valuable startups. The online service that lets people rent their homes to travelers is in advanced talks to raise capital that would value it at about $10 billion, according to people familiar with the matter. Private-equity firm TPG and boutique investment firm Dragoneer Investment Group are leading the funding round, which could total between $400 million and $500 million, these people said. Mutual funds including T. Rowe Price Group Inc. are expected to be part of the investment group, the people said. Fidelity Investments is also in discussions to join the group, the people said.

…despite orgy fiasco (NYP)
Earlier this week, Airbnb found itself in a hot mess when Ari Teman discovered that his apartment, which had he had listed on Airbnb, had hosted a wild sex party advertised on Twitter as a “XXX FREAK FEST.” Teman thought he was renting the pad to someone who was going to use it to host some wedding guests. Airbnb has since put Teman up in a hotel and banned the party planner from its website. It is also discussing reimbursing him for the damage to his home. “Airbnb has been responsive, and we are still in talks,” Teman told The Post about the bizarre episode, which he said left his furniture unusable and his clothes mysteriously damp.

$80 Million for 6 Weeks for Cable Chief (Dealbook)
Robert D. Marcus became chief executive of Time Warner Cable at the start of the year. Less than two months later, he agreed to sell the company to its largest rival, Comcast, for $45 billion. For that work, he will receive nearly $80 million if the deal closes, a severance payment that amounts to more than $1 million a day for the six weeks he ran the company before agreeing to sell. “It’s not unprecedented, but it is rare and troubling,” said Robert Jackson Jr., an associate professor at Columbia Law School. “There’s something stunning about such big paydays for such a small amount of work.”

McDonald’s Patron Pointed Gun At Drive-Thru Worker Over Missing French Fries (Or Dipping Sauce) (TSG)
Oklahoma cops are searching for a McDonald’s patron who pointed a gun at a teenage drive-thru worker after discovering that his order was missing an item. A female cashier told police that a vehicle came through the drive-thru late Tuesday night and the driver picked up an order. But after discovering that the McDonald’s bag was short an item, a male passenger became upset, according to police in Chickasha, a city 40 miles southwest of Oklahoma City. At that point, the suspect, who was in the vehicle’s back seat, pointed a gun at the employee and warned, “Don’t make me use this” and “Don’t let it happen again.” Cops received conflicting accounts over what item was reportedly missing from the order. The cashier said that the customer complained that dipping sauce was not included in the order, while another witness said the dispute involved french fries.

Foreign Central Banks Boost U.S. Treasury Holdings (WSJ)
Treasury securities held in custody for foreign official and international accounts rose by $32 billion for the week that ended Wednesday to $2.888 trillion, according to the latest weekly data published by the Fed on Thursday afternoon. The rebound compounded the mystery surrounding the record drop of $105 billion in the prior week. The Fed doesn’t disclose holdings of individual central banks, leaving bond traders and analysts to speculate about whether Russia was the main driver of the move.

China Beige Book Says Economy Slowing (Bloomberg)
China’s economy slowed this quarter, with industries including retail and mining showing weaker revenue growth while loans through non-traditional channels became more expensive, according to a private survey. Even with the moderation, the labor market and wage growth were little changed from the previous quarter, according to the China Beige Book survey, published by New York-based CBB International.

Starbucks to expand beer, wine sales throughout US (NYP)
The world’s biggest coffee chain plans to expand alcohol sales to thousands of cafes after testing a booze-fueled evening menu in several markets. Starbucks began offering beer and wine at a Seattle store in 2010. In 2012, it expanded the program to around dozen locations in Chicago, Atlanta and Southern California. “We’ve tested it long enough in enough markets — this is a program that works,” Chief Operating Officer Troy Alstead told Bloomberg News. “As we bring the evening program to stores, there’s a meaningful increase in sales during that time of the day.” The booze is part of an after-4 p.m. menu that includes savory snacks and small plates like truffle macaroni and cheese, bacon-wrapped dates and chocolate fondue.

Deutsche Bank fails to end four U.S. lawsuits over soured mortgages (Reuters)
The cases concern securitization trusts backed by roughly $2.9 billion of home loans, and are among six lawsuits in New York accusing the German bank’s DB Structured Products Inc unit of reneging on its contractual duties to address problem loans, court papers show. In a 35-page decision, U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan in Manhattan on Thursday said HSBC USA NA, acting as trustee for the four trusts, was entitled to pursue damages claims, and to determine the extent to which Deutsche Bank knew of problems in the underlying loans at the time of the securitizations.

‘Wheel of Fortune’ player solves puzzle with scanty clues, wows Pat Sajak, Vanna White (NYDN)
Emil de Leon only had the vague hint that he was guessing a “thing” that started with “NE.” The board looked like this: NE_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _. “This looks tough to me. It’s a thing,” Sajak told him. “You’re a really good problem solver but I don’t know. You have 10 seconds. Keep talking, maybe the right thing will pop out. Good luck.” De Leon correctly guessed “New baby buggy” with his first attempt — prompting Pat to playfully pat-down the player. Vanna White, the studio audience and viewers at home could hardly believe his luck — and de Leon walked away with $45,000. “Tonight’s ‘Wheel of Fortune’ features most amazing solve in my 30+ years on the show. No kidding,” Sajak tweeted. But was everyone mistaking exceptional verbal ability for a bolt of lightning? Some linguistically minded folks think that attributing de Leon’s win to near-divine luck takes away from the contestant’s quick thinking. After all, with N and E on the board, the first word almost certainly had to be “New.” As for the other words, cultural blogger Caitlin Dewey of The Washington Post points out that the show’s contestants get to see a used letter board and that de Leon’s would have read, “ABC FG IJK PQ UVWXYZ” because he already guessed H, M, D and O. And since Q, J, Z, X, V, K and W are essentially useless and appear in less than 1.5 percent of English words, de Leon needed to put together two words of four and five letters using A, B, C, F, G, I, P, U and Y. Dewey said de Leon could only have 53 possible five-letter words and that most of them — like fizzy or puffy — are not things.

24 comments (hidden to protect delicate sensibilities)
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Comments (24)

  1. Posted by London Banker | March 21, 2014 at 8:24 AM

    Mysteriously damp?… I'm not needed here

    - Sherlock Holmes

  2. Posted by Guest | March 21, 2014 at 8:57 AM

    " and de Leon walked away with $45,000."

    No wonder nobody watches that show anymore; so disappointing. Go back to the 90s!

  3. Posted by SouthPark | March 21, 2014 at 9:17 AM

    N_ggers

    You've got 10seconds…good luck!

    It's 'Naggers' you racist!

  4. Posted by Maria | March 21, 2014 at 9:42 AM

    The cooperation with Herbalife seems to have good potential, I hope it will help the company to grow stronger this year.

  5. Posted by Guest | March 21, 2014 at 9:46 AM

    ___ Secure

    The clue is, "People who annoy you."

  6. Posted by Guest | March 21, 2014 at 10:08 AM

    Go to hell. It's going to 0.

  7. Posted by Ted E. | March 21, 2014 at 10:13 AM

    "already guessed H, M, D and O."

    Is that you Nell?

  8. Posted by Leather | March 21, 2014 at 10:14 AM

    Bess, are you still in your bad boy phase?

  9. Posted by bracket | March 21, 2014 at 10:18 AM

    Shazar Secure

  10. Posted by guest | March 21, 2014 at 10:31 AM

    Hi Bill!

  11. Posted by TGIF | March 21, 2014 at 10:44 AM

    Real talk; yeah, throwing a shit ton of money behind the bet that some company, who everyone agrees is against the 'common good,' will be put out of business based on the fact that 51% of profits come from recruitment vs. real sales, possibly a bit naive, possibly a bit stupid, probably a bit of both.

    But at the same time… isn't it time for someone to stick it to Carl? Can we not Karabu the Karabuer just once?

  12. Posted by Serious Question | March 21, 2014 at 10:50 AM

    What the fuck is a "new baby buggy"?

  13. Posted by Guest | March 21, 2014 at 10:55 AM

    What, what in the butt?

  14. Posted by Guest | March 21, 2014 at 11:03 AM

    A retarded baby… Shazar after he was born.

  15. Posted by Webster | March 21, 2014 at 11:09 AM

    The collective noun for clowns.

    A buggy of clowns.

    Sentence: "The Lehman risk committee resembled a buggy of clowns."

  16. Posted by Puck It | March 21, 2014 at 11:10 AM

    It's what you have to buy when you're too lazy to go to the drugstore.

  17. Posted by Rebecca M. | March 21, 2014 at 11:25 AM

    Hopefully Gundlach decides to do the right thing and pay for new furniture and coverings as well as carpet cleaning.

  18. Posted by Neckbeard | March 21, 2014 at 11:48 AM

    SpambotSaysWhat?

  19. Posted by Shaz's beard | March 21, 2014 at 12:13 PM

    It might take Shazzy 2 days to complete that fill-in-the-blank if you summed all of his writing.

  20. Posted by Quant me maybe ... | March 21, 2014 at 12:18 PM

    Or, as I like to call it, the parting gift you give your girlfriend as she starts her life as a single mom.

  21. Posted by guest | March 21, 2014 at 12:59 PM

    excellent

  22. Posted by guest | March 21, 2014 at 1:01 PM

    for those of you not up on your south park…
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IwrUkeYxUF0

  23. Posted by Guest | March 21, 2014 at 1:30 PM

    anxiously awaiting today's bitcoin bugle with the new development.

  24. Posted by Redneck America | March 23, 2014 at 1:23 PM

    Don't mess with a man's fries