Opening Bell

Holiday Bell: 12.31.13

Winners of 2013: Boring Investors (WSJ)
In the best year for U.S. stocks since 1995, the smart way to play the markets has been to follow the dumb money. So-called dumb-money strategies, which involve buying and holding a plain-vanilla portfolio of U.S. stocks, did much better than the more complex approaches employed by hedge funds and other professional investors. Fueled by easy money from the Federal Reserve and signs of improvement in the economy, the Dow Jones Industrial Average goes into the final day of 2013 with a gain of 29% once dividends are included, while the S&P 500 index has climbed 32% with dividends. Those gains far outpace the rally predicted by even the most bullish Wall Street strategists. Many hedge funds were left in the dust, alongside investors who use “tactical” timing of the markets’ ups and downs and those who spread their bets among a wide variety of assets such as commodities, emerging markets and exchanged-traded funds.

Private Equity Enjoys A Record Year (WSJ)
Private-equity firms are set to return a record amount of cash to their investors for 2013, after taking advantage of buoyant markets to sell hundreds of billions of dollars of investments. From initial public offerings to company debt deals that pay private-equity investors hefty dividends—this year will be remembered for the gains earned by firms that specialize in buying and selling companies, and by the pension funds, university endowments and wealthy individuals that invest in them. Investors in private-equity funds are expected to receive more than $120 billion for 2013, topping last year’s record of $115 billion, according to estimates by Cambridge Associates LLC, which gets a glimpse of firms’ finances as an adviser to private-equity investors. In the first half of 2013, private-equity firms returned $60.8 billion to investors.

Pot Shops in Denver Open Door to $578 Million in Sales (Bloomberg)
Toni Fox plans to open the doors of her Denver marijuana shop at 8 a.m. tomorrow to a line of customers including some who camped overnight to be the first in the U.S. to legally buy pot for recreational use. Fox has arranged for canopy tents, heaters and a food truck to offer donuts and pastries to patrons waiting for the state-appointed hour. She expects sales at her 3D Cannabis Center, operating since 2010 as a medical-marijuana dispensary near the Denver Coliseum, to surge to at least $250,000 a month from $30,000, she said. “We’ll have people out the door,” Fox, 42, a Salida resident, said by telephone. “It’s going to be a very festive atmosphere. We all feel like we’re walking on sunshine right now.” Fox’s shop is among 14 in Denver that got state and local licenses in time to sell marijuana to anyone 21 or older starting Jan. 1, just over a year after Colorado and Washington voters made their states the first to legalize recreational use. Washington’s shops are expected to open later in the year. Colorado projects $578.1 million a year in combined wholesale and retail marijuana sales to yield $67 million in tax revenue, according to the Legislative Council of the Colorado General Assembly. Wholesale transactions taxed at 15 percent will finance school construction, while the retail levy of 10 percent will fund regulation of the industry.

‘Sell’ Report Fails To Chill Herbalife (NYP)
Herbalife shares look to be wrapped in Kevlar. The controversial diet-shake seller’s stock, one of the hottest this year with a gain of 136 percent, barely budged Monday after getting hit with its first sell recommendation. Shares in the Los Angeles company slipped 0.5 percent, to $77.92.

My ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ Review (TRB/Josh Brown)
I’ve known ten or twelve guys who worked at the Lake Success headquarters of Stratton during its heyday; all the stories are true and there’s very little embellishment in the movie. It all happened and then some. I’ve been hearing these stories for fifteen years. There was a diaspora of sorts that happened after that firm went down, a thousand others had opened up shop as the brokers were scattered like seeds in the wind. Boiler room brokerages had sprung up from Westchester to New Jersey to Staten Island to the Financial District in Manhattan to Boca Raton, Florida. But nowhere was there as heavy a concentration as there was on Long Island. At one point, there was a nickel broker-dealer in every glass office tower in Suffolk and Nassau Counties (and many big buildings had several firms housed on different floors, imagine the stairwells). The scripts used in the movie were the exact same ones taught to every NY metro area broker in the late 1990′s. I printed the entire Belfort pitch (which itself had been stolen from the Madison Avenue office of Lehman Brothers) in my book Backstage Wall Street, I’m fairly certain the producers got their hands on it for the film. I doubt Jordan had a copy lying around from twenty years ago. They also used the term “Wildebeest” which is something I use on TV a lot to describe runaway stocks. My friend Paul and I made it up in a finance context five years ago, so I’m flattered, I guess.

$375-per-person New Year’s feast – at Applebee’s? (MarketWatch)
Sure, you may think of Applebee’s as an affordable casual-dining chain, famed for its whiskey-flavored steaks and two-for-$20 dinner specials…But once a year, Applebee’s goes high-end. The chain’s franchise-owned restaurant in the heart of New York’s Times Square offers a $375-a-person New Year’s Eve bash that’s billed as “a night to remember.” (Those under 12 can get in for $250.) But this isn’t your standard Applebee’s bill of fare, the franchisee notes. The party, which starts at 8 p.m. and wraps up at midnight, features an extensive buffet, a “premium” open bar, a house DJ, a dance floor, plus party favors galore. And for those eager to see the ball drop, the restaurant lets patrons “make their way to the streets of Times Square.” As for the vittles themselves, be prepared for “a ton of food” (steak and shrimp included) prepared by “some fairly sophisticated culinary people,” says Zane Tankel, who heads up all 38 Applebee’s restaurants in the New York metro area. Add in the décor and “you wouldn’t know you were at an Applebee’s for that one night,” Tankel says. Read more »

Holiday Bell: 12.30.13

Signs Point to Healthier Job Market in 2014 (WSJ)
Is 2014 the year the U.S. job market kicks into higher gear—and stays there? Recent strength in gross domestic product, industrial production and construction all underpin employment’s momentum going into next year. These indicators also support the case that, absent an economic shock, total jobs finally could surpass their prerecession peak by mid-2014.

Icahn ready to bake Apple in Feb. 28 showdown (NYP)
Set the date on your iPhone calendar, the Apple annual meeting and Carl Icahn-Tim Cook showdown will be Feb. 28 at noon EST. Icahn’s High River Limited Partnership has proposed that shareholders approve a non-binding resolution that Apple commit to completing not less than $50 billion in share repurchases during Apple’s fiscal year ending September 27, 2014, a proxy filing released Friday said. Apple recommended against the proposal in a polite fashion. “[We] believe that capital should be returned to shareholders on an efficient and sustained basis, and that the evaluation of capital return should be performed regularly and carefully with the best long-term interest of the business and shareholders in mind.”

Wells Fargo to Pay Fannie Mae $591 Million to Resolve Claims (Bloomberg)
Wells Fargo, the largest U.S. home lender, agreed to pay Fannie Mae $591 million to resolve repurchase demands on loans originated before 2009 and sold to the government-backed firm. Wells Fargo paid $541 million in cash to Fannie Mae after adjusting for prior repurchases, the San Francisco-based lender said today in a statement. The firm had set aside funds to cover the full cost as of Sept. 30, according to the statement.

Hedge fund titan to pocket $3B for 2013 (NYP)
The founder of Appaloosa Management, with more than $20 billion under management, is looking at a possible $3 billion-plus payday in 2013, which could make him the highest paid hedgie…Tepper’s Palomino fund was up 38 percent, after fees, as of Nov. 30, according to an investor, making the 56-year-old one of the few in his business to post a return higher than the 29.1 percent gain of the S&P 500. Also in the running for highest-paid hedgie is John Paulson, whose $20 billion firm is experiencing a comeback after years of double-digit losses. One of Paulson’s funds has gained 55 percent, but others are still below their high-water mark.

Secret Handshakes Greet Frat Brothers on Wall Street (Bloomberg)
Conor Hails, head of the University of Pennsylvania’s Sigma Chi chapter, was in a Philadelphia hotel ballroom last month for a Barclays Plc (BARC) recruiting reception. A friend pointed out a banker from their fraternity. Hails, 20, approached with a secret handshake. “We exchanged a grip, and he said, ‘Every Sigma Chi gets a business card,’” Hails recalled. “We’re trying to create Sigma Chi on Wall Street, a little fraternity on Wall Street.” [...] The network sometimes works so well that it can help accidentally. Jeff Librot, a former head of the University of Delaware’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter, wasn’t looking to use its connections when he applied for a Bank of Montreal (BMO) equities internship, he said. A banker there sent him an e-mail with the frat’s secret motto, “Phi Alpha.” Librot was picked. Read more »

Holiday Bell: 12.27.13

Falcone Regains Upper Hand In LightSquared Bid (NYP)
Phil Falcone is taking what likely is one last shot to save his biggest investment, and his Harbinger hedge fund. On Christmas Eve, he met the 5 p.m. deadline — by four minutes — to present a new restructuring plan to hold onto his bankrupt telecom provider, LightSquared. Falcone is partnering with Fortress Investment Group’s Wes Edens, who has committed to inject $1.25 billion in new equity into LightSquared. That is as long as the FCC approves LightSquared’s application to grant it access to a new spectrum band in exchange for him giving up his right to deploy a band the FCC has blocked him from using. That FCC decision is still likely more than six months away, making Falcone’s plan less than certain to fly through the bankruptcy court. The 11th-hour move by Falcone steals the momentum from Dish’s Charlie Ergen — who has presented a competing $2.2 billion offer…If Falcone prevails, he may conversely seek to refuse to pay Ergen his $1 billion in LightSquared’s debt — at least until a lawsuit over the legality of his purchase is resolved.

Millions of Tons of Metals Stashed in Shadow Warehouses (WSJ)
Banks, hedge funds, commodity merchants and others are stashing tens of millions of tons of aluminum, copper, nickel and zinc in a hidden system of warehouses that span the globe. These facilities are known to some in the industry as “shadow warehouses” because they are unregulated and don’t disclose their holdings. They operate outside the London Metal Exchange system of warehouses, the traditional home for these metals. As of October, a record seven million to 10 million tons of aluminum were being housed in these facilities, in countries as far apart as Malaysia and the Netherlands, according to estimates from several analysts.

Martoma’s lawn faint shows guilt: prosecutors (NYP)
Former SAC Capital Advisors portfolio manager Mathew Martoma doesn’t want jurors in his upcoming insider trading trial to know he fainted when FBI agents first approached his Florida mansion, court papers show. The disgraced hedge fund honcho — accused of participating in the biggest inside trade ever — passed out on his front lawn after two G-men approached him on Nov. 8, 2011, and told him they wanted to talk about his involvement in the alleged 2008 felony.
Prosecutors, in a flurry of filing ahead of the scheduled Jan. 6 start of Martoma’s trial, maintain the fainting is “evidence of his consciousness of guilt.” But defense lawyers told the judge that talk of the faint would add up to taint. Fainting has been admitted as circumstantial evidence of consciousness of guilt in only one case, Martoma’s lawyers noted. “Evidence of Mr. Martoma’s fainting is not probative of his guilt or innocence and would serve only to distract the jury with sensational but irrelevant facts,” they wrote in a Dec. 23 memo supporting their motion to exclude the fainting evidence.

Latin America’s Rout Seen Extending Into Next Year (Bloomberg)
Foreign investors are betting the worst rout in Latin American currencies since 2008 will extend into next year as commodity export prices slump and rising U.S. bond yields lure money out of the region. The Bloomberg JPMorgan Latin America Currency Index of the region’s six most-traded currencies fell 9.6 percent this year and touched 94.6 today, within 1 percent of a four-year low. International investors boosted wagers to a record $21.7 billion this week that Brazil’s real will keep falling, data compiled by BM&FBovespa SA show. Analysts surveyed by Bloomberg only forecast Mexico’s peso will avoid further losses in the region next year.

600 People Involved in Movie Theater Brawl (ABC)
Five teenagers were arrested when a 600-person brawl broke out in a Florida movie theater’s parking lot on Christmas night. Described by police as a “melee,” the fight occurred around 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday outside the Hollywood River City 14 movie theater in Jacksonville when a group tried to storm the theater’s doors without purchasing tickets, police said. Several had rushed an off-duty police officer working as a security guard. The officer “administered pepper spray to disperse the group, locked the doors and called for backup, following protocol,” said Lauri-Ellen Smith, a spokeswoman for the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. Soon after the pepper spray was used, “upward of 600 people moving throughout a parking lot about the size of a football field began fighting, disrupting and jumping on cars,” she said. Sixty-two police officers were called to the scene to break up the brawl, “sequestering them and separating them,” Smith said. Only minor injuries and damage to property were reported. No gunshots were fired, according to Smith. Read more »

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. Read more »

Opening Bell: 12.23.13

Goldman Real-Estate Play Skirts Volcker Ban (WSJ)
The Volcker rule prohibits banks from owning more than 3% of a hedge fund or private-equity portfolio. So why did Goldman Sachs Group Inc. tell would-be investors that it would contribute up to 20% in a new fund that makes loans backed by office buildings, hotels, shopping centers and other properties? Because regulators excluded many real-estate loans from the tough restrictions on investment funds, allowing Wall Street firms to continue making concentrated bets—sometimes risky ones—with their own capital. Goldman has raised more than $1 billion for the new fund, according to people briefed on the matter. The fund aims to boost that total to $2 billion, and Goldman expects to invest “up to 20% of total equity commitments,” according to September marketing documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Banks Avoid Providing Bitcoin Services (WSJ)
Lenders are leery of dealing with virtual-currency companies because of concerns that the businesses could run afoul of anti-money-laundering laws or be involved in illegal activities, banking executives say. Regulators and central bankers around the world have raised similar concerns in recent months. The problem has grown so acute that some owners of fledgling virtual-currency businesses are trying to elude bank scrutiny by avoiding the words “bitcoin” or “bit” in their names, according to entrepreneurs and investors who actively track the industry. Patrick Murck, general counsel for the Bitcoin Foundation, a trade group, has been raising the issue in meetings with regulators and bank executives. “This is definitely causing a bottleneck in the industry,” he said in an interview. “The ability of companies to get bank accounts is necessary so that they can take the next step in building out the core bitcoin infrastructure.”

For a Hedge Fund Pioneer, a Tiger Fund Burning Bright (Dealbook)
Julian Robertson, the billionaire investor and an early pioneer of the hedge fund industry, is again proving to be a top picker of new talent. His $450 million Tiger Accelerator Fund, which invests in six hedge funds that Mr. Robertson personally has invested in, is up 22.6 percent net of fees as of Dec. 15, according to a person briefed on the matter. By comparison, the broadest hedge fund industry index is up just about 9 percent for the year…The six hedge funds that the Tiger Accelerator Fund’s performance tracks are Tiger Veda Globa, Cascabel, Long Oar Global, Tiger Eye, Tiger Ratan and Teewinot. The Accelerator fund’s $450 million investment is on top of the roughly $230 million Mr. Robertson committed of his own money to those funds.

Kanye Vuitton Jibe Shows Even Rich Balk at Luxury Prices (Bloomberg)
Kim Kardashian might as well be naughty this Christmas, because even if she’s nice her fiancé is unlikely to shell out for a Louis Vuitton handbag…Kanye West, who gave reality TV star Kardashian a diamond ring worth millions to celebrate their engagement, told a U.S. radio show recently that Vuitton’s prices are “just too extreme.” The criticism by West, who has collaborated with the Paris-based label on products including a range of $1,000 sneakers, is a signal some luxury companies may be charging too much, turning off even the wealthiest clients.

Russia Crisis Haunts Deutsche Bank’s Smith Seeing China Bust (Bloomberg)
When the Deutsche Bank AG equity strategist looks at the country, he says he detects some of the same signs of a financial meltdown that led him to predict Russia’s 1998 stock market crash months in advance. China’s expansion is being fueled by soaring corporate borrowing, a high-risk model that needs to be replaced by the kind of free-market measures and budget cuts that fed Russia’s growth in the aftermath of the country’s default and subsequent 44 percent monthly tumble in the Micex Index (INDEXCF), Smith said. “There is potential for a debt trap in industrial companies which can trigger an economy-wide financial crisis as early as next year,” Smith said in an interview from London on Dec. 12, a day after he issued a report predicting China’s slowdown will lead to a 10 percent decline in emerging-market stocks next year. “If I am wrong on China, I am wrong on everything.”

Wife rats out hubby’s illegal $600K Super Bowl pools (NYP)
A wife furious with her football-obsessed husband dropped a dime on a Staten Island gin mill — sparking a rare raid that shut down $600,000 in ­Super Bowl pools last week. “How can the SLA allow a $1 million illegal football pool at Talk of the Town?” the angry spouse wrote the State Liquor Authority on Nov. 13. “My husband spends all his money on these pools and not on our children.” The SLA put a rush investigation on the anonymous complaint. Last Sunday night, two investigators barged into the neighborhood saloon’s annual Christmas party. They flashed badges and snapped photos of pool boards taped to the mirrored bar back, witnesses told The Post. The Talk of the Town Tavern, at 24 Giffords Lane in the Great Kills section, was advised to shut down the gambling. SLA lawyers are now reviewing whether to slap the owner, Larry Burkert, 55, with violations carrying a typical fine of $2,500 for a first offense. The bar has told patrons the pools are dead and bettors will get ­refunds, sources said. Read more »

Opening Bell: 12.20.13

Steve Cohen’s Frat Star Days (NYP)
A classmate from the University of Pennsylvania at Wharton, from which the hedge-fund tycoon graduated in 1978, shared this photo from the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity, where Cohen was treasurer…Cohen donated $2 million to the fraternity four years ago, but he has declined to give a dime to Wharton, claiming it didn’t teach him anything. Instead, he donated $30 million to Brown University, from which his son Robert graduated.

Lew Says U.S. Ability to Borrow May Run Out by Late February (Bloomberg)
Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew warned Congress that the U.S. will exhaust its borrowing authority as soon as late February and urged lawmakers to raise the federal debt limit weeks before then. The Treasury Department estimates that so-called extraordinary measures used to avoid breaching the debt limit “would be able to extend the nation’s borrowing authority only until late February or early March 2014,” Lew said in a letter today to House Speaker John Boehner and other congressional leaders. “While this forecast is subject to inherent variability, we do not foresee any reasonable scenario in which the extraordinary measures would last for an extended period of time — principally because the government experiences large net cash outflows in February and March due to tax refunds,” Lew wrote.

$114M townhouse comes gift-wrapped (NYP)
If you’ve got $114 million left to spend this holiday season, you can unwrap this red-ribboned Upper East Side townhouse and move right in. The spectacular seven-bedroom residence at 12 E. 69th Street is on the market for that asking price — which would be a record sale. Wall Street investor Vincent Viola and his wife Teresa bought the nine-bath mansion for a cool $20 million just eight years ago. The building, built in 1883, now has features like a duplex library, a recording studio, red velvet movie theater, and a mahogany bannister on the Italian granite grand staircase—not to mention the onyx elevator that goes from the pool and spa in the basement to the outdoor shower on the roof. All told, the six story, forty-foot wide home – which “towers” over the other homes on the block just off of Fifth Avenue, according to the broker – includes a whopping 20,000 square feet of living space.

Ex-Morgan Stanley Fund Manager Must Pay Back $31 Million (Bloomberg)
Ex-Morgan Stanley (MS) fund manager Joseph “Chip” Skowron, who’s serving a five-year prison term for insider trading, must pay back $31 million in compensation for failing to fulfill his duties to the bank, a judge ruled. U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin today agreed with Morgan Stanley that Skowron was a “faithless servant” and must forfeit salary and incentive pay from April 2007 to November 2010. Skowron, 44, managed Morgan Stanley’s FrontPoint Partners LLC until he was charged in 2011 with using inside information to avoid $30 million in losses. The bank sued Skowron after he pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit securities fraud and obstruct justice.

Forex Traders Said to Have Colluded in Effort to Profit (WSJ)
A global probe into foreign-exchange markets has unearthed what some banks believe is evidence that senior London-based traders frequently colluded to try to manipulate currencies in order to maximize profits and minimize losses, according to people familiar with the investigations. The evidence, in the form of electronic chat-room messages, appears to show what banks have feared for months: that traders from different banks shared information about client orders and agreed to a sequence for placing their own trades to their advantage, these people say. The evidence marks a serious turn for the investigation. Until recently, many industry officials said they hadn’t seen evidence of collusive behavior. In recent weeks, that has changed, with new evidence seeming to show traders improperly working as a pack, these people say.

Rob Ford, obviously: ‘Women love money. Give ‘em a couple thousand bucks and they are happy’ (National Post)
Rob Ford offered husbands everywhere some dubious Christmas gift-buying advice Thursday: “Women love money. Give ‘em a couple thousand bucks and they are happy.” Ford made the statement on his weekly appearance on the Washington, D.C. sports radio show, The Sports Junkies. The mayor said he follows his own advice when it comes to Christmas with his wife. “At the end of the day, she wants her cash, so I give her a nice cheque and we’re all happy,” Ford said about his little-seen wife, Renata Ford. “She says ‘Honey, I want cash.” Renata Ford is rarely seen in the media, although she notably became part of an international story last month after her husband made comments about their oral sex life while denying he made sexually explicit comments to a female staffer…The interview…briefly skirted into politics, although it was his dancing that the hosts really wanted to talk about. “I like Bob Marley. I like dancing. I like having a good time,” Ford said when asked about city council’s awkward boogie earlier this week. Read more »

Opening Bell: 12.19.13

Traders Seek Edge With High-Tech Snooping (WSJ)
A helicopter lifted off recently from an airfield in this remote oil town, scudded low across the flat industrial landscape and trained a heat-sensitive camera at the huge storage tanks below. Its mission: Gather intelligence for Wall Street. The grainy, infrared reconnaissance images betrayed how much oil was in each tank. That gave Genscape Inc., the company that conducts the flights, a remarkably accurate preview of a market-moving U.S. government report on oil supplies. Traders, hungry to get a jump on the official data, are willing to pay a hefty price for that intelligence. Genscape is at the vanguard of a growing industry that employs sophisticated surveillance and data-crunching technology to supply traders with nonpublic information about topics including oil supplies, electric-power production, retail traffic and crop yields. The techniques, which are perfectly legal, represent the latest advance in the longtime Wall Street practice of searching for every possible trading advantage. But the high cost of much of the new information—Genscape’s oil-supply report costs $90,000 a year—means that some forms of trading are becoming even more the province of firms with substantial resources.

Warren Buffett made $37M a day this year (NYP)
Billionaire investor Warren Buffett saw his net worth soar by an eye-popping $37 million a day this year, according to a survey out Wednesday. The Berkshire Hathaway boss benefitted from a bull market that saw shares of his conglomerate jump by more than 25 percent in 2013, boosting his net worth by $12.7 billion to $59.1 billion, according to the survey by Wealth-X. That works out to a $37 million-a-day bump in Buffett’s wealth — or an eye-popping $1.5 million an hour. While Buffet had an outstanding year, the jump in his net worth only got him to second place on the list of the world’s Top 10 richest people. Microsoft founder and Buffett bridge partner Bill Gates retained the title of world’s wealthiest person with a total net worth of $72.6 billion, up from $61.1 billion last year.

Yellen’s To-Do List Shortens at Fed (WSJ)
Now that the Fed has begun to wind down its bond-buying program, it will fall to Ms. Yellen to decide if economic conditions warrant continuing to pare the purchases or not. She will also have to decide whether and how to tweak the Fed’s promises to keep interest rates near zero for a long time if the economy fails to recover as the Fed now forecasts. And she will also have to decide how to respond if inflation remains stubbornly below the Fed’s 2% target.

Facebook, Zuckerberg, banks must face IPO lawsuit: judge (Reuters)
Facebook Inc, Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg and dozens of banks must face a lawsuit accusing the social media company of misleading investors about its health before its $16 billion initial public offering, a federal judge said. In a decision made public on Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet in Manhattan said investors could pursue claims that Facebook should have prior to its May 2012 IPO disclosed internal projections on how increased mobile usage and product decisions might reduce future revenue. “The company’s purported risk warnings misleadingly represented that this revenue cut was merely possible when, in fact, it had already materialized,” Sweet wrote in his 83-page decision. “Plaintiffs have sufficiently pleaded material misrepresentation(s) that could have and did mislead investors regarding the company’s future and current revenues.”

Steinberg conviction may ease Preet Bharara’s way to more (NYP)
Bharara has been circling Cohen and SAC for years, persuading six former SAC employees to plead guilty and wresting a plea from the firm. But Steinberg’s was the first SAC case to go to trial, and the jury conviction could help the government as it moves forward. First, Steinberg’s conviction could put pressure on another SAC money manager, Mathew Martoma, who has so far declined to cooperate with the government. The feds claim Martoma placed a 20-minute call to Cohen after receiving inside information that resulted in a $276 million profit at SAC. Martoma’s case goes to trial in less than three weeks, and the facts are widely believed to be more straightforward than the confusing circumstances surrounding Steinberg’s crimes. Unlike Martoma, who is alleged to have received illicit information from a doctor with knowledge of drug trials, Steinberg had five degrees of separation from the source of the illegal information he was convicted on.

Father films young son as he’s forced to run alongside car for ‘football training’ (NYDN)
A controversial video has surfaced showing a father forcing his young son to run alongside his car for “football training” while using expletives to encourage him go faster. The tiny tot, appearing only 5-years old, does his best to stay up to the vehicle’s speed while running in Crocks, but as the video shows, it’s not good enough. “We’re going eight miles per hour. Come on. Pick that s–t up,” the unidentified father calls. “This is how we train for football,” he says. “Daddy drives while you run. Get your little a– in shape.” Once outside their destination the boy momentarily stops and complains about his hip hurting. “I don’t want to hear about no excuses,” the father replies. Following his father’s orders, the boy starts running again as the man’s honking vehicle trails him up a driveway from just feet behind. Read more »