Opening Bell

Opening Bell: 03.07.14

Exclusive: Pimco’s Gross declares El-Erian is ‘trying to undermine me’ (Reuters)
Gross told Reuters that he had “evidence” that El-Erian “wrote” a February 24 article in the Journal, which described the worsening relationship between the two men as Pimco’s performance deteriorated last year, including a showdown in which they squared off against each other in front of more than a dozen colleagues at the firm’s Newport Beach, California headquarters. Gross, who oversaw more than $1.91 trillion in assets as of the end of last year and who is known on Wall Street as the ‘Bond King’, said in a phone call to Reuters last Friday: “I’m so sick of Mohamed trying to undermine me.” When asked if Reuters could see the evidence about El-Erian and the allegation he was involved in the article, Gross said: “You’re on his side. Great, he’s got you, too, wrapped around his charming right finger.” He said he knew that El-Erian, who had been widely seen as the heir apparent to Gross but is now due to leave in mid-March, had been in contact with Reuters as well as the Wall Street Journal. Gross indicated he had been monitoring El-Erian’s phone calls…A Pimco spokesman said in an emailed statement: “Mr. Gross did not make the statements Reuters attributes to him. He categorically denies saying this firm ever listened in on Mr. El-Erian’s phone calls or that Mr. El-Erian ‘wrote’ any previous media article.”

Putin Sparking Worst Stock Rout Since Moscow Crackdown (Bloomberg)
The last time Russian stocks fell as much as they have this week was when President Vladimir Putin cracked down on protesters following his election in May 2012. Putin’s incursion into Ukraine’s Crimea region, like the imprisonment of demonstrators following his return to the presidency two years ago, is sparking investor concern that Russia’s economic growth will falter as the U.S. and Europe threaten the country with sanctions. The Bloomberg Russia-US Equity Index of the most-traded Russian companies in the U.S. has fallen 5.1 percent this week, the most since the measure dropped 11 percent in the five days to May 18, 2012.

Man called Bitcoin’s father denies ties, leads LA car chase (Reuters)
In the afternoon, the silver-haired, bespectacled Nakamoto stepped outside, dressed in a gray sport coat and green striped shirt, with a pen tucked in his shirt pocket. He was mobbed by reporters and told them he was looking for someone who understood Japanese to buy him a free lunch. Newsweek estimates his wealth at $400 million. “I’m not involved in Bitcoin. Wait a minute, I want my free lunch first. I’m going with this guy,” Nakamoto said, pointing at a reporter from AP. “I’m not in Bitcoin, I don’t know anything about it,” he said again while walking down the street with several cameras at his heels. He and the AP reporter made their way to a nearby sushi restaurant with media in tow, before leaving and heading downtown. Los Angeles Times reporter Joe Bel Bruno followed the pair and described the chase in a running stream of tweets. Eventually, the pair dashed into the Associated Press offices in downtown Los Angeles.

Washington state issues first legal-marijuana business license (AP)
Sean Green, who has operated medical marijuana dispensaries in Spokane and the Seattle suburb of Shoreline, proclaimed the document “beautiful” as it was handed to him at a state Liquor Control Board meeting in Olympia. The license will allow him to grow 21,000 square feet of cannabis at his Spokane facility — the first pot that will be grown for sale under the highly taxed system approved by voters in 2012. The possession of marijuana became legal for adults over 21 soon after the vote, but it’s still illegal to grow or sell it for recreational use until pot shops open in the state later this year. Green plans to start by raising marijuana starter plants to sell to other growers, and later expand to growing buds for retail pot shops. “Cannabis prohibition is over,” Green declared to applause from a room packed with his supporters. “I’m coming home with jobs, Spokane.”

Martha Stewart Gives Sex Advice, Says She Had a Prison Name in Reddit Ask Me Anything (USW)
Stewart’s fans didn’t waste any time, asking her about bedroom secrets to abide by. “Always take a bath before and after,” Stewart said. When one suggested to just do the dirty during a bath, she quipped: “That’s good too, and don’t forget to brush your teeth.” She added: “What’s a d*ldo?” when asked how to clean the bed sheets afterward. Stewart’s AMA had its TMI moments, but she also chatted about her famous pals. “I wish I were closer friends with Snoop Dogg,” she admitted…Stewart braved the slew of questions, but also seemed to reach her limit when asked of her 2004 stint in jail. “I think I did, but I can’t remember,” she said on whether or not she had a prison name. “I don’t think about the past.” Read more »

Opening Bell: 03.06.14

ECB set to act against low inflation, hold fire on bolder steps (Reuters)
The ECB currently “sterilizes” money it puts into the system though bond purchases by withdrawing other money to offset the effect. Stopping this would mean more money available for lending. The step is easier to swallow for the Bundesbank, Germany’s conservative central bank, and meets market expectations for some action by the ECB signaling its resolve to maintain its accommodative policy stance for an extended period of time. “This could be the compromise solution,” said Nick Matthews, economist at Nomura.

EBay CEO says top shareholders agree PayPal should stay put (Reuters)
EBay Inc CEO John Donahoe said on Wednesday that several of the online retailer’s most active shareholders have assured him they support his efforts to resist demands by activist investor Carl Icahn for a spin-off of the PayPal unit. Donahoe told Reuters on Wednesday he has spoken with as many as 16 of the 20 most-active shareholders in eBay, and most favored hanging on to the fast-growing PayPal payments unit. He did not say what percentage of the company’s shares were held by the investors who agreed with his resistance to Icahn.

After a Dazzling Early Career, a Star Trader Settles Down (Dealbook)
Over the last decade, Mr. Jones’s trading results have dimmed. His investors say the reasons include a deliberate move to trade more conservatively, fewer big interest-rate and currency moves as central banks kept short-term rates near zero and more competition as the hedge fund universe has mushroomed. While Mr. Jones can still claim long-term annual returns of close to 19.5 percent in his $10.3 billion flagship fund, Tudor BVI Global, it has been 11 years since he last hit that level, according to material provided to potential investors late last year. From 2010 to 2012, he had his worst three-year stretch ever, averaging just 5 percent annually. Last year, gains hit 14.3 percent, investors say, helped by winning bets on Japan’s stock market and against its currency. But two smaller funds managed by other traders have been unprofitable since 2011. One of them, Tudor Tensor, which had a 35 percent gain in 2008, has shrunk to $700 million from $1.4 billion in 2010.

For Bitcoin, Secure Future Might Need Oversight (NYT)
To save their nascent currency, Bitcoin’s backers may be forced to alter their philosophy and embrace the same messy humans — auditors, insurers and even regulators — that the currency’s most ardent supporters have long abhorred. This raises two difficult questions: Can human oversight integrate into Bitcoin’s free-for-all ethos quickly enough to render Bitcoin safe? And, can Bitcoin be made safer without tamping down on the very openness that proponents say makes Bitcoin such a cheap, efficient and innovative financial platform? At the moment, the answers are still very much up in the air.

Army commander bans sandwiches in attack on ‘barbaric habits’ (Telegraph)
Sandwiches have been banned from an officers’ mess after a commander noticed many soldiers were eating them with their hands as he insisted “a gentleman or a lady uses a knife and fork.” Major General James Cowan issued the note after he noticed officers were eating sandwiches with their hands and failing to stand when commanders entered the room. His three-page letter criticised standards at Bulford Camp in Wiltshire where he said he had seen many “frankly barbaric” techniques and habits displayed by soldiers and officers. The note, addressed to ‘Chaps’, said: “Quite a few officers in the divisional mess seem to be under the impression that they can eat their food with their hands. The practice of serving rolls and sandwiches must stop,” the Sun reported. The letter penned by Maj Gen Cowan, who is in charge of 20,000 soldiers and 2,500 officers in 3 UK Division, mostly based at Bulford, also criticised poor grammar and writing, advising against the “wanton use of capitals, abbreviations and acronyms” because they can leave the reader exhausted. Read more »

Opening Bell: 03.05.14

Ballmer Says Microsoft a ‘Two-Trick Pony,’ Working on Third (Bloomberg)
“You’re pretty genius in our business if you’re a one-trick pony,” Ballmer said. “In our company, I’m very proud of the fact that we’ve done at least two tricks. Tricks are worth billions and billions of dollars.”

Pimco Gets Brush Off Close To Home (WSJ)
When the county pension fund serving cities and towns including Pacific Investment Management Co.’s headquarters of Newport Beach, Calif., met in November to decide how to put $100 million in new funds to work in the bond market, members of the investment committee made a surprising decision: They chose Swiss fund-management firm GAM Holding AG. The choice by the $11 billion Orange County Employees Retirement System shows how smaller fund managers are benefiting from Pimco’s loosening grip on the bond business, said GAM portfolio manager Jack Flaherty. The pension system regularly invests with other asset managers, but Pimco was its largest bond manager in November, public documents show…Until recently, GAM never considered going after customers in Pimco’s backyard, Mr. Flaherty said. But now, the Swiss asset-management firm is using turmoil at Pimco to get in the door with major potential customers.

Lehman Europe creditors in line for extra $8 billion payday (Reuters)
Hedge funds, asset managers and other creditors of Lehman Brothers’ European arm will next month be fully paid out from money recovered from the carcass of the bank and could get an extra 5 billion pounds ($8.4 billion). PwC, the administrator of Lehman Brothers International Europe (LBIE), is paying a fourth dividend of 7.8 pence in the pound to unsecured creditors on April 30, which will lift payouts to 100 percent after three bigger dividends in the past 15 months. PwC estimated another 5 billion pounds of surplus cash could be paid to creditors, but any extra cash cannot be paid until there is agreement on how it is shared.

Moelis IPO Filing Shows Rise of Small Advisers (WSJ)
The planned filing—and indeed Mr. Moelis’s founding of the firm seven years ago—represent a bet that big corporate clients will continue handing more lucrative M&A assignments to firms such as Moelis that have a narrower focus than their larger Wall Street peers and are perceived to be freer of potential conflicts of interest. Last year, 80% of the 10 largest M&A deals had independent advisers, up from 30% just 10 years earlier, the filing said. In Tuesday’s filing, Moelis said it has advised on more than $1 trillion of deals, including three of the 10 biggest announced global mergers in 2013. They include H.J. Heinz Co.’s $23 billion takeover by Berkshire Hathaway Inc. and Brazilian private-equity firm 3G Capital, and the $35.1 billion pending merger of Omnicom Group Inc. and France’s Publicis Groupe SA…Helping encourage Moelis to move on the share sale now, according to people familiar with the firm’s planning: Shares of other small investment banks that already are public have gained sharply over the past year. Evercore Partners Inc. shares, for example, have risen 38% in the past year.

Red Flags Amid Citi Losses (WSJ)
Oceanografía SA, the Mexican oil-services firm that Citigroup Inc. alleges is responsible for duping the bank out of $400 million, was well known in energy and investor circles as being behind on its bills despite a steady stream of contracts with state oil firm Petróleos Mexicanos. Operating out of this oil town on the Gulf of Mexico, Oceanografía had a history of late payments to bondholders, suppliers and even employees, according to workers, investors and legal filings. Investors say Oceanografía frequently leaned on its 30-day grace period to pay bond coupons late. “The traditional emerging market investor didn’t have the best image of the company,” said Jim Harper, director of corporate research at BCP Securities in Greenwich, Conn. Workers claiming they haven’t been paid have been protesting sporadically for more than a year outside the company’s headquarters, but the protests intensified in recent weeks. In a September bond prospectus, Oceanografía said it faced 352 labor disputes, which it estimated would cost less than $3 million to settle.

Prized Corvettes rescued after falling into massive sinkhole (AP)
Two classic Corvettes re-emerged Monday from a giant sinkhole that gobbled up those and six other prized vehicles still trapped beneath the National Corvette Museum in Kentucky. Workers in a cage painstakingly hooked straps around the cars before a crane slowly hoisted them one by one from the enormous pit that opened up last month. Onlookers cheered after each car was rescued, but the joy was more subdued for the second car, which had more extensive damage. The first car hoisted out — a 2009 ZR1 Blue Devil — showed only minor damage that included cracks on lower door panels, a busted window and an oil line rupture that oozed oil, said Chevrolet spokesman Monte Doran. Workers were able to get that car running. Cheers went up as the engine revved at the Bowling Green museum. “It sounded awesome, just like before,” said museum executive director Wendell Strode. Doran said the car was in “remarkably good shape. You could have that car back on the road in a couple of days.” Not so for the other car retrieved Monday, a 1993 Ruby Red 40th Anniversary Corvette. The body panels and window glass need replacing, but the vehicle is salvageable, Doran added. Read more »

Opening Bell: 03.03.14

Losses Mobilize The Bitcoin Police (WSJ)
So far, U.S. financial regulators have avoided stepping into the fray. But they are trying to determine whether their oversight extends to bitcoin, according to government officials. Some, like the Federal Reserve, have indicated they can’t oversee bitcoin without legislative action. Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen said at a Senate hearing last week that the central bank doesn’t have the authority to regulate bitcoin as long as the currency remains separate from the banking system the Fed oversees. Other regulators, including the Federal Trade Commission, appear more inclined to act. “Consumer protections with virtual currencies, to the extent they exist at all, are in no way comparable to the protections” for credit cards or other traditional payment methods, said Lois C. Greisman, associate director of the Federal Trade Commission’s division of marketing practices, in an interview.

Britain to scrap VAT on Bitcoin trades (FT)
Britain’s tax authority plans to ditch value added tax on Bitcoin trading only days after the collapse of Mt Gox, one of the virtual currency’s leading exchanges, losing almost $500m of customer deposits. The UK’s welcoming approach to Bitcoin contrasts with the approach of other countries, amid concerns about its use for tax evasion and money laundering as well as its notoriety for wide fluctuations in value.

Mexican Police Question Citigroup Employee Over Alleged Fraud (WSJ)
Mexican police questioned a Citigroup Inc. C -0.12% employee suspected of participating in the alleged theft of $400 million from the bank, according to a person familiar with the matter. The employee, described by the person familiar with the matter as junior at the company, worked for the bank’s Mexico unit, Banco Nacional de Mexico, or Banamex. The employee isn’t currently in police custody, the person added. It wasn’t clear whether the person is still working for Citigroup or when the questioning occurred.

Buffett Sets Fresh Goal as Berkshire Misses Five-Year Target (Bloomberg)
Warren Buffett said his performance at Berkshire Hathaway Inc. should be measured over the course of stock market cycles after missing a five-year target for the first time. Berkshire’s net worth failed to rise as much as the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index from the end of 2008 through 2013, the company’s annual report showed yesterday. It was the only five-year period that happened since Buffett took control in 1965. Still, the billionaire Berkshire chairman and chief executive officer said he can beat the index over equity market cycles, like he did in the six-year period that ended Dec. 31. “Through full cycles in future years, we expect to do that again,” Buffett wrote in the report. “If we fail to do so, we will not have earned our pay.”

Warren Buffett admits to $873 million mistake (CNBC)
Unlike the contents of its stock portfolio that must be filed with the SEC four times a year, Berkshire doesn’t have to publicly disclose its debt holdings. In his letter to shareholders released Saturday, however, Buffett admitted to a money-losing bond buy involving Energy Future Holdings. “Most of you have never heard” of the company, he wrote. “Consider yourselves lucky; I certainly wish I hadn’t.” Buffett said he decided to buy about $2 billion of EFH’s debt when it was created in 2007 as part of a leveraged buyout of Texas electric utility assets. He made that decision “without consulting with (business partner) Charlie (Munger). That was a big mistake.” Buffett wrote that unless there’s a big increase in natural gas prices, the company will “almost certainly” file for bankruptcy protection this year. Last year, Berkshire sold the bonds for $259 million. Adding back the $837 million received in cash interest, Buffett’s decision produced a pre-tax loss of $873 million. “Next time,” Buffett promised, “I’ll call Charlie.”

‘Flushable’ wipes clogging up drains citywide (NYP)
Sales of wipes have soared to $6 billion a year, with advertisers claiming the products are the best way to get clean — and safe to toss in the toilet. But the messy truth, say consumers like Dr. Joseph Kurtz of Flatbush, who is suing the makers of Cottonelle and Costco-brand wipes in Brooklyn federal court, is that “flushable” wipes aren’t really flushable. “They do not break down as manufacturers advertise,” according to the class-action suit filed by Kurtz. The 35-year-old, who used the products in his Brooklyn and New Jersey homes last summer, was forced to spend $600 on plumbers to clear his backed-up pipes, lawyer Mark Reich said. Read more »

Opening Bell: 02.28.14

Bitcoin Derivatives Sprout as Regulators Play Catch-Up (Bloomberg)
The closing of a major Bitcoin exchange in Japan not only focused attention on the digital currency’s risks, it also rattled a still-newer market that regulators are just starting to monitor: Bitcoin derivatives. George Samman, a former Wall Street investment adviser who in May helped start a platform for betting on Bitcoin’s price swings, saw trading on his BTC.sx website grow to more than $35 million by Jan. 21. After the shutdown at Mt. Gox, the Tokyo-based exchange for buying Bitcoins, BTC.sx suspended trading — because it had to find another exchange partner for its customers. “It is semi-Wild West, but that’s only because it’s new,” Samman said before the Mt. Gox shutdown.

Bitcoin owners find safe place for digital currency: on paper (Reuters)
Canadian mortgage broker and bitcoin enthusiast Chung Cheong writes out his secret number by hand and puts it in a safety deposit box. “The only way to ever access that address and those bitcoins is that piece of paper,” said Cheong. “I pray that there isn’t a big fire and the bank burns down. Because if that happens, I’m out of luck.”

Third Point’s Loeb Ramps Up Fight with Sotheby’s (WSJ)
Mr. Loeb nominated himself and two others to Sotheby’s board of directors early Thursday, setting up a potentially distracting fight for shareholder votes. The move came hours before the company said its profit jumped 37% in the fourth quarter amid strong sales of Asian and Impressionist art. The two sides are battling over Mr. Loeb’s arguments that Sotheby’s needs to improve its performance online and expand its presence in contemporary art. In a scathing letter to the board in October, Mr. Loeb criticized Sotheby’s as an “old master painting in desperate need of restoration.”

State Street Enters Fray as Corporate-Bond Broker (WSJ)
As Wall Street banks pull back from some corporate bond trades with clients, other large financial institutions are looking to step in. A State Street Corp. unit has begun handling corporate-bond trades between large investment firms as an intermediary, company officials said. That job is often done by a bank-owned broker-dealer. Rival Bank of New York Mellon Corp. is considering offering a similar service, said people familiar with the matter. The move marks the latest effort to profit from a gradual shift in how trades are handled in the $9.6 trillion corporate-bond market. As banks have retreated from acting as middlemen for bond trades, citing tough new regulations on their capital and risk-taking, a host of financial firms, including some small regional dealers, have looked to cash in on the void they leave behind.

Microsoft Chairman Says Company Must Focus Under Nadella (Bloomberg)
“The issue for us is, quite frankly, about focus,” Thompson said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. “One of the reasons we chose Satya Nadella is he has a strong technology background. He understands exactly what needs to happen to move Microsoft forward.”

The Battle to Cheer Up Africa’s Last Polar Bear (WSJ)
Wang was sprawled on his back in the sweltering heat, when veterinarian Katja Koeppel approached with apple slices and the daunting task of cheering up Africa’s last polar bear. “Wang!” she called. “Here, Wang!” Ms. Koeppel threw the sliced green apples 30 feet down into his rock-and-grass enclosure. Wang ambled toward the apples, ate them and went back to lying listlessly on the grass. Ms. Koeppel looked resigned. It was another dreary day for one skinny, dirt-covered and depressed polar bear. Wang has been on his own since Geebee, his companion at the Johannesburg Zoo for nearly three decades, died of heart failure in January. Wang’s keepers fear grief on top of liver trouble and a summer heat wave in the Southern Hemisphere could combine to kill the 29-year-old bear. So they’re ramping up his behavior enrichment with a full regimen of toys, treats and psychological intervention aimed at lifting his spirits. On Valentine’s Day, keepers wrote “We love you, Wang” on a cardboard box filled with treats and lowered it into his enclosure. As couples watched from above, Wang nosed the package into a dark room, delicately opened the lid and devoured the fruit and heart-shaped beef steak within. “Wang is pining for Geebee,” says Ms. Koeppel, the zoo’s manager of veterinary services, “and is understandably very stressed.” As was true of Geebee, Wang is nearing the limits of polar-bear life expectancy, so the zoo says it’s too late for him to adjust to a new partner. Read more »

Opening Bell: 02.27.14

Bitcoin Foundation Aided Prosecutor’s Probe of Mt. Gox (Bloomberg)
The Bitcoin Foundation, an advocacy group for the nascent digital currency, provided information to federal prosecutors this week that aided a probe into Mt. Gox, a shuttered exchange in Tokyo. “The Bitcoin Foundation proactively reached out to the Southern District of New York to offer assistance,” the Seattle-based organization said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. “We are continuing to help them and we are cooperating fully with their investigation.” Shortly after Mt. Gox’s chief executive officer, Mark Karpeles, resigned from the foundation’s board on Feb. 24, the organization briefed the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office with information about the possible theft of as much as $400 million from the Bitcoin exchange, according to two people familiar with the effort. They requested anonymity because the talks were private.

Some Companies Alter the Bonus Playbook (WSJ)
U.S. companies increasingly are using unconventional earnings measures in determining bonuses, making it easier for them to appear more profitable when they reward executives with big paydays. Last year, 542 companies said they determine compensation using financial measurements that differ from U.S. accounting standards, according to an analysis performed by consultant Audit Analytics for The Wall Street Journal. That is more than double the 249 companies that did so in 2009. The practice can be controversial because it strips out various costs—from employee stock payments to asset write-downs—that can depress profits. Such moves are on the rise at a time when the Securities and Exchange Commission has said it is scrutinizing nonstandard earnings measures. The commission declined to comment on their use in executive-pay decisions. “Everything you can think of to manipulate this has been done,” said Gary Hewitt, head of research at GMI Ratings, a corporate-governance research firm.

Is Wall Street Pay Hampering U.S. Innovation? (BusinessWeek)
…venture capitalist Andrew Yang is here with yet another critique of the fact that a disproportionate number of college graduates are squandering their hard-earned educations on Wall Street careers. “A friend told me about a young Princeton graduate she knew named Cole. Cole studied mathematics and went to work for a hedge fund directly out of school. He’s now making well into six figures at the age of 24. That’s his whole story to date,” Yang writes in an excerpt from his book, Smart People Should Build Things. “That’s success and the American way. And yet how excited are you about Cole’s trajectory?” Yang argues that our idea of achievement has become far too narrow and materialistic. It is hurting the economy by taking math, science, and liberal arts graduates away from fields where they might invent and build and hire people at new companies they found and concentrating them in the financial sector, where they aren’t likely to contribute to future economic growth. He asserts that many of the most highly educated young people are also some of the most risk-averse, overly concerned about predictable career advancement and impressing their parents and friends.

Corporate Economists Are Hot Again (WSJ)
Many companies had corporate economists on staff in the volatile 1970s and ’80s, but dropped them when the U.S. economy was steady and strong. Information from government agencies, such as industrial output from the Federal Reserve, was plentiful, along with research from private consultants, including Macroeconomic Advisers LLC in St. Louis and IHS Global Insight of Englewood, Colo. “The reaction in the corporate world was: ‘I can get my average GDP forecasts from anybody. Why do I need an economist in my shop?’ ” said Ellen Hughes-Cromwick, chief economist for Ford Motor Co. The key to the revival of in-house economists, companies and economists say, is the need to digest huge amounts of data—from production volumes in overseas markets to laptop usage in urban areas—to determine opportunities and risks for companies’ business units, not just in the U.S. but around the world…Richard DeKaser, a vice president and corporate economist at Wells Fargo, leads a team of eight people, including six economists, who standardize the models and data used to measure risk in different business units, such as mortgage lending and credit cards. Previously, one unit might base unemployment figures on payroll data, while another would use household surveys. Doing so undermined the accuracy of tests to measure risks for losses and contributed to mistakes in business planning. “The great recession laid bare a lot of fundamental mistakes that an economist can be useful in preventing,” said Mr. DeKaser, who was previously chief economist for National City Bank.

Suspect: I didn’t know cocaine is illegal (KIN)
A Key West man was jailed Sunday for alleging trying to ditch a bag of cocaine in a planter at the Pier House Resort at 1 Duval St. in Key West. Guy Lanchester, 46, reportedly told Officer Darnell Sealy he didn’t know why he was being arrested: “I don’t understand. I thought cocaine wasn’t illegal in Florida.” Sealy arrested Lanchester about 2 a.m. following a call from a Pier House security guard who saw Lanchester and two others walk onto the property, then heard a scream. In addition to cocaine possession, Lanchester is charged with felony tampering with evidence. Sealy describes the second charge: “I asked Lanchester what he had in his hand and Lanchester quickly shoved his hands into the flower pot and yanked them back out.” Read more »

Opening Bell: 02.26.14

Billionaire Paulson Said in Talks to Buy Puerto Rico Resort (Bloomberg)
Paulson & Co. is seeking to acquire La Concha Resort and the Condado Vanderbilt, neighboring beachfront hotels in the capital city of San Juan, according to two people with knowledge of the transaction. The firm will pay about $200 million for the properties, in which the territory’s Government Development Bank owns a stake, said the people, who asked not to be named because the deal hasn’t been completed.

JPMorgan to cut 8,000 jobs, lowers 2014 profit target (Reuters)
JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N), the largest U.S. bank, announced thousands of job cuts on Tuesday as the mortgage lending business slows, and said it was lowering its profitability target. The company said it expected total headcount to fall by 5,000 to 260,000 in 2014. Around 6,000 full-time and contractor jobs in JPMorgan’s home loans unit and 2,000 jobs in its branch and credit-card network will be cut. At the same time, the bank expects to add 3,000 new jobs in its control function, including areas like compliance.

Tell-all on Pimco was ‘overblown,’ Gross says (NetNet)
“All this discourse about an autocratic style from my standpoint and conflict between Mohammed and myself is overblown,” Gross said during an interview on “Street Signs.”

BofA Discloses New Probes Amid Surge in Possible Legal Costs (Bloomberg)
Bank of America Corp., the second-biggest U.S. lender, disclosed new probes into mortgage and foreign-exchange units and boosted an estimate of potential legal losses by 20 percent to $6.1 billion. The developments were reported in an annual regulatory filing today by the Charlotte, North Carolina-based company. The fresh estimate of litigation expenses, which concerns costs that aren’t covered by reserves as of Dec. 31, compares with $5.1 billion at the end of the third quarter.

Many big U.S. corporations pay very little in taxes: study (Reuters)
Citizens for Tax Justice looked at 288 profitable Fortune 500 companies and said that 26 of them – including Boeing Co (BA.N), General Electric Co (GE.N) and Verizon Communications Inc (VZ.N) – paid no federal income tax in the five-year period. The group also said that 111 of the 288 companies paid no federal income tax in at least one of the five years measured. In a reflection of how the tax code’s complexity leaves many issues open to question, corporations sometimes dispute the way Citizens for Tax Justice calculates its numbers. Some of the companies singled out took exception to the findings. GE spokesman Seth Martin said: “For each year cited by Citizens for Tax Justice, GE paid income taxes in the U.S., as well as billions in other state, local and federal taxes in the U.S.”

‘Horny’ and drunk Florida woman arrested for calling 911, begging cop for sex: report (NYDN)
Maria Montenez-Colon, 58, was arrested Friday night in the misuse of 911. The officer drove to her home in Punta Gorda after she reportedly told a dispatcher that she wanted her late husband’s Corvette back after giving it to her son, authorities said. But it appears she really wanted to satisfy her lust for lawmen. The cop says Montenez-Colon was drunk when he arrived and immediately started making sexually suggestive comments such as “You are so sexy” and “Are you married?” But she saved the most lascivious for when he asked how he could help her. “You can f–k me,” she said, according to an arrest report obtained by The Smoking Gun. She allegedly grabbed the cop’s arm and tried to rub her hands across his chest so he told her that her behavior was inappropriate. Read more »