Opening Bell

Opening Bell: 05.28.14

Ex-Goldman Sachs Trader Tourre Says He Won’t Appeal (Bloomberg)
“While my lawyers have advised me there are strong grounds to appeal, I prefer to move forward with my education and close this difficult chapter of my life,” Tourre said in a statement today. “I look forward to finishing my Ph.D. in economics and to making meaningful contributions to my field.”

Banks Raise Caution Flag on Trading (WSJ)
Citigroup Chief Financial Officer John Gerspach told investors the bank expects the slide it has reported in markets revenue to deepen in the second quarter. “People lack direction,” Mr. Gerspach said, speaking about investor behavior at the conference sponsored by Deutsche Bank AG. “People are uncertain. There just isn’t a lot of movement.” His words echoed the comments of J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.’s head of investment banking, Daniel Pinto, who said volatility levels were at 10- to 15-year lows. He said that even if trading volumes rise, it is hard to make money if volatility is low. “If the market doesn’t move, it’s really difficult,” he said.

Draghi Expresses Concern Over Lasting Low Inflation (AP)
…the European Central Bank president, said on Tuesday that he was mindful of the danger of inflation remaining low in the 18-country euro zone and was committed to bringing it back to more tolerable levels. The bank is widely expected to offer some monetary stimulus at its next policy meeting on June 5 to support the European recovery and nudge inflation higher.

A Few CEOs Dominate Pay Ranking (WSJ)
The Wall Street Journal’s annual compensation survey found that, for all the debate around high CEO pay, the biggest rewards go to a relative handful of executives at the very top, and that their pay doesn’t necessarily correlate to their company’s size or results…The three highest-paid CEOs— Oracle Corp.’s Larry Ellison, CBS Corp.’s Leslie Moonves and Liberty Global’s Michael T. Fries —made a total of $188 million, more than the combined pay of the 50 CEOs at the bottom of the same list.

Judge arrested on DUI charge in courthouse parking lot (SS)
Circuit Judge Lynn Rosenthal was arrested Tuesday, accused of driving to work at the Broward County courthouse while under the influence of drugs, striking a patrol car and repeatedly hitting the gate of the judges’ parking lot with her BMW, according to the Broward Sheriff’s Office. The judge was also accused of driving into a concrete median on Interstate 595 shortly before her arrest. Deputies said Rosenthal admitted to taking an Ambien pill Monday night and did not appear to have been drinking alcohol. The arrest happened around 8:45 a.m., when Rosenthal’s BMW SUV struck a parked Sheriff’s Office vehicle in the parking lot, Keyla Concepcion, a spokeswoman for the agency said…According to an arrest report, Rosenthal struck the parked patrol car with the passenger side of her SUV, then continued toward the security gate of the judges’ parking lot. She struck the gate, put her vehicle in reverse, then struck the gate several more times before a deputy at the scene stopped her, according to the report. Read more »

Opening Bell: 05.27.14

BofA Error Confirmed by a Devil in the Detail (WSJ)
A change in wording on Federal Reserve forms earlier this year helped Bank of America Corp. verify that it had made a $4 billion error in calculating its capital, according to a person familiar with the matter, jeopardizing its plans for a long-awaited stock buyback and dividend increase. The Charlotte, N.C.-based bank disclosed the mistake late last month. BofA staffers began to suspect the bank had been miscalculating its regulatory capital when they prepared the bank’s first-quarter Securities and Exchange Commission filing in April, the person said. After those suspicions arose, they learned of the Fed’s wording change—a revision to instructions on computing regulatory capital that clarified which kinds of losses on debt securities a bank shouldn’t exclude from its calculations. That change confirmed for BofA that it had inadvertently been reporting an inflated amount of capital to regulators, the person said. BofA isn’t blaming its error on the Fed’s wording, said the person, who added the wording change just helped confirm for the bank that it was in error.

Canada Offers Incentives to Lure Startups Across the Border (WSJ)
Adam Adelman, co-founder of Mighty Cast, a startup working on a new kind of wearable technology, recently told me the Canadian government is paying almost 80% of his developers’ salaries. And that’s not a tax credit. It’s a rebate, a check he gets from the government whether or not his startup makes money…So far, it’s mostly established U.S. companies taking advantage of these incentives. In 2013 Cisco signed an agreement with the government of Ontario pledging up to $4 billion in investment over the next 10 years in exchange for $220 million in incentives. Seven of the 10 largest tech companies in the world have outposts in Canada, including Google, Siemens and IBM, and startups like Square are setting up offices in the Waterloo region, where tech employers tend to concentrate. But if you’re a small startup looking to take full advantage of these incentives, there’s a catch: You have to become Canadian. You don’t have to give up your current citizenship to get all the benefits, but your company must be majority controlled by person(s) who are residents of Canada (a different status than full citizenship). Companies merely setting up a satellite in Canada can still get 50% of the salary reimbursement a fully “Canadian” company would.

Finance heavyweights checking out Sag Harbor restaurant (NYP)
It will likely be a masters of the universe, model magnet crowd in the Hamptons, where Notar has a license to stay open until 4 a.m. “Maybe one or two nights we’ll have a few parties. It’ll be good, but it will be civilized fun. It’s not spraying champagne on you and people falling into the ocean,” said Notar, who worked at Studio 54 in its heyday before launching his restaurant empire.

When Cannabis Goes Corporate (NYT)
Clinical, climate-controlled rooms with artificial sunlight house rows upon rows of plants at various stages of growth. In the “mother room,” horticulturalists use cuttings to start new plants. The “flowering rooms” are flooded with intense light 12 hours a day to nurture nearly grown plants in strains with vaguely aristocratic names like Argyle, Houndstooth and Twilling. The new owner of this factory, at 1 Hershey Drive, is Tweed Marijuana. It is one of about 20 companies officially licensed to grow medical marijuana in Canada. A court ordered the government to make marijuana available for medicinal purposes in 2000, but the first system for doing so created havoc. The government sold directly to approved consumers, but individuals were also permitted to grow for their own purposes or to turn over their growing to small operations. The free-for-all approach prompted a flood of complaints from police and local governments. So the Canadian government decided to create an extensive, heavily regulated system for growing and selling marijuana. The new rules allow users with prescriptions to buy only from one of the approved, large-scale, profit-seeking producers like Tweed, a move intended to shut down the thousands of informal growing operations scattered across the country. The requirements, which went into effect in April, are giving rise to what many are betting will be a lucrative new industry of legitimate producers.

Macaulay Culkin’s band storms off stage after being booed, covered in beer (NYDN)
The actor and his comedy cover band, Pizza Underground, performed at the Dot to Dot Festival Sunday, but instead of applause they were met with boos from the audience, who also threw beer at them, reports the Nottingham Post. “Why are you throwing those?” the “Home Alone” star asked when the band dodged pints of booze being thrown from the crowd after performing a cover of Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day,” which they called “It’s a Pizza Day.” “I’d rather drink them,” he said. Culkin, 33, and his New York City-based band, which remakes classic rock songs in order to celebrate pizza, tried to take it in stride and continued the performance. They reportedly got through three songs before calling it quits after being drenched with booze. “That’s the end of the show,” he said. “Goodnight.” Read more »

Opening Bell: 05.23.14

Wall Street Bets on Bond Revival in Trader Hiring Spree (Bloomberg)
Wall Street firms are starting to bet on an end to the profit-eroding boredom in credit markets by building out their trading desks. Nomura Holdings Inc. has added 10 to its U.S. corporate debt team this year, an increase of about 10 percent, and plans to expand further, according to Michael Guarnieri, the bank’s global head of credit products in New York. The latest hires are high-yield debt traders Daniel Frommer and James Incognito, who joined this month.

Cocaine Sales to Boost Italian GDP in Boon for Budget (Bloomberg)
Italy will include prostitution and illegal drug sales in the gross domestic product calculation this year, a boost for its chronically stagnant economy and Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s effort to meet deficit targets. Drugs, prostitution and smuggling will be part of GDP as of 2014 and prior-year figures will be adjusted to reflect the change in methodology, the Istat national statistics office said today. The revision was made to comply with European Union rules, it said.

Colorado cracks down on edible pot products (CNBC)
The new regulations add to the long list of costs for retail marijuana sellers, said Jamie Lewis, COO of marijuana dispensary and edible pot company Good Chemistry. The fresh laws prohibit edible pot products from containing more than 10 milligrams of THC per serving, and they require packaging noticeably different from regular foods on such products. The new rules, however, bring in more business for CannLabs, a company that tests cannabis products in Denver. CannLabs CEO Genifer Murray told CNBC that revenue has skyrocketed at her testing lab, but that the company still gets rebuffed by waste removal companies and other labs for being involved in the marijuana industry. “Shame on them,” Murray said. “It’s going to be a billion-dollar industry.”

Is the Hard-Nosed Boss Obsolete? (WSJ)
When bosses simply have to get things done, yelling at subordinates or glaring at them can be OK, depending on the company culture, and is among the “array of techniques that you use as a manager,” Prof. Sutton says. Genuine jerks have been mostly culled from the ranks of corporations in recent years, in part because it is harder to get away with truly bad behavior, he says, adding, “the a—holes among us are getting more skilled, and the ones we are left with are being more subtle about it.” Some companies take formal stands against jerks. A slideshow presentation on corporate culture posted online by Netflix Chief Executive Reed Hastings declares that the company doesn’t need “brilliant jerks.” Though tolerated at some companies, he writes, Netflix believes their “cost to effective teamwork is too high.”

Rob Ford lets rehab friend use SUV, drunk driving happens (NYP)
The generous politician lent his black Cadillac Escalade to his rehab buddy LeeAnne McRobb, 36, and she wound up getting arrested Tuesday for alleged DWI in the SUV, the Toronto Sun reports. McRobb was a fellow resident at the GreenStone Muskoka treatment center, sources told the Sun. She refused to explain why she was driving the disgraced politician’s car when confronted by two reporters at the impound lot in Gravenhurst, Ontario. “It doesn’t matter. That’s for me to know,” she said in one of two videos posted on YouTube by MooseFM Wednesday. “You guys don’t need to know.” Read more »

Opening Bell: 05.21.14

U.S. Said to Seek More than $5 Billion in BNP Settlement (Bloomberg)
U.S. authorities are seeking more than $5 billion from BNP Paribas SA (BNP) to settle federal and state investigations into the lender’s dealings with sanctioned countries including Sudan and Iran, according to a person familiar with the matter. The amount sought to resolve the investigation has escalated and now far exceeds the $2.6 billion that Credit Suisse AG (CSGN) agreed to pay in a settlement with the U.S. for helping Americans evade taxes. Discussions are continuing and the final number could change, the person said. Last week, four people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg News that U.S. authorities were asking for at least $3.5 billion to settle the BNP case. As they did with Credit Suisse, U.S. prosecutors are seeking a guilty plea from BNP, which said last month it may need more than the $1.1 billion it has set aside to settle the case.

BlackRock’s Fink Says Housing Structure More Unsound Now (Bloomberg)
“We’re more dependent on Fannie and Freddie than we were before the crisis,” Fink said Tuesday at a conference held by the Investment Company Institute in Washington, noting that he was one of the first Freddie Mac bond traders on Wall Street.

Pot Bust: The SEC Issues a Warning on Marijuana-Related Investments (BusinessWeek)
The securities watchdog has temporarily suspended shares of five companies that claim to be operating in the cannabis industry over questions about the accuracy of their public statements and potentially illegal sales of securities and market manipulation, according to an SEC notice published last week. One of the companies suspended…Denver-based FusionPharm, sells a line of cultivation containers called PharmPods, touted as a “plug and grow” solution for cannabis. Information that FusionPharm disclosed on its assets, revenue, financial statements, business transactions, and current financial condition may be inadequate or inaccurate, according to the SEC’s suspension order, which lasts until May 30. FusionPharm didn’t immediately respond to a telephone message left with its sales and marketing department.

The Cheap Pimco Fund That Has Gross Reaching for His Wallet (Bloomberg)
Gross has been adding to his personal holdings this year in Pacific Investment Management Co.’s $1.5 billion Dynamic Income fund as demand picks up for an asset class that was left for dead in 2013, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The closed-end credit fund is up 16.6 percent in 2014 as the discount between its share price and the assets the fund owns has disappeared. Most other such funds are still inexpensive by this measure because they haven’t yet generated enough demand to close the gap between their share prices and the value of the assets they own. The funds — which raise a fixed amount of money through public offerings and typically use leverage to amplify bets — tanked last year as the Federal Reserve signaled it would start tapering its stimulus.

Why Do Americans Name Babies After Kale and Other Foods? (Bon Appetit)
Kale (2013: 257 boys, 5 girls) Looks like kale has been America’s darling for longer than we originally thought—the name was first used in 1962. And while we were not surprised to learn that the highest concentration of little Kales can currently be found in California (#agriculture), we were intrigued to learn that the first baby Kale was born in Kansas. It’s been gaining popularity since 2005—quite possibly due to the leafy green’s parallel rise to prominence. Can Watercress and Mizuna be far behind? Chai (2013: 8 boys, 7 girls) Fewer folks preferred their babies’ tea-related names to be of the specific variety: Chai was first used as a girl’s name in 1989 and as a boy’s name in 1984 (both in California), but each year produced fewer than 10 little Chais. It’s possible the name’s popularity has something to do with the introduction of Starbucks’s chai tea drinks, but based on that logic we should be seeing a lot of little Pumpkin Spices running around, so we’re still investigating this one. Tamari (2013: 14 boys, 26 girls) Although people have been eating fermented soybean product for centuries, Tamari as a baby name didn’t appear in the U.S. until 2006—with five female Tamaris. Science may be on the fence about soy’s health benefits, but sushi (and all of its accoutrements, like wasabi and soy sauce) have been taking the nation by storm in the last few decades. Miso, however—from which tamari is traditionally made—is missing from the SSA database. Read more »

Opening Bell: 05.20.14

EU Files Formal Charges Against Three Banks Over Interest-Rate Cartel (WSJ)
The move comes five months after EU authorities fined six banks €1.71 billion ($2.3 billion) for colluding to manipulate key benchmark interest rates, representing the EU’s largest ever penalty in a cartel case. Three banks— Crédit Agricole, HSBC, and JP Morgan —didn’t settle with regulators in December over a cartel to rig the pricing of interest rate derivatives denominated in euros. It is those banks that have now been sent a so-called statement of objections, which outlines the European Commission’s concerns. The EU in December settled with four other banks— Barclays, Deutsche Bank, RBS, and Société Générale —which admitted involvement in the cartel, and had their fines reduced by 10% for agreeing to settle.

Princeton’s Top Money Managers Get 46% Pay Raise in 2013 (Bloomberg)
Andrew Golden, the president of Princeton University Investment Co., the company known as Princo that manages the school’s $18.2 billion endowment, collected $3.9 million in total compensation last year. The 55-year-old’s remuneration included a 94 percent increase in retirement and deferred compensation and a 48 percent jump in bonus pay, according to the university’s latest tax return.

Ackman takes aim at Allergan CEO (NYP)
Activist investor Bill Ackman alleged in a letter Monday that Allergan Chairman and CEO David Pyott has been conducting “one-on-one” meetings with the Botox maker’s largest shareholders while refusing to allow independent directors to talk with them. Allergan last week rejected a hostile takeover bid valued at $50 billion by Valeant Pharmaceuticals, supported by Ackman, whose Pershing Square hedge fund holds a 9.7 percent stake in Allergan. The activist investor, in his letter, said Pyott has a “disabling conflict of interest” because he will likely lose his CEO position if the merger goes through. The letter was addressed to Michael Gallagher, Allergan’s lead independent director, who refused to have a private conversation with Ackman.

Swiss Face Conundrum as ECB Signals Further Stimulus (Bloomberg)
Swiss policy makers are under increasing pressure to come up with a contingency plan to curb gains in the franc that would likely result from a fresh round of stimulus from the European Central Bank next month. The Swiss National Bank already has a zero interest-rate policy, in part to keep the nation’s currency from rising beyond the 1.20 franc-per-euro cap in place since 2011. It would need to take steps to defend that level if the ECB cut rates or broadened asset purchases, according to 52 percent of respondents to a Bloomberg News survey this month.

Man Wearing “It’s All Fun & Games Until The Cops Show Up” T-Shirt Is Arrested When The Cops Show Up (TSG)
The 35-year-old bank robbery suspect was wearing a t-shirt declaring “It’s all fun & games until the cops show up” when police showed up yesterday morning and arrested him as he exited an Idaho motel. Fisher and Jennifer Balfe, 19, were collared in connection with Friday’s robbery of a U.S. Bank branch in Cottonwood (pop. 900). They were each jailed on robbery, burglary, and grand theft counts. Investigators reportedly got on Fisher’s tail after receiving an anonymous tip that a man matching the suspect’s description had been spending wads of cash at a local casino. Read more »

Opening Bell: 05.19.14

Deutsche Bank Plans to Raise $11 Billion (WSJ)
The German lender will issue a total of 360 million new shares, the person said. The Qatari royal family has agreed to buy 60 million of the shares, valued at €1.75 billion, via its investment vehicle Paramount Holdings. The remaining €6.25 billion will be sold to existing investors via a so-called rights offering, the person said.

Former SocGen Trader Returns to France to Face Jail (WSJ)
Former Société Générale trader Jérôme Kerviel ended a monthslong hike through Italy on Sunday by walking across the French border, where police immediately whisked him off to prison to serve a three-year sentence for making billions in unauthorized trades. The final leg of the former trader’s journey capped what he has described as a pilgrimage of “protest against the tyranny” of financial markets. Mr. Kerviel began the trip with a brief meeting with Pope Francis in Vatican City, drawing television cameras and journalists as he made his way up the Italian peninsula with a backpack slung over his shoulder. “I’m respecting the decision of my country,” Mr. Kerviel told a clutch of TV cameras moments before police placed him in an unmarked car and drove off.

Facebook working on video app to take on Snapchat (FT)
Facebook has been working for several months on the app, known internally as Slingshot, with a simple and speedy user interface, said people familiar with its plans. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief, has been overseeing the top-secret project after failing to woo Snapchat’s creators Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy with a $3 billion takeover offer late last year.

Lesser role for Fannie, Freddie not opposed: Regulator (Reuters)
Watt said last week, in his first public speech since taking office, that he did not want to shrink Fannie and Freddie’s footprint, marking a sharp departure from his predecessor. “It’s not that I’m opposed to it and we will certainly allow it to happen,” he told C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” program, when asked about the prospect of shrinking the lenders’ activities. “But if the private sector is not ready to step into the space, and you shrink what Fannie and Freddie are doing, you do damage to housing finance in this country and that does damage to the economy and that does damage to the possibility of affordable housing and home ownership.”

How Barry Rosenstein rose from Asher Edelman underling to activist leader (Barron’s)
Rosenstein’s operating style isn’t as in-your-face as some of his peers — at least not publicly. “If Carl Icahn is coming at it with a hammer, Barry has velvet gloves on,” says an executive at a fund-of-funds firm that invests in Jana. Says Rosenstein: “I always say to the CEO, ‘You could take our ideas and make them your own and be the change agent. The alternative is you could fight us, but you’re going to end up in the same place anyway.’ ”

Fed’s Rate-Change System Up for Revamp (WSJ)
The Fed’s old system for moving interest rates up or down looks increasingly unsuited for the postcrisis financial system, so officials are rewriting their strategy for replacing it. But first they need to resolve big questions with implications for $2.6 trillion that banks have parked at the Fed, trillions sitting in money-market mutual funds and trillions more at stake in derivatives contracts.

British man spends $16G to turn spare bedroom into a replica Boeing 737 cockpit (NYDN)
The homemade flight simulator allows Richard Hutchinson to “take-off” from any airport in the world and the middle-aged Brit regularly “visits” exotic locations. He told The Mirror: “The conditions are about 99% realistic. I have never flown a plane before but I think if I needed to, I could land a 737.” Read more »

Opening Bell: 05.16.14

Euro-Zone Economy Shows Weak Expansion (WSJ)
Euro-zone GDP has risen only 1% since the first quarter of 2013, the lowest point of the bloc’s six-year slump, and remains 2.5% below its peak in early 2008. Economists reckon output would have to rise at closer to 2% a year to make a meaningful dent in euro-zone unemployment, currently 11.8% of the workforce.

SAC’s Steinberg loses bid for insider trading acquittal (Reuters)
U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan in Manhattan rejected various arguments by Steinberg’s lawyers, including that a jury could not have rationally found he knew corporate insiders were receiving benefits to provide illegal tips. “On the facts presented at trial, a rational jury could find that (Steinberg) knew or was willfully blind to the fact that the tippers breached duties of trust and confidence by disclosing material nonpublic information for their personal benefits,” Sullivan wrote.

SAC Fund Manager’s Backers Cite Charity Before Sentencing (Bloomberg)
From co-founding a group that’s donated more than $8.7 million for work such as providing clean water and medicine in Africa, to raising money for a friend’s organ transplant with a bake sale, Steinberg has shown he deserves leniency at his sentencing today in Manhattan federal court, his supporters told the judge.

At SALT Conference, Stocks Induce Anxiety (Dealbook)
“There seems to be a general unease that with central bank policy, the only thing it is impacting are financial markets,” said Jim Chanos, president of Kynikos Associates and a well-known short-seller. “It’s not transmitting to the economy, and I think that is a real, real growing concern.” “You sort of get a growing sense that this grand experiment may be quite inconclusive when it comes to monetary policy and financial markets,” Mr. Chanos added, speaking on the sidelines of the conference on Thursday.

Investors Reject Chipotle Chiefs’ Pay Plan (Dealbook)
Investors in Chipotle Mexican Grill voted overwhelmingly on Thursday against the company’s executive compensation plans, sending a strong rebuke to a company that had awarded more than $300 million to its co-chief executives in recent years. More than 75 percent of investors voted against Chipotle’s say-on-pay measure, which asked investors to ratify a compensation plan that would continue such payments to Steve Ells, Chipotle’s founder, and his co-chief, Montgomery F. Moran, over the next few years. That was the highest vote against any say-on-pay measure among the country’s largest 3,000 companies this year.

U.S. Takes a Shot at Latte Art Championship (WSJ)
Latte art has gained steam in recent years. The whimsical, swirly designs, like tulips and hearts, drawn with the steamed milk and foam that is poured over a shot of espresso to make a latte, have tens of thousands of online fans and enthusiasts. But the final stages of the contest are stripped of whimsy. Six finalists each received eight minutes to complete two “free pour” lattes, using just swirling milk and gravity to make four drinks: two lattes and two macchiatos, which are half the size of a latte and therefore considered the most difficult…Donald Morrison says he tries to take his latte art to the dark side. His signature drink featured a winged bat. “I wanted to do something that wasn’t so cute—a little more punk rock,” he said. But it was Mr. Bricker’s twin latte phoenix, whose tail-curls were sharpened with the tip of a golf tee, that earned him the top score at the U.S. competition. He will be up against the world’s best at the championship which ends Sunday. Read more »