Opening Bell

Opening Bell: 02.04.14

U.S. Banks Eased Lending Standards in Late 2013 (WSJ)
Banks generally eased their lending policies for commercial and industrial loans in the fourth quarter, citing increased competition and less uncertainty about the economy, according to the Fed’s quarterly survey of senior bank loan officers.

Anglo Irish executives blamed for Irish banking crisis go on trial (Guardian)
Three leading figures in the defunct and disgraced Anglo Irish Bank – Sean FitzPatrick, Pat Whelan and William McAteer – will each face 16 charges of unlawfully providing financial assistance to individuals for the purpose of buying shares in Anglo Irish Bank in 2008. All of the charges relate to transactions with 16 individuals who allegedly received financial assistance from the accused trio between 10 July and 17 July 2008. The three former bankers deny all the charges against them. Among the star witnesses expected to give evidence will be Ireland’s one-time richest man, Sean Quinn, who borrowed billions from the bank to fund a global property portfolio during the Celtic Tiger boom years. When property prices collapsed across the world, Quinn owed billions and had to file for bankruptcy.

Euro May Be Resurfacing as a Safe Haven (WSJ)
The chief driver of the change has been the euro zone’s large and growing current-account surplus—a broad measure of trade—analysts at BNP Paribas say. The surplus has several effects. For one, it means steady demand for euros: The euro zone is exporting more than it is importing. The current-account surplus in November widened to €23.5 billion, the highest ever. The ECB’s low interest rates also makes loans in euros attractive. Overseas borrowers can use them to fund riskier, high-yielding investments elsewhere, much as investors have long funded investments with ultracheap borrowing in Japanese yen.

With Fortune Falling, a 1 Percent Divorce (NYT)
It was into [740 Park] that Elizabeth and Kent Swig stepped during a season of high financial spirits. That the Swigs managed to scale such heights surprised no one: They were something of a royal couple in property circles. Their marriage, in 1987, had united two of America’s great real estate clans, the Macklowes of New York on her side, and the Swigs of San Francisco on his. By the time the couple arrived on Park Avenue, in 2002, Kent Swig, a charismatic dealmaker with a surfer-dude demeanor, was already starting to build a name for himself with equal parts debt and daring. As the onetime protégé of his father-in-law, Harry B. Macklowe, the powerful New York property developer, Mr. Swig was soon credited with helping transform the dull-as-bond-tables financial district into a fashionable residential address. In a business where there was always revolving credit and a bigger deal, the only way, it seemed, was up. At the peak, his properties were worth an easy $3 billion. Then Lehman Brothers went bust and the bottom fell out, and the Swigs’ life collapsed beneath them, in a 10-figure version of the great American housing crisis. Creditors called in loans. Mr. Swig had personally guaranteed an estimated $116 million of debts. Lawsuits flew. One business partner struck Mr. Swig with an ice bucket.

A Lonely Bet Against Portugal’s Debt (Dealbook)
…while he may not bring with him the buzz of billionaire hedge fund moguls like Daniel S. Loeb and William A. Ackman, David Salanic, the chief executive of Tortus Capital, has his own target — Portugal — and it is bigger in size than any of the major corporations that have come under attack by his larger peers. Putting it bluntly, he said he believed that the country, despite accolades for its economic reform efforts, would soon default on its private sector bonds — in the same way Greece did in 2012…His thesis is that Portugal, with one of the slowest growth rates of any country in Europe, is in no position to make good on its debt, which, at 128 percent of gross domestic product, is on the verge of passing Italy to become the second-largest in the euro zone after Greece. Moreover, Mr. Salanic said he believed that the country’s debt was understated and that if you added in debts guaranteed by the state, as well as other off-balance-sheet transactions that state-owned corporations have put in place with foreign banks, the true figure approaches 150 percent of economic output.

Police: Man bites off brother’s ear at Super Bowl party (USAT)
A man here is accused of pulling a Mike Tyson, biting off part of his brother’s right ear following a Super Bowl party. Sean Fallon-Nebbia, 27, was charged with first-degree assault, a felony, after he and his brother fought at the tail end of a Super Bowl party in Fallon-Nebbia’s apartment, just before midnight Sunday, according to Rochester City Court documents. He is also accused of punching his brother, Frank Fallon-Nebbia, in the face several times, rendering him unconscious when emergency responders arrived…Court papers allege that the brothers drank more than a bottle of whiskey together at the Super Bowl party and were roughhousing after the game when the incident occurred. A doctor who treated the injured brother told police that the ear was permanently disfigured, court documents show. Another resident of the apartment told police that the brothers were drunk, were “play wrestling,” and latched onto one another before they “turned violent and aggressive.” Read more »

Opening Bell: 02.03.14

Rate Decision to Drive Yellen’s Early Agenda (WSJ)
Among Ms. Yellen’s most critical decisions is when to start lifting interest rates. If she and her colleagues wait too long, they could fuel high inflation or financial bubbles; if they move too soon, they could damp a recovery that is just gaining steam. Key to that decision is making sense of the falling unemployment rate. She and other Fed officials worry it masks large pockets of stress still plaguing the labor market, including millions of people who want work but aren’t looking anymore and therefore are no longer counted as unemployed.

Jos. A. Bank Stands Its Ground (WSJ)
Jos. A. Bank Clothiers Inc. took the offensive in its effort to fend off a proposed takeover by Men’s Wearhouse Inc., entering talks of its own to buy fellow apparel retailer Eddie Bauer LLC and issuing a sharply worded rebuke to its rival’s latest bid to negotiate a deal. Jos. A. Bank is in discussions for a possible takeover of Eddie Bauer, people familiar with the matter said this weekend. Such an acquisition could value Eddie Bauer at as much as $1 billion, one of the people said. A deal between the two companies isn’t imminent, another of the people said. News of the possible Eddie Bauer takeover comes amid a monthslong, rancorous effort by Jos. A. Bank and Men’s Wearhouse, both discount men’s suit retailers, to buy each other. Jos. A. Bank announced its intent to buy larger rival Men’s Wearhouse in October. After that effort was rebuffed, Men’s Wearhouse mounted its own effort to buy Jos. A. Bank, which was in turn rejected. If Jos. A. Bank consummated a deal with closely held Eddie Bauer, it would likely complicate or put an end to the Men’s Wearhouse quest to buy the company, in part by making it much more expensive.

FTC chief to meet consumer activists about Herbalife (NYP)
Federal Trade Commission Chair Edith Ramirez is feeling the heat. One week after Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) sent the FTC boss a letter asking her to investigate Herbalife, Ramirez agreed to meet with minority and consumer activists to hear their pyramid concerns about the company, The Post has learned. Brent Wilkes, executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, which asked for the meeting Jan. 27, said more than a dozen activists from around the country will also meet with Ramirez on Feb. 5. The group, while in Washington, will bring former Herbalife distributors, who say they are victims of the company’s alleged pyramid activities, to meet with Congressional representatives.

Puerto Rico Seeking $2 Billion Debt Offering (WSJ)
Puerto Rico is preparing a debt offering of some $2 billion in coming weeks amid increasing pressure from credit-rating firms and investors for the U.S. territory to shore up its finances, according to people familiar with the plans. Within days, island officials will choose the type of debt they will use from several options scrutinized in meetings with rating firms and bankers since late last year, the people said. A team of Puerto Rico officials including Treasury Secretary Melba Acosta Febo met last week with analysts at Moody’s Investors Service, Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services and Fitch Ratings to discuss the island’s fiscal outlook, the Puerto Rico Treasury said in a statement.

‘Mass-Transit Super Bowl’ Hits Some Rough Patches in Moving Fans (NYT)
About four hours before Sunday’s Super Bowl kickoff, fans of all jersey colors appeared to achieve a moment of angry unity while stuck inside a Secaucus, N.J., rail station. The air was stale, the heat had become blistering, and the ordeal was going on and on, approaching an hour. “A.C.! A.C.!” the fans shouted in a plea for cooler conditions as they strained to get a little closer to the connecting trains to MetLife Stadium…In the steamy, uncomfortable backup in Secaucus, Karin Rivale, of Aurora, Colo., predicted that she would lose about 5 pounds before reaching the stadium. As she spoke, people around her began peeling off layers. A burlier fan suggested he might be 20 pounds lighter by the time he reached the stadium. Several fans wondered aloud what had become of what was supposed to be a historic cold-weather Super Bowl. Other jeers included shouts of “T.S.A.!” in reference to the federal Transportation Security Administration and its airport security lines, and “Blame Christie!” a jab at New Jersey’s embattled governor, who is now ensnared in an investigation into a traffic jam of an entirely different kind. When one group of stuck fans attempted a call-and-response chant of “Sea!” and “Hawks!” a Broncos fan, Matt Budreau, decided to intercede. “Sea!” the fans said. “Caucus!” Budreau replied.

Joe Namath botches coin toss, nails fur coat (NYP)
Namath, dressed in a waist-length, hooded mink coach despite the seasonably warm weather conditions, tried to toss the coin before the captains had picked heads or tails. Referee Terry McAulay caught it before it landed. Seattle won the toss anyway, and deferred. Read more »

Opening Bell: 01.31.14

Wall Street Pays $70 Million Tab for Super Bowl in Its Backyard (Bloomberg)
The National Football League’s championship is a home game for the shapers of the nation’s economy, with 11 of 29 host sponsors coming from the financial services industry. The event is costing $70 million to stage, as much as five times last year’s in New Orleans, and companies with revenue of $339 billion last year are paying a big part of the bill.

BofA’s $8.5 Billion Mortgage Bond Pact Approved by Judge (Bloomberg)
For Bank of America, the settlement is part of Chief Executive Officer Brian Moynihan’s efforts to resolve liabilities tied to faulty mortgages that have cost the company at least $50 billion in legal claims since the financial crisis, most inherited from its 2008 purchase of Countrywide Financial Corp.

Microsoft Nears End To Its CEO Search (WSJ)
Veteran Microsoft Corp. executive Satya Nadella has emerged as the leading candidate to be the software company’s next chief executive, as Microsoft directors wrestle with the role of co-founder and Chairman Bill Gates, according to people familiar with the matter.

Obama administration response to Justin Bieber deportation petition forthcoming (PR)
A petition created seven days ago asking the United States federal government to deport pop singer Justin Bieber back to his native Canada will now see an official response from the Obama administration, in accordance with its policies stating that any such petition filed on will be replied to if its digital signatures reach six figures. The petition, originally filed by an individual who identifies himself only as “J.A.” from Detroit, Michigan, has already received more than two hundred thousand signatures, twice the number required for a response. Read more »

Opening Bell: 01.29.14

U.S. Banks Steer Clear of Sensitive Customers (WSJ)
JP Morgan Chase & Co. has jettisoned more than 2,000 customers since the New York bank last year decided to reduce its exposure to businesses that could add to its long list of regulatory problems, according to a person familiar with the bank’s operations. Among other things, the bank has said it won’t lend to check-cashing companies and won’t process transactions or clear certain types of payments for some 500 foreign banks. J.P. Morgan also is cutting ties with a number of individual customers, from spouses of foreign leaders to people who have been indicted or convicted of a crime, said another person familiar with the lender’s policies. The bank dumped twice as many of these customers in 2013 as it did in 2012, the person said…The lack of banking services has been a big headache for Denver businessman Kayvan Khalatbari, co-owner of a medical marijuana dispensary and two pizza restaurants. He said he spent months last year wrestling with BBVA Compass after the regional, Texas-based bank dumped his accounts, including those associated with the pizza restaurants, an investment account and his personal account. BBVA Compass is a unit of Spanish lender Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA.

Obama Appeals for Action on Boosting Economic Mobility (Bloomberg)
Using executive authority to enact portions of an agenda that’s been stalled by Republicans, Obama said he’s raising the minimum wage to $10.10 for future federal contract workers while urging lawmakers to apply it to the rest of the nation. He also plans to create a retirement savings program for workers whose employers don’t offer a 401(k) plan.“The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by – let alone get ahead,” Obama said, in the text released by the White House. “Our job is to reverse these trends.” In all, the president announced a dozen actions that he said would help push against the economic forces that have left lower- and middle-income Americans still struggling to recover from the worst recession in more than seven decades. He also said he’s enlisting companies, including Apple Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc., to help solve issues from expanding broadband in schools to hiring the long-term unemployed.

Bitter Medicine In Store For Activists (WSJ)
More than half of the poison pills adopted in 2013 are designed to be triggered when a holder gains a stake of 10%. In 2005, less than 8% of poison pills had a trigger of 10%, according to FactSet. “Pills are being carefully crafted with an activist in mind,” said Chris Cox, a Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft LLP lawyer who advises boards. More corporate poison pills also now explicitly include swaps, options and other financial products as part of an ownership stake. About 59% of poison pills adopted last year counted these derivatives, up from just 4% in 2008, according to FactSet.

JPMorgan Said Near Decision on $2 Billion Commodities Unit Sale (Bloomberg)
JP Morgan could fetch at least $2 billion for its physical commodities unit after the bank received bids from Blackstone Group LP (BX), Macquarie Group and Mercuria Energy Group Ltd., people with knowledge of the matter said.

Analyst who helped ‘short’ Herbalife exits Pershing Square (NYP)
Shane Dineen, the Pershing Square analyst who did much of the initial work on the firm’s controversial $1 billion Herbalife short, has left the hedge fund, according to a letter sent to investors Tuesday night. Because of Dineen’s prominent Herbalife role, the young analyst became a lightning rod for angry Herbalife investors. Particularly vicious rumors about his possible departure have permeated the blogosphere and Twitter for more than a month. “Shane is one of the most talented investment analysts I have ever worked with,” said Pershing Square founder Bill Ackman, who added that he had tried to get Dineen to stay and can return “if and when he decides to.”

Bitcoin Activists Speak Up (WSJ)
In the first of two days of hearings held by New York’s top banking supervisor on the topic, prominent bitcoin entrepreneurs such as Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss acknowledged potential benefits of setting certain rules on the industry but warned that too much regulation could stall innovation and send jobs overseas.

Real woman to quit her job during GoDaddy’s Super Bowl ad (Today)
During GoDaddy’s Super Bowl ad, a real woman will tell her boss “I quit” on national television, the company announced. For those among the over 100 million estimated viewers who’ve ever fantasized about telling their manager to “shove it,” but never had the guts, the ad will be their chance to experience it vicariously. The woman’s boss will find out along with the rest of the country during the big game. After the ad runs, she’ll send a formal resignation letter and give her two-week notice…[the Today Show] will interview the woman on the show the day after the big game to find out what was going through her head and why she decided to quit her job this way. Read more »

Opening Bell: 01.28.14

Perkins Apologizes for Comparing Attacks on Rich to Holocaust (Bloomberg, earlier)
Venture capital pioneer Tom Perkins apologized for comparing today’s treatment of wealthy Americans to the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany, though he said he stood by his message around class warfare. “I’d deeply apologize to you and anyone who has mistaken my reference to Kristallnacht as a sign of overt or latent anti-Semitism,” he said in an interview on Bloomberg Television. “This is not the case.” Perkins, 82, was addressing a firestorm he had created with a letter to the editor in the Jan. 25 edition of the Wall Street Journal, in which he compared resentment of the very rich in the U.S. to a “progressive war on the American 1 percent,” akin to attacks on Jews in the 1930s. In the wake of the letter, the venture capital firm he co-founded, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, distanced itself from him, saying Perkins hadn’t been involved in the firm in years. Other venture investors including Marc Andreessen also criticized Perkins for his remarks. Perkins told Bloomberg Television that he made the analogy between wealthy Americans and Jews because the rich are a minority, like the Jews who made up just 1 percent of the German population before the Holocaust. He said he regretted using the word Kristallnacht, a night in 1938 when Nazis coordinated attacks against Jews, in his letter. “It was a terrible misjudgement,” he said, adding that he has written a letter of apology to the Anti-Defamation League. “I do not regret the message at all. Any time the majority starts to demonize any minority, no matter what it is, it is wrong and dangerous.” … Of the venture firm that he co-founded, Perkins said “they chose to throw me under the bus.” He said that as he has distanced himself from Kleiner Perkins, “there has been a corresponding decline in the firm.”

Two Charged in Alleged Bitcoin-Laundering Scheme (WSJ)
Mr. Shrem, a self-proclaimed “bitcoin millionaire” according to prosecutors, appeared before a magistrate judge in Manhattan federal court Monday. His attorney, Keith Miller, said that his client was “presumed innocent” and asked the judge to release him on a $1 million bond. Prosecutors, who said the evidence against him is “overwhelming,” opposed the request and played a 2012 YouTube interview with Mr. Shrem during which he discussed his plans if he were arrested. “We have contingency plans, I have a plane ticket ready to take me to Singapore with another corporation already set up,” Mr. Shrem said in the interview. “A lot of us core bitcoiners are ready to go to jail for bitcoin.”

A Fed Policy Maker, Changing His Mind, Urges More Stimulus (NYT)
The Fed’s policy-making committee, which meets Tuesday and Wednesday, is widely expected to announce another $10 billion cut in monthly purchases of Treasury and mortgage-backed securities. But Mr. Kocherlakota (pronounced COACH-er-la-ko-tah) spent recent months crisscrossing the Midwestern region served by the Minneapolis Fed, telling audiences in Minnesota and Montana and Michigan that persistent unemployment has created “a time of testing” for the Fed comparable to the rise of inflation in the late 1970s and early 1980s. So far, he says, the Fed is falling short. “As this goes on, there’s a temptation to think of this problem as being beyond what we as monetary policy makers can address,” Mr. Kocherlakota said in an interview in mid-January in his office overlooking the Mississippi River. “We shouldn’t let the persistence of the problem lead us to the conclusion that we shouldn’t do more.” Mr. Kocherlakota’s outspoken advocacy for stronger action is particularly striking because he spent his first three years at the Minneapolis Fed, after his appointment in 2009, loudly arguing that the Fed should do less.

Prices for Super Bowl Cheap Seats Are Falling Fast (BusinessWeek)
According to ticket search engine SeatGeek, the average sale price on Saturday and Sunday was $2,056, down 40 percent from a week ago—a more precipitous drop than the normal decline in the two weeks before the big game. The last three Super Bowls have had higher average prices during the same time frame: $2,512 last year in New Orleans, $3,127 in 2012 in Indianapolis, and $3,513 in 2011 in Arlington, Tex.

Sen. Cory Booker unhappy with lack of attention Super Bowl is netting New Jersey (NYDN)
“I passed miffed a while ago. I mean this is ridiculous,” Booker said Monday on FOX 5’s “Good Day New York.” “Every time they talk about the Super Bowl, (you hear) ‘we’ll see you in New York.’ Well they’re not playing in New York, they’re playing in New Jersey.” Sunday’s Super Bowl will take place at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., where both New York football teams — the Giants and the Jets — play their home games during the regular season. But the popular Democrat said he couldn’t bear that his state was failing to garner attention for the momentous event. “It’s about time people start to recognize the integral part that New Jersey is playing in the Super Bowl,” Booker said. “Now look, I think it is a joint event … We’re a united economy in this area, but we’re getting the short shrift when it comes to what’s going on.” Read more »

Opening Bell: 01.27.14

ICAP Poised to Lose Central Role in Helping Setting Benchmark Rate (WSJ)
Market officials plan as soon as Monday to alter the methodology used daily to calculate the benchmark, known as ISDAfix, cutting London-based ICAP out of its longtime role in helping calculate it, according to people familiar with the decision. The International Swaps and Derivatives Association, which oversees the ISDAfix benchmark, expects to implement the changes this week, the people said. The benchmark is used widely, in areas such as setting payout rates on pension funds, determining the cost of real-estate loans and valuing contracts settled between banks and institutional and wealthy investors. People familiar with ISDA’s plans say banks will no longer submit information about bids and offers on U.S. dollar-based interest-rate swaps to ICAP to help calculate the benchmark. Nor will banks rely as heavily as they do now on ICAP-generated trading data as a reference point for their submissions, the people say. Banks will now determine submissions based on data sources that won’t necessarily include trades executed through ICAP, such as trades executed with other banks. The banks will send interest-rate information directly to Thomson Reuters Corp., which currently calculates and publishes the ISDAfix benchmark.

Pot Stocks May Go Up In Smoke (NYP)
The sudden US investor interest in marijuana-related stocks — some having soared as much as 1,700 percent in value in recent weeks — may be growing as recreational and medical use of pot is legalized and debated nationwide. But stock pickers and regulators issue this sober warning — these mostly pink sheet and over-the-counter “pot” stocks, a total of about 35 listings, could go up in smoke. And some pot-stock promoters are scammers trying to go legit in a dodgy industry, critics say. “Most of these stocks are not good investments, but they are great for trading,” said Alan Brochstein, a widely followed “pot” stock expert who estimates their total market cap today at $5.5 billion based on converting all securities, like convertible notes or preferred stock, in the capital structure. “The demand is high and supply low, leaving ridiculous valuations,” Brochstein said.

Justice Department Inquiry Takes Aim at Banks’ Business With Payday Lenders (Dealbook)
The Justice Department is weighing civil and criminal actions against dozens of banks, sending out subpoenas to more than 50 payment processors and the banks that do business with them, according to government officials. In the new initiative, called “Operation Choke Point,” the agency is scrutinizing banks both big and small over whether they, in exchange for handsome fees, enable businesses to illegally siphon billions of dollars from consumers’ checking accounts, according to state and federal officials briefed on the investigation.

Securities Lawsuits Are On The Rise (WSJ)
Stockholders filed 234 federal securities class-action suits against U.S. companies last year, the most since 2008, according to a report by NERA Economic Consulting. Federal courts approved shareholder settlements valued at a combined $6.5 billion last year, nearly doubling 2012′s total, NERA said. The average settlement hit a record $55 million last year, after excluding certain cases that can skew the total.

Growing beard popularity shaves P&G sales (AP)
The US consumer giant, fresh off a recent corner office shakeup and already facing a battle for market share in shampoo, said second-quarter earnings were marred by the growing preference of men for moustaches and beards, which hit sales in its “grooming” segment…Chief financial officer Jon Moeller characterized the latest round of results as on par with expectations. But he cited three areas in need of improvement: skin care, where P&G’s Oil of Olay line has lagged hopes; shampoo, where several campaigns around the Pantene line have underperformed amid discounting by rival Unilever; and grooming. “Grooming is really a story about the market,” said Moeller, who alluded to the mainstreaming of the three-day stubble “hipster” look in the US and other developed markets. The most recent quarter included the effects of “Movember,” a health promotion in November that urges men to grow out their moustaches and beards to raise awarness of prostate cancer. The beard moving weighed on P&G’s Gillette razors and shaving cream and Braun electric razors. But all is not lost for P&G in grooming, Moeller said. “While the incidence of facial shaving is somewhat down, the incidence of body shaving is up, and we can take advantage of that and plan to do that as well.”

Elephant Preserve Planned in California for ‘Near-Wild’ Herd (WSJ)
Many elephants in U.S. zoos have the same problem as visitors who gawk at them: They are fat. “The general public are familiar with Disney and the tale of Dumbo,” said Deborah Olson, executive director of the International Elephant Foundation, a conservation group. “They’re drawn as round creatures, so the general public has this conception that they’re round instead of what they truly look like in the wild.” But now there is hope. In the rural, rolling hills of Northern California, plans are under way for a 4,900-acre preserve that would keep African elephants healthy, in shape and breeding. Part fat farm and part laboratory, the elephant preserve would start with three to five elephants and let them grow into a herd of 12 to 15 over two decades…The proposal highlights a trend in elephant husbandry of providing more space to captive animals. A recent study found that three-fourths of North American zoo elephants were overweight. The conclusion was drawn by researchers who made their determinations in part by studying the size and shape of the pachyderms’ posteriors. They had too much junk in the trunk. Read more »

Opening Bell: 01.24.14

Fined Billions, Bank Approves Raise for Chief (Dealbook)
JPMorgan’s board voted this week to increase Mr. Dimon’s annual compensation for 2013, hashing out the pay package after a series of meetings that turned heated at times, according to several executives briefed on the matter. The raise — the details were not made public on Thursday — follows a move by the board last year to slash Mr. Dimon’s compensation by half, to $11.5 million.

Meet Warren Buffett’s Top Troubleshooter: Tracy Britt Cool (BusinessWeek)
When Warren Buffett bought half of a commercial real estate finance operation in 2009, he hired Tracy Britt Cool, a 25-year-old fresh out of business school, to keep tabs on the investment. Since then the company, now known as Berkadia Commercial Mortgage, has earned back most of the $217 million that his Berkshire Hathaway (BRK/A) spent on the deal. Its success has also helped propel Cool’s career…Along with Todd Combs, 43, and Ted Weschler, 52, who also were hired in the past four years, Cool is part of a triumvirate of aides Buffett calls the “Ts.” Both men ran hedge funds before joining Berkshire, where they help oversee a stock portfolio valued at more than $100 billion…As an undergrad at Harvard, [Cool] coached students who joined a women’s group she founded on how to write businesslike e-mails and behave on conference calls. “When I first met her I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this girl’s scaring me. She’s so professional,’ ” says Teresa Hsiao, a Harvard classmate. “Her idea of fun may not be what we consider fun, like looking at 10-Ks,” the annual reports corporations file with securities regulators.

Legal Marijuana Businesses Should Have Access to Banks, Holder Says (NYT)
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said Thursday that lawful marijuana businesses should have access to the American banking system and that the government would soon offer rules to help them gain it. The rules are not expected to give banks a green light to accept deposits and provide other services, but would tell prosecutors not to prioritize cases involving legal marijuana businesses that use banks.

New Masters Of The Art Universe (WSJ)
Hedge-fund managers, who play a vital but disruptive role in the broader financial markets, are increasingly throwing their weight around the art market: They are paying record sums to drive up values for their favorite artists, dumping artists who don’t pay off and offsetting their heavy wagers on untested contemporary art by buying the reliable antiquity or two. Aggressive, efficient and armed with up-to-the-minute market intelligence supplied by well-paid art advisers, these collectors are shaking up the way business gets done in the genteel art world…All of this represents a major shift from a decade ago when only a handful of Wall Street investors such as Mr. Loeb and SAC Capital Advisors’ Steven Cohen were even going to auctions, much less buying art. Now, dozens of hedge-fund managers are joining the fray, including newcomer Alan Howard, whose burgeoning collection includes a $43 million Monet. Nearly all are applying their day-job tactics to their art shopping, dealers say.

Marshmallow crispy and cookie dough Oreos are coming (LA Times)
Snackers, prepare yourselves for cookie dough Oreos and marshmallow crispy Oreos. The cookie dough variety looks like a regular Oreo with cookie dough-flavored filling. A cookie filled with cookie dough is kind of like a chicken stuffed with eggs… but we have high hopes for this one. And the marshmallow crispy flavor has a rice crispy treat on the bag. These are the golden Oreo cookies with a white filling. Oreos and rice crispy treats on their own make a good combo while snacking. If you put the two together, it could be genius. Both flavors are expected to launch Feb. 3, but will be available only for a limited time. Read more »