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Recently acquired TGI Fridays made a play to reinvigorate itself Monday through a promotion that offers an endless supply of any one appetizer for a mere $10. And while some experts considered it a demonstration of long overdue innovation — a twist on all-you-can-eat salad bars — at least one analyst saw it as “an act of desperation.” “Old-line casual diners have been suffering sales declines for years,” said Nick Setyan of Wedbush Securities. “So I’m not really shocked one of them is trying something so out of the ordinary.” Fridays’ so-called “Endless App” promotion allows a customer to choose loaded potato skins, mozzarella sticks, boneless buffalo wings or another starter offered by the chain. And the promotion promises to keep the chosen appetizers coming until the customer eventually losses his appetite for them. What’s more, if reports put out by the 900-unit chain are to be believed, each member of a group can pick a separate appetizer, which they can then collectively share. Fridays was adamant, in fact, that its waitstaff wouldn’t police its patrons. [NYP]

Cash as a physical entity will virtually cease to exist, with coins and checkbooks consigned to museums. As people conduct their financial transactions on hand-held devices made secure by advanced biometrics, even tipping will be done electronically. Paper currency does not disappear entirely, however. You’ll still need it to buy a beer at a certain dusty bar in the Australian outback, where the proprietor sticks stubbornly to a cash-only policy, ‘because you never know, mate!’” [WSJ]

On June 24, 2011, a trader at Citigroup took on an extremely bold challenge: to finish, and keep down, a Crumbs Colossal Cupcake, within a 35 minute time limit. For those unfamiliar with the Crumbs’s menu, a standard, regulation-size cupcake contains about 3 metric tons of sugar. The Colossal Cupcake? “…towers at about six and a half inches high with deliciousness and love baked into every bite. Soft sponge cake with mountains of frosting and heaps of fun decorations will have cupcake lovers everywhere rejoicing. A huge (and we mean huge) surprise for a birthday or any occasion you can dream of. Serves 6-8.” And while said trader successfully devoured this beast of a cupcake, he was unsuccessful in keeping it in his body, rendering the attempt a failure, despite an extremely valiant effort.

At the time, there seemed little more to take away from the experience than the fact that someone had taken on a Food Eating Challenge of otherworldly proportions, and the Food Eating Challenge ended up taking him. No one stopped to think that maybe he should have gone for 3 or 4 standard size cupcakes; still a sickly amount of sweet, but probably a more manageable one. That going head to head with a cupcake the size of a cake was a fool’s mission; that it was to bite of more than anyone could chew. Now, we know it was foreshadowing what would one day come. Read more »

When the BlackRock chief wrote about his lament about the “short-term demands of the capital markets,” he didn’t mention anyone by name. But Carl Icahn can read between lines like “too many companies have cut capital expenditure and even increased debt to boost dividends and increase share buybacks,” and he can’t help but notice that they contain the letters C-A-R-L-I-C-A-H-N.

Now, in the old days, Carl and Larry would have just had it out in a tough Queens schoolyard, but Icahn has been forced to settle for the next-best thing. Read more »

And the flaxen-maned former CFTC commissioner said it—basically the same high-frequency traders aren’t evil but should be regulated stuff he pedaled during his regulatory years—with nary a metaphor or folklore reference in sight. Read more »

Opening Bell: 07.08.14

At Goldman, Board Samples New Guard (WSJ)
Goldman Sachs Group Inc. has stepped up its efforts to groom a new generation of leaders, as it broadens the list of executives who could eventually run the Wall Street firm. As part of those plans, Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman’s chairman and chief executive, has been arranging private dinner meetings between younger managers and the firm’s directors, according to people familiar with the matter. The gatherings, which began last year, are designed to showcase the executives’ expertise on a variety of topics that fall outside formal reviews of their businesses and share the firm’s views on important issues, the people said…The push comes as Mr. Blankfein, who took over in 2006 when Henry Paulson became Treasury secretary, has shown no interest in stepping down soon. “A job like this is hard to come by,” Mr. Blankfein, 59 years old, said in November at an industry conference. “I’ll be slow to get out of it.” Were Mr. Blankfein to retire suddenly, Gary Cohn, the firm’s 53-year-old president, remains the board’s choice for the top job, people familiar with the matter said. But the open-ended nature of Mr. Blankfein’s commitment increases the chance that Mr. Cohn’s window to run the firm will close before a successor is needed, current and former Goldman executives said…The board dinners thus far have featured leaders of the firm’s major divisions, including Pablo Salame, co-head of Goldman’s securities arm, as well as others such as Paul Russo, co-COO of equities, and Anthony Noto, a technology banker who left the firm in June and was recently named finance chief at Twitter Inc., a former client, the people said.

Returns From Activist Hedge Funds Are Causing a Stir (WSJ)
Activists are once again at the top of the hedge-fund heap, after a profitable stretch of clashes with companies around the world. Activist managers gained 6.5% in the first half of the year, almost double the total for the average hedge fund, according to data to be released this week by research firm eVestment. Activist investing, in which managers buy stakes in companies and then agitate for changes in the form of buybacks, divestitures or management shakeups, was also the top-performing strategy among hedge funds in 2013. The fund managers could earn millions for themselves—and billions for their investors—if the gains stick through the end of the year.

Soros Hedge Fund Sued by Ex-Manager Seeking Back Fees (Bloomberg)
George Soros’s hedge fund was sued by a former portfolio manager who claims the firm wrongfully withheld at least $19.5 million in unpaid fees after firing him without explanation eight months into the job. Aaron Cowen, who joined Soros Fund Management LLC in 2010 after serving as portfolio manager and chief investment officer at SAC Capital Advisors LP, had a “stellar” track record at Soros’s firm before being terminated in November 2011, according to a complaint in Manhattan state Supreme Court. “Shockingly, Cowen’s employment was terminated despite his positive returns, when other Soros portfolio managers were failing,” according to the complaint filed July 3 and made public today. Soros, 83, invited Cowen to his home in South Hampton, New York, days after the termination and told the former employee during a 30-minute conversation that he didn’t know why he’d been fired, according to the complaint.

American Apparel, Charney Sued Over Alleged Misconduct (Bloomberg)
American Apparel Inc. (APP) and ousted Chief Executive Officer Dov Charney were sued by shareholders over claims directors ignored Charney’s misconduct that violated the company’s sexual harassment and discrimination policies. The lawsuit cites a June 18 letter by directors suspending Charney as CEO and describing how he authorized severance packages to former employees, and raises and bonuses for current employees, in exchange for agreements protecting him from personal liability for sexual misconduct. American Apparel, a Los Angeles-based maker of casual clothing, has racked up about $270 million in net losses since 2010 and had to raise capital several times. The removal of Charney, who has grappled with sexual-harassment allegations and drawn flak for suggestive advertising, has added to the turmoil.

The Letters That Warren G. Harding’s Family Didn’t Want You to See (NYT)
in 1964, after the historian Francis Russell gained access to letters from Harding to his longtime mistress, Carrie Fulton Phillips, the Harding family sued to halt their publication. Rumors of the affair were not new, but the letters — written between 1910 and 1920, before Harding assumed the presidency — confirmed the infidelity in startling detail. The Harding family feared that publishing them would further tarnish Harding’s legacy and hurt the entire family…In 106 letters, many written on official Senate stationery, Harding alternates between Victorian declarations of love and unabashedly carnal descriptions. (While Phillips’s notes and some drafts of her letters have been preserved, her actual replies were not.) The president often wrote in code, in case the letters were discovered, referring to his penis as Jerry…Sept. 15, 1913: “Wouldn’t you like to get sopping wet out on Superior — not the lake — for the joy of fevered fondling and melting kisses? Wouldn’t you like to make the suspected occupant of the next room jealous of the joys he could not know, as we did in morning communion at Richmond?…Oh, Carrie mine! You can see I have yielded and written myself into wild desire. I could beg. And Jerry came and will not go, says he loves you, that you are the only, only love worthwhile in all this world, and I must tell you so and a score or more of other fond things he suggests, but I spare you.” Read more »

Write-Offs: 07.07.14

$$$ Ex-JPMorgan trader challenges ‘whale’ findings [FT]

$$$ Ackman’s Hedge Fund Offers Slate of Directors for Botox Maker Allergan [Dealbook]

$$$ The 19 worst “Business Teamwork” stock photos (bell pepper and water glasses as binoculars win). [Copyranter]

$$$ After Nailing “Big Short,” Eisman Closing Hedge Fund [ValueWalk]

$$$ One groom in Saudi Arabia called off his wedding when he received a memory stick from his wife’s former lover showing intimate pictures of her. They were at a hotel celebrating their nuptials, according to Kuwaiti news website Sabq, when he opened the contents of the device and saw the pictures. He decided to divorce his wife on the spot. [Mirror] Read more »

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Because if there is, there’s not a hell of a lot she can do about it. Read more »