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  • 29 Jul 2014 at 11:07 AM

Let’s Talk About: CFA Results

On a Saturday in June, men and women around took a couple of tests. They were the Level I and II of the CFA and while outsiders, family members, MBA grads and the like would never understand how much these exams meant, test-takers knew all too well. Hundreds of hours of studying. Thousands of dollars in test prep books and classes. Social lives sacrificed. Memorial Day weekends uncelebrated. Relationships with neighbors on the receiving end of multiple requests to “Shut the hell up in there I’m trying to study!” more than a little be strained. Episodes of Ladies of London never watched. The downside would be that it was all for nothing. The up? The thrill of one day putting those three little letters next to their name.

The ensuing weeks have undoubtedly been torture. Going over the answers in one’s mind and then going over them again. Comparing notes with a friend only to find you put down the exact opposite, comforting yourself with the knowledge that this guy is the dumbest person you know, only to wake up in a cold sweat with the terrifying thought that he might be an idiot savant whose brilliance lies in taking standardized tests about asset valuation, financial reporting and analysis, and portfolio management techniques.

So while today, and the days leading up, have been full of nerves, it also brings sweet relief. No more second-guessing. No more excusing yourself during conference calls to go throw up. No more alienating your friends by trying and failing to explain to them the concept of CFA Camp.

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Opening Bell: 07.29.14

Meet the SEC’s 6,500 Whistleblowers (WSJ)
Retirees were the largest group with 365 tips. Investors were second with 290 complaints. Engineers came in third. But whistleblowers come from all walks of life. They include a diesel mechanic, an antiques dealer and a longshoreman; there’s an agronomist, two people who listed themselves as “ex-wife” and a veterinarian. There are also a number of current and retired military servicemen and enough hospitality and service employees to suggest executives should watch what they say in restaurants, bars, hotels and taxis…Engineers, at first blush, might seem to be an odd profession for informants, but honesty, integrity and fixing errors are drilled into them during training, said Norman Fortenberry, executive director of the American Society for Engineering Education. “It’s fundamental in our code of ethics,” he said. The code states, among other virtues, that engineers “must be dedicated to the protection of public health, safety and welfare.” “It is a matter of both personal and professional pride,” Mr. Fortenberry said. The adult-entertainment industry, however, operates under an entirely different code. Among prostitutes, secrecy is sacrosanct, said Dennis Hof, proprietor of the Moonlight Bunny Ranch and other legal brothels in Nevada. “We have a sacred bond with our clients,” he said. “Money can’t take precedence.” Mr. Hof said any of his employees would be fired and disavowed if they were to release privileged information about any of the brothels’ clients. Air Force Amy, a popular Bunny Ranch mainstay whose real name is Deanne Salinger, said clients constantly reveal material, nonpublic information. At first she said she would approach Mr. Hof to see if they should invest based on any of the tips, but they agreed that it wouldn’t be wise. “I dummy up a lot, I really do,” she said. “I’ve been around a long time and you just don’t talk.”

BofA Deal With U.S. Is Hung Up Over Penalties Tied to Countrywide, Merrill (WSJ)
Bank of America has offered $13 billion to end the government’s mortgage-securities probe, including a combination of fines and consumer assistance, which could include credit for measures such as writing down the values of mortgages for struggling homeowners. But the Justice Department is demanding billions more—and wants a bigger chunk in fines, these people said. Bank of America, which has already shelled out some $60 billion for crisis-era legal problems, has told the Justice Department it is willing to pay for the past misdeeds of Countrywide and Merrill Lynch—but not at levels it considers overly punitive, according to people familiar with the talks. Bank of America scooped up Countrywide and Merrill with the encouragement of regulators after housing troubles nearly sank both firms. It wants the penalty related to the firms’ past misconduct to come in the form of consumer assistance or other so-called soft money that has a less severe impact on Bank of America’s bottom line than a cash fine, these people say. The Justice Department has so far rejected Bank of America’s proposal, and the U.S. could file a lawsuit within weeks if the two sides don’t reach a deal, according to people familiar with the matter.

Former Goldman Options Trader Becomes Argentina Taxi King (Bloomberg)
After 23 years trading stock options at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Merrill Lynch & Co. and his own hedge fund, Russell Abrams is piling into his most exotic gamble yet: as a Buenos Aires taxi impresario. Abrams, 48, plans to invest as much as $100 million of his own money to build a fleet of Buenos Aires cabs, undaunted by the prospects for Argentina’s second default in 13 years, the fallout from the peso’s devaluation in January, inflation of about 40 percent and the economy’s first quarterly contraction since 2012.

Startups Uber and Airbnb Court Business Travelers (WSJ)
The fast-growing technology startups this week each announced new versions of their apps geared toward booking business trips. Both companies also struck deals with Concur Technologies Inc., the expense-reporting software used by more than 20,000 companies. Appealing to corporate clients would give the young technology companies a toehold in the business travel industry, which is expected to generate $1.21 trillion in revenue world-wide this year, according to the Global Business Travel Association.

New Venture Fund Binary Capital Focuses on Mission, Not Just Metrics (Dealbook)
Binary Capital closed its first fund on July 17, raising $125 million — a hard cap — in just three and a half months. It turned away nearly half as many dollars. The goal of the fund is relatively straightforward: invest in 15 to 20 very early-stage consumer technology companies that have the potential to have a global impact. The partners plan to contribute to that impact by giving a portion of their carried interest to charitable organizations chosen by their entrepreneurs. Eventually, they also hope to team up with global nonprofit groups to use their technology and resources for causes in the developing world.

Marijuana Is a Welcome Wedding Guest in Colorado and Washington State (NYT)
Earlier this month, when Ellen Epstein arrived at the Devil’s Thumb Ranch in Tabernash, Colo., for the wedding of her friends Lauren Meisels and Bradley Melshenker, she, like the other guests, found a gift bag waiting for her in her hotel room. But rather than a guide to activities in the area or a jar of locally made honey, the canvas bag contained a rolled joint, a lighter and lip balm infused with mango butter and cannabis, along with this note: “We wanted to show you some of the things we love the best.” [...] All of the floral arrangements, including the bride’s bouquet, contained a variety of white flowers mixed with marijuana buds and leaves. Mr. Melshenker and his groomsmen wore boutonnieres crafted out of twine and marijuana buds, and Mr. Melshenker’s three dogs, who were also in attendance, wore collars made of cannabis buds, eucalyptus leaves and pink ribbons. Before going into dinner, the guests were given a baby marijuana plant in a ceramic pot with their name and table assignment written on a card in green ink, in the kind of stylish script you might find on a container of artisanal goat cheese. The tables were named after different strains of marijuana, like Blue Dream, Sour Diesel and Skywalker (the groom’s favorite strain). Ms. Epstein, who was seated at Skywalker, said that everyone at her table, where the ages ranged from 40 to 70, passed around a device similar to an electronic cigarette — except that it contained hash oil instead of nicotine. “It didn’t feel weird or bizarre,” she said. “It kind of becomes a new cocktail.” Read more »

Write-Offs: 07.28.14

$$$ Virgin America Files for Proposed U.S. Initial Share Sale [Bloomberg]

$$$ Goldman Sachs Denies Ex-Employee Claims of Sex Bias [Bloomberg]

$$$ Stock Market Keeps Its Faith in Humanity [WSJ]

$$$ As Thorpe recalls, Goldman Sachs was mad that Word was always turning it into Goddamn Sachs. [Wired via Heidi Moore]

$$$ Online Tool for Young Bankers Raises $1 Million in Funding [Dealbook]

$$$ Pub landlord Terry Morgan finally found his lost beloved wristwatch when its alarm went off inside his dog. [SM] Read more »

Click Here

The day the Feds start listening to Ackman and shut down Herbalife will surely take the cake, but until then, this will have to do: Read more »

Eight years after the great fisherman, Canadian and hedge fund trader who was thisclose to making a mint on a whole mess of natural-gas contracts but instead wound up losing $6.6 billion and putting an end to a plucky little shop called Amaranth Advisors, Brian Hunter may be appearing in New York federal court to defend his honor against allegations that he planned to make that mint by manipulating the natural gas markets. Read more »

  • 28 Jul 2014 at 3:45 PM

Cynk Short-Sellers Screwed Again

So why isn’t Cynk worthless again, as it was before Belize’s hottest stock was briefly worth $6 billion? Probably has something to do with Tom Laresca and other benighted short-sellers having to buy the thing they knew was a scam to cover their shorts. Read more »

Let’s ask a Lloyds Banking Group employee. Read more »

After continuously meeting for two whole days with a mediator to try to avoid a default that it says will not be a default, before taking three days off, Argentina’s negotiators will be back at the table tomorrow to see if they can find a way to pay their bills on their terms before Wednesday’s deadline/non-deadline. They’re unlikely to do anything as crazy as actually sit down with Paul Singer and his fellow vultures, who have said that they could hammer out a deal in about 30 seconds if given a few minutes’ facetime with their excellencies, but they’re happy to rack up the frequent-flyer miles on the EZE-JFK route and spend a few more hours repeating, ad infinitum, “we need more time.” Read more »