Opening Bell: 06.16.09

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Will Someone PLEASE Take Freddie Chief John Koskinen's Job Off His Hands? (WSJ)
"Now, approaching his 70th birthday June 30, Mr. Koskinen has what may be his most thankless assignment: chairman as well as interim chief executive and finance chief of Freddie Mac, a big mortgage company on Treasury Department life support. Near the top of his to-do list is finding a new CEO and finance chief."
Cigarette Ban Being Implemented in Va. State Prisons (Washington Post)
Something to consider before doing anything illegal-ish, if living without your fix is out of the question.
Credit Issuers Slashing Card Balances (NYT)
"Now it's the card company calling you and saying, 'Let's talk turkey,' " said David Robertson, publisher of the credit industry journal The Nilson Report.
US Likely To Lose AAA Rating (Reuters)
According to Robert Prechter.
Obama's Bank Revamp May Stall as Congress Tackles Rival Issues (Bloomberg)
"It seems like some of the fire in the discussions has gone out of it," said Alex Pollock, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington and former president of the Chicago Federal Home Loan Bank. "Regulatory reform is always a popular topic in the wake of a bubble and bust."
FAA Chief to Draft Tougher Rules to Alleviate Commuter Pilot Fatigue (WSJ)
That seems like a good idea.

Looking for the Little Guy in the Shotgun Union of Two Wall Street Giants
(NYT)
In a preview for Frontline's documentary on the Bank of America, Merrill Lynch deal, "Breaking The Bank," Ken Lewis is described as "the most competitive person in the history of the United States, including the Union Army." We also learn that he had to practice smiling and started wearing glasses to "soften" his image. According to Andrew Ross Sorkin, Lewis "wants to give the middle finger to Wall Street."


Brown set to hire PR man who aided Palace (FT)
"Gordon Brown is poised to hire Simon Lewis, the public relations man who helped revive the Queen's image after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, to try to restore his own battered reputation."

Judge Lays Out Rules For AIG/Starr Trial
(WSJ)
Rule number one: no bitching. "This is a case about an alleged trust and an alleged conversion of valuable share. It's not a forum for airing all the innumerable other issues -- many of which are unresolved -- about Mr. Greenberg, Starr, AIG bonuses, investigations and what have you," the judge said.

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By VIIRS image captured by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Suomi NPP satellite (NOAA View Global Data Explorer) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Opening Bell: 9.11.18

Flo is ferreal; China posturing; Carney staying; More bad news about farts; and more!

Opening Bell: 06.05.12

Germany Pushes EU Bank Oversight (WSJ) Though Berlin has resisted a banking union, Ms. Merkel's initiative shows Germany is willing to talk about an overhaul and is trying to focus the debate on Europe's biggest banks. "We will discuss to what extent we need to put systemically relevant banks under a specific European supervisory authority so that national interests do not play such a large role," Ms. Merkel told reporters ahead of a meeting in Berlin with European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, referring to the June 28-29 summit. Citi Bets That Proof Leads To Profits (WSJ) Seeking a shot in the arm for the ailing banking business, Citigroup Inc. C -2.30% is expanding into a little-known but fast-growing field known as identity proofing—the tedious and time-consuming task of proving people are who they say they are. The third-biggest U.S. bank by assets later this month will begin issuing digital-identity badges to the employees of Defense Department contractors, ranging from makers of high-tech engineering parts to the janitors who clean the bathrooms. Citigroup is the only financial institution that has clearance to sell the identity cards and grab a piece of a market whose annual sales could reach into the billions of dollars. But the badge business is just the beginning. Citigroup's hope is that the contractors will eventually use the plastic on which the badges are issued for more than just identity verification. If companies adopt the technology, their employees will be able to collect paychecks and pay business expenses using the cards—enabling Citigroup to collect fees on all of those transactions. John Paulson Buys Saudi Prince’s $49 Million Aspen Palace (CNBC) The lavish ranch, sold by Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan, was once the most expensive estate ever listed in the U.S., with a price tag in 2006 of $135 million. The property includes a main house with 15-bedrooms, 16-baths, and 56,000-square-feet. It also includes several side buildings, as well as a water treatment plant, gas pumps and other high-tech features. Mr. Paulson’s $49 million purchase included two properties — the 90-acre main property as well as a 38-acre property nearby called Bear Ranch. Bear Ranch and Hala Ranch together might have once fetched more than $150 million in 2006 or 2007, according to Aspen real-estate experts. Blankfein: Nyet to Petersburg leaks (NYP) Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein yesterday squarely disputed his former director Rajat Gupta’s claim that Gupta was permitted to speak about details of a 2008 board meeting with his alleged co-conspirator, hedge-fund titan Raj Rajaratnam. “Did you authorize Mr. Gupta to reveal any of the confidential information discussed at the board meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia?” prosecutor Reed Brodsky asked the CEO. “No,” Blankfein said. The details included directors discussing the possibility of Goldman buying a commercial bank or insurance company, including AIG, in the early days of the mortgage crisis. MF Global Trustee Sees $3 Billion in Potential Claims (Reuters) MF Global Holdings could have more than $3 billion in claims against its former affiliates, Louis Freeh, the trustee overseeing the wind-down of the parent company of the collapsed broker-dealer, said in his first status report. The potential recoveries for the parent company's creditors will come primarily from such claims, Freeh said in his 119-page report that was submitted to the bankruptcy court. Former bath-salts addict: 'It felt so evil' (CNN) The man is strapped onto a gurney and restrained, yet he is singing, making faces and twitching. "You know where you're at?" a paramedic asks him, but Freddy Sharp can't answer. He was, he explained later, off in his own world after overdosing on the synthetic drug known as "bath salts." "I'd never experienced anything like that," Sharp told CNN's Don Lemon. "It really actually scared me pretty bad." He said he was hallucinating about being in a mental hospital and being possessed by Jason Voorhees, the character from the "Friday the 13th" movies. "I just felt all kinds of crazy," said Sharp, now 27, of Tennessee, who says he hasn't used bath salts in months. "It felt so evil. It felt like the darkest, evilest thing imaginable." The drug made national headlines recently after a horrific crime in Miami, where a naked man chewed the face off a homeless man in what has been called a zombie-like attack. Australia Central Bank Cuts Rates to Fight Global Gloom (Reuters) Australia's central bank cut interest rates for a second month running on Tuesday in a bid to shore up confidence at home, just as finance chiefs of advanced economies around the world prepare to hold emergency talks on the euro zone debt crisis. Citing a weaker outlook abroad and only modest domestic growth, the Reserve Bank of Australia cut its cash rate by 25 basis points to 3.5 percent. Burbank Bets On Global Recession With Subprime Conviction (Bloomberg) In the dozen years that John Burbank has run his $3.4 billion Passport Capital hedge fund, he’s never been as negative on global stocks as he is now. Burbank, 48, expects that the U.S. and much of the rest of the world will slide into a recession, and he’s setting up for that event with a big wager that global stocks will fall. Most of his peers are still betting that stocks, especially those in the U.S., are more likely to rise than decline. “You have a great contrarian outcome here that will be obvious in hindsight, just like subprime was,” Burbank said in an interview last month. “I have a lot of conviction about something that others don’t seem to see clearly.” In Facebook, Options Traders Shift to Post-Earnings Bets (WSJ) While June and July bets have been most active since Facebook options began trading last Tuesday—accounting for more than half of the total options outstanding—contracts expiring in August and September have been picking up steam. Downside options that expire after the company's first public earnings report—expected at the end of July, though no date has been set—were the most actively traded Monday. The most popular positions included bets Facebook would fall below $25 a share over the next two to three months. Real life Garfield eats his way to 40-pound frame (NYDN) A tubby tabby named Garfield was dropped off at the North Shore Animal League last week tipping the scales at nearly 40 pounds, and now the no-kill shelter is hoping to turn him into the biggest loser. “He needs to lose at least 20 pounds,” shelter spokeswoman Devera Lynn said. “He’s so big, he’s like a dog. He actually has his own room.” Garfield meanders slowly in smaller spaces. He’s being moved to a foster home Tuesday in hopes that a next of kin claims the orange-and-white kitty. But if that doesn’t happen, the North Shore Animal League has received several applications from folks willing to give him a permanent home. Lynn said they’ll work with an owner to put the cat on a healthier track. “He’s actually outgoing for a cat,” Lynn said. “Once he loses that weight, he’s going to be a rock star.”

Opening Bell: 03.02.11

Financial Crisis Amnesia (WSJ) Tim Geithner: "My wife occasionally looks up from the newspaper with bewilderment while reading another story about people in the financial world or their lobbyists complaining about Wall Street reform or claiming they didn't need the Troubled Asset Relief Program. She reminds me of the panicked calls she answered for me at home late at night or early in the morning in 2008 from the then-giants of our financial system. We cannot afford to forget the lessons of the crisis and the damage it caused to millions of Americans. Amnesia is what causes financial crises. These reforms are worth fighting to preserve." IMF Says Threat Of Sharp Global Slowdown Has Eased (Reuters) So that's nice. Life as Libor Traders Knew It Seen as Abusive by Investigators (Bloomberg) Regulators probing the alleged manipulation of global interest rates are focusing on what traders involved in setting the benchmark say were routine discussions condoned by their superiors...“A few hundred people, mostly based in one city and sitting in close proximity to each other, set an index rate for trillions of dollars of securities with little or no oversight,” said Mark Sunshine, chief executive officer and chairman of Veritas Financial Partners, a Florida-based firm that provides loans to businesses and real estate companies. “That cannot continue. The mechanism itself, the oversight and the penalties if violated, are woefully inadequate.” Twitter's Slow Road To IPO (WSJ) In just six years Twitter Inc. has become the world's digital soapbox, amassing more than 100 million monthly users—from everyday people to Lady Gaga to Middle East protesters—who use the service to spread pithy updates and breaking news. Yet despite the service's growing influence on society and culture, the business behind it still has a ways to go until it's ready for an initial public offering. To understand why, travel to Cincinnati, where last June Twitter planted a staffer blocks from Procter & Gamble Co.'s headquarters and assigned him a critical task: Teach the country's biggest advertiser to use Twitter and buy its ads. But when P&G spent $150 million to promote the launch last month of a Tide laundry detergent, the company bought magazine pages, billboard spots and television commercials during the Academy Awards—and no Twitter ads. "All [P&G] brands are asking questions about what to do with Twitter and how to leverage it; nobody really had a clear, lean answer," said the staffer, J.B. Kropp. US Seeks Dismissal Of Lawsuit On AIG Takeover (Reuters) In November, Hank Greenberg's company, Starr International Co, sued the U.S. government for $25 billion, calling the 2008 federal takeover of the insurer unconstitutional. Starr sued the government in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C., which handles lawsuits seeking money from the government. It brought that lawsuit on behalf of itself and other AIG shareholders...In a filing with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, the government said although Starr may disagree with the terms to which AIG agreed, any loss resulting from that agreement should be borne by AIG and its shareholders, and not the public. Obama Back On Wall Street (Politico Morning Money) Obama raised just north of $5 million for his re-election campaign and the DNC at four events in NYC last night including a swank dinner ($35,800 per person, $71,600 per couple) at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s ABC Kitchen on East 18th Street. The dinner, the first Wall Street-heavy event since Obama doubled down on his proposed bank tax, was hosted by a handful of the President’s stalwart industry supporters including Robert Wolf, Blair Effron, Mark Gallogly, Marc Lasry and Orin Kramer. Sex Work Among Medical Students On the Rise? (ABC) Sex work among medical students is on the rise, claims a new editorial, published in the journal Student BMJ. The UK-based publication noted that students are likely seeking extreme measures to deal with their financial hardship. One in 10 students knows of another who participated in prostitution to pay their medical student loans, according to the editorial. "Mounting evidence suggests that more university students are engaging in prostitution as a means to pay increasing tuition fees, growing debts, and high living costs," Jodi Dixon, the author of the editorial, wrote. "With escalating debts, students in the United Kingdom may view prostitution as an easy way to get rich quick." Greek Swaps Headed Back to ISDA Committee (Bloomberg) Holders of credit-default swaps on Greek bonds shouldn’t tear up their contracts after yesterday’s ruling against a payout. The International Swaps & Derivatives Association said the swaps hadn’t been triggered by the European Central Bank’s exchange of Greek bonds for new securities exempt from losses taken by private investors. The group will now probably be asked to determine whether collective action clauses, or CACS, being used by Greece to impel investors to participate in a wider exchange of bonds that would trigger the swaps. Madoff moneyman Merkin near $400M AG deal (NYP) After a bitter three-year legal battle, Ezra Merkin, the Manhattan moneyman who funneled more than $2 billion to convicted Ponzi king Bernie Madoff, is nearing a settlement with the New York attorney general that could have him shell out as much as $400 million. Sources said the settlement with AG Eric Schneiderman would recover the bulk of the $470 million in fees the notorious middleman pocketed from investing his clients’ cash with Madoff. Game Changer For Zynga: No Facebook (WSJ) The San Francisco-based company, whose offerings have long been associated with Facebook as well as apps for mobile devices such as Apple Inc.'s iPhone, said a "beta," or prerelease version of what it calls the Zynga Platform, will initially allow customers to play five of its popular titles—"CityVille," "Hidden Chronicles," "Zynga Poker," "CastleVille" and "Words With Friends"—from its website. Zynga said more of its games will become available on the website over time. Cops Ticket Woman For Resting Injured Leg On Seat In Deserted Subway Train (Gothamist) Brooklyn resident Kate Wilson was riding the D train home to Sunset Park around 1 a.m. one morning in February when several police officers entered her subway car at 36th street. The subway car was mostly empty, with plenty of empty seats, and Wilson was resting her right leg—which she had injured in a race that day—on a corner of one seat. What followed was an absurd yet all too familiar encounter with overzealous, quota-filling transit cops and ended with a $50 summons.

Opening Bell: 08.31.12

JPMorgan Rankled By Risk (WSJ) JPMorgan is seeking to reduce its risks in a business that provides crucial plumbing for Wall Street's money flows. The nation's largest bank by assets, a major player in providing clearing and settlement services to other financial firms, is reviewing its dealings with dozens of brokerages that use the bank to settle trades, according to people familiar with the bank. Clearing and settlement involves standing between buyers and sellers of securities to help manage financial commitments backing hundreds of billions of dollars in transactions daily. J.P. Morgan's review, which started more than six months ago amid increased regulations, effectively seeks to assess the profits clients generate for the bank versus risks they pose, the people say. Spain Unveils Financial Reforms (WSJ) This reform fulfills the commitments made by Spain as part of a €100 billion European Union bailout for Spanish banks agreed in July. As anticipated in the bailout deal, Spain is creating an asset management company, or "bad bank," that will buy property assets from banks starting later this year at prices below book value. Euro Faces Judgment Days (WSJ) The euro zone has seen many pivotal moments since its debt crisis emerged in Greece in early 2010. But there are reasons to think this fall's events are especially vital. With Spain and Greece on the ropes, European officials face stark choices. Nomura Plans $1 Billion In Cost Cuts (WSJ) The cost cuts were unveiled Friday by Nomura's new chief executive, Koji Nagai, when he presented the blueprint for a revamped business strategy at a meeting of 450 senior branch managers, according to Nomura executives who briefed reporters on what was said. They follow another $1 billion in wholesale cost reductions the broker just finished implementing earlier this year. Shia LaBeouf 'Sent Director Sex Tapes To Get New Film Role' (Entertainment) When Shia LaBeouf took a role in Lars von Trier's latest movie 'Nymphomaniac' eyebrows were raised due to the director's previous experimentation with putting real sex on film. Until now it seemed that LaBeouf took an occupational risk in joining the movie, but if the actor's to be believed then he actively looked out for a sexed up role, and involved girlfriend Karolyn Pho...The 'Lawless' actor told Handler: "I sent him [von Trier] videotapes of me and my girlfriend having sex and that's how I got the job." French Minister: No Contradiction in 75% Tax Rate and Attracting Business (CNBC) Responding to claims that the introduction of higher tax rate could be an obstacle to business and investment in France, Moscovici echoed the French President and Prime Minister who have said that the tax was part of a “shared effort” to lead France back to positive growth. ECB Said To Use Greek Myth For Security On New Euro Banknotes (Bloomberg) The European Central Bank is using an image from Greek mythology to improve security on new euro banknotes, four people familiar with the design said, even as Greece’s near bankruptcy fuels a debt crisis that’s threatening the future of the common currency. Europa, the Phoenician princess abducted by Zeus who gave the continent its name, will replace architectural images as the watermark on the new notes, which the ECB wants to start rolling out next year, said the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the plans aren’t public yet. Barclays Marathon Man CEO Everything Bob Diamond Was Not (Bloomberg) “In Jenkins you’ve got the archetypal English CEO who is seen as rather safe, compared with the typically aggressive U.S. investment banker that was Bob Diamond,” said Alan Beaney, who helps manage 200 million pounds ($315 million), including Barclays shares, at RC Brown Investment Management Plc in Bristol, England. “His appointment signals that the bank is not going to be as brazen as it has been in the past.” Garlic knot beating in Vero Beach sends man with 'Fat Boy' tattoo to slammer, report shows (TCP) A man on Aug. 19 told Indian River County Sheriff's deputies he was a pizza delivery person and was taking pizza to an address in the 400 block of 9th Street Southwest in Vero Beach. The pizza deliverer said when he got there, Robert Wheeler, 48, was waiting for him outside. The pizza deliverer said that when he lowered his window, Wheeler asked him who he spoke with on the phone before punching him in the face. The pizza deliverer said Wheeler punched him "because he forgot the garlic knots." Wheeler then instructed him to "give that to the person working on the phone back at the restaurant." Wheeler, who has the word "fat" tattooed on his left arm and "boy" on his right, told investigators he hit the pizza delivery person in the face. But, he said the issue was money he said the restaurant owed him -- not forgotten garlic knots.

Opening Bell: 06.20.12

Dimon Receives Tougher Treatment (WSJ) The lectures appeared to rankle Mr. Dimon. Certain questions received sharp, defiant retorts. "We lost $2 billion to Chrysler. I assume you'd want us to continue to lend to Chrysler," Mr. Dimon shot back when Rep. Gary Ackerman suggested the bank's hedging amounted to gambling. "We don't gamble," Mr. Dimon said curtly. "We do make mistakes." Dimon gets grief from pols — and cleaning lady (NYP) After taking his lumps during his second grilling on Capitol Hill over the bank’s $2 billion trading blunder, he was confronted by Adriana Vasquez, a 38-year-old janitor who says she earns $10,000 a year cleaning JPMorgan’s tower in Houston. “Despite making billions last year, why do you deny the people cleaning your buildings a living wage?” Vasquez asked the bank chieftain at the end of his two-hour grilling before the House Financial Services Committee. As a member of the Service Employees International Union, Vasquez, who says she cleans 24 bathrooms on 11 floors of the bank building, is putting pressure on JPMorgan. The union put out a press release in advance of the hearing, announcing that it would send Vasquez to confront Dimon over the issue of janitorial pay. A JPMorgan spokeswoman told The Post that the bank is a tenant of the tower but doesn’t set pay for the janitors, who are hired by the building’s management. Dimon, who was expecting to hear from the union, told Vasquez to call his office. BOE Seen Likely To Increase Stimulus (WSJ) The Bank of England looks set to pump more stimulus into the U.K. economy after minutes of its June policy meeting revealed that Governor Mervyn King was narrowly defeated in a knife-edge vote on a fresh bout of bond purchases. Moody's Upgrades Turkey (WSJ) Moody's said the move, which raised Turkey's sovereign-debt rating by one notch to Ba1—just below investment grade—was driven by the fast-growing economy's improvements in its public finances and the shock-absorption capacity of the government's balance sheet. UK Reveals New 'Say On Pay' Laws (WSJ) The British government unveiled legislation Wednesday to give investors more say on the pay packages of senior corporate executives, a key milestone in a shareholder rebellion that has been rippling through the U.K. in recent months. The measures include giving shareholders a binding vote on how much directors are paid and increasing transparency by requiring companies to annually publish a simple figure totaling how much directors received. Falcone’s Harbinger Capital Turns To Dell’s MSD For Loan (Bloomberg) Philip Falcone’s hedge fund, having taken out a loan earlier this year at an effective annual interest rate of 24 percent, has found a new source of financing: the money-management arm of billionaire Michael Dell. Harbinger Capital Partners Master Fund I Ltd. entered into a note purchase agreement on June 14 with a credit fund run by MSDC Management LP, according to a June 18 regulatory filing. MSDC Management is an investment adviser backed by MSD Capital LP, the private investment firm for Dell and his family. Under the financing agreement, the MSD credit fund can swap as much as $50 million of loans extended to Falcone’s Harbinger Capital for part of its stake in Harbinger Group, his publicly traded investment vehicle. Honeybee Swarms Increase In NYC After Mild Spring (NYT) When Happy Miller, the Seaport restaurant manager, saw tourists flailing their arms in a cloud of airborne black specks late last month, he closed the glass door and quietly panicked. “Oh my God, what do I do?” he thought before calling 311, security guards and local news outfits. The television trucks, he said, were first to arrive. It took several hours before Officer Anthony Planakis, the New York Police Department’s unofficial beekeeper in residence, arrived with a metal swarm box and a vacuum to collect the 17,500 or so homeless creatures. Officer Planakis, who has been responding to swarm calls since 1995, said this had been New York’s busiest year of swarming he had ever experienced. Since mid-March, he said, he has tended to 31 jobs in the five boroughs, more than twice the number he handled last season, which is normally mid-April through July. “It’s been pretty hectic,” he said, adding that this week’s warmer temperatures could encourage more bees to take off. Fed Seen Extending Operation Twist And Avoiding Bond Buys (Bloomberg) The Federal Reserve will probably decide today to expand Operation Twist beyond $400 billion to spur growth and buy protection against a deeper crisis in Europe, according to a Bloomberg News survey of economists. Fifty-eight percent of respondents in a June 18 poll said the Fed will prolong the program, which seeks to lower borrowing costs by extending the average maturity of the securities in the central bank’s portfolio. The current program ends this month. US Watchdog Hits At 'Risky' London (FT) US lawmakers and regulators have attacked London as a source of financial crises and promised tougher crossborder rules in the wake of $2 billion of trading losses at the UK unit of JPMorgan Chase. Gary Gensler, chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, said on Tuesday at a congressional hearing into JPMorgan’s trading losses that the US was vulnerable to risky activity in London. He said AIG had been hit by its financial products unit in London while Citigroup had been harmed by special purpose investment vehicles set up in the UK capital. “So often it comes right back here, crashing to our shores...if the American taxpayer bails out JPMorgan, they’d be bailing out that London entity as well,” he told the House financial services committee. Hedge Funds Hurt In May Commodity Rout As Brevan Drops (Bloomberg) Funds tracked by the Newedge Commodity Trading Index lost an average 3 percent last month, the most since September. Taylor Woods Master Fund Ltd., managing more than $1 billion, retreated 4.2 percent, according to a monthly report obtained by Bloomberg News. Galena Asset Management Ltd.’s metals fund dropped 2.6 percent in May, according to the company, and Brevan Howard Commodities Strategies Master Fund Ltd. fell 2 percent, according to a monthly report to investors obtained by Bloomberg. Ken Starr's pole dancing ex shops book (NYP) ...Passage also describes how another A-list actor and his wife took her and a “massage girl” into a room at Scores. But the couple ignored the hot ladies and started “having sex right in front of us.” After an hour of the sex show, Passage says she “reached into [the star’s] pants pocket...and told him I was taking an extra $200 as a tip...He was clearly too busy to negotiate, so he just waved me off and said, ‘ Thanks.’ ”