Opening Bell: 03.11.10

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Geithner warns of rift on EU regulation (FT)
A letter sent by Mr Geithner this month to Michel Barnier, Europe's internal market commissioner, makes clear that the European Union is heading for a clash with Washington if it pushes ahead with what the US - and Britain - fear could be a protectionist law to regulate the hedge fund and private equity industries.

Ex-Cazenove Partner Found Guilty Of Insider Trading (WSJ)
Malcolm Calvert, a former partner at U.K. stockbroker Cazenove known by his peers as "Streaky," was found guilty of five counts of insider trading in a case at London's Southwark Crown Court on Wednesday.

HSBC Says Swiss Data Theft Affects 24,000 Accounts (ABC)
The bank was just kidding when it said previously that "less than 10 clients" were affected after Herve Falciani -- a former HSBC computer specialist -- stole client data from the bank which he handed over to French tax authorities.

Goldman Deal-Maker Now Advocates Regulation (NYT)
Gary Gensler’s conversion would seem to put him at odds with his mentors, like Robert E. Rubin, the former Treasury secretary, and with his former colleagues on Wall Street. “Wall Street’s interest is not always the same as the public’s interest,” he says now. “Wall Street thrives and makes money in inefficient markets, and I am creating efficiencies in the market.”

GMAC Bailout Could Cost Taxpayers $6.3 Billion (AP)
"Treasury missed many opportunities to improve accountability and protect taxpayer money," panel chair Elizabeth Warren said in a conference call with reporters. She said Treasury didn't make GMAC show how it would return the taxpayer money, or how the investment would increase credit to consumers. "These decisions mean that Treasury is now struggling to deal with a GMAC that is not financially rehabilitated, Treasury has no exit strategy and taxpayers are not fully protected," Warren said.


Regulators Honing Size Of BofA
(FBN)
According to Charlie Gasparino: "Executives at Bank of America are coming under increasing pressure to downsize the firm as federal regulators seek to prevent large, cumbersome financial institutions from once again tanking the financial system as they did in the fall of 2008."

GM CEO Says U.S. Will Make Money on Bailout (Reuters)
Also: "It's been tougher than I thought," Ed Whitacre said about the CEO post. "As you might guess, after going through a big bankruptcy and a big disruption, people have to be motivated and see something ahead," he said. "GM had a lot of baggage and that has to be changed and it is being changed."

Rattner In Talks To Settle A Probe (WSJ)
Steven Rattner is in settlement talks to resolve his role in the "pay to play" investigation at the New York state pension fund, according to people familiar with the matter.

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Opening Bell: 12.11.12

HSBC To Pay Record Penalty (WSJ) HSBC on Tuesday plans to acknowledge that for years it ignored possible money laundering, part of a record $1.9 billion settlement with U.S. authorities that caps the bank's disastrous foray into the U.S. market. The U.K.-based banking company is expected to forfeit nearly $1.3 billion as part of a deferred prosecution agreement, the largest-ever U.S. forfeiture for a bank, according to people briefed on the agreement between HSBC and multiple U.S. agencies. The deal includes a civil fine of more than $650 million, according to these people. As part of the agreement, the bank will admit to violating the Bank Secrecy Act, the Trading with the Enemy Act and other U.S. laws intended to prohibit money laundering, a government official said. Three Arrested In Libor Probe (WSJ) Three British men have been arrested as part of an investigation into the rigging of interest rates, the U.K. Serious Fraud Office said Tuesday. The SFO said the men, aged 33, 41 and 47, are being questioned at a London police station, and that it and the City of London Police executed search warrants on a home in Surrey and two homes in Essex. The arrests are the first by authorities amid a global probe into alleged rigging by bank personnel of the London interbank offered rate over several years. Morgan Stanley Weighs Share Buyback (WSJ) Morgan Stanley might soon ask U.S. regulators to let the securities firm buy back shares for the first time in more than four years, according to people familiar with the firm's thinking. The Wall Street bank could make its request to the Federal Reserve as soon as January as part of the annual "stress-test" process, these people said. The stress tests started in 2009 as a way to convince investors that the largest banks could survive a financial crisis. They have been used to determine banks' ability to pay dividends or buy back shares. Share-repurchase and dividend plans are due from 19 large financial firms by Jan. 7. "Fiscal cliff" outcome still uncertain; talks continue (Reuters) As the pace of talks quickened to avert the "fiscal cliff" of steep tax hikes and spending cuts set for the end of the year, senior members of the U.S. House of Representatives of both parties cautioned that an agreement on all the outstanding issues remained uncertain. Republicans and Democrats are not close to "finishing anything," California Representative Kevin McCarthy, the Republican whip in the House, told Fox News Monday night. "There's nothing agreed to. They are just beginning to talk," he said of House Speaker John Boehner and President Barack Obama. Meanwhile, Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said on MSNBC Monday he thought Congress could resolve some of the issues by the December 31 deadline -- among them the hikes in tax rates-but might have to leave others for the new Congress that takes office in January. Europe in Better Shape Than US: Strategists (CNBC) "The 'fiscal cliff' in the U.S. is a worry," Garry Evans,Global Head of Equity Strategy at HSBC told CNBC on Tuesday. "And that's one of the reasons that I'm underweight the U.S. and I prefer Europe - it's a bit of an unusual place to be." Insider Trading Probe Widens (WSJ) Federal prosecutors and securities regulators are taking a deeper look into how executives use prearranged trading plans to buy and sell shares of their company stock. The Manhattan U.S. attorney's office has launched a broad criminal investigation into whether seven corporate executives cited in a recent Wall Street Journal article traded improperly in shares of their own company's stock, according to a person familiar with the matter. These executives lead companies in industries ranging from retailing to energy to data processing. Stephen Baldwin Wants Tax Truce (NYP) Stephen Baldwin is hoping to set things right after he was arrested Thursday and charged with failure to file state income taxes for three years. “I went myself [to the police] in a pre-arranged kind of way, but that won’t stop the process of the powers that be being upset about it,” Baldwin told Page Six at the Plaza Hotel’s Oak Room on Sunday. “I had this pretty serious issue with filings that weren’t handled appropriately. To be honest with you, it’s a situation right now where my lawyers are in a conversation now with New York state and the district attorney’s office, and I’m very hopeful that everything should be fine,” he said. According to reports, the “Usual Suspects” star was arraigned for failure to file tax returns from 2008 to 2010. He owes more than $350,000 in taxes and penalties, and could face jail time. “You have to pay your taxes . . . I just got caught up in a situation that I’m hoping we’re gonna work out,” he said. U.S. Profit on AIG Climbs to $22.7 Billion on Share Sale (Bloomberg) The Treasury Department is selling 234.2 million shares at $32.50 each in the sixth offering since the 2008 rescue. The proceeds boost the U.S. profit on the rescue that began in 2008 to $22.7 billion, the Treasury said in an e-mailed statement. Fed Seen Pumping Up Assets to $4 Trillion in New Buying (Bloomberg) “It’s going to be massive and open-ended in size,” said Joseph LaVorgna, chief U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank Securities Inc. in New York and a former New York Fed economist. In EU, A Test Of Wills (WSJ) Among the concerns of EU officials are moves by regulators in countries such as Germany and the U.K. to discourage European banks from moving funds back to their home countries, these officials said. EU officials are considering taking legal action against governments that they view as having adopted overzealous policies that violate the single-market rules, these officials said. The first step would be a formal warning to national authorities. The dispute could eventually land before the European Court of Justice if there is no policy change. The officials' hope, though, is that they can resolve the dispute without resorting to legal action. Celtics’ Chris Wilcox fined $25K for flipping off ‘Kiss Cam’ during loss to 76ers (YS) ...The gag concludes when the camera pans to the opposing bench, where players usually laugh, fake kiss or just ignore the camera. Boston's Chris Wilcox had a slightly different and less appropriate reaction. Wilcox greeted the 17,921 Wells Fargo Center fans with his middle finger. He was serenaded by boos and received an earful from an assistant coach moments later.

Opening Bell: 12.19.12

UBS In $1.5 Billion Libor Fine (WSJ) As part of the deal, UBS acknowledged that dozens of its employees were involved in widespread efforts to manipulate the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, as well as other benchmark rates, which together serve as the basis for interest rates on hundreds of trillions of dollars of financial contracts around the world. UBS's unit in Japan, where much of the attempted manipulation took place, pleaded guilty to one U.S. count of fraud. Authorities on Wednesday painted a picture of "routine and widespread" attempts by UBS employees to rig Libor and the euro interbank offered rate, or Euribor. The U.K. Financial Services Authority said it had identified more than 2,000 such attempts between 2005 and 2010 with the participation or awareness of at least 45 UBS traders and executives. Regulators on Wednesday released a trove of internal UBS emails and other communications—many of them colorful and expletive-laden—in which bank traders, sometimes with the knowledge of their managers, sought to manipulate the rates in order to boost their trading profits or mask the Swiss bank's mounting financial problems in 2008. UBS Traders' 'Humongous' Libor-Fixing Boasts (CNBC) The FSA documents suggest a macho trading culture on the UBS trading floor. Trader A also said: "if you keep 6s [i.e. the six month JPY LIBOR rate] unchanged today ... I will ****ing do one humongous deal with you ... Like a 50,000 buck deal." Traders and brokers implicated in the scandal referred to each other as "the three muscateers [sic]" and "captain caos [sic]." SAC's top consumer trader draws scrutiny from U.S. authorities (Reuters) U.S. authorities are examining trading by one of SAC Capital Advisors' most successful portfolio managers, Gabriel Plotkin, as part of a probe into the $14 billion hedge fund firm's investment in Weight Watchers International Inc last year, according to a person familiar with the investigation. Plotkin, a specialist in consumer and retail stocks who makes investment decisions for more than $1.2 billion worth of assets, is among several SAC portfolio managers whose trades are being investigated, said the source, who did not want to be identified. The source would not name the other managers. Federal authorities are trying to determine whether any of SAC Capital's retail and consumer portfolio managers traded Weight Watchers shares based on non-public confidential information about the diet company, said the source and another person familiar with the investigation. The two sources said it is too soon to conclude if there was any insider trading. Authorities have not charged Plotkin with any wrongdoing. Banks See Biggest Returns Since ’03 as Employees Suffer (Bloomberg) Shareholders, impatient for the industry to boost profit, were rewarded as Wall Street firms cut jobs and pay, and exited businesses. The shrinking unnerved employees, who watched the chiefs of two big banks lose their jobs and others contend with a drop in deal making and stock trading, stiffer regulations, trading losses, rating downgrades and scandals involving interest-rate manipulation and money laundering. “There’s always grumbling on Wall Street, which is pathetic given how overpaid we all are, but there is a level of angst this year that is just unprecedented,” Gordon Dean, who left a 26-year career at Morgan Stanley (MS) to co-found a San Francisco boutique advisory firm this year, said in a telephone interview. “It’s just a profound sadness and dissatisfaction.” Greek Bond Bet Pays Off for Hedge Fund (FT) One of the world's most prominent hedge funds is sitting on a $500 million profit after making a bet that Greece would not be forced to leave the euro zone, bucking the trend in a difficult year for the industry. Third Point, headed by the billionaire US investor Dan Loeb, tendered the majority of a $1 billion position in Greek government bonds, built up only months earlier, as part of a landmark debt buyback deal by Athens on Monday, according to people familiar with the firm. The windfall marks out the New York-based firm as one of the few hedge fund managers to have profited from the eurozone crisis. Standard and Poor's, the rating agency, raised its assessment of Greece's sovereign debt by several notches on Tuesday, citing the euro zone's"strong determination" to keep the country inside the common currency area. Fitch Warns US Could Lose AAA If 'Fiscal Cliff' Hits (Reuters) "Failure to avoid the fiscal cliff.. would exacerbate rather than diminish the uncertainty over fiscal policy, and tip the US into an avoidable and unnecessary recession," Fitch said in its 2013 global outlook published on Wednesday. "That could erode medium-term growth potential and financial stability. In such a scenario, there would be an increased likelihood that the U.S. would lose its AAA status." Science explains Rudolph's red reindeer nose (CNET) A collection of Dutch scientists contributed to a paper titled "Microcirculatory investigations of nasal mucosa in reindeer Rangifer tarandus (Mammalia, Artiodactyla, Cervidae): Rudolph's nose was overheated." According to the paper, "The exceptional physical burden of flying with a sleigh with Santa Claus as a heavy load could have caused cerebral and bodily hyperthermia, resulting in an overworked nasal cooling mechanism that resembles an overheated cooling radiator in a car: Rudolph suffered from hyperemia of the nasal mucosa (a red nose) under more extreme heat loads during flight with a sleigh." Of course, scientists don't like to put all their scientific eggs into just one basket of science. The paper's authors acknowledge other theories for the red nose, including the common cold, alcoholic intoxication, or a parasitic infection of the nostrils. GM To Buy Back Stock From Treasury (WSJ) GM said it will purchase 200 million shares of stock held by the U.S. Treasury Department in the first step of the government's eventual exit from the auto maker within the next 12 to 15 months. The auto maker will pay $5.5 billion for the shares in a deal that is expected to close by the end of the year. The repurchase price of $27.50 a share represents a 7.9% premium over the closing price on Dec. 18. Berlusconi Says Italy May Be Forced to Leave the Euro Zone (Reuters) "If Germany doesn't accept that the ECB must be a real central bank, if interest rates don't come down, we will be forced to leave the euro and return to our own currency in order to be competitive," Berlusconi said in comments reported by Italian news agencies Ansa and Agi. Knight, Getco Confirm Merger (WSJ) The $1.8 billion deal for Knight, which values the firm at $1.4 billion plus $400 million in debt held by Getco, will create a trading powerhouse ranking as one of the largest players on U.S. exchanges and the main trading partner of online brokerage firms that service everyday investors. Porsche Executives Charged Over VW Bid (WSJ) Prosecutors have charged the former top executives of Porsche Automobil Holding SE with allegedly manipulating financial markets during the company's attempt to take over Volkswagen AG in 2008, lawyers representing the executives said Wednesday. A court in Stuttgart must now decide whether to open criminal proceedings against Porsche's former chief executive Wendelin Wiedeking and former finance chief Holger Härter, who are suspected of misleading investors when they denied trying to take over VW in 2008. Market manipulation in Germany can be punished with up to five years' imprisonment. From early March to October of 2008, Porsche issued at least five statements denying it was trying to raise its stake in Volkswagen to 75%, but the prosecutors allege that Messrs. Wiedeking and Härter had already decided to try to raise the stake and were preparing for the move by purchasing buy options on ordinary and preference shares of Volkswagen. The denials induced investors to sell or make bets the shares would fall by so-called short selling, the prosecutors said, which benefited Porsche by lowering the share price ahead of the planned takeover. Spanx Bandit On The Loose After JCPenney Heist (TSG) An unknown thief (or thieves) stole a whopping $4182 worth of the popular body shapers from a JCPenney in Vero Beach, according to an Indian River County Sheriff’s Office report. The Spanx theft was reported Friday afternoon after a JCPenney employee noticed “the empty rack in the women’s undergarment section.” The worker noted that the Spanx stock had been there the prior evening. A subsequent search of the store revealed that about 100 Spanx “were taken along with their plastic hangers.” The purloined undergarments--tan and black tops and bottoms--were from Spanx’s Assets Red Hot Label line, police reported. A JCPenney store manager gave cops an itemized list of the boosted body shapers, but it appears the Spanx Bandit will escape unscathed. Due to a lack of witnesses, evidence, or store surveillance video, no further investigative activity could be undertaken by a sheriff’s deputy.