Opening Bell: 03.30.10

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RBS Fined for Breaching Competition Law (WSJ)
£28.59 million ($42.8 million) for colluding with Barclays on loan pricing, in one of the largest U.K. fines against a single company and the largest for a bank.

The Issue of Liquidity Bubbles Up (NYT)
Andrew Ross Sorkin ate cookies with Tim Geithner on Friday and they talked about liquidity.

Hawaii takes steps toward legalizing cockfights (NYDN)
Just putting it out there.

RBC Capital Aims To Be Among Top Ten US Investment Banks (Bloomberg)
“Our goal over the next two to three years is to be top 10 in the U.S. market,” said Blair Fleming, who heads the U.S. investment-banking unit of Royal Bank of Canada in New York.

Elizabeth Warren: Half of Commercial Mortgages to Be Underwater (CNBC)
As a result, the economy will face another “very serious problem” that will have to be resolved over the next three years, she said, adding that things are unlikely to return to normalcy in 2010.

RNC Fires Staffer Over Bar Tab (WSJ)
Apparently this sort of thing is frowned upon: "The Republican National Committee said Monday that it had fired an employee involved in running up a bar tab of nearly $2,000 at a risqué Los Angeles-area nightclub that was later charged to the committee. The announcement came after a political Web site reported that the RNC's February financial filing showed it had paid the bar bill at the club, Voyeur. The item in The Daily Caller caused a small tempest and threatened to become a distraction for RNC Chairman Michael Steele, whose leadership and spending decisions have been criticized by party officials and rank-and-file members."

Lehman: Creditor Claims Should Be Cut (Reuters)
Lehman Brothers Holdings aid on Monday it believes claims from creditors against its bankruptcy estate should be cut to $605 billion, according to a document filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The bankrupt investment firm has been contending with more than 64,000 claims from creditors. Last November, Lehman Chief Executive Bryan Marsal said the claims had a face value of more than $820 billion and that it was possible the claims could reach $1 trillion.

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Opening Bell: 03.27.13

Cyprus Sets Bank Restructuring (WSJ) Cyprus's central bank chief said Tuesday that large depositors at the island's biggest lender, Bank of Cyprus Pcl, could lose as much as 40% on their deposits. In a television interview later, the finance minister said large uninsured deposit holders at the second-biggest, Cyprus Popular Bank Pcl, might only see one-fifth of their money returned and could wait several years before being paid back. Central banker Panicos Demetriades said at a news conference that a special administrator would be appointed to oversee both the winding down of Cyprus Popular, also known as Laiki, and the merger of its healthy assets with Bank of Cyprus. Plans for the move prompted Bank of Cyprus Chairman Andreas Artemis to submit his resignation earlier in the day. UK Banks Facing Capital Shortfall (WSJ) U.K. banks must come up with £25 billion in fresh capital by the end of the year to start plugging an estimated £50 billion ($75.8 billion) capital shortfall across the sector, the Bank of England's Financial Policy Committee said Wednesday. Banks Looking At $100 Billion Legal Tab (WSJ) The largest U.S. banks—Citigroup, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp. and Wells Fargo—together have paid $61.3 billion to settle credit-crisis and mortgage claims over the past three years, according to SNL Financial, Charlottesville, Va. Research firm Compass Point Research & Trading LLC estimates that U.S. banks will wind up owing a further $24.7 billion related to the repurchase of faulty mortgage loans. From Finance to Sex Therapy: London Bankers Escape (CNBC) Mike Lousada, an investment banker turned sex therapist, told CNBC that City workers should "follow their passion" and find an interest they could even develop into their own business. Having worked for two decades at Nomura, JP Morgan, Barclays and Societe Generale "amongst others," Lousada told CNBC that his change of career from banking to sexual healing was a life choice. "I felt my City career no longer had meaning for me and I wanted to pursue something which gave my life meaning and purpose. As I grew, emotionally, I realized how unfulfilled I felt and I knew that there was something else calling me which would be more fulfilling," he told CNBC. Called the "orgasm guru" among London's chattering classes, Lousada has built up a reputation as a talented sex therapist with a long waiting list of clients paying 300 pounds ($454) for a therapy session with him. Woman Attempts To Hide Tadpoles In Her Mouth At The Airport (UPI) When airport security found a bottle of liquid in the woman's carry-on luggage, they informed her that she'd either have to immediately drink or dispose of the liquid. The woman tipped back the small bottle and drank its contents, but security became suspicious when she refused to swallow. The woman eventually spit out was she was holding in her mouth: tadpoles. Lehman plans to distribute $14.2 billion to creditors (Reuters) The distribution includes about $9.4 billion to third-party creditors and affiliates, $4.4 billion among other debtors, and $370 million for newly-allowed claims. Berkshire Set To Get Big Goldman Stake (WSJ) The billionaire chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway accepted the stake in exchange for giving up his company's right to purchase a larger number of Goldman shares at a below-market price, according to terms of the deal announced Tuesday. The pact, worth about $1.5 billion after Tuesday's close, puts an exclamation point on the Omaha, Neb. company's financial-crisis lifeline to Goldman. Berkshire's realized and paper winnings on the 2008 preferred-stock investment now exceed $3 billion, making it one of Mr. Buffett's most lucrative bets in recent years. G4S Readies Guards as Cypriot Banks Prepare to Open (Reuters) The world's largest security firm, G4S, moves cash and will provide guards for Cypriot lenders including Bank of Cyprus and Cyprus Popular Bank, the two biggest, which are to be combined and see large depositors' accounts frozen under a bailout agreed at the weekend. Cypriot banks have been shut for more than a week while the government worked out the bailout and will stay closed until Thursday to prevent a run. Meanwhile, Cypriots have been queuing to withdraw cash from automatic teller machines, with limits at some shrinking down to 100 euros a day. John Arghyrou, managing director of the Cyprus business for G4S, said its 750 employees have been working through the night, going out to replenish cash machines with police guard. Licensing rules prevented the firm from bringing in extra staff to handle the unprecedented workload. Man charged with assault after roommate drew on him (WJLA) A 31-year-old Arlington man is in jail after he was accused of assaulting his roommate when he realized he had drawn male genitalia on him. The alleged assault happened at about 5:30 a.m. Saturday inside a home in the 3100 block of North 17th Street. The accused, James Denham Watson, woke up to find that his roommate drew on his face. Watson then allegedly assaulted his roommate, leaving him with serious, extensive injuries to the face. He was taken to Virginia Hospital Center to be treated for his injuries. The suspect was subsequently arrested and charged with malicious wounding. He's being held without bond. The drawing on Watson's face was still present when he was booked.

Opening Bell: 06.28.12

Interest Rate Probe Escalates (WSJ) Investigators in the U.S., Europe and Asia have been probing alleged wrongdoing in the interest-rate-setting process for about two years. The Barclays settlement marks their biggest win yet. A series of Wall Street Journal articles in 2008 raised questions about whether global banks were manipulating the process by low-balling a key interest rate to avoid looking desperate for cash amid the financial crisis. Emails and instant messages disclosed in the bank's settlement show how Barclays's traders tried to manipulate rates to benefit their own trading positions. "This is the way you pull off deals like this chicken," one trader told another trader in March 2007, according to the U.K. regulator. "Don't tell ANYBODY." Other banks that have disclosed they are under investigation include Citigroup, JPMorgan, Lloyds Banking Group, and RBS. None of these banks have been charged with any wrongdoing in the matter by U.S. or U.K. regulators. Calls for Diamond’s Exit After Barclays ‘Moral Failure’ (CNBC) Lord Oakeshott, a high-profile Liberal Democrat politician, said: "If Bob Diamond had a scintilla of shame he would resign. If Barclays' board had an inch of backbone between them they would sack him." Barclays admitted Wednesday that the actions "fell well short of standards.” Madoff's Brother To Plead Guilty (WSJ) Peter Madoff, 66 years old, is expected to plead guilty to two charges at a hearing Friday in Manhattan federal court, including falsifying the records of an investment adviser and a broad conspiracy count to commit securities fraud and other crimes, according to a letter sent to U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain and filed in court on Wednesday. However, Peter Madoff, the firm's chief compliance officer, isn't expected to admit to knowing about the fraud itself. Instead, he is expected to admit to conduct that enabled the fraud to continue, even if he didn't know new investor money was being used to pay older investors or that no trading was being conducted at the investment firm. JPMorgan Trading Loss May Reach $9 Billion (WSJ) The bank’s exit from its money-losing trade is happening faster than many expected. JPMorgan previously said it hoped to clear its position by early next year; now it is already out of more than half of the trade and may be completely free this year. As JPMorgan has moved rapidly to unwind the position — its most volatile assets in particular — internal models at the bank have recently projected losses of as much as $9 billion. In April, the bank generated an internal report that showed that the losses, assuming worst-case conditions, could reach $8 billion to $9 billion, according to a person who reviewed the report. With much of the most volatile slice of the position sold, however, regulators are unsure how deep the reported losses will eventually be. Some expect that the red ink will not exceed $6 billion to $7 billion. Kerviel ‘Love’ May Not Be Enough To Overturn SocGen Verdict (Bloomberg) Jerome Kerviel’s statement last week that he “loved” Societe Generale may have come too late to help him win a reduced sentence for causing the bank’s 4.9 billion-euro ($6.1 billion) trading loss. Kerviel lawyer David Koubbi may use his client’s remarks during closing arguments in Paris today to offset his own frequent clashes with Judge Mireille Filippini, who threatened to notify the bar about his treatment of witnesses. With Time Running Out California Gorging Itself On Foie Gras (WSJ) California will ban foie gras sales starting Sunday. Meanwhile, goose-liver lovers still have time to enjoy foie gras jelly doughnuts at Umamicatessen in Los Angeles. Chefs there and around the state are counting down their foie gras days by putting it anywhere they can. Some plan foie gras finale feasts on Saturday night. Others offer foie gras in cotton candy, cheesecake, waffles and toffee. "It's a very difficult thing to say goodbye to," says Michael Cimarusti, co-owner and chef at Providence, a celebrated Los Angeles restaurant. He plans to leave a gap on his menu in memory of the dearly departed, with the notation: "formerly a foie gras dish."...At Craftsman & Wolves, a San Francisco bakery, Chef William Werner covers a chunk of foie-gras torchon with a chocolate cremeux that he inserts into chocolate cake batter to create his Devil Inside cake. Some chefs accept the inevitable. Celebrity chef Thomas Keller at Bouchon in Los Angeles recently replaced his foie gras dog biscuits with ones made from chicken livers. Others are looking for ways to duck the ban. Daniel Scherotter, who owns Palio D'Asti in San Francisco, is checking with his lawyer to see whether he can legally give away—rather than sell—a serving of foie gras with a $20 salad. Mr. Scherotter and others expect some restaurants to turn into "duckeasies," where diners can order foie gras using certain code words. They take inspiration from chefs such as Didier Durand, who says that, during a Chicago foie gras ban from 2006 to 2008, he served it at his Cyrano's Bistrot by listing it as potatoes. "People understood that roasted potatoes wouldn't cost $21," he says, but that's what he charged. After two years the ban was rescinded. Merkel Stands Ground Ahead Of Euro Summit (Reuters) EU leaders arrived for a Brussels summit on Thursday more openly divided than at any time since the euro crisis began, with Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel showing no sign of relenting in her refusal to back other countries' debts. Merkel is being urged at home to hang tough and reject all efforts to make Germany underwrite European partners' borrowing or banks, while her European Union partners say that may be the only way to save the single currency. "Nein! No! Non!" shouted a headline splashed across the front page of the normally sober German business daily Handelsblatt, with a commentary by its editor-in-chief saying Merkel must remain firm at the two-day summit. Lenny Dykstra Takes Plea Deal On Fraud Charges (LAT) Former New York Mets star and self-styled financial guru Lenny Dykstra, already sentenced to three years in state prison for a car scam, has agreed to a plea deal on federal bankruptcy fraud charges after allegedly looting his mansion of valuables as he struggled to battle numerous creditors...According to federal prosecutors, Dykstra sold sports memorabilia and items from his Ventura County mansion, including a $50,000 sink, that were frozen as part of the bankruptcy case. Typically, a person in bankruptcy can't touch assets that are part of the case so that they are available to repay creditors. Dykstra allegedly had dozens of items, including chandeliers, mirrors, artwork, a stove and a grandfather clock delivered to a consignment store, Uniques, on South Barrington Avenue in West Los Angeles. The owner of the store paid him cash for a U-Haul truckload of goods, according to the agent. Manhattan philanthropist behind alleged madam's $250K bond post (NYP) Bonnie Lunt is the mystery hero who put up $250,000 collateral to spring the accused hockey mom madam from Rikers last night, court records show. The 65-year-old Lunt -- a top New York headhunter who has been dubbed the “Jerry Maguire of the communications industry”-- posted her own Upper East Side home to help Gristina make bail, according to bail documents. Lunt’s East 76th street pad is just around the corner from the tiny East 78th Street apartment prosecutors claim Gristina used as headquarters for an alleged multi-million dollar prostitution operation. Miami attacker who chewed man's face was not high on 'bath salts,' officials say (DJ) The Miami "cannibal" who chewed off half of another man's face last month had no drugs in his system other than marijuana, officials said Wednesday, defying suspicions that he was high on "bath salts" during the grisly attack. Rudy Eugene, 31, was shot and killed by police on May 26 after he was found naked and biting into a homeless man's face and eyes beside Miami's MacArthur Causeway. Authorities had suspected Eugene was under the influence of synthetic drugs sold as "bath salts," which have been known to make some users aggressive and behave bizarrely. Witnesses said he had taken off his clothes and was swinging on a light pole before the attack.

Opening Bell: 04.04.12

Chinese Premier Blasts Banks (WSJ) In an evening broadcast on state-run China National Radio, Mr. Wen told an audience of business leaders that China's tightly controlled banking system needs to change. "Let me be frank. Our banks earn profit too easily. Why? Because a small number of large banks have a monopoly," said Mr. Wen, according to the transcript of the program on the broadcaster's website. "To break the monopoly, we must allow private capital to flow into the finance sector." Regulators Expected to Penalize JPMorgan Over Lehman Collapse (NYT) The Commodity Futures Trading Commission is expected this week to file a civil case against JPMorgan. The bank is expected to settle the Lehman matter and pay a fine of approximately $20 million...The Lehman action stems from the questionable treatment of customer money — an issue that has been at the forefront of the recent outcry over MF Global. JPMorgan was also intimately involved in the final days of that brokerage firm. The trading commission is expected to accuse JPMorgan of overextending credit to Lehman for two years leading up to its bankruptcy in 2008, the people briefed on the matter said. Fitch Ditched in Bond Dispute (WSJ) Fitch Group's new chief executive said Credit Suisse Group AG CSGN.VX -1.61% dropped the firm's rating from a mortgage-backed security because Fitch took a harsher view than two rivals that assigned triple-A ratings to the deal. "It was an 11th-hour thing when they decided which agency it would be to publicly rate it," said Paul Taylor, who took over this week as chief executive of Fitch Group, in an interview. "We had a materially different take." Mr. Taylor said Fitch Group, which includes credit-rating firm Fitch Ratings, had been compensated for its rating on the mortgage-backed deal. Fitch shared its differing view with investors after the deal closed Friday, publishing a report critical of Standard & Poor's Ratings Services and DBRS Ltd. for issuing triple-A ratings on the residential-mortgage-backed security issued by Credit Suisse. Fed Signals No Need for More Easing Unless Growth Falters (Bloomberg) “A couple of members indicated that the initiation of additional stimulus could become necessary if the economy lost momentum or if inflation seemed likely to remain below” 2 percent, according to minutes of their March 13 meeting released today in Washington. That contrasts with the assessment at the FOMC’s January meeting in which some Fed officials saw current conditions warranting additional action “before long.” Spanish Bond Sale Fizzles (WSJ) Spain sold a total of €2.589 billion ($3.43 billion) of the 4.4% January 2015, 4.25% October 2016 and 4.85% October 2020 bonds, against its €2.5 billion to €3.5 billion target. Wednesday's sale, brought forward by one day due to a national holiday on Thursday, brought Spain's 2012 bond issuance completion to almost 46% of the €86 billion gross bond issuance target. ‘Apple Fever’ Prompts Predictions of $1 Trillion Value (Bloomberg) “Apple fever is spreading like a wildfire around the world,” Brian White, the Topeka analyst, said in a report that initiated coverage of the company with a buy recommendation. White’s new 12-month target of $1,001 is the highest among the 45 analysts tracked by Bloomberg and represents a 59 percent increase over today’s closing price. He said Apple’s market value will eventually top $1 trillion. £200,000 bar bill trader, arrested in FSA probe (CityAM) Alex Hope, the 23 year-old trader who hit the headlines after spending £125,000 on a single bottle of champagne, has been arrested on suspicion of being involved in an unauthorised foreign exchange trading scheme. Hope, who claims to be a self made foreign exchange trader, became infamous when he ran up a £125,000 bar bill in one evening at a Liverpool nightclub. Most of this was spent on a single 99lb bottle of champagne...Hope's publicist last night confirmed that he had been arrested but said that he denies all allegations. His personal website describes him as “a name to watch out for in the city” and “an expert in the UK economy” who regularly "trades millions." It calls him a “talented, charismatic and thoroughly likeable man." SEC Puts Exchanges on Notice Over Computer-Driven Trades (Bloomberg) “The consequences of a big failure are so severe that the SEC should be paying close attention to these issues,” James Angel, a finance professor at Georgetown University’s business school in Washington, said in an e-mail. “No human system is perfect and eventually something will happen, so they also want policies and procedures in place for catching problems quickly and cleaning up the mess afterwards.” Ready for a rumble: Falcone vs. Icahn (NYP) Falcone, who has funneled a whopping $2.9 billion into LightSquared, is desperate to salvage his shaky investment amid a battle with federal regulators over building out the wireless network. Falcone has said both publicly and privately that bankruptcy is not an option. However, some LightSquared creditors, including Icahn, would rather put the company into bankruptcy as part of a plan that would give them equity stakes in the company and greater control over its future, sources said. The deadline for creditors to decide is fast approaching. Icahn and other owners of LightSquared’s $1.6 billion loan due 2014 have given the company until the end of April before they decide whether to put LightSquared into default for breaching some loan covenants tied to its customer contracts. ADP: 209,000 Jobs Added (WSJ) Private businesses hired at a modest rate in March close to what economists expected, according to a report released Wednesday. Private-sector jobs in the U.S. increased 209,000 last month, according to a national employment report published by payroll processor Automatic Data Processing Inc. and consultancy Macroeconomic Advisers. The gain was just above economists' median expectation of 200,000 contained in a survey done by Dow Jones Newswires. Occupy London Hinders Burrito Sales More Than Banker Bonuses (Bloomberg) The protesters were evicted from St. Paul’s on Feb. 28 and at least one restaurant found its bookings jump back to pre- occupied levels. Sales were down 40 percent to 50 percent while the camp was at St. Paul’s, resulting in two or three staff members losing their jobs, said Pollie Hall, events manager at the Paternoster Chop House. “This isn’t the corporate fat cats they were affecting, it was average working Joes,” said Hall, who said her customers were verbally abused by protesters and she was called a “devil- worshipping mason.” A wedding scheduled at the restaurant on the first day of the protest had to be moved. Mega ‘winner’: $105M tix stashed in this McDonald's (NYP) The Baltimore woman who claims to have one of three winning Mega Millions tickets now says it’s hidden somewhere in the McDonald’s restaurant where she works. Marlinde Wilson, 37, coyly wouldn’t reveal whether she had stashed the slip of paper behind the McFlurry machine or under the all-beef patties. “I’m waiting for things to calm down so I can go back to McDonald’s and get it. The people [at McDonald’s] are too excited. I want their heads to cool down before I go back,” she said.

Opening Bell: 03.07.13

Fed's Fisher Pins Slow Growth on Politicians (WSJ) Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas President Richard Fisher on Wednesday blamed both major U.S. political parties for a "horrid" political climate in Washington, and said monetary policy alone can't drive the economy. "We provided the fuel for economic recovery," Mr. Fisher said of the central bank, describing the Fed's stimulus as "very high-octane, dirt-cheap gasoline." But he said that neither Republican nor Democratic politicians in Washington have done their part by putting policies in place that spur the private sector "to take the cheap fuel that we have provided and step on the accelerator." Banks Said to Weigh Defying Fed With Dividend Disclosures (Bloomberg) The largest U.S. banks are weighing whether to disregard a Federal Reserve request and announce their dividend plans shortly after the central bank’s stress tests are released, people with knowledge of the process said. The Fed has asked 18 firms, including JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs, to wait until next week, even though the lenders will get preliminary word today about whether their capital plans were approved. Bank executives are concerned that investors could be confused and are considering whether securities laws may require prompt disclosure of their plans for dividends and share repurchases, the people said. Paulson Gold Fund Down 18% as Metal’s Slump Foils Rebound (Bloomberg) John Paulson posted an 18 percent decline in his Gold Fund last month as a slump in the metal, after more than a decade of gains, undermined efforts by the billionaire hedge-fund manager to rebound from two years of losses in some strategies. The $900 million Gold Fund, which invests in bullion- related equities and derivatives, is down 26 percent this year, Paulson & Co. said yesterday in a client update obtained by Bloomberg News. The firm’s Advantage funds also fell in February after the metal and related stocks weakened as signs of economic optimism curbed gold demand. “Despite the volatility and drawdown of our gold equity positions, we believe in the long-term outlook for these positions as quantitative easing programs continue around the world, credit expands in the United States, and gold equities continue to trade at a significant discount” to historical average valuations, the hedge fund said in a letter sent yesterday to investors, which was obtained by Bloomberg News. Carl Icahn Rachets Up Dell Fight (WSJ) In a letter released by Dell Thursday, Mr. Icahn said he has a "substantial" position in the company, and asked Dell to pay a per-share dividend of $9 if the deal is voted down by shareholders. He said that by his calculations, that transaction would be superior to the current going-private offer, citing a "stub" value of $13.81 a share which, combined with the special dividend, represents a 67% premium to the current $13.65 per-share offer price. Dell 'Welcomes' Carl Icahn to Go-Shop Process (CNBC) Dell on Thursday said it welcomed Carl Icahn, who has built up a 100 million share stake in the company, and other interested parties as the computer maker seeks to go private. The special committee appointed by the board said it was conducting a "robust go-shop process" and was looking at other alternatives after a $24.4 billion buyout led by founder Michael Dell faced opposition from some shareholders. Bad-News Bears Crash The Party (WSJ) For all their conviction, the bears realize it may be awhile before their dark predictions come true. "Unfortunately, I am bearish and I have been wrong," said Samer Nsouli, chief investment officer at Lyford Group International, a hedge fund, who argues that recent weakness in copper and oil is a portent of a global slowdown. "Make no mistake, it will end in tears. The eternal question is when." Lions Maul Two To Death In Kariba (Herald) Two people were yesterday mauled to death by lions in Mahombekombe suburb in the resort town of Kariba. Sources say the man only identified as Musinje and the woman Sharai Mawera, were attacked while spending time in a bushy area with the man managing to escape, leaving the woman behind. The man went on to report the case to police who, with the assistance of officers from the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, went in search of the lions. During the search they found an arm belonging to a man with investigations pointing to the lions having made a kill the previous night. That, the sources say, could have been the reason the lions did not completely eat the woman. BofA Times An Options Trade Well (WSJ) Bank of America's trading desk last June purchased options to buy 150,000 shares of Constellation Brands, an aggressive wager that the wine-and-beer seller's shares would rise, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of options-market data and of quarterly regulatory filings made by institutional investors. The trade helped push the volume in thinly traded Constellation options that day to more than 13 times the previous 30 days' daily average, the options data show. A week later, Constellation announced a pact to buy a Mexican beer maker out of a joint venture that imports Corona Extra and other beers into the U.S. market. Bank of America led a duo of banks that financed the $1.85 billion deal. Constellation shares soared 24% on June 29, the day the deal was made public, and Bank of America generated an estimated paper profit of more than $1 million from the options trading, the options-market data indicate. China Imitates Singer (NYP) Paul Singer’s battle with Argentina over defaulted debt is beginning to ripple through the bond world. Creditors looking to force deadbeat countries to pay up are turning to the controversial legal argument Singer used to press his case against the South American country in the US courts. On Monday, China’s Ex-Im Bank, which has an unpaid judgment worth $32 million against Grenada, sued the tiny Caribbean country in New York federal court to get its money back. China wheeled out the same “equal treatment” argument that Singer’s Elliott Management used against Argentina, and which was recently upheld at the appeals level for the first time in the US. China’s move marks the first time a creditor other than Singer and his cohorts have tested the maneuver in the US. Obama Tries Charm Offensive to Woo Republicans on Deficit (Bloomberg) The president broke bread last night with a dozen Republican senators, hosting a dinner at a luxury Washington hotel near the White House. Next week, he’ll visit Capitol Hill to meet separately with Republicans and Democrats in the Senate. Obama has also spoken by telephone with at least a half- dozen Republican lawmakers over the past few days about the budget and other priorities of his second term, including a rewrite of immigration laws and controlling gun violence. “There have been some problems, but we’re all adults and you just have to put the country ahead of party and you’ll be fine,” Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who helped organize the dinner, said before the meal. The increased outreach marks a shift in strategy for the White House, amid signs the president’s poll numbers are falling after he and Republicans were unable to avert the across-the- board spending cuts that took effect March 1. Jobless Claims in U.S. Unexpectedly Fall to a Six-Week Low (Bloomberg) First-time jobless claims unexpectedly fell by 7,000 to 340,000 in the week ended March 2, the lowest since the period ended Jan. 19, according to data today from the Labor Department in Washington. The median forecast of 50 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for an increase to 355,000. The four-week average dropped to a five-year low. JC Penney Board Can’t Be 'Delusional': Ex-CEO (CNBC) Former JC Penney CEO Allen Questrom told CNBC on Wednesday that the company's board of directors is wrong in thinking the struggling retailer can change its fortunes under current boss Ron Johnson. "The board has to take action. They can't be delusional like Ron Johnson is," Questrom said on "Fast Money Halftime Report." "This has been going on long enough. You can't say you're going to make your numbers for the year and then drop a billion dollars." Questrom, who has watched from afar as Penney's sales and stock have suffered, told CNBC that directors needed to act quickly. "If they think if it all of a sudden going to turn itself around, there is no way they can have reliable information – because Ron is not a source for that," he said. "The sooner they act, the better." 1 in 10 Yale students have engaged in prostitution, 3% have had sex with an animal (NYDN) Sexologist Dr. Jill McDevitt hosted the sex workshop session where around 55 students used their cellphones to answer questions about sex. The results were then published in real time on a screen. McDevitt, who also owns the Feminique sex store in West Chester, Pennsylvania, said the results showed "you can't have assumptions about people's backgrounds." Student Giuliana Berry, who hosted the event, told Campus Reform the workshop - part of Yale's Sex Weekend - aimed to increase understanding and compassion for people who indulged in "fringe sexual practices."