Opening Bell: 04.08.10

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Citigroup Ex-Chief Prince, Rubin Face Grilling on Role in Record Losses (Bloomberg)
Commission Vice Chairman Bill Thomas said in an interview yesterday he wants to hear whether Prince, ousted as chief executive officer in 2007, and Rubin, who served as interim chairman, accept any responsibility for Citigroup’s performance. Good one, Bill.

Fed Review Finds Errors In Oversight Of Citi (NYT)
Blowing your mind: “Although the dedicated supervisory team is well-qualified and generally has sound knowledge of the organization, there have been significant weaknesses in the execution of the supervisory program,” according to one excerpt of the review.

China on ‘Treadmill to Hell’ Amid Bubble, Chanos Says (Bloomberg)
The world’s third-biggest economy may need to keep up the pace of property investment because up to 60 percent of its gross domestic product relies on construction, said Chanos. The bubble may begin to “run its course” in late-2010 or 2011, he said in an interview on “The Charlie Rose Show” that will air on PBS and Bloomberg TV.

Nepal's Living Goddess Eyes Banking Career (Reuters)
"I want to study commerce or accounting and be engaged in the banking sector," Chanira Bajracharya told Reuters in a rare interview, dressed in her ceremonial costumes, her eyes rimmed in black kohl and a third eye painted in the middle of her forehead. Lloyd, are you listening?

Prosecutors Seek 335 Years For Petters (AP)
''The defendant's fraud is beyond comprehension in size and scope,'' prosecutor Joe Dixon wrote. ''The offense is the largest fraud in the history of Minnesota. Indeed, there are only a handful of fraud schemes that are even comparable in the history of the United States.''

Goldman Sachs Trader Hedayat Said To Leave Firm (Bloomberg)
Ali Hedayat, co-head in the Americas of Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s largest internal hedge fund, has left the firm, the second senior departure from the unit in less than a month.

Morgan Keegan And Its Onetime Star Kelsoe Charged By The SEC (WSJ)
James Kelsoe, once a star mutual-fund manager, was accused by the Securities and Exchange Commission of deliberately inflating the value of subprime securities in order to hide losses in his funds after the real-estate bubble burst.

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Opening Bell: 10.19.12

Schapiro SEC Reign Nears End With Rescue Mission Not Done (Bloomberg) Admirers and critics agree Schapiro rescued the agency from the threat of extinction when she was appointed by President Barack Obama four years ago. Still, she hasn’t fulfilled her mission -- to overcome the SEC’s image as a failed watchdog by punishing those who steered the financial system toward disaster and by proving regulators can head off future breakdowns. “It was harder than I thought it was going to be,” Schapiro, 57, said during an interview in her office that looks out on the Capitol dome. “You have this nice little box of things you want to do all tied up with a bow, and you walk in the door and it’s very hard to keep at least one eye on that agenda while you’re dealing with the flash crashes and the new legislation and the whole range of things that happened,” she said. Morgan Stanley CEO Hints Of Commodity Arm Sale (Reuters) Morgan Stanley has an obligation to explore "different structures" for its commodities trading business because new regulations are limiting the unit's activities, Chief Executive James Gorman said on Thursday. The CEO's comments were the first time Morgan Stanley has publicly hinted at a possible sale of its multibillion-dollar oil and metals trading arm, which has been reported in the media for months. Morgan Stanley has been in discussions with OPEC member Qatar for more than a year over the sale of at least a majority stake in its energy-focused trading business, according to bankers. Speaking on a conference call with analysts after the firm reported better-than-expected quarterly results on Thursday, Gorman said changes under the U.S.' Dodd-Frank financial reform law restrict the kind of trading the firm can do in commodities. Europe Agrees On Banking Supervisor (WSJ) European leaders early Friday agreed to have a new supervisor for euro-zone banks up and running next year, a step that will pave the way for the bloc's bailout fund to pump capital directly into banks throughout the single-currency area. John Paulson Doubles Down On Housing (WSJ) Hedge-fund manager John Paulson famously made nearly $4 billion in 2007 correctly betting that the housing bubble, fueled by the subprime mortgage market, would pop. Then the billionaire investor somewhat reversed course, arguing that the housing cycle had hit a low point. "If you don't own a home, buy one," he said in a 2010 speech at the University Club in New York. "If you own one home, buy another one, and if you own two homes, buy a third and lend your relatives the money to buy a home." So far, that bet has been a loser: The Wall Street tycoon lost about $3 billion personally in 2011, according to people close to the hedge-fund manager, speculating that the economy would recover faster than it did. But through the downturn Mr. Paulson—whose net worth is estimated to be around $11 billion, according to people familiar with his situation—continued his real estate spending spree. Over the last eight years, he has spent more than $145 million on six properties, including two estates in Southampton, N.Y., two properties near Aspen, Colo., and two residences in Manhattan, where he is based, according to public records. (He later sold one of the Southampton properties, for $10 million in 2009, a year after buying a larger estate nearby). In June, Mr. Paulson snapped up a 90-acre Aspen ranch and an adjoining property from Prince Bandar bin Sultan for a total of $49 million, according to public records, one of the highest prices ever paid for property in the area. Ben Stein: Taxes Are Too Low (Mediaite) Author and economist Ben Stein joined Fox & Friends on Thursday where he stunned the hosts after he called for raising the tax rates on people making more than $2 million per year. He said that he did not think that the United States simply had a spending problem, and cited the early post-war period as an example of a time when you could have high tax rates and high growth. “I hate to say this on Fox – I hope I’ll be allowed to leave here alive – but I don’t think there is any way we can cut spending enough to make a meaningful difference,” said Stein. “We’re going to have to raise taxes on very, very rich people. People with incomes of, say, $2, $3, $4 million a year and up. And then slowly, slowly, slowly move it down. $250,000 a year, that’s not a rich person.” Stein said that the government has a spending problem, but they also have a “too low taxes problem.” “With all due respect to Fox, who I love like brothers and sisters, taxes are too low,” said Stein. “That sounds like Bowles-Simpson,” said Gretchen Carlson. “It is Bowles-Simpson,” Stein replied. Should've Left That At Home, Teacher Is Told On Jury Duty (NYT) Damian Esteban was qualified to teach students at a specialized New York City high school, and had just been deemed reasonable enough to judge a man’s fate in a murder trial. But passing through the metal detectors at a Manhattan courthouse may have been too tough a test. Mr. Esteban, 33, was arrested on Wednesday as he returned from a break in a trial in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the state Office of Court Administration, said. As Mr. Esteban, a teacher at the Williamsburg School of Architecture and Design in Brooklyn, passed through a metal detector at the courthouse, it beeped. A court officer, Laura Cannon, found the culprit to be a cigarette box in Mr. Esteban’s pocket. Upon opening the cigarette box, Ms. Cannon reported that she found a much bigger problem: 18 small bags of heroin. A Daunting To-Do List For Citigroup's New CEO (BusinessWeek) Citigroup’s largest problem may be internal. The company, analyst Richard Bove says, “is a political swamp. It’s a snake pit.” Cleansing the culture must be a priority, says Mike Mayo, an analyst at Crédit Agricole Securities. “So whether it’s the inappropriate pay for subpar performance; the lack of adequate disclosure, such as returns by business line; the failure to properly oversee the many different businesses; or the poor tone set at the top of the firm for corporate governance, they all add up to the need to improve the culture,” Mayo says. Cooling The Pits: ICE Yelling Ends (WSJ) Augustine Lauria knew his 37-year career as a floor trader was over when he got a memo from IntercontinentalExchange in late July announcing the closing of the exchange operator's last trading pits. Friday will be the last chance the 61-year-old trader will get to put on his navy-blue and yellow trading jacket and badge. It will be the final day of rough-and-tumble "open-outcry" commodities trading on the ICE-owned pits in lower Manhattan where options on cotton, coffee, cocoa, sugar and orange juice are bought and sold. "What can I do? I can count fast and yell loud," says Mr. Lauria, who boards the Staten Island Ferry before sunrise to get to work in time for the 8:10 a.m. bell. Amanda Larrivee Speaks Out about Incident at Samuel’s (ABC) Amanda Larrivee and her brother Robert Larrivee were arrested at Samuels Sports Bar Sunday for allegedly stealing TV’s from the bathroom. Now, the woman involved is speaking out about what happened that night and the “immature” remark made by her brother. The legal case against Amanda has been dropped, but a comment made by her brother is getting all the attention. He told police that the two were in the bathroom having sex. Amanda says that was not the case. “The comment was taken out of context and it’s not what it looks like,” said Larrivee...“I just want to come out and really let people know that it’s not what it looked like. It’s humiliating and the comment having sexual relations with my brother was an impulse, immature comment made by him that is not the truth,” said Larrivee. Amanda says Robert wasn’t trying to steal the TV’s, but was upset over seeing his ex-girlfriend. “He had an outburst at the time you know it turned into you know touching the TV on the wall, turned into an ugly scene,” said Larrivee. “He took the televisions down. He had no intention of stealing. He’s not walking out with two televisions,” said Attorney Jack St. Clair.

Opening Bell: 08.20.12

Diamond Censured Over Evidence in Barclays Libor Probe (Bloomberg) Barclays ex-Chief Executive Officer Robert Diamond was criticized for giving “unforthcoming and highly selective” evidence by a U.K. parliamentary report that faulted the bank for letting traders rig interest rates. The “candor and frankness” of Diamond’s testimony to lawmakers on July 4 “fell well short of the standard that Parliament expects,” the House of Commons Treasury Committee said in a 122-page report today following its inquiry into the bank’s attempts to manipulate the London interbank offered rate. “The Barclays board has presided over a deeply flawed culture,” the panel of British lawmakers said. “Senior management should have known earlier and acted earlier.” Bob Diamond Hits Bank In Rate-Rigging Row (Telegraph) In a statement Mr Diamond hit back at the report. "I am disappointed by, and strongly disagree with, several statements by the Treasury Select Committee,” Diamond said. Deutsche Bank’s Business With Sanctioned Nations Under Scrutiny (NYT) Federal and state prosecutors are investigating Deutsche Bank and several other global banks over accusations that they funneled billions of dollars through their American branches for Iran, Sudan and other sanctioned nations, according to law enforcement officials with knowledge of the cases. JPMorgan Picks Leader For 'Whale' Probe (WSJ) JPMorgan directors have named Lee Raymond chairman of a board committee investigating the bank's multibillion-dollar trading blunder, said people close to the probe. Some Groupon Investors Give Up (WSJ) Some of the early backers of Groupon, including Silicon Valley veteran Marc Andreessen, are heading for the exits, joining investors who have lost faith in companies that had been expected to drive a new Internet boom. At least four Groupon investors who held stock in the daily-deals company before it went public have sold or significantly pared back their holdings in recent months. Since its initial public offering in November, Groupon has shed more than three-quarters of its stock-market value, or about $10 billion...Mr. Andreessen, who rode the 1990s dot-com frenzy to riches at Netscape Communications Corp., was among the investors who helped fuel Groupon's rapid ascent. His firm, Andreessen Horowitz, was responsible for $40 million of the $950 million investors put into Groupon just months before the company's IPO. Andreessen Horowitz sold its 5.1 million Groupon shares shortly after restrictions on selling the stock expired June 1, according to people with knowledge of the transaction. Facebook Investors Brace For More Shares Coming To Market (Bloomberg) While Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg operates the world’s largest social-networking service, he’s facing investor concerns about how it can generate more revenue from its growing user base. That, plus the end of the first lock-up, drove the shares to half the offering price of $38, wiping out almost $46 billion in market value. Queen's corgis 'attack' Princess Beatrice's terrier Max (Telegraph) They may be among the Queen's favourite subjects but her corgis are in the doghouse after getting into a fight with one of Princess Beatrice's pets. Max, an 11–year–old Norfolk terrier, is said to have been badly injured after a "nasty" encounter at Balmoral castle last week. The Princess's pet nearly lost an ear and suffered several bloody bite injuries that had to be treated by a vet, in the latest in a series of scraps between royal dogs..."The Queen's dog boy was taking the corgis for a walk and they were joined by the Norfolk terriers, which came with Prince Andrew," one insider told a Sunday newspaper. "They were being taken along the long corridor leading to the Tower Door before being let into the grounds for a walk, and they all became overexcited. They began fighting among themselves and unfortunately the dog boy lost control. "The next thing we knew there were horrific yelps and screams...there was blood everywhere." EU Leaders Plan Shuttle Talks To Bolster Greece, Sovereign Bonds (Bloomberg) The sovereign-debt crisis mustn’t become a “bottomless pit” for Germany, even though Europe’s biggest economy would pay the highest price in a breakup of the euro region, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said on Aug. 18 during his ministry’s open day in Berlin. “There are limits,” he said, as he ruled out another aid program for Greece. Hedge 'A-Listers' Include Ackman, Loeb, Chanos (NYP) Influential adviser Cliffwater LLC — which monitors some 1,500 hedge funds and ranks them with an A, B or C grade — keeps a closely guarded list of 90 or so top-rated funds...Cliffwater advises large pension funds in New Jersey, Wisconsin and Massachusetts, among others, and has become one of the industry’s hottest gatekeepers as more big institutions invest directly in hedge funds rather than through funds of funds...An August copy of Cliffwater’s “500 top-rated A or B” funds shows that the company gives high marks to activist funds such as Ackman’s Pershing Square and also to tail risk funds, which aim to protect against disasters. Tucked inside the protected internal document, which compares five-year historical returns to risk, is Cliffwater’s “Select List,” which appears to be the 95 funds deemed worthy of A ratings. Along with Ackman, Dan Loeb of Third Point, the hedgie who recently rattled Yahoo!, famed short-seller Jim Chanos of Kynikos Associates and gold hound James Melcher of Balestra Capital, made the short list as well. Spitzer Defends Wall Street Legacy (FT) Last week it emerged that Goldman Sachs had brought the curtains down on its Hudson Street platform, one of the most high-profile independent research projects started by an investment bank involved in the settlement. Other settlement banks, such as UBS and Bank of America Merrill Lynch, are said to have closed or scaled down their own independent analysis projects. Mr. Spitzer was quick to defend the legacy of the global settlement in an interview with the Financial Times. “I think we accomplished something,” Mr. Spitzer said. “There are a lot of independent research firms out there, some doing well and others not. Goldman has other business models and other priorities.” Shia LaBeouf To Have Sex "For Real" While Filming Scenes For Lars Von Trier's "Nymphomaniac" (Complex) "It is what you think it is. There's a disclaimer at the top of the script that basically says, we're doing [the sex] for real. And anything that is 'illegal' will be shot in blurred images. But other than that, everything is happening," LaBeouf said during an interview.

Opening Bell: 03.04.13

Euro-Zone Deal Faces Hurdles (WSJ) Germany's reluctance to put its taxpayers' money at risk in other countries' banks is proving the biggest obstacle to letting the euro zone's bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism, invest directly in banks that need more capital. In Ireland, Spain, Greece and Cyprus, bailouts of struggling banks are placing heavy burdens on the state, adding to fast-rising national debts. Buffett Disappointed With Berkshire's 'Subpar' $24 Billion Gain (CNBC) Warren Buffett called 2012 "subpar" in his annual letter to shareholders as Berkshire Hathaway's per-share book value rose 14.4 percent, less than the S&P 500's 16-percent increase. It's the ninth time in 48 years this has happened. Buffett notes that the S&P has outpaced Berkshire over the past four years and if the market continues to gain this year the benchmark stock index could have its first five-year win ever. "When the partnership I ran took control of Berkshire in 1965, I could never have dreamed that a year in which we had a gain of $24.1 billion would be subpar ... But subpar it was." Buffett: Berkshire on hunt for more Heinz-like deals (Reuters) "If we get a chance to buy another Heinz, we will do that," Buffett said on CNBC. Berkshire likes the ketchup maker's business, the price of the $23 billion deal, and its partner in the transaction, private equity firm 3G Capital, Buffett said in an extended interview. HSBC Reports Declining Profit and Says Costs Are Increasing (Bloomberg) Pretax profit for 2012 dropped 5.6 percent to $20.65 billion, trailing the $23.49 billion estimate of 26 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. Revenue fell 5.4 percent to $68.33 billion from $72.28 billion, HSBC said today in a statement. Chief Executive Officer Stuart Gulliver is being thwarted in his plan to reduce costs to 48 percent to 52 percent of revenue as the London-based lender set aside $1.9 billion to settle U.S. money-laundering probes and boosted spending on compliance by $500 million. Expenses as a proportion of revenue climbed to 62.8 percent from 57.5 percent, and wage inflation in markets such as Latin America is increasing, HSBC said today. Swiss Back Executive-Pay Controls (WSJ) The plan, dubbed the "rip off" initiative by the country's media, bans so-called golden-handshake and golden-parachute severance agreements. It also requires greater transparency on loans and retirement packages for senior executives and directors. Beauty queen took my heart, then she took me for $96,000 ride: hedge-funder's suit (NYP) Rishi Bajaj, 33, says he opened his heart, then his wallet, to Miss New Mexico Teen USA 2007 Liz Kranz after she told him she was considering selling her eggs to raise cash for a relative in rehab. The sob story got the beauty a $20,000 loan from Bajaj, he claims in a Manhattan Supreme Court lawsuit. Bajaj, who co-manages the $620 million hedge fund Altai Capital, then told Kranz, 24, to pick out a car for the couple to share — and was “surprised” when she selected a 2012 BMW that came with a $17,070 down payment. They met in July 2012 and dated for “several months,” even vacationing together in Italy, where, Bajaj said in court papers, he let Kranz use his American Express card. Kranz, of the Lower East Side, was also allowed to use Bajaj’s AmEx to buy a dress for a wedding they attended. Bajaj and Kranz, who lived briefly in LA, eventually broke up. There were “disagreements about their remaining obligations to each other,” Bajaj said in court papers. He claims the pageant queen kept her hands on his credit card and racked up tens of thousands in charges...In all, Bajaj claims Kranz spent $58,860 on his credit card over three months last year. In a November letter, his lawyer accused her of “theft, fraud and other egregious misconduct” and demanded she repay the full $58,860 in credit-card purchases. NYC to be hit hard by sequester: Merrill Lynch economist (NYP) Two months’ worth of job gains are about to vanish nationwide, warns a Merrill Lynch economist — and New York City, whose unemployment rate is already at an eye-popping 8.8 percent, will be hit exceptionally hard in this employment carnage as Washington begins to enact a series of controversial spending cuts known as the sequester. “It will set the economy back a few months in the job market,” Ethan Harris, co-head of global economics research at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, told The Post. “The national job market recovery has been modest, and it has been weaker locally in New York.” Nationally, Harris calculated a loss of about 300,000 jobs, roughly two months of average job gains, if the sequester is enacted untouched. Job-Hunt Time Shrinks in U.S. From Record High (Bloomberg) For 13 million out-of-work Americans, record spells of joblessness are abating. The median duration fell to 16 weeks in January from 25 weeks in June 2010, Labor Department data show. Fewer people compete for each opening as hiring expands, and persistent long-term unemployment is starting to mend. The progress supports Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke’s view that America’s labor market remains flexible and isn’t succumbing to hysteresis, or permanently higher joblessness, similar to Europe in the 1980s, said Dale Mortensen, a professor of economics at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and 2010 Nobel laureate. That suggests continued monetary stimulus can bring about a faster healing. Slim Risks Losing World’s Richest Person Title as Troubles Mount (Bloomberg) Slim’s lead over the next-wealthiest man, Bill Gates, narrowed last week to about $4.8 billion -- the closest spread in almost a year. The Lebanese immigrant’s son, who acquired Mexico’s phone monopoly and turned it into a pan-Latin American powerhouse, lost almost a 10th of his net worth last month, winnowing his fortune to $71 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Dennis Rodman: Kim Jong Un Wants President Obama to ‘Call Him’ (ABC) In his first interview since returning to the U.S. from an unprecedented visit to North Korea last week, former NBA star Dennis Rodman said he bears a message for President Obama from the country’s oppressive leader, Kim Jong Un. “He wants Obama to do one thing: Call him,” Rodman told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on “This Week.” “He said, ‘If you can, Dennis – I don’t want [to] do war. I don’t want to do war.’ He said that to me.” The athlete also offered Kim some diplomatic advice for potential future talks with President Obama. “[Kim] loves basketball. And I said the same thing, I said, ‘Obama loves basketball.’ Let’s start there,” Rodman said.