Opening Bell: 04.16.10

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Bank of America Reports 25% Profit Drop (MW)
First-quarter net income was $3.2 billion, or 28 cents a share, versus $4.2 billion, or 44 cents a share, a year earlier, Bank of America said. Revenue at the bank fell 11% year-on-year to $32 billion, driven by what it said were the absence of credit-related gains on Merrill Lynch-structured notes that it had enjoyed last year, as well lower mortgage-banking volume and income. First-quarter provision for credit losses was $9.8 billion, down from $13.4 billion in the first quarter of 2009. But despite the drop, the results outpaced analyst estimates. Bank of America was expected to make 9 cents a share, according to the average estimate of analysts surveyed by FactSet Research.

Geithner Won't Call For Derivatives Ban (WSJ)
Mr. Geithner, in a letter to Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Blanche Lincoln (D., Ark.), said new financial rules must create restrictions on how over-the-counter derivatives are traded "in order to curb abuses that were at the very center of the financial crisis." But he notably stopped short of endorsing a proposal from Ms. Lincoln to force large banks to spin off derivatives trading businesses entirely.

Goldman Director To Step Down (WSJ)
Rajat Guptatold Goldman Sachs Group Inc. in March he wouldn't stand for re-election as a director, after receiving notice from prosecutors that they were reviewing recorded conversations between him and Galleon Group founder Raj Rajaratnam, people close to the matter say.

NY Democrats Antagonizing Their Backers On Wall Street (Reuters)
"Schumer is a bit of an anathema because sometimes he's with us and sometimes he's against us," said one financial industry lobbyist who declined to be identified in order to preserve friendly relations with New York politicians.

Goldman Real Estate Fund Lost 98 Cents on the Dollar (FT)
Whitehall Street International, Goldman Sachs’ international real estate investment fund, has lost almost all of its $1.8 billion of equity following soured property investments in the U.S., Germany and Japan, according to the fund’s estimates.

Arrested in Shoeshine Arsons, and Back Out Shining Shoes (NYT)
The gentlest-looking person on an otherwise sharp-elbowed stretch of 42nd Street on Thursday seemed to be a short, sweet-faced man of 71 years, hunched over a little wooden shoeshine box. The man, John Swain, wore a cardboard sign around his neck, with the words “Shoe Shine” stenciled in black lettering. There he was, fresh from his arrest the day before on charges of burning down a nearby shoeshine stand — twice. There he was, back out there offering shines for $4 apiece. “Yep, that’s me,” Mr. Swain said when showed a photograph of himself in the morning newspaper, along with an article saying he was accused of setting fire to a three-seat stand near Bryant Park on March 22, and then torching a replacement stand on April 6.

2 Charged in International Tax Evasion Scheme Said to Involve HSBC (NYT)
The property developers — Mauricio Cohen Assor and his son, Leon Cohen-Levy — were taken into custody in New York, a day after they were jointly charged in a criminal complaint filed in Federal District Court in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., court papers show.

Jay-Z clubs Papi with suit (NYP)
J hit David Ortiz with a $5 million-plus suit yesterday, claiming the Boston slugger apparently liked Jay-Z's 40/40 Club so much, he decided to open his own. The Manhattan federal court filing accuses Ortiz and his sister, Albania Ortiz, of trademark infringement, unjust enrichment and "false designation of sponsorship" in connection with the "Forty Forty" nightclub they opened in the Dominican Republic last year. The suit also charges them with "cybersquatting" for running a Spanish-language Web site at www.fortyforty.net.

Lehman Wins OK To Create Asset Management Company (Reuters)
"I've never seen anything quite like this," U.S. Bankruptcy Judge James Peck said at a court hearing.

Ash-Cloud Flight Disruptions Intensify in Europe, Will Extend Into Weekend (Bloomberg)
As many as 15,000 flights may be lost in the region today, or about half the usual timetable, according to Brian Flynn, operations chief at Eurocontrol, which oversees the region’s flight paths. That’s up from 8,000 cancellations yesterday.

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Opening Bell: 10.18.12

Morgan Stanley Posts Loss (WSJ) "The rebound in fixed income and commodities sales and trading indicates that clients have re-engaged after the uncertainty of the rating review in the previous quarter," Chief Executive James Gorman said, referring to Moody's Investors Service's move over the summer to downgrade the credit rating on more than a dozen banks. "We are beginning to unlock the full potential of the Global Wealth Management franchise, having increased our ownership of, and agreed on a purchase price for the rest of, Morgan Stanley Wealth Management." For the quarter, Morgan Stanley reported a loss of $1.02 billion, compared with a year-earlier profit of $2.2 billion. The per-share loss, which reflects the payment of preferred dividends, was 55 cents compared with a profit of $1.15 a year earlier. Stripping out the impact of debt-valuation changes, the per-share profit was 28 cents versus two cents a share a year ago. Revenue fell 46% to $5.29 billion, including a negative impact of $2.3 billion from the tightening of credit spreads related to debt. Stripping out debt-valuation changes revenue was up 18% to $7.55 billion. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected earnings of 24 cents, excluding gains related to debt, on revenue of $6.36 billion. Morgan Stanley Reduces Investment-Bank Pay to $5.2 Billion (Bloomberg) The ratio of compensation to revenue in the unit fell to 44.9 percent, compared with 48.4 percent in the same period a year earlier, when excluding accounting gains and losses related to the firm’s credit spreads. That’s still higher than Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan’s investment bank. Compensation and benefits for all of Morgan Stanley totaled $12 billion in the first nine months, down 4 percent. Goldman Ex-Employee Says Firm Pushed Europe Bank Options (Bloomberg) Goldman Sachs sought to profit last year by persuading clients to buy and sell stock options on European banks such as BNP Paribas SA and UniCredit SpA, according to former employee Greg Smith’s new book. “We must have changed our view on each of these institutions from positive to negative back to positive ten times,” Smith writes in “Why I Left Goldman Sachs: A Wall Street Story,” scheduled for release on Oct. 22. “I remember thinking, ‘How can we be doing this with a straight face? No thinking client could believe that conditions on the ground could change that frequently.”’ [...] Smith also describes being disappointed with his $500,000 bonus at the end of 2006. “By any measure, I should have felt exceptionally lucky and grateful,” he writes. “But by the warped logic of Goldman Sachs and Wall Street, I was being screwed.” U.S. to Get Downgraded Amid Fiscal ‘Theater,’ Pimco Says (Bloomberg) “The U.S. will get downgraded, it’s a question of when,” Scott Mather, Pimco’s head of global portfolio management, said today in Wellington. “It depends on what the end of the year looks like, but it could be fairly soon after that.” Asian Scion's Trades Draw Scrutiny (WSJ) A federal probe into an alleged multimillion-dollar insider trading scheme is focusing on the son of a deposed Central Asian autocrat once courted by the U.S. as a key ally in the war on terror, according to people involved in the investigation. The globe-spanning criminal case marks a turnabout by the U.S. against a ruling family it once relied on to keep open military supply lines to Afghanistan. For years, the U.S. maintained good relations with then-Kyrgyzstan President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. Now, the U.S. has prepared charges against the former strongman's son, Maksim Bakiyev, who officials say spent some of his exile in London profiting from illegal tips on stocks trading on the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq. On Friday, the younger Mr. Bakiyev, 35, was arrested in England on an extradition request from the U.S. Mr. Bakiyev's U.K. attorney, Michael O'Kane, declined to comment. Computer programmer 'quadruples productivity' after hiring a woman to slap him in the face every time she catches him looking at Facebook (DM) Maneesh Sethi placed an advert on Craigslist to recruit someone willing to monitor what he was looking at on his laptop. The computer expert and writer, from San Francisco, now pays a female employee £5 ($8) an hour to strike him in the face if she spots him wasting time on social media. Mr Seethi claims the unusual motivational system has helped him boost his productivity from just 35 percent to around 98 percent during the working day...Mr Seethi published details on his blog of his Craigslist advert, which was entitled '(Domestic gigs) Slap me if I get off task'. In it he wrote: 'I'm looking for someone who can work next to me at a defined location (my house or a cafe) and will make sure to watch what is happening on my screen. 'When I am wasting time, you'll have to yell at me or if need be, slap me. 'You can do your own work at the same time. Looking for help asap. Mr Seethi said he was inundated with offers from potential slappers and quickly hired a volunteer he names only as Kara. He wrote: 'Within minutes, my inbox began blowing up. Up to 50% of Greek Workforce Strikes; Tipping Point Nears (CNBC) As European Union leaders prepare to meet in Brussels on Thursday, Greece’s workers aim to make their voices heard by holding a 24-hour strike bringing the country to a halt. With the economy in the fifth year of a recession, the lost production could prove counterproductive and cost the economy 100 million euros ($131 million), according to one expert. Most business and public sector activity is expected to grind to a halt during the strike called by the ADEDY and GSEE unions that represent around 2 million people — half of Greece’s workforce. A protracted news blackout is also expected as television and radio broadcasters and newspapers shut for the day, according to Reuters. Spain Banks Face More Pain as Worst-Case Scenario Turns Real (Bloomberg) Spain’s request for 100 billion euros of European Union financial aid to shore up its banks is increasing concern about the nation’s growing liabilities. Standard & Poor’s downgraded the country’s debt rating by two levels to BBB-, one step above junk, from BBB+ on Oct. 10, saying it wasn’t clear who will bear the cost of recapitalizing banks. It cut the ratings of 11 lenders including Banco Santander SA and Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA, Spain’s largest, two days ago, citing the sovereign downgrade. Brothels Rescue Cash-Strapped Greek Soccer Team (AP) Players on a cash-strapped Greek soccer team now wear pink practice jerseys with the logos "Villa Erotica" and "Soula's House of History," two bordellos it recruited as sponsors after drastic government spending cuts left the country's sports clubs facing ruin. Other teams have also turned to unconventional financing. One has a deal with a local funeral home and others have wooed kebab shops, a jam factory and producers of Greece's trademark feta cheese. But the amateur Voukefalas club — whose players include pizza delivery guys, students, waiters and a bartender — has raised eyebrows with its flamboyant sponsorship choice. Prostitution is legal in Greece, where brothels operate under strict guidelines. Though garish neon signs advertising their services are tolerated, the soccer sponsorship has ruffled some feathers in the sports-mad city of Larissa. League organizers have banned the pink jerseys during games, saying the deal violates "the sporting ideal" and is inappropriate for underage fans...Brothel owner Soula Alevridou, the team's new benefactor, has already paid more than 1,000 euros ($1,312) for players to wear her jerseys. The team is appealing the game ban, but that doesn't worry the 67-year-old Alevridou, who says she's only in it because she loves soccer. "It's not the kind of business that needs promotion," she said, dressed all in white and flanked by two young women in dark leggings at a recent game. "It's a word-of-mouth kind of thing."