Opening Bell: 05.13.10

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CEO Pay Breaks Glass Ceiling as Bartz Gets $47.2 Million With '09 Bonanza (Bloomberg)
Anyone gonna give her shit for it? Inquiring minds at 200 West Street would like to know.

Moynihan Becomes Obama's Top Wall Street Ally on Financial-Rules Overhaul (Bloomberg)
One of Moynihan’s assets may be that he is a fresh face. He took over as the bank’s CEO Jan. 1, and unlike his predecessor, Kenneth Lewis, isn’t tainted by public outrage over the $700 billion bailout for banks. Nor has he been targeted by a Securities and Exchange Commission suit -- now settled -- alleging that investors were misled about bonuses and losses during Bank of America’s 2009 acquisition of Merrill Lynch & Co.

Louis Bacon decries European 'demonisation' of hedge funds (FN)
LB: “European financial authorities see hedge funds particularly as a threat to their ability to contain prices, information and confidence in their increasingly risky sovereign debt markets. Witness their demonisation of hedge funds in the market even after the Greeks were found to be lying about their deficit data.”

Banker Says She Was Fired For Questioning Account (NYT)
A former private banker at JPMorgan Chase & Company has sued the bank, claiming that she was fired after alerting superiors to possibly questionable dealings by a top client. The former banker, Jennifer Sharkey, said in a complaint filed in United States District Court in Manhattan on Monday that she was let go as a vice president and wealth manager in August 2009, six days after formally raising the concerns.

Big borrower California won't slip like Greece (Reuters)
That's the broadly held view in the $2.8 trillion U.S. municipal bond market, which is puzzled by analysts, columnists, cartoonists and bearish investors comparing Greece's fiscal floundering and $1 trillion bailout to hard-pressed U.S. states such as California and Illinois. "It's wacky," said municipal debt analyst Jeffrey Cleveland at Payden & Rygel. "Just look at the ratio of debt to state gross domestic product. It's 10 percent for California and somewhere between 104 percent and 150 percent for Greece."

Big TARP Banks Not Helping Small Businesses (CNBC)
Elizabeth Warren called it "infuriating" that the Troubled Asset Relief Program has not achieved its objective in funneling some of the $700 billion in appropriations to small businesses.

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Opening Bell: 03.06.12

Goldman Secret Greece Loan Reveals Sinners (Bloomberg) On the day the 2001 deal was struck, the government owed the bank about 600 million euros ($793 million) more than the 2.8 billion euros it borrowed, said Spyros Papanicolaou, who took over the country’s debt-management agency in 2005. By then, the price of the transaction, a derivative that disguised the loan and that Goldman Sachs persuaded Greece not to test with competitors, had almost doubled to 5.1 billion euros, he said. Papanicolaou and his predecessor, Christoforos Sardelis, revealing details for the first time of a contract that helped Greece mask its growing sovereign debt to meet European Union requirements, said the country didn’t understand what it was buying and was ill-equipped to judge the risks or costs...“Like the municipalities, Greece is just another example of a poorly governed client that got taken apart,” Satyajit Das, a risk consultant and author of “Extreme Money: Masters of the Universe and the Cult of Risk,” said in a phone interview. “These trades are structured not to be unwound, and Goldman is ruthless about ensuring that its interests aren’t compromised -- it’s part of the DNA of that organization. Greece Pushes For Aid Tranche (WSJ) Greece's international creditors are considering whether to grant the country a small, tranche of the €130 billion ($171.8 billion) bailout agreed earlier this month in the weeks ahead as part of efforts to pump liquidity into the country's moribund economy. Speaking to the privately owned Mega television channel Tuesday, Deputy Finance Minister Philippos Sachinidis said the money would go to paying off some of the €6 billion in accumulated arrears that the Greek government owes private contractors. He added that the disbursement could come before Greece goes to elections that are widely expected to be held in late April. "There is a discussion that, likely before the elections, we will get a tranche that will allow us to pay some of, not the total, of the arrears," Mr. Sachinidis said. Bondholder Group Sees 1 Trillion Euro Greek Default Risk (Reuters) A disorderly Greek default would probably leave Italy and Spain needing outside help to stop contagion spreading and cause more than 1 trillion euros ($1.3 trillion) of damage to the euro zone, the group representing Athens' bondholders warned. Greek private creditors have until Thursday night to say whether they will take part in a bond swap that is part of a 130 billion euros bailout deal to put the country on a more stable footing and cut its debt by more than 100 billion euros. Paulson’s Advantage Plus Declines in February (Bloomberg) John Paulson lost 1.5 percent in February in one of his largest hedge funds, according to an investor update, paring this year’s gain and setting back efforts by the New York-based manager to recoup record losses in 2011. Paulson’s Advantage Plus Fund, which seeks to profit from corporate events such as takeovers and bankruptcies and uses leverage to amplify returns, gained 3.5 percent in the first two months of 2012, according to the update IBM’s Watson Gets Wall Street Job After ‘Jeopardy’ Win (Bloomberg) International Business Machines Corp’s Watson computer, which beat champions of the quiz show “Jeopardy!” a year ago, will soon be advising Wall Street on risks, portfolios and clients. Citigroup, the third-largest U.S. lender, is Watson’s first financial services client, IBM said yesterday. It will help analyze customer needs and process financial, economic and client data to advance and personalize digital banking. Ann Romney: ‘I Don’t Even Consider Myself Wealthy’ (ABC) Mitt Romney may have more money than any other presidential candidate in the race, but his wife said today that she does not consider herself wealthy. “We can be poor in spirit, and I don’t even consider myself wealthy, which is an interesting thing,” Ann Romney said in an interview on Fox News. “It can be here today and gone tomorrow.” Swiss Pass Proposal to Help Nab US Tax Evaders (Reuters) Specifically, the plan would allow Switzerland to hand over data on suspected tax evaders, even if U.S. tax authorities cannot identify alleged offenders by name or bank account. The big-spending businessman who ran up £203,948 bar bill was 23-year-old City whizkid (Mirror) The businessman who blew £203,948 on bubbly in a single night in Liverpool was 23-year-old Alex Hope...His biography reads: “Despite his tender years, Alex is a name to watch out for in the city. An expert in the UK economy, he works the currency markets, regularly trading millions.” Describing his rapid career rise from humble beginnings to working for trading company Zone Invest Group, it adds: “A talented, charismatic and thoroughly likeable man, Alex Hope exudes knowledge and you can’t help but respect and admire this self-taught and self-made young trader.” Banker Bonus Limits Sought by EU Lawmakers (Bloomberg) Members of the European Parliament’s Socialist and Green parties have proposed that a draft EU law to bolster bank capital should include new pay rules, as well as stricter curbs on risk taking, according to two members of the institution’s financial affairs committee. “Wrong incentives were part of the banking culture that caused the crisis,” said Udo Bullmann, a German lawmaker following the proposed law for the parliament’s Socialist group. “I expect there will be quite a lot of sympathy among different party groups” for further rules on pay. Judge throws heat at Picard’s claim vs. Mets (NYP) Picard’s best evidence may be from Noreen Harrington, a former chief investment officer for a hedge fund partially owned by the Mets’ owners, who is expected to say that she told Katz and another Sterling Equities executive that she thought Madoff’s reported returns were “fiction” and not “worth the paper they’re written on.” The Mets will argue they were bamboozled by Madoff, along with the nation’s top regulators and major banks. Bill Clinton Said to Agree to Join Obama at Campaign Fundraisers (Bloomberg) While Obama raised $5 million on his last fundraising trip to New York, including $2 million from a March 1 event with members of the financial services industry, he is collecting less money from Wall Street this year compared with four years ago, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. When Gaming Is Good For You (WSJ) People who played action-based video and computer games made decisions 25% faster than others without sacrificing accuracy, according to a study. Indeed, the most adept gamers can make choices and act on them up to six times a second—four times faster than most people, other researchers found. Moreover, practiced game players can pay attention to more than six things at once without getting confused, compared with the four that someone can normally keep in mind, said University of Rochester researchers. The studies were conducted independently of the companies that sell video and computer games.

Opening Bell: 12.05.12

Global Banking Under Siege as Nations Tighten Local Rules (Bloomberg) Regulators want to curtail risks exposed after global banks such as New York-based Citigroup, Edinburgh-based Royal Bank of Scotland and Zurich-based UBS took bailouts in the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression. Forcing lenders to dedicate capital and liquidity to multiple local subsidiaries, rather than a single parent, may undermine the business logic of a multinational structure. “Being big and spread out all over the world isn’t what it used to be,” said Mayra Rodriguez Valladares, managing principal at New York-based MRV Associates, which trains bank examiners and executives at financial firms. “You’ll see global banks jettison divisions abroad and at home.” Paulson Said to Blame Bet Against Europe for Most of Loss (Bloomberg) John Paulson, manager of $20 billion in hedge funds, told investors that the bulk of his losses this year came on bets that the European sovereign-debt crisis would worsen, according to a person familiar with the matter. Paulson, speaking to clients at his firm’s annual meeting yesterday in New York, said he has reduced those positions following European Central Bank President Mario Draghi’s comments in July that the ECB was committed to preserving the euro, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the meeting was private. Paulson said in a February letter to investors that the euro was “structurally flawed” and would eventually fall apart. In April, the founder of New York-based Paulson & Co. told clients he was wagering against European sovereign bonds and buying credit-default swaps on European debt, or protection against the chance of default. No Payback For Singer This Year (NYP) Paul Singer’s last-ditch attempt to get cash from Argentina this year has failed. A motion by Singer’s hedge fund, Elliott Management, requesting that the South American country put up a security deposit of $250 million by Dec. 10 was denied by a federal appeals court yesterday. “Since we will not have a big payment for ages (if ever), this looks like a huge blow to [Elliott’s] strategy,” said sovereign-debt expert Anna Gelpern. In Tax Fight, G.O.P. Seeks a Position to Fall Back On (NYT) Senator Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, who is retiring, joined a handful of other Republicans on Tuesday suggesting that Congress should pass the middle-class tax cut extensions now, then leave the fight over taxes and spending until later. Americans, she said, "should not even be questioning that we will ultimately raise taxes on low- to middle-income people." Congress could take that off the table "while you're grappling with tax cuts for the wealthy," she said. But any move toward compromise with Democrats on fiscal issues quickly comes under attack from conservatives as a surrender and unsettles the rank-and-file. It is a dynamic that has haunted Speaker John A. Boehner throughout the 112th Congress, as he has repeatedly been caught between the imperative to govern and the need to satisfy the restive right. Mr. Boehner, of Ohio, has drawn fire this week for removing a handful of House Republicans who have defied the leadership from their preferred committee seats, a step he took to enforce party discipline. Fed to launch fresh bond buying to help economy (Reuters) The Federal Reserve is set to announce a fresh round of Treasury bond purchases when it meets next week, avoiding monetary policy tightening to maintain support for the weak U.S. economy amid uncertainty over the looming year-end "fiscal cliff." Many economists think the U.S. central bank will announce monthly bond purchases of $45 billion after its policy gathering on December 11-12, signaling it will continue to pump money into the U.S. economy during 2013 in a bid to bring down unemployment. Merkel Wins Party Reelection, Eyes Third Term (Reuters) Merkel, at the height of her popularity, was returned unopposed as CDU chairwoman with 97.9 percent of votes from delegates who stood and applauded her for nearly eight minutes after she lauded Germany's economic resilience in the euro crisis and promised to fight for jobs and prosperity. McAfee Emerges From Hiding in Guatemala (FT) John McAfee, the antivirus software entrepreneur, has revealed that he has fled to Guatemala from Belize where he is wanted for questioning in relation to a murder. Posting on his website on Tuesday, the US citizen and multimillionaire said: "I apologize for all of the misdirections over the past few days . . . I am in Guatemala." His emergence closes one chapter in a bizarre chain of events that started last month when police in Belize, where Mr McAfee has lived for the past four years, discovered the dead body of Gregory Faull, the owner of a house close to Mr McAfee's main property on the island of Ambergris Caye. Mr McAfee - who Belize considers "a person of interest" in the murder investigation - fled, going into hiding and insisting on his innocence. He said he ran from the police because he believed that the Belize authorities were out to kill him. In response, Dean Barrow, the prime minister, said: "I don't want to be unkind to the gentleman, but I believe he is extremely paranoid". Mr McAfee revealed his location on Tuesday after a hacker called Simple Nomad disclosed his whereabouts by analyzing a mobile-phone photograph taken of McAfee on Monday that was posted on the internet. In a second blog post late Tuesday titled "the new fight", Mr McAfee said he had asked Telsforo Guerra, a former attorney-general of Guatemala, to help uncover what he claims is deep-rooted corruption in Belize. Separately, he told Reuters that Mr Guerra was trying to help him obtain political asylum in Guatemala, even though Belizean authorities have not charged him. EU Banks To Repay Cheap Loans (WSJ) Nearly a year ago, hundreds of European banks borrowed a total of more than €1 trillion ($1.3 trillion) from the European Central Bank as it scrambled to defuse an escalating crisis. Today, in a sign of the industry's partial healing, some of Europe's biggest banks are preparing to repay those loans. The push to repay the loans, however, has generated concerns that banks are moving prematurely and could be vulnerable if the euro-zone crisis intensifies again. The ECB activated the emergency loan program—known as the long-term refinancing operation, or LTRO—late last year, doling out two batches of inexpensive loans that are good for three years. Banks are permitted to repay them starting next month. Euro Crisis Feeds Corruption as Greece Slides in Rankings (Bloomberg) The European debt crisis has given way to a new wave of corruption as some of the most hard-hit countries in the turmoil have tumbled in an annual graft ranking, watchdog group Transparency International said. Greece, in its fifth year of recession and crippled by rounds of austerity, fell to 94th place from 80th -- ranking it below Colombia and Liberia, according to the group’s Corruption Perceptions Index. Ireland, Austria, Malta and Italy were also among member states in the single currency to slide. Moynihan: No Stress (Bloomberg) Bank of America CEO Brian T. Moynihan said the firm has plenty of capital and he’s confident it will pass the next US stress tests. “The question will be what to ask for and when, because we’re not going to fail this,” Moynihan said yesterday at a New York investor conference sponsored by Goldman Sachs. Moynihan, 53, is renewing efforts to win approval to raise the company’s dividend or repurchase shares after the Federal Reserve blocked an earlier request. Fed Filcher Gets Timeout (NYP) Bo Zhang, a Chinese-citizen computer programmer who worked for a contractor at the New York Fed, was sentenced to six months of home confinement for stealing Treasury Department software. Snake on a plane forces emergency landing (CNN) ...the incident forced the pilot to make an emergency landing in the Egyptian resort town of Al Ghardaqa on the Red Sea, according to The Jordan Times. An Egypt Air official told the paper an investigation revealed that a 48-year-old passenger, who owns a reptile shop in Kuwait, had hidden the Egyptian cobra in a carry-on bag. The passenger was trying to control the snake after it bit his hand and started slithering under the seats. The Egyptian daily al-Masry al-Youm reported that the man refused medical treatment, claiming his wound was only superficial. The plane resumed its flight to Kuwait after local authorities confiscated the snake. Doctors told the passenger he should spend 24 hours in a hospital for observation, but the man refused, the Egyptian Air official said, according to The Jordan Times.

Opening Bell: 08.13.12

Senior Merkel ally sends stark warning to Greece (Reuters) A senior member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's party issued a stark warning to Greece on Monday, saying Germany would not hesitate to veto further aid to the country if there were any signs it was not meeting the conditions of its bailout..."Even if the glass is half full, that won't be sufficient for a new aid package. Germany cannot and will not agree to that," Michael Fuchs told German newspaper Handelsblatt. "We long ago reached the point where the Greeks must show they are capable of delivering a shift. A policy of the last, last, last chance won't work anymore and must come to an end." JPMorgan aims for $1bn profit boost (FT) JPMorgan Chase aims to boost annual pre-tax profit by $1bn within five years by merging its investment and corporate banks – the first target set by the new division’s co-chief executives, Michael Cavanagh and Daniel Pinto. Africans Chase Away Almighty Dollar (WSJ) Starting next year, Angola will require oil and gas companies to pay tax revenue and local contracts in kwanza, its currency, rather than dollars. Mozambique wants companies to exchange half of their export earnings for meticais, hoping to pull more of the wealth in vast coal and natural-gas deposits into the domestic economy. And Ghana is seeking similar ways to reinforce "the primacy of the domestic currency," after the cedi plummeted more than 17% against the dollar in the first six months of this year. The sternest steps come from Zambia, a copper-rich country in southern Africa where the central bank has banned dollar-denominated transactions. Offenders who are "quoting, paying or demanding to be paid or receiving foreign currency" can face a maximum 10 years in prison, the central bank said in a two-page directive in May. Hedge Funds Capitulate On European Shorts (Bloomberg) “Macro hedge funds missed collectively the policy news of June, and with the prospect of central bank interventions they are now capitulating,” Nikolaos Panigirtzoglou, head of global asset allocation at JPMorgan in London, said in an Aug. 7 phone interview. JPMorgan has $2.3 trillion under management. “For positions to unwind, a trigger is needed. And the trigger was all this policy news.” Italy Public Debt Hits Record High, Deficit Also Up (Reuters) Italy's public debt hit an all-time high in June of almost 2 trillion euros and the annual budget deficit was also bigger than a year before, due largely to Italy's share of bailouts for other euro zone states, the central bank said on Monday. New Tactics Boost Bank Profits (WSJ) With the European crisis knocking down the value of banks' longer-term debt, some are taking advantage by buying back their debt from investors at a discount from the original value. Banks can book the difference in price as an accounting gain, adding to their bottom line—and their ability to withstand losses. Banks including Société Générale SA, Commerzbank AG, Intesa Sanpaolo SpA, Banco Santander SA and Banco Comercial Português SA recently have taken the moves, in part because traditional ways of boosting capital, such as selling businesses or raising equity in the market, are proving difficult. Europe's debt crisis has virtually cut off many European banks from private funding because investors are wary of lending to them. Julius Baer Buys Merrill Lynch Private Bank Assets (Reuters) Swiss private bank Julius Baer is to buy Bank of America's Merrill Lynch private bank outside the United States, paying 860 million Swiss francs ($882 million) to boost its assets under management by 40 percent and backing the deal with plans to raise 1.19 billion francs in new capital. Alaska: The Next Libor Litigation Frontier (Reuters) Attorney Brian Murray filed a lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of investors in Alaska — as well as investors in Wyoming, North Dakota and about 20 other states — that accuses banks of violating various state antitrust laws in allegedly rigging the London interbank offered rate. Woman May See Jail Time For Poisoning Man With Visine (AP) A woman may see jail time after allegedly poisoning a man with eyedrops. Vicki Jo Mills, 33, is accused of putting Visine in the drinking water of Thurman Nesbitt, 45, on up to a dozen occasions since June 2009, according to The Associated Press. Nesbitt’s doctor contacted authorities in June after tetrahydrozoline, a chemical found in the optical solution that can cause irregular heartbeat or chest pain, showed up in Nesbitt’s blood tests. “She never meant to kill him, [she] only wanted to make him pay more attention to her,” police say Mills told them.

Opening Bell: 03.07.12

Goldman No.1 in Investment Bank Fees (Bloomberg Markets) Total investment banking fees for all financial institutions in 2011 were $49.1 billion, matching the $49.1 billion from 2010. Total deal volume also matched 2010, at $6.9 trillion. Goldman took the top spot in the ranking even as its total fees fell in 2011 to $3.46 billion from $3.6 billion in 2010. Goldman is also No. 1 in M&A fees for the eighth consecutive year. JPMorgan dropped to No. 3 from No. 1 in the overall ranking. Morgan Stanley held on to the No. 2 spot, with $3.26 billion in overall fees, down 11 percent from the prior 12 months. Investors With 39.3% of Greek Debt Will Swap (Bloomberg) The thirty members of the private creditor-investor committee for Greece who plan to participate in the swap hold an aggregate 81 billion euros of Greek debt, or 39.3 percent of the Greek debt eligible for the swap, according to the email. Obama pitches CEOs on economic growth (Politico) President Barack Obama pitched his proposals for economic growth to an audience of CEOs Tuesday, including Bank of America chief executive Brian Moynihan and Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan Chase. The president hailed his proposed investments in infrastructure and training and pointed to common ground with the business community, including the signing of free trade agreements and allowing Russia into the World Trade Organization, according to a pool report. Obama said he will go anywhere in the world to secure markets for American goods, and, noting a large order inked by Boeing, quipped, "I expect a gold watch upon my retirement" for all the planes he's helped sell around the world. "Obviously we've got a long way to go," he said. But, he said "the economy is speeding up." The gathering of the Business Roundtable, an association of CEOs, drew roughly 100 chief executives. But while there was polite applause when Obama was introduced, the pool report noted, “the CEOs sat silent for most of his remarks.” Private Sector Adds 216,000 Jobs (WSJ) Private-sector jobs in the U.S. increased 216,000 last month, according to a national employment report published by payroll giant Automatic Data Processing Inc. and consultancy Macroeconomic Advisers. The gain was close to expectations of 215,000 put forth by economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires. Alleged accomplice of Manhattan 'madam' indicted, remains on the lam (NYP) Accused millionaire madam Anna Gristina had an alleged partner in crime -- gorgeous strawberry-blonde Jaynie Baker, who three sources told The Post yesterday is Gristina's indicted but unapprehended accomplice. "She was running the operation with Anna," said one source with knowledge of the operation. Asked where Baker, 30, of Brooklyn, is currently, the source answered, "Nobody knows." Baker and Gristina are both charged with felony promoting prostitution for allegedly co-running an Upper East Side-based escort service that offered premium call girls to a millionaire clientele. "This was the gold standard of escort services," said a second source with knowledge of the operation. "These were high-end models who cost $2,000 a visit, and were worth every penny." World’s Richest Lose $11.3B, Mittal Falls Off Index (Bloomberg on Bloomberg) The 20 richest people on Earth lost a combined $11.3 billion yesterday as global markets fell after European economic growth slowed and investors weighed Greece’s chances of getting bondholders to accept a debt swap. Warren Buffett’s fortune fell $407.3 million, dropping his net worth to $43.9 billion. The chairman of Omaha, Nebraska- based Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRK/B), his investment holding company, ranks third on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a daily ranking of the world’s richest people. Bernanke Seen Accepting Faster Inflation as Fed Seeks Jobs Boost (Bloomberg) The Fed chairman told lawmakers last week that an increase in energy costs will boost inflation “temporarily while reducing consumers’ purchasing power.” He also said the central bank will adopt a “balanced approach” as it pursues its twin goals of price stability and full employment, which it defines as a jobless rate of between 5.2 percent and 6 percent. “The chairman seemed to suggest they will tolerate a misdemeanor on inflation as unemployment continues to fall toward their goal” over several years, said Mark Spindel, chief investment officer at Potomac River Capital, a hedge fund that manages $250 million in Washington. President Presses for Action on the Buffett Rule (WSJ) President Barack Obama took an aggressive tack on taxes at a White House news conference Tuesday, suggesting that Congress adopt his proposal for a so-called Buffett rule this year. It would require very high income earners—those making $1 million a year or more—to pay at least 30% of their income in federal tax. Newt Gingrich: 'I am the tortoise' of the 2012 Republican primary (The Hill) Newt Gingrich heralded himself as the "tortoise" of the 2012 Republican primary after a strong win in Georgia — the state he represented for two decades in Congress — and pledged to fight on for the Republican presidential nomination despite an otherwise poor showing in the Super Tuesday contests. "There are lots of bunny rabbits who run through — I am the tortoise. I just take one step at a time," Gingrich told a crowd of supporters in Atlanta.

Opening Bell: 12.10.12

U.S. authorities probe SAC for Weight Watchers (Reuters) U.S. authorities are investigating Steven A. Cohen's SAC Capital Advisors hedge fund for possible insider trading in the shares of the popular diet company Weight Watchers International Inc, according to people familiar with the matter. The investigation focuses on trading in Weight Watchers shares in the first half of 2011, when SAC Capital had taken a sizeable position in the stock, and potentially could implicate the billionaire hedge fund manager, the sources said on Friday. Regulatory filings show that Cohen's $14 billion fund briefly held 2.1 million shares in Weight Watchers during the period under scrutiny by authorities - at which time the diet company's stock price roughly doubled. The inquiry is in its early stages and it is not clear whether anything improper was done either by SAC Capital or Cohen himself, said the people familiar with the matter, who requested anonymity. The trading in Weight Watchers would be permissible as long as it was based on fundamental research or derived from individuals who did not have access to non-public corporate information. Big Money Bets On Housing Rebound (NYT) A flurry of private-equity giants and hedge funds have spent billions of dollars to buy thousands of foreclosed single-family homes. They are purchasing them on the cheap through bank auctions, multiple listing services, short sales and bulk purchases from local investors in need of cash, with plans to fix up the properties, rent them out and watch their values soar as the industry rebounds. They have raised as much as $8 billion to invest, according to Jade Rahmani, an analyst at Keefe Bruyette & Woods. The Blackstone Group, the New York private-equity firm run by Stephen A. Schwarzman, has spent more than $1 billion to buy 6,500 single-family homes so far this year. The Colony Capital Group, headed by the Los Angeles billionaire Thomas J. Barrack Jr., has bought 4,000. Wall Street workers expecting worst bonus season since 2008 (NYP) State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli estimates that the average bonus this year will be $101,000 — a 16.5 percent decline from last year and almost a 50 percent decline since 2006, when the average was $191,360. ‘‘I don’t think this year’s bonuses are going to be very good,’’ said Dan Shaffer, CEO of Shaffer Asset Management. ‘‘I don’t believe the typical bonuses, as we used to know them, exist anymore.’’ Obama Meets with Boehner Privately at White House (Bloomberg) The meeting was the first known face-to-face conversation between the two leaders since Nov. 16, when Boehner and other congressional leaders sat down with Obama at the White House. They have talked on the telephone since then. Obama met with Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic minority leader, on Dec. 7. Investors offer about $38.8 billion in Greek debt buyback (Reuters) Greece is set to purchase back about half of its debt owned by private investors, broadly succeeding in a bond buyback that is key to the country's international bailout, a Greek government official said on Saturday. Hefner Husband Takes Insider Trading Into Playboy Bedroom (Bloomberg) Christie Hefner, [daughter of Hugh and] former chief executive officer of Playboy Enterprises Inc., said she was shocked as her husband of 15 years, William Marovitz, confessed to her that he was being investigated for suspicious trading in Playboy shares. They were in their apartment atop a 42-story Lincoln Park tower overlooking the glittering Chicago skyline and Lake Michigan on a March evening in 2010. “He told me he had been contacted by the SEC,” Hefner said later in testimony before the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which didn’t accuse her of any wrongdoing. “And when did you learn your husband owned shares of Playboy?” she was asked. “In that conversation,” she replied. Hefner's husband is just one of more than 400 persons the SEC and the U.S. Department of Justice have accused of insider trading in a crackdown in the last five years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. All involved betrayal -- of clients, employers, relatives or friends. The Hefner episode and a handful of cases like it include an especially cruel breach of trust: betrayal of a wife by a husband. Tennis star Novak buys up world's supply of donkey cheese at £400 a pound for new restaurant chain (DM) The cheese, known as pule, will be one of the key attractions at a chain of restaurants the Wimbledon champion and world number one is opening in his Serbian homeland...The Zasavica farm, which lies 50 miles west of the Serbian capital Belgrade, boasts a herd of 130 and is said to be the only place in the world where donkeys are milked for cheese. Banking Industry Squirms Over European Rate Probe (WSJ) The scandal over banks' attempted manipulation of interest rates has mostly centered on the London interbank offered rate. But Libor's lesser known cousin, the euro interbank offered rate, or Euribor, is facing mounting attacks. The European Union is expected soon to accuse multiple banks of attempted collusion in the setting of Euribor, according to people briefed on the probe. Barclays has already acknowledged trying to rig the rate, and other banks are likely to be pressed by regulators in the U.S., U.K. and elsewhere into similar admissions, according to industry and regulatory officials. Mortgage Crisis Presents a New Reckoning to Banks (NYT) Regulators, prosecutors, investors and insurers have filed dozens of new claims against Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and others, related to more than $1 trillion worth of securities backed by residential mortgages. Estimates of potential costs from these cases vary widely, but some in the banking industry fear they could reach $300 billion if the institutions lose all of the litigation. Depending on the final price tag, the costs could lower profits and slow the economic recovery by weakening the banks’ ability to lend just as the housing market is showing signs of life. Crisis Measure Nears End (WSJ) Barring action by Congress, the FDIC on Dec. 31 will stop providing an unlimited guarantee on zero-interest bank accounts used by businesses and municipalities for payroll and other services. The guarantee would then revert to the normal $250,000 in insurance per depositor at any given bank. If the guarantee isn't extended, FBR Capital Markets estimates as much as $250 billion in deposits could flow out of smaller banks to large banks or big money-market mutual funds. Stylish primate charms Toronto shoppers (The Star) A North York Ikea store attracted an unusual customer Sunday afternoon, when a tiny monkey dressed in a fitted faux shearling coat and diapers appeared in the store’s upper parking garage around 2 p.m. “It was just running around screaming,” said shopper Bronwyn Page...“It was really cute,” said Lisa Lin, another shopper. “It was smaller than a cat.” But if the monkey had hoped to stock up on Billy bookcases or Swedish meatballs, its plans were thwarted. The diminutive shopper never made it into the store, said manager Alvaro Carmona. No one was hurt in the incident, which lasted no more than half an hour, he added. Animal Services identified the monkey as a rhesus macaque, an Asian species that is prohibited in Ontario. The monkeys are known for their ability to live in diverse habitats – although Canadian winters obviously require a warm coat. The owner of the primate turned himself in to Animal Services just after 5 p.m. He was charged with owning a prohibited animal, an offence that carries a $200 fine. The seven-month-old monkey has somehow managed to escape his owner’s car in the Ikea parking lot, said animal control officer David Behan.