Opening Bell: 06.16.10

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Blankfein: Clients Back Goldman (WSJ)
Blankfein assured the firm's retired partners at a meeting Tuesday that clients are standing behind the company, adding that the two month's since the Securities and Exchange Commission accused Goldman of fraud have been "very difficult." About 110 retired Goldman partners attended the meeting, which began at 5 p.m. and lasted about 45 minutes. Some partners, who described the meeting as supportive of Mr. Blankfein, stayed afterward for cocktails.

BP Isn't Expected to Undermine Financial Viability (Bloomberg)
The administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the White House expects “tangible progress” in talks on an escrow fund to cover cleanup costs and claims stemming from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

House-Senate Talks Drop New Credit-Rating Rules (NYT)
Mr. Dodd said the conflict of interest seemed obvious and yet figuring out a solution was not as clear-cut. “How is it that you get to pick your own rating agency, where you don’t do any due diligence and just rely on the data and information given to you by the very company that has hired you to give them a rating?” Mr. Dodd asked. “I mean, just saying it alone, it screams out for a resolution.” “Senator Franken raised a very interesting idea on how to do this,” he added. “My concern is I don’t know how you work it. It’s complicated.”

SEC Revolving Door Under Review (WSJ)
In a letter sent Monday, Sen. Charles Grassley (R., Iowa), the ranking minority member on the Senate Finance Committee, asked David Kotz, the inspector general, to review the recent departure of a top official in the SEC's Division of Trading and Markets who took a job with a prominent high-frequency trading firm. "We need to ensure that SEC officials are more focused on regulation and enforcement than on getting their next job in the industry they are supposed to oversee," Mr. Grassley said in a statement.

Latest Assault on Goldman Sachs: Bed Bugs (ABC)
Employees who work in Goldman's Jersey City, N.J., office tower have been moved from certain floors and ordered out of the building at times because exterminators have been in checking and spraying for bed bugs, said two separate sources at the firm. Neither source was comfortable being quoted by name, citing company policy.

Lawmakers Vote For Private Equity Rules (Reuters)
Lawmakers tasked with merging House and Senate versions of the financial-regulation bill agreed to require private equity fund advisers to register with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The provision also would require hedge fund advisers to register with the SEC in order to give federal regulators a window into their activities. It also would require more oversight for hedge funds and private equity funds that have more than $150 million in assets. Venture capital funds would continue to be exempt.

Fannie and Freddie Announce Delisting From NYSE (CNBC)
It's been real.

Implants Firm: Britons Lose 109 Million Bad Teeth (CNBC)
Just an FYI: On average, Britons lose two teeth during their lifetime, with some 20 percent of the population missing five or more, according to research from Implantium Network, a company specialized in dental implants.

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Opening Bell: 12.21.12

Critics Say UBS Let Off Too Easy (WSJ) Our goal here is not to destroy a major financial institution," Lanny Breuer, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's criminal division, said Wednesday after the $1.5 billion fine against UBS was announced. Prosecutors have to at least "evaluate whether or not innocent people might lose jobs" and other types of potential collateral damage. Sen. Charles Grassley (R., Iowa), a Senate Finance Committee member, said he is unsatisfied that prosecutors didn't go higher up the corporate ladder at UBS than its Japanese subsidiary..."The reluctance of U.S. prosecutors to file criminal charges over big-time bank fraud is frustrating and hard to understand," Mr. Grassley said. The $1.5 billion fine is a "spit in the ocean compared to the money lost by borrowers at every level, including taxpayers." Regulatory 'Whale' Hunt Advances (WSJ) The first regulatory ripples from the "London Whale" trading fiasco are about to hit J.P. Morgan Chase. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, led by Comptroller Thomas Curry, is preparing to take a formal action demanding that J.P. Morgan remedy the lapses in risk controls that allowed a small group of London-based traders to rack up losses of more than $6 billion this year, according to people familiar with the company's discussions with regulators. Khuzami To Leave SEC Enforcement Post (WSJ) Robert Khuzami, head of the Securities and Exchange Commission's enforcement unit, plans to leave the agency as soon as next month, a person familiar with the expected move said Thursday. Boehner Drops ‘Plan B’ as Budget Effort Turns to Disarray (Bloomberg) House Speaker John Boehner scrapped a plan to allow higher tax rates on annual income above $1 million, yielding to anti-tax resistance within his own party and throwing already-stalled budget talks deeper into turmoil. He will hold a news conference today at 10 a.m. Washington time to discuss the next steps in the budget dispute, a Republican leadership aide said. House members and senators won’t vote on the end-of-year budget issues until after Christmas, giving them less than a week to reach agreement to avert tax increases and spending cuts set to take effect in January. The partisan divide hardened yesterday, making the path to a deal more uncertain. BlackRock Sees Distortions in Country Ratings Seeking S&P Change (Bloomberg) Credit rating companies are distorting capital markets by assigning the same debt ranking to countries from Italy to Thailand and Kazakhstan, according to BlackRock, the world’s biggest money manager. While 23 countries share the BBB+ to BBB- levels assessed by Standard & Poor’s, the lowest investment grades, up from 15 in 2008 at the beginning of the financial crisis, their debt to gross domestic product ratios range from 12 percent for Kazakhstan to 44 percent for Thailand and 126 percent for Italy, International Monetary Fund estimates show. The cost of insuring against a default by Italy, ranked BBB+, over the next five years is almost triple that for Thailand, which has the same rating. For BlackRock, which oversees $3.7 trillion in assets, the measures are so untrustworthy that the firm is setting up its own system to gauge the risk of investing in government bonds. This year, the market moved in the opposite direction suggested by changes to levels and outlooks 53 percent of the time, data compiled by Bloomberg show. “The rating agencies were very, very slow to the game,” Benjamin Brodsky, a managing director at BlackRock International Ltd., said in a Nov. 23 interview from London. “They all came after the fact. For us, this is not good enough.” If You Bought Greek Bonds in January You Earned 80% (Bloomberg) Greek government bonds returned 80 percent this year, compared with 3.7 percent for German bunds and 6.1 percent for Spanish securities, Bank of America Merrill Lynch indexes show. It’s the first year since 2009 that investors made money on Greek securities, with 2012 providing the biggest advance since Merrill began compiling the data in 1998, according to figures that don’t reflect this month’s debt buyback by the government. Texas lawmaker: ‘Ping-pongs’ deadlier than guns (The Ticket) Incoming Texas State Rep. Kyle Kacal says guns don’t kill people—ping-pong kills people. "I've heard of people being killed playing ping-pong—ping-pongs are more dangerous than guns," he says. "Flat-screen TVs are injuring more kids today than anything." The lifetime rancher, who will take his seat in 2013 as a freshman, says that new gun restrictions are unnecessary. Kacal, who reportedly operates a hunting business, notably came out against a bill instructing Texans how to secure their assault weapons. "People know what they need to do to be safe. We don't need to legislate that—it's common sense," he said. "Once everyone's gun is locked up, then the bad guys know everyone's gun is locked up." Flare-up in war of words between Ackman, Herbalife (NYP) “This is the highest conviction I’ve ever had about any investment I’ve ever made,” Ackman said yesterday in a series of interviews. The investor told CNBC that he expects the Federal Trade Commission will take a “hard look” at the company. The heavyweight battle picked up steam over the last two days and has become, in the typically slow days leading up to Christmas, one of the most-watched events on Wall Street. As the financial world watched, Herbalife CEO Michael Johnson returned fire — calling Ackman’s statements “bogus” and asking the Securities and Exchange Commission to probe the motives of Ackman and his Pershing Square Capital hedge fund. A spokeswoman said if Johnson were allowed the chance to face-off against the investor at the Downtown conference, the CEO “would have been able to tear Mr. Ackman’s premises and interpretation of our business model apart.” Citigroup Said to Give CCA Managers 75% Stake in Funds for Free (Bloomberg) Among Vikram Pandit’s last jobs as Citigroup’s chief executive officer was to decide the fate of the bank’s hedge-fund unit, which employs some of his oldest colleagues. He agreed to give them most of it for free. While Citigroup is keeping a 25 percent stake, managers at the Citi Capital Advisors unit will pay nothing for the remaining 75 percent of that business as it becomes a new firm managing as much as $2.5 billion of the bank’s money, according to people with knowledge of the plan. The lender will pay the executives fees while gradually pulling out assets to comply with impending U.S. rules, said the people, who requested anonymity because the terms aren’t public. The deal was Citigroup’s response to the Volcker rule. Peter Madoff Is Sentenced to 10 Years for His Role in Fraud (Dealbook) A lawyer by training, Peter Madoff is the second figure in the scandal to be sentenced. His older brother, Bernard, pleaded guilty in March 2009 and is serving a prison term of 150 years. UK Boom in Pound Shops: An Austerity-Proof Business Model? (CNBC) Pound shops in the U.K. are reporting massive increases in profits across the board showing that the formula "pile 'em high and sell 'em cheap" has particular resonance in Britain's current age of austerity. Names like "Poundstretcher," "Poundland" and "99p Stores" in the U.K. have become high street stalwarts as other brands go bust. The chains, immediately recognizable on price point, are opening new stores and reporting record results reflecting the increasing public demand for cheaper goods. U.K. based "Poundland" is one such chain reporting steep sales growth as its range of 3,000 items -- from umbrellas and pregnancy tests (it sells 14,000 a week) to bird feeders and bags of crisps all priced at one pound – resonates with cash-strapped Britons. In the year to April 2012, the Warburg Pincus owned company said its turnover increased 22 percent to 780 million pounds ($1.25 billion) and profits increased by 50 percent to 18.3 million pounds from last year's figure of 12.2 million. Former Olympian Suzy Favor Hamilton admits to life as a $600-an-hour hooker (NYP) Steamy, lingerie-clad images of the champion runner helped tout her services on the Web site of a Vegas escort agency called Haley Heston’s Private Collection, where Favor Hamilton operated under the name “Kelly Lundy,” according to The Smoking Gun. Customers could hire her lithe Olympic-class runner’s body for $600 an hour, $1,000 for two hours and $6,000 for 24 hours. The site described her build as “athletic,” her bosom as “perky,” and her belly button as “pierced.” She was willing to provide horny customers the full “girlfriend experience,” and would also engage in a certain undisclosed sex act for an extra $300. “I enjoy men of all shapes, sizes and colors, and I have an affinity for women (I am bisexual),” “Kelly” wrote on her page on the escort service’s Web site. “I consider dates with couples an experience to cherish.” Her sexual skills reportedly earned her a high rating on The Erotic Review, a Web site frequented by prostitution fans. Favor Hamilton’s lusty secret life might have stayed secret if she had not made the mistake of revealing her true identity to some of her wealthy johns, who went to the media.

Opening Bell: 02.29.12

David Loeb, a Goldman managing director who acts as a middleman between the Wall Street firm and some of its most important hedge-fund clients, is the latest Goldman official to be investigated in the insider-trading probe. As a senior Goldman salesman, Mr. Loeb deals with many technology hedge-fund employees...Known at Goldman and among clients as self-deprecating and colorful, Mr. Loeb sometimes signs his emails "cbf," for "chunky but funky."

Opening Bell: 04.11.13

J.P. Morgan Takes Goldman's Spot In Corporate-Governance Hot Seat (WSJ) Mr. Dimon's shareholder letter lacked the feisty tone of years past, when he often warned about the unintended consequences of a wave of new regulation of the U.S. banking industry. This year, Mr. Dimon instead said, "I feel terrible we let our regulators down" and pledged to make the firm's compliance with all regulatory obligations a priority. "We are re-prioritizing our major projects and initiatives" and "deploying massive new resources" to the effort, he wrote. The firm is dropping work on a litany of new projects, such as a redesign of its Chase.com web site, so it can focus on the new firm-wide controls, said a person close to the bank. Mr. Dimon also warned that he expects more regulatory slaps in the "coming months." Goldman Deal With Union Lets Blankfein Keep Dual Roles (NYP) CtW Investment Group, an adviser to union pension funds with $250 billion of assets, agreed to withdraw its proxy proposal seeking a split of the chairman and CEO roles after the company agreed to give Goldman’s lead director, James Schiro, new powers such as setting board agendas and writing his own annual letter to shareholders. Fed's Flub Sparks Data Concerns (WSJ) The Fed said Wednesday that a staff member in its congressional liaison office accidentally released minutes of a March 19-20 policy meeting Tuesday afternoon to many of his contacts, including Washington representatives at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Barclays Capital, Wells Fargo & Co., Citigroup Inc. and UBS AG. Also among the recipients: King Street Capital Management, a hedge fund, and Carlyle Group, a private-equity firm. Officials at the Fed didn't notice the mistake until about 6:30 a.m. Wednesday, after which they scrambled to release the information to the wider public, which was done at 9 a.m. A Fed spokesman said: "Every indication is that [the release] was entirely accidental." While there has been no obvious sign of early trading on the Fed's minutes, the flub comes at a delicate moment and raises questions about how the central bank handles sensitive information. Fed officials are currently debating when to begin winding down an $85 billion-a-month bond-buying program, a decision that is likely to have immense market impact. Market participants eagerly await the meeting minutes, which are released every six weeks, for insight into Fed thinking about the program. Plosser pitches his plan for a post-crisis Fed (Reuters) Plosser, an outspoken policy hawk and longtime critic of the bond-buying, said the Fed would be wise to begin swapping maturing longer-term assets with shorter-term ones, aiming to hold only Treasury bonds and not the mortgage bonds it is now buying. Regulators Feeling 'Social' Pressure (WSJ) The SEC issued guidance last year saying a third party's use of the "like" button could be viewed as a testimonial and suggested investment-advisory firms consider requiring preclearance before posting on social-media sites. SEC staff are currently working on additional guidance to provide more clarity about how to use social media without violating advertising rules, but the agency is unlikely to soften its prohibition against advisers using testimonials, according to the person familiar with the matter. An SEC spokesman declined to comment. Carnival Offers Motel 6 Price for Caribbean After Triumph (Bloomberg) Carnival Corp is offering a Caribbean cruise for as little as $38 a night, less than a stay at Motel 6, after an engine fire on the Triumph stranded passengers at sea for several days. A four-night trip on Carnival’s Imagination, leaving Miami on April 22, costs $149 a person, including meals and some beverages, according to the cruise company’s website yesterday. The lowest nightly rate at the budget-priced Motel 6 chain was $39.99, according to an online ad. Carnival, based in Miami, generated headlines worldwide in February after the engine fire on the Triumph left 3,100 passengers at sea for several days with limited food and toilet service. The ship broke loose from its moorings in high winds last week in Mobile, Alabama, where it is being repaired. Cyprus Central Bank Denies Plan to Sell Gold (CNBC) The Central Bank of Cyprus denied that it will sell 400 million euros ($525 million) worth of its gold reserves as part of the conditions to Europe's bailout of the island state. Aliki Stylianou, a spokesperson at the central bank told CNBC on Thursday that there was "no such thing being discussed." Jobless Claims In US Plunged More Than Forecast Last Week (Bloomberg) Jobless claims decreased by 42,000 to 346,000 in the week ended April 6, from a revised 388,000, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. The median forecast of 49 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a drop to 360,000. A Labor Department official said no states were estimated and there was nothing unusual in the data. Citadel’s Credit Co-Head Jamey Thompson Quits Hedge Fund (Bloomberg) Thompson became one of the three co-heads of Citadel’s credit group in September, when the hedge fund merged its quantitative credit and convertible-bond teams. He started at Citadel in 2008 as a credit portfolio manager and had previously worked at New York-based hedge fund King Street Capital Management LP. $100,000 worth of burgers stolen in Linden, NJ (MCJ) Capt. James Sarnicki said police responded Tuesday to BMG Logistics, a shipping yard at 720 W. Edgar Road, for a report of a shipping container theft. The owner told police that sometime between 8 p.m. April 8 and 10 a.m. April 9, someone stole a 40-foot-long refrigerated shipping container from the lot containing $100,000 worth of hamburger patties bound for the Netherlands. Detective Frank Leporino said the burgers had been shipped from Kansas City, Mo., and brought to the warehouse and shipping yard before being loaded onto a container Monday. The container was stored in a 2006 trailer with a California license plate 4HR1817. The burger patties were stored in 3,000 cartons. Police have surveillance video footage of the tractor hooked up to the trailer going out of the shipping yard at about 10:33 p.m. Monday.