Opening Bell: 11.12.10

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G-20 Delays Imbalance Deal (WSJ)
The U.S. and G-20 host South Korea ran into strong opposition from such exporting powers as China and Germany to a proposal to quantify limits on current-account surpluses and deficits. At the heart of the controversy are fundamental issues of how countries would need to restructure their economies. "These are not going to be easy issues to resolve," said Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. "But I think we've got everyone talking the same language, everyone understanding longer-term what has to be done."

Morgan Stanley May Shed Quantitative Trading Unit (NYT)
For nearly two decades, the mathematical whiz Peter Muller and his secretive band of traders have helped power Morgan Stanley to bigger profits. But now Morgan Stanley and Mr.Muller are in advanced talks about splitting up. Under the plan being discussed, Morgan Stanley would spin off Mr. Muller’s unit, called Process Driven Trading, and keep a minority stake. The Process Driven Trading unit generated an estimated $4 billion in profits in the 10 years through 2006, according to Scott Patterson’s book, “The Quants." [Since 1992] Mr.Muller stocked the group with Ph.D.’s and housed them on their own floor, away from the hurly-burly excitement of Morgan Stanley’s mammoth stock trading floor. To stimulate productivity and cerebral thinking, he had ceiling lights installed that changed color every 15 seconds.

Even though he and his unit were minting money, Mr.Muller quit working full-time for Morgan Stanley in 2001, saying, according to a short biography on his Web site, that he realized he “can no longer find happiness in the corporate world.” Over the next several years, he traveled to Bhutan, New Zealand and Hawaii, hiking and kayaking, with his five-pound keyboard in tow. He took up yoga and began writing crossword puzzles, many of which appeared in The New York Times and other newspapers. He indulged his love of music, writing songs, releasing two albums under his own label and playing his guitar on the streets of Barcelona and in New York City subways. He also pursued his passion for poker, a favorite pastime of quantitative traders. He played in a few tournaments on the World Poker Tour. In his first tournament he came in fourth and took home nearly $100,000. In late 2006, Muller returned full time to Morgan Stanley.

Obama Assails China on Trade, Monetary Policy (AP)
"It wasn't any easier to talk about currency when I was first elected and my poll numbers were at 65 percent," Obama argued at the close of the G20 summit, after bluntly accusing Beijing of undervaluing its currency.

Exotic Cars Go 'Green' At $100,000 And Up (WSJ)
Next year, Volkswagen AG's Bentley will sell its Continental GT Coupe with an optional V8 engine it says will emit up to 40% less carbon dioxide than the coupe's standard 12-cylinder motor. Bentley already is in the midst of making all of its new models able to use ethanol fuel by 2012. Porsche AG plans to sell a plug-in hybrid car called the 918 Spyder that it says will yield up to 78 miles per gallon. Expected to arrive as early as 2013, it could carry a price tag close to €500,000 ($682,260), executives at the German car maker estimate. Porsche said it has already received roughly 2,300 informal order pledges from would-be customers.

Mizuho To Buy $500 Million BlackRock Stake (WSJ)
Mizuho Financial Group Inc. said Friday it will pay $500 million for a 2% stake in BlackRock, a deal designed to help Japan's second-largest bank by assets ramp up its asset-management operations.

Private banks keep hiring as rich get richer (Reuters)
Hiring sprees this year have taken some firms beyond their pre-crisis staffing levels, as banks believe growth in Asia, and robust revenues elsewhere, will support the expansion. Citi for instance plans to add between 100 and 200 senior staff to its private bank over the next few years, Dena Brumpton, chief operating officer at its private bank, told Reuters.

Seeking Guidance on Dodd-Frank’s Diversity Clause (Dealbook)
As Wall Street scrambles to comply with the regulations of the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul, one little-noticed provision has executives scratching their heads. The statute, included in Section 342 of the bill, creates 20 Offices of Minority and Women Inclusion at the various regulatory agencies, including the Treasury, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the 12 Federal Reserve banks and the newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Once established, the offices are charged with monitoring the diversity at the agencies as well as at any contractors or subcontractors, including law firms, accounting firms and investment banks. These contracts, totaling in the billions a year, are typically awarded to private firms for services like debt issuances and sales of government assets, as well as more general advisory services. Section 342 was proposed by Representative Maxine Waters.

Barclays to Reimburse Gay Workers for Taxes on U.S. Benefits (Bloomberg)
The aim is to offset the tax on benefits for same-sex partners that doesn’t apply to spouses in heterosexual marriages because same-sex partnerships aren’t recognized as marriages under U.S. law, the London-based bank said today in a statement.

Moscow vows revenge on top double agent (FT)
A Russian official said: “We know who he is and where he is. Do not doubt that a Mercader has been sent after him already.” The comment was an apparent reference to Ramón Mercader, the Soviet-picked assassin who in 1940 murdered Leon Trotsky, the exiled communist leader, with an ice pick in Mexico. Vladimir Putin, Russia’s prime minister, had alluded to the existence of a mole within the SVR espionage agency after a meeting with the 10 returned spies, who were traded in July for four accused US and British agents in Russia. “This was the result of treason and traitors always meet a bad end,” Mr Putin said. “The special services live by their own laws and everyone knows what these laws are.”

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Opening Bell: 10.04.12

France’s LBO Firms See ‘Death’ From Hollande’s 75% Carry Tax (Bloomberg) Hollande, who released his first annual budget on Sept. 28, plans to tax fund managers’ share of the profit from their investments, known as carried interest, at a rate of as much as 75 percent, part of a wider effort to increase taxes on the wealthy and narrow the country’s deficit. France also plans to as much as double taxes on capital gains and restrict the amount of debt interest payments a company can deduct from its taxable income, a measure that will reduce returns on leveraged buyouts. Facebook Test Turns Users Into Advertisers (FT) Facebook is testing a new product in the US that allows ordinary users to pay to promote their own status updates, marking a shift in the social network’s willingness to charge its users for a core service. The product has potential to generate revenues, analysts said, but could also threaten the organic feel of the site as people pay to market their own social lives. Mark Zuckerberg Confirms: 'I wear the same thing everyday' (DL) "I mean, I wear the same thing every day, right? I mean, it's literally, if you could see my closet," Zuckerberg starts to explain, as Lauer asks if he owns 12 of the same gray t-shirt. "Maybe about 20," Zuckerberg admits, somewhere between discussing the future of Facebook, his daily routine, the iPhone 5, and his wedding to college sweetheart Priscilla Chan last May. The Facebook CEO says that he doesn't really have much in his closet — it's mainly used by his wife, who graduated from medical school at the University of California at San Francisco shortly before their marriage. Instead, Zuckerberg's identical t-shirt collection lives in the one drawer he's allotted. Tiger Global Up 22.4 Percent (Reuters) Tiger Global, one of the world's best-performing hedge funds, ended the third quarter with strong gains, leaving the fund up 22.4 percent for the year, two people familiar with the numbers said on Wednesday. The roughly $6 billion fund, run by Chase Coleman and Feroz Dewan, has been the darling of the investment community for its string of strong returns at a time when the average hedge fund is delivering only low single-digit returns. In 2011, when most funds nursed losses, Tiger Global captured headlines with a 45 percent gain for the year after having made a good chunk of money on the short side, people familiar with the portfolio said. 'Dark Pool' And SEC Settle (WSJ) The Securities and Exchange Commission alleged in its order that Boston-based broker-dealer eBX LLC allowed the third-party operator of its trading platform, called LeveL ATS, to use details on client orders, including the stocks involved and whether they were buy or sell orders, to its own advantage. That operator is Lava Trading, an electronic-trading unit of Citigroup, according to eBX. eBX agreed to pay $800,000 to settle the SEC's allegations. It did so without admitting or denying wrongdoing. Mohamed El-Erian: No corner offices at PIMCO (Fortune) "It doesn't matter whether you're CEO or whether you're an associate, you have the same size office. No corner offices. Just a conference room. And then I knew that I had made the right decision when my very first outing with PIMCO, I had come from the IMF, 15 years working on emerging markets. I had a swagger, I thought I knew what I was talking about. I put forward my view, and this summer intern felt safe enough to get up and say, "You know what? Mohamed is wrong and this is why he's wrong." The fact that PIMCO had created this safe zone where a summer intern could get up and question someone who was supposed to be an expert confirmed to me that I was in the right place." Bank-Friendly U.S. Regulator Shifts Focus to Revamp Reputation (Bloomberg) In a stately hearing room stuffed with senators and bankers, Thomas Curry began his apologies. His agency should have stopped a major bank from helping drug cartels launder cash. The violations went on for years while his agency was overly passive. “I deeply regret we did not act sooner,” he said. Curry had been on the job for just over three months on that day in July, so the mistakes hadn’t been made on his watch. His apologies were less a confession than a signal the new Comptroller of the Currency -- long seen as the most bank- friendly of U.S. regulators -- was changing course. “I’m not interested in what people thought about in the past,” Curry said in an interview. “My focus is going forward.” Since he took over in March, at least two key staff members closely associated with the agency’s pro-industry stance have departed, notably chief counsel Julie Williams. Williams, a 19- year OCC veteran, was known for helping nationally chartered banks resist state regulation by arguing they were preempted by often less-stringent federal rules. Curry has also raised the profile of consumer protection and shifted focus toward “operational risk” -- the idea that bank practices and management can pose as much of a threat to safety and soundness as external forces. Argentine Navy Ship Seized In Asset Fight (FT) An Argentine naval vessel crewed by more than 200 sailors has been seized in Ghana as part of an attempt by the US hedge fund Elliott Capital Management to collect on bonds on which Buenos Aires defaulted in 2001. A Ghanaian court ordered an injunction and interim preservation order against the ARA Libertad, a 100-metre long tall ship, following an application by Elliott subsidiary NML Capital on Tuesday. The hedge fund, run by the US billionaire Paul Singer, has been closely monitoring the course of the Libertad, according to sources familiar with the firm. Elliott had been waiting for the ship to stop in a port where it would have a chance to enforce legal judgments previously awarded by UK and US courts. The hedge fund declined to comment. Argentina slammed the interception of the Libertad as a “trick which these unscrupulous financiers” had pulled, adding that it “violates the Vienna Convention on diplomatic immunity”. Morgan Stanley commodities talks with Qatar hit snag (Reuters) Morgan Stanley's talks with Qatar's sovereign wealth fund over the sale of its commodities business have run into difficulty, and the deal may need to be reworked if it is to go ahead, banking sources said. One of the top banks in commodity trading over the past 30 years, Morgan Stanley has been in discussion for more than a year with Qatar over the sale of at least a majority stake in the energy-focused trading business, the bankers said. "There have been some differences, and Qatar is a bit lukewarm about it," one said. "It's not dead yet but definitely not imminent." Maple syrup stolen in Quebec seized by police in New Brunswick (The Star) Quebec police have seized between 700 and 800 barrels of maple syrup from a New Brunswick exporter, linking the drums to August’s massive heist of the sweet stuff. Étienne St-Pierre, owner of S.K. Exports in Kedgwick, N.B., told the Star that police executed a search warrant Sept. 26 and hauled away the barrels. “They said they were searching to find some stolen drums from Quebec,” he said. “It was a surprise. That was the first news I received.” St-Pierre said each barrel weighs about 270 kilograms and holds 170 litres of syrup, meaning police seized at least 119,000 litres of gooey Quebec gold. A spokesperson for the Sûreté du Québec, Sgt. Bruno Beaulieu, confirmed a search warrant had been executed in Kedgwick but said he could not comment on the investigation. The Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers has never revealed the amount of syrup stolen from its secure St-Louis-de-Blandford, Que. warehouse in August. The facility held about 3.75 million litres of syrup, enough to fill one and a half Olympic swimming pools. St-Pierre said he obtained the barrels from a regular Quebec supplier, who he refused to identify.

Opening Bell: 4.18.16

Morgan Stanley beats estimates; Osborne says UK economy faces permanent hit with Brexit; Owl's ring delivery goes spectacularly wrong at Canadian wedding; and more.

Opening Bell: 05.25.12

J.P. Morgan Unit Made Risky Bets on Firms (WSJ) The JPMorgan unit whose wrong-way bets on corporate credit cost the bank more than $2 billion includes a group that has invested in financially challenged companies, including LightSquared Inc., the wireless broadband provider that this month filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection...The Special Investments Group last year took a $150 million stake in closely held LightSquared, in a deal that J.P. Morgan lost money on, according to a person familiar with the bank. Both Campaigns Seize on Romney’s Years at Bain (NYT) ...the Romney campaign is actively recruiting testimonials from workers who have had positive experiences with Bain. It is getting ready to release advertising highlighting Bain’s marquee success stories, like the turnaround of Staples. It is considering seeking out middle-class surrogates — a fireman or members of a teachers union, for instance — who would be willing to talk about how Bain managed and increased the size of their pension funds, a lesser-known aspect of private equity...Mr. Romney’s advisers are betting that if they stay out of the nuances of private equity and tell a story about turning around failing companies, they can transform the Bain attacks into a narrative that underscores Mr. Romney’s image as a skilled executive who can steer a troubled economy back to prosperity. ECB Official: On Greece, ‘We Are Working on Plan A’ (CNBC) "It's our strong preference that Greece stays in the euro zone...We are working on plan A," Joerg Asmussen said in the interview yesterday. "I always work on plan A. I am not speculating, I am working to make plan A successful," he added. What Would A Greek Exit Mean For The US Economy? (Reuters) usiness investment would stall, banks would pull back on credit, and lost wealth as equity prices fall would cause consumers to slow their spending. Commodity prices would plunge, helping importers but hurting growth in export economies. Merkel May Be Persuaded On Euro Debt-Sharing Compromise (Bloomberg) Chancellor Angela Merkel left the door open to a compromise on debt sharing in the euro area as Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti said he can help bring Germany round to acting in Europe’s “common good.” Short Sellers Find Friends In Banks (WSJ) As traders at Morgan Stanley were frantically trying to shore up Facebook Inc.'s FB share price following the company's initial public offering, other managers on the deal were helping short sellers bet that the newly minted stock would fall. Trading desks at Goldman Sachs Group and J.P. Morgan Chase, two of the firms that helped Morgan Stanley underwrite the IPO, were among those lending out Facebook shares that hedge funds needed for short sales, according to people familiar with the matter. While it isn't uncommon for Wall Street firms to make shares available for shorting on IPOs they manage, Morgan Stanley, the lead underwriter, didn't lend shares, according to people familiar with the matter. Escaped monkey holds up flight at JFK for hours (NYP) Monkey business held up a Beijing-bound flight at Kennedy Airport nearly four hours yesterday. A monkey escaped its crate in the cargo hold of an Air China Boeing 747 scheduled to leave Terminal 1 at 4:50 p.m., said Port Authority police. Port Authority emergency services officers and an airport worker caught the monkey and handed it over to the airline. The animal never got out of the jet’s cargo hold. The foot-tall monkey was one of about 50 to 60 being shipped to China for medical research, said police sources. “He was a slippery little beast,” one source said. Bankia Shares Suspended Ahead of Board Meeting (WSJ) EFE news agency reported Thursday that the lender will ask the government for more than €15 billion ($18.80 billion). The bank said it requested the suspension ahead of the meeting, at which it will also approve its 2011 earnings report. The board meeting will begin at 2:30 p.m. GMT. Moody's Downgrades Major Nordic Banks (WSJ) Moody's said the funding and margin issues left the banks susceptible to unexpected losses from which it would be a challenge for them to rebuild capital. It also highlighted risks to asset quality, with the Swedish economy exposed to weakness in Europe and the banks' variable-rate mortgage books vulnerable to interest rate changes. USDA Is a Tough Collector When Mortgages Go Bad (WSJ) Unlike private firms, the USDA doesn't need permission from a court to start collecting on unpaid debts. It can in some cases seize government benefits and tax refunds before a foreclosure is completed. After foreclosure, the USDA can go after unpaid balances, even in states that limit such actions by private lenders. Nasdaq CEO went ahead with Facebook IPO despite signs new software had bugs (NYP) During a conference call on Monday evening, Nasdaq officials said that they were unaware of any problems with the system. However, sources said that there may have been signs that the system wasn’t glitch-free even at the 11th hour and that Nasdaq opted to roll the dice. “They may have thought they did not have any material issues with the systems,” said one exchange platform official. Lacrosse Party-Boy Image Worries Coaches Who See Slower Growth (Bloomberg) “It’s really important that the lacrosse world grows up a little bit,” Danowski said from his office in Durham, North Carolina. “We are getting more TV exposure; more people are able to make a living through lacrosse. If we want to be accepted in the mainstream, then it’s time for us to grow up.”

Opening Bell: 11.08.12

On Wall Street, Time To Mend Fences With Obama (NYT) Few industries have made such a one-sided bet as Wall Street did in opposing President Obama and supporting his Republican rival. The top five sources of contributions to Mr. Romney, a former top private equity executive, were big banks like Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Wealthy financiers — led by hedge fund investors — were the biggest group of givers to the main “super PAC” backing Mr. Romney, providing almost $33 million, and gave generously to outside groups in races around the country. On Wednesday, Dan Loeb, who had supported Mr. Obama in 2008, was sanguine. “You win some, you lose some,” he said in an interview. “We can all disagree. I have friends and we have spirited discussions. Sure, I am not getting invited to the White House anytime soon, but as citizens of the country we are all friendly.” [...] “Wall Street is now going to have to figure out how to make this relationship work,” said Glenn Schorr, an analyst who follows the big banks for the investment bank Nomura. “It’s not impossible, but it’s not the starting point they had hoped for.” Morgan Stanley Reassures Its Bankers (WSJ) The New York bank said Monday that investment-banking chief Paul Taubman would leave the firm at year-end. Mr. Taubman was passed over for a new job overseeing both the trading and investment-banking operations, people involved in the process said. The position went to Colm Kelleher, who has overseen sales and trading. To calm nerves and soothe egos among the firms' bankers, Morgan Stanley gathered its new team of investment-banking leaders in New York this week. Mr. Kelleher and one of his new banking lieutenants, Franck Petitgas, traveled from their London office, and Mr. Petitgas spent much of the week meeting with managers in the investment-banking division and senior bankers, people familiar with the discussions said. Top executives reassured senior bankers Monday that the investment-banking business was a priority for Morgan Stanley. In a memo to employees, Chief Executive James Gorman said Morgan Stanley would "continue to build on our leadership position in investment banking and capital markets." The messages came as some rank-and-file bankers at Morgan Stanley privately expressed surprise and dismay at the news from Mr. Taubman, who announced his departure to colleagues in an emotional meeting Monday with Messrs. Kelleher and Gorman in attendance. Some Morgan Stanley bankers said they worried that the new chiefs of investment banking didn't have the stature of Mr. Taubman, who spent a significant amount of time as a mergers banker and was known internally for his staunch support of the firm's investment-banking franchise. "People are upset," one senior person inside the company said. Wall Street Trades Foiled Romney Dreams For Bowles Hopes (Bloomberg) Wall Street executives who lost a bet that Republican Mitt Romney would defeat President Barack Obama are bracing for tougher regulation and hoping a deal can be struck with Congress to cut the deficit. Obama’s choice to succeed Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner will be watched closely for signs about the administration’s approach to business and the deficit, industry executives said. Erskine Bowles, who served as chief of staff under former President Bill Clinton, would be a sign that Obama is willing to endorse a bipartisan debt-reduction plan supported by many business leaders, they said. “With the appointment of the Treasury secretary, Obama will be sending an important message to the public and to the foreign governments who own a lot of Treasuries,” Curtis Arledge, chief executive officer of Bank of New York Mellon Corp.’s investment-management arm, which oversees $1.4 trillion, told journalists in New York yesterday. “If he goes with somebody like Erskine Bowles, then the message will be that he cares about the deficit and is serious about cutting it.” Focus Shifts To Fiscal Cliff (WSJ) Barry Knapp, head of U.S. equity portfolio strategy at Barclays, turned more bearish after seeing the election results, arguing that the risk of fiscal-cliff disaster increased to more than half, from about 30% before. "When I look at what happened, I see a government that grew farther apart, which might be worse than the status quo," Mr. Knapp said. "The risk of going off the cliff has just gotten huge." Jobless Claims Fall (WSJ) Initial jobless claims, which are a measure of layoffs, decreased by 8,000 to a seasonally adjusted 355,000 in the week ended Nov. 3, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires expected 365,000 new applications for jobless benefits. Greek Jobless Rate Hits New High (WSJ) Elstat, the Greek statistical agency, Thursday said the seasonally adjusted rate of unemployment increased to 25.4% from 24.8% in July and 18.4% in August 2011. That was just below the 25.5% unemployment rate recorded by Spain in the same month, the highest in the European Union. Herd of elephants go on drunken rampage after mammoth booze up (Metro) The trunk and disorderly mammals ransacked a shop, three houses and ruined crops in the eastern village of Dumurkota, India. Police say the gang of over-the-limit tuskers downed more than 500litres of moonshine alcohol, managing to drink the place dry in a matter of minutes. The unruly mob demolished dozens of houses in their desperate hunt for more booze after hoovering up the hard stuff in record time. Local police officer Asish Samanat said the drunken elephants were more 'aggressive' than usual after their mammoth drinking session. 'Unfortunately these animals live in close proximity to man and they recognised the smell of the drink,' he explained. 'They were like any other drunk - aggressive and unreasonable but much, much bigger.' ECB Stands Ready to Buy Bonds as Economy Weakens (Bloomberg) “We are ready to undertake” Outright Monetary Transactions, “which will help to avoid extreme scenarios,” Draghi said today at a press conference in Frankfurt after policy makers left the benchmark interest rate at a historic low of 0.75 percent. “The risks surrounding the economic outlook remain on the downside” and underlying inflation pressures “should remain moderate,” he said. SocGen CEO Blames ‘Stupid’ Accounting for Profit Drop (CNBC) “Exceptional items are related in particular to this stupid accounting thing which means that when you have a credit that is improving, your CDS is going down and you have to recognise negative revenues,” Frederic Oudea told CNBC in Paris. SocGen’s third-quarter net profit was 85 million euros, down by 86 percent on the same period in 2011, after losses on asset sales. That was lower than analysts’ mean estimate of 139.1 million euros. Blackstone Leads Hedge Funds Attracting Bond-Rally Bears (Bloomberg) Funds that bet on both gains and losses in credit attracted $12.6 billion of deposits in the three months ended Sept. 30, the most since the period ended Dec. 31, 2007, according to HFR. Blackstone Group LP raised $4.05 billion during the period for its debt unit, which includes so-called long-short funds. Panning Capital Management, which was founded by Kieran Goodwin this year, started such a fund on Nov. 1 with $500 million. Two-Tier Global Housing Market Could Lead to Bubble: Goldman (CNBC) In a report titled: “Just don’t look down some house markets are flying again” Goldman argues easy money policies by the world’s major central banks has had a ripple effect on countries which have avoided the worst of the global financial crisis, boosting their house prices. According to Goldman, there now exist housing “high-flyers” - countries that have experienced real house price increases and “low-lyers” - countries where the housing market downturn appears to be more protracted. “High flyers” include Germany, Finland, Norway, France, Switzerland and Israel as well as Canada and Australia. The “low lyers” include the U.S., and the euro zone periphery of Spain, Greece, Italy and Ireland- but also those places where prices fell in the post-crisis period but have since stabilized such as the U.K., Japan and Denmark. Judge throws Dallas attorney back in jail after his Design District office trashed, vandalized with obscene drawings (DN) Attorney Tom Corea was charged earlier this year with four felonies alleging he stole from his clients. He was arrested, posted bond and was released. Weeks later, he was evicted for not paying rent for his upscale office in the 2000 block of Farrington Street near Interstate 35E and Market Center Boulevard, according to testimony before state District Judge Mike Snipes. Corea was ordered out by Oct. 31. When the president of the real estate company that represents the building, Doug Molny, showed up the next day to check out the property, he found “complete destruction,” including “penis graffiti on every single wall throughout the building,” Molny said. Written next to some of the penises was the name Doug. Molny said it appeared someone took a sledgehammer to granite counters. Additionally, doors, light fixtures, cabinets and appliances were destroyed or removed.