Opening Bell: 11.15.10

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UBS Recovery Fizzles as Gruebel Sees Less Profit on Lower Risk (Bloomberg)
The firm made more from trading stocks and bonds than the average of its competitors in 2005, before more than $57 billion of writedowns and losses from the credit crisis forced it to shrink the investment bank’s risk-weighted assets 44 percent. A lack of client business, combined with the lowest value-at-risk, meant UBS barely made enough in the third quarter to pay the 17,000 bankers in the unit. “They have to start taking risk again or to pay less,” said JPMorgan Chase & Co. analyst Kian Abouhossein, whose recommendations on UBS produced the second-highest total returns over the past year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. “The question is do you really need the best people in the market if you’re just running a very flow-oriented business? That’s the dilemma that they need to decide.”

Goldman's Plan To Repay Berkshire Is Delayed (WSJ)
Buffett to be paid $15/second for a bit longer.

Ireland Talks With EU as Germany Pushes It to Take Bailout (Bloomberg)
“Ongoing contacts continue at official level with international colleagues in light of current market conditions,” a Finance Ministry spokesman said in an email late yesterday. “Ireland has made no application for external support” and the government is “fully funded till well into 2011,” the spokesman said.

Harbinger Being Probed By Authorities (Reuters)
The Securities and Exchange Commission and U.S. Attorney's office in Manhattan are investigating whether Harbinger misled investors by not disclosing soon enough a $113 million personal loan for founder Philip Falcone from the firm's funds.

Fed's Bond Plan Faces Fresh Attack (WSJ)
A group of prominent Republican-leaning economists, coordinating with Republican lawmakers and political strategists, is launching a campaign this week calling on Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke to drop his plan to buy $600 billion in additional U.S. Treasury bonds. "The planned asset purchases risk currency debasement and inflation, and we do not think they will achieve the Fed's objective of promoting employment," they say in an open letter to be published as ads this week in The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.

Options Showing Quantitative Easing Working Before It Begins (Bloomberg)
As the central bank starts a second round of purchases of Treasuries through its so-called quantitative-easing policy, investors are paying eight times more than in April for options on interest-rate swaps that protect against rising yields relative to those that bet on them falling, according to Barclays Plc data. Bonds that compensate for higher consumer prices also show heightened inflation expectations.

Benmosche: 'This Isn't Pie In The Sky'
(WSJ)
If you're a customer, you want to know whether this company is going to make it or not. Many people were saying we're a ward of the state, that there's no way we could pay back the taxpayers. But if you do an analysis, this is at least a $70 billion company and we will have about 1.8 billion shares. Our recent quarterly earnings [for core insurance operations] show we can earn $8 billion to $9 billion pretax income annually if other charges and write-downs stop occurring. All the numbers come together and say the government will be able to sell its shares at some price in the future. It's math; it really isn't about pie in the sky.

Greenspan: High Deficits Could Spark Bond Crisis (ABC)
"We've got to resolve this issue before it gets forced upon us," Greenspan said of the ballooning U.S. debt levels.

Royal Bank of Scotland Sells Project Book for $6 Billion (Reuters)
Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group said it will acquire project finance loans and assets from RBS for 3.8 billion pounds ($6.1 billion), expanding its overseas reach as loan demand remains tepid in Japan.

Troubled California begins $14bn bond sale (FT)
Orders begin on Monday for a $10bn, two-part sale of revenue anticipation notes (Rans), an annual event that allows California to bridge the gap to its tax season in the spring. The notes, due in May and June, are targeted mostly at individual investors who benefit from tax breaks on munis.

The Year's 10 Highest Paid CEO's (WSJ)
Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei is number one at $87.1 million.

Bill Clinton Joins The Cast Of Hangover 2 (People)
Clinton, who'll play himself in the comedy, shot his brief appearance on Saturday in Bangkok, where part of the production takes place.

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Opening Bell: 02.22.12

Fitch Downgrades Greece (WSJ) Fitch Ratings downgraded Greece's credit rating to C from triple-C Wednesday after confirmation of the country's second bailout package, which includes a debt exchange that will force bondholders to take a loss on their holdings of Greek debt. "The rating action is in line with Fitch's statement on 6 June 2011, which outlined its rating approach to a sovereign-debt exchange," the ratings company said. Fitch said it will lower its rating on the country's sovereign bonds to "restricted default" upon the completion of the debt exchange aimed at reducing the country's debt burden.

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: 05.14.12

JPMorgan Loss Claims Official Who Oversaw Trading Unit (NYTimes) The $2 billion trading loss at JPMorgan Chase will claim its first casualty among top officials at the bank as early as Monday, with chief executive Jamie Dimon set to accept the resignation of the executive who oversaw the trade, Ina R. Drew. Ms. Drew, a 55-year-old banker who has worked at the company for three decades and serves as chief investment officer, had repeatedly offered to resign since the scale of the loss became apparent in late April, but Mr. Dimon had held off until now on accepting it, several JPMorgan Chase executives said. Two traders who worked for Ms. Drew also planned to resign, JPMorgan Chase officials said. Her exit would mark a stunning fall from grace for one of the most powerful women on Wall Street, as well as a trusted lieutenant of Mr. Dimon...Former senior-level executives at JPMorgan said it was a shame that Ms. Drew has ended up suffering much of the fallout from the soured trade. They said that Thursday’s announcement of the $2 billion loss was the first real misstep that Ms. Drew has had and said that the position was not meant to drum up bigger profits for the bank, but rather to ensure that JPMorgan could continue to hold lending positions in Europe. “This is killing her,” a former JP Morgan executive said, adding “in banking there are very large knives.” Jamie Dimon: Trading Losses Are Not Life-Threatening (CNBC) “This is a stupid thing that we should never have done but we’re still going to earn a lot of money this quarter so it isn’t like the company is jeopardized,” he said in an interview with NBC’s “Meet with Press.” “We hurt ourselves and our credibility, yes — and that you’ve got to fully expect and pay the price for that.” Yahoo’s Thompson Out Amid Inquiry; Levinsohn Is Interim CEO (Bloomberg, earlier) Thompson, 54, was brought on to orchestrate a turnaround after Google Inc. and Facebook Inc. lured users and advertising dollars. Thompson’s undoing stems from erroneous biographical references to him as holding a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Stonehill College. A former EBay Inc. (EBAY) executive, he earned a degree in accounting from the Easton, Massachusetts- based school, and the information is correctly listed in EBay regulatory filings and some Yahoo press releases. The incorrect degree showed up in Yahoo’s April 27 10-K filing, as well as on the company’s website. As part of the board changes, Daniel Loeb, chief executive officer of Third Point, joins as a director along with Harry Wilson and Michael Wolf. A fourth nominee, Jeffrey Zucker, said in today’s statement that he withdrew his nomination to allow a quick transition. Euro Officials Begin to Weigh Greek Exit (Bloomberg) Greek withdrawal “is not necessarily fatal, but it is not attractive,” European Central Bank Governing Council member Patrick Honohan said in Tallinn on May 12. An exit was “technically” possible yet would damage the euro, he said. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble reiterated in an interview in Sueddeutsche Zeitung that member states seeking to hold the line on austerity for Greece could not force the country to stay. LightSquared Moves Toward Bankruptcy Filing (WSJ) Hedge-fund manager Philip Falcone's LightSquared Inc. venture was preparing Sunday to file for bankruptcy protection after negotiations with lenders to avoid a potential debt default faltered, said people familiar with the matter. LightSquared and its lenders still have until 5 p.m. Monday to reach a deal that would keep the wireless-networking company out of bankruptcy court, and there were some indications over the weekend that a final decision hadn't yet been reached on its fate. Still, the two sides remained far apart, and people involved in the negotiations expected LightSquared to begin making bankruptcy preparations in earnest. Facebook cofounder living large in Singapore as he stiffs US for a possible $600M in taxes (NYP) Saverin is renouncing his US citizenship in favor of Singapore, the Southeast Asian city-state that has no capital-gains tax, where he has lived like royalty since 2009. The move already has saved him about $288 million in taxes, and will save him much more if he chooses to sell his $4 billion personal stake in Facebook, which goes public next week. “This pisses me off,” fellow tech-industry billionaire Mark Cuban spat on Twitter Friday upon hearing news of Saverin’s decision. Saverin’s spokesman has defended the move, claiming he has investments in the Far East, and Europe and the permanent move makes perfect sense. “Eduardo recently found it more practical to become a resident of Singapore since he plans to live there for an indefinite period of time,” Saverin’s spokesman told Bloomberg. JPMorgan Unit's London Staff May Go as Loss Prompts Exits (Bloomberg) The entire London staff of JPMorgan Chase’s chief investment office is at risk of dismissal as a $2 billion trading loss prompts the first executive departures as soon as this week, a person familiar with the situation said. The firm is examining whether anyone in the unit, which employs a few dozen people in London, sought to hide risks, said the person, who requested anonymity because the deliberations are private. In Wake Of JPMorgan Loss, Rivals Fret About New Rules, Downgrades (WSJ) Over the weekend, rival banks scurried to explain why they believe a similar trading loss couldn't happen at their firm. Some companies pointed to moves already taken to reduce risk and sell off volatile and opaque assets such as derivatives on credit indexes. In a statement, Citigroup "has a small amount of straight-forward economic hedges managed at the corporate center to mitigate our credit exposure, principally relating to consumer loans." About half of that total is in cash, with most of the rest in U.S. Treasury bonds and other conservative investments. At Morgan Stanley, the portfolio most similar to J.P. Morgan's investment office is a $32 billion "available for sale" portfolio. The portfolio primarily consists of easily traded U.S. Treasury and government agency securities. It doesn't hold any derivatives instruments, a person familiar with Morgan Stanley's operations said. Goldman Sachs has no similar unit to the one at J.P. Morgan that suffered the loss. Apple Founder Wozniak to Buy Facebook Regardless of Price (Bloomberg) “I would invest in Facebook,” he said in an interview yesterday on Bloomberg Television. “I don’t care what the opening price is.” Missing: Stats on Crisis Convictions (WSJ) It is a question that has been asked time and again since the financial crisis: How many executives have been convicted of criminal wrongdoing related to the tumultuous events of 2008-2009? The Justice Department doesn't know the answer. That is because the department doesn't keep count of the numbers of board-level prosecutions. In a response earlier this month to a March request from Sen. Charles Grassley (R.,Iowa), the Justice Department said it doesn't hold information on defendants' business titles. "Consequently, we are unable to generate the [requested] comprehensive list" of Wall Street convictions stemming from the 2008 meltdown, the letter from the Department of Justice to Mr. Grassley said. Man Charged in Death Offers Victim's Foot for Deal (AP) A homeless man charged with killing and dismembering his friend says he can't remember much about the crime. But in a jailhouse interview, Leslie Sandoval told the Anderson Independent-Mail he remembers where he put the victim's missing left foot and is willing to tell a prosecutor if she will make him a deal. Sandoval says he went on a January drinking binge with Seth Foster. Foster's torso was found under an Anderson home, and his head, hands and right foot were found different places. Sandoval says he is confused about exactly what happened. But he disagrees with a coroner's finding he beat Foster and denies a claim from investigators that he confessed and gave them the knife used to dismember Foster.

Opening Bell: 02.27.13

Bernanke Affirms Bond Buying (WSJ) In his semiannual report to Congress Tuesday, Mr. Bernanke said the bond buying is helping the economy by holding down long-term interest rates and ought to be sustained. "Keeping long-term interest rates low has helped spark a recovery in the housing market and has led to increased sales and production of automobiles and other durable goods," he said. The Fed has accumulated $2.8 trillion of Treasury and mortgage securities. Mr. Bernanke's remarks signaled little change in the central bank's plans to purchase $85 billion a month of long-term Treasury and mortgage debt. The Fed's next policy meeting is March 19-20. Regulators Hope For Libor Pacts (WSJ) Regulators investigating alleged interest-rate manipulation are hoping to reach settlements with at least three major financial institutions by the end of summer, according to a person familiar with the probes. It isn't clear if the companies will go along with any proposed settlements, and previous agreements with banks were delayed before being completed. So far, regulators have settled rate-rigging charges with Barclays, RBS, and UBS collecting about $2.5 billion in penalties. All three banks admitted that employees sought to rig rates. Barclays to Unveil Numbers Earning 1 Million (FT) Barclays is set to reveal the number of staff who earned above 1 million pounds ($1.5 million) last year, in a push for transparency that could turn the bank into a trailblazer for the sector. In its annual report next week, the British retail and investment bank will for the first time give an outline of the various pay brackets among its 140,000 staff, people close to the situation said. Analysts estimate that between 600 and 700 employees – mostly in the investment bank – will be revealed as having taken home more than 1 million pounds last year. JPMorgan To Cut 17,000 Jobs (WSJ) The move announced Tuesday by the New York company, the nation's most profitable bank in 2012 and the biggest U.S. lender by assets, will reduce its staff by 6.5% in one of the most aggressive reductions to date amid widespread financial-industry cutbacks. Bond brawl: Singer v. Argentina today (NYP) Lawyers Ted Olsen and David Boies will appear before a Manhattan US appeals court to argue over how $1.44 billion in Argentina debt should be paid. Olsen represents billionaire hedge fund magnate Paul Singer, who claims he and other bondholder holdouts should be paid alongside those holders who agreed to a steep haircut during a debt restructuring. Argentina President Cristina Kirchner has long insisted she will never pay “one dollar” to the Singer holdouts. Boies represents the bondholders who agreed to the restructuring — and they oppose Singer, believing that Argentina will never go along with a pro-holdout ruling, thus putting their bonds at risk of default. Cops: Florida Man, 36, Assaulted Teen Relative With Taco Bell Burrito (TSG) The victim told cops that he was having a “verbal altercation” with his mother and Brown, his brother-in-law, when Brown “asked his mother to bring him the burrito,” according to an arrest affidavit. Brown then allegedly threw the burrito “with force” at the victim, striking the boy in the face with the fast food item. While interviewing the teen, cops noted that he had “burrito cheese, sauce and meat all over his clothing and face.” Brown told police that the victim was disrespectful to his mother and had cursed at the woman. He also acknowledged that he had “delivered” the burrito. After being booked into the county jail, Brown warned that he would “take care” of the teen upon his release from custody, adding that the victim “was going to get knocked out.” Best Buy Takeover Attempt by Founder in Jeopardy (Reuters) Best Buy founder Richard Schulze's effort to take the company private is in trouble after attempts to secure financing faltered while an alternative strategy to line up minority investors may not pan out either, five sources familiar with the matter said. No longer pursuing a full takeover bid for the troubled electronics retailer, Schulze has focused discussions in recent weeks on a potential deal in which private equity firms would buy a non-controlling stake, the sources, who declined to be named because the discussions are private, said. 'Penta-Millionaires' Happier Than Merely Rich: Study (CNBC) Breaking: A survey from Spectrem Group found that individuals worth $5 million or more are far more satisfied with their jobs, relationships and work than those worth $100,000 or less. Dimon Says Banks Have More Capital Than They Can Use (Bloomberg) The biggest U.S. banks are lending the smallest portion of their deposits in five years as cash floods in from savers, a slow economy damps demand from borrowers and regulators push financial firms to bolster themselves against any future credit crisis. The average loan-to-deposit ratio for the top eight commercial banks fell to 84 percent in the fourth quarter from 87 percent a year earlier and 101 percent in 2007, according to data compiled by Credit Suisse Group AG. JPMorgan had the lowest ratio in the group at 61 percent. “I don’t want to say it’s anti-American” to be held to international standards, Dimon said, adding that the bank’s assets include highly rated securities. “That balance sheet is almost as liquid as you can get.” Budweiser Has Been Sued 3 Times for Watering Down All Those Watery Beers (Atlantic Wire) The plaintiffs — including one guy who bought a case of Michelob Ultra a month, for some reason — allege that the public doesn't know what all the beers under the Budweiser umbrella really taste like, and that they're not getting their money's worth. There is no science backing up the defendants' claims, and AB InBev has yet to respond in court. The krux of the evidence comes from "information from former workers" of Anheuser-Busch breweries who claim watering down the beer in post-production is a company policy.

By Rlevente [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Opening Bell: 6.27.16

EU leaders hope Brits will reconsider; London bets screwed bookies; Goldman predicts UK recession; Sarah Palin compares Brexit to Declaration of Independence; and more.