Opening Bell: 11.30.10

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Portugal Banks Face 'Intolerable Risk'; Need Capital (Reuters)
The Bank of Portugal reiterated that the austerity measures, including higher taxes and wage cuts in the public sector, would have a recessive impact on the economy next year, although it said the impact could be mitigated by external demand for Portuguese products.

Spanish Banks Are Seen as the Weak Link in Debt Crisis (Reuters)
This just in.

Level Global Says It's Not A Target (Bloomberg)
Level Global, with offices in New York and Greenwich, Connecticut, said in a letter to investors that it met with the U.S. Attorney’s Office on Nov. 23 and that the government said yesterday it wasn’t a target of the probe. “Nor, in fact, has the firm been alleged to have engaged in any misconduct or wrongdoing,” Level Global said in the letter.

Obama Proposes Freeze On Federal Worker Pay (WSJ)
Obama on Monday proposed a two-year salary freeze for all federal civilian employees, signaling an apparent willingness to reach toward Republicans ahead of negotiations on deficit-cutting that are likely to dominate Washington next year.

Did New Rules Worsen Pay Situation? (WSJ)
A set to be released Tuesday and commissioned by the Council of Institutional Investors, which represents about 130 pension funds, contends that financial firms still tie too much of their compensation to short-term results and have increased salaries to offset the impact of recent regulatory curbs on pay. "Very little of any real import has changed" since financial stocks began tumbling in 2007 as the subprime-mortgage issue emerged, wrote Paul Hodgson, a senior research associate at Corporate Library, a corporate-governance research firm that produced the report. "On balance, pay practices have worsened."

Rattner Assails Cuomo Offer (Dealbook)
In a strongly worded, previously undisclosed correspondence, a lawyer for Steven L. Rattner, the financier ensnared in a wide-ranging investigation of suspected kickbacks, described a proposed payment of at least $20 million to the New York attorney general office as excessive, “misconceived” and “wholly untethered from the facts” in the case.

BofA Mortgage Morass Deepens on Promissory Notes Issues (Bloomberg)
Judge Wizmur’s ruling is being scrutinized by lawyers for borrowers seeking to stall repossessions as a way to press lenders to modify their debt. Attorneys for homeowners have already won cases by calling into doubt the legitimacy of affidavits used to take back properties. “If this is correct, many, many, many foreclosures already occurred in which this plaintiff didn’t have the note,” said Bruce Levitt, the South Orange, New Jersey, attorney representing Kemp. “This could affect thousands or hundreds of thousands of loans.”

Nomura said to be building a prop trading business, HIRING prop traders (eF)
“Nomura are building their risk trading business,” says one equities focused consultant. “They’ve got a big balance sheet, so it makes sense for them to move into prop trading.”

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Opening Bell: 05.04.12

BofA Sees $5 Billion Collateral Need in Credit Downgrade (Bloomberg) A two-level downgrade of long-term senior debt ratings would have prompted the bank to post about $5.1 billion of collateral tied to derivatives contracts and other trading agreements as of March 31, the Charlotte, North Carolina-based firm said yesterday in a regulatory filing. It would have had to post an additional $1.1 billion of collateral if trading partners opted to tear up contracts in a two-level cut. RBS claims 'pleasing progress' though loss triples (AP) RBS, 82-percent owned by the British government after a massive bailout in the global the financial crisis, posted a 2011 first quarter net loss of £528 million. The lender said losses soared owing to an increase in the value of its outstanding debt to £2.46 billion. "As RBS's credit spreads tightened during the quarter, a charge of £2,456 million was booked for (our) own credit adjustments," RBS said in a statement. But the bank's underlying performance was brighter, with RBS posting a first quarter operating profit of £1.18 billion. RBS also confirmed that it would repay the last of emergency state loans totalling £163 billion but the British government will still own almost all of the bank after a £45.5 billion bailout following the 2008 financial crisis. "The start of 2012 has shown pleasing progress at RBS within the context of a flat economic environment," chief executive Stephen Hester said in the statement. Employers in U.S. Added Fewer Jobs Than Forecast in April (Bloomberg) Payrolls climbed 115,000, the smallest gain in six months, after a revised 154,000 gain in March that was larger than initially estimated, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. The median estimate of 85 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News called for a 160,000 advance. The jobless rate fell to a three-year low of 8.1 percent, and earnings stagnated. Facebook Targets $96 Billion Value (WSJ) With the pricing, Facebook is anticipated to raise as much as $13.6 billion, above earlier expectations of $10 billion. In a regulatory filing, Facebook said the company would seek to sell 337.4 million shares, with about half of those being sold by founders, employees and investors. The only U.S. issuers that have raised more money in an IPO were Visa Inc. at $19.7 billion in 2008 and General Motors Co. at $18.1 billion in 2010. Zuckerberg Facebook IPO to Make Him Richer Than Ballmer (Bloomberg) So that's exciting. Warren Buffett Has 'No Plans To Invest In Facebook IPO' (CNBC) When asked whether the current attention surrounding Internet IPOs reminded him of the tech stock bubble of the late 1990s, the Oracle of Omaha said, “It is not a bubble ... this is not what we were seeing in late 1999 all the way into 2001. We aren’t in any bubble phase of anything.” Inmates Dance, Deputy Fired (OBJ) Some inmates did the worm, others chose the old school robot. Each dance was performed to the beat of hip-hop artist Usher on command from a now-fired Summit County deputy. The inmate prize: use of a jail microwave. The charges are revealed in an internal affairs report released Wednesday. Deputy Dominic Martucci, 35, was fired for violating the department’s policies, including a mandate that inmates be treated humanely. Martucci is accused of ordering five inmates dance to Usher’s Yeah! song and then inviting other deputies to watch during an early evening shift on April 11. The inmates danced their way to regaining use of a microwave that they had lost earlier that day. Fitch CEO: US Downgrade Not Likely Before Election (CNBC) "We currently have the U.S. on a negative outlook, which actually suggests we think there is the potential for a downgrade," Taylor said in an interview. "It's too early to tell whether that will turn into an actual downgrade or not,” he said. “We think we still need to see what's going to happen through the elections and what actions are put in place subsequent to the elections. I think it's very clear that the U.S. does need to do something to deal with the debt problems built up since the financial crisis," he added. New Ripples For Gupta Case (WSJ) Mr. Gupta's criminal trial for securities fraud and conspiracy is scheduled to begin May 21 and expected to last about three weeks. Mr. Gupta has pleaded not guilty. His lawyer, Gary Naftalis, declined to comment for this article but previously has called the accusations "totally baseless." The Manhattan U.S. attorney's office also declined to comment. Federal prosecutors in Manhattan have taken note of the spike in trading in Goldman, which began as the firm's board concluded a special meeting to approve the deal that afternoon, according to people familiar with the matter. Galleon traders also noticed the climbing stock, conversations recorded on government wiretaps show. "Someone had this before us, someone, whatever went on, something happened," Galleon trader Ian Horowitz told Mr. Rajaratnam in a phone call the next morning, caught on tape by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Goldman Readies Low-Cost Bond PLatform (WSJ) Goldman is preparing to roll out a bond-trading platform on which it will charge lower fees than on typical bond trades, according to people familiar with the matter, a move that could help retain customers tempted by rival trading venues being set up by BlackRock Inc. and others. AIG Invests $7.4 Billion at 5.3% to Boost Returns, Adds RMBS (Bloomberg) “We continue to be opportunistic with our investments in structured securities in order to improve yields, increase net investment income and offset the impact of a lower interest rate environment,” Wintrob said. BofA Talks Deal On Ex-Broker Pay (WSJ) The former Merrill brokers left the firm after the 2009 takeover by Bank of America and claim they are owed deferred compensation as a result of the deal. They were emboldened last month by an arbitration ruling ordering the Charlotte, N.C., company to pay more than $11 million to two former brokers with related complaints.

Opening Bell: 02.11.13

Two Firms, One Trail, In Probe Of Ratings (WSJ) The Justice Department last week went after Standard & Poor's Ratings Services—not rival Moody's Investors Service —with a $5 billion fraud lawsuit. Some former Moody's employees think they know why. The Moody's Corp. unit took careful steps to avoid creating a trove of potentially embarrassing employee messages like those that came back to haunt S&P in the U.S.'s lawsuit, the former employees say. Moody's analysts in recent years had limited access to instant-message programs and were directed by executives to discuss sensitive matters face to face, according to former employees. The crackdown on communications came after a 2005 investigation by then New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer into Moody's ratings on some mortgage-backed deals, the former employees say. Former employees also point to an April 2001 settlement between Moody's and the Justice Department's antitrust division over the destruction of documents amid a civil inquiry by the agency. Moody's pleaded to one count of obstruction of justice and paid a fine of $195,000. Moody's called that situation "an isolated incident" and said it cooperated with the Justice Department's investigation. That settlement helped lay the groundwork for heightened concerns about sensitive documents, former Moody's employees say. Credit Rating Victims Didn’t Know S&P’s Toxic AAA Born of Greed (Bloomberg) When Charles O. Prince III was chief executive officer of Citigroup Inc. from 2003 to 2007, he didn’t know about a surge in mortgage risk that his own investment bankers loaded on to its bank’s books. Because such debt carried top credit ratings from firms such as Standard & Poor’s, few financial executives paid attention to the potential dangers. When Charles O. Prince III was chief executive officer of Citigroup Inc. from 2003 to 2007, he didn’t know about a surge in mortgage risk that his own investment bankers loaded on to its bank’s books. Because such debt carried top credit ratings from firms such as Standard & Poor’s, few financial executives paid attention to the potential dangers. Makeover At Barclays Won't Be Extreme (WSJ) Mr. Jenkins's cuts are likely to be focused on areas where Barclays lags far behind competitors, executives say. That could include parts of the equities sales-and-trading businesses in Asia and continental Europe, according to analysts and people at other banks. Those are businesses in which Mr. Diamond spearheaded an ambitious expansion but where Barclays remains a second-tier player. But other changes are driven more by polishing the bank's tarnished image than they are by the need to boost profits. A few business lines that don't seem "socially useful" are likely to end up on the chopping block, executives say. For example, Barclays plans to retreat at least in part from the lucrative trading of "soft commodities" such as coffee, executives say. That is a concession to mounting criticism that speculative trading in those commodities contributes to food-price inflation. "We're a big player, but does it pass the smell test of what society would think of this?" a senior executive said. Mr. Jenkins is also expected to trumpet plans to dramaticallyscale back Barclays's tax-planning business, in which it advises clients on how to minimize their tax burdens. The bank will no longer help clients put together transactions that have no businesspurpose other than reducing taxes. "Such activity is incompatible with our purpose," Mr. Jenkins will say on Tuesday, according to the extract of his speech. But the bank isn't expected to exit the business altogether. It will continue to offer tax-minimizing advice. People familiar with the matter say the business has been hiring employees recently. Putin Turns Black Gold Into Bullion as Russia Out-Buys World (Bloomberg) Not only has Putin made Russia the world’s largest oil producer, he’s also made it the biggest gold buyer. His central bank has added 570 metric tons of the metal in the past decade, a quarter more than runner-up China, according to IMF data compiled by Bloomberg. The added gold is also almost triple the weight of the Statue of Liberty. White House Warns Coming Austerity Will Hit Economy Hard (Reuters) Automatic government spending cuts due to go into effect March 1 unless Congress acts to prevent them would bite deeply into programs affecting many Americans, such as law enforcement, small business assistance, food safety and tax collection, the White House said on Friday. The administration urged Congress to blunt the effect of the reductions, which the White House said would slash non-defense programs by 9 percent across the board and defense programs by 13 percent, the White House said. "These large and arbitrary cuts will have severe impacts across the government," the administration said in a statement. World's most prolific stripper calls it a day (DM) For two decades, the Liverpudlian father-of-three has been the Usain Bolt of the naked dash. In 1995, he leapt naked on to Fred Talbot’s weather map on daytime TV show This Morning, and a year later he appeared nude on the green during the Open at Royal Lytham. Then, in 2004, he was fined £550 for trespassing after streaking across the pitch at the Super Bowl in Texas – a match watched by 130 million people in 87 countries. For good measure, Mark has also stripped off at Wembley, Wimbledon and Ascot. ‘There’s no major venue or event I haven’t done,’ he says proudly. ‘But I’m nearly 49 now and my children have begged me to stop. It’s time. I’m not ready for my slippers just yet, but gravity’s against me.’ Treasury Pick Lew Faces Grilling on Citi Bonus, Cayman Account (Reuters) Jack Lew, President Barack Obama's pick to be U.S. treasury secretary, is expected to come under fire for the administration's budget policies and a nearly $1 million bonus he received from bailed-out bank Citigroup when he testifies on Wednesday before a Senate panel vetting him for the job. The hearing will briefly become ground zero in the pitched political battle over the federal budget, with Republicans set to attack over what they contend is Lew's devil-may-care attitude to reducing the U.S. budget deficit. "He'll be used as a political ping-pong ball," said Ted Truman, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for InternationalEconomics who served briefly as an adviser to Obama's former treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner. Treasury Eases Off On Bank Rules (WSJ) The proposal, which will be subject to comment before becoming a final rule, is likely to insist that financial institutions gather beneficial ownership information—who is in charge and who profits—on new corporate accounts, officials said. But in a move that could assuage some industry concerns, financial institutions wouldn't have to vet that ownership data for accuracy. Instead, they would rely on the customer to vouch for the information. With a Focus on Its Future, Financial Times Turns 125 (NYT) On Wednesday, The F.T. is celebrating its 125th birthday. The newspaper’s London headquarters along the south bank of the Thames will be lit up in pink, the color of the paper on which it has been printed since shortly after it was founded. There will be a few parties — understated, of course, for these are straitened times in the City of London, and challenging ones for the newspaper industry. Waxing Our Way To The ER (Salon) A new study from the University of California-San Diego reveals that “Emergency room visits due to pubic hair grooming mishaps,” including “lacerations,” increased fivefold between 2002 and 2010, sending an impressive 11,704 pube-scapers to the E.R. The culprits? Scissors and hot wax did some of the damage, but plain-old non-electric-razors accounted for the lion’s share, at 83 percent...The study also revealed that below-the-belt grooming isn’t just for adult ladies anymore – men accounted for 43.3 percent of the injuries, and almost 30 percent of them were girls under the age of 18. To avoid becoming yet another harrowing grooming gone bad statistic, the researchers advise hair removal aficionados to “Pay attention to where you’re placing that razor. Invest in a non-slip bath mat. And don’t shave while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.”