Opening Bell: 12.14.10

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JPMorgan Cuts Back On US Silver Futures (FT)
JPMorgan has quietly reduced a large position in the US silver futures market which had been at the centre of a controversy about its impact on global prices for the precious metal. The decision by JPMorgan was an attempt to deflect public criticism of the bank’s dealings in silver, a person familiar with the matter said. The person added that the bank’s position in silver would from now on be “materially smaller” than in the past. A group of small precious metals investors has alleged that large short positions – or bets on lower prices – in silver futures held by several banks, including JPMorgan, are keeping prices artificially low.

Purest Goldman (NYP)
Goldman undertook the most exhaustive review in its 140-year history a month after a withering attack from Washington regulators and lawmakers culminated with nationally televised hearings where the reputations of the firm and its highest-ranking executives were sullied -- and with the Securities and Exchange Commission charging Goldman with fraud. The committee, co-chaired by the bank's Asia boss, Michael Evans, is consolidating its results from the review and is slated to make its findings public sometime early next month, sources said. The changes suggested, according to insiders, deal primarily with: 1) How Goldman treats conflicts of interest and 2) How well the firm discloses information to its clients and shareholders.

Deutsche Bank Sees S&P Hitting 1550 Next Year (CNBC)
Chief U.S. equities strategist Binky Chadha, in a note released late Monday, also issued a forecast for S&P 500 earnings per share of $96 in 2011, compared to the annualized $91.50 in the 2010 fourth quarter. He expects domestic profit growth of 7 percent. "Equities will re-rate in 2011 as the recovery continues, jobs growth picks up and credit growth resumes," Chadha said in the note. He recommends overweighting domestic cyclical stocks and underweighting defensives. He is neutral on global cyclicals.

Speculators Are Eager to Bet on Madoff Claims (NYT)
“Virtually every sophisticated distressed investor is looking at the Madoff situation,” said Thomas T. Janover, a lawyer at Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel who has represented clients who are considering buying claims. “The uncertainty of the payout from the bankruptcy process creates an opportunity and potentially big returns.”

Banker Sees Peril In Hungary Policies (WSJ)
"The Hungarian economy is still vulnerable to shifts in investor sentiment," said András Simor, who has headed the National Bank of Hungary since 2007. "Risk assessment of Hungary if anything has deteriorated during the recent months."

US Widens Stanford Probe To Brokers (FT)
The Securities and Exchange Commission has notified Danny Bogar, former president of Stanford International Bank’s brokerage operations, and several brokers in recent months that it intends to file civil fraud charges against them in connection with the probe, according to lawyers involved in the case and a regulatory filing. The SEC declined to comment.

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Opening Bell: 04.13.12

JPMorgan Profit Slips (WSJ) J.P. Morgan reported a profit of $5.38 billion, down from $5.56 billion a year earlier. On a per-share basis, earnings were $1.31, up from $1.28 as the share count outstanding declined. The latest quarter included a net 8-cent per-share loss tied to litigation expenses and changes in the value of the bank's debt. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected a per-share profit of $1.18, excluding debt-related charges. Revenue rose 6.3% to $27.42 billion. Analysts were looking for $24.68 billion. Wells Fargo reports higher first-quarter profit (Reuters) Wells Fargo, the nation's fourth-biggest U.S. bank, said net income was $4.25 billion, or 75 cents a share, in the quarter, compared with $3.76 billion, or 67 cents, a share in the same period a year earlier. The average estimate from analysts was 73 cents per share. JPMorgan Said to Transform Treasury to Prop Trading (Bloomberg) Achilles Macris, hired in 2006 as the CIO’s top executive in London, led an expansion into corporate and mortgage-debt investments with a mandate to generate profits for the New York- based bank, three of the former employees said. Dimon, 56, closely supervised the shift from the CIO’s previous focus on protecting JPMorgan from risks inherent in its banking business, such as interest-rate and currency movements, they said. Some of Macris’s bets are now so large that JPMorgan probably can’t unwind them without losing money or roiling financial markets, the former executives said, based on knowledge gleaned from people inside the bank and dealers at other firms. Bank Bonus That Tops Salary May Be Banned by EU Lawmakers (Bloomberg) Governments and lawmakers in the 27-nation EU are considering rules for lenders that would go far beyond international agreements approved by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision. Denmark, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU, has proposed empowering nations to set surcharges of up to 3 percent across their banking systems. Karas yesterday suggested adding language to the legislation that would ban banker bonuses that exceed fixed pay, following calls from other lawmakers to rein in excessive compensation. IMF Lifts Growth Forecast, Cautiously (WSJ) Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, said the world economy is marked by "a high degree of instability" even though prospects for global growth are better than they were a few months ago. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Ms. Lagarde said the IMF, which marked down its 2012 forecast for global growth in January to 3.3%, has now marked it up to reflect improving conditions in the world economy. But she said the new forecast, to be released next week, remains more pessimistic than the one it made last September, which predicted 4% growth. Europe remains the biggest single risk to the global economy, the former French finance minister said. Hedge Fund Driver Guns DownArmed Robber (NYP) A retired NYPD lieutenant blew away a drugstore bandit yesterday as the suspect tried to gun down three police officers during a foot pursuit, sources said. Thomas Barnes, Barnes — a driver for hedge fund manager Philippe Laffont, was filling his tank at the BP station on East 119th Street and First Avenue at around 11 a.m. when he saw gunman Rudolph Wyatt running from the store, and sprang into action. He crouched behind his hedge-fund boss’ Mercedes SUV and squeezed off three shots, killing Wyatt, 23. The trigger-happy thug — wanted on warrants for two other shootings — lay dead in a pool of blood on the sidewalk wearing a black stocking mask with a wad of stolen cash spilling out of his pocket, witnesses said. “Part of the back of his head was missing. He had a large head wound and there was tons of blood,” said witness John Brecevich, 59, owner of the Original Patsy’s restaurant nearby. “It was a scene straight out of NYPD Blue.” Trustees Aim For MF Execs (NYP) The trustee tasked with clawing back money for burned customers of MF Global is training his sights on the brokerage firm’s executives — a list that likely includes former CEO Jon Corzine. In a statement yesterday, trustee James Giddens said he is considering pursuing claims against “certain responsible individuals” who worked for MF at the time customers’ trading accounts were improperly tapped. Kent Jarrell, a spokesman for Giddens, declined to name names but said the trustee is considering civil suits against “officers, directors or other employees” of both the brokerage firm and the holding company. Fed Officials Differ on Need to Keep Rates Low to 2014 (Bloomberg) William C. Dudley, president of the New York Fed, and Vice Chairman Janet Yellen said the 2014 time-frame is needed to lower unemployment from 8.2 percent. Minneapolis Fed President Narayana Kocherlakota said rising inflation may prompt an interest-rate increase as early as this year, while Philadelphia’s Charles Plosser said policy should hinge on economic performance, not a calendar commitment. Newark Mayor Cory Booker: Race into home fire was a "come to Jesus moment" (CBS) Booker arrived home last night to discover his next-door neighbor's house on fire, and rescued a young woman trapped upstairs by carrying here through the flames, suffering second-degree burns in the process. The mayor's security team discovered the fire and pounded on the door to alert residents, when an elderly woman said that her daughter was trapped upstairs. At first, Newark Police Detective Alex Rodriguez would not let Booker into the burning house. "He basically told me, 'This woman is going to die if we don't help her,' and what can I say to that?," Rodriguez said. "I let him go and without thinking twice, he just ran into the flames and rescued this young lady." Booker said that as he jumped through the kitchen on the second floor, "I actually wasn't thinking. When I got there and couldn't find her in all the smoke, looked behind me and saw the kitchen really erupting with flames all over the ceiling, that's when I had very clear thoughts that I'm not going to get out of this place alive and got ... very religious. He admitted he was "not gentle" with her - "I just sort of threw her over my shoulder and dragged her through the kitchen."

Opening Bell: 04.03.12

CFTC Deals Out Royal Pain (WSJ) In a federal-court lawsuit filed Monday in New York, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission alleged a "wash trading scheme of massive proportion" by RBC, Canada's largest bank. From 2007 to 2010, officials at RBC coordinated with two subsidiaries on the purchase and sale of futures contracts that gave the right to sell stock later at certain prices, the CFTC alleged. The alleged scheme eliminated the possibility that RBC would suffer any losses on the investments, while locking in "lucrative" Canadian tax breaks on dividend payments, according to the lawsuit. U.S. Economy Enters Sweet Spot as China Slows (Bloomberg) An improving job market, rising stock prices and easier credit are combining to lift U.S. consumer confidence and spending, with optimism measured by the Bloomberg Comfort Index near a four-year high. Personal-consumption expenditures increased by the most in seven months in February, rising 0.8 percent, the Commerce Department said last week. “We’re entering a sweet spot for the economy,” said Allen Sinai, president of Decision Economics Inc. in New York. “We’re in a self-reinforcing cycle,” where faster employment growth leads to higher household income and increased consumer spending. China's Central Banker Sees Risk of Global Recession (WSJ) China's central bank Gov. Zhou Xiaochuan warned that the global economy hasn't yet escaped the financial crisis, while cautioning the U.S. to take "more responsibility" for its monetary easing. There are "new elements that could bring the global economy back into recession," the central bank chief said in a panel discussion Tuesday at the Boao Forum in the southern island province of Hainan, without elaborating on what the elements are. ‘Apple Fever’ to Push Stock to $1,001, Topeka Capital Says (Bloomberg) Apple, already the world’s most valuable company, will see its stock price reach $1,001 within 12 months, lifted by growth in China and the debut of a new television product, according to Topeka Capital Markets. The new target, issued yesterday by Topeka’s Brian White, is the highest among the 45 analysts tracked by Bloomberg and represents a 62 percent increase over the current price. The gains will be fueled by demand for the next iPhone, in addition to the expansion into China and the TV market, he said. SEC Probes Groupon (WSJ) The regulator's probe into the popular online-coupon company is at a preliminary stage and the SEC hasn't yet decided whether to launch a formal investigation into the matter, the person said. The SEC decision to examine the circumstances surrounding Groupon's surprise revision is the start-up's latest run-in with the regulator. Groupon twice revised its finances before its November IPO. An SEC spokesperson declined to comment, as did a spokesman for Groupon. JOBS Act Jeopardizes Safety Net for Investors (Dealbook) Andrew Ross Sorkin: "Maybe President Obama should have bought shares in Groupon’s I.P.O. If he had, he would understand what some Groupon investors may be feeling as he prepares this week to sign a new piece of legislation to help start-ups get financing. Had he purchased $10,000 worth of shares on the open market on the first day of public trading for Groupon, the online coupon company based in his hometown Chicago, he would have lost a good chunk of his investment, putting him in the red by almost $4,100 today. That means he would have lost about 41 percent of his investment in Groupon in just five months, while the Nasdaq rose some 16 percent." James Cameron Changes Stars In Titanic (CM) The director unveiled a 3D version of his multi-Oscar winning classic last month (Mar12) and he resisted the temptation to use its reworking as an excuse to cut scenes he's no longer happy with. But there was one shot Cameron felt obliged to alter, because a top stargazer informed him the astral pattern onscreen was incorrect for the night the liner sank in 1912. The scene involves Kate Winslet's character, Rose DeWitt Bukater, drifting on a piece of wood and gazing at the night sky as the disaster unfolds. Cameron tells British magazine Culture, "Oh, there is one shot that I fixed. It's because Neil deGrasse Tyson, who is one of the U.S.' leading astronomers, sent me quite a snarky email saying that, at that time of year, in that position in the Atlantic in 1912, when Rose is lying on the piece of driftwood and staring up at the stars, that is not the star field she would have seen, and with my reputation as a perfectionist, I should have known that and I should have put the right star field in. "So I said, 'All right, you son of a bitch, send me the right stars for the exact time, 4.20am on April 15, 1912, and I'll put it in the movie.' So that's the one shot that has been changed." JPMorgan’s Hannam Resigns After Market Abuse Fine (Reuters) JPMorgan Chase’s Ian Hannam, one of its most senior London-based bankers, has decided to resign after being fined by Britain's financial watchdog for market abuse, according to an internal memo the bank sent to staff. In a separate statement, Hannam said he would appeal the 450,000 pounds ($720,700) fine by the FSA. Judge OKs MF sale (Dow Jones) A judge approved a Jefferies Group affiliate’s purchase of MF Global Holdings Ltd.’s liquidating brokerage’s remaining gold, silver and other precious-metal assets. Judge Martin Glenn of the US Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan approved the sale, but much of yesterday’s time was taken up by issues regarding insurance meant to pay for former MF Global executives’ legal defenses. Jefferies is buying the remaining 106 warehouse certificates — not the actual gold and silver bars — of MF Global’s former commodities customers. Ann Romney Says Campaign Will ‘Unzip’ the Real Mitt (The Note) Ann Romney defended her husband’s sense of humor today during a radio interview, explaining that if people think the candidate seems too stiff at times as the host suggested, she thinks “we better unzip him and let the real Mitt Romney out.”