Opening Bell: 12.20.10

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Meredith Whitney On State Budgets' Days Of Reckoning (CBS)
"The most alarming thing about the state issue is the level of complacency," Meredith Whitney told correspondent Steve Kroft on 60 Minutes. Whitney is warning about a financial meltdown in state and local governments. "It has tentacles as wide as anything I've seen. I think next to housing this is the single most important issue in the United States, and certainly the largest threat to the U.S. economy," she told Kroft. Asked why people aren't paying attention, Whitney said, "'Cause they don't pay attention until they have to."..."The lack of transparency with the state disclosure is the worst I have ever seen," Whitney said. "Ultimately we have to use what's publicly available data and a lot of it is as old as June 2008. So that's before the financial collapse in the fall of 2008." Whitney believes the states will find a way to honor their debts, but she's afraid some local governments which depend on their state for a third of their revenues will get squeezed as the states are forced to tighten their belts. She's convinced that some cities and counties will be unable to meet their obligations to municipal bond holders who financed their debt.

"There's not a doubt in my mind that you will see a spate of municipal bond defaults," Whitney predicted. Asked how many is a "spate," Whitney said, "You could see 50 sizeable defaults. Fifty to 100 sizeable defaults. More. This will amount to hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of defaults."

Citi Gal In Suicide Plummet (NYP)
Very sad: Jessica Fashano, 27, plunged from the crest of swanky Trump Place, which rises 40 stories above Riverside Boulevard, and landed face down in a third-floor courtyard just after 8 a.m. on Sunday. Fashano, who cops said had sneaked into the building, landed a job as a Citigroup analyst after graduating from Georgetown University in 2005.

Europe Bankers' Bonuses Slashed On Weaker Revenues (FT)
More than one in ten bankers and traders in the UK and Europe could receive no bonus this year, as banks slash their year-end pay-outs following weaker revenues. Underperformers will miss out on the billions of pounds of bonuses doled out early next year, with bonus pools expected to be down as much as 20 to 30 percent at most big investment banks, according to Armstrong International, the European executive search firm. “Compensation is being skewed more aggressively than ever,” said Matthew Osborne, a partner at Armstrong. “Banks are saying: ‘Let’s pay only the top revenue generators and the lower-ranked staff, but not the mediocre people in the middle’.”

Insider Trading Probe Could Grow (WSJ)
A key cooperating witness working for the U.S. in a major insider-trading investigation made more than 60 calls with corporate managers, seeking to gather evidence for the government, a person familiar with the probe says. The activity by the witness—who was identified by prosecutors in a complaint unveiled Thursday only as "CW-2"—suggests that the insider-trading investigation could grow significantly from the initial charges. A person familiar with the matter said that witness is Karl Motey, a 46-year-old technology analyst who has agreed to help the U.S. in its insider-trading probe. The government said CW-2 pleaded guilty to securities-fraud charges but doesn't say when the charges against him were filed or what led to them.

Soros Gold Bubble At $1,384 (Bloomberg)
Globally, the 10 biggest such funds now hold a combined 2,113 metric tons of gold, more than the official reserves accumulated by every country in the world save four: the U.S., Germany, Italy and France. Their popularity has helped drive unprecedented gains for the precious metal, and some people, including analysts at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., say gold can go higher.

Porn appears on Bangladesh airport screen (SMH)
Hundreds of travellers and waiting friends and relatives at the main terminal of the Shahjalal International Airport were shocked as the film was aired for five minutes, magistrate Siddiqa Akhter said. The display screen usually shows recorded documentaries about the culture and geography of Bangladesh, a conservative Muslim country. "The operator has been jailed instantly for two months. We have also summoned the owners of the cable firm to investigate the incident. We have to find out whether any criminal intent was involved," Akhter said.

European financials see dollar funding gap widen (FT)
Mounting concerns over the eurozone have forced the cost of swapping euros into dollars to the highest level since May, sparking fears that European banks could run into funding difficulties as they need the US currency to repay loans. The costs have been pushed higher because of the strong demand for the dollar, seen as a haven amid the ongoing debt crisis in the eurozone, and the reluctance of some US banks to lend to European banks, dealers say.

Does Marriage Make You Fat? (Reuters)
Breaking: The research, which followed nearly 8,900 adults over several years, found that both men and women who got married during that time tended to experience a dip in cardiovascular fitness, as measured by treadmill tests. In contrast, men who got divorced during the study saw a modest increase in their fitness levels. The findings, reported in the American Journal of Epidemiology, do not prove that a change in marital status directly causes the change in fitness -- for better or worse. Still, researchers say the results support the notion that once people are married and, presumably, off the dating market, they tend to let themselves go a bit. But if they remain single or get divorced, they have more incentive to get in shape.

Holiday Hiring: People Versus Robots (WSJ)
Zipping around the floor of a Crate & Barrel warehouse in Tracy, Calif., a cadre of 35 orange robots helps solitary human employees do the work of six people. The squat machines carry shelves with the company's 8,000 different products to people, who pick just the items they need to prepare online orders for shipment—all without walking around the sprawling building. While Crate & Barrel sees orders quadruple during the holiday weeks, this warehouse gets by with just double the employees, about 90 humans, thanks to the robots.

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Opening Bell: 12.12.17

Hedge funds face an identity crisis; did Wilbur Ross insider-trade while at Bank of Ireland?; being gay on Wall Street; South Koreans are fueling bitcoin's ascent; AI-assisted fake porn is now a reality; and more.