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Opening Bell: 03.24.11

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Ex-Goldman Board Member Took The Fifth (Bloomberg)
Shortly before the start of proceedings yesterday in the insider-trading trial of Galleon Group LLC co-founder Raj Rajaratnam, Assistant U.S. Attorney Reed Brodsky asked whether the defense intended to introduce into evidence a submission that Rajat Gupta made to the SEC. Defense attorney John Dowd said he didn’t plan on telling jurors about the so-called Wells submission. “In that Wells submission, Mr. Gupta took the Fifth Amendment when he spoke to the SEC,” Brodsky told U.S. District Judge Richard Holwell. Gupta “wasn’t deposed when the SEC asked for his deposition,” Brodsky said.

Exchange CEOs Square Off (WSJ)
In 2008, NYSE Euronext Chief Executive Duncan Niederauer arrived at an investor conference early to hear comments by Robert Greifeld, the head of rival exchange operator Nasdaq OMX Group Inc. Mr. Niederauer cringed at Mr. Greifeld's description of market-share gains in stock trading by Nasdaq over the Big Board, denouncing the numbers as "dishonest." "He's running for president. I am the president," the NYSE chief told the crowd...If Mr. Greifeld can torpedo the Deutsche Börse deal and walk away with the Big Board, he also would likely become Mr. Niederaurer's boss. Analysts say the Big Board chief, a former trader at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., probably would quit, a move that would entitle him to exit-related payments of $34.3 million.

Brady Dougan's Pay Sliced 34% (Bloomberg)
Dougan’s pay of 12.8 million Swiss francs ($14 million) included a fixed salary of 2.5 million francs, which doubled from 2009, and 10.26 million francs in bonus and other compensation. He was paid 19.2 million francs in 2009.

Spanish Banks Hit By Moody's (WSJ)
Iberian bank shares are expected to drop after the market opens Thursday, following a downgrade of the Spanish sector by Moody's Investors Service Inc. and the collapse of Portugal's minority government overnight.

Portugal Yields Hit New High; Report Of Bailout 'Soon' (CNBC)
Late on Wednesday, Portugal's parliament rejected an austerity program proposed by Prime Minister Jose Socrates' government and he resigned. "Portugal's bailout will be among the top issues at the summit talks today and tomorrow. I believe they will seek the loan soon," Dow Jones quoted a senior euro zone official as saying.

Irish Economy Shrinks Most in a Year on Investment, Exports (Bloomberg)
Gross domestic product fell 1.6 percent from the previous three months, when it increased 0.6 percent, the Central Statistics Office said in Dublin today. Consumer spending declined 0.4 percent on the quarter, exports fell 1.4 percent and investment dropped 2.3 percent. In 2010, the economy shrank 1 percent, a third straight annual contraction.

Blackstone Hedge Fund Seeder Business Gets Traction (Reuters)
In about four months, hundreds of individual investors sank some $355 million into a so-called hedge fund seeder set up by the New York-based investment firm, a recent regulatory filing shows...Overall, Blackstone's Strategic Alliance fund has raised $2.4 billion, say people familiar with the fund. The new fund, which already has "seeded" two newcomers and is in advanced discussions to seed another two, is Blackstone's second foray into the hedge fund incubating business.

Worst Texas Drought In 44 Years Hits US Wheat, Beef Supply (Bloomberg)
Texas, the biggest U.S. cattle producer and second-largest winter-wheat grower, got just 4.7 inches (12 centimeters) of rain on average in the five months through February, the least for the period since 1967.

Ten Economists Call A Severe Threat To US (CNBC)
In an open letter published in Politico to Congress and the president, 10 ex-chairman and chairwoman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers called for intense negotiations between both parties to take place in the wake of a report by the bipartisan National Commission of Fiscal Responsibility and Reform entitled "The Moment of Truth," issued in December. The report, by co-chairmen Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, argues that the long-run federal budget deficit will pose a serious threat to the long-term recovery of the economy. It was supported by 11 out of a panel of 18 Democrats and Republicans.

Bank Of China Posts 29% Profit Growth (WSJ)
The state-run bank reported a net profit of 104.42 billion yuan (US$15.9 billion) for the 12 months ended Dec. 31, from 80.82 billion yuan in 2009. Net-interest income, which accounts for roughly 70% of Bank of China's operating income, rose 22% to 193.96 billion yuan in 2010 from 158.88 billion yuan, the lender said.

Military Monetary Policy: Rebels Set Up Central Bank (Reuters)
Libyan rebels plan to set up a national oil company and central bank based in Benghazi as an alternative to the institutions of President Muammar Gaddafi, the Gulf newspaper The Nation reported Thursday.