Opening Bell: 04.21.11

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Morgan Stanley Profit Drops, Beats Estimates as Trading Revenue Jumps (Bloomberg)
Net income fell 45 percent to $968 million, or 50 cents a share, from $1.78 billion, or 99 cents, a year earlier, the bank said today in a statement. Earnings from continuing operations, excluding a 26-cent loss tied to a Japanese joint venture and a 30-cent tax gain, were 46 cents a share. That compared with the 40-cent average estimate of 14 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.

Ex-Goldman Sachs Banker Starts Hedge Fund Analyzing Japanese Blog Traffic (Bloomberg)
Former Goldman Sachs Group banker Hideki Furusho and a University of Tokyo professor have teamed up to create a hedge fund that invests in Nikkei 225 futures based on a computer model that analyzes Japanese blogs.

At Facebook Townhall, Obama Goes On Offensive (WSJ)
"The Republican budget that was put forward I would say is fairly radical. I wouldn't call it particularly courageous," Mr. Obama said. Mr. Obama offered a dire description of the budget drafted by Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. He said it would reduce taxes for corporations and the wealthy by cutting funds to clean energy programs and transportation. "I guess you could call that bold. I would call it shortsighted," Mr. Obama said to applause from an audience of mostly young people. "I do think Mr. Ryan is serious," Mr. Obama added. "He's a patriot."

BlackRock First Quarter Profit Gets Boost From Popular ETFs (Reuters)
The New York-based firm earned $819 million, or $2.96 per share, excluding some expenses, compared with $727 million, or $2.40 per share, a year earlier, BlackRock said on Thursday.

Weil: Geithner Downgrades His Own Credibility To Junk (BusinessWeek)
Fox Business reporter Peter Barnes began his televised interview with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner two days ago with this question: “Is there a risk that the United States could lose its AAA credit rating? Yes or no?” Geithner’s response: “No risk of that.” “No risk?” Barnes asked. “No risk,” Geithner said.

GE Profit, Revenue Beat Street View (Reuters)
The world's biggest maker of jet engines and electric turbines said earnings attributable to common shareholders came to $3.36 billion, or 31 cents per share, up from $1.87 billion, or 17 cents per share, a year earlier. Revenue rose 6 percent to $38.45 billion.

Bernanke Plans To Make Voice Heard (WSJ)
Next Wednesday, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke will do something no Fed chief has done before: Stand before a room full of journalists after officials conclude a policy meeting and answer questions about the central bank's decisions..."You can argue that the chairman of the Fed is more important than the president of the United States, but very few Americans understand what the Fed does," says Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who successfully pushed for the Fed to disclose more about its secretive bank lending. Addressing the press, Mr. Sanders says, will be "a step forward."

Greece Seeks Probe Into Debt Restructuring Rumor (Reuters)
Greek bank stocks fell 4.58 percent on Wednesday and the broader Athens bourse index lost 2.62 percent, underperforming pan-European indices on what traders said where rumors, spread by email, that the country would soon restructure its debt..."The ministry urgently requested the prosecutor's office to launch a criminal investigation regarding the move in the Athens Stock Exchange and the bond market," the ministry said in a statement.

Taco Bell Demands Apology After Lawsuit Is Withdrawn (CT)
On Wednesday, the fast-food chain decided to trumpet that good news with full-page ads in 10 major U.S. newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal, demanding an apology. The company pegged the ads at a total cost of between $3 million and $4 million. "Would it kill you to say you're sorry?" the ad exclaimed. "Sure, they could have just asked us if our recipe uses real beef. Even easier, they could have gone to our Web site where the ingredients in every one of our products are listed for everyone to see," the ad read. "But that's not what they chose to do.

New Swiss Tax Rules Signal Big Changes for Private Banks (NYT)
Switzerland aims to sign new treaties by the summer with Germany and Britain under which their citizens would pay taxes on more of their undeclared assets in Swiss banks. France and Italy are expected to follow suit.

Business Group Vows Support for U.S. Lawmakers to Cut Deficits (Bloomberg)
“The business community strongly supports a comprehensive deficit-reduction plan and will support members of Congress who help get it enacted,” according to a statement from the Committee for Economic Development released today in Washington. “Serious deficit reduction cannot be painless, and no one should expect or demand that the spending and revenue provisions they care most about will not be touched.”

Regulators Serve Up Alphabet Soup (WSJ)
Banks that decide they don't want to belong to this exclusive, heavily regulated club should beware the "Hotel California." This provision of Dodd-Frank, named in homage to the Eagles lyric that "you can check out any time you like but you can never leave," ensures a taxpayer-aided bank can't "de-SIFI" simply by shrinking its assets. Jargon purists, who prefer acronyms to Eagles songs, can find particularly rich pickings in the dozens of new rules affecting swaps, futures and options. A round-table event held by regulators last fall invited the public—"seating on a first-come, first-served basis"—to discuss DCOs, DCMs, SDs, MSPs, SEFs and SB SEFs. Such acronyms "remain strictly for the Dodd-Frank cognoscenti," says Margaret Tahyar, a partner at law firm Davis Polk. Some of these terms will remain obscure. But some will enter the corporate lexicon, perhaps graduating to be the SECs and FDICs of their day.

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Opening Bell: 04.09.12

JPMorgan Trader Iksil Fuels Prop-Trading Debate With Bets (Bloomberg) Iksil’s influence in the market has spurred some counterparts to dub him Voldemort, after the Harry Potter villain. He works in London in the bank’s chief investment office, which has assembled traders from across Wall Street to its staff of 400 who help oversee $350 billion in investments. While the firm describes the unit’s main task as hedging risks and investing excess cash, four hedge-fund managers and dealers say the trades are big enough to move indexes and resemble proprietary bets...The trades, first reported by Bloomberg News April 5, stirred debate among U.S. policy makers over the Easter-holiday weekend as they wrangle over this year’s implementation of the so-called Volcker rule, the portion of the Dodd-Frank Act that sets limits on risk-taking by banks with government backing. Taking Measure Of Citigroup And Bank Of America (NYT) Bank of America shares are up 66 percent this year, while Citigroup has risen 33 percent, amid the broader rebound in financial stocks. After staying out of the spotlight and earning $21 billion over the last two years, Citigroup’s potential problems are gaining attention again...At Barclays, the analyst Jason Goldberg said he was shocked when Citigroup did not get the go-ahead from the Fed, adding, “We had run mock stress tests with Citi passing by a fair amount.” Just as surprising, he added, has been Bank of America’s surge this year. Its performance has been a far cry from last year, when Bank of America’s stock, which closed at $9.23 on Thursday, was flirting with $5, and questions about whether it had enough capital were mounting. “If you asked me in January whether this thing would be up 66 percent, I’d have said you’re crazy,” Mr. Goldberg said, referring to Bank of America’s stock performance this year. A 'Fat Cat' With The President's Ear (WSJ) When President Barack Obama attacked "fat-cat bankers on Wall Street" in 2009, Robert Wolf had a ready response. "I said 'Mr. President, I know you think I'm overweight, but I can think of better names to call me,'" Mr. Wolf recalls. "He laughed." Humor and self-deprecation have served Mr. Wolf well in his often conflicting roles as presidential pal and Wall Street power broker. The 50-year-old president of UBS's UBS investment bank has remained a leading voice in the industry while also serving as Mr. Obama's chief Wall Street fundraiser and his current BFF (best friend in finance)...Mr. Wolf plays golf and basketball with the president and he is a frequent visitor to the White House. On vacation in Martha's Vineyard or at fundraising events, the two often bond over sports and their families, since they each have two school-age kids. As if to prove the president wrong about "fat cats," Mr. Wolf says he has lost 20 pounds in the past three months. Willing Banks Find Profits in Legal Trade With Iran (WSJ) As Western sanctions on Iran have grown tighter, some small banks have found a lucrative niche financing what remains of the legal trade with the Islamic Republic. Top-tier financial institutions including Société Générale SA GLE.FR -0.74% and Rabobank Group have stepped back from business with Iran in recent months, citing increased political risk and logistical hassles that attend even legal trade with the country. As a result, the remaining players are commanding higher fees and offering increasingly complicated services. Like Russia's First Czech-Russian Bank LLC and China's Bank of Kunlun Co. Ltd, they are typically small, obscure financial institutions often based in countries historically friendly to Iran. The firms and other intermediaries still brokering these trades are charging more than 6% per transaction for legitimate trade deals with Iran, on top of traditional banking fees, according to traders and bankers knowledgeable with the process. That is as much as triple the fees typically charged by Arab Gulf banks two years ago, before the United States and European Union significantly stiffened sanctions, according to Iranian businessmen. Easter Bunny Arrested (KTLA) An Easter Bunny was arrested this week after police found he was carrying around more than Easter eggs and candy. Joshua Lee Bolling, 24, was arrested and charged on Thursday with illegally possessing prescription narcotics. Police arrested Bolling after businesses at the Piedmont Mall in Danville, Virginia complained that the Easter Bunny was acting suspicious. "His suspicious behavior took place while he was on breaks and not during his contact with children," a police release said. UBS Faces Billionaire Olenicoff in Lawsuit Over His Tax Felony (Bloomberg) and billionaire Igor Olenicoff are scheduled to clash in court today over his claim that the bank bears blame for his failure to declare $200 million in offshore accounts on U.S. tax returns. Olenicoff, 69, a real-estate developer, pleaded guilty in 2007 to filing a false tax return, admitting he didn’t tell the Internal Revenue Service about his offshore accounts for seven years. He was sentenced to two years’ probation and ordered to pay $52 million in back taxes, fines and penalties. In 2008, he sued Zurich-based UBS, the largest Swiss bank, claiming it traded excessively in his accounts, engaged in racketeering and committed fraud by not telling him he owed U.S. taxes. He seeks as much as $1.7 billion in damages. Arguments on the bank’s motion to dismiss the case are set for today before U.S. District Judge Andrew Guilford in Santa Ana, California. Markets at the Start of a More Significant Downturn Says Marc Faber (CNBC) “The technical underpinnings of the market have been a disaster in the last couple of weeks,” Faber said on the sidelines of the Maybank Invest Asia conference. “The number of new highs have declined, the volume has been poor, insider sales just hit a record.” Faber said the weakness in economically sensitive stocks such as mining and industrial goods was particularly “disturbing.” Agencies At Odds Over New Ratings (FT) The latest example came this month when a near-$800 million bond deal backed by U.S. prime mortgages was sold to investors with triple-A ratings — provided by Standard & Poor’s and DBRS, a smaller competitor based in Canada — on some tranches. Fitch Ratings issued a statement saying it would not have rated the bonds triple A. It said it provided “feedback” on the transaction to the arranger, Credit Suisse, and “was ultimately not asked to rate the deal due to the agency’s more conservative credit stance”. Steven Vames, a Credit Suisse spokesman, said it was common for an issuer to engage multiple rating agencies to look at a deal and ultimately choose a subset of those agencies to rate it. In March, Moody’s said: “Some recent cases have come to market for which we believe increased risk has not been adequately mitigated for the level of ratings assigned by another agency.” In particular, Moody’s faulted ratings issued by S&P, Fitch and DBRS on asset-backed deals. For Big Companies, Life Is Good (WSJ) An analysis by The Wall Street Journal of corporate financial reports finds that cumulative sales, profits and employment last year among members of the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index exceeded the totals of 2007, before the recession and financial crisis. UK Cruise Retraces Titanic's Ill-Fated Voyage (Reuters) Descendants of some of the 1,500 people killed when the Titanic sank a century ago were among the passengers on a cruise ship that set off from Britain on Sunday to retrace the route of the liner's ill-fated voyage. Some donned period costume, including furs and feathered hats for women and suits and bowler hats for men, to board the MS Balmoral at Southampton on the southern English coast. The world's most famous maritime disaster has fascinated people ever since, explaining why passengers from 28 countries were prepared to pay up to 8,000 pounds ($13,000) each to be a passenger on the memorial cruise organized by a British travel firm. The Balmoral will follow in the wake of the Titanic, sailing near Cherbourg in France and then calling at Cobh inIreland before arriving at the spot where the Titanic went down...Passenger Jane Allen, whose great-uncle died on his honeymoon trip on the Titanic while her great-aunt survived, said she did not think it was "ghoulish or macabre" to go on the voyage.

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."