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Opening Bell: 05.10.11

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Paulson Plays the Lehman Bust (WSJ)
Mr. Paulson's fund has been snatching up Lehman debt at steep discounts since the day the investment bank collapsed, betting prices would rise while panicked investors fled. Now, as Lehman's estate prepares to wind down, Mr. Paulson's fund could reap profits between $350 million and $726 million on the Lehman trades…Over two and a half years, Mr. Paulson's fund, Paulson & Co., purchased more than $7 billion worth of Lehman bonds in about 1,800 transactions. The average cost of those trades was just 13 cents on the dollar, according to the Journal's analysis.

PIMCO raises bet against U.S. government debt (Reuters)
PIMCO's Bill Gross, the manager of the world's largest bond fund, raised his bet against U.S. government-related debt in April to 4 percent from 3 percent, according to the company's website on Monday.

Morgan Stanley Trading Gains Topped $100 Million on 10 Days (Bloomberg)
The firm’s trading division lost money on 3 days during the period, compared with 13 days in the fourth quarter, New York- based Morgan Stanley said in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

BofA to cut $850bn bad loan book in half (FT)
Bank of America plans to shrink its $850bn portfolio of troubled home loans by about half over the next three years as it seeks to quicken the pace with which it resolves problems related to the housing crisis and its disastrous purchase of Countrywide Financial. Terry Laughlin, who is spearheading BofA’s mortgage modification and foreclosure programmes, told the Financial Times he had been given leeway to act quickly to tackle the growing number of bad loans that threaten to overwhelm the bank’s overall performance and tarnish the reputation of Brian Moynihan, its chief executive.

Microsoft Said to Discuss Buying Internet-Call Provider Skype (Bloomberg)
A deal would value Skype at about $8.5 billion and may be announced as early as today, said one of the people, who asked not to be identified because the talks are private.

Alan Simpson Attacks AARP, Says Social Security Is 'Not A Retirement Program' (HuffPo)
At an event hosted by the Investment Company Institute, Simpson delighted the finance industry audience members by aiming a rude gesture at the leading lobby for senior citizens.

CME raises crude futures margins 4th time since Feb (Reuters)
Margins will climb by 25 percent as of the close of business on May 10, boosting the cost of holding positions for hedgers and speculators, a factor some traders said helped bring oil prices down by as much as 2 percent on Tuesday following a $5 a barrel spike a day earlier…The cumulative increase in margins on U.S. crude benchmark West Texas Intermediate CLc1 positions since February is 67 percent, from $3,750 to $6,250 per contract.

China Has Bigger-Than-Forecast Surplus on Record Exports (Bloomberg)
China reported a trade surplus that was more than three times larger than forecast in April as exports surged to a record, bolstering the U.S. case for faster yuan gains as officials from both nations meet for annual talks in Washington. The surplus widened to $11.4 billion and exceeded the forecasts of all 27 economists in a Bloomberg News survey. Exports climbed 30 percent to $156 billion while import growth slowed to 22 percent, the customs bureau said today.

Euro wobbles, haunted by commodities and debt worries (Reuters)
The common currency, which hit a six-week low against the Japanese yen and a one-month low against the British pound, was also hobbled by fears of a commodities rout after oil prices fell in the wake of the CME Group's hike in trading margins for U.S. crude futures.

BNP Paribas chairman to retire (FT)
Michel Pébereau, France’s most influential banker, is retiring as chairman of BNP Paribas, the domestic bank he helped transform over two decades.

Reports of Mortgage Fraud Reach Record Level (WSJ)
Reports of mortgage fraud, which have been increasing since the housing boom, rose to their highest level on record in 2010, Treasury Department figures showed. The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, a Treasury agency, reported 70,472 "suspicious activity reports" related to suspected mortgage fraud, up from 67,507 in 2009, or a 5% increase. That's the highest number recorded by the government since tracking began in 1996.

A Venture-Capital Newbie Shakes Up Silicon Valley (WSJ)
As a newly minted venture capitalist, Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Netscape, aimed for nothing less than big… Like other investors here, he'd been eying Web companies with explosive growth and global star power. But acquiring shares in tech titans like Facebook is tricky…So Mr. Andreessen set out to make his own rules—maneuvering his way into hot private deals at huge cost.

U.S. Braced for Fights With Pakistanis in Bin Laden Raid (NYT)
President Obama insisted that the assault force hunting down Osama bin Laden last week be large enough to fight its way out of Pakistan if confronted by hostile local police officers and troops, senior administration and military officials said Monday. In revealing additional details about planning for the mission, senior officials also said that two teams of specialists were on standby: One to bury Bin Laden if he was killed, and a second composed of lawyers, interrogators and translators in case he was captured alive.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maria Shriver announce separation (LA Times)
Shriver has been residing apart from the actor-turned-politician for the last few weeks. The former first couple confirmed the separation in a joint statement released Monday after questions from The Times…Over the years, the marriage between the international celebrity and the daughter of the Kennedy dynasty has come under close scrutiny, especially during the 2003 recall of Gov. Gray Davis, when The Times reported on Schwarzenegger's lengthy history of groping women. At the time, Shriver defended her husband, helping lift him to victory in the free-for-all contest.