Opening Bell: 08.12.11

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S&P Makes Downgrade Inquiries (FT)
The Securities and Exchange Commission has asked credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s to disclose who within its ranks knew of its decision to downgrade US debt before it was announced last week, as part of a preliminary look into potential insider trading, people familiar with the matter say.

BofA Chief Sees Top US Officials (WSJ)
Embattled Bank of America Corp. boss Brian Moynihan met privately this week with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Federal Reserve governor Daniel Tarullo amid the bank's campaign to calm investors and employees about the bank's dramatic share slump. The separate meetings took place on Wednesday in Washington, said people familiar with the situation. Earlier that day, Mr. Moynihan participated in an unusual public conference call arranged by one of the bank's largest shareholders, where he offered assurances about the bank's strategy, financial strength and ability to withstand market volatility.

Short Selling Of Stocks Banned In France, Spain (Bloomberg)
European regulators are divided over how to respond after a rout that sent the region’s bank stocks to their lowest in almost 2 1/2 years this week. Germany and the Netherlands have said they don’t plan further restrictions on short sales, while British regulators said they don’t plan to limit the practice. “In contrast to the regulators’ hopes, the overall evidence indicates that short-selling bans at best left stock prices unaffected and at worst may have contributed to their decline,” said Alessandro Beber, a professor at Cass Business School in London who’s studied short-sales bans in 30 countries.

Analysts: Short Selling Ban Will Not Deter Bears (CNBC)
"There is absolutely no evidence that it will achieve what they want it to achieve," Nick Carn, founder of Carn Macro Advisors, told CNBC on Friday. "It's a gesture to try and indicate that the problems are due to some kind of evil conspiracy of one type or another, part of the process that says that speculators are driving down the price of Greek debt or Italian debt. It's trying to create the same class of person to whom you can then attribute your problems," he said.

Raters Fail To See Defaults Coming (WSJ)
Out of the 15 government defaults S&P has tracked since 1975, for instance, the firm rated 12 of the countries single-B or higher one year before the event. Yet S&P says historically a single-B rating has had just a 2% average chance of default within a year. Put another way, S&P drastically underestimated one-year default risk in 80% of those cases. Similarly, of the 13 governments rated by Moody's Investors Service within one year of a default, 11 were rated B or higher. Three of those were rated Ba, Moody's parlance for double-B, which carries a 0.77% one-year default rate.

Treasury Saves $647 Million In Bond Sales (Bloomberg)
“One would be remiss to try and conclude that anyone is worried about that one-tick downgrade,” said Ian Lyngen, a government bond strategist at CRT Capital Group LLC in Stamford, Connecticut. “What is the yield differential in the market for that one tick? Apparently it’s nothing. If anything, it’s a bullish event for Treasuries.”

DSK: Did the IMF Look the Other Way? (BusinessWeek)
It is not immediately obvious, upon laying eyes on Dominique Strauss-Kahn, what the source of his attraction to women is. White-haired and burly, with hooded eyes and a face often set in a sort of glowering smirk, he speaks English with a heavy French accent that gives him an almost retiring air. And yet when it came to women he was interested in, he could be unnervingly direct. While head of the International Monetary Fund, Strauss-Kahn pursued a female colleague with whom he later had an affair by repeatedly calling her into his office with the same query, as if he hadn’t listened to the answer the first time, according to a person familiar with her version of events. He proffered dinner invitations and suggestive comments along the lines of, “I don’t know why, but I like you … ” She eventually gave in but came to regret it, and later wrote to a lawyer investigating the matter: “I fear that he is a man with a problem that may make him ill-equipped to lead an institution where women work under his command.”

Feds Now More Likely To Do Third Round Of Easing (CNBC)
"There is no doubt that over the last week the odds of seeing another round of asset purchases has risen significantly ," says Tom Porcelli, chief US economist at RBC Capital Markets. "This doesn’t mean we think it will have any more success than QE2. What this simply reflects is a Fed with few remaining options. "

Angry Birds Maker Seeks Funds At $1.2 Billion Valuation (Bloomberg)
Rovio may use any new funds to fuel its expansion. The company plans to make an “Angry Birds” movie and open offices outside of Finland, and is seeking to capitalize on the popularity of its brand in countries such as China, where it aims to sell stuffed animals and clothing in 200 retail stores.

Chinese Authorities Find 22 More Fake Apple Stores (Reuters)
China's Administration for Industry and Commerce in the Yunnan provincial capital said the stores have been ordered to stop using Apple's logo after Apple China accused them of unfair competition and violating its registered trademark, state media said on Thursday. The market watchdog agency said it would set up a complaint hotline and boost monitoring

Our addiction to technology trumps caffeine, chocolate and alcohol (LATimes)
More than half of Americans would rather give up chocolate, alcohol and caffeine for a week before parting temporarily with their phones, according to a recent survey by technology firm TeleNav. One-third would give up sex, 22% would give up their toothbrushes (versus 40% of iPhone users, who evidently love their phone more than clean teeth) and 21% would rather go shoeless before separating from a mobile phone. Sixty-six percent sleep with their smartphones by their side. Our addiction is so severe that people described going 24 hours without Internet akin to quitting an alcohol or cigarette habit, according to a report from British company Intersperience. About 40% of those surveyed reported feeling lonely without the Internet, and 53% felt upset at being deprived. One person described unplugging to "having my hand chopped off."

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Opening Bell: 02.11.13

Two Firms, One Trail, In Probe Of Ratings (WSJ) The Justice Department last week went after Standard & Poor's Ratings Services—not rival Moody's Investors Service —with a $5 billion fraud lawsuit. Some former Moody's employees think they know why. The Moody's Corp. unit took careful steps to avoid creating a trove of potentially embarrassing employee messages like those that came back to haunt S&P in the U.S.'s lawsuit, the former employees say. Moody's analysts in recent years had limited access to instant-message programs and were directed by executives to discuss sensitive matters face to face, according to former employees. The crackdown on communications came after a 2005 investigation by then New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer into Moody's ratings on some mortgage-backed deals, the former employees say. Former employees also point to an April 2001 settlement between Moody's and the Justice Department's antitrust division over the destruction of documents amid a civil inquiry by the agency. Moody's pleaded to one count of obstruction of justice and paid a fine of $195,000. Moody's called that situation "an isolated incident" and said it cooperated with the Justice Department's investigation. That settlement helped lay the groundwork for heightened concerns about sensitive documents, former Moody's employees say. Credit Rating Victims Didn’t Know S&P’s Toxic AAA Born of Greed (Bloomberg) When Charles O. Prince III was chief executive officer of Citigroup Inc. from 2003 to 2007, he didn’t know about a surge in mortgage risk that his own investment bankers loaded on to its bank’s books. Because such debt carried top credit ratings from firms such as Standard & Poor’s, few financial executives paid attention to the potential dangers. When Charles O. Prince III was chief executive officer of Citigroup Inc. from 2003 to 2007, he didn’t know about a surge in mortgage risk that his own investment bankers loaded on to its bank’s books. Because such debt carried top credit ratings from firms such as Standard & Poor’s, few financial executives paid attention to the potential dangers. Makeover At Barclays Won't Be Extreme (WSJ) Mr. Jenkins's cuts are likely to be focused on areas where Barclays lags far behind competitors, executives say. That could include parts of the equities sales-and-trading businesses in Asia and continental Europe, according to analysts and people at other banks. Those are businesses in which Mr. Diamond spearheaded an ambitious expansion but where Barclays remains a second-tier player. But other changes are driven more by polishing the bank's tarnished image than they are by the need to boost profits. A few business lines that don't seem "socially useful" are likely to end up on the chopping block, executives say. For example, Barclays plans to retreat at least in part from the lucrative trading of "soft commodities" such as coffee, executives say. That is a concession to mounting criticism that speculative trading in those commodities contributes to food-price inflation. "We're a big player, but does it pass the smell test of what society would think of this?" a senior executive said. Mr. Jenkins is also expected to trumpet plans to dramaticallyscale back Barclays's tax-planning business, in which it advises clients on how to minimize their tax burdens. The bank will no longer help clients put together transactions that have no businesspurpose other than reducing taxes. "Such activity is incompatible with our purpose," Mr. Jenkins will say on Tuesday, according to the extract of his speech. But the bank isn't expected to exit the business altogether. It will continue to offer tax-minimizing advice. People familiar with the matter say the business has been hiring employees recently. Putin Turns Black Gold Into Bullion as Russia Out-Buys World (Bloomberg) Not only has Putin made Russia the world’s largest oil producer, he’s also made it the biggest gold buyer. His central bank has added 570 metric tons of the metal in the past decade, a quarter more than runner-up China, according to IMF data compiled by Bloomberg. The added gold is also almost triple the weight of the Statue of Liberty. White House Warns Coming Austerity Will Hit Economy Hard (Reuters) Automatic government spending cuts due to go into effect March 1 unless Congress acts to prevent them would bite deeply into programs affecting many Americans, such as law enforcement, small business assistance, food safety and tax collection, the White House said on Friday. The administration urged Congress to blunt the effect of the reductions, which the White House said would slash non-defense programs by 9 percent across the board and defense programs by 13 percent, the White House said. "These large and arbitrary cuts will have severe impacts across the government," the administration said in a statement. World's most prolific stripper calls it a day (DM) For two decades, the Liverpudlian father-of-three has been the Usain Bolt of the naked dash. In 1995, he leapt naked on to Fred Talbot’s weather map on daytime TV show This Morning, and a year later he appeared nude on the green during the Open at Royal Lytham. Then, in 2004, he was fined £550 for trespassing after streaking across the pitch at the Super Bowl in Texas – a match watched by 130 million people in 87 countries. For good measure, Mark has also stripped off at Wembley, Wimbledon and Ascot. ‘There’s no major venue or event I haven’t done,’ he says proudly. ‘But I’m nearly 49 now and my children have begged me to stop. It’s time. I’m not ready for my slippers just yet, but gravity’s against me.’ Treasury Pick Lew Faces Grilling on Citi Bonus, Cayman Account (Reuters) Jack Lew, President Barack Obama's pick to be U.S. treasury secretary, is expected to come under fire for the administration's budget policies and a nearly $1 million bonus he received from bailed-out bank Citigroup when he testifies on Wednesday before a Senate panel vetting him for the job. The hearing will briefly become ground zero in the pitched political battle over the federal budget, with Republicans set to attack over what they contend is Lew's devil-may-care attitude to reducing the U.S. budget deficit. "He'll be used as a political ping-pong ball," said Ted Truman, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for InternationalEconomics who served briefly as an adviser to Obama's former treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner. Treasury Eases Off On Bank Rules (WSJ) The proposal, which will be subject to comment before becoming a final rule, is likely to insist that financial institutions gather beneficial ownership information—who is in charge and who profits—on new corporate accounts, officials said. But in a move that could assuage some industry concerns, financial institutions wouldn't have to vet that ownership data for accuracy. Instead, they would rely on the customer to vouch for the information. With a Focus on Its Future, Financial Times Turns 125 (NYT) On Wednesday, The F.T. is celebrating its 125th birthday. The newspaper’s London headquarters along the south bank of the Thames will be lit up in pink, the color of the paper on which it has been printed since shortly after it was founded. There will be a few parties — understated, of course, for these are straitened times in the City of London, and challenging ones for the newspaper industry. Waxing Our Way To The ER (Salon) A new study from the University of California-San Diego reveals that “Emergency room visits due to pubic hair grooming mishaps,” including “lacerations,” increased fivefold between 2002 and 2010, sending an impressive 11,704 pube-scapers to the E.R. The culprits? Scissors and hot wax did some of the damage, but plain-old non-electric-razors accounted for the lion’s share, at 83 percent...The study also revealed that below-the-belt grooming isn’t just for adult ladies anymore – men accounted for 43.3 percent of the injuries, and almost 30 percent of them were girls under the age of 18. To avoid becoming yet another harrowing grooming gone bad statistic, the researchers advise hair removal aficionados to “Pay attention to where you’re placing that razor. Invest in a non-slip bath mat. And don’t shave while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.”

Opening Bell: 04.30.12

Falcone Agrees To Step Aside (WSJ) Hedge-fund manager Philip Falcone agreed to step aside eventually as the public face of his LightSquared Inc. venture, a concession that may keep the wireless-telecommunications company from defaulting on its debt, people familiar with the negotiations said. Mr. Falcone's compromise is expected to prompt LightSquared's lenders to approve a one-week extension on a debt-term violations waiver that expires Monday morning, the people said. If a deal is finalized, Mr. Falcone and LightSquared's lenders plan to continue negotiations for a longer extension of somewhere between 18 months and two years, the people said...Mr. Falcone has said he viewed bankruptcy as the "best way" for him to keep control of the company and keep it from creditors he believes want to "take control and flip" the firm. Occupy Wall Street Plans Global Disruption of Status Quo May 1 (Bloomberg) In New York, Occupy Wall Street will join scores of labor organizations observing May 1, traditionally recognized as International Workers’ Day. They plan marches from Union Square to Lower Manhattan and a “pop-up occupation” of Bryant Park on Sixth Avenue, across the street from Bank of America’s Corp.’s 55-story tower. “We call upon people to refrain from shopping, walk out of class, take the day off of work and other creative forms of resistance disrupting the status quo,” organizers said in an April 26 e-mail...Tomorrow, beginning at 8 a.m. in Bryant Park, scheduled events include teach-ins, art performances and a staging area for “direct action and civil disobedience,” such as bank blockades. RBS M&A Bankers Plan Boutique Spin-Off (Reuters) The bank, 82-percent owned by the British government, is exiting mergers and acquisitions as part of a restructuring announced in January aimed at reducing costs and exposure to areas of investment banking deemed risky by the authorities. Sources told Reuters last week that the M&A business would be spun off, with around 45 bankers from RBS joining the new firm led by John McIntyre, currently head of corporate finance for EMEA at the bank. Romney Holds Fund Raiser At John Paulson's House (TDB) FYI: A neighbor who witnessed the event from across the street described it to as a large crowd of “older white people, mostly men,” who started showing up around 7:30 p.m. Thursday. Around 8 p.m., sirens started blaring as more and more people started to show. Hedge Funds Hurt By Volatility (WSJ) All told, U.S.-based funds that bet on and against stocks had a median return of -0.92% from April 1 through April 13, according to data from Morgan Stanley's MS -1.51% prime brokerage, after having returned 1.16% in March. Returns improved as the markets stabilized. Through April 26, the median return was down 0.03% for the month. City Mulls Happy Hour Ban (NYP) “It’s absolutely been discussed,” confirmed a department source. “It goes to show you the spirit with which they operate. Everyone is a child.” High-level conversations have gone beyond merely “throwing pencils on the ceiling and seeing what sticks,” another Health source revealed. Sources said the happy-hour ban is being pushed by the agency’s marathon-running boss, Commissioner Thomas Farley, and is serious enough for one source to say the alcohol lobby had better find itself a good lawyer. Agency spokesman Sam Miller denied existing “plans to pursue any policy around discount-alcohol sale.” Goldman: US Likely Added Only 125,000 Jobs in April (CNBC) The forecast is far lower than the Reuters estimate of 170,000, and the average 177,250 jobs created every month from December to March. Hedge Funds Bet Against Eurozone (FT) “The deeper balance of payments problems in the eurozone remain unresolved, and cannot be resolved by liquidity assistance alone,” noted Brevan Howard, Europe’s biggest global macro hedge fund in its last letter to investors. Shiller: We Are in Age of ‘Late Great Depression’ (CNBC) “Our whole economy has been affected by variations in confidence. Central banks are sort of trusted, but the actions they have often affect people’s confidence by appearance rather than substance. We’re not in the most trusting mood now,” Shiller said. Goldman’s O’Neill Reported Among Candidates for BOE Chief (Bloomberg) When asked in September 2007 if he would be interested in the role at a time when the government was considering whether to reappoint King, O’Neill told John Dawson onBloomberg Television that he couldn’t imagine that “anyone would be daft enough to offer it to me.” He added that he very much enjoyed his then job as head of global economic research at Goldman Sachs. Titanic II Planned by Billionaire Palmer in Chinese Yard (Bloomberg) Australian mining billionaire Clive Palmer plans to build a 21st-century replica of the Titanic and sail it from England to New York accompanied by the Chinese navy by the end of 2016. He has signed a first-stage agreement with Nanjing-based CSC Jinling Shipyard to build the ship as part of a planned fleet of luxury liners, the Gold Coast, Queensland-based businessman said in an e-mailed statement today.