Opening Bell: 08.15.11

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Warren Buffett: Stop Coddling The Super Rich (NYT)
WB: "Twelve members of Congress will soon take on the crucial job of rearranging our country’s finances. They’ve been instructed to devise a plan that reduces the 10-year deficit by at least $1.5 trillion. It’s vital, however, that they achieve far more than that. Americans are rapidly losing faith in the ability of Congress to deal with our country’s fiscal problems. Only action that is immediate, real and very substantial will prevent that doubt from morphing into hopelessness. That feeling can create its own reality. Job one for the 12 is to pare down some future promises that even a rich America can’t fulfill. Big money must be saved here. The 12 should then turn to the issue of revenues. I would leave rates for 99.7 percent of taxpayers unchanged and continue the current 2-percentage-point reduction in the employee contribution to the payroll tax. This cut helps the poor and the middle class, who need every break they can get. But for those making more than $1 million — there were 236,883 such households in 2009 — I would raise rates immediately on taxable income in excess of $1 million, including, of course, dividends and capital gains. And for those who make $10 million or more — there were 8,274 in 2009 — I would suggest an additional increase in rate. My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress. It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice."

SEC Reviews S&P Math, Possible Ratings Leak (Bloomberg)
The Securities and Exchange Commission is scrutinizing the method Standard & Poor’s used to cut the U.S.’s credit rating and whether the firm properly protected the confidential decision, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter.

China: Debt Crisis Could Be Major Turning Point For US (CNBC)
"The worry is that China is going to take over and the West will collapse," Dr Tim Stanley, a research fellow in American History at Royal Holloway College, told CNBC. "In the last 20 years, there has been a lot of talk along the lines of 'China doesn't play fair in world trade.' That has evolved into 'China owns the US.'"

Former Fed Economist: World Repeating Japan's 1997 Mistake (Reuters)
The big mistake that Japan made then, said Richard Koo, was that its government was trying to reduce its budget deficit, while the private sector was still deleveraging — the same policies currently being pursued in the U.S., U.K., Spain and Portugal. “What we learned is that when the private sector is minimizing debt… you need governments to be in there, taking (this debt from) the private sector and putting (it) back into the income stream,” he said.

Bull kills its third man in 10 years during festival in eastern Spain (Guardian)
An inquiry was launched on Sunday after a 29-year-old man was gored to death by a bull during a festival in eastern Spain. The man, whose name was not released, died at a hospital in the town of Xativa on Saturday. A regional government official said an investigation into the goring had been opened. The 500 kilogram bull – named Ratón – has killed two other members of the public during festivals over 10 years. Because of the animal's reputation, his owners reportedly earn €10,000 (£8,750) each time it appears at a festival. "He's the one that gets the highest prices," owner Gregorio de Jesus said of Ratón. "But still he works out the cheapest because wherever he goes organizers double the ticket price."

Citigroup, Goldman Boost France Bank Ties (Bloomberg)
Citigroup, the third-biggest U.S. lender, boosted gross “cross-border outstandings” with French banks 40 percent to $15.7 billion from Jan. 1 through June 30, according to the company’s quarterly report. Goldman Sachs increased claims by 31 percent to $38.5 billion in the first half, its report shows. The filings don’t disclose collateral the banks received or hedges.

Bernie Madoff ditched by his wife of 52 years as she seeks reconciliation with son (DM)
According to Madoff's biographer, Mrs Madoff has not visited her 73-year-old husband since their son Mark committed suicide in December. 'Ruth has not seen Bernie since Mark's suicide and I think the remnants of the family will now pull together,' said Diana Henriques, author of 'Bernie Madoff: The Wizard of Lies'. 'Ruth visiting him in prison was a major impediment to her being reconciled with them,' she told the Daily Express. The couple met at high school in New York and married in 1959. Mrs Madoff worked on Wall Street before joining her husband's company and founding the Madoff Charitable Trust.

Sterling No Refuge As King Eyes Stimulus (Bloomberg)
Amid a background of rioting and looting across the nation, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said on Aug. 11 that the U.K.’s recovery will “take longer and be harder” and Bank of England Governor Mervyn King signaled a day earlier he may resume pumping cash into the economy to boost growth. Investors have responded to the worsening outlook by pulling money out of the country at the fastest rate in at least two decades.

Suit Alleges Favoritism By BNY Melon (WSJ)
Florida Attorney General Pamela Jo Bondi, in a state-court suit filed Thursday, said the $128.9 billion Florida Retirement System Trust Fund wasn't one of the chosen clients. Instead, the fund was left in the dark and was charged improper and "hidden" costs...Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli II also sued BNY Mellon on Thursday and alleged a "false price" for about 73,000 currency trades. The two lawsuits were filed within 11 minutes of each other and come after Virginia and BNY Mellon failed to reach a settlement in a mediation session.

All That Glitters Is Not Gold (NYP)
Boiler-room hustlers are in the midst of a golden age -- spinning their legendary sales scams by selling fool's gold instead of their worthless penny stocks. A flurry of deceptive and downright fraudulent scams are cheat gold aficionados out of their cash as well as any promise of paper gains they'd expect while the precious metal makes headlines by skyrocketing to last week's $1,801-an-ounce milestone. Instead of joining the party, however, many of the unsuspecting investors even get talked out of buying the ordinary gold bars or pure gold coins they covet -- under false warnings that Uncle Sam can "confiscate and melt" them. Instead, they're often suckered into purchasing decommissioned foreign coins laced with tiny portions of gold worth barely a third of what they pay for the coin.

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Opening Bell: 04.05.12

Falcone Says Bankruptcy Is an Option for LightSquared (Bloomberg) Phil Falcone said he may consider voluntary bankruptcy for LightSquared Inc., the broadband wireless venture majority owned by his hedge fund that has been derailed by regulators. “There are arguments that we would be better off in bankruptcy than not,” Falcone said in an interview. “LightSquared, if I have to, I’ll put it into bankruptcy. I don’t care,” adding that he would maintain control of the Reston, Virginia-based company if it filed. Jobless Claims Decline (WSJ) New applications for jobless benefits fell to the lowest level in nearly four years last week, further evidence that U.S. employers likely added a healthy number of workers to their payrolls in March. Initial jobless claims decreased by 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 357,000 in the week ended March 31, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires predicted that 360,000 new claims would be filed last week. Morgan Stanley Tries to Stave Off Ratings Cut (FT) James Gorman, Morgan Stanley’s chief executive, has been in discussions with Moody’s in an attempt to maintain its credit ratings and stave off a downgrade that could diminish the bank’s ability to buy the rest of Citigroup brokerage Smith Barney, according to people familiar with the matter...Morgan Stanley would most likely have to issue debt to fund the purchase, people say. That would become more expensive if Morgan Stanley is downgraded. Moody’s put Morgan Stanley, along with five other banks, on review for a downgrade in February. The bank could see its rating reduced by as many as three notches to Baa2 - two levels above junk status. A downgrade would also force Morgan Stanley to provide additional collateral to back its vast derivatives business, where it acts as a counterparty. JPMorgan Investment Bank Chief Widens Pay Lead on Rival (Bloomberg) Jes Staley, chief executive officer of JPMorgan’s investment bank, beat his Bank of America counterpart in compensation after boosting earnings amid a market slump. Staley’s $16 million award for 2011 almost held steady from the $17 million he made the previous year as profit at the firm’s investment bank climbed 2.3 percent to $6.8 billion. Bank of America co-chief operating officer Thomas K. Montag’s pay dropped 25 percent to $12 million after profit at the lender’s investment bank plunged by more than half to $2.97 billion. Gorman's Pay Falls (Bloomberg) Morgan Stanley Chief Executive Officer James Gorman’s compensation for 2011 totaled $10.5 million, a 25 percent cut from 2010 as the firm’s shares fell by almost half. Gorman, 53, got $5.04 million in restricted shares, and $1.94 million in shares tied to company performance, according to a proxy filing today from the New York-based investment bank. He also received a deferred cash bonus of $2.72 million that can be clawed back, in addition to his $800,000 salary. He didn’t receive an immediate cash bonus. Mets in Opening Day ticket panic (NYP) The Mets are so terrified by the embarrassing prospect of playing to empty seats at today's opener, they've made an Amazin' "buy one get one free" pitch. Some 15,000 of their fans have been offered one free seat for Saturday's or Sunday's Atlanta game in exchange for every ticket they buy for today’s opener. Plenty of the 41,880 seats for this afternoon’s game at Citi Field against the Braves were still available early today. If the Mets don’t sell out, it will be the first home opener since 1997 that didn’t fill their stadium. Madoff wives to face trustee claims in Ponzi case (Reuters) The trustee seeking money for victims of Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme, who lost an estimated $20 billion, may pursue claims against wives of the imprisoned swindler's sons, a U.S. federal court judge said on Wednesday. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Burton Lifland in Manhattan said the trustee Irving Picard may pursue about $43 million of claims against Deborah Madoff, who married Andrew Madoff; and $33 million of claims against Stephanie Mack, the widow of Mark Madoff. Germany, Switzerland Sign Tax Plan (WSJ) Germany and Switzerland signed a new tax deal which allows wealthy Germans to retain their anonymity, while generating billions of euros in tax revenues for Berlin and ending a bruising dispute between the two neighboring countries over tax evasion and bank secrecy. The deal comes after Berlin and Bern agreed on last-minute amendments to a pact reached last summer in an effort to make it more appealing to German opposition leaders, who said Thursday they plan to veto it. "We believe it would be irresponsible to sign this deal, which is a slap in the face of every honest taxpayer," said Sigmar Gabriel, leader of the Social Democrats. Mega Millions ‘winner’ Mirlande Wilson's lawyer: 'I cannot say with any certainty this ticket exists' (NYDN) McDonald’s worker who claims she has a $218 million-winning Mega Millions ticket called a huge press conference Wednesday - and then arrived late only to tell the press to leave. Her lawyer announced to the mystified journalists packed into his Baltimore law office that the purpose of the press conference was “to ask you all to go home.” Mirlande Wilson, 37, of Maryland, who is said by coworkers to crave attention, hit one jackpot: a chaotic scrum of reporters and camera crews waiting to talk to her. But she never spoke. Asked if this was her plea for 15 minutes of fame, she shook her head. Her lawyer, Edward Smith, said, “no, she doesn't want 15 minutes of fame." Instead, he said, she would "like you all to go home." For the record, Smith says he hasn’t seen the purported ticket either. “I cannot say with any certainty this ticket exists,” he said, unreasurringly. Wilson has told various conflicting stories about how she came by her alleged ducat. She told a TV station she bought it at a 7-Eleven store for herself. Then she said a coworker purchased it for her alone while separately buying tickets for the pool organized at her McDonald’s in Baltimore. “I thought I'd play one dollar by myself,” she told the Daily News. She has said she definitely won; she thinks she won; she has the ticket at home; she stashed the ticket at McDonalds; and she has it in another, unspecified secret “safe” place. On Monday, she told the News that she hasn’t even checked her ticket against the winning numbers.

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.”