Opening Bell 10.03.11

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Koch Brothers Flout Laws With Secret Iran Sales (Bloomberg)
In May 2008, a unit of Koch Industries Inc., one of the world’s largest privately held companies, sent Ludmila Egorova-Farines, its newly hired compliance officer and ethics manager, to investigate the management of a subsidiary in Arles in southern France. In less than a week, she discovered that the company had paid bribes to win contracts. “I uncovered the practices within a few days,” Egorova- Farines says. “They were not hidden at all.”...What many people don’t know is how the Kochs’ anti- regulation political ideology has influenced the way they conduct business. A Bloomberg Markets investigation has found that Koch Industries -- in addition to being involved in improper payments to win business in Africa, India and the Middle East -- has sold millions of dollars of petrochemical equipment to Iran, a country the U.S. identifies as a sponsor of global terrorism.

Buffett: ultra-rich tax may generate $20 billion per year (Bloomberg)
“It’s to have the ultra-rich who are paying very low tax rates pay more taxes. There’s all kinds of ultra-rich who pay normal taxes, but there’s a small segment who pay very low taxes including me. People who make money with money only pay very low taxes at very high levels of income. People with jobs like yours or all those around us pay perfectly normal taxes. What I am talking about would apply to 50,000 people out of 310 million in the country. It would simply mean that if you make tens of millions of dollars and your tax rate was 16% or 17%, you would start paying like the person who made $100,000 or $10 million who paid normal tax rates. An athlete making $10 million would not have a change in his tax rate at all. Somebody who buys a stock index future and sells it 10 seconds later and gets 60% by long-term gains, he would have a different world to live in.”

Wall Street Protestors Dress As Zombies In NYC (AP)
Patrick Bruner, a spokesman for the group, says Occupy Wall Street demonstrators are being urged to dress in business wear with white faces and blood, and will march while eating monopoly money. He says financial workers should see them "reflecting the metaphor of their actions."

Anti-Wall Street Protesters Reach 'Prime Time'Goal as Arrests Surpass 700 (Bloomberg)
The rallies, which began 16 days ago with a goal of occupying Wall Street for months, spread to cities including Los Angeles and Boston, where 25 people were arrested Sept. 30 after police said they refused to leave the lobby of a Bank of America Corp. building. The next day, New York City police halted a march over the Brooklyn Bridge and took hundreds of activists into custody for blocking traffic. Some people arrested claimed officers had tricked them into leaving the pedestrian walkway.

Pimco's Total Return Fund Has 16% in Treasuries (Bloomberg)
Eight months ago Bill Gross, manager of the world’s biggest bond fund, said Treasuries “may need to be exorcised” and cleaned them out of his $245 billion Total Return Fund. The company then used derivatives to bet against the debt in March. Now the Pacific Investment Management Co. fund has 16 percent of its assets in U.S. government securities as the debt posted the highest quarterly returns in almost three years.

Profits, But No Joy, For Merrill (NYT)
Nearly three years later, taxpayers have been repaid, with interest, and what is now Bank of America Merrill Lynch is doing surprisingly well. But the company as a whole is groaning under the weight of many billions of dollars in bad home mortgages, most of them inherited from Countrywide Financial, which it acquired in 2008. Bank of America’s stock, down 54 percent this year, is the biggest loser in the Dow Jones industrial average. The irony is not lost on bankers, brokers and traders at One Bryant Park. The billions of dollars that Bank of America Merrill Lynch is earning from its businesses on Wall Street are being wiped out by the red ink flowing out of Countrywide. Bonuses are on the line. So are jobs. “It’s debilitating and depressing,” says one Merrill veteran, who insisted on anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. “People are very angry. How could we not be?”

Arrested Development creator plans new series as prelude to movie (The Guardian)
Hurwitz told an Arrested Development session at the New Yorker Festival on Sunday that he and the show's cast were "trying to do a limited-run series into the movie", the New York Times reported. "We're basically hoping to do nine or 10 episodes, with almost one character per episode," he said.

Others Go, but Buffett Stays on President’s Side (NYT)
On Friday evening, Mr. Buffett was the host of a fund-raiser for President Obama at the Four Seasons restaurant in Manhattan, typically a magnet for the who’s who of finance. Democrats had bet that the star power of one of the world’s richest men would draw an overflow crowd of Wall Street’s elite for an affair that ran $10,000 a plate, or $35,800 for one-on-one time with Mr. Buffett...The event — which included on the menu some of Mr. Buffett’s favorites, like Cherry Coke and Dairy Queen ice cream — was considered a sell-out success by the Obama campaign. It easily raised more than $1.5 million for the campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

Greek Deficit Sharpens Default Fears (WSJ)
If the creditors pull the plug, then Europe's banks–above all Greek ones—could be sitting on over €50 billion of Greek government debt that would be effectively worthless until a restructuring agreement could be put in place. In that case, Moody's Investor Service said banks might need to write off up to 60% of their holdings—almost three times what they were supposed to write off under an agreement hammered out by euro-zone leaders in July.

S&P 500 Valuations Below Recessions Since ‘57 (Bloomberg)
Companies in the benchmark gauge for American equities trade at 10.2 times 2012 forecast earnings, compared with the average in economic contractions since 1957 of 13.7, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. At the same time, analysts have cut projections for profits next year by 2.6 percent to $110.78 a share, the biggest eight-week drop since 2009, the data show.

Disputed Trade Pacts Advance (WSJ)
Together, the pacts could boost U.S. exports by $13 billion annually—the Korea pact alone is worth $11 billion—though there would also be more imports and a wider array of foreign services available in the U.S. All three deals are expected to benefit U.S. agriculture by lifting or reducing tariffs on exports of U.S. commodities, machinery and chemicals, even as they present new challenges to the U.S. textile, electronics and floral industries. The U.S.-Korea agreement will double U.S. farm exports to Korea, to $3.8 billion annually, through increased sales of grains, fruits and vegetables, pork products and wine, the U.S. International Trade Commission has estimated.

Fake Batman goes to Christchurch police (TVNewZealand)
A fake Batman has marched into Christchurch central police station demanding to know what emergency had triggered the "bat signal" - white light beaming through the sky. The caped crusader, dressed in full superhero garb of mask, cape and tights, was insisting that the White Lights of Hope, which commemorate the earthquake anniversary, bear an uncanny resemblance to the bat emblem that flashes through the night sky. "First of all he wanted to speak to the commissioner," Sergeant Chris Jones told The Press. "And then he wanted to know what was going on and why he'd been called, because he'd seen the lights in the sky."

Related

Opening Bell: 12.12.12

Three Questioned In Libor Probe (WSJ) While the SFO didn't identify the men, one of them is Thomas Hayes, a former trader at UBS and Citigroup, according to people familiar with the matter. Authorities in multiple countries have been looking into Mr. Hayes as an alleged coordinator of a group of employees at multiple banks who sought to manipulate the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, according to people familiar with the case. One of the others arrested was Terry Farr, an employee of British brokerage firm R.P. Martin Holdings Ltd. in London who is currently on leave from the firm, according to a person familiar with the case. Mr. Farr has been under investigation for possibly helping bank employees coordinate their efforts to influence Libor, according to people familiar with the case. HSBC Mexican Branches Said to Be Traffickers’ Favorites (Bloomberg) From 2006 to 2010, the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico and the Norte del Valle Cartel in Columbia moved more than $881 million in proceeds through HSBC’s U.S. unit, said Lanny Breuer, assistant attorney general for the U.S. Justice Department’s criminal division. Breuer, along with U.S. Attorney Lorretta Lynch in Brooklyn, New York, announced yesterday the bank had agreed to pay at least $1.9 billion to settle money laundering probes. “These traffickers didn’t have to try very hard,” Breuer said at a press conference in Brooklyn. “They would sometimes deposit hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash in a single day into a single account using boxes designed to fit the precise dimension of the tellers’ windows in HSBC’s Mexico branches.” It Could Get Hairy Before 'Cliff' Deal: Greenspan (CNBC) "The best possible outcome is to take something like Simpson-Bowles as it came out originally and work off that," he said, of a deal to avoid the automatic tax hikes and spending cuts that go into effect at the end of the year. But he said that reaching a final agreement won't be an easy process, since the president believes he has a mandate following the election while House Republicans believe they, too, have a mandate. "I'm not at altogether clear how much control (Speaker) Boehner has over the overall caucus," Greenspan said. "At the end of the day it will all work out but it's going to be a bit hairy before we get there." Buffett Joins Soros in Effort to Raise Taxes on Estates (Bloomberg) Billionaireinvestors Warren Buffett and George Soros are calling on Congress to increase the estate tax as lawmakers near a decision on tax policies that expire Dec. 31. In a joint statement Tuesday, Buffett, Soros and more than 20 other wealthy individuals asked Congress to lower the estate tax’s per-person exemption to $2 million from $5.12 million and raise the top rate to more than 45 percent from 35 percent. An estate tax structured this way will “raise significant revenue to reduce the deficit and fund vital services, will only be paid by the top one percent of estates, will raise more from the wealthiest estates” and will simplify compliance, said the statement. It also was signed by John Bogle, founder of mutual fund company Vanguard Group Inc., and former President Jimmy Carter. U.S. Probe of SAC Trading Said to Be Linked to 2010 Case (Bloomberg) A U.S. investigation of possible insider trading at SAC Capital Advisors LP, the $14 billion hedge fund run by Steven A. Cohen, is linked to a 2010 regulatory lawsuit over allegedly illegal trades in InterMune Inc, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Securities and Exchange Commission’s probe of trades that SAC Capital made in the Brisbane, California-based biopharmaceutical company is tied to a December 2010 SEC lawsuit against an investor, said the person, who asked not to be named because the matter isn’t public. The investor bought InterMune options before a European Union regulatory panel urged approval of the company’s drug Esbriet to treat a fatal lung disease, the person said, declining to elaborate. Man says law standing between him and sex acts with donkey is unconstitutional (NYDN) Lawyers representing the frisky farmhand thrown in jail for allegedly masturbating with a donkey are now fighting to have Florida’s statute banning sex with animals declared unconstitutional. “By making sexual conduct with an animal a crime, the statute demeans individuals like Defendant by making his private sexual conduct a crime,” attorneys for 32-year-old Carlos R. Romero wrote in a motion filed last week, the Ocala-Star Banner reported. Romero was cuffed at an Ocala farm back in September after farm proprietor Gerald James told police he saw Romero with his pants down as he was seemingly having sex with a donkey named Doodle in an equipment room on Aug. 15, according to police report obtained by thesmokinggun.com. Romero later pleaded not guilty to a first-degree misdemeanor charge of sexual activities involving animals. He announced last week that he wanted his case to go to trial. His attorneys argue that Florida’s statute violates the farmhand’s rights by stripping him of his “personal liberty and autonomy when it comes to private intimate activities.”They say the statute is unconstitutional because it doesn’t require the state to provide any proof of the animal’s suffering “or any proof of the sexual activity being non-consensual.” Inside The Risky Bets Of Central Banks (WSJ) While many national governments, including the U.S., have failed to agree on fiscal policy—how best to balance tax revenues with spending during slow growth—the central bankers have forged their own path, independent of voters and politicians, bound by frequent conversations and relationships stretching back to university days. If the central bankers are correct, they will help the world economy avoid prolonged stagnation and a repeat of central banking mistakes in the 1930s. If they are wrong, they could kindle inflation or sow the seeds of another financial crisis. Failure also could lead to new restrictions on the power and independence of central banks, tools deemed crucial in such emergencies as the 2008-2009 financial crisis. Freeport's $20 Billion Deal Stirs Backlash (WSJ) Freeport agreed last week to acquire energy explorers McMoRan Exploration Co. MMR +0.85% and Plains Exploration & Production Co. PXP -0.42% in transactions that will cost the Arizona mining giant about $20 billion including assumed debt. The deal will result in six directors with overlapping roles at Freeport and McMoRan Exploration receiving payouts for their shares totaling more than $130 million, according to securities filings. Some Freeport investors and analysts also have questioned the wisdom of a metals miner diving into the oil and gas business. They have taken issue with what they call conflicts of interests among the shared executives and directors at Freeport and McMoRan and the fact that the deal as structured doesn't require a Freeport shareholder vote. Fed Discourages Bank Dealmaking (WSJ) The Federal Reserve is pushing large U.S. banks to forget about all but the smallest acquisitions for a while amid a raging debate over the risk big lenders pose to the financial system. Man Drive 100 MPH To Wedding, Gets Arrested (Again) (NWI) Timothy N. Thompson, 23, of Valparaiso, was supposed to be married in a 7 p.m. ceremony. Instead, Thompson was arrested for resisting law enforcement, criminal recklessness and reckless driving. He was also cited for speeding and improper passing. According to police, an officer spotted Thompson about 6:30 p.m. Saturday speeding north in the center lane of Willowcreek Road. The officer estimated Thompson was driving 100 mph. Thompson allegedly continued to drive erratically, switching lanes abruptly and, according to the report, nearly wrecking. Police reported they followed Thompson as he turned into the parking lot of Nativity of Our Savior Church on Willowcreek Road, where he again nearly tipped over the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Once he entered the church's parking lot, three people -- later identified as relatives -- began flailing their arms and yelling at him. Thompson drove through the parking lot, accelerating and doing a "doughnut," creating a thick blanket of tire smoke, according to the report. When he stopped, Thompson told police he was late for his wedding and estimated he was doing "about 90" mph. He also told police he had his emergency flashers on and was sounding his horn to alert drivers. When an officer walked away from Thompson's vehicle, Thompson reentered his vehicle and drove toward the entrance of the church, where he was stopped by police again. "Oh, I thought you were done and I'm late for a party in Chicago," police reported Thompson saying. "It now means I have to drive really fast to get there." Thompson, who also told police he had just been released from jail that day, didn't make his wedding. He was transported to Porter County Jail and held without bond.

Opening Bell: 03.22.12

Goldman conducts company-wide email review (Reuters) Goldman Sachs Group Inc has begun scanning internal emails for the term "muppet" and other evidence that employees referred to clients in derogatory ways, Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein told partners in a conference call this week, according to people familiar with the call...It was not clear when the search would be completed or what actions, if any, Goldman would take if the search turns up derogatory comments. Jobless Claims in U.S. Fall to Lowest Level in Four Years (Bloomberg) Jobless claims decreased by 5,000 to 348,000 in the week ended March 17, the fewest since February 2008, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. The median forecast of 46 economists in a Bloomberg News survey projected 350,000. The number of people on unemployment benefit rolls and those getting extended payments also fell. ‘Worst Still to Come’ for Europe Says Citi Economist (CNBC) Despite high-profile measures such as the Greek debt deal and mass pumping of liquidity into the banking system, Europe’s problems have merely been delayed for another day, Willem Buiter, chief economist at Citi, told CNBC. “We have really just paused for breath,” he said. “It (the long-term refinancing operation) really hasn’t solved the problem, and for Europe the worst is still to come.” On Wall St., Keeping a Tight Rein on Twitter (Dealbook) So a cottage industry has emerged. Adept start-ups act as guides on Wall Street’s social media adventure, providing the software that helps firms comply with regulations that date to a sleepier era of communication. “Here they were, these organizations that had never used the social networks because they had completely locked down access,” said Chad Bockius, the chief executive of Socialware, a start-up based in Austin, Tex., that advises financial firms on social media. “This is the same thing we saw when people started to use the Internet for business purposes.” Mr. Bockius, 35, says his company was the first to offer social media compliance products for the financial industry. Socialware sells software that can archive messages, house a library of prewritten content and allow compliance officers to oversee postings. Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, which Mr. Bockius holds up as one of his most enterprising clients, gave about 600 of its 17,800 financial advisers access to Twitter and LinkedIn last summer, and now plans to expand those ranks. “We’re trailblazing, so to speak,” said Lauren W. Boyman, who runs social media at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney. “Even with the restrictions that we have, we’ve seen a lot of success.” John Edwards is First Name Uncovered in 'Millionaire Madam' Investigation (DNAI via Daily Intel) Edwards allegedly hooked up with one of Gristina’s high-end hookers in 2007 when the dashing pol from North Carolina brought his then high-flying presidential campaign to the Big Apple. The one-night fling allegedly took place at an Upper East Side hotel suite and was arranged by an aide with help from a New Yorker familiar with Gristina’s prostitution ring, sources said...“Most of the women don’t have any idea about the identities of the men they sleep with,” a source explained. “How would they know a money man from Wall Street or the face of a lawyer or banker who shows up? “But the face of the national politician?” the source rhetorically asked. “She knew.” Volcker Says U.S. Needs Reforms in Finance, Government (Bloomberg) “It is not only our economic prosperity that’s in jeopardy, but our national security and our ability to play a constructive role in a changing world,” said Volcker, 84. Volcker said that progress has been made toward improving financial regulatory oversight, capital and liquidity standards and rules for derivatives. He said more needed to be done to regulate money market mutual funds, which he called “a new systemic risk,” and to rebuild a private market for home mortgages to replace the government-sponsored entities that dominate the business. “The reform report card still reads, ‘Promising but definitely incomplete,’” Volcker said. More Wings, Please — Signs Small Biz Is Improving (AP) Some diners at Hurricane Grill & Wings had been limiting themselves to a small order of the chain's saucy chicken wings and a glass of tap water. These days, many of those people are upgrading to a bigger order of as many as 15 wings and a soda. For Hurricane Grill, which sells its wings in more than 30 varieties of sauces, the larger plates and the sodas are a sign that customers are OK about spending a little more when they go out to eat. The evidence may not be a big economic report like gross domestic product or factory orders in a region, but small businesses have their own indicators that the economy is improving. Rich Would Skirt 'Buffett Rule' Report Shows (WSJ) The administration's proposal to end the Bush-era tax cuts for couples making more than $250,000 would raise about $850 billion over the next decade. Mr. Obama also wants to limit the value of many deductions for families making more than $250,000. That would raise a further $584 billion over the decade. But millionaires likely would find legal ways to avoid paying higher taxes under another of Mr. Obama's new tax proposals, his so-called "Buffett Rule," a separate congressional estimate found. The proposal—spelled out in Mr. Obama's State of the Union address but not included in his budget—would impose a 30% minimum tax rate on those who make more than $1 million a year. It's named for the billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who advocates higher taxes on the very wealthy. Taxpayers' likely efforts to sidestep the rule's impact mean it would raise about $47 billion in extra revenue over the next decade, according to a new estimate by the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation, a congressional advisory body that functions as the official congressional scorekeeper for legislation affecting government tax revenues. The Tax Policy Center had estimated the Buffett rule would raise about $114 billion over the next decade. Monster titanoboa snake invades New York (AP) New York commuters arriving at Grand Central Station will soon be greeted by a monstrous sight: a 48-foot-long, 2,500-pound titanoboa snake. The good news: It's not alive. Anymore. But the full-scale replica of the reptile -- which will make its first appearance at the commuter hub on March 22 -- is intended, as Smithsonian spokesperson Randall Kremer happily admitted, to "scare the daylights out of people" -- actually has a higher calling: to "communicate science to a lot of people." The scientifically scary-accurate model will go a long way toward that: If this snake slithered by you, it would be waist-high and measure the length of a school bus. Think of it as the T-rex of snakes.