Opening Bell: 10.24.11

Author:
Updated:
Original:

Nicolas Sarkozy tells David Cameron: shut up over the euro (Guardian)
The bust-up between Cameron and Sarkozy held up the conclusion of the EU-27 summit for almost two hours, with the French president expressing rage at the constant criticism and lectures from UK ministers. Sarkozy bluntly told Cameron: "You have lost a good opportunity to shut up." He added: "We are sick of you criticising us and telling us what to do. You say you hate the euro and now you want to interfere in our meetings."

Banks Squabble With EU Over Greek Debt Losses (Bloomberg)
The world’s biggest banks are squabbling with European leaders over the size of losses on their Greek bonds as they seek a deal to cut the country’s debt load, two people with knowledge of the discussions said. The financial companies, represented by the Institute of International Finance, proposed a loss of 40 percent on Greek debt, said one of the people, who declined to be identified because talks are confidential. The European Union is calling on investors to forfeit as much as 60 percent, making a compromise at 50 percent possible, the person said.

Swiss Banks May Pay Billions To US, Disclose Client Names (Bloomberg)
U.S. and Swiss officials are concluding negotiations on a civil settlement amid U.S. criminal probes of 11 financial institutions, including Credit Suisse Group AG, suspected of helping American clients hide money from the Internal Revenue Service...Switzerland, the biggest haven for offshore wealth, wants an end to new U.S. probes while preserving its decades-old tradition of bank secrecy, the people said. The U.S. seeks data on Americans who have dodged U.S. taxes and a pledge by Swiss banks to stop helping such clients, according to the people.

CIC May Co-Invest With Blackstone In Loan Portfolio (WSJ)
In another sign of China Investment Corp.'s interest in overseas real estate, the sovereign wealth fund is considering teaming up with Blackstone Group LP to buy a stake in a portfolio of distressed property loans from Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC, people familiar with the matter say.

Jobs Admired Zuckerberg For 'Not Selling Out' (Bloomberg)
“We talk about social networks in the plural, but I don’t see anybody other than Facebook out there,” Jobs told biographer Walter Isaacson in excerpts of an interview released online by 60 Minutes. “Just Facebook, they’re dominating this. I admire Mark Zuckerberg,” Jobs said of Facebook’s chief executive officer on the recording. “I only know him a little bit, but I admire him for not selling out, for wanting to make a company. I admire that, a lot.”

Economists: 'Miserable' Euro PMI Heightens Recession Risk (CNBC)
Nouriel Roubini wrote on Twitter after the data came out that euro zone politicians were "hell-bent to commit growth harakiri" as "financial engineering without growth soon will lead to defaults and euro zone break-up."

Vatican Calls For 'Central World Bank' To Be Set Up (Reuters)
The Vatican called on Monday for the establishment of a "global public authority" and a "central world bank" to rule over financial institutions that have become outdated and often ineffective in dealing fairly with crises. The 18-page document, "Towards Reforming the International Financial and Monetary Systems in the Context of a Global Public Authority," was at times very specific, calling, for example, for taxation measures on financial transactions. "The economic and financial crisis which the world is going through calls everyone, individuals and peoples, to examine in depth the principles and the cultural and moral values at the basis of social coexistence," it said. It condemned what it called "the idolatry of the market" as well as a "neo-liberal thinking" that it said looked exclusively at technical solutions to economic problems...It called for the establishment of "a supranational authority" with worldwide scope and "universal jurisdiction" to guide economic policies and decisions.

Volcker Rule Moves From Simple To Complex (NYTimes)
In numerous interviews this week with people across the political spectrum, I couldn’t find anyone who actually supports this behemoth — including Mr. Volcker, whose name it bears. “I don’t like it, but there it is,” Mr. Volcker told me in his first public comments on the sprawling proposal. “I’d write a much simpler bill. I’d love to see a four-page bill that bans proprietary trading and makes the board and chief executive responsible for compliance. And I’d have strong regulators. If the banks didn’t comply with the spirit of the bill, they’d go after them.”

Hedge Funds Face Investor Pruning (WSJ)
An Oct. 12 survey of 150 hedge-fund investors by Barclays Capital showed that 35% of those sampled either had redeemed recently or planned to soon redeem from managers who had performed relatively poorly. Another 20% said they were still on the fence.

Banks Are Back In Takeovers (WSJ)
Commercial and industrial loans, which include leveraged loans such as the one used by Kinder, grew by 4% in September and by 35% in the third quarter over the prior-year period, according to the Federal Reserve. Commercial loans by J.P. Morgan, the largest U.S. bank by assets, rose 9% to $107.4 billion in the third quarter.

German satellite crashed in southeast Asia (Telegraph)
A defunct German research satellite crashed into the Earth somewhere in southeast Asia on Sunday, a US scientist said – but no one is still quite sure where. Most parts of the car-sized ROSAT research satellite were expected to burn up as they hit the atmosphere at speeds up to 280mph, but up to 30 fragments weighing a total of 1.87 tons, could have crashed, the German Aerospace Center said.

Rick Perry says his new economic plan will include flat tax (LA Times)
Rick Perry previewed the economic plan he will roll out on Tuesday, saying he would call for trashing the current tax code and replacing it with a flat tax, ending all earmarks, enacting a balanced budget amendment and reforming entitlements. "It's time to get Washington out of the way in order for us to preserve the American way," Perry said. "The American people may be bruised but they're not broken and they want a new president who can deliver the hope and change that this one that we have today promised." "You learn a lot growing up on a farm, it doesn't make a difference whether it's Wilton, Iowa, or Paint Creek, Texas," he said. "There's just lots you learn growing up on a farm, it's universal. It's the value of hard work, it's duty to family, to country … Those values you learn on the farm are pretty good values for the president of the United States as well."

Related

Opening Bell: 05.29.12

Greece Pours $22.6 Billion Into Four Biggest Banks (Reuters) The long-awaited injection—via bonds from the European Financial Stability Facility rescue fund—will boost the nearly depleted capital base of National Bank, Alpha, Eurobank and Piraeus Bank. "The funds have been disbursed," an official at the Hellenic Financial Stability Facility, who declined to be named, told Reuters. The HFSF was set up to funnel funds from Greece's bailout programme to recapitalise its tottering banks. The HFSF allocated 6.9 billion euros to National Bank, 1.9 billion to Alpha, 4.2 billion to Eurobank and 5 billion to Piraeus. All four are scheduled to report first-quarter earnings this week. The news came as two government officials told Reuters that near-bankrupt Greece could access 3 billion euros, left from its first bailout programme, to cover basic state payments if efforts to revive falling tax revenue fail. U.S. Ready for Europe Fallout, Says Fed Official (WSJ) "There's absolutely no reason for people in the United States to get all in a dither," Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia President Charles Plosser said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. Mr. Plosser said that in the short run, uncertainty in Europe might even work in the U.S. economy's favor, via lower U.S. interest rates and energy prices. Greece to Leave Euro Zone on June 18, Says Guy (CNBC) Greece will leave the euro zone on June 18 if the populist government wins the country’s elections on the 17 as the rest of the euro zone rounds on "cheaters," Nick Dewhirst, director at wealth management firm Integral Asset Management, told CNBC Monday. “The euro zone is a club but you get cheaters who get away with it until everyone finds out and at that point you need to remove them otherwise everyone will cheat. It’s better for Greece to leave,” Dewhirst said. He added that Greek society was built on cheating and scheming, saying “everyone does it” but that voters elsewhere in the euro zone were now calling Greece to account. “The basic question is that a German has to increase working from 65 to 67 and that is to pay for Greeks retiring at 50. The 17th of June is the perfect opportunity to say either 'we’ll behave' or 'we’ll carry on cheating,'" he said. Facebook Debacle Turns High Hopes Into Potentially Mood-Souring Skepticism (WSJ) It is impossible to measure the impact of Facebook's flubbed deal on overall investor confidence. But there is at least one sign of possible fallout: More than $3 billion was yanked from U.S. stock mutual funds by small investors in the week ended Wednesday, according to EPFR Global Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. That was the worst week for withdrawals since March. In the previous week, investors added $311 million to U.S. stock mutual funds. David Guthrie, a 30-year-old actor in Toronto, bought 15 shares of Facebook on its opening day. Before then, he had bought just one stock, yet saw the market as a place to make his savings rise in the long run. Now he feels burned. "If Facebook had made a lot of money, I'd try it again," Mr. Guthrie says. After the stock's disappointing slide, "I would never put big money into the stock market." Zoos' Bitter Choice: To Save Some Species, Letting Others Die (NYT) ...Ozzie, a lion-tailed macaque, will never father children. Lion-tails once flourished in the tops of rain forests in India, using their naturally dark coloring to disappear into the height of the jungle. Though there are only about 4,000 remaining in the wild, not one among Ozzie’s group here in St. Louis will be bred. American zoos are on the verge of giving up on trying to save them. As the number of species at risk of extinction soars, zoos are increasingly being called upon to rescue and sustain animals, and not just for marquee breeds like pandas and rhinos but also for all manner of mammals, frogs, birds and insects whose populations are suddenly crashing. To conserve animals effectively, however, zoo officials have concluded that they must winnow species in their care and devote more resources to a chosen few. The result is that zookeepers, usually animal lovers to the core, are increasingly being pressed into making cold calculations about which animals are the most crucial to save. Some days, the burden feels less like Noah building an ark and more like Schindler making a list. Icahn Takes Chesapeake Energy Stake (WSJ) Carl Icahn skewered Chesapeake Energy Corp.'s CHK board for corporate governance controversies and "irresponsible actions" while disclosing he acquired a sizeable new stake in the company. Euro Likely Worthless as Collector's Item (Bloomberg) FYI. JPMorgan Beefs Up China Unit With $400 Million Injection (Reuters) "The additional capital will better position the bank in the evolving regulatory environment and cement our commitment to clients in China," Zili Shao, Chairman and chief executive of J.P. Morgan China, said in a statement on Monday. "The capital will be used to expand the bank's branch network, develop products, increase corporate lending, and recruit employees," Shao added. Europe Turns To US For Loans (WSJ) In the latest symptom of Europe's financial turmoil, the region's riskier companies are bypassing banks and investors at home and turning to the U.S. for loans. European companies borrowed some €14.4 billion (about $18 billion at current rates) in the U.S. leveraged-loan market this year through Friday, more than double the €6.7 billion for all of 2011, according to data from S&P Capital IQ LCD. That is the highest amount since at least 2007, the height of the last boom in leveraged lending, when full-year loan volume was €12.2 billion, according to S&P. How Boaz Weinstein And Hedge Funds Outsmarted JPMorgan (NYT) By May, when fears over Europe’s debt crisis again came to the fore, the trade reversed. The London Whale was losing. And Mr. Weinstein began to make back all of his losses — and then some — in a matter of weeks. Other hedge funds were also big winners. Blue Mountain Capital and BlueCrest Capital, both created by former JPMorgan traders, were among those winners. Lucidus Capital Partners, CQS and a fund called III came out ahead, too. Inside the hedge fund world, some joked that Mr. Weinstein had been able to spot the London Whale because he himself had been a whale once, too. Drunk Brooklyn woman crashes car through Long Island home (NYDN) A drunken Brooklyn woman crashed her Mercedes into a Long Island home Monday, smashing through the house and landing in the backyard, cops said. Sophia Anderson, 21, failed to turn left or right when the road she was driving on in Huntington deadended at a T-intersection with another street, officials said. She left a train of wreckage as she smashed through the modest house on Southdown Rd., missing the 90-year-old homeowner and her caretaker. Anderson, treated and released at Huntington Hospital, was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated, police said.

Opening Bell: 03.06.12

Goldman Secret Greece Loan Reveals Sinners (Bloomberg) On the day the 2001 deal was struck, the government owed the bank about 600 million euros ($793 million) more than the 2.8 billion euros it borrowed, said Spyros Papanicolaou, who took over the country’s debt-management agency in 2005. By then, the price of the transaction, a derivative that disguised the loan and that Goldman Sachs persuaded Greece not to test with competitors, had almost doubled to 5.1 billion euros, he said. Papanicolaou and his predecessor, Christoforos Sardelis, revealing details for the first time of a contract that helped Greece mask its growing sovereign debt to meet European Union requirements, said the country didn’t understand what it was buying and was ill-equipped to judge the risks or costs...“Like the municipalities, Greece is just another example of a poorly governed client that got taken apart,” Satyajit Das, a risk consultant and author of “Extreme Money: Masters of the Universe and the Cult of Risk,” said in a phone interview. “These trades are structured not to be unwound, and Goldman is ruthless about ensuring that its interests aren’t compromised -- it’s part of the DNA of that organization. Greece Pushes For Aid Tranche (WSJ) Greece's international creditors are considering whether to grant the country a small, tranche of the €130 billion ($171.8 billion) bailout agreed earlier this month in the weeks ahead as part of efforts to pump liquidity into the country's moribund economy. Speaking to the privately owned Mega television channel Tuesday, Deputy Finance Minister Philippos Sachinidis said the money would go to paying off some of the €6 billion in accumulated arrears that the Greek government owes private contractors. He added that the disbursement could come before Greece goes to elections that are widely expected to be held in late April. "There is a discussion that, likely before the elections, we will get a tranche that will allow us to pay some of, not the total, of the arrears," Mr. Sachinidis said. Bondholder Group Sees 1 Trillion Euro Greek Default Risk (Reuters) A disorderly Greek default would probably leave Italy and Spain needing outside help to stop contagion spreading and cause more than 1 trillion euros ($1.3 trillion) of damage to the euro zone, the group representing Athens' bondholders warned. Greek private creditors have until Thursday night to say whether they will take part in a bond swap that is part of a 130 billion euros bailout deal to put the country on a more stable footing and cut its debt by more than 100 billion euros. Paulson’s Advantage Plus Declines in February (Bloomberg) John Paulson lost 1.5 percent in February in one of his largest hedge funds, according to an investor update, paring this year’s gain and setting back efforts by the New York-based manager to recoup record losses in 2011. Paulson’s Advantage Plus Fund, which seeks to profit from corporate events such as takeovers and bankruptcies and uses leverage to amplify returns, gained 3.5 percent in the first two months of 2012, according to the update IBM’s Watson Gets Wall Street Job After ‘Jeopardy’ Win (Bloomberg) International Business Machines Corp’s Watson computer, which beat champions of the quiz show “Jeopardy!” a year ago, will soon be advising Wall Street on risks, portfolios and clients. Citigroup, the third-largest U.S. lender, is Watson’s first financial services client, IBM said yesterday. It will help analyze customer needs and process financial, economic and client data to advance and personalize digital banking. Ann Romney: ‘I Don’t Even Consider Myself Wealthy’ (ABC) Mitt Romney may have more money than any other presidential candidate in the race, but his wife said today that she does not consider herself wealthy. “We can be poor in spirit, and I don’t even consider myself wealthy, which is an interesting thing,” Ann Romney said in an interview on Fox News. “It can be here today and gone tomorrow.” Swiss Pass Proposal to Help Nab US Tax Evaders (Reuters) Specifically, the plan would allow Switzerland to hand over data on suspected tax evaders, even if U.S. tax authorities cannot identify alleged offenders by name or bank account. The big-spending businessman who ran up £203,948 bar bill was 23-year-old City whizkid (Mirror) The businessman who blew £203,948 on bubbly in a single night in Liverpool was 23-year-old Alex Hope...His biography reads: “Despite his tender years, Alex is a name to watch out for in the city. An expert in the UK economy, he works the currency markets, regularly trading millions.” Describing his rapid career rise from humble beginnings to working for trading company Zone Invest Group, it adds: “A talented, charismatic and thoroughly likeable man, Alex Hope exudes knowledge and you can’t help but respect and admire this self-taught and self-made young trader.” Banker Bonus Limits Sought by EU Lawmakers (Bloomberg) Members of the European Parliament’s Socialist and Green parties have proposed that a draft EU law to bolster bank capital should include new pay rules, as well as stricter curbs on risk taking, according to two members of the institution’s financial affairs committee. “Wrong incentives were part of the banking culture that caused the crisis,” said Udo Bullmann, a German lawmaker following the proposed law for the parliament’s Socialist group. “I expect there will be quite a lot of sympathy among different party groups” for further rules on pay. Judge throws heat at Picard’s claim vs. Mets (NYP) Picard’s best evidence may be from Noreen Harrington, a former chief investment officer for a hedge fund partially owned by the Mets’ owners, who is expected to say that she told Katz and another Sterling Equities executive that she thought Madoff’s reported returns were “fiction” and not “worth the paper they’re written on.” The Mets will argue they were bamboozled by Madoff, along with the nation’s top regulators and major banks. Bill Clinton Said to Agree to Join Obama at Campaign Fundraisers (Bloomberg) While Obama raised $5 million on his last fundraising trip to New York, including $2 million from a March 1 event with members of the financial services industry, he is collecting less money from Wall Street this year compared with four years ago, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. When Gaming Is Good For You (WSJ) People who played action-based video and computer games made decisions 25% faster than others without sacrificing accuracy, according to a study. Indeed, the most adept gamers can make choices and act on them up to six times a second—four times faster than most people, other researchers found. Moreover, practiced game players can pay attention to more than six things at once without getting confused, compared with the four that someone can normally keep in mind, said University of Rochester researchers. The studies were conducted independently of the companies that sell video and computer games.

Opening Bell: 01.09.13

UBS Says Cleaning Up Its Act After Libor 'Shocker' (Reuters) UBS has yet to fully purge itself of a global interest rate scandal that has cost the Swiss bank its reputation and put it at risk of a wave of costly civil suits, its investment banking chief said on Wednesday. The once-venerable institution was fined a record $1.5 billion last month for manipulating Libor interest rates, the latest in a string of scandals including a $2.3 billion rogue trading loss and a damaging tax avoidance row with the United States. "We are very focused on recovering the honor and standing the organisation had in the past," Andrea Orcel told Britain's Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, set up in the aftermath of the Libor scandal. "I am convinced that we have made a lot of progress. I am also convinced that we still need to do more." [...] Committee member Justin Welby, the incoming Archbishop of Canterbury, asked Orcel if he was the right man to turn UBS around. "I feel I have a high level of integrity," the banker said. Orcel said that UBS was working at simplifying the investment banking business to make it less risky and prone to scandal. The committee, a cross-party panel of lawmakers headed by Conservative MP Andrew Tyrie, is switching its focus to standards and culture after spending most of the past three months assessing structural reform. Tyrie on Wednesday described the Libor rigging as "a shocker of enormous proportions". Button-Down Central Bank Bets It All (WSJ) Switzerland, for decades a paragon of safety in finance, is engaged in a high-risk strategy to protect its export-driven economy, literally betting the bank in a fight to contain the prices of Swiss products sold abroad. The nation's central bank is printing and selling as many Swiss francs as needed to keep its currency from climbing against the euro, wagering an amount approaching Switzerland's total national output, and, in the process, turning from button-down conservative to the globe's biggest risk-taker. JPMorgan Overhaul Widens (WSJ) The shift of Mr. Maclin and the departure of Mr. Staley, who once was seen as a top candidate to succeed James Dimon as chief executive, are the latest steps in a drastic reshaping of J.P. Morgan's executive suite. Many of the new leaders—a group that includes corporate and investment-bank co-heads Mike Cavanagh and Daniel Pinto, co-chief operating officer Matthew Zames and Chief Financial Officer Marianne Lake—are in their 40s. Mr. Cavanagh and Mr. Zames, who were asked last May to unwind a series of botched bets placed by a trader in the bank's Chief Investment Office known as the "London whale," are viewed as front runners for the top job, said people close to the bank. Ackman Braces for Legal Battle Over Herbalife (FBN) If filed, the lawsuit could involve alleged “tortuous interference,” implying Ackman intentionally damaged Herbalife’s business relationships, people close to Ackman said. On Tuesday, a large Herbalife distributor said he was leaving the company and called on other distributors to join him amid the controversy. In a sign of the importance of its distribution channels, Herbalife says in regulatory filings its relationship with and ability to influence distributors are items that can “materially” affect its financial condition. As of late Tuesday, people with knowledge of the matter said no decision on timing or even if a lawsuit will actually be filed had been made. The company has told FOX Business it is weighing legal action against Ackman. Ackman declined to comment on the matter. Herbalife has hired famed attorney David Boies to launch possible litigation against Ackman as well as the investment bank Moelis & Co., as its financial adviser. Goldman Will Report Fund Values Each Day (WSJ) In a reversal of industry practice, Goldman Sachs Group will begin disclosing the values of its money-market mutual funds daily rather than monthly, according to people familiar with the company's plans. Some of the changes will take effect as early as Wednesday...According to people familiar with Goldman's thinking, the company is beefing up its disclosures to satisfy investors' calls for greater transparency on fluctuations in the price of their investments. Brazil prostitutes to learn English ahead of World Cup (AP) Prostitutes in one of Brazil's biggest cities are beginning to sign up for free English classes ahead of this year's Confederations Cup and the 2014 World Cup. The president of the Association of Prostitutes of the city of Belo Horizonte says by telephone that 20 have already signed up for the courses and she expects at least 300 of the group's 4,000 members to follow suit. The association is organizing the classes and seeking volunteer teachers. Prostitution is legal in Brazil. Belo Horizonte will host six World Cup matches and Vieira said Tuesday "it will be important for the girls will be able to use English to let their clients know what they are charging and learn about what turns them on." AIG Cites Duty to Weigh Suing U.S. as Lawmaker Criticism Mounts (Bloomberg, related) American International Group said it has a duty to weigh joining a suit by former Chief Executive Officer Maurice “Hank” Greenberg that claims the insurer’s 2008 U.S. bailout was unconstitutional. “The board of directors has fiduciary and legal obligations to the company and its shareholders to consider the demand served on us,” CEO Robert Benmosche said yesterday in a statement. The board is scheduled to meet today to hear arguments from representatives of Greenberg and the U.S. Lawmakers including Senators Elizabeth Warren and Robert Menendez and Representative Peter Welch said New York-based AIG shouldn’t join the suit. “Taxpayers are still furious that they rescued a company whose own conduct brought it down,” Welch said in a letter to AIG Chairman Steve Miller. “Don’t rub salt in the wounds with yet another reckless decision.” Vow of New Light For 'Dark' Trades (WSJ) Richard Ketchum, chief executive of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, said in an interview Tuesday that the regulator is expanding its oversight of the dark-trading venues, with an eye on whether orders placed in public exchanges are "trying to move prices or encourage sellers that may advance their trading in the dark market." The regulator also is boosting its surveillance of high-speed trading and is increasingly looking at rapid-fire trading across exchanges, he said. "You're going to see more [focus] in those areas in 2013," Mr. Ketchum said. Goldman, Morgan Stanley to Settle on Foreclosures (Reuters) Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are among a group of banks expected to agree as soon as this week to a $1.5 billion settlement with federal regulators over botched foreclosure claims, two sources familiar with the matter said on Tuesday. The accord would come on the heels of a separate $8.5 billion settlement announced on Monday with 10 bigger mortgage servicers, including Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo...Goldman and Morgan Stanley's respective roles in the settlement stems from mortgage-servicing businesses that the two investment banks purchased in the run-up to the subprime mortgage crisis, and have since sold. Goldman had owned Litton Loan Servicing and Morgan Stanley owned Saxon Capital. Taco Bell responds to teen's request for a custom Speedo (LI) The week before Christmas, 15-year-old Ryan Klarner posted on Taco Bell’s Facebook page, introducing himself with a rundown of his swimming and diving achievements before making an offbeat request. “[I]s there any way you guys could make me a customized Speedo that says think outside the buns on the back of it? If you did, that would mean the world to me,” the Illinois teen asked...Klarner said he first came up with the idea a couple of years earlier and decided last month to go ahead and ask, even though he never had asked a company on Facebook for anything before. “I did not expect it to blow up as much as it has. I didn’t really expect to get the Speedo out of it, either,” he said. But last Wednesday, the social media team at Taco Bell wrote back. “What size do you wear? And what’s your address?” “He really wanted something and he went after it,” Tressie Lieberman, director of digital and social engagement, said. When we think people are really extraordinary...then we want to reward them.”

Opening Bell: 02.28.13

EU Bonus Rules Meet Anger (WSJ) The new rules would prevent banks from promising bonuses that exceed an employee's salary—though, with shareholder approval, bonus payments could rise to double the salary. The rules, which are supposed to kick in at the beginning of next year and appear to be the world's toughest, still need to be approved by EU member states and the full European Parliament. European banking executives and trade groups say the rules—which are likely to apply to all European bank's employees around the world—will put the industry at a severe disadvantage relative to U.S. and Asian banks, and that it will provoke unintended consequences. Banks early Thursday weren't yet publicly commenting as they digested the news. But executives privately didn't hold back. "It's a disaster," said a senior investment-banking executive at a top European bank. "It's a crazy policy" that could jeopardize European banks' abilities to hire employees in the U.S. or Asia. Jockeying Stalls Deal On Spending Cuts (WSJ) With mandatory across-the-board spending cuts set to begin Friday, the White House and congressional Republicans are poised to let the deadline pass, each calculating that their hand in negotiations only grows stronger if they scorn a quick compromise. The first face-to-face meeting on the issue between President Barack Obama and congressional leaders won't happen until Friday—the deadline for Mr. Obama to set in motion $85 billion in broad spending cuts. None of the participants expect the morning meeting at the White House to produce a breakthrough. In the run-up, with no serious talks under way, each side is maneuvering to ensure the other catches the blame if the cuts kick in. Cuts Unlike To Deliver Promised US Budget Savings (Reuters) The $85 billion cut to budget authority amounts to about 2.4 percent of the $3.6 trillion the U.S. government is expected to spend in the fiscal year that ends on Sept. 30. The actual amount of savings is much less - $43 billion in the current fiscal year, according to the Congressional Budget Office. That's because federal agencies don't spend all of the money they are allocated in any given fiscal year. A $1 billion aircraft carrier, for example, may take years to build. Even at that lower level, the effects are likely to ripple across the world's largest economy in a way that will work against deficit-reduction efforts. Scrutiny Of Heinz Trades Grows (WSJ) The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, a Wall Street self-regulator, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are reviewing numerous trades in Heinz stock shortly before the buyout announcement sent the share price soaring Feb. 14, the people said. The inquiries add to an investigation the Securities and Exchange Commission disclosed Feb. 15 into what it called a "highly suspicious" $90,000 purchase of stock options the day before the deal, a position with a potential profit of $1.7 million. The FBI also has said it launched a criminal investigation into options activity ahead of the deal. Flowers Foods Set To Buy Wonderbread From Hostess (NYP) After no other bidders emerged to challenge it, Flowers Foods is set to snare Wonder and a slew of other bread brands being sold by bankrupt Hostess Brands for $360 million. How The Pope's Retirement Package Compares To Yours (CNBC) Let's start with the basics: The pope emeritus will receive a monthly pension of 2,500 euros, according to Italian newspaper La Stampa. That translates to almost $3,300, or close to the monthly maximum of $3,350 that Social Security will pay to an American who retires this year. Few people will actually qualify for that amount. For starters, you would have to wait until 70 to retire. You would also have to spend most of your working life earning Social Security's taxable maximum pay, which is set at $113,700 this year. "That's quite rare," said Richard Johnson, director of the program on retirement policy at the Urban Institute. He pointed out that the average Social Security check is about $1,200 a month — not enough to pay for the typical American retiree's expenses. "For most people, if you look at the median, Social Security counts for about 40 percent of their income. So it's important, but people rely a lot on other savings, like pensions or 401(k) savings," Johnson said. A big nest egg is not something the pope emeritus has to worry about. The Roman Catholic Church will cover his living expenses, provide him with a spacious home inside the Vatican and pay for everything from cooked meals to housekeepers, according to The Telegraph. Such services are not available to the typical American senior, unless he or she pays for an assisted living facility or resides in a nursing home, Johnson said...Health care costs are one of the big risks that older Americans face, and while Medicare pays for the bulk of their expenses, many things are left uncovered, Johnson said. Meanwhile, the pope emeritus will continue to be a member of the Vatican's generous private health care policy, the BBC reported. Blackstone Profits From Regulation With Citigroup Deal (Bloomberg) Blackstone has devised a way to profit from regulation: It’s helping banks meet tougher capital rules without the pain of selling assets or raising equity. The firm last year insured Citigroup against any initial losses on a $1.2 billion pool of shipping loans, said two people with knowledge of the transaction, who asked not to be identified because the matter is private. The regulatory capital trade, Blackstone’s first, will let Citigroup cut how much it setsaside to cover defaults by as much as 96 percent, while keeping the loans on its balance sheet, the people said. RBS Moves To Appease UK (WSJ) The 81%-state-owned bank unveiled a series of moves to ease government and regulatory pressure on the bank to become more U.K. focused and better capitalized. Chief Executive Stephen Hester confirmed that it would list around 25% of the U.S.-based RBS Citizens bank in the next two years "to highlight the valuable nature of the business." RBS also said it would further pare back its investment bank, shedding jobs and cutting risk-weighted assets to £80 billion ($121.3 billion), from £101.3 billion at the end of 2012. Unemployment aid claims fall by 22,000 last week (AP) The number of Americans seeking unemployment aid fell 22,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 344,000, evidence that the job market may be picking up. The four-week average of applications dropped 6,750 to 355,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. That was the first drop in three weeks. Too Big To Fail Hurting Too Small To Compete Banks (Bloomberg) Investors such as Joshua Siegel, founder and managing principal at New York-based StoneCastle Partners LLC, see bigger changes at the other end of the spectrum. Small banks will seek mergers because their management teams are aging and new regulations are too costly to bear, he says. “If you need one major overriding theme of the industry in the next three, five, seven, 10 years: massive consolidation, thousands of banks,” says Siegel, whose firm managed $5.1 billion as of the end of last year and invests in small banks. In the U.S., “I do see probably anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000 banks being swallowed up, and what you’ll see then is a more- concentrated system.” Dennis Rodman Tells Kim Jong Un: You Have A Friend For Life (NYP) Rodman and Kim sat side by side at an exhibition game in Pyongyang on Thursday, chatting as they watched players from North Korea and the US play in mixed teams, Alex Detrick, a spokesman for the New York-based VICE media company, told The Associated Press. Rodman later addressed Kim before a crowd of thousands, telling him, "You have a friend for life," Detrick said. The encounter makes Rodman the most high-profile American to meet with the young North Korean leader, said to be a diehard basketball fan.