Opening Bell: 11.14.11

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Buffett Buys Into IBM (WSJ)
Berkshire Hathaway Inc. took a $10.7 billion stake in International Business Machines Corp. this year, a major shift for the billionaire investor, who has famously avoided technology stocks. Mr. Buffett said in an interview Monday on CNBC television that Berkshire has purchased 64 million shares, or 5.4% of the outstanding stock, beginning in March and building the stake throughout the year. Mr. Buffett said executives at IBM were unaware of the purchases, and that he'd never spoken to the company's chif executive officer, Sam Palmisano. "They've done an incredible job" in laying out a road map for the future, Mr. Buffett said in the interview.

Merkel: Europe could be in worst hour since WWII (Reuters)
"Europe is in one of its toughest, perhaps the toughest hour since World War Two," Merkel told her conservative party in Leipzig, saying she feared Europe would fail if the euro failed and vowing to do anything to stop this from happening. But in a one-hour address to the Christian Democrats (CDU), Merkel offered no new ideas for resolving the crisis that has forced bailouts of Greece, Ireland and Portugal, and has raised fears about the survival of the 17-state currency zone.

I'll Be Back, Silvio Berlusconi Warns Europe (The Australian)
Berlusconi has warned that he is not yet finished as a force in Italian politics, insisting that the "technocratic" government of new Prime Minister Mario Monti would be at the mercy of Berlusconi's supporters in parliament. Stung by the venom and rejoicing on the streets of Rome that greeted his resignation at the weekend, the 75-year-old billionaire told a hard-right group of his supporters that "I hope to resume with you the path of government".

Obama: ‘Enough’s Enough’ on Undervalued Yuan (Bloomberg)
President Barack Obama kept up his pressure on China's foreign-exhange policy and trade practices, saying “enough’s enough” on what the U.S. views as a too-slow appreciation of the yuan. While there's been a “slight improvement,” China’s exporters “like the system the way it is” and are resistant to any moves to loosen the reins on the yuan, Obama said. “Changes are difficult for them politically, I get it,” Obama said at a news conference concluding a summit with Asia- Pacific leaders in Hawaii yesterday. “But the United States and other countries, I think understandably, feel that enough’s enough.”

MF Global clients cry foul over JPMorgan tactics in bankruptcy recovery (NYP)
Smaller customers of MF Global believe bank giant JPMorgan Chase, run by CEO Jamie Dimon, is angling to cut ahead of them in MF’s long line of creditors. Some MF clients are planning to file a motion in Manhattan bankruptcy court today, led by James Koutoulas, chief executive of a Chicago commodities trading firm, in a bid to boost their chances of recovery from the eighth-largest bankruptcy in US history. At issue is a lien and other protections given to JPMorgan, MF’s largest lender, in exchange for an $8 million loan the bank gave to MF on its first day of bankruptcy...In an interview, Koutoulas called the loan “a farce” and “a cheap ploy for them to jump the line.”

Corzine Aide In Spotlight (WSJ)
Even before Jon S. Corzine had lured Bradley Abelow in September 2010 to serve as his top deputy at MF Global Holdings Ltd., the firm's chief executive was already saving key decisions for his trusted aide. "Jon would even say, 'Wait until Brad gets here,' " said Peter Forlenza, who served as MF Global's global head of equities until last week. "It was almost like there was a messiah coming, and he was going to clean everything up."...With Mr. Corzine's Nov. 4 resignation, the spotlight has shifted to Mr. Abelow, and not just because he is the senior-most executive left at the firm. Mr. Abelow, as MF Global's operating chief, had direct oversight of the firm's risk management, technology systems, human resources and client services divisions. Some of these operations are now drawing scrutiny for failing to rein in the trading risks that helped tip the firm into bankruptcy and for allegedly misplacing customer funds. Several people who have spoken to Mr. Abelow recently said he is frustrated with MF Global's bankruptcy and angry at the former boss who brought him to the firm. He has volunteered to slash his annual salary to $60,000, down from the $1.5 million he was slated to earn before the bankruptcy, a person said. "Brad was the voice of reason," Mr. Forlenza said. "The frustration was we couldn't get things done quicker."

Police Will Clear Oakland Occupy Camp (AP)
"Oakland is not afraid. We're not afraid of our tents being taken away, of the movement being stymied," said Shon Kae, who is part of the group's media team.

Deficit Deal Might Delay Tax Overhaul (WSJ)
"There could be a two-step process that would hopefully give us pro-growth tax reform," Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R., Texas) said on CNN's "State of the Union." Mr. Hensarling is a co-chairman of the deficit-cutting supercommittee that faces a Nov. 23 deadline for reaching agreement on a plan to cut at least $1.2 trillion from projected future deficits. The approach could ease the path to an agreement, by allowing Congress to reach the outlines of an agreement on tax revenues and spending cuts this year, while postponing the difficult details of a tax overhaul until next year, and handing the issue back to the congressional tax-writing committees.

Japan's Economy Rebounds (WSJ)
The Japanese economy grew at a brisk 6% annualized rate in the July-September period, as strong rebounds in exports and consumption helped fuel a recovery from the massive dislocations caused by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Marking the highest growth in a year and a half and slightly above economists' expectations, the price-adjusted GDP figure released by the Cabinet Office on Monday reassured investors and helped lift Tokyo stock prices by 1.1% to 8603.70.

Economist: There Is No Way Out For Europe (CNBC)
"There is no way out, I never thought there was, not for any of the countries that are in trouble. Once one of these countries goes into this sort of problem, there is no escape," Roger Nightingale, economist at RDN Associates, said.

Mayor used fake name to write articles about town (MSNBC)
The mayor of Utah's second-largest city is acknowledging he used a fake name to write freelance stories for Utah news outlets because he says the municipality needed more "good news."vWest Valley City Mayor Mike Winder quoted himself in some of the stories he wrote for the Deseret News, KSL-TV's website and a community weekly. Winder tells The Associated Press his career as a news reporter using the name Richard Burwash lasted several months until he decided to come clean this week. He says getting stories published was as easy as setting up a Gmail account and Facebook page under the alias. Winder says he wanted to offer balance to what he saw as bad news coverage of his city. He complains that the media devotes too much time to covering crime.

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Opening Bell: 03.27.12

MF Global's Top Lawyer Will Break Her Silence (NYT) MF Global’s top lawyer is to break her five-month silence on today to tell Congress that she was unaware of a gaping shortfall in customer money until hours before the brokerage firm filed for bankruptcy on Oct. 31. Laurie Ferber, MF Global’s general counsel, is expected to tell a House panel that she “had no reason to believe” that the firm had raided customer accounts to meet its own obligations, according to a copy of her prepared testimony. While Ms. Ferber learned of a shortfall in customer money in the afternoon of Oct. 30, she said she believed it to be an accounting error. BATS Weighs Futures Steps (WSJ) BATS's markets functioned normally Monday, though the company ceded a little trading volume to rival U.S. exchanges. Some market participants privately expressed support for the company's leader. Separately, federal regulators indicated they were preliminarily viewing the IPO mishap as something of an isolated incident. Chairman and chief executive Joe Ratterman said two topics the board likely will discuss are potentially reviving an IPO and the status of employee bonuses in the wake of Friday's troubles. Over the weekend, BATS founder and board member Dave Cummings said the company should aim for an IPO in the second quarter, which starts next week. Goldman Diaspora Falters as Flamand Hedge Fund Declines (Bloomberg) “In spite of their pedigree, many ex-Goldman prop traders have found it much harder than they originally thought to make money,” said Matias Ringel, the New York-based head of research at EFG Asset Management, which invests in hedge funds. Poor timing led to the slow start for the Goldman Sachs diaspora as the European sovereign-debt crisis and a fragile economic recovery in the U.S. dominated global markets. Yet their failure to generate profits from investments also highlights the differences between trading at a bank, with its extensive research, technology and compliance operations, and running a hedge fund where clients pay top fees and are less tolerant of risk. Hitler Used As Spokesperson For Turkish Shampoo Commercial (IBT) The subtitles, dubbed over a clip of a Hitler speech, read: "If you're not wearing women's clothes, you shouldn't be using women's shampoo. Here it is, a real man's shampoo. Biomen." The commercial..has been met with a lot of outrage. Goldman 'Sacks' (NYP) Sehat Sutardja, 49, and his wife, Weili Dai, who founded chip giant Marvell Technology Group, have found stock certificates and related paperwork showing that Goldman had about 25 million shares of Marvell shares transferred from the family’s personal ownership, under management by Goldman, to the firm, lawyers for the couple claim. The family insisted that they had never approved such a transfer of their stock holdings, which were managed by Goldman’s private client group...The family is expected to file a new claim against Goldman today with Finra, backed by the recently discovered documents...Goldman said it hadn’t seen the new claims, adding that “Goldman Sachs has consistently denied and continues to fight Dr. Sutardja and Ms. Dai’s claims.” Goldman’s Jim O'Neill: Glass 'More Half Full Than Empty' (CNBC) "At the core of it, everybody worries about the next quarter and, linked to it, the volatility of last year is what scared a lot of longer-term investors. It's tough for a lot of pension fund trustees to live through that," O'Neill said. Added to this is the fact that the past decade has been weak for stock markets so "there's a broad anti-equity culture out there," he said, but added that the prospects for stocks are good. "I continue to see the world glass more half full than empty… on the account that the U.S. is on the way back, as it has been for some time." Fed Signals Resolve On Rates (WSJ) Investors tracking the labor market's gains had begun to expect interest rates to start climbing, said Liz Miller, president of Summit Place Financial Advisors. But Mr. Bernanke shifted that view. "What we heard from Ben Bernanke this morning was still a supportive monetary policy commitment, even in the face of improvements in the unemployment rate." Deutsche Bank No. 1 in Europe as Leverage Hits Valuation (Bloomberg) Chief Executive Officer Josef Ackermann, who has called proposals to limit bank size “misguided,” will leave behind a balance sheet about 40 percent larger than in 2006, and more than 80 percent as big as Germany’s economy, when he steps down in May. The firm is the second-most leveraged and third-least capitalized of Europe’s 10 largest banks, even after Ackermann boosted reserves and trimmed dependence on borrowed money. Carnegie Deli creates monster Tim Tebow-inspired sandwich (NYP) The famed Carnegie Deli has introduced the "Jetbow" in honor of new Jets backup quarterback, Tim Tebow -- a 3.5-pound monstrosity containing corned beef, pastrami, roast beef, American cheese, lettuce and tomato on white bread...The deli has other sandwich creations that honor celebrities, such as "The Woody Allen," and "The Melo," named after Knicks star Carmelo Anthony. But it is the first time the restaurant will be using white bread and mayonnaise in a sandwich created for a celebrity, instead of the traditional rye bread and mustard. The sandwich will cost $22.22 and was released on the same day Tebow held his first news conference in the Jets' field house.

Opening Bell: 03.01.13

Congress Leaders To Meet With Obama As Budget Cuts Begin (Bloomberg) Democrats and Republicans are in a standoff over how to replace the cuts totaling $1.2 trillion over nine years, $85 billion of which would occur in the remaining seven months of this fiscal year. Republicans reject Democrats’ call for higher taxes on top earners to replace part of the spending reductions. “Middle-class families can’t keep paying the price for dysfunction in Washington,” Obama said in a statement yesterday. The president has until 11:59 p.m. to issue the order officially putting the cuts into effect. “How much more money do we want to steal from the American people to fund more government?” Boehner said at a news conference in Washington yesterday. “I’m for no more.” The White House meeting follows the Senate’s rejection yesterday of a pair of partisan proposals to replace the spending reductions. No additional congressional action is planned before the start of the cuts, to be split between defense and non-defense spending. Fiscal Pain to Be Parceled Out Unevenly (WSJ) Economies in and around the nation's capital are likely to feel the most pain. Federal spending accounts for about a fifth of the economic output of Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia, according to the Pew Center on the States. Other areas likely to be hit hard are Hawaii and Alaska, which have a heavy military presence, and states such as New Mexico, Kentucky and Alabama, which have major defense operations or substantial military contracting. Struggling Groupon Ousts Its Quirky CEO (WSJ) Mr. Mason didn't return calls for comment. In a memo to employees that was by turns tongue-in-cheek and rueful, he said, "After four and a half intense and wonderful years as CEO of Groupon, I've decided that I'd like to spend more time with my family. Just kidding—I was fired today." 'Girls' Gone Under (NYP) “Girls Gone Wild” founder Joe Francis has put his video empire into bankruptcy in a bid to wiggle out of some $16 million in debt — most of it owed to casino magnate Steve Wynn. Wynn’s camp claims Francis owes closer to $30 million, including $2 million for unpaid gambling debts and $7.5 million in defamation damages. Wynn first hauled Francis to court to get him to pay the $2 million debt he racked up during a 2007 gambling binge. He sued again for defamation after Francis blabbed to gossip site TMZ that Wynn threatened to kill him and bury him in the desert. Wynn won two defamation awards for $7.5 million and $20 million, although the latter wasn’t listed in the Chapter 11 filing. Michael Weaver, a spokesman for Wynn Las Vegas, said the judgments are against Francis “personally” and not the company. “Consequently, these recent bankruptcy filings by the GGW companies will not slow our efforts to collect on our judgments against Mr. Francis,” he said. New York Investigating Bank of America for Mortgages (Reuters) Bank of America said in a securities filing on Thursday that the New York State Attorney General was investigating the bank over its purchase, securitization and underwriting of home loans. SEC Scrutinizing Chesapeake Energy (WSJ) The SEC notified Chesapeake in December that it was stepping up an informal inquiry into Aubrey McClendon's ability to invest in wells that the company drills, the company disclosed in a regulatory filing. The agency has issued subpoenas for information and testimony to Chesapeake, the country's second-largest natural-gas producer. Mornings Not For Erin Burnett, Demanding Sizable Buyout (NYP) Erin Burnett made her morning-show debut yesterday on CNN with Chris Cuomo for Pope Benedict XVI’s last day on the job. But it doesn’t mean she’s going to end up there permanently, sources tell The Post’s Michael Shain. It seems Burnett is digging in her high heels and refusing the new morning assignment. She has a clause in her contract that requires CNN to air her show in prime time. If new boss Jeff Zucker wants her to get up at 4 a.m., Erin is demanding a sizable chunk of cash — more than her $2.5 million salary — to buy her out of the prime-time clause. Insiders say Zucker believes she should be grateful she’s being offered a marquee job and he has started to look elsewhere for an anchor to partner with Cuomo. Burnett is telling her staff she doesn’t want to go to the morning. “What she means is she doesn’t want to go at the old price,” sniffed a source. Druckenmiller Sees Storm Worse Than ’08 as Retirees Steal (Bloomberg) Druckenmiller, 59, said the mushrooming costs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, with unfunded liabilities as high as $211 trillion, will bankrupt the nation’s youth and pose a much greater danger than the country’s $16 trillion of debt currently being debated in Congress. “While everybody is focusing on the here and now, there’s a much, much bigger storm that’s about to hit,” Druckenmiller said in an hour-long interview with Stephanie Ruhle on Bloomberg Television’s Market Makers. “I am not against seniors. What I am against is current seniors stealing from future seniors.” Druckenmiller said unsustainable spending will eventually result in a crisis worse than the financial meltdown of 2008, when $29 trillion was erased from global equity markets. What’s particularly troubling, he said, is that government expenditures related to programs for the elderly rocketed in the past two decades, even before the first baby boomers, those born in 1946, started turning 65. Lloyds CEO Links Bonus To Stake Sale (WSJ) Chief Executive António Horta-Osório said he is "very confident" U.K. taxpayers will get their money back, referring to the stake of about 40% the government took in the bank following a series of bailouts at the height of the crisis. He requested that his £1.49 million ($2.26 million) bonus only be paid if the government sells at least a third of its holdings in Lloyds at a share price above 61 pence. The average buy-in price for the U.K. government was 63.1 pence, according to U.K. Financial Investments, a body that manages the government's stake in Lloyds. Unemployment Worsens In Euro Zone (WSJ) Eurostat, the European Union's statistics agency, said 11.9% of the euro zone's workforce was unemployed in January, the highest percentage for the 17 countries that make up the currency bloc since records began in 1995. The figure is higher than the jobless rate of 11.8% in December. Wilbur Ross: Italy Has Choice Of 'Two Clowns' (CNBC) ...in the wake of the unresolved Italian election, the WL Ross chairman said he's worried the next leader of the economically-troubled nation is a choice of two clowns — former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and comedian Beppe Grillo. "One, an acknowledged clown, and one may be inadvertent clown. And until that gets resolved, there's a great danger that the nice reforms that Mr. Monti put in will just get rolled back." Truck crashes on I-80 in Reno, spilling Heinz ketchup 'everywhere' (RGJ) A tractor trailer carrying thousands of bottles of Heinz ketchup crashed on Interstate 80 near the Robb Drive overpass this afternoon, spilling its red contents onto the freeway and snarling traffic in the process. “I have red everywhere on the highway,” said Sgt. Janay Sherven with the Nevada Highway Patrol. “No bodies, no people, just ketchup.” There were no injuries in the accident, which happened when the driver of the semi-truck likely overcorrected to avoid another car while traveling eastbound, she said. The truck hit the center median and then knocked over a light pole that slashed open the left side of the trailer. As a result, thousands of bottles and cans of ketchup were splattered onto the road like a bad horror movie. ‘“The scene looks pretty bad as far as color goes,” Sherven said.

Opening Bell: 04.23.13

Corzine Sued Over MF Global Failure (Bloomberg) Jon Corzine, the former head of bankrupt broker MF Global Holdings Ltd., was sued by the holding company’s trustee, Louis J. Freeh, for failing in his duty to oversee the company and causing the eighth-biggest bankruptcy in U.S. history. In the suit, filed in U.S. bankruptcy court in Manhattan, Freeh alleged that Corzine, the company’s chief executive officer and a former governor and senator from New Jersey, along with senior executives Bradley Abelow and Henri Steenkamp, failed to act in good faith and implemented strategies that caused the company to fail. CBOE May Retire From Police Beat (WSJ) The parent of the Chicago Board Options Exchange CBOE is considering whether to separate out its regulatory division in the wake of a continuing federal probe into potential conflicts of interest, people close to the discussions said. The largest U.S. options exchange currently oversees the market activity of its own customers as well as those at some of its rivals but has discussed forming a new, independent regulator or handing over those responsibilities to another agency. Splitting off the regulatory unit could shake up the supervision of stock and options traders in the U.S. by either creating a new agency or expanding the role of the independent Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, which has over the past decade taken on oversight responsibilities for NYSE Euronext, Nasdaq OMX Group Inc. and other exchanges. Twinkie offense: Bimbo in snack attack while Hostess is hobbled (NYP) Grupo Bimbo, the biggest baker in America, is working quickly to launch knock-off Hostess products before Twinkies and other snack brands come back to market, The Post has learned. Bimbo has told Teamsters locals it wants them to carry “a newly introduced snack cake product line to fill the Hostess void,” a source close to the situation said. The six to eight snacks will include a Hostess-like cupcake and a Hostess-like Twinkie, a second source said. Hostess shut down in November, and the new owners that bought its assets out of bankruptcy will likely be re-introducing its snack cakes in the fall, according to sources. “I’m hearing Bimbo wants to get [the new products] to market within the next month or two,” said Richard Sheehan, president of New York Teamsters Local 802. Gleacher Investor Urges ‘Rebirth’ as Asset Manager (Bloomberg) Gleacher & Co, the brokerage that closed its fixed-income business, should seek a “rapid rebirth” as an asset manager, according to activist shareholder Clinton Group Inc. Clinton Group, part of a coalition with a 7.7 percent stake in the brokerage, urged stockholders in a regulatory filing today to vote for its slate of directors, who would then use Gleacher’s brand to build a money-management business. Other investors favor liquidating the firm, Clinton Group said. Break up large bank to create regional lenders, argues Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby (Telegraph) The newly enthroned head of the Church of England said that Britain needs some parts of the banking system to be "local and not London-based" to address the "concentration" in the industry which he said was one of the "great dangers of the current mess." Speaking at a Parliamentary event on "finding long-term solutions to the financial crisis", Archbishop Welby said there needs to be a "revolution in the aims" of banks to ensure they serve society rather than "self-regarding interest" or even just shareholders. “What we’re in at the moment isn’t a recession but some kind of depression,” he said. “It needs something very, very major to get us out of it, in the same way it took something very major to get into it.” Fed Still Owes Congress a Blueprint on Its Emergency Lending (Dealbook) After the Federal Reserve lent more than $1 trillion to big banks during the 2008 financial crisis, Congress required the central bank to devise specific ways of protecting taxpayers when doling out emergency loans to financial institutions. But nearly three years after that overhaul became law, the Fed still has not established these regulations. BOJ Seen Deploying Price Forecasts as Tool in Ending Deflation (Bloomberg) The BOJ may indicate that its 2 percent inflation target will be reached by spring 2015, the Nikkei newspaper reported April 18. The central bank may upgrade its view on core price gains to at least 1.5 percent for the year ending March 2015, people familiar with officials’ discussions previously told Bloomberg News. British Group Backs Renegotiating E.U. Role (NYT) The new group, called Business for Britain, is intended to counter the intervention of pro-E.U. business leaders who have warned of the dangers of Britain slipping out of the 27-nation bloc and its single market of 500 million people. A statement released Monday to announce the group’s formation was signed by about 500 executives. In the declaration, Business for Britain said Mr. Cameron was “right to seek a new deal for the E.U. and for the United Kingdom’s role in Europe.” Michael Bay Apologizes For Armageddon (Vulture) “I will apologize for Armageddon...We had to do the whole movie in 16 weeks. It was a massive undertaking. That was not fair to the movie. I would redo the entire third act if I could. But the studio literally took the movie away from us. It was terrible. My visual effects supervisor had a nervous breakdown, so I had to be in charge of that. I called James Cameron and asked ‘What do you do when you’re doing all the effects yourself?’ But the movie did fine.”