Opening Bell: 12.06.11

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S&P Jumps Into Politics Again With EU Outlook Warning (Bloomberg)
The ratings firm put Germany, France and 13 other euro-area nations on review for a downgrade yesterday, saying “continuing disagreements among European policy makers on how to tackle” the region’s debt crisis risk damaging their financial stability. The move came four months after S&P cut the U.S. to AA+, saying “extremely difficult” political discussions over how to reduce America’s more than $1 trillion budget deficit tainted the credit quality of the world’s largest economy. “S&P should back off,” Anthony Valeri, a market strategist with LPL Financial in San Diego, which oversees $330 billion, said in a telephone interview yesterday. “It complicates the job of the EU leaders to resolve the debt problem.”

Angela Merkel Minimizes Possible S&P Downgrade (AP)
"What a rating agency does is the responsibility of the rating agency," Merkel told reporters in Berlin, refusing to elaborate further. She said, however, that she expected a meeting of European leaders later this week in Brussels would help restore markets' confidence. "We will meet on Thursday and Friday as Europeans and take those decisions that we consider to be correct, and through them stabilize the eurozone and also regain confidence," she said.

Geithner To Add US Weight To Euro Zone Talks (Reuters)
U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner arrived in Germany on Tuesday for a three-day blitz of euro zone officials to urge them to take decisive action to backstop their currency union and resolve a crushing debt crisis. Geithner will press French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the new leaders of Spain and Italy and Germany's finance minister to agree at a crucial European Union summit on Friday to take steps that will give markets confidence that no euro zone countries will default, and that the region's banks will stay solvent.

Abby Joseph Cohen: First Half Of 2012 Will Be 'Difficult' (CNBC)
The first half of 2012 "will be difficult," both in Europe and in the U.S., Abby Joseph Cohen, Goldman Sachs senior investment strategist, told CNBC Monday. She also expects that U.S. fiscal policy will get tighter. However, "things will start to look better in the second half" of next year, the long-time bull said in her latest forecast. Stocks will stay undervalued until "confidence is rebuilt," Cohen said.

Corzine Rebuffed Warnings (WSJ)
The executive, Michael Roseman, whose title was chief risk officer, also expressed concerns directly to Mr. Corzine in meetings of just the two men and with other people present, people familiar with the situation said. Mr. Roseman contended MF Global didn't have enough spare cash to withstand the risks of its position in bonds of Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Belgium. He also presented gloomy hypothetical scenarios of what could happen if MF Global's credit rating was downgraded because of the exposure. Mr. Corzine, who started betting on the bonds shortly after arriving as chief executive in March 2010, responded to Mr. Roseman's concerns that some of the scenarios were too extreme and likely impossible, people familiar with the matter said. The former New Jersey governor and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. chairman said MF Global's exposure was limited, adding that the likely profit was worth the risks, these people said. The CEO suggested to board members earlier this year that he might leave the company if they didn't trust his judgment about the bet, according to people familiar with the matter.

Dimon Eyes Clawback (NYP)
Mf Global’s burned commodity customers turned their ire from Jon Corzine to Jamie Dimon yesterday after MF’s creditor committee, led by Dimon’s JPMorgan Chase, objected to a plan to distribute $2.1 billion to customers who have seen their accounts frozen since Halloween. In a Manhattan bankruptcy court filing, the creditors committee, which also includes Bank of America and hedge fund Elliott Management, said they want more assurances that the $2.1 billion is not their money. Among their requests: They want customers to agree in writing that the money they receive could be clawed back.

Financial Crimes Bedevil Prosecutors (WSJ)
A former top U.S. official in charge of investigating the financial crisis said the government has concluded that many inquiries of wrongdoing by financial executives can't succeed as criminal prosecutions. "There's been a realization and a more deliberate targeting by the Department of Justice before we launch criminally on some of these cases'' said David Cardona, who was a deputy assistant director at the Federal Bureau of Investigation until he left last month for a job at the Securities and Exchange Commission. The Justice Department has decided it is "better left to regulators" to take civil-enforcement action on those cases, he said.

In Race For Campaign Funds Among Billionaires, Romney Outpaces Obama (WaPo)
Romney has drawn the most support from billionaires, with at least 42 donating to his campaign. Obama is not far behind, with at least 30 billionaire supporters. Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman Jr. follow with 20 and 12, respectively, according to donor rolls and the current Forbes magazine list of 412 American billionaires. Very wealthy donors are likely to play a greater role in this election cycle in the wake of recent court decisions that have loosened rules for campaign contributions. That will only heighten one of the dominant narratives of the 2012 campaign: the nation’s rising income inequality and the outsize political influence of the super-wealthy...Romney’s richest donor so far is hedge-fund titan John Paulson, who is worth an estimated $16 billion, according to Forbes. Paulson has given $1 million to the Restore Our Future super PAC, which former Romney aides set up to support his candidacy. billionaires supporting the president include longtime Democratic Party backer Peter Lewis, chairman of insurance company Progressive; former Google chief executive Eric Schmidt, who is worth $7 billion; and John Doerr, a venture capitalist worth $2.2 billion who serves on Obama’s jobs council.

Economy Avoiding 'Death Spiral' Increases Bullish Fund Wagers (Bloomberg)
Hedge funds boosted wagers on higher commodity prices for the first time in three weeks as the outlook for the U.S. economy improved. Money managers increased combined bullish positions across 18 U.S. futures and options by 0.7 percent to 566,494 contracts in the week ended Nov. 29, Commodity Futures Trading Commission data show. Investors trimmed their bearish holdings in copper for the first time in four weeks, and pared bets on lower wheat and soybean prices.

Whalen Opening Bank Fund (NYP)
Outspoken financial analyst Christopher Whalen is aiming to put his money where his prodigious mouth is. The co-founder of Institutional Risk Analytics, who has declared the choppy economy a nightmare for investors in bank stocks, has left that firm to kick off an investment fund geared toward gobbling up undervalued bank shares.

The Health Risks Of Being Left-Handed (WSJ)
Left-handedness appears to be associated with a greater risk for a number of psychiatric and developmental disorders. While lefties make up about 10% of the overall population, about 20% of people with schizophrenia are lefties, for example. Links between left-handedness and dyslexia, ADHD and some mood disorders have also been reported in research studies.

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Opening Bell: 11.01.12

Wall Street Sputters Back To Life (WSJ) It wasn't until Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYSE Euronext Chief Executive Officer Duncan Niederauer rang the opening bell that traders knew for sure that the systems would work. "Out of this postapocalyptic world that we're all looking at, that's a ray of good news, that they're actually able to get the exchange open," said Keith Bliss, senior vice president at Cuttone & Co., a brokerage with operations on the NYSE floor. Barclays Faces $435 Million Fine, Another Probe (WSJ) Barclays aced a double-barreled assault from U.S. authorities, as the federal energy-market regulator sought a record $435 million in penalties for the bank's alleged manipulation of U.S. electricity markets, and the lender also disclosed that it was facing a U.S. anticorruption investigation. The corruption investigation focuses on potential violations during the bank's efforts to raise money from Middle Eastern investors in the early days of the financial crisis. The probe, being conducted by the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission, is at an early stage. Wells Expands Into Investment Banking As Others Retreat (Reuters) The growth worries some investors who want the notoriously conservative bank to stick to its knitting, but Wells Fargo believes that now is a good time to hire. "Our eyes are wide open," said John Shrewsberry, head of the bank's investment banking and capital markets operations, known as Wells Fargo Securities. "There are a lot of very talented people at different stages of availability," he added in an interview this week. The fourth-largest U.S. bank says it can earn solid returns in investment banking while taking little risk for itself. It is focusing on services that its corporate lending customers need, such as stock and bond underwriting and merger advice. For investors, it is looking at areas like processing futures and swaps trades. The bank shies away from riskier undertakings like trading for its own account. The Wells Fargo Securities unit is relatively small now. It's biggest hub is in Charlotte, North Carolina, far from the storm that has hobbled Wall Street this week. In a few years, the unit could account for twice as much of the firm's revenue as it does now - an estimated 10 percent compared to its current five, Deutsche Bank analyst Matt O'Connor wrote in a report. Sandy's Economic Cost: Up To $50 Billion And Counting (CNBC) By contrast, the two costliest hurricanes in U.S. history to date were Katrina, with estimated losses of $146 billion, and Andrew, with loses estimated at $44 billion. But there are offsets and Moody's Mark Zandi and other economists note that there will be considerable rebuilding that will accompany the storm. Because the storm hit early in the quarter, Zandi points out that if $20 billion is spent cleaning up and rebuilding, the actual measured impact on gross domestic product could be zero. IHS Global Insight U.S. Economists Gregory Daco and Nigel Gault are doubtful. They note that the rebuilding often takes the place of investment elsewhere and often not everything is rebuilt. “The effect on growth for the fourth quarter will not be catastrophic but might still be noticeable, especially in an economy with little momentum anyway,” IHS wrote. The debate begs the question of whether such natural disasters can ultimately stimulate an economy. Eric Strobl, of the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris, who has studied the impact of hurricanes for more than a decade, found that hurricanes at the local level are usually negative for growth. NYC Struggles to Come Back to Life as Storm Chaos Lingers (Bloomberg) New York City struggled to return to normal life after superstorm Sandy, managing a partial resumption of mass transit amid a landscape of miles-long traffic jams, widespread blackouts and swarms of marooned residents. Limited service on the Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road commuter trains began today, and service on 14 of 23 subway lines will resume tomorrow, Governor Andrew Cuomo said at a news briefing in Manhattan. Still, power losses kept thousands of people and businesses in the dark and prevented trains from running below 34th Street in Manhattan. Basements and homes were waterlogged or submerged, and 6,300 remained in shelters...The lack of transit options is unprecedented, said Bernie Wagenblast, who has monitored metro traffic for more than 30 years, including stints as a radio reporter on WABC and WINS. “It reminds me a little of back in the ’70s when we had the gas crisis and cars were lined up for long, long distances trying to get gasoline,” Wagenblast said. “Now you’ve got cars in addition to people with their gas cans waiting on line who are trying to get fuel.” In Manhattan, an unofficial line divided the haves with power from the have-nots. South of about 34th Street, far fewer shops or restaurants than usual were open. Traffic lights were inoperable, though an unspoken etiquette emerged as many drivers took turns letting one another pass through intersections. Work was stopped at the Ground Zero construction site, which is still flooded. LaGuardia Airport, the only one of the three major New York-area airports that remains closed, can’t resume flights until floodwaters are drained and ground lights and equipment are checked. Labor Dept. Report on Jobs to Appear Friday as Planned (NYT) The hurricane had shut down government offices on Monday and Tuesday, and threatened to delay the release of the monthly jobs numbers. That led to hand-wringing in the presidential campaigns and even some accusations that the Obama administration might delay the numbers for its political benefit. But a Labor Department spokesman said Wednesday in an e-mail message that the report would come out as planned, at 8:30 a.m. E.S.T. on Friday. The Philadelphia 76ers unveil the world’s largest T-shirt cannon (YS) On opening night, the Sixers [unveiled] Big Bella, the world's largest T-shirt launcher that fires 100 tees in just 60 seconds. Big Bella weighs 600 pounds and, when firing T-shirts into the upper reaches of the Wells Fargo Center, can be up to 10 feet high. The team commissioned the creation of Big Bella from FX in Motion, an entertainment elements company out of New Berlin, Wisc. The team will also drop T-shirts, free game tickets and other promotional items from the rafters of the Wells Fargo Center down to fans below in a new themed "Sixers Parachute Drop." Australia Targets China’s Rich With “Millionaire” Visa (Deal Journal) Got 5 million Australian dollars (US$5.2 million) spare and need a residency visa? Australia’s doors will soon be open. From Nov. 24, Australia will accept applications under a new program, known as the Significant Investor Visa scheme, aimed at attracting the world’s wealthy to make the move and park their money Down Under. The only catch is that the A$5 million must be invested in state and territory Australian government debt, privately-owned Australian companies and managed funds that invest in Australian assets regulated by the Australian Securities & Investment Commission for four years. The new visa has already got financial advisers throughout Australia devising investment solutions for applicants. Consultants expect no shortage of takers especially from China, which is seeing an increasing flow of wealthy citizens sending money overseas, investing in assets as diverse as condos in Cyprus, or education for children overseas. A Wall Street Journal analysis of these flows suggests that in the 12 months through September, about US$225 billion headed out of China, equivalent to about 3% of the nation’s economic output last year. Harvard Business School Survey: HBS Students Favor Obama (Harbus) Surveys completed by 668 members of the HBS student body last week revealed that President Barack Obama had the support of 65% of the student community. Challenger Mitt Romney captured 32% of the vote while the remainder said they supported a third-party candidate, were unsure, or did not plan to vote. A Year After MF Global's Collapse, Brokerage Firms Feel Less Pressure For Change (Dealbook) For their part, many MF Global employees remain chastened by their firm’s collapse. Lawmakers hauled Mr. Corzine, a former senator from New Jersey, to Washington three times to testify before Congressional committees. Some MF Global employees remain unemployed while others took major pay cuts to work for the trustee unwinding the firm’s assets. Several MF Global employees planned to gather on Thursday for drinks at a Midtown Manhattan bar, just blocks from their old firm, to commiserate on their trying year. They canceled the event after another disaster, Hurricane Sandy, left some people stranded without power. Hawaii Tourist Saved By Taekwondo Skills (ABC) A 12-foot-long tiger shark messed with the wrong person. Mariko Haugen, a taekwando black belt, was enjoying a swim in Maui, Hawaii, when she was confronted by the creature. “She saw it a few seconds before it hit – and she gave it her best Tae Kwon Do black belt punch in the nose,” Don Haugen, Mariko’s husband, wrote on Facebook. Haugen’s husband and another man saw the attack and helped carry her to safety. She received more than 100 stitches to close wounds on her right hand and thigh.