Opening Bell: 12.12.11

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A Romance With Risk That Brought On a Panic (NYT)
Although Mr. Corzine had been a United States senator, governor of New Jersey, co-head of Goldman Sachs and a confidant of leaders in Washington and Wall Street, he was at heart a trader, willing to gamble for a rich payoff. Dozens of interviews reveal that Mr. Corzine played a much larger, hands-on role in the firm’s high-stakes risk-taking than has previously been known...His obsession with trading was apparent to MF Global insiders over his 19-month tenure. Mr. Corzine compulsively traded for the firm on his BlackBerry during meetings, sometimes dashing out to check on the markets. And unusually for a chief executive, he became a core member of the group that traded using the firm’s money. His profits and losses appeared on a separate line in documents with his initials: JSC.

Moody's: Pressure Remains on Euro Sovereigns Despite Summit Deal (Reuters)
Twenty-six of the 27 European Union leaders on Friday agreed to pursue stricter budget rules for the single currency area and also to have euro zone states and others provide up to 200 billion euros ($267 billion) in bilateral loans to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to help tackle the crisis. "In substance, however, the communique offers few new measures, and does not change our view that risks to the cohesion of the euro area continue to rise," Moody's said in its weekly credit report. "As we announced in November, unless credit market conditions stabilize in the near future, our ratings of all EU sovereigns will need to be revisited. The communique does not change that view, and we continue to expect to complete such a repositioning during the first quarter of 2012."

EU Banks Sit In Tangled Web (WSJ)
New data released last week by European banking regulators suggest the risks of banks suffering losses tied to European government bonds could be higher and more widespread than previously realized. The numbers show European banks have sold a total of €178 billion ($238 billion) worth of insurance policies, in the form of financial derivatives known as credit-default swaps, on bonds issued by the financially struggling Greek, Irish, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish governments. If those bonds default, as some investors fear they might, banks could be on the hook for making large payments to the holders of the swaps. The banks have at least partly insulated themselves from such potential losses by buying large quantities—roughly €169 billion worth—of credit-default swaps tied to the same bonds, apparently in large part from other European banks, according to European Banking Authority data.

Report Demands Tougher UK Banks Oversight (WSJ)
Major acquisitions by U.K. banks should be subject to regulatory approval and bank bosses should face penalties if their institution fails, the U.K.'s financial services regulator said Monday in a long-awaited report into the 2008 failure of Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC. The Financial Services Authority said RBS managers made "multiple poor decisions" when they pursued an ill-fated takeover of European lender ABN Amro in 2007 that ultimately led to a £45.5 billion ($71.3 billion) bailout by U.K. taxpayers. Adair Turner, chairman of the FSA, said that future major acquisitions by U.K. lenders should require regulators' explicit approval and recommended that bank executives and directors face "personal consequences" in the event of another bank failure.

Occupy Protesters Seek to Shut West Coast Ports (AP)
Anti-Wall Street protesters up and down the West Coast are joining an effort to blockade some of the nation's busiest ports from Anchorage to San Diego. Demonstrators are scheduled to gather at 5:30 a.m. to march on the Port of Oakland, which Occupy protesters successfully shut down in November. The protests being billed as action against "Wall Street on the waterfront" are perhaps the Occupy movement's most dramatic gesture since police raids sent most remaining camps scattering last month. Demonstrators began forming those camps around the country about two months ago to protest what they call corporate greed and economic inequality. Organizers hope to draw thousands Monday to stand in solidarity with longshoremen and port truckers they say are being exploited.

Hey, I'm Not Dead Yet (KWTX)
A Pennsylvania man published an obituary for his still-living mother in an attempt to get paid bereavement time off from work, authorities say. Relatives called The Jeffersonian Democrat newspaper in Brookville, Pa., after the obit appeared to report that the woman was actually alive and well and to underscore that, the woman visited the paper, too. Brookville police charged Scott Bennett, 45, with disorderly conduct on Tuesday. Democrat editor Randy Bartley says he accepted the obituary in good faith after he was unable to confirm the funeral arrangements at press time. He told The Derrick newspaper Friday that the woman was very understanding. Police Chief Ken Dworek says Bennett wrote up the memorial notice because he didn't want to get fired for taking time off.

Euro Crisis Pits Germany and U.S. in Tactical Fight (NYT)
At the heart of the debate is the question of how far governments must bend to the power of markets. Mr. Obama sees retaining the stability of markets and the confidence of investors as a primary goal of government and a prerequisite for achieving any major changes in public policy. Mrs. Merkel views the financial industry with profound skepticism and argues, in almost moralistic fashion, that real change is impossible unless lenders and borrowers pay a high price for their mistakes.

Zynga IPO May Cap Busy Week for U.S. Offerings (Bloomberg)
Zynga, the largest maker of games on Facebook, luxury- clothing designer Kors Holdings and nine other companies are seeking as much as $3.8 billion in IPOs this week, data compiled by Bloomberg show. That’s the most since the five days starting March 7, when HCA Holdings Inc. raised $4.4 billion.

No One Telling Who Took $586B in Fed Swaps (Bloomberg)
As part of a currency-swap plan active from 2007 to 2010 and revived to fight the European debt crisis, the Fed lends dollars to other central banks, which auction them to local commercial banks. Lending peaked at $586 billion in December 2008. While the transactions with other central banks are all disclosed, the Fed doesn’t track where the dollars ultimately end up, and European officials don’t share borrowers’ identities outside the continent.

Roof-riding dog tale still chasing Romney (The Star)
Back in 1983, Romney was struggling to cram the kids and their luggage into the family station wagon for the drive to the Lake Huron shores, where his family still owns a cottage at Beach O’ Pines, a mostly American enclave. “Before beginning the drive, Mitt Romney put Seamus, the family’s hulking Irish setter, in a dog carrier and attached it to the station wagon’s roof rack,” the Globe wrote of Romney, then a 36-year-old management consultant with Boston-based Bain and Company...“If you wouldn’t strap your child to the roof of your car, you have no business doing that to the family dog,” said Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “I don’t know who would find that acceptable.”

Related

Opening Bell: 11.09.12

RBS, UBS Traders Said to Face Arrest in Libor Probe (Bloomberg) U.K. prosecutors are poised to arrest former traders and rate setters at UBS, Royal Bank of Scotland Group and Barclays within a month for questioning over their role in the Libor scandal, a person with knowledge of the probe said. The arrests will be made by police under the direction of prosecutors at the Serious Fraud Office within the next month, said the person, who declined to be identified because the matter isn’t public. Arrests in the U.K. are made at an early stage of the investigation, allowing police and prosecutors to question people under caution and may not lead to charges. The SFO has 40 people working on the probe into manipulation of the London interbank bank offered rate, a benchmark for financial products valued at $360 trillion worldwide, and has involved the City of London Police, said David Green, the agency’s director. “Significant developments” in the case are coming “in the near future,” Green said yesterday in an interview at his office in London without giving further details and declining to comment on any possible arrests. Pressure Mounts On Fiscal Crisis (WSJ) The CBO on Thursday detailed its view that if Washington policy makers don't act before the end of the year, the economy would contract by 0.5% in 2013. The unemployment rate would jump from 7.9% to 9.1% by the end of 2013, according to the CBO—a nonpartisan arm of Congress. Ex-Goldman Bankers See Crisis Opportunity in Greek Insurance (Bloomberg) Alexis Pantazis and Emilios Markou are on a three-year odyssey to become next-generation car insurance executives in Greece that’s a million miles from their previous incarnation as bankers for Goldman Sachs. “One of our investors says you cannot wipe out a country,” said Pantazis, 36, a consultant at Boston Consulting Group before working as an executive director at Goldman Sachs from 2005 to 2008. “A country like Greece has 11 million people and these people need basic services. They need bread, they need milk, they need car insurance.” As French banks Credit Agricole and Societe Generale sell their Greek units to exit the only euro area country that’s in need of a second rescue package, Pantazis and Markou see an opportunity. After swapping business-class lounges and sushi for budget flights and sandwiches, the pair began pitching their Internet-based vehicle policies to Greeks two months ago. SEC Left Computers Vulnerable to Cyberattacks (Reuters) Staffers at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission failed to encrypt some of their computers containing highly sensitive information from stock exchanges, leaving the data vulnerable to cyberattacks, according to people familiar with the matter. While the computers were unprotected, there was no evidence that hacking or spying on the SEC's computers took place, these people said. The computers and other electronic devices in question belonged to a handful of employees in an office within the SEC's Trading and Markets Division. That office is responsible for making sure exchanges follow certain guidelines to protect the markets from potential cyber threats and systems problems, one of those people said...The security lapses in the Trading and Markets Division are laid out in a yet-to-be-released report that by the SEC's Interim Inspector General Jon Rymer. The Last Days Of Romneyland (NBC) From the moment Mitt Romney stepped off stage Tuesday night, having just delivered a brief concession speech he wrote only that evening, the massive infrastructure surrounding his campaign quickly began to disassemble itself. Aides taking cabs home late that night got rude awakenings when they found the credit cards linked to the campaign no longer worked. "Fiscally conservative," sighed one aide the next day. In conversations on Wednesday, aides were generally wistful, not angry, at how the campaign ended. Most, like their boss, truly believed the campaign's now almost comically inaccurate models, and that a victory was well within their grasp. (Outside Republicans and donors are another story. Some are angry over what they felt was an overly rosy picture painted by the campaign, and at what amounts to the loss of their investment.) New York Subway Repairs Border ‘on the Edge of Magic’ (NYT) There were some hiccups. At West Fourth Street, unexpected third-rail and switch problems delayed the return of the D, F and M trains. As the authority prepared to bring the G train back this week, a transformer blew, keeping the train offline for the morning rush hour on Wednesday. There were still service gaps on the N train, the A train in Far Rockaway and the R line, among others. On Thursday morning, inside his office, Joseph Lhota, the chairman of the transportation authority, checked his BlackBerry often, hoping for an update on the L train. Moments later, he placed a call to Howard B. Glaser, Mr. Cuomo’s director of state operations, whom he wanted to brief on the Queens-Midtown Tunnel. The tunnel could open Friday, he told Mr. Glaser, remarking that Mr. Bloomberg, “like an idiot,” had predicted publicly that the tunnel might open over the weekend. “He’s making it up,” he said, after a brief hail of profanity in which Mr. Lhota wondered aloud who, exactly, Mr. Bloomberg had been talking to. “It’s wrong,” he told Mr. Glaser. “It’s just wrong.” Mr. Lhota also spoke of the L line’s importance, as if his audience needed convincing. “You know who knows where the L train goes?” he barked into the phone. “All the hipsters in Williamsburg.” The BlackBerry buzzed on the table in front of him. He grabbed it quickly, then put it back. No good news yet on the L, he said. Hours later, that would change. “Ladies and Gentlemen,” he wrote on Twitter. “The L train is back. Enjoy your trip home tonight.” Whistleblower To Get Big Payment In Bank Of New York-Virginia Deal (WSJ) Bank of New York Mellon Corp. has reached an agreement with the state of Virginia to resolve accusations the bank charged hidden markups on currency transactions to Virginia's employee pension fund, in a deal that will also involve a $1.1 million payment to a whistleblower group, according to a person familiar with the negotiations. The whistleblower group includes Grant Wilson, who spent two years as a secret informant while sitting on the bank's Pittsburgh trading desk. Mr. Wilson's identity was disclosed in a page-one article in The Wall Street Journal last year. As part of the agreement, Virginia won't pursue litigation against BNY Mellon, and the bank will offer reduced fees in the future under a new custodial deal, according to people familiar with the negotiations. Nearly Half Of Britons Want EU Exit (Reuters) Nearly half of Britons would vote in a referendum to leave the European Union and less than a third to stay in, according to a poll highlighting divisions facing Prime Minister David Cameron. Polling company YouGov said on Thursday 49 percent favoured leaving the EU, 28 percent would vote to stay in the 27-nation bloc, 17 percent were undecided and the rest would not vote. Crédit Agricole Posts Record Loss After Greek Sale (WSJ) The Paris-based lender, France's third-largest bank by market value, posted a third-quarter net loss of €2.85 billion ($3.63 billion), well below analyst forecasts of a €1.76 billion net loss. The bank reported a €258 million profit in the same quarter a year earlier. Rochdale Traders Await Rescue (NYP) Sixteen days after a rogue trader rocked Stamford, Conn.-based Rochdale Securities, the broker-dealer, still hasn’t reached a deal with a deep-pocketed investor, sources said. Fla. principal resigns after offering promotions for sex (WPBF) A Florida high school principal who offered teachers' promotions in exchange for sex has resigned from his position. Steve Van Gorden's resignation comes after a 300-page investigative report by Pasco County school officials into allegations of sexual harassment. Several teachers claim Van Gorden, who is also the mayor of Zephyrhills, sent text messages offering career boosts in exchange for sex and threatened them if they refused. Van Gorden said he's sorry. "The bottom line is I'm truly sorry for what occurred, and it's not going to happen again," Van Gorden said. Van Gorden has a year and a half left on his term as mayor.

Opening Bell: 07.09.12

BofA Figures In Drug Probe (WSJ) A Mexican cocaine-trafficking cartel used accounts at Bank of America to hide money and invest illegal drug-trade proceeds in U.S. racehorses, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said. The alleged ties between the violent drug gang known as Los Zetas and the second-largest U.S. bank by assets were described in a 35-page affidavit filed in federal court in Texas last month. According to an FBI agent, a horse-buying and training business created to launder drug money had accounts at the Charlotte, N.C., bank. Libor Probe Moves To Political Arena (WSJ) The scandal over banks' manipulation of key interest rates cost the jobs of three senior financial figures last week. On Monday, the deputy governor of the Bank of England will try to ensure it doesn't derail his own career. Paul Tucker, a leading candidate to become the next governor of the Bank of England, will testify Monday afternoon before a Parliamentary committee that is examining how Barclays and other global banks improperly tried to influence interest rates like the London interbank offered rate...Barclays, after reaching a £290 million settlement with U.S. and British regulators over its attempts to manipulate Libor, sought to defend itself by releasing notes from an October 2008 phone call between Mr. Tucker and Robert Diamond. According to Mr. Diamond's notes from the call, Mr. Tucker relayed concerns from "senior" British government officials about Barclays's above-average Libor submissions. "Mr. Tucker stated…that while he was certain we did not need advice, that it did not always need to be the case that we appeared as high as we have recently," Mr. Diamond wrote to two of his colleagues the day after the call. Diamond Antithesis Seen As Key Step To Repairing Barclays (Bloomberg) The British lender faces a criminal probe and political pressure to curb or separate the investment banking unit that Diamond built up during his 16-year career at Barclays from the consumer bank. The unit generated 61 percent of the bank’s first-quarter pretax profit. At a Parliamentary hearing last week, lawmakers asked if the culture at the investment bank was “rotten” and if he lived in a “parallel universe.” Former Barclays CEO: I Too Fell for the Diamond Myth (FT) "It was a close call," Taylor says of his decision to retain Diamond as head of Barclays Capital. "I suspect the subsequent history of the business would have been very different had I asked him to go. I deserve blame for being among the first to succumb to the myth of Diamond’s indispensability, to which some in Barclays were still in thrall only a matter of days ago." SEC set to hand out up to $452M to whistleblowers (NYP) “The SEC is receiving two to three tips every day that are worth pursuing, and they’re farming them out to staffers for investigation,” said Lawrence A. West, a lawyer with Latham & Watkins. “SEC officials are eager to pay out and publicize the first whistleblower award,” said West, whose firm has gathered a number of tipsters under the new law. “Once the first award is publicized, tips to the SEC from disgruntled employees are almost certain to increase substantially.” Romney Mines Hamptons For Political Cash (NYT) EAST HAMPTON, N.Y. — A woman in a blue chiffon dress poked her head out of a black Range Rover here on Sunday afternoon and yelled to an aide to Mitt Romney. “Is there a V.I.P. entrance? We are V.I.P.” (No such entrance existed.)...what was billed as a day of elegant campaign events at the homes of the ultrarich turned out to be an afternoon of curious and clashing tableaus: protesters with their bandannas and Occupy Wall Street-inspired chants (“We got sold out, banks got bailed out!”) standing amid multimillion-dollar mansions, where live bands played “Margaritaville” and donors dined on prosciutto-wrapped melon balls...After that, Mr. Romney attended events at the Southampton homes of Clifford Sobel, the former United States ambassador to Brazil, and David Koch, the billionaire industrialist and longtime benefactor of conservative political causes. The event at Mr. Koch’s home drew about 200 protesters, who...went so far as to hire a local pilot to fly a giant red and black banner over Mr. Koch’s house, which read: “Romney has a Koch problem,” a play on the drug. (Mr. Koch’s name is pronounced the same as the word coke.) A truck, festooned with the logos of big banks like Citigroup and Wells Fargo, circled the neighborhood with a plastic dog on the roof, a jab at Mr. Romney’s much-mocked family vacation in which he traveled with his Irish setter inside a pet carrier on the roof of a car. Barclays mulls split after Libor scandal: report (MarketWatch) Board directors at U.K. bank Barclays PLC BCS -1.72% are considering splitting the company into two units, as regulatory scrutiny mounts in the wake of its role in the Libor interest-rate fixing scandal, The Sunday Times reports without citing sources. The newspaper says Barclays is examining plans to spin off its investment banking arm, which could be floated in New York, with the U.K.-headquartered retail and commercial bank retaining its London listing. (A person familiar with the matter said the story was inaccurate.) Roubini: My 'Perfect Storm' Scenario Is Unfolding Now (CNBC) In May, Roubini predicted four elements – stalling growth in the U.S., debt troubles in Europe, a slowdown in emerging markets, particularly China, and military conflict in Iran - would come together in to create a storm for the global economy in 2013. “(The) 2013 perfect storm scenario I wrote on months ago is unfolding,” Roubini said on Twitter on Monday. Tighter Control For Euro Banks (WSJ) The establishment of a single authority, with a single set of rules for the region's banks, is seen by Germany and other strong economies as an essential condition before they will consider sharing resources with other euro-zone countries. House-crasher sentenced after enjoying Diddy's food, cigars and toothbrush (NYP) A East New York man, busted for sneaking into rapper Sean “Diddy” Combs’ palatial East Hampton spread in April, guzzled the star’s top-shelf liquor, washed with his soap, and even used his toothbrush, officials revealed yesterday. “I brought a cheesesteak, a cheesecake, a bucket of fried chicken — which I ate at the house — and drank a ‘dollar’ bottle of Hennessy and four cans of Pepsi,” Quamine Taylor told prosecutors at his sentencing yesterday. He even slathered Diddy’s Frank’s Red Hot sauce on his grub, and drank a bottle of Hpnotiq, a vodka liqueur, he said, adding, “After I ate, I went upstairs and went to sleep.” He also smoked three of Diddy’s Dutch Masters cigars and drank a can of orange soda. Then he freshened up using Diddy’s soap and splashing on his aftershave.

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.