Opening Bell: 12.16.11

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Corzine Knew Of Fund Transfer (WSJ)
Former MF Global Holdings Ltd. Chief Executive Jon S. Corzine testified Thursday that he knew about an overseas transfer of funds that has come into focus in recent days as regulators and Congress seek to find out what became of an estimated $1.2 billion in missing customer cash. Mr. Corzine testified, however, that he received assurances that the transfer of millions of dollars to a J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. account in London on Oct. 28, the last business day before MF Global filed for bankruptcy, was approved by at least one official in MF's back office. "The back office in Chicago explicitly confirmed to me that the funds were properly transferred, and I understood that J.P. Morgan Chase was satisfied," Mr. Corzine said, adding that he believed some of the confirmations were in writing.

BofA, Goldman, Barclays Have Fitch Ratings Cut (Bloomberg)
The lenders’ long-term issuer default ratings were cut one level to A from A+, Fitch said yesterday in a statement. Barclays Plc, Credit Suisse Group AG, Deutsche Bank AG and BNP Paribas SA also had their grades lowered...“It’s hard to take anything positive from this; it speaks to the sentiment overall on global financial firms right now,” said Michael Nix, who helps manage about $925 million at Greenwood, South Carolina-based Greenwood Capital Inc., including Morgan Stanley (MS) shares. “It also validates what the other raters have already done, and to an extent was expected.”

Italy Government Wins Confidence Vote on Austerity (Reuters)
Italy's government easily won a confidence vote on its tough austerity package on Friday, the first step in parliamentary approval for sweeping measures aimed at saving the euro zone's third-largest economy from financial disaster. The Chamber of Deputies approved the 33-billion euro ($43 billion) package, which affects everything from pensions to home ownership taxes, by 495 votes to 88. The plan, contested by Italy's unions and the opposition Northern League, has been in effect since Monti's government approved it on December 4. But it needed full parliamentary approval within 60 days to remain in force.

Europe’s Crisis May Hold Seeds of Dealmaking (Bloomberg)
“There are well-positioned acquirers globally looking for bargains,” even if economic pressure has slowed recent European dealmaking, said Gregg Lemkau, head of mergers and acquisitions for Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia-Pacific at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) “One of the drivers in Europe has been historically low valuations and a relatively soft currency.”

Congress Blinks On Shutdown (WSJ)
Congressional leaders—fearful of voters' wrath over Washington's bickering and brinkmanship—stepped back Thursday from a possible government shutdown, clearing the way for at least a short-term extension of a payroll tax cut that is set to expire at year's end.

Regulators Sanction Citi Japan (WSJ)
In a sign of increasing frustration with Citi Japan—which has been sanctioned three times for a range of improper activities since 2004—Japan's Financial Services Agency slammed the bank's repeated lack of compliance and its business model, demanding that Citi Japan submit a business improvement plan by Jan. 31.

SEC Sues Former Freddie Mac Chief Executive Richard Syron in New York (Bloomberg)
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission sued former Freddie Mac Chief Executive Officer Richard Syron in New York.

Christian Bale Attacked by Chinese Guards (NYT)
The actor Christian Bale was assaulted by government-backed guards on Thursday when he tried to visit a blind lawyer who has been illegally confined to his home in eastern Shandong Province. The lawyer, Chen Guangcheng, has emerged as a cause célèbre among the country’s rights advocates, dozens of whom have been similarly roughed up when they tried to break through the cordon that local officials have placed around Mr. Chen’s village...The footage of Mr. Bale’s attempted visit is dramatic. In it, he is seen pleading with the men who guard Dongshigu’s entry points and then retreating as they push and punch him. “Why can I not visit this free man?” he asks repeatedly. The men, dressed in thick green winter coats respond with shouts of “Go away.” Even after they have retreated into their car, the group, which included a translator, was chased for 40 minutes by men in a gray van.

Crédit Agricole Sells Private Equity Unit (WSJ)
French bank Crédit Agricole SA said Friday it is selling its private-equity business to investment fund Coller Capital as part of its plan to boost its capital ratios. It didn't give financial details but said the sale will reduce its risk-weighted assets by about €900 million ($1.17 billion). The move comes days after the bank warned that it would post a loss for 2011 and announced plans to refocus on retail banking to bolster itself against the continuing sovereign-debt crisis.

Decking the Halls, Carlyle Style (Dealbook)
“I wonder what life would be like for all of us if we hadn’t started Carlyle some 24 years ago?” Mr. Rubenstein says in the video’s opening scene. In a bit of billionaire role-reversal, the film imagines Mr. Rubenstein, a former senior White House official, as the owner of a lemonade stand, which he runs using the principles of private equity. “It’s 50 cents per cup, or you could become an L.P.,” Mr. Rubenstein says to two young would-be customers, as he pitches them “a guaranteed way to make money.” It also imagines Mr. Conway, who in real life worked as the chief financial officer of the telecommunications company MCI, if he had instead become an operator at one of the company’s call centers. Mr. D’Aniello, who helped secure Carlyle’s 2006 acquisition of Dunkin’ Brands, is imagined working behind the counter at a Dunkin’ Donuts store.

Europe Rescue Fund to Remove Clause on Euro Breakup (Reuters)
Europe's EFSF temporary rescue fund will remove a provision providing for the break up of the euro from initial drafts of its latest bond prospectus, a source at the fund said on Friday, a move that underlines the growing sensitivity of the issue for EU officials.

Allen Stanford ‘Not Credible’ on Amnesia Claim (Bloomberg)
Stanford’s scores on medical and neuropsychological tests “were sufficiently low as to evidence that he either was not trying or was faking,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregg Costa said, citing a doctor’s report. The prosecutor, in the proposed court order filed yesterday, asked U.S. District Judge David Hittner in Houston to find Stanford competent to stand trial.

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Opening Bell: 03.20.13

JPMorgan Bosses Hit By Bank Regulator (WSJ) JP Morgan was downgraded in a confidential government scorecard over concerns about the company's management and its board, a blow to a firm that has long been considered one of the best-run on Wall Street. The New York company's management rating from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency fell one notch last July to a level that signifies oversight "needs improvement," following the revelation of what are known as the "London whale" trading losses, said people familiar with the regulatory assessment. Grading is on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being worst. J.P. Morgan had been at level 2, indicating "satisfactory management." The people said the downgrade to level 3 wasn't solely related to a London employee's large trades—in indexes tracking the health of a group of companies—that led to losses exceeding $6 billion. BlackRock’s CEO Fink Says Cyprus Is Not a Major Problem (Bloomberg) Laurence D. Fink, chief executive officer of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, said Cyprus is not a major problem and U.S. equities will rise 20 percent this year as the economy rebounds. “It has some symbolism impact on Europe, but it’s not a really major economic issue,” Fink said of Cyprus in a Bloomberg Television interview in Hong Kong today. “It’s a $10 billion issue. It does remind us of the frailty of Europe. It does remind us that the European fix will be multiple years.” Freddie Mac Sues Big Banks (WSJ) sued more than a dozen of the world's biggest banks for alleged manipulation of interest rates, in the first government-backed private litigation over the rate-rigging scandal. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, by the mortgage-finance giant joins scores of other suits piling up in U.S. courts, seeking billions of dollars in damages from banks that allegedly manipulated the London interbank offered rate and other crucial financial benchmarks. Freddie Mac sued the British Bankers' Association alongside the banks, putting the private association of large British banks for the first time in the cross hairs of a Libor lawsuit. A probe by U.S. and U.K. regulators has uncovered evidence of widespread rate rigging by some traders. Three banks have agreed to pay penalties totaling about $2.5 billion, and about a dozen companies remain under investigation. The BBA has agreed to transfer its responsibility for overseeing Libor to a new operator. Litigation Forces Deutsche Bank to Restate Profits (Reuters) Deutsche Bank cut its previously reported 2012 pretax profit by 600 million euros ($773 million) on Wednesday, hit by new charges related to mortgage-related lawsuits and other regulatory investigations. Europe's biggest bank by assets declined to say why it had increased litigation provisions to 2.4 billion euros, forcing it to correct its Jan. 31 earnings report which already showed the worst quarterly loss in four years. Yoga-Pants Supplier Says Lululemon Stretches Truth (WSJ) A Taiwanese supplier to Lululemon Athletica was bent out of shape on Tuesday after the yoga-clothes retailer blamed it for producing a shipment of pants that were unacceptably see-through. The supplier, Eclat Textile Co. of Taiwan, hit back at Lululemon, saying the clothes it shipped weren't "problematic." "All shipments to Lululemon went through a certification process which Lululemon had approved," Eclat Chief Financial Officer Roger Lo said in an interview. "All the pants were manufactured according to the requirements set out in the contract with Lululemon." Bernanke Seen Keeping Up Pace of QE Until Fourth Quarter (Bloomberg) The Fed chief will probably halt the unprecedented easing in the first half of next year after expanding central bank assets to a record of about $4 trillion, according to median estimates by 46 economists surveyed March 13-18 before a two-day meeting of policy makers ending today. Unemployment will have fallen to 7.3 percent from its current 7.7 percent when the Fed starts to pull back on its buying, the economists said. Supreme Court Sacks Goldman (NYP) The Supreme Court yesterday refused to hear the bank’s appeal of a federal court ruling in a lawsuit alleging it misled investors about dicey mortgage-backed securities. SEC Digging Into Fund Fees (WSJ) The Securities and Exchange Commission is closely scrutinizing the fees and expenses, including travel and entertainment, that hedge funds and private-equity firms charge to their investors. As part of the Dodd-Frank financial law, the SEC now oversees more than 1,500 additional such advisers that were required to register with the agency. In that capacity, the SEC is checking to ensure they are charging their investors reasonable expenses. "Exotic" expenses like travel, entertainment and consulting arrangements are more likely to attract the agency's attention than routine charges like legal and accounting fees, say compliance consultants who advise funds on registration and reporting requirements. A Volatile Investor Buys Into a Softer Approach (WSJ) It has been a long slog for Mr. Hohn, whose fund bets big on a small number of out-of-favor stocks and often holds on for several years. It lost 43% in 2008, among the worst losses by a hedge-fund that year, according to industry-tracker HFR. Hedge funds on average lost 19% that year. Even the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index, which plunged as the economy descended into the worst financial crisis in decades, did better. But with a 30% return in 2012 and a 14% gain this year, TCI has crossed its high-water mark, or the point at which investment gains make up for losses and managers can begin collecting performance fees again, according to clients. "A lot of people wrote me off," Mr. Hohn said in an interview last month. "A lot of people fired us, a few people stuck by us, and we've worked and worked and made it all back for them." JPMorgan, MF Global Trustee Reach $546 Million Settlement (Reuters) As part of a settlement reached with James Giddens, the trustee who is tasked with liquidating MF Global Inc, JPMorgan will pay $100 million that will be made available for distribution to former MF Global customers. JPMorgan will also return more than $29 million of the brokerage's funds held by the bank, while releasing claims on$417 million that was previously returned to Giddens. Man, 18, forbidden from saying 'bingo' for 6 months (NKY) As part of 18-year-old Austin Whaley’s punishment, Kenton District Judge Douglas Grothaus recently ordered the Covington man not to say the word “bingo” for six months. “Just like you can’t run into a theater and yell ‘fire’ when it’s not on fire, you can’t run into a crowded bingo hall and yell ‘bingo’ when there isn’t one,” said Park Hills Police Sgt. Richard Webster, the officer who cited Whaley. On Feb. 9, Webster was working an off-duty security detail at a Covington bingo hall on West Pike Street when Whaley entered the hall with several other youths and yelled “bingo,” Webster said. “This caused the hall to quit operating since they thought someone had won,” Webster wrote on his citation. “This delayed the game by several minutes and caused alarm to patrons.” Webster said the crowd of mostly elderly women did not take kindly to Whaley’s bingo call. “At first, everybody started moaning and groaning when they thought they’d lost,” Webster said. “When they realized it wasn’t a real bingo, they started hooting and hollering and yelling and cussing. People take their bingo very seriously.” Had Whaley apologized for his actions, Webster said he probably would have sent him on his way with a warning. “But he refused to say he was sorry,” Webster said...WhenWhaley appeared in Kenton District Court last week, the judge ordered Whaley: “Do not say the word ‘bingo’ for six months.” The youthful defendant could have faced up to 90 days in a jail and a $250 fine on the misdemeanor charge. So long as Whaley, who had no prior criminal record, doesn’t get into any more trouble within six months, though, the charge will be dismissed.