Opening Bell: 12.21.11

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ECB Lends Banks $645B, Exceeding Forecast (Bloomberg)
The European Central Bank will lend euro-area banks a record amount for three years in its latest attempt to keep credit flowing to the economy during the sovereign debt crisis. The Frankfurt-based ECB awarded 489 billion euros ($645 billion) in 1,134-day loans today, the most ever in a single operation and more than economists’ median estimate of 293 billion euros in a Bloomberg News survey. The ECB said 523 banks asked for the funds, which will be lent at the average of its benchmark interest rate -- currently 1 percent -- over the period of the loans. They start tomorrow. “It was obviously an offer the banks could not refuse,” said Laurent Fransolet, head of fixed-income strategy at Barclays Capital in London. “It shows the ECB is not out of ammunition and it gives banks security on liquidity for a few years. On the other hand it means banks will rely on the ECB for longer.”

Banks May Flock to ‘Free Money’ as ECB Awards 3-Year Loans (Bloomberg)
“This is basically free money,” said Jens-Oliver Niklasch, a strategist at Landesbank Baden-Wuerttemberg in Stuttgart. “The conditions are unbeatable. Everybody who can will try to get a piece of this cake.”

Moody's Warns of Euro Crisis Threat to UK's Rating (Reuters)
Britain's top-notch debt rating is under threat from the crisis in the euro zone, and further shocks to the country's economy could derail government efforts to balance the budget, ratings agency Moody's said on Tuesday. Britain's scope to absorb further fiscal shocks while retaining its stable outlook and triple-A rating have deteriorated over the past year due to weak growth, and the country faces "formidable and rising challenges," Moody's said. "Since the last annual report, the amount of headroom for Britain has declined," Moody's analyst Sarah Carlson told Reuters after the publication of the ratings agency's end-of-year assessment of Britain's ability to repay its debts.

Doubts Arise In Euro's Birthplace (WSJ)
Now, as financial anguish in the euro zone reveals flaws in the monetary union, the crisis is exposing deep divisions not only among Europe's national leaders but even within the consensus-minded and long-supportive Netherlands. A unified pro-euro position projected for years by the Dutch political and economic establishment has begun to crack. "We could look at the euro as a failed project," said Hans Hoogervorst, a former Dutch finance minister and current chairman of the International Accounting Standards Board, on Dutch television last week. The Netherlands' current finance minister said much the same a few days earlier. The Central Planning Bureau, the Dutch equivalent of the U.S. Congressional Budget Office, last month said the creation of a monetary union had been about politics, and its economic gains have been "minimal."

Fortress CEO to Take Leave in Wake of SEC Suit (Reuters)
Fortress Investment Group said on Wednesday that its chief executive, Daniel Mudd, is taking a leave of absence after financial regulators charged that he committed securities fraud during his time as CEO at Fannie Mae...Fortress said that the matter related to Mudd's previous employment and was not impacting it or its business operations.

To Attract Potential Investors, Mets Add Perks To The Deal (NYT)
But for those perhaps uncertain over whether to part with their millions, the owners have listed some less obvious perks that would come with a share of the Queens ball club. Access to Mr. Met, the team mascot, although the degree of access is not entirely spelled out. It definitely means you, as a part-owner, can schmooze with Mr. Met at Citi Field. It’s less clear whether you could get him to come to your child’s birthday party without a fee. A formal business card, complete with the prominent designation: “Owner.” And if you are a wealthy doctor, commodities trader or real estate mogul who wants to try to swat the ball over the newly pulled-in outfield fences at Citi Field on a Mets day off, you are entitled to attend what appears to be an exclusive kind of fantasy camp: “Owners’ workout day.” These benefits of ownership are laid out in a term sheet given by the Mets’ owners to prospective partners. The document, drawn up by the club’s investment banker and obtained by The New York Times, runs to three pages.

Fed Spells Out Rules For New Banks (WSJ)
The biggest U.S. banks will be required to limit their financial ties to one another under new proposed rules aimed at preventing the collapse of one big institution from triggering a larger, cascading crisis. The net credit exposures between any two of the nation's six largest financial firms, including J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc., would be limited to 10% of a company's regulatory capital, under a proposed package of regulations released by the Federal Reserve on Tuesday. Most other firms covered by the rule would be subject to a 25% limit, as required by the Dodd-Frank financial-overhaul law. The new 10% limit for the biggest firms was unanticipated by the industry and has the potential to scale back the capital-markets businesses of large institutions, analysts said. "Is this a back-door way to shrink those banks?" said Paul Miller of FBR Capital Markets.

MF Global Transfer Draws Scrutiny (WSJ)
Investigators on the hunt for missing customer money from MF Global Holdings Ltd. are scrutinizing about $200 million moved to a company account at J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. three days before the securities firm filed for bankruptcy protection, according to people familiar with the matter. The transfer has drawn interest from investigators partly because J.P. Morgan asked MF Global in a letter the following day to attest that the Oct. 28 shift of funds didn't violate regulations designed to protect customer money. The letter suggests that officials at J.P. Morgan, which cleared some trades for MF Global, had become concerned that the securities firm might have gotten the money by dipping into customer funds. Commodity Futures Trading Commission rules prohibit futures brokers from using customer money for their own trading purposes.

Hedge-Fund Refuge Sought by Traders as Banks Cut 233,000 Jobs (Bloomberg)
Traders in energy, metals and agriculture are opening or joining hedge funds after leaving financial firms that cut more than 233,000 jobs this year, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Departures of commodity traders from banks probably rose 10 percent this year, according to Commodity Search Partners Ltd., a Brighton, England-based recruiter. Pay for that group will drop 24 percent on average, estimates Options Group, a New York- based recruitment firm.

Mark Mobius Sees End to Euro Crisis by June (CNBC)
FYI: "The European crisis isn't as deep and terrible as people think," he was quoted as saying by Valor. "Nations there are in a process of negotiations and that takes time." Mobius, the Franklin Templeton executive who pioneered emerging markets investing, expects Europe's debt crisis to be resolved in the middle of next year, sparking a rise in global bourses, Brazilian newspaper Valor Economico reported on Wednesday.

N. Korea Military, Uncle to Share Power With Kim's Heir (Reuters)
North Korea will shift to collective rule from a strongman dictatorship after last week's death of Kim Jong il, although his untested young son will be at the head of the ruling coterie, a source with close ties to Pyongyang and Beijing said. The source added that the military, which is trying to develop a nuclear arsenal, has pledged allegiance to the untested Kim Jong un, who takes over the family dynasty that has ruled North Korea since it was founded after World War Two.

$88 Million Apartment Under Her Tree (NYP)
The 22-year-old daughter of a Russian billionaire received an $88 million condo from her filthy-rich dad — who dropped a fortune on what Realtors said was the most expensive-ever residential transaction in Manhattan. A company associated with Ekaterina Rybolovleva, the daughter of Russian billionaire Dmitriy Rybolovlev, signed a contract to purchase the 6,744-square-foot, full-floor condominium at 15 Central Park West, from Sandy Weill. “Ms. Rybolovleva is currently studying at a US university,” representatives for the blond heiress and equestrian said in a statement. “She plans to stay in the apartment when visiting New York. Ms. Rybolovleva was born in Russia, is a resident of Monaco and has resided in Monaco and Switzerland for the past 15 years.”

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Opening Bell: 09.14.12

Trial to Begin for Former UBS Trader Accused of Hiding Huge Loss (Dealbook) UBS will face the harsh glare of the spotlight again on Friday, as opening arguments begin in the trial of a former trader accused of hiding a multibillion-dollar loss at the investment bank. Kweku M. Adoboli, 32, the former trader, faces charges of false accounting and fraud in connection with a $2.3 billion loss at the bank. He has pleaded not guilty. “As uncomfortable as the entire trial will be for UBS, it will show us what the consequences are when misconduct occurs or when individuals do not take their responsibilities seriously,” the bank’s chief executive, Sergio P. Ermotti, said in an internal memo made public by the firm. JPMorgan Erases Stock Drop Fueled by London Trading Loss (Bloomberg) JPMorgan, the lender that plunged as much as 24 percent in the month after disclosing a multibillion-dollar trading loss, has erased that decline. The bank’s stock climbed 3.7 percent to $41.40 yesterday in New York, eclipsing the $40.74 closing price of May 10, when Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon announced what was then a trading loss of about $2 billion at the chief investment office in London. The loss this year now stands at $5.8 billion. Dutch and Germans Give European Union Reasons to Cheer (NYT) On Wednesday, the German Constitutional Court found a way to declare that the permanent bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism, is legal, clearing the way to use it in time to recapitalize troubled banks as well as governments. And the Dutch voted for mainstream parties in a parliamentary election, choosing not to be enticed by parties wanting to leave the euro. Combined with the European Central Bank’s decision to restart its bond-buying program in return for more budget discipline, immediately lowering interest rates on Italian and Spanish bonds, European leaders could begin to feel that perhaps the worst is over in the euro crisis, at least for now. “With the Dutch shying away from anti-European parties the same day the German Constitutional Court rules in favor of the E.S.M., Sept. 12 seems to have been a good day for the euro,” Dimitry Fleming of ING Groep NV said in an analysis via e-mail. Not all is well, of course. Greece remains a mess, and will probably need even more money. A decision keeps being postponed about when, and whether, to grant Athens another big portion of loan money it needs to stay afloat. Deutsche Bank urges rivals to share IT (FT) Deutsche Bank is seeking to convince rival investment banks to share markets and trading software in an effort collectively to lower costs for the financial industry. Sharing software would be an unusual step for investment banks, which have historically closely guarded their technology, much of which is still built in-house at great expense. But Deutsche Bank’s efforts underscore the intense pressure banks are under to cut costs as lower markets activity and new rules eat into their profit margins...Sharing market software, Deutsche says, will save it and other big global banks some of the billions of dollars and euros that they would otherwise have spent building or improving on individual technology systems. Woman Tells Police She 'Accidentally' Stabbed Boyfriend (AZC) Margarita H. Zaragoza told police she and her boyfriend were arguing over alcohol that he poured down the sink when she "accidentally" stabbed him with a steak knife, according to the document. Zaragoza said her boyfriend came up behind her to talk to her while she was washing a knife in the sink, according to police, and that she accidentally stabbed him in the arm when she turned to talked to him. The victim told police his girlfriend became angry after he poured her alcohol down the sink because she is pregnant and isn't supposed to be drinking, the document said. The victim said Zaragoza grabbed a knife while he was getting rid of the alcohol and stabbed him twice in the arm, according to the document. Roger Altman: The US Economy May Surprise (CNBC) Looking out a few years, the Evercore founder said, “We’re going to have a bigger snap-back in housing than people think. The U.S. has undergone a breathtaking revolution in oil and gas production and the growth impact of that is underrated.” Altman also pointed to a bounce-back in lending and strong industrial competitiveness as reasons to be optimistic about the economy longer term. Fed Acts To Fix Job Market (WSJ) "If the outlook for the labor market does not improve substantially, the [Fed] will continue its purchases of agency mortgage-backed securities, undertake additional asset purchases, and employ other policy tools as appropriate until such improvement is achieved in a context of price stability," the Fed said in its postmeeting statement. Berkshire Climbs To Four-Year High On Fed's Action (Bloomberg) So that's nice. Mets fan who rushed Citi Field after Johan Santana's no-hitter slapped with $5,000 fine and 100 hours of community service (NYDN) Rafael Diaz, 32, was hit with the penalties after he pleaded guilty Thursday to interfering with a sporting event. “The defendant’s antics have resulted in a criminal record, the paying of thousands of dollars in fines and civil penalties, and – perhaps the worse punishment for any true Mets fan – precludes him from ever again visiting Citi Field,” Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said. Diaz, of Massapequa, L.I., who joined the celebration on the pitcher's mound June 1, was ordered to hand over $4,000 in civil penalties to the Mets and $1,000 to the city.

Opening Bell: 01.10.13

Deutsche Profits Big On Libor Bets (WSJ) Deutsche Bank made at least €500 million ($654 million) in profit in 2008 from trades pegged to the interest rates under investigation by regulators world-wide, internal bank documents show. The German bank's trading profits resulted from billions of euros in bets related to the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, and other global benchmark rates. ECB Stands Pat On Rates (WSJ) The ECB's Governing Council decided to keep Europe's most important interest rates at their lowest levels since the single currency was introduced in 1999, encouraged by a clear improvement in financial-market sentiment over the past month and by tentative signs of growing confidence in the euro-zone economy. Rivals Clash As Inquiry Into Herbalife Opens (WSJ) Daniel Loeb's hedge fund disclosed Wednesday it owns an 8.2% stake now valued at $350 million in nutrition-supplements company Herbalife Ltd. Mr. Ackman's Pershing Square Capital Management LP has bet more than $1 billion against the company by shorting its stock…The face-off between two high-profile, media-savvy hedge-fund managers highlights the arrival of a new wave of postcrisis financial stars. They tout their positions during television interviews and at conferences, in letters or securities filings and on customized Web pages, often convincing other investors to follow their lead. Their pronouncements move stocks, at times dramatically, and leave companies scrambling to respond. And when they take the opposite sides of the same trade the ensuing battle can captivate the financial world. "One of them is going to be very wrong," said Gregg Hymowitz, founder of the $8.2 billion EnTrust Capital, a longtime investor with both Mr. Ackman and Mr. Loeb's firms. "Ackman thinks it's a complete and utter fraud, and Dan thinks it's a completely legitimate business." Hedgie's Herbalife Bet Counters Ackman (NYP) [In addition to Loeb], Carl Icahn is also believed to have taken a long position in Herbalife, sources said. The possibility of Loeb and Icahn going up against Ackman’s Herbalife short sent investors into a tizzy. “It’s going to be an Ackman sandwich,” one hedge fund manager wailed. Lew Taking Over at Treasury Puts Perennial Aide at Head (Bloomberg) With his penchant for thinking several steps ahead, his organizational drive and his budget expertise, Lew, 57, has been Obama’s consummate aide. Now, he’s Obama’s choice for Treasury secretary, according to a person familiar with the process. Lew faces the prospect of becoming a leader at a critical juncture for the nation’s economic and fiscal future. “As chief of staff you are staff and as Treasury secretary, you are principal -- Jack has to make that transition,” said Ken Duberstein, a chief of staff to former President Ronald Reagan who first met Lew in the 1980s. “It’s not the invisible hand, it is the visible hand.” If confirmed, Lew may need to play that hand as soon as next month, when the administration squares off with Congress over the U.S. debt ceiling. Lew’s job will be all the more difficult because his relations with House Republicans soured during the 2011 battle over the government’s borrowing limit. Government's worst signature will be on America's dollar bills (NYP) Lew’s signature — which looks like a strand of hair gone though a curler treatment — might even be too peculiar to grace our greenbacks, political insiders said. “Whoa! That’s completely unintelligible,” said a Senate finance aide. “This doesn’t look like anyone’s name at all.” She concluded, “Oh my gosh — I’ve never seen a signature like that.” ome social-media users were also quick to poke fun, saying Lew should clean up his squiggle. “HE GOT A CRIZZAZY SIGNATURE!!!!” one Twitter user wrote. Another tweeter quipped, “Looooooo!” But just because his autograph looks it’s penned by a drunken 3-year-old doesn’t mean it isn’t lovable, others said. Some fans created a petition on the White House’s Web site called “Save the Lewpty-Lew!” “We demand Lew’s doodle on every dollar bill in circulation,” the petition read. It had garnered 10 signatures by late yesterday…Asked yesterday if Lew had been practicing to improve his signature, presidential press secretary Jay Carney, said, “Not that I’m aware of.” Cantor Growth Plan Sputters as 41% of Touted Hires Exit (Bloomberg) Chief Executive Officer Howard Lutnick’s drive to turn one of the largest independent U.S. brokerages into a rival to Wall Street’s investment banks has been pocked with dismissals and defections. Forty-one percent of the 158 traders and bankers whose hirings Cantor announced in news releases since 2009 have left, industry records show. In interviews, 19 current and former employees blamed Cantor’s reluctance to commit money to deals and pressure to turn immediate profits. Norfolk 911 calls for 'baby lion' turn up a coiffed dog (HR) The first caller was fairly calm. “I’d like to report a lion sighting,” he said. “Say that again?” a dispatcher responded. And thus began the drama over baby lion sightings in Norfolk on Tuesday. Police said Wednesday that they actually got three 911 calls about the “lion.” The first came at 10:19 a.m. The animal was running on Granby Street, a male voice said. Then a woman took the phone. She sounded anxious as she described the proximity to the zoo. “There was a lion that ran across the street. A baby lion. It was about the size of a Labrador retriever.” It was near Granby and 38th, she said. “It’s roaming loose in the neighborhood.” A second call came five minutes later. “I just saw an animal that looked like a small lion.” It had “the mange and everything,” a man said. He had seen it on Delaware Avenue near Llewellyn Avenue. “I don’t know if it got away from the zoo, or what,” he said. The dispatcher said they already had received a report. “I’m not sure if it actually is a lion or not, but I’ll update the information.” A third call came at 1:19 p.m. “I just saw a baby lion at Colley Avenue and 50th Street,” a man reported. “What kind of animal?” the dispatcher later asked him. “A lion. A baby lion, maybe.” The lion was going to nearby houses. “I don’t think it has caused any problem so far,” said the caller. “OK. You think it’s looking for food?” the dispatcher asked. “I don’t know.” By now, most folks know that the “baby lion” was actually Charles the Monarch, a Labrador-poodle mix owned by Daniel Painter, who lives in Riveriew and has a garden center on Colley Avenue. He has the dog groomed to look like the Old Dominion University mascot. Many people say they see Charles out a lot, especially on Colley. But to someone who hasn’t seen him, he sure doesn’t look like a dog at first. PE King Black Is Hungry For Hostess (NYP) Black’s Apollo Global Management has teamed with veteran food executive C. Dean Metropoulos on a potential bid for bankrupt Hostess Brands’ snacks business, which includes Twinkies, Ding Dongs and Ho Hos…Hostess is in the process of selling off its iconic brands and liquidating the company after a crippling strike by its bakers union forced it to shut down in November. The Irving, Texas-based company plans to hold separate auctions for its bread and snack businesses. Hostess is just a few days away from choosing a so-called stalking horse bidder for its bread brands, including Wonder Bread, Nature’s Pride and Butternut. The snack business will follow suit later. Mortgage Deals Came Just In Time (WSJ) Major banks pushed to complete an $8.5 billion legal settlement with federal regulators this past weekend so they could book the deal's costs in their fourth-quarter results and present a cleaner slate to investors in 2013, according to people familiar with the talks. The timing of the settlement of alleged foreclosure abuses, announced Monday, allowed banks including Bank of America, JPMorgan, Citigroup, and Wells Fargo to take advantage of so-called subsequent-events accounting. The same rules apply to Bank of America's $11.6 billion pact with Fannie Mae over buybacks of questionable mortgage loans. Monday's settlements are "almost the textbook example" of when subsequent-events accounting comes into play, said Robert Willens, an accounting and tax expert. Obama’s 81% New York City Support is Best in 114 Years (Bloomberg) President Barack Obama won more support from New York City in November’s election than any White House candidate in more than 100 years, according to a final tally of votes. Obama beat Republican challenger Mitt Romney by 81 percent to 18 percent in the nation’s largest city, according to a certified vote count released Dec. 31 by the state board of elections. Some New York ballots were counted late in part because of complications caused by Hurricane Sandy. Yum Brands Apologizes For Chicken Probe (WSJ) Yum Brands's China chief executive apologized to consumers after negative publicity surrounding an official probe into chicken purchased from local suppliers caused sales to tumble at the company's KFC chain. Yum failed to address problems quickly and had poor internal communications, Sam Su said in a statement posted on the company's official account on Sina Corp.'s Twitter-like Weibo microblog service. He said the company would strengthen its management and oversight of suppliers. "We feel regretful for all the problems," Mr. Su said in the statement. "I sincerely apologize to the public on behalf of the company." Swiss Banks Welcome Rejection of Germany Tax Accord, Study Shows (Bloomberg) Swiss banks welcome the collapse of an accord with Germany that would have imposed new taxes on German clients in a bid to end a dispute over tax evasion, Ernst & Young said. About 72 percent of 120 Swiss banks surveyed see the demise of the agreement as positive, Ernst & Young said in a report today. How Jawboning Works (WSJ) The clearest example comes from Europe. In July, Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, defused an intensifying crisis of confidence in the euro with two sentences scribbled in the margins of an otherwise routine speech. "Within our mandate, the ECB is ready to do whatever it takes to preserve the euro," he said. "And believe me, it will be enough." That may prove to be the most successful central-bank verbal intervention in history. A few weeks later, the ECB pledged to buy bonds of governments shunned by markets if those governments made belt-tightening commitments accepted by fellow euro-zone countries. No government has sought that help so the ECB hasn't spent a single euro. Yet global anxiety about an imminent euro crisis has abated. Beautiful Existence, Seattle Woman, Plans To Eat Only Starbucks For One Year (HP) A Seattle woman, legally named Beautiful Existence, will eat only food from Starbucks this year. She'll also be only drinking beverages from Starbucks as well, but will include drinks from Tazo Tea and Evolution Fresh since both fall under the Starbucks brand. Beautiful Existence cites several reasons for this endeavor. She explains them on her blog: "So how can eating only one company’s products impact me, anybody? Well Mr. McDonald’s already proved that question years ago with his documentary and Mr. Subway did his take on the loosing weight portion of the food challenges too. But when I watched those guys doing their thing I asked myself “where are the WOMEN challenging themselves in the world?” “Where are the effects being shown on a woman’s culture? A woman’s family & children? A woman’s diet, weight, fashion, checkbook, community and world through challenges?” “Where is HER VOICE on how an international company is directly or indirectly impacting everything from her waistline to her bottom line and every other woman’s, man’s, child’s, societies and planets world with their presence?” So far, Existence has really liked the Turkey Rustico Panini and is trying hard not to eat any of the baked items.