Opening Bell: 12.23.11

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S&P Report on Euro Zone Ratings Seen Next Month (Reuters)
Standard & Poor's is expected to release its eagerly awaited verdict on debt ratings for 15 euro zone countries in January, two independent European government sources told Reuters. "We have got an informal signal from Standard & Poor's that they will come only in January," said one source who declined to be named because exchanges with the rating agency are confidential. "In conversations we have had, they have let this be known if you read between the lines," he added.

Italy To Kick The Cash Habit As Monti Cracks Down (Bloomberg)
Floriana d’Andrea, a Naples musician, carries rolls of euro notes when she buys instruments and audio gear, a practice she’ll have to change as Italy sets new limits on cash payments in a bid to curb tax evasion. “I bought some expensive sound equipment and the shop owner jacked up the price when I asked for a receipt,” said d’Andrea, 41, who paid 1,600 euros ($2,093) in cash in the transaction. She has a credit card, but rarely uses it, she said. Prime Minister Mario Monti, in office just over a month, wants landlords, plumbers, electricians and small businesses to stop conducting large transactions in cash, which critics say helps them evade taxes. The government on Dec. 4 reduced the maximum allowed cash payment to 1,000 euros from 2,500 euros. “If they force us to use credit cards, prices will go up,” said d’Andrea, noting that many retailers offer discounts to customers who pay in cash and don’t demand a receipt, in effect splitting with them the savings from evading the country’s 21 percent sales tax. She may curtail future purchases if she’s unable to use cash, d’Andrea said.

House, Senate Clear Payroll Tax Accord (WSJ)
The House and Senate on Friday approved a two-month extension of the payroll-tax cut, averting an increase that would have left workers with less take-home pay next year. Passage came after a nearly weeklong impasse that ended when House Speaker John Boehner (R, Ohio) bowed to increasing pressure from within his own party and agreed to the short-term extension. The $33 billion package also provides extended federal unemployment benefits for two months, avoids a cut in payments to doctors who treat Medicare patients and compels the Obama administration to act within 60 days on a permit for TransCanada Corp.'s proposed Keystone XL pipeline expansion. The deal, which forestalls a Jan. 1 tax increase on 160 million workers, represents a retreat for the House GOP, which had been at odds with Senate Republicans and party elders who feared a backlash in the 2012 elections if the tax break was allowed to expire. The agreement is essentially the same package negotiated by the Democratic-controlled Senate that Mr. Boehner's House rejected earlier this week.

Fed's Once Secret Data Now Release To The Public (Bloomberg)
Bloomberg News today released spreadsheets showing daily borrowing totals for 407 banks and companies that tapped Federal Reserve emergency programs during the 2007 to 2009 financial crisis. It’s the first time such data have been publicly available in this form. To download a zip file of the spreadsheets, go to http://bit.ly/Bloomberg-Fed-Data. For an explanation of the files, see the one labeled “1a Fed Data Roadmap.”

AIG's Benmosche Extends His Stay (WSJ)
Mr. Benmosche said in an interview that he plans to run New York-based AIG beyond next year, his health permitting. The 67-year-old, who was diagnosed with cancer in late 2010, previously indicated he planned to return to retirement sometime in 2012. "I've talked to the board and said that if I stay healthy—and I'm still hopeful—I would like to stay on for another year," he said. "I want to stay active and energized, and having too much time on my hands is not healthy, I think."

Pigeons Can Learn Higher Math, Study Finds (NYT)
By now, the intelligence of birds is well known. Alex the African gray parrot had great verbal skills. Scrub jays, which hide caches of seeds and other food, have remarkable memories. And New Caledonian crows make and use tools in ways that would put the average home plumber to shame. Pigeons, it turns out, are no slouches either. It was known that they could count. But all sorts of animals, including bees, can count. Pigeons have now shown that they can learn abstract rules about numbers, an ability that until now had been demonstrated only in primates. In the 1990s scientists trained rhesus monkeys to look at groups of items on a screen and to rank them from the lowest number of items to the highest. They learned to rank groups of one, two and three items in various sizes and shapes. When tested, they were able to do the task even when unfamiliar numbers of things were introduced. In other words, having learned that two was more than one and three more than two, they could also figure out that five was more than two, or eight more than six.

GM Record Profit No Balm For Obama (Bloomberg)
General Motors saved by the Obama administration with a $50 billion bailout, is making more money than it has in its history, adding jobs and gaining market share. It’s still a headache for Barack Obama. GM closed yesterday at $20.70 a share, less than half the $53 price that the U.S. Treasury Department needs to break even. Since Dec. 19, when the shares closed at their lowest price since an initial public offering last year, the shares have risen for three straight days. The stock still needs to rally almost 50 percent to reach $30 a share, the minimum price the Treasury Department would consider for a secondary offering, said three people familiar with the matter. That puts Obama in a quandary. When Republicans nominate a candidate in August, the government will probably either still own a substantial portion of GM or will have sold the stock at a loss that could be more than $10 billion. Obama’s opponents can criticize him either way, said Dan Ikenson, an economist at the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank.

French Economy Bounces Back (WSJ)
Gross domestic product in the third quarter grew 0.3% from the prior three months, Insee said. Insee's initial estimate showed third quarter GDP expanded 0.4%, which matched economist expectations. The figure was adjusted downward mostly because of a revision of industrial-production estimates for the period, Insee said. GDP contracted 0.1% in the second quarter. Consumer spending—the main constituent of French GDP—rose 0.3% in the third quarter, after contracting 1.0% in the three months prior, Insee said. Households' spending power was stable in the quarter from the previous quarter.

Brevan Howard Paid 128.3 Million Pounds to Partners (BusinessWeek)
Brevan Howard Asset Management LLP, the hedge fund founded by Alan Howard, paid its partners as much as 128.3 million pounds ($201.3 million) in the 12 months ending in March, a 79 percent drop from a year earlier as fees plunged.

Illegal wolf-dog hybrid caught roaming Brooklyn (NYP)
Someone's got some explaining to do.

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Opening Bell: 05.30.12

Anger Over Christine Lagarde's Tax-Free Salary (Independent) Lagarde was accused of hypocrisy yesterday after it emerged that she pays no income tax – just days after blaming the Greeks for causing their financial peril by dodging their own bills. The managing director of the International Monetary Fund is paid a salary of $467,940 (£298,675), automatically increased every year according to inflation. On top of that she receives an allowance of $83,760 – payable without "justification" – and additional expenses for entertainment, making her total package worth more than the amount received by US President Barack Obama according to reports last night. Unlike Mr Obama, however, she does not have to pay any tax on this substantial income because of her diplomatic status. EU Proposes 'Banking Union' (WSJ) The 17 countries that use the euro should consider setting up a "banking union" that allows them to share the burden of bank failures, the European Union's executive arm said Wednesday in a report on the currency union's crisis-fighting efforts. To further stop expensive bank bailouts from pulling down governments' own finances, allowing the euro zone's new rescue fund to directly boost the capital of banks "might be envisaged," the European Commission said. Greeks Flock To Germany Even As They Criticize It (CNBC) Germany, Europe's economic powerhouse and a country which has been criticized by many Greeks over its harsh demands for austerity cuts in return for bailout cash, has experienced an influx of young skilled immigrants. Der Spiegel magazine noted that while Greek newspapers "printed cartoons depicting the Germans as Nazis, concentration camp guards and euro zone imperialists who allow their debtors to bleed to death," the Greeks have kept arriving — bringing an "anything is better than Athens" attitude with them. Pissarides Says Euro Exit Would Aid Rich Greeks At Cost To Poor (Bloomberg) Nobel economics laureate Christopher Pissarides said wealthy Greeks would benefit at the expense of poorer citizens were the country to exit the euro. “A lot of Greeks” have withdrawn money and deposited it with banks elswhere in the 17-nation currency zone, Pissarides said in an interview in London today. If the country returned to the drachma, the new currency would be so devalued they could buy it cheaply on international markets with the cash they’d exported, enabling them to buy more assets in Greece. While poorer Greeks are equally able to appreciate the difficulties facing their country, they’re not as able to shield their funds from an exit from the common currency, Pissarides said. They need to preserve quick access to their savings, which isn’t as easy to do if it’s held at a foreign bank, and such lenders may not always accept small deposits. Zuckerberg Drops Off Billionaires Index As Facebook Falls (Bloomberg) The 28-year-old’s fortune fell to $14.7 billion yesterday from $16.2 billion on May 25, as shares of the world’s largest social-networking company dropped 9.6 percent to $28.84. Woman's Boyfriend Took Car Without Permission Before She Slammed It Into House (NYP, earlier) Dan Sajewski, 23, arrived at his family’s Huntington estate last weekend with Anderson, 21, his on-again, off-again waitress girlfriend. While his parents vacationed on Long Island’s North Fork, the duo helped themselves to his mother’s 2003 Mercedes-Benz CLK 320, a birthday gift from Sajewski’s anesthesiologist father, a source said. They took a joyride to the Hamptons, where they had a little too much fun. A field Breathalyzer test revealed that Anderson drove home with a .30 Blood-Alcohol Content — nearly four times the legal limit and the equivalent of about 15 drinks, prosecutors said at her arraignment yesterday. They drove back to Huntington and she was speeding along Southdown Road when she failed to turn at a T-instersection — ramming through the front of Indiere’s house, obliterating her kitchen, and exiting through the back wall, prosecutors said. “We can’t believe he just let this girl drive a car he wasn’t even supposed to have in the first place,” a Sajewski family member said. “He’s done this before; he took his sister’s Jeep and just took off. “He was trying to get the car home before the family got home from their own Memorial Day weekend. He’s not exactly the model son.’’ The relative added that Sajewski didn’t call his father about the accident until two hours later. In the police report, Anderson told cops “her power steering got stuck, causing her to crash,” and that she only drank “three beers.” Housing Market Crawls Back (WSJ) Housing prices across the U.S. fell in March, but not as much as in earlier months, according to a report Tuesday that offered fresh evidence of a real-estate market on the mend. Compared with February, prices fell just 0.03% in March, and after adjusting for seasonal factors, they rose 0.09%, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller 20-city home-price index. "This is the first flat report we've had in quite some time," said David M. Blitzer, chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Indices. Still, "while there has been improvement in some regions, housing prices have not turned" everywhere, he said. Bankers Hired By Blackberry Maker (NYP) Research In Motion said yesterday it hired investment banks JPMorgan and RBC to review its “options,” which most investors took to mean a potential sale, and warned of another quarterly loss. Gold Investors Rush For The Exits (WSJ) Investors in SPDR Gold Shares and iShares Gold Trust, two high-profile exchange-traded funds that hold physical bullion, also have pulled back recently. Through Friday, the two funds had reduced the number of tons of gold they're holding this month. As of May 15, hedge funds, pension funds and other money managers also had slashed their bets that gold prices will rise in the futures market, to the lowest level since January 20, 2009, according to weekly data released by the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission. The bullish bets rose slightly last week, but remain near the low for the year. Police Find Another Human Body Part In Package In Ottawa (OC) Police found a human hand at the Ottawa Postal Terminal Tuesday night, hours after a bloody foot was delivered to the Conservative party's Ottawa headquarters just blocks from Parliament Hill. Ottawa police were still trying to understand what they were dealing with even as detectives in Montreal combed through a crime scene where a torso was found in a suitcase in that city's Snowdon district. Police discovered the second package, sent from the same place as the package sent to Tory headquarters, Tuesday evening. Officers carried it from the huge Riverside Drive terminal in a brown paper bag, which they X-rayed before they opened it to find the hand. The gruesome events began shortly before noon when access to the Conservative party's headquarters was restricted after the fire department's Hazmat team was called in to investigate a suspicious package. A party staffer had started to open a blood-stained box sent to the office at 130 Albert St. before police were called to investigate. At first, it was thought there was a human heart inside, but after the box was X-rayed, police confirmed that it contained a foot.

Opening Bell: 01.23.13

Greece Charges Statisticians Over Size of Deficit (FT) Greece has brought criminal charges against the official responsible for measuring the country's debt, thereby calling into question the validity of its 172 billion euros second bailout by the EU and International Monetary Fund. Andreas Georgiou, head of the independent statistical agency Elstat, and two senior officials are accused of undermining the country's "national interests" by inflating the 2009 budget deficit figure used as the benchmark for successive austerity packages. The three statistical experts face criminal charges of making false statements and corrupt practices, a judicial official said, adding that if found guilty they could serve prison terms of five to 10 years. They have denied any wrongdoing. Spain's Recession Deepens (WSJ) Spain's central bank said a recession in the euro zone's fourth-largest economy deepened slightly in the final quarter of last year, but it said austerity cuts are bringing the country's runaway budget deficit under control. Obama-Bashing Swapped for Pragmatism at Davos (Bloomberg) “We have to move on in our society,” Blackstone found Stephen Schwarzman said today in an interview in Davos with Bloomberg Television’s Erik Schatzker. “I like President Obama as a person, and he’s well- intentioned.” Schwarzman, 65, warned in Davos in 2010 that banks could restrict lending because “their entire world is being shaken and they’re being attacked personally.” Later that year, at a nonprofit group meeting, he likened Obama’s tax proposals to Hitler’s invasion of Poland. Third Point LLC CEO Daniel Loeb, who in 2010 compared Wall Street’s Obama supporters to “battered wives,” will help lead a Jan. 25 Davos dinner discussion, “Can Capitalism Evolve?” Schwarzman apologized in 2010 for his comparison of Obama’s effort to double taxes on private-equity income to the invasion of Poland. He said the analogy was inappropriate and that the administration’s need to work with business “is still of very serious concern.” JPMorgan's Jamie Dimon Apologizes, Attacks (WSJ) James Dimon of J.P. Morgan Chase was prepared in Davos to apologize for the more than $6 billion of trading losses racked up by the so-called London Whale, but he certainly wasn’t prepared to abase himself...Min Zhu, deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund, reeled off a string of statistics to show that the industry certainly hadn’t cleaned up its act since the crisis, and Paul Singer, principal of hedge fund Elliott Associates, was also keen to lambaste big banks, including Mr. Dimon’s. The two had some testy exchanges and the body language indicated that Messrs. Singer and Dimon have exchanged fire quite a few times previously. Still, Mr. Dimon gave us good as he got. He kicked off with repeating his apology to shareholders for the London Whale trading losses, which led to his own bonus being slashed, saying, “If you’re a shareholder of mine, I apologize deeply.” Having offered this apology he then went on the offense. He pointed out that his bank lent money to a whole host of worthy organizations such as schools, hospitals, governments, and Italian and Spanish corporates and governments. And he also had some snappy comebacks. Elliott’s Singer said that the global banks are “too big, too leveraged, too opaque,” which left Mr. Dimon with an easy retort about how could a hedge fund possibly criticize a bank about being opaque? “Our [securities filing] 10K is 400 pages long,” Mr. Dimon said. “What would you like to know?” Geithner Exit Next Friday (AFP) US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who steered the administration of President Obama through the financial crisis, will step down from his post Friday, a source told Agence France Presse yesterday. Golfer Mickelson recants tax rant (NYP) Mickelson — who hinted he might move from his home state of California to escape higher taxes — said he regretted his public rant on the issue after setting off a political firestorm. “Finances and taxes are a personal matter and I should not have made my opinions on them public,” according to a statement from Mickelson, who plans to elaborate today at the Farmers Insurance Open. “I apologize to those I have upset or insulted and assure you I intend to not let it happen again.” Senator Lautenberg Suggests Spanking In Store For Mayor Cory Booker (CI via DI) "I have four children, I love each one of them. I can't tell you that one of them wasn't occasionally disrespectful, so I gave them a spanking and everything was OK," Lautenberg said with a smile in his first public comments since Booker announced he was considering a run for Senate. Banker's Latest Bet: Teamwork on Bonds (WSJ) Texas banking tycoon Andrew Beal is known for making unconventional moves, including gambling on high-stakes poker and a self-financed plan to launch rockets into space. His latest gambit: an attempt to wring money from giant banks by banding together aggrieved bondholders. Mr. Beal's CXA Corp. ran a pair of advertisements late last year, one appearing in The Wall Street Journal. The ads listed an alphabet soup of residential mortgage-backed securities held by CXA and asked those with positions in the same securities to join the company in investigating possible infractions by banks that sold the debt. If the groups can prove the mortgages that underlie the bonds were approved through shoddy underwriting, they could be entitled to compensation—CXA's payday alone could be tens of millions of dollars. Firms Keep Stockpiles Of 'Foreign' Cash In US (WSJ) Some companies, including Internet giant Google, software maker Microsoft, and data-storage specialist EMC Corp, keep more than three-quarters of the cash owned by their foreign subsidiaries at U.S. banks, held in U.S. dollars or parked in U.S. government and corporate securities, according to people familiar with the companies' cash positions. In the eyes of the law, the Internal Revenue Service and company executives, however, this money is overseas. As long as it doesn't flow back to the U.S. parent company, the U.S. doesn't tax it. And as long as it sits in U.S. bank accounts or in U.S. Treasurys, it is safer than if it were plowed into potentially risky foreign investments. SEC Reins In Ratings Firm (WSJ) The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission barred Egan-Jones Ratings Co. from issuing ratings on certain bonds, an unprecedented step by the regulator and a setback for a small credit-rating firm with a history of courting controversy. The SEC said Tuesday that Egan-Jones couldn't officially rate bonds issued by countries, U.S. states and local governments, or securities backed by assets such as mortgages, for at least the next 18 months. The ban was part of an agreement the SEC reached with Egan-Jones and its president, Sean Egan, to settle charges that they filed inaccurate documents with the regulator in 2008. The SEC alleged that Egan-Jones misled investors about its expertise, and that Mr. Egan caused the firm to violate conflict-of-interest provisions. Lindenhurst dentist busted after reporting to work reeking of booze and drilling teeth while allegedly drunk (NYDN) Dr. Robert Garelick was hauled out of his Lindenhurst office in handcuffs Monday after his dental hygienist smelled booze on his breath and caught him administering Novocain to the wrong side of a patient’s mouth. “I observed Dr. Garelick looking for cavities in the right side of the patient’s mouth, but the cavities were in the left side,” hygienist Kimberly Curtis told police in a written statement. “I pointed this out to the doctor and that’s when he ordered more Novocain for the patient,” Curtis told cops. “So now, he basically numbed the whole patient’s mouth.” After noticing Garelick’s wobbly behavior Monday, Curtis texted co-worker Dina Fara, who called 911. Curtis said she sent the message after Garelick used a drill to treat another patient who had a chipped tooth. “He was filing the tooth down,” Curtis said. “When you’re using that drill, you have to be very careful and have a steady hand.” She said that just before Garelick treated the chipped tooth, he slipped into his office. “I noticed that he was drinking from a white and purple squeeze bottle,” Curtis said. “At first I didn’t think anything was wrong,” Curtis said. “But right after, he took a drink from that bottle, he got up and walked past me. When he did this I smelled a strong odor of alcohol.” The dentist initially claimed he only had a couple of beers with pizza during lunch Monday, according to Suffolk County cops. But Garelick, who was charged with misdemeanor reckless endangerment, later confessed to his drunken dentistry while being taken to a police precinct in the back of squad car. “I never had any beers with my pizza. I’ve been sipping at that bottle all along today,” he told police, referring to his squeeze bottle filled with vodka, according to a criminal complaint.

Opening Bell: 11.30.12

Germany Approves Greek Aid (WSJ) German parliamentarians approved with an overwhelming majority a package of new aid measures for Greece Friday, clinching support for a plan to close a €14 billion ($18.17 billion) gap in the heavily indebted nation's finances and to ready a near €44 billion tranche of promised aid. The vote shows that German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been able to consolidate the support of her center-right coalition of Christian Democrats and Free Democrats, many of whom have expressed skepticism that Greece can be saved without significant costs to German taxpayers. Her coalition voted 90% in favor of the measures. Leave "fairy world" behind, Draghi tells euro zone (Reuters) "We have not yet emerged from the crisis," Draghi told Europe 1 radio. "The recovery for most of the euro zone will certainly begin in the second half of 2013." "The crisis has shown that we were living in a fairy world," the ECB chief later added at a conference with top financial officials, pointing to the unsustainable debts, weak banks and poor policy coordination that gave birth to the crisis three years ago. Obama Takes ‘Fiscal Cliff’ on the Road; Republicans Stew (CNBC) President Barack Obama, reapplying his re-election campaign theme of protecting the middle class, heads to Pennsylvania on Friday suggesting that Republicans could spoil Christmas by driving the country over the "fiscal cliff." The president's road trip, visiting a factory that makes Hasbro's [HAS 38.60 --- UNCH] Tinkertoys, is infuriating Republicans. House Speaker John Boehner called it a "victory lap" as he rejected Obama's proposals to avoid the cliff, the combination of tax increases and spending cuts set to start taking effect in January. Berkshire Hathaway, CaixaBank Agree to Reinsurance Deal (WSJ) Berkshire Hathaway will pay CaixaBank SA million €600 million ($778.7 million) for the future cash flow from a portfolio of life insurance policies, the Barcelona-based bank said Friday, a rare dip into a fiscally stressed euro-zone country for the investment firm run by Warren Buffett. If You Like Late Nights, Try Being an Analyst in Hungary (WSJ) As the clock ticked toward midnight on a recent night, stock analyst Gergely Gabler sat sleepily in his pajamas at the small desk in his bedroom, waiting. Then, just after 12, he sprang into action, evaluating the newly released earnings report of Hungary's largest bank. For the next two hours, Mr. Gabler worked on a report about OTP Bank's performance for clients of his firm, Hungarian brokerage Equilor Investments, before catching some shut eye, only to awake about 3½ hours later so he could be in his office to field questions by 7 a.m. Burning the midnight oil is a painful quarterly tradition for analysts and financial journalists in Hungary, where the country's biggest blue-chip companies publish their results in the wee hours, after markets in New York have closed and long before they open anywhere in Europe. "I'm a night owl, so I don't mind staying up," Mr. Gabler said. The hard part, the 28-year-old said, is getting out of bed the next day. That morning, he grabbed a red-and-black can of Hell, a caffeine-laden Hungarian energy drink, to fuel his workday. Moody's Puts Aston Martin on Watch for Downgrade (NYT) “The review was prompted by a significant deterioration in Aston Martin’s liquidity profile as per end September 2012, caused by a much weaker cash generation and operating performance in the third quarter than anticipated by the company and compared to Moody’s expectations,” Falk Frey, a Moody’s analyst, said in a statement. Harvard Approves BDSM Group (Crimson) It started last October with a meal in Currier dining hall with a handful of friends who shared something in common: an affinity for kinky sex. More than a year after the group first began informally meeting over meals to discuss issues and topics relating to kinky sex, Harvard College Munch has grown from seven to about 30 members and is one of 15 student organization that will be approved by the Committee on Student Life this Friday. Michael, who was granted anonymity by The Crimson to protect his privacy, is the founder of Munch, an informal lunch or dinner meeting for people across the kink community. For him, the recognition will provide a sense of ease for current and future members, knowing they are receiving institutional support. “It’s a little hyperbolic for me to get teary-eyed and paternal about sophomores, but it’s really a joy to see the experience they will have now,” Michael said. Michael said there are many benefits to being officially recognized on campus such as being able to poster for events and promote Munch’s presence...But for Michael, the biggest advantage to being recognized comes with “the fact of legitimacy,” he said. “[Our recognition] shows we are being taken seriously.” Mae, a member of the organization who asked to be identified by her middle name, said since its formation the group has provided her with a comfortable space to discuss her interests. “I didn’t think that anyone was even remotely interested [in kink] on campus,” Mae said. “It’s a community where you can feel safe, and you can feel comfortable talking about [kink].” Cohen's Damage Control (NYP) Beleaguered hedge fund honcho Steve Cohen held a conference call yesterday for his roughly 1,000 employees to explain potential civil charges against his firm, SAC Capital Advisors. The call with SAC’s employees went over similar talking points as the call with investors the previous day, according to a person familiar with the call. In the latest call, officials notified employees that last week, the $14 billion Stamford, Conn., hedge fund received a Wells Notice from the Securities and Exchange Commission tied to trading by a former portfolio manager who was arrested Nov. 20 on insider trading charges. McDonald’s Starved for Ideas as Burger King Lures Diners (Bloomberg) Burger King has been excelling at a game McDonald’s worked to perfect years ago, introducing a steady stream of new menu items, such as snack wraps and gingerbread sundaes for the holidays. McDonald’s has “not had anything to talk about of substance,” Michael Kelter, a New York-based analyst at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., said in an interview. “People are going elsewhere.” Hong Kong IPOs Generate Little Excitement (WSJ) Hong Kong appears unlikely to regain its position as the world's top venue for initial public offerings anytime soon. In recent days, the city's biggest IPO in two years drew only lukewarm support, while another deal ran up against insufficient demand and a third was postponed. Recession Left Baby Bust as U.S. Births Lowest Since 1920 (Bloomberg) The country’s birth rate fell 8 percent from 2007 to 2010, according to a Pew Research Center report. The rate dropped 6 percent for U.S.-born women and plummeted 14 percent for foreign-born females since 2007, the onset of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. The decline continued last year to the lowest point since records began in 1920. Rogue caviar fugitive Mario Garbarino admits his guilt in fishy egg smuggling scheme (NYDN) Isidoro (Mario) Garbarino, 69, who went on the lam 23 years ago pleaded guilty Thursday to smuggling $10 million worth of Russian and Iranian savruga and beluga to New York more than two decades ago. Garbarino’s plea deal requires him to pay $3 million in restitution. He also faces up to four years in prison when he is sentenced in January. Garbarino, a supplier to fancy gourmet shops including Zabar's, was indicted in 1987 for cheating the government on import duties. Feds say his Bronx company, Aquamar Gourmet Imports, engaged in an elaborate scheme to smuggle more than 100,000 pounds of the expensive delicacy from 1984 to 1987. As part of the plot, Garbarino switched the high-quality caviar with much cheaper American caviar which he then sold to Pan Am, other airlines and cruise ships operators as the real thing. In 1989, Garbarino fled. He was nabbed two months ago in Panama and extradited to New York. "Isidoro Garbarino ran his high-end importation business in a low-end way — cheating the government out of millions of dollars in tax revenues and defrauding his international clients who paid top dollar for exotic caviar they did not receive," said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara...Garbarino admitted he “occasionally misrepresented the nature of the caviar” to avoid paying the required taxes.