Opening Bell: 01.05.12

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Positive Signs For Jobs Market (WSJ)
Fewer people sought new unemployment benefits in the U.S. last week, further signaling that the labor market began to stabilize as 2011 drew to a close. Separately, the private sector added a white-hot 325,000 jobs in December, according to Automatic Data Processing's monthly hiring report. Initial jobless claims fell by 15,000 to a seasonally adjusted 372,000 in the week ended Dec. 31, the Labor Department said Thursday. Last week was the eighth time in the past nine that new claims came in below the 400,000 mark, a positive sign as economists generally believe claims must remain consistently below that level to signal a real turnaround.

Hungary Is Open To IMF Loan (WSJ)
Coming under intensifying financial pressure, Hungary signaled Thursday it was open to negotiating a standby loan with the International Monetary Fund without setting any pre-conditions and that it might even back away from a controversial central-bank law that has blocked aid talks. In an attempt to bring the country back from the brink of a currency crisis, Tamas Fellegi, a minister without portfolio and the country's chief negotiator with the fund, said Hungary was ready to discuss the central-bank law that has become a major stumbling block in talks with the IMF and the European Union. The IMF and the EU say the law threatens the independence of the central bank.

Citi Analyst Lures Hot IPOs (WSJ)
When real-estate website Zillow Inc. was looking for a Wall Street bank to lead its $80 million initial public offering in July, Citigroup Inc. rose to the top of the list. A main attraction: the bank's top-ranked Internet analyst, Mark Mahaney. Mr. Mahaney "is widely regarded as one of the most influential analysts covering the Internet, and, yes, that was absolutely part" of Zillow's choice of Citi, said Spencer Rascoff, Zillow's chief executive, in an interview. During the sales process for the shares, Mr. Mahaney "probably spent 100 hours on calls with investors," Mr. Rascoff recalled.

China No Country for Old Men as Government Battles ‘Demographic Tsunami’ (Bloomberg)
Wang Fuchuan lies in bed wearing a quilted black jacket, with two comforters pulled up to his chin to keep out the chilly November air. The heating at Beijing Songtang Caring Hospice is broken and the 90-year-old’s nostrils are stuffed with toilet paper to stop them dripping. Cockroaches scurry across the floor of his room, which has no running water or toilet. His possessions, a few articles of clothing, are in a plastic bag under his bed next to a pink wash bowl with a sliver of soap. His only entertainment is a transistor radio. Wang counts himself lucky...The latest government census shows 178 million Chinese were over 60 in 2009. That figure could reach 437 million -- one third of the population -- by 2050, the United Nations forecasts. While the elderly were looked after in the past by their children, urbanization and the nation’s one-child policy have eroded the tradition of family care. “It’s a demographic tsunami,” says Joseph J. Christian, a fellow at the Asia Center at the Harvard Kennedy School, and former DLA Piper partner in Hong Kong, who specializes in senior housing issues in China. “The whole multi generational housing model has disappeared.”

Predictions: Greece, Italy Will Default; S&P Will Top 1400 (CNBC)
What kind of surprises are in store for 2012? If Byron Wien, vice chairman of Blackstone Advisory Partners, is correct: Italy and Greece will default on their debt but will remain in the European Union. The Standard & Poor's 500 will get above 1400. Unemployment will fall below 8 percent and GDP growth will top 3 percent. Mitt Romney will be the GOP nominee for president. He will be defeated by President Obama — providing those predictions on unemployment and GDP come true. These are some of the items on Byron Wien's annual list of "surprises." Wien told CNBC Wednesday he remains optimistic about a rising stock market in 2012, an improving U.S. economy and a Europe that manages to come up with a long-lasting plan to solve its financial problems.

Congress Presses Rating Firms (WSJ)
The chairman of the House Financial Services subcommittee on oversight and investigations sent letters to Moody's Corp. Chief Executive Raymond McDaniel and Standard & Poor's Ratings Services President Douglas Peterson seeking detailed information about the firms' procedures for determining MF Global's credit worthiness.

Multifront Attack Awaits Romney (WSJ)
Mr. Paul has the money and the organizational heft to damage Mr. Romney with television ads, and Mr. Santorum has the momentum and novelty to take advantage of any weakening in support for the New Hampshire favorite. But Mr. Gingrich promises to wield the sharpest blade. Battered for weeks by attack ads from a pro-Romney outside political group, the onetime House Speaker arrived in the Granite State full of venom for the Romney campaign. Pledging effectively to team up to undermine Mr. Romney's credibility, he said on MSNBC that he and Mr. Santorum were "going to be defining Romney out of the mainstream of the Republican Party."

Hildebrand Battles Reputation Risk as Wife’s Trades Hurt Guardian Status (Bloomberg)
Hildebrand, head of the Swiss National Bank (SNBN), will today break his silence on his wife’s purchase of dollars in August, the SNB said. That trade came three weeks before policy makers announced their biggest franc intervention since the 1970s. While an SNB probe cleared him of wrongdoing, some lawmakers and academics say the 105 year-old institution must do more to move away from a culture of bank secrecy.

Man Stabbed Due to Not Knowing of Beyonce & Jay-Z's Marriage (Fox)
A fight over a music video led to a Garfield Heights man being stabbed outside a Parma apartment on New Year Eve. Det. Marty Compton of the Parma Police Department tells Fox 8 News that Ronald Deaver, 31, of Parma, was arrested and charged with felonious assault for allegedly stabbing a 48-year-old Garfield Heights man following an argument. Det. Compton says the fight began because the victim did not know that singer Beyonce's husband is rapper Jay-Z.

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Opening Bell: 04.17.12

Goldman Earnings Beat Expectations (WSJ) For the first quarter, the firm's revenue from fixed income, currency and commodity trading totaled $3.46 billion, down 20% from a year earlier although more than double what the firm booked in the fourth quarter. Investment-banking revenue came in at $1.15 billion, down 9.1% from a year, yet up 35% from a fourth quarter that was bleak across Wall Street. Goldman posted a profit of $2.11 billion, compared with a year-earlier profit of $2.74 billion. Earnings per share—reflecting the payment of preferred dividends—rose to $3.92 from $1.56 a year earlier, topping the $3.55 per-share profit expected by analysts polled by Thomson Reuters. Paulson Said to Short Europe Bonds Amid Spain Concern (Bloomberg) John Paulson, the billionaire hedge-fund manager seeking to reverse record losses in 2011, told investors he is shorting European sovereign bonds, according to a person familiar with the matter. Paulson, 56, said during a call with investors that he is also buying credit-default swaps on European debt, or protection against the chance of default, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the information is private. Spanish banks are of particular concern as their holdings of the country’s debt and client withdrawals make them overly dependent on European Central Bank financing, Paulson told investors. No Double-Dip Deja Vu Seen for U.S. Economy (Bloomberg) “It feels eerily similar to last year, but fundamentally it’s quite different,” said Joseph LaVorgna, chief U.S. economist for Deutsche Bank Securities in New York. He sees the economy growing 3 percent in the fourth quarter from a year earlier, compared with 1.6 percent in 2011. Ainslie's Maverick Makes First Start-Up Seeding In Sycamore Lane (WSJ) Maverick Capital Management LP, the $9 billion investment firm run by Lee Ainslie, has made its first seeding investment in a start-up hedge fund, according to marketing materials sent to investors. According to the materials sent by Sycamore Lane Partners to investors, Maverick provided it with start-up capital, allowing the long/short value-driven equity fund to begin investing April 2. The amount of Maverick's investment isn't outlined, but is described as "significant capital contributions with extended lock through 2015." Alabama Bond Fight Begins New Round (WSJ) Wall Street has sparred with Jefferson County for years over the local government's crippling debt. Now the battle has moved underground, and the two sides are arguing over the condition of 3,200 miles of sewage pipes below Alabama's largest metropolitan area. A federal judge is weighing whether officials of the bankrupt county can divert money that would have gone to pay J.P. Morgan Chase and other debtholders in order to upgrade its leaky sewer system. The case could have far-reaching implications for the $3.7 trillion municipal-bond market. A ruling in the county's favor could upend the notion that holders of debt backed by revenues from utilities such as sewer systems should continue to be paid in full when a municipality files for bankruptcy protection. Toms River Couple Sues Landlord Over Alleged Paranormal Activity (CBS) Jose Chinchilla and his fiancée Michele Callan say they hear eerie noises, that lights flicker, doors slam and a spectral presence tugs on their bed sheets. Chinchilla and Callan are suing the landlord for their $2,250security deposit claiming the paranormal activity forced them out of the home only a week after moving in. For Two Economists, the ‘Buffett Rule’ Is Just a Start (NYT) As much as Mr. Piketty’s and Mr. Saez’s work has informed the national debate over earnings and fairness, their proposed corrective remains far outside the bounds of polite political conversation: much, much higher top marginal tax rates on the rich, up to 50 percent, or 70 percent or even 90 percent, from the current top rate of 35 percent. The two economists argue that even Democrats’ boldest plan to increase taxes on the wealthy — the “Buffett Rule,” a 30 percent minimum tax on earnings over $1 million — would do little to reverse the rich’s gains. Many of the Republican tax proposals on the table might increase income inequality, at least in the short term, according to William G. Gale of the Tax Policy Center and many other left-leaning and centrist economists. Romney Not Too Rich To Relate (Bloomberg) Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney said he isn’t too rich to relate to average Americans and President Barack Obama should “start packing” for a White House departure in 2013. Romney made the remarks in an ABC News interview aired yesterday as Democrats accused him of running a secretive campaign and called on him to release more tax records....Periodically while campaigning this year Romney has made comments drawing attention to his wealth -- and earning scorn from opponents -- including saying he has friends who are NASCAR owners and that his wife, Ann, owns a “couple” of Cadillacs. Brazil’s Unpredictable Central Banker Tombini Confounds Critics (Bloomberg) No central banker in the world’s top 10 economies has surprised analysts as frequently as Brazil’s Alexandre Tombini. Since taking office 15 months ago, Tombini set interest rates lower than economists expected in three out of 10 policy meetings, including an August reduction that all 62 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg failed to anticipate. Russia’s central bank, the second most unpredictable, defied economists in three out of 14 rate decisions in the same period. So far, Tombini has been vindicated. Inflation in Brazil, at 5.24 percent in March, is easing at a pace faster than analysts forecast. While investors have speculated that Tombini may be yielding to political pressure to lower rates, his gloomy assessment of the world economy and risk-taking may prove correct, according to Citigroup Inc.’s Dirk Willer. Husband watching porn online finds film starring his wife (Emirates) An Egyptian man who went online to watch a porno film for the first time got the shock of his life when he found that the woman in the film was his own wife. The man, identified as Ramadan, instantly collapsed in disbelief on the floor at an internet shop before coming round and rushing home to face his unfaithful wife. The woman first denied his allegations and started to swear at him, prompting her husband to face her with the film...“I found 11 films showing my wife in indecent scenes with her lover….it was the first time I watched a porno film and I did this just out of curiosity,” Ramadan told Egyptian newspapers at his house in the northeastern province of Dakhalia...Ramadan said he had been happy during his marriage life until he logged on to that website.

Opening Bell: 06.05.12

Germany Pushes EU Bank Oversight (WSJ) Though Berlin has resisted a banking union, Ms. Merkel's initiative shows Germany is willing to talk about an overhaul and is trying to focus the debate on Europe's biggest banks. "We will discuss to what extent we need to put systemically relevant banks under a specific European supervisory authority so that national interests do not play such a large role," Ms. Merkel told reporters ahead of a meeting in Berlin with European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, referring to the June 28-29 summit. Citi Bets That Proof Leads To Profits (WSJ) Seeking a shot in the arm for the ailing banking business, Citigroup Inc. C -2.30% is expanding into a little-known but fast-growing field known as identity proofing—the tedious and time-consuming task of proving people are who they say they are. The third-biggest U.S. bank by assets later this month will begin issuing digital-identity badges to the employees of Defense Department contractors, ranging from makers of high-tech engineering parts to the janitors who clean the bathrooms. Citigroup is the only financial institution that has clearance to sell the identity cards and grab a piece of a market whose annual sales could reach into the billions of dollars. But the badge business is just the beginning. Citigroup's hope is that the contractors will eventually use the plastic on which the badges are issued for more than just identity verification. If companies adopt the technology, their employees will be able to collect paychecks and pay business expenses using the cards—enabling Citigroup to collect fees on all of those transactions. John Paulson Buys Saudi Prince’s $49 Million Aspen Palace (CNBC) The lavish ranch, sold by Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan, was once the most expensive estate ever listed in the U.S., with a price tag in 2006 of $135 million. The property includes a main house with 15-bedrooms, 16-baths, and 56,000-square-feet. It also includes several side buildings, as well as a water treatment plant, gas pumps and other high-tech features. Mr. Paulson’s $49 million purchase included two properties — the 90-acre main property as well as a 38-acre property nearby called Bear Ranch. Bear Ranch and Hala Ranch together might have once fetched more than $150 million in 2006 or 2007, according to Aspen real-estate experts. Blankfein: Nyet to Petersburg leaks (NYP) Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein yesterday squarely disputed his former director Rajat Gupta’s claim that Gupta was permitted to speak about details of a 2008 board meeting with his alleged co-conspirator, hedge-fund titan Raj Rajaratnam. “Did you authorize Mr. Gupta to reveal any of the confidential information discussed at the board meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia?” prosecutor Reed Brodsky asked the CEO. “No,” Blankfein said. The details included directors discussing the possibility of Goldman buying a commercial bank or insurance company, including AIG, in the early days of the mortgage crisis. MF Global Trustee Sees $3 Billion in Potential Claims (Reuters) MF Global Holdings could have more than $3 billion in claims against its former affiliates, Louis Freeh, the trustee overseeing the wind-down of the parent company of the collapsed broker-dealer, said in his first status report. The potential recoveries for the parent company's creditors will come primarily from such claims, Freeh said in his 119-page report that was submitted to the bankruptcy court. Former bath-salts addict: 'It felt so evil' (CNN) The man is strapped onto a gurney and restrained, yet he is singing, making faces and twitching. "You know where you're at?" a paramedic asks him, but Freddy Sharp can't answer. He was, he explained later, off in his own world after overdosing on the synthetic drug known as "bath salts." "I'd never experienced anything like that," Sharp told CNN's Don Lemon. "It really actually scared me pretty bad." He said he was hallucinating about being in a mental hospital and being possessed by Jason Voorhees, the character from the "Friday the 13th" movies. "I just felt all kinds of crazy," said Sharp, now 27, of Tennessee, who says he hasn't used bath salts in months. "It felt so evil. It felt like the darkest, evilest thing imaginable." The drug made national headlines recently after a horrific crime in Miami, where a naked man chewed the face off a homeless man in what has been called a zombie-like attack. Australia Central Bank Cuts Rates to Fight Global Gloom (Reuters) Australia's central bank cut interest rates for a second month running on Tuesday in a bid to shore up confidence at home, just as finance chiefs of advanced economies around the world prepare to hold emergency talks on the euro zone debt crisis. Citing a weaker outlook abroad and only modest domestic growth, the Reserve Bank of Australia cut its cash rate by 25 basis points to 3.5 percent. Burbank Bets On Global Recession With Subprime Conviction (Bloomberg) In the dozen years that John Burbank has run his $3.4 billion Passport Capital hedge fund, he’s never been as negative on global stocks as he is now. Burbank, 48, expects that the U.S. and much of the rest of the world will slide into a recession, and he’s setting up for that event with a big wager that global stocks will fall. Most of his peers are still betting that stocks, especially those in the U.S., are more likely to rise than decline. “You have a great contrarian outcome here that will be obvious in hindsight, just like subprime was,” Burbank said in an interview last month. “I have a lot of conviction about something that others don’t seem to see clearly.” In Facebook, Options Traders Shift to Post-Earnings Bets (WSJ) While June and July bets have been most active since Facebook options began trading last Tuesday—accounting for more than half of the total options outstanding—contracts expiring in August and September have been picking up steam. Downside options that expire after the company's first public earnings report—expected at the end of July, though no date has been set—were the most actively traded Monday. The most popular positions included bets Facebook would fall below $25 a share over the next two to three months. Real life Garfield eats his way to 40-pound frame (NYDN) A tubby tabby named Garfield was dropped off at the North Shore Animal League last week tipping the scales at nearly 40 pounds, and now the no-kill shelter is hoping to turn him into the biggest loser. “He needs to lose at least 20 pounds,” shelter spokeswoman Devera Lynn said. “He’s so big, he’s like a dog. He actually has his own room.” Garfield meanders slowly in smaller spaces. He’s being moved to a foster home Tuesday in hopes that a next of kin claims the orange-and-white kitty. But if that doesn’t happen, the North Shore Animal League has received several applications from folks willing to give him a permanent home. Lynn said they’ll work with an owner to put the cat on a healthier track. “He’s actually outgoing for a cat,” Lynn said. “Once he loses that weight, he’s going to be a rock star.”

Opening Bell: 03.15.13

JPMorgan Pay Fueled Risk Amid London Whale Loss: Report (Bloomberg) JPMorgan, the biggest U.S. bank by assets, compensated chief investment office traders in a way that encouraged risk-taking before the unit amassed losses exceeding $6.2 billion, a Senate committee said. Pay that rewarded “effective risk management” would have suggested the synthetic credit portfolio functioned as a hedge, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations said yesterday in a report on the New York-based bank’s so-called London Whale loss. Instead, compensation practices suggest the bets “functioned more as a proprietary-trading operation.” JPMorgan Report Piles Pressure on Dimon in Too-Big Debate (Bloomberg) Dimon misled investors and dodged regulators as losses escalated on a “monstrous” derivatives bet, according to a 301-page report by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. The bank “mischaracterized high-risk trading as hedging,” and withheld key information from its primary regulator, sometimes at Dimon’s behest, investigators found. Managers manipulated risk models and pressured traders to overvalue their positions in an effort to hide growing losses. Ina Drew Says Subordinates’ Deception at JPMorgan Let Her Down (Bloomberg) Ina Drew, who was forced to leave JPMorgan Chase amid a record trading loss last year, said she relied on other executives to manage a complex book of credit derivatives and didn’t learn of their “deceptive conduct” until after she left the company. “I was, and remain, deeply disappointed and saddened to learn of such conduct and the extent to which the London team let me, and the company, down,” Drew said in testimony prepared for delivery in the Senate today. Credit Suisse Banker Extradited To US (NYP) Former Credit Suisse banker Kareem Serageldin, the highest-ranking Wall Street executive to be charged for crimes tied to the mortgage meltdown, is coming home to face the music, The Post has learned. The 39-tear old Yale graduate was indicted by a Manhattan federal grand jury in February 2012 — along with two Credit Suisse colleagues — for allegedly covering up losses in a $3.5 billion toxic mortgage portfolio as the real estate market was collapsing in 2007. The UK’s Home Secretary Theresa May, who is responsible for Great Britain’s immigration and citizenship, signed off last week on the extradition of Serageldin, a person with knowledge of the case told The Post. Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Hit (WSJ) The Federal Reserve Thursday dealt a blow to J.P. Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs, citing weaknesses in their "stress test" capital planning that could hamper their funneling more dividends and share buybacks to investors. The central bank also denied capital plans submitted by BB&T Corp. and Ally Financial Inc. But the Fed at the same time cleared 14 other banks to boost payouts to shareholders, including Citigroup Inc. and Bank of America Corp., both of which in past years had capital requests rejected by the central bank. The Fed also approved a reduced repurchase plan from American Express Co., in the only instance of a bank winning approval for a plan resubmitted to the regulator under a new stress-test wrinkle this year. Mila Kunis Rotates From Cash to Stocks (CNBC) The star of films such as Ted, Friends With Benefits and the TV series That 70s Show told CNBC in London: "I've just started investing in stocks, which is new for me." "I'm an advocate of like put things in the bank, put it in a CD (a certificate of deposit), be safe. And I've been pushed kind of forward to take chances and then learning a little bit about the stock market and companies," she said. Abe Says Japan Will Join Trade Talks (WSJ) Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced Friday that his country will take a seat at the negotiation table of the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations, a move that may pit him against powerful farm lobbies ahead of upper house elections this summer. "This is our last chance to join the TPP and take part in the rule-making," Mr. Abe told reporters Friday at a news conference to mark his decision to join the talks. "For Japan to remain inward-looking means we are giving up on the possibility of growth." Stifel Agrees to Acquire Fixed-Income Group From Knight (Bloomberg) Knight’s European institutional fixed-income sales and trading team is also part of the deal, which includes about 100 people, Stifel said today in a statement, without disclosing terms. The group covers high-yield and investment-grade corporate bonds, asset-backed and mortgage-backed securities, emerging markets and fixed-income research. No 'Irrational Exuberance' in Stocks Now: Greenspan (CNBC) Greenspan said in a "Squawk Box" interview that stocks by historical standards are "significantly undervalued" even considering the recent moves higher. He added that the payroll tax increase didn't dent spending because of rising asset prices. Could Hungary Be Thrown Out of the EU? (CNBC) Hungary's increasingly aggressive moves against media, judiciary and central bank independence will be discussed by European Union heads of states on Friday, raising the possibility that Hungary could be thrown out of the EU. The European Union is concerned Hungary may be flouting EU rules on human rights, after its parliament voted this week to amend its constitution to allow legislation to bypass approval from the constitutional court. Hungary had defied calls from the European Commission to delay the vote. The Taco That Built 15,000 Jobs (ABC) It may take a village to raise a child. But all it takes to raise employment is a taco. That seems to be the situation at Taco Bell, anyway, which added 15,000 employees last year, company chief executive Greg Creed told the Daily Beast, largely on one new product. Creed attributes the success to Doritos Locos Tacos, which the company rolled out in March, 2012 and was the “biggest launch in Taco Bell history,” he told the Beast. Throughout 2012, the 170-calorie taco, whose shell is made from a nacho cheese Doritos in a collaboration with Frito-Lay, 375 million were gobbled up, which averages out to about one million per day. But why stop there? On March 7, it launched Cool Ranch Dorito Locos Tacos. The slogan? “Collect All Two.” “We believe we can add 2,000 new restaurants in the next 10 years, because what we have is proprietary and exclusive. Nobody else can make a Cool Ranch Doritos Taco. And that’s just in the U.S.,” Creed told the Beast. Creed was traveling today and unavailable to talk to ABC News, a spokesman said.