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: 05.24.12

Europe Plans Girds Greece Exit (WSJ) Emerging from Wednesday night's informal European Union summit, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti said most leaders had backed issuing common debt, or euro-zone bonds, to help support troubled members. But Germany and others opposed them and demanded Greece do more. "We want Greece to remain in the euro zone," German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters after nearly eight hours of talks. "But the precondition is that Greece upholds the commitments it has made." Citi: Greek To Exit Euro, New Currency To Fall 60% (CNBC) Greece will leave the euro zone next year and the country's new currency will "immediately fall by 60 percent," according to Citi chief economist Willem Buiter. "The elections (on June 17th) will not produce a viable government that can follow the troika plan, leading to a stalemate between the Greek government and official creditors, and to the suspension of EFSF-IMF funding,” Buiter wrote in Citi's latest Global Economic Outlook. Slim Family Sees European Crisis As Good Time To Invest (Bloomberg) Carlos Slim sees Europe’s debt crisis as a “good moment” to apply his strategy of investing in times of turmoil, said the billionaire’s son, America Movil SAB Co-Chairman Carlos Slim Domit. America Movil, controlled by the elder Slim, announced a $3.4 billion bid to increase its stake in former Dutch phone monopoly Royal KPN NV earlier this month. While the acquisition would be Slim’s first major European foray, it follows a longstanding pattern, his son said. America Movil tries to stay as efficient and financially sound as possible so that it can quickly capitalize on fresh opportunities, he said. “When hard times come, you can look at opportunities in a very agile way,” Slim Domit, 45, said in an interview this week in Mexico City. “Europe is in a good moment.” After Facebook Fiasco, NYSE-Nasdaq Rivalry Heats Up (WSJ) "In the short term, if I'm deciding which platform to go with, I'd think twice at this point" before choosing Nasdaq, said Sang Lee, managing partner with Aite Group, a consultancy that researches exchanges. Investors Leery Of Paulson's Big Gold Bet (NYP) Investors are upset over Paulson’s huge gold positions — specifically, his outsize holding of AngloGold Ashanti, down 20 percent this year. That has dragged down two of Paulson’s funds. “I would be happier if he cut the gold position in half,” says one investor who put in a notice to take his money out of the fund in June. “He would have been up 4 percent in the first quarter if it weren’t for the goddamned gold.” Auction Of Ronald Reagan's Blood Stirs Debate (WSJ) Since his death in 2004 at age 93, President Ronald Reagan's popularity has only increased. Republican candidates invoke his name and policies. About 400,000 visitors a year flock to his hilltop museum outside Los Angeles, where a gift shop sells biographies, photos and his favorite jelly beans. Many people, it seems, want a piece of Mr. Reagan. But now, the sale of a very personal effect of the late president is stirring a controversy. Bidding for a vial purported to hold Mr. Reagan's blood topped $14,000 Wednesday in an online auction scheduled to end Thursday—if the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation doesn't try to block the sale first. PFC Auctions, based in the British Channel Islands, is offering the vial, said to have been obtained from a Maryland laboratory after the failed assassination attempt on Mr. Reagan in 1981. The sample was sent to the lab to test Mr. Reagan's blood for lead. A lab employee kept the vial as a memento and later passed it on to her adult child, according to the auction site. The head of the Reagan Foundation, a nonprofit group, called the sale "a craven act" and is fighting to stop it. It is uncertain what claims, if any, the foundation may have on the vial, which appears to contain dried blood residue, as depicted in a picture on the auction site...The seller, an admirer of Mr. Reagan's free-market policies, said in comments on the auction page, "I was a real fan of Reaganomics and felt that Pres. Reagan himself would rather see me sell it rather than donating it." Morgan Stanley, Others Make Profit of $100 Million Stabilizing Facebook (WSJ) These gains are expected to be offset somewhat by losses associated with reimbursing clients who lost money because of technology snafus at the Nasdaq Stock Market in Facebook's first day of trading, one of these people added. The Next Treasury Secretary (NYT) On the Democratic side, possibilities include Laurence D. Fink of BlackRock, the asset manager; Erskine Bowles, who served on President Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform; Daniel K. Tarullo, a member of the Federal Reserve Board; and Roger C. Altman, the investment banker. For the Republicans, the front-runners include Robert B. Zoellick, the head of the World Bank; John B. Taylor, the Stanford economist; Glenn Hubbard, the head of Columbia Business School and a Mitt Romney adviser; and Kevin Warsh, a former member of the Federal Reserve Board. Spain To Recapitalize Bankia (WSJ) The Spanish government will provide about €9 billion ($11.4 billion) to cover Bankia SA's provisioning needs, Finance Minister Luis de Guindos said Wednesday, in the latest sign that Spain's economic deterioration is forcing authorities to inject more public funds to bail out ailing banks. Since Bankia won't be able to meet provisioning and capital needs, Spain's Fund for Orderly Bank Restructuring will be ready to inject capital into Bankia's unlisted parent company, Banco Financiero & de Ahorros SA, which holds the company's most toxic real-estate assets, Mr. de Guindos told legislators in Parliament. Indian State OKs Shooting Tiger Poachers On Sight (AP) A state in western India has declared war on animal poaching by allowing forest guards to shoot hunters on sight in an effort to curb rampant attacks on tigers and other wildlife. The government in Maharashtra says injuring or killing suspected poachers will no longer be considered a crime. Forest guards should not be "booked for human rights violations when they have taken action against poachers," Maharashtra Forest Minister Patangrao Kadam said Tuesday. The state also will send more rangers and jeeps into the forest, and will offer secret payments to informers who give tips about poachers and animal smugglers, he said.

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.