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: 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.

Opening Bell: 07.09.12

BofA Figures In Drug Probe (WSJ) A Mexican cocaine-trafficking cartel used accounts at Bank of America to hide money and invest illegal drug-trade proceeds in U.S. racehorses, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said. The alleged ties between the violent drug gang known as Los Zetas and the second-largest U.S. bank by assets were described in a 35-page affidavit filed in federal court in Texas last month. According to an FBI agent, a horse-buying and training business created to launder drug money had accounts at the Charlotte, N.C., bank. Libor Probe Moves To Political Arena (WSJ) The scandal over banks' manipulation of key interest rates cost the jobs of three senior financial figures last week. On Monday, the deputy governor of the Bank of England will try to ensure it doesn't derail his own career. Paul Tucker, a leading candidate to become the next governor of the Bank of England, will testify Monday afternoon before a Parliamentary committee that is examining how Barclays and other global banks improperly tried to influence interest rates like the London interbank offered rate...Barclays, after reaching a £290 million settlement with U.S. and British regulators over its attempts to manipulate Libor, sought to defend itself by releasing notes from an October 2008 phone call between Mr. Tucker and Robert Diamond. According to Mr. Diamond's notes from the call, Mr. Tucker relayed concerns from "senior" British government officials about Barclays's above-average Libor submissions. "Mr. Tucker stated…that while he was certain we did not need advice, that it did not always need to be the case that we appeared as high as we have recently," Mr. Diamond wrote to two of his colleagues the day after the call. Diamond Antithesis Seen As Key Step To Repairing Barclays (Bloomberg) The British lender faces a criminal probe and political pressure to curb or separate the investment banking unit that Diamond built up during his 16-year career at Barclays from the consumer bank. The unit generated 61 percent of the bank’s first-quarter pretax profit. At a Parliamentary hearing last week, lawmakers asked if the culture at the investment bank was “rotten” and if he lived in a “parallel universe.” Former Barclays CEO: I Too Fell for the Diamond Myth (FT) "It was a close call," Taylor says of his decision to retain Diamond as head of Barclays Capital. "I suspect the subsequent history of the business would have been very different had I asked him to go. I deserve blame for being among the first to succumb to the myth of Diamond’s indispensability, to which some in Barclays were still in thrall only a matter of days ago." SEC set to hand out up to $452M to whistleblowers (NYP) “The SEC is receiving two to three tips every day that are worth pursuing, and they’re farming them out to staffers for investigation,” said Lawrence A. West, a lawyer with Latham & Watkins. “SEC officials are eager to pay out and publicize the first whistleblower award,” said West, whose firm has gathered a number of tipsters under the new law. “Once the first award is publicized, tips to the SEC from disgruntled employees are almost certain to increase substantially.” Romney Mines Hamptons For Political Cash (NYT) EAST HAMPTON, N.Y. — A woman in a blue chiffon dress poked her head out of a black Range Rover here on Sunday afternoon and yelled to an aide to Mitt Romney. “Is there a V.I.P. entrance? We are V.I.P.” (No such entrance existed.)...what was billed as a day of elegant campaign events at the homes of the ultrarich turned out to be an afternoon of curious and clashing tableaus: protesters with their bandannas and Occupy Wall Street-inspired chants (“We got sold out, banks got bailed out!”) standing amid multimillion-dollar mansions, where live bands played “Margaritaville” and donors dined on prosciutto-wrapped melon balls...After that, Mr. Romney attended events at the Southampton homes of Clifford Sobel, the former United States ambassador to Brazil, and David Koch, the billionaire industrialist and longtime benefactor of conservative political causes. The event at Mr. Koch’s home drew about 200 protesters, who...went so far as to hire a local pilot to fly a giant red and black banner over Mr. Koch’s house, which read: “Romney has a Koch problem,” a play on the drug. (Mr. Koch’s name is pronounced the same as the word coke.) A truck, festooned with the logos of big banks like Citigroup and Wells Fargo, circled the neighborhood with a plastic dog on the roof, a jab at Mr. Romney’s much-mocked family vacation in which he traveled with his Irish setter inside a pet carrier on the roof of a car. Barclays mulls split after Libor scandal: report (MarketWatch) Board directors at U.K. bank Barclays PLC BCS -1.72% are considering splitting the company into two units, as regulatory scrutiny mounts in the wake of its role in the Libor interest-rate fixing scandal, The Sunday Times reports without citing sources. The newspaper says Barclays is examining plans to spin off its investment banking arm, which could be floated in New York, with the U.K.-headquartered retail and commercial bank retaining its London listing. (A person familiar with the matter said the story was inaccurate.) Roubini: My 'Perfect Storm' Scenario Is Unfolding Now (CNBC) In May, Roubini predicted four elements – stalling growth in the U.S., debt troubles in Europe, a slowdown in emerging markets, particularly China, and military conflict in Iran - would come together in to create a storm for the global economy in 2013. “(The) 2013 perfect storm scenario I wrote on months ago is unfolding,” Roubini said on Twitter on Monday. Tighter Control For Euro Banks (WSJ) The establishment of a single authority, with a single set of rules for the region's banks, is seen by Germany and other strong economies as an essential condition before they will consider sharing resources with other euro-zone countries. House-crasher sentenced after enjoying Diddy's food, cigars and toothbrush (NYP) A East New York man, busted for sneaking into rapper Sean “Diddy” Combs’ palatial East Hampton spread in April, guzzled the star’s top-shelf liquor, washed with his soap, and even used his toothbrush, officials revealed yesterday. “I brought a cheesesteak, a cheesecake, a bucket of fried chicken — which I ate at the house — and drank a ‘dollar’ bottle of Hennessy and four cans of Pepsi,” Quamine Taylor told prosecutors at his sentencing yesterday. He even slathered Diddy’s Frank’s Red Hot sauce on his grub, and drank a bottle of Hpnotiq, a vodka liqueur, he said, adding, “After I ate, I went upstairs and went to sleep.” He also smoked three of Diddy’s Dutch Masters cigars and drank a can of orange soda. Then he freshened up using Diddy’s soap and splashing on his aftershave.