Opening Bell: 01.10.12

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RBS Bankers Prepare for ‘Nuclear Winter’ as Hester Undoes Goodwin Empire (Bloomberg, Dealbreaker)
By Thursday lunchtime in London, the 18,900 employees in Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc’s investment banking division will know whether they still have jobs at Britain’s biggest government-owned lender. Chief Executive Officer Stephen Hester, 51, decided to make the announcement, originally planned for later this month, because uncertainty in the ranks about jobs was undermining productivity, said one senior executive who declined to be identified because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly. Hester is reversing a decade of expansion led by former CEO Fred Goodwin that included $140 billion of acquisitions. The Edinburgh-based lender plans to close its equities and corporate finance units globally, cutting as many as 5,000 jobs, said two people familiar with the situation. The cash equities, equity research, corporate broking as well as mergers and acquisitions units may also be shut, the people said. Limiting cuts to the equities unit may not be enough to boost profitability, said Raul Sinha, an analyst at JPMorgan Cazenove in London.

BofA Prunes Senior Ranks in Asia Investment Banking (Reuters)
Bank of America-Merrill Lynch, the second-largest U.S. bank by assets, is cutting around a fifth of its managing directors across its Asia investment banking division, sources said on Monday, in a bid to cut costs as the outlook sours in a once-booming region...Headhunters interviewed by Reuters said the bank's reduction in its ranks of managing directors in Asia was a deeper-than-usual cull of senior bankers, but reflects the broad challenges the investment banking industry faces. "That sounds like carnage," said Richard Broadhurst, who runs Hong Kong-based Initiative Recruitment.

Greek Bailout In Peril (WSJ)
Greece's deteriorating economy is threatening the viability of a €130 billion ($165.2 billion) bailout for the country that European leaders agreed to in October. The bailout package, which followed an earlier aid deal for Athens that was agreed on in 2010, relies on Greece negotiating a 50% reduction in much of its outstanding bond debt. It also requires Greece's government to make fresh efforts to cut its budget deficit. "The second Greece program has to be implemented soon, otherwise it won't be possible to disburse the next tranche" of aid loans, Ms. Merkel told a joint news conference with Mr. Sarkozy after their meeting.

Credit Suisse Bankers Said to Bet Own $450 Million on Firm’s Risky Assets (Bloomberg)
Credit Suisse, selling riskier assets to free up capital, has found a ready buyer: its own employees. The same senior bankers who received part of their 2008 pay in illiquid loans and bonds contributed $450 million of their own money to buy more of the firm’s risky assets (CSGN), such as mortgage-backed securities, said two people with knowledge of the plan, who asked for anonymity because the deal is private. The bankers, some of whom have left since 2008, had been willing to put almost $500 million into the Expanded Partner Asset Facility, or EPAF, which closed Dec. 31, one of the people said. Banks are trying to divest illiquid loans and fixed-income securities because regulators would require the firms to hold more equity capital as a buffer against losses. Europe’s lenders have pledged to cut more than 950 billion euros ($1.2 trillion) of assets over the next two years to reduce the capital they would have to raise. “This is an advantage to the company, if priced correctly, in that it will reduce their capital charges and liquefy their balance sheet,” said Brad Hintz, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. in New York. “The question is what goes into it, how is it being valued and are they using a third-party firm to value it? Because to do anything else is a transfer of value from the shareholders to the employees.”

Geithner In China To Discuss Yuan, Iran (Bloomberg)
Geithner is likely to encounter resistance in China, which disagrees with U.S. assertions that its currency is undervalued and is sparring with the Obama administration over trade in goods from chicken to steel. At the same time, he may seek to avert a public split at a time when a likely European slide to recession is already clouding the global economic outlook. “These are the world’s second- and third-largest economies and the two biggest holders of Treasury bills,” said Stephen Myrow, a U.S. Treasury official during the administration of George W. Bush and now managing director of ACG Analytics Inc., a Washington investment research firm. “These are relationships that need to be continually nurtured.”

Traffic Agent With Unpaid Tickets Is Arrested Over Tow (NYT)
A traffic agent who owed more than $450 in parking tickets was arrested Monday morning in Brooklyn, accused of trying to stop her S.U.V. from being towed, the authorities said. The agent, Olatakumbo Erinosho, 39, was charged with obstructing governmental administration, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, the police said. City marshals went to Greene Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant before dawn on Monday to tow Ms. Erinosho’s 2007 Cadillac Escalade, the police said. But she “interfered with and resisted their lawful efforts to seize her personal vehicle” and “subsequently resisted efforts by police who were summoned by marshals to arrest her,” Paul J. Browne, the chief Police Department spokesman, said in a statement.

Fitch May Downgrade Italy, Not France This Year (Reuters)
Fitch Ratings does not expect to cut France's triple-A credit rating this year, while countries under review such as Italy or Spain could be downgraded by one or two notches, the agency's EMEA ratings head said on Tuesday. Fitch put Belgium, Spain, Slovenia, Italy, Ireland and Cyprus on negative watch late last year, with a conclusion expected by March. France has a negative rating outlook from Fitch, which normally means that it could be downgraded within two years. "On the basis of some current economic and fiscal trends in France... we wouldn't expect to downgrade France this year, unless there is a material deterioration in the euro zone," Ed Parker, head of EMEA sovereign ratings, told Reuters in an interview on the sidelines of a Fitch seminar.

Wife's Trades Sink Banker (WSJ)
Swiss National Bank Chairman Philipp Hildebrand resigned Monday after emails appeared to undercut his assertion that he knew nothing of a currency trade worth more than $500,000 by his wife last summer. Mr. Hildebrand, who denied any wrongdoing, resigned just days after declaring that he wouldn't step down in the wake of disclosures that his wife, who once worked at a New York hedge fund, exchanged Swiss francs for dollars Aug. 15, just weeks before the central bank made one of the boldest interventions in foreign-exchange markets in recent years to control the rise of the Swiss currency. The resignation brought an abrupt end to the two-year tenure of a central-bank chief who generated both controversy and plaudits from the international financial community. In a news conference, 48-year-old Mr. Hildebrand said he was resigning in part because it was impossible for him to prove that his wife, Kashya, acted alone in making the transaction last August. "My wife has a strong personality," Mr. Hildebrand had said last week in discussing the trade. "She worked in the financial business and has her own thoughts." Ms. Hildebrand worked at New York hedge fund Moore Capital Management between 1994 and 1999 in various roles, where she met her husband. She has managed an art gallery in Zurich since 2001.

Apple CEO Cook’s 2011 Package Worth $378M (Bloomberg)
The total includes $376.2 million in shares that will vest starting in five years, Cupertino, California-based Apple said yesterday in a proxy filing to shareholders. Cook’s base salary was $900,000 in 2011.

Romney tackles attacks on his business experience from GOP rivals (NYP)
There was no mention of "pink slips," but Mitt Romney on Monday was already trying to counteract the perception that he was out of touch when he said there were times he feared getting fired. On Sunday, Romney told a crowd in Rochester, NH, "I know what it's like to wonder whether you're going to get fired. A couple of times I wondered if I was going to get a pink slip." Speaking at a Nashua Chamber of Commerce breakfast Monday, Romney began by noting he did not always hold high-level positions. Rather, he said he started off "at the entry level." "I was able over the years to work my way up and learn some lessons along the way," Romney said.

Twinkies Maker Preparing For Chapter 11 Filing (WSJ)
Hostess Brands Inc. is preparing to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection as soon as this week, said people familiar with the matter, a move that would mark the second significant court restructuring for the Twinkies and Wonder Bread baker in the past several years...Hostess also owes more than $50 million to vendors, which have been demanding payments on shortened time frames because of Hostess's financial condition, one of the people said. Most of those goods and services were provided to Hostess within the past three weeks or so.

Santorum Takes Credit for Sweater-Vest Sales Boom (Daily Intel)
Appearing on Hannity Monday night as GOP rival Newt Gingrich did earlier, the former Pennsylvania senator held up an official Santorum sweater-vest and told the host that "This is the attire of the campaign. We've heard from several retailers that sweater-vests sales have gone up since I started displaying the sweater-vests."

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Opening Bell: 01.07.13

Regulators Give Ground To Banks (WSJ) Global banking regulators watered down a key element of their plan for creating a safer financial system, giving ground to banks that argued the rules were unworkable and financially risky. The Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, a group of the world's top regulators and central bankers, said Sunday that it agreed to relax a rule designed to ensure that big banks are able to weather financial crises without running short of cash. Bowing to two years of intense pressure from the banking industry, the regulators made it easier for banks to meet the rule, known as the "liquidity coverage ratio," and delayed its full implementation until 2019. It is the latest instance of regulators chipping away at their landmark 2010 response to the global financial crisis. The regulators argue that the changes make banking rules much stronger than they were before the crisis. Herbalifers Stay Resolute (WSJ) When hedge-fund manager William Ackman unveiled his 334-slide presentation alleging that Herbalife is a pyramid scheme, it did nothing to shake Joanne Clare. The 38-year-old Staten Island mother of three has been selling the company's weight-loss products and supplements since 2004, when she says they helped her drop from 210 to 160 pounds in four months. She now sells as much as $3,500 a month of Herbalife products to her 30 clients and the two distributors in her "down line." "People have always said it's a pyramid scheme, but it's not," Ms. Clare said, adding that the bulk of her earnings come from sales to clients, not her cut of her recruits' take. Mr. Ackman's declaration that he had bet more than $1 billion against Herbalife caused many investors to flee, sending the stock down 38% in four days in late December. But some of the company's 3.1-million-strong army of distributors were unmoved. Eliot Spitzer Ends His Show On Current TV (NYT) The announcement comes a few days after Al Jazeera said it was acquiring Current TV. Later this year, the Qatar-owned broadcaster plans to turn the channel into an Americanized version of the international news channel Al Jazeera English. Mr. Spitzer said he had a “wonderful time” at Current, but emphasized that his relationship was with Al Gore and Joel Hyatt, Current’s co-founders, not with Al Jazeera. “Moving forward, their mission will be different,” he said — more international newscasts, less liberal talk about the news. Citi's Corbat builds bridges (Reuters) Citigroup Inc's Michael Corbat has been meeting with bank regulators in his first months as CEO, as he looks to bolster relationships and finalize the bank's plan to return capital to shareholders, sources familiar with the matter said. Corbat also expects to name his team of top managers within the next week or so, one of the sources said on Sunday. Corbat is expected to play it safe when Citigroup asks the U.S. Federal Reserve for permission for moves such as buying back shares or increasing dividends, analysts and investors said. His predecessor, Vikram Pandit, lost his job in October in part because the bank's request for returning capital was denied in March. The bank, which is due to submit its plan to the Fed on Monday, has not yet done so, the source said. The third-largest U.S. bank will only seek approval to buy back shares and not raise dividends, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday. Last year, the bank wanted permission to return more than $8 billion to shareholders over two years, the paper said. For Newly Minted MBAs, A Small Paycheck (WSJ) For graduates with minimal experience—three years or less—median pay was $53,900 in 2012, down 4.6% from 2007-08, according to an analysis conducted for The Wall Street Journal by PayScale.com. Pay fell at 62% of the 186 schools examined. Even for more seasoned grads the trend is similar, says Katie Bardaro, lead economist for PayScale.com. "In general, it seems that M.B.A. pay is either stagnant or falling," she says...It is all a far cry from the late 1980s and early 1990s heyday for M.B.A.s, when some companies would hire 100 or more M.B.A.s. It wasn't uncommon to recruit first, and fill actual jobs later. DOJ pledges to respect Swiss law in tax probe (Reuters) Swiss chief finance diplomat Michael Ambuehl was given a verbal pledge from the U.S. Department of Justice to respect Swiss law when asking for bank client data of potential tax dodgers, a newspaper reported on Sunday. Switzerland is in negotiations with U.S. authorities to find a deal that would end tax probes into at least ten Swiss banks suspected of helping clients dodge taxes, including Credit Suisse and Julius Baer. The Alpine country is trying to preserve what is left of its cherished banking secrecy that suffered a severe blow in 2009 when UBS, the first Swiss bank that came under scrutiny in the U.S., was required to disclose client data. Brazilian prison gaurds catch cat that slipped through the gate with escape tools taped to its body (NYDN) Guards at a Brazilian prison nabbed a white cat that slipped through the gate with a cell phone, drills, small saws and other contraband taped to its body. Alagoas prison spokeswoman Cinthya Moreno says the cat was caught New Year’s Eve at the medium-security prison in the city of Arapiraca. The O Estado de S. Paulo newspaper reported Saturday that all of the prison’s 263 inmates are suspects in the smuggling attempt, though a spokesperson said, “It will be hard to discover who is responsible since the cat does not speak.” Loeb, Cooperman Stand Out in Horrid Year for Hedge Funds (CNBC) Third Point was the clear hedge fund standout in a horrible year for the industry as almost nine out of 10 managers underperformed the S&P 500. Omega Advisors' Leon Cooperman also scored big. Loeb — once better known for his acerbic letters to CEOs — used an activist position in Yahoo and the contrarian buying of Greek bonds to drive the firm's flagship fund to a 21 percent gain in 2012. The firm's more-leveraged Ultra fund posted an even bigger 34 percent return...Cooperman's fund had a net return of 26 percent in 2012. Banks Zero In On Foreclosure Pact (WSJ) Banks were closing in on a $10 billion foreclosure-abuse settlement with regulators that could be announced as soon as Monday, according to people familiar with the talks. The settlement was nearly complete Sunday afternoon, the people said, after the Federal Reserve backed down on a demand for more compensation for consumers and other changes to the pact. Bankers threatened to walk away from the deal if the Fed's demand for an additional $300 million was included, a person briefed on the talks said. Junk Bonds' Fire Is Poised to Fade (WSJ) Junk bonds started 2013 much like they finished 2012—on fire. In just three trading days this year, bonds of low-rated companies delivered returns of almost three-quarters of a percent, even as most other types of bonds lost value. And junk bonds continued to clock new milestones: Average prices soared to their highest since 2004 and average yields, which decline as prices rise, dropped below 6% for the first time ever, according to Barclays. But the rapid march is making fund managers and analysts wary. Prices are now so high—averaging more than 105 cents on the dollar—that there is little room for them to climb much further, some investors say. These are lofty prices for bonds that usually trade below 100 cents, reflecting the higher default risk for such companies. At the very least, returns will pale in comparison with the 15% achieved in 2012, analysts and investors say. NHL, Players Settle Labor Dispute (AP) On the 113th day of a management lockout and five days before the league's deadline for a deal, the bleary-eyed sides held a 6 a.m. news conference to announce there will be a season, after all. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and union head Donald Fehr both appeared drained, wearing sweaters and not neckties, when they stood side by side at the hotel and announced labor peace. "We have reached an agreement on the framework of a new collective bargaining agreement, the details of which need to be put to paper," Bettman said. "We've got to dot a lot of Is, cross a lot of Ts. There's still a lot of work to be done, but the basic framework of the deal has been agreed upon." Hostess in Talks to Sell Off Bread Brands (WSJ) Hostess could disclose Flowers, Grupo Bimbo or others as opening bidders in a looming bankruptcy-court auction for the assets as soon as this week, said people familiar with the matter. Hostess, whose bread brands include Wonder Bread, Nature's Pride, Home Pride, Merita and Butternut, is still determining how to split up assets and package them for buyers, one of the people said. Gérard Depardieu gives up French citizenship after bitter tax fight (GM) In a fit of pique, French movie star Gérard Depardieu announced during the weekend that he would give up his citizenship after politicians and the media took him to task for moving to Belgium and avoiding an impending tax hike for the rich. Mr. Depardieu is not France’s first fiscal refugee but his high-profile door-slamming so monopolized public debate that Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault had on Monday to parse whether or not he had insulted the actor. “I did not call Mr. Depardieu a loser, I said that it was loser-like [to move to Belgium to avoid taxes],” Mr. Ayrault told reporters...The “loser” comment seemed to have been the jab that stung Mr. Depardieu the most. “Loser, did you say loser?” the 63-year–old actor began an open letter to Mr. Ayrault that appeared Sunday in Le Journal du dimanche. Mr. Depardieu wrote that he had paid a total of €145-million in income tax in the last four decades and kept 80 people employed. He added that he had been taxed at a marginal rate of 85 per cent this year. “I am giving you back my passport and my social insurance, which I had never used. We no longer have the same fatherland. I am a true European, a citizen of the world.”

Opening Bell: 11.07.12

Obama Wins Re-Election With Romney Defeated In Key States (Bloomberg) Obama defeated Republican Mitt Romney, winning at least 303 electoral votes in yesterday’s election with 270 needed for the victory. With one state -- Florida -- yet to be decided, Romney had 206 electoral votes...Obama won the battleground states of Ohio, Virginia, Iowa, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Nevada and Colorado. He also carried Pennsylvania, where Romney made an 11th-hour bid for support to try to derail the president’s drive for re-election. North Carolina was the only battleground Romney won. Romney Campaigns To The End (WSJ) Hours before Mitt Romney lost his six-year quest to win the presidency, he said he had prepared only one speech—a victory speech...Until the final hour, Mr. Romney and his aides expressed confidence that he would win. The candidate, who prefers data and metrics to chitchat, appeared to be caught off guard by the loss even though he trailed in polls in crucial battlegrounds such as Ohio. Triumph Of The Nerds: Nate Silver Wins In 50 States (Mashable) The Fivethirtyeight.com analyst, despite being pilloried by the pundits, outdid even his 2008 prediction. In that year, his mathematical model correctly called 49 out of 50 states, missing only Indiana (which went to Obama by 0.1%.) This year, according to all projections, Silver’s model has correctly predicted 50 out of 50 states. A last-minute flip for Florida, which finally went blue in Silver’s prediction on Monday night, helped him to a perfect game. Loser Ryan Also A Winner (NYP) The Republican vice-presidential hopeful hedged his bet by running for re-election to his congressional seat in Wisconsin — where last night, he was declared the winner for an eighth straight time. Goldman Partners Pocket $22 Million (WSJ) More than 30 executives, including Chief Executive Officer Lloyd C. Blankfein, recently cashed in stock options awarded in the afterglow of the company's initial public offering in 1999. According to a securities filing, the executives, all Goldman partners, pocketed a total of $21.8 million by exercising options and selling the underlying shares in the three days after the firm reported third-quarter results in mid-October. The options expire at the end of November, and cashing in produced instant profits because Goldman's share price is more than 50% higher than when the options were awarded in 2002. "By exercising 10-year-old options before they expired later this year, executives captured some of the value we have built for shareholders over that period," said a spokesman for the securities firm. In contrast, many of the executives' remaining options are worthless, at least for now, because they were granted from 2005 to 2008. The stock peaked in October 2007 at about $239, or 89% higher than Tuesday's closing price of $126.25 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading at 4 p.m. The biggest gain went to Michael S. Sherwood, a Goldman vice chairman and the firm's top executive in Europe, who received $5.2 million from exercising options on 115,211 shares. Mr. Blankfein collected $3.1 million, while departing Chief Financial Officer David A. Viniar got $2.3 million, the filing shows. JPMorgan Nears SEC Settlement (WSJ) JPMorgan is close to a settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission that would end one probe into how the company's Bear Stearns Cos. unit packaged and sold home loans to investors, according to people familiar with the case. A pact with the nation's largest bank by assets would be the first tangible victory in a wide-ranging SEC investigation into Wall Street's sale of mortgage-backed securities before the onset of the financial crisis. Since 2010, the SEC has issued more than 300 subpoenas or document requests related to the probe and collected more than 30 million pages of documents, enforcement chief Robert Khuzami said earlier this year. BNP Paribas Third Quarter Net Doubles On Trading Gains (Bloomberg) Pretax profit at BNP Paribas’s corporate- and investment- banking unit, or CIB, rose 7.3 percent to 732 million euros, beating analysts’ estimate of 686 million euros. Revenue from equity and advisory operations climbed 51 percent to 444 million euros, while fixed-income sales more than doubled to 1.13 billion euros. After Obama Victory, Donald Trump Rants On Twitter (ABC) “We can’t let this happen. We should march on Washington and stop this travesty,” Trump Tweeted. “Our nation is totally divided! Lets fight like hell and stop this great and disgusting injustice! The world is laughing at us. This election is a total sham and a travesty. We are not a democracy! And then: “Our country is now in serious and unprecedented trouble…like never before. Our nation is a once great nation divided! The electoral college is a disaster for a democracy. Hopefully the House of Representatives can hold our country together for four more years…stay strong and never give up! House of Representatives shouldn’t give anything to Obama unless he terminates Obamacare.” And finally: “This election is a total sham and a travesty. We are not a democracy!” Fitch: No Fiscal Honeymoon For President Obama (CNBC) President Barack Obama will need to quickly secure agreement on avoiding the "fiscal cliff" and raising the debt ceiling following Tuesday's elections, Fitch Ratings said. The economic policy challenge facing the president is to put in place a credible deficit-reduction plan necessary to underpin economic recovery and confidence in the full faith and credit of the U.S., according to Fitch. Resolution of these fiscal policy choices would likely result in the U.S. retaining its triple-A status from Fitch, the firm said. Failure to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff and raise the debt ceiling in a timely manner, as well as securing agreement on credible deficit reduction, would likely result in a rating downgrade in 2013, Fitch said. The New Haven For Investors (WSJ) Treasurys have a new rival for safe-haven status: U.S. companies. Bonds of Exxon Mobil and Johnson & Johnson are trading with yields below those of comparable Treasurys, a sign that investors perceive them as a safer bet. It is a rare phenomenon that some market observers said could be the beginning of a new era for debt markets. It could ultimately mean some companies will borrow at lower rates than the U.S. government. Swiss, Greeks Begin Talks On Tax Deal (WSJ) Switzerland has begun formal talks on a deal to tax assets stashed in secret Swiss bank accounts by Greek citizens, in line with similar agreements struck with other European countries, the Swiss government said Wednesday. Woman Wearing MIT Shirt Nearly Banned From Voting In Boca Raton (BNN) A woman attempting to vote in West Boca Raton yesterday was initially prohibited from entering the polling place because she was wearing a t-shirt with the letters MIT. BocaNewsNow.com heard from multiple sources that an election supervisor at the polling place ultimately realized that MIT stands for “Massachusetts Institute of Technology” — a school where students tend to know how to spell — and was not a campaign shirt for the Republican candidate, who spells his name MITT. Campaigning is not permitted within several yards of a polling place. The woman was ultimately allowed to vote.

Opening Bell: 4.27.15

Greece may demote finance minister Yanis Varoufakis in talks; Deutsche Bank to cut $3.8 billion in costs; Flash Crash investigators probably missed a lotta clues; "Teen Suspended For Bomb-Themed 'Promposal' Calls Punishment 'Racist'"; and more.