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: 11.08.12

On Wall Street, Time To Mend Fences With Obama (NYT) Few industries have made such a one-sided bet as Wall Street did in opposing President Obama and supporting his Republican rival. The top five sources of contributions to Mr. Romney, a former top private equity executive, were big banks like Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Wealthy financiers — led by hedge fund investors — were the biggest group of givers to the main “super PAC” backing Mr. Romney, providing almost $33 million, and gave generously to outside groups in races around the country. On Wednesday, Dan Loeb, who had supported Mr. Obama in 2008, was sanguine. “You win some, you lose some,” he said in an interview. “We can all disagree. I have friends and we have spirited discussions. Sure, I am not getting invited to the White House anytime soon, but as citizens of the country we are all friendly.” [...] “Wall Street is now going to have to figure out how to make this relationship work,” said Glenn Schorr, an analyst who follows the big banks for the investment bank Nomura. “It’s not impossible, but it’s not the starting point they had hoped for.” Morgan Stanley Reassures Its Bankers (WSJ) The New York bank said Monday that investment-banking chief Paul Taubman would leave the firm at year-end. Mr. Taubman was passed over for a new job overseeing both the trading and investment-banking operations, people involved in the process said. The position went to Colm Kelleher, who has overseen sales and trading. To calm nerves and soothe egos among the firms' bankers, Morgan Stanley gathered its new team of investment-banking leaders in New York this week. Mr. Kelleher and one of his new banking lieutenants, Franck Petitgas, traveled from their London office, and Mr. Petitgas spent much of the week meeting with managers in the investment-banking division and senior bankers, people familiar with the discussions said. Top executives reassured senior bankers Monday that the investment-banking business was a priority for Morgan Stanley. In a memo to employees, Chief Executive James Gorman said Morgan Stanley would "continue to build on our leadership position in investment banking and capital markets." The messages came as some rank-and-file bankers at Morgan Stanley privately expressed surprise and dismay at the news from Mr. Taubman, who announced his departure to colleagues in an emotional meeting Monday with Messrs. Kelleher and Gorman in attendance. Some Morgan Stanley bankers said they worried that the new chiefs of investment banking didn't have the stature of Mr. Taubman, who spent a significant amount of time as a mergers banker and was known internally for his staunch support of the firm's investment-banking franchise. "People are upset," one senior person inside the company said. Wall Street Trades Foiled Romney Dreams For Bowles Hopes (Bloomberg) Wall Street executives who lost a bet that Republican Mitt Romney would defeat President Barack Obama are bracing for tougher regulation and hoping a deal can be struck with Congress to cut the deficit. Obama’s choice to succeed Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner will be watched closely for signs about the administration’s approach to business and the deficit, industry executives said. Erskine Bowles, who served as chief of staff under former President Bill Clinton, would be a sign that Obama is willing to endorse a bipartisan debt-reduction plan supported by many business leaders, they said. “With the appointment of the Treasury secretary, Obama will be sending an important message to the public and to the foreign governments who own a lot of Treasuries,” Curtis Arledge, chief executive officer of Bank of New York Mellon Corp.’s investment-management arm, which oversees $1.4 trillion, told journalists in New York yesterday. “If he goes with somebody like Erskine Bowles, then the message will be that he cares about the deficit and is serious about cutting it.” Focus Shifts To Fiscal Cliff (WSJ) Barry Knapp, head of U.S. equity portfolio strategy at Barclays, turned more bearish after seeing the election results, arguing that the risk of fiscal-cliff disaster increased to more than half, from about 30% before. "When I look at what happened, I see a government that grew farther apart, which might be worse than the status quo," Mr. Knapp said. "The risk of going off the cliff has just gotten huge." Jobless Claims Fall (WSJ) Initial jobless claims, which are a measure of layoffs, decreased by 8,000 to a seasonally adjusted 355,000 in the week ended Nov. 3, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires expected 365,000 new applications for jobless benefits. Greek Jobless Rate Hits New High (WSJ) Elstat, the Greek statistical agency, Thursday said the seasonally adjusted rate of unemployment increased to 25.4% from 24.8% in July and 18.4% in August 2011. That was just below the 25.5% unemployment rate recorded by Spain in the same month, the highest in the European Union. Herd of elephants go on drunken rampage after mammoth booze up (Metro) The trunk and disorderly mammals ransacked a shop, three houses and ruined crops in the eastern village of Dumurkota, India. Police say the gang of over-the-limit tuskers downed more than 500litres of moonshine alcohol, managing to drink the place dry in a matter of minutes. The unruly mob demolished dozens of houses in their desperate hunt for more booze after hoovering up the hard stuff in record time. Local police officer Asish Samanat said the drunken elephants were more 'aggressive' than usual after their mammoth drinking session. 'Unfortunately these animals live in close proximity to man and they recognised the smell of the drink,' he explained. 'They were like any other drunk - aggressive and unreasonable but much, much bigger.' ECB Stands Ready to Buy Bonds as Economy Weakens (Bloomberg) “We are ready to undertake” Outright Monetary Transactions, “which will help to avoid extreme scenarios,” Draghi said today at a press conference in Frankfurt after policy makers left the benchmark interest rate at a historic low of 0.75 percent. “The risks surrounding the economic outlook remain on the downside” and underlying inflation pressures “should remain moderate,” he said. SocGen CEO Blames ‘Stupid’ Accounting for Profit Drop (CNBC) “Exceptional items are related in particular to this stupid accounting thing which means that when you have a credit that is improving, your CDS is going down and you have to recognise negative revenues,” Frederic Oudea told CNBC in Paris. SocGen’s third-quarter net profit was 85 million euros, down by 86 percent on the same period in 2011, after losses on asset sales. That was lower than analysts’ mean estimate of 139.1 million euros. Blackstone Leads Hedge Funds Attracting Bond-Rally Bears (Bloomberg) Funds that bet on both gains and losses in credit attracted $12.6 billion of deposits in the three months ended Sept. 30, the most since the period ended Dec. 31, 2007, according to HFR. Blackstone Group LP raised $4.05 billion during the period for its debt unit, which includes so-called long-short funds. Panning Capital Management, which was founded by Kieran Goodwin this year, started such a fund on Nov. 1 with $500 million. Two-Tier Global Housing Market Could Lead to Bubble: Goldman (CNBC) In a report titled: “Just don’t look down some house markets are flying again” Goldman argues easy money policies by the world’s major central banks has had a ripple effect on countries which have avoided the worst of the global financial crisis, boosting their house prices. According to Goldman, there now exist housing “high-flyers” - countries that have experienced real house price increases and “low-lyers” - countries where the housing market downturn appears to be more protracted. “High flyers” include Germany, Finland, Norway, France, Switzerland and Israel as well as Canada and Australia. The “low lyers” include the U.S., and the euro zone periphery of Spain, Greece, Italy and Ireland- but also those places where prices fell in the post-crisis period but have since stabilized such as the U.K., Japan and Denmark. Judge throws Dallas attorney back in jail after his Design District office trashed, vandalized with obscene drawings (DN) Attorney Tom Corea was charged earlier this year with four felonies alleging he stole from his clients. He was arrested, posted bond and was released. Weeks later, he was evicted for not paying rent for his upscale office in the 2000 block of Farrington Street near Interstate 35E and Market Center Boulevard, according to testimony before state District Judge Mike Snipes. Corea was ordered out by Oct. 31. When the president of the real estate company that represents the building, Doug Molny, showed up the next day to check out the property, he found “complete destruction,” including “penis graffiti on every single wall throughout the building,” Molny said. Written next to some of the penises was the name Doug. Molny said it appeared someone took a sledgehammer to granite counters. Additionally, doors, light fixtures, cabinets and appliances were destroyed or removed.

Opening Bell: 03.11.13

EU Chiefs Seeking to Stave Off Euro Crisis Turn to Cyprus (Bloomberg) European leaders grappling with political deadlock in Italy and spiraling unemployment in France will turn to a financial rescue for Cyprus in an effort to stave off a return of market turmoil over the debt crisis. European Union leaders will meet for a March 14-15 summit in Brussels to discuss terms for Cyprus, including the island nation’s debt sustainability and possibly imposing losses on depositors. That comes as Italy struggles to form a government after an inconclusive Feb. 24-25 election and as concern over the French economy mounts with unemployment at a 13-year high. Spain's Bailout Fund Said to Seek Help on Bank Strategy (WSJ) Spain's bank bailout fund is seeking to hire advisers to help shape a long-term strategy for dealing with its portfolio of nationalized lenders, a week after calling off an auction of one of the most troubled banks. People briefed about the plan said the fund, known by its Spanish acronym FROB, will make contact with strategic consultants, and possibly with investment banks, once the plan has been approved by the FROB's board of directors. Is There Life After Work? By Erin Callan (NYT) "I didn’t start out with the goal of devoting all of myself to my job. It crept in over time. Each year that went by, slight modifications became the new normal. First I spent a half-hour on Sunday organizing my e-mail, to-do list and calendar to make Monday morning easier. Then I was working a few hours on Sunday, then all day. My boundaries slipped away until work was all that was left...I have often wondered whether I would have been asked to be C.F.O. if I had not worked the way that I did. Until recently, I thought my singular focus on my career was the most powerful ingredient in my success. But I am beginning to realize that I sold myself short. I was talented, intelligent and energetic. It didn’t have to be so extreme. Besides, there were diminishing returns to that kind of labor. I didn’t have to be on my BlackBerry from my first moment in the morning to my last moment at night. I didn’t have to eat the majority of my meals at my desk. I didn’t have to fly overnight to a meeting in Europe on my birthday. I now believe that I could have made it to a similar place with at least some better version of a personal life. Not without sacrifice — I don’t think I could have “had it all” — but with somewhat more harmony. I have also wondered where I would be today if Lehman Brothers hadn’t collapsed. In 2007, I did start to have my doubts about the way I was living my life. Or not really living it. But I felt locked in to my career. I had just been asked to be C.F.O. I had a responsibility. Without the crisis, I may never have been strong enough to step away. Perhaps I needed what felt at the time like some of the worst experiences in my life to come to a place where I could be grateful for the life I had. I had to learn to begin to appreciate what was left. At the end of the day, that is the best guidance I can give. Whatever valuable advice I have about managing a career, I am only now learning how to manage a life." Paper Trail Goes Cold in Case Against S&P (Reuters) In early 2007, as signs of distress began appearing in securities backed by residential mortgages, executives at Standard & Poor's began advising analysts responsible for rating mortgage bonds that they should put the phrase "privileged and confidential" on emails to one another. Analysts working for the McGraw Hill Cos division also were discouraged from doodling on notepads and official documents during meetings to discuss pending deals and existing ratings, several former S&P employees said. That was not the first time S&P had tried to caution employees about paper trails. In 2005, a full two years before the housing market began to melt down, several top S&P managers attended an off-site meeting at hotel in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, to discuss ways to increase the fees it collected from Wall Street banks for rating mortgage bonds. A former S&P executive said that after the meeting, employees were instructed to discard any notes they had taken from the meeting. InTrade Shuts Down (WSJ) InTrade, the Ireland-based website that allows users to place wagers on non-sports-related upcoming events, announced on Sunday that it is shutting its site down. In an official statement, the company does not go into great detail as to why it is closing its doors, only that it is related to “financial irregularities which, in accordance with Irish law,” require InTrade to cease operations until resolved. “At this time and until further notice, it is not possible to make any payments to members in accordance with their settled account balance until the investigations have concluded,” the company said. Commodities Squeeze Banks (WSJ) The sharp fall in commodity revenue has already claimed some victims. UBS AG, the Swiss bank that has been under pressure to cut costs and improve its performance, last year closed all its commodities-trading desks aside from those dealing in precious metals. Goldman, UBS, Deutsche Bank, and Barclays have all suffered departures of senior commodity traders to hedge funds and independent trading companies over the last several months. Average staffing in commodities trading declined 5.9% last year at major banks, according to Coalition. Artist Teaches George W. Bush How To Paint (Fox5) An artist in Cumming, GA spent a month teaching former President George W. Bush how to paint. Bonnie Flood said that President Bush has a passion for painting and shows real potential as an artists. "He started off painting dogs. I think he said he painted 50 dogs," Flood said. "He pulled out this canvas and started painting dogs and I thought, 'Oh my God, I don't paint dogs!" Flood, who does most of paintings at her home in Cumming, occasionally conducts workshops in Florida. That's where the former President heard about her. The next thing she knew, she was packing up her paints to spend a month in Boca Grande with President Bush. She said that she spent about six hours a day with the President, mixing paints and teaching him proper brush strokes. She says she wasn't intimidated but admits she really didn't know what to call him until she found the magic number. "I called him '43' because that's the way he signed his paintings. "When I really wanted him to do something, I would say, 'Mr. President you know that you don't do it that way.'" She says the President learned quickly and soon started painting fewer dogs and more landscapes. "He has such a passion for painting, it's amazing," Flood said. "He's going to go down in the history books as a great artist." Hostess Creditor, Private-Equity Firms Show Interest in Twinkies Brand (Reuters) Hostess Brands creditor Silver Point Capital and hedge fund Hurst Capital have expressed interest in buying Hostess's snack cake brands, including Twinkies, the New York Post reported. Paulson Said to Explore Puerto Rico as Home With Low Tax (Bloomberg) John Paulson, a lifelong New Yorker, is exploring a move to Puerto Rico, where a new law would eliminate taxes on gains from the $9.5 billion he has invested in his own hedge funds, according to four people who have spoken to him about a possible relocation. More US Profits Parked Abroad (WSJ) A Wall Street Journal analysis of 60 big U.S. companies found that, together, they parked a total of $166 billion offshore last year. That shielded more than 40% of their annual profits from U.S. taxes, though it left the money off-limits for paying dividends, buying back shares or making investments in the U.S. The 60 companies were chosen for the analysis because each of them had held at least $5 billion offshore in 2011. Twitter, Social Media Are Fertile Ground For Stock Hoaxes (Reuters) "Twitter pump and dump schemes are obviously something for the market to be concerned about, even if they are just a new way for people to do schemes that have been done forever," said Keith McCullough, chief executive officer at Hedgeye Risk Management in New Haven, Connecticut. He uses Twitter and has more than 22,000 followers. In such hoaxes, anonymous users set up accounts with names that sound like prominent market players, issue negative commentary, and spark massive declines. The selling that follows shows how the rapid spread of information on social media can make for volatile trading, and is a warning to investors who trade on news before fully verifying the source. SEC: Goldman Cannot Ignore Proposal to Split Chairman, CEO Roles (Reuters) SEC staff sent a letter to Goldman internal counsel Beverly O'Toole this week, saying the agency is "unable to concur" with Goldman's view that the shareholder proposal does not warrant a vote. El Paso Sheriff's deputies arrest 2 ice cream men for possession of pot (EPT) Saturday afternoon, Sheriff's deputies spotted a purple ice cream truck with a cracked windshield and an expired registration sticker along the 8600 block of Alameda. During the traffic stop, one of the occupants left the vehicle and led deputies on a brief foot pursuit before being caught. Two tupperware bowls containing a green leafy substance, believed to be marijuana, was found on the man, who was identified as 19-year-old Elijah Sanchez. The second occupant, identified as 29-year-old Anthony Arellano, was also charged with possession of marijuana after deputies found marijuana inside the vehicle. Arellano has been arrested in the past for numerous felony charges and a previous possession of marijuana charge in 2006, deputies said.