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Opening Bell: 01.19.12

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Morgan Stanley Loss Smaller Than Estimated (Bloomberg)
The net loss was $250 million, or 15 cents a share, compared with profit of $836 million, or 41 cents, a year earlier, the New York-based company said today in a statement. The loss from continuing operations was 14 cents, compared with the 57-cent average estimate of 22 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. Morgan Stanley posted the only increase in trading revenue excluding accounting gains among the five largest Wall Street banks in 2011, making progress toward Chairman and Chief Executive Officer James Gorman’s goal of boosting market share.

BofA Swings to Profit as Lender Rebuilds Capital (Bloomberg)
Net income of $1.99 billion, or 15 cents a diluted share, compared with a loss of $1.24 billion, or 16 cents, a year earlier, according to a statement today from the Charlotte, North Carolina-based firm. While results were boosted by one- time gains on asset sales and reserve releases, the stock advanced 5.6 percent in early trading as investors focused on the stronger balance sheet. Chief Executive Officer Brian T. Moynihan, 52, is cutting holdings, expenses and staff while raising capital to meet demands from regulators for a larger cushion against losses. So far, $50 billion in assets are gone, and Moynihan’s Project New BAC will eliminate at least 30,000 jobs as the firm seeks to save $5 billion annually. He’s also aiming to quell disputes over faulty mortgages that have cost the bank about $40 billion.

Greeks, Creditors Set To Resume Talks (WSJ)
"All the variables are being considered. After the temporary pause in the negotiations last week, the parties have reflected on the specifics," a Greek government official said Wednesday.

Hedge Funds May Sue Greece If Loss Forced (NYT)
The novel approach would have the funds arguing in the European Court of Human Rights that Greece had violated bondholder rights, though that could be a multiyear project with no guarantee of a payoff. And it would not be likely to produce sympathy for these funds, which many blame for the lack of progress so far in the negotiations over restructuring Greece’s debts. The tactic has emerged in conversations with lawyers and hedge funds as it became clear that Greece was considering passing legislation to force all private bondholders to take losses, while exempting the European Central Bank, which is the largest institutional holder of Greek bonds with 50 billion euros or so.

Dimon, Blankfein Predict Markets To Rebound (Bloomberg)
Dimon and Blankfein have since sought to reassure investors that markets and earnings from securities units will rebound. “The world will snap back, and it will be a surprise, and it will be faster than people think,” Blankfein, 57, said at a Nov. 15 investor conference. Yesterday, Chief Financial Officer David Viniar echoed the remarks after the firm said trading revenue fell 25 percent from the third quarter to $3.06 billion. “We are clearly in a cyclical downturn,” rather than a secular decline, Viniar said. “There is less activity that is cyclical. That will come back. I have no idea when, but it will come back.” Dimon, 55, said investment banking is a volatile business in which volumes can swing by 50 percent daily.

Carlyle's Rubenstein To Help Fix Washington Monument (WSJ)
With his bare hands! No, kidding. But he is helping: "Rubenstein, co-founder of private-equity firm Carlyle Group, has stepped forward to donate the final $7.5 million matching gift that's needed to start repairing cracks near the top of the Washington Monument caused by last summer's earthquake. The billionaire history buff said he was inspired to help fund the repairs to the 555-foot obelisk when it became clear how severely damaged it was by a 5.8-magnitude quake on Aug. 23. The monument received about 1 million visitors a year before the famous landmark was closed to the public after the quake."

Fitch Sees Downgrade For Some Euro States (Reuters)
Fitch expects its ratings review of six euro zone states will result in downgrades of one to two notches in most of those countries, senior director Ed Parker said at a Fitch conference in Madrid on Thursday. Fitch put Belgium, Spain, Slovenia, Italy, Ireland and Cyprus on negative watch late last year on Dec 16.

BlackRock Profit Falls 16% (WSJ)
Assets under management fell to $3.513 trillion as of Dec. 31 versus $3.561 trillion a year earlier, although rose from $3.35 trillion in the third quarter. BlackRock reported a profit of $555 million, or $3.05 a share, down from $657 million, or $3.35 a share, a year earlier. The latest results included $32 million in restructuring charges. Excluding items, earnings fell to $3.06 a share from $3.42 a year earlier.

Romney's Unorthodox IRA (WSJ)
Like many Americans, Mitt Romney has an individual retirement account. Unlike most Americans, Mr. Romney has between $20.7 million and $101.6 million in it, a big chunk of his fortune. Experts on estate planning said it is highly unusual to accumulate such a considerable sum in an IRA, an investment vehicle restricted by annual contribution limits. It appears that Mr. Romney's grew so large mostly because it holds investments in Bain Capital.

Jay-Z 'pops' up at club gala (NYP)
Jay-Z last night made his first public appearance since his wife, Beyoncé, gave birth to their daughter, Blue Ivy Carter. The rap icon apparently left mom and baby at home as he celebrated the re-opening of his 40/40 Club on West 25th Street. Jay-Z darted past the press on the red carpet without saying a word. Beyoncé was nowhere to be seen, and was presumably home caring for their 11-day-old daughter. But some of Jay-Z’s pals made it out for the opening — including billionaire investing tycoon Warren Buffett.

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Opening Bell: 10.18.12

Morgan Stanley Posts Loss (WSJ) "The rebound in fixed income and commodities sales and trading indicates that clients have re-engaged after the uncertainty of the rating review in the previous quarter," Chief Executive James Gorman said, referring to Moody's Investors Service's move over the summer to downgrade the credit rating on more than a dozen banks. "We are beginning to unlock the full potential of the Global Wealth Management franchise, having increased our ownership of, and agreed on a purchase price for the rest of, Morgan Stanley Wealth Management." For the quarter, Morgan Stanley reported a loss of $1.02 billion, compared with a year-earlier profit of $2.2 billion. The per-share loss, which reflects the payment of preferred dividends, was 55 cents compared with a profit of $1.15 a year earlier. Stripping out the impact of debt-valuation changes, the per-share profit was 28 cents versus two cents a share a year ago. Revenue fell 46% to $5.29 billion, including a negative impact of $2.3 billion from the tightening of credit spreads related to debt. Stripping out debt-valuation changes revenue was up 18% to $7.55 billion. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected earnings of 24 cents, excluding gains related to debt, on revenue of $6.36 billion. Morgan Stanley Reduces Investment-Bank Pay to $5.2 Billion (Bloomberg) The ratio of compensation to revenue in the unit fell to 44.9 percent, compared with 48.4 percent in the same period a year earlier, when excluding accounting gains and losses related to the firm’s credit spreads. That’s still higher than Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan’s investment bank. Compensation and benefits for all of Morgan Stanley totaled $12 billion in the first nine months, down 4 percent. Goldman Ex-Employee Says Firm Pushed Europe Bank Options (Bloomberg) Goldman Sachs sought to profit last year by persuading clients to buy and sell stock options on European banks such as BNP Paribas SA and UniCredit SpA, according to former employee Greg Smith’s new book. “We must have changed our view on each of these institutions from positive to negative back to positive ten times,” Smith writes in “Why I Left Goldman Sachs: A Wall Street Story,” scheduled for release on Oct. 22. “I remember thinking, ‘How can we be doing this with a straight face? No thinking client could believe that conditions on the ground could change that frequently.”’ [...] Smith also describes being disappointed with his $500,000 bonus at the end of 2006. “By any measure, I should have felt exceptionally lucky and grateful,” he writes. “But by the warped logic of Goldman Sachs and Wall Street, I was being screwed.” U.S. to Get Downgraded Amid Fiscal ‘Theater,’ Pimco Says (Bloomberg) “The U.S. will get downgraded, it’s a question of when,” Scott Mather, Pimco’s head of global portfolio management, said today in Wellington. “It depends on what the end of the year looks like, but it could be fairly soon after that.” Asian Scion's Trades Draw Scrutiny (WSJ) A federal probe into an alleged multimillion-dollar insider trading scheme is focusing on the son of a deposed Central Asian autocrat once courted by the U.S. as a key ally in the war on terror, according to people involved in the investigation. The globe-spanning criminal case marks a turnabout by the U.S. against a ruling family it once relied on to keep open military supply lines to Afghanistan. For years, the U.S. maintained good relations with then-Kyrgyzstan President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. Now, the U.S. has prepared charges against the former strongman's son, Maksim Bakiyev, who officials say spent some of his exile in London profiting from illegal tips on stocks trading on the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq. On Friday, the younger Mr. Bakiyev, 35, was arrested in England on an extradition request from the U.S. Mr. Bakiyev's U.K. attorney, Michael O'Kane, declined to comment. Computer programmer 'quadruples productivity' after hiring a woman to slap him in the face every time she catches him looking at Facebook (DM) Maneesh Sethi placed an advert on Craigslist to recruit someone willing to monitor what he was looking at on his laptop. The computer expert and writer, from San Francisco, now pays a female employee £5 ($8) an hour to strike him in the face if she spots him wasting time on social media. Mr Seethi claims the unusual motivational system has helped him boost his productivity from just 35 percent to around 98 percent during the working day...Mr Seethi published details on his blog of his Craigslist advert, which was entitled '(Domestic gigs) Slap me if I get off task'. In it he wrote: 'I'm looking for someone who can work next to me at a defined location (my house or a cafe) and will make sure to watch what is happening on my screen. 'When I am wasting time, you'll have to yell at me or if need be, slap me. 'You can do your own work at the same time. Looking for help asap. Mr Seethi said he was inundated with offers from potential slappers and quickly hired a volunteer he names only as Kara. He wrote: 'Within minutes, my inbox began blowing up. Up to 50% of Greek Workforce Strikes; Tipping Point Nears (CNBC) As European Union leaders prepare to meet in Brussels on Thursday, Greece’s workers aim to make their voices heard by holding a 24-hour strike bringing the country to a halt. With the economy in the fifth year of a recession, the lost production could prove counterproductive and cost the economy 100 million euros ($131 million), according to one expert. Most business and public sector activity is expected to grind to a halt during the strike called by the ADEDY and GSEE unions that represent around 2 million people — half of Greece’s workforce. A protracted news blackout is also expected as television and radio broadcasters and newspapers shut for the day, according to Reuters. Spain Banks Face More Pain as Worst-Case Scenario Turns Real (Bloomberg) Spain’s request for 100 billion euros of European Union financial aid to shore up its banks is increasing concern about the nation’s growing liabilities. Standard & Poor’s downgraded the country’s debt rating by two levels to BBB-, one step above junk, from BBB+ on Oct. 10, saying it wasn’t clear who will bear the cost of recapitalizing banks. It cut the ratings of 11 lenders including Banco Santander SA and Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA, Spain’s largest, two days ago, citing the sovereign downgrade. Brothels Rescue Cash-Strapped Greek Soccer Team (AP) Players on a cash-strapped Greek soccer team now wear pink practice jerseys with the logos "Villa Erotica" and "Soula's House of History," two bordellos it recruited as sponsors after drastic government spending cuts left the country's sports clubs facing ruin. Other teams have also turned to unconventional financing. One has a deal with a local funeral home and others have wooed kebab shops, a jam factory and producers of Greece's trademark feta cheese. But the amateur Voukefalas club — whose players include pizza delivery guys, students, waiters and a bartender — has raised eyebrows with its flamboyant sponsorship choice. Prostitution is legal in Greece, where brothels operate under strict guidelines. Though garish neon signs advertising their services are tolerated, the soccer sponsorship has ruffled some feathers in the sports-mad city of Larissa. League organizers have banned the pink jerseys during games, saying the deal violates "the sporting ideal" and is inappropriate for underage fans...Brothel owner Soula Alevridou, the team's new benefactor, has already paid more than 1,000 euros ($1,312) for players to wear her jerseys. The team is appealing the game ban, but that doesn't worry the 67-year-old Alevridou, who says she's only in it because she loves soccer. "It's not the kind of business that needs promotion," she said, dressed all in white and flanked by two young women in dark leggings at a recent game. "It's a word-of-mouth kind of thing."

Opening/Hurricane Bell: 10.29.12

Bracing for Storm, U.S. Stock Markets to Close (Dealbook) All United States stock and options markets will close on Monday as Hurricane Sandy approaches, reversing course as Wall Street braces for the storm to barrel through the heart of the country’s financial center. The decision, made late Sunday night, leaves the American stock markets closed for weather conditions for the first time in nearly three decades. The New York Stock Exchange had previously planned on closing only its physical trading floor, while allowing for trading on its Arca electronic exchange. It has now decided to halt all trading. The Nasdaq and BATS stock markets, which are built on electronic trading, also decided to close. The CME Group, which operates the Nymex commodities exchange, said earlier on Sunday that it would close its physical trading floor on Monday, though trading would continue on its electronic trading platforms. The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, or Sifma, said in an e-mailed statement that it was calling for bond trading, which is all done electronically, to close at noon Monday, though it left the final decision to member firms. The N.Y.S.E. last closed trading for weather reasons in 1985, when Hurricane Gloria lashed the metropolitan area. Markets Go Dark Ahead Of Storm (WSJ) Customers had complained to the exchanges and to the Securities and Exchange Commission that partial closures of the market would be too complicated, according to people with knowledge of the matter. US Stock Markets To Possibly Stay Closed Through Tuesday (Reuters) In a statement, the company said that "the dangerous conditions developing as a result of Hurricane Sandy will make it extremely difficult to ensure the safety of our people and communities, and safety must be our first priority." Citigroup, Goldman Sachs Shut Some NYC Offices for Storm (Bloomberg) Citigroup and and Goldman Sachs are among Wall Street firms planning to shift operations to other cities and have staff work from home as Hurricane Sandy’s arrival in New York forces evacuations. Employees at Citigroup, the third-biggest U.S. bank by assets, won’t be able to enter Lower Manhattan offices on Greenwich Street and Wall Street, which include the main trading floor, according to a memo sent to workers and confirmed by Shannon Bell, a spokeswoman. Goldman Sachs, whose corporate headquarters at 200 West St. is also located in an evacuation zone, told the staff in an internal memo that most of them will work from home...European-based firms including Deutsche Bank AG, Credit Suisse Group AG and UBS AG, which have offices outside of the mandatory evacuation zone, are making arrangements to provide transportation and hotels for workers. Christie: "Don't Be Stupid" (AP) A year after telling New Jersey residents to "Get the hell off the beach" as Hurricane Irene approached, Gov. Chris Christie has a new message for people on the coastline: "Don't be stupid — get out," Christie said Sunday afternoon at a news conference, where he updated residents on the status of the huge storm bearing down on the state. Stock Pickers Game The Fiscal Cliff (WSJ) A number of companies are seeking to get ahead of the tax increases by paying out big special dividends before Dec. 31. In the past two weeks, at least four Standard & Poor's 500 companies have announced special payouts, including a $750 million payout by casino operator Wynn Resorts Ltd., a $1.1 billion dividend from hospital operator HCA Holdings Inc. and a $1.6 billion dividend from LyondellBasell Industries NV, a New York-listed chemicals group. The game for investors is to figure out which companies could be next. Jay Wong, a Los Angeles-based portfolio manager for Payden & Rydel, a money manager with $75 billion under management, is on high alert for potential payouts. He increased his stake in Wynn earlier this month in anticipation of a special dividend and is looking for others. He declined to be specific, citing a desire to not give his trades away. Occupy Wall Street's Stacey Hessler Splits From Husband (NYP, earlier) The filing lists Curtiss’ occupation as banker and says he earns $65,000 a year. Her job is listed in court papers as “protester” and her employer as “Occupy Wall Street.” Annual salary: $0. Divorce papers cite “irreconcilable differences” for the split, saying the 19-year marriage “is irretrievably broken.” One OWS protester who knows her says that Stacey’s devotion to the movement caused the divorce but that she was unfazed by the breakup. “She didn’t seem sad about any of it,” the source said. “It was just so matter-of-fact.” As recently as last month, Stacey, 39, was sleeping in front of a Wells Fargo bank branch in the Financial District near Zuccotti Park, but it appears she scrambled back home to suburban DeLand to finalize the divorce. Wearing her professional-protester uniform — a bandana and patchwork clothes — she refused to say what her plans were or when she’d be leaving the house. But she did respond when a Post reporter asked about a YouTube video showing her making out with another protester during an Occupy “Kiss In” on Valentine’s Day. “I actually made out with four guys,” she said, laughing wildly. Governments to debate 50 billion euro cut to EU budget (Reuters) The cut will be proposed in the latest EU negotiating text on the bloc's spending plan for 2014-2020, but is unlikely to be deep enough to satisfy Britain, Germany, France and other net budget contributors. They want strict limits on EU spending to reflect the austerity imposed by national governments to reduce debt, and called for cuts of 100-200 billion euros to the total proposed by the EU's executive, the European Commission. The proposal is also likely to anger Poland and other former communist EU countries who are the major beneficiaries of EU funds, and oppose any cuts to the Commission's blueprint which they argue is vital for their future economic growth. "As I see it now, the reduction from the Commission proposal will be 50 billion euros plus. That will be the basis for negotiations," said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Greek Journalist Held Over List of Swiss-Account Holders (Bloomberg) Kostas Vaxevanis, editor of the Greek magazine Hot Doc, was arrested in Athens today, according to a message posted on his Twitter account at 11 a.m. local time. An arrest warrant was issued yesterday after the magazine published what’s been dubbed the “Lagarde list,” an electronic file given to Greece in 2010 by then-French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde of about 2,000 Greeks with Swiss accounts. Insurers Prepare For Impact Of Hurricane Sandy (Reuters) Had Sandy hit in 2011, it may have been more of a problem for the insurance industry, which dealt with record-breaking losses around the world last year, mostly from U.S. tornadoes and Asia-Pacific earthquakes. But in 2012, most insurers' disaster losses are down substantially, leaving them with more capacity to absorb the billions of dollars in costs some expect from Hurricane Sandy. "In terms of losses, I certainly don't think it's going to be the largest loss of the last 100 years," Tom Larsen, senior vice president of Eqecat, said in an interview late Friday. "It's not an end-of-days scenario." SEC Weighs Bringing Back Fractions in Stock Prices (WSJ) The move would at least partly undo an 11-year-old rule that replaced fractions of a dollar in stock prices, like 1/8 and 1/16, with pennies. The idea of that change was to trim investors' trading costs: One-cent increments can lead to narrower gaps between the prices at which brokers buy and sell shares—potentially reducing their opportunity to shave off profits. Those championing the fraction's return say it would spur securities firms to buy and sell more shares of some companies by making it more profitable for them to do so. Opponents say fractions would increase trading costs for investors with little or no benefit to companies. UBS, RBS Traders Suspended as Rates Probe Goes Beyond Libor (Bloomberg) UBS and Royal Bank of Scotland suspended more than three traders in Singapore as regulators investigating Libor-rigging turn their attention to the rates used to set prices on foreign exchange derivatives. At least two foreign-exchange traders at UBS, Switzerland’s largest bank, have been put on leave as part of an internal probe into the manipulation of non-deliverable forwards, a derivative traders use to speculate on the movement of currencies that are subject to domestic foreign exchange restrictions, according to a person with direct knowledge of the operation. Edinburgh-based RBS also put Ken Choy, a director in its emerging markets foreign exchange trading unit, on leave, a person briefed on the matter said on Oct. 26. Women who knew 'cannibal cop' worried they were on his 'cook list' (NYP) “Freaked-out” female acquaintances of would-be cannibal cop Gilberto “Gil” Valle yesterday wondered whether they were on his alleged list of 100 ladies to kidnap, rape, torture, cook — and eat. “I was so shaken when I found out it was him,” said Beverly Seiger, who knew Valle, 28, from the Forest Hills, Queens, park he visited nightly with his wife and baby daughter. “I used to walk his dog. I’ve been to his house many times. He’s been to my house,” she said of Valle, whom federal prosecutors accuse of plotting with three fiendish pals to kidnap, cook and consume scores of females. “I don’t want to be on his list!” Seiger said. “I’m so thin, he would use me as toothpicks. “The women in this neighborhood now are freaked out,” she said. Another female resident asked a reporter, “Are we on this list? “I fit in an oven,” she said, referring to Valle’s alleged boasting online of having an oven “big enough to fit one of these girls if I folded their legs.”

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.