Opening Bell: 02.06.12

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Time Is Running Out For Greece, Merkel Says (Bloomberg)
European leaders stepped up pressure on Greek politicians to accept the conditions for a 130 billion- euro ($171 billion) bailout, saying time was running out. French President Nicolas Sarkozy met German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Paris today as Greece’s interim prime minister, Lucas Papademos, and chiefs of the three parties supporting him sought to find consensus in Athens. They agreed in a five-hour meeting yesterday to make additional reductions this year equal to 1.5 percent of gross domestic product. “I can’t quite understand why we need a few more days -- time is running out,” Merkel said today in a joint briefing with Sarkozy.

Merkel, Sarkozy Propose Setting Up Separate Interest Account for Greece (Bloomberg)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy proposed setting up a separate account for Greek debt payments to reassure creditors. Merkel said sequestering aid in such an account would give the Greek government guaranteed access to funds to finance its interest obligations. Sarkozy said it will “allow us to assure that the Greek debt is dealt with,” as both urged Greek leaders to agree to conditions set out by international creditors.

Paulson’s Advantage Plus Hedge Fund Said to Rise 5% in January (Bloomberg)
John Paulson, the billionaire money manager who had his worst year on record in 2011, posted a 5 percent gain in January in one of his largest hedge funds as all strategies rose, according to a person briefed on the returns.

Foreclosure Deal Is Closer (WSJ)
State attorneys general must indicate by Monday whether they are signing on to the deal, said one person familiar with the negotiations, a key test of whether banks and federal officials will be able to wrap up a deal. The Monday cutoff marks a step back from the previous deadline of last Friday—a delay that is emblematic of what has been a vexing process. Government officials have been aiming for a deal valued at $25 billion in loan write-downs, refinancings and other homeowner assistance, as well as cash penalties, with Ally Financial Inc., Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc., J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and Wells Fargo & Co.

Atlanta BofA Tower Auction Highlights Foreclosures (Bloomberg)
Atlanta’s 55-story Bank of America Plaza, the tallest tower in the Southeast, is set to be sold at an open outcry auction on the steps of the Fulton County Courthouse tomorrow after landlord BentleyForbes missed mortgage payments. It bought the skyscraper in 2006 for $436 million from Bank of America Corp. (BAC) and Cousins Properties Inc. (CUZ) in the city’s biggest property deal.

Facebook tells IPO banks not to talk about stock offering (NYP)
Zuckerberg, 27, whose stake in the social network giant amounts, in round figures, to around $28 billion, wasn’t too happy that some aspects of the much-anticipated initial stock float — including the fact that its filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission would take place on Feb. 1 — were disclosed. Facebook officials let the bankers know about it through phone calls and e-mails, sources said. Facebook officials also appeared to also be irked about what appeared to be subtle sniping in the press between Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs centered on which firm would grab the coveted lead underwriting role on the IPO — the highest profile since Google went public with a $1.7 billion offering back 2004.

Blankfein To Speak Out For Same-Sex Marriage (Dealbook)
The Human Rights Campaign, a national organization that promotes equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, has persuaded Mr. Blankfein to be its first national corporate spokesman for same-sex marriage, an issue that will come up for a legislative vote in several states this year, including Washington and Maryland...“I’m Lloyd Blankfein, chairman and C.E.O. of Goldman Sachs, and I support marriage equality,” Mr. Blankfein says in the Web spot, which was recorded at the bank’s headquarters in downtown Manhattan. “America’s corporations learned long ago that equality is just good business and is the right thing to do.” Behind the scenes, Mr. Blankfein has long been a supporter of same-sex marriage. Last year, he signed a letter urging state lawmakers to vote for a bill legalizing same-sex marriage and encouraged other chief executives to do the same. He also called lawmakers directly on the matter.

This is a thing that happened (@CGasparino, earlier)

It’s big ‘woooo!’ (NYP)
“I’m going to cry!” yelled Jimmy Conlisk, 31, an FDNY firefighter from Queens who came to the heartland with colleagues. “I’m absolutely super excited!” screamed Karen Szpyhulsky, 29, of South Amboy, NJ, just minutes after watching the Giants take the championship in Indiana. “I’ve been to every playoff game, and I had to be here as a lucky charm. I’m shaking! They gave me a couple of heart attacks, but it was worth it!”

Two firms flourish in frenzied MF Global aftermath (Reuters)
R.J. O'Brien Associates, a founding member of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange that started trading in 1914 as a cash butter and egg specialist, saw a November inflow of customer accounts of almost $800 million, an increase of 31 percent. The gain was nearly five times its monthly average increase of $175 million over the past three years, the analysis found. Rosenthal Collins Group, founded in 1923 as a grain broker, saw an increase of $362 million or 26 percent, nearly five times its three-year monthly average increase of $75 million...none of the other FCMs that agreed to take on MF Global accounts saw as large an increase in customer funds as RJO and Rosenthal, Reuters found, and some actually saw declines.

Lazard Swings To Fourth-Quarter Loss (WSJ)
For the fourth quarter, revenue in the advisory business slumped 26% from a year earlier to $260.5 million, while Lazard's asset-management unit posted a 20% decline. Average assets under management declined to $140.14 billion as of the end of the quarter, down from $149.46 billion a year earlier.

Italy Police Seize Rosaries Near Vatican in Tax Quest (Reuters)
The two-man workshop close to the Vatican had been busy when tax police raided it last week, seizing about a million religious articles and souvenirs ranging from rosaries to images of Pope John Paul II. "It was a pretty substantial operation," said Lieutenant Colonel Davide Cardia of the Guardia di Finanza in Rome. "Let's say an average of 10-12 euros an item, multiplied by a million. It gives you some idea of the sums involved."

JPMorgan Banker Tapped For FDIC (WSJ)
President Barack Obama said he would nominate Jeremiah Norton, currently an executive with J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., to serve on the FDIC's five-member board.

M.I.A. flips bird during Super Bowl halftime show (NYP)
For all the pomp and excess of Madonna's Super Bowl halftime extravaganza, a single extended middle finger by guest singer M.I.A. is likely to be the most remembered piece of the show.
The gesture, accompanied by a barely disguised expletive, came during a performance of Madonna's new single, "Give Me All Your Luvin.'" At the end of her lines, M.I.A. appeared to sing "I don't give a (expletive)," although it was hard to hear clearly.

Who Was That Guy in the Toga With Madonna? And What Was He Doing? (Slate)
Well, the short answer is: slacklining. Or, if you want to get technical and specific, tricklining. According to California's Adventure Sports Journal, slacklining was invented in the early 1980s by two rock climbers...The pair picked up on the idea after walking along loose chain fences on rainy days in the Valley. Hooked on the challenge, they strung up old climbing webbing between trees around their campsites at Camp 4, the traditional campground for Yosemite climbers for over 40 years. Voilà! The slackline was born.

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Opening Bell: 03.12.12

Greek Bailout Payment Set to Be Approved by Euro Ministers After Debt Deal (Bloomberg) Ministers from the 17 nations that share the euro will gather in Brussels today to sign off on the 130 billion-euro ($170 billion) second package for Greece after bondholders agreed last week to take a loss on the country’s debt. They’ll also focus on Spain’s budget-cutting efforts and Portugal’s aid program, underscoring their desire to prevent contagion. MF Global Bonuses Under Fire (WSJ) In a letter to former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Louis Freeh, Sen. Jon Tester (D., Mont.) said it would be "outrageous" to proceed with a proposal to a bankruptcy judge that could result in payouts of several hundred thousand dollars each for MF Global's chief operating officer, finance chief and general counsel. The size of the bonuses would depend on their job performance in helping Mr. Freeh maximize value for creditors of the company. Pandit Pay Climbs as Citigroup Revenue Slumps (Bloomberg) Pandit’s $15 million pay package for 2011 and a multi-year retention package announced in May could total $53 million, based on regulatory filings and an analyst’s estimate. The CEO also received $80 million last year from the New York-based firm’s purchase of his Old Lane Partners LP hedge fund in 2007. Latest Stress Tests Are Expected to Show Progress at Most Banks (NYT) In another milestone in the banking industry’s recovery from the financial crisis, the Federal Reserve this week will release the results of its latest stress tests, which are expected to show broadly improved balance sheets at most institutions...The examination is not merely an intellectual exercise. If institutions fall short, they could be required to raise billions in new capital, depressing their shares. If they pass, dividend increases and stock buybacks by the strongest institutions will follow as they did after the second round of tests a year ago, pleasing investors whose banks’ stocks still trade at levels far below where they where before the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008. Mortgage Deal Is Built On Tradeoffs (WSJ) Banks agreed to cut loan balances, a step they had long resisted, but they won't only get credit against their shares of the $25 billion settlement for reducing balances of loans they own. In some cases, they can receive partial credit if investors shoulder the cost of writing down loans the banks service. The banks also will receive credit for some steps they are already taking, such as approving short sales, where a home is sold for less than the amount owed, according to draft settlement documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. The Unravelling Of A Casino Marriage (WSJ) Messrs. Wynn and Okada, both known for their big, demanding egos, were something of an odd couple. Mr. Wynn is famous for a Cheshire-cat grin and smooth, grandiose soliloquies. Mr. Okada, a former engineer who had specialized in vacuum tubes, was sometimes seen as sullen and withdrawn by company outsiders. Born the same year, 1942, Mr. Wynn and Mr. Okada became "completely and totally bonded," Mr. Wynn said after they were introduced by a mutual friend. Mr. Wynn was hunting for investors who would give him leeway to create resorts that might take years to design and build. Mr. Wynn came of age during an era when casino operators were emerging from the industry's mob-infested roots. He hobnobbed with such celebrities as Steven Spielberg and Clint Eastwood. Mr. Okada, though often ranked among the richest people in Japan, largely stayed out of the spotlight. Missing Hiker Cuddled With Cat (AP) Snuggling in a blue sleeping bag, Margaret Page and her cat survived 3 1/2 weeks in a rugged New Mexico national forest, even though temperatures dropped below freezing nearly every night...The area had seen average highs reach around 60 degrees with evening lows in the 20s. It didn’t see much rain or snow, but there were some high winds...Relying on a creek for drinking water, Page and her cat named Miya lived on just a handful of supplies, rescue workers said Friday. Wells Fargo Poised to Lead Payouts Higher (Bloomberg) Wells Fargo and Citigroup may join banks unleashing more than $9 billion in dividend increases and share buybacks if they get passing grades this week on the Federal Reserve’s annual stress test. Thirteen of the 19 largest U.S. lenders may say they’ll pay out $3.79 billion in extra dividends this year and buy $5.52 billion of additional shares, according to estimates of six analysts compiled by Bloomberg. That’s 30 percent more than they spent last year. San Francisco-based Wells Fargo probably will offer the biggest difference at a combined $4.16 billion, followed by Citigroup with $2.92 billion. SEC Probes Operators’ Use of Multiple Markets (FT) According to people familiar with the probe, SEC officials are focusing on whether operators use multiple exchanges to appease customers which provide large order flows. At Lunch, Bloomberg And Obama Discuss Future (NYT) Mr. Bloomberg’s precise response is unknown. But their meeting a few weeks ago, confirmed by aides to both leaders and previously undisclosed, was potentially significant for both men, as Mr. Obama seeks support for his presidential campaign and Mr. Bloomberg ponders his post-mayoral career. Soros-led hookup may save American Apparel (NYP) George Soros has found a new financial disaster from which to profit: American Apparel. The billionaire octogenarian — who, like American Apparel’s controversial CEO Dov Charney, has lately been entangled in lawsuits with young, beautiful women — is backing a firm that’s in talks to extend a credit line worth as much as $80 million to the cash-strapped clothing chain, The Post has learned. The credit facility from Crystal Financial, a Boston-based firm that boasts Soros’ hedge fund as its lead investor, will immediately replace and expand a $75 million revolving credit line from Bank of America that matures in July, sources said. How To Become A Skeeball Master (YG) Not all skeeball machines are created equal. Between the shape of the ramp, the geometry of the backboard, and the precise characteristics of the rolling surfaces, each skeeball machine plays slightly differently -- and those variations can throw you off your game. If you're getting settled into a serious practice session, stock up with plenty of tokens and don't step away from your chosen spot....many skeeball aficionados prefer to kneel down to play. Maybe the lower stance helps them line up their shot, or perhaps being closer to the action helps them judge their throwing power a little more accurately. Whatever the reason, it's a tried and true technique for expert skeeball players -- and it might work for you, too. If you're struggling to settle into a comfortable throw, give it a try.

Opening Bell: 10.10.12

Banks Must Cut Deeper to Help Stock Prices, McKinsey Says (Bloomberg) Banks must make deeper and more sweeping cost reductions if they want to restore profitability levels that are acceptable to investors, McKinsey & Co. said in an annual review of the industry. “It has to go a lot further,” Toos Daruvala, a director in the consulting firm’s North American banking practice and a co-author of the report, said yesterday in a phone interview. “Banks have done quite a lot on cost-cutting but frankly the environment has deteriorated over the last year” because of economic weakness, he said. Argentina rejects Singer’s $20M in ransom for ship’s release (NYP) At a court hearing today in Ghana, where hedge fund manager Paul Singer’s lawyers are holding the ARA Libertad hostage, a lawyer for Argentina argued that Singer had no right to detain the ship because it’s a military vessel and immune from seizure. Lawyer Larry Otoo called the seizure — a move by Singer to force Argentina to repay a $1.6 billion debt he says he’s owed — an embarrassment to Ghana and demanded the ship’s immediate return. The court is expected to rule Thursday on whether to release the ship. Singer, the head of hedge fund giant Elliot Management, is seeking to recoup some of the $600 million in bonds he purchased as Argentina was headed for default in 2001. Elliot bought the bonds at steep discounts, paying as little as 15 cents on the dollar in some cases, but has since won judgments of as much as $1.6 billion. Elliot’s NML Capital unit is pursuing Argentina’s assets all over the world in an effort to collect on its debt. In Gupta Sentencing, A Judgment Call (WSJ) Former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. director Rajat Gupta is the highest-profile of more than 70 defendants convicted of insider trading in New York federal court in the past three years. But this month he will likely receive a more lenient sentence than the 11-year-prison term given to Raj Rajaratnam, to whom Mr. Gupta provided his illegal leaks, legal experts say. The sentence may have reverberations beyond the 63-year-old Mr. Gupta, a former chief of consulting giant McKinsey & Co. It will be widely watched in executive suites nationwide because it will be among the first handed down to a major corporate figure in the recent insider-trading crackdown. Previous sentences have largely involved traders, lawyers, lower-rung corporate employees and others. Mr. Gupta, who was convicted in June of three counts of securities fraud relating to tips about Goldman and one count of conspiracy, didn't trade or profit directly from his illegal tips. Before the conviction, he had a long and stellar career in corporate America and philanthropy. All this will be balanced against the nature of the crimes and the need to discourage others from similar offenses when U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff hands down his sentence, scheduled for Oct. 24. Judge Rakoff often imposes sentences further below federal sentencing guidelines than some other judges do, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis...Since 2010, Judge Rakoff has imposed an average sentence of 21 months on insider-trading defendants who didn't cooperate with prosecutors—about 38% below the guideline minimum, according to the Journal analysis. By comparison, U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan issued seven sentences in that period averaging 6.3% below the guideline minimum. U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty issued three sentences at 20.3% less than the minimum. Goldman Pushes On Limits In Volcker Rule (WSJ) Some executives at the New York company believe they have found a way to extricate the credit funds from proposed limits on how much can be invested in hedge funds and private-equity funds, according to people briefed on the efforts. The Volcker rule caps a bank's total investments in hedge funds and private-equity funds at 3% of its so-called Tier-1 capital. It also prevents any single bank from accounting for more than 3% of a fund's investments. Those limits are among the biggest components of the rule, named after former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker and designed to curtail risk-taking among financial firms. The rule is the most contentious part of the Dodd-Frank financial-overhaul law of 2010 but, like much of the rest of the legislation, the details of its implementation are still being worked out. Credit funds lend to companies that might not otherwise get financing, such as companies backed by private-equity firms, and tend to hold their investments to maturity while using a limited amount of leverage. Goldman has argued in meetings with regulators and in letters to them that these funds function like banks, just with a different structure, according to public records and the people familiar with the efforts. Report: 20% of US Firms Cook the Books During Earnings (CNBC) ...a new report by finance professors at Emory and Duke University raises questions about the quality of earnings in general. In an anonymous survey of CFOs last year, the study found that at least 20% of companies are "managing" earnings and using aggressive accounting methods to legally alter the outcome of their earnings reports. Of the 20% of companies that manipulated their earnings to hit a target, Graham says, a surprising 40% did so to the downside, not the upside, to pad and improve future quarters' earnings. Banks Chasing Asian Millionaires Create Singapore’s Canary Wharf (Bloomberg) Singapore’s Marina Bay area is emerging as the city’s new financial hub, with banks including Standard Chartered Plc and Barclays taking bigger offices as they pursue Asia’s expanding ranks of millionaires. Corrections & Amplifications (WSJ via Lauren Tara LaCapra) "Annie Hubbard, the woman appearing alongside Goldman Sachs's chief financial officer, Harvey Schwartz, in a photograph with a page-one article about Goldman on Tuesday, was incorrectly identified as his wife. Mr. Schwartz isn't married." Hulk Hogan ‘devastated’ by leak of sex tape filmed six years ago with friend’s wife Heather Clem (NYDN) The wrestling star tried to explain the kinky love triangle to Howard Stern Tuesday using a thinly veiled euphemism. “Let’s say I’ve been doing laundry, brother, for this person forever, and all of a sudden this person hates the way I do laundry. And that person says, ‘You suck. I hate you. F-you every single day. I hate the way you do laundry. I’m going to find somebody else to do laundry. Somebody younger, faster, stronger,’” he said, clearly taking a jab at his ex-wife, who he was still married to at the time of the taping. “But my buddy, you know, him and his girl say, ‘Hey, you can do our laundry any time you want!’ Both of them are saying that,” he told Stern. “Finally after the person I was doing laundry with for millions and millions of years left, and all of a sudden there was nobody there to do laundry, I was depressed… I go to my buddy’s house and he says, ‘Hey man you can do this other person’s laundry that I’m partners with.’ I said, 'Sure.’” Official Warmth And Public Rage For A German Leader In Athens (NYT) ...even as Ms. Merkel said that she had come as a “good friend and a real partner,” not a “taskmaster or teacher to give grades,” the approximately 40,000 Greeks who took to the streets in protest (a rather modest number, by Greek standards) treated the visit as a provocation by the arch-nemesis in the euro crisis whose austerity medicine is obliterating the Greek middle class. Some banners read “Don’t cry for us Mrs. Merkel” and “Merkel, you are not welcome here.” A small group of protesters burned a flag bearing the Nazi swastika, while a handful of protesters dressed in Nazi-style uniforms drew cheers of approval as they rode a small vehicle past a police cordon. Variety Being Sold To Penske, Third Point (Reuters) Variety, the century-old entertainment trade newspaper once considered the bible of the movie industry, is being sold to online publisher Jay Penske and Third Point LLC for about $25 million, two sources with knowledge of the deal told Reuters. Penske and Third Point have struck a deal to buy the money-losing, 107-year-old newspaper from medical and technical publisher Reed Elsevier, which put it up for sale in March, the sources said. IMF warns eurozone on capital flight (FT) In its global financial stability report, the IMF concluded that capital flight from the eurozone’s periphery to the bloc’s core, driven by fears of a break-up of the currency union, had sparked “extreme fragmentation” of the euro area’s funding markets. The fund said this was causing renewed pressure for banks to shrink their balance sheets, particularly those in countries with fiscal woes. A Fat, Mustachioed Orphan Finds a Home (NYT) How do you transport a 234-pound baby to New York City? If he’s a 15-week-old walrus rescued from the open ocean off Alaska, the answer is a jumbo-size crate aboard a FedEx cargo jet, accompanied by a veterinarian and a handler. “If he’s calm and comfortable, no worries,” said Jon Forrest Dohlin, director of the New York Aquarium, which will receive the walrus calf, named Mitik, on Thursday. “But his needs and comfort come first. So he may very well travel with his head in our keeper’s lap.” Since late July, Mitik and a second orphaned walrus, Pakak, have been nursed to health with bottle feedings and exercise at the Alaska SeaLife Center, an aquarium in Seward that conducts research and responds to strandings of marine mammals. (Pakak, nicknamed Pak, will arrive at the Indianapolis Zoo on Thursday.) Mitik — or Mit, for short — was weak from illness and considerably smaller than Pakak when he was found by a hunting vessel several miles offshore. Mit initially suffered from bladder problems and could not take a bottle, requiring both a catheter and feeding tube. But he is now sucking assertively from a bottle and putting on a pound a day...With his multiple chins and doleful expression, Mit is also exhibiting an undeniable pluck that should serve him well in his new surroundings. Martha Hiatt, the aquarium’s behavioral husbandry supervisor, traveled to Alaska in September to help care for him. At first, she said, Pakak totally dominated him, but no longer. “If Mit is resting with his head on my lap, sucking my fingers, looking sweetly into my eyes, and Pak comes anywhere near us, he pops up, yells at Pak and tries to head-butt him,” she said. “Then he’ll turn to me and be all cuddly again. We say he is small, but scrappy — the perfect New Yorker.”