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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