Opening Bell: 02.14.12

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Greek Economy Shrinking Rapidly (WSJ)
Greece's gross domestic product contracted by an annual rate of 7% when adjusted for inflation, according to preliminary data reported by the Greek government statistics office Tuesday. The dire number was far worse than forecasts of a decline of up to 5%, and showed an accelerating contraction from the 5% year-to-year fall clocked in third quarter.

German Economic Expectations Turn Positive (WSJ)
German economic expectations turned positive in February for the first time since May 2011, buoyed by good U.S. economic data and progress in Greece's negotiations with its creditors, the Center for European Economic Research, or ZEW, said Tuesday. The Greek progress improved sentiment, thus the euro-zone's sovereign debt crisis is "less scary than three months ago," ZEW expert Marcus Kappler said, adding however that Greece's resolutions have raise expectations and "the resolutions have to be met." The widely watched ZEW index rose in February for the third consecutive month, after declining for nine straight months, during which Europe's debt crisis deepened. Outperforming forecasts for a still-negative reading, the economic expectations index rose to 5.4 points in February, the highest since April 2011, from January's unrevised -21.6. Experts polled by Dow Jones Newswires had expected a rise to -11.6 for February. "A majority of the experts [polled by ZEW] expect an improvement but it isn't euphoria," Mr. Kappler said.

Lin's Lifting MSG Above The Rim (NYP)
Knicks fans, after crowding through the turnstiles at Madison Square Garden this month and pushing TV ratings to season highs — the better to drink in the heroics of the suddenly star-lit Jeremy Lin — yesterday elbowed their way into MSG stock, pushing it to a 52-week high. It was the ninth-straight session gain for the stock of Knicks’ parent company, MSG, the longest in over a year. It closed at $32.32, up 3.8 percent.

Volcker Rule Faces Harsh Critics (Bloomberg)
In scores of comment letters filed yesterday, bankers and their trade associations said the rule would increase risk, raise costs for investors, hurt U.S. competitiveness and be vulnerable to legal challenge. “Regardless of how the final rule turns out, it will be a shock to the U.S. financial system, as banking entities will need to take extraordinary measures to attempt to implement it,” Barry Zubrow, executive vice president of JPMorgan Chase & Co. said in a 67-page letter. Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Bank of America Corp. were set to submit their letters to regulators by yesterday.

Goldman Sachs Seeks Volcker Rule Exception (Bloomberg)
The bank, which says it owns the world’s largest family of so-called mezzanine loan funds, is asking regulators to loosen proposed limits on bank investments in such pools. Four Goldman Sachs employees and three lawyers from Sullivan & Cromwell LLP met on Feb. 2 with Federal Reserve Board staff to discuss Volcker rule limits on banks’ fund investments, according to a summary published yesterday by the central bank.

Picture Newt Gingrich, Celebrating Valentine's Day (NYDN)
The struggling Republican presidential candidate coyly dished on his Valentine's Day plans for third wife Callista, promising she would not be disappointed. Gingrich was at a campaign stop in El Monte Calif. on Monday when an audience member asked what his Feb. 14 plans were. "All I can promise is that I believe she will be quite happy," the ex-House Speaker said to hoots and whistles from the audience...Gingrich then raised his arms in the air to wave off further questions, quickly adding "No more details!"

Analysis: Brewing model saves Germany from bankers' droop (Reuters)
Raise a glass of beer in a German bar and the chances are it was made just down the road to a simple, ancient formula. German banking works in much the same way, rooted in local communities and structured in a way that discourages aggressive international expansion, innovation and complexity. Local banks dominate savings and loans in Europe's largest economy. There are hundreds of small players, which by their very existence help limit the economic fallout from bank failures and makes sure banks do not get 'too big to fail.' The prevalence of municipally-owned savings and customer-owned cooperative banks, the microbreweries of the banking world, ensures a steady supply of business loans, reducing the likelihood of a credit crunch and helping to protect Germany's coveted triple-A sovereign debt rating.

Empire State Building seeks $1B IPO (NYP)
The company that runs Manhattan’s most famous skyscraper, along with 11 other office properties, plans to sell shares to the public in a bid to raise a lofty $1 billion. The Empire State Realty Trust, led by father-and-son duo Peter and Anthony Malkin, will list its shares on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol “ESB,” according to a regulatory filing yesterday.

Bank of Japan Surprises by Easing, Setting Price Goal (WSJ)
BOJ Gov. Masaaki Shirakawa said that outside pressure was not involved in the central bank's decision. "The BOJ never succumbs to political pressure when it implements monetary policy," he said, though he added it does listen to a "wide-range of opinions, including discussion in the parliament and among economists and market participants."

Mayor, 70, Nods Little to Age (WSJ)
Michael Rubens Bloomberg took the oath of office as New York City's 108th mayor when he was 59 years old. He turns 70 on Tuesday, and if he finishes his third term as expected next year, he would be the oldest serving mayor since the five boroughs were consolidated in 1898. Mr. Bloomberg may get teased about his advanced years this Valentine's Day, but the mayor typically hasn't allowed his senior status to get him down. The billionaire likes to say tomorrow will always be his best day, and maybe it doesn't hurt that 25-year-old Lady Gaga kissed him smack on the lips this New Year's Eve. In honor of Mr. Bloomberg's 70th birthday, The Wall Street Journal asked two image consultants to look at photographs of the mayor and evaluate whether time and the rigors of City Hall have accelerated his aging, as some believe the White House dramatically speeds up the aging of presidents. Their conclusion: The mayor looks good. "He hasn't really changed that much," said Laura Rubeli, a Las Vegas-based image consultant who is originally from New York. "For a 70-year-old man, I think he looks fantastic. I really do. In my opinion, he looks fabulous." During an appearance Monday at a fashion-related event in Midtown Manhattan, he received high praise from designer Diane von Furstenberg. When a reporter asked if she had any fashion advice for the mayor, she said the mayor is "so hot—he doesn't need any."

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Opening Bell: 03.07.12

Goldman No.1 in Investment Bank Fees (Bloomberg Markets) Total investment banking fees for all financial institutions in 2011 were $49.1 billion, matching the $49.1 billion from 2010. Total deal volume also matched 2010, at $6.9 trillion. Goldman took the top spot in the ranking even as its total fees fell in 2011 to $3.46 billion from $3.6 billion in 2010. Goldman is also No. 1 in M&A fees for the eighth consecutive year. JPMorgan dropped to No. 3 from No. 1 in the overall ranking. Morgan Stanley held on to the No. 2 spot, with $3.26 billion in overall fees, down 11 percent from the prior 12 months. Investors With 39.3% of Greek Debt Will Swap (Bloomberg) The thirty members of the private creditor-investor committee for Greece who plan to participate in the swap hold an aggregate 81 billion euros of Greek debt, or 39.3 percent of the Greek debt eligible for the swap, according to the email. Obama pitches CEOs on economic growth (Politico) President Barack Obama pitched his proposals for economic growth to an audience of CEOs Tuesday, including Bank of America chief executive Brian Moynihan and Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan Chase. The president hailed his proposed investments in infrastructure and training and pointed to common ground with the business community, including the signing of free trade agreements and allowing Russia into the World Trade Organization, according to a pool report. Obama said he will go anywhere in the world to secure markets for American goods, and, noting a large order inked by Boeing, quipped, "I expect a gold watch upon my retirement" for all the planes he's helped sell around the world. "Obviously we've got a long way to go," he said. But, he said "the economy is speeding up." The gathering of the Business Roundtable, an association of CEOs, drew roughly 100 chief executives. But while there was polite applause when Obama was introduced, the pool report noted, “the CEOs sat silent for most of his remarks.” Private Sector Adds 216,000 Jobs (WSJ) Private-sector jobs in the U.S. increased 216,000 last month, according to a national employment report published by payroll giant Automatic Data Processing Inc. and consultancy Macroeconomic Advisers. The gain was close to expectations of 215,000 put forth by economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires. Alleged accomplice of Manhattan 'madam' indicted, remains on the lam (NYP) Accused millionaire madam Anna Gristina had an alleged partner in crime -- gorgeous strawberry-blonde Jaynie Baker, who three sources told The Post yesterday is Gristina's indicted but unapprehended accomplice. "She was running the operation with Anna," said one source with knowledge of the operation. Asked where Baker, 30, of Brooklyn, is currently, the source answered, "Nobody knows." Baker and Gristina are both charged with felony promoting prostitution for allegedly co-running an Upper East Side-based escort service that offered premium call girls to a millionaire clientele. "This was the gold standard of escort services," said a second source with knowledge of the operation. "These were high-end models who cost $2,000 a visit, and were worth every penny." World’s Richest Lose $11.3B, Mittal Falls Off Index (Bloomberg on Bloomberg) The 20 richest people on Earth lost a combined $11.3 billion yesterday as global markets fell after European economic growth slowed and investors weighed Greece’s chances of getting bondholders to accept a debt swap. Warren Buffett’s fortune fell $407.3 million, dropping his net worth to $43.9 billion. The chairman of Omaha, Nebraska- based Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRK/B), his investment holding company, ranks third on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a daily ranking of the world’s richest people. Bernanke Seen Accepting Faster Inflation as Fed Seeks Jobs Boost (Bloomberg) The Fed chairman told lawmakers last week that an increase in energy costs will boost inflation “temporarily while reducing consumers’ purchasing power.” He also said the central bank will adopt a “balanced approach” as it pursues its twin goals of price stability and full employment, which it defines as a jobless rate of between 5.2 percent and 6 percent. “The chairman seemed to suggest they will tolerate a misdemeanor on inflation as unemployment continues to fall toward their goal” over several years, said Mark Spindel, chief investment officer at Potomac River Capital, a hedge fund that manages $250 million in Washington. President Presses for Action on the Buffett Rule (WSJ) President Barack Obama took an aggressive tack on taxes at a White House news conference Tuesday, suggesting that Congress adopt his proposal for a so-called Buffett rule this year. It would require very high income earners—those making $1 million a year or more—to pay at least 30% of their income in federal tax. Newt Gingrich: 'I am the tortoise' of the 2012 Republican primary (The Hill) Newt Gingrich heralded himself as the "tortoise" of the 2012 Republican primary after a strong win in Georgia — the state he represented for two decades in Congress — and pledged to fight on for the Republican presidential nomination despite an otherwise poor showing in the Super Tuesday contests. "There are lots of bunny rabbits who run through — I am the tortoise. I just take one step at a time," Gingrich told a crowd of supporters in Atlanta.