Opening Bell: 02.21.12

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Greece Wins Second Bailout as Europe Picks Aid Over Default (Bloomberg)
Finance ministers awarded 130 billion euros ($173 billion) in aid, engineered a central-bank profits transfer and coaxed investors into providing more debt relief in an exchange meant to tide Greece past a March bond repayment. Stocks fell and the euro fluctuated as investors speculated the deal won’t fix Greece’s long-term challenges. Bondholders’ response to the swap, Greece’s tolerance of more austerity and a gantlet of parliamentary approvals in northern European countries gripped by an anti-bailout mindset loom as risks to the latest salvage operation. “Everybody understood that this was the moment of truth,” Belgian Finance Minister Steven Vanackere told reporters early today after 13 1/2 hours of talks in Brussels.

Geithner Bond Returns Beat Rubin, Trail Paulson (Bloomberg)
Since Geithner assumed office in January 2009, returns on Treasuries have exceeded bonds of other countries by 0.3 percentage point on an annualized rate, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch index data. That’s less than Paulson’s 7.5 percentage points. Under Rubin, returns on Treasuries lagged behind foreign issues by 1.6 points.

A Banker Who Unwinds by Photographing Prostitutes (CityRoom)
As a foreign exchange trader for Citigroup, Chris Arnade, 46, makes a good income, and lives with his wife and three children in a spacious apartment he owns in Brooklyn Heights. But during much of his spare time, he can be found driving the family minivan around Hunts Point in the Bronx, photographing prostitutes and documenting their lives. Mr. Arnade says he hopes his photos and descriptions provide a platform for some of the most marginalized New Yorkers to tell their stories.

Fed Writes Sweeping Rules From Behind Closed Doors (WSJ)
Fed officials contend they allow plenty of sunlight into their regulatory deliberations, but open meetings, which tend to be scripted and are sometimes perfunctory, don't always add value to the process. Ever-growing demands on governors' time has made it harder to coordinate schedules to allow for frequent meetings than in past decades, they add.

UBS Turning Whistleblower in Libor Probe (Bloomberg)
UBS's decision to become first- confessor as regulators probe the alleged manipulation of interest rates will ratchet up the risks for other banks that set the benchmark for $360 trillion of securities worldwide. The bank is seeking to insulate itself from the biggest possible fines from the investigation by turning itself in to regulators before its competitors to gain leniency, lawyers said. The plan still leaves the Zurich-based lender vulnerable to lawsuits from clients and raises the potential antitrust penalties for its competitors.

Board of Wynn Resorts Forcibly Buys Out Founder (WSJ)
In a dramatic weekend showdown, the Wynn board, meeting in Las Vegas, accused Mr. Okada of making improper payments to gambling regulators in the Philippines. The board's move came after an internal investigation conducted by a former FBI director found him to be "unsuitable" based on the company's internal regulations.

Strauss-Kahn Held by Police in Prostitution Probe (Reuters)
Former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was taken in for questioning on Tuesday by police investigating an alleged prostitution ring run out of the northern French city of Lille. Strauss-Kahn can be held for up to 48 hours and may then be placed under formal investigation for benefitting from misappropriated company funds. Investigators are trying to find out whether French executives used corporate expense accounts to fund sex parties with prostitutes.

Falcone fell down on $56M payment (NYP)
Add UK satellite company Inmarsat to the growing list of entities feuding with hedge fund titan Phil Falcone and his troubled wireless venture LightSquared. Yesterday, Inmarsat said LightSquared defaulted on a $56.25 million payment due under an agreement the two companies signed in 2007. LightSquared denied the default and blamed Inmarsat for the delayed payment, citing “several matters that require resolution” before the payment is made.

Closures, Losses Push Back Asia Hedge Fund Industry (Reuters)
Net outflows in each of the last four months of 2011 have pushed the industry $52 billion behind its peak assets of $176 billion hit in December 2007, data from industry tracker Eurekahedge showed, spelling troubles for start-ups, prime brokers and other service providers who had pinned hopes on a potential expansion.

Bullish Hedge Funds Hike Their Bets in 2012 Rally (Reuters)
Many funds think the European Central Bank's long-term refinancing operations (LTRO), which flooded markets with 489 billion euros ($644 billion) of cheap cash in December and provide more this month, are a turning point in propping up the region's battered banks. They are also betting that China, which is facing a fifth successive quarter of slowing economic growth, will experience a so-called 'soft landing', while the U.S., which saw its fastest growth in one-and-a-half years in the fourth quarter, is firmly on the recovery path.

Ex-Bond Highflier Is Warned by SEC (WSJ)
Alexander Rekeda, who led Japanese bank Mizuho Financial Group Inc.'s charge into the then-red-hot business of U.S. subprime debt in 2006, was warned by the Securities and Exchange Commission in October that he faces the potential charges, according to a regulatory filing. Mr. Rekeda received a so-called Wells notice, a letter typically giving the recipient a final opportunity to dissuade the SEC from filing an enforcement action.

Spain to send military planes to Florida to collect a half of a billion dollars worth of treasure (NYDN)
Spain said Monday it will soon send hulking military transport planes to Florida to retrieve 17 tons of treasure that U.S. undersea explorers found but ultimately lost in American courts, a find experts have speculated could be the richest shipwreck treasure in history. The Civil Guard said agents would leave within hours to take possession of the booty, worth an estimated $504 million, and two Spanish Hercules transport planes will bring it back.

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Opening Bell: 02.22.12

Fitch Downgrades Greece (WSJ) Fitch Ratings downgraded Greece's credit rating to C from triple-C Wednesday after confirmation of the country's second bailout package, which includes a debt exchange that will force bondholders to take a loss on their holdings of Greek debt. "The rating action is in line with Fitch's statement on 6 June 2011, which outlined its rating approach to a sovereign-debt exchange," the ratings company said. Fitch said it will lower its rating on the country's sovereign bonds to "restricted default" upon the completion of the debt exchange aimed at reducing the country's debt burden.

Opening Bell: 10.15.12

Global Finance Chiefs At Odds (WSJ) At the annual meetings here of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, European officials bickered about the damage caused by austerity; this week they head into a major euro-zone summit with no clear rescue plan for Greece. A territorial row between China and Japan, the world's second- and third-largest economies, bled into the conference with no sign of resolution, highlighting a new risk to growth. And many top finance officials pointed fingers at the U.S. for casting a new cloud over global markets by failing to make progress on the budget mess in the world's largest economy. Thousands March In Spain To Protest Austerity (Reuters) Several thousand anti-austerity protesters in Spain marched down a major street in the capital banging pots and pans Saturday. Many protesters also blew whistles as they blocked part of the Castellana boulevard Saturday carrying placards saying "We don't owe, we won't pay." "None of us pushed the banks to lend huge sums of money to greedy property speculators, yet we are being asked to pay for other's mistakes," 34-year-old civil servant Maria Costa, who was banging an old pot along with her two children, said. Bernanke Defends Fed From Claims It Is Being Selfish (NYT) Critics say the Fed’s unorthodox policies weaken the dollar and bolster the currencies of developing countries, hurting their ability to export. “It is not at all clear that accommodative policies in advanced economies impose net costs on emerging market economies,” Mr. Bernanke said at an event sponsored by the Bank of Japan and the International Monetary Fund. The Fed last month announced a program of open-ended bond purchases that will be continued until there is substantial improvement in labor market conditions, barring a sustained and unexpected spike in inflation. To start off, the central bank will buy $40 billion in mortgage-backed securities each month. “This policy not only helps strengthen the U.S. economic recovery, but by boosting U.S. spending and growth, it has the effect of helping support the global economy as well,” Mr. Bernanke said. Fischer Backs Fed QE3 as World ‘Awfully Close’ to Recession (Bloomberg) While there has been “a lot of progress made” to improve the global economy, its impact hasn’t materialized, Fischer said in an interview in Tokyo with Bloomberg Television airing Sunday. He signaled that by deciding not to set an end date or total amount to its third program of bond buying, the Fed is easing worries it will run out of ammunition before achieving its goals. Can Morgan Stanley's Gorman Save Wall Street? (BV) Gorman’s strategic moves are enough to convince one natural born skeptic, Mike Mayo, a financial-industry research analyst at Credit Agricole SA (ACA), to recommend Morgan Stanley’s stock for the first time in years. “The stock is valued as if it is a Greek or Spanish bank but its risk is far less,” he wrote in an e-mail to me. For Morgan Stanley to return to its glory days, he said, margins need to be improved in asset management, fixed-income trading needs to be further slimmed down and the core investment-banking franchise needs to be maintained and reinvigorated. Good advice. A firm built around lower risk-taking and lower overall pay while still providing clients with the advice and capital they need to innovate and expand is what we need on Wall Street. It’s the vision of one man taking seriously his responsibility to make the capital markets safe and productive for economies all over the world, instead of just some casino gone haywire where the house absorbs the losses and the profits go to the gamblers. The question is whether other leaders on Wall Street will follow Gorman’s example. Sex Life Was ‘Out of Step,’ Strauss-Kahn Says, but Not Illegal (NYT) More than a year after resigning in disgrace as the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn is seeking redemption with a new consulting company, the lecture circuit and a uniquely French legal defense to settle a criminal inquiry that exposed his hidden life as a libertine...In France, “Libertinage” has a long history in the culture, dating from a 16th-century religious sect of libertines. But the most perplexing question in the Strauss-Kahn affair is how a career politician with ambition to lead one of Europe’s most powerful nations was blinded to the possibility that his zest for sex parties could present a liability, or risk blackmail. The exclusive orgies called “parties fines” — lavish Champagne affairs costing around $13,000 each — were organized as a roving international circuit from Paris to Washington by businessmen seeking to ingratiate themselves with Mr. Strauss-Kahn. Some of that money, according to a lawyer for the main host, ultimately paid for prostitutes because of a shortage of women at the mixed soirees orchestrated largely for the benefit of Mr. Strauss-Kahn, who sometimes sought sex with three or four women. German finance chief Wolfgang Schaeuble says Greece won't default or exit (Telegraph) "Greece has to take a lot of very serious reforms" and "everyone is trusting that the Greek government is doing what is necessary", he said at a meeting with business leaders in Singapore on Sunday. Mr Schaeuble said an increasing majority of Greeks understand that being in the euro "is in the best interest of Greece" and said did not think there would be a ‘staatsbankrott’ - or state bankruptcy. He said he did not see “any sense to speculate on Greece leaving the euro” because it would be very damaging for both the country and the region. High-Speed Trading No Longer Hurtling Forward (NYT) Profits from high-speed trading in American stocks are on track to be, at most, $1.25 billion this year, down 35 percent from last year and 74 percent lower than the peak of about $4.9 billion in 2009, according to estimates from the brokerage firm Rosenblatt Securities. By comparison, Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase each earned more in the last quarter than the high-speed trading industry will earn this year. Titanic Tycoon Plans Stake Sale Talks for $8 Billion Gas Project (Bloomberg) Australian mining magnate Clive Palmer, who’s planning to build a modern replica of the Titanic, aims to start talks next year to sell stakes in a potential $8 billion natural gas project in Papua New Guinea. “We’ve had interest from major petrochemical companies who want to joint venture” including Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chinese companies, Palmer said in an interview. “We will talk to them at the appropriate time,” likely mid-2013 when field work is scheduled to be completed, he said. Occupy Supporters Stage Protest in London (AP) Several supporters of the anti-corporate Occupy movement chained themselves to the pulpit of St. Paul’s Cathedral during a service on Sunday in an action for the anniversary of its now-dismantled protest camp outside the London landmark. The dean of St. Paul’s, David Ison, said he was conducting an evening prayer service when “four young women dressed in white” chained themselves to the structure. Dutch make massive cocaine bust in fruit shipment headed for zoo, arrest five (AP) A major cocaine seizure in Europe turned out to be good news for the animals at Rotterdam’s zoo. The drugs were hidden among boxes of bananas, and the fruit went to the monkeys and other creatures at the Blijdorp zoo. Dutch prosecutors said Friday more than eight tons of cocaine was hidden among the bananas on a ship from Ecuador. The drugs were seized Monday in the Belgian port of Antwerp, while the bananas were allowed to continue on to Rotterdam – the shipment’s final destination. Dutch police arrested a Belgian truck driver and four Dutch men on Tuesday.

Opening Bell: 2.12.15

Hedge funds love currencies again; Kyle Bass is going after pharma patents; Goldman Sachs is a special snowflake; Dominique Strauss-Kahn: I’m ‘rougher’ in bed than most men; AND MORE.

Opening Bell: 03.08.12

Greece Readies Record Debt Swap With 60% Commitments (Bloomberg) Greece moved closer to sealing the biggest sovereign restructuring in history as investors indicated they’ll participate in the nation’s debt swap. Holders of about 60 percent of the Greek bonds eligible for the deal, including Greece’s largest banks, most of the country’s pension funds and more than 30 European banks and insurers including BNP Paribas (BNP) SA and Commerzbank AG (CBK), have agreed to the offer so far. That brings the total to about 124 billion euros ($163 billion), based on data compiled by Bloomberg from company reports and government statements. Roubini: Private Sector’s Greece Deal Is ‘Sweet’ (FT) “The reality is that private creditors got a very sweet deal, while most actual and future losses have been transferred to the official creditors." Hedge Funds See Tax Break in Republican Bill (Bloomberg) ^^^An interesting way of putting this: Cantor told House members in a memo last month his plan would let “every” business with fewer than 500 employees deduct 20 percent of its profits. Labor Dept. Asks Nuclear Guardians for Help Keeping Jobs Data Secret (CNBC) The Department of Labor has asked Sandia National Laboratories — the organization that ensures the safety of the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile — to scrutinize the security procedures surrounding the release of monthly jobs report data. Separately, officials at the U.S. Energy Information Administration tell CNBC they have taken steps to block computers operating from certain Internet protocol addresses from accessing the administration’s website, arguing that some users appear to have a “malicious intent” to slow down the website’s release of data for the general public while speeding it up for themselves. U.S. Initial Jobless Claims Rose 8,000 to 362,000 (BW) Applications for unemployment insurance payments increased by 8,000 in the week ended March 3, Labor Department figures showed today. Economists forecast 352,000 claims, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey. The average over the past four weeks held close to a four-year low. Solar Storm Races Towards Earth (AP) The storm started with a massive solar flare earlier in the week and grew as it raced outward from the sun, expanding like a giant soap bubble, scientists said. When it strikes, the particles will be moving at four million miles an hour. "It's hitting us right in the nose," said Joe Kunches, a scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, Colo. The massive cloud of charged particles could disrupt utility grids, airline flights, satellite networks and GPS services, especially in northern areas. But the same blast could also paint colorful auroras farther from the poles than normal. 'Sterilized' Bond Buying an Option in Fed Arsenal (WSJ) Under the new approach, the Fed would print new money to buy long-term mortgage or Treasury bonds but effectively tie up that money by borrowing it back for short periods at low rates. The aim of such an approach would be to relieve anxieties that money printing could fuel inflation later, a fear widely expressed by critics of the Fed's previous efforts to aid the recovery. Treasury to Sell $6 Billion Worth of A.I.G. Shares (Dealbook) The Treasury Department announced a plan on Wednesday to sell $6 billion of its American International Group shares, further whittling down the federal government’s holdings in the insurance giant it helped bail out during the financial crisis. As part of the offering, which is expected to be completed in a few days, A.I.G. will buy back up to $3 billion worth of the common stock that the Treasury Department is selling. A.I.G. will also repay $8.5 billion in other obligations to the Treasury Department, principally using proceeds gained from various asset sales. The plan is the latest effort by the federal government to unwind its $182 billion bailout of A.I.G. in 2008. Last spring, the Treasury Department sold off 200 million shares of the insurer in a highly awaited offering known as the “re-I.P.O.” of A.I.G. Yet that sale still left the government owning about 77 percent of the company, down from 92 percent. ‘Madam’s my$tery man ID’d (NYP) Sources say David Walker, 47, an ultra-successful investment manager for Morgan Stanley, is the money man who met with soccer-mom-turned-Upper East Side-madam Anna Gristina right before her Feb. 22 arrest. And prosecutors say the business meeting in Morgan Stanley’s West 52nd Street offices that day was all about helping Gristina bring her high-end hooker business to the Web. It was minutes after the pair left the office building near Fifth Avenue that Gristina was arrested, the culmination of what prosecutors have described as a five-year investigation into the alleged call-girl ring. Prosecutors, without naming Walker, said at Gristina’s Feb. 23 arraignment, “We picked her up yesterday with a Morgan Stanley [broker] who she counts a close friend, and she had been present at his office for a meeting in which she was trying to solicit money to fund what we believe is another business venture on the Internet that involves matching up male clients with female prostitutes.” Gristina was arrested on East 53rd Street and Madison Avenue at 11 a.m., just a few blocks away from Walker’s home, a high-rise, doorman building on 55th near Third Avenue. Walker was not arrested, nor has he been charged with any crime. “She’s known him for a while. He was a nice guy. He was a banker trying to get her investors for her Web site,” said Vinnie Parco, a private eye working for Gristina.