Opening Bell: 02.23.12

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RBS Sees Widened Loss (WSJ)
The bank said Thursday that it slumped to a 2011 full-year net loss of nearly £2 billion ($3.13 billion) as the euro-zone crisis continued to weigh on its investment banking division and restructuring costs hammered the U.K. bank's bottom line. RBS which is 83%-owned by the U.K. government, saw full-year revenue tumble 11% to £26.6 billion despite lower impairment charges and a hefty gain on the fair value of its own debt. Despite media and political pressure to lower remuneration, the bank paid out nearly £1 billion in bonuses for the year. Chief Executive Stephen Hester said the results showed that the bank was progressing in the right direction and defended the RBS's bonus pool, saying it was important to incentivize staff. "Our job is to defuse the biggest-ever time bomb put in a banking balance sheet," he told a conference call. "In this respect, we are making progress."

Credit Agricole posts Q4 loss as Greece bites (AP)
Credit Agricole SA reported a euro3.07 billion ($4.06 billion) net loss in the fourth quarter on Thursday, as an intensifying European debt crisis drove down the value of its Greek bonds and shaved billions off the bank's bottom line. Credit Agricole — hit by the Greek debt crisis largely through its ownership of Greek bank Emporiki — said fourth-quarter net profit plunged nearly tenfold from a loss of euro328 million in the last quarter of 2010. It also posted a net loss for 2011 of euro1.47 billion.

SEC May Ticket Speeding Traders (WSJ)
SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro said a large portion of equities trading has little to do with "the fundamentals of the company that's being traded." She said it had more to do with "the minuscule aberrational price move" that computer-assisted traders with direct connections to the exchange can "jump on" in fractions of a second. Such activity "worries me," Ms. Schapiro said in a breakfast meeting Wednesday with reporters. One solution would be forcing high-frequency traders to pay for the canceled trades that make up nine-tenths of all orders, she said.

Investigators Probe a Rush at MF Global to Move Cash (WSJ)
Federal regulators at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the U.S. bankruptcy trustee for MF Global's brokerage unit are examining two separate transfers from customer accounts, including a previously undisclosed $165 million transaction, said people familiar with the matter. They said some of the investigators are poring over emails and records related to these and other money transfers.

Goldman Sachs experiencing executive exodus (NYP)
Yesterday, Chaim Howard Wietschner, 44, became the latest partner to leave. An internal announcement revealed that the senior hedge fund honcho was set to bolt. Named a partner in November 2002, Wietschner will follow more than 50 partners who have opted to “retire” over the past several months. Indeed, Wietschner’s departure is the third in the past two weeks.

Facebook Insiders Push $100 Billon Value (Bloomberg)
“Facebook is a blue-chip stock and it’s not even public yet,” said Kevin Landis, portfolio manager for the Firsthand Technology Value Fund in San Jose, California. Facebook jumped as high as $44 this month in private trading, valuing the company at $103 billion and leaving it higher than when Landis bought stock at about $30 to $31 in October. He said he aims to add to his holdings.

Prostitution-themed Wódka vodka billboard near Hunts Point is removed (NYDN)
A day after Bronx community leaders blasted a billboard selling vodka with a pitch about prostitution, the sign came down. The ad for Wódka vodka read “Escort Quality, Hooker Pricing” and hung over the Bruckner Expressway leading to Hunts Point, an area still battling an image as a place to buy sex. After learning neighbors were fuming over the sign, the ad’s creators agreed to nix it.

Finance Ministers: UK and Japan Warn Volcker Rule Poses Threat to Recovery (FT)
George Osborne, the British chancellor, has joined forces with Jun Azumi, his Japanese counterpart, in warning in a column in today’s Financial Times that the U.S. banking reforms could make it “more difficult, costlier and riskier for countries to issue and distribute debt”, at a time when many eurozone countries are already under strain.

EU Expects 2012 Recession (WSJ)
FYI.

JPMorgan Places $72 Billion Bet on Global Homeowners (Bloomberg)
JPMorgan has more than tripled its holdings of mortgage securities without U.S. government guarantees to $72 billion as the nation’s biggest bank bets on borrowers from outside the country it calls home. The investments swelled $8.4 billion in the fourth quarter, climbing from $52.8 billion at the end of 2010 and $19 billion the prior year, according to regulatory data released last week. The bank has primarily been adding debt from outside the U.S., including bonds tied to U.K. and Dutch mortgages, Securities and Exchange Commission filings by New York-based JPMorgan show.

BOJ Head Warns of Risk if JGB Yields Rise (WSJ)
Japan's banks have continued to pour money into government debt, despite near-record low yields and the nation's deteriorating fiscal conditions. But any sudden rise in interest rates could expose the banks to trillions of yen in losses, Bank of Japan Gov. Masaaki Shirakawa said in response to a lawmaker's question at a parliamentary committee on the strong yen and deflation.

Tune in and keep Fido happy while you're away? (LA Times)
DOGTV, a new cable channel, may help both of you. The channel, launched recently in San Diego, is designed to provide companionship for dogs and reduce stress caused by an owner’s absence, said Ron Levi, co-founder and chief content creator. Although DOGTV’s content isn’t breed specific, Nicholas Dodman, a veterinarian specializing in animal behavior, says visually oriented “sighthounds,” including whippets and greyhounds, may be more inclined to watch than “scenthounds” such as basset hounds, which tend to to keep their nose to the ground as they focus on smells...The three phases of DOGTV’S programming are stimulation (to encourage playfulness), relaxation (to soothe) and exposure (to habituate dogs to daily stimuli that may cause stress such as crowds, a vacuum cleaner or a toddler in their face). Stimulation sequences may feature a dog playing with a toy or blue butterflies flitting across the screen. Relaxation segments feature pastoral settings (often including a dog lying down) and gentle piano music. Exposure segments tend to show dogs dealing with stressors such as a vacuum cleaner.

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Opening Bell: 11.09.12

RBS, UBS Traders Said to Face Arrest in Libor Probe (Bloomberg) U.K. prosecutors are poised to arrest former traders and rate setters at UBS, Royal Bank of Scotland Group and Barclays within a month for questioning over their role in the Libor scandal, a person with knowledge of the probe said. The arrests will be made by police under the direction of prosecutors at the Serious Fraud Office within the next month, said the person, who declined to be identified because the matter isn’t public. Arrests in the U.K. are made at an early stage of the investigation, allowing police and prosecutors to question people under caution and may not lead to charges. The SFO has 40 people working on the probe into manipulation of the London interbank bank offered rate, a benchmark for financial products valued at $360 trillion worldwide, and has involved the City of London Police, said David Green, the agency’s director. “Significant developments” in the case are coming “in the near future,” Green said yesterday in an interview at his office in London without giving further details and declining to comment on any possible arrests. Pressure Mounts On Fiscal Crisis (WSJ) The CBO on Thursday detailed its view that if Washington policy makers don't act before the end of the year, the economy would contract by 0.5% in 2013. The unemployment rate would jump from 7.9% to 9.1% by the end of 2013, according to the CBO—a nonpartisan arm of Congress. Ex-Goldman Bankers See Crisis Opportunity in Greek Insurance (Bloomberg) Alexis Pantazis and Emilios Markou are on a three-year odyssey to become next-generation car insurance executives in Greece that’s a million miles from their previous incarnation as bankers for Goldman Sachs. “One of our investors says you cannot wipe out a country,” said Pantazis, 36, a consultant at Boston Consulting Group before working as an executive director at Goldman Sachs from 2005 to 2008. “A country like Greece has 11 million people and these people need basic services. They need bread, they need milk, they need car insurance.” As French banks Credit Agricole and Societe Generale sell their Greek units to exit the only euro area country that’s in need of a second rescue package, Pantazis and Markou see an opportunity. After swapping business-class lounges and sushi for budget flights and sandwiches, the pair began pitching their Internet-based vehicle policies to Greeks two months ago. SEC Left Computers Vulnerable to Cyberattacks (Reuters) Staffers at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission failed to encrypt some of their computers containing highly sensitive information from stock exchanges, leaving the data vulnerable to cyberattacks, according to people familiar with the matter. While the computers were unprotected, there was no evidence that hacking or spying on the SEC's computers took place, these people said. The computers and other electronic devices in question belonged to a handful of employees in an office within the SEC's Trading and Markets Division. That office is responsible for making sure exchanges follow certain guidelines to protect the markets from potential cyber threats and systems problems, one of those people said...The security lapses in the Trading and Markets Division are laid out in a yet-to-be-released report that by the SEC's Interim Inspector General Jon Rymer. The Last Days Of Romneyland (NBC) From the moment Mitt Romney stepped off stage Tuesday night, having just delivered a brief concession speech he wrote only that evening, the massive infrastructure surrounding his campaign quickly began to disassemble itself. Aides taking cabs home late that night got rude awakenings when they found the credit cards linked to the campaign no longer worked. "Fiscally conservative," sighed one aide the next day. In conversations on Wednesday, aides were generally wistful, not angry, at how the campaign ended. Most, like their boss, truly believed the campaign's now almost comically inaccurate models, and that a victory was well within their grasp. (Outside Republicans and donors are another story. Some are angry over what they felt was an overly rosy picture painted by the campaign, and at what amounts to the loss of their investment.) New York Subway Repairs Border ‘on the Edge of Magic’ (NYT) There were some hiccups. At West Fourth Street, unexpected third-rail and switch problems delayed the return of the D, F and M trains. As the authority prepared to bring the G train back this week, a transformer blew, keeping the train offline for the morning rush hour on Wednesday. There were still service gaps on the N train, the A train in Far Rockaway and the R line, among others. On Thursday morning, inside his office, Joseph Lhota, the chairman of the transportation authority, checked his BlackBerry often, hoping for an update on the L train. Moments later, he placed a call to Howard B. Glaser, Mr. Cuomo’s director of state operations, whom he wanted to brief on the Queens-Midtown Tunnel. The tunnel could open Friday, he told Mr. Glaser, remarking that Mr. Bloomberg, “like an idiot,” had predicted publicly that the tunnel might open over the weekend. “He’s making it up,” he said, after a brief hail of profanity in which Mr. Lhota wondered aloud who, exactly, Mr. Bloomberg had been talking to. “It’s wrong,” he told Mr. Glaser. “It’s just wrong.” Mr. Lhota also spoke of the L line’s importance, as if his audience needed convincing. “You know who knows where the L train goes?” he barked into the phone. “All the hipsters in Williamsburg.” The BlackBerry buzzed on the table in front of him. He grabbed it quickly, then put it back. No good news yet on the L, he said. Hours later, that would change. “Ladies and Gentlemen,” he wrote on Twitter. “The L train is back. Enjoy your trip home tonight.” Whistleblower To Get Big Payment In Bank Of New York-Virginia Deal (WSJ) Bank of New York Mellon Corp. has reached an agreement with the state of Virginia to resolve accusations the bank charged hidden markups on currency transactions to Virginia's employee pension fund, in a deal that will also involve a $1.1 million payment to a whistleblower group, according to a person familiar with the negotiations. The whistleblower group includes Grant Wilson, who spent two years as a secret informant while sitting on the bank's Pittsburgh trading desk. Mr. Wilson's identity was disclosed in a page-one article in The Wall Street Journal last year. As part of the agreement, Virginia won't pursue litigation against BNY Mellon, and the bank will offer reduced fees in the future under a new custodial deal, according to people familiar with the negotiations. Nearly Half Of Britons Want EU Exit (Reuters) Nearly half of Britons would vote in a referendum to leave the European Union and less than a third to stay in, according to a poll highlighting divisions facing Prime Minister David Cameron. Polling company YouGov said on Thursday 49 percent favoured leaving the EU, 28 percent would vote to stay in the 27-nation bloc, 17 percent were undecided and the rest would not vote. Crédit Agricole Posts Record Loss After Greek Sale (WSJ) The Paris-based lender, France's third-largest bank by market value, posted a third-quarter net loss of €2.85 billion ($3.63 billion), well below analyst forecasts of a €1.76 billion net loss. The bank reported a €258 million profit in the same quarter a year earlier. Rochdale Traders Await Rescue (NYP) Sixteen days after a rogue trader rocked Stamford, Conn.-based Rochdale Securities, the broker-dealer, still hasn’t reached a deal with a deep-pocketed investor, sources said. Fla. principal resigns after offering promotions for sex (WPBF) A Florida high school principal who offered teachers' promotions in exchange for sex has resigned from his position. Steve Van Gorden's resignation comes after a 300-page investigative report by Pasco County school officials into allegations of sexual harassment. Several teachers claim Van Gorden, who is also the mayor of Zephyrhills, sent text messages offering career boosts in exchange for sex and threatened them if they refused. Van Gorden said he's sorry. "The bottom line is I'm truly sorry for what occurred, and it's not going to happen again," Van Gorden said. Van Gorden has a year and a half left on his term as mayor.

Opening Bell: 08.03.12

JPMorgan London Whale Was Prodded (WSJ) A JPMorgan executive encouraged the trader known as the "London whale" to boost valuations on some trades, said a person who reviewed communications emerging from the bank's internal probe of recent trading losses. After reviewing emails and voice-mail messages, the bank has concluded that Bruno Iksil, the J.P. Morgan trader nicknamed for the large positions he took in the credit markets, was urged by his boss to put higher values on some positions than they might have fetched in the open market at the time, people familiar with the probe said. The bank's conclusion is based on a series of emails and voice communications in late March and April, as losses on his bullish credit-market bet mounted, the people said. The bank believes they show the executive, Javier Martin-Artajo, pushing Mr. Iksil to adjust trade prices higher, according to people close to the bank's investigation. At the time, Mr. Martin-Artajo was credit-trading chief for the company's Chief Investment Office, or CIO. RBS Loss Widens (WSJ) The 82%-government-owned bank reported a net loss of £1.99 billion ($3.09 billion), wider than the loss of £1.43 billion a year earlier. However, the result was hit by a £3 billion accounting charge for the fair value of the company's debt and a number of provisions for misselling financial products. Analysts focused on the more-positive underlying figures for the half, helping to make its shares the leading gainer on the FTSE 100. Excluding the own-debt charge, RBS would have posted a net profit of £287 million. It posted an operating profit of £1.83 billion, down from the £1.97 billion a year earlier. Nevertheless, RBS warned that it faces a number of lawsuits. The bank is cooperating with regulators in the U.S., Japan and the U.K., who are probing whether banks colluded to try and rig benchmark rates including the London interbank offered rate. RBS said that it had fired a number of traders following the investigations but said it was too early to estimate the fines the bank may have to pay. RBS’s CEO Blames Libor-Manipulation On ‘Handful’ Of Individuals (Bloomberg) RBS dismissed four employees for trying to influence the individual responsible for Libor submissions following an internal investigation, the bank said today, without identifying the staff involved. Hester said it is too early to estimate the potential cost of fines and litigation linked to rate-rigging. “The Libor issue is more to do with the wrongdoing of individuals than it is to do with a systemic problem,” Hester, 51, said on a call with journalists today after the Edinburgh- based bank reported a 22 percent drop in second-quarter operating profit. “It’s hugely regrettable that the actions of a relatively small number of wrongdoers, which seems to be the key issue here, has such a tainting effect on the industry.” Knight Said To Open Books To Suitors As Loss Pressure Grows (Bloomberg) Bank of America Corp. was among several potential partners that was in talks with Knight yesterday, said a person with knowledge of the matter. John Yiannacopoulos, a Bank of America spokesman, declined to comment. Loss Swamps Trading Firm (WSJ) Knight wouldn't comment on the status of the rescue talks. But market participants said the firm is running out of time. In the span of two days, the company's market value has plunged to $253.4 million from $1.01 billion, and its shares continued their nosedive in after-hours trading. "If they don't get an investor within the next 48 to 72 hours, I think Knight's going to have trouble surviving," said David Simon, chief executive of hedge fund Twin Capital Management LLC. Mt. Sinai urologist busted on charges he used spy cam to peek up subway riders’ skirts (NYDN) Dr. Adam Levinson, an assistant professor of urology at the hospital’s school of medicine, allegedly clipped a pen camera to a folded newspaper so he could peek up a woman’s skirt on a southbound 4 train about 5 p.m. Tuesday, authorities and a witness said. Sheldon Birthwright, 46, a construction worker who once worked for the Transportation Security Administration, said he sensed something wrong almost immediately after Levinson stepped on the train at E. 59th St. The doctor — a New York Medical College grad who twice won a national Patients’ Choice Award — held the newspaper at his side as he inched toward a woman wearing a knee-high dress and reading a Kindle. “He’s leaning on the pole right next to the door,” Birthwright told the Daily News. “He has a paper in his hand. But what’s mysterious about it, there’s a pen attached to the paper...He has it down in a very unsuspicious way. But every time the woman would move, he would move.” Catholic Fund Fails To Convince Believers (FT) JPMorgan Asset Management had hoped to attract investors who wanted exposure to investments that would not clash with tenets on issues such as birth control and civil rights. It also eschewed investments in governments of countries that have the death penalty. The aim was to replicate the success of funds compliant with Shariah law which have been in strong demand with Muslim investors. However, JPMorgan is to liquidate the Global Catholic Ethical Balanced Fund just over a year since it was launched. At May 31, it had net assets of just 4.3 million euros ($5.24 million), far short of a $30 million threshold outlined in its prospectus. Fake-bookers (NYP) Facebook admitted that some 83 million of the social network’s 955 million total users are fakes — meaning duplicates, spam or silly pages for pets. That represents nearly 9 percent of profiles on the site. The rash of fakes — equal to the population of Egypt — has shot up since Facebook’s rocky public debut in May, when it estimated “false” profiles accounted for 5 percent to 6 percent of its users. “These estimates are based on an internal review of a limited sample of accounts, and we apply significant judgment in making this determination, such as identifying names that appear to be fake or other behavior that appears inauthentic,” the company said in a recent regulatory filing. The spike is a major cause for concern, with advertisers and investors questioning Facebook’s effectiveness in reaching consumers. In particular, Facebook has been under scrutiny for slowing ad sales growth. Economy Adds 163,000 Jobs (WSJ) U.S. employers stepped up hiring in July as the economy continued its uneven recovery heading into this fall's presidential election. U.S. payrolls increased by a seasonally adjusted 163,000 jobs last month, the Labor Department said Friday, but the unemployment rate, obtained by a separate survey of U.S. households, ticked up one-tenth of a percent to 8.3%. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires expected a gain of 95,000 in payrolls and an 8.2% jobless rate. Family kept grandparents' deaths secret from Chinese diver until she won gold medal (YS) Chinese diver Wu Minxia's celebrations at winning a third Olympic gold medal were cut short after her family revealed the details of a devastating secret they had kept for several years. Wu's parents decided to withhold news of both the death of her grandparents and of her mother's long battle with breast cancer until after she won the 3-meter springboard in London so as to not interfere with her diving career. "It was essential to tell this white lie," said her father Wu Yuming...Wu's mother defended the decision to keep her situation private and admitted she only broached the subject of her breast cancer at this point because she is now in remission. Both of Wu's grandparents died more than a year ago, but the diver knew nothing of their passing until this week.

Opening Bell: 07.18.12

BofA Swings To Profit, Topping Analysts' Estimates (WSJ) Bank of America reported a profit of $2.46 billion, compared with a year-earlier loss of $8.83 billion. On a per-share basis, which reflect the payment of preferred dividends, earnings came in at 19 cents from a loss of 90 cents a year earlier. The year-ago quarter's results included a charge of $1.23 a share in mortgage-related and other adjustments. Total revenue surged 66% to $21.97 billion. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected earnings of 14 cents a share on $22.87 billion in revenue. The bank's profit was helped by reduced provisions for loan losses as credit quality continued to improve. Credit-loss provisions totaled $1.77 billion compared with $3.26 billion a year ago and $2.42 billion in the first quarter. HSBC Probe Brings Promises Regulator, Bank Will Clean Up Act (Bloomberg) HSBC executives apologized for opening their U.S. affiliate to a river of Mexican drug lords’ cash, and the U.S. regulator that failed to stem the flow vowed to prevent a repeat. “I deeply regret we did not act sooner and more decisively,” Comptroller of the Currency Thomas Curry said at a day-long hearing yesterday of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. He said his agency, which regulates HSBC’s U.S. arm, is partially responsible for letting Europe’s largest bank give terrorists, drug cartels and criminals access to the U.S. financial system and will take “a much more aggressive posture.” Opinion: Investing In America Produces The Best Returns, By Lloyd Blankfein (Politico) The question I’m most often asked these days is, “Where should I invest?” In recent years, we all know, there has been an unusually high degree of uncertainty. It falls into two broad categories: cyclical concerns that focus on the outlook for near-term economic growth and structural concerns that center on the viability of existing political or economic systems — for example, the European Union. The cyclical and structural challenges are considerable, and in some cases, even daunting. But when I meet with chief executive officers and institutional investors and they ask me where to invest, my response is that the United States remains as attractive as ever. And it would be even more attractive if it can make some short-term progress in a few key areas. Hugh Hendry: ‘Bad Things are Going to Happen’ (FT) Hendry believes that financial markets are single-digit years away from a crash that will present investors with opportunities of a lifetime. “Bad things are going to happen and I still think the closest analogy is the 1930s.” For Yahoo CEO, Two New Roles (WSJ) Just hours after Yahoo named Marissa Mayer as its new chief, the real conversation kicked in: how she will juggle pregnancy and being the CEO charged with saving a foundering Internet giant. The 37 year-old former Google executive is expecting her first child, a son, in early October. On Tuesday, she started her new job at Yahoo, which reported another quarter of lackluster sales growth...No Yahoo directors expressed concern about her pregnancy, according to Ms. Mayer, who told the board in late June, about a week after Yahoo's recruiter contacted her. She says she plans to work during her maternity leave, which will last several weeks...Ms. Mayer's husband, Zachary Bogue, a former attorney, is co-managing partner at Data Collective, an early-stage venture capital fund specializing in tech start-ups. JFK jet in laser scare (NYP) A lunatic aimed a powerful laser beam at an airliner flying over Long Island on its way into JFK — sending the pilot to the hospital and endangering the lives of the 84 people aboard. The first officer on JetBlue Flight 657 from Syracuse was treated for injuries to both eyes after the blinding flash of light lit up the cockpit Sunday night — as the FBI and Suffolk cops hunted for the person responsible, who could face federal prison time. The Embraer E190 jet landed safely, and the injured pilot — identified by sources as First Officer Robert Pemberton, 52 — was met at the gate and taken to Jamaica Hospital. Authorities believe the beam came from around West Islip, Babylon or Lindenhurst. “You wouldn’t think a pen laser would go that far of a distance,” said shocked West Babylon resident Cindy Konik, 50...A startled co-pilot, who was not identified, immediately took over the controls from his temporarily blinded colleague. “We just got lasered up here — two green flashes into the cockpit,” the captain radioed controllers at Ronkonkoma. Credit Suisse Sets Capital Plan (WSJ) moved Wednesday to stanch recent concerns about its financial strength, saying it is raising capital through the sale of convertible bonds, more divestments and the launch of another cost-savings program. It is a surprise twist in a spat with the country's central bank, which recently warned that Switzerland's number two bank wasn't strong enough to withstand a major crisis. Credit Suisse initially rejected the central bank's criticism, saying it was among the world's best-capitalized banks. This didn't impress investors, who offloaded their shares, wiping out 2 billion Swiss francs ($2.05 billion) in market value. At one point last month the bank even felt compelled to reassure investors that it was profitable in the second quarter, even though profitability over the period was never in doubt. Strong Possibility Of Further Fed Easing By September: Goldman (CNBC) In a testimony before the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke offered no new hints that the central bank is planning more easing, but repeated a pledge that the Fed “is prepared to take further action as appropriate to promote stronger economic recovery.” “While we think that a modest easing step is a strong possibility at the August or September meeting, we suspect that a large move is more likely to come after the election or in early 2013, barring rapid further deterioration in the already-cautious near term Fed economic outlook,” Goldman Sachs conomist Andrew Tilton said in a report. BlackRock's Net Slips 11% (WSJ) BlackRock reported a profit of $554 million, or $3.08 a share, compared with a year-earlier profit of $619 million, or $3.21 a share. Stripping out one-time items, per-share earnings rose to $3.10 from $3. Revenue slipped 5% to $2.23 billion. Analysts expected earnings of $3.01 a share on $2.26 billion in revenue, according to a poll conducted by Thomson Reuters. BNY Mellon profit falls 37 percent on litigation charge (Reuters) Bank of New York Mellon Corp said on Wednesday that second-quarter net income had fallen 37 percent on lower foreign exchange revenue and after it paid $212 million to settle an investor lawsuit. The world's largest custody bank reported net income of $466 million, or 39 cents a share, compared with $735 million, or 59 cents a share, a year earlier. As announced earlier this month, the results included an after-tax charge of $212 million to settle an investor lawsuit accusing the bank of imprudently investing their cash in a risky debt vehicle that collapsed in 2008. Quarterly revenue fell to $3.62 billion from $3.85 billion. Residents warned: 6-foot lizard loose in Colorado (AP) A sheriff has warned residents in a tourist town northwest of Colorado Springs that a strong, aggressive 6-foot lizard that eats small animals — including dogs and cats — is on the loose in the area. Teller County Sheriff Mike Ensinger said Tuesday that a 25-pound pet Nile monitor lizard has gone missing after breaking a mesh leash and crawling away. Ensinger said about 400 homes in the Woodland Park area were warned. He added that the animal, which escaped Monday and is known as Dino, has not bitten any humans — yet. "We have a 6-foot reptile out and about," Ensinger said. "If it gets hungry enough, we don't know what it will do." Ensinger said officers may use a tracking dog if Dino isn't located by Tuesday afternoon. "I'm not going after it," Ensinger said. "I don't do reptiles."

Opening Bell: 04.18.13

Morgan Stanley Sees Core Earnings Weaken (WSJ) Morgan Stanley saw core earnings weaken, although the investment bank swung to a first-quarter profit as it benefited from a comparison with a year-earlier period bogged down by a heavy charge. For the quarter, the bank reported a profit of $984 million, compared with a year-earlier loss of $94 million. The per-share profit, which reflects the payment of preferred dividends, was 49 cents compared with a loss of six cents a year earlier. The latest period featured a decline in fixed-income trading revenue, but strong stock trading and continued improvements in Morgan Stanley's wealth-management division, which was buoyed by strong markets. ... Revenue jumped 18% to $8.16 billion. Excluding debt valuation, revenue was $8.48 billion. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters most recently expected earnings, excluding debt-valuation adjustments, of 57 cents, on revenue of $8.35 billion. Blackstone First-Quarter Profit Rises on Fund Performance (Bloomberg) Blackstone Group LP (BX), the world’s biggest buyout firm, said first-quarter profit rose 28 percent as market gains lifted the carrying value of its holdings. Economic net income, a measure of earnings excluding some costs tied to the firm’s 2007 initial public offering, increased to $628.3 million, or 55 cents a share, from $491.2 million, or 44 cents, a year earlier, New York-based Blackstone said today in a statement. Analysts had expected earnings of 53 cents a share, according to the average of 15 estimates in a Bloomberg survey. Barclays Head of Investment Banking Rich Ricci to Retire in June (Bloomberg) Barclays Plc’s Rich Ricci, the head of investment banking and one of the last members of former Chief Executive Officer Robert Diamond’s management team, will retire at the end of June. Ricci, 49, will be replaced by Eric Bommensath and Tom King, 52, as co-chief executive officers of corporate and investment banking in May, the London-based bank said in a statement today. “The market will see this as an inevitable and appropriate piece of transitioning,” said Ian Gordon, an analyst at Investec Plc (INVP) in London. “Few tears will be shed and the reshuffle will be broadly welcomed.” Special Report: The battle for the Swiss soul (Reuters) A sign on display in UBS's museum, from a bank founded in 1747 in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, could almost be Switzerland's mantra: "MASSIMA DISCREZIONE" it promises. Swiss bankers have long adhered to an unwritten code similar to that observed by doctors or priests. Bankers do not acknowledge clients in public for fear of exposing them as account holders; they often carry business cards with just a name, rather than bank or contact details; and, at least until the 1990s, they never advertised abroad. ... Even today, few Swiss like to discuss the fact that much of the country's prosperity was built on bankers helping foreigners evade taxes. Visitors should avoid personal questions, advises Communicaid, a consultancy which advises businesses on cross-cultural awareness. It would also be wise to steer clear of discussing "Swiss banks, money or Switzerland's military role in World War One or Two." Reinhart/Rogoff and Growth in a Time Before Debt (RortyBomb via Felix Salmon) Here is a simple question: does a high debt-to-GDP ratio better predict future growth rates, or past ones? If the former is true, it would be consistent with the argument that higher debt levels cause growth to fall. On the other hand, if higher debt "predicts" past growth, that is a signature of reverse causality. ... As is evident, current period debt-to-GDP is a pretty poor predictor of future GDP growth at debt-to-GDP ratios of 30 or greater—the range where one might expect to find a tipping point dynamic. But it does a great job predicting past growth. Ottawa sets up taxpayer-funded food truck in Mexico to promote Canadian cuisine (National Post) When author Anita Stewart first heard about the Canadian government’s new food truck parked in Mexico City, she laughed so hard she cried. The new Canada-branded, taxpayer-funded venture, which kicked off its three-week pilot project last week, is serving up a Mexican-ized version of poutine, using Oaxaca cheese instead of curds. Also on the menu are Alberta beef tourtière, and maple-glazed Albacore tuna. China Vows Wider Yuan Movement (WSJ) China's central bank plans to widen the yuan's trading band in the near future, People's Bank of China Vice Governor Yi Gang said Wednesday, suggesting that China's leaders will press ahead with change despite the surprise slowing of the economy. "The exchange rate is going to be more market-oriented," Mr. Yi said on a panel at the International Monetary Fund spring meetings in Washington. "I think in the near future we are going to increase the floating band even further." IMF warns on risks of excessive easing (FT) Extraordinarily loose monetary policy risks sparking credit bubbles that threaten to tip the world back into financial crisis, the International Monetary Fund warned on Wednesday. In its global financial stability report, the fund cautioned that policy reforms were needed urgently to restore long-term health to the financial system before the long-term dangers of monetary stimulus materialised. German Parliament Approves Bailout for Cyprus (WSJ) German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble called the vote a "strong signal" by Germany in favor of the euro and the euro zone. The parliament also voted in favor of a seven-year extension of the maturity on European Financial Stability Facility loans for Ireland and Portugal with a large majority. SEC to Move Past Financial Crisis Cases Under New Chairman White (Bloomberg) Mary Jo White, the first former prosecutor to serve as chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, has pledged to run a “bold and unrelenting” enforcement program at the agency charged with regulating Wall Street. With financial crisis cases mostly done and some of the biggest insider-trading cases in history closed, White will have to chart a course into new areas to keep that pledge. White, who was sworn in last week, has already provided a few signals about what that might be. During her Senate confirmation hearing, she said she intends to focus on high- frequency and automated trading. She has also raised questions about a drop in the number of accounting fraud cases the agency has brought in recent years. Dispute in Hamptons Set Off by Effort to Hold Back Ocean (NYT) Soon after Hurricane Sandy hit last fall, Joshua Harris, a billionaire hedge fund founder and an owner of the Philadelphia 76ers, began to fear that his $25 million home on the water in Southampton might fall victim to the next major storm. So he installed a costly defense against incoming waves: a shield of large metal plates on the beach, camouflaged by sand. His neighbor, Mark Rachesky, another billionaire hedge fund founder, put up similar fortifications between his home and the surf. Chris Shumway, who closed his $8 billion hedge fund two years ago, trucked in boulders the size of Volkswagens. Across a section of this wealthy town, some residents, accustomed to having their way in the business world, are now trying to hold back the ocean. ‘Elvis’ is busted in ricin terror (NYP) The FBI last night busted a troubled Mississippi Elvis impersonator as the poison-wielding man who mailed ricin-laced letters to President Obama and two other officials. ... Despite his rock ’n’ roll hobby, Curtis shows his angry side on Facebook, where he lashes out in a conspiracy-filled rant. “I’m on the hidden front lines of a secret war,” he wrote. “They burned down my home, killed my dogs, my cat, my rabbit, blew up my 1966 Plymouth Valiant . . . and guess what? I am still a thorn in their corrupt anals! I will remain here until Jesus Christ decides it’s time for me to go.”

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.”