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.
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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)
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.

Bill Ackman: Investment Strategy And Economic Outlook (CNBC)
Sorkin: You piqued my interest minutes ago when you were talking about McDonald's same-store sales, you hinted that you liked the fast food business and when Bill Ackman says you like something, maybe you are actually looking at something...should we be seeing Bill Ackman's name next to McDonald's? Ackman: I probably wouldn't tell you if I liked something in advance of my buying it. That would be a bad idea. Sorkin: You used to be the owner of Borders-- not the best investment, admittedly. Ackman: In fact the worst we've made. So thanks for reminding me.

'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.

Related

Opening Bell: 09.06.12

Draghi Says Officials Agree On ECB Unlimited Bond-Buying (Bloomberg) The program “will enable us to address severe distortions in government bond markets which originate from, in particular, unfounded fears on the part of investors of the reversibility of the euro,” Draghi said at a press conference in Frankfurt after the ECB held its benchmark rate at a record low of 0.75 percent. “Under appropriate conditions, we will have a fully effective backstop to avoid destructive scenarios with potentially severe challenges for price stability in the euro area.” Positive Signs Emerge For Job Market (WSJ) Private-sector jobs in the U.S. increased by 201,000 last month, according to a national employment report calculated by payroll processor Automatic Data Processing Inc. and consultancy Macroeconomic Advisers. The August number was well above the 145,000 expected by economists. The July estimate was revised to 173,000 from the 163,000 reported last month. AIG To Sell $2 Billion Of AIA Shares (WSJ) AIG is seeking to raise around US$2 billion by selling more shares in AIA Group Ltd, its former pan-Asian life insurance unit, as it continues to repay the U.S. government bailout it received during the 2008 financial crisis. The U.S. insurer also said in a statement it plans to buy back another $5 billion in stock from the U.S. Treasury. AIG has been aggressively buying back shares this year and is expected to buy more from the Treasury this fall, as part of a push that could make the U.S. government a minority shareholder before the November elections and enable the company to fully repay its bailout sooner than expected. The Treasury Department sold $5 billion worth of shares in AIG last month, its fourth sale so far, reducing the government's stake to 55% and bringing down the amount the government needs to recoup from the bailout to $25 billion. Summer Rally Puts The Hurt On Fund Managers (WSJ) "The gap we are looking at is going to be very hard…for hedge funds to make up," said Anurag Bhardwaj, head of hedge-fund consulting at Barclays PLC. "At this late stage in the year, when the rally has been around for a bit, do you decide to get into the game now?" Alec Baldwin's daughter discusses ‘pig’ call (NYP) Alec Baldwin’s daughter Ireland has talked for the first time about his infamous 2007 voice mail in which he called her, then 12, “a rude, thoughtless, little pig” — saying he often speaks like that “because he’s frustrated.” Ireland, the 16-year-old daughter of Baldwin and Kim Basinger, thinks the incident — which created a viral scandal and prompted Baldwin to temporarily lose visitation rights — was blown wildly out of proportion. “The only problem with that voice mail was that people made it out to be a way bigger deal than it was,” she tells Page Six Magazine, out today. “He’s said stuff like that before just because he’s frustrated. “For me it was like, ‘OK, whatever.’ I called him back I was like, ‘Sorry Dad, I didn’t have my phone.’ That was it.” DE Shaw Is Back On Top (DJ) This year, Shaw has had the biggest asset growth among the top 20 hedge fund firms in Absolute Return’s Billion Dollar Club, which tracks the biggest hedgies twice a year. Shaw added $2.4 billion to its hedge-fund coffers this year, a 14 percent gain, bringing its assets to $19.4 billion as of July 1, according to the ranking out today. Clinton Nominates Obama, Rebuts Romney Criticism On Jobs (Bloomberg) Bill Clinton said President Barack Obama deserves re-election because he contained the economic crisis and put the nation on a path to recovery, casting the 2012 election as a choice between “shared opportunities and shared responsibility” and a “winner-take-all, you’re-on-your- own society.” Clinton, 66, praised Obama’s commitment to “constructive cooperation” and described him as a man who is “cool on the outside, but who burns for America on the inside.” The former president used a 48-minute address before the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, last night to deliver a rebuttal of criticisms leveled at Obama by challenger Mitt Romney and his running mate during last week’s Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida -- at one point saying it “takes some brass” for Obama’s partisan adversaries to lob some of their attacks. “Nobody’s right all the time and a broken clock is right twice a day,” Clinton said. “We’re compelled to spend our fleeting lives between those two extremes.” Most Of Nomura's Cuts To Come In Europe, US (WSJ) The brokerage house said Thursday 45% of the cuts would be in Europe and 21% in the U.S. Nomura said 45% of the total cuts would be in the form of labor costs. Love Triangle Leads To Million-Dollar Return Battle At Neiman Marcus (FDL) The meeting was awkward. Malcolm Reuben, the buttoned-up vice president and general manager of Neiman Marcus’ NorthPark Center store, stood inside the multimillion-dollar Addison home of one of his top customers, Patricia Walker. Beside him were two colleagues: a Neiman Marcus attorney and his store’s loss-prevention manager. Walker was joined by her own attorney and her personal assistant. It was a summer day in 2010. Glancing around the sleek Max Levy–designed house, the only things more dazzling than the sculptural masonry columns or the steel-and-glass staircase were the piles of designer goods: handbags, shoes, furs, clothing, crystal figurines, fine jewelry. It represented the bulk of $1.4 million in merchandise charged to Walker over a period of years. “There was a variety of merchandise laying all over the house,” Reuben testified in a March video deposition. “She wanted to return all of the merchandise because of the affair.” Oh, yes. The affair. Walker had learned that Favi Lo, her longtime Neiman Marcus sales associate at NorthPark, was sleeping with her husband. And Walker saw that her charges had soared in recent years while she recovered from a horrific head-on auto collision. She came to believe that her husband was responsible for many of the purchases and had used them to pump up commissions for his mistress.

Opening Bell: 03.05.12

Greek Bond Swap Deal Rests on Knife Edge (FT) People close to some bondholders warned other investors to take seriously threats by policymakers that if the deal fails Greece will default on its debt. “Some investors seem to think they will be rescued. That just isn’t the case,” one said. People involved in the deal denied that there was any nervousness about the outcome but nobody was willing to guess how high the participation rate would be. Slim Beats Gates in First Daily Billionaire Ranking (Bloomberg) If you like obsessively measuring your penis you'll love this: Carlos Slim, the telecommunications tycoon who controls Mexico’s America Movil SAB, is the richest person on Earth, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a daily ranking of the world’s 20 wealthiest individuals...The Bloomberg Billionaires Index takes measure of the world’s wealthiest people based on market and economic changes and Bloomberg News reporting. Each net worth figure is updated every business day at 5:30 p.m. in New York. The valuations are listed in U.S. dollars. Zuckerberg Doesn’t Rank on Billionaire Index (Bloomberg) Sad trombone: At the time of the offering, Zuckerberg is likely to sell about $1.75 billion of Facebook stock to pay off the tax obligation he will incur when he exercises options to buy 120 million shares. The combined transactions will dilute Zuckerberg’s stake from 28.4 percent to about 21 percent. If the company maintains its projected $100 billion valuation, that would make Zuckerberg worth about $21 billion, less than the $28.4 billion implied by his stated ownership. At that net worth, Zuckerberg isn’t rich enough to qualify for the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a new daily ranking of the world’s 20 richest people. The 20th spot is currently occupied by L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt. AIG to Sell $6 Billion In Asian Insurer's Stock (WSJ) American International Group Inc. kicked off a $6 billion sale of shares in Asian life insurer AIA Group Ltd. on Monday morning in Hong Kong, moving forward with plans to repay another chunk of its 2008 U.S. bailout. AIG said the shares will be placed with institutional investors and expects them to be priced by Tuesday. The 1.7 billion shares up for sale represent around 14% of AIA, less than half the 32.9% stake AIG holds, according to a term sheet. Proceeds from this week's sale have been earmarked to repay the U.S. government, which rescued AIG from near collapse during the financial crisis with a record $182.3 billion bailout that has been partially repaid. The Treasury Department still has to recoup about $50 billion in taxpayer funds, and about $8.4 billion of that amount will be repaid when AIG sells the AIA shares and other assets, including its airplane-leasing subsidiary. The rest of the money—roughly $42 billion—is supposed to come from the government's sale of its 77% stake in AIG. Lenders Stress Over Test Results (WSJ) The 19 biggest U.S. banks in January submitted reams of data in response to regulators' questions, outlining how they would perform in a severe downturn. Now, citing competitive concerns, bankers are pressing the Fed to limit its release of information—expected as early as next week—to what was published after the first test of big banks in 2009. JFK Airport search of drug mule who said she was three months pregnant reveals she carried $20,000 worth of heroin (NYDN) Awoyemi, coming off an Air France flight from Paris to New York and wearing a “loose-fitting dress” was asked whether she was pregnant, and the woman replied that she was three months along, Homeland Security special agent John Moloney stated in a complaint filed in Brooklyn Federal Court. The customs inspector noted that Awoyemi appeared nervous, so she was selected for a pat-down search. After feeling a “bulge” in Awoyemi’s groin area, the situation escalated to a partial strip-search, according to the complaint. When she dropped her drawers, Awoyemi’s scheme fell apart. Pellets containing brown powder began dropping from her groin area — and the substance tested positive for heroin. Awoyemi was taken to a medical facility at the airport, where the federal cops administered a pregnancy test that came back negative. An X-ray showed more pellets in her intestinal tract, and by the end of the day she had passed about 25 pellets of heroin in a special commode that Customs officials have dubbed the “Drug Loo.” The high-tech toilet sanitizes the incriminating evidence. More On The Morgan Stanley Executive Charged in Cab Hate Crime Attack (Bloomberg) Jennings left a bank holiday party sometime before 11 p.m. and headed to the street, where he was supposed to be met by a car service, Jennings said. He hailed Ammar’s cab after the livery car didn’t appear, according to the report. Ammar said Jennings agreed on the fare and told him he would pay cash. Jennings fell asleep during the trip, the driver said. Once at the destination, though, Jennings said “he did not feel like paying” because he was already home, Ammar told police...When Ammar threatened to call the local police, Jennings said they wouldn’t do anything to help because he pays $10,000 in taxes, according to a report by the Darien police department...The Morgan Stanley executive told police he was afraid to come forward after the incident because the cab driver knew where he lived. He then went on vacation to Florida, police said. Jennings told officers he subsequently called his lawyer after a friend told him police were looking for a suspect in the stabbing incident, according to the report. JPMorgan Star To Launch Own Hedge Fund (FT) London-based Mike Stewart, JPMorgan’s global head of proprietary trading, and former head of emerging markets, is set to start his own new hedge fund, Whard Stewart, in the second quarter, people familiar with his plans said. Mr Stewart’s emerging markets trading team at the bank is expected to join him. The departures come despite word last week that US regulators will probably delay implementation of the so-called “Volcker rule” , under which banks are in effect banned from proprietary trading. Friends With Benefits (NYP) Unlike his fallen pal Raj Rajaratnam, former Goldman Sachs director Rajat Gupta appears to have no shortage of character witnesses willing to testify at his upcoming insider trading trial. Indeed, dozens of well-heeled supporters are already putting their names on the line for the former consulting titan, including world-renowned speaker Deepak Chopra and Mukesh Ambani, the ninth-richest man in the world. “I have never seen him ask for anything for himself, always for the greater good,” Ambani, the chairman of Reliance Industries, said recently on a little-noticed website called friendsofrajat.com. Cigarettes: The Most Stable International Currency (BusinessWeek) Cartons of Good Cat brand cigarettes are selling for as much as RMB5,600 (US$890) per carton in the city of Xi’an, in Shaanxi Province. The suspicion, according to reports this week, is that they are being used to bribe officials. Election Year Poses Challenge For Stocks (WSJ) The Dow is off to its best start to a year since 1998. But if history is a guide, this exuberance soon could give way to the first pangs of electoral anxiety. In a typical presidential-election year, stocks start well but slip into a funk by spring, according to Ned Davis Research, which has measured election-year trends back to 1900. At least in part, the slump reflects the electoral unknowns, Ned Davis has concluded. In a good year, investors deal with their jitters by late summer or early autumn and stocks recover. People get more comfortable with the November election outlook and put money back into stocks. This year, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average up 6.2% in just over two months, many investors and analysts expect a pullback soon. The looming election adds to ambient uncertainty about European debt and U.S. and Chinese growth prospects. Tony Welch, an analyst at Ned Davis Research, says the Dow could pull back 5% or 6% in the coming weeks. "We think the election-year trend could be strong this year," Mr. Welch says. "The market prefers certainty. It doesn't like unknowns." Ochocinco was urinated on by a lion and lived to tweet the tale (YS) The New England Patriots receiver was at a charity event in Miami on Saturday night when he ran into the caged animal. According to Ochocinco's Twitter account, the king of the jungle proceeded to become the urine sprayer at the party. Tweets included: "Swear to lil 10 pound bearded baby Jesus I just got peed on by a real "Lion" I'm not lying either. And y'all wonder why I don't go out!!!!!," "It's not funny i have on my good church clothes," and "I wasn't that close, he sprayed like a water gun."

Opening Bell: 03.16.12

Mayor Bloomberg Visits Goldman Employees After Smith Op-Ed (BW) “The mayor stopped by to make clear that the company is a vital part of the city’s economy, and the kind of unfair attacks that we’re seeing can eventually hurt all New Yorkers,” said Stu Loeser, a spokesman for the mayor. Bloomberg visited the firm Thursday and met with Chief Executive Officer Lloyd C. Blankfein and numerous employees, Loeser said. Italy Said To Pay Morgan Stanley $3.4 Billion (Bloomberg) When Morgan Stanley said in January it had cut its “net exposure” to Italy by $3.4 billion, it didn’t tell investors that the nation paid that entire amount to the bank to exit a bet on interest rates. Italy, the second-most indebted nation in the European Union, paid the money to unwind derivative contracts from the 1990s that had backfired, said a person with direct knowledge of the Treasury’s payment. It was cheaper for Italy to cancel the transactions rather than to renew, said the person, who declined to be identified because the terms were private. Client Slams Goldman Slowness to Give Reassurances (Reuters) PG, a Dutch investment adviser that runs 300 billion euros of assets for more than 4.5 million people in the Netherlands, said it was surprised it took the Wall Street bank more than a day to offer APG any reassurance on points raised in Greg Smith's resignation letter. "We would have expected that a company that faces such a big media backlash over something so core to their business such as client trust would have instantly reached out to those clients to say something," APG spokesman Harmen Geers told Reuters. Banks Desire Assets Tied To AIG Bailout (WSJ) A potential sale of the CDOs by the New York Fed in the coming months, plus the government's recent decision to resume selling some of its AIG stock, could set the stage for the U.S. to recover the bulk of its money from the bailout before the presidential elections this year. Learning From The Spurned And Tipsy Fruit Fly (NYT) They were young males on the make, and they struck out not once, not twice, but a dozen times with a group of attractive females hovering nearby. So they did what so many men do after being repeatedly rejected: they got drunk, using alcohol as a balm for unfulfilled desire. And not one flew off in search of a rotting banana. Fruit flies apparently self-medicate just like many humans do, drowning their sorrows or frustrations for some of the same reasons, scientists reported Thursday. Male flies subjected to what amounted to a long tease — in a glass tube, not a dance club — preferred food spiked with alcohol far more than male flies that were able to mate. Buffett Awards Wall Street-Sized Pay Praised by Dimon (Bloomberg) Warren Buffett, who has said banker greed helped deepen the U.S. financial crisis, attracts the workers he wants with compensation that competes with Wall Street awards. Berkshire gave $17.4 million in 2011 compensation to Thomas P. Nerney, CEO of its United States Liability Insurance Group; $12.4 million to Geico Corp. CEO Tony Nicely and the National Indemnity Co. unit gave $9.26 million to Ajit Jain, according to filings to state regulators. Berkshire, which is set to send its annual-meeting notice to shareholders today, said in last year’s proxy that Buffett’s salary remains $100,000 at his request. St. Patrick's Day Message: Ireland Isn't Greece (CNBC) As large parts of the world turn green to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, the Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny has been flying the green, white and gold flag on a charm offensive around the world. enny is packing in trips to London, China and New York within a couple of weeks in an effort to carry forward the country’s gradual return to economic health, which has been based largely on attracting foreign investment. He opens the New York Stock Exchange on Monday, after visiting at the White House over the weekend. “This is a very important push for Ireland,” Irish businessman Barry Maloney, founder and general partner at venture capital firm Balderton Capital, told CNBC. Kozlowski in NYC work release (NYP) Convicted in 2005 of looting his company, Kozlowski was transferred from an upstate prison to the Lincoln Correctional Facility, a minimum-security site on Manhattan’s 110th Street near Fifth Avenue, on the north border of the park. He leaves every weekday morning to participate in a work-release program, said Peter Cutler, a spokesman for the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. Kozlowski is still serving a prison sentence of 8 1/3 to 25 years, Officials Cool On Yuan-Swap Proposal (WSJ) Amid growing interest in turning London into a trading hub for the Chinese yuan, some bankers have proposed to U.K financial authorities to adopt a tool increasingly used by China's central bank to foster yuan liquidity overseas: bilateral currency-swap agreements. The bankers are pushing for the Bank of England to sign a currency-swap deal withits Chinese counterpart, according to banking executives involved in the discussions. Such a deal, they say, could help foreign banks get hold of yuan and supply the currency to customers. DA grilling two 'hookers' and 'money launderer' in case of alleged madam (NYP) Court transcripts and other records, along with sources familiar with the case, indicate that the two alleged prostitutes and a mysterious “laundry man” — identified only as a 68-year-old Russian-American — have met privately with authorities to save their own hides and clinch a case against Gristina and her suspected cohort, Jaynie Mae Baker. One of the women has admitted privately to having turned tricks for Gristina at her alleged East 78th Street “brothel,” a source said. Prosecutors have engaged in hush-hush negotiations with alleged call girls Mhairiangela “Maz” Bottone, 30, and Catherine DeVries, 31 — who are both charged with prostitution, according to court documents — and with the alleged money launderer, named only as “John Doe” by authorities.

Opening Bell: 11.19.12

Geithner: Deal To Avoid 'Fiscal Cliff' Can Be Made In Weeks (Bloomberg) Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner said he’s confident an agreement on averting the fiscal cliff can be concluded within weeks after White House talks between President Barack Obama and congressional leaders. “It was a good meeting, and the tone was very good,” Geithner said in an interview in Washington. “I think this is doable within several weeks.” Geithner said a deal must be reached soon to prevent further damaging consumer confidence. The lack of agreement is “this huge cloud of uncertainty hanging over the economy,” he said. As the peak of holiday shopping season approaches, “You’d want to do it as soon as you can.” “This is within our grasp, within our reach,” Geithner said. “It’s not that complicated.” Geithner repeated the administration’s calls for an immediate extension of middle-class tax cuts, and said a deal on high-end tax cuts shouldn’t be delayed. “I think deferring things doesn’t work,” he said. “You know, we’ve had several periods now where there was a choice made to defer.” Obama Calls CEOs, Including Buffett, Dimon (Politico) President Obama made calls to a handful of top business leaders over the weekend, a White House official said Sunday, as part of effort to build support for his approach to averting the fiscal cliff. In conversations that came during his weekend of travel to and in Asia, Obama stressed "the need to find a balanced deficit reduction solution that protects the middle class and continues to move our economy forward," the official said. Obama spoke to Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett, Apple CEO Tim Cook, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, Boeing CEO Jim McNerney and Costco CEO Craig Jelinek, the official said. Lagarde: Reality' Not 'Wishful Thinking' Needed on Greece (Reuters) "I am always trying to be constructive but I am driven by two objectives," Lagarde said in an interview, "to build and approve a program for Greece that is solid, that is convincing today, that will be sustainable tomorrow, that is rooted in reality and not in wishful thinking. Investment Falls Off A Cliff (WSJ) U.S. companies are scaling back investment plans at the fastest pace since the recession, signaling more trouble for the economic recovery. Half of the nation's 40 biggest publicly traded corporate spenders have announced plans to curtail capital expenditures this year or next, according to a review by The Wall Street Journal of securities filings and conference calls. Sahara Feeling Heat Over Bond Sales (WSJ) India's Sahara Group has built an empire by offering financial products to tens of millions of rural Indians who typically stashed their meager savings under the mattress. Business was so good that Sahara, using fees and investments from its customers' deposits, grew into a multi-billion-dollar conglomerate that includes a 10,000-acre township, New York's Plaza Hotel building and a Formula-1 racing team. Today, the company's practices are coming under intense public scrutiny, the product of years of tussle between Sahara and regulators who worry India's informal financial sector has grown dangerously fast and without oversight. Many savers who scraped together money to put with Sahara now fear they could face lengthy delays in getting their money back. Opportunists Stockpile Twinkies for Big Payday (AP) Hours after the maker of Twinkies, Hostess Brands, announced its plans to close forever, people flocked to stores to fill their shopping baskets with boxes of Twinkies, which are cream-filled sponge cakes, and other snacks made by the company — Ding Dongs, Ho Hos and Zingers. Late Friday and Saturday, the opportunists took to the Web sites eBay and Craigslist. They began marketing their hoards to whimsical collectors and junk-food lovers for hundreds, in some cases thousands, of dollars. That is a fat profit margin, considering the retail price for a box of 10 Twinkies is about $5. Bond Investor Takes Big Punt On Ireland (FT) Franklin Templeton funds increased their holdings of Irish bonds by more than a third to at least €8.4 billion in the third quarter. This means that the San Francisco-based US asset manager now controls almost a 10th of Ireland’s entire government bond market. Most of the bonds have been snapped up by funds controlled by Michael Hasenstab, co-director of Franklin Templeton’s international bond department, and particularly by the $64 billion Templeton Global Bond Fund he manages. Kim Kardashian Weighs In On The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (HP) Kim Kardashian is apparently neutral when it comes to the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The reality star first tweeted support for Israel: "Praying for everyone in Israel," she wrote. And after five minutes of backlash, the star tweeted again: "And praying for everyone in Palestine and across the world!" she wrote. Kardashian is clearly the last person anyone wanted to hear from regarding the issue, and the 32-year-old was immediately hit with more backlash over the tweets -- including death threats. The star has since deleted the tweets and explained her reasons for tweeting about the conflict in a blog post on her website. Shadow Banking Grows to $67 Trillion Industry, Regulators Say (Bloomberg) The shadow banking industry has grown to about $67 trillion, $6 trillion bigger than previously thought, leading global regulators to seek more oversight of financial transactions that fall outside traditional oversight. The size of the shadow banking system, which includes the activities of money market funds, monoline insurers and off- balance sheet investment vehicles, “can create systemic risks” and “amplify market reactions when market liquidity is scarce,” the Financial Stability Board said in a report, which utilized more data than last year’s probe into the sector. “Appropriate monitoring and regulatory frameworks for the shadow banking system needs to be in place to mitigate the build-up of risks,” the FSB said in the report published on its website. Lehman Trustee Ends Citigroup Fight (WSJ) The trustee unwinding Lehman Brothers Inc. reached an agreement with Citigroup that ends a long-running legal fight over more than $1 billion that Lehman deposited at the bank the week it filed for bankruptcy protection. The deal puts $435 million in the coffers of Lehman's brokerage unit, LBI, for distribution to customers and other creditors, according to the settlement filed Friday night in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan. Europe Seeks More Taxes From US Multinationals (NYT) Google, Amazon, Starbucks and other American companies facing tax scrutiny say they are doing nothing wrong. They use complex accounting strategies to exploit national differences across Europe in corporate tax rates, which range from less than 10 percent to more than 30 percent, and loopholes that can reduce their effective European tax levies to almost nothing. Google, for example, records most of its international revenue at its European headquarters in Ireland, where the corporate tax rate is 12.5 percent. Across Europe, customers who buy advertising, Google’s primary source of revenue, sign contracts with the company’s subsidiary in Ireland, rather than with local branches. Google ends up paying Irish taxes on only a fraction of the billions of euros that course through its Dublin office. That is because the company uses a variety of methods, including royalty payments to a unit in Bermuda, to reduce further the amount of money exposed to tax liability. So, while Google told the Securities and Exchange Commission that it generated more than $4 billion in sales in Britain last year, it reported revenue of only £396 million, or $629 million, in itsofficial filings there. Central New York district attorney Marc Suben admits to '70s porn star past (NYDN) Prior to this year’s election, Marc Suben denied appearing in 1970s skin flicks, telling reporters he was the subject of a campaign by political rivals who wanted to sully his reputation. But Friday, CNYCentral.com published a story highlighting a YouTube video comparing Suben with porn actor Gus Thomas, whose IMDB film credits include “Deep Throat Part 2” and “Doctor’s Teenage Dilemma.” Suben swiftly called a press conference and “humbly” apologized to those he had deceived. He admitted to using “bad judgment” both by appearing in adult films in his youth and by lying about them as a public official. He was first elected in 2008. “I was shocked and embarrassed to be confronted with this so many years later,” said Suben, who has also served as a judge. “I was embarrassed for my family and friends who stood by me. I also denied my actions to my family, my friends and my staff.” He declined to say whether he plans to resign.

Opening Bell: 12.06.12

Diamondback to Close Down as Investors Pull $520 Million (WSJ) Diamondback Capital Management LLC, among the hedge funds that was raided by the FBI about two years ago as part of the U.S. investigation of insider trading on Wall Street, is liquidating after clients pulled money. The Stamford, Connecticut-based fund received requests from investors to withdraw about $520 million, or 26 percent of its assets, co-founders Richard Schimel and Lawrence Sapanski, said today in a client letter. They said they plan to return the majority of the money next month. “We especially appreciate your patience and support during the last two difficult years during which we reached closure of the government’s investigation,” they said in the letter. SEC Probes Deutsche Bank (Bloomberg) U.S. securities regulators are investigating allegations that Deutsche Bank hid billions of dollars of paper losses during the financial crisis, according to people close to the investigation. The German bank said Wednesday that the allegations, by three former U.S.-based employees, were "wholly unfounded" and had been the subject of a "careful and thorough" review it had commissioned. The former employees have told the Securities and Exchange Commission that traders at Deutsche Bank overvalued a portfolio of derivatives to hide rapidly mounting losses when financial markets were collapsing in 2008, the people close to the investigation said. The details of the allegations were reported by the Financial Times on Wednesday. Wall Street Job Reductions Seen Persisting After Citigroup Cuts (WSJ) Wall Street’s cost cuts and dismissals, which have helped erase more than 300,000 financial- industry jobs in the past two years, are far from over. Citigroup's announcement yesterday of plans to eliminate 11,000 positions in units spanning equities trading to consumer banking is the latest sign of strain from a market slowdown, stiffer capital rules and weak economic growth. Lenders around the globe are likely to trim more jobs if revenue doesn’t rebound sharply next year, analysts and recruiters said. “The knives are sharpened and ready,” said Jason Kennedy, chief executive officer of London-based search firm Kennedy Group. “These institutions are too big for the business they are generating but they are still quite bullish that the market will return by mid-2013. Unless the markets picks up, there will be more cuts in the first half.” Broadening Tax Base and Raising Rates Key to 'Cliff' Deal: Summers (CNBC) The wiggle-room in the "fiscal cliff" negotiations comes down to a balanced approach on raising tax rates for wealthier Americans and broadening the tax base by closing loopholes and deductions, former Clinton Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers told CNBC. "The president is not signing legislation — no way — that does not raise tax rates. The president has been clear as day," Summers said Thursday on "Squawk Box." Summers also pointed out that President Barack Obama isn't married to repealing the Bush tax cuts for the top 2 percent of wage earners all the way back to the Clinton-era tax rates of 39.6 percent. So rates might not go that high if there's sufficient revenue coming from the base-broadening side of the equation. Geithner: Ready to Go Over 'Cliff' If Taxes Don't Rise (CNBC) Treasury Secretary Timothy Geither told CNBC Wednesday that Republicans are "making a little bit of progress" in "fiscal cliff" talks but said the Obama administration was "absolutely" ready to go over the cliff if the GOP doesn't agree to raise tax rates on the wealthy. "I think they're making a little bit of progress," Geithner said. "They're clearly moving and figuring out how to try to move further." But Geithner said the White House would "absolutely" go over the fiscal cliff — triggering over $600 billion in automatic spending cuts and tax increases — unless tax rates increase on the top 2 percent of wage earners. Steinberg Is Eyed In SAC Trial (NYP) Prosecutors yesterday confirmed the worst-kept secret in the insider-trading trial unfolding in Manhattan federal court: They view former SAC Capital money manager Michael Steinberg as a co-conspirator in the case. Prosecutor Antonia Apps argued yesterday that Steinberg, a portfolio manager with SAC’s Sigma Alpha unit, should be officially labeled a co-conspirator in the case because he knew his former analyst, John Horvath, was receiving illegal tips on computer-maker Dell. The government has already alluded to Steinberg’s alleged role in earlier court documents, when it referred to four unnamed co-conspirators, including “the portfolio manager to whom Jon Horvath reported at his hedge fund.” That person is Steinberg. New Zealand Dogs Learn How to Drive (ABC) Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? Not the New Zealand chapter of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), which has launched a marketing campaign featuring dogs — real dogs — learning how to drive. Really. SPCA Auckland chose three abandoned dogs — Monty, Ginny and Porter — and put them behind the wheel of a car to show that rescue dogs are a first-rate choice for adoptions. “I think sometimes people think because they’re getting an animal that’s been abandoned that somehow it’s a second-class animal,” SPCA Auckland’s CEO, Christine Kalin, told the New Zealand Herald. “Driving a car actively demonstrates to potential rescue dog adopters that you can teach an old dog new tricks.” The trio of highway-ready rescue dogs was chosen by SPCA two months ago and then relocated to Animals on Q, a “premiere New Zealand animal talent agency,” according to its website, to begin their “doggy driver training process,” the Herald reported. The dogs have trained for the past eight weeks under the supervision of Animals on Q owner Mark Vette. Next week one of the dog’s skills will be put to the test in front of a live national TV audience. Porter, a 10-month-old Beardie Cross and the star among the three pups, will drive a Mini Countryman on the “Campbell Live” program on New Zealand’s 3 News, the station reported in a sneak peek that aired last night. The TV appearance will mark the first time that Porter, or any of the other pups, drives without human assistance. While training, Porter — along with Monty, an 18-month Giant Schnauzer, and, Ginny, a 1-year-old whippets cross — used a canine-modified Mini, but had human help in the form of steering wheel adjustments and verbal commands. Nasdaq drops ball on IPO — again (NYP) The electronic exchange run by CEO Robert Greifeld was forced yesterday to cancel orders on a planned $100 million initial public offering of WhiteHorse Finance due to “human error,” a Nasdaq spokesman said. A staffer in the exchange’s market-watch department “inadvertently” pressed a button to cancel trading rather than to delay the launch of the company. Standard Chartered to Pay Additional $330 Million in Iran Settlement (WSJ) Standard Chartered said Thursday it expects to pay an additional $330 million to settle with U.S. authorities over past transactions with Iranian clients that may have violated U.S. sanctions, putting its total bill at around $670 million. Madam Set To Name NFL Big (NYP) Notorious Upper East Side madam Anna Gristina is about to start naming names of high-power clients from her little black book — and an unlucky NFL executive will be the first bombshell name she lets fly, we’re told. “There is going to be a giant name dropped — actually, a couple of them,” Gristina told The Post’s Laura Italiano, speaking of her plans for an upcoming interview with TV host psychologist Dr. Phil. Asked if those names would be “giant” with a capital “G,” the Hockey Mom Madam gave a distinctly mischievous laugh that portends bad news for the bigwig client...“Everyone’s going to have to watch Dr. Phil,” she said. “I will tell you that one of the names is high-level [NFL] management. Then there’s an older [football] player who’s still very well known. Tune in to Dr. Phil!” Jobless Claims Fall (Reuters) Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 25,000 to a seasonally adjusted 370,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday. The prior week's figure was revised to show 2,000 more applications than previously reported. EU Pushes Crackdown On Tax Havens (WSJ) The European Union's executive Thursday moved to step up efforts against tax havens, encouraging members to name and shame ultra-low-tax jurisdictions and crack down on cross-border tax avoidance within the 27-nation bloc. Guatemalan Police Arrest Software Guru McAfee (AP) Software company founder John McAfee was arrested by police in Guatemala on Wednesday for entering the country illegally, hours after he said he would seek asylum in the Central American country. The anti-virus guru was detained at a hotel in an upscale Guatemala City neighborhood with the help of Interpol agents and taken to an old, three-story building used to house migrants who enter the country illegally, said Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez Bonilla. It was the latest twist in a bizarre tale that has seen McAfee refuse to turn himself in to authorities in Belize, where he is a person of interest in the killing of a neighbor, then go on the lam, updating his progress on a blog and claiming to be hiding in plain sight, before secretly crossing the border into Guatemala. "He will be in danger if he is returned to Belize, where he has denounced authorities," said his lawyer in Guatemala, Telesforo Guerra. "His life is in danger." Guerra said he would ask that a judge look at McAfee's case as soon as possible. "From them moment he asked for asylum he has to have the protection of the Guatemalan government." Earlier Wednesday, McAfee said he had formally requested asylum in Guatemala after entering the country from Belize, where he says he fears for his safety because he has sensitive information about official corruption and refused to donate to local politicians. "Yes, we are presenting this, and I want it to be clear, because of the persecution, not because of the murder," he told the AP about his asylum bid.

Opening Bell: 01.16.13

Goldman Profit Soars (WSJ) "While economic conditions remained challenging for much of last year, the strengths of our business model and client franchise, coupled with our focus on disciplined management, delivered solid performance for our shareholders," Chief Executive Lloyd C. Blankfein said. Overall, the investment-banking arm recorded revenue of $1.41 billion for the quarter, up from $857 million a year ago and $1.16 billion in the third quarter. Financial advisory revenue rose 8.1% from year ago. Debt underwriting revenue surged to $593 million from $196 million in the year ago and the $466 million reported in the third quarter. Equity underwriting revenue popped 59% from the year ago and 61% from the prior quarter to $304 million. Revenue from fixed income, currency and commodity trading totaled $2.04 billion, versus $1.36 billion a year earlier and $2.22 billion in the third quarter. Revenue from equities execution rose 45% from a year ago to $764 million but fell 10% from the third quarter. Overall profit for the fourth quarter totaled $2.89 billion, compared with a year-earlier profit of $1.01 billion. Earnings per share, reflecting the payment of preferred dividends, jumped to $5.60 from $1.84. Net revenue, including net interest income, surged 53% to $9.24 billion. JPMorgan Profit Tops Estimates (WSJ) JPMorgan's fourth-quarter earnings surged 53% on strong revenue and better credit, as the bank further detailed the fallout from more than $6 billion in trading losses last year. The outsized, complex trades on credit default swaps tied to corporate bonds became known as the "London Whale." On Wednesday, the bank made public an internal report outlining mistakes and oversights by executives who played a role in the matter, including Chief Investment Officer Ina Drew, who has since left the bank, and Douglas Braunstein, who was chief financial officer during the episode and has since become a vice chairman. It also said its Treasury and Chief Investment Office, where the "Whale" trades were made, recorded a loss of $157 million on the fourth quarter, compared to net income of $417 million in the year ago. J.P. Morgan also said it halved the 2012 compensation of Chief Executive James Dimon to $11.5 million. Additionally, he will have to wait up to another 18 months before he can start exercising two million options that were awarded to him five years ago. Overall, J.P. Morgan reported a profit of $5.69 billion, or $1.39 a share, for the fourth quarter, up from $3.73 billion, or 90 cents a share, a year ago. Bankers Get IOUs Instead Of Bonus Cash (WSJ) Several thousand Morgan Stanley traders, investment bankers and other employees will get IOUs instead of cash when bonus day arrives Thursday, a fundamental change in Wall Street pay triggered by the financial crisis. The New York company will pay its bonuses in four equal installments, according to people briefed on the plan, with the first chunk coming in May and the last in January 2016. Employees who quit or are laid off before the payments stand to lose their deferred compensation unless they negotiate a separate deal with the company. "I don't think there will be a lot of cheers on the trading floors of Morgan Stanley," said Mark Williams, a former Federal Reserve bank examiner who now teaches at Boston University. "Bonuses were used to buy houses and cars. They were savings vehicles." AIG Seeks Approval To File More Bank Suits (NYT) Since the summer of 2011, the insurance giant American International Group has been battling Bank of America over claims that the bank packaged and sold it defective mortgages that dealt A.I.G. billions of dollars in losses. Now A.I.G. wants to be able to sue other banks that sold it mortgage-backed securities that plunged in value during the financial crisis. It has not said which banks, but possibilities include Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase. But to sue, A.I.G. first must win a court fight with an entity controlled by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which the insurer says is blocking its efforts to pursue the banks that caused it financial harm. Hungary Attacks Roubini Over Currency 'Advice' (CNBC) Hungary's Ministry for National Economy said in a statement that the forint began to depreciate after economist Nouriel Roubini – dubbed Dr Doom for his pessimistic forecasts – said in a newsletter that failure to secure a deal with the International Monetary Fund was bad news for the currency. The forint has been in decline since last week hitting seven-month lows earlier this week but has since gained some ground. Hungarian officials rounded on Roubini saying; "On Thursday speculators seem to have taken Roubini's advice and attacked the forint." BofA Takes A Mortgage Mulligan (WSJ) Less than two years after embarking on a painful retreat from home lending, Bank of America Corp. is girding for a new run at the U.S. mortgage business. Whether that gamble pays off will depend in large measure on how long the mortgage market's run of record profits continues. The Charlotte, N.C., company aims to sell more mortgages through its 5,000-plus branches, executives said. The fourth-biggest U.S. mortgage lender, after Wells Fargo & Co., J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and U.S. Bancorp, is intent on "growing that business," Chief Executive Brian Moynihan said at a December investor conference. Eurozone Plan May Be Watered Down (WSJ) One of the euro zone's most significant commitments last year aimed at containing its financial crisis—a plan to allow the bloc's bailout fund to directly boost the capital of banks in countries facing debt troubles—could be undermined by technical complications and second thoughts by some governments. Germany Repatriates Gold Reserves (WSJ) Germany's central bank said it would remove nearly a fifth of its total gold reserves from deposits at the New York Federal Reserve Bank and the Bank of France and bring them back to Germany, amid a debate in the country over the transparency of its global gold holdings. Inside Trader Sent To Kinnu-can (NYP) John Kinnucan, the former head of Portland, Ore.-based firm Broadband Research, was sentenced to four years and three months in prison after admitting to feeding illegal stock tips to his well-heeled hedge fund clients. Reporter fired for secret stripping job gets new journalism gig with same (NYDN) Tressler, 30, is now a reporter for the San Antonio Express-News, covering “cops, crime and general mayhem,” according to her Twitter account. In April, the gorgeous Tressler was fired from her job as a society reporter for the Houston Chronicle for failing to tell the newspaper about her after-hours gig as a stripper, which she chronicled in her blog, “Diary of an Angry Stripper.” Tressler then sued her former employer's parent company, the Hearst Corp., which also owns the Express-News, alleging that the firing was unfair. She hired celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred and filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, saying the paper’s reason for firing her -- failing to write on her application that she had been working part-time as a stripper -- was ridiculous. "I've worked at KB Toys. I've worked at a surf shop. I've worked at multiple coffee shops. I've worked at Taco Bell. I've worked as a line cook at a restaurant," Tressler told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in June. “Do you really want me to put every single one of those on my job application?" Over the summer, Tressler embarked on a national stripping tour and pushed a book, which shared the same title as her blog. She also picked up some freelance assignments for “Good Morning America.” After the suit and the tour, it seemed unlikely Tressler would re-enter Texas journalism, let alone for a newspaper owned by the same parent company that fired her. Some have suspected that her new job was part of a settlement she reached with the company.

Opening Bell: 12.21.12

Critics Say UBS Let Off Too Easy (WSJ) Our goal here is not to destroy a major financial institution," Lanny Breuer, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's criminal division, said Wednesday after the $1.5 billion fine against UBS was announced. Prosecutors have to at least "evaluate whether or not innocent people might lose jobs" and other types of potential collateral damage. Sen. Charles Grassley (R., Iowa), a Senate Finance Committee member, said he is unsatisfied that prosecutors didn't go higher up the corporate ladder at UBS than its Japanese subsidiary..."The reluctance of U.S. prosecutors to file criminal charges over big-time bank fraud is frustrating and hard to understand," Mr. Grassley said. The $1.5 billion fine is a "spit in the ocean compared to the money lost by borrowers at every level, including taxpayers." Regulatory 'Whale' Hunt Advances (WSJ) The first regulatory ripples from the "London Whale" trading fiasco are about to hit J.P. Morgan Chase. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, led by Comptroller Thomas Curry, is preparing to take a formal action demanding that J.P. Morgan remedy the lapses in risk controls that allowed a small group of London-based traders to rack up losses of more than $6 billion this year, according to people familiar with the company's discussions with regulators. Khuzami To Leave SEC Enforcement Post (WSJ) Robert Khuzami, head of the Securities and Exchange Commission's enforcement unit, plans to leave the agency as soon as next month, a person familiar with the expected move said Thursday. Boehner Drops ‘Plan B’ as Budget Effort Turns to Disarray (Bloomberg) House Speaker John Boehner scrapped a plan to allow higher tax rates on annual income above $1 million, yielding to anti-tax resistance within his own party and throwing already-stalled budget talks deeper into turmoil. He will hold a news conference today at 10 a.m. Washington time to discuss the next steps in the budget dispute, a Republican leadership aide said. House members and senators won’t vote on the end-of-year budget issues until after Christmas, giving them less than a week to reach agreement to avert tax increases and spending cuts set to take effect in January. The partisan divide hardened yesterday, making the path to a deal more uncertain. BlackRock Sees Distortions in Country Ratings Seeking S&P Change (Bloomberg) Credit rating companies are distorting capital markets by assigning the same debt ranking to countries from Italy to Thailand and Kazakhstan, according to BlackRock, the world’s biggest money manager. While 23 countries share the BBB+ to BBB- levels assessed by Standard & Poor’s, the lowest investment grades, up from 15 in 2008 at the beginning of the financial crisis, their debt to gross domestic product ratios range from 12 percent for Kazakhstan to 44 percent for Thailand and 126 percent for Italy, International Monetary Fund estimates show. The cost of insuring against a default by Italy, ranked BBB+, over the next five years is almost triple that for Thailand, which has the same rating. For BlackRock, which oversees $3.7 trillion in assets, the measures are so untrustworthy that the firm is setting up its own system to gauge the risk of investing in government bonds. This year, the market moved in the opposite direction suggested by changes to levels and outlooks 53 percent of the time, data compiled by Bloomberg show. “The rating agencies were very, very slow to the game,” Benjamin Brodsky, a managing director at BlackRock International Ltd., said in a Nov. 23 interview from London. “They all came after the fact. For us, this is not good enough.” If You Bought Greek Bonds in January You Earned 80% (Bloomberg) Greek government bonds returned 80 percent this year, compared with 3.7 percent for German bunds and 6.1 percent for Spanish securities, Bank of America Merrill Lynch indexes show. It’s the first year since 2009 that investors made money on Greek securities, with 2012 providing the biggest advance since Merrill began compiling the data in 1998, according to figures that don’t reflect this month’s debt buyback by the government. Texas lawmaker: ‘Ping-pongs’ deadlier than guns (The Ticket) Incoming Texas State Rep. Kyle Kacal says guns don’t kill people—ping-pong kills people. "I've heard of people being killed playing ping-pong—ping-pongs are more dangerous than guns," he says. "Flat-screen TVs are injuring more kids today than anything." The lifetime rancher, who will take his seat in 2013 as a freshman, says that new gun restrictions are unnecessary. Kacal, who reportedly operates a hunting business, notably came out against a bill instructing Texans how to secure their assault weapons. "People know what they need to do to be safe. We don't need to legislate that—it's common sense," he said. "Once everyone's gun is locked up, then the bad guys know everyone's gun is locked up." Flare-up in war of words between Ackman, Herbalife (NYP) “This is the highest conviction I’ve ever had about any investment I’ve ever made,” Ackman said yesterday in a series of interviews. The investor told CNBC that he expects the Federal Trade Commission will take a “hard look” at the company. The heavyweight battle picked up steam over the last two days and has become, in the typically slow days leading up to Christmas, one of the most-watched events on Wall Street. As the financial world watched, Herbalife CEO Michael Johnson returned fire — calling Ackman’s statements “bogus” and asking the Securities and Exchange Commission to probe the motives of Ackman and his Pershing Square Capital hedge fund. A spokeswoman said if Johnson were allowed the chance to face-off against the investor at the Downtown conference, the CEO “would have been able to tear Mr. Ackman’s premises and interpretation of our business model apart.” Citigroup Said to Give CCA Managers 75% Stake in Funds for Free (Bloomberg) Among Vikram Pandit’s last jobs as Citigroup’s chief executive officer was to decide the fate of the bank’s hedge-fund unit, which employs some of his oldest colleagues. He agreed to give them most of it for free. While Citigroup is keeping a 25 percent stake, managers at the Citi Capital Advisors unit will pay nothing for the remaining 75 percent of that business as it becomes a new firm managing as much as $2.5 billion of the bank’s money, according to people with knowledge of the plan. The lender will pay the executives fees while gradually pulling out assets to comply with impending U.S. rules, said the people, who requested anonymity because the terms aren’t public. The deal was Citigroup’s response to the Volcker rule. Peter Madoff Is Sentenced to 10 Years for His Role in Fraud (Dealbook) A lawyer by training, Peter Madoff is the second figure in the scandal to be sentenced. His older brother, Bernard, pleaded guilty in March 2009 and is serving a prison term of 150 years. UK Boom in Pound Shops: An Austerity-Proof Business Model? (CNBC) Pound shops in the U.K. are reporting massive increases in profits across the board showing that the formula "pile 'em high and sell 'em cheap" has particular resonance in Britain's current age of austerity. Names like "Poundstretcher," "Poundland" and "99p Stores" in the U.K. have become high street stalwarts as other brands go bust. The chains, immediately recognizable on price point, are opening new stores and reporting record results reflecting the increasing public demand for cheaper goods. U.K. based "Poundland" is one such chain reporting steep sales growth as its range of 3,000 items -- from umbrellas and pregnancy tests (it sells 14,000 a week) to bird feeders and bags of crisps all priced at one pound – resonates with cash-strapped Britons. In the year to April 2012, the Warburg Pincus owned company said its turnover increased 22 percent to 780 million pounds ($1.25 billion) and profits increased by 50 percent to 18.3 million pounds from last year's figure of 12.2 million. Former Olympian Suzy Favor Hamilton admits to life as a $600-an-hour hooker (NYP) Steamy, lingerie-clad images of the champion runner helped tout her services on the Web site of a Vegas escort agency called Haley Heston’s Private Collection, where Favor Hamilton operated under the name “Kelly Lundy,” according to The Smoking Gun. Customers could hire her lithe Olympic-class runner’s body for $600 an hour, $1,000 for two hours and $6,000 for 24 hours. The site described her build as “athletic,” her bosom as “perky,” and her belly button as “pierced.” She was willing to provide horny customers the full “girlfriend experience,” and would also engage in a certain undisclosed sex act for an extra $300. “I enjoy men of all shapes, sizes and colors, and I have an affinity for women (I am bisexual),” “Kelly” wrote on her page on the escort service’s Web site. “I consider dates with couples an experience to cherish.” Her sexual skills reportedly earned her a high rating on The Erotic Review, a Web site frequented by prostitution fans. Favor Hamilton’s lusty secret life might have stayed secret if she had not made the mistake of revealing her true identity to some of her wealthy johns, who went to the media.

Opening Bell: 12.10.12

U.S. authorities probe SAC for Weight Watchers (Reuters) U.S. authorities are investigating Steven A. Cohen's SAC Capital Advisors hedge fund for possible insider trading in the shares of the popular diet company Weight Watchers International Inc, according to people familiar with the matter. The investigation focuses on trading in Weight Watchers shares in the first half of 2011, when SAC Capital had taken a sizeable position in the stock, and potentially could implicate the billionaire hedge fund manager, the sources said on Friday. Regulatory filings show that Cohen's $14 billion fund briefly held 2.1 million shares in Weight Watchers during the period under scrutiny by authorities - at which time the diet company's stock price roughly doubled. The inquiry is in its early stages and it is not clear whether anything improper was done either by SAC Capital or Cohen himself, said the people familiar with the matter, who requested anonymity. The trading in Weight Watchers would be permissible as long as it was based on fundamental research or derived from individuals who did not have access to non-public corporate information. Big Money Bets On Housing Rebound (NYT) A flurry of private-equity giants and hedge funds have spent billions of dollars to buy thousands of foreclosed single-family homes. They are purchasing them on the cheap through bank auctions, multiple listing services, short sales and bulk purchases from local investors in need of cash, with plans to fix up the properties, rent them out and watch their values soar as the industry rebounds. They have raised as much as $8 billion to invest, according to Jade Rahmani, an analyst at Keefe Bruyette & Woods. The Blackstone Group, the New York private-equity firm run by Stephen A. Schwarzman, has spent more than $1 billion to buy 6,500 single-family homes so far this year. The Colony Capital Group, headed by the Los Angeles billionaire Thomas J. Barrack Jr., has bought 4,000. Wall Street workers expecting worst bonus season since 2008 (NYP) State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli estimates that the average bonus this year will be $101,000 — a 16.5 percent decline from last year and almost a 50 percent decline since 2006, when the average was $191,360. ‘‘I don’t think this year’s bonuses are going to be very good,’’ said Dan Shaffer, CEO of Shaffer Asset Management. ‘‘I don’t believe the typical bonuses, as we used to know them, exist anymore.’’ Obama Meets with Boehner Privately at White House (Bloomberg) The meeting was the first known face-to-face conversation between the two leaders since Nov. 16, when Boehner and other congressional leaders sat down with Obama at the White House. They have talked on the telephone since then. Obama met with Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic minority leader, on Dec. 7. Investors offer about $38.8 billion in Greek debt buyback (Reuters) Greece is set to purchase back about half of its debt owned by private investors, broadly succeeding in a bond buyback that is key to the country's international bailout, a Greek government official said on Saturday. Hefner Husband Takes Insider Trading Into Playboy Bedroom (Bloomberg) Christie Hefner, [daughter of Hugh and] former chief executive officer of Playboy Enterprises Inc., said she was shocked as her husband of 15 years, William Marovitz, confessed to her that he was being investigated for suspicious trading in Playboy shares. They were in their apartment atop a 42-story Lincoln Park tower overlooking the glittering Chicago skyline and Lake Michigan on a March evening in 2010. “He told me he had been contacted by the SEC,” Hefner said later in testimony before the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which didn’t accuse her of any wrongdoing. “And when did you learn your husband owned shares of Playboy?” she was asked. “In that conversation,” she replied. Hefner's husband is just one of more than 400 persons the SEC and the U.S. Department of Justice have accused of insider trading in a crackdown in the last five years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. All involved betrayal -- of clients, employers, relatives or friends. The Hefner episode and a handful of cases like it include an especially cruel breach of trust: betrayal of a wife by a husband. Tennis star Novak buys up world's supply of donkey cheese at £400 a pound for new restaurant chain (DM) The cheese, known as pule, will be one of the key attractions at a chain of restaurants the Wimbledon champion and world number one is opening in his Serbian homeland...The Zasavica farm, which lies 50 miles west of the Serbian capital Belgrade, boasts a herd of 130 and is said to be the only place in the world where donkeys are milked for cheese. Banking Industry Squirms Over European Rate Probe (WSJ) The scandal over banks' attempted manipulation of interest rates has mostly centered on the London interbank offered rate. But Libor's lesser known cousin, the euro interbank offered rate, or Euribor, is facing mounting attacks. The European Union is expected soon to accuse multiple banks of attempted collusion in the setting of Euribor, according to people briefed on the probe. Barclays has already acknowledged trying to rig the rate, and other banks are likely to be pressed by regulators in the U.S., U.K. and elsewhere into similar admissions, according to industry and regulatory officials. Mortgage Crisis Presents a New Reckoning to Banks (NYT) Regulators, prosecutors, investors and insurers have filed dozens of new claims against Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and others, related to more than $1 trillion worth of securities backed by residential mortgages. Estimates of potential costs from these cases vary widely, but some in the banking industry fear they could reach $300 billion if the institutions lose all of the litigation. Depending on the final price tag, the costs could lower profits and slow the economic recovery by weakening the banks’ ability to lend just as the housing market is showing signs of life. Crisis Measure Nears End (WSJ) Barring action by Congress, the FDIC on Dec. 31 will stop providing an unlimited guarantee on zero-interest bank accounts used by businesses and municipalities for payroll and other services. The guarantee would then revert to the normal $250,000 in insurance per depositor at any given bank. If the guarantee isn't extended, FBR Capital Markets estimates as much as $250 billion in deposits could flow out of smaller banks to large banks or big money-market mutual funds. Stylish primate charms Toronto shoppers (The Star) A North York Ikea store attracted an unusual customer Sunday afternoon, when a tiny monkey dressed in a fitted faux shearling coat and diapers appeared in the store’s upper parking garage around 2 p.m. “It was just running around screaming,” said shopper Bronwyn Page...“It was really cute,” said Lisa Lin, another shopper. “It was smaller than a cat.” But if the monkey had hoped to stock up on Billy bookcases or Swedish meatballs, its plans were thwarted. The diminutive shopper never made it into the store, said manager Alvaro Carmona. No one was hurt in the incident, which lasted no more than half an hour, he added. Animal Services identified the monkey as a rhesus macaque, an Asian species that is prohibited in Ontario. The monkeys are known for their ability to live in diverse habitats – although Canadian winters obviously require a warm coat. The owner of the primate turned himself in to Animal Services just after 5 p.m. He was charged with owning a prohibited animal, an offence that carries a $200 fine. The seven-month-old monkey has somehow managed to escape his owner’s car in the Ikea parking lot, said animal control officer David Behan.