Opening Bell: 03.12.12

Greek Bailout Payment Set to Be Approved by Euro Ministers After Debt Deal (Bloomberg) Ministers from the 17 nations that share the euro will gather in Brussels today to sign off on the 130 billion-euro ($170 billion) second package for Greece after bondholders agreed last week to take a loss on the country’s debt. They’ll also focus on Spain’s budget-cutting efforts and Portugal’s aid program, underscoring their desire to prevent contagion. MF Global Bonuses Under Fire (WSJ) In a letter to former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Louis Freeh, Sen. Jon Tester (D., Mont.) said it would be "outrageous" to proceed with a proposal to a bankruptcy judge that could result in payouts of several hundred thousand dollars each for MF Global's chief operating officer, finance chief and general counsel. The size of the bonuses would depend on their job performance in helping Mr. Freeh maximize value for creditors of the company. Pandit Pay Climbs as Citigroup Revenue Slumps (Bloomberg) Pandit’s $15 million pay package for 2011 and a multi-year retention package announced in May could total $53 million, based on regulatory filings and an analyst’s estimate. The CEO also received $80 million last year from the New York-based firm’s purchase of his Old Lane Partners LP hedge fund in 2007. Latest Stress Tests Are Expected to Show Progress at Most Banks (NYT) In another milestone in the banking industry’s recovery from the financial crisis, the Federal Reserve this week will release the results of its latest stress tests, which are expected to show broadly improved balance sheets at most institutions...The examination is not merely an intellectual exercise. If institutions fall short, they could be required to raise billions in new capital, depressing their shares. If they pass, dividend increases and stock buybacks by the strongest institutions will follow as they did after the second round of tests a year ago, pleasing investors whose banks’ stocks still trade at levels far below where they where before the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008. Mortgage Deal Is Built On Tradeoffs (WSJ) Banks agreed to cut loan balances, a step they had long resisted, but they won't only get credit against their shares of the $25 billion settlement for reducing balances of loans they own. In some cases, they can receive partial credit if investors shoulder the cost of writing down loans the banks service. The banks also will receive credit for some steps they are already taking, such as approving short sales, where a home is sold for less than the amount owed, according to draft settlement documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. The Unravelling Of A Casino Marriage (WSJ) Messrs. Wynn and Okada, both known for their big, demanding egos, were something of an odd couple. Mr. Wynn is famous for a Cheshire-cat grin and smooth, grandiose soliloquies. Mr. Okada, a former engineer who had specialized in vacuum tubes, was sometimes seen as sullen and withdrawn by company outsiders. Born the same year, 1942, Mr. Wynn and Mr. Okada became "completely and totally bonded," Mr. Wynn said after they were introduced by a mutual friend. Mr. Wynn was hunting for investors who would give him leeway to create resorts that might take years to design and build. Mr. Wynn came of age during an era when casino operators were emerging from the industry's mob-infested roots. He hobnobbed with such celebrities as Steven Spielberg and Clint Eastwood. Mr. Okada, though often ranked among the richest people in Japan, largely stayed out of the spotlight. Missing Hiker Cuddled With Cat (AP) Snuggling in a blue sleeping bag, Margaret Page and her cat survived 3 1/2 weeks in a rugged New Mexico national forest, even though temperatures dropped below freezing nearly every night...The area had seen average highs reach around 60 degrees with evening lows in the 20s. It didn’t see much rain or snow, but there were some high winds...Relying on a creek for drinking water, Page and her cat named Miya lived on just a handful of supplies, rescue workers said Friday. Wells Fargo Poised to Lead Payouts Higher (Bloomberg) Wells Fargo and Citigroup may join banks unleashing more than $9 billion in dividend increases and share buybacks if they get passing grades this week on the Federal Reserve’s annual stress test. Thirteen of the 19 largest U.S. lenders may say they’ll pay out $3.79 billion in extra dividends this year and buy $5.52 billion of additional shares, according to estimates of six analysts compiled by Bloomberg. That’s 30 percent more than they spent last year. San Francisco-based Wells Fargo probably will offer the biggest difference at a combined $4.16 billion, followed by Citigroup with $2.92 billion. SEC Probes Operators’ Use of Multiple Markets (FT) According to people familiar with the probe, SEC officials are focusing on whether operators use multiple exchanges to appease customers which provide large order flows. At Lunch, Bloomberg And Obama Discuss Future (NYT) Mr. Bloomberg’s precise response is unknown. But their meeting a few weeks ago, confirmed by aides to both leaders and previously undisclosed, was potentially significant for both men, as Mr. Obama seeks support for his presidential campaign and Mr. Bloomberg ponders his post-mayoral career. Soros-led hookup may save American Apparel (NYP) George Soros has found a new financial disaster from which to profit: American Apparel. The billionaire octogenarian — who, like American Apparel’s controversial CEO Dov Charney, has lately been entangled in lawsuits with young, beautiful women — is backing a firm that’s in talks to extend a credit line worth as much as $80 million to the cash-strapped clothing chain, The Post has learned. The credit facility from Crystal Financial, a Boston-based firm that boasts Soros’ hedge fund as its lead investor, will immediately replace and expand a $75 million revolving credit line from Bank of America that matures in July, sources said. How To Become A Skeeball Master (YG) Not all skeeball machines are created equal. Between the shape of the ramp, the geometry of the backboard, and the precise characteristics of the rolling surfaces, each skeeball machine plays slightly differently -- and those variations can throw you off your game. If you're getting settled into a serious practice session, stock up with plenty of tokens and don't step away from your chosen spot....many skeeball aficionados prefer to kneel down to play. Maybe the lower stance helps them line up their shot, or perhaps being closer to the action helps them judge their throwing power a little more accurately. Whatever the reason, it's a tried and true technique for expert skeeball players -- and it might work for you, too. If you're struggling to settle into a comfortable throw, give it a try.
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Greek Bailout Payment Set to Be Approved by Euro Ministers After Debt Deal (Bloomberg)
Ministers from the 17 nations that share the euro will gather in Brussels today to sign off on the 130 billion-euro ($170 billion) second package for Greece after bondholders agreed last week to take a loss on the country’s debt. They’ll also focus on Spain’s budget-cutting efforts and Portugal’s aid program, underscoring their desire to prevent contagion.

MF Global Bonuses Under Fire (WSJ)
In a letter to former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Louis Freeh, Sen. Jon Tester (D., Mont.) said it would be "outrageous" to proceed with a proposal to a bankruptcy judge that could result in payouts of several hundred thousand dollars each for MF Global's chief operating officer, finance chief and general counsel. The size of the bonuses would depend on their job performance in helping Mr. Freeh maximize value for creditors of the company.

Pandit Pay Climbs as Citigroup Revenue Slumps (Bloomberg)
Pandit’s $15 million pay package for 2011 and a multi-year retention package announced in May could total $53 million, based on regulatory filings and an analyst’s estimate. The CEO also received $80 million last year from the New York-based firm’s purchase of his Old Lane Partners LP hedge fund in 2007.

Latest Stress Tests Are Expected to Show Progress at Most Banks (NYT)
In another milestone in the banking industry’s recovery from the financial crisis, the Federal Reserve this week will release the results of its latest stress tests, which are expected to show broadly improved balance sheets at most institutions...The examination is not merely an intellectual exercise. If institutions fall short, they could be required to raise billions in new capital, depressing their shares. If they pass, dividend increases and stock buybacks by the strongest institutions will follow as they did after the second round of tests a year ago, pleasing investors whose banks’ stocks still trade at levels far below where they where before the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008.

Mortgage Deal Is Built On Tradeoffs (WSJ)
Banks agreed to cut loan balances, a step they had long resisted, but they won't only get credit against their shares of the $25 billion settlement for reducing balances of loans they own. In some cases, they can receive partial credit if investors shoulder the cost of writing down loans the banks service. The banks also will receive credit for some steps they are already taking, such as approving short sales, where a home is sold for less than the amount owed, according to draft settlement documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

The Unravelling Of A Casino Marriage (WSJ)
Messrs. Wynn and Okada, both known for their big, demanding egos, were something of an odd couple. Mr. Wynn is famous for a Cheshire-cat grin and smooth, grandiose soliloquies. Mr. Okada, a former engineer who had specialized in vacuum tubes, was sometimes seen as sullen and withdrawn by company outsiders. Born the same year, 1942, Mr. Wynn and Mr. Okada became "completely and totally bonded," Mr. Wynn said after they were introduced by a mutual friend. Mr. Wynn was hunting for investors who would give him leeway to create resorts that might take years to design and build. Mr. Wynn came of age during an era when casino operators were emerging from the industry's mob-infested roots. He hobnobbed with such celebrities as Steven Spielberg and Clint Eastwood. Mr. Okada, though often ranked among the richest people in Japan, largely stayed out of the spotlight.

Missing Hiker Cuddled With Cat (AP)
Snuggling in a blue sleeping bag, Margaret Page and her cat survived 3 1/2 weeks in a rugged New Mexico national forest, even though temperatures dropped below freezing nearly every night...The area had seen average highs reach around 60 degrees with evening lows in the 20s. It didn’t see much rain or snow, but there were some high winds...Relying on a creek for drinking water, Page and her cat named Miya lived on just a handful of supplies, rescue workers said Friday.

Wells Fargo Poised to Lead Payouts Higher (Bloomberg)
Wells Fargo and Citigroup may join banks unleashing more than $9 billion in dividend increases and share buybacks if they get passing grades this week on the Federal Reserve’s annual stress test. Thirteen of the 19 largest U.S. lenders may say they’ll pay out $3.79 billion in extra dividends this year and buy $5.52 billion of additional shares, according to estimates of six analysts compiled by Bloomberg. That’s 30 percent more than they spent last year. San Francisco-based Wells Fargo probably will offer the biggest difference at a combined $4.16 billion, followed by Citigroup with $2.92 billion.

SEC Probes Operators’ Use of Multiple Markets (FT)
According to people familiar with the probe, SEC officials are focusing on whether operators use multiple exchanges to appease customers which provide large order flows.

At Lunch, Bloomberg And Obama Discuss Future (NYT)
Mr. Bloomberg’s precise response is unknown. But their meeting a few weeks ago, confirmed by aides to both leaders and previously undisclosed, was potentially significant for both men, as Mr. Obama seeks support for his presidential campaign and Mr. Bloomberg ponders his post-mayoral career.

Soros-led hookup may save American Apparel (NYP)
George Soros has found a new financial disaster from which to profit: American Apparel.
The billionaire octogenarian — who, like American Apparel’s controversial CEO Dov Charney, has lately been entangled in lawsuits with young, beautiful women — is backing a firm that’s in talks to extend a credit line worth as much as $80 million to the cash-strapped clothing chain, The Post has learned. The credit facility from Crystal Financial, a Boston-based firm that boasts Soros’ hedge fund as its lead investor, will immediately replace and expand a $75 million revolving credit line from Bank of America that matures in July, sources said.

How To Become A Skeeball Master (YG)
Not all skeeball machines are created equal. Between the shape of the ramp, the geometry of the backboard, and the precise characteristics of the rolling surfaces, each skeeball machine plays slightly differently -- and those variations can throw you off your game. If you're getting settled into a serious practice session, stock up with plenty of tokens and don't step away from your chosen spot....many skeeball aficionados prefer to kneel down to play. Maybe the lower stance helps them line up their shot, or perhaps being closer to the action helps them judge their throwing power a little more accurately. Whatever the reason, it's a tried and true technique for expert skeeball players -- and it might work for you, too. If you're struggling to settle into a comfortable throw, give it a try.

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Opening Bell: 04.04.12

Chinese Premier Blasts Banks (WSJ) In an evening broadcast on state-run China National Radio, Mr. Wen told an audience of business leaders that China's tightly controlled banking system needs to change. "Let me be frank. Our banks earn profit too easily. Why? Because a small number of large banks have a monopoly," said Mr. Wen, according to the transcript of the program on the broadcaster's website. "To break the monopoly, we must allow private capital to flow into the finance sector." Regulators Expected to Penalize JPMorgan Over Lehman Collapse (NYT) The Commodity Futures Trading Commission is expected this week to file a civil case against JPMorgan. The bank is expected to settle the Lehman matter and pay a fine of approximately $20 million...The Lehman action stems from the questionable treatment of customer money — an issue that has been at the forefront of the recent outcry over MF Global. JPMorgan was also intimately involved in the final days of that brokerage firm. The trading commission is expected to accuse JPMorgan of overextending credit to Lehman for two years leading up to its bankruptcy in 2008, the people briefed on the matter said. Fitch Ditched in Bond Dispute (WSJ) Fitch Group's new chief executive said Credit Suisse Group AG CSGN.VX -1.61% dropped the firm's rating from a mortgage-backed security because Fitch took a harsher view than two rivals that assigned triple-A ratings to the deal. "It was an 11th-hour thing when they decided which agency it would be to publicly rate it," said Paul Taylor, who took over this week as chief executive of Fitch Group, in an interview. "We had a materially different take." Mr. Taylor said Fitch Group, which includes credit-rating firm Fitch Ratings, had been compensated for its rating on the mortgage-backed deal. Fitch shared its differing view with investors after the deal closed Friday, publishing a report critical of Standard & Poor's Ratings Services and DBRS Ltd. for issuing triple-A ratings on the residential-mortgage-backed security issued by Credit Suisse. Fed Signals No Need for More Easing Unless Growth Falters (Bloomberg) “A couple of members indicated that the initiation of additional stimulus could become necessary if the economy lost momentum or if inflation seemed likely to remain below” 2 percent, according to minutes of their March 13 meeting released today in Washington. That contrasts with the assessment at the FOMC’s January meeting in which some Fed officials saw current conditions warranting additional action “before long.” Spanish Bond Sale Fizzles (WSJ) Spain sold a total of €2.589 billion ($3.43 billion) of the 4.4% January 2015, 4.25% October 2016 and 4.85% October 2020 bonds, against its €2.5 billion to €3.5 billion target. Wednesday's sale, brought forward by one day due to a national holiday on Thursday, brought Spain's 2012 bond issuance completion to almost 46% of the €86 billion gross bond issuance target. ‘Apple Fever’ Prompts Predictions of $1 Trillion Value (Bloomberg) “Apple fever is spreading like a wildfire around the world,” Brian White, the Topeka analyst, said in a report that initiated coverage of the company with a buy recommendation. White’s new 12-month target of $1,001 is the highest among the 45 analysts tracked by Bloomberg and represents a 59 percent increase over today’s closing price. He said Apple’s market value will eventually top $1 trillion. £200,000 bar bill trader, arrested in FSA probe (CityAM) Alex Hope, the 23 year-old trader who hit the headlines after spending £125,000 on a single bottle of champagne, has been arrested on suspicion of being involved in an unauthorised foreign exchange trading scheme. Hope, who claims to be a self made foreign exchange trader, became infamous when he ran up a £125,000 bar bill in one evening at a Liverpool nightclub. Most of this was spent on a single 99lb bottle of champagne...Hope's publicist last night confirmed that he had been arrested but said that he denies all allegations. His personal website describes him as “a name to watch out for in the city” and “an expert in the UK economy” who regularly "trades millions." It calls him a “talented, charismatic and thoroughly likeable man." SEC Puts Exchanges on Notice Over Computer-Driven Trades (Bloomberg) “The consequences of a big failure are so severe that the SEC should be paying close attention to these issues,” James Angel, a finance professor at Georgetown University’s business school in Washington, said in an e-mail. “No human system is perfect and eventually something will happen, so they also want policies and procedures in place for catching problems quickly and cleaning up the mess afterwards.” Ready for a rumble: Falcone vs. Icahn (NYP) Falcone, who has funneled a whopping $2.9 billion into LightSquared, is desperate to salvage his shaky investment amid a battle with federal regulators over building out the wireless network. Falcone has said both publicly and privately that bankruptcy is not an option. However, some LightSquared creditors, including Icahn, would rather put the company into bankruptcy as part of a plan that would give them equity stakes in the company and greater control over its future, sources said. The deadline for creditors to decide is fast approaching. Icahn and other owners of LightSquared’s $1.6 billion loan due 2014 have given the company until the end of April before they decide whether to put LightSquared into default for breaching some loan covenants tied to its customer contracts. ADP: 209,000 Jobs Added (WSJ) Private businesses hired at a modest rate in March close to what economists expected, according to a report released Wednesday. Private-sector jobs in the U.S. increased 209,000 last month, according to a national employment report published by payroll processor Automatic Data Processing Inc. and consultancy Macroeconomic Advisers. The gain was just above economists' median expectation of 200,000 contained in a survey done by Dow Jones Newswires. Occupy London Hinders Burrito Sales More Than Banker Bonuses (Bloomberg) The protesters were evicted from St. Paul’s on Feb. 28 and at least one restaurant found its bookings jump back to pre- occupied levels. Sales were down 40 percent to 50 percent while the camp was at St. Paul’s, resulting in two or three staff members losing their jobs, said Pollie Hall, events manager at the Paternoster Chop House. “This isn’t the corporate fat cats they were affecting, it was average working Joes,” said Hall, who said her customers were verbally abused by protesters and she was called a “devil- worshipping mason.” A wedding scheduled at the restaurant on the first day of the protest had to be moved. Mega ‘winner’: $105M tix stashed in this McDonald's (NYP) The Baltimore woman who claims to have one of three winning Mega Millions tickets now says it’s hidden somewhere in the McDonald’s restaurant where she works. Marlinde Wilson, 37, coyly wouldn’t reveal whether she had stashed the slip of paper behind the McFlurry machine or under the all-beef patties. “I’m waiting for things to calm down so I can go back to McDonald’s and get it. The people [at McDonald’s] are too excited. I want their heads to cool down before I go back,” she said.

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 Bell: 04.16.12

Downgrades Loom For European Banks (WSJ) Under pressure from banks, Moody's Investors Service said Friday that it is delaying until early May its highly anticipated decision on whether to downgrade the credit ratings of 114 banks in 16 European countries. Moody's announced the review in February, saying it was needed in light of the banks' weak conditions and the tough environment in which they're operating. It had planned to start unveiling the decisions this week. Obama Bid to End Too-Big-to Fail Undercut as Banks Grow (Bloomberg) Two years after President Barack Obama vowed to eliminate the danger of financial institutions becoming “too big to fail,” the nation’s largest banks are bigger than they were before the credit crisis. Five banks-- JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and Goldman Sachs-- held $8.5 trillion in assets at the end of 2011, equal to 56 percent of the U.S. economy, according to the Federal Reserve. Five years earlier, before the financial crisis, the largest banks’ assets amounted to 43 percent of U.S. output. The Big Five today are about twice as large as they were a decade ago relative to the economy, sparking concern that trouble at a major bank would rock the financial system and force the government to step in as it did during the 2008 crunch. “Market participants believe that nothing has changed, that too-big-to-fail is fully intact,” said Gary Stern, former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Carlyle Takes Cautious Approach in IPO Price (WSJ) Carlyle Group plans to sell 30.5 million shares priced between $23 and $25 in its initial public offering, which could come before the end of the month, according to people familiar with the matter. Those shares would represent about 10% of the Washington, D.C., private-equity firm, in a deal that would value Carlyle at more than $7 billion, these people said. That value is toward the lower end of what earlier had been expected...Carlyle is putting less emphasis on pricing shares high at the IPO, instead hoping they rise in value once they are traded, according to people familiar with the matter. Bond Recipes Use Fresh Ingredients (WSJ) With risk-taking in vogue again, Wall Street is betting on the revival of a market for bonds made out of everything from "The English Patient" to fried chicken. The amount of so-called esoteric bonds backed by unusual assets has nearly doubled this year compared with the same period a year ago, according to Credit Suisse. Thus far this year, there have been $5.6 billion in deals done, more than twice the $2 billion in the same period last year. Over the past several months investors have bought bonds backed by revenue from Domino's Pizza DPZ +0.34% franchises, Miramax films, patents for drugs like Clarinex and Flumist and loans to buyers of Wyndham vacation time-shares. The deals show investors are becoming comfortable again with Wall Street's engineering skills, after many were hammered during the financial crisis by losses on bonds backed by subprime home loans and complex debt pools known as collateralized-debt obligations. The esoteric sales also mark a rare growth area for giant banks that have been hit hard by a slowdown in deal-making and trading. Four-year-old Heidi Hankins joins Mensa with 159 IQ (BBC) A four-year-old girl from Hampshire has been accepted into Mensa with an IQ just one point below Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking. Heidi Hankins from Winchester has a 159 IQ. She taught herself to read and was able to count to 40 at two years old. British Mensa chief executive John Stevenage said Heidi's parents "correctly identified that she shows great potential." According to Mensa, the average adult IQ score is 100. Geithner Rebuts Romney on Women and Jobs (WSJ) As the fight for women voters intensified in recent days, Mr. Romney took a swipe at Mr. Obama by saying women had borne the vast majority of job losses over the past three years. Labor Department data show women do account for 92.3% of the workers who have lost jobs since Mr. Obama took office in January 2009. But men suffered deeper job losses than women in the year before Mr. Obama's inauguration and men have gained more jobs than women since the recovery began in 2009. "It's a ridiculous way to look at the problem," Mr. Geithner said of Mr. Romney's criticism. Mr. Geithner on Sunday also defended the Obama administration's efforts to reduce the federal budget deficit, and said there was "no risk" that the U.S. would go through a debt crisis in the next two years like the one Greece is experiencing. But he had a warning for Congress, when asked on NBC's "Meet the Press" about whether Congress would act to raise the government's debt ceiling again at the end of this year. "This is Congress's obligation to do as they have always done in the past," he said. "It would be good for the country this time if they did it with less drama." Barclays' Tax Deal Faces US Scrutiny (FT) Barclays’ controversial tax planning business will come under fresh scrutiny in a U.S. court this week over whether a transaction designed by the bank cost the U.S. government more than $1 billion in lost tax receipts. The U.S. Internal Revenue Service claims that complex, cross-border deals Barclays structured for several mid-tier banks in the last decade were an abusive tax shelter that exploited loopholes between U.S. and U.K. tax laws. Prime Brokerages Consolidate After 'Big Bang' (Reuters) Hedge funds are cutting back on the brokerage accounts they hold as the prime brokerage industry begins to consolidate more than four years after the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy blew the sector wide open. Goldman Sachs Said to Raise $2.5 Billion in ICBC Sale (Bloomberg) The Wall Street firm is selling $2.5 billion of shares at HK$5.05 each, according to two people with knowledge of the matter. It sold 3.55 billion shares, or 4 percent of ICBC’s Hong Kong-traded shares, to Temasek, the Singapore state-owned investment group said. Temasek, which is increasing stakes in China’s biggest banks, paid $2.3 billion for the stock, based on the per-share price and stake size. 'Hug Me' Coke Machine Asks for Hugs, Delivers Free Coke (MFDC) Coca-Cola's global marketing campaign dubbed "Open Happiness" takes on a new twist with a Coke vending machine that asks passers by to give it a hug. The big red and white machine, located at the National University in Singapore, has "Hug Me" written across its front side. And people are actually hugging it...and given free Cokes.

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: 07.02.12

Barclays Chairman Resigns (WSJ) "Last week's events, evidencing as they do unacceptable standards of behaviour within the bank, have dealt a devastating blow to Barclays' reputation," Mr. Agius said in a statement Monday. "As chairman, I am the ultimate guardian of the bank's reputation. Accordingly, the buck stops with me and I must acknowledge responsibility by standing aside." Falcone To Argue That Taking Loan Was Best For Investors (NYP) Falcone had roughly $1 billion in personal assets in 2009, at the time of the loan, sources said. That included $790 million in a deferred compensation plan tied to his flagship Masters fund, and $228 million in Harbinger’s Special Situations fund, which he eventually tapped for the loan. He also had $11 million in cash — a nice chunk of change but far short of the $113 million he needed to satisfy Uncle Sam, said a person with knowledge of the case. If the case goes to trial, Falcone will likely say that he considered taking his money from the Master fund, which was allowing withdrawals at the time. But he didn’t after he was advised that doing so could hurt clients by triggering a sell-off, potentially at fire-sale prices. Global IPO Market Keeps Shrinking (WSJ) It was in the pool. Gilt Faces Disruption During Olympics (FT) The UK Treasury has called off its weekly gilt auctions for a four-week period between mid-July and mid-August, apparently because it is afraid that too many bond traders will be working from home – or not at all – during the Olympics. Facebook To Remain On Nasdaq (WSJ) Facebook executives have decided to keep the company's stock listing on the Nasdaq Stock Market, despite lingering frustration with the exchange's bungling of its widely anticipated initial public offering. They determined a move would further drain confidence in the company's battered shares. Facebook executives have quietly blamed Nasdaq OMX Group Inc. NDAQ +3.71% for the technical glitches that marred the stock's May 18 debut. While the company considered a switch in the days after the IPO, Facebook had decided by mid-June to stay put for now, according to people familiar with the company's plans. BNP Said To Mull Plan For $50 Billion Spain-Italy Funds Gap (Bloomberg) BNP Paribas is looking to address funding concerns in Spain and Italy, where the Paris-based bank’s loans outweighing deposits was among reasons cited by Moody’s Investors Service for downgrading its credit rating last month. Transfers of loans from elsewhere to Belgium might be capped at 20 billion euros ($25 billion) and at 10 billion Swiss francs ($10.4 billion) to Switzerland, according to one of the people. Bond Market Backs Obama With Record Demand For New Debt (Bloomberg) Investors are plowing cash into new U.S. Treasuries at a record pace, making economic growth rather than budget austerity a key issue as President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney face off in November’s presidential election. Bidders offered $3.16 for each dollar of the $1.075 trillion of notes and bonds auctioned by the Treasury Department this year as yields reached all-time lows, above the previous high of $3.04 in all of 2011, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The so-called bid-to-cover ratio was 2.26 from 1998 to 2001 when the nation ran budget surpluses. China Big 4 Banks Took 29% of 2011 Global Profit (Reuters) Three Chinese banks topped the profit table, led by Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) for the second successive year, with pretax earnings of $43.2 billion, according to The Banker. ICBC was followed by China Construction Bank, which delivered a $34.8 billion profit, and Bank of China, with earnings of $26.8 billion. JPMorgan was fourth with a profit of $26.7 billion, while HSBC was the most profitable European bank, with earnings of $21.9 billion. Lolong, a massive crocodile captured in the Philippines in 2011, is the largest croc in captivity in the world (NYDN) A huge crocodile blamed for deadly attacks in the southern Philippines is the largest in captivity in the world, Guinness World Records has declared. The giant reptile has brought fear, pride, tourism revenues and attention to the remote town where it was captured. The saltwater crocodile named Lolong, which was captured last September in Bunawan town in Agusan del Sur province, measures 20.24 feet and weighs more than a ton, Guinness spokeswoman Anne-Lise Rouse said in a statement Sunday. The reptile took the top spot from an Australian crocodile measuring more than 17 feet and weighing nearly a ton. Bunawan Mayor Edwin Cox Elorde said the news sparked celebrations in his farming town of 37,000, but also fostered concerns that more giant crocodiles might be lurking in a nearby marshland and creek where villagers fish. “There were mixed feelings,” Elorde said by telephone. “We’re really proud because it proves the rich biodiversity of our place, but at the same time, there are fears that Lolong may not be alone.” Lolong has become the star attraction of a new ecotourism park and research center in the outskirts of Bunawan, and has drawn thousands of tourists since news of its capture spread. Elorde said his town has earned $72,000 from the modest entrance fees at the park, with most of the money being used to feed and care for the crocodile and for park maintenance.

Opening Bell: 08.16.12

No Criminal Case Is Likely In Loss At MF Global (NYT) A criminal investigation into the collapse of the brokerage firm MF Global and the disappearance of about $1 billion in customer money is now heading into its final stage without charges expected against any top executives. After 10 months of stitching together evidence on the firm's demise, criminal investigators are concluding that chaos and porous risk controls at the firm, rather than fraud, allowed the money to disappear, according to people involved in the case...In the most telling indication yet that the MF Global investigation is winding down, federal authorities are seeking to interview the former chief of the firm, Jon Corzine, next month, according to the people involved in the case. Authorities hope that Corzine, who is expected to accept the invitation, will shed light on the actions of other employees at MF Global. Standard Chartered's Deal Rankles Regulators (WSJ) Officials at the U.K. Financial Services Authority complained afterward to the New York regulator, which oversees Standard Chartered's U.S. unit, that the sudden move could have damaged the stability of the bank and that the lack of advance notice breached long-standing protocol among bank regulators, these people said. The New York case ended Tuesday when Standard Chartered agreed to pay the regulator $340 million to settle allegations it broke U.S. laws in handling transactions for Iranian customers...The New York office's success in pursuing a case without the help of the U.S. Justice Department and U.S. Treasury Department could embolden other state regulators, while adding to pressure on federal regulators who have been criticized for a perceived failure to confront large banks. "Holding a bank accountable for past misconduct doesn't need to take years of negotiation over the size of the penalty," said Sen. Carl Levin (D., Mich.). "It simply requires a regulator with backbone to act." Knight Puts Fate In Familiar Hands (WSJ) At about 9 p.m. on Aug. 1, Knight Chief Executive Thomas Joyce called Carlos Hernandez to seek emergency funding from J.P. Morgan, the lead bank on a primary credit line, to plug losses from errant trades caused by a software upgrade, according to people familiar with the conversation. Mr. Hernandez, J.P. Morgan's global head of equities, had just returned from business meetings in Mexico. "We've had these issues," the Knight chief, known as T.J., told his longtime acquaintance, the people said. "We're looking for help." J.P. Morgan executives have been on the receiving end of similar pleas for help in some of Wall Street's biggest meltdowns. Jobless Claims In U.S. Little Changed As Market Stable (Bloomberg) Jobless claims climbed by 2,000 to 366,000 in the week ended Aug. 11, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. The median forecast of 45 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News called for an increase to 365,000. The four-week moving average, a less volatile measure, dropped to 363,750, the fewest since the week ended March 31. Chocolate Losing To Cocaine On Colombia Cocoa Slump (Bloomberg) Cocaine is proving a more resilient commodity than chocolate in Colombia, the largest supplier of the narcotic to the U.S. Prices of cocoa beans, used to make chocolate, have dropped 40 percent this year in Colombia, South America’s third-largest supplier, as the cost of leaves processed into cocaine holds steady, according to data compiled by police and growers. Morgan Stanley Unit Fined Over Trader’s $1.3 Billion Bet (Bloomberg) Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, the brokerage venture of Morgan Stanley and Citigroup, was fined $450,000 after a trader amassed a $1.3 billion bet in 2009, Financial Industry Regulatory Authority records show. The brokerage didn’t have enough controls in place to detect that Jared Weinryt, 31, had breached his $116 million trading limit as he made overnight bets on futures, Finra said this month. The trades led to losses for Morgan Stanley Smith Barney of about $14.9 million, according to Finra. MF Global Trustee to Join Existing Suits Against Executives (WSJ) The move Wednesday by James Giddens could accelerate a morass of lawsuits that seek money from former MF Global executives, directors and other people accused in the suits of failing to protect customer money. As a result of the agreement, Mr. Giddens will give lawyers in those cases access to documents and other evidence gathered in his probe. Facebook Freeing 60% More Shares Seen Weighing On Stock (Bloomberg) Early Facebook investors such as DST Global Ltd., Goldman Sachs, Elevation Partners and Accel Partners get a green light today to start selling part of their holdings, Menlo Park, California-based Facebook has said in filings. That’s after the lifting of restrictions designed to prevent a flood of shares immediately after an IPO. The prospect of more stock sales means Facebook will need to work even harder to convince investors that it deserves a higher valuation, compared with earnings, than all but two of its closest competitors including Google. The shares freed up today make up only 14 percent of the 1.91 billion that will be available for sales in the coming nine months. “Buckle your seatbelts for the next couple of months until they make it through all these shares coming unlocked,” said Tom Forte, an analyst at Telsey Advisory Group in New York.

Opening Bell: 01.07.13

Regulators Give Ground To Banks (WSJ) Global banking regulators watered down a key element of their plan for creating a safer financial system, giving ground to banks that argued the rules were unworkable and financially risky. The Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, a group of the world's top regulators and central bankers, said Sunday that it agreed to relax a rule designed to ensure that big banks are able to weather financial crises without running short of cash. Bowing to two years of intense pressure from the banking industry, the regulators made it easier for banks to meet the rule, known as the "liquidity coverage ratio," and delayed its full implementation until 2019. It is the latest instance of regulators chipping away at their landmark 2010 response to the global financial crisis. The regulators argue that the changes make banking rules much stronger than they were before the crisis. Herbalifers Stay Resolute (WSJ) When hedge-fund manager William Ackman unveiled his 334-slide presentation alleging that Herbalife is a pyramid scheme, it did nothing to shake Joanne Clare. The 38-year-old Staten Island mother of three has been selling the company's weight-loss products and supplements since 2004, when she says they helped her drop from 210 to 160 pounds in four months. She now sells as much as $3,500 a month of Herbalife products to her 30 clients and the two distributors in her "down line." "People have always said it's a pyramid scheme, but it's not," Ms. Clare said, adding that the bulk of her earnings come from sales to clients, not her cut of her recruits' take. Mr. Ackman's declaration that he had bet more than $1 billion against Herbalife caused many investors to flee, sending the stock down 38% in four days in late December. But some of the company's 3.1-million-strong army of distributors were unmoved. Eliot Spitzer Ends His Show On Current TV (NYT) The announcement comes a few days after Al Jazeera said it was acquiring Current TV. Later this year, the Qatar-owned broadcaster plans to turn the channel into an Americanized version of the international news channel Al Jazeera English. Mr. Spitzer said he had a “wonderful time” at Current, but emphasized that his relationship was with Al Gore and Joel Hyatt, Current’s co-founders, not with Al Jazeera. “Moving forward, their mission will be different,” he said — more international newscasts, less liberal talk about the news. Citi's Corbat builds bridges (Reuters) Citigroup Inc's Michael Corbat has been meeting with bank regulators in his first months as CEO, as he looks to bolster relationships and finalize the bank's plan to return capital to shareholders, sources familiar with the matter said. Corbat also expects to name his team of top managers within the next week or so, one of the sources said on Sunday. Corbat is expected to play it safe when Citigroup asks the U.S. Federal Reserve for permission for moves such as buying back shares or increasing dividends, analysts and investors said. His predecessor, Vikram Pandit, lost his job in October in part because the bank's request for returning capital was denied in March. The bank, which is due to submit its plan to the Fed on Monday, has not yet done so, the source said. The third-largest U.S. bank will only seek approval to buy back shares and not raise dividends, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday. Last year, the bank wanted permission to return more than $8 billion to shareholders over two years, the paper said. For Newly Minted MBAs, A Small Paycheck (WSJ) For graduates with minimal experience—three years or less—median pay was $53,900 in 2012, down 4.6% from 2007-08, according to an analysis conducted for The Wall Street Journal by PayScale.com. Pay fell at 62% of the 186 schools examined. Even for more seasoned grads the trend is similar, says Katie Bardaro, lead economist for PayScale.com. "In general, it seems that M.B.A. pay is either stagnant or falling," she says...It is all a far cry from the late 1980s and early 1990s heyday for M.B.A.s, when some companies would hire 100 or more M.B.A.s. It wasn't uncommon to recruit first, and fill actual jobs later. DOJ pledges to respect Swiss law in tax probe (Reuters) Swiss chief finance diplomat Michael Ambuehl was given a verbal pledge from the U.S. Department of Justice to respect Swiss law when asking for bank client data of potential tax dodgers, a newspaper reported on Sunday. Switzerland is in negotiations with U.S. authorities to find a deal that would end tax probes into at least ten Swiss banks suspected of helping clients dodge taxes, including Credit Suisse and Julius Baer. The Alpine country is trying to preserve what is left of its cherished banking secrecy that suffered a severe blow in 2009 when UBS, the first Swiss bank that came under scrutiny in the U.S., was required to disclose client data. Brazilian prison gaurds catch cat that slipped through the gate with escape tools taped to its body (NYDN) Guards at a Brazilian prison nabbed a white cat that slipped through the gate with a cell phone, drills, small saws and other contraband taped to its body. Alagoas prison spokeswoman Cinthya Moreno says the cat was caught New Year’s Eve at the medium-security prison in the city of Arapiraca. The O Estado de S. Paulo newspaper reported Saturday that all of the prison’s 263 inmates are suspects in the smuggling attempt, though a spokesperson said, “It will be hard to discover who is responsible since the cat does not speak.” Loeb, Cooperman Stand Out in Horrid Year for Hedge Funds (CNBC) Third Point was the clear hedge fund standout in a horrible year for the industry as almost nine out of 10 managers underperformed the S&P 500. Omega Advisors' Leon Cooperman also scored big. Loeb — once better known for his acerbic letters to CEOs — used an activist position in Yahoo and the contrarian buying of Greek bonds to drive the firm's flagship fund to a 21 percent gain in 2012. The firm's more-leveraged Ultra fund posted an even bigger 34 percent return...Cooperman's fund had a net return of 26 percent in 2012. Banks Zero In On Foreclosure Pact (WSJ) Banks were closing in on a $10 billion foreclosure-abuse settlement with regulators that could be announced as soon as Monday, according to people familiar with the talks. The settlement was nearly complete Sunday afternoon, the people said, after the Federal Reserve backed down on a demand for more compensation for consumers and other changes to the pact. Bankers threatened to walk away from the deal if the Fed's demand for an additional $300 million was included, a person briefed on the talks said. Junk Bonds' Fire Is Poised to Fade (WSJ) Junk bonds started 2013 much like they finished 2012—on fire. In just three trading days this year, bonds of low-rated companies delivered returns of almost three-quarters of a percent, even as most other types of bonds lost value. And junk bonds continued to clock new milestones: Average prices soared to their highest since 2004 and average yields, which decline as prices rise, dropped below 6% for the first time ever, according to Barclays. But the rapid march is making fund managers and analysts wary. Prices are now so high—averaging more than 105 cents on the dollar—that there is little room for them to climb much further, some investors say. These are lofty prices for bonds that usually trade below 100 cents, reflecting the higher default risk for such companies. At the very least, returns will pale in comparison with the 15% achieved in 2012, analysts and investors say. NHL, Players Settle Labor Dispute (AP) On the 113th day of a management lockout and five days before the league's deadline for a deal, the bleary-eyed sides held a 6 a.m. news conference to announce there will be a season, after all. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and union head Donald Fehr both appeared drained, wearing sweaters and not neckties, when they stood side by side at the hotel and announced labor peace. "We have reached an agreement on the framework of a new collective bargaining agreement, the details of which need to be put to paper," Bettman said. "We've got to dot a lot of Is, cross a lot of Ts. There's still a lot of work to be done, but the basic framework of the deal has been agreed upon." Hostess in Talks to Sell Off Bread Brands (WSJ) Hostess could disclose Flowers, Grupo Bimbo or others as opening bidders in a looming bankruptcy-court auction for the assets as soon as this week, said people familiar with the matter. Hostess, whose bread brands include Wonder Bread, Nature's Pride, Home Pride, Merita and Butternut, is still determining how to split up assets and package them for buyers, one of the people said. Gérard Depardieu gives up French citizenship after bitter tax fight (GM) In a fit of pique, French movie star Gérard Depardieu announced during the weekend that he would give up his citizenship after politicians and the media took him to task for moving to Belgium and avoiding an impending tax hike for the rich. Mr. Depardieu is not France’s first fiscal refugee but his high-profile door-slamming so monopolized public debate that Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault had on Monday to parse whether or not he had insulted the actor. “I did not call Mr. Depardieu a loser, I said that it was loser-like [to move to Belgium to avoid taxes],” Mr. Ayrault told reporters...The “loser” comment seemed to have been the jab that stung Mr. Depardieu the most. “Loser, did you say loser?” the 63-year–old actor began an open letter to Mr. Ayrault that appeared Sunday in Le Journal du dimanche. Mr. Depardieu wrote that he had paid a total of €145-million in income tax in the last four decades and kept 80 people employed. He added that he had been taxed at a marginal rate of 85 per cent this year. “I am giving you back my passport and my social insurance, which I had never used. We no longer have the same fatherland. I am a true European, a citizen of the world.”

Opening Bell: 04.17.13

BofA Misses Estimates as Mortgage Banking Weighs on Results (Bloomberg) Net income advanced to $2.62 billion, or 20 cents a share, from $653 million, or 3 cents, a year earlier, according to a statement today from the Charlotte, North Carolina-based company. The consensus of 25 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg had predicted 23 cents a share. Chief Executive Officer Brian T. Moynihan, 53, has sold more than $60 billion in assets, settled more than $40 billion in mortgage claims and repaired the bank’s balance sheet since taking over in 2010. He’s now focused on trimming $8 billion in annual expenses and adding revenue, which dropped 8.4 percent on an adjusted basis to $23.9 billion. BNY Mellon Has Net Loss of $266 Million on Tax Expense (Bloomberg) BNY Mellon had a net loss of $266 million, or 23 cents a share, compared with a profit of $619 million, or 52 cents, a year earlier, the New York-based bank said today in a statement. Earnings were cut by $854 million, or 73 cents, because it wasn’t allowed to take foreign tax credits. Excluding the item, BNY Mellon earned $588 million, or 50 cents a share. Analysts had expected BNY Mellon to report an adjusted profit of 52 cents a share, the average of 22 estimates in a Bloomberg survey. IMF Renews Call To Ease Austerity (WSJ) Seeking to keep a fragile global recovery on track, the International Monetary Fund on Tuesday called on countries that can afford it—including the U.S. and Britain—to slow the pace of their austerity measures. The fund warned that "overly strong" belt-tightening in the U.S. will slow growth this year. Across-the-board government spending cuts, known as the sequester, were the "wrong way" to shrink the budgetdeficit, it said in its semiannual report on economic growth. Bitcoin Investors Hang On For The Ride (WSJ) Norman Vialle, a 53-year-old car dealer in Kansas, invested in his share of winners and losers during the Internet bubble of the 1990s. Now he is clinging to a stash of Bitcoin, even though the fledgling virtual currency has lost about 70% of its value in the past week. "It's volatile because it's new, but it's still a lot higher than it was a month ago," Mr. Vialle says. In addition to investing in the currency, Mr. Vialle recently began accepting bitcoins for payment at Overland Park Jeep Dodge Ram Chrysler. One of his customers is planning to pay for a $40,000 Jeep with the currency next month. Grantham man explains why he has Margaret Thatcher tattooed on his leg (ITV) The unusual design features Baroness Thatcher's head sitting on an ice cream cone. Louis Maier, aged 32, wanted to have the six-inch work of art on his right calf to honour her. Cyprus Finance Minister Sees Gold Sale Within Next Months (Bloomberg) The Cypriot government plans to sell part of its gold reserves within the next months, a decision that needs to be approved by the country’s central bank, Finance Minister Haris Georgiades said. “The exact details of it will be formulated in due course primarily by the board of the central bank,” Georgiades, 41, told Bloomberg TV’s Ryan Chilcote in an interview in Nicosia. “Obviously it’s a big decision.” Gold's Fall Costs Paulson $1.5 Billion This Year (FT) The estimated losses for Mr. Paulson, who has made and lost more money on gold than almost any other hedge fund manager, reflect a bold all-in bet on the precious metal While many investors hold some gold in case of financial calamity or a return of the rampant inflation of the 1970s, since 2009 Mr. Paulson has allowed clients of Paulson & Co to denominate their holdings in gold, rather than US dollars. Mr. Paulson enthusiastically embraced the option, according to people familiar with the situation, and has about 85 percent of his personal capital in the firm linked to the gold price. Gold's Great Unraveling Had a Few Harbingers (WSJ) The gold-price rout began taking shape in the early morning hours Monday, after a sharp Friday selloff in a market that had risen steadily for a decade left traders girding for a downdraft. Some in London began arriving at work Sunday night ahead of the market's Asia opening to prepare for the onslaught, while others arrived as early as 4 a.m. Monday, even though a paucity of traders at this time limits most trading options until about 8 a.m. Forget Gold, the Gourmet-Cupcake Market Is Crashing (WSJ) The craze hit a high mark in June 2011, when Crumbs Bake Shop, a New York-based chain, debuted on the Nasdaq Stock Market under the ticker symbol CRMB. Its creations—4" tall, with fillings such as vanilla custard, caps of butter cream cheese, and decorative flourishes like a whole cookie—can cost $4.50 each. After trading at more than $13 a share in mid-2011, Crumbs has sunk to $1.70. It dropped 34% last Friday, in the wake of Crumbs saying that sales for the full year would be down by 22% from earlier projections, and the stock slipped further this week. Crumbs in part blamed store closures from Hurricane Sandy, but others say the chain is suffering from a larger problem: gourmet-cupcake burnout. "The novelty has worn off," says Kevin Burke, managing partner of Trinity Capital LLC, a Los Angeles investment banking firm that often works in the restaurant industry. Crumbs now has 67 locations, nearly double the number it had less than two years ago. "These are singularly focused concepts," says Darren Tristano, executive vice president at Technomic Inc., a Chicago research and consulting firm that specializes in the food industry. "You're not going to Crumbs every day." "It's a short-term trend and we're starting to see a real saturation," he adds. "Demand is flat. And quite frankly, people can bake cupcakes."