Opening Bell: 03.14.12

Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs (NYT) It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off. Over the last 12 months I have seen five different managing directors refer to their own clients as “muppets,” sometimes over internal e-mail. Even after the S.E.C., Fabulous Fab, Abacus, God’s work, Carl Levin, Vampire Squids? No humility? I mean, come on. Integrity? It is eroding. I don’t know of any illegal behavior, but will people push the envelope and pitch lucrative and complicated products to clients even if they are not the simplest investments or the ones most directly aligned with the client’s goals? Absolutely. Every day, in fact. Stress Tests Buoy US Banks (WSJ) Stock prices reacted positively amid a spate of other upbeat economic news, including a robust retail-sales report and optimistic comments by Fed officials on the overall state of the U.S. economy. The Dow Jones Industrial Average ended the day up 1.7%, its highest close since December 2007. Asian markets opened trading on Wednesday higher, with Tokyo up 1.9%. The Fed's stress tests were designed to see whether banks would have enough capital on hand to keep lending even if another deep economic slump or financial crisis were to strike. It's the third round of stress tests: The first took place in 2009, in the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis. At that time, banks fared much more poorly. JPMorgan Dividend Surprises Investors, Irks Fed (Bloomberg) The bank’s disclosure prompted other lenders, including Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC), U.S. Bancorp and PNC Financial Services Group Inc. (PNC), to accelerate the disclosure of their dividend plans. It also irritated some staff at the Fed, which had planned to release the test results ahead of the industry, said one person familiar with the central bank’s operations who declined to be identified because the discussions were private. Pandit Repeats Moynihan’s Misstep as Citigroup Request Backfires (Bloomberg) Citigroup was the biggest U.S. lender yesterday to fail the regulator’s exam of capital levels in a hypothetical economic downturn because of the New York-based firm’s plan to boost dividends or stock repurchases. Bank of America, which had its payout request rejected last year, passed the 2012 test after Moynihan decided to keep his company’s dividend at 1 cent. “Pandit misread the situation badly, you just don’t ask for something if you don’t know you can get it,” said Greg Donaldson, chairman of Evansville, Indiana-based Donaldson Capital Management LLC, which oversees $540 million including Bank of America shares. “Moynihan was chastened by what happened last year, he absolutely wasn’t going to take any chances of getting rebuffed again.” Stress Tests Results Can't Be Trusted, Says Strategist (CNBC) "I think a lot of banks are still overstating assets and they haven't recognized problem loans, to the extent that they should have done and it's very difficult to trust numbers," Peter Elston, Asia Strategist at Aberdeen Asset Management told CNBC on Wednesday. Merkel Says Europe Is ‘Good Way’ Up Mountain, Not Over Yet (Bloomberg) “We’ve come a good way along the mountain path, but we’re not completely over the mountain,” Merkel told reporters in Rome late yesterday after talks with Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti. “I suspect that in the next few years there will continue to be new mountains -- there won’t be a celebratory event in which we say we’re over the mountain and now we can sit among the trees and say that we’ve done it.” Eurogroup Approves Second Greek Bailout (WSJ) The euro-zone countries Wednesday finally signed off on Greece's second bailout program, ending a protracted and dramatic negotiating process that started last July. The hope is that the €130 billion ($170.1 billion) package—funded mostly by euro-zone countries and the International Monetary Fund—will be enough to keep Greece funded until 2014-2015. But talk of a third Greek bailout has already started with the ink still wet on the second one, especially following a report by European Union experts highlighting the risks to structural-reform implementation and predicting "at best stagnation" for 2013. Greece has been in a recession for five consecutive years. Ex-Lehman Executive Jack’s $35 Million Estate Faces Tax Auction (BW) The $35 million estate of Bradley H. Jack, the former Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. (LEHMQ) managing director who was arrested twice for allegedly forging drug prescriptions, may be sold at a municipal auction after he failed to pay property taxes since July. Jack owes $271,923 on his 20-acre (8-hectare), waterfront compound in Fairfield, Connecticut, according to town tax collector Stanley Gorzelany. It’s the town’s biggest overdue tax bill on a residence. A Public Exit From Goldman Sachs Hits at a Wounded Wall Street (NYT) To be sure, longtime bankers say it is not like short-term greed was absent in the past. It has been around since traders gathered under a buttonwood tree and founded the New York Stock Exchange in 1792. But the astounding size of Wall Street’s biggest firms — and the fortunes to be made — have altered the calculus. “I think there was plenty of skullduggery going on,” said Jerome Kohlberg Jr., who worked at Bear Stearns for 21 years before leaving to found Kohlberg Kravis Roberts in 1976 with Henry R. Kravis and George R. Roberts. Still, the trend has accelerated in recent years, according to Mr. Kohlberg. “When I first started on Wall Street, it was a small group and everyone knew everyone else,” he said. “If you stepped out of line, people would not do business with you.”
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Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs, by Greg Smith (NYT)
It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off. Over the last 12 months I have seen five different managing directors refer to their own clients as “muppets,” sometimes over internal e-mail. Even after the S.E.C., Fabulous Fab, Abacus, God’s work, Carl Levin, Vampire Squids? No humility? I mean, come on. Integrity? It is eroding. I don’t know of any illegal behavior, but will people push the envelope and pitch lucrative and complicated products to clients even if they are not the simplest investments or the ones most directly aligned with the client’s goals? Absolutely. Every day, in fact.

Stress Tests Buoy US Banks (WSJ)
Stock prices reacted positively amid a spate of other upbeat economic news, including a robust retail-sales report and optimistic comments by Fed officials on the overall state of the U.S. economy. The Dow Jones Industrial Average ended the day up 1.7%, its highest close since December 2007. Asian markets opened trading on Wednesday higher, with Tokyo up 1.9%. The Fed's stress tests were designed to see whether banks would have enough capital on hand to keep lending even if another deep economic slump or financial crisis were to strike. It's the third round of stress tests: The first took place in 2009, in the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis. At that time, banks fared much more poorly.

JPMorgan Dividend Surprises Investors, Irks Fed (Bloomberg)
The bank’s disclosure prompted other lenders, including Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC), U.S. Bancorp and PNC Financial Services Group Inc. (PNC), to accelerate the disclosure of their dividend plans. It also irritated some staff at the Fed, which had planned to release the test results ahead of the industry, said one person familiar with the central bank’s operations who declined to be identified because the discussions were private.

Pandit Repeats Moynihan’s Misstep as Citigroup Request Backfires (Bloomberg)
Citigroup was the biggest U.S. lender yesterday to fail the regulator’s exam of capital levels in a hypothetical economic downturn because of the New York-based firm’s plan to boost dividends or stock repurchases. Bank of America, which had its payout request rejected last year, passed the 2012 test after Moynihan decided to keep his company’s dividend at 1 cent. “Pandit misread the situation badly, you just don’t ask for something if you don’t know you can get it,” said Greg Donaldson, chairman of Evansville, Indiana-based Donaldson Capital Management LLC, which oversees $540 million including Bank of America shares. “Moynihan was chastened by what happened last year, he absolutely wasn’t going to take any chances of getting rebuffed again.”

Stress Tests Results Can't Be Trusted, Says Strategist (CNBC)
"I think a lot of banks are still overstating assets and they haven't recognized problem loans, to the extent that they should have done and it's very difficult to trust numbers," Peter Elston, Asia Strategist at Aberdeen Asset Management told CNBC on Wednesday.

Merkel Says Europe Is ‘Good Way’ Up Mountain, Not Over Yet (Bloomberg)
“We’ve come a good way along the mountain path, but we’re not completely over the mountain,” Merkel told reporters in Rome late yesterday after talks with Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti. “I suspect that in the next few years there will continue to be new mountains -- there won’t be a celebratory event in which we say we’re over the mountain and now we can sit among the trees and say that we’ve done it.”

Eurogroup Approves Second Greek Bailout (WSJ)
The euro-zone countries Wednesday finally signed off on Greece's second bailout program, ending a protracted and dramatic negotiating process that started last July. The hope is that the €130 billion ($170.1 billion) package—funded mostly by euro-zone countries and the International Monetary Fund—will be enough to keep Greece funded until 2014-2015. But talk of a third Greek bailout has already started with the ink still wet on the second one, especially following a report by European Union experts highlighting the risks to structural-reform implementation and predicting "at best stagnation" for 2013. Greece has been in a recession for five consecutive years.

Ex-Lehman Executive Jack’s $35 Million Estate Faces Tax Auction (BW)
The $35 million estate of Bradley H. Jack, the former Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. (LEHMQ) managing director who was arrested twice for allegedly forging drug prescriptions, may be sold at a municipal auction after he failed to pay property taxes since July. Jack owes $271,923 on his 20-acre (8-hectare), waterfront compound in Fairfield, Connecticut, according to town tax collector Stanley Gorzelany. It’s the town’s biggest overdue tax bill on a residence.

A Public Exit From Goldman Sachs Hits at a Wounded Wall Street (NYT)
To be sure, longtime bankers say it is not like short-term greed was absent in the past. It has been around since traders gathered under a buttonwood tree and founded the New York Stock Exchange in 1792. But the astounding size of Wall Street’s biggest firms — and the fortunes to be made — have altered the calculus. “I think there was plenty of skullduggery going on,” said Jerome Kohlberg Jr., who worked at Bear Stearns for 21 years before leaving to found Kohlberg Kravis Roberts in 1976 with Henry R. Kravis and George R. Roberts. Still, the trend has accelerated in recent years, according to Mr. Kohlberg. “When I first started on Wall Street, it was a small group and everyone knew everyone else,” he said. “If you stepped out of line, people would not do business with you.”

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Opening Bell: 03.07.13

Fed's Fisher Pins Slow Growth on Politicians (WSJ) Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas President Richard Fisher on Wednesday blamed both major U.S. political parties for a "horrid" political climate in Washington, and said monetary policy alone can't drive the economy. "We provided the fuel for economic recovery," Mr. Fisher said of the central bank, describing the Fed's stimulus as "very high-octane, dirt-cheap gasoline." But he said that neither Republican nor Democratic politicians in Washington have done their part by putting policies in place that spur the private sector "to take the cheap fuel that we have provided and step on the accelerator." Banks Said to Weigh Defying Fed With Dividend Disclosures (Bloomberg) The largest U.S. banks are weighing whether to disregard a Federal Reserve request and announce their dividend plans shortly after the central bank’s stress tests are released, people with knowledge of the process said. The Fed has asked 18 firms, including JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs, to wait until next week, even though the lenders will get preliminary word today about whether their capital plans were approved. Bank executives are concerned that investors could be confused and are considering whether securities laws may require prompt disclosure of their plans for dividends and share repurchases, the people said. Paulson Gold Fund Down 18% as Metal’s Slump Foils Rebound (Bloomberg) John Paulson posted an 18 percent decline in his Gold Fund last month as a slump in the metal, after more than a decade of gains, undermined efforts by the billionaire hedge-fund manager to rebound from two years of losses in some strategies. The $900 million Gold Fund, which invests in bullion- related equities and derivatives, is down 26 percent this year, Paulson & Co. said yesterday in a client update obtained by Bloomberg News. The firm’s Advantage funds also fell in February after the metal and related stocks weakened as signs of economic optimism curbed gold demand. “Despite the volatility and drawdown of our gold equity positions, we believe in the long-term outlook for these positions as quantitative easing programs continue around the world, credit expands in the United States, and gold equities continue to trade at a significant discount” to historical average valuations, the hedge fund said in a letter sent yesterday to investors, which was obtained by Bloomberg News. Carl Icahn Rachets Up Dell Fight (WSJ) In a letter released by Dell Thursday, Mr. Icahn said he has a "substantial" position in the company, and asked Dell to pay a per-share dividend of $9 if the deal is voted down by shareholders. He said that by his calculations, that transaction would be superior to the current going-private offer, citing a "stub" value of $13.81 a share which, combined with the special dividend, represents a 67% premium to the current $13.65 per-share offer price. Dell 'Welcomes' Carl Icahn to Go-Shop Process (CNBC) Dell on Thursday said it welcomed Carl Icahn, who has built up a 100 million share stake in the company, and other interested parties as the computer maker seeks to go private. The special committee appointed by the board said it was conducting a "robust go-shop process" and was looking at other alternatives after a $24.4 billion buyout led by founder Michael Dell faced opposition from some shareholders. Bad-News Bears Crash The Party (WSJ) For all their conviction, the bears realize it may be awhile before their dark predictions come true. "Unfortunately, I am bearish and I have been wrong," said Samer Nsouli, chief investment officer at Lyford Group International, a hedge fund, who argues that recent weakness in copper and oil is a portent of a global slowdown. "Make no mistake, it will end in tears. The eternal question is when." Lions Maul Two To Death In Kariba (Herald) Two people were yesterday mauled to death by lions in Mahombekombe suburb in the resort town of Kariba. Sources say the man only identified as Musinje and the woman Sharai Mawera, were attacked while spending time in a bushy area with the man managing to escape, leaving the woman behind. The man went on to report the case to police who, with the assistance of officers from the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, went in search of the lions. During the search they found an arm belonging to a man with investigations pointing to the lions having made a kill the previous night. That, the sources say, could have been the reason the lions did not completely eat the woman. BofA Times An Options Trade Well (WSJ) Bank of America's trading desk last June purchased options to buy 150,000 shares of Constellation Brands, an aggressive wager that the wine-and-beer seller's shares would rise, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of options-market data and of quarterly regulatory filings made by institutional investors. The trade helped push the volume in thinly traded Constellation options that day to more than 13 times the previous 30 days' daily average, the options data show. A week later, Constellation announced a pact to buy a Mexican beer maker out of a joint venture that imports Corona Extra and other beers into the U.S. market. Bank of America led a duo of banks that financed the $1.85 billion deal. Constellation shares soared 24% on June 29, the day the deal was made public, and Bank of America generated an estimated paper profit of more than $1 million from the options trading, the options-market data indicate. China Imitates Singer (NYP) Paul Singer’s battle with Argentina over defaulted debt is beginning to ripple through the bond world. Creditors looking to force deadbeat countries to pay up are turning to the controversial legal argument Singer used to press his case against the South American country in the US courts. On Monday, China’s Ex-Im Bank, which has an unpaid judgment worth $32 million against Grenada, sued the tiny Caribbean country in New York federal court to get its money back. China wheeled out the same “equal treatment” argument that Singer’s Elliott Management used against Argentina, and which was recently upheld at the appeals level for the first time in the US. China’s move marks the first time a creditor other than Singer and his cohorts have tested the maneuver in the US. Obama Tries Charm Offensive to Woo Republicans on Deficit (Bloomberg) The president broke bread last night with a dozen Republican senators, hosting a dinner at a luxury Washington hotel near the White House. Next week, he’ll visit Capitol Hill to meet separately with Republicans and Democrats in the Senate. Obama has also spoken by telephone with at least a half- dozen Republican lawmakers over the past few days about the budget and other priorities of his second term, including a rewrite of immigration laws and controlling gun violence. “There have been some problems, but we’re all adults and you just have to put the country ahead of party and you’ll be fine,” Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who helped organize the dinner, said before the meal. The increased outreach marks a shift in strategy for the White House, amid signs the president’s poll numbers are falling after he and Republicans were unable to avert the across-the- board spending cuts that took effect March 1. Jobless Claims in U.S. Unexpectedly Fall to a Six-Week Low (Bloomberg) First-time jobless claims unexpectedly fell by 7,000 to 340,000 in the week ended March 2, the lowest since the period ended Jan. 19, according to data today from the Labor Department in Washington. The median forecast of 50 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for an increase to 355,000. The four-week average dropped to a five-year low. JC Penney Board Can’t Be 'Delusional': Ex-CEO (CNBC) Former JC Penney CEO Allen Questrom told CNBC on Wednesday that the company's board of directors is wrong in thinking the struggling retailer can change its fortunes under current boss Ron Johnson. "The board has to take action. They can't be delusional like Ron Johnson is," Questrom said on "Fast Money Halftime Report." "This has been going on long enough. You can't say you're going to make your numbers for the year and then drop a billion dollars." Questrom, who has watched from afar as Penney's sales and stock have suffered, told CNBC that directors needed to act quickly. "If they think if it all of a sudden going to turn itself around, there is no way they can have reliable information – because Ron is not a source for that," he said. "The sooner they act, the better." 1 in 10 Yale students have engaged in prostitution, 3% have had sex with an animal (NYDN) Sexologist Dr. Jill McDevitt hosted the sex workshop session where around 55 students used their cellphones to answer questions about sex. The results were then published in real time on a screen. McDevitt, who also owns the Feminique sex store in West Chester, Pennsylvania, said the results showed "you can't have assumptions about people's backgrounds." Student Giuliana Berry, who hosted the event, told Campus Reform the workshop - part of Yale's Sex Weekend - aimed to increase understanding and compassion for people who indulged in "fringe sexual practices."

Opening Bell: 03.15.12

Goldman Roiled by Op-Ed Loses $2.2 Billion for Shareholders (Bloomberg) Goldman Sachs slid $4.17 to $120.37 yesterday, leaving the shares still up 33 percent this year...Smith, who also wrote that he was quitting after 12 years at the company, blamed Blankfein, 57, and President Gary D. Cohn, 51, for a “decline in the firm’s moral fiber.” They responded in a memo to current and former employees, saying that Smith’s assertions don’t reflect the firm’s values, culture or “how the vast majority of people at Goldman Sachs think about the firm and the work it does on behalf of our clients.” You Have Less Than Two Hours To Sign Up For The Dealbreaker NCAA Tournament Challenge (DB) Do it here, do it now, or lose us forever (the password is: animalliar). SEC Cracks Down On Pre-IPO Trading (WSJ) Federal regulators are cracking down on an obscure but booming market for trading shares in companies before they go public. The Securities and Exchange Commission brought charges against two money managers, alleging they misled and overcharged investors on funds formed to buy shares of Facebook Inc., Twitter Inc. and other social-media companies. A so-called secondary market in these companies' private shares has grown rapidly as more investors seek to buy into the companies before their initial public offerings, hoping to profit later from a "pop" in the stock price after the IPO. The allegations by the SEC mark the first major regulatory blow to the market, which the agency says emerged in 2009 and which industry participants say has been fueled lately on the anticipation of a Facebook IPO in the coming months. Citi Rejection Stings Pandit (WSJ) The board of directors held a meeting by telephone shortly after the Federal Reserve said Tuesday it had turned down the capital plan the New York company submitted as part of its latest "stress test," according to people familiar with the situation. Neither Citigroup nor the Fed disclosed what the bank had been seeking, but in recent months the bank's executives had repeatedly said they wanted to return capital to shareholders through dividends or share buybacks in 2012. "Everyone was taken by surprise," said a person with knowledge of the reaction among Citigroup executives and board members. Jobless Claims in U.S. Decrease, Matching Four-Year Low (Bloomberg) Claims for jobless benefits dropped last week in the U.S., matching the lowest level in four years, more evidence the labor market is improving. Applications for unemployment insurance payments fell by 14,000 to 351,000 in the week ended March 10, Labor Department figures showed today. Economists forecast 357,000, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey. Claims reached the same level a month ago, the lowest since March 2008. UBS Cuts Bonus Pool (WSJ, DB) That would be putting it mildly. JPMorgan's Dimon Responds to Goldman Column (Reuters) J.P. Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon told employees to resist taking advantage of competitors and to focus instead on strengthening the bank's own standards, in an internal memo sent in response to the firestorm engulfing Goldman Sachs after a former banker published his resignation letter in the New York Times. Meredith Whitney: Banks Oversold, Muni Defaults Still Coming (CNBC) "The banks should trade at tangible (book value) or a little better," she said. "But that doesn't mean they're off to the races and that there's tremendous momentum behind the fundamentals of these banks." Goldman fights back after employee's scathing public exit (NYP) After the memo was distributed, Goldman brass went into damage-control mode, fielding calls from investors and clients searching for reaction from the 143-year-old firm. Blankfein was light-hearted about the surprise attack but tried to be extremely responsive to client inquiries about it, sources said. Privately, some Goldman officials played down Smith’s significance within the firm, describing him as a “disgruntled mid-level employee.” Two Billionaires Side With Greg Smith Against Goldman (Forbes) Jim Clark said Smith’s criticism of Goldman’s treatment of its customers is “what I experienced over the four to five years” he entrusted some of his funds with the firm’s private wealth management division...Billionaire Stephen Jarislowsky, CEO of Canadian investment firm Jarislowsky, Fraser, says he also supports Smith’s op-ed. “It’s about ethics and fiduciary responsibility, and the lack thereof,” explains Jarislowsky. “If you’re a fiduciary you should work for your client and not for anyone else. If you’re a doctor, you’re not supposed to work for your pocketbook, but for your client’s health.” Chinese Economy Already in ‘Hard Landing,’ JPMorgan’s Mowat Says (Bloomberg) China’s economy is already in a so- called “hard landing,” according to Adrian Mowat, JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s chief Asian and emerging-market strategist. “If you look at the Chinese data, you should stop debating about a hard landing,” Mowat, who is based in Hong Kong, said at a conference in Singapore yesterday. “China is in a hard landing. Car sales are down, cement production is down, steel production is down, construction stocks are down. It’s not a debate anymore, it’s a fact.” Arrest warrant issued for Russell Brand over iPhone rage (NYP) Brand was named in a police report on Monday night after allegedly grabbing a photographer's cell phone out of his hand and hurling it through the window of a law firm. The paparazzo, Timothy Jackson, filed a police report immediately after the incident, citing "criminal damages." According to Jackson, he had been out with several fellow photographers when he started taking pictures of the 36-year-old British comedian and actor with his iPhone. Brand allegedly "flipped out," snatched the cell phone and threw it at a building, breaking a window in the process. His reps have contacted the law firm and offered to pay for the broken window.

Opening Bell: 12.05.12

Global Banking Under Siege as Nations Tighten Local Rules (Bloomberg) Regulators want to curtail risks exposed after global banks such as New York-based Citigroup, Edinburgh-based Royal Bank of Scotland and Zurich-based UBS took bailouts in the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression. Forcing lenders to dedicate capital and liquidity to multiple local subsidiaries, rather than a single parent, may undermine the business logic of a multinational structure. “Being big and spread out all over the world isn’t what it used to be,” said Mayra Rodriguez Valladares, managing principal at New York-based MRV Associates, which trains bank examiners and executives at financial firms. “You’ll see global banks jettison divisions abroad and at home.” Paulson Said to Blame Bet Against Europe for Most of Loss (Bloomberg) John Paulson, manager of $20 billion in hedge funds, told investors that the bulk of his losses this year came on bets that the European sovereign-debt crisis would worsen, according to a person familiar with the matter. Paulson, speaking to clients at his firm’s annual meeting yesterday in New York, said he has reduced those positions following European Central Bank President Mario Draghi’s comments in July that the ECB was committed to preserving the euro, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the meeting was private. Paulson said in a February letter to investors that the euro was “structurally flawed” and would eventually fall apart. In April, the founder of New York-based Paulson & Co. told clients he was wagering against European sovereign bonds and buying credit-default swaps on European debt, or protection against the chance of default. No Payback For Singer This Year (NYP) Paul Singer’s last-ditch attempt to get cash from Argentina this year has failed. A motion by Singer’s hedge fund, Elliott Management, requesting that the South American country put up a security deposit of $250 million by Dec. 10 was denied by a federal appeals court yesterday. “Since we will not have a big payment for ages (if ever), this looks like a huge blow to [Elliott’s] strategy,” said sovereign-debt expert Anna Gelpern. In Tax Fight, G.O.P. Seeks a Position to Fall Back On (NYT) Senator Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, who is retiring, joined a handful of other Republicans on Tuesday suggesting that Congress should pass the middle-class tax cut extensions now, then leave the fight over taxes and spending until later. Americans, she said, "should not even be questioning that we will ultimately raise taxes on low- to middle-income people." Congress could take that off the table "while you're grappling with tax cuts for the wealthy," she said. But any move toward compromise with Democrats on fiscal issues quickly comes under attack from conservatives as a surrender and unsettles the rank-and-file. It is a dynamic that has haunted Speaker John A. Boehner throughout the 112th Congress, as he has repeatedly been caught between the imperative to govern and the need to satisfy the restive right. Mr. Boehner, of Ohio, has drawn fire this week for removing a handful of House Republicans who have defied the leadership from their preferred committee seats, a step he took to enforce party discipline. Fed to launch fresh bond buying to help economy (Reuters) The Federal Reserve is set to announce a fresh round of Treasury bond purchases when it meets next week, avoiding monetary policy tightening to maintain support for the weak U.S. economy amid uncertainty over the looming year-end "fiscal cliff." Many economists think the U.S. central bank will announce monthly bond purchases of $45 billion after its policy gathering on December 11-12, signaling it will continue to pump money into the U.S. economy during 2013 in a bid to bring down unemployment. Merkel Wins Party Reelection, Eyes Third Term (Reuters) Merkel, at the height of her popularity, was returned unopposed as CDU chairwoman with 97.9 percent of votes from delegates who stood and applauded her for nearly eight minutes after she lauded Germany's economic resilience in the euro crisis and promised to fight for jobs and prosperity. McAfee Emerges From Hiding in Guatemala (FT) John McAfee, the antivirus software entrepreneur, has revealed that he has fled to Guatemala from Belize where he is wanted for questioning in relation to a murder. Posting on his website on Tuesday, the US citizen and multimillionaire said: "I apologize for all of the misdirections over the past few days . . . I am in Guatemala." His emergence closes one chapter in a bizarre chain of events that started last month when police in Belize, where Mr McAfee has lived for the past four years, discovered the dead body of Gregory Faull, the owner of a house close to Mr McAfee's main property on the island of Ambergris Caye. Mr McAfee - who Belize considers "a person of interest" in the murder investigation - fled, going into hiding and insisting on his innocence. He said he ran from the police because he believed that the Belize authorities were out to kill him. In response, Dean Barrow, the prime minister, said: "I don't want to be unkind to the gentleman, but I believe he is extremely paranoid". Mr McAfee revealed his location on Tuesday after a hacker called Simple Nomad disclosed his whereabouts by analyzing a mobile-phone photograph taken of McAfee on Monday that was posted on the internet. In a second blog post late Tuesday titled "the new fight", Mr McAfee said he had asked Telsforo Guerra, a former attorney-general of Guatemala, to help uncover what he claims is deep-rooted corruption in Belize. Separately, he told Reuters that Mr Guerra was trying to help him obtain political asylum in Guatemala, even though Belizean authorities have not charged him. EU Banks To Repay Cheap Loans (WSJ) Nearly a year ago, hundreds of European banks borrowed a total of more than €1 trillion ($1.3 trillion) from the European Central Bank as it scrambled to defuse an escalating crisis. Today, in a sign of the industry's partial healing, some of Europe's biggest banks are preparing to repay those loans. The push to repay the loans, however, has generated concerns that banks are moving prematurely and could be vulnerable if the euro-zone crisis intensifies again. The ECB activated the emergency loan program—known as the long-term refinancing operation, or LTRO—late last year, doling out two batches of inexpensive loans that are good for three years. Banks are permitted to repay them starting next month. Euro Crisis Feeds Corruption as Greece Slides in Rankings (Bloomberg) The European debt crisis has given way to a new wave of corruption as some of the most hard-hit countries in the turmoil have tumbled in an annual graft ranking, watchdog group Transparency International said. Greece, in its fifth year of recession and crippled by rounds of austerity, fell to 94th place from 80th -- ranking it below Colombia and Liberia, according to the group’s Corruption Perceptions Index. Ireland, Austria, Malta and Italy were also among member states in the single currency to slide. Moynihan: No Stress (Bloomberg) Bank of America CEO Brian T. Moynihan said the firm has plenty of capital and he’s confident it will pass the next US stress tests. “The question will be what to ask for and when, because we’re not going to fail this,” Moynihan said yesterday at a New York investor conference sponsored by Goldman Sachs. Moynihan, 53, is renewing efforts to win approval to raise the company’s dividend or repurchase shares after the Federal Reserve blocked an earlier request. Fed Filcher Gets Timeout (NYP) Bo Zhang, a Chinese-citizen computer programmer who worked for a contractor at the New York Fed, was sentenced to six months of home confinement for stealing Treasury Department software. Snake on a plane forces emergency landing (CNN) ...the incident forced the pilot to make an emergency landing in the Egyptian resort town of Al Ghardaqa on the Red Sea, according to The Jordan Times. An Egypt Air official told the paper an investigation revealed that a 48-year-old passenger, who owns a reptile shop in Kuwait, had hidden the Egyptian cobra in a carry-on bag. The passenger was trying to control the snake after it bit his hand and started slithering under the seats. The Egyptian daily al-Masry al-Youm reported that the man refused medical treatment, claiming his wound was only superficial. The plane resumed its flight to Kuwait after local authorities confiscated the snake. Doctors told the passenger he should spend 24 hours in a hospital for observation, but the man refused, the Egyptian Air official said, according to The Jordan Times.

Opening Bell: 03.08.13

Stress Tests Show Banks On The Mend (WSJ) The central bank said 17 of the 18 largest U.S. banks have enough capital to keep lending in a hypothetical sharp economic downturn, a sign the financial system is better prepared to weather a shock without resorting to a large, 2008-style infusion of government support. But the "stress test" figures released Thursday also showed that the Fed is paying special attention to the capital strength of companies with large trading operations, a group that includes Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and JP Morgan. That scrutiny could make it harder for those firms to win regulatory approval to increase dividends and buybacks, and could bruise the companies' recovering reputations with investors. Shares of Goldman and J.P. Morgan have been trading at their highest levels in a year, but both companies dropped more than 1% in after-hours trading following the Fed release. Citi Bests Stress Tests, Discloses Buyback Plan (CNBC) Where stress tests are concerned, call Citigroup "most improved." The bank posted an 8.3 percent tier 1 common capital ratio - the highest of its peers - under the Federal Reserve's annual stress tests. Unemployment Falls To 7.7% (WSJ) U.S. job growth jumped ahead in February, a sign of a steadily improving labor market and stronger economic gains. Employers added 236,000 jobs last month, the Labor Department said Friday. The unemployment rate, obtained by a separate survey of U.S. households, fell two-tenths of a percentage point to 7.7%, the lowest level since the end of 2008. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires had forecast that nonfarm payrolls would rise by 160,000 and the unemployment rate would fall to 7.8%. Chanos Has Ackman's Back On Herbalife Bet (NYP) Famed short seller Jim Chanos yesterday voiced his support for Ackman’s short position — and revealed he made money from shorting the Los Angeles-based company last year. “I think Bill Ackman is correct in his analysis” of Herbalife, Chanos said in a TV interview. “I’m not crazy for this multi-level-marketing business,” Chanos added...Chanos said on CNBC yesterday morning that he had shorted Herbalife last year, when it was around $50 — but got out when the price fell by half after Ackman went public with his short bet. Firms Send Record Cash Back To Investors (WSJ) Companies in the S&P 500 index are expected to pay at least $300 billion in dividends in 2013, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices, which would top last year's $282 billion. Goldman Symbol Gets More Elusive (WSJ) Upending a closely watched ritual in place since 1996, the New York securities firm told employees Thursday it now plans to promote a new crop of managing directors every two years, instead of each year. The change will start with the group selected later this year. The coveted title, which comes with a base salary of $500,000, elevates the chosen few at Goldman one step closer to the even higher rank of partner. In the memo, Goldman Chairman and Chief Executive Lloyd C. Blankfein and President and Chief Operating Officer Gary D. Cohn said the move would help the firm devote more time to the selection process. "A biennial process will allow us to invest more in the managing director selection process so that it will continue to be a disciplined and rigorous exercise," they wrote. "This will help to ensure that the managing director title remains as aspirational as it should be for our top performers." Hooters Is Chasing Women — as Customers (CNBC) The chain's waitresses are as buxom as ever but its sales have "flattened out," said Darren Tristano, executive vice president at research firm Technomic. Revenue peaked in 2007 at nearly $1 billion but had fallen to around $850 million last year, he estimated. (The privately-held company doesn't release sales figures.) The brand recently announced an overhaul aimed at making Hooters more mainstream than man-cave, adding more salads to its menu, remodeling stores and rolling out a series of ads last week to tout the changes. Icahn Bid Rattles Dell Plan (WSJ) Activist investor Carl Icahn said he would push to replace Dell's board and pursue "years of litigation" if the computer maker refused to accept his demand for a refinancing that would pay a hefty dividend to shareholders. Prodding the company to reject a $24.4 billion buyout offer that it agreed to last month and endorse his alternative, Mr. Icahn disclosed he owns a "substantial" stake in Dell and unleashed his trademark attack on directors and on the management-backed offer. "We see no reason that the future value of Dell should not accrue to all the existing Dell shareholders," Mr. Icahn wrote to a Dell special board committee, insisting it agree to his conditions or hold a vote for a replacement board that would. Ferrari $1.3 Million Hybrid Hits Resurgent Luxury Market (Bloomberg) At the Geneva Motor Show this week, Ferrari showed a 1 million-euro ($1.3 million)hybrid called LaFerrari. Bentley exhibited a revamped four-door Continental Flying Spur. Jaguar debuted the XFR-S, its fastest sedan ever. Rolls-Royce is adding a 245,000-euro coupe called the Wraith to its lineup. Companies Expand Offshore Cash Hoard By $183 Billion (Bloomberg) Microsoft, Apple, And Google each added to their non-U.S. holdings by more than 34 percent as they reaped the benefits of past maneuvers to earn and park profits in low- tax countries. Combined, those three companies alone plan to keep $134.5 billion outside the U.S. government’s reach, more than double the $59.3 billion they held two years earlier. Broker who managed money for NFL players bootled from securities industry after big loss (NYP) A Florida broker who managed money for dozens of prominent National Football League players — includingSantana Moss and Plaxico Burress — has been banned from the securities industry after putting the group into a high-risk investment that lost them a total of $40 million. Jeff Rubin, 38, directed some 31 NFL players into an illegal gambling operation in Alabama — which went bust two years later, a Wall Street regulator said yesterday. One of the players, Samari Toure Rolle, a former cornerback with the Baltimore Ravens, lost $3.2 million, the bulk of his liquid assets, to Rubin, according to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, which imposed the ban.

Opening Bell: 03.06.13

EU Fines Microsoft $732 Million (WSJ) The European Commission said it was imposing the fine after the U.S. software giant became the first company to break a voluntary agreement with regulators, which would have allowed at least 15 million consumers to pick alternatives to its Internet Explorer browser. The penalty is the latest episode in over a decade of wranglings between the EU and Microsoft, which has already seen the commission fine Microsoft €1.6 billion for failing to provide rivals with information at fair prices and for tying its media player to its operating system. Fed Holds Ground On Stress Tests (WSJ) The first component of the release, data on how banks will fare in an economic downturn, is slated for after U.S. stock markets close on Thursday. The second part, the Fed's response to buyback-and-dividend requests, is scheduled for publication a week later. Some executives warn that the delay could boost volatility in bank shares, as traders speculate on what the first round of results might mean for bank capital plans. Others warn of shareholder lawsuits if banks fail to disclose any information they receive, even informally, from regulators on the capital plans. Stress Tests Seen Boosting U.S. Bank Shareholder Payouts (Bloomberg) The six largest U.S. banks may return almost $41 billion to investors in the next 12 months, the most since 2007, as regulators conclude firms have amassed enough capital to withstand another economic shock. Lenders including Citigroup and Bank of America will buy back $26.4 billion in shares, up from $23.8 billion, according to the average estimate of three Wall Street analysts. An additional $14.5 billion will be paid out in dividends, $3.4 billion more than 2012, separate estimates show. The payouts are contingent on approval by the Federal Reserve. Forbes Hits Back at Saudi Prince Over Rich List (CNBC) A spat between Saudi billionaire Alwaleed Bin Talal and Forbes over the exact fortune of the prince has taken another bizarre twist. After the prince announced a severing of ties due to what he argued were flawed valuation methods, Forbes has now responded with an in-depth investigation, hitting back by describing his estimates as an "alternate reality". Forbes went on to say that the valuation of Kingdom Holding, the publicly traded company of Prince Alwaleed, gyrated for reasons "that, coincidentally, seem more tied to the Forbes billionaires list than fundamentals". In the lengthy piece published on Wednesday, the magazine also details its relationship with Prince Alwaleed since it began in 1988, recounting what it classified as "intermittent lobbying, cajoling and threatening" to influence his net worth listing over the years. AIG to Start Loan Investment Unit as Housing Rebounds (Bloomberg) AIG plans to buy loans backed by its United Guaranty Corp. unit, the largest seller of traditional private mortgage insurance last year, according to Donna DeMaio, 54, the unit’s chief executive officer. The debt will be held as long-term investments by AIG insurance companies. “You’re cutting the middle man out of the securitization process,” DeMaio said, referring to bonds that package home loans. The yield on an individual mortgage “is better than if you just bought the paper backed by the whole loan.” Two Hedgies Top The Field (NYP) Stephen Mandel and David Tepper earned more money for clients than any other hedge-fund manager in 2012, LCH Investments said. Mandel’s Lone Pine Capital made about $4.6 billion; Tepper’s Appaloosa Management made $3.3 billion. Traders Flee Asia Hedge Funds as Job Haven Turns Dead End (Bloomberg) Asian hedge-fund assets are 28 percent below their 2007 peak, according to data provider Eurekahedge Pte. Globally, money overseen by the funds increased 21 percent since 2007 to a new high of $2.3 trillion as of December, data from Chicago- based Hedge Fund Research Inc. show. A total of 296 Asian hedge funds liquidated in the two years to December, 33 more than the number that started. On a global basis, 1,839 new funds outnumber those that shut by 371, according to Eurekahedge. Ikea recalls cakes in 23 countries after sewage bacteria found (Telegraph) The furniture giant admitted on Tuesday that coliform bacteria had been found in two batches of almond cake from a supplier in Sweden. It comes after Chinese customs officials announced that they had destroyed a batch of 1,800 cakes after finding it contained high levels of coliforms which failed to meet hygiene standards. Coliforms, common bacteria which are found in faeces as well as soil and water, do not normally cause serious illness but are a sign of contamination which can indicate the presence of more harmful bacteria such as E.coli. It comes after Ikea recalled meatballs and sausages from 24 countries due to fears they could have been contaminated with horse meat. Oil Trader Ex-Wife Shouldn't Get Offshore Assets: Lawyers (Bloomberg) An oil trader’s ex-wife shouldn’t have any claim to properties held by offshore companies in which he invested as part of a 17.5 million-pound ($26.4 million) divorce settlement, lawyers said at a hearing in the U.K.’s highest court. The three Isle of Man-based companies, including Petrodel Resources Ltd., are “not relevant as a party to the litigation,” Tim Amos, the lawyer representing the companies, said today. The firms have asked the seven-judge panel of Britain’s Supreme Court to dismiss the wife’s claim. Yasmin Prest appealed an earlier ruling that denied her access to properties held and controlled by her ex-husband to cover part of the 2011 divorce settlement, which Michael Prest hasn’t paid, according to court documents at the U.K. top court. Her ex-husband isn’t a party to the litigation. ADP Says Companies in U.S. Added 198,000 Workers in February (Bloomberg) The 198,000 increase in employment followed a revised 215,000 gain the prior month that was more than initially estimated, figures from the Roseland, New Jersey-based ADP Research Institute showed today. The median forecast of 41 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for an advance of 170,000. Madoff Trustee ‘Unlikely’ to Win Merkin Suit, N.Y. Says (Bloomberg) The judge shouldn’t allow trustee Irving Picard to block the deal because “in the unlikely event” that Picard can win part of his suit, Merkin’s funds would be able to pay him, Schneiderman said in a filing with U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff yesterday. The attorney general made his filing saying Picard’s “unusual” request for an injunction -- to give him time to proof his own $500 million case -- required an additional response. Zoo shuts in panic as male and female escape from cage because cleaner forgot to lock the door (DM) A zoo in China was forced to close after two lions escaped from their unlocked cages. Riot police, snipers and zoo workers armed with tranquiliser guns worked to capture the ferocious animals after theyescaped at the zoo in Chongqing, south west China. According to reports, the lion and lioness were given free run of the zoo when a keeper who was cleaning their enclosure forgot to lock the gate. The zoo was completely evacuated following the escape at 8am. While the lionness was caught within the hour, the male was at large for almost four hours before he was recaptured. A zoo spokesman said: 'We found the female first and subdued her with a tranquiliser gun but the male took longer to find and bring back. 'They both recovered quickly and are no worse off for their adventure.' Officials have issued an apology to visitors for the panic caused. One said: 'You can't blame the lions. It was human error and they naturally took advantage of it.'

Opening Bell: 12.11.12

HSBC To Pay Record Penalty (WSJ) HSBC on Tuesday plans to acknowledge that for years it ignored possible money laundering, part of a record $1.9 billion settlement with U.S. authorities that caps the bank's disastrous foray into the U.S. market. The U.K.-based banking company is expected to forfeit nearly $1.3 billion as part of a deferred prosecution agreement, the largest-ever U.S. forfeiture for a bank, according to people briefed on the agreement between HSBC and multiple U.S. agencies. The deal includes a civil fine of more than $650 million, according to these people. As part of the agreement, the bank will admit to violating the Bank Secrecy Act, the Trading with the Enemy Act and other U.S. laws intended to prohibit money laundering, a government official said. Three Arrested In Libor Probe (WSJ) Three British men have been arrested as part of an investigation into the rigging of interest rates, the U.K. Serious Fraud Office said Tuesday. The SFO said the men, aged 33, 41 and 47, are being questioned at a London police station, and that it and the City of London Police executed search warrants on a home in Surrey and two homes in Essex. The arrests are the first by authorities amid a global probe into alleged rigging by bank personnel of the London interbank offered rate over several years. Morgan Stanley Weighs Share Buyback (WSJ) Morgan Stanley might soon ask U.S. regulators to let the securities firm buy back shares for the first time in more than four years, according to people familiar with the firm's thinking. The Wall Street bank could make its request to the Federal Reserve as soon as January as part of the annual "stress-test" process, these people said. The stress tests started in 2009 as a way to convince investors that the largest banks could survive a financial crisis. They have been used to determine banks' ability to pay dividends or buy back shares. Share-repurchase and dividend plans are due from 19 large financial firms by Jan. 7. "Fiscal cliff" outcome still uncertain; talks continue (Reuters) As the pace of talks quickened to avert the "fiscal cliff" of steep tax hikes and spending cuts set for the end of the year, senior members of the U.S. House of Representatives of both parties cautioned that an agreement on all the outstanding issues remained uncertain. Republicans and Democrats are not close to "finishing anything," California Representative Kevin McCarthy, the Republican whip in the House, told Fox News Monday night. "There's nothing agreed to. They are just beginning to talk," he said of House Speaker John Boehner and President Barack Obama. Meanwhile, Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said on MSNBC Monday he thought Congress could resolve some of the issues by the December 31 deadline -- among them the hikes in tax rates-but might have to leave others for the new Congress that takes office in January. Europe in Better Shape Than US: Strategists (CNBC) "The 'fiscal cliff' in the U.S. is a worry," Garry Evans,Global Head of Equity Strategy at HSBC told CNBC on Tuesday. "And that's one of the reasons that I'm underweight the U.S. and I prefer Europe - it's a bit of an unusual place to be." Insider Trading Probe Widens (WSJ) Federal prosecutors and securities regulators are taking a deeper look into how executives use prearranged trading plans to buy and sell shares of their company stock. The Manhattan U.S. attorney's office has launched a broad criminal investigation into whether seven corporate executives cited in a recent Wall Street Journal article traded improperly in shares of their own company's stock, according to a person familiar with the matter. These executives lead companies in industries ranging from retailing to energy to data processing. Stephen Baldwin Wants Tax Truce (NYP) Stephen Baldwin is hoping to set things right after he was arrested Thursday and charged with failure to file state income taxes for three years. “I went myself [to the police] in a pre-arranged kind of way, but that won’t stop the process of the powers that be being upset about it,” Baldwin told Page Six at the Plaza Hotel’s Oak Room on Sunday. “I had this pretty serious issue with filings that weren’t handled appropriately. To be honest with you, it’s a situation right now where my lawyers are in a conversation now with New York state and the district attorney’s office, and I’m very hopeful that everything should be fine,” he said. According to reports, the “Usual Suspects” star was arraigned for failure to file tax returns from 2008 to 2010. He owes more than $350,000 in taxes and penalties, and could face jail time. “You have to pay your taxes . . . I just got caught up in a situation that I’m hoping we’re gonna work out,” he said. U.S. Profit on AIG Climbs to $22.7 Billion on Share Sale (Bloomberg) The Treasury Department is selling 234.2 million shares at $32.50 each in the sixth offering since the 2008 rescue. The proceeds boost the U.S. profit on the rescue that began in 2008 to $22.7 billion, the Treasury said in an e-mailed statement. Fed Seen Pumping Up Assets to $4 Trillion in New Buying (Bloomberg) “It’s going to be massive and open-ended in size,” said Joseph LaVorgna, chief U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank Securities Inc. in New York and a former New York Fed economist. In EU, A Test Of Wills (WSJ) Among the concerns of EU officials are moves by regulators in countries such as Germany and the U.K. to discourage European banks from moving funds back to their home countries, these officials said. EU officials are considering taking legal action against governments that they view as having adopted overzealous policies that violate the single-market rules, these officials said. The first step would be a formal warning to national authorities. The dispute could eventually land before the European Court of Justice if there is no policy change. The officials' hope, though, is that they can resolve the dispute without resorting to legal action. Celtics’ Chris Wilcox fined $25K for flipping off ‘Kiss Cam’ during loss to 76ers (YS) ...The gag concludes when the camera pans to the opposing bench, where players usually laugh, fake kiss or just ignore the camera. Boston's Chris Wilcox had a slightly different and less appropriate reaction. Wilcox greeted the 17,921 Wells Fargo Center fans with his middle finger. He was serenaded by boos and received an earful from an assistant coach moments later.

Opening Bell: 05.01.12

US Considers Notes That Float (WSJ) After a series of meetings early this week, Treasury officials will decide whether to start issuing floating-rate debt for the first time ever. Instead of the interest rate being fixed throughout the life of the notes, the rate would move up and down as overall rates move higher and lower. The change would be the first new addition to the Treasury's arsenal of debt products in 15 years. Analysts are widely expecting Treasury officials to sign off on the program. Fed Said to Criticize Banks on Risk Models in Stress Test (Bloomberg) The Federal Reserve criticized how some of the 19 largest U.S. banks calculated potential losses and planned dividends in this year’s stress tests, people with knowledge of the process said. The critiques will be part of feedback letters sent to the lenders this week that cover everything from data collection to risk measurement, said three of the people, who declined to be identified because communications with the Fed are private. Flaws included marking down all housing prices at the same rate, rather than matching them to specific regions, and planning dividends that could drain needed capital. Greeks To Protest Austerity In May Day Rallies (Reuters) Greece's two major private and public sector unions GSEE and ADEDY plan to hold a rally in Athens to mark the national holiday, while the Communist-affiliated PAME group was also scheduled to hold a separate rally. Police prepared for the violence that has come to mark many such rallies once demonstrators reach the main square in front of parliament, though Athens has not seen major clashes since an unpopular austerity bill was approved in February. Athens buses, trains and the subway came to a standstill as transport workers staged a 24-hour strike, while Greek seamen held a four-hour stoppage. Public sector offices were shut and hospitals worked on emergency staff. Occupy Wall Street denies link to May Day white powder bank scare (AP) Police say seven envelopes were sent Monday to several Wells Fargo branches, a JP Morgan Chase branch and an office building. Telephone calls to Wells Fargo and JP Morgan Chase were not immediately returned. Police say the suspicious envelopes caused evacuations of several bank branches, but no injuries were reported. Police had no suspects. Representatives at some of the banks involved told CBS News the envelopes contained a note stating "Happy May Day." The envelopes were sent on the eve of planned May Day protests around the country. Bill Dobbs, a spokesman for Occupy Wall Street, said the prank had nothing to do with their protest movement. He said the incidents distract from the May 1 events. Man Group Has $1 Billion Outflows (Bloomberg) The company reported that net cash fell 56 percent to $250 million in the three months ended in March, raising concern that it’s spending too much money at a time when profits are falling. Finance Director Kevin Hayes said on a call with analysts that staff bonuses, taxes and loans to some of Man Group’s funds accounted for the lower cash reserve. Calif. Man Sues BMW For Persistent Erection (CBS via Consumerist) enry Wolf of California is suing BMW America and aftermarket seatmaker Corbin-Pacific claiming his issue began after a four-hour ride on his 1993 BMW motorcycle, with a ridge like seat. Wolf is seeking compensation for lost wages, medical expenses, emotional distress and what he calls “general damage.” He said he’s had the erection non-stop for 20 months. And it comes with another side effect: The lawsuit says Wolf is “now is unable to engage in sexual activity, which is causing him substantial emotional and mental anguish.” Icahn: No feud with Phil (NYP) Investor Carl Icahn yesterday downplayed the notion that he’s in a feud with hedge fund bigwig Phil Falcone over wireless venture LightSquared. Speaking at an activist investing conference in Midtown, Icahn said newspapers that have been writing about his standoff with Falcone “are making this into this huge shoot-out that it’s really not.” “We don’t call the shots in that deal,” he said at the conference, hosted by 13D Monitor, when asked about his plans for LightSquared. “We have one seat on the committee out of six.” Groupon Board Regrouping (DJ) The young daily deals company, which went public just six months ago to much fanfare, is adding financial expertise to its board as it tries to clean up an accounting mess that rapidly deflated its stock. Groupon yesterday appointed financial heavyweights Daniel Henry, chief financial officer of American Express, and Robert Bass, vice chairman of Deloitte, as directors. The two are replacing Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who is stepping down, and venture capitalist Kevin Efrusy, who won’t stand for re-election. Analysts See Record S&P 500 (Bloomberg) FYI: Analysts predict U.S. shares will rise enough this year to boost the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index to a record, even as Wall Street strategists say the best is already over for American equities. Judge rejects 'Hail Mary' motion for diplomatic immunity from DSK (NYP) The former International Monetary Fund chief tried to claim the protection in the civil case filed against him last August by chambermaid Nafissatou Diallo, who claims he sexually assaulting her in a "violent and sadistic attack" in the Midtown Sofitel hotel nearly one year ago. DSK was cleared of all criminal charges in the incident, but not before resigning from his post as chief of the IMF. “Confronted with well-stated law that his voluntary resignation from the IMF terminated any immunity which he enjoyed...Mr. Strauss-Khan, threw [legally speaking that is] his own version of a Hail Mary pass,” Judge Douglas McKeon wrote in his decision, handed down today. DSK did not claim immunity when Manhattan DA Cy Vance was pursuing the criminal charges against him, McKeon pointed out. “Mr. Strauss-Khan cannot eschew immunity in an effort to clear his name only to embrace it now in an effort to deny Ms. Diallo the opportunity to clear hers,” McKeon wrote. McKeon’s decision began with a quotation inserted in to the IMF’s 2011 annual report: “The reputation of a thousand years may be determines by the conduct of one hour."

Opening Bell: 03.01.12

Fast, Furious At MF Global (WSJ) At 4:53 p.m. five days before MF Global Holdings Ltd. collapsed, an employee in its Chicago office asked a co-worker to move $165 million from one of the securities firm's bank accounts to another. "Approved," came the response one minute later, according to an email reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Within about 15 minutes, the money moved to an MF Global account at J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., internal documents show. Within minutes, though, several MF Global employees realized there was a problem, according to people familiar with the matter. The cash actually had been transferred out of a customer-segregated account, not one of the company's own bank accounts, the documents show. The employees tried to reverse the $165 million transaction but failed. RBS In Initial Pact To Sell Asian Assets (WSJ) CIMB, based in Kuala Lumpur, said Thursday it had signed a memorandum of understanding to acquire certain parts of RBS's cash-equities, equity-capital-markets, and corporate-finance businesses across the Asia-Pacific region. Blackstone Founder Tops Private Equity Pay League (FT) Schwarzman received $74 million in cash distributions from investment funds started before Blackstone’s 2007 New York listing and $134.5 million in dividends from his 21 percent stake in the company, according to regulatory filings. He was also paid a $350,000 base salary and received $4.6 million from the firm’s share of investor profits, known as carried interest. Former Goldman Partner Peter Kiernan Now a Self-Fashioned Political Pundit (NYT) After retiring from the firm in 2001, the former banker headed a movie star’s charity, got a shamrock tattooed on his rear end after losing a bet with his son, adopted a Vietnamese potbellied pig named Mojo and, most recently, published a political best seller with a title that is not quite printable in a family newspaper. Apple Stock to Hit $1,000? Steve Wozniak Believes So (CNBC) "You know, people talk about $1,000 stock price... you know, at first you want to doubt it but I actually believe that and I don't really follow stock markets," Wozniak said. BofA Weighs New Fees (WSJ) The search for new sources of income is especially pressing at Bank of America, where 2011 revenue dropped by $26.2 billion, or 22%, from its 2009 level. Bank of America pilot programs in Arizona, Georgia and Massachusetts now are experimenting with charging $6 to $9 a month for an "Essentials" account. Other account options being tested in those states carry monthly charges of $9, $12, $15 and $25 but give customers opportunities to avoid the payments by maintaining minimum balances, using a credit card or taking a mortgage with Bank of America, according to a memo distributed to employees. Solar storm alert: Scientist finds 12% chance of breathtaking, possibly crippling, northern lights show (NYDN) In the next 10 years, there’s a 12% chance of a northern lights display that’s so grand, people could potentially watch in awe from the sidewalks of Manhattan to the beaches of the Caribbean. The last time the world saw such a widespread aurora borealis was 1859. This future event could well be the event of a lifetime for another, far-less beautiful reason: The solar flare that would set off the dazzling sky display could also leave countless people in the dark by frying power grids, communication networks and crucial satellites. It could add up to trillions of dollars in damage once the sky show is all over, followed by a rough recovery that could take years, according to a 2008 analysis of such an event’s impact. Bernanke Quells Talk Of Fresh Stimulus (Bloomberg) Bernanke, in testimony to lawmakers yesterday in Washington, described “positive developments” in the job market while saying it’s still “far from normal.” He said the inflationary impact of higher gasoline prices is likely to be temporary. Star Scam Condo A Steal (NYP) Kenneth Starr’s swanky Upper East Side condo sold yesterday for $5.6 million — about $2 million less than he paid using money stolen from actress Uma Thurman and heiress Rachel “Bunny” Mellon. The winning bidder at the Treasury Department auction declined to give his name, but said he was a developer who bought the triplex on East 74th Street as an investment. Starr — a money manager whose A-list clients also included Al Pacino and Lauren Bacall — was caught cowering in a closet after his $33 million Ponzi scheme collapsed in 2010. He’s serving seven-plus years in the slammer and facing a divorce from his ex-stripper wife, Diane Passage. Harvard Business School? You'll Go Through Dee Leopold First (WSJ) People overestimate the role the essays play in the application. They're very, very helpful for the candidate, and they're a really good platform for starting a discussion in an interview, but we don't admit people because of an essay. I don't need to have too much of a dramatic arc. There are some essays where I start reading and all of a sudden I feel like I'm in the middle of a very well-written novel. It can get overdone and overcrafted. Sometimes the challenge in the essays is to be honest and to be clear. It may be helpful for someone to say, "I have no idea what you're talking about." Goldman Sachs ExecutiveIn US Insider Probe (Bloomberg) Goldman Sachs said in a Feb. 28 regulatory filing that “from time to time, the firm and its employees are the subject of or otherwise involved in regulatory investigations relating to insider trading, the potential misuse of material nonpublic information and the effectiveness of the firm’s insider trading controls and information barriers.” Eating At Benihana With Tracy Morgan (Grub Street) "I love Benihana like I love my favorite strip club," Tracy Morgan says. "Sue's Rendezvous and Benihana, that's the joint. "This is my family. These people know me. This is fancy, man. They cook the food right in front of you. They might go to Pathmark and buy it, but they're gonna cook it. Fancy. It's romantic. I go up to the hood, get a chicken head, bring her here and I'll wrap her up. It's fancy." Guy at the next table is loving it. "That's my thing, going up there in the hood and getting them chickens pregnant." Tracy's talking directly to the table next to us now. Everyone, about seven strangers,is on the hook. "I'm old-school. I don't be pulling out. I ain't wearing no rubber, either. If you ain't willing to die for it, you didn't really want to have it."