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.
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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.

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Opening Bell: 12.03.12

Fiscal Cliff Talks At Stalemate (WSJ) Leading figures on both sides doubled down on their positions in interviews that aired Sunday, and they blamed each other for the current standoff, reflecting the talks that House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) told "Fox News Sunday" have gone "nowhere." Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, speaking on the same program for the Obama administration, suggested Republicans needed to take a breather from negotiations but would ultimately agree to raise tax rates—a key White House demand that is part of its push to raise $1.6 trillion in taxes over 10 years. "It's obviously a little hard for them now, and they're trying to figure out where they go next, and we might need to give them a little time to figure out where they go next," Mr. Geithner said. Geithner Joins Boehner to Trade Blame on Fiscal Cliff Talks (Bloomberg) “There’s not going to be an agreement without rates going up,” Geithner said in a taped interview that aired Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.” Republicans will “own the responsibility for the damage” if they “force higher rates on virtually all Americans because they’re unwilling to let tax rates go up on 2 percent of Americans.” Clock Ticks For SAC Investors (WSJ) Seventy-five days remain until Feb. 15, the date by which investors must tell SAC whether they want to pull money from the firm during the next redemption period...Some investors already decided to pull out. French bank Société Générale SA, which has client money in SAC through its Lyxor asset-management arm, has put in a request to pull its money from the firm, according to people familiar with the matter. It is unclear how much money Lyxor has in SAC. Many, however, said they would reserve judgment, at least for now. Ironwood Capital Management, a San Francisco-based investment firm with client money in SAC, has been in touch with investors about the position and is monitoring the situation, said a person familiar with the firm. Last week, a unit within Morgan Stanley's MS +0.06% asset-management arm that has client money with SAC sent a note telling employees it would monitor the situation and be in touch frequently with SAC, according to a person familiar with the bank...Greycourt & Co., Inc., a Pittsburgh-based firm that manages about $9 billion for wealthy families, says it is sticking with SAC. Greycourt cited the stellar long-term returns of the firm, what it says is a robust compliance staff at SAC, Mr. Cohen's promise to cover any penalties himself and a belief that the firm's investment portfolio would be well-protected, even if it eventually faces charges. "The SAC portfolio is liquid enough that I'm not terribly concerned," says Gregory Curtis, Greycourt's chairman. "I very much hope that [Mr.] Cohen hasn't been behaving badly, but either way I'm not too concerned about our client positions." UK’s Euro Trade Supremacy Under Attack (FT) The City of London should be deposed as the euro's main financial center so the single currency club can "control" most financial business in the euro zone, France's central bank governor has said. Christian Noyer of the Banque de France said there was "no rationale" for allowing the euro area's financial hub to be "offshore", in a blunt assessment that will fan UK concerns over EU rules being rigged against it. "Most of the euro business should be done inside the euro area. It's linked to the capacity of the central bank to provide liquidity and ensure oversight of its own currency," Mr Noyer told the Financial Times while touring Asia to promote Paris as a renminbi trading center. "We're not against some business being done in London, but the bulk of the business should be under our control. That's the consequence of the choice by the UK to remain outside the euro area." Zoe Cruz trying to make a return to high finance, has reconciled with John Mack (NYP, earlier) Sources say Cruz has reconciled with her former boss Mack, who helped fuel her rise within their firm before their falling out. He has been helping his one-time protégée in her efforts to land at a buyout firm such as KKR. Mack also has been a shoulder for Cruz to lean on as she copes with the split from her husband Ernesto Cruz...[who] was once reprimanded by his superiors in the mid-2000s for frolicking in a hotel pool in Midtown after a company Christmas gala with a group of female assistants, according to sources familiar with the situation. SEC Chief Delayed Rule Over Legacy Concerns (WSJ) Internal SEC emails, released to a congressional panel and reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, appear to show how a last-minute intervention by a consumer lobbyist might have helped persuade Ms. Schapiro to change her mind and delay one of the centerpiece measures of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups, or JOBS, Act. In Panicky Russia, It’s Official: End of World Is Not Near (NYT) There are scattered reports of unusual behavior from across Russia's nine time zones. Inmates in a women's prison near the Chinese border are said to have experienced a "collective mass psychosis" so intense that their wardens summoned a priest to calm them. In a factory town east of Moscow, panicked citizens stripped shelves of matches, kerosene, sugar and candles. A huge Mayan-style archway is being built — out of ice — on Karl Marx Street in Chelyabinsk in the south. For those not schooled in New Age prophecy, there are rumors the world will end on Dec. 21, 2012, when a 5,125-year cycle known as the Long Count in the Mayan calendar supposedly comes to a close. Russia, a nation with a penchant for mystical thinking, has taken notice. Last week, Russia's government decided to put an end to the doomsday talk. Its minister of emergency situations said Friday that he had access to "methods of monitoring what is occurring on the planet Earth," and that he could say with confidence that the world was not going to end in December. He acknowledged, however, that Russians were still vulnerable to "blizzards, ice storms, tornadoes, floods, trouble with transportation and food supply, breakdowns in heat, electricity and water supply." Similar assurances have been issued in recent days by Russia's chief sanitary doctor, a top official of the Russian Orthodox Church, lawmakers from the State Duma and a former disc jockey from Siberia who recently placed first in the television show "Battle of the Psychics." One official proposed prosecuting Russians who spread the rumor — starting on Dec. 22. Old testimony may bite Cohen in SEC case (NYP) Steve Cohen’s sworn testimony in another legal skirmish could come back to haunt his $14 billion hedge-fund empire...In 2011, Cohen gave several days of deposition testimony in the civil fraud case, in which Fairfax sued SAC and other firms for allegedly conspiring to drive down its share price. The case was dismissed due to a lack of evidence, but the testimony offers a rare look into Cohen’s views on illegal trading. In his testimony, Cohen called SEC rules on insider trading “vague” and said he doesn’t expect his employees to follow the company’s internal compliance manual to the letter. When asked whether it was “legal or illegal to trade on material nonpublic information,” Cohen said: “It depends on the circumstance.” “So there are circumstances, in your view, in which it is legal . . . to trade on the basis of material, nonpublic information?” asked Fairfax ’s lawyer, Michael Bowe. “Yes,” Cohen said. Among them, he said, is when employees trade in the opposite direction of the nonpublic information they receive. He also said he didn’t expect employees to adhere to the company’s compliance manual in every situation. “See, we don’t operate our firm in absolutes,” he said. “When I look at this manual, I see guidelines.” Morgan Stanley trader probed over trades made while at Goldman (Reuters) Morgan Stanley trader Edward Glenn Hadden is under investigation by regulators at CME Group over trades in Treasury futures four years ago while he was employed by Goldman Sachs, according to a regulatory filing. Hadden is a managing director and head of global interest rates products at Morgan Stanley. Prior to joining Morgan Stanley, Hadden was a partner at Goldman Sachs, and head of government bond trading. Hedge Funds Increase Bullish Bets Most Since August (Bloomberg) Hedge funds increased bullish bets on commodities by the most since August as evidence that China is accelerating outweighed concern that U.S. lawmakers have yet to resolve an impasse over automatic spending cuts and tax rises. Krawcheck, possible SEC head, raises Washington (Reuters) ...many who have worked with her say Krawcheck was a smart, analytical and competent executive who not only knew the business, but was good at building consensus among different units of companies. She helped restore brokerage Smith Barney's reputation at Citigroup and was popular with many of the financial advisers at Merrill Lynch. Schumer and other lawmakers contacted by Reuters did not return calls or requests for comment about meetings with Krawcheck or their thoughts about her. In the end, of course, Krawcheck may not land in Washington at all, two people who know her said. She has had discussions about a variety of roles with several companies, one source said. "She has lots of balls in the air," said the source, who asked not to be named because the conversations were private. "Sallie always has a plan." Bret Easton Ellis mistakenly asks for cocaine on Twitter (DJ) Bret Easton Ellis, famed author of "American Psycho," tweeted a request for cocaine Sunday morning, leaving many to speculate that it was supposed to be a private message...“Come over at do bring coke now,” he tweeted at 3:44AM, stranding his 360,000 followers in a state of bewilderment regarding what the cryptic tweet could possibly mean.

Opening Bell: 03.13.13

Ackman Applauds Call For Herbalife Investigation (AP) The National Consumers League said that it wants the FTC to investigate the claims against Herbalife as well as the vitamin and supplement products company's responses. Ackman alleged in December that Herbalife was a pyramid scheme and made a bet the stock would fall, arguing that the company makes most of its money by recruiting new salespeople rather than on the products they sell. Herbalife disputes that. In a statement late Tuesday, Pershing Square Capital Management's Ackman said that he was pleased that the NCL was requesting an FTC investigation and believes it will show that the company is a pyramid scheme. On Wednesday, Herbalife said in a statement that "We regret that the National Consumers League has permitted itself to be the mechanism by which Pershing Square continues its attack on Herbalife." Troika, Cyprus In Talks To Shrink Bailout Package (WSJ) Officials from the troika of lenders—the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund—are working with the Cypriot government to bring the headline figure for the bailout package to about €10 billion ($13.03 billion), two officials said. The aid package had been earlier expected to be as much as €17 billion—with just shy €10 billion of that going for bank recapitalizations. Big Sugar Set For Sweet Bailout (WSJ) The U.S. Department of Agriculture is considering buying 400,000 tons of sugar—enough for 142 billion Hershey's Kisses—to stave off a wave of defaults by sugar processors that borrowed $862 million under a government price-support program. The action aims to prop up tumbling U.S. sugar prices, which have fallen 18% since the USDA made the nine-month operations-financing loans beginning in October. The purchases could leave the price-support program with an $80 million loss, its biggest in 13 years, said Barbara Fecso, an economist at the USDA, in an interview. U.S. Tax Cheats Picked Off After Adviser Mails It In (Bloomberg) Everybody knows the danger of sending things inadvertently in an e-mail. Beda Singenberger’s case shows you also have to be pretty careful when you mail things the old-fashioned way. Over an 11-year period, federal prosecutors charge, Swiss financial adviser Singenberger helped 60 people in the U.S. hide $184 million in secret offshore accounts bearing colorful names like Real Cool Investments Ltd. and Wanderlust Foundation. Then, according to a prosecutor, Singenberger inadvertently mailed a list of his U.S. clients, including their names and incriminating details, which somehow wound up in the hands of federal authorities. Now, U.S. authorities appear to be picking off the clients on that list one by one. Singenberger’s goof has already ensnared Jacques Wajsfelner, an 83-year-old exile from Nazi Germany, and Michael Canale, a retired U.S. Army surgeon, court records show. Another customer, cancer researcher Michael Reiss, pleaded guilty, though his court records don’t mention the list. White Pressed On Past Representing Banks (WSJ) Since 2002, President Barack Obama's pick to become chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission has worked for the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton LLC, where she often represented large corporations and banks. Members of the Senate Banking Committee, often from the president's own party, pressed her to guarantee that her law-firm work wouldn't stop her from taking on Wall Street's wrongdoers. "What have you done [in] the last decade that ordinary investors can look at and be assured that you will advocate for them?" Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) asked Ms. White. Wearing a bright red jacket, her hands neatly folded on the table before her, Ms. White said her work at Debevoise "hasn't changed me as a person." Killer Ukrainian dolphins on the loose (JustinGregg) After rebooting the Soviet Union’s marine mammal program just last year with the goal of teaching dolphins to find underwater mines and kill enemy divers, three of the Ukrainian military’s new recruits have gone AWOL. Apparently they swam away from their trainers this morning ostensibly in search of a “mate” out in open waters. It might not be such a big deal except that these dolphins have been trained to “attack enemy combat swimmers using special knives or pistols fixed to their heads.” Dimon’s Extra $1.4 Million Payout Hangs on Fed Decision (Bloomberg) That’s how much extra income Dimon could get from his stake of about 6 million shares if his New York-based bank raises its payout as much as analysts predict. The sum dwarfs the combined $73,300 of new annual dividends at stake for his CEO peers at Bank of America Corp., Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Wells Fargo & Co., based on forecasts compiled by Bloomberg. Bankers will find out whether they get any boost tomorrow when the Fed announces which capital plans at the 18 largest U.S. lenders won approval. Regulators have pressed firms since the 2008 credit crisis to give executives more stock and less cash to align their interests with those of shareholders. CEOs are poised to get a windfall if payouts increase and shares rise -- or to suffer with their investors if results sputter. BofA Ordered to Pay Ex-Merrill Banker Jailed in Brazil (Bloomberg) Sao Paulo’s 26th labor court said it was “incontrovertible” that the imprisonment was because of his position as a junior financial consultant at Merrill Lynch, now a division of Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America, according to a document published in the nation’s official Gazette earlier this month. Caiado wasn’t convicted of any wrongdoing. Caiado, 42, was jailed in June 2006 in a Curitiba federal prison over allegations he helped Merrill’s clients make illegal overseas money transfers. His arrest was part of an investigation that resulted in indictments of 18 bankers at Credit Suisse AG and UBS AG in Brazil. Merrill fired Caiado nine months later, saying the dismissal was part of a restructuring. Carlyle Group Lowers Velvet Rope (WSJ) In the latest effort by private-equity firms to broaden their customer base, Carlyle Group is letting some people invest in its buyout funds with as little as $50,000. The move comes as other large firms—known for offering exclusivity to big-money clients—have broadened their investment offerings in search of fresh sources of funds. KKR, for example, recently began offering mutual funds investing in bonds, with minimum investments set at $2,500. Blackstone Group launched a fund last year that for the first time lets affluent individuals invest in hedge funds and has told regulators it plans to offer another fund, though it hasn't disclosed many details about the forthcoming offering. Greenland Votes for Tougher Rules for Foreign Investors (WSJ) Voters in Greenland have elected a new ruling party that has pledged to toughen up on foreign investors looking to take advantage of the nation's wealth of natural resources. The Social Democratic Siumut party collected 43% of the votes in an election held Tuesday, enabling the party to leapfrog the ruling Inuit Ataqatigiit, which over the past four years has worked to open up the secluded country to mining companies and others capable of advancing industry. Greenland is believed to have a vast supply of untapped rare-earth minerals, oil, gas and other resources. Blankfein On Trader Talent Hunt At Morgan Stanley (NYP) The Goldman Sachs CEO is taking dead aim at Morgan Stanley’s most prized assets — its best and brightest employees — after his rival decided to defer pay for senior bankers. Blankfein, as a big game hunter, recently landed 13-year Morgan Stanley veteran Kate Richdale, head of its Asia Pacific investment banking business. The CEO’s talent hunt is continuing, sources said. Goldman currently is in selective talks with other Morgan Stanley bankers and has also lured a handful of traders from the bank. Golfer Survives Fall Into Course Sinkhole (AP) Mark Mihal was having a good opening day on the links when he noticed an unusual depression on the 14th fairway at Annbriar Golf Club in southern Illinois. Remarking to his friends how awkward it would be to have to hit out of it, he went over for a closer look. One step onto the pocked section and the 43-year-old mortgage broker plunged into a sinkhole. He landed 18 feet down with a painful thud, and his friends managed to hoist him to safety with a rope after about 20 minutes. But Friday's experience gave Mihal quite a fright, particularly after the recent death of a Florida man whose body hasn't been found since a sinkhole swallowed him and his bedroom. "I feel lucky just to come out of it with a shoulder injury, falling that far and not knowing what I was going to hit," Mihal, from the St. Louis suburb of Creve Coeur, told The Associated Press before heading off to learn whether he'll need surgery. "It was absolutely crazy."

Opening Bell: 10.16.12

Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit Resigns (WSJ) Citigroup Chief Executive Vikram Pandit is stepping down, effective immediately, and will be succeeded by Michael Corbat. "Given the progress we have made in the last few years, I have concluded that now is the right time for someone else to take the helm at Citigroup," Mr. Pandit said in a statement. "We respect Vikram's decision," Chairman Michael E. O'Neill said. "Since his appointment at the start of the financial crisis until the present time, Vikram has restructured and recapitalized the company, strengthened our global franchise and refocused the business." President and Chief Operating Officer John P. Havens also resigned. Mr. Corbat, who has spent nearly three decades at Citi, previously served as its CEO for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. "Mike is a proven, hands-on leader who is known for his focus on enhancing productivity, holding people accountable and practicing sound risk management," Mr. O'Neill said. "He has consistently delivered impressive bottom-line results at many of our major global business units and has forged a strong track record of improving efficiency and mitigating risk while also optimizing the allocation of the company's capital." Mr. Pandit is resigning as a board member as well. Vikram Pandit Steps Down, Jim Cramer Loses His Mind (CNBC) “This is a complete shock. No one expected this whatsoever,” said Cramer. "The divisions were all in very good shape, I don’t even want for a second to tell people that there was anything in the works to make this happen. There was nothing...this was the quarter where you give him a big raise, he was under a lot of pressure but he got this right.” Cramer lauded Citi’s earnings results and questioned why he would leave so abruptly. “Vikram Pandit, 24 hours ago, was the belle of the ball. This guy finally got it right. Something’s wrong here,” he said. "I don't know what the heck is going on here." Goldman Swings To Profit (WSJ) Overall, Goldman's investment-banking arm recorded revenue of $1.16 billion, up 49% from a year ago, although 3.2% lower than in the second quarter. Goldman said debt underwriting revenue surged to $466 million from $168 million a year ago. Stock underwriting revenue more than doubled to $189 million, though financial advisory revenue fell 2.7% to $509 million. Fixed income, currency and commodities client execution revenue rose 28% to $2.22 billion. Goldman posted a profit of $1.51 billion, compared with a year-earlier loss of $393 million. Earnings per share—reflecting the payment of preferred dividends—were $2.85 from a loss of 84 cents a year earlier. Net revenue, including net interest income, more than doubled to $8.35 billion. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected per-share earnings of $2.12 on revenue of $7.3 billion. Soros Demands Germany Stop Euro From Destroying Europe (Reuters) The crisis "is pushing the EU into a lasting depression, and it is entirely self-created," said Soros, chairman of Soros Fund Management. "There is a real danger of the euro destroying the European Union." He added: "The way to escape it is for Germany to accept ... greater commitment to helping not only its interests but the interests of the debtor countries, and playing the role of the benevolent hegemon." Wells Fargo Creates Markets Unit, Takes On Wall Street (Bloomberg) The division will be one of five main units under the Wells Fargo Securities brand and include equity and fixed-income sales and trading, commodities, prime services and futures clearing, the San Francisco-based firm said today in a statement. Walter Dolhare and Tim Mullins will oversee the division and report to John Shrewsberry, 47. Damien Hirst condemned for killing 9,000 butterflies in Tate show (Telegraph) Visitors to the exhibit at the Tate Modern in London observed the insects close-up as they flew, rested, and fed on bowls of fruit...Figures obtained from the Tate reveal that more than 9,000 butterflies died during the 23 weeks that the exhibition was open. Each week it was replenished with approximately 400 live butterflies to replace those that died – some of them trodden underfoot, others injured when they landed on visitors’ clothing and were brushed off. A spokesman for the RSPCA said: “In this so-called 'art exhibition’, butterflies are forced to exist in the artificial environment of a closed room for their entire lives. “There would be national outcry if the exhibition involved any other animal, such as a dog. Just because it is butterflies, that does not mean they do not deserve to be treated with kindness.” Reactions Ranges On Pandit Resignation (Reuters) Peter Jankovskis, co-chief investment officer of Oakbrook Investments: "I'm surprised...I would have expected he wanted to stay around and see some of the fruits of his labors there." Matt McCormick, analyst at Bahl & Gaynor: "He was not beloved by Wall Street. He was the accidental president. He was thrust into that position- he's a hedge fund guy." Florida cops hunt pee-wee coach for sucker-punching ref during game (NYDN) Referee Andrew Keigans told cops that he called the game a forfeit after West Park Saints assistant coach Dion Robinson, 43, made an ugly remark from the sidelines. Robinson was caught on camera pushing around Keigans before another coach restrained him. He then broke free, ran across the field and sucker-punched Keigans as he walked off the field, dropping the ref to the turf. Cops are still looking for Robinson and want to charge him with assault, the station reported.

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: 10.31.12

Questions Cloud Market Reopening (WSJ) The New York Stock Exchange said Tuesday that it plans to open as usual at 9:30 a.m. and that its trading floor and headquarters in lower Manhattan were "fully operational" despite widespread blackouts and flooding in that part of the city. The Nasdaq Stock Market and other exchanges will open as well. Bond markets will follow suit. While investors and industry officials breathed a sigh of relief, critics argued that the storm exposed how ill-prepared exchanges and their Wall Street customers are for such an event. Regulators on Tuesday said they plan to probe whether more needs to be done to get exchanges and the trading community ready for such disasters. After Hurricane, Wall Street Back To Work (Dealbook) On Tuesday, the scene around Wall Street was desolate. While the New York Exchange’s building appeared to be unscathed, many other offices in the vicinity were flooded. After an underground parking garage two blocks from the exchange was inundated with water, several cars floated to street level. Two Citigroup buildings were without power. The bank told employees in a memo on Tuesday that one of the buildings, 111 Wall Street, sustained “severe flooding and will be out of commission for several weeks.” Some JPMorgan Chase employees outside New York City were working in central New Jersey. At the bank’s main trading floor in Midtown Manhattan, employees, many in jeans, shirts and rain boots, booked hotels for the night and discussed strategy. The bank, which sustained minimal damages at a building downtown, expected to resume normal operations in Midtown. Credit Suisse also planned to open for business on Wednesday, with its main offices by Madison Square Park running on backup power. In downtown New York, Goldman Sachs was one of the few buildings with power. The firm has a generator in the event of outages, allowing its trading floors to continue to run. On Tuesday, televisions sets and lights inside the building were on, although few employees were there...In a memo to staff, Goldman announced its headquarters would be open on Wednesday. The firm also booked hotels in various locations to make sure employees could get to work. Deutsche Bank Rides Debt-Market Wave (WSJ) Deutsche Bank reported a surge in investment-banking revenues in the third quarter as a rebound in client activity fueled the best quarter ever for its fixed-income division. Deutsche Bank, Europe's largest lender by assets, reported group revenues of €8.7 billion ($11.5 billion), up 19% from the third quarter last year. The result was better than analysts expected, but the bank's legal problems and restructuring efforts nearly flattened net income. At €747 million, the total was up 3% from €725 million a year earlier. The bank's revenue increase was driven in part by bond-buying initiatives announced by the U.S. Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank in recent months. The moves have fueled a resurgence in client activity, including in fixed-income trading—an area where UBS AG and other competitors have announced significant cut backs, allowing Deutsche Bank to gain market share. UBS Moves Quickly On Job Cuts, Revamp (WSJ) Scores of traders at UBS were locked out of the Swiss bank's London offices Tuesday as the institution moved quickly to implement the first of thousands of job cuts in a strategic restructuring. The revamp effectively brings an end to UBS's attempts over the past two decades to build a world-class investment bank, which brought the institution to the brink of collapse in 2008 when it incurred more than $50 billion in losses from the fixed-income business that it is now exiting. Instead, UBS's strategy will center on its private bank, the world's second-largest in assets after Bank of America and a mainstay of the group's earnings. UBS confirmed Tuesday that it will cut risk-weighted assets by around 100 billion Swiss francs ($107 billion) by the end of 2017, eliminate about 10,000 jobs across the bank and reorganize its investment bank to deliver more products and services to ultra-wealthy clients at the private bank. The bank also said Tuesday that charges related to the moves, which come in response to a tougher regulatory and economic climate, helped push it into the red in the third quarter. UBS Chief Executive Sergio Ermotti said that London would bear the brunt of the cuts as the bank attempts to exit almost completely from fixed-income activities and move back to its wealth-management roots. Storm Cripples US East Coast, Death and Damage Toll Climb (CNBC) The U.S. death toll climbed to 50, according to The Associated Press, with many of the victims killed by falling trees. Damage estimates reached into the tens of billions, while the storm disrupted campaigning and early voting ahead of the November 6 presidential election. More than 8.2 million households were without power in 17 states as far west as Michigan. Nearly 2 million of those were in New York, where large swaths of lower Manhattan lost electricity and entire streets ended up under water. New York Subway System Faces Weeks to Recover From Storm (Bloomberg) If you laid the New York City subway system in a line, it would stretch from New York to Detroit. Now imagine inspecting every inch of that track. That’s the job ahead for Metropolitan Transit Administration officials, who must examine 600 miles of track and the electrical systems with it before they can fully reopen the largest U.S. transit system, which took a direct hit by Hurricane Sandy. Seven subway tunnels under New York’s East River flooded, MTA officials said. Pumping them out could take days, and a 2011 state study said it could take three weeks after hurricane- driven flooding to get back to 90 percent of normal operations. That study forecast damages of $50 billion to $55 billion to transportation infrastructure including the subways. How CEOs Improvised In The Wake Of Sandy (WSJ) When the approach of Hurricane Sandy left Lands' End Chief Executive Edgar Huber stranded on a business trip, he retreated to an impromptu backup headquarters—in his mother-in-law's apartment complex...Foot Locker CEO Ken Hicks disregarded the shutdown of his New York headquarters on Monday and worked at his office until 3 p.m. Then he picked up the work again six blocks away at his home in Manhattan's Murray Hill neighborhood. When the power went out, he put on iTunes, lit a lantern and did paperwork for another 2½ hours. "You can be reasonably self-sufficient with a cellphone and a lantern," the CEO says. Celebrities React To Northeast Hurricane (NYDN) “WHY is everyone in SUCH a panic about hurricane (i’m calling Sally)...?” Lindsay Lohan tweeted Sunday night. “Stop projecting negativity! Think positive and pray for peace.” A Year Later, All Eyes Still On 'Edie' (WSJ) Who broke the law by raiding customer accounts at MF Global Holdings? Investigators seem no closer to the answer than they were when the New York brokerage firm filed for bankruptcy exactly a year ago Wednesday, owing thousands of farmers and ranchers, hedge funds and other investors an estimated $1.6 billion. Their money was supposed to be stashed safely at MF Global, but company officials used much of it for margin calls and other obligations. The last, best hope for a breakthrough in the probe is Edith O'Brien, the former assistant treasurer at MF Global. Working in the company's Chicago office, she was the go-to person for emergency money transfers as MF Global flailed for its life. MBA's Rethink Wall Street (WSJ) Many of the nation's top M.B.A. programs, including Harvard Business School and Stanford Graduate School of Business, reported declines in the share of students who took jobs in finance this year. And even those that posted some gains, such as University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, are still well below their prefinancial crisis levels...A Wall Street gig "isn't as prestigious as it used to be" because the future—promotion opportunities, salary gains, even basic job security— is so unclear, says Mark Brostoff, associate dean and director of the career center at the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis. Though the share of Olin students going into finance increased to 22% of job seekers this year from 15% in 2011, many of those gains came at boutique and regional Midwestern financial firms rather than on Wall Street. One factor affecting student demand: Banks expect young staffers to pick up the slack left by masses of laid-off midlevel employees, without necessarily offering more generous pay packages in return for the long hours. At Harvard Business School, for example, students heading into investment banking—7% of job seekers who accepted jobs, down from 10% in 2011—reported median salaries and signing bonuses were flat with last year, at $100,000 and $40,000, respectively, while other guaranteed compensation fell to $8,750 from $40,000. Disney $4 Billion ‘Star Wars’ Deal Spotlights Content Bet (Bloomberg) Walt Disney agreed to buy George Lucas’s Lucasfilm Ltd. for $4.05 billion, pressing Chief Executive Officer Robert Iger’s $15 billion bet on creative franchises by adding “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones.” Lucas, 68, the sole owner, will get half in cash and the rest in stock, making him a major investor in the film, theme park and TV company, according to a statement yesterday from Burbank, California-based Disney. The first of a new trilogy of “Star Wars” films will be released in 2015, Disney said. France Can’t Compete With Rest of Europe: WTO Chief (CNBC) France is uncompetitive not only versus China, but against the rest of Europe, according to Pascal Lamy, director general of the World Trade Organization. “The competitiveness of France on foreign markets has been damaged for the last 10 years. This is nowhere more obvious than in Europe, where France has lost market share for the last 10 years,” said Lamy in an exclusive interview with CNBC in Paris. Cop Tasers 10 Year-Old For Refusing To Clean His Car (CN) A New Mexico policeman Tasered a 10-year-old child on a playground because the boy refused to clean his patrol car, the boy claims in court. Guardian ad litem Rachel Higgins sued the New Mexico Department of Public Safety and Motor Transportation Police Officer Chris Webb on behalf of the child, in Santa Fe County Court. Higgins claims Webb used his Taser on the boy, R.D., during a May 4 "career day" visit to Tularosa New Mexico Intermediate School. "Defendant Webb asked the boy, R.D., in a group of boys, who would like to clean his patrol unit," the complaint states. "A number of boys said that they would. R.D., joking, said that he did not want to clean the patrol unit. "Defendant Webb responded by pointing his Taser at R.D. and saying, 'Let me show you what happens to people who do not listen to the police.'" Webb then shot "two barbs into R.D.'s chest," the complaint states. "Both barbs penetrated the boy's shirt, causing the device to deliver 50,000 volts into the boy's body.

Opening Bell: 01.16.13

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

Opening Bell: 10.18.12

Morgan Stanley Posts Loss (WSJ) "The rebound in fixed income and commodities sales and trading indicates that clients have re-engaged after the uncertainty of the rating review in the previous quarter," Chief Executive James Gorman said, referring to Moody's Investors Service's move over the summer to downgrade the credit rating on more than a dozen banks. "We are beginning to unlock the full potential of the Global Wealth Management franchise, having increased our ownership of, and agreed on a purchase price for the rest of, Morgan Stanley Wealth Management." For the quarter, Morgan Stanley reported a loss of $1.02 billion, compared with a year-earlier profit of $2.2 billion. The per-share loss, which reflects the payment of preferred dividends, was 55 cents compared with a profit of $1.15 a year earlier. Stripping out the impact of debt-valuation changes, the per-share profit was 28 cents versus two cents a share a year ago. Revenue fell 46% to $5.29 billion, including a negative impact of $2.3 billion from the tightening of credit spreads related to debt. Stripping out debt-valuation changes revenue was up 18% to $7.55 billion. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected earnings of 24 cents, excluding gains related to debt, on revenue of $6.36 billion. Morgan Stanley Reduces Investment-Bank Pay to $5.2 Billion (Bloomberg) The ratio of compensation to revenue in the unit fell to 44.9 percent, compared with 48.4 percent in the same period a year earlier, when excluding accounting gains and losses related to the firm’s credit spreads. That’s still higher than Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan’s investment bank. Compensation and benefits for all of Morgan Stanley totaled $12 billion in the first nine months, down 4 percent. Goldman Ex-Employee Says Firm Pushed Europe Bank Options (Bloomberg) Goldman Sachs sought to profit last year by persuading clients to buy and sell stock options on European banks such as BNP Paribas SA and UniCredit SpA, according to former employee Greg Smith’s new book. “We must have changed our view on each of these institutions from positive to negative back to positive ten times,” Smith writes in “Why I Left Goldman Sachs: A Wall Street Story,” scheduled for release on Oct. 22. “I remember thinking, ‘How can we be doing this with a straight face? No thinking client could believe that conditions on the ground could change that frequently.”’ [...] Smith also describes being disappointed with his $500,000 bonus at the end of 2006. “By any measure, I should have felt exceptionally lucky and grateful,” he writes. “But by the warped logic of Goldman Sachs and Wall Street, I was being screwed.” U.S. to Get Downgraded Amid Fiscal ‘Theater,’ Pimco Says (Bloomberg) “The U.S. will get downgraded, it’s a question of when,” Scott Mather, Pimco’s head of global portfolio management, said today in Wellington. “It depends on what the end of the year looks like, but it could be fairly soon after that.” Asian Scion's Trades Draw Scrutiny (WSJ) A federal probe into an alleged multimillion-dollar insider trading scheme is focusing on the son of a deposed Central Asian autocrat once courted by the U.S. as a key ally in the war on terror, according to people involved in the investigation. The globe-spanning criminal case marks a turnabout by the U.S. against a ruling family it once relied on to keep open military supply lines to Afghanistan. For years, the U.S. maintained good relations with then-Kyrgyzstan President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. Now, the U.S. has prepared charges against the former strongman's son, Maksim Bakiyev, who officials say spent some of his exile in London profiting from illegal tips on stocks trading on the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq. On Friday, the younger Mr. Bakiyev, 35, was arrested in England on an extradition request from the U.S. Mr. Bakiyev's U.K. attorney, Michael O'Kane, declined to comment. Computer programmer 'quadruples productivity' after hiring a woman to slap him in the face every time she catches him looking at Facebook (DM) Maneesh Sethi placed an advert on Craigslist to recruit someone willing to monitor what he was looking at on his laptop. The computer expert and writer, from San Francisco, now pays a female employee £5 ($8) an hour to strike him in the face if she spots him wasting time on social media. Mr Seethi claims the unusual motivational system has helped him boost his productivity from just 35 percent to around 98 percent during the working day...Mr Seethi published details on his blog of his Craigslist advert, which was entitled '(Domestic gigs) Slap me if I get off task'. In it he wrote: 'I'm looking for someone who can work next to me at a defined location (my house or a cafe) and will make sure to watch what is happening on my screen. 'When I am wasting time, you'll have to yell at me or if need be, slap me. 'You can do your own work at the same time. Looking for help asap. Mr Seethi said he was inundated with offers from potential slappers and quickly hired a volunteer he names only as Kara. He wrote: 'Within minutes, my inbox began blowing up. Up to 50% of Greek Workforce Strikes; Tipping Point Nears (CNBC) As European Union leaders prepare to meet in Brussels on Thursday, Greece’s workers aim to make their voices heard by holding a 24-hour strike bringing the country to a halt. With the economy in the fifth year of a recession, the lost production could prove counterproductive and cost the economy 100 million euros ($131 million), according to one expert. Most business and public sector activity is expected to grind to a halt during the strike called by the ADEDY and GSEE unions that represent around 2 million people — half of Greece’s workforce. A protracted news blackout is also expected as television and radio broadcasters and newspapers shut for the day, according to Reuters. Spain Banks Face More Pain as Worst-Case Scenario Turns Real (Bloomberg) Spain’s request for 100 billion euros of European Union financial aid to shore up its banks is increasing concern about the nation’s growing liabilities. Standard & Poor’s downgraded the country’s debt rating by two levels to BBB-, one step above junk, from BBB+ on Oct. 10, saying it wasn’t clear who will bear the cost of recapitalizing banks. It cut the ratings of 11 lenders including Banco Santander SA and Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA, Spain’s largest, two days ago, citing the sovereign downgrade. Brothels Rescue Cash-Strapped Greek Soccer Team (AP) Players on a cash-strapped Greek soccer team now wear pink practice jerseys with the logos "Villa Erotica" and "Soula's House of History," two bordellos it recruited as sponsors after drastic government spending cuts left the country's sports clubs facing ruin. Other teams have also turned to unconventional financing. One has a deal with a local funeral home and others have wooed kebab shops, a jam factory and producers of Greece's trademark feta cheese. But the amateur Voukefalas club — whose players include pizza delivery guys, students, waiters and a bartender — has raised eyebrows with its flamboyant sponsorship choice. Prostitution is legal in Greece, where brothels operate under strict guidelines. Though garish neon signs advertising their services are tolerated, the soccer sponsorship has ruffled some feathers in the sports-mad city of Larissa. League organizers have banned the pink jerseys during games, saying the deal violates "the sporting ideal" and is inappropriate for underage fans...Brothel owner Soula Alevridou, the team's new benefactor, has already paid more than 1,000 euros ($1,312) for players to wear her jerseys. The team is appealing the game ban, but that doesn't worry the 67-year-old Alevridou, who says she's only in it because she loves soccer. "It's not the kind of business that needs promotion," she said, dressed all in white and flanked by two young women in dark leggings at a recent game. "It's a word-of-mouth kind of thing."

Opening Bell: 03.30.12

Three Major Banks Prepare for Possible Credit Downgrades (NYT) Moody’s Investors Service has said it will decide in mid-May whether to lower its ratings for 17 global financial companies. Morgan Stanley, which was hit hard in the financial crisis, appears to be the most vulnerable. Moody’s is threatening to cut the bank’s ratings by three notches, to a level that would be well below the rating of a rival like JPMorgan Chase. Eurozone Lifts Firewall (WSJ) Euro-zone finance ministers on Friday agreed on a temporary boost of the bloc's bailout lending limit to €700 billion ($931 billion), opting for a less ambitious plan that some fear won't be enough to prevent a re-awakening of euro zone financial turmoil. Dalio Earns $3.9bn to Top Hedge Fund Pay List (FT) Ray Dalio, head of Bridgewater, the world’s largest hedge fund, personally made $3.9 billion in a year that his $70 billion Pure Alpha fund produced $13.8 billion of investment profits for its investors, according to industry rankings. He tops a list published Friday by Absolute Return magazine of the richest 25 hedge fund managers. The select group took home $14.4 billion in pay and paper profits on their own investments last year, down from $22 billion in 2010 in a sign of the industry’s struggle to deliver returns for its clients in 2011. Goldman Bets on Property Rebound With New Fund: Mortgages (Bloomberg) The U.S. Housing Recovery Fund is expected to finish its first round of capital raising and open April 1, according to a marketing document obtained by Bloomberg News. It will focus on senior-ranked securities without government backing, many of which now carry junk credit grades. BATS Weighs Cooling Its Listing Push (WSJ) BATS Global Markets Inc. is considering suspending its efforts to recruit corporate listings after a software glitch last Friday derailed the exchange operator's IPO, people familiar with the matter said. Concerns about BATS's bungled initial public offering could disrupt its efforts to draw other companies to list their stocks on its electronic exchange, forestalling ambitions by the electronic-markets operator to become a full-service exchange company. Such a move could entail notifying the Securities and Exchange Commission, which last year approved BATS's plan to list shares and exchange-traded products. Canada Eliminates Penny Costing Penny-and-a-Half to Make (Bloomberg) Canada will withdraw the penny from circulation this year, saving taxpayers about C$11 million ($11 million) annually and forcing retailers to round prices to the nearest nickel, the government announced in its budget today. Grand Central nabs tell-all by ex-Goldman exec Smith (NYP) Greg Smith, the former Goldman Sachs executive who became an instant sensation when he ripped the Wall Street investment bank with a resignation letter published as an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, has scored a $1.5 million advance to write a memoir of his experiences. Oil Rally Fails to Lift Commodity Hedge Funds' Returns (FT) Many multibillion managers have been wary of potential political shocks in the Middle East and a repeat of last year’s May oil sell-off. They have shunned risk over the past three months or lost out by betting that oil markets would become more choppy. Many of the sector’s leading names have underperformed broader hedge fund peers, which have enjoyed one of their best quarters on the back of rising global equity markets. Billions Lost In Tax Refund Scam (WSJ) The perpetrators of the scheme, authorities say, swipe the Social Security numbers of Puerto Rican citizens, who don't have to pay federal income tax—and are less likely to be on the IRS radar—and use their information to file fake returns. In some cases, they enlist U.S. mail carriers to intercept the refund checks that are disbursed. The plot, which includes participants from around the U.S. and Latin America, has been around for at least five years. Prosecutors have obtained multiple convictions but none involving those believed to be among the top players in the operation, according to several people briefed on investigations into the fraud. BlackBerry Maker In Turmoil (WSJ) The overhaul comes just two months after Thorsten Heins took the reins at RIM and confidently proclaimed there was no need for "seismic" change. But with the company's sales tumbling 25% in the latest quarter, new BlackBerrys piling up unsold and a crucial lineup of new devices still not expected to arrive until later this year, Mr. Heins is taking more drastic actions. RIM will back out of its high-profile attempt to win business among consumers to focus on its core corporate customers. Queen Creek couple accused in dog-sex plan plead not guilty (AZC) A Queen Creek couple have pleaded not guilty to charges of planning to have sex with a dog. The case prompted Sheriff Joe Arpaio to ask the website Craigslist to better monitor its personal ads. Shane Walker, 33, and his wife Sarah Walker, 39, posted a Craigslist ad on Feb. 7 titled, "Wife looking for K9," according to Maricopa County Superior Court records.