Opening Bell: 03.16.12

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

Italy Said To Pay Morgan Stanley $3.4 Billion (Bloomberg)
When Morgan Stanley said in January it had cut its “net exposure” to Italy by $3.4 billion, it didn’t tell investors that the nation paid that entire amount to the bank to exit a bet on interest rates. Italy, the second-most indebted nation in the European Union, paid the money to unwind derivative contracts from the 1990s that had backfired, said a person with direct knowledge of the Treasury’s payment. It was cheaper for Italy to cancel the transactions rather than to renew, said the person, who declined to be identified because the terms were private.

Client Slams Goldman Slowness to Give Reassurances (Reuters)
PG, a Dutch investment adviser that runs 300 billion euros of assets for more than 4.5 million people in the Netherlands, said it was surprised it took the Wall Street bank more than a day to offer APG any reassurance on points raised in Greg Smith's resignation letter. "We would have expected that a company that faces such a big media backlash over something so core to their business such as client trust would have instantly reached out to those clients to say something," APG spokesman Harmen Geers told Reuters.

Banks Desire Assets Tied To AIG Bailout (WSJ)
A potential sale of the CDOs by the New York Fed in the coming months, plus the government's recent decision to resume selling some of its AIG stock, could set the stage for the U.S. to recover the bulk of its money from the bailout before the presidential elections this year.

Learning From The Spurned And Tipsy Fruit Fly (NYT)
They were young males on the make, and they struck out not once, not twice, but a dozen times with a group of attractive females hovering nearby. So they did what so many men do after being repeatedly rejected: they got drunk, using alcohol as a balm for unfulfilled desire. And not one flew off in search of a rotting banana. Fruit flies apparently self-medicate just like many humans do, drowning their sorrows or frustrations for some of the same reasons, scientists reported Thursday. Male flies subjected to what amounted to a long tease — in a glass tube, not a dance club — preferred food spiked with alcohol far more than male flies that were able to mate.

Buffett Awards Wall Street-Sized Pay Praised by Dimon (Bloomberg)
Warren Buffett, who has said banker greed helped deepen the U.S. financial crisis, attracts the workers he wants with compensation that competes with Wall Street awards. Berkshire gave $17.4 million in 2011 compensation to Thomas P. Nerney, CEO of its United States Liability Insurance Group; $12.4 million to Geico Corp. CEO Tony Nicely and the National Indemnity Co. unit gave $9.26 million to Ajit Jain, according to filings to state regulators. Berkshire, which is set to send its annual-meeting notice to shareholders today, said in last year’s proxy that Buffett’s salary remains $100,000 at his request.

St. Patrick's Day Message: Ireland Isn't Greece (CNBC)
As large parts of the world turn green to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, the Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny has been flying the green, white and gold flag on a charm offensive around the world. enny is packing in trips to London, China and New York within a couple of weeks in an effort to carry forward the country’s gradual return to economic health, which has been based largely on attracting foreign investment. He opens the New York Stock Exchange on Monday, after visiting at the White House over the weekend. “This is a very important push for Ireland,” Irish businessman Barry Maloney, founder and general partner at venture capital firm Balderton Capital, told CNBC.

Kozlowski in NYC work release (NYP)
Convicted in 2005 of looting his company, Kozlowski was transferred from an upstate prison to the Lincoln Correctional Facility, a minimum-security site on Manhattan’s 110th Street near Fifth Avenue, on the north border of the park. He leaves every weekday morning to participate in a work-release program, said Peter Cutler, a spokesman for the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. Kozlowski is still serving a prison sentence of 8 1/3 to 25 years,

Officials Cool On Yuan-Swap Proposal (WSJ)
Amid growing interest in turning London into a trading hub for the Chinese yuan, some bankers have proposed to U.K financial authorities to adopt a tool increasingly used by China's central bank to foster yuan liquidity overseas: bilateral currency-swap agreements. The bankers are pushing for the Bank of England to sign a currency-swap deal with its Chinese counterpart, according to banking executives involved in the discussions. Such a deal, they say, could help foreign banks get hold of yuan and supply the currency to customers.

DA grilling two 'hookers' and 'money launderer' in case of alleged madam (NYP)
Court transcripts and other records, along with sources familiar with the case, indicate that the two alleged prostitutes and a mysterious “laundry man” — identified only as a 68-year-old Russian-American — have met privately with authorities to save their own hides and clinch a case against Gristina and her suspected cohort, Jaynie Mae Baker. One of the women has admitted privately to having turned tricks for Gristina at her alleged East 78th Street “brothel,” a source said. Prosecutors have engaged in hush-hush negotiations with alleged call girls Mhairiangela “Maz” Bottone, 30, and Catherine DeVries, 31 — who are both charged with prostitution, according to court documents — and with the alleged money launderer, named only as “John Doe” by authorities.

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Opening Bell: 11.08.12

On Wall Street, Time To Mend Fences With Obama (NYT) Few industries have made such a one-sided bet as Wall Street did in opposing President Obama and supporting his Republican rival. The top five sources of contributions to Mr. Romney, a former top private equity executive, were big banks like Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Wealthy financiers — led by hedge fund investors — were the biggest group of givers to the main “super PAC” backing Mr. Romney, providing almost $33 million, and gave generously to outside groups in races around the country. On Wednesday, Dan Loeb, who had supported Mr. Obama in 2008, was sanguine. “You win some, you lose some,” he said in an interview. “We can all disagree. I have friends and we have spirited discussions. Sure, I am not getting invited to the White House anytime soon, but as citizens of the country we are all friendly.” [...] “Wall Street is now going to have to figure out how to make this relationship work,” said Glenn Schorr, an analyst who follows the big banks for the investment bank Nomura. “It’s not impossible, but it’s not the starting point they had hoped for.” Morgan Stanley Reassures Its Bankers (WSJ) The New York bank said Monday that investment-banking chief Paul Taubman would leave the firm at year-end. Mr. Taubman was passed over for a new job overseeing both the trading and investment-banking operations, people involved in the process said. The position went to Colm Kelleher, who has overseen sales and trading. To calm nerves and soothe egos among the firms' bankers, Morgan Stanley gathered its new team of investment-banking leaders in New York this week. Mr. Kelleher and one of his new banking lieutenants, Franck Petitgas, traveled from their London office, and Mr. Petitgas spent much of the week meeting with managers in the investment-banking division and senior bankers, people familiar with the discussions said. Top executives reassured senior bankers Monday that the investment-banking business was a priority for Morgan Stanley. In a memo to employees, Chief Executive James Gorman said Morgan Stanley would "continue to build on our leadership position in investment banking and capital markets." The messages came as some rank-and-file bankers at Morgan Stanley privately expressed surprise and dismay at the news from Mr. Taubman, who announced his departure to colleagues in an emotional meeting Monday with Messrs. Kelleher and Gorman in attendance. Some Morgan Stanley bankers said they worried that the new chiefs of investment banking didn't have the stature of Mr. Taubman, who spent a significant amount of time as a mergers banker and was known internally for his staunch support of the firm's investment-banking franchise. "People are upset," one senior person inside the company said. Wall Street Trades Foiled Romney Dreams For Bowles Hopes (Bloomberg) Wall Street executives who lost a bet that Republican Mitt Romney would defeat President Barack Obama are bracing for tougher regulation and hoping a deal can be struck with Congress to cut the deficit. Obama’s choice to succeed Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner will be watched closely for signs about the administration’s approach to business and the deficit, industry executives said. Erskine Bowles, who served as chief of staff under former President Bill Clinton, would be a sign that Obama is willing to endorse a bipartisan debt-reduction plan supported by many business leaders, they said. “With the appointment of the Treasury secretary, Obama will be sending an important message to the public and to the foreign governments who own a lot of Treasuries,” Curtis Arledge, chief executive officer of Bank of New York Mellon Corp.’s investment-management arm, which oversees $1.4 trillion, told journalists in New York yesterday. “If he goes with somebody like Erskine Bowles, then the message will be that he cares about the deficit and is serious about cutting it.” Focus Shifts To Fiscal Cliff (WSJ) Barry Knapp, head of U.S. equity portfolio strategy at Barclays, turned more bearish after seeing the election results, arguing that the risk of fiscal-cliff disaster increased to more than half, from about 30% before. "When I look at what happened, I see a government that grew farther apart, which might be worse than the status quo," Mr. Knapp said. "The risk of going off the cliff has just gotten huge." Jobless Claims Fall (WSJ) Initial jobless claims, which are a measure of layoffs, decreased by 8,000 to a seasonally adjusted 355,000 in the week ended Nov. 3, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires expected 365,000 new applications for jobless benefits. Greek Jobless Rate Hits New High (WSJ) Elstat, the Greek statistical agency, Thursday said the seasonally adjusted rate of unemployment increased to 25.4% from 24.8% in July and 18.4% in August 2011. That was just below the 25.5% unemployment rate recorded by Spain in the same month, the highest in the European Union. Herd of elephants go on drunken rampage after mammoth booze up (Metro) The trunk and disorderly mammals ransacked a shop, three houses and ruined crops in the eastern village of Dumurkota, India. Police say the gang of over-the-limit tuskers downed more than 500litres of moonshine alcohol, managing to drink the place dry in a matter of minutes. The unruly mob demolished dozens of houses in their desperate hunt for more booze after hoovering up the hard stuff in record time. Local police officer Asish Samanat said the drunken elephants were more 'aggressive' than usual after their mammoth drinking session. 'Unfortunately these animals live in close proximity to man and they recognised the smell of the drink,' he explained. 'They were like any other drunk - aggressive and unreasonable but much, much bigger.' ECB Stands Ready to Buy Bonds as Economy Weakens (Bloomberg) “We are ready to undertake” Outright Monetary Transactions, “which will help to avoid extreme scenarios,” Draghi said today at a press conference in Frankfurt after policy makers left the benchmark interest rate at a historic low of 0.75 percent. “The risks surrounding the economic outlook remain on the downside” and underlying inflation pressures “should remain moderate,” he said. SocGen CEO Blames ‘Stupid’ Accounting for Profit Drop (CNBC) “Exceptional items are related in particular to this stupid accounting thing which means that when you have a credit that is improving, your CDS is going down and you have to recognise negative revenues,” Frederic Oudea told CNBC in Paris. SocGen’s third-quarter net profit was 85 million euros, down by 86 percent on the same period in 2011, after losses on asset sales. That was lower than analysts’ mean estimate of 139.1 million euros. Blackstone Leads Hedge Funds Attracting Bond-Rally Bears (Bloomberg) Funds that bet on both gains and losses in credit attracted $12.6 billion of deposits in the three months ended Sept. 30, the most since the period ended Dec. 31, 2007, according to HFR. Blackstone Group LP raised $4.05 billion during the period for its debt unit, which includes so-called long-short funds. Panning Capital Management, which was founded by Kieran Goodwin this year, started such a fund on Nov. 1 with $500 million. Two-Tier Global Housing Market Could Lead to Bubble: Goldman (CNBC) In a report titled: “Just don’t look down some house markets are flying again” Goldman argues easy money policies by the world’s major central banks has had a ripple effect on countries which have avoided the worst of the global financial crisis, boosting their house prices. According to Goldman, there now exist housing “high-flyers” - countries that have experienced real house price increases and “low-lyers” - countries where the housing market downturn appears to be more protracted. “High flyers” include Germany, Finland, Norway, France, Switzerland and Israel as well as Canada and Australia. The “low lyers” include the U.S., and the euro zone periphery of Spain, Greece, Italy and Ireland- but also those places where prices fell in the post-crisis period but have since stabilized such as the U.K., Japan and Denmark. Judge throws Dallas attorney back in jail after his Design District office trashed, vandalized with obscene drawings (DN) Attorney Tom Corea was charged earlier this year with four felonies alleging he stole from his clients. He was arrested, posted bond and was released. Weeks later, he was evicted for not paying rent for his upscale office in the 2000 block of Farrington Street near Interstate 35E and Market Center Boulevard, according to testimony before state District Judge Mike Snipes. Corea was ordered out by Oct. 31. When the president of the real estate company that represents the building, Doug Molny, showed up the next day to check out the property, he found “complete destruction,” including “penis graffiti on every single wall throughout the building,” Molny said. Written next to some of the penises was the name Doug. Molny said it appeared someone took a sledgehammer to granite counters. Additionally, doors, light fixtures, cabinets and appliances were destroyed or removed.

Opening Bell: 12.19.12

UBS In $1.5 Billion Libor Fine (WSJ) As part of the deal, UBS acknowledged that dozens of its employees were involved in widespread efforts to manipulate the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, as well as other benchmark rates, which together serve as the basis for interest rates on hundreds of trillions of dollars of financial contracts around the world. UBS's unit in Japan, where much of the attempted manipulation took place, pleaded guilty to one U.S. count of fraud. Authorities on Wednesday painted a picture of "routine and widespread" attempts by UBS employees to rig Libor and the euro interbank offered rate, or Euribor. The U.K. Financial Services Authority said it had identified more than 2,000 such attempts between 2005 and 2010 with the participation or awareness of at least 45 UBS traders and executives. Regulators on Wednesday released a trove of internal UBS emails and other communications—many of them colorful and expletive-laden—in which bank traders, sometimes with the knowledge of their managers, sought to manipulate the rates in order to boost their trading profits or mask the Swiss bank's mounting financial problems in 2008. UBS Traders' 'Humongous' Libor-Fixing Boasts (CNBC) The FSA documents suggest a macho trading culture on the UBS trading floor. Trader A also said: "if you keep 6s [i.e. the six month JPY LIBOR rate] unchanged today ... I will ****ing do one humongous deal with you ... Like a 50,000 buck deal." Traders and brokers implicated in the scandal referred to each other as "the three muscateers [sic]" and "captain caos [sic]." SAC's top consumer trader draws scrutiny from U.S. authorities (Reuters) U.S. authorities are examining trading by one of SAC Capital Advisors' most successful portfolio managers, Gabriel Plotkin, as part of a probe into the $14 billion hedge fund firm's investment in Weight Watchers International Inc last year, according to a person familiar with the investigation. Plotkin, a specialist in consumer and retail stocks who makes investment decisions for more than $1.2 billion worth of assets, is among several SAC portfolio managers whose trades are being investigated, said the source, who did not want to be identified. The source would not name the other managers. Federal authorities are trying to determine whether any of SAC Capital's retail and consumer portfolio managers traded Weight Watchers shares based on non-public confidential information about the diet company, said the source and another person familiar with the investigation. The two sources said it is too soon to conclude if there was any insider trading. Authorities have not charged Plotkin with any wrongdoing. Banks See Biggest Returns Since ’03 as Employees Suffer (Bloomberg) Shareholders, impatient for the industry to boost profit, were rewarded as Wall Street firms cut jobs and pay, and exited businesses. The shrinking unnerved employees, who watched the chiefs of two big banks lose their jobs and others contend with a drop in deal making and stock trading, stiffer regulations, trading losses, rating downgrades and scandals involving interest-rate manipulation and money laundering. “There’s always grumbling on Wall Street, which is pathetic given how overpaid we all are, but there is a level of angst this year that is just unprecedented,” Gordon Dean, who left a 26-year career at Morgan Stanley (MS) to co-found a San Francisco boutique advisory firm this year, said in a telephone interview. “It’s just a profound sadness and dissatisfaction.” Greek Bond Bet Pays Off for Hedge Fund (FT) One of the world's most prominent hedge funds is sitting on a $500 million profit after making a bet that Greece would not be forced to leave the euro zone, bucking the trend in a difficult year for the industry. Third Point, headed by the billionaire US investor Dan Loeb, tendered the majority of a $1 billion position in Greek government bonds, built up only months earlier, as part of a landmark debt buyback deal by Athens on Monday, according to people familiar with the firm. The windfall marks out the New York-based firm as one of the few hedge fund managers to have profited from the eurozone crisis. Standard and Poor's, the rating agency, raised its assessment of Greece's sovereign debt by several notches on Tuesday, citing the euro zone's"strong determination" to keep the country inside the common currency area. Fitch Warns US Could Lose AAA If 'Fiscal Cliff' Hits (Reuters) "Failure to avoid the fiscal cliff.. would exacerbate rather than diminish the uncertainty over fiscal policy, and tip the US into an avoidable and unnecessary recession," Fitch said in its 2013 global outlook published on Wednesday. "That could erode medium-term growth potential and financial stability. In such a scenario, there would be an increased likelihood that the U.S. would lose its AAA status." Science explains Rudolph's red reindeer nose (CNET) A collection of Dutch scientists contributed to a paper titled "Microcirculatory investigations of nasal mucosa in reindeer Rangifer tarandus (Mammalia, Artiodactyla, Cervidae): Rudolph's nose was overheated." According to the paper, "The exceptional physical burden of flying with a sleigh with Santa Claus as a heavy load could have caused cerebral and bodily hyperthermia, resulting in an overworked nasal cooling mechanism that resembles an overheated cooling radiator in a car: Rudolph suffered from hyperemia of the nasal mucosa (a red nose) under more extreme heat loads during flight with a sleigh." Of course, scientists don't like to put all their scientific eggs into just one basket of science. The paper's authors acknowledge other theories for the red nose, including the common cold, alcoholic intoxication, or a parasitic infection of the nostrils. GM To Buy Back Stock From Treasury (WSJ) GM said it will purchase 200 million shares of stock held by the U.S. Treasury Department in the first step of the government's eventual exit from the auto maker within the next 12 to 15 months. The auto maker will pay $5.5 billion for the shares in a deal that is expected to close by the end of the year. The repurchase price of $27.50 a share represents a 7.9% premium over the closing price on Dec. 18. Berlusconi Says Italy May Be Forced to Leave the Euro Zone (Reuters) "If Germany doesn't accept that the ECB must be a real central bank, if interest rates don't come down, we will be forced to leave the euro and return to our own currency in order to be competitive," Berlusconi said in comments reported by Italian news agencies Ansa and Agi. Knight, Getco Confirm Merger (WSJ) The $1.8 billion deal for Knight, which values the firm at $1.4 billion plus $400 million in debt held by Getco, will create a trading powerhouse ranking as one of the largest players on U.S. exchanges and the main trading partner of online brokerage firms that service everyday investors. Porsche Executives Charged Over VW Bid (WSJ) Prosecutors have charged the former top executives of Porsche Automobil Holding SE with allegedly manipulating financial markets during the company's attempt to take over Volkswagen AG in 2008, lawyers representing the executives said Wednesday. A court in Stuttgart must now decide whether to open criminal proceedings against Porsche's former chief executive Wendelin Wiedeking and former finance chief Holger Härter, who are suspected of misleading investors when they denied trying to take over VW in 2008. Market manipulation in Germany can be punished with up to five years' imprisonment. From early March to October of 2008, Porsche issued at least five statements denying it was trying to raise its stake in Volkswagen to 75%, but the prosecutors allege that Messrs. Wiedeking and Härter had already decided to try to raise the stake and were preparing for the move by purchasing buy options on ordinary and preference shares of Volkswagen. The denials induced investors to sell or make bets the shares would fall by so-called short selling, the prosecutors said, which benefited Porsche by lowering the share price ahead of the planned takeover. Spanx Bandit On The Loose After JCPenney Heist (TSG) An unknown thief (or thieves) stole a whopping $4182 worth of the popular body shapers from a JCPenney in Vero Beach, according to an Indian River County Sheriff’s Office report. The Spanx theft was reported Friday afternoon after a JCPenney employee noticed “the empty rack in the women’s undergarment section.” The worker noted that the Spanx stock had been there the prior evening. A subsequent search of the store revealed that about 100 Spanx “were taken along with their plastic hangers.” The purloined undergarments--tan and black tops and bottoms--were from Spanx’s Assets Red Hot Label line, police reported. A JCPenney store manager gave cops an itemized list of the boosted body shapers, but it appears the Spanx Bandit will escape unscathed. Due to a lack of witnesses, evidence, or store surveillance video, no further investigative activity could be undertaken by a sheriff’s deputy.

Opening Bell: 12.06.12

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

Opening Bell: 09.28.12

Bank Of America Reaches Settlement In Merrill Lynch Acquisition-Related Class Action Litigation (BW) Under terms of the proposed settlement, Bank of America would pay a total of $2.43 billion and institute certain corporate governance policies. Plaintiffs had alleged, among other claims, that Bank of America and certain of its officers made false or misleading statements about the financial health of Bank of America and Merrill Lynch. Bank of America denies the allegations and is entering into this settlement to eliminate the uncertainties, burden and expense of further protracted litigation. Greece Seeks Taxes From Wealthy With Cash Havens in London (NYT) At the request of the Athens government, the British financial authorities recently handed over a detailed list of about 400 Greek individuals who have bought and sold London properties since 2009. The list, closely guarded, has not been publicly disclosed. But Greek officials are examining it to determine whether the people named — who they say include prominent businessmen, bankers, shipping tycoons and professional athletes — have deceived the tax authorities by understating their wealth. Libor Riggers May Be Criminal, Even If Acts Not Illegal at Time (CNBC) Those who took part in the manipulation of the London interbank offered rate (Libor), the key benchmark rate, could face criminal prosecution even though Libor manipulation is not yet a criminal offense. Martin Wheatley, who is advising the U.K. government on what changes could be made to Libor to stop manipulation in the future, said that U.K. regulator the Financial Services Authority (FSA) is considering prosecuting those who took part under “broad principles of conduct.” He also recommended that the government should give the FSA power to prosecute future Libor manipulation. Libor Furor: Key Rate Gets New Scrutiny (WSJ) "There's a concern that if you're going to base financial decisions on a particular interest rate" it should be a measure that responds to changes in market conditions, "and that's not Libor," said Andrew Lo, a finance professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Macquarie Bonuses Whack Profit (WSJ) Macquarie Group may have lost its reputation as the Millionaire’s Factory as profits slumped since the onset of the global financial crisis, but according to Citigroup analysts the bank’s net profit could have been 60% higher last financial year if not for a dramatic rise in bonus payments to staff...Wes Nason estimates that while the bank’s return on equity fell to 6.8% last financial year-–hitting its lowest level since it listed in the first half of fiscal 2012 and compared with a 10-year average of 18.4%—-its average bonus payments almost tripled to A$73,000 a head, up from A$26,000 in 2009. Replacement referee Lance Easley stands by touchdown call (NYDN) Lance Easley has been vilified for awarding the Seattle Seahawks a touchdown on its Hail Mary pass in the closing seconds of Monday night’s game against the Green Bay Packers even though pretty much everyone in the country saw that the pass had been intercepted. “I processed everything properly,” Easley told the Daily News Thursday. “It was supported on video. But the bad thing is, people don’t understand the rules in that whole play. “But that play rarely ever happens, it rarely happens in the field of play and it never happens in an NFL game,” he added. “And here I got stuck in the middle of it.” The call was reviewed on instant replay — and, amazingly, upheld, despite the refs also missing a pass interference infraction by a Seattle player. Since then the 52-year-old Bank of America banker has been swept up in a whirlwind of national outrage — one that forced the NFL to end a seven-week lockout of its unionized refs early Thursday. But Easley said he and his replacements did a good job in their stint in zebra stripes. “I know where I stand,” he said. “Everything I did ... I got support from all the referees and everything, and replay and our league office and anybody else that understands the rules and how those plays function. Spanish Rescue May Throw Crisis Spotlight on Italy (Reuters) Italian government bonds risk being thrown back into the spotlight of the euro zone debt crisis once Spain decides to request aid and secures central bank support for its debt. A partial bailout for Madrid would probably trigger the European Central Bank's bond-buying plan, lowering Spain's borrowing costs and increasing investor appetite for riskier assets in general, including debt issued by Italy. But Italy could then return to the forefront of market concern as the next weak link. "The risks increase that you will get a contagion into Italy," said David Keeble, global head of fixed income strategy at Credit Agricole. Cyber Attacks On Banks Expose Computer Vulnerability (WSJ) Cyber attacks on the biggest U.S. banks, including JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Wells Fargo & Co., have breached some of the nation’s most advanced computer defenses and exposed the vulnerability of its infrastructure, said cybersecurity specialists tracking the assaults. The attack, which a U.S. official yesterday said was waged by a still-unidentified group outside the country, flooded bank websites with traffic, rendering them unavailable to consumers and disrupting transactions for hours at a time. Such a sustained network attack ranks among the worst-case scenarios envisioned by the National Security Agency, according to the U.S. official, who asked not to be identified because he isn’t authorized to speak publicly. The extent of the damage may not be known for weeks or months, said the official, who has access to classified information. Fitch Ratings Cuts China, India 2012 Growth Forecasts (CNBC) In its September Global Economic Outlook, the ratings agency said it now expected China’s economy, the world’s second largest, to grow 7.8 percent this year, down from a forecast of 8 percent made in June. It also lowered its forecast for economic growth in India to 6 percent in the financial year ending in March 2013 from a previous estimate of 6.5 percent. CIT Chief Tries To Rescue Reputation (NYP) John Thain yesterday said he brought up executive compensation at the time his firm was getting bailed out by taxpayers not for selfish reasons but to determine how much control Washington would have over his company. “One of the issues we were worried about at the time was, if you take government money how much say does the government have in how you run your business?” Thain said during an interview on CNBC. Days earlier, Thain was trashed by former bank regulator Sheila Bair, who, in her upcoming book, “Bull By the Horns,” accuses the Wall Street veteran of being fixated on pay during the height of the financial Armageddon. Bair, the former Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. boss, wrote that Thain “was desperate for capital but was worried about restrictions on executive compensation.” “I could not believe it. Where were this guy’s priorities?” she wrote, referring to Thain. The CEO, who was tapped to run the troubled lender in 2010, also addressed during the CNBC interview rumors that CIT was looking to sell itself to a large bank. “It’s absolutely not true,” Thain said yesterday. Canada Cheese-Smuggling Ring Busted (BBC) A Canadian police officer was among three people charged as the country's authorities announced they had busted a major cheese-smuggling ring. A joint US-Canadian investigation found C$200,000 (£125,600) of cheese and other products were illicitly brought over the border into southern Ontario. The smugglers sold large quantities of cheese, which is cheaper in the US, to restaurants, it is alleged. The other two men charged were civilians, one a former police officer. The charges come three days after CBC News first reported the force was conducting an internal investigation into cheese smuggling. A pizzeria owner west of Niagara Falls told CBC that he had been questioned by police over the issue, but assured them he had not bought any contraband dairy. "We get all our stuff legit," said the restaurateur. "We thought it was a joke at first. Who is going to go around trying to sell smuggled cheese?"

Opening Bell: 03.22.12

Goldman conducts company-wide email review (Reuters) Goldman Sachs Group Inc has begun scanning internal emails for the term "muppet" and other evidence that employees referred to clients in derogatory ways, Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein told partners in a conference call this week, according to people familiar with the call...It was not clear when the search would be completed or what actions, if any, Goldman would take if the search turns up derogatory comments. Jobless Claims in U.S. Fall to Lowest Level in Four Years (Bloomberg) Jobless claims decreased by 5,000 to 348,000 in the week ended March 17, the fewest since February 2008, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. The median forecast of 46 economists in a Bloomberg News survey projected 350,000. The number of people on unemployment benefit rolls and those getting extended payments also fell. ‘Worst Still to Come’ for Europe Says Citi Economist (CNBC) Despite high-profile measures such as the Greek debt deal and mass pumping of liquidity into the banking system, Europe’s problems have merely been delayed for another day, Willem Buiter, chief economist at Citi, told CNBC. “We have really just paused for breath,” he said. “It (the long-term refinancing operation) really hasn’t solved the problem, and for Europe the worst is still to come.” On Wall St., Keeping a Tight Rein on Twitter (Dealbook) So a cottage industry has emerged. Adept start-ups act as guides on Wall Street’s social media adventure, providing the software that helps firms comply with regulations that date to a sleepier era of communication. “Here they were, these organizations that had never used the social networks because they had completely locked down access,” said Chad Bockius, the chief executive of Socialware, a start-up based in Austin, Tex., that advises financial firms on social media. “This is the same thing we saw when people started to use the Internet for business purposes.” Mr. Bockius, 35, says his company was the first to offer social media compliance products for the financial industry. Socialware sells software that can archive messages, house a library of prewritten content and allow compliance officers to oversee postings. Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, which Mr. Bockius holds up as one of his most enterprising clients, gave about 600 of its 17,800 financial advisers access to Twitter and LinkedIn last summer, and now plans to expand those ranks. “We’re trailblazing, so to speak,” said Lauren W. Boyman, who runs social media at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney. “Even with the restrictions that we have, we’ve seen a lot of success.” John Edwards is First Name Uncovered in 'Millionaire Madam' Investigation (DNAI via Daily Intel) Edwards allegedly hooked up with one of Gristina’s high-end hookers in 2007 when the dashing pol from North Carolina brought his then high-flying presidential campaign to the Big Apple. The one-night fling allegedly took place at an Upper East Side hotel suite and was arranged by an aide with help from a New Yorker familiar with Gristina’s prostitution ring, sources said...“Most of the women don’t have any idea about the identities of the men they sleep with,” a source explained. “How would they know a money man from Wall Street or the face of a lawyer or banker who shows up? “But the face of the national politician?” the source rhetorically asked. “She knew.” Volcker Says U.S. Needs Reforms in Finance, Government (Bloomberg) “It is not only our economic prosperity that’s in jeopardy, but our national security and our ability to play a constructive role in a changing world,” said Volcker, 84. Volcker said that progress has been made toward improving financial regulatory oversight, capital and liquidity standards and rules for derivatives. He said more needed to be done to regulate money market mutual funds, which he called “a new systemic risk,” and to rebuild a private market for home mortgages to replace the government-sponsored entities that dominate the business. “The reform report card still reads, ‘Promising but definitely incomplete,’” Volcker said. More Wings, Please — Signs Small Biz Is Improving (AP) Some diners at Hurricane Grill & Wings had been limiting themselves to a small order of the chain's saucy chicken wings and a glass of tap water. These days, many of those people are upgrading to a bigger order of as many as 15 wings and a soda. For Hurricane Grill, which sells its wings in more than 30 varieties of sauces, the larger plates and the sodas are a sign that customers are OK about spending a little more when they go out to eat. The evidence may not be a big economic report like gross domestic product or factory orders in a region, but small businesses have their own indicators that the economy is improving. Rich Would Skirt 'Buffett Rule' Report Shows (WSJ) The administration's proposal to end the Bush-era tax cuts for couples making more than $250,000 would raise about $850 billion over the next decade. Mr. Obama also wants to limit the value of many deductions for families making more than $250,000. That would raise a further $584 billion over the decade. But millionaires likely would find legal ways to avoid paying higher taxes under another of Mr. Obama's new tax proposals, his so-called "Buffett Rule," a separate congressional estimate found. The proposal—spelled out in Mr. Obama's State of the Union address but not included in his budget—would impose a 30% minimum tax rate on those who make more than $1 million a year. It's named for the billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who advocates higher taxes on the very wealthy. Taxpayers' likely efforts to sidestep the rule's impact mean it would raise about $47 billion in extra revenue over the next decade, according to a new estimate by the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation, a congressional advisory body that functions as the official congressional scorekeeper for legislation affecting government tax revenues. The Tax Policy Center had estimated the Buffett rule would raise about $114 billion over the next decade. Monster titanoboa snake invades New York (AP) New York commuters arriving at Grand Central Station will soon be greeted by a monstrous sight: a 48-foot-long, 2,500-pound titanoboa snake. The good news: It's not alive. Anymore. But the full-scale replica of the reptile -- which will make its first appearance at the commuter hub on March 22 -- is intended, as Smithsonian spokesperson Randall Kremer happily admitted, to "scare the daylights out of people" -- actually has a higher calling: to "communicate science to a lot of people." The scientifically scary-accurate model will go a long way toward that: If this snake slithered by you, it would be waist-high and measure the length of a school bus. Think of it as the T-rex of snakes.

Opening Bell: 03.11.13

EU Chiefs Seeking to Stave Off Euro Crisis Turn to Cyprus (Bloomberg) European leaders grappling with political deadlock in Italy and spiraling unemployment in France will turn to a financial rescue for Cyprus in an effort to stave off a return of market turmoil over the debt crisis. European Union leaders will meet for a March 14-15 summit in Brussels to discuss terms for Cyprus, including the island nation’s debt sustainability and possibly imposing losses on depositors. That comes as Italy struggles to form a government after an inconclusive Feb. 24-25 election and as concern over the French economy mounts with unemployment at a 13-year high. Spain's Bailout Fund Said to Seek Help on Bank Strategy (WSJ) Spain's bank bailout fund is seeking to hire advisers to help shape a long-term strategy for dealing with its portfolio of nationalized lenders, a week after calling off an auction of one of the most troubled banks. People briefed about the plan said the fund, known by its Spanish acronym FROB, will make contact with strategic consultants, and possibly with investment banks, once the plan has been approved by the FROB's board of directors. Is There Life After Work? By Erin Callan (NYT) "I didn’t start out with the goal of devoting all of myself to my job. It crept in over time. Each year that went by, slight modifications became the new normal. First I spent a half-hour on Sunday organizing my e-mail, to-do list and calendar to make Monday morning easier. Then I was working a few hours on Sunday, then all day. My boundaries slipped away until work was all that was left...I have often wondered whether I would have been asked to be C.F.O. if I had not worked the way that I did. Until recently, I thought my singular focus on my career was the most powerful ingredient in my success. But I am beginning to realize that I sold myself short. I was talented, intelligent and energetic. It didn’t have to be so extreme. Besides, there were diminishing returns to that kind of labor. I didn’t have to be on my BlackBerry from my first moment in the morning to my last moment at night. I didn’t have to eat the majority of my meals at my desk. I didn’t have to fly overnight to a meeting in Europe on my birthday. I now believe that I could have made it to a similar place with at least some better version of a personal life. Not without sacrifice — I don’t think I could have “had it all” — but with somewhat more harmony. I have also wondered where I would be today if Lehman Brothers hadn’t collapsed. In 2007, I did start to have my doubts about the way I was living my life. Or not really living it. But I felt locked in to my career. I had just been asked to be C.F.O. I had a responsibility. Without the crisis, I may never have been strong enough to step away. Perhaps I needed what felt at the time like some of the worst experiences in my life to come to a place where I could be grateful for the life I had. I had to learn to begin to appreciate what was left. At the end of the day, that is the best guidance I can give. Whatever valuable advice I have about managing a career, I am only now learning how to manage a life." Paper Trail Goes Cold in Case Against S&P (Reuters) In early 2007, as signs of distress began appearing in securities backed by residential mortgages, executives at Standard & Poor's began advising analysts responsible for rating mortgage bonds that they should put the phrase "privileged and confidential" on emails to one another. Analysts working for the McGraw Hill Cos division also were discouraged from doodling on notepads and official documents during meetings to discuss pending deals and existing ratings, several former S&P employees said. That was not the first time S&P had tried to caution employees about paper trails. In 2005, a full two years before the housing market began to melt down, several top S&P managers attended an off-site meeting at hotel in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, to discuss ways to increase the fees it collected from Wall Street banks for rating mortgage bonds. A former S&P executive said that after the meeting, employees were instructed to discard any notes they had taken from the meeting. InTrade Shuts Down (WSJ) InTrade, the Ireland-based website that allows users to place wagers on non-sports-related upcoming events, announced on Sunday that it is shutting its site down. In an official statement, the company does not go into great detail as to why it is closing its doors, only that it is related to “financial irregularities which, in accordance with Irish law,” require InTrade to cease operations until resolved. “At this time and until further notice, it is not possible to make any payments to members in accordance with their settled account balance until the investigations have concluded,” the company said. Commodities Squeeze Banks (WSJ) The sharp fall in commodity revenue has already claimed some victims. UBS AG, the Swiss bank that has been under pressure to cut costs and improve its performance, last year closed all its commodities-trading desks aside from those dealing in precious metals. Goldman, UBS, Deutsche Bank, and Barclays have all suffered departures of senior commodity traders to hedge funds and independent trading companies over the last several months. Average staffing in commodities trading declined 5.9% last year at major banks, according to Coalition. Artist Teaches George W. Bush How To Paint (Fox5) An artist in Cumming, GA spent a month teaching former President George W. Bush how to paint. Bonnie Flood said that President Bush has a passion for painting and shows real potential as an artists. "He started off painting dogs. I think he said he painted 50 dogs," Flood said. "He pulled out this canvas and started painting dogs and I thought, 'Oh my God, I don't paint dogs!" Flood, who does most of paintings at her home in Cumming, occasionally conducts workshops in Florida. That's where the former President heard about her. The next thing she knew, she was packing up her paints to spend a month in Boca Grande with President Bush. She said that she spent about six hours a day with the President, mixing paints and teaching him proper brush strokes. She says she wasn't intimidated but admits she really didn't know what to call him until she found the magic number. "I called him '43' because that's the way he signed his paintings. "When I really wanted him to do something, I would say, 'Mr. President you know that you don't do it that way.'" She says the President learned quickly and soon started painting fewer dogs and more landscapes. "He has such a passion for painting, it's amazing," Flood said. "He's going to go down in the history books as a great artist." Hostess Creditor, Private-Equity Firms Show Interest in Twinkies Brand (Reuters) Hostess Brands creditor Silver Point Capital and hedge fund Hurst Capital have expressed interest in buying Hostess's snack cake brands, including Twinkies, the New York Post reported. Paulson Said to Explore Puerto Rico as Home With Low Tax (Bloomberg) John Paulson, a lifelong New Yorker, is exploring a move to Puerto Rico, where a new law would eliminate taxes on gains from the $9.5 billion he has invested in his own hedge funds, according to four people who have spoken to him about a possible relocation. More US Profits Parked Abroad (WSJ) A Wall Street Journal analysis of 60 big U.S. companies found that, together, they parked a total of $166 billion offshore last year. That shielded more than 40% of their annual profits from U.S. taxes, though it left the money off-limits for paying dividends, buying back shares or making investments in the U.S. The 60 companies were chosen for the analysis because each of them had held at least $5 billion offshore in 2011. Twitter, Social Media Are Fertile Ground For Stock Hoaxes (Reuters) "Twitter pump and dump schemes are obviously something for the market to be concerned about, even if they are just a new way for people to do schemes that have been done forever," said Keith McCullough, chief executive officer at Hedgeye Risk Management in New Haven, Connecticut. He uses Twitter and has more than 22,000 followers. In such hoaxes, anonymous users set up accounts with names that sound like prominent market players, issue negative commentary, and spark massive declines. The selling that follows shows how the rapid spread of information on social media can make for volatile trading, and is a warning to investors who trade on news before fully verifying the source. SEC: Goldman Cannot Ignore Proposal to Split Chairman, CEO Roles (Reuters) SEC staff sent a letter to Goldman internal counsel Beverly O'Toole this week, saying the agency is "unable to concur" with Goldman's view that the shareholder proposal does not warrant a vote. El Paso Sheriff's deputies arrest 2 ice cream men for possession of pot (EPT) Saturday afternoon, Sheriff's deputies spotted a purple ice cream truck with a cracked windshield and an expired registration sticker along the 8600 block of Alameda. During the traffic stop, one of the occupants left the vehicle and led deputies on a brief foot pursuit before being caught. Two tupperware bowls containing a green leafy substance, believed to be marijuana, was found on the man, who was identified as 19-year-old Elijah Sanchez. The second occupant, identified as 29-year-old Anthony Arellano, was also charged with possession of marijuana after deputies found marijuana inside the vehicle. Arellano has been arrested in the past for numerous felony charges and a previous possession of marijuana charge in 2006, deputies said.

Opening Bell: 03.08.12

Greece Readies Record Debt Swap With 60% Commitments (Bloomberg) Greece moved closer to sealing the biggest sovereign restructuring in history as investors indicated they’ll participate in the nation’s debt swap. Holders of about 60 percent of the Greek bonds eligible for the deal, including Greece’s largest banks, most of the country’s pension funds and more than 30 European banks and insurers including BNP Paribas (BNP) SA and Commerzbank AG (CBK), have agreed to the offer so far. That brings the total to about 124 billion euros ($163 billion), based on data compiled by Bloomberg from company reports and government statements. Roubini: Private Sector’s Greece Deal Is ‘Sweet’ (FT) “The reality is that private creditors got a very sweet deal, while most actual and future losses have been transferred to the official creditors." Hedge Funds See Tax Break in Republican Bill (Bloomberg) ^^^An interesting way of putting this: Cantor told House members in a memo last month his plan would let “every” business with fewer than 500 employees deduct 20 percent of its profits. Labor Dept. Asks Nuclear Guardians for Help Keeping Jobs Data Secret (CNBC) The Department of Labor has asked Sandia National Laboratories — the organization that ensures the safety of the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile — to scrutinize the security procedures surrounding the release of monthly jobs report data. Separately, officials at the U.S. Energy Information Administration tell CNBC they have taken steps to block computers operating from certain Internet protocol addresses from accessing the administration’s website, arguing that some users appear to have a “malicious intent” to slow down the website’s release of data for the general public while speeding it up for themselves. U.S. Initial Jobless Claims Rose 8,000 to 362,000 (BW) Applications for unemployment insurance payments increased by 8,000 in the week ended March 3, Labor Department figures showed today. Economists forecast 352,000 claims, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey. The average over the past four weeks held close to a four-year low. Solar Storm Races Towards Earth (AP) The storm started with a massive solar flare earlier in the week and grew as it raced outward from the sun, expanding like a giant soap bubble, scientists said. When it strikes, the particles will be moving at four million miles an hour. "It's hitting us right in the nose," said Joe Kunches, a scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, Colo. The massive cloud of charged particles could disrupt utility grids, airline flights, satellite networks and GPS services, especially in northern areas. But the same blast could also paint colorful auroras farther from the poles than normal. 'Sterilized' Bond Buying an Option in Fed Arsenal (WSJ) Under the new approach, the Fed would print new money to buy long-term mortgage or Treasury bonds but effectively tie up that money by borrowing it back for short periods at low rates. The aim of such an approach would be to relieve anxieties that money printing could fuel inflation later, a fear widely expressed by critics of the Fed's previous efforts to aid the recovery. Treasury to Sell $6 Billion Worth of A.I.G. Shares (Dealbook) The Treasury Department announced a plan on Wednesday to sell $6 billion of its American International Group shares, further whittling down the federal government’s holdings in the insurance giant it helped bail out during the financial crisis. As part of the offering, which is expected to be completed in a few days, A.I.G. will buy back up to $3 billion worth of the common stock that the Treasury Department is selling. A.I.G. will also repay $8.5 billion in other obligations to the Treasury Department, principally using proceeds gained from various asset sales. The plan is the latest effort by the federal government to unwind its $182 billion bailout of A.I.G. in 2008. Last spring, the Treasury Department sold off 200 million shares of the insurer in a highly awaited offering known as the “re-I.P.O.” of A.I.G. Yet that sale still left the government owning about 77 percent of the company, down from 92 percent. ‘Madam’s my$tery man ID’d (NYP) Sources say David Walker, 47, an ultra-successful investment manager for Morgan Stanley, is the money man who met with soccer-mom-turned-Upper East Side-madam Anna Gristina right before her Feb. 22 arrest. And prosecutors say the business meeting in Morgan Stanley’s West 52nd Street offices that day was all about helping Gristina bring her high-end hooker business to the Web. It was minutes after the pair left the office building near Fifth Avenue that Gristina was arrested, the culmination of what prosecutors have described as a five-year investigation into the alleged call-girl ring. Prosecutors, without naming Walker, said at Gristina’s Feb. 23 arraignment, “We picked her up yesterday with a Morgan Stanley [broker] who she counts a close friend, and she had been present at his office for a meeting in which she was trying to solicit money to fund what we believe is another business venture on the Internet that involves matching up male clients with female prostitutes.” Gristina was arrested on East 53rd Street and Madison Avenue at 11 a.m., just a few blocks away from Walker’s home, a high-rise, doorman building on 55th near Third Avenue. Walker was not arrested, nor has he been charged with any crime. “She’s known him for a while. He was a nice guy. He was a banker trying to get her investors for her Web site,” said Vinnie Parco, a private eye working for Gristina.

Opening Bell: 06.07.13

‘This Will be the Most Important Payroll Release in Years’ (WSJ MoneyBeat) Every payrolls day is a hype-fest, but particularly today. Today’s release will be the “most important payroll release in years”, wrote Michael Hartnett, chief investment strategist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. It follows “the seventh-worst month of returns for fixed income since ’85 and the largest week of bond fund redemptions since Oct ’08,” the bank says. So, no pressure. The consensus forecast gathered by Dow Jones Newswires is for a rise of 169,000 in the reading for May, with an unchanged employment rate of 7.5%. Draghi lauds ‘most successful’ ECB action (FT) A combative Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, strongly defended one of his bank’s most unorthodox and controversial moves of the eurozone crisis as “probably the most successful monetary policy measure undertaken in recent times”. Pressure in Britain Over What to Do With Bailed-Out Banks (DealBook) “As we move closer to an election, the share prices of R.B.S. and Lloyds will become more scrutinized,” said Peter Hahn, a banking professor at the Cass Business School in London. “Whoever is in government, selling shares in these banks will be a top priority.” ... The British government’s quandary over the banks stands in contrast with the experience of the United States Treasury Department, which reduced the government’s stakes in the big banks more quickly. Criminal Cases Loom in Rate Rigging (WSJ) U.S. and British authorities are preparing to bring criminal charges against former employees of Barclays for their alleged roles trying to manipulate benchmark interest rates, according to people familiar with the plans, marking an escalation of a global investigation now entering its sixth year. The charges are likely to be filed this summer, these people said, roughly a year after the big British bank became the first institution to settle over allegations that it attempted to rig the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, and other widely used financial benchmarks. NSA taps in to user data of Facebook, Apple, Google and others, secret files reveal (Guardian) The files also reveal terrible PowerPoint skills. ‘Hey, gals – be a ho!’: Pimps’ lawyer hails great pay, benefits (NYP) “I’m trying to find a job myself that pays me 10 grand a week,” defense lawyer Howard Greenberg said as summations began in the Manhattan Criminal Court trial of Vincent George Sr. and Jr., admitted father-and-son pimps. “One wonders in this economy if a girl can make up to 10 grand a week . . . Why more women don’t do it, I don’t know,” the lawyer said, arguing that there is no proof that the Georges’ pampered staff of five hookers was forced to do anything. The Georges admit they’re pimps. But they insist that they’re really nice pimps and that their stable of five women commuted happily, six nights a week, from their employer-provided houses in Allentown, Pa., to the bars of fancy Midtown hotels, where they’d hand out “masseuse” cards to randy male tourists. “The girls wanted for nothing. There was maternity leave — can you imagine that? In short, the benefits package was great,” Greenberg said. S&P cuts outlook on Brazil sovereign rating (FT) S&P said slow economic growth, expansionary fiscal policy that was likely to lead to an increase in the government’s debt burden, and “ambiguous policy signals” in decision-making were among the factors behind the surprise move. “The negative outlook reflects the at least one-in-three probability that a rising government debt burden and erosion of macroeconomic stability could lead to a downgrade of Brazil over the next two years,” the agency said. Japan's Pension Fund to Buy More Stocks (WSJ) The Government Pension Investment Fund, at a joint news conference with Japan's welfare ministry, said it has raised its target portfolio allocation of domestic stocks to 12% from the current 11%. The fund also said it would increase its allocation of overseas assets and cut back on low-yielding Japanese bonds. The GPIF is the world's largest public pension with ¥112 trillion yen ($1.16 trillion) in assets. It is closely watched by many investors for hints about potential portfolio rebalancing, which could have broad implications for financial markets. Record outflows from US junk bond funds (FT) US high-yield funds saw a record $4.63bn in outflows for the week ending on Wednesday, according to Lipper. Interest rate volatility has surged in recent weeks since benchmark Treasury yields have risen sharply, with selling spilling over into other key areas of the bond market. As exchange traded fund providers and mutual funds face redemptions, they are forced to sell more of their holdings, putting further pressure on prices. “We are definitely worried that the market is in a cycle where selling of bonds begets more selling,” said Steven Boyd, principal at Halyard Asset Management. Pimco Defends $8.5 Billion BofA Mortgage Accord (Bloomberg) Bank of America Corp.’s $8.5 billion mortgage-bond settlement is “outstanding” for investors, said a Pacific Investment Management Co. executive, who defended the deal against opposition. The settlement was reached after an investor group that included Pimco and BlackRock Inc. (BLK) at first demanded $12 billion, eventually coming down to a “take or leave it” offer of $8.5 billion, Kent Smith, an executive vice president at Pimco who helped negotiate the agreement, testified yesterday. “It’s an outstanding deal, and it’s in the best interest of our clients to support it,” Smith said. Smith was the first witness to testify in a trial over the agreement, which is being considered by Justice Barbara Kapnick of New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan. Forest braces for third bout with Icahn (Reuters) Forest Laboratories Inc is trying to avert yet another bitter proxy battle with billionaire investor Carl Icahn ahead of its annual investor meeting this summer, according to two sources familiar with the situation. ... Last year's proxy battle, for example, ended with just one of Icahn's four nominees being elected to the board - Pierre Legault, the former chief financial officer of OSI Pharma. Legault has since distanced himself from Icahn, telling people that he didn't know the investor well and wasn't "his guy", one of the sources said. Bono Sings to Warren Buffett (CNBC) "Home on the Range"; there is video. Russia's Vladimir Putin and wife Lyudmiladivorce (BBC) "It was a joint decision: we hardly see each other, each of us has our own life", Mr Putin said. Mrs Putin had rarely been seen in public in recent months, prompting much speculation in Russian media. She is known to dislike publicity, and told the TV reporter that flying was difficult for her. "Vladimir Vladimirovich is completely drowned in work," she said.