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.
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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.

BofA's Orcel Shuns Promotion to Join UBS (WSJ)
In a dramatic executive shuffle involving two banking giants, Bank of America Corp.'s Andrea Orcel plans to leave the big U.S. lender's European operation to become co-head of UBS AG's investment-banking unit, according to people familiar with the matter. Mr. Orcel, president of emerging markets excluding Asia at Bank of America and head of its European credit-card business, is expected to share the title with Carsten Kengeter, who currently runs the UBS unit on his own, the people 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.

Related

Opening Bell: 11.26.12

UBS Stung By Adoboli Case (WSJ) Swiss financial market regulator Finma said it will keep a close eye on UBS's investment bank for the foreseeable future and may ask it to raise fresh capital, following an investigation into failures that allowed London-based trader Kweku Adoboli to make unauthorized trades. At the same time, the U.K. Financial Services Authority fined UBS £29.7 million ($47.6 million). Mr. Adoboli was convicted of fraud last week and sentenced to a seven-year prison term. "The measures ordered by Finma include capital restrictions and an acquisition ban on the investment bank, and any new business initiative it plans must be approved by Finma," the regulator said. Finma will also consider "whether UBS must increase capital backing for its operational risks," will appoint a third party to ensure corrective measures are introduced, and will organize an audit to review the steps taken by UBS. Finma declined to say when the auditing review would be completed or when a decision on a capital increase would be made, though a spokesman said this is likely to be within months rather than years. SAC Fund Manager Faces Choice of Trial or Deal (Bloomberg) Martoma, 38, used illegal tips to help SAC make $276 million on shares of pharmaceutical companies Elan Corp. and Wyeth LLC, according to the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission. Arrested last week, he is to appear today in Manhattan federal court for masterminding what the U.S. calls the most lucrative insider-trading case ever. Flowers Foods Sizes Up Hostess (WSJ) The Thomasville, Ga., company is considered a likely bidder for some of the assets owned by Hostess, which last week was granted permission by a federal bankruptcy-court judge to begin liquidating. The end came after a contentious bankruptcy that began in January and culminated this month in a strike. Goldman Turns Down Southern Europe Banks as Crisis Lingers (Bloomberg) Goldman Sachs, the No. 1 stock underwriter in Europe, turned down roles in offerings by banks in Spain and Italy this year, the only top U.S. securities firm not to take part in the fundraisings by southern European lenders as the region’s debt crisis stretches to a fourth year. The firm declined a role in Banco Popular Espanol SA’s 2.5 billion-euro ($3.2 billion) rights offering this month because it wanted greater protection to avoid potential losses on the sale, two people familiar with the talks said. JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley are helping to guarantee the deal. Goldman also didn’t underwrite this year’s share sales by Italy’s UniCredit SpA and Portugal’s Banco Espirito Santo SA, which drew Bank of America Corp. and Citigroup. Knight Seen Getting Acquisition Bids This Week (Bloomberg) The company with a market value of about $430 million was bailed out by six financial firms in August after losing $457 million in a trading error. Chicago-based Getco LLC, one of the rescuers, and Virtu Financial LLC in New York are among the likely bidders, said the person, who requested anonymity because the negotiations are private. The Wall Street Journal reported Nov. 23 that Knight expected offers for its market-making unit. Woman who rode manatee charged with violating protection act (Sentinel) A 53-year-old Pinellas County woman was arrested Saturday for violating the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act by riding a sea cow in the waters near St. Petersburg in September. Ana Gloria Garcia Gutierrez of St. Petersburg was arrested at her place of employment — Sears at Tyrone Square Mall in St. Petersburg — on a warrant issued by the State Attorney's Office. The charge is a second-degree misdemeanor. The punishment could be a $500 fine or up to 60 days in jail, the Tampa Bay Times said. Gutierrez stepped forward after the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office released photos of a then-unknown woman riding a manatee near Fort DeSoto Park in Pinellas County on Sept. 30. "Gutierrez admitted to the offense claiming she is new to the area and did not realize it was against the law to touch or harass manatees,'' the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said in a statement. Escrowyou too, judge! (NYP) Argentina, bruised and battered after a 10-year battle to sidestep billions of dollars in bond payments, is lashing out at US courts and a Manhattan federal court judge. A high-ranking member of Argentina President Cristina Kirchner’s administration terms “judicial imperialism” the Thanksgiving eve ruling by Judge Thomas Griesa that ordered the South American country to place a $1.3 billion bond payment in escrow pending the end of the legal tussle. Kirchner has repeatedly said she would not pay up. Griesa, frustrated with Argentina’s repeated attempts to stall the legal proceedings, sided with New York hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer, whose Elliott Management owns Argentine bonds that were defaulted on back in 2002. 'Cliff' Threatens Holiday Spending (WSJ) The White House warned in a new report that going off the so-called "fiscal cliff" could slow the growth of real gross domestic product by 1.4% and limit consumer spending during the holiday season. The report comes as lawmakers are returning to Washington with just weeks left to find an agreement to prevent taxes from going up on millions and spending cuts from kicking in. It will likely provide fodder for both political parties as they seek to find a compromise. At Some Firms, Cutting Corporate Rates May Cost Billions (WSJ) President Barack Obama has said, most recently during last month's presidential debates, that the 35% U.S. corporate tax rate should be cut. That would mean lower tax bills for many companies. But it also could prompt large write-downs by Citigroup, AIG, Ford and other companies that hold piles of "deferred tax assets," or DTAs...Citigroup, for instance, acknowledged during its recent third-quarter earnings conference call that a cut in the tax rate could lead to a DTA-related charge of $4 billion to $5 billion against earnings. Cohen's General Counsel Gives SAC Boss Cover (NYP) The sharks of the US Attorney’s office have SAC Capital Advisors surrounded — and owner Steven Cohen is looking a lot like chum. Good thing the billionaire hedgie has a large supply of shark repellent. That would be Peter Nussbaum, SAC’s longtime general counsel who, over his 12 years at the Stamford, Conn., firm, has built up an impressive 30-person compliance department — not including an additional tech compliance team. “Nussbaum is the most respected person at SAC,” said a hedge fund executive not at SAC. “He is going to do what he thinks is best for the firm and not be cowed by anyone.” Nussbaum’s huge compliance department, observers said, was built, in large part, because of the perception that the government was determined to bust Cohen. Confidential Police Docs Found in Macy's Parade Confetti (WPIX) Confidential personal information is what some paradegoers found among confetti tossed during the world's most famous parade. That information included social security numbers and banking information for police employees, some of whom are undercover officers. Ethan Finkelstein, who was home from college on Thanksgiving break, was watching the parade at 65th Street and Central Park West, when he and a friend noticed a strip of confetti stuck onto her coat. "It landed on her shoulder," Finkelstein told PIX11 News, "and it says 'SSN' and it's written like a social security number, and we're like, 'That's really bizarre.' It made the Tufts University freshman concerned, so he and his friends picked up more of the confetti that had fallen around them. "There are phone numbers, addresses, more social security numbers, license plate numbers and then we find all these incident reports from police." One confetti strip indicates that it's from an arrest record, and other strips offer more detail. "This is really shocking," Finkelstein said. "It says, 'At 4:30 A.M. a pipe bomb was thrown at a house in the Kings Grant' area." A closer look shows that the documents are from the Nassau County Police Department. The papers were shredded, but clearly not well enough.

Opening Bell: 01.09.13

UBS Says Cleaning Up Its Act After Libor 'Shocker' (Reuters) UBS has yet to fully purge itself of a global interest rate scandal that has cost the Swiss bank its reputation and put it at risk of a wave of costly civil suits, its investment banking chief said on Wednesday. The once-venerable institution was fined a record $1.5 billion last month for manipulating Libor interest rates, the latest in a string of scandals including a $2.3 billion rogue trading loss and a damaging tax avoidance row with the United States. "We are very focused on recovering the honor and standing the organisation had in the past," Andrea Orcel told Britain's Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, set up in the aftermath of the Libor scandal. "I am convinced that we have made a lot of progress. I am also convinced that we still need to do more." [...] Committee member Justin Welby, the incoming Archbishop of Canterbury, asked Orcel if he was the right man to turn UBS around. "I feel I have a high level of integrity," the banker said. Orcel said that UBS was working at simplifying the investment banking business to make it less risky and prone to scandal. The committee, a cross-party panel of lawmakers headed by Conservative MP Andrew Tyrie, is switching its focus to standards and culture after spending most of the past three months assessing structural reform. Tyrie on Wednesday described the Libor rigging as "a shocker of enormous proportions". Button-Down Central Bank Bets It All (WSJ) Switzerland, for decades a paragon of safety in finance, is engaged in a high-risk strategy to protect its export-driven economy, literally betting the bank in a fight to contain the prices of Swiss products sold abroad. The nation's central bank is printing and selling as many Swiss francs as needed to keep its currency from climbing against the euro, wagering an amount approaching Switzerland's total national output, and, in the process, turning from button-down conservative to the globe's biggest risk-taker. JPMorgan Overhaul Widens (WSJ) The shift of Mr. Maclin and the departure of Mr. Staley, who once was seen as a top candidate to succeed James Dimon as chief executive, are the latest steps in a drastic reshaping of J.P. Morgan's executive suite. Many of the new leaders—a group that includes corporate and investment-bank co-heads Mike Cavanagh and Daniel Pinto, co-chief operating officer Matthew Zames and Chief Financial Officer Marianne Lake—are in their 40s. Mr. Cavanagh and Mr. Zames, who were asked last May to unwind a series of botched bets placed by a trader in the bank's Chief Investment Office known as the "London whale," are viewed as front runners for the top job, said people close to the bank. Ackman Braces for Legal Battle Over Herbalife (FBN) If filed, the lawsuit could involve alleged “tortuous interference,” implying Ackman intentionally damaged Herbalife’s business relationships, people close to Ackman said. On Tuesday, a large Herbalife distributor said he was leaving the company and called on other distributors to join him amid the controversy. In a sign of the importance of its distribution channels, Herbalife says in regulatory filings its relationship with and ability to influence distributors are items that can “materially” affect its financial condition. As of late Tuesday, people with knowledge of the matter said no decision on timing or even if a lawsuit will actually be filed had been made. The company has told FOX Business it is weighing legal action against Ackman. Ackman declined to comment on the matter. Herbalife has hired famed attorney David Boies to launch possible litigation against Ackman as well as the investment bank Moelis & Co., as its financial adviser. Goldman Will Report Fund Values Each Day (WSJ) In a reversal of industry practice, Goldman Sachs Group will begin disclosing the values of its money-market mutual funds daily rather than monthly, according to people familiar with the company's plans. Some of the changes will take effect as early as Wednesday...According to people familiar with Goldman's thinking, the company is beefing up its disclosures to satisfy investors' calls for greater transparency on fluctuations in the price of their investments. Brazil prostitutes to learn English ahead of World Cup (AP) Prostitutes in one of Brazil's biggest cities are beginning to sign up for free English classes ahead of this year's Confederations Cup and the 2014 World Cup. The president of the Association of Prostitutes of the city of Belo Horizonte says by telephone that 20 have already signed up for the courses and she expects at least 300 of the group's 4,000 members to follow suit. The association is organizing the classes and seeking volunteer teachers. Prostitution is legal in Brazil. Belo Horizonte will host six World Cup matches and Vieira said Tuesday "it will be important for the girls will be able to use English to let their clients know what they are charging and learn about what turns them on." AIG Cites Duty to Weigh Suing U.S. as Lawmaker Criticism Mounts (Bloomberg, related) American International Group said it has a duty to weigh joining a suit by former Chief Executive Officer Maurice “Hank” Greenberg that claims the insurer’s 2008 U.S. bailout was unconstitutional. “The board of directors has fiduciary and legal obligations to the company and its shareholders to consider the demand served on us,” CEO Robert Benmosche said yesterday in a statement. The board is scheduled to meet today to hear arguments from representatives of Greenberg and the U.S. Lawmakers including Senators Elizabeth Warren and Robert Menendez and Representative Peter Welch said New York-based AIG shouldn’t join the suit. “Taxpayers are still furious that they rescued a company whose own conduct brought it down,” Welch said in a letter to AIG Chairman Steve Miller. “Don’t rub salt in the wounds with yet another reckless decision.” Vow of New Light For 'Dark' Trades (WSJ) Richard Ketchum, chief executive of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, said in an interview Tuesday that the regulator is expanding its oversight of the dark-trading venues, with an eye on whether orders placed in public exchanges are "trying to move prices or encourage sellers that may advance their trading in the dark market." The regulator also is boosting its surveillance of high-speed trading and is increasingly looking at rapid-fire trading across exchanges, he said. "You're going to see more [focus] in those areas in 2013," Mr. Ketchum said. Goldman, Morgan Stanley to Settle on Foreclosures (Reuters) Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are among a group of banks expected to agree as soon as this week to a $1.5 billion settlement with federal regulators over botched foreclosure claims, two sources familiar with the matter said on Tuesday. The accord would come on the heels of a separate $8.5 billion settlement announced on Monday with 10 bigger mortgage servicers, including Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo...Goldman and Morgan Stanley's respective roles in the settlement stems from mortgage-servicing businesses that the two investment banks purchased in the run-up to the subprime mortgage crisis, and have since sold. Goldman had owned Litton Loan Servicing and Morgan Stanley owned Saxon Capital. Taco Bell responds to teen's request for a custom Speedo (LI) The week before Christmas, 15-year-old Ryan Klarner posted on Taco Bell’s Facebook page, introducing himself with a rundown of his swimming and diving achievements before making an offbeat request. “[I]s there any way you guys could make me a customized Speedo that says think outside the buns on the back of it? If you did, that would mean the world to me,” the Illinois teen asked...Klarner said he first came up with the idea a couple of years earlier and decided last month to go ahead and ask, even though he never had asked a company on Facebook for anything before. “I did not expect it to blow up as much as it has. I didn’t really expect to get the Speedo out of it, either,” he said. But last Wednesday, the social media team at Taco Bell wrote back. “What size do you wear? And what’s your address?” “He really wanted something and he went after it,” Tressie Lieberman, director of digital and social engagement, said. When we think people are really extraordinary...then we want to reward them.”

Opening Bell: 05.09.12

Greek Turmoil Raises Euro Risk (WSJ) "The market is really working out what the risks are," said Justin Knight of UBS. "It is a bit of a slow burner, but it is gathering pace." Whether investors are right depends on a messy drama under way in Athens, in which the leading parties have been sidelined in favor of a collection of radicals bent on upsetting the painful measures that are Europe's price for Greece's bailout. On Tuesday, the head of Greece's leading left-wing party, Alexis Tsipras of Syriza, took a turn at trying to form a government. His conservative counterpart, whose party won slightly more votes on Sunday, tried and failed Monday. Mr. Tsipras demanded that Greece renounce the bailout's required Greek budget cuts, saying they were nullified by the "people's verdict" of the election. But Mr. Tsipras's party won just 52 of the 300 seats in parliament, and chances he could form a governing coalition appeared slim. Roubini: Situation In Europe Is A 'Slow Motion Trainwreck' (CNBC) Roubini, who warned last year that a perfect storm was coming for the global economy in 2013, said the euro zone will “eventually break up,” and expects two or three euro zone members to exit the bloc over the next few years. “Europe will be lucky if it ends up in stagnation like Japan for the next 10 years,” he added. German Patience With Greece on the Euro Wears Thin (NYT) “Germans are now predominantly of the opinion that they would be better off if Greece left the euro zone,” said Carsten Hefeker, a professor of economics and an expert on the euro at the University of Siegen. “If the country really is continuing on the path they are taking now, it would be hard to justify keeping them in. How do you deal with a country that says we don’t want to keep any of the commitments we have made?” Chesapeake CEO arranged new $450 million loan from financier (Reuters) In the weeks before Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon was stripped of his chairmanship over his personal financial dealings, he arranged an additional $450 million loan from a longtime backer, according to a person familiar with the transaction. That loan, previously undisclosed, was made by investment-management firm EIG Global Energy Partners, which was at the same time helping arrange a major $1.25 billion round of financing for Chesapeake itself. The new loan brings the energy executive's total financing from EIG since 2010 to $1.33 billion and his current balance due to $1.1 billion, this person said. It was secured by McClendon's personal stakes in wells that have yet to be drilled by Chesapeake - and by his own life-insurance policy. Remaking Yahoo's Board, Again (WSJ) "Mr. Loeb has launched a proxy fight to put himself and three other new directors onto the board. It isn't clear the Loeb team can fix the company. But at this point, shareholders should vote for his slate, given the repeated lapses in judgment by existing company leadership." Hot Dog Hooker ‘relishes’ her return (NYP) Long Island’s Hot Dog Hooker was sprung from jail yesterday, and said she’ll be serving up Sabretts and stripteases from her mobile wiener wagon this morning. “I’ll be out there in my bikini top selling my hot dogs!” Catherine Scalia boasted as she strutted out of a Nassau County jail after a court appearance. Scalia was busted for prostitution last Friday for allegedly agreeing to pleasure an undercover cop for $50 after he purchased a hot dog. Judge Anthony Paradiso sentenced Scalia to seven days in prison and ordered her to undergo a psychiatric evaluation. Green Mountain Roasted (Bloomberg) Green Mountain Coffee Roasters said Robert P. Stiller will no longer serve as chairman after he sold shares to make a margin call. Michael J. Mardy, chairman of the company’s audit and finance committee, will serve as interim chairman. Fannie Mae Won’t Seek Aid After Reporting $2.7 Billion Profit (Bloomberg) FYI. Wells Fargo Says DOJ May Seek Penalties in Fair-Lending Case (SFG) Wells Fargo & Co., the largest U.S. mortgage lender, said federal prosecutors may seek damages and penalties after investigating whether it violated anti- discrimination laws while financing homeowners. “The Department of Justice has advised Wells Fargo that it believes it can bring claims,” the bank said today in a regulatory filing, without elaborating on potential allegations. “We believe such claims should not be brought and continue seeking to demonstrate to the Department of Justice our compliance with fair-lending laws.” U.S. Millionaires Told Go Away as Tax Evasion Rule Looms (Bloomberg) The 2010 law, to be phased in starting Jan. 1, 2013, requires financial institutions based outside the U.S. to obtain and report information about income and interest payments accrued to the accounts of American clients. It means additional compliance costs for banks and fewer investment options and advisers for all U.S. citizens living abroad, which could affect their ability to generate returns.

Opening Bell: 12.21.12

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

Opening Bell: 03.05.12

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

Opening Bell: 06.21.12

SEC Said To Depose SAC’s Cohen In Insider-Trading Probe (Bloomberg) Cohen, 56, was recently deposed by Securities and Exchange Commission investigators in New York about trades made close to news such as mergers and earnings that generated profits at his hedge fund, said one of the people, who asked not to be identified because the investigation isn’t public. Neither Cohen nor SAC Capital, which oversees about $14 billion, has been accused of wrongdoing. Four-Week Jobless Claims Average Reaches 2012 High (Reuters) Initial claims for state unemployment benefits slipped 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 387,000, the Labor Department said. The prior week's figure was revised up to 389,000 from the previously reported 386,000. Lawmakers Call For IPO Overhaul (WSJ) A bipartisan group of lawmakers called on regulators to overhaul the way initial public offerings are conducted, concerned that last month's flubbed stock sale by Facebook shows the current system unfairly punishes small investors. In a letter to Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Mary Schapiro, Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) prodded the agency to revamp rules for pricing and disclosure in IPOs. Mr. Issa, who wrote the letter on behalf of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said the social-networking company's steep share-price decline since its May 18 offering is a sign that investment banks are able to "dictate pricing while only indirectly considering market supply-and-demand." Separately, the Democratic chairman of a subcommittee of the Senate Banking Committee said regulatory changes are needed to bolster investor confidence sapped by Facebook's botched debut. Facebook’s 22% Rally Helps Stock Avoid Worst IPO Return In U.S. (Bloomberg) So that's something! Riskier Bets Pitched To Asia's Rising Rich (WSJ) In Japan, brokers are dangling what they claim is a tasty product in front of wealthy investors: a "triple-decker" that uses options to squeeze higher returns from stocks, "junk" bonds or other assets. If a triple-decker doesn't suit an investor's fancy, there is the increasingly popular—and slightly less complex—"double-decker." Elsewhere in Asia, so-called hybrid bonds and other high-yield varieties can be had. Investors in Singapore recently could buy so-called perpetual bonds through ATMs. Across Asia, brokers are pushing to sell increasingly complex products to the region's expanding ranks of investors, especially wealthy ones. These types of products appeal to those hungry for yield who normally focus on stocks and real estate but are worried about falling equity markets and the sudden shortage of initial public offerings. BlueMountain Said To Help Unwind JPMorgan’s Whale Trades (Bloomberg) A hedge fund run by a former JPMorgan Chase executive who helped create the credit- derivatives market is aiding the lender as it unwinds trades in an index at the heart of a loss of more than $2 billion. BlueMountain Capital Management LLC, co-founded by Andrew Feldstein, has been compiling trades in Series 9 of the Markit CDX North America Investment Grade Index in recent weeks, then selling the positions to the New York-based bank, according to three people outside the firms who are familiar with the strategy. JPMorgan tapped BlueMountain as a middleman after trades in its London chief investment office grew so large that the bank was creating price distortions that hedge funds sought to exploit, said the market participants, who asked not to be identified because they weren’t authorized to discuss the trades. BlueMountain was one of the funds that benefited from the price dislocations, the people said. US Olympic committee send cease and desist letter to knitting Olympics (TNT) The US Olympic committee has sent a cease and desist letter to the social networking group Ravelry, who had organised a Ravelympics in which contestants would compete in events such as ‘scarf hockey’ while watching the actual Games on TV...The US Olympic Committee has said that “the athletes of Team USA have spent the better part of the entire lives training for the opportunity to compete at the Olympic Games and represent their country in a sport that means everything to them” and that “using the name ‘Ravelympics’ for a competition that involves an afghan marathon and sweater triathlon tends to denigrate the true nature of the Olympic Games”. Romney Campaign Said To Ask Scott To Downplay Job Gains (Bloomberg) Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign asked Florida Governor Rick Scott to tone down his statements heralding improvements in the state’s economy because they clash with the presumptive Republican nominee’s message that the nation is suffering under President Barack Obama, according to two people familiar with the matter. Scott, a Republican, was asked to say that the state’s jobless rate could improve faster under a Romney presidency, according to the people, who asked not to be named. Lonely Hedge Fund Bullish On Greece Tries To Woo Investors (Bloomberg) In March, Elliott met with the investment chief of a family office in London who said within seconds of sitting down that the firm had no interest in giving money to a hedge fund wagering on Greece. The executive merely wanted to hear his story, Elliott, the founder of Naftilia Asset Management Ltd., said in a telephone interview from his office in Athens. Elliott, 39, responded by asking a few questions of his own, including whether the executive had invested in Russia after its 1998 currency crisis, in Argentina 10 years ago after the nation defaulted on its debt or in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index (SPX) in March 2009, when the benchmark plunged to its lowest point in 13 years. Finally, Elliott questioned whether the family office’s investment chief had ever bought shares of Apple. In all cases, the answer was no. “Then you are not qualified to be discussing Greece with me because you have missed the best investment opportunities over the past 20 years,” Elliott retorted. National Bank Of Greece To Sell Luxury Resort As Slump Bites (Bloomberg) If you know anyone who's interested: The 3.3 million-square-foot (307,000 square-meter) Astir Palace complex has already drawn investors’ interest, according to Aristotelis Karytinos, general manager of real estate at the lender. The Athens-based bank and Greece’s privatization fund, which owns part of the property, will put out a public tender in coming months, he said. Fed Warns Of Risk To Economy (WSJ) Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke made clear in a news conference after the policy makers' meeting that he is prepared to take further action if he doesn't see progress on bringing down unemployment, which was 8.2% in May. "I wouldn't accept the proposition though that the Fed has no more ammunition," Mr. Bernanke said. He added, "if we don't see continued improvement in the labor market we'll be prepared to take additional steps." Australian mega-brothel gets go-ahead (AP) A Sydney brothel has received the green light for a multi-million-dollar expansion which will see it become Australia's largest sex premises, with rooms featuring multiple beds and pool tables. Plans to double the number of rooms at inner Sydney's "Stiletto" into a mega-brothel complex were knocked back late last year by the city council on the grounds that it was too big. But the owners won an appeal to the Land and Environment Court this week, with Commissioner Susan O'Neill ruling the Aus$12 million ($12.2 million) development, including a wing for group bookings, should go ahead...Stiletto promotes itself as "the world's finest short-stay boutique hotel and Sydney brothel". Its standard hourly rate of Aus$370 includes room, lady of choice and beverages.

Opening Bell: 03.01.13

Congress Leaders To Meet With Obama As Budget Cuts Begin (Bloomberg) Democrats and Republicans are in a standoff over how to replace the cuts totaling $1.2 trillion over nine years, $85 billion of which would occur in the remaining seven months of this fiscal year. Republicans reject Democrats’ call for higher taxes on top earners to replace part of the spending reductions. “Middle-class families can’t keep paying the price for dysfunction in Washington,” Obama said in a statement yesterday. The president has until 11:59 p.m. to issue the order officially putting the cuts into effect. “How much more money do we want to steal from the American people to fund more government?” Boehner said at a news conference in Washington yesterday. “I’m for no more.” The White House meeting follows the Senate’s rejection yesterday of a pair of partisan proposals to replace the spending reductions. No additional congressional action is planned before the start of the cuts, to be split between defense and non-defense spending. Fiscal Pain to Be Parceled Out Unevenly (WSJ) Economies in and around the nation's capital are likely to feel the most pain. Federal spending accounts for about a fifth of the economic output of Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia, according to the Pew Center on the States. Other areas likely to be hit hard are Hawaii and Alaska, which have a heavy military presence, and states such as New Mexico, Kentucky and Alabama, which have major defense operations or substantial military contracting. Struggling Groupon Ousts Its Quirky CEO (WSJ) Mr. Mason didn't return calls for comment. In a memo to employees that was by turns tongue-in-cheek and rueful, he said, "After four and a half intense and wonderful years as CEO of Groupon, I've decided that I'd like to spend more time with my family. Just kidding—I was fired today." 'Girls' Gone Under (NYP) “Girls Gone Wild” founder Joe Francis has put his video empire into bankruptcy in a bid to wiggle out of some $16 million in debt — most of it owed to casino magnate Steve Wynn. Wynn’s camp claims Francis owes closer to $30 million, including $2 million for unpaid gambling debts and $7.5 million in defamation damages. Wynn first hauled Francis to court to get him to pay the $2 million debt he racked up during a 2007 gambling binge. He sued again for defamation after Francis blabbed to gossip site TMZ that Wynn threatened to kill him and bury him in the desert. Wynn won two defamation awards for $7.5 million and $20 million, although the latter wasn’t listed in the Chapter 11 filing. Michael Weaver, a spokesman for Wynn Las Vegas, said the judgments are against Francis “personally” and not the company. “Consequently, these recent bankruptcy filings by the GGW companies will not slow our efforts to collect on our judgments against Mr. Francis,” he said. New York Investigating Bank of America for Mortgages (Reuters) Bank of America said in a securities filing on Thursday that the New York State Attorney General was investigating the bank over its purchase, securitization and underwriting of home loans. SEC Scrutinizing Chesapeake Energy (WSJ) The SEC notified Chesapeake in December that it was stepping up an informal inquiry into Aubrey McClendon's ability to invest in wells that the company drills, the company disclosed in a regulatory filing. The agency has issued subpoenas for information and testimony to Chesapeake, the country's second-largest natural-gas producer. Mornings Not For Erin Burnett, Demanding Sizable Buyout (NYP) Erin Burnett made her morning-show debut yesterday on CNN with Chris Cuomo for Pope Benedict XVI’s last day on the job. But it doesn’t mean she’s going to end up there permanently, sources tell The Post’s Michael Shain. It seems Burnett is digging in her high heels and refusing the new morning assignment. She has a clause in her contract that requires CNN to air her show in prime time. If new boss Jeff Zucker wants her to get up at 4 a.m., Erin is demanding a sizable chunk of cash — more than her $2.5 million salary — to buy her out of the prime-time clause. Insiders say Zucker believes she should be grateful she’s being offered a marquee job and he has started to look elsewhere for an anchor to partner with Cuomo. Burnett is telling her staff she doesn’t want to go to the morning. “What she means is she doesn’t want to go at the old price,” sniffed a source. Druckenmiller Sees Storm Worse Than ’08 as Retirees Steal (Bloomberg) Druckenmiller, 59, said the mushrooming costs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, with unfunded liabilities as high as $211 trillion, will bankrupt the nation’s youth and pose a much greater danger than the country’s $16 trillion of debt currently being debated in Congress. “While everybody is focusing on the here and now, there’s a much, much bigger storm that’s about to hit,” Druckenmiller said in an hour-long interview with Stephanie Ruhle on Bloomberg Television’s Market Makers. “I am not against seniors. What I am against is current seniors stealing from future seniors.” Druckenmiller said unsustainable spending will eventually result in a crisis worse than the financial meltdown of 2008, when $29 trillion was erased from global equity markets. What’s particularly troubling, he said, is that government expenditures related to programs for the elderly rocketed in the past two decades, even before the first baby boomers, those born in 1946, started turning 65. Lloyds CEO Links Bonus To Stake Sale (WSJ) Chief Executive António Horta-Osório said he is "very confident" U.K. taxpayers will get their money back, referring to the stake of about 40% the government took in the bank following a series of bailouts at the height of the crisis. He requested that his £1.49 million ($2.26 million) bonus only be paid if the government sells at least a third of its holdings in Lloyds at a share price above 61 pence. The average buy-in price for the U.K. government was 63.1 pence, according to U.K. Financial Investments, a body that manages the government's stake in Lloyds. Unemployment Worsens In Euro Zone (WSJ) Eurostat, the European Union's statistics agency, said 11.9% of the euro zone's workforce was unemployed in January, the highest percentage for the 17 countries that make up the currency bloc since records began in 1995. The figure is higher than the jobless rate of 11.8% in December. Wilbur Ross: Italy Has Choice Of 'Two Clowns' (CNBC) ...in the wake of the unresolved Italian election, the WL Ross chairman said he's worried the next leader of the economically-troubled nation is a choice of two clowns — former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and comedian Beppe Grillo. "One, an acknowledged clown, and one may be inadvertent clown. And until that gets resolved, there's a great danger that the nice reforms that Mr. Monti put in will just get rolled back." Truck crashes on I-80 in Reno, spilling Heinz ketchup 'everywhere' (RGJ) A tractor trailer carrying thousands of bottles of Heinz ketchup crashed on Interstate 80 near the Robb Drive overpass this afternoon, spilling its red contents onto the freeway and snarling traffic in the process. “I have red everywhere on the highway,” said Sgt. Janay Sherven with the Nevada Highway Patrol. “No bodies, no people, just ketchup.” There were no injuries in the accident, which happened when the driver of the semi-truck likely overcorrected to avoid another car while traveling eastbound, she said. The truck hit the center median and then knocked over a light pole that slashed open the left side of the trailer. As a result, thousands of bottles and cans of ketchup were splattered onto the road like a bad horror movie. ‘“The scene looks pretty bad as far as color goes,” Sherven said.

Opening Bell: 02.21.13

Feds Split Over When To Close Cash Spigot (WSJ) Minutes released Wednesday from the Fed's January policy meeting show officials concerned that the current easy-money policies could lead to excessive risk-taking and instability in financial markets. The Fed is buying $85 billion in mortgage and U.S. Treasury securities a month to drive down long-term rates and has promised to keep short-term rates near zero until unemployment improves. Citigroup Chairman Not Pressing Bank Breakup (WSJ) Michael E. O'Neill was among a small group of directors who after the financial crisis urged the company to weigh the pros and cons of splitting up the third-largest U.S. bank, said people familiar with the deliberations. Mr. O'Neill, now chairman, has overseen a management shake-up in the past year and is backing a broad cost-cutting plan. But exploring a breakup is no longer among his top priorities. Mr. O'Neill has concluded that breaking up Citigroup doesn't make sense now, given economic and regulatory uncertainty as well as a host of financial considerations, these people said. Wells Fargo ramps up private equity despite Volcker Rule (Reuters) The fine print of the Volcker Rule is expected to be finalized as soon as this year. Major banks such as Bank of America Corp and Citigroup are already pulling back from private equity investments ahead of the rules. But Wells Fargo is taking a different path. The bank invests in buyouts and venture capital deals largely on its own, with capital only from Wells Fargo itself and some employees. By avoiding equity from outside investors, the bank is considered to be engaging in "merchant banking," an activity that is likely to be exempt under the Volcker Rule, lawyers and people familiar with the matter said. Dimon Defends His Duel Leadership Roles (NYP) JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon has no intention of relinquishing his chairmanship, insiders say, despite renewed calls from a group of shareholders to split the roles at the nation’s biggest lender. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a granddaddy of public employee unions, as well as New York City and Connecticut pension funds, are pressuring the bank in the wake of its $6 billion “London Whale” trading blunder. The shareholders, which hold about $1 billion worth of bank shares, say the move would help to avoid a repeat of last year’s debacle, which led the board to slash Dimon’s pay in half. JPMorgan officials, though, don’t want to go as far as splitting the roles, saying their boss steered the bank successfully through the financial crisis and is well suited for both jobs. Regulator Weighs Ban For Corzine (WSJ) Two newly elected directors of the National Futures Association plan to push the agency to hold a hearing on the matter, having criticized the response of federal regulators some 16 months after the industry was shaken by the collapse of brokerage MF Global where the former New Jersey governor was chief executive. Shia LaBeouf Pulls Out Of Broadway's Orphans (NYP) Producers announced that LaBeouf parted ways with the show after just a week of rehearsals due to “creative differences,” even though the play’s scheduled to begin previews March 19. But last night LaBeouf, 26, posted e-mail exchanges on Twitter revealing divisions between him and bombastic Baldwin. In a message titled “Creative Differences” LaBeouf posted an e-mail to him from director Dan Sullivan, which reads, “I’m too old for disagreeable situations. You’re one hell of a great actor. Alec is who he is. You are who you are. You two are incompatible. I should have known it. This one will haunt me. You tried to warn me. You said you were a different breed. I didn’t get it.” Russia's Missing Billions Revealed (FT) Russia's central bank governor has lifted the lid on $49 billion in illegal capital flight - more than half of which, he says, is controlled "by one well-organized group of individuals" that he declined to name. Sergei Ignatiev, due to step down in June after 11 years in his post, is seldom outspoken about any issue other than interest rates. But he unburdened himself in an interview with the Moscow newspaper Vedomosti about money leaving the country through the back door, which he said equaled 2.5 percent of gross domestic product last year. "This might be payment for supplies of narcotics...illegal imports...bribes and kickbacks for bureaucrats...and avoiding taxes," he told the daily, which is part-owned by the Financial Times. New York Times Looks To Sell Boston Globe (CNBC) This follows the Times Company's sale of other regional papers as well as the About.com group, as it focuses in on its core asset — the New York Times brand. And with that focus, the publisher is honing in on what's really been working for the company — the New York Times subscription model. The company has retained Evercore Partners to advise on and manage the sale, but won't say who it's already talked to, or how much it thinks the assets are worth. Citi analyst Leo Kulp, who calls this a "positive move," estimates that the segment could fetch about $200 million. The segment generated $395 million in 2012 revenue, which Kulp says implies about $67 million in EBITDA in 2012. He applies a three times multiple — "on the high end of comparable large metro newspaper sales" — to give the paper a $200 million price tag. Herbalife Prez Goes On Offensive (NYP) President Des Walsh, in a conference call, said that “despite what we believe to be unprecedented, unfair and untrue attacks on this company, our business continues to do well.” Deputies: Couple started fighting over man scratching himself (WWSB) According to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, Shalamar Petrarca complained to her boyfriend, 30-year-old Ronald Howard, that it was rude and disgusting to be “scratching his testicles” while she was about to eat dinner. She told deputies that Howard began yelling at her, pushed her into the kitchen, causing her to get a scratch on her ankle, then threw her out of the house. Howard told deputies that she punched him in the eye for “scratching his balls”, and the he pushed her through the door in self-defense. Deputies say Howard had no visible injuries, but Petrarca did have a scratch on her ankle.