Opening Bell: 04.02.12

Greece Faces Bond-Swap Holdouts (WSJ) The majority of investors holding foreign law Greek bonds haven't yet been included in the country's debt-swap deal as they have rejected or failed to agree to the exchange, said the country's debt agency Monday, setting a new deadline for the offer. Financiers and Sex Trafficking (NYT) "THE biggest forum for sex trafficking of under-age girls in the United States appears to be a Web site called Backpage.com. This emporium for girls and women — some under age or forced into prostitution — is in turn owned by an opaque private company called Village Voice Media. Until now it has been unclear who the ultimate owners are. That mystery is solved. The owners turn out to include private equity financiers, including Goldman Sachs with a 16 percent stake. Goldman Sachs was mortified when I began inquiring last week about its stake in America’s leading Web site for prostitution ads. It began working frantically to unload its shares, and on Friday afternoon it called to say that it had just signed an agreement to sell its stake to management. 'We had no influence over operations,' Andrea Raphael, a Goldman Sachs spokeswoman, told me." Bond King's Trade Pays Off (WSJ) After suffering one of his worst performances ever in 2011, over the past three months, Bill Gross, manager of Pacific Investment Management Co.'s Total Return Fund, rode an aggressive bet on mortgage bonds to beat most of the fund's rivals and the index against which bond-fund managers measure themselves. Mr. Gross's fund, the world's biggest bond fund with $252 billion in assets, recorded a 2.88% return in the three months through March. The performance beat the benchmark Barclays Capital Aggregate Bond Index by 2.58 percentage points, ranking in the top 11% of all bond mutual funds for the quarter, according to investment-research firm Morningstar Inc. In Wake of Groupon Issues, Critics Wary of JOBS Act (WSJ) A little-noticed provision in the new JOBS Act would allow companies to iron out disagreements with regulators behind closed doors before they go public—a provision that might have prevented investors from finding out about Groupon Inc.'s early accounting questions until after they had been resolved...Critics say that measure would allow a company like Groupon, which had well-publicized disagreements with the SEC over its accounting last year, to resolve such issues under the radar, without investors learning of them until later although still before any IPO. Goldman Eyes $3 Billion Property Debt Fund (Reuters) A private equity arm of Goldman Sachs is looking to launch a $3 billion property debt fund in a bid to take advantage of a growing shortage of real estate financing across the UK and Europe...Real Estate Principal Investment Area (REPIA) is exploring options to create a fund that would provide senior and mezzanine loans to property investors, and will target property lending that is riskier but which would offer higher potential returns. Md. woman won't share $105M lotto jackpot with McD's co-workers (NYP) Workers at the fast-food joint who pooled their cash for tickets are furious at a colleague who claims she won with a ticket she bought for herself and has no intention of sharing. “We had a group plan, but I went and played by myself. [The ‘winning’ ticket] wasn’t on the group plan,” McDonald’s “winner’’ Mirlande Wilson 37, told The Post yesterday, insisting she alone bought one of the three tickets nationwide that will split a record $656 million payout...[On Saturday], a delirious Wilson had called co-workers to break the news — tellingly used the first-person singular. “I won! I won!” she cried, Allen said. Another colleague, Davon Wilson, no relation, said he was there when Mirlande Wilson called. “She said, ‘Turn on the news.’ She said she had won. I thought it was a joke or something. She doesn’t seem like a person who’d do this,” he said. Allan said he and Layla went to Wilson’s home and pounded on the door for 20 minutes until she finally came out. “These people are going to kill you. It’s not worth your life!” Allen said he told her. “All right! All right! I’ll share, but I can’t find the ticket right now,” she finally said, according to Allen. Resistance to austerity stirs in southern Europe (Reuters) An unexpectedly broad general strike in Spain on Thursday and mounting opposition to Prime Minister Mario Monti in Italy are among indicators that resistance is growing in a region at the center of concerns about a resurgence of the euro zone debt crisis. Biggest Bond Traders See Worst Over for Treasuries (Bloomberg) Signs of strength in the economy, which caused a 5.56 percent loss in bonds maturing in 10 years or more last quarter, may fade in the second half of 2012, the dealers say. Tax cuts are expiring, $1 trillion of mandatory federal budget cuts are due to kick in and $100-a-barrel oil is eating into consumer spending. With inflation in check, Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said last week that the central bank will consider further stimulus, even after upgrading its economic outlook March 13. Marc Faber: "Massive Wealth Destruction Is About To Hit Investors" (CNBC) FYI. Twitter takes Connecticut official's April Fools' Day joke to the public (NHR) It all started with a tweet at 5:30 a.m. Sunday, from state government official Mike Lawlor: “Rep. Dargan in hospital following accident.” By 11 a.m., news organizations statewide, including the NewHaven Register, were retweeting the “news” and calling officials to confirm details of the accident. After all, it was assumed, it must be accurate if the tweet came from the highly respected Lawlor, a former longtime state representative and now the state’s undersecretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning. But no... Dargan was reached by phone and confirmed he was fine and did not have an accident. “I am fine. Lawlor must have tweeted it.
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Greece Faces Bond-Swap Holdouts (WSJ)
The majority of investors holding foreign law Greek bonds haven't yet been included in the country's debt-swap deal as they have rejected or failed to agree to the exchange, said the country's debt agency Monday, setting a new deadline for the offer.

Financiers and Sex Trafficking (NYT)
"THE biggest forum for sex trafficking of under-age girls in the United States appears to be a Web site called Backpage.com. This emporium for girls and women — some under age or forced into prostitution — is in turn owned by an opaque private company called Village Voice Media. Until now it has been unclear who the ultimate owners are. That mystery is solved. The owners turn out to include private equity financiers, including Goldman Sachs with a 16 percent stake. Goldman Sachs was mortified when I began inquiring last week about its stake in America’s leading Web site for prostitution ads. It began working frantically to unload its shares, and on Friday afternoon it called to say that it had just signed an agreement to sell its stake to management. 'We had no influence over operations,' Andrea Raphael, a Goldman Sachs spokeswoman, told me."

Bond King's Trade Pays Off (WSJ)
After suffering one of his worst performances ever in 2011, over the past three months, Bill Gross, manager of Pacific Investment Management Co.'s Total Return Fund, rode an aggressive bet on mortgage bonds to beat most of the fund's rivals and the index against which bond-fund managers measure themselves. Mr. Gross's fund, the world's biggest bond fund with $252 billion in assets, recorded a 2.88% return in the three months through March. The performance beat the benchmark Barclays Capital Aggregate Bond Index by 2.58 percentage points, ranking in the top 11% of all bond mutual funds for the quarter, according to investment-research firm Morningstar Inc.

In Wake of Groupon Issues, Critics Wary of JOBS Act (WSJ)
A little-noticed provision in the new JOBS Act would allow companies to iron out disagreements with regulators behind closed doors before they go public—a provision that might have prevented investors from finding out about Groupon Inc.'s early accounting questions until after they had been resolved...Critics say that measure would allow a company like Groupon, which had well-publicized disagreements with the SEC over its accounting last year, to resolve such issues under the radar, without investors learning of them until later although still before any IPO.

Goldman Eyes $3 Billion Property Debt Fund (Reuters)
A private equity arm of Goldman Sachs is looking to launch a $3 billion property debt fund in a bid to take advantage of a growing shortage of real estate financing across the UK and Europe...Real Estate Principal Investment Area (REPIA) is exploring options to create a fund that would provide senior and mezzanine loans to property investors, and will target property lending that is riskier but which would offer higher potential returns.

Md. woman won't share $105M lotto jackpot with McD's co-workers (NYP)
Workers at the fast-food joint who pooled their cash for tickets are furious at a colleague who claims she won with a ticket she bought for herself and has no intention of sharing. “We had a group plan, but I went and played by myself. [The ‘winning’ ticket] wasn’t on the group plan,” McDonald’s “winner’’ Mirlande Wilson 37, told The Post yesterday, insisting she alone bought one of the three tickets nationwide that will split a record $656 million payout...[On Saturday], a delirious Wilson had called co-workers to break the news — tellingly used the first-person singular. “I won! I won!” she cried, Allen said. Another colleague, Davon Wilson, no relation, said he was there when Mirlande Wilson called. “She said, ‘Turn on the news.’ She said she had won. I thought it was a joke or something. She doesn’t seem like a person who’d do this,” he said. Allan said he and Layla went to Wilson’s home and pounded on the door for 20 minutes until she finally came out. “These people are going to kill you. It’s not worth your life!” Allen said he told her. “All right! All right! I’ll share, but I can’t find the ticket right now,” she finally said, according to Allen.

Resistance to austerity stirs in southern Europe (Reuters)
An unexpectedly broad general strike in Spain on Thursday and mounting opposition to Prime Minister Mario Monti in Italy are among indicators that resistance is growing in a region at the center of concerns about a resurgence of the euro zone debt crisis.

Biggest Bond Traders See Worst Over for Treasuries (Bloomberg)
Signs of strength in the economy, which caused a 5.56 percent loss in bonds maturing in 10 years or more last quarter, may fade in the second half of 2012, the dealers say. Tax cuts are expiring, $1 trillion of mandatory federal budget cuts are due to kick in and $100-a-barrel oil is eating into consumer spending. With inflation in check, Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said last week that the central bank will consider further stimulus, even after upgrading its economic outlook March 13.

Marc Faber: "Massive Wealth Destruction Is About To Hit Investors" (CNBC)
FYI.

IPOs Slow Down World-Wide (WSJ)
World-wide, 174 companies launched initial public offerings during the first quarter, raising $16.5 billion, down 43% from the same period in 2011 when measured by the number of deals, and down 63% by dollar value, according to Dealogic Inc. In terms of the number of offerings, it was the slowest quarter for IPOs since the third quarter of 2009, when 163 deals were priced, and the quietest in terms of dollars raised since the second quarter of 2009, when the total was $11.4 billion, by Dealogic's count.

Twitter takes Connecticut official's April Fools' Day joke to the public (NHR)
It all started with a tweet at 5:30 a.m. Sunday, from state government official Mike Lawlor: “Rep. Dargan in hospital following accident.” By 11 a.m., news organizations statewide, including the New Haven Register, were retweeting the “news” and calling officials to confirm details of the accident. After all, it was assumed, it must be accurate if the tweet came from the highly respected Lawlor, a former longtime state representative and now the state’s undersecretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning. But no... Dargan was reached by phone and confirmed he was fine and did not have an accident. “I am fine. Lawlor must have tweeted it.

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Opening Bell: 10.10.12

Banks Must Cut Deeper to Help Stock Prices, McKinsey Says (Bloomberg) Banks must make deeper and more sweeping cost reductions if they want to restore profitability levels that are acceptable to investors, McKinsey & Co. said in an annual review of the industry. “It has to go a lot further,” Toos Daruvala, a director in the consulting firm’s North American banking practice and a co-author of the report, said yesterday in a phone interview. “Banks have done quite a lot on cost-cutting but frankly the environment has deteriorated over the last year” because of economic weakness, he said. Argentina rejects Singer’s $20M in ransom for ship’s release (NYP) At a court hearing today in Ghana, where hedge fund manager Paul Singer’s lawyers are holding the ARA Libertad hostage, a lawyer for Argentina argued that Singer had no right to detain the ship because it’s a military vessel and immune from seizure. Lawyer Larry Otoo called the seizure — a move by Singer to force Argentina to repay a $1.6 billion debt he says he’s owed — an embarrassment to Ghana and demanded the ship’s immediate return. The court is expected to rule Thursday on whether to release the ship. Singer, the head of hedge fund giant Elliot Management, is seeking to recoup some of the $600 million in bonds he purchased as Argentina was headed for default in 2001. Elliot bought the bonds at steep discounts, paying as little as 15 cents on the dollar in some cases, but has since won judgments of as much as $1.6 billion. Elliot’s NML Capital unit is pursuing Argentina’s assets all over the world in an effort to collect on its debt. In Gupta Sentencing, A Judgment Call (WSJ) Former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. director Rajat Gupta is the highest-profile of more than 70 defendants convicted of insider trading in New York federal court in the past three years. But this month he will likely receive a more lenient sentence than the 11-year-prison term given to Raj Rajaratnam, to whom Mr. Gupta provided his illegal leaks, legal experts say. The sentence may have reverberations beyond the 63-year-old Mr. Gupta, a former chief of consulting giant McKinsey & Co. It will be widely watched in executive suites nationwide because it will be among the first handed down to a major corporate figure in the recent insider-trading crackdown. Previous sentences have largely involved traders, lawyers, lower-rung corporate employees and others. Mr. Gupta, who was convicted in June of three counts of securities fraud relating to tips about Goldman and one count of conspiracy, didn't trade or profit directly from his illegal tips. Before the conviction, he had a long and stellar career in corporate America and philanthropy. All this will be balanced against the nature of the crimes and the need to discourage others from similar offenses when U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff hands down his sentence, scheduled for Oct. 24. Judge Rakoff often imposes sentences further below federal sentencing guidelines than some other judges do, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis...Since 2010, Judge Rakoff has imposed an average sentence of 21 months on insider-trading defendants who didn't cooperate with prosecutors—about 38% below the guideline minimum, according to the Journal analysis. By comparison, U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan issued seven sentences in that period averaging 6.3% below the guideline minimum. U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty issued three sentences at 20.3% less than the minimum. Goldman Pushes On Limits In Volcker Rule (WSJ) Some executives at the New York company believe they have found a way to extricate the credit funds from proposed limits on how much can be invested in hedge funds and private-equity funds, according to people briefed on the efforts. The Volcker rule caps a bank's total investments in hedge funds and private-equity funds at 3% of its so-called Tier-1 capital. It also prevents any single bank from accounting for more than 3% of a fund's investments. Those limits are among the biggest components of the rule, named after former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker and designed to curtail risk-taking among financial firms. The rule is the most contentious part of the Dodd-Frank financial-overhaul law of 2010 but, like much of the rest of the legislation, the details of its implementation are still being worked out. Credit funds lend to companies that might not otherwise get financing, such as companies backed by private-equity firms, and tend to hold their investments to maturity while using a limited amount of leverage. Goldman has argued in meetings with regulators and in letters to them that these funds function like banks, just with a different structure, according to public records and the people familiar with the efforts. Report: 20% of US Firms Cook the Books During Earnings (CNBC) ...a new report by finance professors at Emory and Duke University raises questions about the quality of earnings in general. In an anonymous survey of CFOs last year, the study found that at least 20% of companies are "managing" earnings and using aggressive accounting methods to legally alter the outcome of their earnings reports. Of the 20% of companies that manipulated their earnings to hit a target, Graham says, a surprising 40% did so to the downside, not the upside, to pad and improve future quarters' earnings. Banks Chasing Asian Millionaires Create Singapore’s Canary Wharf (Bloomberg) Singapore’s Marina Bay area is emerging as the city’s new financial hub, with banks including Standard Chartered Plc and Barclays taking bigger offices as they pursue Asia’s expanding ranks of millionaires. Corrections & Amplifications (WSJ via Lauren Tara LaCapra) "Annie Hubbard, the woman appearing alongside Goldman Sachs's chief financial officer, Harvey Schwartz, in a photograph with a page-one article about Goldman on Tuesday, was incorrectly identified as his wife. Mr. Schwartz isn't married." Hulk Hogan ‘devastated’ by leak of sex tape filmed six years ago with friend’s wife Heather Clem (NYDN) The wrestling star tried to explain the kinky love triangle to Howard Stern Tuesday using a thinly veiled euphemism. “Let’s say I’ve been doing laundry, brother, for this person forever, and all of a sudden this person hates the way I do laundry. And that person says, ‘You suck. I hate you. F-you every single day. I hate the way you do laundry. I’m going to find somebody else to do laundry. Somebody younger, faster, stronger,’” he said, clearly taking a jab at his ex-wife, who he was still married to at the time of the taping. “But my buddy, you know, him and his girl say, ‘Hey, you can do our laundry any time you want!’ Both of them are saying that,” he told Stern. “Finally after the person I was doing laundry with for millions and millions of years left, and all of a sudden there was nobody there to do laundry, I was depressed… I go to my buddy’s house and he says, ‘Hey man you can do this other person’s laundry that I’m partners with.’ I said, 'Sure.’” Official Warmth And Public Rage For A German Leader In Athens (NYT) ...even as Ms. Merkel said that she had come as a “good friend and a real partner,” not a “taskmaster or teacher to give grades,” the approximately 40,000 Greeks who took to the streets in protest (a rather modest number, by Greek standards) treated the visit as a provocation by the arch-nemesis in the euro crisis whose austerity medicine is obliterating the Greek middle class. Some banners read “Don’t cry for us Mrs. Merkel” and “Merkel, you are not welcome here.” A small group of protesters burned a flag bearing the Nazi swastika, while a handful of protesters dressed in Nazi-style uniforms drew cheers of approval as they rode a small vehicle past a police cordon. Variety Being Sold To Penske, Third Point (Reuters) Variety, the century-old entertainment trade newspaper once considered the bible of the movie industry, is being sold to online publisher Jay Penske and Third Point LLC for about $25 million, two sources with knowledge of the deal told Reuters. Penske and Third Point have struck a deal to buy the money-losing, 107-year-old newspaper from medical and technical publisher Reed Elsevier, which put it up for sale in March, the sources said. IMF warns eurozone on capital flight (FT) In its global financial stability report, the IMF concluded that capital flight from the eurozone’s periphery to the bloc’s core, driven by fears of a break-up of the currency union, had sparked “extreme fragmentation” of the euro area’s funding markets. The fund said this was causing renewed pressure for banks to shrink their balance sheets, particularly those in countries with fiscal woes. A Fat, Mustachioed Orphan Finds a Home (NYT) How do you transport a 234-pound baby to New York City? If he’s a 15-week-old walrus rescued from the open ocean off Alaska, the answer is a jumbo-size crate aboard a FedEx cargo jet, accompanied by a veterinarian and a handler. “If he’s calm and comfortable, no worries,” said Jon Forrest Dohlin, director of the New York Aquarium, which will receive the walrus calf, named Mitik, on Thursday. “But his needs and comfort come first. So he may very well travel with his head in our keeper’s lap.” Since late July, Mitik and a second orphaned walrus, Pakak, have been nursed to health with bottle feedings and exercise at the Alaska SeaLife Center, an aquarium in Seward that conducts research and responds to strandings of marine mammals. (Pakak, nicknamed Pak, will arrive at the Indianapolis Zoo on Thursday.) Mitik — or Mit, for short — was weak from illness and considerably smaller than Pakak when he was found by a hunting vessel several miles offshore. Mit initially suffered from bladder problems and could not take a bottle, requiring both a catheter and feeding tube. But he is now sucking assertively from a bottle and putting on a pound a day...With his multiple chins and doleful expression, Mit is also exhibiting an undeniable pluck that should serve him well in his new surroundings. Martha Hiatt, the aquarium’s behavioral husbandry supervisor, traveled to Alaska in September to help care for him. At first, she said, Pakak totally dominated him, but no longer. “If Mit is resting with his head on my lap, sucking my fingers, looking sweetly into my eyes, and Pak comes anywhere near us, he pops up, yells at Pak and tries to head-butt him,” she said. “Then he’ll turn to me and be all cuddly again. We say he is small, but scrappy — the perfect New Yorker.”

Opening Bell: 05.15.12

In Facebook IPO, Frenzy, Skepticism (WSJ) Michael Belanger, a lawyer from Oklahoma City, invests his personal money in the stock market. But he will be skipping Facebook's IPO because he thinks its valuation is totally "out of whack." Scott Schermerhorn, chief investment officer of investment-management firm Granite Investment Advisors, says the hype around Facebook's IPO is going to keep his firm away. "It's a cult stock," he says. Little of that skepticism is weighing on three investors, tracked by The Wall Street Journal since Facebook announced in February that it would go public. Jim Supple was driving with his daughter Jade last autumn, when she turned to him and said, "Daddy, can I buy some of the Facebook company?" Mr. Supple, 47, had been teaching Jade about investing in the stock market for years. He started putting money for her in stocks like eBay and Disney when she was a baby. But the request still took him aback. "How do you know about buying Facebook?" he asked. "I saw in the news that they were going to be selling parts of the company," she responded. "Can we buy some?" Since then, Mr. Supple has been trying to find a way to take $25,000 he has saved for her college fund and purchase Facebook stock. "She doesn't need this money for another eight years," says Mr. Supple. "If it goes the Google route, I'll be in good shape." JPMorgan Said To Weigh Bonus Clawbacks After Loss (Bloomberg) The lender can cancel stock awards or demand they be repaid if an employee “engages in conduct that causes material financial or reputational harm,” JPMorgan said in its annual proxy statement. The company will claw back pay if it’s appropriate, said one of the executives, who asked not to be identified because no decisions have been made. The incident, which led to Drew’s retirement yesterday, may test JPMorgan’s claw-back policy amid mounting investor criticism over Wall Street pay practices and as regulators investigate the trades. JPMorgan Moves To Protect Dimon (WSJ) The board backs Mr. Dimon and the way he quickly admitted and sought to fix the bank's mistakes, according to this person. "We made errors, and we are going to take care of it," Mr. Dimon told fellow directors during a conference call last week, the person said. "This was bad thinking. This was stupid." Euro Chiefs May Offer Leniency to Greece (Bloomberg) Calling talk of a Greek pullout from the euro “nonsense” and “propaganda,” Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker said only a “fully functioning” Greek government would be entitled to tinker with the conditions attached to 240 billion euros ($308 billion) of rescue aid. Man Spends $60,000 In Custody Battle Over Dog Knuckles (CBS) Dershowitz, 34, said he considers Knuckles to be his son, and that although he’s gone through his life savings, he said it’s worth it. In papers filed earlier this year in Manhattan state Supreme Court, Dershowitz said ex-girlfriend Sarah Brega “kidnapped” Knuckles after they broke up. Brega said Dershowitz gave her the puggle pup — half pug, half beagle. Dershowitz started the website Rescue Knux to raise money for the custody fight. For $250, contributors can play fetch with Knuckles. For $10,000, Legends of Graffiti will do a giant, personalized mural. Dershowitz made an emotional video plea and posted the following on his site: I know it might sound funny and I understand that. If it wasn’t so painful, I would be laughing too (I mean, c’mon – dognapp – really?) but this is very serious to me and I miss him a lot. Enough that I have gone into debt to retrieve him and enough that I am on here asking for your help. I need the money to keep fighting the court battle. She comes from a wealthy family that is backing her. I don’t. She keeps filing crazy, frivolous motions just knowing that I can’t afford to respond even after the judge has ruled in my favor. The courts gave me custody already but, sadly, the system is too complex and expensive to make anything that simple and easy. I need help bringing my boy home…where he belongs…for good.” Dick Bove: No Reason to Break Up Big Banks (CNBC) JPMorgan’s much ballyhooed $2 billion loss is no reason to ramp up regulations, noted bank analyst Dick Bove said Monday. “I don’t think there’s any reason to break up the big banks,” he told CNBC. “Particularly if a bank can earn $18 billion a year and $22 billion the next year, why in heaven’s name would you say it can’t be run?” Sanders Sees Conflict With Dimon on New York Fed Board (Bloomberg) Senator Bernard Sanders said he sees a conflict with JPMorgan Chase Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon serving on the board of directors at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, JPMorgan’s regulator. “It is an obvious conflict of interest,” Sanders, an Independent from Vermont, said today in an e-mail response to a question from Bloomberg News. “This is a clear example of the fox guarding the henhouse.” Chesapeake Loan Jars Bond Investors (WSJ) "This loan was priced very attractively" for lenders, said Sabur Moini, manager of a $2.5 billion high-yield-bond portfolio at Payden & Rygel, adding that turmoil in Chesapeake's bonds was largely "self-inflicted." Investor confidence was shaken by the loan, he said, but it has also been dented by other factors, including controversy over CEO Aubrey McClendon's pledging his stakes in company wells as collateral to secure loans with companies that do business with Chesapeake. Rajat Gupta Opposes U.S. Request to Limit Defense at Trial (Bloomberg) Prosecutors had sought to bar Gupta from speculating before the jury about the government’s motives in bringing the case. They also said evidence of Gupta’s past charitable contributions and the purported damage the case has had on his reputation aren’t relevant. “The government attempts to hamstring the defense,” Gupta’s lawyers said in a court filing today. “Mr. Gupta’s charitable activities are a large component of his background and a critical element of who he is as a person.” Cops bust man smuggling cocaine at JFK (NYP) A drug smuggler packed his stash of cocaine inside sticks of deodorant, ink markers and hundreds of buttons — only to be busted by alert customs officers at JFK Airport who noticed a strong odor coming from his suitcase, authorities said today...The items with cocaine hidden inside included 16 markers, 17 sticks of Dove and Odorex deodorant, 24 bottles of nail polish, and about 684 buttons.

Opening Bell: 07.16.12

Citigroup Profit Beats Analysts’ Estimates On Investment Bank (Bloomberg) Citi reported a 12 percent drop in second-quarter profit that beat analysts’ estimates on revenue from advising on mergers and underwriting stocks and bonds. Net income declined to $2.95 billion, or 95 cents a share, from $3.34 billion, or $1.09, a year earlier, the New York-based bank said today in a statement. Excluding accounting adjustments and a loss from the sale of a stake in a Turkish bank, earnings were $1 a share, compared with the average estimate of 89 cents in a Bloomberg survey of 18 analysts. HSBC Seeks To Evict Occupiers In Hong Kong (WSJ) HSBC said Monday it is seeking the right to evict an encampment of protesters that has been occupying the ground floor of the bank's Hong Kong headquarters since October, drawing inspiration from the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York last year. Libor Flaws Allowed Banks To Rig Rates Without Conspiracy (Bloomberg) FYI: “It is far easier to manipulate Libor than it may appear,” Andrew Verstein, a lecturer at Yale Law School, said in a paper to be published in the Winter 2013 issue of the Yale Journal on Regulation. “No conspiracy is required.” States Join Libor Probe (WSJ) Prosecutors in New York and Connecticut are investigating whether their states incurred losses as a result of interest-rate manipulation by banks, a probe that could lead to a wider multistate enforcement action, according to New York officials. The joint probe by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen could lead to civil enforcement action, including possible breaches of antitrust and fraud laws, the officials said. Libor Probe May Yield Criminal Charges By September (Bloomberg) Barclays traders involved in allegedly manipulating Libor rates between 2005 and 2007 may be charged by U.S. prosecutors before the Labor Day holiday on Sept. 3, said a person familiar with the Justice Department investigation in Washington. Zuckerberg’s Loan Gives New Meaning To The 1% (Bloomberg) The Facebook founder refinanced a $5.95 million mortgage on his Palo Alto, California, home with a 30-year adjustable-rate loan starting at 1.05 percent, according to public records for the property. Missteps Doomed Barclays Leaders (WSJ) Mr. Diamond's downfall may have been hastened because the U.S.-born investment banker, who became chief executive at the start of 2011, had never won acceptance by Britain's political and financial establishment. When the rate-fixing scandal erupted, Mr. Diamond had few allies. It wasn't for lack of trying. Mr. Diamond enthusiastically embraced British culture and tried to overcome his reputation as a brash American. Mr. Diamond, a native of Concord, Mass., supported the Chelsea Football Club, handing out trophies himself when the team won England's premier soccer league in 2010. A month before the Libor settlement, Mr. Diamond hosted British aristocrats and Barclays' clients at the annual Chelsea Flower Show, providing Champagne and canapés as his guests inspected elaborate gardens and floral arrangements...But Mr. Diamond, age 60, was criticized for his lofty pay packages, as well as perceived risks in the investment-banking business he built. He sometimes appeared tone deaf in a country still angry about the role of banks in the financial crisis. "There was a period of remorse and apology," he told Parliament last year. "That period needs to be over." Activists Go After Big Game (WSJ) William Ackman's $2 billion bet that he can boost the value of consumer-products giant Procter & Gamble Co. reflects a new era of activist investing, in which no company is too big a target and restless institutional investors are more willing to rock the boat. Mr. Ackman's Pershing Square Capital Management LP owns a little more than 1% of P&G's shares. A few years ago, that would have been considered too small a stake in too big a company to exert much influence on management, the board or other investors. Tax Cuts Perpetuate Inequality, Should End: Summers (CNBC) The United States should not extend Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans even as the so-called ‘fiscal cliff’ looms because it will perpetuate income inequality, says Larry Summers, former U.S. Treasury Secretary. Instead, these revenues should go towards strengthening public education and ensuring that low-income students are presented with equal opportunities as their wealthy counterparts so that they can participate in the economy. Tax breaks for the wealthy cannot continue to exist because it leads to a “perpetuation of privilege”, Summers said in the editorial in the Financial Times on Sunday. Unless steps were taken to “responsibly” increase the burden on those with high income and redistribute the proceeds, the trend toward inequality will continue, he said. Devils On The (B)rink (NYP) New Jersey Devils owner Jeff Vanderbeek is talking to private-equity firms and hedge funds about buying into his financially strapped team, according to sources close to the situation Vanderbeek is looking to sell a majority stake, but keep operating control, sources said. The talks, coming three weeks after the 55-year old former Wall Street executive seemed close to inking a deal with an investor to save the team, are leading some in the financial world to believe the deal has fallen apart. If that’s so, it would be a terrible break for Vanderbeek, who is facing an Aug. 14 deadline to get the Devils’ financing in order...Creditors are owed $80 million. Downgrade Anniversary Shows Investors Gained Buying U.S. (Bloomberg) When Standard & Poor’s downgraded the U.S. government’s credit rating in August, predictions of serious fallout soon followed. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney described it as a “meltdown” reminiscent of the economic crises of Jimmy Carter’s presidency. He warned of higher long-term interest rates and damage to foreign investors’ confidence in the U.S. U.S. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan said the government’s loss of its AAA rating would raise the cost of mortgages and car loans. Mohamed El-Erian, chief executive officer of Pacific Investment Management Co., said over time the standing of the dollar and U.S. financial markets would erode and credit costs rise “for virtually all American borrowers.” They were wrong. Almost a year later, mortgage rates have dropped to record lows, the government’s borrowing costs have eased, the dollar and the benchmark S&P stock index are up, and global investors’ enthusiasm for Treasury debt has strengthened. Woman tells police man sucked her toe at Grovetown Walmart (AC) The 18-year-old said she was shopping when a man, who looked to be in his late 30s or early 40s, walked up and asked if her toenails were painted, according to a Columbia County Sheriff’s Office incident report. After replying yes and questioning why he wanted to know, the woman was asked if she’d watched America’s Funniest Home Videos. The man told her he was with the TV show and if she complied with his requests, everything she purchased that day would be free. She said she reluctantly agreed to let him take a photo of her foot. He asked if he could kiss her foot as part of the prank and she agreed. The man guided her to an area behind a clothing rack, dropped to the floor, grabbed her ankle and told her, “Don’t worry. I don’t bite.” He then started sucking on her big toe. The woman said she screamed at him to stop. Before the man ran from the store, he told her, “It tasted so good, though.”

Opening Bell: 12.07.12

SEC Warns Netflix CEO Over Facebook Post (WSJ) Mr. Hastings boasted on his Facebook page in July that Netflix exceeded 1 billion hours of video streaming in a month for the first time. The post may have violated rules of fair disclosure, the SEC said. The SEC said it may also issue a cease-and-desist proceeding against Netflix and Mr. Hastings. Mr. Hastings responded in another Facebook post Thursday. He said further disclosure at the time wasn't necessary because he has more than 200,000 subscribers to his Facebook page, which makes it a "very public" forum. Netflix had also disclosed on its blog in June that it was nearing the 1 billion streaming hours milestone, he said. Mr. Hastings, who is also on the board of Facebook, added that, at any rate, such information isn't a "material" event to investors. Germany's Central Bank Cuts Forecasts (WSJ) "The cyclical outlook for the German economy has dimmed [and] there are even indications that economic activity may fall in the final quarter of 2012 and the first quarter of 2013," the Bundesbank said in its monthly report. In its semiannual economic projections, the central bank slashed its forecast for German growth next year to 0.4% from its previous estimate of 1.6% in June. It also lowered its forecast for 2012 growth to 0.7% from 1.0%. Moody's: It's Deal Or Die (NYP) The American economy will fall into “severe recession by the spring” unless Congress lessens the tax increases and spending cuts that are set to begin in January, said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. “We’ve got to nail this down; uncertainty is killing us,” Zandi told lawmakers yesterday at a Joint Economic Committee hearing in Washington...If Congress were to “kick the can down the road” by extending the current tax-and-spend policies, Zandi predicted the US would lose its Aaa rating because “it would signal that the political will is lacking to put the nation on a sustainable fiscal path.” Fiscal Cliff? France Has ‘Fiscal Mountain’: PPR CEO (CNBC) The head of one of France's biggest companies has warned that France's problems dwarf those of the U.S. in an interview with CNBC. Francois-Henri Pinault, chief executive of luxury goods company PPR, said: "When we talk about the fiscal cliff in France it's a mountain, it's much higher than a cliff. And when it comes to France the only solution that has been put on the table is tax raises, nothing about cutting expenses. So it's a completely different situation." Greece sticks to buyback plan, says will shield banks (Reuters) Greece says it is sticking to plans to close its offer to buy back its own bonds from investors on Friday in a deal that should meet a debt writedown target set by its international lenders. The government said it would shield the country's banks from any lawsuits over losses booked if they take part in the buyback. The buyback, part of a broader debt relief package worth 40 billion euros ($52 billion) agreed by Greece's euro zone and International Monetary Fund lenders last month, is central to efforts to bring its debt to manageable levels. Judge: Ganek, Steinberg conspirators (NYP) Manhattan federal judge Richard Sullivan yesterday ruled that SAC Capital money manager Michael Steinberg and Level Global co-founder David Ganek can be named co-conspirators in the current insider trading case unfolding downtown. Neither Steinberg nor Ganek has been charged in the case, but the ruling lets prosecutors submit their e-mails and instant messages as evidence in their case against Todd Newman, a former portfolio manager at Diamondback, and Anthony Chiasson, Ganek’s former Level Global partner. The feds have accused Chiasson and Newman of improperly profiting off insider tips on Dell and Nvidia. Chiasson lawyer Greg Morvillo objected, saying that Chiasson’s former analyst Sam Adondakis, who pleaded guilty, testified that he never told Ganek he had an inside source at Dell. Judge Sullivan said the evidence is “certainly circumstantial” but sufficient enough for the government’s request to be granted. Sullivan cited the “precise information” Ganek had received leading up to Dell’s earnings as well as the “large trading positions” he authorized on the computer maker. The judge relied on three e-mail communications to implicate Steinberg, one of which he said made “clear references to keeping things on the down-low and being extra sensitive.” Burglary suspect calls 911 after Springtown homeowner holds him at gunpoint (DN) In a strange flip of events, a burglary suspect called 911 early Tuesday to report that he was being held at gunpoint by a Springtown homeowner and his son. The homeowner called 911, too, but by then he was in control, holding him at gunpoint and demanding to know what he was doing in his home. “Just unlucky, I guess,” the man responded, according to a release from the Parker County Sheriff’s Department. The incident happened around 12:30 a.m. when the homeowner and his wife woke up to find an intruder in the bedroom of their home in the 100 block of Lelon Lane. The suspect, identified as 41-year-old Christopher Lance Moore of Bedford, left the home and sat in his GMC pickup, parked in the family’s driveway. The homeowner followed him with a pistol, took the suspect’s keys and blocked his getaway with his own vehicle, while his stepson trained a shotgun on Moore, Fox 4 News reports. “If he gets out of the truck, shoot him in the legs,” James Gerow told his son. “You ain’t gotta kill him; just shoot him in the legs. … If he’d got out, I’d have expected him to shoot him.” When deputies arrived, both men were on the phone with 911. Deputies asked Moore why he had broken into the home, to which he merely said he had “bad intentions.” Morgan Stanley Alters Broker Pay Plan as Revenue Bonus Takes Hit (Bloomberg) Morgan Stanley, the brokerage with the biggest corps of financial advisers, changed its wealth- management compensation plan to encourage brokers to increase revenue and allow them to buy discounted stock. The 2013 program pays a bonus of 2 to 5 percentage points of revenue for advisers who bring in new assets and are in the top 40 percent in revenue growth, according to terms outlined in a summary obtained yesterday by Bloomberg News. That comes at the expense of a 2 percentage-point reduction in the revenue bonus paid to all brokers who generate at least $750,000. JPM Bonus Bummer (Bloomberg) JPMorgan Chase’s bonus pool for the corporate and investment bank may shrink as much as 2 percent this year as the firm completes performance reviews, three executives with direct knowledge of the process said. Fed Exit Plan May Be Redrawn as Assets Near $3 Trillion (Bloomberg) A decision by the Federal Reserve to expand its bond buying next week is likely to prompt policy makers to rewrite their 18-month old blueprint for an exit from record monetary stimulus. Under the exit strategy, the Fed would start selling bonds in mid-2015 in a bid to return its holdings to pre-crisis proportions in two to three years. An accelerated buildup of assets would also mean a faster pace of sales when the time comes to exit -- increasing the risk that a jump in interest rates would crush the economic recovery. A decision by the Federal Reserve to expand its bond buying next week is likely to prompt policy makers to rewrite their 18-month old blueprint for an exit from record monetary stimulus. Under the exit strategy, the Fed would start selling bonds in mid-2015 in a bid to return its holdings to pre-crisis proportions in two to three years. An accelerated buildup of assets would also mean a faster pace of sales when the time comes to exit -- increasing the risk that a jump in interest rates would crush the economic recovery. Danger Lurks Inside The Bond Boom (WSJ) Amid the rush of bond deals, which already have topped $1 trillion in value, these managers—from BlackRock to Federated Investment Management Co.—are pointing to unusual wrinkles suggesting that now could be one of the most dangerous times in decades to lend to investment-grade companies. Interest rates are so low and bond prices so high, they warn, that there is little room left for gains. Some worry that even a small increase in interest rates—a traditional enemy of bond returns—could eat away at bond prices. College Student Poisons Roommate's Iced Tea With Bleach Following Argument (DM) A college student faces 15 years in jail after she allegedly sprayed bleach into her roommate's iced tea. Kayla Ashlyn Bonkowski, 19, was charged with felony poisoning and appeared in court on Wednesday. She reportedly told police that she had put chemicals in the drink following an argument about cleaning the dishes with her 20-year-old roommate Emily Joseph. The poisoning occurred on November 7 at the students' apartment in Union Township, located near the Mount Pleasant school of Central Michigan University, authorities said. Miss Joseph was taken to hospital for treatment but later released. After she filed a complaint, Bonkowski was arrested. The 19-year-old 'verbally admitted' to police that she put bleach in the drink because 'Joseph is mean', according to ABC. She was arraigned on Wednesday at 2pm before posting $2,000 bond. She entered a plea of not guilty to the charge of poisoning a food, drink, medicine or water supply. The college student faces up to 15 years in prison. Reached by e-mail, Bonkowski said on Wednesday morning that she needed to consult with a lawyer before commenting.

Opening Bell: 04.22.13

Bill Gross Attacks UK and Euro Zone Austerity (FT) Bill Gross, manager of the world's largest bond fund for Pimco, has launched a stinging attack on efforts by Britain and much of the euro zone to cut debt rapidly with severe austerity measures, warning that such action risks stifling recovery. "The U.K. and almost all of Europe have erred in terms of believing that austerity, fiscal austerity in the short term, is the way to produce real growth. It is not," Mr Gross told the Financial Times. "You've got to spend money." Argentina's New Debt Offer Rejected by Holdout Creditors (WSJ) Holdout creditors on Friday rejected Argentina's proposal to pay them about 20 cents on every U.S. dollar of bonds they own, leaving a U.S. appeals court to decide how to enforce a ruling that may push Argentina into a new default. "Not only are the details of Argentina's proposal unacceptable and unresponsive; Argentina fails even to provide this court with meaningful 'assurances' that it will actually comply with its own proposal," said Theodore Olson, a lawyer for the holdouts, in a brief filed Friday. Argentina's own math values the offer at $210 million, less than 15% of the $1.47 billion that holdouts were owed on their defaulted bonds as of March 1, according to the brief. Hedge Fund Stars Suit Up At Yankee Stadium To Attract Investors (NYP) Hedge-fund mogul Stevie Cohen will be pitching at Yankee Stadium tomorrow. No, the 56-year-old billionaire is not suiting up for the Bronx Bombers — but he will be hoping the magic of the House that Ruth Built will yield some investment cash. Cohen, whose SAC Capital faces a loss of $1.7 billion from investors who want out of his $15 billion hedge fund, is one of about 70 hedge fund managers who’ll be at the Stadium tomorrow making a pitch to prospective new investors at a day-long event sponsored by Goldman Sachs. Singapore Will Replace Switzerland As Wealth Capital (CNBC) Switzerland has $2.8 trillion in assets under management, with $2.1 trillion of that coming from offshore wealth. Switzerland accounts for 34 percent of the $8.15 trillion in total global wealth. Yet the report said Singapore could overtake Switzerland in offshore assets under management by 2020. It said Swiss offshore assets could fall below $2 trillion by 2016, while Singapore's assets could more than quadruple by then. Somali Banking Starts From Ground Up (WSJ) Abdusalam Omer is a central bank governor without much to govern. The Central Bank of Somalia doesn't hold reserves in the country's currency, the shilling. There are no functioning commercial banks in the strife-torn country for it to regulate. The 75-strong staff that still turns up for work after two decades of civil war is a motley crew of money men and handymen. "I don't know why the central bank employs painters," says the 58-year-old who was named the country's top banker in January. Eventbrite Funding Slows Its IPO Chase (WSJ) Eventbrite Inc., an event ticketing company, has raised $60 million from two investors, making it the latest example of a startup to raise significant private late-stage funding that puts off an initial public offering. San Francisco-based Eventbrite had sparked expectations of an imminent IPO when it said earlier this month that it hired a chief financial officer, Mark Rubash, who previously worked at Yahoo Inc. and eBay Inc. Instead, it joins a growing number of companies that have found plentiful funding in the private markets rather than going public at an early stage. The company has raised the new cash from mutual-fund firm T. Rowe Price Group Inc. and Tiger Global Management LLC, an investment-management firm, said Kevin Hartz, co-founder and chief executive. That brings its total private fundraising to some $135 million since its inception in 2006. "This gives us flexibility in setting the timeline for a later IPO, on our schedule," said Mr. Hartz. Deutsche Bank Margin Call on Vik Sparks $2.5 Billion Dispute (Bloomberg) Alexander Vik went to Deutsche Bank AG’s London office in October 2008 to meet account managers who congratulated the Norwegian entrepreneur on how well his Sebastian Holdings Inc. investment fund was doing. Within a month, as global markets tumbled into crisis, the same bankers demanded about $530 million against the fund’s currency bets and began to liquidate its positions. Vik, 58, will argue at a 12-week trial starting in London today that the bank’s actions resulted in losses and missed profits totaling about $2.5 billion. A judge will have to decide whether Sebastian’s calculation of lost trading gains is accurate, said John Day, a lawyer at London-based litigation firm DaySparkes. Zimbabwe Prepares Law to Seize Company Stakes Without Paying (Bloomberg) Zimbabwe’s government is preparing a law that would allow it to seize controlling stakes in companies without compensation, according to a draft of the legislation obtained by Bloomberg News. The law would be an amendment to a 2007 act that compels foreign and white-owned companies such as Rio Tinto Group, Sinosteel Corp. and Impala Platinum Holding Ltd. to sell or cede 51 percent of their shares to black nationalsor state-approved agencies.

Opening Bell: 04.05.12

Falcone Says Bankruptcy Is an Option for LightSquared (Bloomberg) Phil Falcone said he may consider voluntary bankruptcy for LightSquared Inc., the broadband wireless venture majority owned by his hedge fund that has been derailed by regulators. “There are arguments that we would be better off in bankruptcy than not,” Falcone said in an interview. “LightSquared, if I have to, I’ll put it into bankruptcy. I don’t care,” adding that he would maintain control of the Reston, Virginia-based company if it filed. Jobless Claims Decline (WSJ) New applications for jobless benefits fell to the lowest level in nearly four years last week, further evidence that U.S. employers likely added a healthy number of workers to their payrolls in March. Initial jobless claims decreased by 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 357,000 in the week ended March 31, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires predicted that 360,000 new claims would be filed last week. Morgan Stanley Tries to Stave Off Ratings Cut (FT) James Gorman, Morgan Stanley’s chief executive, has been in discussions with Moody’s in an attempt to maintain its credit ratings and stave off a downgrade that could diminish the bank’s ability to buy the rest of Citigroup brokerage Smith Barney, according to people familiar with the matter...Morgan Stanley would most likely have to issue debt to fund the purchase, people say. That would become more expensive if Morgan Stanley is downgraded. Moody’s put Morgan Stanley, along with five other banks, on review for a downgrade in February. The bank could see its rating reduced by as many as three notches to Baa2 - two levels above junk status. A downgrade would also force Morgan Stanley to provide additional collateral to back its vast derivatives business, where it acts as a counterparty. JPMorgan Investment Bank Chief Widens Pay Lead on Rival (Bloomberg) Jes Staley, chief executive officer of JPMorgan’s investment bank, beat his Bank of America counterpart in compensation after boosting earnings amid a market slump. Staley’s $16 million award for 2011 almost held steady from the $17 million he made the previous year as profit at the firm’s investment bank climbed 2.3 percent to $6.8 billion. Bank of America co-chief operating officer Thomas K. Montag’s pay dropped 25 percent to $12 million after profit at the lender’s investment bank plunged by more than half to $2.97 billion. Gorman's Pay Falls (Bloomberg) Morgan Stanley Chief Executive Officer James Gorman’s compensation for 2011 totaled $10.5 million, a 25 percent cut from 2010 as the firm’s shares fell by almost half. Gorman, 53, got $5.04 million in restricted shares, and $1.94 million in shares tied to company performance, according to a proxy filing today from the New York-based investment bank. He also received a deferred cash bonus of $2.72 million that can be clawed back, in addition to his $800,000 salary. He didn’t receive an immediate cash bonus. Mets in Opening Day ticket panic (NYP) The Mets are so terrified by the embarrassing prospect of playing to empty seats at today's opener, they've made an Amazin' "buy one get one free" pitch. Some 15,000 of their fans have been offered one free seat for Saturday's or Sunday's Atlanta game in exchange for every ticket they buy for today’s opener. Plenty of the 41,880 seats for this afternoon’s game at Citi Field against the Braves were still available early today. If the Mets don’t sell out, it will be the first home opener since 1997 that didn’t fill their stadium. Madoff wives to face trustee claims in Ponzi case (Reuters) The trustee seeking money for victims of Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme, who lost an estimated $20 billion, may pursue claims against wives of the imprisoned swindler's sons, a U.S. federal court judge said on Wednesday. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Burton Lifland in Manhattan said the trustee Irving Picard may pursue about $43 million of claims against Deborah Madoff, who married Andrew Madoff; and $33 million of claims against Stephanie Mack, the widow of Mark Madoff. Germany, Switzerland Sign Tax Plan (WSJ) Germany and Switzerland signed a new tax deal which allows wealthy Germans to retain their anonymity, while generating billions of euros in tax revenues for Berlin and ending a bruising dispute between the two neighboring countries over tax evasion and bank secrecy. The deal comes after Berlin and Bern agreed on last-minute amendments to a pact reached last summer in an effort to make it more appealing to German opposition leaders, who said Thursday they plan to veto it. "We believe it would be irresponsible to sign this deal, which is a slap in the face of every honest taxpayer," said Sigmar Gabriel, leader of the Social Democrats. Mega Millions ‘winner’ Mirlande Wilson's lawyer: 'I cannot say with any certainty this ticket exists' (NYDN) McDonald’s worker who claims she has a $218 million-winning Mega Millions ticket called a huge press conference Wednesday - and then arrived late only to tell the press to leave. Her lawyer announced to the mystified journalists packed into his Baltimore law office that the purpose of the press conference was “to ask you all to go home.” Mirlande Wilson, 37, of Maryland, who is said by coworkers to crave attention, hit one jackpot: a chaotic scrum of reporters and camera crews waiting to talk to her. But she never spoke. Asked if this was her plea for 15 minutes of fame, she shook her head. Her lawyer, Edward Smith, said, “no, she doesn't want 15 minutes of fame." Instead, he said, she would "like you all to go home." For the record, Smith says he hasn’t seen the purported ticket either. “I cannot say with any certainty this ticket exists,” he said, unreasurringly. Wilson has told various conflicting stories about how she came by her alleged ducat. She told a TV station she bought it at a 7-Eleven store for herself. Then she said a coworker purchased it for her alone while separately buying tickets for the pool organized at her McDonald’s in Baltimore. “I thought I'd play one dollar by myself,” she told the Daily News. She has said she definitely won; she thinks she won; she has the ticket at home; she stashed the ticket at McDonalds; and she has it in another, unspecified secret “safe” place. On Monday, she told the News that she hasn’t even checked her ticket against the winning numbers.

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: 03.11.13

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.