Opening Bell: 04.04.12

Chinese Premier Blasts Banks (WSJ) In an evening broadcast on state-run China National Radio, Mr. Wen told an audience of business leaders that China's tightly controlled banking system needs to change. "Let me be frank. Our banks earn profit too easily. Why? Because a small number of large banks have a monopoly," said Mr. Wen, according to the transcript of the program on the broadcaster's website. "To break the monopoly, we must allow private capital to flow into the finance sector." Regulators Expected to Penalize JPMorgan Over Lehman Collapse (NYT) The Commodity Futures Trading Commission is expected this week to file a civil case against JPMorgan. The bank is expected to settle the Lehman matter and pay a fine of approximately $20 million...The Lehman action stems from the questionable treatment of customer money — an issue that has been at the forefront of the recent outcry over MF Global. JPMorgan was also intimately involved in the final days of that brokerage firm. The trading commission is expected to accuse JPMorgan of overextending credit to Lehman for two years leading up to its bankruptcy in 2008, the people briefed on the matter said. Fitch Ditched in Bond Dispute (WSJ) Fitch Group's new chief executive said Credit Suisse Group AG CSGN.VX -1.61% dropped the firm's rating from a mortgage-backed security because Fitch took a harsher view than two rivals that assigned triple-A ratings to the deal. "It was an 11th-hour thing when they decided which agency it would be to publicly rate it," said Paul Taylor, who took over this week as chief executive of Fitch Group, in an interview. "We had a materially different take." Mr. Taylor said Fitch Group, which includes credit-rating firm Fitch Ratings, had been compensated for its rating on the mortgage-backed deal. Fitch shared its differing view with investors after the deal closed Friday, publishing a report critical of Standard & Poor's Ratings Services and DBRS Ltd. for issuing triple-A ratings on the residential-mortgage-backed security issued by Credit Suisse. Fed Signals No Need for More Easing Unless Growth Falters (Bloomberg) “A couple of members indicated that the initiation of additional stimulus could become necessary if the economy lost momentum or if inflation seemed likely to remain below” 2 percent, according to minutes of their March 13 meeting released today in Washington. That contrasts with the assessment at the FOMC’s January meeting in which some Fed officials saw current conditions warranting additional action “before long.” Spanish Bond Sale Fizzles (WSJ) Spain sold a total of €2.589 billion ($3.43 billion) of the 4.4% January 2015, 4.25% October 2016 and 4.85% October 2020 bonds, against its €2.5 billion to €3.5 billion target. Wednesday's sale, brought forward by one day due to a national holiday on Thursday, brought Spain's 2012 bond issuance completion to almost 46% of the €86 billion gross bond issuance target. ‘Apple Fever’ Prompts Predictions of $1 Trillion Value (Bloomberg) “Apple fever is spreading like a wildfire around the world,” Brian White, the Topeka analyst, said in a report that initiated coverage of the company with a buy recommendation. White’s new 12-month target of $1,001 is the highest among the 45 analysts tracked by Bloomberg and represents a 59 percent increase over today’s closing price. He said Apple’s market value will eventually top $1 trillion. £200,000 bar bill trader, arrested in FSA probe (CityAM) Alex Hope, the 23 year-old trader who hit the headlines after spending £125,000 on a single bottle of champagne, has been arrested on suspicion of being involved in an unauthorised foreign exchange trading scheme. Hope, who claims to be a self made foreign exchange trader, became infamous when he ran up a £125,000 bar bill in one evening at a Liverpool nightclub. Most of this was spent on a single 99lb bottle of champagne...Hope's publicist last night confirmed that he had been arrested but said that he denies all allegations. His personal website describes him as “a name to watch out for in the city” and “an expert in the UK economy” who regularly "trades millions." It calls him a “talented, charismatic and thoroughly likeable man." SEC Puts Exchanges on Notice Over Computer-Driven Trades (Bloomberg) “The consequences of a big failure are so severe that the SEC should be paying close attention to these issues,” James Angel, a finance professor at Georgetown University’s business school in Washington, said in an e-mail. “No human system is perfect and eventually something will happen, so they also want policies and procedures in place for catching problems quickly and cleaning up the mess afterwards.” Ready for a rumble: Falcone vs. Icahn (NYP) Falcone, who has funneled a whopping $2.9 billion into LightSquared, is desperate to salvage his shaky investment amid a battle with federal regulators over building out the wireless network. Falcone has said both publicly and privately that bankruptcy is not an option. However, some LightSquared creditors, including Icahn, would rather put the company into bankruptcy as part of a plan that would give them equity stakes in the company and greater control over its future, sources said. The deadline for creditors to decide is fast approaching. Icahn and other owners of LightSquared’s $1.6 billion loan due 2014 have given the company until the end of April before they decide whether to put LightSquared into default for breaching some loan covenants tied to its customer contracts. ADP: 209,000 Jobs Added (WSJ) Private businesses hired at a modest rate in March close to what economists expected, according to a report released Wednesday. Private-sector jobs in the U.S. increased 209,000 last month, according to a national employment report published by payroll processor Automatic Data Processing Inc. and consultancy Macroeconomic Advisers. The gain was just above economists' median expectation of 200,000 contained in a survey done by Dow Jones Newswires. Occupy London Hinders Burrito Sales More Than Banker Bonuses (Bloomberg) The protesters were evicted from St. Paul’s on Feb. 28 and at least one restaurant found its bookings jump back to pre- occupied levels. Sales were down 40 percent to 50 percent while the camp was at St. Paul’s, resulting in two or three staff members losing their jobs, said Pollie Hall, events manager at the Paternoster Chop House. “This isn’t the corporate fat cats they were affecting, it was average working Joes,” said Hall, who said her customers were verbally abused by protesters and she was called a “devil- worshipping mason.” A wedding scheduled at the restaurant on the first day of the protest had to be moved. Mega ‘winner’: $105M tix stashed in this McDonald's (NYP) The Baltimore woman who claims to have one of three winning Mega Millions tickets now says it’s hidden somewhere in the McDonald’s restaurant where she works. Marlinde Wilson, 37, coyly wouldn’t reveal whether she had stashed the slip of paper behind the McFlurry machine or under the all-beef patties. “I’m waiting for things to calm down so I can go back to McDonald’s and get it. The people [at McDonald’s] are too excited. I want their heads to cool down before I go back,” she said.
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Chinese Premier Blasts Banks (WSJ)
In an evening broadcast on state-run China National Radio, Mr. Wen told an audience of business leaders that China's tightly controlled banking system needs to change. "Let me be frank. Our banks earn profit too easily. Why? Because a small number of large banks have a monopoly," said Mr. Wen, according to the transcript of the program on the broadcaster's website. "To break the monopoly, we must allow private capital to flow into the finance sector."

Regulators Expected to Penalize JPMorgan Over Lehman Collapse (NYT)
The Commodity Futures Trading Commission is expected this week to file a civil case against JPMorgan. The bank is expected to settle the Lehman matter and pay a fine of approximately $20 million...The Lehman action stems from the questionable treatment of customer money — an issue that has been at the forefront of the recent outcry over MF Global. JPMorgan was also intimately involved in the final days of that brokerage firm. The trading commission is expected to accuse JPMorgan of overextending credit to Lehman for two years leading up to its bankruptcy in 2008, the people briefed on the matter said.

Fitch Ditched in Bond Dispute (WSJ)
Fitch Group's new chief executive said Credit Suisse Group AG CSGN.VX -1.61% dropped the firm's rating from a mortgage-backed security because Fitch took a harsher view than two rivals that assigned triple-A ratings to the deal. "It was an 11th-hour thing when they decided which agency it would be to publicly rate it," said Paul Taylor, who took over this week as chief executive of Fitch Group, in an interview. "We had a materially different take." Mr. Taylor said Fitch Group, which includes credit-rating firm Fitch Ratings, had been compensated for its rating on the mortgage-backed deal. Fitch shared its differing view with investors after the deal closed Friday, publishing a report critical of Standard & Poor's Ratings Services and DBRS Ltd. for issuing triple-A ratings on the residential-mortgage-backed security issued by Credit Suisse.

Fed Signals No Need for More Easing Unless Growth Falters (Bloomberg)
“A couple of members indicated that the initiation of additional stimulus could become necessary if the economy lost momentum or if inflation seemed likely to remain below” 2 percent, according to minutes of their March 13 meeting released today in Washington. That contrasts with the assessment at the FOMC’s January meeting in which some Fed officials saw current conditions warranting additional action “before long.”

Spanish Bond Sale Fizzles (WSJ)
Spain sold a total of €2.589 billion ($3.43 billion) of the 4.4% January 2015, 4.25% October 2016 and 4.85% October 2020 bonds, against its €2.5 billion to €3.5 billion target. Wednesday's sale, brought forward by one day due to a national holiday on Thursday, brought Spain's 2012 bond issuance completion to almost 46% of the €86 billion gross bond issuance target.

‘Apple Fever’ Prompts Predictions of $1 Trillion Value (Bloomberg)
“Apple fever is spreading like a wildfire around the world,” Brian White, the Topeka analyst, said in a report that initiated coverage of the company with a buy recommendation. White’s new 12-month target of $1,001 is the highest among the 45 analysts tracked by Bloomberg and represents a 59 percent increase over today’s closing price. He said Apple’s market value will eventually top $1 trillion.

£200,000 bar bill trader, arrested in FSA probe (CityAM)
Alex Hope, the 23 year-old trader who hit the headlines after spending £125,000 on a single bottle of champagne, has been arrested on suspicion of being involved in an unauthorised foreign exchange trading scheme. Hope, who claims to be a self made foreign exchange trader, became infamous when he ran up a £125,000 bar bill in one evening at a Liverpool nightclub. Most of this was spent on a single 99lb bottle of champagne...Hope's publicist last night confirmed that he had been arrested but said that he denies all allegations. His personal website describes him as “a name to watch out for in the city” and “an expert in the UK economy” who regularly "trades millions." It calls him a “talented, charismatic and thoroughly likeable man."

SEC Puts Exchanges on Notice Over Computer-Driven Trades (Bloomberg)
“The consequences of a big failure are so severe that the SEC should be paying close attention to these issues,” James Angel, a finance professor at Georgetown University’s business school in Washington, said in an e-mail. “No human system is perfect and eventually something will happen, so they also want policies and procedures in place for catching problems quickly and cleaning up the mess afterwards.”

Ready for a rumble: Falcone vs. Icahn (NYP)
Falcone, who has funneled a whopping $2.9 billion into LightSquared, is desperate to salvage his shaky investment amid a battle with federal regulators over building out the wireless network. Falcone has said both publicly and privately that bankruptcy is not an option. However, some LightSquared creditors, including Icahn, would rather put the company into bankruptcy as part of a plan that would give them equity stakes in the company and greater control over its future, sources said. The deadline for creditors to decide is fast approaching. Icahn and other owners of LightSquared’s $1.6 billion loan due 2014 have given the company until the end of April before they decide whether to put LightSquared into default for breaching some loan covenants tied to its customer contracts.

ADP: 209,000 Jobs Added (WSJ)
Private businesses hired at a modest rate in March close to what economists expected, according to a report released Wednesday. Private-sector jobs in the U.S. increased 209,000 last month, according to a national employment report published by payroll processor Automatic Data Processing Inc. and consultancy Macroeconomic Advisers. The gain was just above economists' median expectation of 200,000 contained in a survey done by Dow Jones Newswires.

Occupy London Hinders Burrito Sales More Than Banker Bonuses (Bloomberg)
The protesters were evicted from St. Paul’s on Feb. 28 and at least one restaurant found its bookings jump back to pre- occupied levels. Sales were down 40 percent to 50 percent while the camp was at St. Paul’s, resulting in two or three staff members losing their jobs, said Pollie Hall, events manager at the Paternoster Chop House. “This isn’t the corporate fat cats they were affecting, it was average working Joes,” said Hall, who said her customers were verbally abused by protesters and she was called a “devil- worshipping mason.” A wedding scheduled at the restaurant on the first day of the protest had to be moved.

Mega ‘winner’: $105M tix stashed in this McDonald's (NYP)
The Baltimore woman who claims to have one of three winning Mega Millions tickets now says it’s hidden somewhere in the McDonald’s restaurant where she works. Marlinde Wilson, 37, coyly wouldn’t reveal whether she had stashed the slip of paper behind the McFlurry machine or under the all-beef patties. “I’m waiting for things to calm down so I can go back to McDonald’s and get it. The people [at McDonald’s] are too excited. I want their heads to cool down before I go back,” she said.

Related

Opening Bell: 12.19.12

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

Opening Bell: 03.28.13

Cyprus's Banks Open After Two Weeks (Bloomberg) Cyprus’s banks opened for the first time in almost two weeks, with new rules curbing access to cash preventing an initial panic to withdraw deposits. “We expected much more people,” said Argyros Eraclides, manager of a Bank of Cyprus branch in the Stavrou area of Nicosia. “Fortunately there are only some people who needed cash for the day, but customers reacted fantastically. We expected some people to be more aggravated.” Banks opened at midday local time today, with lines of about 15 to 20 people waiting to enter branches in the Cypriot capital. The Central Bank of Cyprus’s money controls include a 300-euro ($383) daily limit on withdrawals and restrictions on transfers to accounts outside the country. Italy Minister Knows Nothing About Possible Downgrade (Reuters) Italian Economy Minister Vittorio Grilli said on Thursday he had no knowledge of any imminent decision by Moody's to cut Italy's sovereign debt rating. Fitch cut Italy's rating this month and market rumours have been swirling for days that fellow agency Moody's, which has a negative outlook on Italy, is poised to follow suit. "I have no news about that," Grilli told reporters in parliament. BofA Said to Ask Mortgage-Bond Buyers to Take Debt in Packages (Bloomberg) Investors seeking to buy higher yielding, riskier slices of home-loan bonds sold yesterday by EverBank Financial Corp. were told they’d have a better shot if they also purchased some of the AAA rated classes, showing weaker demand for the top-ranked debt. Bank of America Corp. and Barclays Plc, the underwriters of the deal, pushed investors to purchase the debt in a package as relative yields widen on AAA portions of securities tied to new mortgages without government backing, according to two people familiar with the discussions who asked not to be identified because the negotiations were private. Matthew 25 Fund Inspired By Scripture Returns 27% (Bloomberg) When the Matthew 25 Fund fell 40 percent in 2008, it kept Mark Mulholland awake at night. Mulholland, the founder and sole manager of the mutual fund -- named after a Bible passage -- says he would lie in bed thinking about the damage he had done to his investors, particularly the elderly whose nest eggs might not recover before they died. The assets he managed dwindled to $22 million from $115 million, Bloomberg Markets will report in its May issue. What Mulholland didn’t worry about were the stocks in his portfolio. “The companies we owned were so cheap that barring a total collapse of the economic system, I knew at some point we were going to make a lot of money,” he says. That time has come. Florida couple says they live next to 'neighbor from hell' (WTSP) A dispute over an alligator has ignited a feud between two neighbors that appears to be spiraling out of control. Drew and Nicole Carver say their neighbor, John McDonough, has consistently harassed them since last October. "We had a security system installed not because of the neighborhood that we live in, but because of the neighbor we live next to," said Nicole Carver. It started after the Carvers called out wildlife officials to remove an alligator from a retention pond they share with McDonough. The move apparently angered McDonough so much that he began to put up yard signs insulting Drew Carver, a trainer with the military at MacDill Air Force Base. One sign read, "In memory of Chris Kyle," an army sniper who was murdered by a fellow veteran back in February. "He removed Chris Kyle's name from the sign and he said, 'Your name will be in there next,'" said Nicole Carver. S&P Seeks to Merge State Suits Into One (WSJ) Seventeen lawsuits have piled up against Standard & Poor's Ratings Services by state attorneys general who claim the firm churned out shoddy ratings before or after the financial crisis. S&P wants to yank the cases into a federal court—and shrink the total to one. The moves are an important skirmish in a legal battle that could wind up costing S&P billions of dollars if the firm loses the cases or settles them to cut its losses. Funds Reshape Investment Mold (WSJ) Hedge funds that specialize in bonds are bulking up on stocks, in the latest sign of investor concern over the health of the long bull market in debt prices. Fund managers that have made winning bets in corporate loans, mortgage bonds and distressed debt are altering course after a flood of cash has pushed up the prices of all sorts of debt investments, raising risks and depressing expected returns. Ratings Relief For JPM (NYP) JPMorgan Chase had its credit outlook raised to stable from negative by Standard & Poor’s as doubts about last year’s record trading loss eased. Wells Fargo distances itself from 'Harlem Shake' video filmed in Atlanta bank (AP) Wells Fargo bank officials say a viral video filmed inside an Atlanta bank branch was not approved or produced by the company, and employees participated on their own time. The video, one of many depicting the "Harlem Shake," features characters dancing in the lobby of a Wells Fargo branch. One wears a diaper and has a pacifier, and another is dressed as a bottle of Colt 45.

Opening Bell: 09.28.12

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

Opening Bell: 12.10.12

U.S. authorities probe SAC for Weight Watchers (Reuters) U.S. authorities are investigating Steven A. Cohen's SAC Capital Advisors hedge fund for possible insider trading in the shares of the popular diet company Weight Watchers International Inc, according to people familiar with the matter. The investigation focuses on trading in Weight Watchers shares in the first half of 2011, when SAC Capital had taken a sizeable position in the stock, and potentially could implicate the billionaire hedge fund manager, the sources said on Friday. Regulatory filings show that Cohen's $14 billion fund briefly held 2.1 million shares in Weight Watchers during the period under scrutiny by authorities - at which time the diet company's stock price roughly doubled. The inquiry is in its early stages and it is not clear whether anything improper was done either by SAC Capital or Cohen himself, said the people familiar with the matter, who requested anonymity. The trading in Weight Watchers would be permissible as long as it was based on fundamental research or derived from individuals who did not have access to non-public corporate information. Big Money Bets On Housing Rebound (NYT) A flurry of private-equity giants and hedge funds have spent billions of dollars to buy thousands of foreclosed single-family homes. They are purchasing them on the cheap through bank auctions, multiple listing services, short sales and bulk purchases from local investors in need of cash, with plans to fix up the properties, rent them out and watch their values soar as the industry rebounds. They have raised as much as $8 billion to invest, according to Jade Rahmani, an analyst at Keefe Bruyette & Woods. The Blackstone Group, the New York private-equity firm run by Stephen A. Schwarzman, has spent more than $1 billion to buy 6,500 single-family homes so far this year. The Colony Capital Group, headed by the Los Angeles billionaire Thomas J. Barrack Jr., has bought 4,000. Wall Street workers expecting worst bonus season since 2008 (NYP) State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli estimates that the average bonus this year will be $101,000 — a 16.5 percent decline from last year and almost a 50 percent decline since 2006, when the average was $191,360. ‘‘I don’t think this year’s bonuses are going to be very good,’’ said Dan Shaffer, CEO of Shaffer Asset Management. ‘‘I don’t believe the typical bonuses, as we used to know them, exist anymore.’’ Obama Meets with Boehner Privately at White House (Bloomberg) The meeting was the first known face-to-face conversation between the two leaders since Nov. 16, when Boehner and other congressional leaders sat down with Obama at the White House. They have talked on the telephone since then. Obama met with Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic minority leader, on Dec. 7. Investors offer about $38.8 billion in Greek debt buyback (Reuters) Greece is set to purchase back about half of its debt owned by private investors, broadly succeeding in a bond buyback that is key to the country's international bailout, a Greek government official said on Saturday. Hefner Husband Takes Insider Trading Into Playboy Bedroom (Bloomberg) Christie Hefner, [daughter of Hugh and] former chief executive officer of Playboy Enterprises Inc., said she was shocked as her husband of 15 years, William Marovitz, confessed to her that he was being investigated for suspicious trading in Playboy shares. They were in their apartment atop a 42-story Lincoln Park tower overlooking the glittering Chicago skyline and Lake Michigan on a March evening in 2010. “He told me he had been contacted by the SEC,” Hefner said later in testimony before the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which didn’t accuse her of any wrongdoing. “And when did you learn your husband owned shares of Playboy?” she was asked. “In that conversation,” she replied. Hefner's husband is just one of more than 400 persons the SEC and the U.S. Department of Justice have accused of insider trading in a crackdown in the last five years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. All involved betrayal -- of clients, employers, relatives or friends. The Hefner episode and a handful of cases like it include an especially cruel breach of trust: betrayal of a wife by a husband. Tennis star Novak buys up world's supply of donkey cheese at £400 a pound for new restaurant chain (DM) The cheese, known as pule, will be one of the key attractions at a chain of restaurants the Wimbledon champion and world number one is opening in his Serbian homeland...The Zasavica farm, which lies 50 miles west of the Serbian capital Belgrade, boasts a herd of 130 and is said to be the only place in the world where donkeys are milked for cheese. Banking Industry Squirms Over European Rate Probe (WSJ) The scandal over banks' attempted manipulation of interest rates has mostly centered on the London interbank offered rate. But Libor's lesser known cousin, the euro interbank offered rate, or Euribor, is facing mounting attacks. The European Union is expected soon to accuse multiple banks of attempted collusion in the setting of Euribor, according to people briefed on the probe. Barclays has already acknowledged trying to rig the rate, and other banks are likely to be pressed by regulators in the U.S., U.K. and elsewhere into similar admissions, according to industry and regulatory officials. Mortgage Crisis Presents a New Reckoning to Banks (NYT) Regulators, prosecutors, investors and insurers have filed dozens of new claims against Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and others, related to more than $1 trillion worth of securities backed by residential mortgages. Estimates of potential costs from these cases vary widely, but some in the banking industry fear they could reach $300 billion if the institutions lose all of the litigation. Depending on the final price tag, the costs could lower profits and slow the economic recovery by weakening the banks’ ability to lend just as the housing market is showing signs of life. Crisis Measure Nears End (WSJ) Barring action by Congress, the FDIC on Dec. 31 will stop providing an unlimited guarantee on zero-interest bank accounts used by businesses and municipalities for payroll and other services. The guarantee would then revert to the normal $250,000 in insurance per depositor at any given bank. If the guarantee isn't extended, FBR Capital Markets estimates as much as $250 billion in deposits could flow out of smaller banks to large banks or big money-market mutual funds. Stylish primate charms Toronto shoppers (The Star) A North York Ikea store attracted an unusual customer Sunday afternoon, when a tiny monkey dressed in a fitted faux shearling coat and diapers appeared in the store’s upper parking garage around 2 p.m. “It was just running around screaming,” said shopper Bronwyn Page...“It was really cute,” said Lisa Lin, another shopper. “It was smaller than a cat.” But if the monkey had hoped to stock up on Billy bookcases or Swedish meatballs, its plans were thwarted. The diminutive shopper never made it into the store, said manager Alvaro Carmona. No one was hurt in the incident, which lasted no more than half an hour, he added. Animal Services identified the monkey as a rhesus macaque, an Asian species that is prohibited in Ontario. The monkeys are known for their ability to live in diverse habitats – although Canadian winters obviously require a warm coat. The owner of the primate turned himself in to Animal Services just after 5 p.m. He was charged with owning a prohibited animal, an offence that carries a $200 fine. The seven-month-old monkey has somehow managed to escape his owner’s car in the Ikea parking lot, said animal control officer David Behan.

Opening Bell: 08.08.12

Standard Chartered Probe Said To Require Up To $700 Million (Bloomberg) Standard Chartered might be asked to pay as much as $700 million to resolve money laundering allegations filed by New York’s banking superintendant after his department grew impatient with inaction by federal regulators, a person familiar with the case said. Benjamin Lawsky, who heads up New York’s Department of Financial Services, tried unsuccessfully a few months ago to get U.S. regulators to punish the London-based bank for conduct involving disguised Iranian money transfers, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the matter is confidential. The transfers have been under investigation by federal agencies for more than two years, according to Lawsky’s Aug. 6 order. US Regulators Irate at NY Action Against Stanchart (Reuters) The U.S. Treasury Department and Federal Reserve were blindsided and angered by New York's banking regulator's decision to launch an explosive attack on Standard Chartered over $250 billion in alleged money laundering transactions tied to Iran, sources familiar with the situation said. ‘F-bomb’ banker fingered (NYP) The Standard Chartered Bank executive whose expletive-filled anti-US rant stands at the center of allegations that the bank improperly did business with Iran appears to be Richard Meddings. Meddings, 54, the Oxford-educated finance director at the UK bank, angrily dismissed concerns by his New York colleagues in 2006 that doing business with Iran’s despotic regime could sully the bank’s image, it is alleged. “You f—ing Americans,” Meddings shot back. “Who are you to tell us, the rest of the world, that we’re not going to deal with Iranians?” The Department of Financial Services did not identify Meddings by name in its report — but disclosed the executive’s position, which Meddings occupied at the time. Standard declined to comment. Greece Credit-Rating Outlook Lowered By S&P As Economy Weakens (Bloomberg) The outlook on Greece’s CCC rating, already eight levels below investment grade, was revised to negative from stable, S&P said yesterday in a statement. The change reflects the risk of a downgrade if Greece is unable to obtain the next disbursement from the European Union and International Monetary Fund rescue package, the rating company said. The Bonds, They Are A-Changin' (WSJ) Bob Dylan's music was the soundtrack for the counterculture of 1960s America. Now it has become a selling point for an unusual bond offering being marketed to institutional investors and wealthy individuals. A privately held Nashville, Tenn., company is preparing a $300 million bond backed by the cut it receives as a middleman between music companies and songwriters and the outlets that broadcast their music. The company, Sesac Inc., has the exclusive rights to the public broadcast or performance of the music of Mr. Dylan, pop singer Neil Diamond, Canadian rock band Rush and jazz singer Cassandra Wilson. Woman in chase fled because she was topless, deputies say (TGS) Mandy Ramsey, 35, of Fort McCoy, was speeding south on County Road 318 in a Ford F-250 pickup truck when a patrol car chased after her to pull her over, according to a Marion County Sheriff's Office report. After seeing the patrol car in pursuit, the woman turned onto Northeast 220 Street and then continued down Northeast 10th Avenue, running a stop sign and eventually hitting an oak tree. The deputy lost Ramsey during the chase in the area, but soon found the truck parked behind a mobile home with its passenger side mirror broken with an oak tree leaf in it, according to reports. Deputies made contact with the vehicle's owner, Ramsey's boyfriend, who said he hadn't driven the truck in more than two hours. Ramsey then admitted to deputies that she didn't stop because she was driving topless and wanted to surprise her boyfriend. Rival Citadel Bid For Knight (WSJ) The offer, which was considered and discussed by Knight's board, was for a $500 million loan to Knight in exchange for a controlling stake in Knight's currencies trading platform Hotspot FX, plus a minority stake in the company of less than 20%, these people said. It followed an earlier offer on Friday, which Knight also reviewed, they said. The Citadel offer represented the potential for lesser dilution to existing Knight shareholders, by giving Citadel the right to as much as a 20% stake in the company, far less than the 73% stake anticipated in the investor group's deal, according to people familiar with the discussions. But Knight and its advisers believed there wasn't enough time to complete Citadel's deal, said people familiar with Knight's thinking. Further, they said, the Knight board and advisers viewed the Citadel terms as onerous for shareholders and the company, which not only would have had to repay the loan, but also surrender control of Hotspot, a "crown jewel" asset. The board also disagreed with Citadel's valuation of Hotspot, these people said. China Reforms Fail to End Stocks’ Bad Run (FT) When Guo Shuqing became China’s top securities regulator in October, investors hoped that he would bring a reformist zeal to the job that would help break the stock market’s two-year losing streak. They were right about the zeal but wrong about the impact on the market. Barely a week has gone by without the regulator announcing another new measure to improve the functioning of the country’s beleaguered market. But after a brief climb upwards, the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index is down nearly 13 percent since Mr. Guo took office. Deutsche Bank Is Stuck on RREEF (WSJ) Deutsche Bank on-and-off effort to sell its giant real-estate fund group is taking its toll on one of the world's largest property-investment businesses. Nine months after the bank first raised the possibility of selling the business known as RREEF, investors are still wondering about its future. The bank's lack of clear direction is putting its real-estate fund group at a competitive disadvantage, some investors and consultants say. Many pension funds have been shifting to safer property funds and looking for new managers, and they may be hesitant about putting their money with RREEF because of the uncertainty, they say. Deutsche Bank's new management team is nearing completion of a companywide strategic review. That includes RREEF, which has $56 billion under management and invests primarily in commercial real estate globally. It is considered one of the jewels of Deutsche Bank's broader asset-management business, which has about $694 billion. While it isn't clear what the review will mean for RREEF, some analysts speculate that all or some of the group may be back up for sale. But some within RREEF expect the bank to keep the business, according to people who have spoken with RREEF staff. Wendy's debuts Lobster and Caviar Burger in Japan for $16-$20 (NYDN) The Lobster and Caviar Burger has lobster chunks, lobster salad and caviar. The Surf and Turf Burger features lobster and red onion. The Ocean Premium Salad has lobster, caviar, avocado, vegetables and an egg...Each seafood addition will range from $16 to $20. The current Japan Premium lineup features the Porcini Grilled Chicken Sandwich and the Foie Gras Rossini. Wendy's left Japan in 2009 but started up again in late-2011, according to Burger Business. For its returned, Wendy's reassessed its game plan and decided to situate itself as classier fast food.

Opening Bell: 01.28.13

Davos Money Men Say World Emerges From Doldrums Fretting Relapse (Bloomberg) “Optimism, but with a sober tone,” was how Bank of America Chief Executive Officer Brian T. Moynihan characterized the mood pervading the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting, even as investors were lifting the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index above 1,500 for the first time since 2007. Fed To Keep Money Spigot Open (WSJ) Federal Reserve officials are likely to continue their easy-money policies when they gather this week to weigh a mixed economic outlook and a recent run of low inflation. The Fed has said it would maintain its $85 billion bond-buying programs, aimed at boosting the economy by lowering long-term interest rates, until it sees substantial progress in labor markets. It has also said it would keep short-term interest rates near zero until the jobless rate drops to at least 6.5%, as long as inflation remains steady. Beneath the Calm, SAC Works to Contain Fallout From Inquiry (NYT) "This has always been a stressful place to work," said an SAC employee who requested anonymity because he was unauthorized to speak publicly about the fund. "Now it's just more stressful." Mr. Cohen's fund was dealt a blow last week when a Citigroup unit that manages money for wealthy families disclosed that it was withdrawing its $187 million investment. The move by the bank was the most prominent client departure since November, when the multiyear investigation into SAC's trading practices entered a more serious phase. Citigroup's withdrawal represents a tiny percentage of SAC's $14 billion in assets under management. The fund has said it expects total investor redemptions for the first quarter of up to $1 billion, a number that an SAC spokesman has said will not adversely affect its business...Still, the Citigroup decision stung, say peopleclose to SAC's business, because of the longstanding and lucrative relationship between the bank and the fund. Another concern, said these people, is that the move could influence other large SAC investors currently weighing whether to keep their money at the fund. For Citigroup, its withdrawal of money from SAC carries substantial business risk. The bank has a vast relationship with SAC, earning revenue by providing the fund with financing and trading services. SAC could exact retribution on Citigroup by terminating, or at least scaling back, its broader relationship with the bank. An SAC spokesman declined to comment. Credit Suisse Could Owe $2 Billion Over Fraud (Reuters) Credit Suisse Group faces a potential $2 billion of exposure over fraud that occurred a decade ago at National Century Financial Enterprises, a result of a federal judge's determination on how to apportion responsibility. Friday's decision by U.S. District Judge James Graham could expose the Swiss bank to hundreds of millions of dollars of added liability over the activities of Lance Poulsen, who co-founded National Century in 1990 and was its chief executive. He is now serving a 30-year prison term and is presumed insolvent. Goldman Raising $1 Billion From ICBC Share Sale (WSJ) The Wall Street company is selling the Hong Kong-listed shares in a block trade at 5.77 Hong Kong dollars (US$0.74) each, the people said, without disclosing the number of shares. The price represents a 3.0% discount to ICBC's HK$5.95 closing price Monday. A person familiar with the situation said the sale reflects prudent risk management on Goldman's part to reduce the size of its ICBC investment. MBA's Salary Enhancing Power Slashed (FT) Students on the top US MBA programs in the mid-1990s saw their salaries triple in five years, but those who graduated from the same schools in 2008 and 2009 saw that increase halved, according to data collected for the FT's annual Global MBA rankings. At the same time, MBA fees have risen by 7 percent a year. MBA students who enrolled in 2012 paid 62 percent more in fees - up 44 percent in real terms - than those who began their programs in 2005, even though the increases in post-MBA salaries remained in line with inflation. Beyonce has yet to apologize to Chuck Schumer for lip-syncing at inauguration (NYP) The New York senator angrily admitted yesterday that the pop queen has not called him to say sorry after she turned last week’s inaugural bash into an unexpected Milli Vanilli concert by lip-syncing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” “I have not heard from her before, during or after,” a testy Schumer told The Post after he was asked if Beyoncé had called him to give a musical mea culpa. “She did not talk to me at all. I didn’t say any words to her, period.” Schumer has been credited with drawing the pop diva and her hubby Jay-Z to the inauguration, where many said they stole the show from the president and first lady walking hand-in-hand on the steps of Capitol Hill. Schumer was seen beaming with pride just steps behind Beyoncé while she appeared to be belting out the National Anthem. Obama administration insiders and inauguration planners were in the dark about Beyoncé’s decision to use a prerecorded tape of her singing with the Marine Band during the swearing in. They were later left fuming over the embarrassment, according to reports. Some on Capitol Hill have even placed the blame on Schumer for the Star-Spangled sham. There’s a Twinkie in the eye of Apollo (NYP) Hostess Brands is expected to name Leon Black’s Apollo Global Management as the preferred bidder for Twinkies and its other snack brands, The Post has learned. The announcement from the bankrupt baker could come as soon as today, sources said. The selection of Apollo would give Manhattan buyout billionaire Leon Black the inside track to buying one of the country’s most well-known consumer brands. Black’s Apollo and co-bidder C. Dean Metropoulos, a veteran food exec, were vying with Grupo Bimbo, the Mexico-based baker, for the right to be the preferred, or stalking horse, bidder for Twinkies, Ho Ho’s, Ding Dongs and other Hostess snacks. Bank of America Moves $50 Billion of Derivatives to UK (FT) Bank of America has begun moving more than $50bn of derivatives business out of its Dublin-based operation and into its UK subsidiary, according to people close to the operation. The move, part of the group's global drive to rationalize its operations, has been encouraged by regulators but will also allow BofA to benefit from tax breaks stemming from the accumulated losses in its UK business. Singer Backs Off Aggressive Stance In Dealings With Buenos Aires (NYP) After a decade of aggressively pursuing $1.44 billion he claims the country owes him and a group of bondholders, including successfully pressing Ghana to seize a locally docked Argentine naval vessel to help pay down the debt, the billionaire New York hedge fund mogul is sounding like Bobby McFerrin in “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” Singer’s Elliott Management now feels Argentina will do the right thing, according to recent court filings. It’s quite a change from last fall’s legal arguments, in which Singer urged a federal judge to hurry up and force Buenos Aires to put some of the monies owed into escrow, citing the country’s president’s plot to avoid the debt payment. Italians Have a New Tool to Unearth Tax Cheats (NYT) Despite the government's best efforts, tax evasion remains something of a pastime in Italy, where, famously, more than a few of the Ferrari-driving set claim impoverishment when it comes to declaring their incomes. So this month, not without controversy, the National Revenue Agency decided to try a new tack. Rather than attempting to ferret out how much suspected tax cheats earn, the agency began trying to infer it from how much they spend. The new tool, known as the ''redditometro,'' or income measurer, aims to minimize the wiggle room for evasion by examining a taxpayer's expenditures in dozens of categories, like household costs, car ownership, vacations, gym subscriptions, cellphone usage and clothing. If the taxpayer's spending appears to be more than 20 percent greater than the income he or she has declared, the agency will ask for an explanation. Traders Make Peace With Computers (WSJ) On a recent day on Barclays PLC's stock-trading desk in Manhattan, an electronic platform posted a notice that Barclays was selling a large block of Pfizer shares. In recent years, a computer typically would have swiftly matched such an order with a buyer, sidestepping trading floors altogether. But soft trading volume has left many traders unable to move stock as quickly as they might like. That is one reason why Barclays connected its recently launched DirectEx platform to its trading floor. The move paid off when a client who was buying 150,000 shares on the electronic network decided, after chatting with a Barclays salesman, to take an additional 150,000 shares. Woman Found with 92 Pounds of Marijuana in N. Bellmore (Patch) According to detectives, around 6 p.m., an unmarked First Precinct police car observed Mizzie Artis, 27, of Bellport, operating a 1999 Hyundai eastbound on Columbus Avenue while talking on a cell phone and not wearing a seat belt. Police then observed Artis drive to Armand Street where she met with a male subject in a minivan. As officers drove by both vehicles to further observe, the male subject fled the scene in the van, police said. Artis drove away and failed to stop at a stop sign and did not signal when turning, police said. Officers stopped Artis and, upon approaching the car, observed two large cardboard boxes in the auto. Officers also detected an odor of marijuana emanating from the vehicle. K-9 officers responded to the scene and performed a narcotic search of the vehicle. The cardboard boxes in the front seat had a positive alert for narcotics, police said. Two additional boxes were recovered from the trunk containing marijuana, bringing the total approximate weight to 92 pounds.

Opening Bell: 11.12.12

Leucadia Agrees to Buy Jefferies for About $2.76 Billion (Bloomberg) Leucadia National Corp agreed to buy the the portion of Jefferies Group it doesn’t already own for about $2.76 billion. Investors will receive 0.81 Leucadia share for each Jefferies share they own, the companies said today in a statement. The deal values the entire company at about $3.59 billion, based on data from the company’s most recent 10-Q regulatory filing. Jefferies management will run the firm, according to the report. Leucadia already holds about 28.6 percent of New York-based Jefferies. Jefferies Chief Executive Officer Richard Handler will become CEO of New York-based Leucadia after the transaction is completed, which the companies said they expected in the first quarter. Handler will remain CEO of Jefferies as well. “This transaction represents the realization of a personal dream for me,” Handler, 51, said in the statement. Greece Passes 2013 Austerity Budget (WSJ) Greece passed on Monday a 2013 austerity budget needed to unlock further funding for the cash-strapped country, although international creditors have indicated the disbursement may be weeks away as they squabble over how to resolve the nation's debt problems. Euro-zone finance ministers will meet Monday in Brussels, where they had been expected to approve Greece's next aid payment of €31.5 billion ($40 billion), but no decision is now expected until they are assured the country's overhauls are on track. The budget, approved by a 167-128 vote, foresees Greece taking €9.4 billion of budget cuts next year, dealing a fresh blow to an economy seen contracting 4.5% next year, its sixth year of recession. Spain Needs A Bailout Urgently: Former ECB Member (CNBC) Bini Smaghi told CNBC that Spain must not waste any more time and that it needed to apply for help from Europe's bailout fund. "They need to revitalize the economy and they need lower interest rates [and] the only way to do that [is] to request a program," he said, adding that Spain should have done so "yesterday." White House Plans Public Appeal On Deficit (WSJ) Mr. Obama has planned the meetings as policy makers start work to craft a package of deficit-reduction measures that could come in place of the so-called fiscal cliff, the mandatory spending cuts and tax increases scheduled to begin in January. His meetings with labor and business leaders come before he meets with congressional leaders Friday, evidence the White House believes Mr. Obama can use momentum from his re-election to marshal outside support and heighten pressure on Republicans to agree to tax increases on upper-income earners. The strategy comes as many Republicans appear to have softened their antitax rhetoric in the wake of the election, with many openly acknowledging that higher taxes will likely be part of any plan to reduce the deficit. Boehner Tells House GOP to Fall in Line (NYT) On a conference call with House Republicans a day after the party’s electoral battering last week, Speaker John A. Boehner dished out some bitter medicine, and for the first time in the 112th Congress, most members took their dose. Their party lost, badly, Mr. Boehner said, and while Republicans would still control the House and would continue to staunchly oppose tax rate increases as Congress grapples with the impending fiscal battle, they had to avoid the nasty showdowns that marked so much of the last two years. Members on the call, subdued and dark, murmured words of support — even a few who had been a thorn in the speaker’s side for much of this Congress. It was a striking contrast to a similar call last year, when Mr. Boehner tried to persuade members to compromise with Democrats on a deal to extend a temporary cut in payroll taxes, only to have them loudly revolt. No Increase Of Banker Bonuses This Year (NYP) That’s the dour view of executive-compensation firm Johnson Associates, which says investment-banking business is so slow that after the sector’s workers bore the brunt of most of the 7,000 job losses on the Street this year, they will find the bonus pie smaller as well. “It’s a tremendous drop from five years ago. If you were getting an average bonus of $400,000 back in 2007, then this year it will probably be around $200,000 or $250,000,” says Alan Johnson, managing director of Johnson Associates...However, fixed-income executives, who sell bonds, should see bonuses rise this year by something between 10 percent and 20 percent. Deputies: Man impersonated federal officer to get into Epcot for free (Orlando Sentinel) A 74-year-old Miami man who was trying to avoid paying nearly $100 to get into Epcot, was arrested after he impersonated a Federal officer. Emerito Pujol flashed a fake badge at an Epcot employee as he passed through the turnstiles at the park around noon on Saturday. The employee challenged him and asked to see the badge again. He claimed he was an undercover officer who was looking for someone, according to an arrest report. When a security guard approached him, Pujol again claimed he was "in service" and was "guarding someone important," the report states...Pujol was arrested and charged with unlawful use of a police badge, falsely impersonating an officer and petty theft. No Individual Charges In Probe Of JPMorgan (WSJ) The top U.S. securities regulator doesn't intend to charge any individuals in its planned enforcement action against J.P. Morgan for the allegedly fraudulent sale of mortgage bonds, according to people close to the investigation. The largest U.S. bank by assets will pay a significant financial penalty under the proposed deal, which has been approved by Securities and Exchange Commission staff but not by the agency's five commissioners, said the people close to the probe. Nomura Launches Private Equity Index (FT) The Japanese bank will look to match the returns of private equity funds – which take over companies, restructure them, and then seek to sell them at a profit – by investing in publicly traded companies in sectors that are attracting attention from buy-out groups. Morgan Stanley Sues Ex-FrontPoint Manager Over Insider Trading (Reuters) In a complaint filed in Manhattan federal court on October 31, Morgan Stanley sued ex-FrontPoint Partners hedge fund manager Joseph "Chip" Skowron over the funds the bank paid to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The lawsuit also called for unspecified compensatory and punitive damages. Doctor-turned-stock picker Skowron pleaded guilty in August to trading stock of Human Genome Sciences Inc in 2008 based on non-public information he admitted to having received from a consultant for the biotech company, who also pleaded guilty to insider trading charges. Skowron was sentenced to five years in prison and ordered to forfeit $5 million. "Beyond the harm attendant to having one of its managing directors plead guilty to serious criminal conduct, the firm expended its own reputational capital by defending Skowron during the years it believed, based entirely on his misrepresentation, that he had not violated the law," the complaint said. So, maybe that Romney face tattoo wasn’t such a good idea... (Politico) With the election over, supporters of Mitt Romney have to pack up their campaign signs and paraphernalia and get on with their lives. But what if you can’t get rid of that stuff? Literally. Eric Hartsburg caught some attention in the weeks leading up to the election for having the Romney campaign’s logo tattooed on his face. Suffice to say, he’s not happy with Tuesday’s results. “Totally disappointed, man,” Hartsburg told POLITICO. “I’m the guy who has egg all over his face, but instead of egg, it’s a big Romney/Ryan tattoo. It’s there for life.” Hartsburg’s tattoo covers a 5-by-2 inch space on the side of his face, and he did it after raising $5,000 on eBay for the effort. He didn’t even tell his wife he planned to get the tattoo until about an hour before. “Right away, she was taken aback,” Hartsburg said, adding that his wife is also a Romney/Ryan supporter. “My 15-year-old son, however, he was all about it.”

Opening Bell: 11.28.12

Gorman Enlists Morgan Stanley Workforce in Fiscal Cliff Campaign (Bloomberg) Morgan Stanley Chief Executive Officer James Gorman called on the investment bank’s employees to pressure U.S. lawmakers into reaching an agreement that averts the so-called fiscal cliff. “No issue is more critical right now for the U.S. economy, the global financial markets and the financial well-being of our clients, which is why I am asking you to participate in the democratic process and make your voice heard,” Gorman wrote in a memo, a copy of which was obtained by Bloomberg News. The message went to about 30,000 U.S. workers including 16,000 financial advisers, said James Wiggins, a company spokesman. Buffett Expects 'Fiscal Cliff' Fix, But Not By December 31 (CNBC) Buffett didn't outline a specific solution that he prefers, saying he could "go with any number of plans." But he thinks the end result should have U.S. revenues at 18.5 percent of GDP and expenditures at 21 percent. Those levels would be "sustainable" because the ratio of the nation's national debt to GDP wouldn't increase, and might even fall over time. SAC Capital Received a Wells Notice From SEC Last Week, May Be Subject to Civil Charges (CNBC) Story developing. EU Approves Spanish Banks' Restructuring Plans (WSJ) European Union regulators Wednesday gave the green light to nearly €40 billion ($51.78 billion) in euro-zone funding for Spain's stricken bank sector, as it approved the restructuring plans for four lenders. BFA/Bankia, NCG Banco, Catalunya Banc and Banco de Valencia SA BVA.MC will require a total of €37 billion for their recapitalization plans, the regulators said. The European Union's Competition Commissioner, Joaquin Almunia, said bondholders would face losses. Will Italy Need A Bailout In 2013? (CNBC) “We still see as our baseline scenario that Italy will likely be forced to ask for an international bailout at some point in 2013,” said Citi Analyst Giada Giani in a report on the country. “Italian economic fundamentals have not really improved, despite some improvement in market conditions. The negative feedbacks from fiscal austerity on growth have been severe, as the ability of the private sector to absorb fiscal tightening by lowering its saving rate is limited.” EU Agrees New Controls for Credit Rating Agencies (Reuters) European Union countries and the bloc's parliament agreed on Tuesday to introduce limited controls on credit ratings agencies after their judgment was called into question in the debt crisis. Michel Barnier, the European commissioner in charge of regulation who helped broker a deal on the new law, said it aimed to reduce the over-reliance on ratings and establish a civil liability regime. The new rules should make it easier to sue the agencies if they are judged to have made errors when, for example, ranking the creditworthiness of debt. Deutsche Bank Sued Over Home Mortgage-Backed Securities (Bloomberg) Deutsche Bank, Germany’s largest lender, was sued by a trustee over claims that some securities sold by a unit of the bank were backed by home-mortgage loans taken out by fraudulent borrowers. DB Structured Products Inc.’s pool of more than 1,500 mortgages included more than 320 that were defective, HSBC Bank USA (HSBA), acting as trustee, said in a lawsuit filed yesterday in federal court in Manhattan. “Borrowers lied, with or without the knowledge of the loan originators themselves, concerning how much money they owed, how much money they made, whether and where they worked, and where they lived,” HSBC claimed. “A handful of instances of such inaccuracies is perhaps to be expected. Hundreds of instances of borrower dishonesty is not.” HSBC seeks unspecified damages and said Frankfurt-based Deutsche Bank must buy back the breaching loans under its agreements with the trustee. Woman Jailed For Attacking Beau Over Bad Sex (TSG) A Florida woman was jailed last night for a post-coital assault on her boyfriend, an attack the victim says was prompted when only he climaxed during a sexual encounter in the couple’s residence. Raquel Gonzalez, 24, was arrested Monday afternoon for felony domestic battery and booked into the Manatee County lockup, where bond has been set at $750. According to a Manatee County Sheriff’s Office report, Gonzalez and Esric Davis, 30, are “boyfriend and girlfriend who live in the same home and are involved in a sexual relationship.” Deputies noted that Davis and Gonzalez were “involved in sexual intercourse” when “Esric then climaxed and Raquel did not.” Which reportedly angered Gonzalez, who allegedly “began hitting and scratching [Davis], causing scratches near his eye and nose.” Davis told investigators that Gonzalez “goes off” frequently and that she had previously been physical with him. Be right back, hon ... with a $53M tip (NYP) Anthony Chiasson, the founder of hedge fund Level Global, started getting illegal insider tips in 2008 when the $4 billion firm was going through a rough patch, a key government witness told a jury yesterday. The witness, Sam Adondakis, a former analyst who worked for Chiasson, said he told his boss tips on Dell came straight from the tech giant...The Dell tip that netted the firm millions wasn’t without its drama. On Aug. 27, the day before Dell announced its results, Chiasson, Level Global co-founder David Ganek, and Greg Brenner, fund executive, held a conference call about their Dell position. At the time, Adondakis, on vacation in the Hamptons, was sitting down to breakfast with his girlfriend, he said yesterday. Adondakis said he remembers the conference call well because his girlfriend “was annoyed” by the conversation, which took him away from their meal for a good 40 minutes. Banks Feel Currency Pinch (WSJ) Banks reported sharp drops in currency-trading revenue last quarter, in many cases deepening a slump that began early this year. Even Deutsche Bank AG, the world's biggest foreign-exchange bank, reported revenue "significantly lower than the prior year" even as the volume of transactions it handled hit a record high in the third quarter. Banks are struggling on two fronts. A calm in currency markets relative to the swings of the last few years has reduced overall trading activity. And the explosive growth of electronic trading has brought transparency to a roughly $4 trillion-a-day market, making buyers and sellers less reliant on big banks to pair them up. Executives' Good Luck in Trading Own Stock (WSJ) Among 20,237 executives who traded their own company's stock during the week before their companies made news, 1,418 executives recorded average stock gains of 10% (or avoided 10% losses) within a week after their trades. This was close to double the 786 who saw the stock they traded move against them that much. Most executives have a mix of trades, some that look good in retrospect and others that do not. 'Two and a Half Men' star apologizes for offending cast and crew (CNN) A day after a video posted online showed him describing "Two and a Half Men" as "filth" and advising viewers to stop watching the sitcom, actor Angus T. Jones apologized to the show's cast and crew Tuesday. "I apologize if my remarks reflect me showing indifference to and disrespect of my colleagues and a lack of appreciation of the extraordinary opportunity of which I have been blessed," Jones said in a statement released by his publicist. "I never intended that." The 19-year-old actor -- who plays Jake Harper, the CBS sitcom's "Half" man -- didn't detail what motivated him to make comments...In the video, the actor, who's been on the show since 2003, repeatedly asks viewers not to watch the sitcom. "I'm on 'Two and a Half Men,' and I don't want to be on it," Jones said. "You cannot be a true God-fearing person and be on a television show like that. I know I can't. I'm not OK with what I'm learning, what the Bible says, and being on that television show. You go all or nothing."