Opening Bell: 04.23.12

IMF And World Bank Meetings End With Little Agreement (NYT) To be sure, the additional $430 billion in lending capacity contributed by developed economies like Japan, Britain, Saudi Arabia and South Korea was seen as a major achievement. The contributions came after I.M.F. economists determined that countries around the world might require up to $1 trillion in new loans because of the combined effects of the sovereign debt crisis in Europe and sluggish global economic growth. The I.M.F. agreed to raise about half that amount if Europe would raise the other half. But finance ministers are still at odds over the effect of debt reduction on economic growth. Geithner urges 'aggressive' action to fight financial crisis (DowJones) US Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner said Saturday that the eurozone needed stronger action from authorities, including the European Central Bank, to tame a potential deterioration in the debt crisis. "The success of the next phase of the crisis response will hinge on Europe's willingness and ability, together with the European Central Bank, to apply its tools and processes creatively, flexibly and aggressively to support countries as they implement reforms and stay ahead of markets," Geithner told the International Monetary Fund's policy steering committee. Hedge Fund Short-Sellers to Target Wal-Mart Mexico (Reuters) Hedge fund managers are bracing for selling pressure in shares of Wal-Mart Stores on Monday, but market experts said it is the retail giant's less visible Mexican unit that could be the more attractive target for short sellers. The New York Times reported on Saturday that Wal-Mart de Mexico, which is 69 percent owned by Wal-Mart Stories, had orchestrated a widespread bribery campaign in 2005 to win market dominance. The investigative article alleged that senior Wal-Mart executives knew about the matter and tried to cover it up. "I would not consider Wal-Mart shares expensive, but I definitely would not be a buyer at these levels in the 60s. I'm more interested in shorting the Mexico traded 'pure play,'" said private activist investor Daniel Yu, who has presciently shorted such stocks including Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and Sino-Forest. Wal-Mart said in a statement on Saturday that it was "deeply concerned" about the allegations in the Times report and began an investigation into its compliance with anti-bribery laws last autumn. MF Global Customers Press JPMorgan For Funds (WSJ) In a letter set to be sent to regulators and lawmakers on Monday, an MF Global customer group calls for J.P. Morgan to "return hundreds of millions of dollars in MF Global customer funds transferred" to J.P. Morgan in late October. The group, called the Commodity Customer Coalition, urged U.S. officials to "demand" that the New York bank "disgorge all MF Global customer property immediately." J.P. Morgan is cooperating with the ongoing investigation, has said it did nothing wrong and lost some of its own money in the Oct. 31 bankruptcy because it was a creditor of MF Global. Vietnam Funds Beat India, China in Attracting Investors (Bloomberg) Vietnam-focused stock funds became the only emerging market equity assets in Asia to lure investors every week this year as the nation’s benchmark index rose to an 11-month high, Emerging Portfolio Fund Research said. Table Hockey, on Ice Since Heyday in 1970s, Makes a Comeback (WSJ) Carter Campbell leaned over the stick-figure hockey players, loosening up his wrists and hopping from one foot to the other. The 14-year-old's cap was turned around. His iPod blared tunes from the classic-rock band Rush. Across from him, 35-year-old, No. 1 ranked table hockey champ Mark Sokolski hunched over his own players. "I'm gonna stomp this kid," Mr. Sokolski said. At stake was a slot in the elite eight of this year's Canadian Table Hockey Championships, the best-attended North American tournament that the game has seen in decades. Across the U.S. and Canada, a resurgence of table hockey is under way, drawing younger players and women to a sport that has long been the domain of older men in their basements reliving a game that hasn't been popular since they were kids. Global Crisis Not Over, China Reforms to Go On: Wen (Reuters) The global financial crisis is not over and technical innovation and investment will be key to sustaining what remains a "tortuous" recovery, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said on Sunday during a visit to Germany. Wen also said China, the world's biggest exporter and second largest economy, would press on with reforms aimed at creating better legal protection for foreign investors — a major concern for the growing number of German firms active in the country. Buffett Joined by 12 Families Pledging Wealth to Charity (Bloomberg) Twelve families promised to donate most of their wealth to philanthropy, joining the Giving Pledge initiative started by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates. The families include hedge-fund manager Bill Ackman and his wife Karen, Tesla Motors Inc.’s billionaire owner Elon Musk and film producer Steve Bing, according to an e-mailed statement from the initiative. Arthur M. Blank, Edgar M. Bronfman, Glenn and Eva Dubin, Red and Charline McCombs, Michael Moritz and Harriet Heyman, John and Ginger Sall, Henry and Susan Samueli, John A. and Susan Sobrato, John Michael Sobrato, and Ted and Vada Stanley also signed the pledge. Aiming for Clarity, Fed Still Falls Short in Some Eyes (NYT) But as Mr. Bernanke prepares to meet the press for the fifth time Wednesday afternoon, after a scheduled meeting of the Fed’s policy-making committee on Tuesday and Wednesday, there are reasons to doubt that the efforts are increasing public understanding of monetary policy. Experts and investors have continued to disagree about the plain meaning of the Fed’s recent policy statements. Some say the increased volume of communication is creating cacophony rather than clarity. Political criticism of the Fed has continued unabated. Man's nightmare since NYPD labeled him ‘Gentleman Groper’ (NYP) A citywide manhunt ensued after four Manhattan women were fondled in tony neighborhoods in a 35-day stretch. On April 13, authorities paraded their main suspect past snapping cameras. He defied the conventional image of a creepy perv. He was young, handsome, well-dressed, affluent, educated, a churchgoer. A gentleman groper. That suspect, Karl Vanderwoude, says if the scene seemed implausible — that’s because it was. “I didn’t do it. I wasn’t even in the vicinity of these incidents,” he said in his first interview since his arrest. “It’s a case of mistaken identity.” The 26-year-old Bible-study leader’s nightmare began 10 days ago, when he left early from his job as an operations coordinator at a Flatiron District private equity firm because he felt sick. He was in his Park Slope apartment for about an hour when the doorbell rang. “I thought it was my roommate who had been locked out and forgot his keys, which has happened, so I go to answer the door,” he recalled. Instead, two NYPD detectives were standing in the threshold. “They’re like, ‘Are you Karl? May we speak with you?’"
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IMF And World Bank Meetings End With Little Agreement (NYT)
To be sure, the additional $430 billion in lending capacity contributed by developed economies like Japan, Britain, Saudi Arabia and South Korea was seen as a major achievement. The contributions came after I.M.F. economists determined that countries around the world might require up to $1 trillion in new loans because of the combined effects of the sovereign debt crisis in Europe and sluggish global economic growth. The I.M.F. agreed to raise about half that amount if Europe would raise the other half. But finance ministers are still at odds over the effect of debt reduction on economic growth.

Geithner urges 'aggressive' action to fight financial crisis (DowJones)
US Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner said Saturday that the eurozone needed stronger action from authorities, including the European Central Bank, to tame a potential deterioration in the debt crisis. "The success of the next phase of the crisis response will hinge on Europe's willingness and ability, together with the European Central Bank, to apply its tools and processes creatively, flexibly and aggressively to support countries as they implement reforms and stay ahead of markets," Geithner told the International Monetary Fund's policy steering committee.

Hedge Fund Short-Sellers to Target Wal-Mart Mexico (Reuters)
Hedge fund managers are bracing for selling pressure in shares of Wal-Mart Stores on Monday, but market experts said it is the retail giant's less visible Mexican unit that could be the more attractive target for short sellers. The New York Times reported on Saturday that Wal-Mart de Mexico, which is 69 percent owned by Wal-Mart Stories, had orchestrated a widespread bribery campaign in 2005 to win market dominance. The investigative article alleged that senior Wal-Mart executives knew about the matter and tried to cover it up. "I would not consider Wal-Mart shares expensive, but I definitely would not be a buyer at these levels in the 60s. I'm more interested in shorting the Mexico traded 'pure play,'" said private activist investor Daniel Yu, who has presciently shorted such stocks including Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and Sino-Forest. Wal-Mart said in a statement on Saturday that it was "deeply concerned" about the allegations in the Times report and began an investigation into its compliance with anti-bribery laws last autumn.

MF Global Customers Press JPMorgan For Funds (WSJ)
In a letter set to be sent to regulators and lawmakers on Monday, an MF Global customer group calls for J.P. Morgan to "return hundreds of millions of dollars in MF Global customer funds transferred" to J.P. Morgan in late October. The group, called the Commodity Customer Coalition, urged U.S. officials to "demand" that the New York bank "disgorge all MF Global customer property immediately." J.P. Morgan is cooperating with the ongoing investigation, has said it did nothing wrong and lost some of its own money in the Oct. 31 bankruptcy because it was a creditor of MF Global.

Vietnam Funds Beat India, China in Attracting Investors (Bloomberg)
Vietnam-focused stock funds became the only emerging market equity assets in Asia to lure investors every week this year as the nation’s benchmark index rose to an 11-month high, Emerging Portfolio Fund Research said.

Table Hockey, on Ice Since Heyday in 1970s, Makes a Comeback (WSJ)
Carter Campbell leaned over the stick-figure hockey players, loosening up his wrists and hopping from one foot to the other. The 14-year-old's cap was turned around. His iPod blared tunes from the classic-rock band Rush. Across from him, 35-year-old, No. 1 ranked table hockey champ Mark Sokolski hunched over his own players. "I'm gonna stomp this kid," Mr. Sokolski said. At stake was a slot in the elite eight of this year's Canadian Table Hockey Championships, the best-attended North American tournament that the game has seen in decades. Across the U.S. and Canada, a resurgence of table hockey is under way, drawing younger players and women to a sport that has long been the domain of older men in their basements reliving a game that hasn't been popular since they were kids.

Global Crisis Not Over, China Reforms to Go On: Wen (Reuters)
The global financial crisis is not over and technical innovation and investment will be key to sustaining what remains a "tortuous" recovery, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said on Sunday during a visit to Germany. Wen also said China, the world's biggest exporter and second largest economy, would press on with reforms aimed at creating better legal protection for foreign investors — a major concern for the growing number of German firms active in the country.

Buffett Joined by 12 Families Pledging Wealth to Charity (Bloomberg)
Twelve families promised to donate most of their wealth to philanthropy, joining the Giving Pledge initiative started by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates. The families include hedge-fund manager Bill Ackman and his wife Karen, Tesla Motors Inc.’s billionaire owner Elon Musk and film producer Steve Bing, according to an e-mailed statement from the initiative. Arthur M. Blank, Edgar M. Bronfman, Glenn and Eva Dubin, Red and Charline McCombs, Michael Moritz and Harriet Heyman, John and Ginger Sall, Henry and Susan Samueli, John A. and Susan Sobrato, John Michael Sobrato, and Ted and Vada Stanley also signed the pledge.

Aiming for Clarity, Fed Still Falls Short in Some Eyes (NYT)
But as Mr. Bernanke prepares to meet the press for the fifth time Wednesday afternoon, after a scheduled meeting of the Fed’s policy-making committee on Tuesday and Wednesday, there are reasons to doubt that the efforts are increasing public understanding of monetary policy. Experts and investors have continued to disagree about the plain meaning of the Fed’s recent policy statements. Some say the increased volume of communication is creating cacophony rather than clarity. Political criticism of the Fed has continued unabated.

Man's nightmare since NYPD labeled him ‘Gentleman Groper’ (NYP)
A citywide manhunt ensued after four Manhattan women were fondled in tony neighborhoods in a 35-day stretch. On April 13, authorities paraded their main suspect past snapping cameras. He defied the conventional image of a creepy perv. He was young, handsome, well-dressed, affluent, educated, a churchgoer. A gentleman groper. That suspect, Karl Vanderwoude, says if the scene seemed implausible — that’s because it was. “I didn’t do it. I wasn’t even in the vicinity of these incidents,” he said in his first interview since his arrest. “It’s a case of mistaken identity.” The 26-year-old Bible-study leader’s nightmare began 10 days ago, when he left early from his job as an operations coordinator at a Flatiron District private equity firm because he felt sick. He was in his Park Slope apartment for about an hour when the doorbell rang. “I thought it was my roommate who had been locked out and forgot his keys, which has happened, so I go to answer the door,” he recalled. Instead, two NYPD detectives were standing in the threshold. “They’re like, ‘Are you Karl? May we speak with you?’"

Related

Opening Bell: 03.28.12

Top MF Global Witness Talks Deal With Justice (WSJ) The star witness in a congressional hearing about MF Global Holdings Ltd.'s collapse has told Justice Department representatives through her lawyers details about transactions that ended up dipping into customer funds, people familiar with the matter said. But Edith O'Brien, the assistant treasurer at MF Global, isn't expected to reveal those details when she appears at Wednesday's hearing of the House Financial Services Committee's oversight and investigations subcommittee. Ms. O'Brien plans to invoke her constitutional right against self-incrimination and to decline to answer questions, people familiar with the matter said. J.P. Morgan Was 'Assured' on MF GlobalTransfers (WSJ) MF Global Holdings Ltd. Chairman and Chief Executive Jon S. Corzine was in direct contact with J.P. Morgan Chase officials about a large transfer of customer funds to the bank shortly before the securities firm collapsed, according to prepared testimony from a J.P. Morgan lawyer for a House subcommittee hearing Wednesday. The testimony by Diane Genova, deputy general counsel for J.P. Morgan, provides additional details about a transfer of $175 million in MF Global customer funds to a J.P. Morgan account on Oct. 28. That move is the subject of scrutiny as investigators hunt for clues about how MF Global firm lost about $1.6 billion in customer funds. Magic Johnson Group to Buy L.A. Dodgers for $2 Billion (Bloomberg) The group was chosen yesterday by Dodgers owner Frank McCourt over billionaire Steve Cohen, who runs hedge fund manager SAC Capital Advisors LP, and Stan Kroenke, who owns the National Football League’s St. Louis Rams and Arsenal of English soccer’s Premier League. [WHO DOES STEVE COHEN HAVE TO SCREW AROUND HERE TO BUY A BASEBALL TEAM???] BATS Chairman Will Give Up Post (WSJ) BATS Global Markets Inc.'s directors voted to remove Joe Ratterman as chairman Tuesday, while expressing unanimous support for him to stay on as the company's chief executive. The vote came after Friday's collapse of the exchange operator's initial public offering, which raised questions about BATS's technology and put Mr. Ratterman on the defensive...BATS has launched a search for a new chairman, according to a spokesman. Face time with Facebook CEO stirs concerns on Wall Street (Reuters) Two people who attended Facebook's March 19 meeting remarked on the young CEO's absence and privately said they expected at least a cursory appearance. One analyst asked how involved Zuckerberg would be in future. In response, the company said expectations should be set pretty low, according to one of the two who was at the meeting. "Investors are crazy to want to get in bed with a company where the guy who controls it doesn't even pretend to care about the rest of the shareholders," said Greg Taxin of activist investment firm Spotlight Advisors, who will not buy shares. "That seems like a recipe for disaster." Texas journalist Sarah Tressler outed for leading a double life (NYDN) By day, she’s a reporter who strips through the veneer of Houston’s high society. By night, she’s a reporter who strips off her clothes. And Sarah Tressler, a 2008 graduate of NYU’s School of Journalism, is not ashamed. In fact, until recently, the 29-year-old brunette blogged about her after-hours gig and posted pictures of herself in scanty outfits on a Facebook page entitled “Diary of an Angry Stripper.” Since the outcry, that — and her titillating Twitter account — have been moved to a protected site. Before Tressler went underground, one of her juicier postings was about an alleged and “somewhat disappointing” sexual encounter with “Entourage” star Jeremy Piven. Europeans Sees Crisis Near End (Bloomberg) The euro area’s woes are “almost over” after a slow initial response by policy makers, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti said in Tokyo today. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said yesterday that the crisis is ebbing and her country’s borrowing costs will probably rise as its status as a haven wanes. Jefferies CEO Handler’s Pay Drops 7.9% for 2011 After Stock Rout (Bloomberg) Handler, 50, was awarded $14 million for the fiscal year ended Nov. 30, compared with $15.2 million for the 11 months through November 2010, New York-based Jefferies said today in a filing. The package included $1 million in salary and $13 million in restricted-stock units that were granted in 2010. Handler elected to not receive a bonus for 2011. Goldman Bows To Pressure (WSJ) Goldman Sachs agreed to change its board structure in order to persuade a union pension fund to drop a shareholder proposal that could have cost Chief Executive Lloyd C. Blankfein his job as chairman. The deal between the New York securities firm and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees means Goldman will appoint a "lead" director, but shareholders won't get a chance to vote at the firm's annual meeting in May on the proposal to replace Mr. Blankfein with an independent chairman. Ben Bernanke: The World Needs More Nerds (OS) In an exclusive interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said it’s important not to be complacent about the improving economy...[he also said] he takes no offense that Time magazine, in naming him Person of the Year for 2009, described him as “the most powerful nerd on the planet.” “I am very proud of my nerd-dom,” he told Sawyer. “In fact, the world needs more nerds. Nerds, you know, create more jobs and advance science, and I hope make good economic policy, but that remains to be seen.”

Opening Bell: 01.30.13

MF Global's Bankruptcy Nears Happy Conclusion (NYT) On Thursday, a bankruptcy court will review a proposal that would return 93 percent of the missing money to customers like Mr. Desai, who lost his $580,000 nest egg in the brokerage firm's chaotic final days. And the trustee who has submitted the proposal, James W. Giddens, has quietly identified a way that, if sent to the judge and approved, could plug the remaining shortfall for customers in the United States, according to people involved in the case. The broad push to make MF Global customers nearly whole, a goal now surprisingly within reach, is a remarkable turnaround from the firm's 2011 bankruptcy filing when such a recovery seemed impossible. "I'm surprised that, magically, the money has shown up," said Mr. Desai, a software account executive who, like most customers in the United States, has only 80 percent of his money. "I feel very relieved." Deutsche Bank Seen Missing Goldman-Led Gains on Cost Rise (Bloomberg) Europe’s biggest bank by assets may post a loss of 210 million euros ($282 million) compared with a profit of 147 million euros in the fourth quarter of 2011, when it reports earnings tomorrow, according to the average estimate of nine analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. Goldman Sachs and three other leading U.S. investment banks saw their combined net income jump 92 percent annually to $9.73 billion in the period. Co-Chief Executive Officers Juergen Fitschen and Anshu Jain are eliminating staff and bolstering capital levels, the lowest among Europe’s biggest investment banks, in their first year in charge to help meet stricter capital rules. The costs countered a surge in trading revenue, spurred by the European Central Bank’s measures to stem Europe’s sovereign debt crisis. “Deutsche Bank is trying to look forward and hoping no one can really blame fourth-quarter losses on the new management as they only took over mid-year,” Andreas Plaesier, an M.M. Warburg analyst who recommends investors buy the shares, said by telephone from Hamburg. “It would rather see its earnings wrecked in one quarter and show it’s making progress on building capital.” Chesapeake CEO To Exit (WSJ) Chesapeake Energy Corp. Chief Executive Aubrey K. McClendon is leaving the company he built into the country's second-biggest natural-gas producer, citing "philosophical differences" with a board of directors largely installed by shareholders to curb his risk-taking and free-spending ways. Paul Singer Is a Backer of 'Les Miserables' (CNBC) Singer writes in his investor note: "December marked the end of the 'Beverly Boulevard II' film slate submission period. We accepted the final two additional film submissions during the quarter, bringing our remaining funding commitment to seven films set for release in 2013 and 2014. One film in the slate, 'Les Miserables,' was released during the quarter. It will be several more weeks before we begin to have any reliable idea of the ultimate economic performance and value of the big-screen version of this huge stage hit, but early indications are promising and the film just garnered three major awards at this year's Golden Globe Awards." "Beverly Boulevard II" is run by Relativity Media and Elliott Management appears to be a large investor in the company, at least according to this 2010 article from Institutional Investor. JPMorgan Bet Against Itself In 'Whale' Trade (Reuters) It was widely known that a group of about eight credit-focused hedge funds, such as BlueMountain Capital Management and Saba Capital Management, were on the other side of the trades that JPMorgan's London-based Whale team made on an index tied to corporate default rates. But the role JPMorgan's own investment bank may have played in the messy unwinding of the derivatives trade has not come out until now. One of the three people familiar with the matter claimed that JPMorgan managers discussed merging the two sets of trades in an attempt to offset some of the CIO's losses. Those talks ended about a month before Bloomberg News first reported the CIO trades on April 5 last year, the source said. JPMorgan's Kristin Lemkau said that this "never came up in our exhaustive internal investigation." Police Say Man Steals Ambulance, Then Tries to Steal Horses (WHNT) Police say it all began when Todd was arrested for DUI after a car crash. He was taken to Marshall Medical Center South for treatment. Police say while at the hospital, he walked out, got into a running ambulance and drove away. They say he later got the ambulance stuck on Barnard Street, but that was just the beginning. “He walked across a pasture and got into a barn where he tried to saddle up two horses,” says Boaz Assistant Chief Todd Adams. “One was two wild for him and the other he appeared to be too intoxicated to properly saddle the horse.” Police say Anderson then stole a car, which he crashed. They say he then stole another car and got away. However, on Saturday police say Anderson started bleeding from his original injuries. He sought treatment back at the hospital, was recognized and then arrested. Fed Risks Losses From Bonds (WSJ) The Federal Reserve could be charting a course that leaves the highly profitable central bank with no extra income to hand over to the U.S. Treasury for several years. That is the conclusion of five Fed staff economists who examined how the central bank's bond-buying programs will affect its profitability over the long run. Right now the Fed is earning large returns on its bond portfolio and sending most of its profits to the Treasury. Several years from now, when the economy is stronger, the Fed is expected to sell bonds and raise short-term interest rates to tighten credit and restrain inflation. The group found the Fed might have to sell bonds at a loss and incur higher expenses on interest it pays to banks on the reserves they hold at the Fed. Italy Scours Deals Abroad for Elusive Tax Revenue (WSJ) Italy, which has one of the biggest tax-cheating problems in the developed world, is cracking down on suspect offshore investments as part of an unprecedented drive to find new sources of tax revenue and ease concerns about its €2 trillion ($2.69 trillion) in debt. The country just added a new property tax and is boosting its sales taxes to narrow its fiscal gap. In an effort to claw back an estimated €120 billion a year in unpaid taxes, it has limited cash payments to €1,000 so that untaxed money can't slosh around the economy without leaving a paper trail and is hunting down people who buy luxury yachts yet report little income. One of the brightest spotlights is on companies suspected of earning money or shifting it abroad to avoid paying Italian taxes. Italy netted €600 million in additional taxes last year after prosecutors pursued two cases involving money stored illicitly to Switzerland. NBA Union Chief Hunter Fires Family After Nepotism Report (Bloomberg) Billy Hunter purged family members from roles in the National Basketball Association players union that he runs after a report that criticized nepotism at the organization. The moves dismissing personnel including his daughter and daughter-in-law were disclosed in a letter from Hunter to members of a special committee of players established prior to the investigation by the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. A copy of the letter, dated Jan. 23, was obtained by Bloomberg News. No Twinkies 'Til September? (NYP) While bankrupt Hostess Brands is expected to select a preferred bidder for its snacks business today, regulatory approval, time needed to close the deal and then the firing up of the Twinkies manufacturing process means it’ll be early September before the spongecake treats are available at retailers, experts said. Leon Black’s Apollo Global Management and co-bidder C. Dean Metropoulos, a veteran food exec, are expected to be named the preferred bidder for Twinkies, Ding Dongs, Donettes and other Hostess snacks. Zimbabwe has $217 in the bank: finance minister (AFP) After paying public workers’ salaries last week, the balance in cash-strapped Zimbabwe’s government public account stood at just $217, Finance Minister Tendai Biti said Tuesday. “Last week when we paid civil servants there was $217 (left) in government coffers,” Biti told journalists in the capital Harare, claiming some of them had healthier bank balances than the state. “The government finances are in paralysis state at the present moment. We are failing to meet our targets.” Biti said that left no choice but to ask the donors for cash. “We will be approaching the international community,” he said.

Opening Bell: 04.25.12

Credit Suisse Sees Profit Drop (WSJ) Credit Suisse Wednesday reported a sharp drop in net profit for the first quarter, pressured by an accounting loss on its own debt and lower revenue at its investment bank, which shed risky assets to adapt to a tougher regulatory and market environment. Still, the bank managed a sharp turnaround from a dismal fourth quarter when it reported a loss, on improving market conditions. But Chief Financial Officer David Mathers warned that this may not necessarily be the trend going forward, as markets weren't as favorable in April as they were during the first quarter. Credit Suisse said net profit fell 96% to 44 million Swiss francs ($48.3 million) in the first quarter from 1.14 billion francs a year earlier. This was better than the net loss expected by analysts. Excluding a raft of one-off items, net profit would be 1.36 billion francs, Credit Suisse said. Net profit suffered from a 1.55 billion franc accounting loss on the bank's own credit. The bank also recorded costs of 534 million francs for 2011 bonuses. Moody's Hears It From Banks (WSJ) In the latest sign that U.S. banks are bridling at tighter oversight that began after the financial crisis, a handful of big lenders have been jawboning Moody's Investors Service ahead of potential downgrades expected this spring. Bank of America Corp. Chief Executive Brian Moynihan and Citigroup Inc. CEO Vikram Pandit have argued against downgrades in person, people familiar with the talks said. An executive at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. last week publicly questioned Moody's methods on a conference call with analysts and investors. Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman, who has met with the ratings firm more often than usual in the past quarter, called Moody's decision to delay any potential downgrades by a month "constructive." Housing Declared Bottoming in U.S. After Six-Year Slump (Bloomberg) The U.S. housing market is showing more signs of stabilization as price declines ease and home demand improves, spurring several economists to call a bottom to the worst real estate collapse since the 1930s. “The crash is over,” Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Analytics Inc. in West Chester, Pennsylvania, said in a telephone interview yesterday. “Home sales -- both new and existing -- and housing starts are now off the bottom.” US taxpayers still on hook for $119B in TARP funds (MarketWatch) US taxpayers are still owed $119 billion in outstanding Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds, a watchdog for the government crisis program said Wednesday in a quarterly report to Congress. That number is down from $133 billion in TARP funds owed as of January, according to the author of the report, the Office of the Special Inspector General for the TARP. The government expects TARP to lose $60 billion. Surviving ’Taxmageddon’ Without Maiming Economy (Bloomberg) Peter Orszag: "At the end of this year, all the Bush tax cuts expire -- amounting to about $250 billion a year. The payroll-tax holiday, at more than $100 billion a year, ends too, as do expanded unemployment-insurance benefits. And we face other spending cuts of about $100 billion, from the sequester set up by the 2011 debt-limit deal. All told, this fiscal tightening adds up to about $500 billion -- or more than 3 percent of gross domestic product. The economy will be in no shape to handle that much of a squeeze. If we do nothing to reduce or stop it, the economy could be thrown back into a recession." Goose strike forces JetBlue flight into emergency landing at Westchester (NYP) Geese smacked into a JetBlue plane taking off from Westchester Airport last night, forcing the pilots to make an immediate emergency landing. “We got to come back. We hit two big geese,” a pilot aboard Flight 571 to West Palm Beach, Fla., radioed to controllers after the plane took off at 6:45 p.m. “We are declaring an emergency.” The pilots made it just six miles northwest of the airport before turning around. They were back on the ground seven minutes later. “JetBlue 571, nice to have you back,” a relieved controller radioed as the plane touched down at 6:52. The geese smashed into the jet’s windshield. “I was petrified,’’ said passenger Janice Hilbrink, of White Plains. “Seriously very frightened. “I heard the noise. It was very loud and the plane had a lot of turbulence. The pilot told us the windshield was cracked.’’ When she got off the plane, “the whole front of it was covered in bird.’’ Missing MF Global Funds Found (CNNM) Investigators probing the collapse of bankrupt brokerage MF Global said Tuesday that they have located the $1.6 billion in customer money that had gone missing from the firm. But just how much of those funds can be returned to the firm's clients, and who will be held responsible for their misappropriation, remains to be seen. James Giddens, the trustee overseeing the liquidation of MF Global Inc, told the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday that his team's analysis of how the money went missing "is substantially concluded." "We can trace where the cash and securities in the firm went, and that we've done," Giddens said. Europe Struggles With Painful Deficit Cures (WSJ) The target, set in 2009, is still seen as an important signal that the budget rules won't be flouted as they were in the past. But meeting the 2013 goal, which for most countries was a deficit of 3% of gross domestic product, will entail more spending cuts or tax increases by governments across the EU. Soros And Roubini Take Aim At Euro Zone (CNBC) Nouriel Roubini, an economist and founder of RGE Monitor used a series of tweets on Tuesday evening to call for action on weakening the euro. “If domestic demand is going to be anemic and weak in this fiscal adjustment because of private and public sector deleveraging you need net exports to improve to restore growth,” wrote Roubini who believes much looser monetary policy is needed. “In order to have an improvement in net exports you need a weaker currency and a much more easy monetary policy to help induce that nominal and real depreciation that is not occurring right now in the euro zone,” said Roubini. “That’s one of the reasons why we’re getting a recession that’s even more severe,” he said. During a debate on Tuesday, billionaire Investor George Soros made it clear what side of the growth versus austerity debate he is on. “Europe is similar to the Soviet Union in the way that the euro crisis has the potential of destroying, undermining the European Union,” he said. “The euro is undermining the political cohesion of the European Union, and, if it continues like that, could even destroy the European Union,” said Soros. New Fashion Wrinkle: Stylishly Hiding the Gun (NYT, related) Woolrich, a 182-year-old clothing company, describes its new chino pants as an elegant and sturdy fashion statement, with a clean profile and fabric that provides comfort and flexibility. And they are great for hiding a handgun. The company has added a second pocket behind the traditional front pocket for a weapon. Or, for those who prefer to pack their gun in a holster, it can be tucked inside the stretchable waistband...The chinos, which cost $65, are not for commandos, but rather, the company says, for the fashion-aware gun owner.

Opening Bell: 03.27.12

MF Global's Top Lawyer Will Break Her Silence (NYT) MF Global’s top lawyer is to break her five-month silence on today to tell Congress that she was unaware of a gaping shortfall in customer money until hours before the brokerage firm filed for bankruptcy on Oct. 31. Laurie Ferber, MF Global’s general counsel, is expected to tell a House panel that she “had no reason to believe” that the firm had raided customer accounts to meet its own obligations, according to a copy of her prepared testimony. While Ms. Ferber learned of a shortfall in customer money in the afternoon of Oct. 30, she said she believed it to be an accounting error. BATS Weighs Futures Steps (WSJ) BATS's markets functioned normally Monday, though the company ceded a little trading volume to rival U.S. exchanges. Some market participants privately expressed support for the company's leader. Separately, federal regulators indicated they were preliminarily viewing the IPO mishap as something of an isolated incident. Chairman and chief executive Joe Ratterman said two topics the board likely will discuss are potentially reviving an IPO and the status of employee bonuses in the wake of Friday's troubles. Over the weekend, BATS founder and board member Dave Cummings said the company should aim for an IPO in the second quarter, which starts next week. Goldman Diaspora Falters as Flamand Hedge Fund Declines (Bloomberg) “In spite of their pedigree, many ex-Goldman prop traders have found it much harder than they originally thought to make money,” said Matias Ringel, the New York-based head of research at EFG Asset Management, which invests in hedge funds. Poor timing led to the slow start for the Goldman Sachs diaspora as the European sovereign-debt crisis and a fragile economic recovery in the U.S. dominated global markets. Yet their failure to generate profits from investments also highlights the differences between trading at a bank, with its extensive research, technology and compliance operations, and running a hedge fund where clients pay top fees and are less tolerant of risk. Hitler Used As Spokesperson For Turkish Shampoo Commercial (IBT) The subtitles, dubbed over a clip of a Hitler speech, read: "If you're not wearing women's clothes, you shouldn't be using women's shampoo. Here it is, a real man's shampoo. Biomen." The commercial..has been met with a lot of outrage. Goldman 'Sacks' (NYP) Sehat Sutardja, 49, and his wife, Weili Dai, who founded chip giant Marvell Technology Group, have found stock certificates and related paperwork showing that Goldman had about 25 million shares of Marvell shares transferred from the family’s personal ownership, under management by Goldman, to the firm, lawyers for the couple claim. The family insisted that they had never approved such a transfer of their stock holdings, which were managed by Goldman’s private client group...The family is expected to file a new claim against Goldman today with Finra, backed by the recently discovered documents...Goldman said it hadn’t seen the new claims, adding that “Goldman Sachs has consistently denied and continues to fight Dr. Sutardja and Ms. Dai’s claims.” Goldman’s Jim O'Neill: Glass 'More Half Full Than Empty' (CNBC) "At the core of it, everybody worries about the next quarter and, linked to it, the volatility of last year is what scared a lot of longer-term investors. It's tough for a lot of pension fund trustees to live through that," O'Neill said. Added to this is the fact that the past decade has been weak for stock markets so "there's a broad anti-equity culture out there," he said, but added that the prospects for stocks are good. "I continue to see the world glass more half full than empty… on the account that the U.S. is on the way back, as it has been for some time." Fed Signals Resolve On Rates (WSJ) Investors tracking the labor market's gains had begun to expect interest rates to start climbing, said Liz Miller, president of Summit Place Financial Advisors. But Mr. Bernanke shifted that view. "What we heard from Ben Bernanke this morning was still a supportive monetary policy commitment, even in the face of improvements in the unemployment rate." Deutsche Bank No. 1 in Europe as Leverage Hits Valuation (Bloomberg) Chief Executive Officer Josef Ackermann, who has called proposals to limit bank size “misguided,” will leave behind a balance sheet about 40 percent larger than in 2006, and more than 80 percent as big as Germany’s economy, when he steps down in May. The firm is the second-most leveraged and third-least capitalized of Europe’s 10 largest banks, even after Ackermann boosted reserves and trimmed dependence on borrowed money. Carnegie Deli creates monster Tim Tebow-inspired sandwich (NYP) The famed Carnegie Deli has introduced the "Jetbow" in honor of new Jets backup quarterback, Tim Tebow -- a 3.5-pound monstrosity containing corned beef, pastrami, roast beef, American cheese, lettuce and tomato on white bread...The deli has other sandwich creations that honor celebrities, such as "The Woody Allen," and "The Melo," named after Knicks star Carmelo Anthony. But it is the first time the restaurant will be using white bread and mayonnaise in a sandwich created for a celebrity, instead of the traditional rye bread and mustard. The sandwich will cost $22.22 and was released on the same day Tebow held his first news conference in the Jets' field house.

Opening Bell: 06.04.12

Kerviel’s Refusal To Be SocGen Scapegoat May Harm Appeal Chances (Bloomberg) Jerome Kerviel began his fight today against a 2010 conviction for Societe Generale’s 4.9 billion- euro ($6.2 billion) trading loss, telling a Paris appeals court that the bank knew about his actions. His lawyers said they’ll show judges at the four-week appeal starting today that the bank knew before the 2008 trading loss that he was exceeding his mandate with risky bets and can’t claim to be an innocent victim. “I think that I’m not responsible for this loss,” Kerviel told judge Mireille Filippini at the start of the hearing today in response to a question about why he was appealing. “I always acted with the knowledge” of the bank. Germany Signals Crisis Shift (WSJ) Germany is sending strong signals that it would eventually be willing to lift its objections to ideas such as common euro-zone bonds or mutual support for European banks if other European governments were to agree to transfer further powers to Europe. China Making Contingency Plans for a Greek Exit (Reuters) The Chinese government has called on key agencies, including the central bank, to come up with plans to deal with the potential economic risks of a Greek withdrawal from the euro zone, three sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters on Monday. The sources said the plans may include implementing measures to keep the yuan currency stable, increasing checks on cross-border capital flows, and stepping up policies to stabilize the domestic economy. Oversight Of JPMorgan Probed (WSJ) A federal agency that oversees J.P. Morgan Chase is taking heat over how much it knew about risk-taking in the part of the bank that suffered more than $2 billion in trading losses. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) asked Comptroller of the Currency Thomas Curry in a letter Friday for details about the regulator's supervision of trading operations at the largest U.S. bank by assets. Mr. Brown also wants more information about the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency's "process for reviewing trading operations" at J.P. Morgan and other big banks. The Senate Banking Committee, which includes Mr. Brown, is scheduled to hold a hearing Wednesday that will focus on the trading loss. JPMorgan Was Warned About Lax Risk Controls (NYT) A small group of shareholder advocates delivered an urgent message to top executives at JPMorgan Chase more than a year ago: the bank’s risk controls needed to be improved. JPMorgan officials dismissed the warning from the CtW Investment Group, the advocates, who also cautioned bank officials that the company had fallen behind the risk-management practices of its peers. Merrill Losses Were Withheld Before Bank of America Deal (NYT) What Bank of America’s top executives, including its chief executive then, Kenneth D. Lewis, knew about Merrill’s vast mortgage losses and when they knew it emerged in court documents filed Sunday evening in a shareholder lawsuit being heard in Federal District Court in Manhattan: Days before Bank of America shareholders approved the bank’s $50 billion purchase of Merrill Lynch in December 2008, top bank executives were advised that losses at the investment firm would most likely hammer the combined companies’ earnings in the years to come. But shareholders were not told about the looming losses, which would prompt a second taxpayer bailout of $20 billion, leaving them instead to rely on rosier projections from the bank that the deal would make money relatively soon after it was completed. Mets crasher out of jail, says he 'got caught up in the moment' (NYP) Mets fanatic Rafael Diaz said he got such an adrenaline rush from Johan Santana’s no-hitter at Citi Field that “he couldn’t help” himself from running on the field to celebrate. “I was overcome with emotion, just being a die-hard Mets fan,” Diaz said after his release from jail yesterday. “That’s all it was.” Diaz, 32, was charged with trespassing for taking part in the on-field celebration. He spent two nights behind bars before a Queens judge released him and pal John Ries, 25, on their own recognizance. Diaz returned to his Massapequa, LI, home, wearing the same Gary Carter No. 8 jersey he had on Friday night. He hit the showers and donned a fresh Santana jersey before explaining his stunt. After Santana retired the final St. Louis batter on Friday night, Diaz jumped over the railing on from his field-level perch on the first-base side of Citi Field. Moments later, Diaz was rubbing elbows with Santana, R.A. Dickey and Ike Davis in a joyous Mets mob. “I couldn’t help myself,” Diaz said. “I just wanted to be on the mound celebrating the no-hitter.” Diaz paid a stiff penalty, both at home and Citi Field. He missed his 1-year-old son’s birthday party Saturday, and the Mets have banned him for life from their home park. “That’s the bad part,” Diaz said of missing his son’s bash. Feds Eye MFGlobal's False Promise (Bloomberg) Three days before MF Global filed for bankruptcy-court protection, CME Group was assured by the New York company of a $200 million cushion in accounts that ensured customer funds were being kept separate from the firm's own money. But the customer accounts actually were in the red, and the deficit ballooned to more than $900 million on the night of Oct. 30. MF Global tumbled into Chapter 11 on Oct. 31. The bankruptcy trustee trying to recover money for the firm's U.S. customers has estimated that the shortfall now is roughly $1.6 billion. A large chunk of the money is stuck outside the U.S. IPO doubts plague Nasdaq’s Grief-eld (DJ) Companies in the early stages of going public are raising questions about whether they want to list with Nasdaq...The questions, coming two weeks after Bob Greifeld’s exchange botched the largest, most anticipated initial public offering in a generation – Facebook’s $16 billion coming-out party – are the first indication that Nasdaq’s headaches over the snafu are likely to linger. “There’s no question, this Facebook situation has put on the table the question of Nasdaq’s market structure and its market quality,” one exchange expert said. Madoff kin having trouble finding an apartment (NYP) Andrew Madoff and girlfriend Catherine Hooper have tried to cover up their connection to the Ponzi schemer by making appointments under Hooper’s name. She then shows up alone to view the $20,000-per-month pads, brokers said. Hooper speaks generally, saying the space is for her, her fiancé and their children, the sources said. But once the brokers explain who Hooper is to the landlord, the couple is immediately rejected, the sources added. “My owners would never, ever rent to him,” said a broker. “They will go through a lot of rejections.” China Muzzles Online Talk of Tiananmen Anniversary (WSJ) China's Internet monitors have unleashed a broad clampdown on online discussion of the 23rd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, restricting even discussion of the nation's main stock market when it fell by a number that hinted at the sensitive date. Officials minding China's popular Twitter-like microblogging service Sina Weibo beginning this weekend began blocking a number of terms that could refer to the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, an incident often referred to as June 4 or 64 in the Chinese-speaking world. Under the crackdown the government ordered troops to fire on unarmed demonstrators, likely killings hundreds. Dennis Gartman: 100% Chance Of Further Fed Easing (CNBC) Gartman believes a third round of quantitative easing could come as early as the Fed’s next meeting on June 19-20, or at the following meeting on July 31-Aug. 1. The central bank will want to ease as “far ahead” of the U.S. presidential election in November as possible, so it doesn't come off as being "politically amenable" to the current administration, he noted. Dutch artist turns dead cat into remote-controlled helicopter, dubbed ‘Orvillecopter’ (NYDN) A Dutch artist, upset over losing his beloved pet, Orville, had the animal stuffed and transformed its body into a remote-controlled helicopter. The “half cat, half machine” piece of art was dubbed the “Orvillecopter.” The cat, who was killed when it was hit by a car, was named after famed American aviator Orville Wright. “After a period of mourning, he received his propellers posthumously,” Jansen said. A video posted to YouTube shows the flying feline slowly hover several feet in the air in a park, it's body permanantely spread eagle with propellors on its front paws. Artist Bart Jansen teamed up with radio control helicopter expert Arjen Beltman after having a taxidermist preserve the pussy cat.

Opening Bell: 07.17.12

Goldman Sachs Profit Falls 11%, Beating Estimates (Bloomberg) Net income slid 11 percent to $962 million, or $1.78 a share, from $1.09 billion, or $1.85, a year earlier, the New York-based company said today in a statement. Earnings surpassed the highest estimate among 25 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. Goldman Sachs’s second-quarter revenue from asset management rose 5 percent to $1.33 billion, exceeding the $1.18 billion average estimate of seven analysts. Chief Executive Officer Lloyd C. Blankfein, 57, who has run the company for six years, last month blamed a temporary reaction to the financial crisis for a slowdown that reduced Goldman Sachs’s first-half revenue to the lowest since 2005. Goldman Builds Private Bank (WSJ) The New York securities firm, known for its aggressive trading and big corporate deal-making, is ramping up its activities to become a private bank to serve wealthy customers around the world. The new unit will also lend more directly to corporations, some of whom already make investments and do business with Goldman. Executives have set a goal of $100 billion in loans, up from $12 billion at the end of March. Gross Says U.S. Nearing Recession (Bloomberg) The U.S. is “approaching recession when measured by employment, retail sales, investment, and corporate profits,” Gross, who manages the $263 billion Pimco’s Total Return Fund, wrote on Twitter yesterday. Senate Probe Faults HSBC (WSJ) Executives of HSBC ignored warnings for years that the bank's far-flung operations were being used by money-launderers and potential terrorist financiers, according to a Senate investigation. King Defends BOE Libor Role After Scrutiny On Geithner Memo (Bloomberg) King told Parliament’s Treasury Committee today in London that the e-mail sent by the then president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York included recommendations rather than allegations at a time when global regulators were expressing concern on the quality of the borrowing benchmark. “Mr. Geithner was sending that to us as a suggestion for how these rules should be constructed and we agreed with him, but neither of us had evidence of wrongdoing,” King said. “The first I knew of any alleged wrongdoing was when the reports came out two weeks ago.” Jonah Falcon, Man With World's Largest Penis, Frisked By TSA At California Airport (HP) Jonah Falcon was stopped and frisked by the TSA at the San Francisco International Airport on July 9 because of a bulging package hidden in his pants. But the 41-year-old New Yorker wasn't packing a dirty bomb, drugs or a Costco-sized tube of toothpaste. The New Yorker has the world's largest recorded penis. "I had my 'stuff' strapped to the left. I wasn't erect at the time," said Falcon, whose penis is 9 inches flaccid, 13.5 inches erect. "One of the guards asked if my pockets were empty and I said, 'Yes.'" Falcon said he knew that his interview was about to get a lot more personal when he was led through one of the X-ray body scanners and passed a metal detector. "Another guard stopped me and asked me if I had some sort of growth," Falcon said, laughing. By the age of 18, Falcon knew he had something special when his manhood reached a whopping 12 inches. His family jewel was hailed as the world's largest on record after an HBO documentary featured him in 1999. S&P 500 Nears ‘Ultimate’ Death Cross: SocGen (CNBC) The S&P 500 index is on the verge of hitting an “ultimate” death cross, where the market’s 50-month moving average falls below the 200-month average, according to a research note by Societe Generale...In the Societe Generale note, published on Monday, strategist Albert Edwards said the last time the S&P 500 came close to a monthly death cross was in 1978, “towards the end of the 1965-82 secular bear market.” CFTC's Gensler acknowledges failure in Peregrine's oversight (Reuters) The U.S. futures regulator acknowledged on Tuesday that the regulatory system "failed" the customers of Peregrine Financial Group, which collapsed last week as its founder admitted he had committed a $100 million fraud that spanned two decades...The stunning downfall of Peregrine Financial Group, or PFGBest, and its founder Russell Wasendorf Sr is another blow to the futures industry after regulators estimated that roughly $200 million in customer money might be missing. It comes just months after MF Global Holdings Ltd's bankruptcy, which left customers with a $1.6 billion shortfall and which is still being investigated. For Olympic Athletes, 45 Minute Bus Trip Turns Into Fiasco (NYT) By the end of the day, organizers were struggling to explain how three buses carrying dozens of athletes, officials and journalists to the Olympic Village from Heathrow Airport lost their way in the maze of London’s streets, causing one American medal hopeful, the 400-meter hurdler Kerron Clement, to post a Twitter message in desperation after four hours aboard a bus that should have made the distance in 45 minutes. “Athletes are sleepy, hungry and need to pee. Could we get to the Olympic Village please,” Mr. Clement wrote as the driver, struggling to understand the route given by the bus’s GPS device, finally abandoned repeated forays up dead-end streets and pulled out a map. “Um, so we’ve been lost on the road for 4hrs. Not a good first impression London,” he added.

Opening Bell: 03.21.13

ECB Threatens To Cut Off Cypriot Banks (WSJ) The European Central Bank ramped up pressure on Cyprus to seal a bailout agreement with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund by Monday, making further funding for the island's ailing banks contingent on a deal. The ECB said it would extend emergency funding that has kept the island's banks in operation while the bailout plan was being negotiated in recent months only until Monday. "Thereafter, Emergency Liquidity Assistance (ELA) could only be considered if an European Union/International Monetary Fund program is in place that would ensure the solvency of the concerned banks," the ECB said in a statement. Italy's Five-Star Party Reiterates Demand for Euro Referendum (WSJ) Representatives of Italy's Five-Star Movement reiterated their anti-establishment party's demands for a referendum on the country's membership of the euro, and insisted that they should form the country's next government. Italian President Giorgio Napolitano is consulting political leaders on forming a government after last month's inconclusive election result. Deustche Bank Legal Bill Mounts (WSJ) Deustche Bank revised fourth-quarter earnings downward, setting aside about €600 million ($773 million) in legal provisions for U.S. mortgage litigation in another sign that mounting legal liabilities are cutting into investment -bank profits. The bank updated its fourth-quarter net loss to 2.54 billion euros, wider than the originally reported loss of €2.17 billion. This compared with a profit of €147 million a year earlier. The bank also reiterated that it would make first-quarter targets for a key measure of the bank's health known as the capital ratio, indicating a strong first quarter, analysts said. Deutsche Bank has now set aside €2.4 billion for litigation, with additional identified non-provisioned legal risks of €1.5 billion. The bank's legal provisions were nearly 10 times net profit of €237 million for 2012, compared with a profit of €4.1 billion in 2011. Total legal risk is likely much higher than what the bank has publicly identified, analysts said. Lululemon Sees Sheerness Issue Hitting Profits (WSJ) Lululemon Athletica said Thursday its fourth-quarter profit climbed 48%, but said it expects the transparency issue related to some of its yoga pants to reduce first-quarter earnings by 11 to 12 cents a share. Bernanke Saying He’s Dispensable Suggests Tenure Ending (Bloomberg) Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said he’s “spoken to the president a bit” about his future and that he feels no personal responsibility to stay at the helm until the Fed winds down its unprecedented policies to stimulate the economy. “I don’t think that I’m the only person in the world who can manage the exit,” Bernanke said when asked at a news conference in Washington if he’s discussed his plans with President Barack Obama. His term expires at the end of January. Personal assistant pleads guilty to embezzling 821G from hedge funder Todd Meister (NYP) After a year of denials, glamorous Ukranian embezzler Renata Shamrakova admitted in Manhattan Supreme Court yesterday that she stole nearly $1 million while working as the personal assistant to hedge funder Todd Meister. Under the plea deal, she will serve no jail time but must repay what she took within two years. “Yes, your honor,” Shamrakova told the judge, when asked if she had committed grand larceny in the second degree by stealing from Meister, 42, a Harvard-educated money man who famously married Nicky Hilton for just six weeks in 2004. Shamrakova, 28, wore a gray cashmere sweater over a short, floral-print skirt and spoke in a quiet, girlish voice as she sat at the defense table and admitted her crimes. In addition to ripping off Meister, she tried to dodge a search warrant by hiding financial records. Dell Walks Fine Line in Pitch for Buyout (WSJ) Mr. Dell needs to persuade Dell Inc. investors that the prospects for the company he founded in his dorm room in 1984 and has been running for the past six years are anything but rosy if he is to succeed with his plan to take the computer maker private. Friday marks the end of a 45-day window to flush out alternative offers to the $24.4 billion buyout deal that Mr. Dell and private-equity firm Silver Lake Partners reached last month. The $13.65-a-share offer has sparked derision from some shareholders who believe the price undervalues the Round Rock, Texas, company. No alternative bid has been offered, but late Wednesday Blackstone Group LP was working on a few scenarios for a potential bid that would see the private-equity giant team with a partner to buy all or part of the computer maker, according to people familiar with the matter. JPMorgan To Return Money To MF Global Customers (AP) JPMorgan Chase has agreed to a deal that will return $546 million to former customers of trading firm MF Global Holdings Ltd., which collapsed in 2011 with $1.6 billion missing from its accounts. Initial Jobless Claims in U.S. Rise Less Than Forecast (Bloomberg) Applications for jobless benefits increased by 2,000 to 336,000 in the week ended March 16, Labor Department figures showed today. Economists projected 340,000 claims, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg survey. The monthly average, which smoothes the week-to-week volatility, dropped to the lowest level since February 2008. Regulator finds flaws in Deutsche Bank's Libor supervision (Reuters) German markets watchdog Bafin is set to tell Deutsche Bank of "organizational flaws" in how it supervised its contribution to the setting of inter-bank lending rates at the heart of the international rate-rigging scandal, sources familiar with the watchdog's investigation said. Wis. limits use of nude beach to reduce sex, drugs (AP) Wisconsin authorities announced Tuesday they will shut down one of nation's most popular nude beaches on weekdays after struggling for years to curtail sex and drugs on the sandbar and surrounding woods. Nudists from around the country have been traveling to the public beach on the Wisconsin River near Mazomanie, about 25 miles northwest of Madison, for decades as word spread that prosecutors in ultra-liberal Dane County wouldn't go after anyone for showing skin. But visitors haven't stopped at just stripping down. They've been slipping off into the woods for trysts and drugs. Authorities say that's crossing the line, but they haven't been able to stop the shenanigans. Their frustration reached a tipping point Tuesday, when the state Department of Natural Resources announced it will close the beach, the islands immediately off it and the surrounding woods to the public on weekdays, when wardens say troublemakers tend to operate unseen. The closures begin immediately. The area will remain open on weekends, though. Bob Morton, executive director of the Austin, Tex.-based Naturist Action Committee, which lobbies on behalf of nudists, has visited the beach several times. He criticized the DNR for not consulting with beachgoers before closing the area. "Honestly, we're on their side when it comes to enforcing things that are lewd and lascivious," Morton said. "There's something to be said about consulting the users of the place. There's got to be more to this somewhere."

Opening Bell: 03.12.12

Greek Bailout Payment Set to Be Approved by Euro Ministers After Debt Deal (Bloomberg) Ministers from the 17 nations that share the euro will gather in Brussels today to sign off on the 130 billion-euro ($170 billion) second package for Greece after bondholders agreed last week to take a loss on the country’s debt. They’ll also focus on Spain’s budget-cutting efforts and Portugal’s aid program, underscoring their desire to prevent contagion. MF Global Bonuses Under Fire (WSJ) In a letter to former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Louis Freeh, Sen. Jon Tester (D., Mont.) said it would be "outrageous" to proceed with a proposal to a bankruptcy judge that could result in payouts of several hundred thousand dollars each for MF Global's chief operating officer, finance chief and general counsel. The size of the bonuses would depend on their job performance in helping Mr. Freeh maximize value for creditors of the company. Pandit Pay Climbs as Citigroup Revenue Slumps (Bloomberg) Pandit’s $15 million pay package for 2011 and a multi-year retention package announced in May could total $53 million, based on regulatory filings and an analyst’s estimate. The CEO also received $80 million last year from the New York-based firm’s purchase of his Old Lane Partners LP hedge fund in 2007. Latest Stress Tests Are Expected to Show Progress at Most Banks (NYT) In another milestone in the banking industry’s recovery from the financial crisis, the Federal Reserve this week will release the results of its latest stress tests, which are expected to show broadly improved balance sheets at most institutions...The examination is not merely an intellectual exercise. If institutions fall short, they could be required to raise billions in new capital, depressing their shares. If they pass, dividend increases and stock buybacks by the strongest institutions will follow as they did after the second round of tests a year ago, pleasing investors whose banks’ stocks still trade at levels far below where they where before the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008. Mortgage Deal Is Built On Tradeoffs (WSJ) Banks agreed to cut loan balances, a step they had long resisted, but they won't only get credit against their shares of the $25 billion settlement for reducing balances of loans they own. In some cases, they can receive partial credit if investors shoulder the cost of writing down loans the banks service. The banks also will receive credit for some steps they are already taking, such as approving short sales, where a home is sold for less than the amount owed, according to draft settlement documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. The Unravelling Of A Casino Marriage (WSJ) Messrs. Wynn and Okada, both known for their big, demanding egos, were something of an odd couple. Mr. Wynn is famous for a Cheshire-cat grin and smooth, grandiose soliloquies. Mr. Okada, a former engineer who had specialized in vacuum tubes, was sometimes seen as sullen and withdrawn by company outsiders. Born the same year, 1942, Mr. Wynn and Mr. Okada became "completely and totally bonded," Mr. Wynn said after they were introduced by a mutual friend. Mr. Wynn was hunting for investors who would give him leeway to create resorts that might take years to design and build. Mr. Wynn came of age during an era when casino operators were emerging from the industry's mob-infested roots. He hobnobbed with such celebrities as Steven Spielberg and Clint Eastwood. Mr. Okada, though often ranked among the richest people in Japan, largely stayed out of the spotlight. Missing Hiker Cuddled With Cat (AP) Snuggling in a blue sleeping bag, Margaret Page and her cat survived 3 1/2 weeks in a rugged New Mexico national forest, even though temperatures dropped below freezing nearly every night...The area had seen average highs reach around 60 degrees with evening lows in the 20s. It didn’t see much rain or snow, but there were some high winds...Relying on a creek for drinking water, Page and her cat named Miya lived on just a handful of supplies, rescue workers said Friday. Wells Fargo Poised to Lead Payouts Higher (Bloomberg) Wells Fargo and Citigroup may join banks unleashing more than $9 billion in dividend increases and share buybacks if they get passing grades this week on the Federal Reserve’s annual stress test. Thirteen of the 19 largest U.S. lenders may say they’ll pay out $3.79 billion in extra dividends this year and buy $5.52 billion of additional shares, according to estimates of six analysts compiled by Bloomberg. That’s 30 percent more than they spent last year. San Francisco-based Wells Fargo probably will offer the biggest difference at a combined $4.16 billion, followed by Citigroup with $2.92 billion. SEC Probes Operators’ Use of Multiple Markets (FT) According to people familiar with the probe, SEC officials are focusing on whether operators use multiple exchanges to appease customers which provide large order flows. At Lunch, Bloomberg And Obama Discuss Future (NYT) Mr. Bloomberg’s precise response is unknown. But their meeting a few weeks ago, confirmed by aides to both leaders and previously undisclosed, was potentially significant for both men, as Mr. Obama seeks support for his presidential campaign and Mr. Bloomberg ponders his post-mayoral career. Soros-led hookup may save American Apparel (NYP) George Soros has found a new financial disaster from which to profit: American Apparel. The billionaire octogenarian — who, like American Apparel’s controversial CEO Dov Charney, has lately been entangled in lawsuits with young, beautiful women — is backing a firm that’s in talks to extend a credit line worth as much as $80 million to the cash-strapped clothing chain, The Post has learned. The credit facility from Crystal Financial, a Boston-based firm that boasts Soros’ hedge fund as its lead investor, will immediately replace and expand a $75 million revolving credit line from Bank of America that matures in July, sources said. How To Become A Skeeball Master (YG) Not all skeeball machines are created equal. Between the shape of the ramp, the geometry of the backboard, and the precise characteristics of the rolling surfaces, each skeeball machine plays slightly differently -- and those variations can throw you off your game. If you're getting settled into a serious practice session, stock up with plenty of tokens and don't step away from your chosen spot....many skeeball aficionados prefer to kneel down to play. Maybe the lower stance helps them line up their shot, or perhaps being closer to the action helps them judge their throwing power a little more accurately. Whatever the reason, it's a tried and true technique for expert skeeball players -- and it might work for you, too. If you're struggling to settle into a comfortable throw, give it a try.