Opening Bell: 05.07.12 - Dealbreaker

Opening Bell: 05.07.12

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Buffett Defends His Tax Rule (WSJ)
The meeting was Berkshire's first since Mr. Buffett made headlines by saying those earning more than $1 million a year should pay a tax rate of at least 30%. One questioner asked whether a CEO should keep his political views "muted," prompting Mr. Buffett to respond that he has a duty to share his views on economic questions. Mr. Buffett said higher taxes on high earners are part of necessary "sacrifice" at a time when a fifth of households subsist on $21,000 or less annually. He added that high earners paid higher rates up until tax-code changes over the past two decades sharply reduced the proportion of income paid by top earners.

Buffett Shuns $22 Billion Deal to Protect Stock Holdings (Bloomberg)
Buffett said he recently opted against a $22 billion acquisition because he didn’t want to sell investments in marketable securities. “We considered one here just a month or two ago, which we would have liked to do,” Buffett, Berkshire’s chairman and chief executive officer, said today at the company’s annual meeting in Omaha, Nebraska. “I would have had to sell some securities I didn’t want to sell.”

Buffett jokes with shareholders after cancer diagnosis (AP)
Billionaire Warren Buffett, who announced last month he has been diagnosed with early-stage prostate cancer, on Saturday joked about his health and told shareholders: "I feel terrific...maybe I'll get shot by a jealous husband, but this is a really minor thing," he said.

Buffett Says U.S. Banks a Class Apart From Europeans (Bloomberg)
“I would put European banks and American banks in two very different categories,” Buffett, Berkshire’s chief executive officer, said May 5 at the firm’s annual meeting in Omaha, Nebraska. “The American banking system is in fine shape. The European system was gasping for air a few months back” until getting assistance from the European Central Bank, he said.

Greek Election Surprise Rejects ‘Barbarism’ of Bailout Austerity (Bloomberg)
Alexis Tsipras became the surprise package of the Greek election by telling Angela Merkel to get lost. “The people of Europe can no longer be reconciled with the bailouts of barbarism,” Tsipras, 37, said on state-run NET TV late yesterday after his Syriza party unexpectedly came second in the country’s election. “European leaders, and especially Ms. Merkel, should realize that her policies have undergone a crushing defeat.”

Citi: Look For A 'Grexit' (CNBC)
The risk of Greece exiting the euro zone have risen to as much as 75 percent, according to economists at Citi. Describing such an outcome as a “Grexit,” the Citi team said, however, that the chances of a broad-based break-up of the euro zone remain very low...With the chances of the formation of a unity or coalition government looking remote, it appears likely that Greek voters will be asked to vote again, something that could see Greece fail to meet the terms of its recent bailout by the so-called “troika” of the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Long Island 'hooker' accused of selling sex out of hot-dog truck -- again (NYP)
A Long Island hooker sold more than just sausage at her roadside hot-dog truck — using the truck to peddle her own flesh even though she’d been busted on the same rap eight years ago, cops said yesterday. Catherine Scalia, 45, was arrested Thursday night when she offered the off-menu special to an undercover cop and took him back to her East Rockaway pad for some home cooking. The mother of four pleaded not guilty to a prostitution charge and was held on $2,000 bail. It’s the second time Scalia’s been busted for mixing sex and Sabretts. She and a pal were nailed in December 2004 for running a similar operation out of the hot-dog truck. Cops recently discovered she was back in business after disgusted residents near her Baldwin stand complained she was handing out suggestive business cards alongside steaming kielbasa.

Falcone’s LightSquared Said to Get Week Credit Extension (Bloomberg)
LightSquared Inc., the wireless- network company backed by billionaire Philip Falcone, received a second weeklong extension from creditors, delaying a potential bankruptcy, a person with knowledge of the matter said. The move gives LightSquared more time to negotiate before having to revisit a waiver that is keeping its debt from going into default.

Icahn unloads his LightSquared debt position (Reuters)
Billionaire investor Carl Icahn has sold his $250 million debt holdings in Philip Falcone’s telecom start-up LightSquared, while Falcone continues to negotiate with creditors to avoid a debt default, according to sources familiar with the matter.

UBS Bets on Toxic Debt Demand After Fed’s Record Sale (Bloomberg)
UBS, which had more than $57 billion of losses and writedowns after the U.S. real-estate crash, is betting there’s enough demand for toxic commercial property assets to sell debt created at the height of the boom. The bank is seeking buyers this week for collateralized debt obligations assembled in 2007 with a face value of $1.5 billion that contain securities tied to skyscrapers, malls and hotel loans. UBS is trying to follow the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s record $7.5 billion sale of similar bonds last month acquired in the 2008 rescue of AIG.

Confusion Still Reigns On 'Volcker Rule' Date (WSJ)
At issue is whether the Fed is requiring banks to start scaling back on making bets with their own money almost immediately, or whether they can continue until the ban on such activities goes into effect in two years.

Shaq becomes Dr. O’Neal, graduates from Barry University with doctoral degree (Miami Herald)
O’Neal achieved a cumulative GPA of 3.813 while completing 54 credit hours comprised of 16 courses and six credit hours of self-directed research. He did most of his course work via satellite, video conferencing and Blackboard.com. The title of his doctoral capstone project was “The Duality of Humor and Seriousness in Leadership Styles." "Everyone thinks this is honorary. But this is not honorary. I put in four and a half hard years staying up late at night, studying, reading, rewriting papers Dr. Kopp marked up," O’Neal said. "The work was very rigorous, but very enjoyable. And I’m not done. I think I’m going to try law school next. I’m thinking about it. We’ll see."

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Opening Bell: 03.07.12

Goldman No.1 in Investment Bank Fees (Bloomberg Markets) Total investment banking fees for all financial institutions in 2011 were $49.1 billion, matching the $49.1 billion from 2010. Total deal volume also matched 2010, at $6.9 trillion. Goldman took the top spot in the ranking even as its total fees fell in 2011 to $3.46 billion from $3.6 billion in 2010. Goldman is also No. 1 in M&A fees for the eighth consecutive year. JPMorgan dropped to No. 3 from No. 1 in the overall ranking. Morgan Stanley held on to the No. 2 spot, with $3.26 billion in overall fees, down 11 percent from the prior 12 months. Investors With 39.3% of Greek Debt Will Swap (Bloomberg) The thirty members of the private creditor-investor committee for Greece who plan to participate in the swap hold an aggregate 81 billion euros of Greek debt, or 39.3 percent of the Greek debt eligible for the swap, according to the email. Obama pitches CEOs on economic growth (Politico) President Barack Obama pitched his proposals for economic growth to an audience of CEOs Tuesday, including Bank of America chief executive Brian Moynihan and Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan Chase. The president hailed his proposed investments in infrastructure and training and pointed to common ground with the business community, including the signing of free trade agreements and allowing Russia into the World Trade Organization, according to a pool report. Obama said he will go anywhere in the world to secure markets for American goods, and, noting a large order inked by Boeing, quipped, "I expect a gold watch upon my retirement" for all the planes he's helped sell around the world. "Obviously we've got a long way to go," he said. But, he said "the economy is speeding up." The gathering of the Business Roundtable, an association of CEOs, drew roughly 100 chief executives. But while there was polite applause when Obama was introduced, the pool report noted, “the CEOs sat silent for most of his remarks.” Private Sector Adds 216,000 Jobs (WSJ) Private-sector jobs in the U.S. increased 216,000 last month, according to a national employment report published by payroll giant Automatic Data Processing Inc. and consultancy Macroeconomic Advisers. The gain was close to expectations of 215,000 put forth by economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires. Alleged accomplice of Manhattan 'madam' indicted, remains on the lam (NYP) Accused millionaire madam Anna Gristina had an alleged partner in crime -- gorgeous strawberry-blonde Jaynie Baker, who three sources told The Post yesterday is Gristina's indicted but unapprehended accomplice. "She was running the operation with Anna," said one source with knowledge of the operation. Asked where Baker, 30, of Brooklyn, is currently, the source answered, "Nobody knows." Baker and Gristina are both charged with felony promoting prostitution for allegedly co-running an Upper East Side-based escort service that offered premium call girls to a millionaire clientele. "This was the gold standard of escort services," said a second source with knowledge of the operation. "These were high-end models who cost $2,000 a visit, and were worth every penny." World’s Richest Lose $11.3B, Mittal Falls Off Index (Bloomberg on Bloomberg) The 20 richest people on Earth lost a combined $11.3 billion yesterday as global markets fell after European economic growth slowed and investors weighed Greece’s chances of getting bondholders to accept a debt swap. Warren Buffett’s fortune fell $407.3 million, dropping his net worth to $43.9 billion. The chairman of Omaha, Nebraska- based Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRK/B), his investment holding company, ranks third on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a daily ranking of the world’s richest people. Bernanke Seen Accepting Faster Inflation as Fed Seeks Jobs Boost (Bloomberg) The Fed chairman told lawmakers last week that an increase in energy costs will boost inflation “temporarily while reducing consumers’ purchasing power.” He also said the central bank will adopt a “balanced approach” as it pursues its twin goals of price stability and full employment, which it defines as a jobless rate of between 5.2 percent and 6 percent. “The chairman seemed to suggest they will tolerate a misdemeanor on inflation as unemployment continues to fall toward their goal” over several years, said Mark Spindel, chief investment officer at Potomac River Capital, a hedge fund that manages $250 million in Washington. President Presses for Action on the Buffett Rule (WSJ) President Barack Obama took an aggressive tack on taxes at a White House news conference Tuesday, suggesting that Congress adopt his proposal for a so-called Buffett rule this year. It would require very high income earners—those making $1 million a year or more—to pay at least 30% of their income in federal tax. Newt Gingrich: 'I am the tortoise' of the 2012 Republican primary (The Hill) Newt Gingrich heralded himself as the "tortoise" of the 2012 Republican primary after a strong win in Georgia — the state he represented for two decades in Congress — and pledged to fight on for the Republican presidential nomination despite an otherwise poor showing in the Super Tuesday contests. "There are lots of bunny rabbits who run through — I am the tortoise. I just take one step at a time," Gingrich told a crowd of supporters in Atlanta.

Opening Bell: 05.14.12

JPMorgan Loss Claims Official Who Oversaw Trading Unit (NYTimes) The $2 billion trading loss at JPMorgan Chase will claim its first casualty among top officials at the bank as early as Monday, with chief executive Jamie Dimon set to accept the resignation of the executive who oversaw the trade, Ina R. Drew. Ms. Drew, a 55-year-old banker who has worked at the company for three decades and serves as chief investment officer, had repeatedly offered to resign since the scale of the loss became apparent in late April, but Mr. Dimon had held off until now on accepting it, several JPMorgan Chase executives said. Two traders who worked for Ms. Drew also planned to resign, JPMorgan Chase officials said. Her exit would mark a stunning fall from grace for one of the most powerful women on Wall Street, as well as a trusted lieutenant of Mr. Dimon...Former senior-level executives at JPMorgan said it was a shame that Ms. Drew has ended up suffering much of the fallout from the soured trade. They said that Thursday’s announcement of the $2 billion loss was the first real misstep that Ms. Drew has had and said that the position was not meant to drum up bigger profits for the bank, but rather to ensure that JPMorgan could continue to hold lending positions in Europe. “This is killing her,” a former JP Morgan executive said, adding “in banking there are very large knives.” Jamie Dimon: Trading Losses Are Not Life-Threatening (CNBC) “This is a stupid thing that we should never have done but we’re still going to earn a lot of money this quarter so it isn’t like the company is jeopardized,” he said in an interview with NBC’s “Meet with Press.” “We hurt ourselves and our credibility, yes — and that you’ve got to fully expect and pay the price for that.” Yahoo’s Thompson Out Amid Inquiry; Levinsohn Is Interim CEO (Bloomberg, earlier) Thompson, 54, was brought on to orchestrate a turnaround after Google Inc. and Facebook Inc. lured users and advertising dollars. Thompson’s undoing stems from erroneous biographical references to him as holding a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Stonehill College. A former EBay Inc. (EBAY) executive, he earned a degree in accounting from the Easton, Massachusetts- based school, and the information is correctly listed in EBay regulatory filings and some Yahoo press releases. The incorrect degree showed up in Yahoo’s April 27 10-K filing, as well as on the company’s website. As part of the board changes, Daniel Loeb, chief executive officer of Third Point, joins as a director along with Harry Wilson and Michael Wolf. A fourth nominee, Jeffrey Zucker, said in today’s statement that he withdrew his nomination to allow a quick transition. Euro Officials Begin to Weigh Greek Exit (Bloomberg) Greek withdrawal “is not necessarily fatal, but it is not attractive,” European Central Bank Governing Council member Patrick Honohan said in Tallinn on May 12. An exit was “technically” possible yet would damage the euro, he said. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble reiterated in an interview in Sueddeutsche Zeitung that member states seeking to hold the line on austerity for Greece could not force the country to stay. LightSquared Moves Toward Bankruptcy Filing (WSJ) Hedge-fund manager Philip Falcone's LightSquared Inc. venture was preparing Sunday to file for bankruptcy protection after negotiations with lenders to avoid a potential debt default faltered, said people familiar with the matter. LightSquared and its lenders still have until 5 p.m. Monday to reach a deal that would keep the wireless-networking company out of bankruptcy court, and there were some indications over the weekend that a final decision hadn't yet been reached on its fate. Still, the two sides remained far apart, and people involved in the negotiations expected LightSquared to begin making bankruptcy preparations in earnest. Facebook cofounder living large in Singapore as he stiffs US for a possible $600M in taxes (NYP) Saverin is renouncing his US citizenship in favor of Singapore, the Southeast Asian city-state that has no capital-gains tax, where he has lived like royalty since 2009. The move already has saved him about $288 million in taxes, and will save him much more if he chooses to sell his $4 billion personal stake in Facebook, which goes public next week. “This pisses me off,” fellow tech-industry billionaire Mark Cuban spat on Twitter Friday upon hearing news of Saverin’s decision. Saverin’s spokesman has defended the move, claiming he has investments in the Far East, and Europe and the permanent move makes perfect sense. “Eduardo recently found it more practical to become a resident of Singapore since he plans to live there for an indefinite period of time,” Saverin’s spokesman told Bloomberg. JPMorgan Unit's London Staff May Go as Loss Prompts Exits (Bloomberg) The entire London staff of JPMorgan Chase’s chief investment office is at risk of dismissal as a $2 billion trading loss prompts the first executive departures as soon as this week, a person familiar with the situation said. The firm is examining whether anyone in the unit, which employs a few dozen people in London, sought to hide risks, said the person, who requested anonymity because the deliberations are private. In Wake Of JPMorgan Loss, Rivals Fret About New Rules, Downgrades (WSJ) Over the weekend, rival banks scurried to explain why they believe a similar trading loss couldn't happen at their firm. Some companies pointed to moves already taken to reduce risk and sell off volatile and opaque assets such as derivatives on credit indexes. In a statement, Citigroup "has a small amount of straight-forward economic hedges managed at the corporate center to mitigate our credit exposure, principally relating to consumer loans." About half of that total is in cash, with most of the rest in U.S. Treasury bonds and other conservative investments. At Morgan Stanley, the portfolio most similar to J.P. Morgan's investment office is a $32 billion "available for sale" portfolio. The portfolio primarily consists of easily traded U.S. Treasury and government agency securities. It doesn't hold any derivatives instruments, a person familiar with Morgan Stanley's operations said. Goldman Sachs has no similar unit to the one at J.P. Morgan that suffered the loss. Apple Founder Wozniak to Buy Facebook Regardless of Price (Bloomberg) “I would invest in Facebook,” he said in an interview yesterday on Bloomberg Television. “I don’t care what the opening price is.” Missing: Stats on Crisis Convictions (WSJ) It is a question that has been asked time and again since the financial crisis: How many executives have been convicted of criminal wrongdoing related to the tumultuous events of 2008-2009? The Justice Department doesn't know the answer. That is because the department doesn't keep count of the numbers of board-level prosecutions. In a response earlier this month to a March request from Sen. Charles Grassley (R.,Iowa), the Justice Department said it doesn't hold information on defendants' business titles. "Consequently, we are unable to generate the [requested] comprehensive list" of Wall Street convictions stemming from the 2008 meltdown, the letter from the Department of Justice to Mr. Grassley said. Man Charged in Death Offers Victim's Foot for Deal (AP) A homeless man charged with killing and dismembering his friend says he can't remember much about the crime. But in a jailhouse interview, Leslie Sandoval told the Anderson Independent-Mail he remembers where he put the victim's missing left foot and is willing to tell a prosecutor if she will make him a deal. Sandoval says he went on a January drinking binge with Seth Foster. Foster's torso was found under an Anderson home, and his head, hands and right foot were found different places. Sandoval says he is confused about exactly what happened. But he disagrees with a coroner's finding he beat Foster and denies a claim from investigators that he confessed and gave them the knife used to dismember Foster.