Opening Bell: 05.25.12

J.P. Morgan Unit Made Risky Bets on Firms (WSJ) The JPMorgan unit whose wrong-way bets on corporate credit cost the bank more than $2 billion includes a group that has invested in financially challenged companies, including LightSquared Inc., the wireless broadband provider that this month filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection...The Special Investments Group last year took a $150 million stake in closely held LightSquared, in a deal that J.P. Morgan lost money on, according to a person familiar with the bank. Both Campaigns Seize on Romney’s Years at Bain (NYT) ...the Romney campaign is actively recruiting testimonials from workers who have had positive experiences with Bain. It is getting ready to release advertising highlighting Bain’s marquee success stories, like the turnaround of Staples. It is considering seeking out middle-class surrogates — a fireman or members of a teachers union, for instance — who would be willing to talk about how Bain managed and increased the size of their pension funds, a lesser-known aspect of private equity...Mr. Romney’s advisers are betting that if they stay out of the nuances of private equity and tell a story about turning around failing companies, they can transform the Bain attacks into a narrative that underscores Mr. Romney’s image as a skilled executive who can steer a troubled economy back to prosperity. ECB Official: On Greece, ‘We Are Working on Plan A’ (CNBC) "It's our strong preference that Greece stays in the euro zone...We are working on plan A," Joerg Asmussen said in the interview yesterday. "I always work on plan A. I am not speculating, I am working to make plan A successful," he added. What Would A Greek Exit Mean For The US Economy? (Reuters) usiness investment would stall, banks would pull back on credit, and lost wealth as equity prices fall would cause consumers to slow their spending. Commodity prices would plunge, helping importers but hurting growth in export economies. Merkel May Be Persuaded On Euro Debt-Sharing Compromise (Bloomberg) Chancellor Angela Merkel left the door open to a compromise on debt sharing in the euro area as Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti said he can help bring Germany round to acting in Europe’s “common good.” Short Sellers Find Friends In Banks (WSJ) As traders at Morgan Stanley were frantically trying to shore up Facebook Inc.'s FB share price following the company's initial public offering, other managers on the deal were helping short sellers bet that the newly minted stock would fall. Trading desks at Goldman Sachs Group and J.P. Morgan Chase, two of the firms that helped Morgan Stanley underwrite the IPO, were among those lending out Facebook shares that hedge funds needed for short sales, according to people familiar with the matter. While it isn't uncommon for Wall Street firms to make shares available for shorting on IPOs they manage, Morgan Stanley, the lead underwriter, didn't lend shares, according to people familiar with the matter. Escaped monkey holds up flight at JFK for hours (NYP) Monkey business held up a Beijing-bound flight at Kennedy Airport nearly four hours yesterday. A monkey escaped its crate in the cargo hold of an Air China Boeing 747 scheduled to leave Terminal 1 at 4:50 p.m., said Port Authority police. Port Authority emergency services officers and an airport worker caught the monkey and handed it over to the airline. The animal never got out of the jet’s cargo hold. The foot-tall monkey was one of about 50 to 60 being shipped to China for medical research, said police sources. “He was a slippery little beast,” one source said. Bankia Shares Suspended Ahead of Board Meeting (WSJ) EFE news agency reported Thursday that the lender will ask the government for more than €15 billion ($18.80 billion). The bank said it requested the suspension ahead of the meeting, at which it will also approve its 2011 earnings report. The board meeting will begin at 2:30 p.m. GMT. Moody's Downgrades Major Nordic Banks (WSJ) Moody's said the funding and margin issues left the banks susceptible to unexpected losses from which it would be a challenge for them to rebuild capital. It also highlighted risks to asset quality, with the Swedish economy exposed to weakness in Europe and the banks' variable-rate mortgage books vulnerable to interest rate changes. USDA Is a Tough Collector When Mortgages Go Bad (WSJ) Unlike private firms, the USDA doesn't need permission from a court to start collecting on unpaid debts. It can in some cases seize government benefits and tax refunds before a foreclosure is completed. After foreclosure, the USDA can go after unpaid balances, even in states that limit such actions by private lenders. Nasdaq CEO went ahead with Facebook IPO despite signs new software had bugs (NYP) During a conference call on Monday evening, Nasdaq officials said that they were unaware of any problems with the system. However, sources said that there may have been signs that the system wasn’t glitch-free even at the 11th hour and that Nasdaq opted to roll the dice. “They may have thought they did not have any material issues with the systems,” said one exchange platform official. Lacrosse Party-Boy Image Worries Coaches Who See Slower Growth (Bloomberg) “It’s really important that the lacrosse world grows up a little bit,” Danowski said from his office in Durham, North Carolina. “We are getting more TV exposure; more people are able to make a living through lacrosse. If we want to be accepted in the mainstream, then it’s time for us to grow up.”
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J.P. Morgan Unit Made Risky Bets on Firms (WSJ)
The JPMorgan unit whose wrong-way bets on corporate credit cost the bank more than $2 billion includes a group that has invested in financially challenged companies, including LightSquared Inc., the wireless broadband provider that this month filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection...The Special Investments Group last year took a $150 million stake in closely held LightSquared, in a deal that J.P. Morgan lost money on, according to a person familiar with the bank.

Both Campaigns Seize on Romney’s Years at Bain (NYT)
...the Romney campaign is actively recruiting testimonials from workers who have had positive experiences with Bain. It is getting ready to release advertising highlighting Bain’s marquee success stories, like the turnaround of Staples. It is considering seeking out middle-class surrogates — a fireman or members of a teachers union, for instance — who would be willing to talk about how Bain managed and increased the size of their pension funds, a lesser-known aspect of private equity...Mr. Romney’s advisers are betting that if they stay out of the nuances of private equity and tell a story about turning around failing companies, they can transform the Bain attacks into a narrative that underscores Mr. Romney’s image as a skilled executive who can steer a troubled economy back to prosperity.

ECB Official: On Greece, ‘We Are Working on Plan A’ (CNBC)
"It's our strong preference that Greece stays in the euro zone...We are working on plan A," Joerg Asmussen said in the interview yesterday. "I always work on plan A. I am not speculating, I am working to make plan A successful," he added.

What Would A Greek Exit Mean For The US Economy? (Reuters)
usiness investment would stall, banks would pull back on credit, and lost wealth as equity prices fall would cause consumers to slow their spending. Commodity prices would plunge, helping importers but hurting growth in export economies.

Merkel May Be Persuaded On Euro Debt-Sharing Compromise (Bloomberg)
Chancellor Angela Merkel left the door open to a compromise on debt sharing in the euro area as Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti said he can help bring Germany round to acting in Europe’s “common good.”

Short Sellers Find Friends In Banks (WSJ)
As traders at Morgan Stanley were frantically trying to shore up Facebook Inc.'s FB share price following the company's initial public offering, other managers on the deal were helping short sellers bet that the newly minted stock would fall. Trading desks at Goldman Sachs Group and J.P. Morgan Chase, two of the firms that helped Morgan Stanley underwrite the IPO, were among those lending out Facebook shares that hedge funds needed for short sales, according to people familiar with the matter. While it isn't uncommon for Wall Street firms to make shares available for shorting on IPOs they manage, Morgan Stanley, the lead underwriter, didn't lend shares, according to people familiar with the matter.

Escaped monkey holds up flight at JFK for hours (NYP)
Monkey business held up a Beijing-bound flight at Kennedy Airport nearly four hours yesterday.
A monkey escaped its crate in the cargo hold of an Air China Boeing 747 scheduled to leave Terminal 1 at 4:50 p.m., said Port Authority police. Port Authority emergency services officers and an airport worker caught the monkey and handed it over to the airline. The animal never got out of the jet’s cargo hold. The foot-tall monkey was one of about 50 to 60 being shipped to China for medical research, said police sources. “He was a slippery little beast,” one source said.

Bankia Shares Suspended Ahead of Board Meeting (WSJ)
EFE news agency reported Thursday that the lender will ask the government for more than €15 billion ($18.80 billion). The bank said it requested the suspension ahead of the meeting, at which it will also approve its 2011 earnings report. The board meeting will begin at 2:30 p.m. GMT.

Moody's Downgrades Major Nordic Banks (WSJ)
Moody's said the funding and margin issues left the banks susceptible to unexpected losses from which it would be a challenge for them to rebuild capital. It also highlighted risks to asset quality, with the Swedish economy exposed to weakness in Europe and the banks' variable-rate mortgage books vulnerable to interest rate changes.

USDA Is a Tough Collector When Mortgages Go Bad (WSJ)
Unlike private firms, the USDA doesn't need permission from a court to start collecting on unpaid debts. It can in some cases seize government benefits and tax refunds before a foreclosure is completed. After foreclosure, the USDA can go after unpaid balances, even in states that limit such actions by private lenders.

Nasdaq CEO went ahead with Facebook IPO despite signs new software had bugs (NYP)
During a conference call on Monday evening, Nasdaq officials said that they were unaware of any problems with the system. However, sources said that there may have been signs that the system wasn’t glitch-free even at the 11th hour and that Nasdaq opted to roll the dice. “They may have thought they did not have any material issues with the systems,” said one exchange platform official.

Lacrosse Party-Boy Image Worries Coaches Who See Slower Growth (Bloomberg)
“It’s really important that the lacrosse world grows up a little bit,” Danowski said from his office in Durham, North Carolina. “We are getting more TV exposure; more people are able to make a living through lacrosse. If we want to be accepted in the mainstream, then it’s time for us to grow up.”

Salt 2012: A Fund Manager's $710,000 Blackjack Breakfast (AR)
Geismar asked O'Leary what his name was and where he was from. "You like the Dallas Mavericks? Yeah? Let's be a maverick!" he said to the new player and threw him a $5,000 chip to bet on O'Leary's hand. O'Leary started beating the dealer, too, winning Geisma thousands of dollars a hand. After some big wins, Geismar hugged him in excitement. "He was jumping into the pit screaming 'we're going to need more chips over here!"

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Opening Bell: 05.23.12

Merkel Heads For Debt Showdown With Hollande At EU Summit (Bloomberg) German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she won’t shy away from disagreeing with French President Francois Hollande at the summit in Brussels over dinner at 7 p.m., the next major appointment of leaders seeking to allay concerns that Greece may quit the euro, putting Spain and Italy at risk as well. Good cooperation “doesn’t exclude differing positions,” Merkel told reporters yesterday in Chicago during a meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. “These may very well arise in the context of the European discussions.” Morgan Stanley Says It Played By Rules In Facebook’s IPO (Bloomberg) “Morgan Stanley followed the same procedures for the Facebook offering that it follows for all IPOs,” Pen Pendleton, a spokesman for the New York-based investment bank, said yesterday in an e-mailed statement. “These procedures are in compliance with all applicable regulations.” Inside Facebook's Fumbled Offering (WSJ) Interviews with more than a dozen people involved in the IPO reveal that Facebook approached its deal differently than companies typically do. Facebook CFO Ebersman kept a close grip on every important decision on the stock offering, not deferring to his bankers the way many companies do, according to the people familiar with planning...Mr. Ebersman had asked Facebook's early shareholders to fill out a form indicating how many shares they would like to sell in the IPO and at what price, and to indicate whether they would be willing to sell more if the share count was increased, the person said. When Mr. Ebersman learned from Mr. Grimes that there was outsize investor demand, he went back to those forms and reached out to early shareholders to cash out more stock, the person said. Gupta On Rajaratnam's VIP List (NYP) Jailed hedge fund manager Raj Rajaratnam deemed only a handful of people — including ex-Goldman Sachs director Rajat Gupta — important enough to disturb his trading day, Rajaratnam’s former assistant testified yesterday in Manhattan federal court. Carlyn Eisenberg, the government’s first witness in the trial of Gupta on insider-trading charges, said his name was on a “special list” of those whose calls she was to put through to her then-boss. She said it was one of those calls in September 2008 that triggered a flurry of trading activity at Rajaratnam’s Galleon Group, shortly before Goldman Sachs announced it had landed a $5 billion investment from famed investor Warren Buffett...Eisenberg recalled getting a call several years ago from a man whose voice she recognized as being on the list at the time, although she said she couldn’t identify it now as belonging to Gupta. The call, which phone records later showed came from Gupta’s McKinsey & Co. office, arrived minutes before the close of markets on Sept. 23, 2008, according to Eisenberg. The caller “said it was urgent and he needed to speak to Raj,” she told jurors. After Rajaratnam took the call, he immediately brought Galleon co-founder Gary Rosenbach into his office. When Rosenbach emerged, he began making calls, saying, “buy Goldman Sachs,” Eisenberg testified. More Finance Chiefs Willing To Pay Bribes, Global Survey Finds (Bloomberg) Fifteen percent of chief financial officers around the world are willing to make cash payments to win or retain business, according to a survey of executives interviewed by the accounting firm Ernst & Young LLP. The firm’s annual “global fraud survey” of 400 finance chiefs, interviewed from November to February, found a greater tolerance of bribery compared with the previous year, when 9 percent said they would make cash payments. Five percent of CFOs said they would misstate financial performance, while 3 percent said that the year before, according to the survey. Troubleshooter In Running To Succeed Dimon (FT) For relaxation, Matt Zames shoots things. Mostly birds. But the 41-year-old JPMorgan Chase executive does not have much free time for hunting now. He is busy mopping up his bank’s biggest mess since the financial crisis. Last week Mr Zames was appointed to replace Ina Drew as head of the bank’s chief investment office, whose London-based trading unit has wiped $30bn off its parent’s market capitalisation. “When you’re in a difficult spot you find out who you want to be in a foxhole with,” says Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan. “Matt puts his hand up.” Barclays To Sell Entire BlackRock Stake For $5.5 Billion (Bloomberg) The lender sold about 26.2 million shares to money managers for $160 each, London-based Barclays said in a statement yesterday. Underwriters have the option to purchase an additional 2.6 million. New York-based BlackRock will buy back a further 6.38 million shares at $156.80 per share, about 8.8 percent less than the stock’s $171.91 close on May 18, the last trading day before the deal was announced. Tall Tales About Private Equity, By Steve Rattner (NYT) To be sure, some of Bain’s large leveraged buyouts — notably, Domino’s Pizza — added jobs. But Mr. Romney left Bain Capital two months after the Domino’s investment (7,900 new jobs claimed) was finalized. Aware of private equity’s reputation, Mr. Romney still trots around the country erroneously calling himself a “venture capitalist.” And in a further effort to deflect attention from the Bain Capital debate, Mr. Romney last week argued that President Obama was responsible for the loss of 100,000 jobs in the auto industry over the past three years. That’s both ridiculously false (auto industry and dealership jobs have increased by about 50,000 since January 2009) and a remarkable comment from a man who said that the companies should have been allowed to go bankrupt and that the industry would have been better off without President Obama’s involvement. Adding jobs was never Mitt Romney’s private sector agenda, and it’s appropriate to question his ability to do so. Stryker CEO Sought Nod For Romance (WSJ) Mr. MacMillan, 48 years old, was forced out partly because certain board members became bothered by his handling of a relationship with a former flight attendant for the company's corporate jets while his wife pursued a divorce, according to people familiar with the matter. What distinguishes his story from others in this well-worn genre is that, according to a person familiar with Mr. MacMillan's version of events, the CEO approached Mr. Parfet and Louise Francesconi, head of the board's governance and nominating committee, in late September seeking their approval to date the employee, Jennifer Koch. Facebook Analysts Who Shunned Herd Now Look Like Heroes (Bloomberg) The social networking site lost 19 percent through yesterday to $34.03 after opening at $42 on May 18. That’s consistent with warnings from Richard Greenfield of BTIG LLC and Brian Wieser of Pivotal Research Group LLC, who says the stock will slip as low as $30. It left five firms with bullish calls predicting an average rally of 36 percent and one, Tom Forte of Telsey Advisory Group, saying shares may rise 47 percent to $50.

Opening Bell: 11.02.12

Economy Adds 171,000 Jobs (WSJ) U.S. payrolls increased by a seasonally adjusted 171,000 jobs last month, the Labor Department said Friday. The politically important unemployment rate, obtained by a separate survey of U.S. households, rose one-tenth of a percentage point to 7.9%. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires expected a gain of 125,000 in payrolls and a 7.9% jobless rate. Hedge Fund Cashes In On Greek Bonds (Reuters) London-based hedge fund Adelante Asset Management has made a 70 percent gain on a sale of Greek bonds, showing the potential for big profits from betting on a recovery in the fortunes of a country effectively off-limits to investors a few months ago...Since the restructuring, Greek government bond prices have strengthened, allowing Adelante to sell them for around 24 cents on the euro, having bought them for around 14 cents in June, the company said. A Greek government bond maturing in 2042, for example, is currently trading at around 20.8 cents on the euro, Thomson Reuters data shows. Other hedge funds have made similar bets. Third Point, a high profile New York hedge fund, for example, has been a significant buying of cut-price Greek bonds. RBS Eyes Libor Settlement Soon (WSJ) RBS wants to seal a settlement with regulators over its alleged rigging of key interest rates in the coming months, as the partstate-owned bank looks to draw a line under the scandal. Speaking to reporters at the bank's third-quarter results presentation, Chief Executive Stephen Hester said he would be "disappointed" if he couldn't provide details on a settlement by February. "We are up for settling with all and everyone as soon as they are ready. But each regulator has to satisfy itself that it has all the facts," he said. Deutsche Bank Faces Top Surcharge as FSB Shuffles Tiers (Bloomberg) Deutsche Bank would be required to hold more capital and Bank of America Corp.’s burden stands to be reduced as global regulators shuffled the competitive balance among the world’s biggest banks. Citigroup, HSBC and JPMorgan join Deutsche Bank as firms that will be targeted for a capital surcharge of 2.5 percent, according to an updated list published yesterday by the Financial Stability Board. The change means Bank of America already exceeds requirements, while Deutsche Bank would be more than 2 percentage points below the new minimum of 9.5 percent. “That limits earnings potential for Citigroup, JPMorgan and Deutsche Bank compared to Bank of America, all other things being equal, so it’s certainly a competitive advantage for them,” said David Kass, a professor at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. Short-Sellers of Europe Set to Be Unmasked (CNBC) The European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA), the EU regulator, has issued new rules on the short-selling of securities indicating that anyone with short positions of greater than 0.2 percent in an EU company’s shares must report it to regulators. Positions of more than 0.5 percent will be publicly released, naming both the company and the short-seller. Public disclosure is triggered any time that level is hit with each 0.1 percent increase or decrease after that. NYSE Open For Business Shows Wall Street Still Vulnerable (Bloomberg) The Securities and Exchange Commission may consider whether exchanges’ emergency regimens need to be bolstered, according to a person familiar with the regulator’s thinking who asked not to be named because the matter is private. The industry’s decision to halt equities and bond trading shows the challenge of maintaining markets when a catastrophe threatens New York City, home to 168,700 securities industry workers. “One of the purposes of having electronic exchanges and basing them away from New York City is for the market to be more robust and stay open,” Charles Jones, a finance professor at Columbia Business School in New York, said in a phone interview. “This is what the back-up plans were designed for. But the markets didn’t open.” David Blaine Entertains New Yorkers After Hurricane Sandy (NYP) When a backup generator at Old Homestead Steakhouse sputtered, the restaurant started serving hundreds of pounds of steaks, burgers, lobster tails and shrimp on the street outside for downtown denizens. David Blaine, the modern-day Harry Houdini who spent days recently being shocked in a steel suit, pitched in to provide spontaneous street entertainment. “David was rumbling by on his motorcycle, and he stopped to see why there was a line on 14th Street,” said a spy, adding 800 chowed down. Blaine then asked restaurant co-owner Greg Sherry if there was a deck of cards in the house. Blaine used the full deck and some spare silverware to perform magic tricks outside for an hour and a half. The magic man, an Old Homestead regular, was offered a doggie bag but said he’s on a special diet in preparation for his next stunt. Romney Faces Sale With A Win (WSJ) Mr. Romney's assets, valued at between $190 million and $250 million, include investments in hedge funds, private-equity funds and partnerships at Bain Capital, which he ran for 15 years. These entities have ownership stakes in dozens of companies that could be affected by government action, such as radio firm Clear Channel Communications Inc. and a video-surveillance firm based in China. Many businessmen and wealthy individuals have entered government service and sold off holdings. But a Romney sale would be especially complicated. Investments in private-equity funds can be difficult to value and seldom change hands. Any sale would have to be handled carefully to avoid any appearance that the incoming president was getting favorable treatment from a buyer. What Do Asia Markets Fear? Romney As President (CNBC) At a time of heightened uncertainty, with the ongoing European debt crisis and the upcoming leadership transition in China, a new president in the world’s largest economy will cause additional nervousness among Asian investors, experts told CNBC. “Asian traders don’t like change in leadership. You would see weakness in the markets if Romney won, because people would question how well he would deal with the impending doom of the ‘fiscal cliff.’ Obama would be a safer bet, as investors would enjoy continuity at a time of a lot of uncertainty,” said Justin Harper, market strategist, at IG Markets...Besides, Romney’s stance on China is particularly worrying feels Harper. The presidential hopeful has said he will name China a “currency manipulator,” which could lead to more tensions with the mainland, including on the trade front. “You would expect trade between the two nations to suffer, this would have a knee-jerk reaction on trade in the region,” he added. Fed Up With Fees (NYP) The manager of a large public pension’s private-equity program said for the last 24 months he has not committed money to any new private-equity fund that doesn’t give all fees it charges its companies back to investors. He is doing this because he wants an alignment of interest where he and the private-equity firm only make money by reselling a business. PE firms, he believes, will stop charging their companies fees if there is little in it for them. So, KKR, for example — responding to pressure — has agreed to give all fees it charges its companies in its new fund back to investors, the pension manager said. KKR is not the only firm making this change. Apax Partners, Blackstone Group, Centerbridge Partners, Providence Equity and TPG Capital are among those making the same concessions, the pension manager said. Local shelter mistakenly euthanizes family pet (WRCB) After waiting 10 days to be reunited with his dog, a local college student learned the family's pet had been euthanized by mistake. The Lab mix was being held at McKamey Animal Center, where administrators say a paperwork mix up led to the dog's death. Matt Sadler adopted the three-year-old Lab mix when he was just a puppy. "That was my best friend," Sadler says. "He was there for me through my parents' divorce and a lot of really hard tough times in my life." It was hard for Matt when Zion was quarantined last week, after jumping on a pizza delivery driver. "The lady didn't want to press charges, it wasn't anything serious, but the law has a 10-day quarantine period," he says. Because Zion was a month past due on his yearly rabies vaccine, he was held for the full 10 days at McKamey Animal Center. Thursday, Matt eagerly returned to the facility to take Zion home. "She says, ‘I'm sorry, Matt, we accidentally euthanized your dog'," Sadler says...McKamey has offered to cremate Zion, and allow Matt to adopt any dog he chooses.

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: 08.17.12

Facebook Investors Cash Out (WSJ) Mr. Zuckerberg has long exhorted employees not to pay attention to the stock price, instead pushing them to focus on developing the social network. But in a companywide meeting earlier this month, he conceded that it may be "painful" to watch as investors continue to retreat from Facebook's stock, according to people familiar with the meeting. Facebook Second-Worst IPO Performer After Share Lock-Up (Bloomberg) Facebook's 6.3 percent drop yesterday, after the end of restrictions on share sales by its biggest investors, was the second-largest post-lock-up decline among companies that have gone public since January 2011. Wall Street Bonus Estimates Cut By Pay Consultant Johnson (Bloomberg) Incentive pay for senior management, excluding the executives named on proxy filings, will be unchanged to 10 percent higher, Johnson Associates estimated in an Aug. 14 report. That’s down from May, when the firm predicted senior managers would get bonus boosts of 5 percent to 15 percent. The biggest increases are still likely to come in fixed- income and is now forecast to be 10 percent to 20 percent instead of 15 percent to 25 percent, the new report showed. “They had a terrible 2011, so it’s off of a low base,” Johnson said. “We hoped that that business would have recovered more dramatically, but it hasn’t, so I guess you’d say it’s gone from terrible to so-so.” Executives Say Obama Better For World Economy (Reuters) Twice as many business executives around the world say the global economy will prosper better with President Barack Obama than with Mitt Romney, according to a poll out Friday. Democrat Obama was chosen by 42.7 percent in the 1,700-respondent poll, compared with 20.5 percent for Romney. The rest said "neither." 'Broken' Fund Shifts Blame (WSJ) Nearly four years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. "broke the buck" at his money-market mutual fund, Bruce R. Bent is blaming the U.S. government. The 75-year-old Mr. Bent and his son, Bruce Bent II, are set to go on trial in October on civil charges of misleading investors, ratings firms and trustees of the Reserve Primary fund as it wobbled in September 2008. The Securities and Exchange Commission alleges that the two men falsely claimed they would prop up the fund's $1 net asset value even though they "secretly harbored" doubts. The two Bents have denied the allegations in the SEC's civil lawsuit ever since it was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in 2009. Former Spitzer call girl Ashley Dupre is engaged and pregnant (NYP) “On the record, yes, I can confirm I’m almost seven months,” Dupre, 27, enthused when contacted yesterday. “I can’t tell you when the wedding date is just yet.” In four short years, Dupre’s gone from Client No. 9 to Husband No. 1, and now owns Femme by Ashley, a lingerie and swimwear shop in Red Bank, NJ, which she her husband to be, New Jersey asphalt scion Thomas “TJ” Earle, helped her open in May. Ex-MS Banker In China Bribery Case (CNBC) Garth Peterson joined Morgan Stanley in Asia in 2002, just as the Chinese real estate market was taking off. His job would be making real estate deals for the firm, and Peterson seemed the ideal person for the position. A blonde, blue-eyed American raised in Singapore, Peterson — then in his early 30s — was fluent in Mandarin, and in the local culture. “The language is, you know, essential, I would say, being able to speak Mandarin well,” Peterson said. “But beyond that, I worked in the Chinese real estate industry since 1993.” In 2006 alone, according to news reports at the time, Morgan Stanley invested $3 billion in Chinese real estate. Peterson, by then a vice president, was at the forefront. “I was given more and more support, and the business just grew exponentially,” he said. Today, his fortunes have drastically changed. On Thursday, Peterson was sentenced to 9 months in prison and 3 years supervised release after pleading guilty to evading Morgan Stanley’s internal controls — a federal offense. Prosecutors said he engineered a deal that transferred Morgan Stanley’s interest in a multi-million dollar Shanghai real estate development to a shell company secretly controlled by Peterson and a Chinese government official. The official, who was not identified, made an instant paper profit of $2.5 million. Treasury To Amend Terms Of Fannie, Freddie Bailout (WSJ) Under the new arrangement between Treasury and the companies' federal regulator, all the firms' quarterly profits would be turned over to the government as a dividend payment; the government wouldn't require such payments in periods when the firms are unprofitable. Backstop For Futures Trades (WSJ) Support is growing for an insurance fund that would protect customers of futures brokerages that collapse. While numerous hurdles remain, the process took an important step Thursday when futures-exchange operator CME Group met with other industry officials and a customer-advocacy group in Chicago to discuss how to set up a customer-protection fund. It could take months or even longer for a specific plan to emerge, but participants in the meeting said it is increasingly likely that the government, futures industry or both will propose such an insurance fund. "Restoring customer confidence is very important," and "we're looking at all potential solutions, including an insurance fund," said Walt Lukken, president of the Futures Industry Association, a trade group.

Opening Bell: 04.17.12

Goldman Earnings Beat Expectations (WSJ) For the first quarter, the firm's revenue from fixed income, currency and commodity trading totaled $3.46 billion, down 20% from a year earlier although more than double what the firm booked in the fourth quarter. Investment-banking revenue came in at $1.15 billion, down 9.1% from a year, yet up 35% from a fourth quarter that was bleak across Wall Street. Goldman posted a profit of $2.11 billion, compared with a year-earlier profit of $2.74 billion. Earnings per share—reflecting the payment of preferred dividends—rose to $3.92 from $1.56 a year earlier, topping the $3.55 per-share profit expected by analysts polled by Thomson Reuters. Paulson Said to Short Europe Bonds Amid Spain Concern (Bloomberg) John Paulson, the billionaire hedge-fund manager seeking to reverse record losses in 2011, told investors he is shorting European sovereign bonds, according to a person familiar with the matter. Paulson, 56, said during a call with investors that he is also buying credit-default swaps on European debt, or protection against the chance of default, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the information is private. Spanish banks are of particular concern as their holdings of the country’s debt and client withdrawals make them overly dependent on European Central Bank financing, Paulson told investors. No Double-Dip Deja Vu Seen for U.S. Economy (Bloomberg) “It feels eerily similar to last year, but fundamentally it’s quite different,” said Joseph LaVorgna, chief U.S. economist for Deutsche Bank Securities in New York. He sees the economy growing 3 percent in the fourth quarter from a year earlier, compared with 1.6 percent in 2011. Ainslie's Maverick Makes First Start-Up Seeding In Sycamore Lane (WSJ) Maverick Capital Management LP, the $9 billion investment firm run by Lee Ainslie, has made its first seeding investment in a start-up hedge fund, according to marketing materials sent to investors. According to the materials sent by Sycamore Lane Partners to investors, Maverick provided it with start-up capital, allowing the long/short value-driven equity fund to begin investing April 2. The amount of Maverick's investment isn't outlined, but is described as "significant capital contributions with extended lock through 2015." Alabama Bond Fight Begins New Round (WSJ) Wall Street has sparred with Jefferson County for years over the local government's crippling debt. Now the battle has moved underground, and the two sides are arguing over the condition of 3,200 miles of sewage pipes below Alabama's largest metropolitan area. A federal judge is weighing whether officials of the bankrupt county can divert money that would have gone to pay J.P. Morgan Chase and other debtholders in order to upgrade its leaky sewer system. The case could have far-reaching implications for the $3.7 trillion municipal-bond market. A ruling in the county's favor could upend the notion that holders of debt backed by revenues from utilities such as sewer systems should continue to be paid in full when a municipality files for bankruptcy protection. Toms River Couple Sues Landlord Over Alleged Paranormal Activity (CBS) Jose Chinchilla and his fiancée Michele Callan say they hear eerie noises, that lights flicker, doors slam and a spectral presence tugs on their bed sheets. Chinchilla and Callan are suing the landlord for their $2,250security deposit claiming the paranormal activity forced them out of the home only a week after moving in. For Two Economists, the ‘Buffett Rule’ Is Just a Start (NYT) As much as Mr. Piketty’s and Mr. Saez’s work has informed the national debate over earnings and fairness, their proposed corrective remains far outside the bounds of polite political conversation: much, much higher top marginal tax rates on the rich, up to 50 percent, or 70 percent or even 90 percent, from the current top rate of 35 percent. The two economists argue that even Democrats’ boldest plan to increase taxes on the wealthy — the “Buffett Rule,” a 30 percent minimum tax on earnings over $1 million — would do little to reverse the rich’s gains. Many of the Republican tax proposals on the table might increase income inequality, at least in the short term, according to William G. Gale of the Tax Policy Center and many other left-leaning and centrist economists. Romney Not Too Rich To Relate (Bloomberg) Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney said he isn’t too rich to relate to average Americans and President Barack Obama should “start packing” for a White House departure in 2013. Romney made the remarks in an ABC News interview aired yesterday as Democrats accused him of running a secretive campaign and called on him to release more tax records....Periodically while campaigning this year Romney has made comments drawing attention to his wealth -- and earning scorn from opponents -- including saying he has friends who are NASCAR owners and that his wife, Ann, owns a “couple” of Cadillacs. Brazil’s Unpredictable Central Banker Tombini Confounds Critics (Bloomberg) No central banker in the world’s top 10 economies has surprised analysts as frequently as Brazil’s Alexandre Tombini. Since taking office 15 months ago, Tombini set interest rates lower than economists expected in three out of 10 policy meetings, including an August reduction that all 62 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg failed to anticipate. Russia’s central bank, the second most unpredictable, defied economists in three out of 14 rate decisions in the same period. So far, Tombini has been vindicated. Inflation in Brazil, at 5.24 percent in March, is easing at a pace faster than analysts forecast. While investors have speculated that Tombini may be yielding to political pressure to lower rates, his gloomy assessment of the world economy and risk-taking may prove correct, according to Citigroup Inc.’s Dirk Willer. Husband watching porn online finds film starring his wife (Emirates) An Egyptian man who went online to watch a porno film for the first time got the shock of his life when he found that the woman in the film was his own wife. The man, identified as Ramadan, instantly collapsed in disbelief on the floor at an internet shop before coming round and rushing home to face his unfaithful wife. The woman first denied his allegations and started to swear at him, prompting her husband to face her with the film...“I found 11 films showing my wife in indecent scenes with her lover….it was the first time I watched a porno film and I did this just out of curiosity,” Ramadan told Egyptian newspapers at his house in the northeastern province of Dakhalia...Ramadan said he had been happy during his marriage life until he logged on to that website.

Opening Bell: 08.15.12

Standard Chartered Faces Fed Probes After N.Y. Deal (Bloomberg) Regulators including the U.S. Treasury, Federal Reserve, Justice Department and Manhattan District Attorney declined attempts at a global settlement, said two people familiar with the matter. A coordinated effort was already in progress before New York’s unilateral deal, announced yesterday by financial regulator Benjamin Lawsky, one of the people said. The agreement doesn’t take into account all of the bank’s alleged violations, including those involving nations such as Sudan, said one of the people, who added that September is the earliest a universal deal may be reached. Paulson Steps Up Gold Bet To 44% Of Firm’s Equity Assets (Bloomberg) John Paulson raised his stake in an exchange-traded fund tracking the price of gold while selling other stocks during the second quarter, leaving his $21 billion hedge fund with more than 44 percent of its U.S. traded equities tied to bullion. Paulson & Co. purchased an additional 4.53 million shares of the SPDR Gold Trust, the firm’s largest position, and bought more shares of NovaGold Resources Inc, according to a Form 13F filed yesterday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Goldman Sachs, SkyBridge Among Mitt Romney's Hedge Fund Bundlers (AR) FYI. Brevan Howard Raising Money In U.S. For Currency Hedge Fund (Bloomberg) London-based Brevan Howard filed an Aug. 9 private- placement notice with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to raise an unspecified amount of assets for its Macro FX fund. The $1 billion currency fund is managed by Luke Ding, a former Merrill Lynch & Co. foreign exchange trader who joined Brevan Howard in 2007. Greece Staves Off Default (WSJ) Greece successfully staved off a default on debts owed to the European Central Bank, as more information dribbled out on the parlous state of its economy and banking system. The Greek economy shrank 6.2% year-on-year in the second quarter, European Union statistics agency Eurostat estimated on Tuesday, and senior bankers said more than 20% of loans to the domestic economy are now officially nonperforming. They warned that the problem may overwhelm the sector and derail the country's bailout program. He Whipped, She Snapped (NYP) Frankie Santiago embraced a role as live-in fetish slave to dominating Manhattan investment-banker beau Edward Sonderling, playing out a bondage fantasy similar to college student Anastasia Steele and older Christian Grey in the erotic novel “Fifty Shades of Grey.” But it all took a twisted turn when Santiago, 27, found out Sonderling, 53, had been training his whips on her replacement. The submissive Santiago exploded in a fit of rage, law-enforcement sources said, allegedy shattering Sonderling’s car windshield and bombarding him with dozens of text threats. “If I ever see you with her I will not hold back. I have nothing to lose,” Santiago railed in one text. “I hope she has a disease you catch.” Santiago — who is known in the bondage-domination S&M community as Althea Lyn — was arrested Monday after what sources said was a knock-down, drag-out fight with Sonderling at the East 57th Street apartment where she once did his daily bidding. Santiago and Sonderling — who has the body of a much younger man and is known as King Eddo — were regulars on Manhattan’s BDSM circuit, where Sonderling boasted of being a “whipping aficionado,” said a source who knows the pair. A Horace Mann and Brown graduate, Sonderling runs his own firm, Priority Investors LLC, He declined to comment on Santiago’s arrest and his extracurricular BDSM activities. “I don’t think that I have anything to say about it. Why would I?” he said. Fund Managers Unload Big Banks (WSJ) Some well-known money managers reported significantly reduced stakes in big banks, including J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc., as well as food companies such as Kraft Foods Inc. in the second quarter. Billionaire investor George Soros's Soros Fund Management LLC eliminated positions in J.P. Morgan Chase and Goldman, as well as Citigroup Inc., according to a regulatory filing late Tuesday. The investment company also reported a new stake in retailer Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and a 341,000-share stake in Facebook Inc. Goldman executives win dismissal of mortgage, TARP lawsuit (Reuters) Goldman Sachs Group Inc Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein and other bank officials won the dismissal of a shareholder lawsuit accusing them of tolerating poor mortgage practices and quitting a federal bailout program early to boost executive pay. U.S. District Judge William Pauley in Manhattan said the shareholders failed to show there were "red flags" to put bank directors on notice of "broken controls" in Goldman's mortgage servicing business, including that workers at its Litton unit may have been "robo-signing" documents. Pauley also cited a similar lack of red flags to suggest directors knew Goldman was packaging troubled loans in residential mortgage-backed securities, including loans the bank sold "short" in a bet they would lose value. The judge also said the plaintiffs did not show that directors acted in bad faith in letting Goldman repay $10 billion taken from the Troubled Asset Relief Program early, in June 2009, freeing the bank from restrictions on executive pay. Giuliani: Biden Lacks ‘Mental Capacity’ for VP Job (CNBC) “I've never seen a vice president that has made as many mistakes, said as many stupid things,” he said on “The Kudlow Report.” “I mean, there’s a real fear if, God forbid, he ever had to be entrusted with the presidency, whether he really has the mental capacity to handle it. I mean, this guy just isn’t bright. He’s never been bright. He isn’t bright. And people think, ‘Well, he just talks a little too much.’ Actually, he’s just not very smart.”

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: 08.24.12

New York Fed Profits On AIG Bonds (WSJ) The Federal Reserve Bank of New York on Thursday sold the last toxic assets it acquired from the bailout of American International Group Inc., closing the book on its most controversial intervention during the financial crisis with a large gain to taxpayers. The regional Fed bank said it reaped $6.6 billion in profits from selling complex mortgage securities that it took on in late 2008 to stem AIG's cash bleed. Merkel Reiterates Greek Stance (WSJ) "The euro is more than a currency, it's an idea, and that's why it's so important," Ms. Merkel said at a news conference in Berlin, where she earlier met with Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. "I want Greece to remain a part of the euro zone and that's what I am working on." Morgan Stanley Funds In Big Facebook Bet (WSJ) U.S. mutual funds run by Morgan Stanley, the lead underwriter in Facebook Inc.'s $16 billion initial public offering, have disproportionately high investments in the social-media company, leaving fund shareholders exposed to the stock's big drop since its May 18 IPO. New data show that eight of the top nine U.S. mutual funds with Facebook shares as a percentage of total assets are run by Morgan Stanley's asset-management arm, according to fund tracker Morningstar Inc. Don't Be Fooled By Short-Selling Bans (FT) ...the conclusions from the research are clear; these economists do not think short selling bans work. For there is precious little evidence that the ban in US markets truly halted share price declines; on the contrary, the impact was (at best) neutral, they claim. However, the ban hurt market mechanisms, as liquidity dried up. HSBC In Settlement Talks With U.S. Over Money Laundering (Bloomberg) HSBC, which is under investigation by U.S. regulators for laundering funds of sanctioned nations including Iran and Sudan, is in talks to settle the matter, two people with knowledge of the case said. The bank, Europe’s largest by market value, made a $700 million provision in July for any U.S. fines after a Senate Committee found it had given terrorists and drug cartels access to the U.S. financial system. That sum might increase, Chief Executive Officer Stuart Gulliver has said. Night of drinking, sexting and a well-placed bullet leads to prison for Oregon City man (OL) The couple drank at home and at two Oregon City area bars before their late night stop at the KC's Midway, a neighborhood watering hole where Lisa Nunes played video poker and enjoyed her 10th beer -- by her count -- of the day. Lisa Nunes spoke with a man she described as a friend, who left the bar but soon began bombarding her phone with text messages and pictures of his genitals. "I'm 54 years old. I have a relationship with my husband that's non-existent," Lisa Nunes testified. Flirting with a younger man "was exciting, she said. "I was just sexting a guy. It was no big deal," she said. Thomas Nunes, 61, said he was stunned when he saw a few of the messages and a photo. He left briefly then returned, grabbed the phone and went home. He read the all text messages and combed his wife's Facebook account looking for proof of infidelity. "I couldn't believe she was doing it right in front of my face," Nunes said. "I felt betrayed." Shaken, he said he smoked marijuana and talked to his cats for about 20 minutes to calm himself and "reason out a plan." Mitt: I’d give Fed boss the heave-ho (NewsCorp) Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said yesterday that if elected, he would select a new Federal Reserve chairman, replacing Ben Bernanke, countering advice Tuesday from top economic adviser Glenn Hubbard that Bernanke should be considered for a third term. Return to Gold Standard Is Seen By Some as 'Ludicrous' (CNBC) The Financial Times reported on Friday that the Republican Party plans to set up a commission to look into re-establishing the link between the dollar and gold as part of its platform to be unveiled at the party convention in Tampa Bay, Fla., next week. But analysts told CNBC that the idea would not work. “I think it’s absolutely nonsensical,” Moorad Choudhry, head of treasury at the corporate banking division of the Royal Bank of Scotland told CNBC Friday. “There’s a very good reason they unhooked it in 1971, because their deficit didn’t enable them to maintain it with the supply of gold. In fact, is there enough gold in the world to back the U.S. debt?” Money Funds Test Geithner, Bernanke As Schapiro Defeated (Bloomberg) Money-market mutual funds, an alternative to bank accounts for individuals and companies, will test the resolve of the U.S. Federal Reserve and Treasury Department to prevent another financial crisis after the $2.6 trillion industry successfully lobbied against more regulation by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Fed Governor Daniel Tarullo has said the central bank could tighten rules on banks’ borrowing from money-market funds, and Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren has said officials have the option to force banks to back their money funds with capital. The Fed and the Treasury could also work through the Financial Stability Oversight Council, a new regulatory panel formed under the Dodd-Frank Act, to seize oversight of money funds from the SEC and grant that power to the Fed. Ryan Lochte Discusses Racing Prince Harry (NBC) Lochte had never met the prince until the royal's entourage approached him that night. "His people came over to my table and said, 'Prince Harry wants to meet you,'" he said. "I was like, 'Lets meet him.' I went over there. I was fully clothed, and he says, 'You want to race me in the pool?' I took off my shirt, jumped in and we started racing." Only hours later, all of the prince’s clothes came off in a now-infamous strip-billiards incident that took place in a hotel suite. Lochte did not get the invite to play strip billiards with the prince and his friends. “He never said anything like that,’’ Lochte said. “After our race and everything, we went our separate ways. I’m kind of happy. I don’t need that.’’