Swamped

Summertime, and the livin' is easy. The NBA is through its first round of playoffs, there hasn't been a college board of a hundred games in over two months, and football is so far away that HBO still has a casting call out for Hard Knocks. Baseball's the main attraction, and baseball bettors are gentlemen and so old school the periodic table only has about 50 elements. How did we get here? It was one of those darkest-before-the-dawn moments, that moment that feels like it's darkest-before-it's-totally-black. I strolled in on the last day of the NBA regular season, a Thursday, fashionably late. He asked me where the hell I had been. I always show up late on summer Thursdays, and leave early. There's little baseball, and little else. But Faithful Assistant pointed to a screen and said “I'm fucking buried on the Wizards game”. The Washington Wizards are a bad basketball team. They were matched up against the Miami Heat, a very good basketball team. The Heat have LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and that guy who Shaq said looks like Ru Paul. Except the market said the Heat didn't give a flying fuck about that game, and the Wizards were 8-point favorites. I asked him if maybe the Heat were the favorites. No, said Faithful Assistant, it was the Wizards. And our clients, all of whom fancy themselves smarter than the average bear, had bet $25K on the Wizards, -7.5, -8, -8.5, -9.5. So dump it, I said. We can lay off 50K with one phone call, usually more. “I can't. He's got jury duty.” What was this world coming to, bookmakers being summoned to sit on juries. So I told him to keep calling every half hour or so. In the meantime I'd handle any more Wizards bets myself. They kept calling for the Wizards. Over and over and over again. The market was -8, and I was dealing it -10 and getting buckets of abuse. “-10? Get outta here. ESPN says they're -8.” I quickly broke my clientele into two groups. The clients I didn't care about, I told them “OK, fine. Call up ESPN and give them your bet.” Some of them screamed. Several questioned my parentage. Most of them laid -10. My better clients got better treatment. I explained how the book was hopelessly one-sided and my layoff guy was “in court”. (I let them imagine he was the guy in the orange jumpsuit, not somebody who would be leaving by the front door.) I took their bet at -10, but told them that if and when my guy came through, I'd call them back and give them the -8. They thanked me like I was doing them a favor. Great. The first people who weren't angry all day. The pros called too. One nibbled on the Heat +8 at even money, but the rest passed. Court let out at 4:30. My guy didn't make the jury: something about his wife's job getting in the way. He took our bet for all we could eat at -7.5 and I started calling the clients back changing their -10 to not -8 but -7.5. People were thanking me as if I'd given them a kidney. Faithful Assistant's quick tally when the game tipped off saw him scream “We cannot lose!” I pointed out that while we would indeed win money, that wasn't the same as being invulnerable. For the sake of peace, love, and client happiness, we needed these lowly Wizards to win by a pile. Happy customers keep coming back, and there'd be no talk of conspiracies, fixed games off funny betting lines, and so on. The Wizards rolled. Up by 25 at half, they cruised to a 34-point win. The Heat played their B team all night. (The Tepid?) No LeBron, no Wade, no Ru Paul, no problem. The clients were ecstatic. One of them even sent us flash-frozen steaks. It's actually helped us change the summer baseball operation. Now when people call up looking for a team at such-and-such a price, if we don't have it and they're willing to leave the order open, we take the order and call them back when we fill it. A good client now calls us his “betting con-au-pairs”. I think he means “concierges”, but I don't speak French. Whatever. It's working out.
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Summertime, and the livin' is easy. The NBA is through its first round of playoffs, there hasn't been a college board of a hundred games in over two months, and football is so far away that HBO still has a casting call out for Hard Knocks. Baseball's the main attraction, and baseball bettors are gentlemen and so old school the periodic table only has about 50 elements.

How did we get here? It was one of those darkest-before-the-dawn moments, that moment that feels like it's darkest-before-it's-totally-black. I strolled in on the last day of the NBA regular season, a Thursday, fashionably late. He asked me where the hell I had been.

I always show up late on summer Thursdays, and leave early. There's little baseball, and little else. But Faithful Assistant pointed to a screen and said “I'm fucking buried on the Wizards game”.

The Washington Wizards are a bad basketball team. They were matched up against the Miami Heat, a very good basketball team. The Heat have LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and that guy who Shaq said looks like Ru Paul. Except the market said the Heat didn't give a flying fuck about that game, and the Wizards were 8-point favorites.

I asked him if maybe the Heat were the favorites. No, said Faithful Assistant, it was the Wizards. And our clients, all of whom fancy themselves smarter than the average bear, had bet $25K on the Wizards, -7.5, -8, -8.5, -9.5.

So dump it, I said. We can lay off 50K with one phone call, usually more. “I can't. He's got jury duty.”

What was this world coming to, bookmakers being summoned to sit on juries. So I told him to keep calling every half hour or so. In the meantime I'd handle any more Wizards bets myself.

They kept calling for the Wizards. Over and over and over again. The market was -8, and I was dealing it -10 and getting buckets of abuse. “-10? Get outta here. ESPN says they're -8.” I quickly broke my clientele into two groups.

The clients I didn't care about, I told them “OK, fine. Call up ESPN and give them your bet.” Some of them screamed. Several questioned my parentage. Most of them laid -10.

My better clients got better treatment. I explained how the book was hopelessly one-sided and my layoff guy was “in court”. (I let them imagine he was the guy in the orange jumpsuit, not somebody who would be leaving by the front door.) I took their bet at -10, but told them that if and when my guy came through, I'd call them back and give them the -8. They thanked me like I was doing them a favor. Great. The first people who weren't angry all day.

The pros called too. One nibbled on the Heat +8 at even money, but the rest passed.

Court let out at 4:30. My guy didn't make the jury: something about his wife's job getting in the way. He took our bet for all we could eat at -7.5 and I started calling the clients back changing their -10 to not -8 but -7.5. People were thanking me as if I'd given them a kidney.

Faithful Assistant's quick tally when the game tipped off saw him scream “We cannot lose!”

I pointed out that while we would indeed win money, that wasn't the same as being invulnerable. For the sake of peace, love, and client happiness, we needed these lowly Wizards to win by a pile. Happy customers keep coming back, and there'd be no talk of conspiracies, fixed games off funny betting lines, and so on.

The Wizards rolled. Up by 25 at half, they cruised to a 34-point win. The Heat played their B team all night. (The Tepid?) No LeBron, no Wade, no Ru Paul, no problem. The clients were ecstatic. One of them even sent us flash-frozen steaks.

It's actually helped us change the summer baseball operation. Now when people call up looking for a team at such-and-such a price, if we don't have it and they're willing to leave the order open, we take the order and call them back when we fill it. A good client now calls us his “betting con-au-pairs”. I think he means “concierges”, but I don't speak French. Whatever. It's working out.

Related

Maddeningly Bad Luck

March Madness has been a disaster: two of my best customers, who know each other, combined to go 2-for-39 on the first two weekends. Faithful Assistant has been laughing at their tought breaks, but I've been trying to soothe them. I need these guys to keep playing, losing, and paying. Their luck really has been atrocious. 18 of the losses have been by three points or less. One of them asked me if I'd ever heard anything worse. I guess there's Tsotomu Yamaguchi. Yamaguchi was on a business trip in Hiroshima when the A-bomb dropped. Wounded, he figured he'd better get out of Dodge ASAP, so he barrelled home the next day – to Nagasaki. I reminded the client that his bad luck paled in comparison to Yamaguchi's, and that Yamaguchi lived another 65 healthy years...plenty of time to make more bets. But now I'm dealing with more than bad luck. These guys have now declared that sports are rigged. This month's point-shaving scandal at Auburn hasn't helped, and it brings others of recent years to mind. The NBA has Tim Donaghy. Overseas, it looks like half the Turkish soccer league is going to jail, and half of Italy has already been. I actually believe that most of sports are on the level. Disagree if you want, that's OK. But what really gets my goat are the people who think the bookies want the games rigged. We don't. If people think the games are fixed, and thus become afraid to bet, I'm out of business. It's the same story for the guy running a poker game or the CEO of a retail brokerage. No faith, no business. There's a really simple reason somebody with the available cash or credit can get down a $500,000 bet on the NFL, but might not be able to easily bet $50 on Wrestlemania: the market can take the $500,000 football bet, adjust the price slightly, and bettors will come for the other side. There is no market for Wrestlemania, because nobody trusts it. So these clients are generally miffed, but also fixated on one game: Syracuse vs. Kansas State. The price started moving 20 minutes before tip when a K-State star was ruled ineligible. These guys took the new price on K-State thinking they got a deal, when it was just the market reacting to information. Well, Syracuse rolled and now it's allegedly a “fix”. Of course it's not a fix—it's just betting dumb with less info than everybody else. They should have checked why the spread was moving. Emotion trumps reason, though, and there was no reasoning with these guys. And maybe that's why these guys bet with me instead of going online somewhere—they're so Old School, the building probably only had one room. If you want to be a pro gambler these days, there's a ton of free information all over the Internet. I'm not saying it's easy to win over time—it's not. But there's a bucket of info out there on any game you want to study, and all sorts of arcane stats to help inform your decisions. And since everyone else is studying, you better too. When I worked in Chicago, we had a good customer who worked at O'Hare. He would bring us out-of-town sports sections that travellers left behind as they boarded planes. We got useful injury information from beat writers in other cities that the rest of the Chicago market just didn't have. That was 20 years ago, but when I tell that story to Faithful Assistant, he usually asks if Orville and Wilbur Wright were flying the planes. He's been on the Internet since middle school, and pretends he can't remember life without it. So I'm not sure what to do with these guys—they bet six times a day, but haven't called since Saturday. I think I'll give them a free bet equivalent to what they lost on Kansas State. I know I don't have to, but I'm not willing to risk losing the business. That's the worst part of all this—and the reason why I'm trying to get out of this racket. I don't just need the customers to lose, I need them to lose slowly and have fun doing it. I'm not a psychiatrist trained to actually convince people that betting really is a random thing for the vast majority of gamblers and losing streaks just happen. I wonder if I should join the Army. I'm not much for getting shot, but I hear the poker games are good. Baseball starts next week and the guys who just bet bases are much easier to deal with. They understand the nature of a game where the very best teams win 65% of their games and the absolute worst teams still win 35% of the time. I can't wait. Anybody know if Tim Tebow needs someone to take his action? He's on every channel, everywhere.

Bookie Confessional, Early Baseball Edition

Mike is my best baseball client. He bets three or four grand a night, spread out over the whole card. He can't possibly win over time. Sadly, such golden geese occasionally shit on the lawn. That's what Mike did Friday, when he called and asked me to give him another bookie's number. Nobody in particular—just anybody's. He wanted a second place to bet. Basically he was sitting at his regular table and asking the Maitre d' where ELSE he should go to dinner. I told him to call me back Saturday. Well, I fumed awhile, then it came to me. Mike had rarely talked to Faithful Assistant. I summoned Faithful Assistant and told him his dreams were about to come true: he was opening his own shop, with exactly one disposable cell phone, and exactly one very good customer. Turns out that wasn't Faithful Assistant's dream. His dream involves some newly single woman with expensive tastes: the weasel told me that if he was going to play this charade it was going to cost me a full 15% of Mike's losses on both phone numbers. I was outraged and we started negotiating and by the time we were done 15% had become 20%. After making a mental note never to negotiate with Faithful Assistant again, I picked up the phone to hire the new book's collection agent. Melody, a good customer's wife, asked me for a job a couple months back. I offered and she accepted this part-time gig as an audition. Mike had his new place to play, Faithful Assistant was angling for a raise to 30%, and I set up a Monday meeting with Melody to tell her how all this would go down. Melody was a quick study. Faithful Assistant was her boss-and-contact and she was supposed to pass by Mike's office every Tuesday afternoon to pay or collect. She wanted to know what to do if Mike didn't have the money. She was disappointed to learn she should do nothing, just call us. I don't think she wanted to break his legs, but I think she wanted to give him a serious telling off, preferably in front of people. Too bad—that's not the way it works. It's a non-issue anyway: Mike pays. Turns out the 20% I'm paying Faithful Assistant is money well spent: he quickly put together that Mike is betting the same teams with both our places. That might be the stupidest piece of betting I've ever laid my eyes on. He calls one number, bets the Yanks, then calls the second number and bets the Yanks again. His second price is almost always worse—how much worse, well, it depends on how greedy we feel. There is no logic to this—he ought to put his whole bet in at the first place he calls, or better yet call both joints for prices and put the bet in at the shop with the better price. (Faithful Assistant is routinely varying prices on the Mike Phone by a penny or two anyway.) The only way Mike's current plan would make sense is if Mike was putting in maximum sized bets and needed to get down two max bets whatever the cost – but that's not happening: Mike's just putting down a few hundred at each place. Aspiring MBA-er Faithful Assistant says that Mike is trying to spread out his “credit risk," so that if one shop goes bust owing him money, he still has the other. Our shenanigans aside, that helps Mike little: If you think your bookie can't pay, don't spread out your risk—just stop calling him and find someone else you're actually comfortable with. It's a bookie joint, not a bank. So we were a little surprised about this but the final shock was Melody's. Melody showed up on Tuesday at Mike's office to pick up $600. She won't have to bother going downtown anymore: She knows “Mike” well: their kids are best friends since they've been neighbors for nine years.

Football? Yep. Oscars? OK. The VIX? Really?

I was scoring up the Super Bowl (small loss) when Ocean called. Ocean is a good customer. He had a couple questions, and I told him fire away. First he wanted to know if we were doing the Oscars again this year. Of course we are. I'm not thrilled about it –I'm half paranoid about inside information bubbling on the Internet, but I'm learning to embrace the inside mis-information. Most importantly, we do it as a service, so the customers won't start betting online with bookies in Costa Rica. Ocean was pleased. For what it's worth, he likes The Artist at very short odds. He watches rom-coms. With his wife, he says. His favourite movie though is Love Story, and he cries shamelessly every time he watches it: he truly believes that love means never having to say you're sorry. I've never figured that out. I'm forever apologizing to my wife for doing boneheaded things and saying stupid shit. And apologizing is a necessity But whatever. A happy customer is a beautiful thing. And I thought the phone call was over. And then Ocean said it. “What do you have on the VIX for this summer?” I asked him what the hell he was talking about because I didn't compute what I was hearing. He then said how he had been watching CNBC. He went to his mutual fund guy determined to buy the VIX, and the salesman blew him off with “Oh, that's just gambling”. So, hey, I must surely book the VIX, right, because I take bets from gamblers? Well I totally had my pants down and started mumbling about monthly contracts and the need to be a sophisticated investor and how there were a few products out there and...he cut me off. He understood how “the 1% were trying to make this complicated” and he just wanted a near-even-money type bet that the VIX would be over 30 at the end of June, as per the top of the screen on CNBC. I gave him the bet. 30's a pretty big number, and I figure this'll make me learn about trading the VIX instruments so I can lay it off if I want to. (I've never done anything more sophisticated than buy a put spread when I was afraid of a downturn. Go ahead, laugh.) 30's a lot. So I let him have it at 6-to-5. He was only expecting even money or slightly worse, so he was pleased. Ten minutes later I was using this episode as an object lesson for my Faithful Assistant, a guy who is muddling through an MBA while living in his parents' basement. Garage loft, I stand corrected. Anyway, good customers need to be kept happy, good customers lose, and happy customers pay. The Hollywood-movie days of kneecapping customers who stiff you were over before I was born, if they ever even existed, and—and the phone rang again. Ocean again, wanting an over/under number on where Apple would be in a couple months' time. Oh, and Facebook. I told him I would have to call him back. I started throwing coffee cups and in between my screams my Faithful Assistant told me he'd just pretend I have Tourette's. He's cold. Then he asked me what was going on. And after I told him, he smiled, and tried to give his boss an object lesson of his own: “This is great. You trade the odd option. All my electives are Finance. We just set the over-under price, I mean you KNOW he's going 'over', high enough that we can buy calls a couple strikes below that number. We use his bet to buy the calls, if he wins we clean up, and we're covered.” And when I asked what would happen to Ocean's bankroll over time, the answer came back that we would sodomize it. I just shook my head. My young friend may well end up in a business career where the necessary m.o. is to grab-it-all and grab-it-now, but that's not how my business works. I actually want my customers to win 45-50% of their bets, lose fairly small amounts over time, and never lose so much in one fell swoop that they can't pay or that they decide to stop playing. There's a purpose behind all that languid ritual at the Baccarat table in the high-limit room at the casino: try to keep the House's earn slow-and-steady. It makes the news when a whale beats Vegas for $10 million, or drops $10 million, but the casinos tolerate those lumpy earnings—aside from a little ink, they don't really want them. The casinos want everybody playing dollar-slots, losing three cents a spin. His eyes kind of glazed over, so I thought, what would Suze Orman do to get her point across? I figured Suze, to make the young'uns understand, would probably Go Gangsta. So I said “Look, we make money by drawing blood from our customers.” His eyes lit up as I continued: “We're blood collectors. We need a nice orderly blood bank. What you're proposing, is a drive-by.” (Well, I actually said “drive-thru”, but we sorted it out after a little confusion.) So we've told Ocean that these bets are going to be for peanuts and we're going to have fun with them. He's on board, and he's all excited. Faithful Assistant is going to make the numbers and I told Ocean to give us some requests for stocks he thought would go lower. “Oh you mean I could bet 'under' too? Not just 'over'?” Yep, 'under' too. February's a shit month in the bookie biz—the regulars are there, but football's over and it's a ways before March Madness. Ocean's stockpicking is going to keep me interested.

Opening Bell: 01.10.13

Deutsche Profits Big On Libor Bets (WSJ) Deutsche Bank made at least €500 million ($654 million) in profit in 2008 from trades pegged to the interest rates under investigation by regulators world-wide, internal bank documents show. The German bank's trading profits resulted from billions of euros in bets related to the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, and other global benchmark rates. ECB Stands Pat On Rates (WSJ) The ECB's Governing Council decided to keep Europe's most important interest rates at their lowest levels since the single currency was introduced in 1999, encouraged by a clear improvement in financial-market sentiment over the past month and by tentative signs of growing confidence in the euro-zone economy. Rivals Clash As Inquiry Into Herbalife Opens (WSJ) Daniel Loeb's hedge fund disclosed Wednesday it owns an 8.2% stake now valued at $350 million in nutrition-supplements company Herbalife Ltd. Mr. Ackman's Pershing Square Capital Management LP has bet more than $1 billion against the company by shorting its stock…The face-off between two high-profile, media-savvy hedge-fund managers highlights the arrival of a new wave of postcrisis financial stars. They tout their positions during television interviews and at conferences, in letters or securities filings and on customized Web pages, often convincing other investors to follow their lead. Their pronouncements move stocks, at times dramatically, and leave companies scrambling to respond. And when they take the opposite sides of the same trade the ensuing battle can captivate the financial world. "One of them is going to be very wrong," said Gregg Hymowitz, founder of the $8.2 billion EnTrust Capital, a longtime investor with both Mr. Ackman and Mr. Loeb's firms. "Ackman thinks it's a complete and utter fraud, and Dan thinks it's a completely legitimate business." Hedgie's Herbalife Bet Counters Ackman (NYP) [In addition to Loeb], Carl Icahn is also believed to have taken a long position in Herbalife, sources said. The possibility of Loeb and Icahn going up against Ackman’s Herbalife short sent investors into a tizzy. “It’s going to be an Ackman sandwich,” one hedge fund manager wailed. Lew Taking Over at Treasury Puts Perennial Aide at Head (Bloomberg) With his penchant for thinking several steps ahead, his organizational drive and his budget expertise, Lew, 57, has been Obama’s consummate aide. Now, he’s Obama’s choice for Treasury secretary, according to a person familiar with the process. Lew faces the prospect of becoming a leader at a critical juncture for the nation’s economic and fiscal future. “As chief of staff you are staff and as Treasury secretary, you are principal -- Jack has to make that transition,” said Ken Duberstein, a chief of staff to former President Ronald Reagan who first met Lew in the 1980s. “It’s not the invisible hand, it is the visible hand.” If confirmed, Lew may need to play that hand as soon as next month, when the administration squares off with Congress over the U.S. debt ceiling. Lew’s job will be all the more difficult because his relations with House Republicans soured during the 2011 battle over the government’s borrowing limit. Government's worst signature will be on America's dollar bills (NYP) Lew’s signature — which looks like a strand of hair gone though a curler treatment — might even be too peculiar to grace our greenbacks, political insiders said. “Whoa! That’s completely unintelligible,” said a Senate finance aide. “This doesn’t look like anyone’s name at all.” She concluded, “Oh my gosh — I’ve never seen a signature like that.” ome social-media users were also quick to poke fun, saying Lew should clean up his squiggle. “HE GOT A CRIZZAZY SIGNATURE!!!!” one Twitter user wrote. Another tweeter quipped, “Looooooo!” But just because his autograph looks it’s penned by a drunken 3-year-old doesn’t mean it isn’t lovable, others said. Some fans created a petition on the White House’s Web site called “Save the Lewpty-Lew!” “We demand Lew’s doodle on every dollar bill in circulation,” the petition read. It had garnered 10 signatures by late yesterday…Asked yesterday if Lew had been practicing to improve his signature, presidential press secretary Jay Carney, said, “Not that I’m aware of.” Cantor Growth Plan Sputters as 41% of Touted Hires Exit (Bloomberg) Chief Executive Officer Howard Lutnick’s drive to turn one of the largest independent U.S. brokerages into a rival to Wall Street’s investment banks has been pocked with dismissals and defections. Forty-one percent of the 158 traders and bankers whose hirings Cantor announced in news releases since 2009 have left, industry records show. In interviews, 19 current and former employees blamed Cantor’s reluctance to commit money to deals and pressure to turn immediate profits. Norfolk 911 calls for 'baby lion' turn up a coiffed dog (HR) The first caller was fairly calm. “I’d like to report a lion sighting,” he said. “Say that again?” a dispatcher responded. And thus began the drama over baby lion sightings in Norfolk on Tuesday. Police said Wednesday that they actually got three 911 calls about the “lion.” The first came at 10:19 a.m. The animal was running on Granby Street, a male voice said. Then a woman took the phone. She sounded anxious as she described the proximity to the zoo. “There was a lion that ran across the street. A baby lion. It was about the size of a Labrador retriever.” It was near Granby and 38th, she said. “It’s roaming loose in the neighborhood.” A second call came five minutes later. “I just saw an animal that looked like a small lion.” It had “the mange and everything,” a man said. He had seen it on Delaware Avenue near Llewellyn Avenue. “I don’t know if it got away from the zoo, or what,” he said. The dispatcher said they already had received a report. “I’m not sure if it actually is a lion or not, but I’ll update the information.” A third call came at 1:19 p.m. “I just saw a baby lion at Colley Avenue and 50th Street,” a man reported. “What kind of animal?” the dispatcher later asked him. “A lion. A baby lion, maybe.” The lion was going to nearby houses. “I don’t think it has caused any problem so far,” said the caller. “OK. You think it’s looking for food?” the dispatcher asked. “I don’t know.” By now, most folks know that the “baby lion” was actually Charles the Monarch, a Labrador-poodle mix owned by Daniel Painter, who lives in Riveriew and has a garden center on Colley Avenue. He has the dog groomed to look like the Old Dominion University mascot. Many people say they see Charles out a lot, especially on Colley. But to someone who hasn’t seen him, he sure doesn’t look like a dog at first. PE King Black Is Hungry For Hostess (NYP) Black’s Apollo Global Management has teamed with veteran food executive C. Dean Metropoulos on a potential bid for bankrupt Hostess Brands’ snacks business, which includes Twinkies, Ding Dongs and Ho Hos…Hostess is in the process of selling off its iconic brands and liquidating the company after a crippling strike by its bakers union forced it to shut down in November. The Irving, Texas-based company plans to hold separate auctions for its bread and snack businesses. Hostess is just a few days away from choosing a so-called stalking horse bidder for its bread brands, including Wonder Bread, Nature’s Pride and Butternut. The snack business will follow suit later. Mortgage Deals Came Just In Time (WSJ) Major banks pushed to complete an $8.5 billion legal settlement with federal regulators this past weekend so they could book the deal's costs in their fourth-quarter results and present a cleaner slate to investors in 2013, according to people familiar with the talks. The timing of the settlement of alleged foreclosure abuses, announced Monday, allowed banks including Bank of America, JPMorgan, Citigroup, and Wells Fargo to take advantage of so-called subsequent-events accounting. The same rules apply to Bank of America's $11.6 billion pact with Fannie Mae over buybacks of questionable mortgage loans. Monday's settlements are "almost the textbook example" of when subsequent-events accounting comes into play, said Robert Willens, an accounting and tax expert. Obama’s 81% New York City Support is Best in 114 Years (Bloomberg) President Barack Obama won more support from New York City in November’s election than any White House candidate in more than 100 years, according to a final tally of votes. Obama beat Republican challenger Mitt Romney by 81 percent to 18 percent in the nation’s largest city, according to a certified vote count released Dec. 31 by the state board of elections. Some New York ballots were counted late in part because of complications caused by Hurricane Sandy. Yum Brands Apologizes For Chicken Probe (WSJ) Yum Brands's China chief executive apologized to consumers after negative publicity surrounding an official probe into chicken purchased from local suppliers caused sales to tumble at the company's KFC chain. Yum failed to address problems quickly and had poor internal communications, Sam Su said in a statement posted on the company's official account on Sina Corp.'s Twitter-like Weibo microblog service. He said the company would strengthen its management and oversight of suppliers. "We feel regretful for all the problems," Mr. Su said in the statement. "I sincerely apologize to the public on behalf of the company." Swiss Banks Welcome Rejection of Germany Tax Accord, Study Shows (Bloomberg) Swiss banks welcome the collapse of an accord with Germany that would have imposed new taxes on German clients in a bid to end a dispute over tax evasion, Ernst & Young said. About 72 percent of 120 Swiss banks surveyed see the demise of the agreement as positive, Ernst & Young said in a report today. How Jawboning Works (WSJ) The clearest example comes from Europe. In July, Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, defused an intensifying crisis of confidence in the euro with two sentences scribbled in the margins of an otherwise routine speech. "Within our mandate, the ECB is ready to do whatever it takes to preserve the euro," he said. "And believe me, it will be enough." That may prove to be the most successful central-bank verbal intervention in history. A few weeks later, the ECB pledged to buy bonds of governments shunned by markets if those governments made belt-tightening commitments accepted by fellow euro-zone countries. No government has sought that help so the ECB hasn't spent a single euro. Yet global anxiety about an imminent euro crisis has abated. Beautiful Existence, Seattle Woman, Plans To Eat Only Starbucks For One Year (HP) A Seattle woman, legally named Beautiful Existence, will eat only food from Starbucks this year. She'll also be only drinking beverages from Starbucks as well, but will include drinks from Tazo Tea and Evolution Fresh since both fall under the Starbucks brand. Beautiful Existence cites several reasons for this endeavor. She explains them on her blog: "So how can eating only one company’s products impact me, anybody? Well Mr. McDonald’s already proved that question years ago with his documentary and Mr. Subway did his take on the loosing weight portion of the food challenges too. But when I watched those guys doing their thing I asked myself “where are the WOMEN challenging themselves in the world?” “Where are the effects being shown on a woman’s culture? A woman’s family & children? A woman’s diet, weight, fashion, checkbook, community and world through challenges?” “Where is HER VOICE on how an international company is directly or indirectly impacting everything from her waistline to her bottom line and every other woman’s, man’s, child’s, societies and planets world with their presence?” So far, Existence has really liked the Turkey Rustico Panini and is trying hard not to eat any of the baked items.

Opening Bell: 01.07.13

Regulators Give Ground To Banks (WSJ) Global banking regulators watered down a key element of their plan for creating a safer financial system, giving ground to banks that argued the rules were unworkable and financially risky. The Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, a group of the world's top regulators and central bankers, said Sunday that it agreed to relax a rule designed to ensure that big banks are able to weather financial crises without running short of cash. Bowing to two years of intense pressure from the banking industry, the regulators made it easier for banks to meet the rule, known as the "liquidity coverage ratio," and delayed its full implementation until 2019. It is the latest instance of regulators chipping away at their landmark 2010 response to the global financial crisis. The regulators argue that the changes make banking rules much stronger than they were before the crisis. Herbalifers Stay Resolute (WSJ) When hedge-fund manager William Ackman unveiled his 334-slide presentation alleging that Herbalife is a pyramid scheme, it did nothing to shake Joanne Clare. The 38-year-old Staten Island mother of three has been selling the company's weight-loss products and supplements since 2004, when she says they helped her drop from 210 to 160 pounds in four months. She now sells as much as $3,500 a month of Herbalife products to her 30 clients and the two distributors in her "down line." "People have always said it's a pyramid scheme, but it's not," Ms. Clare said, adding that the bulk of her earnings come from sales to clients, not her cut of her recruits' take. Mr. Ackman's declaration that he had bet more than $1 billion against Herbalife caused many investors to flee, sending the stock down 38% in four days in late December. But some of the company's 3.1-million-strong army of distributors were unmoved. Eliot Spitzer Ends His Show On Current TV (NYT) The announcement comes a few days after Al Jazeera said it was acquiring Current TV. Later this year, the Qatar-owned broadcaster plans to turn the channel into an Americanized version of the international news channel Al Jazeera English. Mr. Spitzer said he had a “wonderful time” at Current, but emphasized that his relationship was with Al Gore and Joel Hyatt, Current’s co-founders, not with Al Jazeera. “Moving forward, their mission will be different,” he said — more international newscasts, less liberal talk about the news. Citi's Corbat builds bridges (Reuters) Citigroup Inc's Michael Corbat has been meeting with bank regulators in his first months as CEO, as he looks to bolster relationships and finalize the bank's plan to return capital to shareholders, sources familiar with the matter said. Corbat also expects to name his team of top managers within the next week or so, one of the sources said on Sunday. Corbat is expected to play it safe when Citigroup asks the U.S. Federal Reserve for permission for moves such as buying back shares or increasing dividends, analysts and investors said. His predecessor, Vikram Pandit, lost his job in October in part because the bank's request for returning capital was denied in March. The bank, which is due to submit its plan to the Fed on Monday, has not yet done so, the source said. The third-largest U.S. bank will only seek approval to buy back shares and not raise dividends, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday. Last year, the bank wanted permission to return more than $8 billion to shareholders over two years, the paper said. For Newly Minted MBAs, A Small Paycheck (WSJ) For graduates with minimal experience—three years or less—median pay was $53,900 in 2012, down 4.6% from 2007-08, according to an analysis conducted for The Wall Street Journal by PayScale.com. Pay fell at 62% of the 186 schools examined. Even for more seasoned grads the trend is similar, says Katie Bardaro, lead economist for PayScale.com. "In general, it seems that M.B.A. pay is either stagnant or falling," she says...It is all a far cry from the late 1980s and early 1990s heyday for M.B.A.s, when some companies would hire 100 or more M.B.A.s. It wasn't uncommon to recruit first, and fill actual jobs later. DOJ pledges to respect Swiss law in tax probe (Reuters) Swiss chief finance diplomat Michael Ambuehl was given a verbal pledge from the U.S. Department of Justice to respect Swiss law when asking for bank client data of potential tax dodgers, a newspaper reported on Sunday. Switzerland is in negotiations with U.S. authorities to find a deal that would end tax probes into at least ten Swiss banks suspected of helping clients dodge taxes, including Credit Suisse and Julius Baer. The Alpine country is trying to preserve what is left of its cherished banking secrecy that suffered a severe blow in 2009 when UBS, the first Swiss bank that came under scrutiny in the U.S., was required to disclose client data. Brazilian prison gaurds catch cat that slipped through the gate with escape tools taped to its body (NYDN) Guards at a Brazilian prison nabbed a white cat that slipped through the gate with a cell phone, drills, small saws and other contraband taped to its body. Alagoas prison spokeswoman Cinthya Moreno says the cat was caught New Year’s Eve at the medium-security prison in the city of Arapiraca. The O Estado de S. Paulo newspaper reported Saturday that all of the prison’s 263 inmates are suspects in the smuggling attempt, though a spokesperson said, “It will be hard to discover who is responsible since the cat does not speak.” Loeb, Cooperman Stand Out in Horrid Year for Hedge Funds (CNBC) Third Point was the clear hedge fund standout in a horrible year for the industry as almost nine out of 10 managers underperformed the S&P 500. Omega Advisors' Leon Cooperman also scored big. Loeb — once better known for his acerbic letters to CEOs — used an activist position in Yahoo and the contrarian buying of Greek bonds to drive the firm's flagship fund to a 21 percent gain in 2012. The firm's more-leveraged Ultra fund posted an even bigger 34 percent return...Cooperman's fund had a net return of 26 percent in 2012. Banks Zero In On Foreclosure Pact (WSJ) Banks were closing in on a $10 billion foreclosure-abuse settlement with regulators that could be announced as soon as Monday, according to people familiar with the talks. The settlement was nearly complete Sunday afternoon, the people said, after the Federal Reserve backed down on a demand for more compensation for consumers and other changes to the pact. Bankers threatened to walk away from the deal if the Fed's demand for an additional $300 million was included, a person briefed on the talks said. Junk Bonds' Fire Is Poised to Fade (WSJ) Junk bonds started 2013 much like they finished 2012—on fire. In just three trading days this year, bonds of low-rated companies delivered returns of almost three-quarters of a percent, even as most other types of bonds lost value. And junk bonds continued to clock new milestones: Average prices soared to their highest since 2004 and average yields, which decline as prices rise, dropped below 6% for the first time ever, according to Barclays. But the rapid march is making fund managers and analysts wary. Prices are now so high—averaging more than 105 cents on the dollar—that there is little room for them to climb much further, some investors say. These are lofty prices for bonds that usually trade below 100 cents, reflecting the higher default risk for such companies. At the very least, returns will pale in comparison with the 15% achieved in 2012, analysts and investors say. NHL, Players Settle Labor Dispute (AP) On the 113th day of a management lockout and five days before the league's deadline for a deal, the bleary-eyed sides held a 6 a.m. news conference to announce there will be a season, after all. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and union head Donald Fehr both appeared drained, wearing sweaters and not neckties, when they stood side by side at the hotel and announced labor peace. "We have reached an agreement on the framework of a new collective bargaining agreement, the details of which need to be put to paper," Bettman said. "We've got to dot a lot of Is, cross a lot of Ts. There's still a lot of work to be done, but the basic framework of the deal has been agreed upon." Hostess in Talks to Sell Off Bread Brands (WSJ) Hostess could disclose Flowers, Grupo Bimbo or others as opening bidders in a looming bankruptcy-court auction for the assets as soon as this week, said people familiar with the matter. Hostess, whose bread brands include Wonder Bread, Nature's Pride, Home Pride, Merita and Butternut, is still determining how to split up assets and package them for buyers, one of the people said. Gérard Depardieu gives up French citizenship after bitter tax fight (GM) In a fit of pique, French movie star Gérard Depardieu announced during the weekend that he would give up his citizenship after politicians and the media took him to task for moving to Belgium and avoiding an impending tax hike for the rich. Mr. Depardieu is not France’s first fiscal refugee but his high-profile door-slamming so monopolized public debate that Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault had on Monday to parse whether or not he had insulted the actor. “I did not call Mr. Depardieu a loser, I said that it was loser-like [to move to Belgium to avoid taxes],” Mr. Ayrault told reporters...The “loser” comment seemed to have been the jab that stung Mr. Depardieu the most. “Loser, did you say loser?” the 63-year–old actor began an open letter to Mr. Ayrault that appeared Sunday in Le Journal du dimanche. Mr. Depardieu wrote that he had paid a total of €145-million in income tax in the last four decades and kept 80 people employed. He added that he had been taxed at a marginal rate of 85 per cent this year. “I am giving you back my passport and my social insurance, which I had never used. We no longer have the same fatherland. I am a true European, a citizen of the world.”

Hurricane Bell: 10.30.12

U.S. Super Storm’s Record Flooding Lands Blackout Blow (Bloomberg) Record tides from a wintry super storm combined with hours of pounding wind and rain to deal an unprecedented blow at the U.S Northeast’s power grid, flooding electrical substations and shutting down New York City’s financial district. At nightfall, Consolidated Edison Inc., New York City’s utility, killed power in parts of downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn as seawater encroached on crucial electrical equipment and warned more power cuts may be coming. Crews in Connecticut threw up a dike around a substation serving downtown Stamford and stood ready to shut down four others should floodwaters rise by the forecast 11 feet. “The last time we saw this threat was never,” Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy said at a press conference yesterday, warning the worst seawater flooding in 70 years could have tides lapping at the base of at least one inland dam. As of 8 p.m. in New York, the storm had knocked out power to some 3.6 million homes and businesses, according to the U.S. Energy Department. That figure may increase overnight. Power blackouts that may eventually affect as many as 10 million people in the region for as long as 10 days left homes in the dark, closed the stock market, and disrupted operations at refineries, pipelines and power plants. Damaged power lines, substations and other infrastructure will contribute to the $20 billion in total storm costs estimated by Eqecat Inc., a risk- management company in Oakland, California. NYU Hospital Evacuated As Generator Goes Down (CBS) New York University Langone Medical Center was evacuated Monday night, after power went out as a result of Superstorm Sandy, and generators subsequently began to go down. As CBS2’s Dick Brennan reported, power went down across Manhattan from 39th Street south to the southern tip of the island – a region that includes the hospital. Backup generators were in operation, but started to fail in the 11 p.m. hour, and an evacuation began. Massive Transformer Explosion Rocks ConEd Plant (WP) The explosion happened shortly before 8:30 p.m. at the building located in Stuyvesant Town..."There was an explosion about 5 minutes ago and I could see Blue sparks coming from the plant! The plant is dark and smoke stacks are not lit up!" Mario Camilla said in an email. Con Ed has since confirmed the spectacular blow out, which was also captured on video, and said it was a substation equipment failure. The utility said at more or less the same time it lost power at its central command station but it has now been restored. Building Collapses On 14th Street (NBC) A four-story multiple-unit residence at 92 8th Avenue between 14th and 15th streets collapsed Monday evening, according to the FDNY and witnesses. Susan Milyavsky was standing on the balcony of a friend's apartment just across the street from the building when its front collapsed. "It was like it just melted off," Milyavsky said. "It crumbled down." Idled Stock And Bond Traders Watch, Wait, And Position (WSJ) Even with the U.S. stock market closed, investors found ways to trade. "You can work around it to a certain extent," said Nanette Buziak, head of equity trading at ING Investment Management. On Monday morning, "where I would have been trading in stocks, we ended up trading what we needed to in futures. We're also still trading where we need to in international markets." [...] But activity in the municipal-bond market ground to a halt Monday, as issuers postponed deals and trading wrapped up early. Some of the week's biggest deals are being pushed back to later in the week or are on a day-to-day schedule, if they aren't postponed indefinitely...A handful of other markets stayed active, but trading was thin and many people could not get to their desks. As a result, those who were around found themselves buzzing with activity, as traders hunted for scarce counterparties. "Actually, we are very busy today. Can I hang up now?" said Mamoru Arai, senior currency trader at Mizuho in New York, who said his firm was operating with only two traders on the floor today, compared with more than a dozen on a normal day. NYSE To Test New Contingency Plan Tuesday (WSJ) The broader plan outlined Monday night by NYSE and rival exchange groups BATS Global Markets Inc. and Direct Edge Holdings LLC would see the Big Board operator's all-electronic NYSE Arca platform handle critical opening and closing auctions. The New York Stock Exchange and the smaller NYSE MKT exchange would remain closed under the plan being discussed, The plan deviates from a proposal floated Sunday by NYSE Euronext, which involved operating the New York Stock Exchange using Arca's systems. This drew concerns from brokerage officials worried that they weren't properly prepared for the unconventional approach. Under the plan outlined late Monday, all trading in NYSE-listed securities would execute on the Arca exchange, according to the notice from NYSE Euronext. Labor Department Says Hurricane May Affect Jobs Report (Bloomberg) The U.S. Labor Department will wait to gauge the impact of Hurricane Sandy before determining the status of the October jobs report, the last before next week’s presidential election. The monthly employment data are scheduled to be released Nov. 2 at 8:30 a.m. in Washington. The median forecasts of economists surveyed by Bloomberg call for payrolls to rise by 125,000 workers in October and for the jobless rate to increase to 7.9 percent from 7.8 percent. “We will assess the situation when the weather emergency is over and notify the press and public of any changes at that time,” Labor Department spokesman Gary Steinberg said in an e- mailed statement today. As Sandy strengthens, Connecticut governor issues 'Katrina-like' warning (MN) Governor Dannel P. Malloy called a quick press briefing at 9:15 p.m. after consulting with town officials and getting updates from the situation on Long Island. His biggest worries were for region one, which extends from Bridgeport to Greenwich, but he also has substantial concerns for residents along the Shoreline from Old Saybrook to West Haven. The governor said he was issuing "a Katrina-like" warning, telling residents to get to the highest place in their homes if they are already experiencing flooding, or if necessary to their roofs. Behind Decision To Close Markets (WSJ) Even if traders no longer flock to the exchange floors to buy and sell stocks and other securities, the software engineers and other technology staff who are responsible for maintaining those electronic systems still must be connected. And like the hundreds of thousands of East Coast residents immobilized by the storm, many traders couldn't find transportation to take them to their firms' trading floors. That issue took on added importance late Monday when parts of lower Manhattan flooded and were without power. Opening the U.S. stock markets without the New York Stock Exchange wasn't an option, according to one person involved in the discussions over the weekend. While other, all-electronic exchanges could have opened for business, the Big Board's role as the official opening and closing price-setter for many benchmark stocks would have posed problems for firms catering to retail investors and mutual funds that calculate their valuations against prices set on the NYSE. Some customers worried they didn't have enough time to address any technical problems that may have surfaced as they rerouted systems to send orders to NYSE's Arca electronic exchange. Others faced the prospect of not being able to handle any trades whatsoever, due to not having adequate backup plans, according to people close to the matter. UBS To Reveal Investment Bank Exit Plans Tuesday (Reuters) The move will focus Zurich-based UBS around its private bank and a smaller investment bank, ditching much of the trading business that saw it lose $50 billion in the financial crisis and one rogue trader lose $2.3 billion last year...Investors are keen for details on how the Swiss bank will wind down the fixed income unit without incurring big losses. Employees complain they have been in a state of limbo after months of rumors of cuts. "It's becoming like torture, especially for those that don't think they will be compatible with the new Orcel team," said one employee, referring to Andrea Orcel, a close ally of Ermotti from Bank of America who arrived in July and is expected to run the investment banking unit's remaining businesses. Bankers were already anxiously awaiting news of an initial 400 job cuts set to hit this week, though that will likely be just the beginning of a cycle of layoffs that will hit those in fixed income trading the worst. Nomura Trails Goldman in Return on Equity Amid Losses Abroad (Bloomberg) “The current levels of net income are absolutely not adequate,” Nomura’s Co-Deputy Chief Financial Officer Jonathan Lewis said in a phone interview yesterday. “Return on equity of 0.5 percent for the second quarter is not where we want to be.” Investors Play Lehman Claims Games (WSJ) In the Lehman case, some big investors have been buying the claims against the London unit for more than 100% of their original value, according to buyers and sellers, as well as the administrator for the subsidiary. This stands out, as IOUs from bankrupt companies typically fetch severely discounted prices of half or less than their original value. Claims against other Lehman units are selling for far less. Milken's Past Invoked In Gupta Sentencing (Dealbook) Judge Jed S. Rakoff, the presiding judge in Mr. Gupta’s case, made a surprising reference to Mr. Milken during the hearing. It came after Mr. Gupta’s lawyer, Gary P. Naftalis, made a plea for a lenient sentence. Mr. Naftalis cited the hundreds of letters of support for Mr. Gupta, who in addition to his business accomplishments has played a leading role in fighting global disease. He read a letter from Barry Bloom, the former dean of the Harvard School of Public Health. “Dr. Bloom stated, ‘To my knowledge, as someone who has worked in global health for 40 years, with the sole exception of Bill Gates, no leader of the private sector or corporate world has invested so much of his time, energy, and personal credit to do so much for the poorest people of the poorest countries than Rajat Gupta,” Mr. Naftalis said. “I’m glad he didn’t say except for Michael Milken,” Judge Rakoff responded. Storm Overwhelms Atlantic City (NYT) “The city is under siege,” said Thomas Foley, the city’s chief of emergency management. “Sandy is pretty furious at Atlantic City. She must have lost a bet or something. As we say in our slogan, ‘Do A.C.’ She’s doing A.C., all right.”

Opening Bell: 04.13.12

JPMorgan Profit Slips (WSJ) J.P. Morgan reported a profit of $5.38 billion, down from $5.56 billion a year earlier. On a per-share basis, earnings were $1.31, up from $1.28 as the share count outstanding declined. The latest quarter included a net 8-cent per-share loss tied to litigation expenses and changes in the value of the bank's debt. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected a per-share profit of $1.18, excluding debt-related charges. Revenue rose 6.3% to $27.42 billion. Analysts were looking for $24.68 billion. Wells Fargo reports higher first-quarter profit (Reuters) Wells Fargo, the nation's fourth-biggest U.S. bank, said net income was $4.25 billion, or 75 cents a share, in the quarter, compared with $3.76 billion, or 67 cents, a share in the same period a year earlier. The average estimate from analysts was 73 cents per share. JPMorgan Said to Transform Treasury to Prop Trading (Bloomberg) Achilles Macris, hired in 2006 as the CIO’s top executive in London, led an expansion into corporate and mortgage-debt investments with a mandate to generate profits for the New York- based bank, three of the former employees said. Dimon, 56, closely supervised the shift from the CIO’s previous focus on protecting JPMorgan from risks inherent in its banking business, such as interest-rate and currency movements, they said. Some of Macris’s bets are now so large that JPMorgan probably can’t unwind them without losing money or roiling financial markets, the former executives said, based on knowledge gleaned from people inside the bank and dealers at other firms. Bank Bonus That Tops Salary May Be Banned by EU Lawmakers (Bloomberg) Governments and lawmakers in the 27-nation EU are considering rules for lenders that would go far beyond international agreements approved by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision. Denmark, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU, has proposed empowering nations to set surcharges of up to 3 percent across their banking systems. Karas yesterday suggested adding language to the legislation that would ban banker bonuses that exceed fixed pay, following calls from other lawmakers to rein in excessive compensation. IMF Lifts Growth Forecast, Cautiously (WSJ) Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, said the world economy is marked by "a high degree of instability" even though prospects for global growth are better than they were a few months ago. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Ms. Lagarde said the IMF, which marked down its 2012 forecast for global growth in January to 3.3%, has now marked it up to reflect improving conditions in the world economy. But she said the new forecast, to be released next week, remains more pessimistic than the one it made last September, which predicted 4% growth. Europe remains the biggest single risk to the global economy, the former French finance minister said. Hedge Fund Driver Guns DownArmed Robber (NYP) A retired NYPD lieutenant blew away a drugstore bandit yesterday as the suspect tried to gun down three police officers during a foot pursuit, sources said. Thomas Barnes, Barnes — a driver for hedge fund manager Philippe Laffont, was filling his tank at the BP station on East 119th Street and First Avenue at around 11 a.m. when he saw gunman Rudolph Wyatt running from the store, and sprang into action. He crouched behind his hedge-fund boss’ Mercedes SUV and squeezed off three shots, killing Wyatt, 23. The trigger-happy thug — wanted on warrants for two other shootings — lay dead in a pool of blood on the sidewalk wearing a black stocking mask with a wad of stolen cash spilling out of his pocket, witnesses said. “Part of the back of his head was missing. He had a large head wound and there was tons of blood,” said witness John Brecevich, 59, owner of the Original Patsy’s restaurant nearby. “It was a scene straight out of NYPD Blue.” Trustees Aim For MF Execs (NYP) The trustee tasked with clawing back money for burned customers of MF Global is training his sights on the brokerage firm’s executives — a list that likely includes former CEO Jon Corzine. In a statement yesterday, trustee James Giddens said he is considering pursuing claims against “certain responsible individuals” who worked for MF at the time customers’ trading accounts were improperly tapped. Kent Jarrell, a spokesman for Giddens, declined to name names but said the trustee is considering civil suits against “officers, directors or other employees” of both the brokerage firm and the holding company. Fed Officials Differ on Need to Keep Rates Low to 2014 (Bloomberg) William C. Dudley, president of the New York Fed, and Vice Chairman Janet Yellen said the 2014 time-frame is needed to lower unemployment from 8.2 percent. Minneapolis Fed President Narayana Kocherlakota said rising inflation may prompt an interest-rate increase as early as this year, while Philadelphia’s Charles Plosser said policy should hinge on economic performance, not a calendar commitment. Newark Mayor Cory Booker: Race into home fire was a "come to Jesus moment" (CBS) Booker arrived home last night to discover his next-door neighbor's house on fire, and rescued a young woman trapped upstairs by carrying here through the flames, suffering second-degree burns in the process. The mayor's security team discovered the fire and pounded on the door to alert residents, when an elderly woman said that her daughter was trapped upstairs. At first, Newark Police Detective Alex Rodriguez would not let Booker into the burning house. "He basically told me, 'This woman is going to die if we don't help her,' and what can I say to that?," Rodriguez said. "I let him go and without thinking twice, he just ran into the flames and rescued this young lady." Booker said that as he jumped through the kitchen on the second floor, "I actually wasn't thinking. When I got there and couldn't find her in all the smoke, looked behind me and saw the kitchen really erupting with flames all over the ceiling, that's when I had very clear thoughts that I'm not going to get out of this place alive and got ... very religious. He admitted he was "not gentle" with her - "I just sort of threw her over my shoulder and dragged her through the kitchen."

Why I Left Goldman Sachs, Chapter Three: "My Alleged Competition"

In the ping pong game of life, even your most trusted blade can't swat away an opponent with super-sized balls.---Unknown On Monday morning, Grand Central Publishing will release Why I Left Goldman Sachs: A Wall Street Story, a memoir penned by former Goldman employee Greg Smith, based on his op-ed for the New York Times entitled, "Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs." When Smith's piece came out last March, few if any senior executives inside the bank were pleased, in part because it came as a total shock. No one at Goldman had known Smith was planning to have his resignation letter printed in the paper. No one had known he had issues with the firm's supposedly new and singular focus on making money at all costs. No one, at least at the top, even knew who Greg was. Obviously all this left the bank at a competitive disadvantage in terms of fighting back and for the time being, Smith appeared to be handing Goldman its ass. Getting cocky, even. Perhaps thinking to himself, "When all of this is over, I could be named the new CEO of Goldman Sachs."  As anyone who has ever won a bronze medal in ping-pong at the Maccabiah Games will tell you, however, winners are determined by best of threes. And that anyone going to to the table with Goldman Sachs should be prepared for things to get ugly. Which is why it should not have come as a surprise that after getting hydrated, regrouping, and coming up with a plan of attack, Goldman kicked off round two with a delightfully bitchy, exceptionally underminery comment to the press re: Smith's tale being no more interesting than that of a disgruntled first-year analyst who thinks he's got a story to tell and then followed it up with a leak of Greg's less than flattering performance reviews to the Financial Times. What probably did come as a surprise, however, was today's breathtakingly aggressive Bloomberg piece re: Mr. Smith wherein: * He's described as a petulant child with unrealistic expectations for his career advancement * It's suggested, by saying outright, that his op-ed complaints about the firm were nothing more than him having "an axe to grind" on account of not advancing beyond vice-president, as demonstrated by the fact that as of 2010, he was happy with the firm, wanted to become a managing director and had no intention of leaving * People are left to connect the dots re: Smith and lady bosses ("Goldman Sachs put a different managing director in charge of Smith as it considered giving him a sales job. The report says he 'found the transition difficult and considered the female MD who ran the desk a peer at not his boss") Relatedly, as we head into the final game of the set with a tie score, the following is a tremendous anecdote from Chapter 3 of Why I Left Goldman Sachs involving an actual game of ping-pong, John Whitehead's Business Principles, and the lessons one learns as a first-year at GS about allowing a client to enjoy the sweet taste of victory despite knowing full-well you could wipe the floor with him or her and bring home the gold, if you so chose. After hearing of my past sports success, Rudy immediately fired off an e-mail to Ted Simpson, saying "Springbok will be representing the New York desk at the Ping-Pong tournament." Simpson wrote back: "Who's Springbok?" In response, Rudy e-mailed him a photograph of a springbok, the actual animal. You had to be there, but I thought it was hilarious. So I flew to Boston on Goldman's tab-- the justification being that while there, I could meet with Prakash and talk Israeli tech stocks-- and met Ted Simpson. […] The backstory of the annual Goldman Sachs Ping-Pong Tournament, Ted told me, was that the same guy, an Indian portfolio manager from Putnam, had won it five years in a row, and that winning the tournament was the highlight of the guy's year. But from the moment I walked into Jillian's- a pleasure palace replete with free-flowing alcohol, spicy chicken wings, bowling alleys, plasma TVs, and dozens of Foosball, pool and table tennis tables-- and saw my alleged competition practicing, I knew he didn't have a chance against me. I'm not trying to brag. But competitive table tennis, like every sport, has its levels. Any number of internationally ranked players could have (and had) made mincemeat out of me, yet simply put, the Putnam portfolio manager (let's call him PPM) and I were not in the same league. I was confident he wouldn't be able to return my serve, and if it came to a rally, he wouldn't be prepared for the kind of sever spins I could put on the ball. I could see he was a very good basement player, nothing more. I could have beaten him in my sleep. The tournament draw was posted. Thirty-two people, and PPM was seeded number one. Since the organizers knew I was good, I was the number two seed. Play began. I was rusty-- I'd been working such long hours since joining Goldman that I'd barely picked up a paddle-- but soon I remembered my form. And nobody gave me a serious challenge. PPM and I plowed through our halves of the draw, heading toward an inevitable confrontation. I watched a couple of his matches. PPM's opponents were easy pickings: recreational players dressed in jeans and polo shirts. And PPM, looking very professional in his special sneakers and running shorts, T-shirt, and headband, was mopping them up. Of course he'd brought his own paddle-- a serious player would never show up without his own stick. And of course I'd brought along my trusty Donic Appelgren blade, red on one side, black on the other. Ted Simpson and I were looking on as PPM took down another player. "So what are we thinking here?" I asked Ted. "I"m going to meet this guy in the final, and if play properly, I'm going to beat him twenty-one to two. What' the right course of action?" Ted looked thoughtful. "Well," he said after a moment, "this guy is one of our biggest clients; he takes this stuff really seriously." At that moment, PPM whaled away at a forehand that just clipped the table edge and skipped off, unreturnable; he raised his arms in victory. "We need to make it a close game," Ted said. "Get some good rallies going." I told Ted I had been thinking along the same lines. That I should beat PPM, because it was obvious I could beat him, but that I should keep it close. Not embarrass him. I knew how to do that, I said. You just make a few unforced errors here and there. "Hmm," Ted said. "You have a different idea?" I asked. "Well, the guy is one of our biggest clients," he repeated, givingme a significant look. "You're suggesting--?" "Maybe," he said. And then: "Watch for my signal." I gave Ted a look-- he was smiling-- and took my Donic out of its case. The match began. A crowd had gathered to watch us play. Everybody was having fun-- except for my opponent, who was taking the match very seriously. When I won a few points in the early going, I could see him getting upset. So I eased up. I could have really turned on the heat, hit some crazy shots past him that would have whizzed by his ear-- but I didn't. My whole plan was to keep the ball in play. To give the crowd a good show, instead of slicing the ball back when PPM smashed it at me, I would lob it up for him so he could smash it again. Smash, lob. Smash, lob. Oohs and has from the onlookers. After three or four exchanges like this, I'd either hit it into the net or give PPM such an easy pop-up that he could make a legitimate put-away on me. I was letting him show off for his fellow clients a little bit. He loved it. The matches were best two out of three, and my plan was to squeak out a win in the second game, then maybe win by just a little more in the third. But when I was ahead 15 to 12 in the second, Ted Simpson caught my eye. He gave a little shake of the head, and then, using his left hand as a shield, gave me a quick thumbs-down with his right. I'm quite sure nobody but Ted and I knew what was going on. I nodded. After all, wasn't putting the client first number one of John Whitehead's 14 Business Principles? The Putnam portfolio manger was very magnanimous in victory-- as i was in defeat. Greg Smith Quit Goldman Sachs After 'Unrealistic' Pitch For $1M [Bloomberg] Earlier: Greg Smith: Goldman Sachs Interns Taught Harsh But Important Lessons By Demanding But Affable Managing Directors; What Else Does Goldman Sachs Have In Store For Greg Smith?; Goldman Sachs Unimpressed By Sophomoric Writing Efforts Of Former Employee; Resignation Letter Reveals Goldman Sachs Is In The Business Of Making Money, Hires People Who Don’t Know How To Tie Their Shoes; Jewish Ping-Pong Tournament Participant / Sixth-Year Goldman Sachs Vice President Is Looking For His Next Challenge; Goldman Sachs Accuser Greg Smith (Might Have) Lied About That Which He Holds Most Sacred