Opening Bell: 06.13.12

Dimon To Fault Controls On Risk (WSJ) Mr. Dimon, scheduled to appear before the Senate Banking Committee on Wednesday morning, intends to apologize for the miscues—a stark departure from his normal shoot-from-the-hip demeanor. But Mr. Dimon will push back on any implication that the incident is lastingly detrimental to the largest U.S. bank by assets. In fact, the New York company expects its second quarter to be "solidly profitable" despite the losses, Mr. Dimon said in an early copy of his prepared remarks. "We will not make light of these losses, but they should be put into perspective," Mr. Dimon is expected to say. "We will lose some of our shareholders' money—and for that, we feel terrible—but no client, customer or taxpayer money was impacted by this incident." Jamie Dimon's Testimony (PDF) "All of these activities come with risk. And just as we have remained focused on serving our clients, we have also remained focused on managing the risks of our business, particularly given today’s considerable global economic and financial volatility. Last, I would like to say that in the face of these recent losses, we have come together as a Firm, acknowledged our mistakes, and committed ourselves to fixing them. We will learn from this incident and my conviction is that we will emerge from this moment a stronger, smarter, better company." Dimon: JPMorgan Traders Took Risks They Didn't Understand (Bloomberg) In testimony prepared for a hearing today, Dimon expressed regret over losses in the bank’s chief investment office, saying that its trading strategy was “poorly conceived and vetted” by senior managers who were “in transition” and not paying adequate attention. Greeks Withdraw $1 Billion A Day Ahead Of Vote (Reuters) Greeks pulled their cash out of the banks and stocked up with food ahead of a cliffhanger election on Sunday that many fear will result in the country being forced out of the euro. Bankers said up to 800 million euros ($1 billion) were leaving major banks daily and retailers said some of the money was being used to buy pasta and canned goods, as fears of returning to the drachma were fanned by rumors that a radical leftist leader may win the election. At Starbucks, Uncertainty Over Mayor's Drink Plan (NYT) As the Bloomberg administration moved ahead on Tuesday with its plan to restrict sales of big sugary drinks in New York, securing a preliminary nod from the city’s Board of Health, it said it is still trying to determine the impact on one popular beverage brand: Starbucks. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s plan, which would limit the size of sweet drinks sold at many establishments to 16 ounces or less, exempts any beverage that contains more than 50 percent milk by volume. Officials in City Hall and in Seattle said they were unsure how those rules might affect the Starbucks family of syrupy, milkshake-style coffee drinks, catnip to thousands of caffeine-addicted New Yorkers who frequent the company’s 190 outlets in Manhattan...The rules would ban large sodas sold at fast-food restaurants, movie theaters and street carts. But the Big Gulp, the supersized soda cup at 7-Eleven, would still be allowed under the proposal, because the proposal would exempt the sale of drinks in groceries or convenience stores. Full-Scale Bailouts for Italy, Spain in 6 Months: Egan-Jones (CNBC) Spain and Italy need a full-scale bailout from the European Union because of their high levels of government debt and the credit quality of their banks, and will likely seek help within the next 6 months, according to Sean Egan, Founding Partner and President of Egan-Jones, an independent ratings agency. Poor credit quality of banks usually goes hand-in-hand with poor government finances as the two institutions are “joined at the hip”, Egan told CNBC Asia’s “Squawk Box” on Wednesday. That’s the case for most countries such as the U.S., the U.K., Switzerland and Ireland; Spain and Italy are no exceptions, he said. “It makes little sense to separate the banks’ credit quality from the governments’ credit quality because quite often, they support each other and that’s certainly the case in Italy and Spain,” he said. “We think that Spain will be back at the table, asking for more than the 100 billion euros ($125 billion) that they just asked for, and we think that Italy will also come to the table within the next 6 months.” Chinese Banks To See Squeeze On Profit (WSJ) In a bid to bring down lending rates and rev up economic growth, China's central bank said last week it would allow banks to double the maximum discount on loans and offer deposit rates that can reach 1.1 times the benchmark level. That could squeeze the minimum spread between loans and deposits from 2.4% to as little as 1.5%. "It's the biggest step towards a market-oriented interest-rate regime since 2004," said Yin Jianfeng, a researcher at government think tank the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, referring to a past easing of controls on lending rates. "Given the global financial tumult and domestic economic slowdown, I'd say it's a really bold move." ING Fined A Record Amount (WSJ) ING Bank has agreed to pay a record penalty of $619 million for illegally moving billions of dollars through the U.S. banking system on behalf of Cuban and Iranian clients and threatening to fire employees if they failed to conceal the origin of the money. The U.S. prohibits certain countries and entities from accessing the U.S. banking system through sanctions enforced by the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control. Banks in Manhattan, which process most of the world's U.S. dollar payments, use "filters" to prevent terrorists, money launderers and other criminals from gaining access. Let's Pizza vending machine ready for U.S. debut (PM) Let's Pizza, a vending machine that creates pizzas from scratch in 2.5 minutes, is about to plant a flag in U.S. soil. The machine was created by Italian Claudio Torghel and is distributed by A1 Concepts, based out of The Netherlands...The machine contains a specially developed bag of flour and a bag of mineral water. Every time you order a pizza, the machine will start making the dough, then shape it into a crust, and top it with organic tomato sauce. Next, one of the toppings is placed on top and the pizza is ready for the oven. Each machine offers four different kinds of pizzas.
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Dimon To Fault Controls On Risk (WSJ)
Mr. Dimon, scheduled to appear before the Senate Banking Committee on Wednesday morning, intends to apologize for the miscues—a stark departure from his normal shoot-from-the-hip demeanor. But Mr. Dimon will push back on any implication that the incident is lastingly detrimental to the largest U.S. bank by assets. In fact, the New York company expects its second quarter to be "solidly profitable" despite the losses, Mr. Dimon said in an early copy of his prepared remarks. "We will not make light of these losses, but they should be put into perspective," Mr. Dimon is expected to say. "We will lose some of our shareholders' money—and for that, we feel terrible—but no client, customer or taxpayer money was impacted by this incident."

Jamie Dimon's Testimony (PDF)
"All of these activities come with risk. And just as we have remained focused on serving our clients, we have also remained focused on managing the risks of our business, particularly given today’s considerable global economic and financial volatility. Last, I would like to say that in the face of these recent losses, we have come together as a Firm, acknowledged our mistakes, and committed ourselves to fixing them. We will learn from this incident and my conviction is that we will emerge from this moment a stronger, smarter, better company."

Dimon: JPMorgan Traders Took Risks They Didn't Understand (Bloomberg)
In testimony prepared for a hearing today, Dimon expressed regret over losses in the bank’s chief investment office, saying that its trading strategy was “poorly conceived and vetted” by senior managers who were “in transition” and not paying adequate attention.

Greeks Withdraw $1 Billion A Day Ahead Of Vote (Reuters)
Greeks pulled their cash out of the banks and stocked up with food ahead of a cliffhanger election on Sunday that many fear will result in the country being forced out of the euro. Bankers said up to 800 million euros ($1 billion) were leaving major banks daily and retailers said some of the money was being used to buy pasta and canned goods, as fears of returning to the drachma were fanned by rumors that a radical leftist leader may win the election.

At Starbucks, Uncertainty Over Mayor's Drink Plan (NYT)
As the Bloomberg administration moved ahead on Tuesday with its plan to restrict sales of big sugary drinks in New York, securing a preliminary nod from the city’s Board of Health, it said it is still trying to determine the impact on one popular beverage brand: Starbucks. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s plan, which would limit the size of sweet drinks sold at many establishments to 16 ounces or less, exempts any beverage that contains more than 50 percent milk by volume. Officials in City Hall and in Seattle said they were unsure how those rules might affect the Starbucks family of syrupy, milkshake-style coffee drinks, catnip to thousands of caffeine-addicted New Yorkers who frequent the company’s 190 outlets in Manhattan...The rules would ban large sodas sold at fast-food restaurants, movie theaters and street carts. But the Big Gulp, the supersized soda cup at 7-Eleven, would still be allowed under the proposal, because the proposal would exempt the sale of drinks in groceries or convenience stores.

Full-Scale Bailouts for Italy, Spain in 6 Months: Egan-Jones (CNBC)
Spain and Italy need a full-scale bailout from the European Union because of their high levels of government debt and the credit quality of their banks, and will likely seek help within the next 6 months, according to Sean Egan, Founding Partner and President of Egan-Jones, an independent ratings agency. Poor credit quality of banks usually goes hand-in-hand with poor government finances as the two institutions are “joined at the hip”, Egan told CNBC Asia’s “Squawk Box” on Wednesday. That’s the case for most countries such as the U.S., the U.K., Switzerland and Ireland; Spain and Italy are no exceptions, he said. “It makes little sense to separate the banks’ credit quality from the governments’ credit quality because quite often, they support each other and that’s certainly the case in Italy and Spain,” he said. “We think that Spain will be back at the table, asking for more than the 100 billion euros ($125 billion) that they just asked for, and we think that Italy will also come to the table within the next 6 months.”

Chinese Banks To See Squeeze On Profit (WSJ)
In a bid to bring down lending rates and rev up economic growth, China's central bank said last week it would allow banks to double the maximum discount on loans and offer deposit rates that can reach 1.1 times the benchmark level. That could squeeze the minimum spread between loans and deposits from 2.4% to as little as 1.5%. "It's the biggest step towards a market-oriented interest-rate regime since 2004," said Yin Jianfeng, a researcher at government think tank the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, referring to a past easing of controls on lending rates. "Given the global financial tumult and domestic economic slowdown, I'd say it's a really bold move."

ING Fined A Record Amount (WSJ)
ING Bank has agreed to pay a record penalty of $619 million for illegally moving billions of dollars through the U.S. banking system on behalf of Cuban and Iranian clients and threatening to fire employees if they failed to conceal the origin of the money. The U.S. prohibits certain countries and entities from accessing the U.S. banking system through sanctions enforced by the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control. Banks in Manhattan, which process most of the world's U.S. dollar payments, use "filters" to prevent terrorists, money launderers and other criminals from gaining access.

Let's Pizza vending machine ready for U.S. debut (PM)
Let's Pizza, a vending machine that creates pizzas from scratch in 2.5 minutes, is about to plant a flag in U.S. soil. The machine was created by Italian Claudio Torghel and is distributed by A1 Concepts, based out of The Netherlands...The machine contains a specially developed bag of flour and a bag of mineral water. Every time you order a pizza, the machine will start making the dough, then shape it into a crust, and top it with organic tomato sauce. Next, one of the toppings is placed on top and the pizza is ready for the oven. Each machine offers four different kinds of pizzas.

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Opening Bell: 01.23.13

Greece Charges Statisticians Over Size of Deficit (FT) Greece has brought criminal charges against the official responsible for measuring the country's debt, thereby calling into question the validity of its 172 billion euros second bailout by the EU and International Monetary Fund. Andreas Georgiou, head of the independent statistical agency Elstat, and two senior officials are accused of undermining the country's "national interests" by inflating the 2009 budget deficit figure used as the benchmark for successive austerity packages. The three statistical experts face criminal charges of making false statements and corrupt practices, a judicial official said, adding that if found guilty they could serve prison terms of five to 10 years. They have denied any wrongdoing. Spain's Recession Deepens (WSJ) Spain's central bank said a recession in the euro zone's fourth-largest economy deepened slightly in the final quarter of last year, but it said austerity cuts are bringing the country's runaway budget deficit under control. Obama-Bashing Swapped for Pragmatism at Davos (Bloomberg) “We have to move on in our society,” Blackstone found Stephen Schwarzman said today in an interview in Davos with Bloomberg Television’s Erik Schatzker. “I like President Obama as a person, and he’s well- intentioned.” Schwarzman, 65, warned in Davos in 2010 that banks could restrict lending because “their entire world is being shaken and they’re being attacked personally.” Later that year, at a nonprofit group meeting, he likened Obama’s tax proposals to Hitler’s invasion of Poland. Third Point LLC CEO Daniel Loeb, who in 2010 compared Wall Street’s Obama supporters to “battered wives,” will help lead a Jan. 25 Davos dinner discussion, “Can Capitalism Evolve?” Schwarzman apologized in 2010 for his comparison of Obama’s effort to double taxes on private-equity income to the invasion of Poland. He said the analogy was inappropriate and that the administration’s need to work with business “is still of very serious concern.” JPMorgan's Jamie Dimon Apologizes, Attacks (WSJ) James Dimon of J.P. Morgan Chase was prepared in Davos to apologize for the more than $6 billion of trading losses racked up by the so-called London Whale, but he certainly wasn’t prepared to abase himself...Min Zhu, deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund, reeled off a string of statistics to show that the industry certainly hadn’t cleaned up its act since the crisis, and Paul Singer, principal of hedge fund Elliott Associates, was also keen to lambaste big banks, including Mr. Dimon’s. The two had some testy exchanges and the body language indicated that Messrs. Singer and Dimon have exchanged fire quite a few times previously. Still, Mr. Dimon gave us good as he got. He kicked off with repeating his apology to shareholders for the London Whale trading losses, which led to his own bonus being slashed, saying, “If you’re a shareholder of mine, I apologize deeply.” Having offered this apology he then went on the offense. He pointed out that his bank lent money to a whole host of worthy organizations such as schools, hospitals, governments, and Italian and Spanish corporates and governments. And he also had some snappy comebacks. Elliott’s Singer said that the global banks are “too big, too leveraged, too opaque,” which left Mr. Dimon with an easy retort about how could a hedge fund possibly criticize a bank about being opaque? “Our [securities filing] 10K is 400 pages long,” Mr. Dimon said. “What would you like to know?” Geithner Exit Next Friday (AFP) US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who steered the administration of President Obama through the financial crisis, will step down from his post Friday, a source told Agence France Presse yesterday. Golfer Mickelson recants tax rant (NYP) Mickelson — who hinted he might move from his home state of California to escape higher taxes — said he regretted his public rant on the issue after setting off a political firestorm. “Finances and taxes are a personal matter and I should not have made my opinions on them public,” according to a statement from Mickelson, who plans to elaborate today at the Farmers Insurance Open. “I apologize to those I have upset or insulted and assure you I intend to not let it happen again.” Senator Lautenberg Suggests Spanking In Store For Mayor Cory Booker (CI via DI) "I have four children, I love each one of them. I can't tell you that one of them wasn't occasionally disrespectful, so I gave them a spanking and everything was OK," Lautenberg said with a smile in his first public comments since Booker announced he was considering a run for Senate. Banker's Latest Bet: Teamwork on Bonds (WSJ) Texas banking tycoon Andrew Beal is known for making unconventional moves, including gambling on high-stakes poker and a self-financed plan to launch rockets into space. His latest gambit: an attempt to wring money from giant banks by banding together aggrieved bondholders. Mr. Beal's CXA Corp. ran a pair of advertisements late last year, one appearing in The Wall Street Journal. The ads listed an alphabet soup of residential mortgage-backed securities held by CXA and asked those with positions in the same securities to join the company in investigating possible infractions by banks that sold the debt. If the groups can prove the mortgages that underlie the bonds were approved through shoddy underwriting, they could be entitled to compensation—CXA's payday alone could be tens of millions of dollars. Firms Keep Stockpiles Of 'Foreign' Cash In US (WSJ) Some companies, including Internet giant Google, software maker Microsoft, and data-storage specialist EMC Corp, keep more than three-quarters of the cash owned by their foreign subsidiaries at U.S. banks, held in U.S. dollars or parked in U.S. government and corporate securities, according to people familiar with the companies' cash positions. In the eyes of the law, the Internal Revenue Service and company executives, however, this money is overseas. As long as it doesn't flow back to the U.S. parent company, the U.S. doesn't tax it. And as long as it sits in U.S. bank accounts or in U.S. Treasurys, it is safer than if it were plowed into potentially risky foreign investments. SEC Reins In Ratings Firm (WSJ) The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission barred Egan-Jones Ratings Co. from issuing ratings on certain bonds, an unprecedented step by the regulator and a setback for a small credit-rating firm with a history of courting controversy. The SEC said Tuesday that Egan-Jones couldn't officially rate bonds issued by countries, U.S. states and local governments, or securities backed by assets such as mortgages, for at least the next 18 months. The ban was part of an agreement the SEC reached with Egan-Jones and its president, Sean Egan, to settle charges that they filed inaccurate documents with the regulator in 2008. The SEC alleged that Egan-Jones misled investors about its expertise, and that Mr. Egan caused the firm to violate conflict-of-interest provisions. Lindenhurst dentist busted after reporting to work reeking of booze and drilling teeth while allegedly drunk (NYDN) Dr. Robert Garelick was hauled out of his Lindenhurst office in handcuffs Monday after his dental hygienist smelled booze on his breath and caught him administering Novocain to the wrong side of a patient’s mouth. “I observed Dr. Garelick looking for cavities in the right side of the patient’s mouth, but the cavities were in the left side,” hygienist Kimberly Curtis told police in a written statement. “I pointed this out to the doctor and that’s when he ordered more Novocain for the patient,” Curtis told cops. “So now, he basically numbed the whole patient’s mouth.” After noticing Garelick’s wobbly behavior Monday, Curtis texted co-worker Dina Fara, who called 911. Curtis said she sent the message after Garelick used a drill to treat another patient who had a chipped tooth. “He was filing the tooth down,” Curtis said. “When you’re using that drill, you have to be very careful and have a steady hand.” She said that just before Garelick treated the chipped tooth, he slipped into his office. “I noticed that he was drinking from a white and purple squeeze bottle,” Curtis said. “At first I didn’t think anything was wrong,” Curtis said. “But right after, he took a drink from that bottle, he got up and walked past me. When he did this I smelled a strong odor of alcohol.” The dentist initially claimed he only had a couple of beers with pizza during lunch Monday, according to Suffolk County cops. But Garelick, who was charged with misdemeanor reckless endangerment, later confessed to his drunken dentistry while being taken to a police precinct in the back of squad car. “I never had any beers with my pizza. I’ve been sipping at that bottle all along today,” he told police, referring to his squeeze bottle filled with vodka, according to a criminal complaint.

Opening Bell: 10.11.12

Fed Governor: Put Cap On Big Financial Firms (WSJ) In a Philadelphia speech, Fed governor Daniel Tarullo recommended curbing banks' growth by putting a limit on their nondeposit liabilities, which are sources of funding for operations that go beyond consumer deposits. The idea takes direct aim at the biggest U.S. banks, including J.P. Morgan, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, and Citigroup, all of which rely heavily on such funding. Firms outside of this tier make much greater use of regular deposits. With Tapes, Authorities Build Criminal Case Over JPMorgan Loss (Dealbook) Federal authorities are using taped phone conversations to build criminal cases related to the multibillion-dollar trading loss at JPMorgan Chase, focusing on calls in which employees openly discussed how to value the troubled bets in a favorable way. Investigators are looking into the actions of four people who previously worked for the team based in London responsible for the $6 billion loss, according to officials briefed on the case. The Federal Bureau of Investigation could make some arrests in the next several months, said one person who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the inquiry was ongoing. The phone recordings, which were turned over to authorities by JPMorgan, have helped focus the investigation, the officials said. Authorities are poring over thousands of conversations, in English and French. They are also relying on notes that employees took during staff meetings, instant messages circulated among traders and e-mails sent within the group. Cyber Slips Boost Facebook's Ad Clicks (NYP) Facebook is suffering from fat-finger syndrome. That’s the opinion of one influential Wall Street analyst — bolstered by a growing body of research — who believes that some of the company’s recently touted mobile ad performance can be chalked up to accidental or fraudulent clicks. “Fat fingers” — when people click on an ad as they’re trying to click on something else — is an issue across the mobile Web as users try to navigate smaller screens, according to BTIG analyst Richard Greenfield. “People don’t have trouble with a mouse or touch pads,” Greenfield said yesterday. “But on mobile, when you’re gliding through on a touch screen, everything is touchable, and a lot of mistakes are happening.” JPMorgan CFO To Exit Post (WSJ) JPMorgan's chief financial officer is expected to step down over the next two quarters and is likely to move into a different job at the bank, people close to the company say. Douglas Braunstein, 51 years old, has been finance chief at the largest U.S. bank, by assets, since 2010. Before that, the longtime deal maker ran J.P. Morgan's investment-banking operations in North and South America and was heavily involved in the bank's acquisitions of securities firm Bear Stearns Cos. and the failed banking operations of Washington Mutual. Mr. Braunstein's status was diminished as part of an executive shake-up in July. Since then, he has reported to Matt Zames, 41, the company's co-chief operating officer, rather than Chairman and Chief Executive James Dimon. It isn't clear where Mr. Braunstein will decide to go within the bank, but the possibilities include J.P. Morgan's recently combined corporate and investment bank, these people said. He is expected to make his decision over the next quarter or two. Spain Lowers Rating On S&P (WSJ) The ratings company warned Wednesday that Spain's creditworthiness might continue to deteriorate as Madrid struggles to close a yawning budget gap, and said the Spanish government's "hesitation" to request a bailout from the European Union is "potentially raising the downside risks to Spain's rating." Brazil Cuts Rate for Tenth Straight Time to Bolster Recovery (Reuters) Brazil cut its benchmark interest rate for the tenth straight time to 7.25 percent on Wednesday, injecting extra stimulus into a languid recovery threatened by a worsening global economy. TSA screener accused of intentionally slapping flier's testicles (DJ) "A bulky young TSA agent came over to pat me down," Steven DeForest told the Huffington Post. "He told me to turn around. He was using his command voice, barking orders. I told him that I wasn't comfortable turning away from my luggage, which had already been screened, and wanted to keep it in my sight." According to deForest, the screener knelt down to begin the pat-down procedure before making a shocking move. "As he raised his hands he was looking at me. Then he gave a quick flick and smacked me in one of my testicles," deForest said. The episode left deForest in a state of "humiliation, rage, and frustration," according to the report. DeForest believes the agent slapped his gentials as punishment for refusing to enter the backscatter x-ray machine. "I was deliberately assaulted by someone who knew that he could get away with it," he stated. While the motives of the TSA screener cannot be confirmed, other agents have already admitted to performing invasive pat downs in order to force air travelers to choose the body scanners instead. JPMorgan's Dimon hits back at government over Bear Stearns suit (Bloomberg) During a wide-ranging hour-long discussion that went from the "fiscal cliff" to the impact of regulations, Dimon bristled when a member of the audience asked him if he now regretted participating with the government to rescue Bear Stearns in light of the lawsuit. "We didn't participate with the Federal Reserve, OK?" he said. "Let's get this one exactly right. We were asked to do it. We did it at great risk to ourselves ... Would I have done Bear Stearns again knowing what I know today? It's real close." Dimon went on to recount how he warned a senior regulator at the time of the deal to "please take into consideration when you want to come after us down the road for something that Bear Stearns did, that JPMorgan was asked to do this by the federal government." He added that JPMorgan, which will report its third-quarter earnings on Friday, will come out fine in the end. But if he is ever put in a similar position again, he said he "wouldn't do it." "I'm a big boy. I'll survive," he said. "But I think the government should think twice before they punish business every single time things go wrong." Australians World’s Wealthiest on Housing, Credit Suisse Says (Bloomberg) Australians have the world’s highest median worth and the Asia-Pacific topped Europe as the largest wealth-holding region, according to Credit Suisse. Australians have a median wealth per adult of $193,653, the Credit Suisse global wealth report showed, the highest of 216 countries surveyed. With plentiful land, sparse population, natural resources and high home prices, Australia’s proportion of individuals with wealth above $100,000 is the most of any country and eight times the world average, the report said. USADA says Lance Armstrong's Postal Service cycling team 'ran the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen' (NYDN) The report describes an underground network of support staff -- smugglers, dope doctors, drug runners -- who kept Armstrong's illicit program in business. “The evidence is overwhelming that Lance Armstrong did not just use performance-enhancing drugs, he supplied them to his teammates,” USADA says of the embattled cyclist and cancer survivor. “He did not merely go alone to Dr. Michele Ferrari for doping advice, he expected that others would follow,” the report continued, referring to the physician who was banned by USADA for his role in cycling’s steroid scandal. Eleven former Armstrong teammates provided testimony against Armstrong, including respected veteran cyclist George Hincapie, whom Armstrong has described as his "best bro" in the peloton and competed with Armstrong during each of his Tour de France victories. “It was not enough that his teammates give maximum effort on the bike, he also required that they adhere to the doping program outlined for them or be replaced. He was not just part of the doping culture of his team, he enforced it and re-enforced it. Armstrong’s use of drugs was extensive, and the doping program on his team, designed in large part to benefit Armstrong, was massive and pervasive.”

Opening Bell: 11.08.12

On Wall Street, Time To Mend Fences With Obama (NYT) Few industries have made such a one-sided bet as Wall Street did in opposing President Obama and supporting his Republican rival. The top five sources of contributions to Mr. Romney, a former top private equity executive, were big banks like Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Wealthy financiers — led by hedge fund investors — were the biggest group of givers to the main “super PAC” backing Mr. Romney, providing almost $33 million, and gave generously to outside groups in races around the country. On Wednesday, Dan Loeb, who had supported Mr. Obama in 2008, was sanguine. “You win some, you lose some,” he said in an interview. “We can all disagree. I have friends and we have spirited discussions. Sure, I am not getting invited to the White House anytime soon, but as citizens of the country we are all friendly.” [...] “Wall Street is now going to have to figure out how to make this relationship work,” said Glenn Schorr, an analyst who follows the big banks for the investment bank Nomura. “It’s not impossible, but it’s not the starting point they had hoped for.” Morgan Stanley Reassures Its Bankers (WSJ) The New York bank said Monday that investment-banking chief Paul Taubman would leave the firm at year-end. Mr. Taubman was passed over for a new job overseeing both the trading and investment-banking operations, people involved in the process said. The position went to Colm Kelleher, who has overseen sales and trading. To calm nerves and soothe egos among the firms' bankers, Morgan Stanley gathered its new team of investment-banking leaders in New York this week. Mr. Kelleher and one of his new banking lieutenants, Franck Petitgas, traveled from their London office, and Mr. Petitgas spent much of the week meeting with managers in the investment-banking division and senior bankers, people familiar with the discussions said. Top executives reassured senior bankers Monday that the investment-banking business was a priority for Morgan Stanley. In a memo to employees, Chief Executive James Gorman said Morgan Stanley would "continue to build on our leadership position in investment banking and capital markets." The messages came as some rank-and-file bankers at Morgan Stanley privately expressed surprise and dismay at the news from Mr. Taubman, who announced his departure to colleagues in an emotional meeting Monday with Messrs. Kelleher and Gorman in attendance. Some Morgan Stanley bankers said they worried that the new chiefs of investment banking didn't have the stature of Mr. Taubman, who spent a significant amount of time as a mergers banker and was known internally for his staunch support of the firm's investment-banking franchise. "People are upset," one senior person inside the company said. Wall Street Trades Foiled Romney Dreams For Bowles Hopes (Bloomberg) Wall Street executives who lost a bet that Republican Mitt Romney would defeat President Barack Obama are bracing for tougher regulation and hoping a deal can be struck with Congress to cut the deficit. Obama’s choice to succeed Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner will be watched closely for signs about the administration’s approach to business and the deficit, industry executives said. Erskine Bowles, who served as chief of staff under former President Bill Clinton, would be a sign that Obama is willing to endorse a bipartisan debt-reduction plan supported by many business leaders, they said. “With the appointment of the Treasury secretary, Obama will be sending an important message to the public and to the foreign governments who own a lot of Treasuries,” Curtis Arledge, chief executive officer of Bank of New York Mellon Corp.’s investment-management arm, which oversees $1.4 trillion, told journalists in New York yesterday. “If he goes with somebody like Erskine Bowles, then the message will be that he cares about the deficit and is serious about cutting it.” Focus Shifts To Fiscal Cliff (WSJ) Barry Knapp, head of U.S. equity portfolio strategy at Barclays, turned more bearish after seeing the election results, arguing that the risk of fiscal-cliff disaster increased to more than half, from about 30% before. "When I look at what happened, I see a government that grew farther apart, which might be worse than the status quo," Mr. Knapp said. "The risk of going off the cliff has just gotten huge." Jobless Claims Fall (WSJ) Initial jobless claims, which are a measure of layoffs, decreased by 8,000 to a seasonally adjusted 355,000 in the week ended Nov. 3, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires expected 365,000 new applications for jobless benefits. Greek Jobless Rate Hits New High (WSJ) Elstat, the Greek statistical agency, Thursday said the seasonally adjusted rate of unemployment increased to 25.4% from 24.8% in July and 18.4% in August 2011. That was just below the 25.5% unemployment rate recorded by Spain in the same month, the highest in the European Union. Herd of elephants go on drunken rampage after mammoth booze up (Metro) The trunk and disorderly mammals ransacked a shop, three houses and ruined crops in the eastern village of Dumurkota, India. Police say the gang of over-the-limit tuskers downed more than 500litres of moonshine alcohol, managing to drink the place dry in a matter of minutes. The unruly mob demolished dozens of houses in their desperate hunt for more booze after hoovering up the hard stuff in record time. Local police officer Asish Samanat said the drunken elephants were more 'aggressive' than usual after their mammoth drinking session. 'Unfortunately these animals live in close proximity to man and they recognised the smell of the drink,' he explained. 'They were like any other drunk - aggressive and unreasonable but much, much bigger.' ECB Stands Ready to Buy Bonds as Economy Weakens (Bloomberg) “We are ready to undertake” Outright Monetary Transactions, “which will help to avoid extreme scenarios,” Draghi said today at a press conference in Frankfurt after policy makers left the benchmark interest rate at a historic low of 0.75 percent. “The risks surrounding the economic outlook remain on the downside” and underlying inflation pressures “should remain moderate,” he said. SocGen CEO Blames ‘Stupid’ Accounting for Profit Drop (CNBC) “Exceptional items are related in particular to this stupid accounting thing which means that when you have a credit that is improving, your CDS is going down and you have to recognise negative revenues,” Frederic Oudea told CNBC in Paris. SocGen’s third-quarter net profit was 85 million euros, down by 86 percent on the same period in 2011, after losses on asset sales. That was lower than analysts’ mean estimate of 139.1 million euros. Blackstone Leads Hedge Funds Attracting Bond-Rally Bears (Bloomberg) Funds that bet on both gains and losses in credit attracted $12.6 billion of deposits in the three months ended Sept. 30, the most since the period ended Dec. 31, 2007, according to HFR. Blackstone Group LP raised $4.05 billion during the period for its debt unit, which includes so-called long-short funds. Panning Capital Management, which was founded by Kieran Goodwin this year, started such a fund on Nov. 1 with $500 million. Two-Tier Global Housing Market Could Lead to Bubble: Goldman (CNBC) In a report titled: “Just don’t look down some house markets are flying again” Goldman argues easy money policies by the world’s major central banks has had a ripple effect on countries which have avoided the worst of the global financial crisis, boosting their house prices. According to Goldman, there now exist housing “high-flyers” - countries that have experienced real house price increases and “low-lyers” - countries where the housing market downturn appears to be more protracted. “High flyers” include Germany, Finland, Norway, France, Switzerland and Israel as well as Canada and Australia. The “low lyers” include the U.S., and the euro zone periphery of Spain, Greece, Italy and Ireland- but also those places where prices fell in the post-crisis period but have since stabilized such as the U.K., Japan and Denmark. Judge throws Dallas attorney back in jail after his Design District office trashed, vandalized with obscene drawings (DN) Attorney Tom Corea was charged earlier this year with four felonies alleging he stole from his clients. He was arrested, posted bond and was released. Weeks later, he was evicted for not paying rent for his upscale office in the 2000 block of Farrington Street near Interstate 35E and Market Center Boulevard, according to testimony before state District Judge Mike Snipes. Corea was ordered out by Oct. 31. When the president of the real estate company that represents the building, Doug Molny, showed up the next day to check out the property, he found “complete destruction,” including “penis graffiti on every single wall throughout the building,” Molny said. Written next to some of the penises was the name Doug. Molny said it appeared someone took a sledgehammer to granite counters. Additionally, doors, light fixtures, cabinets and appliances were destroyed or removed.

Opening Bell: 03.06.12

Goldman Secret Greece Loan Reveals Sinners (Bloomberg) On the day the 2001 deal was struck, the government owed the bank about 600 million euros ($793 million) more than the 2.8 billion euros it borrowed, said Spyros Papanicolaou, who took over the country’s debt-management agency in 2005. By then, the price of the transaction, a derivative that disguised the loan and that Goldman Sachs persuaded Greece not to test with competitors, had almost doubled to 5.1 billion euros, he said. Papanicolaou and his predecessor, Christoforos Sardelis, revealing details for the first time of a contract that helped Greece mask its growing sovereign debt to meet European Union requirements, said the country didn’t understand what it was buying and was ill-equipped to judge the risks or costs...“Like the municipalities, Greece is just another example of a poorly governed client that got taken apart,” Satyajit Das, a risk consultant and author of “Extreme Money: Masters of the Universe and the Cult of Risk,” said in a phone interview. “These trades are structured not to be unwound, and Goldman is ruthless about ensuring that its interests aren’t compromised -- it’s part of the DNA of that organization. Greece Pushes For Aid Tranche (WSJ) Greece's international creditors are considering whether to grant the country a small, tranche of the €130 billion ($171.8 billion) bailout agreed earlier this month in the weeks ahead as part of efforts to pump liquidity into the country's moribund economy. Speaking to the privately owned Mega television channel Tuesday, Deputy Finance Minister Philippos Sachinidis said the money would go to paying off some of the €6 billion in accumulated arrears that the Greek government owes private contractors. He added that the disbursement could come before Greece goes to elections that are widely expected to be held in late April. "There is a discussion that, likely before the elections, we will get a tranche that will allow us to pay some of, not the total, of the arrears," Mr. Sachinidis said. Bondholder Group Sees 1 Trillion Euro Greek Default Risk (Reuters) A disorderly Greek default would probably leave Italy and Spain needing outside help to stop contagion spreading and cause more than 1 trillion euros ($1.3 trillion) of damage to the euro zone, the group representing Athens' bondholders warned. Greek private creditors have until Thursday night to say whether they will take part in a bond swap that is part of a 130 billion euros bailout deal to put the country on a more stable footing and cut its debt by more than 100 billion euros. Paulson’s Advantage Plus Declines in February (Bloomberg) John Paulson lost 1.5 percent in February in one of his largest hedge funds, according to an investor update, paring this year’s gain and setting back efforts by the New York-based manager to recoup record losses in 2011. Paulson’s Advantage Plus Fund, which seeks to profit from corporate events such as takeovers and bankruptcies and uses leverage to amplify returns, gained 3.5 percent in the first two months of 2012, according to the update IBM’s Watson Gets Wall Street Job After ‘Jeopardy’ Win (Bloomberg) International Business Machines Corp’s Watson computer, which beat champions of the quiz show “Jeopardy!” a year ago, will soon be advising Wall Street on risks, portfolios and clients. Citigroup, the third-largest U.S. lender, is Watson’s first financial services client, IBM said yesterday. It will help analyze customer needs and process financial, economic and client data to advance and personalize digital banking. Ann Romney: ‘I Don’t Even Consider Myself Wealthy’ (ABC) Mitt Romney may have more money than any other presidential candidate in the race, but his wife said today that she does not consider herself wealthy. “We can be poor in spirit, and I don’t even consider myself wealthy, which is an interesting thing,” Ann Romney said in an interview on Fox News. “It can be here today and gone tomorrow.” Swiss Pass Proposal to Help Nab US Tax Evaders (Reuters) Specifically, the plan would allow Switzerland to hand over data on suspected tax evaders, even if U.S. tax authorities cannot identify alleged offenders by name or bank account. The big-spending businessman who ran up £203,948 bar bill was 23-year-old City whizkid (Mirror) The businessman who blew £203,948 on bubbly in a single night in Liverpool was 23-year-old Alex Hope...His biography reads: “Despite his tender years, Alex is a name to watch out for in the city. An expert in the UK economy, he works the currency markets, regularly trading millions.” Describing his rapid career rise from humble beginnings to working for trading company Zone Invest Group, it adds: “A talented, charismatic and thoroughly likeable man, Alex Hope exudes knowledge and you can’t help but respect and admire this self-taught and self-made young trader.” Banker Bonus Limits Sought by EU Lawmakers (Bloomberg) Members of the European Parliament’s Socialist and Green parties have proposed that a draft EU law to bolster bank capital should include new pay rules, as well as stricter curbs on risk taking, according to two members of the institution’s financial affairs committee. “Wrong incentives were part of the banking culture that caused the crisis,” said Udo Bullmann, a German lawmaker following the proposed law for the parliament’s Socialist group. “I expect there will be quite a lot of sympathy among different party groups” for further rules on pay. Judge throws heat at Picard’s claim vs. Mets (NYP) Picard’s best evidence may be from Noreen Harrington, a former chief investment officer for a hedge fund partially owned by the Mets’ owners, who is expected to say that she told Katz and another Sterling Equities executive that she thought Madoff’s reported returns were “fiction” and not “worth the paper they’re written on.” The Mets will argue they were bamboozled by Madoff, along with the nation’s top regulators and major banks. Bill Clinton Said to Agree to Join Obama at Campaign Fundraisers (Bloomberg) While Obama raised $5 million on his last fundraising trip to New York, including $2 million from a March 1 event with members of the financial services industry, he is collecting less money from Wall Street this year compared with four years ago, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. When Gaming Is Good For You (WSJ) People who played action-based video and computer games made decisions 25% faster than others without sacrificing accuracy, according to a study. Indeed, the most adept gamers can make choices and act on them up to six times a second—four times faster than most people, other researchers found. Moreover, practiced game players can pay attention to more than six things at once without getting confused, compared with the four that someone can normally keep in mind, said University of Rochester researchers. The studies were conducted independently of the companies that sell video and computer games.

Opening Bell: 07.11.12

Claw Is Out For 'Whale' Officials (WSJ) The nation's biggest bank is expected to claw back compensation from individuals including Ina Drew, who ran the company's Chief Investment Office, according to people familiar with the bank's plans. Dimon Risk Reputation On Line As JPMorgan Faces Analysts (Bloomberg) In a departure from his customary earnings-day conference call, Dimon will meet analysts for two hours on July 13 at the bank’s New York headquarters to field questions about the loss and what he’s doing to contain the damage. Scandal Shakes Trading Firm (WSJ) The firm, Peregrine Financial Group Inc., filed Tuesday evening in Chicago to liquidate under Chapter 7 of the bankruptcy code. Earlier in the day, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission filed a lawsuit in federal court in Chicago accusing Peregrine Financial and its founder, Russell Wasendorf Sr., of fraud, customer-funds violations and making false statements. The CFTC said shortfalls may have been present since at least February 2010. A spokeswoman for the FBI said it has also begun an investigation into the company, also known as PFGBest. Brokerage and retail customers had their accounts frozen as regulators began looking into the company's books. Police in Cedar Falls, Iowa, said they found Mr. Wasendorf, 64, in his silver Chevrolet Cavalier Monday morning outside the company headquarters, with a hose running from the car's tailpipe. His son, company President Russell Wasendorf Jr., told the company's roughly 200 employees late Monday that his father had left behind a note alluding to "a crime that had been committed," according to one employee. Diamond Rebuts Claims By UK Lawmakers (WSJ) Former Barclays CEO Robert Diamond hit back at allegations he had misled U.K. lawmakers when giving evidence over an interest-rate scandal, calling them "unfair and unfounded." HSBC Is Sorry (WSJ) will apologize at a U.S. Senate hearing for its lax efforts to prevent money laundering, the London-based lender's chief executive said in an internal memo. "Between 2004 and 2010, our anti-money-laundering controls should have been stronger and more effective and we failed to spot and deal with unacceptable behaviour," Stuart Gulliver said in the memo, sent to employees Tuesday. Tigers Kill Man Who Scaled Fence At Danish Zoo (Reuters) A man was killed by tigers at a zoo on Wednesday after he scaled a fence and crossed a moat to get into their enclosure in the Danish capital Copenhagen, police said. The man, in his early 20s, was savaged by three tigers after he broke into Copenhagen Zoo in the early hours. He was dead when staff arrived for work. "We received an emergency call at about 7:30 a.m. that a person had been found lying in the tiger pen and that three tigers were surrounding that person," police Superintendent Lars Borg told Reuters. "The tigers attacked him and killed him. It is likely that a bite to the throat was the primary reason for his death," Borg said. Australia Is No Spain, Says Official (CNBC) Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer Wayne Swan has denied that Australia’s economy is at risk of a Spain-like economic crisis, calling the thesis put forth by the former chief Asia-Pacific economist for Morgan Stanley, Andy Xie “absurd”. “Let’s go through the fundamentals," Swan said. "Bringing our budget back to surplus in 2012-2013, low unemployment, strong job creation over time, a record investment pipeline in resources – half a trillion (dollars). What planet does he live on?” San Bernardino Becomes Third California City Seeking Bankruptcy (Reuters) The decision by the leaders of San Bernardino, a city of about 210,000 residents approximately 65 miles east of Los Angeles, followed a report by city staff that said the city faced an imminent financial crisis. The report said the city had exhausted its reserves and projected spending would exceed revenue by $45 million in the current fiscal year which started on July 1. Dalio Hits Midyear Off 2.7% (NYP) After leaving its rivals in the dust for the past two years with mouth-watering double-digit returns, Bridgewater is now trailing them. Its flagship fund, Pure Alpha, fell 2.7 percent in 2012’s first half. Wildebeest takes on 18ft killer crocodile (DM) As regular as the seasons themselves, herds of wildebeest make an annual migration across east Africa - following rainfall and the growth of new grass. Exploiting this predictability, each year predators lay in wait until the migrating beasts come into their killing zone. Day or night, death can come to the young, sick or simply unlucky members of the herd - swiftly from a single cheetah, or without mercy from a pride of lions or pack of hyenas. For one young male, the end came not on the plains but in one of Kenya's heaving rivers - delivered by one of nature's apex killing machines. Like all in his herd, the doomed wildebeest was taking his chances crossing the Mara River in the Masai Mara reserve in Kenya. Unfortunately for him, he walked straight into the path of an 18ft Nile crocodile - a species of predator so efficient that it has barely changed throughout evolution. The crocodile used its huge weight and strength to attack the beast as it was already caught off balance by the rushing water and uneven footing. Its enormous jaw span virtually took in the entire wildebeest's body as the victim attempted in vain to escape the attack.

Opening Bell: 02.07.13

Credit Suisse Returns To Profit (WSJ) In the fourth quarter, Credit Suisse's net profit was 397 million francs, compared with a net loss of 637 million francs a year earlier when restructuring charges weighed on earnings. Revenue, which includes interest income, fees and trading proceeds, rose 29% to 5.8 billion francs. Analysts had expected a profit of 563 million francs and revenue of 6.14 billion francs. State Lawsuits Could Add To S&P Exposure (WSJ) On Tuesday, the Justice Department sued S&P for allegedly causing some banks and credit unions to lose $5 billion after relying on the company's ratings of mortgage-linked securities. However, the $5 billion claim, which S&P has dismissed as "meritless," is only part of the legal battle being fought by the world's largest credit-ratings firm by number of deals rated. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia have followed in the Justice Department's footsteps, filing separate lawsuits against S&P on Tuesday. The California attorney general alone is suing S&P for about $4 billion to recover funds for two of the country's largest public pension funds, according to its lawsuit. Other states, such as Colorado and Arkansas, are demanding S&P give back the revenue it earned on precrisis ratings of hundreds of securities. State prosecutors allege S&P presented its ratings as based on objective and independent analysis but actually were inflated to cater to the banks that helped arrange and sell the securities. S&P Hires Top Defense Attorney for $5 Billion Lawsuit (Reuters) Standard and Poor's has hired John Keker, one of the country's top white-collar defense attorneys, to help fight the $5 billion lawsuit brought by the U.S. government this week. Keker, who is based in San Francisco and has represented everyone from cyclist Lance Armstrong to Enron's Andrew Fastow, was hired at the recommendation of Floyd Abrams, a prominent New York attorney who also represents the ratings firm. RBS Settles Rate Charges (WSJ) CFTC enforcement chief David Meister said Wednesday that the trading floor was "laden with conflicts of interest," where RBS traders "seized the opportunity to ask colleagues sitting in the next chair for false rate submissions." From mid-2006 to the end of 2010, traders at RBS tried hundreds of times to rig the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, sometimes succeeding, said U.S. and U.K. regulators as they announced a $612 million settlement with the British bank. ‘Historic Winter Storm’ Moving Toward U.S. Northeast (Bloomberg) A “potential historic winter storm” and blizzard may dump 2 feet of snow on Boston and eastern Massachusetts, potentially causing power outages and leaving 10 inches in New York City. Eighteen to 24 inches (46 to 61 centimeters) of snow may fall in Boston, and the city has an 85 percent chance of receiving at least 12 inches from the storm that is expected to arrive in two days, according to the latest forecast from National Weather Service in Taunton, Massachusetts, published at at 4:25 a.m. Eastern Standard Time. “Heavy snow and gusty winds will bring the potential for blizzard conditions. The worst of the storm will be Friday night into the morning,” the weather service said. The storm arrives on almost the 35th anniversary of the Blizzard of 1978, which killed 99 people, destroyed 2,000 homes, drove 10,000 residents into shelters and paralyzed eastern Massachusetts and northern Rhode Island for a week, according to the weather service. Ireland Moves Toward Debt Deal (WSJ) Under Ireland's new proposal, the government will provide a long-term bond to the Irish central bank that replaces the note, the Irish finance ministry said. IBRC will be liquidated and its remaining commercial property assets will be dispatched to Ireland's so-called bad bank, the National Asset Management Agency. Mr. Noonan told lawmakers early Thursday that there was still "no deal," but he needed to announce new powers to liquidate IBRC—the first step toward potentially striking such a debt agreement—to protect the country from unspecified legal challenges. Man Claims IRS Agent Coerced Him Into Sex (CBS) An Oregon man is suing the U.S. Government and a female IRS agent he alleges pressured him into sex, by threatening a tax penalty. Vincent Burroughs, of Fall Creek, Ore., says the harassing relationship began in August of 2011 when Dora Abrahamson, an agent with the Internal Revenue Service, called him and said he would be audited, CBS affiliate KVAL reports. Burroughs says he didn't know Abrahamson, and that he hadn't met her before those calls - nor had he heard that he was being audited by the IRS. "She was sending me texts that she wanted to come out, give me massages because she needed to help me relax," Burroughs said in a phone interview with KVAL News. Over the next two months, Burroughs alleges that Abrahamson sent him several flirtatious text messages - offering to give massages, asking to meet him, and sending racy photos of herself to his cell phone. "She said she knew more than my mother knew about me," said Burroughs. In the lawsuit, Burroughs says in September 2011 Abrahamson came to his home wearing provocative attire. "Next thing I know, she's at my gate, honking...so I opened my gate, she came into my property dressed exactly like [when] she texted me," Burroughs said. The lawsuit states: "She said that she could impose no penalty, or a 40% penalty, and that if he would give her what she wanted, she would give him what she needed." E-Mails Imply JPMorgan Knew Some Mortgage Deals Were Bad (NYT) When an outside analysis uncovered serious flaws with thousands of home loans, JPMorgan Chase executives found an easy fix. Rather than disclosing the full extent of problems like fraudulent home appraisals and overextended borrowers, the bank adjusted the critical reviews,according to documents filed early Tuesday in federal court in Manhattan. As a result, the mortgages, which JPMorgan bundled into complex securities, appeared healthier, making the deals more appealing to investors. The trove of internal e-mails and employee interviews, filed as part of a lawsuit by one of the investors in the securities, offers a fresh glimpse into Wall Street's mortgage machine, which churned out billions of dollars of securities that later imploded. The documents reveal that JPMorgan, as well as two firms the bank acquired during the credit crisis, Washington Mutual and Bear Stearns, flouted quality controls and ignored problems, sometimes hiding them entirely, in a quest for profit. Harvard’s Gopinath Helps France Beat Euro Straitjacket (Bloomberg) When French President Francois Hollande unveiled a plan in November for a business tax credit and higher sales taxes as a way to revive the economy, he was implementing an idea championed by economist Gita Gopinath. Gopinath, 41, a professor at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has pushed for tax intervention as a way forward for euro-area countries that cannot devalue their exchange rates. “Fiscal devaluation” is helping France turn the corner during a period of extreme budget constraints, former Airbus SAS chief Louis Gallois said in a business- competitiveness report Hollande commissioned. Gopinath’s support for the theory took shape through her years teaching at Harvard and the University of Chicago and particularly as a Ph.D. student at Princeton University under the guidance of Kenneth Rogoff, Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas and Ben Bernanke, now chairman of the Federal Reserve. While her earlier work on current accounts and balance of payments garnered praise, it is her recent focus on the 17 euro nations that has national leaders paying action. John Thomas Financial Said To Draw Regulatory Probe (NYP) Wall Street brokerage firm John Thomas Financial, owned by flamboyant founder and CEO Tommy Belesis — who gained more than 15 minutes of fame from his role in Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” — is being probed by the brokerage industry, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the FBI, The Post has learned. Agents from the FBI’s New York office have been knocking on doors of people associated with the firm, asking questions about JTF’s business practices, including cold calling by brokers and Belesis’ overseas accounts, sources told The Post. Fewer Workers Filed Claims for U.S. Jobless Benefits Last Week (Bloomberg) Applications for jobless benefits dropped 5,000 to 366,000 in the week ended Feb. 2, Labor Department figures showed today. Economists forecast 360,000 claims, according to the median of 53 estimates in a Bloomberg survey. Big Mac Prices Show Which Euro Zone States Best at Belt-Tightening (Reuter) Economist Guntram Wolff took the data and found that the price rise in Greece, Portugal and Spain has been less than the euro zone average, while in Ireland the price actually fell. These are the main countries undergoing deep economic reform due to the debt crisis. This contrasts with price rises above the euro zone burger average in Germany. Wolff concludes from this that economic adjustment is working. For example, In Ireland, which has made spending cuts after receiving international aid, the burger price has fallen from 3.80 euros to less than 3.50 euros. There is one notable exception, however. Heavily-indebted Italy is the most expensive country in the euro area to buy a Big Mac - 3.85 euros - while it costs just 3.64 euros in Germany. PETA: Naked chicken corpses aren't sexy (CM) The American founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, president Ingrid Newkirk, criticised a newspaper for running a picture of a raw chicken. "We don't want to see any chickens on display, but instead want them to live natural, happy lives with their families. Sexily displaying the corpse of a chicken who has been bred to grow so big, so quickly, that many collapse under their own weight, is just additionally offensive."

Opening Bell: 10.05.12

Merkel’s First Greek Crisis Visit Seen Sending Signal to Critics (Bloomberg) German Chancellor Angela Merkel will travel to Athens for the first time since Europe’s financial crisis broke out there three years ago, a sign she’s seeking to silence the debate on pushing Greece out of the euro. Merkel’s visit to the Greek capital Oct. 9 to meet with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras underscores the shift in her stance since she held out the prospect last year of Greece exiting the 17-nation currency region. “The meeting could mark the turning point to the Greek crisis,” said Constantinos Zouzoulas, an analyst at Axia Ventures Group, a brokerage in Athens. “This is a very significant development for Greece ahead of crucial decisions by the euro zone for the country.” Spain Finance Minister’s ‘No Bailout’ Remark Sparks Laughter (CNBC) “Spain doesn’t need a bailout at all,” finance minister Luis de Guindos said, straight faced and somber, as mirth spread throughout the audience (even de Guindos’ assistant interpreter couldn’t mask a smile). US Probes Credit Suisse Over Mortgages (Reuters) U.S. federal and state authorities are investigating Credit Suisse over mortgage-backed securities packaged and sold by the bank, people familiar with the probe said on Thursday. The Justice Department and the New York Attorney General are among those probing Credit Suisse's actions, according to the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity. New Shuffle At JPMorgan (WSJ) Barry Zubrow, a trusted lieutenant of J.P. Morgan Chase Chief Executive James Dimon, is expected to give up his job as regulatory affairs chief in what would be the latest reshuffling to follow a multibillion-dollar trading blunder. The change is expected before year-end, said people close to the bank. It is possible the 59-year-old executive will remain with the company in an advisory role, these people added. More executive shifts also are possible. The chairman of the corporate and investment banking unit, Jes Staley, was recently in the running to become chief executive of British banking giant Barclays PLC, according to people close to Mr. Staley, but didn't get the job. He gave up day-to-day oversight of J.P. Morgan's investment bank in a July reorganization. J.P. Morgan declined to comment about Mr. Staley, and he couldn't be reached. Investors Back Away From 'Junk' Bonds (WSJ) The massive "junk"-bond boom is raising alarm bells among some large money managers, who warn the market is showing signs of overheating. So much money has flooded into the junk-bond market from yield-hungry investors that weaker and weaker companies are able to sell bonds, they say. Credit ratings of many borrowers are lower and debt levels are higher, making defaults more likely. And with yields near record lows, they add, investors aren't being compensated for that risk. India’s NSE Says 59 Erroneous Orders Caused Stock Plunge (Bloomberg) “India has joined the big league with this trading disaster,” A.S. Thiyaga Rajan, a senior managing director at Aquarius Investment Advisors Pte., which manages about $400 million, said by phone from Singapore. “It’s very surprising so many erroneous orders went through. Exchanges and regulators must be one step ahead as systems and technologies upgrade.” Halloween Horror Story: Case Of The Missing Pumpkin Lattes (WSJ) For Asher Anidjar, the arrival of fall isn't marked by turning leaves or a chilly breeze, but a steaming seasonal drink. Recently, though, when he headed to his local Starbucks for a Pumpkin Spice Latte, he left with a bitter taste in his mouth. They were out of the special sauce that gives the treat its distinctive autumnal flavor. "I just left, depressed," said Mr. Anidjar, a 26-year-old commercial real-estate analyst who lives in Manhattan. The drink crops up on the Starbucks menu annually for a limited time, and this year there has been an unusual run on the pumpkin batch. Thanks in part to a frothy dose of buzz brewed up by the Seattle-based coffee giant before the beverage's Sept. 4 debut, the craze has drained supplies at stores across the country. Baristas are hitting the street, searching for stashes of the flavored sauce at other stores. Customers denied their fix—which costs about $4 for a small cup, or "tall" in Starbucks speak—are tweeting about their dismay. "My world almost ended this morning when the local Starbucks told me they were out of Pumpkin Spice Latte," tweeted Jason Sizemore, 38 years old, of Lexington, Ky. Fed Seeks To Clarify Plans (WSJ) Since August 2011, the Fed has been saying it will keep short-term interest rates near zero until a particular date. Right now that date is mid-2015. The hope has been that these assurances would help hold down longer-term interest rates, as well as short-term ones, and thus boost spending and investment. But the Fed isn't happy with this approach. While central-bank officials believe the assurances have helped hold down long-term interest rates, they find the fixed date to be confusing, and they are looking at a new approach. The idea under consideration is to keep offering assurances of low rates, but tie those assurances to what is happening in the economy rather than a point on the calendar. Dave And Buster's IPO Plan A Bust (Bloomberg) Dave & Buster’s Entertainment, operator of 59 company-owned dining and gaming stores, withdrew its plans for a US initial public offering, citing market conditions. The company had sought to raise as much as $107.7 million. Black Swans In The Red Until Turmoil Hits (NYP) The Apocalypse has not arrived — but that hasn’t stopped some of the country’s wealthiest investors from betting on it. The investors, mostly pensions funds, hedge funds of funds and deep-pocketed individuals that were burned during the financial meltdown in 2008, are jumping into these so-called Black Swan investments that carry promised returns of up to 1,000 percent — if another financial Armageddon strikes. The Cassandras of the hedge-fund world that are offering these funds — also called tail risk funds and often with a geographic focus — would suffer terribly in the absence of disaster...The hot sector has attracted such well-known names as Saba Capital’s Boaz Weinstein, Hayman Capital’s Kyle Bass, Corriente Advisors’ Mark Hart, and Universa’s Mark Spitznagel...When markets are buoyant, of course the funds lose money. Through August, Saba Tail Hedge was down 16 percent, Pine River Tail Hedge had fallen 23 percent and Corriente Europe Divergence is down 24 percent, according to investors. Bass’s Japan short fund, which he launched two years ago, is down more than 60 percent since inception. By design, it will lose all of its investors’ money in three years if Japanese bonds don’t go into a tailspin. Bridezilla’s demanding email to potential bridesmaids: If you can’t commit, ‘you’re going to the wrong wedding’ (NYDN) One woman’s over-the-top email of demands to potential bridesmaids has gone viral since it was posted on Gawker.com. “You all have a big roll [sic] in this wedding, so before we continue I’m going to be setting some ground rules and it’s very important you read and think everything through before you accept this honor to be a bridesmaid,” the unnamed bride-to-be begins. If recipients don’t answer emails when outside the country, can’t attend every wedding-related event, or don’t have the cash for several flights and a bridesmaid’s dress, they might not make the cut. “If money is tight and you can’t afford to contribute to the bachelorette party or won’t be able to afford a dress, then [I] don’t have time to deal with that, I’m sorry,” the woman wrote. Of course, she’ll aim for what’s affordable, but, “If you think it’s going to be a $25 Forever 21 dress then you’re going to the wrong wedding.” The lucky bridesmaids must also be available — at any moment — between February and August. “If you don’t think you’ll be able to attend one party but can make the rest of them, I’m sorry, but I’ll have to take you out as a bridesmaid and put you as a guest,” the woman wrote. And please, don’t ignore phone calls. “I don’t have time to wait around for responses, everyone has their phone on them,” she wrote. “It shouldn’t take you more than a day to get back to me. Really think about everything I've said. This is really going to be the most epic wedding ever so I hope you girls can share this special day with us!"

Opening Bell: 06.01.12

Employment In U.S. Increased 69,000 In May (Bloomberg) American employers in May added the smallest number of workers in a year and the unemployment rate unexpectedly increased as job-seekers re-entered the workforce, further evidence that the labor-market recovery is stalling. Payrolls climbed by 69,000 last month, less than the most- pessimistic forecast in a Bloomberg News survey, after a revised 77,000 gain in April that was smaller than initially estimated, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. The median estimate called for a 150,000 May advance. The jobless rate rose to 8.2 percent from 8.1 percent, while hours worked declined. JPMorgan Probe Widens (WSJ) Federal regulators are using powers they gained in the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul law to ramp up an inquiry into the recent trading blunders at J.P. Morgan Chase, people close to the investigation said...The probe focuses on what J.P. Morgan traders told their supervisors and internal risk-management staff as their wrong-way bets started to sour, the people said. If investigators find that employees made deceptive statements to superiors, that could constitute fraud under their authority to police the so-called swaps market...The probe could mark the agency's first use of tools it was granted in the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010. The measure extended the CFTC's oversight and lowered the bar for bringing certain cases. JPMorgan’s Iksil Said To Take Big Risks Long Before Loss (Bloomberg) Iksil’s value-at-risk was typically $30 million to $40 million even before this year’s buildup, said the person, who wasn’t authorized to discuss the trades. Sometimes the figure could surpass $60 million, the person said. That’s about as high as the level for the firm’s entire investment bank, which employs 26,000 people. Josh Fink On A Losing Streak (NYP) Josh Fink, the son of BlackRock chairman Larry Fink, is losing money hand over fist in his hedge fund, Enso Global Fund. Enso fell 60.5 percent last year, and is down more than 7 percent through April. As a result of the losses, the 34-year-old Fink now manages just $44 million, down from as much as $700 million in 2008. ‘Fear of the Future’ Keeps Lid on Economic Growth Says Greenspan (CNBC) The former central bank leader — nicknamed "The Maestro" by his supporters — said he worries the current economy could be heading on a path similar to 1979, when the 10-year Treasury note was yielding around 9 percent before surging dramatically, gaining 4 percentage points in just a few months. "I listen to a lot of what people say that we don't have to worry. We can do it in our own time," Greenspan said in regard to trying to bring down Washington's $1.2 trillion budget gap. "Good luck. The markets have not been told this." This Summer an 'Eerie Echo' of Pre-Lehman: Zoellick (CNBC) The summer of 2012 is looking like an “eerie” echo of 2008 but euro zone sovereign debt has replaced mortgages as the risky asset class that markets are anxious about, said Robert Zoellick, President of the World Bank. “The European Central Bank, like the U.S. Federal Reserve in 2008, has sought to reassure markets by providing generous liquidity, but collateral quality is declining as the better pickings on bank balance sheets are used up,” he added. To prevent investors from fleeing in panic, Europe must be ready with more than liquidity injections to contain the consequences of a possible Greek exit. “If Greece leaves the eurozone, the contagion is impossible to predict, just as Lehman (Brothers’ collapse) had unexpected consequences,” Zoellick said. Manhattan student who 'bedded' teacher scores $400 in wager with buddies (NYP) The high-school senior caught on camera locking lips with his hot-to-trot teacher won a bet with four of his buddies to see who would hook up with her first, The Post has learned. Eric Arty, 18, beat his pals — who each ponied up $100 — to win the jackpot as well as the affections of glamorous global-studies teacher Julie Warning, 26. “It was a bet with a group of his friends,” said Andrew Cabrera, a junior at Manhattan Theater Lab HS, where Warning worked until Tuesday, when she was reassigned to an administrative job. Cabrera said yesterday that Arty began the race as a long shot. “He would go after class and basically try to seduce her,’’ he said. “I don’t know if she knew [about the bet]. They were all trying to get with her. One of his [Arty’s] friends flirted with her more than anyone — I thought he would be the one, but Eric came out of nowhere and got her.” Spain Says It Has Months To Raise Bailout Funds (WSJ) Spain's government says it has until at least October to raise the funds it needs for the €19 billion ($23.5 billion) rescue of lender Bankia SA, a move government officials hope will let Madrid pick the right moment to raise funds from financial markets and explore other funding options as it aims to avoid an international bailout. "We don't have to raise the money right away, and when we do, it doesn't have to be all at once," a government spokeswoman said. Euro-Zone Data Deepen Gloom (WSJ) European Union statistics agency Eurostat said there were 17.4 million people without jobs in the 17 nations that use the euro in April, an increase of 110,000 since March and 1.8 million higher than a year earlier. That's the highest total since comparable records began in January 1995, a spokesman said. Dimon Heading To The Hill (DJ) JPMorgan’s trader, Bruno Iksil, known as the “London Whale,” who is at the center of the bank’s $2 billion debacle, will not appear at a Senate Banking Committee hearing to discuss his role in causing the red ink. Instead, CEO Jamie Dimon appears set to square off against lawmakers alone on June 13. The once-unsullied bank executive will have to explain how he was blind to his Chief Investment Office’s outsized, wrong-way bet. Dimon is slated to meet with members of the House on June 19, sources said. Facebook Fiasco Coupled With European Crunch Freezes IPOs (Bloomberg) Facebook led U.S. initial public offerings to their worst monthly performance since Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. collapsed, as Europe’s debt crisis scuttled IPO plans from New York to Hong Kong. The Bloomberg IPO Index (BIPO), which tracks U.S. equities in the first year after their IPOs, sank 15 percent last month, with Facebook posting the worst one-week performance among the 30 largest U.S. IPOs since 2011. The IPO index’s decline is in line with the drop in October 2008, the month after Lehman’s bankruptcy triggered the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Green Lantern latest superhero to be outed as gay in 'Earth 2' issue two, following Marvel's Northstar storyline (NYDN) DC Comics said Friday that Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern — a superhero first introduced in 1940 — will be reintroduced as gay in “Earth 2” issue two, hitting stores next Wednesday. The storyline was born out of the publisher’s reboot of their whole fictional universe last year, which reintroduces the heroes as younger versions of themselves again. The reboot effectively wrote out of existence Scott’s openly gay adult son, the superhero Obsidian. “I was sort of putting the team together and I realized one of the only downsides to relaunching the Justice Society as young, vibrant heroes again was that Alan Scott’s son was no longer going to exist in the reboot,” says “Earth 2” series writer James Robinson, who wrote a 1998 storyline about Obsidian that featured the first gay superhero kiss in comics. “I thought that was a shame and then it occurred to me, why not just make Alan Scott gay.”