Opening Bell: 06.18.12

Banks Worry As Breakup Talk Revived After JPMorgan Loss (Bloomberg) “There seems to be growing interest in some type of breakup proposal,” said Sheila Bair, a former chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. The concept is expected to arise today as JPMorgan Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon testifies before the House Financial Services Committee on the trading debacle. Last week he told the Senate that the losses, which carved about $23 billion from the bank’s market value, were due to a poor investing strategy coupled with management failures. Senator Sherrod Brown seized on that admission. “It appears executives and regulators simply can’t understand what is happening in all these offices at once,” the Ohio Democrat said during the June 13 hearing. “It demonstrates to me that too-big-to-fail banks are, frankly, too-big-to-manage and too-big-to-regulate.” Greece Set For Bailout Reward As EU Sees Tweaked Aid Terms (Bloomberg) Greek voters are likely to get a reward for backing pro-euro parties, with European creditors set to ease bailout terms on the debt-swamped country mired in the fifth year of recession. A first step will be when Greece’s still to-be-formed government requests modifications to the 240 billion-euro ($303 billion) rescue programs, leading to a revision of Greece’s economic-performance targets sometime before September, a European official told reporters in Brussels today. Greek Coalition Needs 'Breathing Room' From Creditors: MP (CNBC) Kyriakos Mitsotakis, an MP for New Democracy, which won most votes in Sunday’s election and was Tuesday locked in negotiations with historic rivals Pasok and the Democratic Left to form a coalition, told CNBC: “Giving a very sick patient nothing but the same medicine when this has not had the required result would be madness.” Austerity Doesn't Pay As Debt Markets Ignore Rating Cuts (Bloomberg) "I don’t think we should be slaves to the ratings agencies,” Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, told lawmakers on Feb. 29. “What we’ve seen is, the action they took recently did actually have no impact on the yield that people in the market were willing to lend to the U.K. government at.” Buying Opportunity All Over Europe, Even Greece, Says Donald Trump (CNBC) FYI: "You're getting it for nothing, you're getting the land for nothing, you're getting everything for nothing," he said. "You have to sit with it for a while, but there are a lot of great opportunities in Europe. There's no question about it. I'm actually looking at something — it's so ridiculous, it's laughable — and yet I'm thinking about doing something over there with a group that is very smart, and frankly there is an opportunity." Einhorn's Overlooked Bear Call on US Steel Pans Out (Reuters) The Greenlight Capital manager unveiled his negative critique of U.S. Steel at the Ira Sohn charitable conference on May 16, where more attention was focused on Einhorn's bearish views on industrial goods company Martin Marietta Materials and online retailer Amazon.com . Yet it's Einhorn's U.S. Steel call that has outperformed, after the closely watched hedge fund manager zeroed in on the company's poor earnings, high pension costs and the impact of China's slowing demand for iron ore. As of Monday's close, the steelmaker's stock price was down 23.1 percent since the popular conference, where top hedge fund managers reveal their best investing ideas. Meanwhile, shares of Martin Marietta have lost about 8.5 percent over the same time period and Amazon's stock is down 0.8 percent. Mark Cuban sells Facebook stake, says 'it was gambling money' (DJ) The billionaire investor and Dallas Mavericks owner sold his stake in the social network, less than a month after initially disclosing he had built a position in the company following its bungled initial public offering. "I took my hit, my thesis was wrong," Cuban said in a CNBC interview. "I thought we'd get a quick bounce just with some excitement about the stock. I was wrong, and when you're wrong you don't wait, you just get out. I took a beating and left."...Cuban described the move as "a trade, not an investment" and compared it to trading baseball cards. "It was gambling money, to be honest with you," he said on Monday. "Any time you try to time the market, you get what you deserve. Sometimes you're right. Sometimes you're wrong. This time I was wrong." Goldman: Fed Will Ease Monetary Policy This Week (CNBC) The Federal Open Market Committee will likely say it would buy assets such as mortgage-backed securities and U.S. Treasurys when it meets for a two-day meeting starting Tuesday, Jan Hatzius, the investment bank’s Chief U.S. Economist said in a report on Monday. “We would be quite surprised if we saw no easing this week,” Hatzius wrote in the report. The End Of The Line For Famed Exchange (WSJ) The owner of the Bendigo Stock Exchange, which traces its roots to a time when thousands of prospectors descended on Victoria state after gold was discovered by two women washing clothes in a creek, plans to close the institution at the end of June. Mike Tyson Set For Broadway Debut (NYDN) The last time Mike Tyson was on stage at a Broadway theater, it was four years ago and he nearly wrecked what was left of his boxing career by biting Lennox Lewis on the leg during a press conference at the Hudson Theater. Now Tyson is returning to a Broadway theater to breathe life into his new career - theatrical performer. Tyson was on stage at the Longacre Theater in midtown on Monday afternoon to announce his one-man show, which will begin a limited engagement on July 31. The show, entitled "Mike Tyson-Undisputed Truth'' will be directed by Spike Lee, who also will be making his Broadway debut. "Mike has lifted himself off the canvas,” Lee said. "It's a great story and Mike tells it masterfully.”
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Banks Worry As Breakup Talk Revived After JPMorgan Loss (Bloomberg)
“There seems to be growing interest in some type of breakup proposal,” said Sheila Bair, a former chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. The concept is expected to arise today as JPMorgan Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon testifies before the House Financial Services Committee on the trading debacle. Last week he told the Senate that the losses, which carved about $23 billion from the bank’s market value, were due to a poor investing strategy coupled with management failures. Senator Sherrod Brown seized on that admission. “It appears executives and regulators simply can’t understand what is happening in all these offices at once,” the Ohio Democrat said during the June 13 hearing. “It demonstrates to me that too-big-to-fail banks are, frankly, too-big-to-manage and too-big-to-regulate.”

Greece Set For Bailout Reward As EU Sees Tweaked Aid Terms (Bloomberg)
Greek voters are likely to get a reward for backing pro-euro parties, with European creditors set to ease bailout terms on the debt-swamped country mired in the fifth year of recession. A first step will be when Greece’s still to-be-formed government requests modifications to the 240 billion-euro ($303 billion) rescue programs, leading to a revision of Greece’s economic-performance targets sometime before September, a European official told reporters in Brussels today.

Greek Coalition Needs 'Breathing Room' From Creditors: MP (CNBC)
Kyriakos Mitsotakis, an MP for New Democracy, which won most votes in Sunday’s election and was Tuesday locked in negotiations with historic rivals Pasok and the Democratic Left to form a coalition, told CNBC: “Giving a very sick patient nothing but the same medicine when this has not had the required result would be madness.”

Austerity Doesn't Pay As Debt Markets Ignore Rating Cuts (Bloomberg)
"I don’t think we should be slaves to the ratings agencies,” Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, told lawmakers on Feb. 29. “What we’ve seen is, the action they took recently did actually have no impact on the yield that people in the market were willing to lend to the U.K. government at.”

Buying Opportunity All Over Europe, Even Greece, Says Donald Trump (CNBC)
FYI: "You're getting it for nothing, you're getting the land for nothing, you're getting everything for nothing," he said. "You have to sit with it for a while, but there are a lot of great opportunities in Europe. There's no question about it. I'm actually looking at something — it's so ridiculous, it's laughable — and yet I'm thinking about doing something over there with a group that is very smart, and frankly there is an opportunity."

Einhorn's Overlooked Bear Call on US Steel Pans Out (Reuters)
The Greenlight Capital manager unveiled his negative critique of U.S. Steel at the Ira Sohn charitable conference on May 16, where more attention was focused on Einhorn's bearish views on industrial goods company Martin Marietta Materials and online retailer Amazon.com . Yet it's Einhorn's U.S. Steel call that has outperformed, after the closely watched hedge fund manager zeroed in on the company's poor earnings, high pension costs and the impact of China's slowing demand for iron ore. As of Monday's close, the steelmaker's stock price was down 23.1 percent since the popular conference, where top hedge fund managers reveal their best investing ideas. Meanwhile, shares of Martin Marietta have lost about 8.5 percent over the same time period and Amazon's stock is down 0.8 percent.

Mark Cuban sells Facebook stake, says 'it was gambling money' (DJ)
The billionaire investor and Dallas Mavericks owner sold his stake in the social network, less than a month after initially disclosing he had built a position in the company following its bungled initial public offering. "I took my hit, my thesis was wrong," Cuban said in a CNBC interview. "I thought we'd get a quick bounce just with some excitement about the stock. I was wrong, and when you're wrong you don't wait, you just get out. I took a beating and left."...Cuban described the move as "a trade, not an investment" and compared it to trading baseball cards. "It was gambling money, to be honest with you," he said on Monday. "Any time you try to time the market, you get what you deserve. Sometimes you're right. Sometimes you're wrong. This time I was wrong."

Goldman: Fed Will Ease Monetary Policy This Week (CNBC)
The Federal Open Market Committee will likely say it would buy assets such as mortgage-backed securities and U.S. Treasurys when it meets for a two-day meeting starting Tuesday, Jan Hatzius, the investment bank’s Chief U.S. Economist said in a report on Monday. “We would be quite surprised if we saw no easing this week,” Hatzius wrote in the report.

The End Of The Line For Famed Exchange (WSJ)
The owner of the Bendigo Stock Exchange, which traces its roots to a time when thousands of prospectors descended on Victoria state after gold was discovered by two women washing clothes in a creek, plans to close the institution at the end of June.

Mike Tyson Set For Broadway Debut (NYDN)
The last time Mike Tyson was on stage at a Broadway theater, it was four years ago and he nearly wrecked what was left of his boxing career by biting Lennox Lewis on the leg during a press conference at the Hudson Theater. Now Tyson is returning to a Broadway theater to breathe life into his new career - theatrical performer. Tyson was on stage at the Longacre Theater in midtown on Monday afternoon to announce his one-man show, which will begin a limited engagement on July 31. The show, entitled "Mike Tyson-Undisputed Truth'' will be directed by Spike Lee, who also will be making his Broadway debut. "Mike has lifted himself off the canvas,” Lee said. "It's a great story and Mike tells it masterfully.”

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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: 03.07.13

Fed's Fisher Pins Slow Growth on Politicians (WSJ) Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas President Richard Fisher on Wednesday blamed both major U.S. political parties for a "horrid" political climate in Washington, and said monetary policy alone can't drive the economy. "We provided the fuel for economic recovery," Mr. Fisher said of the central bank, describing the Fed's stimulus as "very high-octane, dirt-cheap gasoline." But he said that neither Republican nor Democratic politicians in Washington have done their part by putting policies in place that spur the private sector "to take the cheap fuel that we have provided and step on the accelerator." Banks Said to Weigh Defying Fed With Dividend Disclosures (Bloomberg) The largest U.S. banks are weighing whether to disregard a Federal Reserve request and announce their dividend plans shortly after the central bank’s stress tests are released, people with knowledge of the process said. The Fed has asked 18 firms, including JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs, to wait until next week, even though the lenders will get preliminary word today about whether their capital plans were approved. Bank executives are concerned that investors could be confused and are considering whether securities laws may require prompt disclosure of their plans for dividends and share repurchases, the people said. Paulson Gold Fund Down 18% as Metal’s Slump Foils Rebound (Bloomberg) John Paulson posted an 18 percent decline in his Gold Fund last month as a slump in the metal, after more than a decade of gains, undermined efforts by the billionaire hedge-fund manager to rebound from two years of losses in some strategies. The $900 million Gold Fund, which invests in bullion- related equities and derivatives, is down 26 percent this year, Paulson & Co. said yesterday in a client update obtained by Bloomberg News. The firm’s Advantage funds also fell in February after the metal and related stocks weakened as signs of economic optimism curbed gold demand. “Despite the volatility and drawdown of our gold equity positions, we believe in the long-term outlook for these positions as quantitative easing programs continue around the world, credit expands in the United States, and gold equities continue to trade at a significant discount” to historical average valuations, the hedge fund said in a letter sent yesterday to investors, which was obtained by Bloomberg News. Carl Icahn Rachets Up Dell Fight (WSJ) In a letter released by Dell Thursday, Mr. Icahn said he has a "substantial" position in the company, and asked Dell to pay a per-share dividend of $9 if the deal is voted down by shareholders. He said that by his calculations, that transaction would be superior to the current going-private offer, citing a "stub" value of $13.81 a share which, combined with the special dividend, represents a 67% premium to the current $13.65 per-share offer price. Dell 'Welcomes' Carl Icahn to Go-Shop Process (CNBC) Dell on Thursday said it welcomed Carl Icahn, who has built up a 100 million share stake in the company, and other interested parties as the computer maker seeks to go private. The special committee appointed by the board said it was conducting a "robust go-shop process" and was looking at other alternatives after a $24.4 billion buyout led by founder Michael Dell faced opposition from some shareholders. Bad-News Bears Crash The Party (WSJ) For all their conviction, the bears realize it may be awhile before their dark predictions come true. "Unfortunately, I am bearish and I have been wrong," said Samer Nsouli, chief investment officer at Lyford Group International, a hedge fund, who argues that recent weakness in copper and oil is a portent of a global slowdown. "Make no mistake, it will end in tears. The eternal question is when." Lions Maul Two To Death In Kariba (Herald) Two people were yesterday mauled to death by lions in Mahombekombe suburb in the resort town of Kariba. Sources say the man only identified as Musinje and the woman Sharai Mawera, were attacked while spending time in a bushy area with the man managing to escape, leaving the woman behind. The man went on to report the case to police who, with the assistance of officers from the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, went in search of the lions. During the search they found an arm belonging to a man with investigations pointing to the lions having made a kill the previous night. That, the sources say, could have been the reason the lions did not completely eat the woman. BofA Times An Options Trade Well (WSJ) Bank of America's trading desk last June purchased options to buy 150,000 shares of Constellation Brands, an aggressive wager that the wine-and-beer seller's shares would rise, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of options-market data and of quarterly regulatory filings made by institutional investors. The trade helped push the volume in thinly traded Constellation options that day to more than 13 times the previous 30 days' daily average, the options data show. A week later, Constellation announced a pact to buy a Mexican beer maker out of a joint venture that imports Corona Extra and other beers into the U.S. market. Bank of America led a duo of banks that financed the $1.85 billion deal. Constellation shares soared 24% on June 29, the day the deal was made public, and Bank of America generated an estimated paper profit of more than $1 million from the options trading, the options-market data indicate. China Imitates Singer (NYP) Paul Singer’s battle with Argentina over defaulted debt is beginning to ripple through the bond world. Creditors looking to force deadbeat countries to pay up are turning to the controversial legal argument Singer used to press his case against the South American country in the US courts. On Monday, China’s Ex-Im Bank, which has an unpaid judgment worth $32 million against Grenada, sued the tiny Caribbean country in New York federal court to get its money back. China wheeled out the same “equal treatment” argument that Singer’s Elliott Management used against Argentina, and which was recently upheld at the appeals level for the first time in the US. China’s move marks the first time a creditor other than Singer and his cohorts have tested the maneuver in the US. Obama Tries Charm Offensive to Woo Republicans on Deficit (Bloomberg) The president broke bread last night with a dozen Republican senators, hosting a dinner at a luxury Washington hotel near the White House. Next week, he’ll visit Capitol Hill to meet separately with Republicans and Democrats in the Senate. Obama has also spoken by telephone with at least a half- dozen Republican lawmakers over the past few days about the budget and other priorities of his second term, including a rewrite of immigration laws and controlling gun violence. “There have been some problems, but we’re all adults and you just have to put the country ahead of party and you’ll be fine,” Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who helped organize the dinner, said before the meal. The increased outreach marks a shift in strategy for the White House, amid signs the president’s poll numbers are falling after he and Republicans were unable to avert the across-the- board spending cuts that took effect March 1. Jobless Claims in U.S. Unexpectedly Fall to a Six-Week Low (Bloomberg) First-time jobless claims unexpectedly fell by 7,000 to 340,000 in the week ended March 2, the lowest since the period ended Jan. 19, according to data today from the Labor Department in Washington. The median forecast of 50 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for an increase to 355,000. The four-week average dropped to a five-year low. JC Penney Board Can’t Be 'Delusional': Ex-CEO (CNBC) Former JC Penney CEO Allen Questrom told CNBC on Wednesday that the company's board of directors is wrong in thinking the struggling retailer can change its fortunes under current boss Ron Johnson. "The board has to take action. They can't be delusional like Ron Johnson is," Questrom said on "Fast Money Halftime Report." "This has been going on long enough. You can't say you're going to make your numbers for the year and then drop a billion dollars." Questrom, who has watched from afar as Penney's sales and stock have suffered, told CNBC that directors needed to act quickly. "If they think if it all of a sudden going to turn itself around, there is no way they can have reliable information – because Ron is not a source for that," he said. "The sooner they act, the better." 1 in 10 Yale students have engaged in prostitution, 3% have had sex with an animal (NYDN) Sexologist Dr. Jill McDevitt hosted the sex workshop session where around 55 students used their cellphones to answer questions about sex. The results were then published in real time on a screen. McDevitt, who also owns the Feminique sex store in West Chester, Pennsylvania, said the results showed "you can't have assumptions about people's backgrounds." Student Giuliana Berry, who hosted the event, told Campus Reform the workshop - part of Yale's Sex Weekend - aimed to increase understanding and compassion for people who indulged in "fringe sexual practices."

Opening Bell: 09.28.12

Bank Of America Reaches Settlement In Merrill Lynch Acquisition-Related Class Action Litigation (BW) Under terms of the proposed settlement, Bank of America would pay a total of $2.43 billion and institute certain corporate governance policies. Plaintiffs had alleged, among other claims, that Bank of America and certain of its officers made false or misleading statements about the financial health of Bank of America and Merrill Lynch. Bank of America denies the allegations and is entering into this settlement to eliminate the uncertainties, burden and expense of further protracted litigation. Greece Seeks Taxes From Wealthy With Cash Havens in London (NYT) At the request of the Athens government, the British financial authorities recently handed over a detailed list of about 400 Greek individuals who have bought and sold London properties since 2009. The list, closely guarded, has not been publicly disclosed. But Greek officials are examining it to determine whether the people named — who they say include prominent businessmen, bankers, shipping tycoons and professional athletes — have deceived the tax authorities by understating their wealth. Libor Riggers May Be Criminal, Even If Acts Not Illegal at Time (CNBC) Those who took part in the manipulation of the London interbank offered rate (Libor), the key benchmark rate, could face criminal prosecution even though Libor manipulation is not yet a criminal offense. Martin Wheatley, who is advising the U.K. government on what changes could be made to Libor to stop manipulation in the future, said that U.K. regulator the Financial Services Authority (FSA) is considering prosecuting those who took part under “broad principles of conduct.” He also recommended that the government should give the FSA power to prosecute future Libor manipulation. Libor Furor: Key Rate Gets New Scrutiny (WSJ) "There's a concern that if you're going to base financial decisions on a particular interest rate" it should be a measure that responds to changes in market conditions, "and that's not Libor," said Andrew Lo, a finance professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Macquarie Bonuses Whack Profit (WSJ) Macquarie Group may have lost its reputation as the Millionaire’s Factory as profits slumped since the onset of the global financial crisis, but according to Citigroup analysts the bank’s net profit could have been 60% higher last financial year if not for a dramatic rise in bonus payments to staff...Wes Nason estimates that while the bank’s return on equity fell to 6.8% last financial year-–hitting its lowest level since it listed in the first half of fiscal 2012 and compared with a 10-year average of 18.4%—-its average bonus payments almost tripled to A$73,000 a head, up from A$26,000 in 2009. Replacement referee Lance Easley stands by touchdown call (NYDN) Lance Easley has been vilified for awarding the Seattle Seahawks a touchdown on its Hail Mary pass in the closing seconds of Monday night’s game against the Green Bay Packers even though pretty much everyone in the country saw that the pass had been intercepted. “I processed everything properly,” Easley told the Daily News Thursday. “It was supported on video. But the bad thing is, people don’t understand the rules in that whole play. “But that play rarely ever happens, it rarely happens in the field of play and it never happens in an NFL game,” he added. “And here I got stuck in the middle of it.” The call was reviewed on instant replay — and, amazingly, upheld, despite the refs also missing a pass interference infraction by a Seattle player. Since then the 52-year-old Bank of America banker has been swept up in a whirlwind of national outrage — one that forced the NFL to end a seven-week lockout of its unionized refs early Thursday. But Easley said he and his replacements did a good job in their stint in zebra stripes. “I know where I stand,” he said. “Everything I did ... I got support from all the referees and everything, and replay and our league office and anybody else that understands the rules and how those plays function. Spanish Rescue May Throw Crisis Spotlight on Italy (Reuters) Italian government bonds risk being thrown back into the spotlight of the euro zone debt crisis once Spain decides to request aid and secures central bank support for its debt. A partial bailout for Madrid would probably trigger the European Central Bank's bond-buying plan, lowering Spain's borrowing costs and increasing investor appetite for riskier assets in general, including debt issued by Italy. But Italy could then return to the forefront of market concern as the next weak link. "The risks increase that you will get a contagion into Italy," said David Keeble, global head of fixed income strategy at Credit Agricole. Cyber Attacks On Banks Expose Computer Vulnerability (WSJ) Cyber attacks on the biggest U.S. banks, including JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Wells Fargo & Co., have breached some of the nation’s most advanced computer defenses and exposed the vulnerability of its infrastructure, said cybersecurity specialists tracking the assaults. The attack, which a U.S. official yesterday said was waged by a still-unidentified group outside the country, flooded bank websites with traffic, rendering them unavailable to consumers and disrupting transactions for hours at a time. Such a sustained network attack ranks among the worst-case scenarios envisioned by the National Security Agency, according to the U.S. official, who asked not to be identified because he isn’t authorized to speak publicly. The extent of the damage may not be known for weeks or months, said the official, who has access to classified information. Fitch Ratings Cuts China, India 2012 Growth Forecasts (CNBC) In its September Global Economic Outlook, the ratings agency said it now expected China’s economy, the world’s second largest, to grow 7.8 percent this year, down from a forecast of 8 percent made in June. It also lowered its forecast for economic growth in India to 6 percent in the financial year ending in March 2013 from a previous estimate of 6.5 percent. CIT Chief Tries To Rescue Reputation (NYP) John Thain yesterday said he brought up executive compensation at the time his firm was getting bailed out by taxpayers not for selfish reasons but to determine how much control Washington would have over his company. “One of the issues we were worried about at the time was, if you take government money how much say does the government have in how you run your business?” Thain said during an interview on CNBC. Days earlier, Thain was trashed by former bank regulator Sheila Bair, who, in her upcoming book, “Bull By the Horns,” accuses the Wall Street veteran of being fixated on pay during the height of the financial Armageddon. Bair, the former Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. boss, wrote that Thain “was desperate for capital but was worried about restrictions on executive compensation.” “I could not believe it. Where were this guy’s priorities?” she wrote, referring to Thain. The CEO, who was tapped to run the troubled lender in 2010, also addressed during the CNBC interview rumors that CIT was looking to sell itself to a large bank. “It’s absolutely not true,” Thain said yesterday. Canada Cheese-Smuggling Ring Busted (BBC) A Canadian police officer was among three people charged as the country's authorities announced they had busted a major cheese-smuggling ring. A joint US-Canadian investigation found C$200,000 (£125,600) of cheese and other products were illicitly brought over the border into southern Ontario. The smugglers sold large quantities of cheese, which is cheaper in the US, to restaurants, it is alleged. The other two men charged were civilians, one a former police officer. The charges come three days after CBC News first reported the force was conducting an internal investigation into cheese smuggling. A pizzeria owner west of Niagara Falls told CBC that he had been questioned by police over the issue, but assured them he had not bought any contraband dairy. "We get all our stuff legit," said the restaurateur. "We thought it was a joke at first. Who is going to go around trying to sell smuggled cheese?"

Opening Bell: 12.04.12

Banks Rediscover Money Management Again As Trading Declines (Bloomberg) Global banks, forced by regulators to reduce their dependence on profits from high-risk trading, have rediscovered the appeal of the mundane business of managing money for clients. Deutsche Bank is now counting on the fund unit it failed to sell to help boost return on equity, a measure of profitability. UBS is paring investment banking as it focuses on overseeing assets for wealthy clients. Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo, three of the five biggest U.S. banks, are considering expanding asset- management divisions as they seek to grab market share from fund companies such as Fidelity Investments. “Asset management is a terrific business,” said Ralph Schlosstein, chief executive officer of Evercore Partners Inc., a New York-based boutique investment bank that last month agreed to buy wealth manager Mt. Eden Investment Advisors LLC. “Asset managers earn fees consistently without risking capital. Compare that to other businesses in the financial services.” Hedge Funds Win as Europe Will Pay More for Greek Bonds (Bloomberg) Hedge funds drove up prices for Greek sovereign debt last week after determining that European finance ministers would back off a pledge to pay no more than about 28 percent of face value to retire the nation’s bonds. Money managers correctly wagered that not enough bondholders would participate at that level to get the deal done. That would put at risk bailout funds that Greece needs to stave off economic collapse. Transactions involving Greek bonds “increased by the day” after it became clear that the buyback was going to happen, with hedge funds accounting for most of the purchases, said Zoeb Sachee, the London-based head of European government bond trading at Citigroup Inc. “If all goes according to plan, everybody wins,” Sachee said. “Hedge funds must have bought lower than here. If it isn’t successful, Greece risks default and everybody loses.” GE's Swiss lending unit for sale, UBS to bid (Reuters) General Electric Co wants to sell its Swiss consumer lending business, two sources familiar with the matter said, with UBS one of the parties interested in a deal that could be worth up to 1.5 billion Swiss francs ($1.62 billion). The sources told Reuters that UBS was one of at least two parties who plan to submit bids in an auction process. "GE wants to finalize the sale of GE Money Bank by the end of the first quarter," said one of the sources. Brian Moynihan: 'Fiscal Cliff' Repercussions Could Stretch in 2014 (CNBC) "I'm more concerned about business behavior slowing down than I am about consumer behavior," Moynihan told "Squawk Box." "I think we're in danger if this thing strings out into 2013 that you could start to have problems of what 2014 would look like." Icahn Fails In Oshkosh Tender Offer (WSJ) The activist investor was tendered only a meek 22% of shares in an offer he used essentially as a proxy for whether shareholders would support his board nominees. Icahn, who had pledged to drop the offer and his proxy fight if he didn’t receive at least 25% of shares tendered, says he is indeed dropping the tender offer. Ex-baseball star Lenny Dykstra sentenced in bankruptcy fraud case (Reuters) Lenny Dykstra, the 1980s World Series hero who pleaded guilty earlier this year to bankruptcy fraud, was sentenced on Monday to six months in federal prison and ordered to perform 500 hours of community service. The 49-year-old former ballplayer - who is already serving time in state prison for grand theft auto, lewd conduct and assault with a deadly weapon - was also ordered to pay $200,000 in restitution. In the federal case, Dykstra pleaded guilty in July to bankruptcy fraud and other charges. According to the written plea agreement, he admitted defrauding his creditors by declaring bankruptcy in 2009, then stealing or destroying furnishings, baseball memorabilia and other property from his $18.5 million mansion. Teacher disciplined for receiving foot massages from students (SLT) A Taylorsville Elementary School teacher has returned to his third-grade classroom after being disciplined for violating professional standards after students reported they scratched his back, rubbed his feet and had other inappropriate contact while at school. Granite School District officials found no criminal conduct by elementary teacher Bryan Watts, 53, who has worked at the school since 2004, but the district claims to have taken "appropriate disciplinary action" following complaints about Watts...Granite District police Detective Randall Porter started an investigation into Watts’ conduct Oct. 9 after a mother expressed concern to the district after her daughter reported odd classroom behavior by Watts. "She complained that her daughter [name redacted] told her that Watts asks students to rub his feet and back during ‘movie time,’ that Watts told the class that they should not tell their parents about activities that happen in the classroom, and that Watts scared a student by hitting a hammer on the student’s desk," Porter wrote in his 19-page report...officials also said there were student statements about odd activities, including playing dodgeball in Watts’ classroom. Knight Capital May Go It Alone (NYP) Knight Capital’s board emerged from another meeting yesterday to review dueling takeover offers without making a decision. Both Getco and Virtu Financial have made bids for the Jersey City, NJ-based Knight, which had to be bailed out several months ago after a $460 million trading glitch nearly tanked the firm. “[Knight] can still decide to remain independent. That’s a real possibility,” said one source familiar with the bidding process. Top US Firms Are Cash-Rich Abroad, Cash-Poor At Home (WSJ) With billions of dollars overseas that may never come back, the Securities and Exchange Commission is concerned that companies haven't been presenting investors with an honest appraisal of their liquidity. As a result, regulators are pressing companies to more clearly lay out how much of their cash is in the U.S. and how much is overseas and potentially encumbered by U.S. taxes. UBS Near Libor Deal (Reuters) UBS is nearing a deal to settle claims some of its staff manipulated interest rates, and could reach agreement with US and British authorities by the end of the year, a source said yesterday. Britain’s Barclays was fined $453 million in June for manipulating Libor benchmark interest rates, and remains the only bank to settle in the investigation, which led to the resignation of the bank’s chairman and CEO. Calpers Crusader Takes Aim At Fees (WSJ) Mr. Desrochers, a 65-year-old native of Canada who last year became head of private-equity investing for the California Public Employees' Retirement System, has told buyout funds to reduce fees if they want cash from the $241 billion pension goliath, one of the nation's largest private-equity investors. He has pushed for Calpers to pay management fees below the industry's standard of 1% or more and asked for performance fees below the usual 15% to 20% of gains, according to people who have dealt with him. Mike Tyson: Brad Pitt Had Sex With My Wife (NYP) Mike Tyson claims that he caught Pitt having sex with his ex-wife, Robin Givens, while they were in the middle of their divorce in the late eighties. Tyson, who was shortly married to Givens from 1988 to 1989, said he and the actress were still sleeping with each other during their separation. "I was getting a divorce, but... every day, before I would go to my lawyer's office to say 'she's a pig and stealing,' I would go to her house to have sex with her," Tyson said on the Yahoo! Sports show “In Depth with Graham Bensinger.” "This particular day, someone beat me to the punch. And I guess Brad got there earlier than I did." How did the heavyweight boxer react? "I was mad as hell...You should have saw his face when he saw me," Tyson said.

Opening Bell: 09.21.12

Spain eyes pension reform with aid package in sight (Reuters) Spain is considering freezing pensions and speeding up a planned rise in the retirement age as it races to cut spending and meet conditions of an expected international sovereign aid package, sources with knowledge of the matter said. The measures would save at least 4 billion euros a year as well as fulfil European Union policy recommendations issued in May which senior euro zone sources said were being used as a blueprint for the terms of a sovereign aid program. Banker Breakups May Help Spur U.K. Divorce Law Changes (Bloomberg) The review of U.K. divorce law was triggered in part by the case of German heiress Katrin Radmacher and ex-JPMorgan investment banker Nicolas Granatino, lawyers said. In October 2010, the U.K. Supreme Court ruled for the first time that a U.S.-style pre-nuptial agreement on asset-division, reached before marriage, should be decisive. In London, it’s common for big divorce payouts to go to partners with less money even if that spouse is relatively young, the relationship was brief and there aren’t children, Gallagher’s lawyer, Katie O’Callaghan, said. “People actively try to get divorced in this country because if they are the financially weak party, they can expect a bigger payment,” said O’Callaghan. Porsche, Daimler Indicate Europe’s Car Crisis Spreading (Bloomberg) “If a downturn lasts for longer, which this one is, premium is not immune from pricing trends,” said Arndt Ellinghorst, a London-based analyst at Credit Suisse Group AG with an outperform recommendation on BMW, Porsche and VW, and a neutral on Daimler. “The pricing environment in Europe is the biggest problem,” with incentives spreading from Italy, Spain and France to Germany. Senate JPMorgan Probe Said to Seek Tougher Volcker Rule (Bloomberg) Staff members of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, headed by Senator Carl Levin, have interviewed JPMorgan officials as well as examiners and supervisors at the institution’s regulator, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, said the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the inquiry isn’t public. One focus of the queries is whether JPMorgan’s wrong-way bets on derivatives would have been permitted under regulators’ initial draft of the Volcker ban on proprietary trading, the people said. Cain says he'd be leading Obama if he were nominee (TGS via DI) Cain told members of the media after the speech that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's recent “47 percent” comment was a “non-story” being blown out of proportion by the media. But Cain said he would have been doing better if he was the nominee, saying that he'd probably have a “substantial lead” on President Barack Obama at this point. “The reason is quite simple: I have some depth to my ideas,” he said. US Seeks To Patch Laundering Net (WSJ) U.S. regulators are proposing to enlist companies across the financial sector—and possibly beyond—as a front-line defense against money laundering. A sweeping proposal by the U.S. Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, known as FinCen, could require financial institutions to collect and verify information on all customer accounts. If adopted, the new rules would create a broad new compliance structure that banks and others say would increase costs and add to complexity for the firms and their customers. Exchanges Catch Heat On Hill Over High Speed Trading (WSJ) Sens. Jack Reed (D., R.I.) and Mike Crapo (R., Idaho) and several witnesses at the Senate Banking subcommittee hearing took aim at the complex technological tools developed and sold by exchanges to lure the high-speed traders that dominate the stock market and drive exchange profits. Greek Bailout Fight Looms (WSJ) All sides, including Athens, are determined to keep Greece in the euro, officials say—they just don't know how yet. The trio must agree to a plan by November at the latest, when the government in Athens—already in financial arrears—could run out of money altogether. Correction officers at Rikers having ‘rampant’ sex on and off job: lawsuit (NYDN) Correction officers are turning city jails into their personal playpens, engaging in “rampant” sex both on and off the job, an explosive lawsuit claims. Correction Officer Tomara Bryan charges that male guards face no repercussions for bedding their counterparts — but the frisky females become targets of abuse. Bryan should know. She was one of them, the suit says. Bryan had a stormy two-year affair with a married warden named Emmanuel Bailey — and even had his last name tattooed across her lower back. In the discrimination suit filed in Bronx Supreme Court, Bryan claims that after their kinky relationship came to light she was verbally and physically abused by female supervisors, forced to take a “bogus” random drug test and given dangerous assignments.

Opening Bell: 01.09.13

UBS Says Cleaning Up Its Act After Libor 'Shocker' (Reuters) UBS has yet to fully purge itself of a global interest rate scandal that has cost the Swiss bank its reputation and put it at risk of a wave of costly civil suits, its investment banking chief said on Wednesday. The once-venerable institution was fined a record $1.5 billion last month for manipulating Libor interest rates, the latest in a string of scandals including a $2.3 billion rogue trading loss and a damaging tax avoidance row with the United States. "We are very focused on recovering the honor and standing the organisation had in the past," Andrea Orcel told Britain's Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, set up in the aftermath of the Libor scandal. "I am convinced that we have made a lot of progress. I am also convinced that we still need to do more." [...] Committee member Justin Welby, the incoming Archbishop of Canterbury, asked Orcel if he was the right man to turn UBS around. "I feel I have a high level of integrity," the banker said. Orcel said that UBS was working at simplifying the investment banking business to make it less risky and prone to scandal. The committee, a cross-party panel of lawmakers headed by Conservative MP Andrew Tyrie, is switching its focus to standards and culture after spending most of the past three months assessing structural reform. Tyrie on Wednesday described the Libor rigging as "a shocker of enormous proportions". Button-Down Central Bank Bets It All (WSJ) Switzerland, for decades a paragon of safety in finance, is engaged in a high-risk strategy to protect its export-driven economy, literally betting the bank in a fight to contain the prices of Swiss products sold abroad. The nation's central bank is printing and selling as many Swiss francs as needed to keep its currency from climbing against the euro, wagering an amount approaching Switzerland's total national output, and, in the process, turning from button-down conservative to the globe's biggest risk-taker. JPMorgan Overhaul Widens (WSJ) The shift of Mr. Maclin and the departure of Mr. Staley, who once was seen as a top candidate to succeed James Dimon as chief executive, are the latest steps in a drastic reshaping of J.P. Morgan's executive suite. Many of the new leaders—a group that includes corporate and investment-bank co-heads Mike Cavanagh and Daniel Pinto, co-chief operating officer Matthew Zames and Chief Financial Officer Marianne Lake—are in their 40s. Mr. Cavanagh and Mr. Zames, who were asked last May to unwind a series of botched bets placed by a trader in the bank's Chief Investment Office known as the "London whale," are viewed as front runners for the top job, said people close to the bank. Ackman Braces for Legal Battle Over Herbalife (FBN) If filed, the lawsuit could involve alleged “tortuous interference,” implying Ackman intentionally damaged Herbalife’s business relationships, people close to Ackman said. On Tuesday, a large Herbalife distributor said he was leaving the company and called on other distributors to join him amid the controversy. In a sign of the importance of its distribution channels, Herbalife says in regulatory filings its relationship with and ability to influence distributors are items that can “materially” affect its financial condition. As of late Tuesday, people with knowledge of the matter said no decision on timing or even if a lawsuit will actually be filed had been made. The company has told FOX Business it is weighing legal action against Ackman. Ackman declined to comment on the matter. Herbalife has hired famed attorney David Boies to launch possible litigation against Ackman as well as the investment bank Moelis & Co., as its financial adviser. Goldman Will Report Fund Values Each Day (WSJ) In a reversal of industry practice, Goldman Sachs Group will begin disclosing the values of its money-market mutual funds daily rather than monthly, according to people familiar with the company's plans. Some of the changes will take effect as early as Wednesday...According to people familiar with Goldman's thinking, the company is beefing up its disclosures to satisfy investors' calls for greater transparency on fluctuations in the price of their investments. Brazil prostitutes to learn English ahead of World Cup (AP) Prostitutes in one of Brazil's biggest cities are beginning to sign up for free English classes ahead of this year's Confederations Cup and the 2014 World Cup. The president of the Association of Prostitutes of the city of Belo Horizonte says by telephone that 20 have already signed up for the courses and she expects at least 300 of the group's 4,000 members to follow suit. The association is organizing the classes and seeking volunteer teachers. Prostitution is legal in Brazil. Belo Horizonte will host six World Cup matches and Vieira said Tuesday "it will be important for the girls will be able to use English to let their clients know what they are charging and learn about what turns them on." AIG Cites Duty to Weigh Suing U.S. as Lawmaker Criticism Mounts (Bloomberg, related) American International Group said it has a duty to weigh joining a suit by former Chief Executive Officer Maurice “Hank” Greenberg that claims the insurer’s 2008 U.S. bailout was unconstitutional. “The board of directors has fiduciary and legal obligations to the company and its shareholders to consider the demand served on us,” CEO Robert Benmosche said yesterday in a statement. The board is scheduled to meet today to hear arguments from representatives of Greenberg and the U.S. Lawmakers including Senators Elizabeth Warren and Robert Menendez and Representative Peter Welch said New York-based AIG shouldn’t join the suit. “Taxpayers are still furious that they rescued a company whose own conduct brought it down,” Welch said in a letter to AIG Chairman Steve Miller. “Don’t rub salt in the wounds with yet another reckless decision.” Vow of New Light For 'Dark' Trades (WSJ) Richard Ketchum, chief executive of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, said in an interview Tuesday that the regulator is expanding its oversight of the dark-trading venues, with an eye on whether orders placed in public exchanges are "trying to move prices or encourage sellers that may advance their trading in the dark market." The regulator also is boosting its surveillance of high-speed trading and is increasingly looking at rapid-fire trading across exchanges, he said. "You're going to see more [focus] in those areas in 2013," Mr. Ketchum said. Goldman, Morgan Stanley to Settle on Foreclosures (Reuters) Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are among a group of banks expected to agree as soon as this week to a $1.5 billion settlement with federal regulators over botched foreclosure claims, two sources familiar with the matter said on Tuesday. The accord would come on the heels of a separate $8.5 billion settlement announced on Monday with 10 bigger mortgage servicers, including Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo...Goldman and Morgan Stanley's respective roles in the settlement stems from mortgage-servicing businesses that the two investment banks purchased in the run-up to the subprime mortgage crisis, and have since sold. Goldman had owned Litton Loan Servicing and Morgan Stanley owned Saxon Capital. Taco Bell responds to teen's request for a custom Speedo (LI) The week before Christmas, 15-year-old Ryan Klarner posted on Taco Bell’s Facebook page, introducing himself with a rundown of his swimming and diving achievements before making an offbeat request. “[I]s there any way you guys could make me a customized Speedo that says think outside the buns on the back of it? If you did, that would mean the world to me,” the Illinois teen asked...Klarner said he first came up with the idea a couple of years earlier and decided last month to go ahead and ask, even though he never had asked a company on Facebook for anything before. “I did not expect it to blow up as much as it has. I didn’t really expect to get the Speedo out of it, either,” he said. But last Wednesday, the social media team at Taco Bell wrote back. “What size do you wear? And what’s your address?” “He really wanted something and he went after it,” Tressie Lieberman, director of digital and social engagement, said. When we think people are really extraordinary...then we want to reward them.”

Opening Bell: 03.01.12

Fast, Furious At MF Global (WSJ) At 4:53 p.m. five days before MF Global Holdings Ltd. collapsed, an employee in its Chicago office asked a co-worker to move $165 million from one of the securities firm's bank accounts to another. "Approved," came the response one minute later, according to an email reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Within about 15 minutes, the money moved to an MF Global account at J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., internal documents show. Within minutes, though, several MF Global employees realized there was a problem, according to people familiar with the matter. The cash actually had been transferred out of a customer-segregated account, not one of the company's own bank accounts, the documents show. The employees tried to reverse the $165 million transaction but failed. RBS In Initial Pact To Sell Asian Assets (WSJ) CIMB, based in Kuala Lumpur, said Thursday it had signed a memorandum of understanding to acquire certain parts of RBS's cash-equities, equity-capital-markets, and corporate-finance businesses across the Asia-Pacific region. Blackstone Founder Tops Private Equity Pay League (FT) Schwarzman received $74 million in cash distributions from investment funds started before Blackstone’s 2007 New York listing and $134.5 million in dividends from his 21 percent stake in the company, according to regulatory filings. He was also paid a $350,000 base salary and received $4.6 million from the firm’s share of investor profits, known as carried interest. Former Goldman Partner Peter Kiernan Now a Self-Fashioned Political Pundit (NYT) After retiring from the firm in 2001, the former banker headed a movie star’s charity, got a shamrock tattooed on his rear end after losing a bet with his son, adopted a Vietnamese potbellied pig named Mojo and, most recently, published a political best seller with a title that is not quite printable in a family newspaper. Apple Stock to Hit $1,000? Steve Wozniak Believes So (CNBC) "You know, people talk about $1,000 stock price... you know, at first you want to doubt it but I actually believe that and I don't really follow stock markets," Wozniak said. BofA Weighs New Fees (WSJ) The search for new sources of income is especially pressing at Bank of America, where 2011 revenue dropped by $26.2 billion, or 22%, from its 2009 level. Bank of America pilot programs in Arizona, Georgia and Massachusetts now are experimenting with charging $6 to $9 a month for an "Essentials" account. Other account options being tested in those states carry monthly charges of $9, $12, $15 and $25 but give customers opportunities to avoid the payments by maintaining minimum balances, using a credit card or taking a mortgage with Bank of America, according to a memo distributed to employees. Solar storm alert: Scientist finds 12% chance of breathtaking, possibly crippling, northern lights show (NYDN) In the next 10 years, there’s a 12% chance of a northern lights display that’s so grand, people could potentially watch in awe from the sidewalks of Manhattan to the beaches of the Caribbean. The last time the world saw such a widespread aurora borealis was 1859. This future event could well be the event of a lifetime for another, far-less beautiful reason: The solar flare that would set off the dazzling sky display could also leave countless people in the dark by frying power grids, communication networks and crucial satellites. It could add up to trillions of dollars in damage once the sky show is all over, followed by a rough recovery that could take years, according to a 2008 analysis of such an event’s impact. Bernanke Quells Talk Of Fresh Stimulus (Bloomberg) Bernanke, in testimony to lawmakers yesterday in Washington, described “positive developments” in the job market while saying it’s still “far from normal.” He said the inflationary impact of higher gasoline prices is likely to be temporary. Star Scam Condo A Steal (NYP) Kenneth Starr’s swanky Upper East Side condo sold yesterday for $5.6 million — about $2 million less than he paid using money stolen from actress Uma Thurman and heiress Rachel “Bunny” Mellon. The winning bidder at the Treasury Department auction declined to give his name, but said he was a developer who bought the triplex on East 74th Street as an investment. Starr — a money manager whose A-list clients also included Al Pacino and Lauren Bacall — was caught cowering in a closet after his $33 million Ponzi scheme collapsed in 2010. He’s serving seven-plus years in the slammer and facing a divorce from his ex-stripper wife, Diane Passage. Harvard Business School? You'll Go Through Dee Leopold First (WSJ) People overestimate the role the essays play in the application. They're very, very helpful for the candidate, and they're a really good platform for starting a discussion in an interview, but we don't admit people because of an essay. I don't need to have too much of a dramatic arc. There are some essays where I start reading and all of a sudden I feel like I'm in the middle of a very well-written novel. It can get overdone and overcrafted. Sometimes the challenge in the essays is to be honest and to be clear. It may be helpful for someone to say, "I have no idea what you're talking about." Goldman Sachs ExecutiveIn US Insider Probe (Bloomberg) Goldman Sachs said in a Feb. 28 regulatory filing that “from time to time, the firm and its employees are the subject of or otherwise involved in regulatory investigations relating to insider trading, the potential misuse of material nonpublic information and the effectiveness of the firm’s insider trading controls and information barriers.” Eating At Benihana With Tracy Morgan (Grub Street) "I love Benihana like I love my favorite strip club," Tracy Morgan says. "Sue's Rendezvous and Benihana, that's the joint. "This is my family. These people know me. This is fancy, man. They cook the food right in front of you. They might go to Pathmark and buy it, but they're gonna cook it. Fancy. It's romantic. I go up to the hood, get a chicken head, bring her here and I'll wrap her up. It's fancy." Guy at the next table is loving it. "That's my thing, going up there in the hood and getting them chickens pregnant." Tracy's talking directly to the table next to us now. Everyone, about seven strangers,is on the hook. "I'm old-school. I don't be pulling out. I ain't wearing no rubber, either. If you ain't willing to die for it, you didn't really want to have it."

Opening Bell: 10.19.12

Schapiro SEC Reign Nears End With Rescue Mission Not Done (Bloomberg) Admirers and critics agree Schapiro rescued the agency from the threat of extinction when she was appointed by President Barack Obama four years ago. Still, she hasn’t fulfilled her mission -- to overcome the SEC’s image as a failed watchdog by punishing those who steered the financial system toward disaster and by proving regulators can head off future breakdowns. “It was harder than I thought it was going to be,” Schapiro, 57, said during an interview in her office that looks out on the Capitol dome. “You have this nice little box of things you want to do all tied up with a bow, and you walk in the door and it’s very hard to keep at least one eye on that agenda while you’re dealing with the flash crashes and the new legislation and the whole range of things that happened,” she said. Morgan Stanley CEO Hints Of Commodity Arm Sale (Reuters) Morgan Stanley has an obligation to explore "different structures" for its commodities trading business because new regulations are limiting the unit's activities, Chief Executive James Gorman said on Thursday. The CEO's comments were the first time Morgan Stanley has publicly hinted at a possible sale of its multibillion-dollar oil and metals trading arm, which has been reported in the media for months. Morgan Stanley has been in discussions with OPEC member Qatar for more than a year over the sale of at least a majority stake in its energy-focused trading business, according to bankers. Speaking on a conference call with analysts after the firm reported better-than-expected quarterly results on Thursday, Gorman said changes under the U.S.' Dodd-Frank financial reform law restrict the kind of trading the firm can do in commodities. Europe Agrees On Banking Supervisor (WSJ) European leaders early Friday agreed to have a new supervisor for euro-zone banks up and running next year, a step that will pave the way for the bloc's bailout fund to pump capital directly into banks throughout the single-currency area. John Paulson Doubles Down On Housing (WSJ) Hedge-fund manager John Paulson famously made nearly $4 billion in 2007 correctly betting that the housing bubble, fueled by the subprime mortgage market, would pop. Then the billionaire investor somewhat reversed course, arguing that the housing cycle had hit a low point. "If you don't own a home, buy one," he said in a 2010 speech at the University Club in New York. "If you own one home, buy another one, and if you own two homes, buy a third and lend your relatives the money to buy a home." So far, that bet has been a loser: The Wall Street tycoon lost about $3 billion personally in 2011, according to people close to the hedge-fund manager, speculating that the economy would recover faster than it did. But through the downturn Mr. Paulson—whose net worth is estimated to be around $11 billion, according to people familiar with his situation—continued his real estate spending spree. Over the last eight years, he has spent more than $145 million on six properties, including two estates in Southampton, N.Y., two properties near Aspen, Colo., and two residences in Manhattan, where he is based, according to public records. (He later sold one of the Southampton properties, for $10 million in 2009, a year after buying a larger estate nearby). In June, Mr. Paulson snapped up a 90-acre Aspen ranch and an adjoining property from Prince Bandar bin Sultan for a total of $49 million, according to public records, one of the highest prices ever paid for property in the area. Ben Stein: Taxes Are Too Low (Mediaite) Author and economist Ben Stein joined Fox & Friends on Thursday where he stunned the hosts after he called for raising the tax rates on people making more than $2 million per year. He said that he did not think that the United States simply had a spending problem, and cited the early post-war period as an example of a time when you could have high tax rates and high growth. “I hate to say this on Fox – I hope I’ll be allowed to leave here alive – but I don’t think there is any way we can cut spending enough to make a meaningful difference,” said Stein. “We’re going to have to raise taxes on very, very rich people. People with incomes of, say, $2, $3, $4 million a year and up. And then slowly, slowly, slowly move it down. $250,000 a year, that’s not a rich person.” Stein said that the government has a spending problem, but they also have a “too low taxes problem.” “With all due respect to Fox, who I love like brothers and sisters, taxes are too low,” said Stein. “That sounds like Bowles-Simpson,” said Gretchen Carlson. “It is Bowles-Simpson,” Stein replied. Should've Left That At Home, Teacher Is Told On Jury Duty (NYT) Damian Esteban was qualified to teach students at a specialized New York City high school, and had just been deemed reasonable enough to judge a man’s fate in a murder trial. But passing through the metal detectors at a Manhattan courthouse may have been too tough a test. Mr. Esteban, 33, was arrested on Wednesday as he returned from a break in a trial in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the state Office of Court Administration, said. As Mr. Esteban, a teacher at the Williamsburg School of Architecture and Design in Brooklyn, passed through a metal detector at the courthouse, it beeped. A court officer, Laura Cannon, found the culprit to be a cigarette box in Mr. Esteban’s pocket. Upon opening the cigarette box, Ms. Cannon reported that she found a much bigger problem: 18 small bags of heroin. A Daunting To-Do List For Citigroup's New CEO (BusinessWeek) Citigroup’s largest problem may be internal. The company, analyst Richard Bove says, “is a political swamp. It’s a snake pit.” Cleansing the culture must be a priority, says Mike Mayo, an analyst at Crédit Agricole Securities. “So whether it’s the inappropriate pay for subpar performance; the lack of adequate disclosure, such as returns by business line; the failure to properly oversee the many different businesses; or the poor tone set at the top of the firm for corporate governance, they all add up to the need to improve the culture,” Mayo says. Cooling The Pits: ICE Yelling Ends (WSJ) Augustine Lauria knew his 37-year career as a floor trader was over when he got a memo from IntercontinentalExchange in late July announcing the closing of the exchange operator's last trading pits. Friday will be the last chance the 61-year-old trader will get to put on his navy-blue and yellow trading jacket and badge. It will be the final day of rough-and-tumble "open-outcry" commodities trading on the ICE-owned pits in lower Manhattan where options on cotton, coffee, cocoa, sugar and orange juice are bought and sold. "What can I do? I can count fast and yell loud," says Mr. Lauria, who boards the Staten Island Ferry before sunrise to get to work in time for the 8:10 a.m. bell. Amanda Larrivee Speaks Out about Incident at Samuel’s (ABC) Amanda Larrivee and her brother Robert Larrivee were arrested at Samuels Sports Bar Sunday for allegedly stealing TV’s from the bathroom. Now, the woman involved is speaking out about what happened that night and the “immature” remark made by her brother. The legal case against Amanda has been dropped, but a comment made by her brother is getting all the attention. He told police that the two were in the bathroom having sex. Amanda says that was not the case. “The comment was taken out of context and it’s not what it looks like,” said Larrivee...“I just want to come out and really let people know that it’s not what it looked like. It’s humiliating and the comment having sexual relations with my brother was an impulse, immature comment made by him that is not the truth,” said Larrivee. Amanda says Robert wasn’t trying to steal the TV’s, but was upset over seeing his ex-girlfriend. “He had an outburst at the time you know it turned into you know touching the TV on the wall, turned into an ugly scene,” said Larrivee. “He took the televisions down. He had no intention of stealing. He’s not walking out with two televisions,” said Attorney Jack St. Clair.