Opening Bell: 06.21.12

SEC Said To Depose SAC’s Cohen In Insider-Trading Probe (Bloomberg) Cohen, 56, was recently deposed by Securities and Exchange Commission investigators in New York about trades made close to news such as mergers and earnings that generated profits at his hedge fund, said one of the people, who asked not to be identified because the investigation isn’t public. Neither Cohen nor SAC Capital, which oversees about $14 billion, has been accused of wrongdoing. Four-Week Jobless Claims Average Reaches 2012 High (Reuters) Initial claims for state unemployment benefits slipped 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 387,000, the Labor Department said. The prior week's figure was revised up to 389,000 from the previously reported 386,000. Lawmakers Call For IPO Overhaul (WSJ) A bipartisan group of lawmakers called on regulators to overhaul the way initial public offerings are conducted, concerned that last month's flubbed stock sale by Facebook shows the current system unfairly punishes small investors. In a letter to Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Mary Schapiro, Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) prodded the agency to revamp rules for pricing and disclosure in IPOs. Mr. Issa, who wrote the letter on behalf of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said the social-networking company's steep share-price decline since its May 18 offering is a sign that investment banks are able to "dictate pricing while only indirectly considering market supply-and-demand." Separately, the Democratic chairman of a subcommittee of the Senate Banking Committee said regulatory changes are needed to bolster investor confidence sapped by Facebook's botched debut. Facebook’s 22% Rally Helps Stock Avoid Worst IPO Return In U.S. (Bloomberg) So that's something! Riskier Bets Pitched To Asia's Rising Rich (WSJ) In Japan, brokers are dangling what they claim is a tasty product in front of wealthy investors: a "triple-decker" that uses options to squeeze higher returns from stocks, "junk" bonds or other assets. If a triple-decker doesn't suit an investor's fancy, there is the increasingly popular—and slightly less complex—"double-decker." Elsewhere in Asia, so-called hybrid bonds and other high-yield varieties can be had. Investors in Singapore recently could buy so-called perpetual bonds through ATMs. Across Asia, brokers are pushing to sell increasingly complex products to the region's expanding ranks of investors, especially wealthy ones. These types of products appeal to those hungry for yield who normally focus on stocks and real estate but are worried about falling equity markets and the sudden shortage of initial public offerings. BlueMountain Said To Help Unwind JPMorgan’s Whale Trades (Bloomberg) A hedge fund run by a former JPMorgan Chase executive who helped create the credit- derivatives market is aiding the lender as it unwinds trades in an index at the heart of a loss of more than $2 billion. BlueMountain Capital Management LLC, co-founded by Andrew Feldstein, has been compiling trades in Series 9 of the Markit CDX North America Investment Grade Index in recent weeks, then selling the positions to the New York-based bank, according to three people outside the firms who are familiar with the strategy. JPMorgan tapped BlueMountain as a middleman after trades in its London chief investment office grew so large that the bank was creating price distortions that hedge funds sought to exploit, said the market participants, who asked not to be identified because they weren’t authorized to discuss the trades. BlueMountain was one of the funds that benefited from the price dislocations, the people said. US Olympic committee send cease and desist letter to knitting Olympics (TNT) The US Olympic committee has sent a cease and desist letter to the social networking group Ravelry, who had organised a Ravelympics in which contestants would compete in events such as ‘scarf hockey’ while watching the actual Games on TV...The US Olympic Committee has said that “the athletes of Team USA have spent the better part of the entire lives training for the opportunity to compete at the Olympic Games and represent their country in a sport that means everything to them” and that “using the name ‘Ravelympics’ for a competition that involves an afghan marathon and sweater triathlon tends to denigrate the true nature of the Olympic Games”. Romney Campaign Said To Ask Scott To Downplay Job Gains (Bloomberg) Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign asked Florida Governor Rick Scott to tone down his statements heralding improvements in the state’s economy because they clash with the presumptive Republican nominee’s message that the nation is suffering under President Barack Obama, according to two people familiar with the matter. Scott, a Republican, was asked to say that the state’s jobless rate could improve faster under a Romney presidency, according to the people, who asked not to be named. Lonely Hedge Fund Bullish On Greece Tries To Woo Investors (Bloomberg) In March, Elliott met with the investment chief of a family office in London who said within seconds of sitting down that the firm had no interest in giving money to a hedge fund wagering on Greece. The executive merely wanted to hear his story, Elliott, the founder of Naftilia Asset Management Ltd., said in a telephone interview from his office in Athens. Elliott, 39, responded by asking a few questions of his own, including whether the executive had invested in Russia after its 1998 currency crisis, in Argentina 10 years ago after the nation defaulted on its debt or in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index (SPX) in March 2009, when the benchmark plunged to its lowest point in 13 years. Finally, Elliott questioned whether the family office’s investment chief had ever bought shares of Apple. In all cases, the answer was no. “Then you are not qualified to be discussing Greece with me because you have missed the best investment opportunities over the past 20 years,” Elliott retorted. National Bank Of Greece To Sell Luxury Resort As Slump Bites (Bloomberg) If you know anyone who's interested: The 3.3 million-square-foot (307,000 square-meter) Astir Palace complex has already drawn investors’ interest, according to Aristotelis Karytinos, general manager of real estate at the lender. The Athens-based bank and Greece’s privatization fund, which owns part of the property, will put out a public tender in coming months, he said. Fed Warns Of Risk To Economy (WSJ) Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke made clear in a news conference after the policy makers' meeting that he is prepared to take further action if he doesn't see progress on bringing down unemployment, which was 8.2% in May. "I wouldn't accept the proposition though that the Fed has no more ammunition," Mr. Bernanke said. He added, "if we don't see continued improvement in the labor market we'll be prepared to take additional steps." Australian mega-brothel gets go-ahead (AP) A Sydney brothel has received the green light for a multi-million-dollar expansion which will see it become Australia's largest sex premises, with rooms featuring multiple beds and pool tables. Plans to double the number of rooms at inner Sydney's "Stiletto" into a mega-brothel complex were knocked back late last year by the city council on the grounds that it was too big. But the owners won an appeal to the Land and Environment Court this week, with Commissioner Susan O'Neill ruling the Aus$12 million ($12.2 million) development, including a wing for group bookings, should go ahead...Stiletto promotes itself as "the world's finest short-stay boutique hotel and Sydney brothel". Its standard hourly rate of Aus$370 includes room, lady of choice and beverages.
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SEC Said To Depose SAC’s Cohen In Insider-Trading Probe (Bloomberg)
Cohen, 56, was recently deposed by Securities and Exchange Commission investigators in New York about trades made close to news such as mergers and earnings that generated profits at his hedge fund, said one of the people, who asked not to be identified because the investigation isn’t public. Neither Cohen nor SAC Capital, which oversees about $14 billion, has been accused of wrongdoing.

Four-Week Jobless Claims Average Reaches 2012 High (Reuters)
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits slipped 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 387,000, the Labor Department said. The prior week's figure was revised up to 389,000 from the previously reported 386,000.

Lawmakers Call For IPO Overhaul (WSJ)
A bipartisan group of lawmakers called on regulators to overhaul the way initial public offerings are conducted, concerned that last month's flubbed stock sale by Facebook shows the current system unfairly punishes small investors. In a letter to Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Mary Schapiro, Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) prodded the agency to revamp rules for pricing and disclosure in IPOs. Mr. Issa, who wrote the letter on behalf of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said the social-networking company's steep share-price decline since its May 18 offering is a sign that investment banks are able to "dictate pricing while only indirectly considering market supply-and-demand." Separately, the Democratic chairman of a subcommittee of the Senate Banking Committee said regulatory changes are needed to bolster investor confidence sapped by Facebook's botched debut.

Facebook’s 22% Rally Helps Stock Avoid Worst IPO Return In U.S. (Bloomberg)
So that's something!

Riskier Bets Pitched To Asia's Rising Rich (WSJ)
In Japan, brokers are dangling what they claim is a tasty product in front of wealthy investors: a "triple-decker" that uses options to squeeze higher returns from stocks, "junk" bonds or other assets. If a triple-decker doesn't suit an investor's fancy, there is the increasingly popular—and slightly less complex—"double-decker." Elsewhere in Asia, so-called hybrid bonds and other high-yield varieties can be had. Investors in Singapore recently could buy so-called perpetual bonds through ATMs. Across Asia, brokers are pushing to sell increasingly complex products to the region's expanding ranks of investors, especially wealthy ones. These types of products appeal to those hungry for yield who normally focus on stocks and real estate but are worried about falling equity markets and the sudden shortage of initial public offerings.

BlueMountain Said To Help Unwind JPMorgan’s Whale Trades (Bloomberg)
A hedge fund run by a former JPMorgan Chase executive who helped create the credit- derivatives market is aiding the lender as it unwinds trades in an index at the heart of a loss of more than $2 billion. BlueMountain Capital Management LLC, co-founded by Andrew Feldstein, has been compiling trades in Series 9 of the Markit CDX North America Investment Grade Index in recent weeks, then selling the positions to the New York-based bank, according to three people outside the firms who are familiar with the strategy. JPMorgan tapped BlueMountain as a middleman after trades in its London chief investment office grew so large that the bank was creating price distortions that hedge funds sought to exploit, said the market participants, who asked not to be identified because they weren’t authorized to discuss the trades. BlueMountain was one of the funds that benefited from the price dislocations, the people said.

US Olympic committee send cease and desist letter to knitting Olympics (TNT)
The US Olympic committee has sent a cease and desist letter to the social networking group Ravelry, who had organised a Ravelympics in which contestants would compete in events such as ‘scarf hockey’ while watching the actual Games on TV...The US Olympic Committee has said that “the athletes of Team USA have spent the better part of the entire lives training for the opportunity to compete at the Olympic Games and represent their country in a sport that means everything to them” and that “using the name ‘Ravelympics’ for a competition that involves an afghan marathon and sweater triathlon tends to denigrate the true nature of the Olympic Games”.

Romney Campaign Said To Ask Scott To Downplay Job Gains (Bloomberg)
Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign asked Florida Governor Rick Scott to tone down his statements heralding improvements in the state’s economy because they clash with the presumptive Republican nominee’s message that the nation is suffering under President Barack Obama, according to two people familiar with the matter. Scott, a Republican, was asked to say that the state’s jobless rate could improve faster under a Romney presidency, according to the people, who asked not to be named.

Lonely Hedge Fund Bullish On Greece Tries To Woo Investors (Bloomberg)
In March, Elliott met with the investment chief of a family office in London who said within seconds of sitting down that the firm had no interest in giving money to a hedge fund wagering on Greece. The executive merely wanted to hear his story, Elliott, the founder of Naftilia Asset Management Ltd., said in a telephone interview from his office in Athens. Elliott, 39, responded by asking a few questions of his own, including whether the executive had invested in Russia after its 1998 currency crisis, in Argentina 10 years ago after the nation defaulted on its debt or in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index (SPX) in March 2009, when the benchmark plunged to its lowest point in 13 years. Finally, Elliott questioned whether the family office’s investment chief had ever bought shares of Apple. In all cases, the answer was no. “Then you are not qualified to be discussing Greece with me because you have missed the best investment opportunities over the past 20 years,” Elliott retorted.

National Bank Of Greece To Sell Luxury Resort As Slump Bites (Bloomberg)
If you know anyone who's interested: The 3.3 million-square-foot (307,000 square-meter) Astir Palace complex has already drawn investors’ interest, according to Aristotelis Karytinos, general manager of real estate at the lender. The Athens-based bank and Greece’s privatization fund, which owns part of the property, will put out a public tender in coming months, he said.

Fed Warns Of Risk To Economy (WSJ)
Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke made clear in a news conference after the policy makers' meeting that he is prepared to take further action if he doesn't see progress on bringing down unemployment, which was 8.2% in May. "I wouldn't accept the proposition though that the Fed has no more ammunition," Mr. Bernanke said. He added, "if we don't see continued improvement in the labor market we'll be prepared to take additional steps."

Australian mega-brothel gets go-ahead (AP)
A Sydney brothel has received the green light for a multi-million-dollar expansion which will see it become Australia's largest sex premises, with rooms featuring multiple beds and pool tables. Plans to double the number of rooms at inner Sydney's "Stiletto" into a mega-brothel complex were knocked back late last year by the city council on the grounds that it was too big. But the owners won an appeal to the Land and Environment Court this week, with Commissioner Susan O'Neill ruling the Aus$12 million ($12.2 million) development, including a wing for group bookings, should go ahead...Stiletto promotes itself as "the world's finest short-stay boutique hotel and Sydney brothel". Its standard hourly rate of Aus$370 includes room, lady of choice and beverages.

Related

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: 06.11.12

Nasdaq CEO Lost Touch Amid Facebook Chaos (WSJ) At the end of Facebook's disastrous first day of trading May 18, the phone in Robert Greifeld's New York office rang. It was Mary Schapiro, head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, wanting an explanation from the chief executive of Nasdaq OMX Group for the epidemic of glitches and delays in one of the most anticipated initial public offerings ever. Mr. Greifeld couldn't talk. Having monitored the rocky process from Silicon Valley, where he had gone to join Facebook executives in remotely ringing the market's opening bell, he concluded the worst problems were fixed and caught a noon flight back to the East Coast. So, marooned for almost five hours in business class with a phone he says didn't work, he didn't realize that continuing breakdowns at his exchange had left countless investors not knowing how many Facebook shares they had bought or sold and at what price, nor did he know the SEC chief wanted to reach him. Three weeks later, Mr. Greifeld still isn't sure why technology systems failed during the crucial IPO. Nasdaq's failure to see the problem coming is something its engineers are still dissecting. "You wake up, you turn around, and there's a black or dull spot," Mr. Greifeld said in an interview, sucking on Life Savers candy at a conference table in his office. "You can't get away from it." Spain’s Bailout Gives Rajoy Best Chance To Fix Banks (Bloomberg) Spain’s request for as much as 100 billion euros ($125 billion) of European bailout funds may provide the country with enough money to shore up its banking system after three failed attempts in as many years. “Now that they have this money, it will hopefully finally be possible to recognize all the hidden losses and clean up the system,” Luis Garicano, a professor at the London School of Economics, said in a phone interview. The amount sought is about 2.7 times the funds deemed necessary for Spanish banks by the International Monetary Fund in a report released June 8 and five times the total requested by the Bankia group, the country’s third-biggest lender, to cleanse its balance sheet. Spain's economic misery will get worse this year despite bailout request, prime minister says (NYP) A day after the country conceded it needed outside help following months of denying it would seek assistance, Rajoy said more Spaniards will lose their jobs in a country where one out of every four are already unemployed. "This year is going to be a bad one," Rajoy said Sunday in his first comments about the rescue since it was announced the previous evening by his economy minister. IPOs Dry Up Post Facebook (WSJ) In the aftermath of Facebook's botched trading debut, the IPO market has gone three weeks without an offering, the longest drought in five months. It is the slowest stretch in initial public offerings since a four-week span at the end of 2011 and the beginning of this year, according to data from Ipreo. Greece Threatens Wall Street Jobs In Third Trading Plunge (Bloomberg) For a third consecutive year, revenue from investment banking and trading at U.S. firms may fall at least 30 percent from the first quarter, Richard Ramsden, a Goldman Sachs analyst, said in a note last week. Greece, which gave English the word “cycle,” has been the main reason each year that the second quarter soured after a promising first three months. Nickelback Review Goes Viral (Poynter) Music critic Josh Gross has written hundreds of stories about bands, but none has brought him as much attention as the brief he wrote this week about Nickelback’s upcoming appearance in Idaho, where Gross writes for the Boise Weekly. He summarizes the response: "In the past day, I have been told that I am a genius, a king amongst men and a hack that could be easily outdone by a one-armed cat. I should alternately win the Pulitzer and forcibly insert 45 pickles into my bum. There has been little middle ground. Why? Because I had the audacity to point out that seeing Canadian “rock” band Nickelback at the Idaho Center may not be the best use of one’s $45." Gross wrote of the Nickelback: "You can spend $5 to go see Nickelback this week. Or you could buy 45 hammers from the dollar store, hang them from the ceiling at eye level and spend an evening banging the demons out of your dome...$45 is also enough to see Men In Black III five times, buy a dozen Big Macs, do 10 loads of laundry or so many other experiences as banal and meaningless as seeing Nickelback but come without actually having to hear Nickelback. But if you must, the band is playing The Idaho Center on Wednesday, June 13, at 6PM tickets start at $45." Dimon Faces Washington Grilling Over Trading Debacle (Reuters) The Senate Banking Committee has asked Dimon to come prepared Wednesday to provide "a thorough accounting of the trading losses," a committee aide said. Senators will also ask what he knew about the risks involved in the trading strategy. Fed Colleague Backs Dimon (WSJ) "I do not think he should step down," Lee Bollinger said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. He said Mr. Dimon appears to have done nothing wrong, that critics attacking the Fed have a "false understanding" of how it works, and that it is "foolish" to say Mr. Dimon's presence on the New York Fed board creates an appearance of a conflict when the law requires bankers to serve on such boards. Private lunch with investor Warren Buffett sells for $3.5 million (WaPo) The previous four winning bids have all exceeded $2 million with records set every year. Last year’s winner, hedge fund manager Ted Weschler, paid $2,626,411. India Could Be First BRIC to Lose Investment Grade: S&P (Reuters) Standard & Poor's said on Monday that India could become the first of the so-called BRIC economies to lose its investment grade status, sending the rupee and stocks lower, less than two months after cutting its rating outlook for the country. "Slowing GDP growth and political roadblocks to economic policymaking are just some of the factors pushing up the risk that India could lose its investment-grade rating," the ratings agency said in a statement issued Monday on a report dated June 8. Town Considers Fines For Cursing (WSJ) Mimi Duphily was hanging baskets of pink geraniums on antique street lamps downtown for the Middleborough Beautification and Activities Group when she noticed something else that needed cleaning up—citizens' mouths. "The cursing has gotten very, very bad. I find it appalling and I won't tolerate it," said Ms. Duphily, a civic leader in the otherwise quiet New England community, which calls itself the Cranberry Capital of the World. "No person should be allowed to talk in that manner." Soon, Middleborough residents who do could risk a $20 fine. Ms. Duphily, 63 years old, tried scolding the cursers—whom she describes as young people shouting the "F word" back and forth—with a stern, "Hey kids, that's enough!" Then she conferred with the Beautification and Activities Group, which informed the Middleborough Business Coalition, which then called a summit with Middleborough Police Chief Bruce Gates, who now, in his sworn role, is trying to stomp out swears.

Opening Bell: 12.21.12

Critics Say UBS Let Off Too Easy (WSJ) Our goal here is not to destroy a major financial institution," Lanny Breuer, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's criminal division, said Wednesday after the $1.5 billion fine against UBS was announced. Prosecutors have to at least "evaluate whether or not innocent people might lose jobs" and other types of potential collateral damage. Sen. Charles Grassley (R., Iowa), a Senate Finance Committee member, said he is unsatisfied that prosecutors didn't go higher up the corporate ladder at UBS than its Japanese subsidiary..."The reluctance of U.S. prosecutors to file criminal charges over big-time bank fraud is frustrating and hard to understand," Mr. Grassley said. The $1.5 billion fine is a "spit in the ocean compared to the money lost by borrowers at every level, including taxpayers." Regulatory 'Whale' Hunt Advances (WSJ) The first regulatory ripples from the "London Whale" trading fiasco are about to hit J.P. Morgan Chase. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, led by Comptroller Thomas Curry, is preparing to take a formal action demanding that J.P. Morgan remedy the lapses in risk controls that allowed a small group of London-based traders to rack up losses of more than $6 billion this year, according to people familiar with the company's discussions with regulators. Khuzami To Leave SEC Enforcement Post (WSJ) Robert Khuzami, head of the Securities and Exchange Commission's enforcement unit, plans to leave the agency as soon as next month, a person familiar with the expected move said Thursday. Boehner Drops ‘Plan B’ as Budget Effort Turns to Disarray (Bloomberg) House Speaker John Boehner scrapped a plan to allow higher tax rates on annual income above $1 million, yielding to anti-tax resistance within his own party and throwing already-stalled budget talks deeper into turmoil. He will hold a news conference today at 10 a.m. Washington time to discuss the next steps in the budget dispute, a Republican leadership aide said. House members and senators won’t vote on the end-of-year budget issues until after Christmas, giving them less than a week to reach agreement to avert tax increases and spending cuts set to take effect in January. The partisan divide hardened yesterday, making the path to a deal more uncertain. BlackRock Sees Distortions in Country Ratings Seeking S&P Change (Bloomberg) Credit rating companies are distorting capital markets by assigning the same debt ranking to countries from Italy to Thailand and Kazakhstan, according to BlackRock, the world’s biggest money manager. While 23 countries share the BBB+ to BBB- levels assessed by Standard & Poor’s, the lowest investment grades, up from 15 in 2008 at the beginning of the financial crisis, their debt to gross domestic product ratios range from 12 percent for Kazakhstan to 44 percent for Thailand and 126 percent for Italy, International Monetary Fund estimates show. The cost of insuring against a default by Italy, ranked BBB+, over the next five years is almost triple that for Thailand, which has the same rating. For BlackRock, which oversees $3.7 trillion in assets, the measures are so untrustworthy that the firm is setting up its own system to gauge the risk of investing in government bonds. This year, the market moved in the opposite direction suggested by changes to levels and outlooks 53 percent of the time, data compiled by Bloomberg show. “The rating agencies were very, very slow to the game,” Benjamin Brodsky, a managing director at BlackRock International Ltd., said in a Nov. 23 interview from London. “They all came after the fact. For us, this is not good enough.” If You Bought Greek Bonds in January You Earned 80% (Bloomberg) Greek government bonds returned 80 percent this year, compared with 3.7 percent for German bunds and 6.1 percent for Spanish securities, Bank of America Merrill Lynch indexes show. It’s the first year since 2009 that investors made money on Greek securities, with 2012 providing the biggest advance since Merrill began compiling the data in 1998, according to figures that don’t reflect this month’s debt buyback by the government. Texas lawmaker: ‘Ping-pongs’ deadlier than guns (The Ticket) Incoming Texas State Rep. Kyle Kacal says guns don’t kill people—ping-pong kills people. "I've heard of people being killed playing ping-pong—ping-pongs are more dangerous than guns," he says. "Flat-screen TVs are injuring more kids today than anything." The lifetime rancher, who will take his seat in 2013 as a freshman, says that new gun restrictions are unnecessary. Kacal, who reportedly operates a hunting business, notably came out against a bill instructing Texans how to secure their assault weapons. "People know what they need to do to be safe. We don't need to legislate that—it's common sense," he said. "Once everyone's gun is locked up, then the bad guys know everyone's gun is locked up." Flare-up in war of words between Ackman, Herbalife (NYP) “This is the highest conviction I’ve ever had about any investment I’ve ever made,” Ackman said yesterday in a series of interviews. The investor told CNBC that he expects the Federal Trade Commission will take a “hard look” at the company. The heavyweight battle picked up steam over the last two days and has become, in the typically slow days leading up to Christmas, one of the most-watched events on Wall Street. As the financial world watched, Herbalife CEO Michael Johnson returned fire — calling Ackman’s statements “bogus” and asking the Securities and Exchange Commission to probe the motives of Ackman and his Pershing Square Capital hedge fund. A spokeswoman said if Johnson were allowed the chance to face-off against the investor at the Downtown conference, the CEO “would have been able to tear Mr. Ackman’s premises and interpretation of our business model apart.” Citigroup Said to Give CCA Managers 75% Stake in Funds for Free (Bloomberg) Among Vikram Pandit’s last jobs as Citigroup’s chief executive officer was to decide the fate of the bank’s hedge-fund unit, which employs some of his oldest colleagues. He agreed to give them most of it for free. While Citigroup is keeping a 25 percent stake, managers at the Citi Capital Advisors unit will pay nothing for the remaining 75 percent of that business as it becomes a new firm managing as much as $2.5 billion of the bank’s money, according to people with knowledge of the plan. The lender will pay the executives fees while gradually pulling out assets to comply with impending U.S. rules, said the people, who requested anonymity because the terms aren’t public. The deal was Citigroup’s response to the Volcker rule. Peter Madoff Is Sentenced to 10 Years for His Role in Fraud (Dealbook) A lawyer by training, Peter Madoff is the second figure in the scandal to be sentenced. His older brother, Bernard, pleaded guilty in March 2009 and is serving a prison term of 150 years. UK Boom in Pound Shops: An Austerity-Proof Business Model? (CNBC) Pound shops in the U.K. are reporting massive increases in profits across the board showing that the formula "pile 'em high and sell 'em cheap" has particular resonance in Britain's current age of austerity. Names like "Poundstretcher," "Poundland" and "99p Stores" in the U.K. have become high street stalwarts as other brands go bust. The chains, immediately recognizable on price point, are opening new stores and reporting record results reflecting the increasing public demand for cheaper goods. U.K. based "Poundland" is one such chain reporting steep sales growth as its range of 3,000 items -- from umbrellas and pregnancy tests (it sells 14,000 a week) to bird feeders and bags of crisps all priced at one pound – resonates with cash-strapped Britons. In the year to April 2012, the Warburg Pincus owned company said its turnover increased 22 percent to 780 million pounds ($1.25 billion) and profits increased by 50 percent to 18.3 million pounds from last year's figure of 12.2 million. Former Olympian Suzy Favor Hamilton admits to life as a $600-an-hour hooker (NYP) Steamy, lingerie-clad images of the champion runner helped tout her services on the Web site of a Vegas escort agency called Haley Heston’s Private Collection, where Favor Hamilton operated under the name “Kelly Lundy,” according to The Smoking Gun. Customers could hire her lithe Olympic-class runner’s body for $600 an hour, $1,000 for two hours and $6,000 for 24 hours. The site described her build as “athletic,” her bosom as “perky,” and her belly button as “pierced.” She was willing to provide horny customers the full “girlfriend experience,” and would also engage in a certain undisclosed sex act for an extra $300. “I enjoy men of all shapes, sizes and colors, and I have an affinity for women (I am bisexual),” “Kelly” wrote on her page on the escort service’s Web site. “I consider dates with couples an experience to cherish.” Her sexual skills reportedly earned her a high rating on The Erotic Review, a Web site frequented by prostitution fans. Favor Hamilton’s lusty secret life might have stayed secret if she had not made the mistake of revealing her true identity to some of her wealthy johns, who went to the media.

Opening Bell: 01.30.13

MF Global's Bankruptcy Nears Happy Conclusion (NYT) On Thursday, a bankruptcy court will review a proposal that would return 93 percent of the missing money to customers like Mr. Desai, who lost his $580,000 nest egg in the brokerage firm's chaotic final days. And the trustee who has submitted the proposal, James W. Giddens, has quietly identified a way that, if sent to the judge and approved, could plug the remaining shortfall for customers in the United States, according to people involved in the case. The broad push to make MF Global customers nearly whole, a goal now surprisingly within reach, is a remarkable turnaround from the firm's 2011 bankruptcy filing when such a recovery seemed impossible. "I'm surprised that, magically, the money has shown up," said Mr. Desai, a software account executive who, like most customers in the United States, has only 80 percent of his money. "I feel very relieved." Deutsche Bank Seen Missing Goldman-Led Gains on Cost Rise (Bloomberg) Europe’s biggest bank by assets may post a loss of 210 million euros ($282 million) compared with a profit of 147 million euros in the fourth quarter of 2011, when it reports earnings tomorrow, according to the average estimate of nine analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. Goldman Sachs and three other leading U.S. investment banks saw their combined net income jump 92 percent annually to $9.73 billion in the period. Co-Chief Executive Officers Juergen Fitschen and Anshu Jain are eliminating staff and bolstering capital levels, the lowest among Europe’s biggest investment banks, in their first year in charge to help meet stricter capital rules. The costs countered a surge in trading revenue, spurred by the European Central Bank’s measures to stem Europe’s sovereign debt crisis. “Deutsche Bank is trying to look forward and hoping no one can really blame fourth-quarter losses on the new management as they only took over mid-year,” Andreas Plaesier, an M.M. Warburg analyst who recommends investors buy the shares, said by telephone from Hamburg. “It would rather see its earnings wrecked in one quarter and show it’s making progress on building capital.” Chesapeake CEO To Exit (WSJ) Chesapeake Energy Corp. Chief Executive Aubrey K. McClendon is leaving the company he built into the country's second-biggest natural-gas producer, citing "philosophical differences" with a board of directors largely installed by shareholders to curb his risk-taking and free-spending ways. Paul Singer Is a Backer of 'Les Miserables' (CNBC) Singer writes in his investor note: "December marked the end of the 'Beverly Boulevard II' film slate submission period. We accepted the final two additional film submissions during the quarter, bringing our remaining funding commitment to seven films set for release in 2013 and 2014. One film in the slate, 'Les Miserables,' was released during the quarter. It will be several more weeks before we begin to have any reliable idea of the ultimate economic performance and value of the big-screen version of this huge stage hit, but early indications are promising and the film just garnered three major awards at this year's Golden Globe Awards." "Beverly Boulevard II" is run by Relativity Media and Elliott Management appears to be a large investor in the company, at least according to this 2010 article from Institutional Investor. JPMorgan Bet Against Itself In 'Whale' Trade (Reuters) It was widely known that a group of about eight credit-focused hedge funds, such as BlueMountain Capital Management and Saba Capital Management, were on the other side of the trades that JPMorgan's London-based Whale team made on an index tied to corporate default rates. But the role JPMorgan's own investment bank may have played in the messy unwinding of the derivatives trade has not come out until now. One of the three people familiar with the matter claimed that JPMorgan managers discussed merging the two sets of trades in an attempt to offset some of the CIO's losses. Those talks ended about a month before Bloomberg News first reported the CIO trades on April 5 last year, the source said. JPMorgan's Kristin Lemkau said that this "never came up in our exhaustive internal investigation." Police Say Man Steals Ambulance, Then Tries to Steal Horses (WHNT) Police say it all began when Todd was arrested for DUI after a car crash. He was taken to Marshall Medical Center South for treatment. Police say while at the hospital, he walked out, got into a running ambulance and drove away. They say he later got the ambulance stuck on Barnard Street, but that was just the beginning. “He walked across a pasture and got into a barn where he tried to saddle up two horses,” says Boaz Assistant Chief Todd Adams. “One was two wild for him and the other he appeared to be too intoxicated to properly saddle the horse.” Police say Anderson then stole a car, which he crashed. They say he then stole another car and got away. However, on Saturday police say Anderson started bleeding from his original injuries. He sought treatment back at the hospital, was recognized and then arrested. Fed Risks Losses From Bonds (WSJ) The Federal Reserve could be charting a course that leaves the highly profitable central bank with no extra income to hand over to the U.S. Treasury for several years. That is the conclusion of five Fed staff economists who examined how the central bank's bond-buying programs will affect its profitability over the long run. Right now the Fed is earning large returns on its bond portfolio and sending most of its profits to the Treasury. Several years from now, when the economy is stronger, the Fed is expected to sell bonds and raise short-term interest rates to tighten credit and restrain inflation. The group found the Fed might have to sell bonds at a loss and incur higher expenses on interest it pays to banks on the reserves they hold at the Fed. Italy Scours Deals Abroad for Elusive Tax Revenue (WSJ) Italy, which has one of the biggest tax-cheating problems in the developed world, is cracking down on suspect offshore investments as part of an unprecedented drive to find new sources of tax revenue and ease concerns about its €2 trillion ($2.69 trillion) in debt. The country just added a new property tax and is boosting its sales taxes to narrow its fiscal gap. In an effort to claw back an estimated €120 billion a year in unpaid taxes, it has limited cash payments to €1,000 so that untaxed money can't slosh around the economy without leaving a paper trail and is hunting down people who buy luxury yachts yet report little income. One of the brightest spotlights is on companies suspected of earning money or shifting it abroad to avoid paying Italian taxes. Italy netted €600 million in additional taxes last year after prosecutors pursued two cases involving money stored illicitly to Switzerland. NBA Union Chief Hunter Fires Family After Nepotism Report (Bloomberg) Billy Hunter purged family members from roles in the National Basketball Association players union that he runs after a report that criticized nepotism at the organization. The moves dismissing personnel including his daughter and daughter-in-law were disclosed in a letter from Hunter to members of a special committee of players established prior to the investigation by the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. A copy of the letter, dated Jan. 23, was obtained by Bloomberg News. No Twinkies 'Til September? (NYP) While bankrupt Hostess Brands is expected to select a preferred bidder for its snacks business today, regulatory approval, time needed to close the deal and then the firing up of the Twinkies manufacturing process means it’ll be early September before the spongecake treats are available at retailers, experts said. Leon Black’s Apollo Global Management and co-bidder C. Dean Metropoulos, a veteran food exec, are expected to be named the preferred bidder for Twinkies, Ding Dongs, Donettes and other Hostess snacks. Zimbabwe has $217 in the bank: finance minister (AFP) After paying public workers’ salaries last week, the balance in cash-strapped Zimbabwe’s government public account stood at just $217, Finance Minister Tendai Biti said Tuesday. “Last week when we paid civil servants there was $217 (left) in government coffers,” Biti told journalists in the capital Harare, claiming some of them had healthier bank balances than the state. “The government finances are in paralysis state at the present moment. We are failing to meet our targets.” Biti said that left no choice but to ask the donors for cash. “We will be approaching the international community,” he said.

Opening Bell: 11.16.12

JPMorgan Faces US Action (WSJ) Regulators are expected to serve J.P. Morgan Chase with a formal action alleging weaknesses in the bank's antimoney-laundering systems, said people close to the situation. The cease-and-desist order from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency is part of a broader crackdown on the nation's largest banks, the people said. The OCC is expected to require J.P. Morgan to beef up its procedures and examine past transactions, these people said...The unusually blunt tone of the OCC's meetings with large banks on Nov. 8-9 spread quickly among bank executives. Some viewed the meeting as an attempt by the OCC to counter the perception that it had been too cozy with the banking industry and to step out of the shadows of the year-old Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which has been aggressive about publicizing enforcement actions and fines levied on banks. "It was a spanking," said one senior bank executive who didn't attend the meeting but heard about it from colleagues. "The message was, 'You are living in a world of zero tolerance,'" said another bank executive briefed on the meeting. FHA To Exhaust Capital Reserves (WSJ) The Federal Housing Administration's projected losses hit $16.3 billion at the end of September, according to an independent annual audit to be released Friday, a much larger figure than had been forecast earlier. The report suggests the FHA will require taxpayer funding for the first time in its 78 years, though that won't be decided until early next year. Citigroup Seeing FX Signals of Early End to Stimulus (Bloomberg) “Does the market really believe that the 2015 Fed is going to be constrained by the 2012 Fed?” Steven Englander, Citigroup’s New York-based global head of G-10 strategy, said in a telephone interview from New York. “The answer is ‘no.’” UK Bank Bailout Money ‘May Never Be Recovered’: Report (CNBC) “There is a risk that the 66 billion pounds invested in RBS and Lloyds may never be recovered,” Margaret Hodge, chair of the Committee of Public Accounts, warned in a report into the sale of taxpayer-backed Northern Rock. Banks Seen Shrinking for Good as Layoffs Near 160,000 (Reuters) Major banks have announced some 160,000 job cuts since early last year and with more layoffs to come as the industry restructures, many will leave the shrinking sector for good as redundancies outpace new hires by roughly 2-to-1...Well-paid investment bankers are bearing the brunt of cost cuts as deals dry up and trading income falls. That is particularly the case in some activities such as stock trading, where low volumes and thin margins are squeezing banks. "When I let go tons of people in cash equities this year, I knew most would be finished in this business. It is pretty dead. Some will just have to find something completely different to do," said one top executive at an international bank in London, on condition of anonymity. Twinkies Maker to Liquidate, Lay Off 18,500 (Reuters) Hostess Brands, the bankrupt maker of Twinkies and Wonder Bread, said it had sought court permission to go out of business after failing to get wage and benefit cuts from thousands of its striking bakery workers...Irving, Texas-based Hostess has 565 distribution centers and 570 bakery outlet stores, as well as the 33 bakeries. Its brands include Wonder, Nature's Pride, Dolly Madison, Drake's, Butternut, Home Pride, and Merita, but it is probably best known for Twinkies — basically a cream-filled sponge cake. Lagarde on Greece: 'Not Over Till the Fat Lady Sings' (Reuters) "It is a question of working hard, putting our mind to it, making sure that we focus on the same objective which is that the country in particular, Greece, can operate on a sustainable basis, can recover, can get back on its feet, can reaccess markets as early as possible," Lagarde said when asked about the possibility of a Greek deal next week. "It is not over until the fat lady sings as the saying goes." Alabama secessionist says working people must unite to save America, Bring Back His Topless Carwash (AL) “Derrick B.,” the man who started a petition seeking Alabama’s withdrawal from the U.S., is a truck driving, knife collecting former owner of a topless car wash who describes himself as “an absolute Libertarian.” Derrick Belcher, 45, of Chunchula, said in an interview late Monday that secession may be the only way to save working Americans from crushing debt, burdensome federal regulations and rising taxes. “I don’t want to live in Russia. I don’t believe in socialism,” said Belcher, an operations manager for a Mobile trucking company. “America is supposed to be free.” Belcher blamed the government for shutting down his former business. Belcher said his Euro Details car wash, which featured topless women, was successful for a decade on Halls Mill Road in Mobile. But he said he was arrested and charged with obscenity by city officials in 2001. “The government ripped my business away, and now they’re choking America to death with rules and regulations,” he said. Belcher said he fully expects the petition to reach 25,000 signatures -– in fact, he’s aiming far higher, saying he’d like to double that number to ensure that it is recognized by the White House. He said the petition got a jump start at a gun and knife show held at the Greater Gulf State Fairgrounds last weekend. Tiger Global To Give Investors (Some Of) Their Money Back (NYP) Hedge-fund honchos rarely return capital voluntarily. Recently, Moore Capital’s Louis Bacon gave money back to investors, but it was because the poorly performing fund couldn’t find enough investing opportunities. That’s clearly not the case for Tiger Global, which has gained 25.5 percent so far this year. “We continue to believe that managing a smaller asset base gives us the best chance to generate strong returns over the long-term,” the managers wrote in a Nov. 9 letter to investors Journalist To Be Tried Again Over Swiss Bank List (Reuters) Greek journalist who published the names of more than 2,000 Greeks with Swiss bank accounts will stand trial again after a prosecutor appealed a decision to acquit him of breaking data privacy laws, court officials said on Friday. The speedy arrest, trial and acquittal of magazine editor Costas Vaxevanis for publishing the so-called "Lagarde List" had aroused international concern and captivated recession-weary Greeks angry at the privileges of the elite. The Athens Public Prosecutor's office said the November 1 acquittal was faulty and that Vaxevanis must be tried again by a higher misdemeanor court on the same charges. If found guilty, Vaxevanis could be jailed for up to two years or face a fine. T-Mobile customer stabbed while disputing bill (Philly) A customer who went to an Upper Darby T-Mobile store Tuesday to complain about his bill left with a stab wound to his abdomen that police said had been inflicted by an employee. Upper Darby Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood said the 59-year-old victim went to the store on State Road near Lansdowne Avenue about 1:15 p.m. to complain about being double-billed. What started out as a conversation between the customer and employee Darnell Schoolfield devolved into a physical confrontation, police said. During the fight, the customer ripped Schoolfield's name tag from his shirt and took the tag to the Upper Darby police station to file an assault complaint. "During the course of filing the complaint, he realizes he's bleeding profusely from the left side of the stomach," Chitwood said. "He'd thought he was just punched." The victim was taken to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, where he had surgery and was listed in serious condition. It's unknown what Schoolfield used to allegedly stab the victim or how their interaction went so awry.

Opening Bell: 09.19.12

Goldman Names New Finance Chief (WSJ) Mr. Viniar has told colleagues he wants to spend more time at his home in Santa Barbara, Calif., where he often returns on the weekends. His thrice-weekly basketball game has been on hold since he underwent knee-replacement surgery this year. Goldman's New CFO Harvey Schwartz to Receive $1.85 Million in Annual Salary (Reuters) Schwartz's predecessor is among the best-paid executives on Wall Street. He earned $15.8 million last year and held 1.8 million shares of Goldman as of March 26, according to a proxy filing. In 2007, he made $58.5 million. Mary Schapiro May Be Heading For Exit (NYP) Sources say that Schapiro is chafing under the political gridlock in Washington that she feels has stymied a number of her initiatives. “Part of the problem for [Schapiro] is that the tone in Washington has been so partisan,” said Christopher Whalen, of Tangent Capital Partners. The chairwoman’s recent handling of talks surrounding new rules governing money-market funds, some detractors say, has also created bad blood within the SEC. “She’s just frustrated,” Whalen noted. However, Schapiro’s critics say she hasn’t cracked the whip hard enough on Wall Street bad guys. One former Washington insider said that Schapiro is liked by President Obama and would stay on until a replacement is named, should he win re-election. One possible early front-runner to replace Schapiro may be FINRA CEO Richard Ketchum, sources speculate. For Superfast Stock Traders, A Way To Jump Ahead In Line (WSJ) Haim Bodek was a Wall Street insider at Goldman Sachs and UBS before launching his own trading firm. Now he is taking on the financial establishment that spawned him. Mr. Bodek approached the Securities and Exchange Commission last year alleging that stock exchanges, in a race for more revenue, had worked with rapid-fire trading firms to give them an unfair edge over everyday investors. He became convinced exchanges were providing such an edge after he says he was offered one himself when he ran a high-speed trading firm—a way to place orders that can be filled ahead of others placed earlier. The key: a kind of order called "Hide Not Slide." The encounter set off an odyssey for Mr. Bodek that has fueled a sweeping SEC inquiry into the activities of sophisticated trading firms and stock-exchange operators—including Nasdaq OMX Group Inc., NYSE Euronext, Direct Edge Holdings LLC and BATS Global Markets—according to exchange and other officials, and lawyers with knowledge of the inquiry. Vulture Funds Seek Fresh Meat (WSJ) “There hasn’t been a big bankruptcy in the last six to nine months,” said a hedge fund investor. “More stuff is coming out of distress than is going in.” US corporate bankruptcy filings peaked in the second quarter of 2009, at around 16,000, and have been trending downward ever since. In the first quarter of 2011, they hit about 11,000, according to the American Bankruptcy Institute. Silver Point co-founder Edward Mulé is optimistic the feast will continue. The $6.7 billion firm has had one of the best performances of distressed funds. It gained 10.36 percent this year through August and is up 98.6 percent since January 2009. “The tail of the 2008/2009 distressed credit cycle, coupled with weak global growth and de-leveraging, will continue to generate a steady stream of interesting opportunities,” said Mulé in a recent investor letter. Inside The Dark World Of Online Sugar Daddies (BuzzFeed Shift) Shortly after my profile's approval, emails started flooding my new fake account. One was from "International Finance Don Juan." He wrote: "You look hot. Let's meet." He claimed he was exotic and athletic, over six feet and an independent stockbroker on his profile. After some small talk, he asked to meet me at the W — a "cool" luxury chain where seemingly all these guys wanted to meet or get a hotel room. “Don Juan” had sent a face shot of himself. It was cropped and a little blurry, but I had a general idea of what he looked like. When he walked in to the lobby bar, though, instead of "athletic," he looked as if he could have checked off "more to love." I guess all that matters is that these guys have the cash they say they have...He asked what I'd like to drink. I said I liked pinot noir or champagne. "Oh, Prosecco is basically the same thing," he said, and ordered me one. I had made up a story that I was a graduate student in literature at Sarah Lawrence so I was only in the city once or twice a week to see friends. He wasn't trying to feign interest, but was looking my body over in a conspicuous way. "You've got an amazing ass," he said. "I looked when we were walking in. I hope you don't mind." He attempted to wink, but it seemed more like a tic. I said thanks in the most convincing way I could to a sweaty, slobbering guy with the most repugnant perpetual hard-on visible through his khakis. "You like me?" he asked. "You seem very nice. I'm just, I'm just suddenly not feeling well," I blurted out. "You feel sick, or you're not into me?" he asked. "You know, if you want, I live close. You could come and lie down and I can give you a massage. Since it's our first time meeting, once you're better, you could just give me a blow job. How about $550? Probably the quickest $550 you'll ever make, huh?" Soros Fund Invests in Mozambique Ethanol Project (WSJ) The Soros Economic Development Fund on Wednesday said its investment will give it a 19% stake in the $20 million project, started by food-and-energy company CleanStar Mozambique. Executives say the investment is in line with the fund's aim of backing businesses that provide a return on capital and spur broader economic development. US Fiscal Cliff Trumps EU Crisis as Top Worry (CNBC) A looming fiscal problem in the U.S. is now identified as the top tail risk for investors, marking the first time in 17 months that Europe’s debt crisis was not seen as the biggest concern for fund managers, a monthly survey by Bank of America/Merrill Lynch shows. The U.S. “fiscal cliff,” a combination of tax hikes and spending cuts set to come into force in January 2013, was identified by 35 percent of respondents as the largest risk going forward, up from 26 percent in August. In contrast, 33 percent of the respondents rated the euro zone debt crisis as their biggest concern, down from 48 percent in August. The survey of 186 fund managers, who oversee a combined $524 billion, was conducted from Sept. 7 to 13. BOE Looks Set For More Stimulus (WSJ) Rate-setters think the annual rate of inflation will take longer to fall to its 2% target than they thought last month because of rising commodity prices and an increase in companies' labor costs, according to the minutes of the September meeting of the central bank's Monetary Policy Committee, published Wednesday. Annual inflation was 2.5% in August. Lindsay Lohan arrested in New York after striking pedestrian outside nightclub (NYDN) Lohan was arrested early Wednesday in New York after hitting a pedestrian with a Porsche, police said. The troubled actress was maneuvering around a crowd of people in an alley between the Dream Downtown, a hotel and nightclub in the Meatpacking District, and the Maritime restaurant. "She's driving in this freight area, going very slow," a police source said. "She's hitting her horn because there's a lot of people in the area. The crowd moves but she kind of brushes against this one guy. Lohan was driving a 2010 black Porsche Carrera, not hers, when the incident occured around 12:30 a.m. Lohan and friends went inside the club, and the man — who hasn't been named but is 34 — called police. Lohan was later arrested about 2:30 a.m. and booked for leaving the scene of an accident with an injury. She was issued a desk appearance ticket. Her lawyer took the car after the arrest.

Opening Bell: 03.21.13

ECB Threatens To Cut Off Cypriot Banks (WSJ) The European Central Bank ramped up pressure on Cyprus to seal a bailout agreement with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund by Monday, making further funding for the island's ailing banks contingent on a deal. The ECB said it would extend emergency funding that has kept the island's banks in operation while the bailout plan was being negotiated in recent months only until Monday. "Thereafter, Emergency Liquidity Assistance (ELA) could only be considered if an European Union/International Monetary Fund program is in place that would ensure the solvency of the concerned banks," the ECB said in a statement. Italy's Five-Star Party Reiterates Demand for Euro Referendum (WSJ) Representatives of Italy's Five-Star Movement reiterated their anti-establishment party's demands for a referendum on the country's membership of the euro, and insisted that they should form the country's next government. Italian President Giorgio Napolitano is consulting political leaders on forming a government after last month's inconclusive election result. Deustche Bank Legal Bill Mounts (WSJ) Deustche Bank revised fourth-quarter earnings downward, setting aside about €600 million ($773 million) in legal provisions for U.S. mortgage litigation in another sign that mounting legal liabilities are cutting into investment -bank profits. The bank updated its fourth-quarter net loss to 2.54 billion euros, wider than the originally reported loss of €2.17 billion. This compared with a profit of €147 million a year earlier. The bank also reiterated that it would make first-quarter targets for a key measure of the bank's health known as the capital ratio, indicating a strong first quarter, analysts said. Deutsche Bank has now set aside €2.4 billion for litigation, with additional identified non-provisioned legal risks of €1.5 billion. The bank's legal provisions were nearly 10 times net profit of €237 million for 2012, compared with a profit of €4.1 billion in 2011. Total legal risk is likely much higher than what the bank has publicly identified, analysts said. Lululemon Sees Sheerness Issue Hitting Profits (WSJ) Lululemon Athletica said Thursday its fourth-quarter profit climbed 48%, but said it expects the transparency issue related to some of its yoga pants to reduce first-quarter earnings by 11 to 12 cents a share. Bernanke Saying He’s Dispensable Suggests Tenure Ending (Bloomberg) Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said he’s “spoken to the president a bit” about his future and that he feels no personal responsibility to stay at the helm until the Fed winds down its unprecedented policies to stimulate the economy. “I don’t think that I’m the only person in the world who can manage the exit,” Bernanke said when asked at a news conference in Washington if he’s discussed his plans with President Barack Obama. His term expires at the end of January. Personal assistant pleads guilty to embezzling 821G from hedge funder Todd Meister (NYP) After a year of denials, glamorous Ukranian embezzler Renata Shamrakova admitted in Manhattan Supreme Court yesterday that she stole nearly $1 million while working as the personal assistant to hedge funder Todd Meister. Under the plea deal, she will serve no jail time but must repay what she took within two years. “Yes, your honor,” Shamrakova told the judge, when asked if she had committed grand larceny in the second degree by stealing from Meister, 42, a Harvard-educated money man who famously married Nicky Hilton for just six weeks in 2004. Shamrakova, 28, wore a gray cashmere sweater over a short, floral-print skirt and spoke in a quiet, girlish voice as she sat at the defense table and admitted her crimes. In addition to ripping off Meister, she tried to dodge a search warrant by hiding financial records. Dell Walks Fine Line in Pitch for Buyout (WSJ) Mr. Dell needs to persuade Dell Inc. investors that the prospects for the company he founded in his dorm room in 1984 and has been running for the past six years are anything but rosy if he is to succeed with his plan to take the computer maker private. Friday marks the end of a 45-day window to flush out alternative offers to the $24.4 billion buyout deal that Mr. Dell and private-equity firm Silver Lake Partners reached last month. The $13.65-a-share offer has sparked derision from some shareholders who believe the price undervalues the Round Rock, Texas, company. No alternative bid has been offered, but late Wednesday Blackstone Group LP was working on a few scenarios for a potential bid that would see the private-equity giant team with a partner to buy all or part of the computer maker, according to people familiar with the matter. JPMorgan To Return Money To MF Global Customers (AP) JPMorgan Chase has agreed to a deal that will return $546 million to former customers of trading firm MF Global Holdings Ltd., which collapsed in 2011 with $1.6 billion missing from its accounts. Initial Jobless Claims in U.S. Rise Less Than Forecast (Bloomberg) Applications for jobless benefits increased by 2,000 to 336,000 in the week ended March 16, Labor Department figures showed today. Economists projected 340,000 claims, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg survey. The monthly average, which smoothes the week-to-week volatility, dropped to the lowest level since February 2008. Regulator finds flaws in Deutsche Bank's Libor supervision (Reuters) German markets watchdog Bafin is set to tell Deutsche Bank of "organizational flaws" in how it supervised its contribution to the setting of inter-bank lending rates at the heart of the international rate-rigging scandal, sources familiar with the watchdog's investigation said. Wis. limits use of nude beach to reduce sex, drugs (AP) Wisconsin authorities announced Tuesday they will shut down one of nation's most popular nude beaches on weekdays after struggling for years to curtail sex and drugs on the sandbar and surrounding woods. Nudists from around the country have been traveling to the public beach on the Wisconsin River near Mazomanie, about 25 miles northwest of Madison, for decades as word spread that prosecutors in ultra-liberal Dane County wouldn't go after anyone for showing skin. But visitors haven't stopped at just stripping down. They've been slipping off into the woods for trysts and drugs. Authorities say that's crossing the line, but they haven't been able to stop the shenanigans. Their frustration reached a tipping point Tuesday, when the state Department of Natural Resources announced it will close the beach, the islands immediately off it and the surrounding woods to the public on weekdays, when wardens say troublemakers tend to operate unseen. The closures begin immediately. The area will remain open on weekends, though. Bob Morton, executive director of the Austin, Tex.-based Naturist Action Committee, which lobbies on behalf of nudists, has visited the beach several times. He criticized the DNR for not consulting with beachgoers before closing the area. "Honestly, we're on their side when it comes to enforcing things that are lewd and lascivious," Morton said. "There's something to be said about consulting the users of the place. There's got to be more to this somewhere."

Opening Bell: 05.23.12

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