Opening Bell: 06.26.12

China's Officials Forced To Sell Luxury Cars (FT) Cash-strapped local governments in China have begun auctioning off fleets of officials’ luxury cars as part of efforts to bolster revenues hit by the country’s slowdown. Wenzhou, a south-eastern coastal city hit hard by the cooling economy, sold 215 cars at the weekend, fetching Rmb10.6 million ($1.7 million). It plans to sell 1,300 vehicles – 80 percent of the municipal fleet – by the end of the year. Moody’s Downgrades 28 Spanish Banks On Sovereign Risk (Bloomberg) While Santander and BBVA remained investment grade, at least a dozen lenders were lowered to junk status, Moody’s said yesterday in a statement. The ratings company downgraded six banks by four levels and 10 by three grades, with the rest getting one- and two-tier declines. Report Suggests ECB Bank Supervision (WSJ) Euro-zone countries should transfer oversight of their banks to a European supervisor, possibly the European Central Bank, in return for allowing the bloc's bailout fund to help insure deposits and wind down failing lenders, the European Union's top officials proposed in a report that will be debated at their summit Thursday. Facebook Analysts To Click 'Like'...Or Not (WSJ) On Tuesday, a 40-day quiet period will conclude for analysts at banks that were underwriters of Facebook's initial public offering, including lead underwriters Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan, and Goldman Sachs. The analysts are expected to publish their initial research early on Wednesday, people at the firms said. Kanye, Kim Kardashian Sued For Al Qaeda Ties (PM) Kanye West and Kim Kardashian have been sued for their alleged ties to Al-Qaeda. "Alleged" is the operative adjective here, especially when discussing the plaintiff, one Jonathan Lee Riches. He's the Guiness World Record holder as "The World's Most Litigious Man," filing over 5,000 suits in the past eight years. The reason behind this latest suit? All American citizens are in eminent danger of the defendants. Take it way, Mr. Riches: “On 6/17/2012 I was in West Virginia, deep in the hills and I stumbled upon the defendants who were all at a Al-Qaeda secret training camp." He then went on to claim that Kanye and Kim pleaded their allegiance to Al-Qaeda, burned the U.S. flag and stomped their feet on Barack Obama’s picture, performed a concert for all Al-Qaeda members, and shot AK-47s in the air. Banks Preparing For The End (WSJ) Nine of the largest financial institutions must submit their initial living wills to the FDIC and Federal Reserve by July 1. The early group includes top U.S. financial institutions as well as Deutsche Bank, Barclays, Credit Suisse, and UBS. Smaller companies have longer to craft their plans, with all due by the end of 2013. Margaritaville memo: Execs may walk plank (NYP) The boat that sank one of Warren Buffett’s top execs has been identified, and some of his crew may still get thrown overboard. Denis Abrams — who was canned as CEO of Berkshire Hathaway’s Benjamin Moore unit this month — chartered an extravagant cruise off Bermuda in a yacht called The Lady Charlotte, The Post has learned. “Abrams had a lot of his ‘yes men’ on that cruise who were responsible for a lot of what has gone wrong,” one former exec groused. “They can’t turn it around without clearing those ranks.” KKR Raises $4 Billion For Deals In Infrastructure, Energy (Bloomberg) KKR completed raising about $1 billion for infrastructure investments and $1.25 billion for natural resources, the New York-based firm said today in a statement. That’s combined with $1.3 billion in separate accounts for infrastructure, and $350 million for natural resources contributed by affiliates of KKR. Nasty Elmo Is Gone, And Other Ones Are Just Tickled (CityRoom) On Monday, the day after the police ejected a man wearing the furry, red costume from Central Park for exploding into an obscenity-laced rant, other Elmos around New York said they recognized the man from previous clashes and expressed hope that his brush with the law would help their trade’s reputation. In between posing for photos and harassing tourists for tips, the offending Elmo would often treat tourists and fellow Sesame Street impersonators alike to xenophobic and anti-Semitic tirades. The man in the costume, whose name was not released because he was not arrested, was taken to Metropolitan Hospital Center for a psychological evaluation, the police said on Monday. The man would shout “crazy stuff” about the other impersonators, said Luis, 25, a Peruvian immigrant who has been donning an Elmo suit for about six months. He often worked the pedestrian plaza on Broadway between 42nd and 43rd Streets, where Luis and a few other men in furry suits ambled from street corner to street corner Monday afternoon, keeping a wary distance from one another.
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China's Officials Forced To Sell Luxury Cars (FT)
Cash-strapped local governments in China have begun auctioning off fleets of officials’ luxury cars as part of efforts to bolster revenues hit by the country’s slowdown. Wenzhou, a south-eastern coastal city hit hard by the cooling economy, sold 215 cars at the weekend, fetching Rmb10.6 million ($1.7 million). It plans to sell 1,300 vehicles – 80 percent of the municipal fleet – by the end of the year.

Moody’s Downgrades 28 Spanish Banks On Sovereign Risk (Bloomberg)
While Santander and BBVA remained investment grade, at least a dozen lenders were lowered to junk status, Moody’s said yesterday in a statement. The ratings company downgraded six banks by four levels and 10 by three grades, with the rest getting one- and two-tier declines.

Report Suggests ECB Bank Supervision (WSJ)
Euro-zone countries should transfer oversight of their banks to a European supervisor, possibly the European Central Bank, in return for allowing the bloc's bailout fund to help insure deposits and wind down failing lenders, the European Union's top officials proposed in a report that will be debated at their summit Thursday.

Facebook Analysts To Click 'Like'...Or Not (WSJ)
On Tuesday, a 40-day quiet period will conclude for analysts at banks that were underwriters of Facebook's initial public offering, including lead underwriters Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan, and Goldman Sachs. The analysts are expected to publish their initial research early on Wednesday, people at the firms said.

Bloomberg TV's ads make false claim to Pulitzer nomination for anchor Liu (MSNBC)
Bloomberg Television has a new ad campaign in the New York City area, touting the journalistic credentials of its morning anchor, Betty Liu. "PULITZER PRIZE-NOMINATED," the ads shout at commuters on trains in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. "HAS ALL THE HEAVY HITTERS ON SPEED DIAL. AND THAT'S JUST THE ANCHOR." The only problem is that Liu has never been Pulitzer-nominated. The Pulitzer Prizes don't list her among the nominees for any year...When Liu was a reporter for The Financial Times in Atlanta in 2000, Bloomberg said, the newspaper submitted her work to the Pulitzer committee. To call that submission a Pulitzer "nomination" is like saying that Adam Sandler is an Oscar nominee if Columbia Pictures enters "That's My Boy" in the Academy Awards.

Kanye, Kim Kardashian Sued For Al Qaeda Ties (PM)
Kanye West and Kim Kardashian have been sued for their alleged ties to Al-Qaeda. "Alleged" is the operative adjective here, especially when discussing the plaintiff, one Jonathan Lee Riches. He's the Guiness World Record holder as "The World's Most Litigious Man," filing over 5,000 suits in the past eight years. The reason behind this latest suit? All American citizens are in eminent danger of the defendants. Take it way, Mr. Riches: “On 6/17/2012 I was in West Virginia, deep in the hills and I stumbled upon the defendants who were all at a Al-Qaeda secret training camp." He then went on to claim that Kanye and Kim pleaded their allegiance to Al-Qaeda, burned the U.S. flag and stomped their feet on Barack Obama’s picture, performed a concert for all Al-Qaeda members, and shot AK-47s in the air.

Banks Preparing For The End (WSJ)
Nine of the largest financial institutions must submit their initial living wills to the FDIC and Federal Reserve by July 1. The early group includes top U.S. financial institutions as well as Deutsche Bank, Barclays, Credit Suisse, and UBS. Smaller companies have longer to craft their plans, with all due by the end of 2013.

Margaritaville memo: Execs may walk plank (NYP)
The boat that sank one of Warren Buffett’s top execs has been identified, and some of his crew may still get thrown overboard. Denis Abrams — who was canned as CEO of Berkshire Hathaway’s Benjamin Moore unit this month — chartered an extravagant cruise off Bermuda in a yacht called The Lady Charlotte, The Post has learned. “Abrams had a lot of his ‘yes men’ on that cruise who were responsible for a lot of what has gone wrong,” one former exec groused. “They can’t turn it around without clearing those ranks.”

KKR Raises $4 Billion For Deals In Infrastructure, Energy (Bloomberg)
KKR completed raising about $1 billion for infrastructure investments and $1.25 billion for natural resources, the New York-based firm said today in a statement. That’s combined with $1.3 billion in separate accounts for infrastructure, and $350 million for natural resources contributed by affiliates of KKR.

Nasty Elmo Is Gone, And Other Ones Are Just Tickled (CityRoom)
On Monday, the day after the police ejected a man wearing the furry, red costume from Central Park for exploding into an obscenity-laced rant, other Elmos around New York said they recognized the man from previous clashes and expressed hope that his brush with the law would help their trade���s reputation. In between posing for photos and harassing tourists for tips, the offending Elmo would often treat tourists and fellow Sesame Street impersonators alike to xenophobic and anti-Semitic tirades. The man in the costume, whose name was not released because he was not arrested, was taken to Metropolitan Hospital Center for a psychological evaluation, the police said on Monday. The man would shout “crazy stuff” about the other impersonators, said Luis, 25, a Peruvian immigrant who has been donning an Elmo suit for about six months. He often worked the pedestrian plaza on Broadway between 42nd and 43rd Streets, where Luis and a few other men in furry suits ambled from street corner to street corner Monday afternoon, keeping a wary distance from one another.

Related

Opening Bell: 02.19.13

SAC’s Cohen May Face SEC Suit as Deposition Hurts Case (Bloomberg) U.S. investigators have subpoenaed a 2011 deposition of SAC Capital Advisors LP founder Steven Cohen, whose sworn statements on insider-trading compliance may hurt him as he tries to persuade regulators not to file a lawsuit with the potential to shut his $14 billion firm. The SEC told the hedge fund Nov. 20 that it planned to sue SAC for securities fraud and so-called control-person liability for failing to supervise employees. The same day, the agency accused an ex-SAC portfolio manager and his hedge-fund unit of insider trading for persuading Cohen, 56, to make $700 million in illegal trades. Prosecutors also indicted the manager. Cohen’s testimony, reviewed by Bloomberg News, establishes his personal control over the unit, CR Intrinsic, and records his unfamiliarity with his firm’s compliance and ethics policies on insider trading. “I’ve read the compliance manual, but I don’t remember exactly what it says,” Cohen said. Morgan Stanley Strives to Coordinate 2 Departments Often at Odds (Dealbook) Traditionally, traders and investment bankers think of themselves as the elite of Wall Street and look down on the retail business, seeing it as pedestrian...Yet since Morgan Stanley moved to acquire control of the Smith Barney brokerage business from Citigroup in 2009, the balance of power has shifted to wealth management, which now accounts for almost 52 percent of the company’s earnings, up from roughly 16 percent in 2006. Paulson Leads Funds to Bermuda Tax Dodge Aiding Billionaires (Bloomberg) A decade after the U.S. Internal Revenue Service threatened to crack down on what it said were abuses by hedge-fund backed reinsurers, more high-profile money managers are setting up shop in tax havens. Paulson, SAC Capital Advisors LP’s Steven A. Cohen and Third Point LLC’s Daniel Loeb have started Bermuda reinsurance companies since 2011, following a similar Cayman Islands venture by Greenlight Capital Inc.’s David Einhorn. Options Activity Questioned Again (WSJ) Over the past year, unusually large positions were established shortly in advance of news that moved shares of Nexen Inc., Youku Inc., Human Genome Sciences Inc., Constellation Brands Inc. and, most recently, CBS Corp. All turned profitable after the news. A spokeswoman for the SEC, which regulates stock and options trading, said the agency would neither confirm nor deny the existence of inquiries into trading tied to those companies. No charges have been filed in the Heinz case, which was linked to a Swiss trading account, but the move to freeze the assets is one of the fastest enforcement actions ever filed by the agency, according to officials. The SEC said Friday that the timing and size of the trades were highly suspicious given the account had no history of trading in Heinz securities in the last six months. Prosecutors, Shifting Strategy, Build New Wall Street Cases (Dealbook) Criticized for letting Wall Street off the hook after the financial crisis, the Justice Department is building a new model for prosecuting big banks. In a recent round of actions that shook the financial industry, the government pushed for guilty pleas, rather than just the usual fines and reforms. Prosecutors now aim to apply the approach broadly to financial fraud cases, according to officials involved in the investigations...The new strategy first materialized in recent settlements with UBS and the Royal Bank of Scotland, which were accused of manipulating interest rates to bolster profit. As part of a broader deal, the banks’ Japanese subsidiaries pleaded guilty to felony wire fraud. Russians Wade Into the Snow to Seek Treasure From the Sky (NYT) Ever since the meteor exploded somewhere over this impoverished Siberian town, Larisa V. Briyukova wondered what to do with the fist-size stone she found under a hole in the roof tiles of her woodshed. On Monday, a stranger knocked on her door, offering about $60, Ms. Briyukova said. After some haggling, they settled on a price of $230. A few hours later, another man pulled up, looked at the hole in the roof and offered $1,300. “Now I regret selling it,” said Ms. Briyukova, a 43-year-old homemaker. “But then, who knows? The police might have come and taken it away anyway.” On Friday, terror rained from the skies, blowing out windows and scaring people over an enormous swath of Siberia. But by Monday, for many people what fell from the sky had turned to pure gold, and it touched off a rush to retrieve the fragments, many buried in deep February snows. Many of those out prospecting looked a lot like Sasha Zarezina, 8, who happily plunged into a snowbank here in this village of a thousand, laughing, kicking and throwing up plumes of powdery snow. Then she stopped, bent over and started to dig. “I found one!” she yelled. A warm breath and a rub on her pants later, a small black pebble, oval like a river rock, charred and smooth, was freed of ice. While trade in material from meteorites is largely illegal, there is a flourishing global market, with fragments widely available for sale on the Internet, usually at modest prices. At least one from the recent meteor was available on eBay on Monday for $32, and there is a Web site called Star-bits.com devoted to the trade — much to the displeasure of scientists and the countries where the objects were found. UK's Lloyds fined $6.7 million for mis-sold insurance (Reuters) Britain's financial regulator on Tuesday fined Lloyds Banking Group 4.3 million pounds ($6.7 million) for failing to handle complaints relating to insurance sold on loans and mortgages properly. The Financial Services Authority (FSA) said failings in the bank's systems and controls resulted in up to 140,000 customers experiencing delays in receiving compensation for being mis-sold payment protection insurance (PPI). Horsemeat Scandal Draws in Nestlé (FT) Switzerland-based Nestle on Monday removed pasta meals from shelves in Italy and Spain and suspended deliveries of all processed products containing meat from German supplier, H.J. Schypke, after tests revealed traces of horse DNA above 1 per cent. Nestle said it had informed the authorities. Is Berlusconi Getting a Poll Bounce From Tax Evaders? (CNBC) The media mogul, who has been convicted of tax fraud, has promised to introduce a tax amnesty for evaders if elected and to abolish the real estate tax. Swelling U.S. Labor Force Keeps Fed at Ease (Bloomberg) In the short run, the larger labor force will have an unfortunate side effect: It will slow the fall in unemployment. Mellman sees the jobless rate dropping to 7.5 percent by year- end from 7.9 percent now. It fell 0.7 percentage point in 2012. In the longer run, a bigger supply of labor is good news because it swells the pool of Americans available and willing to work, enhancing the economy’s potential to grow, according to Julie Hotchkiss, a policy adviser at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. It also has a silver lining for investors. The gradual fall in unemployment will allow policy makers to keep monetary policy looser for longer without having to worry about igniting a wage- driven rise in inflation. Couple Getting Affectionate Drive Through Home (WO) "She told the investigating trooper that her and the boyfriend were getting a little amorous and the trooper suspects that's probably why she lost control of the vehicle," said Florida Highway Patrol spokeswoman Kim Montes. Walker lost control of the vehicle and slammed into an unoccupied home. The vehicle went all the way through the house. The impact was so dramatic, the pressure blew a window in another part of the house out. Florida Highway Patrol troopers said Walker was injured when debris fell inside the vehicle. She was taken to Halifax Medical Center to be checked out. Her boyfriend, Charles Phillips, was not hurt.

Opening Bell: 04.12.12

Buffett Feasts On Goldman Scraps (WSJ) Details of one trade in particular have recently caused a stir in the market. In November, Goldman sold about $85 million of loans in troubled newspaper publisher Lee Enterprises Goldman sold the debt at about 65 cents on the dollar, having bought it months before at around 80 cents, resulting in a loss of at least $13 million. The buyer: a unit of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc., according to several people familiar with the matter. Mr. Buffett has since made a tidy paper profit on the loans, which are now worth about 82 cents on the dollar, the people said. Jim Chanos: Chinese Banks ‘Great Shorts,’ Won’t Be Broken Up (CNBC) Chanos, the head of Kynikos Associates, has been betting against China — despite its role as a global economic leader — primarily because he believes the country is overbuilt and does not have the internal demand to support its ambitious growth plans. Nowhere has that trend been more apparent than in the banking system. "If you looked at the performance of the banks over the last two years...they have been great shorts," Chanos said. "They have been going down — they're down 30 percent over the last two years." George Soros: Exceptional Measures Needed to Save EU (FT) "Other countries have gone through similar experiences. Latin American countries suffered a lost decade after 1982, and Japan has been stagnating for a quarter of a century; both have survived. But the European Union is not a country and it is unlikely to survive. The deflationary debt trap threatens to destroy a still-incomplete political union," he wrote. Blackstone President To Raise For Obama (Morning Money) "Tony James, the president of Blackstone Group LP, has agreed to hold a fundraiser for... Obama’s re-election campaign, according to two people familiar...By agreeing to raise money for Obama, James has diversified Blackstone’s political bets for the November election. Blackstone Chairman Stephen Schwarzman has been raising money for former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, the likely Republican nominee." SEC, Goldman to Settle Research Case (Reuters) U.S. securities regulators are preparing to announce that Goldman Sachs will pay $22 million to settle allegations the bank did not have adequate policies to prevent research from being passed inappropriately to preferred clients, people familiar with the matter said on Wednesday. BlackRock's Street Shortcut (WSJ) BlackRock is planning to launch a trading platform this year that would let the world's largest money manager and its peers bypass Wall Street and trade bonds directly with one another. The electronic trading hub has the potential to reduce a lucrative revenue stream for investment banks at a time when their businesses are being squeezed by lackluster markets and new regulations put in place to curb risk in the aftermath of the financial crisis. The trading platform would be run by the New York-based company's BlackRock Solutions arm and offer 46 clients—including sovereign-wealth funds, insurance companies and other money managers—the ability to trade in corporate bonds, mortgage securities and other assets, company executives say. Under the plan, the platform would seek to match buyers and sellers of the same securities, in a process known as "crossing trades." BlackRock Solutions would charge a small fee for the service that would be much lower than Wall Street's trading commissions. New Yorker breaks up subway scuffle, snacks in hand (NYDN) Sonder, 24, played the role of hungry hero “two or three Thursdays ago” after hopping on an uptown 6 train at Spring St. The calm inside the subway car was shattered a minute later when a tussle broke out between a man and a woman. “I turned around and I saw these two kicking each other pretty viciously,” said the sturdy Sonder, who stands six-feet tall and weighs 200 pounds. “I stepped over and tried to see if I could help.” Mid Pringle, Sonder thrust himself between the pugilists. More chips were eaten, but no other punches or kicks were thrown. “I just got caught up in the moment,” said Sonder, who was also holding a bag of gummy bears during the incident. Dimon Vows Fight Moynihan Lost Over Claims From Mortgages (Bloomberg) “We are going to fight repurchase claims that pretend the steep decline in home prices and unprecedented market conditions had no impact on loan performance,” Dimon, chief executive officer of the New York-based lender, wrote in the April 4 letter. He’ll also oppose “securities claims brought by sophisticated investors who understood and accepted the risks.” Jobless Claims Post Jump; PPI Up, Trade Deficit Down (Reuters) Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 13,000 to a seasonally adjusted 380,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday. The prior week's figure was revised up to 367,000 from the previously reported 357,000. Fur Flies in High-Stakes Airlifts of Animals by Lufthansa (Bloomberg) An African white rhinoceros peers through the bars of its Frankfurt compound, while across the floor a Madagascan chameleon inches around its vivarium and an Andean alpaca plucks hay from a bale. It’s not a scene from the city’s zoo but from Deutsche Lufthansa AG’s Animal Lounge, a state-of-the-art complex that’s at the center of the German carrier’s plans to dominate the most specialized part of the $66 billion air-cargo industry. Lufthansa, Air France-KLM Group and Dubai-based Emirates, which transports thoroughbreds for Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, horseracing’s leading owner, are competing in a high- stakes market. Premium profit margins come with the risk of an in-flight death involving a beloved family pet, top-ranked stallion or priceless panda. “It’s not like pharmaceuticals, where your main concern is the temperature,” said Animal Lounge Director Axel Heitmann. “If a bag of fish leaks it needs replacing with the right kind of water and the right oxygen. And if something goes wrong you can’t just hand a customer $1,000 and tell him to buy another pet. He wants the dog or cat he’s had for 10 years.” KKR Invests in China Cord Blood (WSJ) Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. L.P. will invest $65 million into China Cord Blood Corp., the country's largest operator of services for umbilical cord blood that is rich in stem cells, to capitalize on China's fast growing healthcare services industry. Police: Dealer tied 89 bags to penis, peed at the station (Philly) Police Corporal Christopher Eiserman said another officer was on routine patrol Friday when he pulled Ray Woods over for a broken rear light and found marijuana in his car. When the officer searched Woods before placing him in the police cruiser, he discovered "a large bulge" in the front of his pants, Eiserman said. Police say Woods actually had the balls to deny that there was any contraband down there. “He stopped him for the traffic violation and one thing led to another," Eiserman said. Back at the station, Eiserman said, police discovered that Woods had tied a large plastic bag around his penis that contained a whopping 89 small bags of suspected heroin and cocaine. Then things got messy. “I tried to remove it. Unfortunately, and I don't know if it was nervousness or not, but he started urinating all over," Eiserman said. While it wasn't exactly what Eiserman had in mind when he started his shift Friday, he couldn't help but chuckle at the ingenuity, or lack thereof, of street-level drug dealers. “In 14 years, I’ve seen it down their pants, in their a--, but I've never seen it tied to their penis," he said.

Opening Bell: 12.05.12

Global Banking Under Siege as Nations Tighten Local Rules (Bloomberg) Regulators want to curtail risks exposed after global banks such as New York-based Citigroup, Edinburgh-based Royal Bank of Scotland and Zurich-based UBS took bailouts in the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression. Forcing lenders to dedicate capital and liquidity to multiple local subsidiaries, rather than a single parent, may undermine the business logic of a multinational structure. “Being big and spread out all over the world isn’t what it used to be,” said Mayra Rodriguez Valladares, managing principal at New York-based MRV Associates, which trains bank examiners and executives at financial firms. “You’ll see global banks jettison divisions abroad and at home.” Paulson Said to Blame Bet Against Europe for Most of Loss (Bloomberg) John Paulson, manager of $20 billion in hedge funds, told investors that the bulk of his losses this year came on bets that the European sovereign-debt crisis would worsen, according to a person familiar with the matter. Paulson, speaking to clients at his firm’s annual meeting yesterday in New York, said he has reduced those positions following European Central Bank President Mario Draghi’s comments in July that the ECB was committed to preserving the euro, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the meeting was private. Paulson said in a February letter to investors that the euro was “structurally flawed” and would eventually fall apart. In April, the founder of New York-based Paulson & Co. told clients he was wagering against European sovereign bonds and buying credit-default swaps on European debt, or protection against the chance of default. No Payback For Singer This Year (NYP) Paul Singer’s last-ditch attempt to get cash from Argentina this year has failed. A motion by Singer’s hedge fund, Elliott Management, requesting that the South American country put up a security deposit of $250 million by Dec. 10 was denied by a federal appeals court yesterday. “Since we will not have a big payment for ages (if ever), this looks like a huge blow to [Elliott’s] strategy,” said sovereign-debt expert Anna Gelpern. In Tax Fight, G.O.P. Seeks a Position to Fall Back On (NYT) Senator Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, who is retiring, joined a handful of other Republicans on Tuesday suggesting that Congress should pass the middle-class tax cut extensions now, then leave the fight over taxes and spending until later. Americans, she said, "should not even be questioning that we will ultimately raise taxes on low- to middle-income people." Congress could take that off the table "while you're grappling with tax cuts for the wealthy," she said. But any move toward compromise with Democrats on fiscal issues quickly comes under attack from conservatives as a surrender and unsettles the rank-and-file. It is a dynamic that has haunted Speaker John A. Boehner throughout the 112th Congress, as he has repeatedly been caught between the imperative to govern and the need to satisfy the restive right. Mr. Boehner, of Ohio, has drawn fire this week for removing a handful of House Republicans who have defied the leadership from their preferred committee seats, a step he took to enforce party discipline. Fed to launch fresh bond buying to help economy (Reuters) The Federal Reserve is set to announce a fresh round of Treasury bond purchases when it meets next week, avoiding monetary policy tightening to maintain support for the weak U.S. economy amid uncertainty over the looming year-end "fiscal cliff." Many economists think the U.S. central bank will announce monthly bond purchases of $45 billion after its policy gathering on December 11-12, signaling it will continue to pump money into the U.S. economy during 2013 in a bid to bring down unemployment. Merkel Wins Party Reelection, Eyes Third Term (Reuters) Merkel, at the height of her popularity, was returned unopposed as CDU chairwoman with 97.9 percent of votes from delegates who stood and applauded her for nearly eight minutes after she lauded Germany's economic resilience in the euro crisis and promised to fight for jobs and prosperity. McAfee Emerges From Hiding in Guatemala (FT) John McAfee, the antivirus software entrepreneur, has revealed that he has fled to Guatemala from Belize where he is wanted for questioning in relation to a murder. Posting on his website on Tuesday, the US citizen and multimillionaire said: "I apologize for all of the misdirections over the past few days . . . I am in Guatemala." His emergence closes one chapter in a bizarre chain of events that started last month when police in Belize, where Mr McAfee has lived for the past four years, discovered the dead body of Gregory Faull, the owner of a house close to Mr McAfee's main property on the island of Ambergris Caye. Mr McAfee - who Belize considers "a person of interest" in the murder investigation - fled, going into hiding and insisting on his innocence. He said he ran from the police because he believed that the Belize authorities were out to kill him. In response, Dean Barrow, the prime minister, said: "I don't want to be unkind to the gentleman, but I believe he is extremely paranoid". Mr McAfee revealed his location on Tuesday after a hacker called Simple Nomad disclosed his whereabouts by analyzing a mobile-phone photograph taken of McAfee on Monday that was posted on the internet. In a second blog post late Tuesday titled "the new fight", Mr McAfee said he had asked Telsforo Guerra, a former attorney-general of Guatemala, to help uncover what he claims is deep-rooted corruption in Belize. Separately, he told Reuters that Mr Guerra was trying to help him obtain political asylum in Guatemala, even though Belizean authorities have not charged him. EU Banks To Repay Cheap Loans (WSJ) Nearly a year ago, hundreds of European banks borrowed a total of more than €1 trillion ($1.3 trillion) from the European Central Bank as it scrambled to defuse an escalating crisis. Today, in a sign of the industry's partial healing, some of Europe's biggest banks are preparing to repay those loans. The push to repay the loans, however, has generated concerns that banks are moving prematurely and could be vulnerable if the euro-zone crisis intensifies again. The ECB activated the emergency loan program—known as the long-term refinancing operation, or LTRO—late last year, doling out two batches of inexpensive loans that are good for three years. Banks are permitted to repay them starting next month. Euro Crisis Feeds Corruption as Greece Slides in Rankings (Bloomberg) The European debt crisis has given way to a new wave of corruption as some of the most hard-hit countries in the turmoil have tumbled in an annual graft ranking, watchdog group Transparency International said. Greece, in its fifth year of recession and crippled by rounds of austerity, fell to 94th place from 80th -- ranking it below Colombia and Liberia, according to the group’s Corruption Perceptions Index. Ireland, Austria, Malta and Italy were also among member states in the single currency to slide. Moynihan: No Stress (Bloomberg) Bank of America CEO Brian T. Moynihan said the firm has plenty of capital and he’s confident it will pass the next US stress tests. “The question will be what to ask for and when, because we’re not going to fail this,” Moynihan said yesterday at a New York investor conference sponsored by Goldman Sachs. Moynihan, 53, is renewing efforts to win approval to raise the company’s dividend or repurchase shares after the Federal Reserve blocked an earlier request. Fed Filcher Gets Timeout (NYP) Bo Zhang, a Chinese-citizen computer programmer who worked for a contractor at the New York Fed, was sentenced to six months of home confinement for stealing Treasury Department software. Snake on a plane forces emergency landing (CNN) ...the incident forced the pilot to make an emergency landing in the Egyptian resort town of Al Ghardaqa on the Red Sea, according to The Jordan Times. An Egypt Air official told the paper an investigation revealed that a 48-year-old passenger, who owns a reptile shop in Kuwait, had hidden the Egyptian cobra in a carry-on bag. The passenger was trying to control the snake after it bit his hand and started slithering under the seats. The Egyptian daily al-Masry al-Youm reported that the man refused medical treatment, claiming his wound was only superficial. The plane resumed its flight to Kuwait after local authorities confiscated the snake. Doctors told the passenger he should spend 24 hours in a hospital for observation, but the man refused, the Egyptian Air official said, according to The Jordan Times.

Opening Bell: 11.02.12

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

Opening Bell: 01.07.13

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

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: 04.27.12

LightSquared Lenders Pressure Falcone (WSJ) If Mr. Falcone doesn't agree to eventually leave LightSquared's board and make way for new executives and directors at the wireless communications firm, lenders are likely to balk and the company could end up filing for bankruptcy protection, they said. Shareholders Rebuke Barclays, Credit Suisse on Pay (Reuters) More than a quarter of Barclays shareholders look set to vote against the British bank's controversial pay plan for bosses and Credit Suisse is also facing a backlash as investors seek a greater share of profits. Stormy annual shareholder meetings at both banks got underway on Friday with many attendees complaining executives are getting too big a slice of bank income at their expense...Barclays Chairman Marcus Agius apologized for badly communicating the bank's pay strategy and promised to "materially" increase the dividend shareholders receive, helping to lift the bank's shares more than 4 percent. But he was heckled during his speech to a packed hall of about 2,000 shareholders and his comments about pay were greeted with laughter in some quarters. Renowned short-seller bets against Fortescue (SMH) Hedge fund short-seller Jim Chanos has singled out Fortescue Metals as a "value trap" stock, telling a New York conference that shares in billionaire Andrew Forrest's company will fall "materially." In a presentation this month to Grant's Spring Conference, a private investment forum, Mr Chanos, the boss of Kynikos Associates, told investors he feared iron ore miner Fortescue has "a somewhat promotional management team." Goldman Banker Probed For Alleged Leaks To Galleon (WSJ) U.S. prosecutors and securities regulators are investigating whether a senior Goldman investment banker gave Galleon hedge-fund traders advance word of pending health-care deals, according to people familiar with the matter. The banker, whom the people identified as Matthew Korenberg, is a San Francisco-based managing director for Goldman, a senior post. Among the merger deals being scrutinized by Los Angeles federal prosecutors and the Securities and Exchange Commission is the 2009 acquisition by Abbott Laboratories of Advanced Medical Optics, a Santa Ana, Calif., medical-device maker—a deal in which Mr. Korenberg advised Advanced Medical Optics, the people say. Another is the acquisition of APP Pharmaceuticals Inc. by Fresenius, announced in July 2008, in which Goldman advised APP, they say. Unlikely Allies (NYP) Billionaire hedge-fund mogul and Republican stalwart Paul Singer is in an odd position of late — asking the Obama administration for help to keep troubled mortgage lender ResCap out of bankruptcy. Singer, whose Elliott Associates owns debt in the mortgage lender, a unit of Ally Financial, asked Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner in recent weeks to use the government’s 74-percent stake in Ally to press for an alternative financial cure. An out-of-bankruptcy solution would help Elliott, to be sure, but would also assist the White House by keeping a unit of one of its high-profit bailouts from outright failure. But Singer, so far, hasn’t gotten any satisfaction. Geithner, insiders said, doesn’t want to use Treasury’s muscle to stop the likely Chapter 11 filing because it could be interpreted as the government overstepping its bounds. Spain Urges Focus On Reforms After Downgrade (WSJ) The government has embarked on a plan of far-reaching reforms to overhaul the economy, including new labor laws and a cleanup of the banking sector. Mr. Jiménez Latorre said these reforms will pay dividends in the medium- to long-term. The S&P ratings action "just focuses on the immediate effects," which won't be positive, Mr. Jiménez Latorre said. Dream Stenographer / Lucid Dreaming Partner (Craigslist) "I possess the wonderful gift of regularly occuring and incredibly vivid lucid dreams. In these dreams I have written Pulitzer Prize winning novels, bioengineered the cure for HIV, and brokered a lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. I have also composed Grammy winning albums. The only problem is humanity hasn't and can't benefit from my accomplishments because I forget how I achieved them shortly after waking. As a modern Renaissance man and philosopher scientist, my conscience cannot be at peace knowing I'm not doing everything possible to save my fellow human beings. Therefore I would like to a hire a dream stenographer to write down my ideas so that I may share them with the world. You, the dream stenographer, will sleep within arm's reach of me on selected nights when I feel my mind is operating at its peak performance level. Sleeping is mandatory as I'm not able to reach my optimum dream state when someone is watching me sleep. Remaining within arm's reach at all times is also mandatory so that I may wake you as quickly as possible to begin recording my stream of consciousness.Qualified applicants will be excellent note takers with unrivaled penmanship." KKR Earnings Beat Expectations (WSJ) Economic net income, a measure of private-equity firms' profitability that analysts follow because it includes both realized and unrealized investment gains, was $727.2 million, or 99 cents a share, compared to $742.5 million, or 96 cents a share, in the year-earlier period. The earnings came in at the top end of analysts' estimates, with a consensus economic net income of $486.6 million, or 74 cents a share, according to Thompson Reuters. NYSE CEO 'very disappointed' to lose out on Facebook listing (DJ) Just so you know. Wells Fargo to Buy Merlin Securities Prime Brokerage (Bloomberg) The purchase is Wells Fargo’s first foray into prime brokerage services and the bank will use the business as a foundation to expand, said Christopher Bartlett, head of equity sales and trading at the San Francisco-based lender. Prime- brokerage includes services such as lending, clearing trades and record-keeping that help hedge fund managers run their firms. Bartlett wouldn’t say how much Wells Fargo paid and a statement set to be released later today didn’t disclose the terms. Bo Xilai's Son Ticketed in Porsche (WSJ) Disputing a notion common in China that he lives a lavish lifestyle, Mr. Bo wrote to the Harvard Crimson on Tuesday saying he wished to address "rumors and allegations about myself." Among other things, "I have never driven a Ferrari," he wrote. The Wall Street Journal reported in November, based on people familiar with the episode, that Mr. Bo, the grandson of an illustrious Communist leader of the Mao era, arrived at the U.S. ambassador's residence in Beijing in a red Ferrari last year to pick up the daughter of the then-ambassador...Massachusetts Department of Transportation records show Mr. Bo was stopped by police for allegedly running stop signs in December 2010 and May 2011, one of them at 2:20 a.m., and for speeding in February 2011. The license plate of the car, which the Journal learned from someone familiar with the matter, showed it was a black 2011 Porsche Panamera registered to someone at his address.

Opening Bell: 03.04.13

Euro-Zone Deal Faces Hurdles (WSJ) Germany's reluctance to put its taxpayers' money at risk in other countries' banks is proving the biggest obstacle to letting the euro zone's bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism, invest directly in banks that need more capital. In Ireland, Spain, Greece and Cyprus, bailouts of struggling banks are placing heavy burdens on the state, adding to fast-rising national debts. Buffett Disappointed With Berkshire's 'Subpar' $24 Billion Gain (CNBC) Warren Buffett called 2012 "subpar" in his annual letter to shareholders as Berkshire Hathaway's per-share book value rose 14.4 percent, less than the S&P 500's 16-percent increase. It's the ninth time in 48 years this has happened. Buffett notes that the S&P has outpaced Berkshire over the past four years and if the market continues to gain this year the benchmark stock index could have its first five-year win ever. "When the partnership I ran took control of Berkshire in 1965, I could never have dreamed that a year in which we had a gain of $24.1 billion would be subpar ... But subpar it was." Buffett: Berkshire on hunt for more Heinz-like deals (Reuters) "If we get a chance to buy another Heinz, we will do that," Buffett said on CNBC. Berkshire likes the ketchup maker's business, the price of the $23 billion deal, and its partner in the transaction, private equity firm 3G Capital, Buffett said in an extended interview. HSBC Reports Declining Profit and Says Costs Are Increasing (Bloomberg) Pretax profit for 2012 dropped 5.6 percent to $20.65 billion, trailing the $23.49 billion estimate of 26 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. Revenue fell 5.4 percent to $68.33 billion from $72.28 billion, HSBC said today in a statement. Chief Executive Officer Stuart Gulliver is being thwarted in his plan to reduce costs to 48 percent to 52 percent of revenue as the London-based lender set aside $1.9 billion to settle U.S. money-laundering probes and boosted spending on compliance by $500 million. Expenses as a proportion of revenue climbed to 62.8 percent from 57.5 percent, and wage inflation in markets such as Latin America is increasing, HSBC said today. Swiss Back Executive-Pay Controls (WSJ) The plan, dubbed the "rip off" initiative by the country's media, bans so-called golden-handshake and golden-parachute severance agreements. It also requires greater transparency on loans and retirement packages for senior executives and directors. Beauty queen took my heart, then she took me for $96,000 ride: hedge-funder's suit (NYP) Rishi Bajaj, 33, says he opened his heart, then his wallet, to Miss New Mexico Teen USA 2007 Liz Kranz after she told him she was considering selling her eggs to raise cash for a relative in rehab. The sob story got the beauty a $20,000 loan from Bajaj, he claims in a Manhattan Supreme Court lawsuit. Bajaj, who co-manages the $620 million hedge fund Altai Capital, then told Kranz, 24, to pick out a car for the couple to share — and was “surprised” when she selected a 2012 BMW that came with a $17,070 down payment. They met in July 2012 and dated for “several months,” even vacationing together in Italy, where, Bajaj said in court papers, he let Kranz use his American Express card. Kranz, of the Lower East Side, was also allowed to use Bajaj’s AmEx to buy a dress for a wedding they attended. Bajaj and Kranz, who lived briefly in LA, eventually broke up. There were “disagreements about their remaining obligations to each other,” Bajaj said in court papers. He claims the pageant queen kept her hands on his credit card and racked up tens of thousands in charges...In all, Bajaj claims Kranz spent $58,860 on his credit card over three months last year. In a November letter, his lawyer accused her of “theft, fraud and other egregious misconduct” and demanded she repay the full $58,860 in credit-card purchases. NYC to be hit hard by sequester: Merrill Lynch economist (NYP) Two months’ worth of job gains are about to vanish nationwide, warns a Merrill Lynch economist — and New York City, whose unemployment rate is already at an eye-popping 8.8 percent, will be hit exceptionally hard in this employment carnage as Washington begins to enact a series of controversial spending cuts known as the sequester. “It will set the economy back a few months in the job market,” Ethan Harris, co-head of global economics research at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, told The Post. “The national job market recovery has been modest, and it has been weaker locally in New York.” Nationally, Harris calculated a loss of about 300,000 jobs, roughly two months of average job gains, if the sequester is enacted untouched. Job-Hunt Time Shrinks in U.S. From Record High (Bloomberg) For 13 million out-of-work Americans, record spells of joblessness are abating. The median duration fell to 16 weeks in January from 25 weeks in June 2010, Labor Department data show. Fewer people compete for each opening as hiring expands, and persistent long-term unemployment is starting to mend. The progress supports Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke’s view that America’s labor market remains flexible and isn’t succumbing to hysteresis, or permanently higher joblessness, similar to Europe in the 1980s, said Dale Mortensen, a professor of economics at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and 2010 Nobel laureate. That suggests continued monetary stimulus can bring about a faster healing. Slim Risks Losing World’s Richest Person Title as Troubles Mount (Bloomberg) Slim’s lead over the next-wealthiest man, Bill Gates, narrowed last week to about $4.8 billion -- the closest spread in almost a year. The Lebanese immigrant’s son, who acquired Mexico’s phone monopoly and turned it into a pan-Latin American powerhouse, lost almost a 10th of his net worth last month, winnowing his fortune to $71 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Dennis Rodman: Kim Jong Un Wants President Obama to ‘Call Him’ (ABC) In his first interview since returning to the U.S. from an unprecedented visit to North Korea last week, former NBA star Dennis Rodman said he bears a message for President Obama from the country’s oppressive leader, Kim Jong Un. “He wants Obama to do one thing: Call him,” Rodman told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on “This Week.” “He said, ‘If you can, Dennis – I don’t want [to] do war. I don’t want to do war.’ He said that to me.” The athlete also offered Kim some diplomatic advice for potential future talks with President Obama. “[Kim] loves basketball. And I said the same thing, I said, ‘Obama loves basketball.’ Let’s start there,” Rodman said.