Opening Bell: 06.27.12

Germany's Credit Rating Slashed By Egan-Jones (Reuters) The credit ratings agency on Tuesday downgraded its credit rating for Germany to "A+" with a negative outlook from "AA-," noting the need to watch for fallout should Greece exit the euro zone. Whether or not Greece or other euro-zone members exit the monetary union, Germany will be left with "massive" additional, uncollectible receivables, Egan-Jones said in a statement. Spain Considers Sweeping Tax Hikes to Please EU (Reuters) Spain's current VAT rate is 18 percent, one of the lowest in Europe, but many products are charged at a reduced 8 percent or a "super-reduced" 4 percent. "The ministry is studying reclassifying certain products and services that have reduced or super-reduced VAT," a spokesman for the ministry said. Madrid is also considering eliminating tax breaks on housing after reintroducing the measure as one of the first decrees the center-right government announced after being sworn in December. It is also considering introducing a so-called "green tax" on gasoline, following recommendations by the European Union, Treasury Secretary Marta Fernandez Curras said. New Plan Sees Closer Euro-Zone Ties (WSJ) Several of the proposals—such as joint bond issuance and the effective veto powers on national budgets—raise red flags for many governments. If all 27 EU leaders, or at least those from the euro zone, accept the report's basic principles at their summit scheduled for Thursday and Friday, the decision will set the currency union off on what is likely to be a long period of wrangling. Accused Manhattan 'madam' posts bail (NYP) Pattis and Gristina faced the microphones briefly before the family sped off to her 200-acre pig rescue farm in upstate Monroe. Singapore Pastor Charged For Funds For Wife’s Pop Career (Bloomberg) The founder and senior pastor of Singapore’s City Harvest Church was charged with three counts of dishonestly using the charity’s funds to finance his wife’s singing career. Kong Hee, whose wife Ho Yeow Sun has performed with artists like Wyclef Jean, conspired with others to conceal the diversion of the funds, prosecutor Christopher Ong told a Singapore Subordinate Court today. Financial irregularities of at least S$23 million ($18 million) from the charity’s funds were discovered, Singapore’s Commissioner of Charities said in a statement on its website yesterday. Wedding Party Soaked After Dock Breaks (WTV) A bride, groom and their entire wedding party fell into Gun Lake after the dock on which they were having photos taken gave way. It happened Saturday at Bay Pointe Inn at the wedding reception of Eric Walber and Maegan McKee (now Walber) of Bryon Center..."We were out there for probably 30 seconds, standing on the dock, and it started to lean and tilt," groom Eric told 24 Hour News 8. "We went right under." Eric said he knew just a split second before the dock collapsed what was about to happen. "I saw the thing starting to tilt, and I'm like, 'Oh, yup, this is going to happen,'" he said. Wall Street Analysts Give Facebook A Cautious Nod (Reuters) Barclays Capital, Stifel Nicolaus and Citi Investment Research & Analysis set a "hold" or equivalent rating on the stock, while Morgan Stanley and RBC Capital Markets began coverage of Facebook with their top ratings. Barclays in Libor settlement (Reuters) The bank is poised to secure a $200 million deal with U.S. regulators to settle a probe into allegations staff manipulated a key interbank lending rate known as Libor, one source familiar with the matter said. SEC And Falcone Set For Showdown (WSJ) Mr. Falcone's pledge sets the stage for a legal battle that may decide the fate of an investor who seemed poised to become a Wall Street star as recently as four years ago, when a series of winning bets propelled his fund to $26 billion in assets. The New York-based fund managed $3 billion in March, after several years of client withdrawals and steep losses, including those tied to a troubled venture to set up a nationwide wireless network. Mayor Cools SUV (NYP) Mayor Bloomberg wants to maintain his politically correct credentials on global warming — but hates to get into a hot car when he leaves an air conditioned building. The solution his aides came up with? In full view of bemused tourists and other passers-by yesterday, workers hoisted a standard room air conditioner to a side window of one of the mayor’s SUVs parked in the City Hall lot to see if it would fit. “This is an experiment to be used on extremely hot days like the types we saw last week,” said mayoral spokesman Stu Loeser.
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Germany's Credit Rating Slashed By Egan-Jones (Reuters)
The credit ratings agency on Tuesday downgraded its credit rating for Germany to "A+" with a negative outlook from "AA-," noting the need to watch for fallout should Greece exit the euro zone. Whether or not Greece or other euro-zone members exit the monetary union, Germany will be left with "massive" additional, uncollectible receivables, Egan-Jones said in a statement.

Spain Considers Sweeping Tax Hikes to Please EU (Reuters)
Spain's current VAT rate is 18 percent, one of the lowest in Europe, but many products are charged at a reduced 8 percent or a "super-reduced" 4 percent. "The ministry is studying reclassifying certain products and services that have reduced or super-reduced VAT," a spokesman for the ministry said. Madrid is also considering eliminating tax breaks on housing after reintroducing the measure as one of the first decrees the center-right government announced after being sworn in December. It is also considering introducing a so-called "green tax" on gasoline, following recommendations by the European Union, Treasury Secretary Marta Fernandez Curras said.

New Plan Sees Closer Euro-Zone Ties (WSJ)
Several of the proposals—such as joint bond issuance and the effective veto powers on national budgets—raise red flags for many governments. If all 27 EU leaders, or at least those from the euro zone, accept the report's basic principles at their summit scheduled for Thursday and Friday, the decision will set the currency union off on what is likely to be a long period of wrangling.

Accused Manhattan 'madam' posts bail (NYP)
Pattis and Gristina faced the microphones briefly before the family sped off to her 200-acre pig rescue farm in upstate Monroe.

Singapore Pastor Charged For Funds For Wife’s Pop Career (Bloomberg)
The founder and senior pastor of Singapore’s City Harvest Church was charged with three counts of dishonestly using the charity’s funds to finance his wife’s singing career. Kong Hee, whose wife Ho Yeow Sun has performed with artists like Wyclef Jean, conspired with others to conceal the diversion of the funds, prosecutor Christopher Ong told a Singapore Subordinate Court today. Financial irregularities of at least S$23 million ($18 million) from the charity’s funds were discovered, Singapore’s Commissioner of Charities said in a statement on its website yesterday.

Wedding Party Soaked After Dock Breaks (WTV)
A bride, groom and their entire wedding party fell into Gun Lake after the dock on which they were having photos taken gave way. It happened Saturday at Bay Pointe Inn at the wedding reception of Eric Walber and Maegan McKee (now Walber) of Bryon Center..."We were out there for probably 30 seconds, standing on the dock, and it started to lean and tilt," groom Eric told 24 Hour News 8. "We went right under." Eric said he knew just a split second before the dock collapsed what was about to happen. "I saw the thing starting to tilt, and I'm like, 'Oh, yup, this is going to happen,'" he said.

Wall Street Analysts Give Facebook A Cautious Nod (Reuters)
Barclays Capital, Stifel Nicolaus and Citi Investment Research & Analysis set a "hold" or equivalent rating on the stock, while Morgan Stanley and RBC Capital Markets began coverage of Facebook with their top ratings.

Barclays in Libor settlement (Reuters)
The bank is poised to secure a $200 million deal with U.S. regulators to settle a probe into allegations staff manipulated a key interbank lending rate known as Libor, one source familiar with the matter said.

SEC And Falcone Set For Showdown (WSJ)
Mr. Falcone's pledge sets the stage for a legal battle that may decide the fate of an investor who seemed poised to become a Wall Street star as recently as four years ago, when a series of winning bets propelled his fund to $26 billion in assets. The New York-based fund managed $3 billion in March, after several years of client withdrawals and steep losses, including those tied to a troubled venture to set up a nationwide wireless network.

Mayor Cools SUV (NYP)
Mayor Bloomberg wants to maintain his politically correct credentials on global warming — but hates to get into a hot car when he leaves an air conditioned building. The solution his aides came up with? In full view of bemused tourists and other passers-by yesterday, workers hoisted a standard room air conditioner to a side window of one of the mayor’s SUVs parked in the City Hall lot to see if it would fit. “This is an experiment to be used on extremely hot days like the types we saw last week,” said mayoral spokesman Stu Loeser.

Related

Opening Bell: 02.04.13

UK Regulators Could Split Banks (WSJ) U.K. Treasury chief George Osborne on Monday will announce new powers for regulators to split up banks that flout rules designed to ring-fence retail banking from riskier investment-banking activity. In a wide-ranging speech on banking in Bournemouth, England, Mr. Osborne is expected to say the new powers are needed so that taxpayers will never again be on the hook when banks fail, as they were during the financial crisis. "We're not going to repeat the mistakes of the past. In America and elsewhere, banks found ways to undermine and get around the rules," Mr. Osborne will say, according to the extracts of his speech. "We could see that again—so we are going to arm ourselves in advance. In the jargon, we will "electrify the ring fence." New Details Suggest a Defense in SAC Case (NYT) In bringing its charges, the government said that SAC not only sold out of its position, but also bet against — or shorted — the drug companies' stocks before the public announcement of the bad news. The SAC short position, according to prosecutors, allowed it to earn big profits after shares of the companies, Elan and Wyeth, plummeted. "The fund didn't merely avoid losses, it greedily schemed to profit further by shorting Elan and Wyeth stock," said April Brooks, a senior F.B.I. official in New York, during a press conference on Nov. 20, the day Mr. Martoma was arrested. Internal SAC trading records, according to people directly involved in the case, indicate that the hedge fund did not have a negative bet in place in advance of the announcement of the drug trial's disappointing results. Instead, the records indicated that SAC, through a series of trades, including a complex transaction known as an equity swap, had virtually no exposure — neither long nor short — heading into the disclosure of the drug data. Blackstone To Become Investment Bank? (FT) Blackstone, one of the world's largest alternative asset managers, has quietly secured a securities underwriting licence as its expanding capital markets operation strays into investment banking territory. The licence marks the latest stage in the transformation of big listed private equity groups as they become more broadly based alternative asset managers. Apollo and KKR , two of Blackstone's biggest rivals, also have securities underwriting licences. The move highlights the pressure listed private equity groups are under to generate new sources of fee income to satisfy their public shareholders. "The private equity business is lousy for shareholders," says the head of capital markets for one buyout firm that is not listed. Obama: more tax revenue needed to address deficit (Reuters) President Barack Obama said on Sunday more tax revenue would be needed to reduce the U.S. deficit and signaled he would push hard to get rid of loopholes such as the "carried interest" tax break enjoyed by private equity and hedge fund managers. Herbalife Is The Subject Of 'Pending' Probe (NYP) The Los Angeles-based distributor of nutritional products is the subject of a law enforcement investigation, The Post has learned. The existence of the probe emerged after the Federal Trade Commission, responding to a Freedom of Information Law request by The Post, released 192 complaints filed against Herbalife over the past seven years. New Orleans Braces From Fallout From Blackout (AP) The outage, blamed on an unspecified "abnormality" in the Superdome's power system, was an embarrassment for New Orleans, which was hosting its first Super Bowl since 2002 and was eager to show off how it has been rebuilt since Hurricane Katrina. Mayor Mitch Landrieu called Sunday night's outage "an unfortunate moment in what has been an otherwise shining Super Bowl week for the city of New Orleans." He said he expected to receive "a full after-action report from all parties involved" in the coming days...For 34 minutes, the players tried to stay loose, the fans milled about in darkened corridors, and stadium officials scrambled to figure out what went wrong. The Ravens barely hung on for a 34-31 victory over the San Francisco 49ers, needing a goal-line stand in the closing minutes to preserve the championship. "It really hurt us," Baltimore fullback Vonta Leach said. "We had lot of momentum." There is sure to be some fallout for the city and the Superdome — especially since New Orleans plans to bid for the title game in 2018, in conjunction with the 300th anniversary of its founding. Escalators stopped working and credit-card machines shut down, though auxiliary power kept the playing field and concourses from going totally dark. "We sincerely apologize for the incident," Superdome spokesman Eric Eagan said. Most fans seemed to take the outage in stride, even starting up the wave to pass the time. "So we had to spend 30 minutes in the dark? That was just more time for fans to refill their drinks," said Amanda Black of Columbus, Miss. Question of Aiding Cyprus Places Germany in a Bind (NYT) In recent days, Germany has signaled that it is reluctantly edging toward a bailout for Cyprus, a haven for Russian cash, after lifelines have been extended to Greece, Ireland and Portugal to prevent potentially calamitous defaults. While Cyprus makes up just a sliver of the euro zone economy, it is proving to be a first-rate political headache. "I don't think that Germany has ever in the history of the euro zone crisis left itself so little wiggle room," said Nicholas Spiro, the managing director of Spiro Sovereign Strategy in London. "But Germany wants the euro to succeed and survive, and they are saying we can't afford a Cyprus bankruptcy." BlackRock Sued by Funds Over Securities Lending Fees (Bloomberg) BlackRock is accused in a lawsuit by two pension funds of reaping “grossly excessive” compensation from securities- lending returns associated with iShares Inc. “Defendants have systematically violated their fiduciary duties, setting up an excessive fee structure designed to loot securities lending returns properly due to iShares investors,” the funds, which invest in iShares, said in a complaint in federal court in Nashville, Tennessee. Two Top Barclays Executives Resign (WSJ) Barclays, whose chairman, chief executive and chief operating officer all resigned last summer in the wake of a series of controversies, said Sunday evening that finance chief Chris Lucas and Mark Harding, its general counsel, will both be retiring in coming months...Messrs. Lucas and Harding were longtime Barclays veterans who worked closely with former CEO Robert Diamond, who resigned last summer after the bank admitted that it had tried to rig benchmark interest rates and paid a roughly $450 million penalty. Youngest American Woman Billionaire Found With In-N-Out (Bloomberg) Lunchtime at the flagship In-N-Out Burger restaurant in Baldwin Park, California, is a study in efficiency. As the order line swells, smiling workers swoop in to operate empty cash registers. Another staffer cleans tables, asking customers if they’re enjoying their hamburger. Outside, a woman armed with a hand-held ordering machine speeds up the drive-through line. Such service has helped In-N-Out create a rabid fan base -- and make Lynsi Torres, the chain’s 30-year-old owner and president, one of the youngest female billionaires on Earth. New store openings often resemble product releases from Apple, with customers lined up hours in advance. City officials plead with the Irvine, California-based company to open restaurants in their municipalities. “They have done a fantastic job of building and maintaining a kind of cult following,” said Bob Goldin, executive vice president of Chicago-based food industry research firm Technomic Inc. “Someone would love to buy them.” That someone includes billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who told a group of visiting business students in 2005 that he’d like to own the chain, according to an account of the meeting on the UCLA Anderson School of Management website. Mint officially ends distribution of Canadian penny (CP) The phasing-out of the penny will lurch ahead today with the Royal Canadian Mint officially ending its distribution of one-cent coins to Canada's financial institutions. The move comes nearly a year after Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced the demise of the penny, whose production cost came to exceed its monetary value. But as it faces extinction in the pockets and tills of most Canadians, the humble penny is still in demand in some artistic circles where it retains significant value. Renee Gruszecki, a Halifax-based academic and archivist, has spent the past year making a living through a jewelry business devoted primarily to preserving the country's stray cents. About 30,000 strategically sorted pennies fill Gruszecki's home and eventually find their way into the accessories produced at Coin Coin Designs and Co. Gruszecki, a long-time collector of lucky pennies, believes her pieces will help preserve a symbol that is both an object of superstition and a Canadian icon. "The maple leaf is synonymous with everything Canadian. We all identify with it," she said in a telephone interview. "Now it's just no longer going to be present among us, so I'm saddened by that." The Bank of Canada's Currency Museum has already taken steps to preserve the penny's place in Canadian culture. A mural consisting of nearly 16,000 one-cent pieces has been assembled at the museum to commemorate the coin's history, said assistant curator Raewyn Passmore. The mosaic, which depicts a giant penny measuring about two square metres, is comprised of coins ranging from the lustrous to the tarnished.

Opening/Hurricane Bell: 10.29.12

Bracing for Storm, U.S. Stock Markets to Close (Dealbook) All United States stock and options markets will close on Monday as Hurricane Sandy approaches, reversing course as Wall Street braces for the storm to barrel through the heart of the country’s financial center. The decision, made late Sunday night, leaves the American stock markets closed for weather conditions for the first time in nearly three decades. The New York Stock Exchange had previously planned on closing only its physical trading floor, while allowing for trading on its Arca electronic exchange. It has now decided to halt all trading. The Nasdaq and BATS stock markets, which are built on electronic trading, also decided to close. The CME Group, which operates the Nymex commodities exchange, said earlier on Sunday that it would close its physical trading floor on Monday, though trading would continue on its electronic trading platforms. The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, or Sifma, said in an e-mailed statement that it was calling for bond trading, which is all done electronically, to close at noon Monday, though it left the final decision to member firms. The N.Y.S.E. last closed trading for weather reasons in 1985, when Hurricane Gloria lashed the metropolitan area. Markets Go Dark Ahead Of Storm (WSJ) Customers had complained to the exchanges and to the Securities and Exchange Commission that partial closures of the market would be too complicated, according to people with knowledge of the matter. US Stock Markets To Possibly Stay Closed Through Tuesday (Reuters) In a statement, the company said that "the dangerous conditions developing as a result of Hurricane Sandy will make it extremely difficult to ensure the safety of our people and communities, and safety must be our first priority." Citigroup, Goldman Sachs Shut Some NYC Offices for Storm (Bloomberg) Citigroup and and Goldman Sachs are among Wall Street firms planning to shift operations to other cities and have staff work from home as Hurricane Sandy’s arrival in New York forces evacuations. Employees at Citigroup, the third-biggest U.S. bank by assets, won’t be able to enter Lower Manhattan offices on Greenwich Street and Wall Street, which include the main trading floor, according to a memo sent to workers and confirmed by Shannon Bell, a spokeswoman. Goldman Sachs, whose corporate headquarters at 200 West St. is also located in an evacuation zone, told the staff in an internal memo that most of them will work from home...European-based firms including Deutsche Bank AG, Credit Suisse Group AG and UBS AG, which have offices outside of the mandatory evacuation zone, are making arrangements to provide transportation and hotels for workers. Christie: "Don't Be Stupid" (AP) A year after telling New Jersey residents to "Get the hell off the beach" as Hurricane Irene approached, Gov. Chris Christie has a new message for people on the coastline: "Don't be stupid — get out," Christie said Sunday afternoon at a news conference, where he updated residents on the status of the huge storm bearing down on the state. Stock Pickers Game The Fiscal Cliff (WSJ) A number of companies are seeking to get ahead of the tax increases by paying out big special dividends before Dec. 31. In the past two weeks, at least four Standard & Poor's 500 companies have announced special payouts, including a $750 million payout by casino operator Wynn Resorts Ltd., a $1.1 billion dividend from hospital operator HCA Holdings Inc. and a $1.6 billion dividend from LyondellBasell Industries NV, a New York-listed chemicals group. The game for investors is to figure out which companies could be next. Jay Wong, a Los Angeles-based portfolio manager for Payden & Rydel, a money manager with $75 billion under management, is on high alert for potential payouts. He increased his stake in Wynn earlier this month in anticipation of a special dividend and is looking for others. He declined to be specific, citing a desire to not give his trades away. Occupy Wall Street's Stacey Hessler Splits From Husband (NYP, earlier) The filing lists Curtiss’ occupation as banker and says he earns $65,000 a year. Her job is listed in court papers as “protester” and her employer as “Occupy Wall Street.” Annual salary: $0. Divorce papers cite “irreconcilable differences” for the split, saying the 19-year marriage “is irretrievably broken.” One OWS protester who knows her says that Stacey’s devotion to the movement caused the divorce but that she was unfazed by the breakup. “She didn’t seem sad about any of it,” the source said. “It was just so matter-of-fact.” As recently as last month, Stacey, 39, was sleeping in front of a Wells Fargo bank branch in the Financial District near Zuccotti Park, but it appears she scrambled back home to suburban DeLand to finalize the divorce. Wearing her professional-protester uniform — a bandana and patchwork clothes — she refused to say what her plans were or when she’d be leaving the house. But she did respond when a Post reporter asked about a YouTube video showing her making out with another protester during an Occupy “Kiss In” on Valentine’s Day. “I actually made out with four guys,” she said, laughing wildly. Governments to debate 50 billion euro cut to EU budget (Reuters) The cut will be proposed in the latest EU negotiating text on the bloc's spending plan for 2014-2020, but is unlikely to be deep enough to satisfy Britain, Germany, France and other net budget contributors. They want strict limits on EU spending to reflect the austerity imposed by national governments to reduce debt, and called for cuts of 100-200 billion euros to the total proposed by the EU's executive, the European Commission. The proposal is also likely to anger Poland and other former communist EU countries who are the major beneficiaries of EU funds, and oppose any cuts to the Commission's blueprint which they argue is vital for their future economic growth. "As I see it now, the reduction from the Commission proposal will be 50 billion euros plus. That will be the basis for negotiations," said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Greek Journalist Held Over List of Swiss-Account Holders (Bloomberg) Kostas Vaxevanis, editor of the Greek magazine Hot Doc, was arrested in Athens today, according to a message posted on his Twitter account at 11 a.m. local time. An arrest warrant was issued yesterday after the magazine published what’s been dubbed the “Lagarde list,” an electronic file given to Greece in 2010 by then-French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde of about 2,000 Greeks with Swiss accounts. Insurers Prepare For Impact Of Hurricane Sandy (Reuters) Had Sandy hit in 2011, it may have been more of a problem for the insurance industry, which dealt with record-breaking losses around the world last year, mostly from U.S. tornadoes and Asia-Pacific earthquakes. But in 2012, most insurers' disaster losses are down substantially, leaving them with more capacity to absorb the billions of dollars in costs some expect from Hurricane Sandy. "In terms of losses, I certainly don't think it's going to be the largest loss of the last 100 years," Tom Larsen, senior vice president of Eqecat, said in an interview late Friday. "It's not an end-of-days scenario." SEC Weighs Bringing Back Fractions in Stock Prices (WSJ) The move would at least partly undo an 11-year-old rule that replaced fractions of a dollar in stock prices, like 1/8 and 1/16, with pennies. The idea of that change was to trim investors' trading costs: One-cent increments can lead to narrower gaps between the prices at which brokers buy and sell shares—potentially reducing their opportunity to shave off profits. Those championing the fraction's return say it would spur securities firms to buy and sell more shares of some companies by making it more profitable for them to do so. Opponents say fractions would increase trading costs for investors with little or no benefit to companies. UBS, RBS Traders Suspended as Rates Probe Goes Beyond Libor (Bloomberg) UBS and Royal Bank of Scotland suspended more than three traders in Singapore as regulators investigating Libor-rigging turn their attention to the rates used to set prices on foreign exchange derivatives. At least two foreign-exchange traders at UBS, Switzerland’s largest bank, have been put on leave as part of an internal probe into the manipulation of non-deliverable forwards, a derivative traders use to speculate on the movement of currencies that are subject to domestic foreign exchange restrictions, according to a person with direct knowledge of the operation. Edinburgh-based RBS also put Ken Choy, a director in its emerging markets foreign exchange trading unit, on leave, a person briefed on the matter said on Oct. 26. Women who knew 'cannibal cop' worried they were on his 'cook list' (NYP) “Freaked-out” female acquaintances of would-be cannibal cop Gilberto “Gil” Valle yesterday wondered whether they were on his alleged list of 100 ladies to kidnap, rape, torture, cook — and eat. “I was so shaken when I found out it was him,” said Beverly Seiger, who knew Valle, 28, from the Forest Hills, Queens, park he visited nightly with his wife and baby daughter. “I used to walk his dog. I’ve been to his house many times. He’s been to my house,” she said of Valle, whom federal prosecutors accuse of plotting with three fiendish pals to kidnap, cook and consume scores of females. “I don’t want to be on his list!” Seiger said. “I’m so thin, he would use me as toothpicks. “The women in this neighborhood now are freaked out,” she said. Another female resident asked a reporter, “Are we on this list? “I fit in an oven,” she said, referring to Valle’s alleged boasting online of having an oven “big enough to fit one of these girls if I folded their legs.”

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.

Opening Bell: 09.25.12

RBS Managers Said To Condone Manipulation Of Libor Rates (Bloomberg) In an instant-message conversation in late 2007, Jezri Mohideen, then the bank’s head of yen products in Singapore, instructed colleagues in the U.K. to lower RBS’s submission to the London interbank offered rate that day, according to two people with knowledge of the discussion. No reason was given in the message as to why he wanted a lower bid. The rate-setter agreed, submitting the number Mohideen sought, the people said. Mohideen wasn’t alone. RBS traders and their managers routinely sought to influence the firm’s Libor submissions between 2007 and 2010 to profit from derivatives bets, according to employees, regulators and lawyers interviewed by Bloomberg News. Traders also communicated with counterparts at other firms to discuss where rates should be set, one person said. Gary Gensler Calls For Libor Replacement (WSJ) "It is time for a new or revised benchmark—a healthy benchmark anchored in actual, observable market transactions—to restore the confidence of people around the globe," Mr. Gensler said. "There are no rules requiring controls, firewalls, independent testing, policies and procedures, or a methodology ensuring that submissions are transaction-focused, as the benchmark was originally intended," he said. German Banks Have Big Exposure To Spain (WSJ) German lenders have the highest exposure in Europe to Spain, at $139.9 billion, of which $45.9 billion alone is exposure to banks, according to the Bank for International Settlements. Easier Eton Exits (NYP) Eric Mindich’s $11 billion Eton Park Capital Management has rolled back its complicated lock-up period for most investors by more than a third. Starting in early 2013, those investors will be able to withdraw their cash in 21 months, down from a three-year lock-up period...“It’s an attempt to keep people in by relaxing the terms and conditions,” said Brian Schapiro, president of Simplify, a hedge-fund research provider, of the Mindich move. But the lock-up rollback, aimed to quell investor rage, hasn’t made them all happy. “They’ve gone from a three-year lock to a two-year lock. Big deal,” said one investor who’s been taking as much money out as he could for several years. For Investors, A New Pick Of The Crop (WSJ) Fresh apple consumption in China, which produces more than half of the global supply of the fruit, has soared 80% from the 2007-2008 crop year to the crop year ending in June 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That compares with growth of just 36% world-wide in the same period. The surge is shaking up a small corner of the commodities world, the market for apple-juice concentrate in the U.S., and has led to the first-ever futures contract for the product. LI youth baseball coach spent $50G on ‘revenge’ kids team (NYP) Angered after his own son failed to flourish on the Long Island Infernos traveling baseball team for 10- and 11-year-olds, Robert Sanfilippo used his own money to create and fund the Long Island Vengeance to even the score against his boy’s former squad, a law-enforcement source said. Obsessed with vanquishing the Infernos, Sanfilippo aggressively recruited players in newspaper ads and appealed to kids cut from other teams, sources said. While the players’ parents usually fork out for traveling teams, Sanfilippo — who resides in a pricey Huntington home — footed the entire bill for the Vengeance. “No one could understand why this guy was spending so much money on 10-year-olds,” said another coach. “It was all about revenge.” Sanfilippo faces harassment and stalking charges after he allegedly sent threatening messages to rival coach John Reardon. The pair had argued during a Memorial Day baseball game.While other Long Island teams had modest equipment, Sanfilippo spent like a Suffolk County Steinbrenner. The Vengeance sported top of the line helmets with airbrushed skull and crossbones insignias that cost upwards of $300 each for a team of roughly 20 kids. The squad also provided each player with two uniforms and baseball bags worth hundreds of dollars. Merkel: Europe Must Take ‘Deep Breath’ and Enact Reforms (Reuters) Speaking at a meeting of the Federation of German Industries (BDI), Merkel acknowledged that Germany was "not an island" that could disconnect from economic developments in Europe and the world economy. But she placed the onus on Berlin's struggling euro zone partners to fix their own economies, rejecting the idea that Germany should relax its own productivity drive in order to help its partners. "We need to take a deep breath to overcome this crisis," Merkel said. "We must make the efforts that will allow Europe to come out of this crisis stronger than it went in. Key Galleon Witness Gets Probation (WSJ) U.S. District Judge Barbara Jones sentenced Rajiv Goel to two years of probation, fined him $10,000 and ordered him to forfeit $266,649. She said he had the "good sense" to cooperate once he was caught, and called that type of cooperation "essential" to complicated white-collar-crime investigations. CIT Soars On Target Talk (Bloomberg) Just remember: nothing happens until John Thain gets taken care of. Bacon, pork shortage 'now unavoidable,' industry group says (LA Times) Might want to get your fill of ham this year, because "a world shortage of pork and bacon next year is now unavoidable," according to an industry trade group. Blame the drought conditions that blazed through the corn and soybean crop this year. Less feed led to herds declining across the European Union “at a significant rate,” according to the National Pig Assn. in Britain...In the second half of next year, the number of slaughtered pigs could fall 10%, doubling the price of European pork, according to the release. Click here to sign up for Dealbreaker's Opening Bell daily email. It's the same exact thing as above, but delivered to your inbox, which is moderately exciting.

Opening Bell: 06.22.12

Citigroup Leads Wall Street Banks In Moody’s Downgrade Dismissal (Bloomberg) Moody’s two-grade cut of Citigroup’s ratings was unwarranted, arbitrary and failed to recognize the lender’s financial strength, the New York-based bank said in a statement. Investors shouldn’t rely on “opaque” credit ratings, it said. “Moody’s approach is backward-looking and fails to recognize Citi’s transformation over the past several years,” said the bank. “Citi believes that investors and clients have become much more sophisticated in their credit analysis over the past few years, and that few rely on ratings alone -- particularly from a single agency -- to make their credit decisions.” Moody's Downgrade of Banks ‘Absurd,’ Says Dick Bove (CNBC) “This is one of the most absurd things that Moody’s has ever done perhaps in the history of the company,” said Dick Bove, Vice President of Equity Research in the Financial Sector at Connecticut-based Rochdale Securities. JPMorgan Trading Loss Drove Three-Level Standalone Cut (Bloomberg) “It illustrates the challenges of monitoring and managing risk in a complex global organization and highlights the opacity of such risks,” Moody’s said. Ratings Downgrade Cuts Deeply At Morgan Stanley (NYT) In an e-mail sent to staff members after the downgrade was announced, Mr. Gorman tried to reassure employees about the bank’s future. “While we do not believe that this outcome reflects all of the transformative changes we have made to the firm, there is an acknowledgment in Moody’s decision today that real progress has been made at Morgan Stanley, in what is an extremely difficult environment for our industry,” he wrote. Hedge Funds Mask Identities (WSJ) It is the latest in-vogue accessory among hedge-fund managers: a "masked fund." Bridgewater Associates has "ZQPGGAV00000," John Paulson has "Paulson Fund 1" while Cliff Asness's AQR Capital Management prefers "805-1355888867." The cryptic monikers, more product barcodes than real handles, enable the hedge-fund managers to shield the identities of their funds from the prying eyes of regulators and outsiders in forms filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission...The practice, allowed under a new SEC instruction that lets firms preserve the anonymity of their clients in certain cases, has irked some investors and their advisers. They argue that hiding funds' identities in regulatory filings undermines Washington's efforts to make the reticent world of hedge funds more transparent and hinders investors' efforts to keep tabs on the firms that manage their assets. Emails Ties Goldman Manager, Rajaratnam (WSJ) A current Goldman managing director exchanged emails with Galleon founder Raj Rajaratnam ahead of a daily "morning meeting" at Galleon, according to previously undisclosed emails and wiretapped phone call transcripts reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. In the emails, the Goldman manager offered what he called "tiddie biddies" about some top technology firms, including Apple and Intel Corp. Anderson Cooper Berates Photo-Snapping Airplane Passenger (LAT) "Normally I would just be like, 'We're not going to win this one,' but I've lately become emboldened," Cooper said in an interview. "I grabbed the guy on the shoulder and I said something to the effect of, 'Bitch, what ... are you doing?'" Pimco’s Gross Warns Of Risk Assets (Bloomberg) Gross, who manages $261 billion for the Pimco Total Return Fund (PTTRX), said in a Twitter post that risk markets are vulnerable as the “monetary bag of tricks empties.” Spanish Plan Is Flawed, Says IMF (WSJ) The euro zone needs to quickly set up a mechanism that allows it to directly recapitalize weak banks, "in order to break the negative feedback loop that we have between banks and sovereigns," IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said after a meeting with the bloc's finance ministers in Luxembourg. Ms. Lagarde also called for "creative and inventive" measures from the European Central Bank, suggesting that the bank could restart its bond-buying program to keep struggling countries' funding costs in check or further cut already-low interest rates. Einhorn Enters $1 Million Buy-In Poker Tournament For Charity (Bloomberg) Einhorn, who finished 18th in the World Series of Poker’s main event in 2006, is among at least 42 entrants for the July 1-3 charity event in Las Vegas, known as the Big One for One Drop. Angry Moms Take On Nutella (Bloomberg) Laura Rude-Barbato, a coffee shop owner in Imperial Beach, California, used to feed her children Nutella several times a week [because she for some reason didn't realize that a chocolate spread might be filled with sugar]. It was easy to identify with the advertising that depicted a frenzied mom serving up the chocolate-hazelnut spread with the tagline “breakfast never tasted this good,” said Rude-Barbato. Then she noticed the 10.5 grams of sugar per tablespoon. “I had no idea,” she says. “I might as well have been giving my kids a brownie for breakfast.” Rude-Barbato kicked the Nutella habit, then joined a class action lawsuit in a federal court in California that claimed Ferrero SpA’s U.S. unit misled consumers via labeling and marketing into thinking Nutella was healthy.

Opening Bell: 06.29.12

JPMorgan Cushions Drew's Retirement With $21.5 Million (Bloomberg) JPMorgan's decision to let Chief Investment Officer Ina Drew retire four days after the bank disclosed a $2 billion loss in her division allowed her to walk away with about $21.5 million in stock and options. Drew, who resigned May 14, can keep $17.1 million in unvested restricted shares and about $4.4 million in options that she otherwise would have been required to forfeit if the New York-based bank had terminated her employment “with cause,” according to regulatory filings and estimates from consulting firm Meridian Compensation Partners LLC. A 30-year JPMorgan veteran, Drew also had accumulated 661,000 unrestricted shares of common stock worth about $23.7 million based on the May 14 closing price, $9.7 million in deferred compensation and $2.6 million in pension pay as of Dec. 31, according to company filings. Altogether, Drew’s stock, pension and deferred pay come to about $57.5 million. JPMorgan Models In Spotlight (WSJ) The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the bank's primary regulator, has requested reviews of models that measure the possible effects of everything from trading losses to interest-rate moves, the people said. A change in one of these models contributed to losses in the bank's Chief Investment Office, a once-obscure unit that manages $370 billion in excess cash. The change effectively increased the amount of risk traders were allowed to take. Jim Rogers: Be Afraid (CNBC) Even as markets cheered the agreement by European leaders to allow the direct use of the bloc’s bailout funds to recapitalize struggling banks, investor Jim Rogers told CNBC the move does nothing to help solve the region’s biggest problem...Rogers argues that the deal does not improve the solvency of indebted nations such as Spain. Spain's central government budget deficit has soared to 3.41 percent of GDP in the first five months of 2012, above the EU limit of 3 percent. He adds that the governments need to stop coming to the rescue of failing banks, even if it results in “financial Armageddon.” SEC May Order Nasdaq Upgrade (WSJ) As part of the deepening inquiry, regulators are weighing demanding that Nasdaq agree to revamp its processes for developing, changing, testing and implementing the computer code used in initial public offerings and other exchange functions, according to people familiar with the investigation. FBI arrests Bernie Madoff's brother Peter ahead of expected guilty plea (AP) Given Peter Madoff's "level of financial experience and sophistication," the trustee alleged that he either knew or should have known that he reaped gains "derived from purported transactionsgrounded in fraud and deception." The trustee also took aim at his daughter Shana, who once worked as an in-house lawyer at the firm and has denied involvement in the scheme. "Had Peter, as the Chief Compliance Officer, or Shana, as Compliance Counsel, done their jobs properly, the fraud might have been revealed years earlier," the complaint said. "Either they failed completely to carry out their required supervisory/compliance roles, or they knew about the fraud but covered it up." Euro Zone Sees Single Bank Supervisor (WSJ) European leaders at a two-day summit in Brussels said they would speed up plans to create a single supervisor to oversee the euro zone's banks, and agreed on measures aimed at reducing soaring borrowing costs for Spain and Italy. Credit Suisse Says Second Quarter Will Be Profitable Overall (Reuters) "Further to its statement of last Friday and in response to media reports about its second quarter financial performance, Credit Suisse informs that it expects based on quarter-to-date information to be profitable at the group level and in all its divisions," the Swiss bank said in a brief statement on Friday, the last day of the second quarter. Bankers Fleeing Europe Crisis Head To Singapore (CNBC) “Singapore seems like a very green field compared to Paris. It looks like what Europe was 20 years ago, in the sense it’s got a lot of opportunities in terms of new prospects for the markets.” Louisiana's Rogue Dolphin Entertains ... and Bites (Newser) Residents of an upscale New Orleans suburb have been warned to stay away from their friendly neighborhood dolphin. The young bottlenose dolphin, who arrived in a canal off the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain after Hurricane Katrina, is a big hit with boaters and swimmers, but has bitten at least three people who got too close to him. Wildlife officials have met with residents to tell them how to co-exist with the dolphin—and to remind them that feeding or harassing wild dolphins is banned by the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Signs have been put up urging people to stay at least 50 feet away from the dolphin. "He’s like a friendly neighborhood dog, but the dog will bite," the manager of the local homeowner's association explains to King5. "He's a wild animal and you have to treat him like he's a wild animal and not jump on him, not go swimming with him. He's not Disney World." Officials say that relocating the dolphin could kill him—and if he survived, he would probably return to the canal he calls home. One resident has another solution. "Maybe they should find him a girlfriend," he says.

Opening Bell: 12.18.12

Dozens Likely Implicated In UBS Libor Deal (FT) bout three dozen bankers and senior managers will be implicated in the alleged rigging of Libor interest rates when UBS settles with global regulators later this week, according to people familiar with the matter. UBS is close to finalizing a deal with UK, US and Swiss authorities in which the bank will pay close to $1.5 billion and its Japanese securities subsidiary will plead guilty to a US criminal offence. Terms of the guilty plea were still being negotiated, one person familiar with the matter said on Monday, adding that the bank will not lose its ability to conduct business in Japan...Not all of the three dozen individuals will face criminal or civil charges and the level of alleged misconduct varies among them. While it also is not clear how many bankers will be criminally charged, people familiar with the investigation said the settlement documents will document an intercontinental scheme to manipulate the Yen-Libor interest rate over several years involving desks from Tokyo to London. Cerberus Seeks Sale of Gun Maker Freedom Group (WSJ) Private-equity firm Cerberus Capital Management LP said it is seeking to sell the company that manufactures a gun used in last week's shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. "We have determined to immediately engage in a formal process to sell our investment in Freedom Group…We believe that this decision allows us to meet our obligations to the investors whose interests we are entrusted to protect without being drawn into the national debate that is more properly pursued by those with the formal charter and public responsibility to do so," Cerberus said in a statement Tuesday. Cliff Talks Narrow (WSJ) President Barack Obama backed away from his long-standing call for raising tax rates on households making more than $250,000 a year, a development that inches the White House and congressional Republicans closer to a budget deal. Mr. Obama's move, a counter to Republicans' recent proposal to raise tax rates on income over $1 million, further narrows the differences between the two sides. During a meeting with House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) Monday the president proposed allowing Bush-era tax rates to expire for households making more than $400,000 in annual income, people familiar with the meeting said. Poland Finds It's Not Immune To Euro Crisis (NYT) During much of the region’s debt crisis so far, Poland has counted itself fortunate that the troubles began before the country had joined the euro currency union. By being part of the E.U.’s common market, but not bound by euro strictures, Poland has been one of the Continent’s rare economic good-news stories. But the deceleration in Polish growth, which has prompted the central bank to begin a series of interest rate cuts to stimulate the economy, has underscored the country’s exposure to slumping euro zone consumer markets. Hedge Fund Managers Convicted of Insider-Trading Scheme (Bloomberg) Level Global Investors LP co-founder Anthony Chiasson and former Diamondback Capital Management LLC portfolio manager Todd Newman were convicted of securities fraud and conspiracy for an insider-trading scheme that reaped more than $72 million. After deliberating a little more than two days, a federal jury in New York found both men guilty of conspiracy to commit securities fraud for a scheme to trade on Dell Inc. (DELL) and Nvidia Corp. (NVDA) using illicit tips. The panel found Chiasson, 39, guilty of five counts of securities fraud, earning Level Global $68.5 million on inside tips trading on the two technology company stocks. Newman, 48, was convicted of four counts of securities fraud related to trades on inside information that earned his fund about $3.8 million. “We had all the evidence we needed,” said Felicia Rivera, a juror from Westchester County near New York City, said after court. Credit unions sue JPM for $3.6B (NYP) The nation’s credit-union watchdog sued JPMorgan for a second time yesterday over $3.6 billion of Bear Stearns mortgage bonds that imploded in the wake of the financial crisis. The suit brought by the National Credit Union Administration accuses Bear Stearns, the failed bank acquired by JPMorgan in 2008, of peddling toxic securities to four credit unions that later collapsed. The same government agency sued JPMorgan last year over $1.4 billion in mortgage-backed securities that led to losses for credit unions. That suit is still pending. In the latest complaint, the credit union regulator said Bear Stearns conspired with at least 16 outfits that cranked out toxic mortgages and securities sold to unsuspecting buyers. Those included notorious subprime mortgage outfits such as Countrywide Financial, New Century and People’s Choice Home Loans. Man wears 70 items of clothing at airport to avoid baggage charge (DS) A man took to putting on 70 items of clothing to avoid an extra baggage charge at an airport. The unidentified passenger turned up at Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport in China, described as looking like a 'sumo wrestler'. According to Guangzhou Daily, the man's luggage exceeded the weight limit. He did not want to pay the extra baggage costs, and thus took out and wore more than 60 shirts and nine pairs of jeans. Wanting to board a flight to Nairobi, Kenya, he was stopped by the metal detector and had to undergo a full body search. AIG Raises $6.45 Billion as AIA Priced in Top Half of Range (Bloomberg) AIG sold 1.65 billion shares at HK$30.30 each, AIA said in a statement today. The shares were offered at HK$29.65 to HK$30.65 each. AIA fell 3.3 percent to close at HK$30.60 in Hong Kong, the most since July 23. It was the biggest decliner and most actively traded stock by both volume and value in the city’s benchmark Hang Seng Index (HSI) with HK$56.6 billion ($7.3 billion) worth of shares changing hands today. Probe Sparks Split On Trades (WSJ) A regulatory investigation into whether stock exchanges have given unfair advantages to high-speed traders has sparked complaints against the exchanges, fueling a broader debate about how the market operates and is regulated. The Investment Company Institute, trade group for mutual funds, complained in a recent letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission that U.S. stock exchanges "facilitate strategies" for rapid-fire trading firms "that can lead to disorderly markets or that can benefit market participants at the expense of long-term investors." Buybacks Rule The Day (WSJ) American companies bought back $274 billion more shares than they issued in the year through September, according to Ed Yardeni, president of investment advisory firm Yardeni Research. And the spending spree looks set to continue, a sign that companies have the cash to put to work but don't yet see an economic case for using it to expand their businesses or create jobs. Dog swallows a foot of Christmas lights (Mirror) Charlie, a seven-year-old crossbreed dog from Southampton, was saved by surgeons from veterinary charity PDSA after wolfing down his family's Christmas lights recently. And the dog has a track record for getting his paws, and teeth, on household objects, having once eaten his owner Sharon Fay's scarf. Ms Fay, who aptly refers to her dog as the "light of her life", became concerned when she noticed bits of wire sticking out of Charlie's faeces in the garden. The 45-year-old said: "I hadn't even noticed that the lights had been chewed at this stage but it quickly became clear what had happened. "Back in March he ate one of my scarves and needed an operation to remove it, but I thought it was just a one-off incident as he hadn't shown any signs that he was going to be a repeat offender. I've had dogs all my life and have never known a dog act like this before." An X-ray immediately cast a light on Charlie's problem - the tangled remains of the decorations clearly showed up in his stomach and would have proved fatal if they were not removed. Vets rushed Charlie to the operating table and removed the Christmas decorations, also finding a shoelace.

Opening Bell: 04.25.12

Credit Suisse Sees Profit Drop (WSJ) Credit Suisse Wednesday reported a sharp drop in net profit for the first quarter, pressured by an accounting loss on its own debt and lower revenue at its investment bank, which shed risky assets to adapt to a tougher regulatory and market environment. Still, the bank managed a sharp turnaround from a dismal fourth quarter when it reported a loss, on improving market conditions. But Chief Financial Officer David Mathers warned that this may not necessarily be the trend going forward, as markets weren't as favorable in April as they were during the first quarter. Credit Suisse said net profit fell 96% to 44 million Swiss francs ($48.3 million) in the first quarter from 1.14 billion francs a year earlier. This was better than the net loss expected by analysts. Excluding a raft of one-off items, net profit would be 1.36 billion francs, Credit Suisse said. Net profit suffered from a 1.55 billion franc accounting loss on the bank's own credit. The bank also recorded costs of 534 million francs for 2011 bonuses. Moody's Hears It From Banks (WSJ) In the latest sign that U.S. banks are bridling at tighter oversight that began after the financial crisis, a handful of big lenders have been jawboning Moody's Investors Service ahead of potential downgrades expected this spring. Bank of America Corp. Chief Executive Brian Moynihan and Citigroup Inc. CEO Vikram Pandit have argued against downgrades in person, people familiar with the talks said. An executive at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. last week publicly questioned Moody's methods on a conference call with analysts and investors. Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman, who has met with the ratings firm more often than usual in the past quarter, called Moody's decision to delay any potential downgrades by a month "constructive." Housing Declared Bottoming in U.S. After Six-Year Slump (Bloomberg) The U.S. housing market is showing more signs of stabilization as price declines ease and home demand improves, spurring several economists to call a bottom to the worst real estate collapse since the 1930s. “The crash is over,” Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Analytics Inc. in West Chester, Pennsylvania, said in a telephone interview yesterday. “Home sales -- both new and existing -- and housing starts are now off the bottom.” US taxpayers still on hook for $119B in TARP funds (MarketWatch) US taxpayers are still owed $119 billion in outstanding Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds, a watchdog for the government crisis program said Wednesday in a quarterly report to Congress. That number is down from $133 billion in TARP funds owed as of January, according to the author of the report, the Office of the Special Inspector General for the TARP. The government expects TARP to lose $60 billion. Surviving ’Taxmageddon’ Without Maiming Economy (Bloomberg) Peter Orszag: "At the end of this year, all the Bush tax cuts expire -- amounting to about $250 billion a year. The payroll-tax holiday, at more than $100 billion a year, ends too, as do expanded unemployment-insurance benefits. And we face other spending cuts of about $100 billion, from the sequester set up by the 2011 debt-limit deal. All told, this fiscal tightening adds up to about $500 billion -- or more than 3 percent of gross domestic product. The economy will be in no shape to handle that much of a squeeze. If we do nothing to reduce or stop it, the economy could be thrown back into a recession." Goose strike forces JetBlue flight into emergency landing at Westchester (NYP) Geese smacked into a JetBlue plane taking off from Westchester Airport last night, forcing the pilots to make an immediate emergency landing. “We got to come back. We hit two big geese,” a pilot aboard Flight 571 to West Palm Beach, Fla., radioed to controllers after the plane took off at 6:45 p.m. “We are declaring an emergency.” The pilots made it just six miles northwest of the airport before turning around. They were back on the ground seven minutes later. “JetBlue 571, nice to have you back,” a relieved controller radioed as the plane touched down at 6:52. The geese smashed into the jet’s windshield. “I was petrified,’’ said passenger Janice Hilbrink, of White Plains. “Seriously very frightened. “I heard the noise. It was very loud and the plane had a lot of turbulence. The pilot told us the windshield was cracked.’’ When she got off the plane, “the whole front of it was covered in bird.’’ Missing MF Global Funds Found (CNNM) Investigators probing the collapse of bankrupt brokerage MF Global said Tuesday that they have located the $1.6 billion in customer money that had gone missing from the firm. But just how much of those funds can be returned to the firm's clients, and who will be held responsible for their misappropriation, remains to be seen. James Giddens, the trustee overseeing the liquidation of MF Global Inc, told the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday that his team's analysis of how the money went missing "is substantially concluded." "We can trace where the cash and securities in the firm went, and that we've done," Giddens said. Europe Struggles With Painful Deficit Cures (WSJ) The target, set in 2009, is still seen as an important signal that the budget rules won't be flouted as they were in the past. But meeting the 2013 goal, which for most countries was a deficit of 3% of gross domestic product, will entail more spending cuts or tax increases by governments across the EU. Soros And Roubini Take Aim At Euro Zone (CNBC) Nouriel Roubini, an economist and founder of RGE Monitor used a series of tweets on Tuesday evening to call for action on weakening the euro. “If domestic demand is going to be anemic and weak in this fiscal adjustment because of private and public sector deleveraging you need net exports to improve to restore growth,” wrote Roubini who believes much looser monetary policy is needed. “In order to have an improvement in net exports you need a weaker currency and a much more easy monetary policy to help induce that nominal and real depreciation that is not occurring right now in the euro zone,” said Roubini. “That’s one of the reasons why we’re getting a recession that’s even more severe,” he said. During a debate on Tuesday, billionaire Investor George Soros made it clear what side of the growth versus austerity debate he is on. “Europe is similar to the Soviet Union in the way that the euro crisis has the potential of destroying, undermining the European Union,” he said. “The euro is undermining the political cohesion of the European Union, and, if it continues like that, could even destroy the European Union,” said Soros. New Fashion Wrinkle: Stylishly Hiding the Gun (NYT, related) Woolrich, a 182-year-old clothing company, describes its new chino pants as an elegant and sturdy fashion statement, with a clean profile and fabric that provides comfort and flexibility. And they are great for hiding a handgun. The company has added a second pocket behind the traditional front pocket for a weapon. Or, for those who prefer to pack their gun in a holster, it can be tucked inside the stretchable waistband...The chinos, which cost $65, are not for commandos, but rather, the company says, for the fashion-aware gun owner.