Opening Bell: 07.05.12

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ECB cuts rates to 0.75 percent, deposit rate to zero (Reuters)
The ECB cut the interest rate on its deposit facility to 0.0 percent, effectively encouraging banks to lend their funds in the market to other banks overnight, where they receive a higher interest rate, currently about 0.3 percent.

Bank of England hold rates and raises stimulus by £50bn (Telegraph)
Neil Bentley, CBI deputy director-general, said: “Over the past month, it became increasingly clear that a further round of asset purchases was imminent. Inflation has fallen faster than expected, economic momentum appears to have slowed both in the UK and globally, and the MPC had done little to dampen expectations.

China Cuts Key Interest Rates (WSJ)
China's central bank on Thursday lowered interest rates for the second time in less than a month, a surprising move that signals alarm by authorities in Beijing at the state of the world's second-largest economy. The People's Bank of China said in a statement it will cut the one-year yuan lending rate by 0.31 percentage point and the one-year deposit rate by 0.25 percentage point. In addition, lending rates will be allowed to fall to 70% of the benchmark rate, down from 80% currently.

Rate Scandal Set to Spread (WSJ)
With British politicians on all sides calling for further investigations, Mr. Diamond faced hostile questions from a parliamentary committee. Lawmakers expressed skepticism about his claim that he wasn't aware until recently of his subordinates' improprieties. "Either you were complicit, grossly negligent or incompetent," John Mann, a Labour lawmaker, told Mr. Diamond. After a pause, Mr. Diamond asked, "Is there a question?"

Joey Chestnut Downs 68 Hot Dogs To Win Sixth Straight Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest (Deadspin)
And you can't eat half a vending machine in eight hours.

Einhorn Finishes Third in Poker Tournament, With $4.35 Million (DealBook)
Wearing a bright red jacket and mirrored sunglasses, Mr. Einhorn went bust on Tuesday evening after beating all of the amateur poker players and all but two of the professionals in the no-limit Texas hold ‘em tournament, which drew 48 players and required a $1 million buy-in. ... “It was fun,” Mr. Einhorn said after he was eliminated, according to an interview transcript provided by the World Series of Poker. Many of the players, he said, “have lots and lots of experience, and then they invited a few guys like me in, and said ‘let’s have a poker party.’ And I honestly think this is almost designed to have a great summer vacation.”

Corzine is having no fun in the shun (NYP)
Friends said Corzine looks like a shell of the man who seven months ago sat before a Senate subcommittee and said, “I simply do not know where the money is.” When he’s not wallowing in misery, Corzine has been making the Hamptons rounds. Residents have spotted him in his favorite haunts, such as Nick and Toni’s restaurant in East Hampton and the American Hotel restaurant in Sag Harbor. But he is far less visible these days than he was, say, four years ago, when he was working the cocktail parties raising money for Obama, still holding on to the prospect of a federal post as budget director or treasury secretary.

Hedge Fund Files for Bankruptcy (WSJ)
A hedge fund managed by the investment firm of Alphonse "Buddy" Fletcher Jr. has filed for bankruptcy protection in Manhattan, as the firm faces a mounting legal challenge. ... The litigation represents a reversal of fortune for the Fletcher firm. In the early 1990s, Mr. Fletcher made a splash on Wall Street, reporting 300%-a-year returns at his firm. In 2003, he was profiled in the book "Stock Market Wizards."

Big Banks’ ‘Living Wills’ Aiming For Bankruptcy Not Bailouts (Bloomberg)
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and Federal Reserve posted the public portions of so-called living wills on websites today as required by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act. The documents outline more detailed proposals submitted privately describing how regulators could dismantle the companies if they fail. ... The public summaries of the wind-down plans reveal few details. For instance, Bank of America’s summary says that assets sold off during a resolution could go to a “range of buyers including, but not limited to, national, international and regional financial institutions; private equity and hedge funds; and other financial asset buyers such as insurance companies.”

Spain Meets Target At First Bond Auction Since EU Summit (Bloomberg)
Spain sold its benchmark July 2015 bond to yield 5.086 percent, compared with 5.457 percent on June 21. It also sold its 10-year benchmark bond at an average yield of 6.43 percent, compared with 6.044 percent when the securities were last sold on June 7, and bonds maturing in 2016 yielded an average 5.536 percent, compared with 5.353 percent. The Spanish auction signaled easing concern about the government’s ability to finance the euro region’s third-biggest budget deficit. Demand for the three-year benchmark was 2.28 times the amount sold, compared with 3.18 in June, and the ratio for the 2016 bonds was 2.56, the same as last month. The bid-to-cover for the 10-year security was 3.18 times the amount sold, compared with 3.29 at the last auction.

Spain’s Banking Crisis Moves Into the Courtroom (NYT)
“We are entering a new phase in this banking crisis, adding to the questions of solvency the need to establish accountability for past mistakes,” said José Luis de la Calle Sánchez, an independent lawyer who specializes in banking matters. The Bankia case in particular is highly politicized. Bankia has longstanding ties to the governing Popular Party, and the case against it was brought by one of Spain’s opposition parties, Union, Progress and Democracy.

Singapore's Temasek seeks investment in Europe, commodities (Reuters)
Singapore state investor Temasek Holdings, whose portfolio swelled to a record in the last fiscal year, is looking to acquire assets in Europe and plough more money into energy and commodities after doubling its exposure to the sector. ... Temasek's portfolio grew around 2.6 percent in the year ended March to S$198 billion ($156.37 billion).

San Diego Bay fireworks ignite all at once, botching show (LAT)
A glitch caused the fireworks at San Diego's biggest fireworks show to ignite all at once, botching the Fourth of July pyrotechnic show for hundreds of thousands of spectators. ... "I've never seen so many fireworks go off at one time," Rich Dann, a Coast Guard search-and-rescue controller, told the newspaper.

Higgs boson and Comic Sans: the perfect fusion (Guardian)
Scientists announcing the discovery of this Higgs boson thing had written up their complex findings in the childish font everyone loves to hate. ... Predictably, Twitter was outraged. "Dear @CERN," wrote one science buff with a taste for typography. "Every time you use Comic Sans on a powerpoint, God kills the Schrödinger's cat. Please think of the cat." Another groaned: "They used Comic Sans on the Higgs boson powerpoint presentation ... Nope there is no hope for mankind."

Related

Opening Bell: 10.17.12

BofA Sees Profit Slump (WSJ) Bank of America reported a profit $340 million versus a profit of $6.23 billion a year earlier. On a per-share basis, which includes the payment of preferred dividends, the bank reported a profit of less than a penny versus 56 cents a year earlier. The year-earlier period included 27 cents a share in net gains from one-time. Revenue fell 28% to $20.43 billion. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected a per-share loss of seven cents on revenue of $21.89 billion. BNY Mellon Profit Increases as Rising Stocks Boost Assets (Bloomberg) Net income increased to $720 million, or 61 cents a share, from $651 million, or 53 cents, a year earlier, the New York- based bank said today in a statement. Analysts had expected the New York-based company to report a profit of 54 cents a share, according to the average of 16 estimates in a Bloomberg survey. Citi's Pandit Quits Amid Board Clash (WSJ) The shake-up amounts to an extraordinary flexing of boardroom muscle at Citigroup, a company that until recently had a board stocked with directors handpicked by former CEO Sanford Weill who rarely challenged management decisions. The action raises questions about whether the sprawling Citigroup empire ultimately will be dramatically pared back or broken up, something Mr. Pandit opposed. When it was formed in 1998, Citigroup was envisaged as the prototype of the modern bank, a "financial supermarket" with tentacles in all areas of lending, securities and deposits. Its creation helped spark the end of the Depression-era Glass Steagall Act separating securities and banking. Citigroup's New CEO Has A Lot To Tackle (Fortune) Corbat is a Connecticut native. He is listed as the owner of a 4-bedroom, 1-and-a-half-bath, 3,500 square foot Manhattan apartment on Central Park West. The apartment has a fireplace and exposed wood beams in the living room. But Corbat doesn't appear to live there. According to the real estate website Streeteasy, the apartment was rented out in March for $33,000 a month. Corbat also owns a house in 6,300 square foot house in Wilson, Wyoming. That house was estimated to be worth $3.7 million in 2010, according to real estate website Trulia. Pay seems to be part of the reason for Pandit's department. Earlier this year, shareholders voted to reject a $15 million pay package for the Citi's former CEO. Corbat said he will take $1.5 million as a base salary, plus a bonus to be determined later. RBS Exits Government Insurance Plan (WSJ) RBS said it has struck a deal with the U.K. Treasury to exit the government's Asset Protection Scheme, effective Thursday, the earliest date possible under the terms of the contract. The program was crafted at the height of the financial crisis in an effort to shield banks by insuring their assets after the lenders absorbed an initial loss. The insurance program is now considered largely unnecessary because many of RBS's insured assets have been sold or written off. The bank, which is 81% government-owned, will have paid £2.5 billion ($4.03 billion) in fees for its participation in the APS without having made a claim, in addition to about £1.5 billion paid to the Treasury for support received during the financial crisis. Passenger Jet In Low Altitude Search (Australian) An Air Canada jet descended from 38,000ft to as low as 3700ft (1128m) to allow passengers to look for a yacht missing off the NSW coast. The Boeing 777 flying from Vancouver to Sydney joined an Air New Zealand Airbus A320 in the initial search for the damaged boat. Captain Andrew Robertson said the airline was approaching top of descent and talking to air traffic control in Brisbane at 8.18am when it was asked to assist in the search. The flight crew programmed the coordinates ofthe stricken yacht into the aircraft's flight computer and determined it was about 160 nautical miles (296km) further out from the coast than the 777 but that the aircraft was enough fuel to reach the location.. "We were at 38,000ft and we just kept going down," said Captain Andrew Robertson. "I knew we would have to get really low and we got down to 5000ft above the water as we approached the area. "I had already made a PA announcement telling passengers what we were doing and as we got into the area, I said: "We're coming into the search area, please everybody look out to the window and if you seen anything let us know. Norway’s Housing Boom Could Lead to Spain-Style Bust, Say Some (CNBC) Norway’s housing sector, which has seen prices jump by almost 30 percent since 2006 — could end up replicating a pattern of housing booms and busts seen across the globe, from the U.S. to Japan to Spain and Ireland, according to a report by Bank of New York Mellon. Indeed, Norway's house price rise has been so dramatic that the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco wrote a paper on the subject in June that made parallels between the lead up to the U.S. housing crisis and the “irrationally exuberant bubble” of Norway’s present boom. BlackRock Profit Rises 7.9% on as Assets Rise on ETFs (Bloomberg) Net income climbed 7.9 percent to $642 million, or $3.65 a share, from $595 million, or $3.23, a year earlier, the New York-based company said today in a statement. Excluding certain one-time items, profit of $3.47 per share exceeded the $3.32-a- share average estimate of 19 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. Knight Capital Posts Third-Quarter Loss Due To Fallout Over Software Glitch (AP) The company company reported a loss attributable to common shareholders of $764.3 million, or $6.30 per share, for the period ended Sept. 30. That compares with net income of $26.9 million, or 29 cents per share, a year ago. Knight Capital said Wednesday that the loss from the software glitch was more than $400 million. Excluding $2.46 per share related to the software glitch and other items, earnings came to a penny per share. Analysts forecast 2 cents per share, according to a FactSet survey. Police: Alanis Morissette Music Leads To Domestic Violence (N4J) A 24-year-old Jacksonville man who didn't like his boyfriend's taste in music let him know about it by hitting him in the face with a plate, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office. Police said 33-year-old Todd Fletcher has a large cut on the side of his face to prove it. Allen Casey was arrested Sunday after police said he acted on his displeasure that Fletcher was listening to Alanis Morissette. "That's all that (expletive) listens to," Casey said, according to a police report.

Opening Bell: 04.16.12

Downgrades Loom For European Banks (WSJ) Under pressure from banks, Moody's Investors Service said Friday that it is delaying until early May its highly anticipated decision on whether to downgrade the credit ratings of 114 banks in 16 European countries. Moody's announced the review in February, saying it was needed in light of the banks' weak conditions and the tough environment in which they're operating. It had planned to start unveiling the decisions this week. Obama Bid to End Too-Big-to Fail Undercut as Banks Grow (Bloomberg) Two years after President Barack Obama vowed to eliminate the danger of financial institutions becoming “too big to fail,” the nation’s largest banks are bigger than they were before the credit crisis. Five banks-- JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and Goldman Sachs-- held $8.5 trillion in assets at the end of 2011, equal to 56 percent of the U.S. economy, according to the Federal Reserve. Five years earlier, before the financial crisis, the largest banks’ assets amounted to 43 percent of U.S. output. The Big Five today are about twice as large as they were a decade ago relative to the economy, sparking concern that trouble at a major bank would rock the financial system and force the government to step in as it did during the 2008 crunch. “Market participants believe that nothing has changed, that too-big-to-fail is fully intact,” said Gary Stern, former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Carlyle Takes Cautious Approach in IPO Price (WSJ) Carlyle Group plans to sell 30.5 million shares priced between $23 and $25 in its initial public offering, which could come before the end of the month, according to people familiar with the matter. Those shares would represent about 10% of the Washington, D.C., private-equity firm, in a deal that would value Carlyle at more than $7 billion, these people said. That value is toward the lower end of what earlier had been expected...Carlyle is putting less emphasis on pricing shares high at the IPO, instead hoping they rise in value once they are traded, according to people familiar with the matter. Bond Recipes Use Fresh Ingredients (WSJ) With risk-taking in vogue again, Wall Street is betting on the revival of a market for bonds made out of everything from "The English Patient" to fried chicken. The amount of so-called esoteric bonds backed by unusual assets has nearly doubled this year compared with the same period a year ago, according to Credit Suisse. Thus far this year, there have been $5.6 billion in deals done, more than twice the $2 billion in the same period last year. Over the past several months investors have bought bonds backed by revenue from Domino's Pizza DPZ +0.34% franchises, Miramax films, patents for drugs like Clarinex and Flumist and loans to buyers of Wyndham vacation time-shares. The deals show investors are becoming comfortable again with Wall Street's engineering skills, after many were hammered during the financial crisis by losses on bonds backed by subprime home loans and complex debt pools known as collateralized-debt obligations. The esoteric sales also mark a rare growth area for giant banks that have been hit hard by a slowdown in deal-making and trading. Four-year-old Heidi Hankins joins Mensa with 159 IQ (BBC) A four-year-old girl from Hampshire has been accepted into Mensa with an IQ just one point below Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking. Heidi Hankins from Winchester has a 159 IQ. She taught herself to read and was able to count to 40 at two years old. British Mensa chief executive John Stevenage said Heidi's parents "correctly identified that she shows great potential." According to Mensa, the average adult IQ score is 100. Geithner Rebuts Romney on Women and Jobs (WSJ) As the fight for women voters intensified in recent days, Mr. Romney took a swipe at Mr. Obama by saying women had borne the vast majority of job losses over the past three years. Labor Department data show women do account for 92.3% of the workers who have lost jobs since Mr. Obama took office in January 2009. But men suffered deeper job losses than women in the year before Mr. Obama's inauguration and men have gained more jobs than women since the recovery began in 2009. "It's a ridiculous way to look at the problem," Mr. Geithner said of Mr. Romney's criticism. Mr. Geithner on Sunday also defended the Obama administration's efforts to reduce the federal budget deficit, and said there was "no risk" that the U.S. would go through a debt crisis in the next two years like the one Greece is experiencing. But he had a warning for Congress, when asked on NBC's "Meet the Press" about whether Congress would act to raise the government's debt ceiling again at the end of this year. "This is Congress's obligation to do as they have always done in the past," he said. "It would be good for the country this time if they did it with less drama." Barclays' Tax Deal Faces US Scrutiny (FT) Barclays’ controversial tax planning business will come under fresh scrutiny in a U.S. court this week over whether a transaction designed by the bank cost the U.S. government more than $1 billion in lost tax receipts. The U.S. Internal Revenue Service claims that complex, cross-border deals Barclays structured for several mid-tier banks in the last decade were an abusive tax shelter that exploited loopholes between U.S. and U.K. tax laws. Prime Brokerages Consolidate After 'Big Bang' (Reuters) Hedge funds are cutting back on the brokerage accounts they hold as the prime brokerage industry begins to consolidate more than four years after the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy blew the sector wide open. Goldman Sachs Said to Raise $2.5 Billion in ICBC Sale (Bloomberg) The Wall Street firm is selling $2.5 billion of shares at HK$5.05 each, according to two people with knowledge of the matter. It sold 3.55 billion shares, or 4 percent of ICBC’s Hong Kong-traded shares, to Temasek, the Singapore state-owned investment group said. Temasek, which is increasing stakes in China’s biggest banks, paid $2.3 billion for the stock, based on the per-share price and stake size. 'Hug Me' Coke Machine Asks for Hugs, Delivers Free Coke (MFDC) Coca-Cola's global marketing campaign dubbed "Open Happiness" takes on a new twist with a Coke vending machine that asks passers by to give it a hug. The big red and white machine, located at the National University in Singapore, has "Hug Me" written across its front side. And people are actually hugging it...and given free Cokes.

Opening Bell: 08.01.12

Hope For MF Global Clients (WSJ) A bankruptcy trustee sifting through the remains of MF Global Holdings Ltd. expressed confidence that the failed securities firm's U.S. customers will get all their money back. In written testimony submitted to the Senate Agriculture Committee for a hearing Wednesday, trustee Louis J. Freeh said farmers, ranchers, traders and other investors still owed an estimated $1.6 billion "eventually will be made whole," according to a copy of the testimony reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. UBS Facing Battle On Facebook After Nasdaq Set Aside Cash (Bloomberg) Nasdaq OMX’s creation of a $62 million pool to pay brokers that lost money in Facebook’s public debut shows how far apart the exchange owner is from UBS on who is to blame for losses in the botched deal. Switzerland’s biggest bank said yesterday that its second- quarter profit fell 58 percent in part because of losses that exceeded $350 million in the May 18 initial public offering. UBS is among brokers including Knight Capital Group that have said they’ll seek compensation after a design flaw in Nasdaq’s computers delayed orders and confirmations just as the shares were about to start changing hands. UBS promised legal action to get back more than five times as much money as Nasdaq has set aside. Greeks Can No Longer Afford Paying Expensive Bribes (Reuters) Greeks, whose country is facing bankruptcy, can no longer afford the expensive customary cash-filled "fakelaki" or "little envelope" bribes paid to public sector workers, according to an official. Greece, dependent on international aid to remain solvent, has struggled for years with rampant corruption that has hampered efforts to raise taxes and reform its stricken economy. The health sector and the tax authorities topped the country's corruption rankings for 2011, said a report by Leandros Rakintzis, tasked with uncovering wrongdoing in the public sector...As the crisis deepens, more and more Greeks find themselves no longer able to pay expensive bribes, Rakintzis said. "There are no longer serious corruption offences. There is no money for major wrongdoings," he was quoted as saying by Proto Thema newspaper. Oakland Leaders Enter Battle With Goldman Sachs (Reuters) Oakland is trying to get out of a Goldman-brokered interest rate swap that is costing the cash-starved city some $4 million a year. The swap, entered into 15 years ago as part of a bond sale to hedge against rising interest rates, has turned sour for Oakland now that interest rates are near zero. "I hope that other cities will follow our lead," said Oakland city council member Desley Brooks, addressing about 30 protesters outside Goldman's San Francisco offices. Société Générale Profit Hit by Write-Downs (WSJ) Revenue fell 3.6% to €6.27 billion from €6.50 billion a year earlier. Weak capital markets weighed on corporate and investment bank revenue, which dropped 33% to €1.22 billion in the quarter. French retail bank operations were flat at €2.04 billion while international retail bank revenue fell 1.7% to €1.24 billion. ADP: Private Hiring Jumps (WSJ) Private-sector jobs in the U.S. increased 163,000 last month, according to a national employment report calculated by payroll processor Automatic Data Processing Inc. and consultancy Macroeconomic Advisers. The gain was far above economists' median expectation of 108,000 contained in a survey done by Dow Jones Newswires. The June data were revised to show an advance of 172,000 instead of the 176,000 increase reported earlier. Olympics badminton: Eight players disqualified (BBC) The Badminton World Federation has disqualified eight players after accusing them of "not using one's best efforts to win." Four pairs of players - two from South Korea and one each from China and Indonesia - are out of the Olympics after their matches on Tuesday. The eight were charged after a stream of basic errors during the match. All four pairs were accused of wanting to lose in an attempt to manipulate the draw for the knockout stage. The federation met on Wednesday morning to discuss the case. As well as the "not using best efforts" charge, the players were also accused of "conducting oneself in a manner that is clearly abusive or detrimental to the sport." Speaking before the verdict, Korea's coach Sung Han-kook said: "The Chinese started this. They did it first." Regulate, Don't Split Up, Huge Banks (NYT) Steven Rattner: "We need a Dodd-Frank do-over to create the right oversight apparatus for huge banks. Regulators will always be outnumbered by bankers, and they will never find every problem. But, like prison guards, regulators are essential, even if they are outnumbered. In a world of behemoth banks, it is wrong to think we can shrink ours to a size that eliminates the “too big to fail” problem without emasculating one of our most successful industries." Poker Site Pays $731 Million Fine (WSJ) PokerStars agreed to pay $731 million to end a Justice Department lawsuit alleging bank fraud, money laundering and violations of gambling regulations against it and a another poker website. Under the terms, PokerStars, based in the Isle of Man, will pay $547 million to the Justice Department and $184 million to poker players overseas owed money by it and rival website, Full Tilt Poker. As part of the arrangement, Pokerstars will acquire the assets of Full Tilt, once a fierce rival. Stocks Perform Better If Women Are On Company Boards (Bloomberg) Shares of companies with a market capitalization of more than $10 billion and with women board members outperformed comparable businesses with all-male boards by 26 percent worldwide over a period of six years, according to a report by the Credit Suisse Research Institute, created in 2008 to analyze trends expected to affect global markets. “Companies with women on boards really outperformed when the downturn came through in 2008,” Mary Curtis, director of thematic equity research at Credit Suisse in Johannesburg and an author of the report, said in a telephone interview. “Stocks of companies with women on boards tend to be a little more risk averse and have on average a little less debt, which seems to be one of the key reasons why they’ve outperformed so strongly in this particular period.” ‘High’-end LI coke shuttle (NYP) A Bronx-based drug crew used secret car compartments activated by air conditioning and wiper buttons to deliver up to four kilograms of cocaine to the East End of Long Island each week, Suffolk County authorities said yesterday. Two Bronx men and a Riverhead distributor were busted after a seven-month investigation into the coke operation that flooded the Hamptons with $60 one-gram bags of the white powder. Suffolk DA Thomas Spota said the crew transported the product in cars with secret stash areas that opened when basic car-function buttons were pressed in sequence.

Opening Bell: 10.18.12

Morgan Stanley Posts Loss (WSJ) "The rebound in fixed income and commodities sales and trading indicates that clients have re-engaged after the uncertainty of the rating review in the previous quarter," Chief Executive James Gorman said, referring to Moody's Investors Service's move over the summer to downgrade the credit rating on more than a dozen banks. "We are beginning to unlock the full potential of the Global Wealth Management franchise, having increased our ownership of, and agreed on a purchase price for the rest of, Morgan Stanley Wealth Management." For the quarter, Morgan Stanley reported a loss of $1.02 billion, compared with a year-earlier profit of $2.2 billion. The per-share loss, which reflects the payment of preferred dividends, was 55 cents compared with a profit of $1.15 a year earlier. Stripping out the impact of debt-valuation changes, the per-share profit was 28 cents versus two cents a share a year ago. Revenue fell 46% to $5.29 billion, including a negative impact of $2.3 billion from the tightening of credit spreads related to debt. Stripping out debt-valuation changes revenue was up 18% to $7.55 billion. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected earnings of 24 cents, excluding gains related to debt, on revenue of $6.36 billion. Morgan Stanley Reduces Investment-Bank Pay to $5.2 Billion (Bloomberg) The ratio of compensation to revenue in the unit fell to 44.9 percent, compared with 48.4 percent in the same period a year earlier, when excluding accounting gains and losses related to the firm’s credit spreads. That’s still higher than Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan’s investment bank. Compensation and benefits for all of Morgan Stanley totaled $12 billion in the first nine months, down 4 percent. Goldman Ex-Employee Says Firm Pushed Europe Bank Options (Bloomberg) Goldman Sachs sought to profit last year by persuading clients to buy and sell stock options on European banks such as BNP Paribas SA and UniCredit SpA, according to former employee Greg Smith’s new book. “We must have changed our view on each of these institutions from positive to negative back to positive ten times,” Smith writes in “Why I Left Goldman Sachs: A Wall Street Story,” scheduled for release on Oct. 22. “I remember thinking, ‘How can we be doing this with a straight face? No thinking client could believe that conditions on the ground could change that frequently.”’ [...] Smith also describes being disappointed with his $500,000 bonus at the end of 2006. “By any measure, I should have felt exceptionally lucky and grateful,” he writes. “But by the warped logic of Goldman Sachs and Wall Street, I was being screwed.” U.S. to Get Downgraded Amid Fiscal ‘Theater,’ Pimco Says (Bloomberg) “The U.S. will get downgraded, it’s a question of when,” Scott Mather, Pimco’s head of global portfolio management, said today in Wellington. “It depends on what the end of the year looks like, but it could be fairly soon after that.” Asian Scion's Trades Draw Scrutiny (WSJ) A federal probe into an alleged multimillion-dollar insider trading scheme is focusing on the son of a deposed Central Asian autocrat once courted by the U.S. as a key ally in the war on terror, according to people involved in the investigation. The globe-spanning criminal case marks a turnabout by the U.S. against a ruling family it once relied on to keep open military supply lines to Afghanistan. For years, the U.S. maintained good relations with then-Kyrgyzstan President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. Now, the U.S. has prepared charges against the former strongman's son, Maksim Bakiyev, who officials say spent some of his exile in London profiting from illegal tips on stocks trading on the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq. On Friday, the younger Mr. Bakiyev, 35, was arrested in England on an extradition request from the U.S. Mr. Bakiyev's U.K. attorney, Michael O'Kane, declined to comment. Computer programmer 'quadruples productivity' after hiring a woman to slap him in the face every time she catches him looking at Facebook (DM) Maneesh Sethi placed an advert on Craigslist to recruit someone willing to monitor what he was looking at on his laptop. The computer expert and writer, from San Francisco, now pays a female employee £5 ($8) an hour to strike him in the face if she spots him wasting time on social media. Mr Seethi claims the unusual motivational system has helped him boost his productivity from just 35 percent to around 98 percent during the working day...Mr Seethi published details on his blog of his Craigslist advert, which was entitled '(Domestic gigs) Slap me if I get off task'. In it he wrote: 'I'm looking for someone who can work next to me at a defined location (my house or a cafe) and will make sure to watch what is happening on my screen. 'When I am wasting time, you'll have to yell at me or if need be, slap me. 'You can do your own work at the same time. Looking for help asap. Mr Seethi said he was inundated with offers from potential slappers and quickly hired a volunteer he names only as Kara. He wrote: 'Within minutes, my inbox began blowing up. Up to 50% of Greek Workforce Strikes; Tipping Point Nears (CNBC) As European Union leaders prepare to meet in Brussels on Thursday, Greece’s workers aim to make their voices heard by holding a 24-hour strike bringing the country to a halt. With the economy in the fifth year of a recession, the lost production could prove counterproductive and cost the economy 100 million euros ($131 million), according to one expert. Most business and public sector activity is expected to grind to a halt during the strike called by the ADEDY and GSEE unions that represent around 2 million people — half of Greece’s workforce. A protracted news blackout is also expected as television and radio broadcasters and newspapers shut for the day, according to Reuters. Spain Banks Face More Pain as Worst-Case Scenario Turns Real (Bloomberg) Spain’s request for 100 billion euros of European Union financial aid to shore up its banks is increasing concern about the nation’s growing liabilities. Standard & Poor’s downgraded the country’s debt rating by two levels to BBB-, one step above junk, from BBB+ on Oct. 10, saying it wasn’t clear who will bear the cost of recapitalizing banks. It cut the ratings of 11 lenders including Banco Santander SA and Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA, Spain’s largest, two days ago, citing the sovereign downgrade. Brothels Rescue Cash-Strapped Greek Soccer Team (AP) Players on a cash-strapped Greek soccer team now wear pink practice jerseys with the logos "Villa Erotica" and "Soula's House of History," two bordellos it recruited as sponsors after drastic government spending cuts left the country's sports clubs facing ruin. Other teams have also turned to unconventional financing. One has a deal with a local funeral home and others have wooed kebab shops, a jam factory and producers of Greece's trademark feta cheese. But the amateur Voukefalas club — whose players include pizza delivery guys, students, waiters and a bartender — has raised eyebrows with its flamboyant sponsorship choice. Prostitution is legal in Greece, where brothels operate under strict guidelines. Though garish neon signs advertising their services are tolerated, the soccer sponsorship has ruffled some feathers in the sports-mad city of Larissa. League organizers have banned the pink jerseys during games, saying the deal violates "the sporting ideal" and is inappropriate for underage fans...Brothel owner Soula Alevridou, the team's new benefactor, has already paid more than 1,000 euros ($1,312) for players to wear her jerseys. The team is appealing the game ban, but that doesn't worry the 67-year-old Alevridou, who says she's only in it because she loves soccer. "It's not the kind of business that needs promotion," she said, dressed all in white and flanked by two young women in dark leggings at a recent game. "It's a word-of-mouth kind of thing."

Opening Bell: 01.23.13

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

Opening Bell: 01.14.13

Goldman May Delay UK Bonuses Until Top Tax Rate Falls (Reuters) Goldman Sachs is considering delaying bonus payments in the U.K. until after April 6, when the top rate of income tax in the country will drop to 45 percent, from 50 percent, a person familiar with the bank's operations said on Sunday. The strategy relates to bonuses that were deferred from 2009, 2010 and 2011, the person said. The Financial Times reported the news earlier today. JPMorgan Said to Weigh Disclosing Whale Report Faulting Dimon (Bloomberg) JPMorgan's board will consider releasing an internal report this week that faults Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon’s oversight of a division that lost more than $6.2 billion on botched trades, said two people with direct knowledge of the matter. The final report, which builds on a preliminary analysis released in July, is critical of senior managers including Dimon, 56, former Chief Financial Officer Doug Braunstein, 51, and ex-Chief Investment Officer Ina Drew, 56, for inadequately supervising traders in a U.K. unit that amassed an illiquid position in credit derivatives last year, the people said. The report, which isn’t complete, will be presented to the board when it meets tomorrow. The directors will then vote on whether to disclose it when the bank announces fourth-quarter results the following day, said the people, who asked not to be named because the report isn’t yet public. Morgan Stanley to trim Dubai staff amid global cuts (Reuters) "The Dubai cuts are part of the bank's global plan. Obviously, the bank is trying to focus on growth opportunities in the region and there has been little growth on the equities side barring Saudi," one of the sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity as the matter has not been made public. Morgan Stanley's equities business will now focus on Saudi Arabia, the source said, adding that planned cuts at other divisions in the Middle East were minimal. Hedge-Fund Leverage Rises to Most Since 2004 in New Year (Bloomberg) The rising use of borrowed money shows that everyone from the biggest firms to individuals is willing to take more risks after missing the rewards of the bull market that began in 2009. While leverage means bigger losses should stocks decline, investors are betting that record earnings and valuations 9.8 percent below the six-decade average will help push the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index toward the record it set in October 2007. “The first step of increasing risk is just going long, the second part of that is levering up in order to go longer,” James Dunigan, who helps oversee $112 billion as chief investment officer in Philadelphia for PNC Wealth Management, said in a Jan. 8 telephone interview. “Leverage increasing in the hedge-fund area suggests they’re now getting on board.” Goldman: Insurer Knew Paulson Was 'Shorting' (WSJ) Goldman Sachs on Friday fired back at a bond insurer suing it over a soured mortgage-linked deal, arguing in a court filing that ACA Financial Guaranty Corp. "cherry-picked" evidence to bolster its case. ACA in 2011 filed suit against Goldman in New York State Court, alleging Goldman misled it about a 2007 mortgage deal. ACA alleges that Goldman told it that one of Goldman's hedge-fund clients, Paulson & Co., was betting on the deal, when in fact Paulson was betting against it, according to an amended complaint the insurer is seeking to file. Had ACA known Paulson's true position, it never would have insured the deal, according to the amended complaint. Goldman countered in the Friday filing that ACA insured the deal knowing Paulson was betting against residential mortgage-backed securities at the time. ACA analyzed and chose the investments in the deal and should have been alerted by various "red flags" that Paulson wasn't betting on the investment, according to the filing. Primate found to be addicted to porn (NYDN) Gina, a resident of the Seville Zoo in Spain, chose to solely watch adult entertainment channels when a television and remote control was placed in her enclosure. Primatologist Pablo Herreros, writing in Spanish newspaper El Mundo, claimed he made the discovery some years ago on a tour of the nation's chimpanzee enclosures. During his research trip he conducted surveys on the behavior of the animals. Herreros wrote, “What I could never imagine were the surprises prepared for me by a female of this species called Gina who inhabited Seville Zoo.” To enliven Gina's nights, officials apparently decided to install a television, protected behind glass, and gave her a remote control so she could change the channels herself. And enliven herself she did. “The surprise was when they found that within a few days, Gina was not only using the remote control perfectly well, but that she also used to choose the porn channel for entertainment, as many of us would have done, ” Herreros wrote. “Although a small study estimated that porn films are only watched for about 12 minutes on average, the truth is that human and non-human primates possess an intense sexual life.” AIG Sues New York Fed... To Secure Right To Sue Bank Of America (Reuters) American International Group Inc has filed a lawsuit against a vehicle created by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to help bail out the insurer, in a bid to preserve its right to sue Bank of America Corp and other issuers of mortgage debt that went sour. The complaint filed in the New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan seeks a declaration that AIG has not transferred billions of dollars of "litigation claims" to Maiden Lane II, including many related to the insurer's $10 billion lawsuit against Bank of America. UK court approves ex-Credit Suisse trader's extradition to U.S. (Reuters) A British court on Monday approved the extradition of a former Credit Suisse trader to the United States, where he is wanted over a $540-million fraud dating back to the subprime mortgage crisis. The case of Kareem Serageldin will now be sent to Home Secretary Theresa May, the interior minister, who under British law has the final say over extraditions to the United States. She is expected to give the green light for the transfer to take place. Serageldin, 39, the Swiss bank's former global head of structured credit, is accused of artificially inflating the prices of mortgage-backed bonds between August 2007 and February 2008, when their real value was plummeting. Equities Bear Brunt of Wall Street Job Cuts on Volume (Bloomberg) Employees on stocks desks fell by 8.5 percent globally in the first nine months of last year, according to a survey by Coalition Ltd., an industry analytics firm. That compares with a 6.6 percent drop in fixed-income workers and a 5.8 percent decrease for origination and advisory functions, the data show. Banks Find Promise Unfulfilled in China Forays (WSJ) Global firms sold about US$44 billion worth of shares in Asian financial institutions in 2012 to institutional investors or other strategic buyers, up from US$32.7 billion in 2011, according to data provider Dealogic. The retreat is gathering pace as a host of new regulations, including the so-called Basel III capital rules, make holding minority stakes in financial institutions more expensive. Thousands Participate In Annual No Pants Subway Ride (CBS) Organizers arranged that starting at 3 p.m., people got on trains at six different stops across the city, took off their pants and put them into their backpack. Participants then acted as if everything was completely normal as they rode on to Union Square. Participants are asked to don typical winter wear such as coats, hats and gloves and act as if they don’t know other pantsless riders, according to organizers. The group said it was just all in good fun. “People are willing to give basically their Sunday afternoon to take off their pants; to do something silly and fun, and you know, a good time,” one participant said. “It makes you feel invincible; superior, because nobody else has any idea what’s going on,” another said. There were no-pants subway rides in dozens of cities in 17 countries Sunday. In New York City, participants were happy it was rather warm. In prior years, the cold has bummed them out.