Opening Bell: 08.22.12

Public Pension Funds Named To Lead ‘London Whale’ Lawsuit (Bloomberg) U.S. District Judge George Daniels in Manhattan ruled today that lawsuits against the New York-based bank should be consolidated into a class action. The pension funds allege they lost as much as $52 million because of fraudulent activities by JPMorgan’s London chief investment office. The lead plaintiffs named by Daniels are the Arkansas Teacher Retirement System, Ohio Public Employee Retirement System, School Employees Retirement System of Ohio, State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio, Oregon Public Employee Retirement Fund and the Swedish pension fund Sjunde AP-Fonden. Pressures Intensify On Merkel (WSJ) The Greek government, struggling with depression-like conditions that have pushed the economy to the brink, is likely to need many billions of euros of additional aid to avoid bankruptcy. If Athens doesn't get the money, it may be forced to leave the euro, an outcome that would undermine financial markets' tenuous confidence in other vulnerable southern euro members, including Spain and Italy. An expansion of Greece's €173 billion ($213.4 billion) bailout that was agreed to this spring faces adamant opposition in Ms. Merkel's center-right coalition in Germany's parliament, the Bundestag. Her junior coalition partners are especially against lending Greece more money, threatening to leave her either without a governing majority—or without a plausible way to cover Athens's funding gap. "It is one of the hardest dilemmas she has faced as chancellor," said an adviser to Ms. Merkel. The chancellor is set to meet with French President François Hollande on Thursday and Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras on Friday, meetings the chancellor's aides say will help determine Berlin's course. Austria's AAA Rating Under Attack From East and West (CNBC) Of the three major credit rating agencies, only Fitch Ratings still rates Austria triple-A with stable outlook. Moody’s Investors Service put Austria’s top notch rating on negative watch in February, while Standard & Poor’s downgraded the country to double-A plus with negative outlook in January. Facebook Challenged By Swedish Count’s Jet-Set Website (Bloomberg) The BestofAllWorlds site, which starts Aug. 27, will allow users to mingle online with like-minded people, find restaurants and nightlife in city guides and discover who’s attending events such as Art Basel in Miami and England’s Royal Ascot horse racing, said Erik Wachtmeister, whose father was a Swedish ambassador to the U.S. “Facebook is a monopoly in the social sphere, but it only gives little value,” Wachtmeister said in an interview in London. “We can deliver clever filters, cut through the mess and get information that’s relevant and we can trust.” Fed Probes RBS Over Dealings With Iran (FT) The UK bank is being probed by being probed by the Federal Reserve and Department of Justice after volunteering information to them and U.K. regulators about 18 months ago, several people close to the situation said. The bank uncovered the alleged failings after Chief Executive Stephen Hester initiated an internal review not long after his arrival three years ago...The probe marks the latest blow for RBS following a series of mishaps including an IT failure, widespread mis-selling of retail and small-business products and its involvement in the scandal over the alleged manipulation of Libor interest rates Suspect asks DeLand doughnut shop worker for pen to write robbery note (NYP) An embarrassed Atlantic City casino is suing 14 gamblers — including two Big Apple residents — demanding they return the whopping $1.5 million they collectively won after realizing the mini-Baccarat table they were playing at was using unshuffled decks of cards. The sharp-eyed gamblers racked up a staggering 41 winning bets in a row at the Golden Nugget after seeing cards in the eight-deck shoe coming out in sequence and adjusted their wagers accordingly — as the clueless croupiers kept on dealing. Stunned casino workers swarmed the hot table suspecting the players of cheating — but only later realized that the cards that had been ordered as pre-shuffled from a Missouri company “were not shuffled at all,” a Golden Nugget spokeswoman said yesterday. “The gamblers unlawfully took advantage of the Golden Nugget when they caught on to the pattern and increased their bets from as little as $10 to $5,000,” the casino said in a written statement...It has been met with a countersuit from three of the bettors, including Queens resident Ping Lin, who allegedly managed to collect $50,000 from the casino, and Brooklyn cook Hua Shi, who allegedly collected $149,000. They claim they should be allowed to cash in chips they won and keep the cash they already managed to collect. Nomura Retrenches, Mends Fences (WSJ) Nomura's new leaders are discussing the future of that global push as well as how to repair the company's relationship with financial authorities. On the table are deep cuts in overseas operations and a possible change to a controversial compensation plan, among other policy options, that could shift away from the globalization strategy set by former Chief Executive Kenichi Watanabe and his deputy Takumi Shibata through the acquisition of Lehman Brothers' European and Asian businesses in 2008, say people close to the talks. Last Man Standing Means Europe Investment Banks Resist Shrinking (Bloomberg) Europe’s failure to resolve its sovereign-debt crisis will force investment-banking chiefs in the region to consider shuttering entire businesses rather than rely on piecemeal job reductions to reviveprofit. Dealmaking fees may drop 25 percent this year from 2009, when the crisis began in Greece, research firm Freeman & Co. estimates. European banks have cut about 172,000 positions since then, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, the same strategy they used after Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. collapsed in 2008. Florida couple arrested after swinger’s party takes violent turn (NYDN) Tina Michelle Norris, 39, and her boyfriend James Albert Barfield, 56, both invited guests over to their home for sex Sunday night, the Hernando Today reported. But Norris got mad when she saw her boyfriend in bed with another woman and Barfield lost his cool when he saw his girlfriend under the sheets with two other men, according to the newspaper. The pair quickly got physical, with Norris sustaining a bloody lip and Barfield suffering multiple scratch marks on his neck and back, cops told Hernando Today. Police got quite the eyeful when they arrived at 6 a.m. to arrest the couple, both of whom were still donning their birthday suits. Norris was "very intoxicated and uncooperative" and refused to put her clothes back on, Deputy Cari Smith wrote in her affidavit. Barfield was also nude when Smith arrived at the home. A roommate, who was sleeping in a separate room of the house at the time of the incident, said she awoke to shouting and yelling. She went out into the hallway and found Norris and Barfield "pushing and shoving each other from one end of the house to the other (while) breaking things in the process," Smith wrote.
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Public Pension Funds Named To Lead ‘London Whale’ Lawsuit (Bloomberg)
U.S. District Judge George Daniels in Manhattan ruled today that lawsuits against the New York-based bank should be consolidated into a class action. The pension funds allege they lost as much as $52 million because of fraudulent activities by JPMorgan’s London chief investment office. The lead plaintiffs named by Daniels are the Arkansas Teacher Retirement System, Ohio Public Employee Retirement System, School Employees Retirement System of Ohio, State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio, Oregon Public Employee Retirement Fund and the Swedish pension fund Sjunde AP-Fonden.

Pressures Intensify On Merkel (WSJ)
The Greek government, struggling with depression-like conditions that have pushed the economy to the brink, is likely to need many billions of euros of additional aid to avoid bankruptcy. If Athens doesn't get the money, it may be forced to leave the euro, an outcome that would undermine financial markets' tenuous confidence in other vulnerable southern euro members, including Spain and Italy. An expansion of Greece's €173 billion ($213.4 billion) bailout that was agreed to this spring faces adamant opposition in Ms. Merkel's center-right coalition in Germany's parliament, the Bundestag. Her junior coalition partners are especially against lending Greece more money, threatening to leave her either without a governing majority—or without a plausible way to cover Athens's funding gap. "It is one of the hardest dilemmas she has faced as chancellor," said an adviser to Ms. Merkel. The chancellor is set to meet with French President François Hollande on Thursday and Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras on Friday, meetings the chancellor's aides say will help determine Berlin's course.

Austria's AAA Rating Under Attack From East and West (CNBC)
Of the three major credit rating agencies, only Fitch Ratings still rates Austria triple-A with stable outlook. Moody’s Investors Service put Austria’s top notch rating on negative watch in February, while Standard & Poor’s downgraded the country to double-A plus with negative outlook in January.

Facebook Challenged By Swedish Count’s Jet-Set Website (Bloomberg)
The BestofAllWorlds site, which starts Aug. 27, will allow users to mingle online with like-minded people, find restaurants and nightlife in city guides and discover who’s attending events such as Art Basel in Miami and England’s Royal Ascot horse racing, said Erik Wachtmeister, whose father was a Swedish ambassador to the U.S. “Facebook is a monopoly in the social sphere, but it only gives little value,” Wachtmeister said in an interview in London. “We can deliver clever filters, cut through the mess and get information that’s relevant and we can trust.”

Fed Probes RBS Over Dealings With Iran (FT)
The UK bank is being probed by being probed by the Federal Reserve and Department of Justice after volunteering information to them and U.K. regulators about 18 months ago, several people close to the situation said. The bank uncovered the alleged failings after Chief Executive Stephen Hester initiated an internal review not long after his arrival three years ago...The probe marks the latest blow for RBS following a series of mishaps including an IT failure, widespread mis-selling of retail and small-business products and its involvement in the scandal over the alleged manipulation of Libor interest rates

Casino wants $1.5M back from winners (NYP)
An embarrassed Atlantic City casino is suing 14 gamblers — including two Big Apple residents — demanding they return the whopping $1.5 million they collectively won after realizing the mini-Baccarat table they were playing at was using unshuffled decks of cards. The sharp-eyed gamblers racked up a staggering 41 winning bets in a row at the Golden Nugget after seeing cards in the eight-deck shoe coming out in sequence and adjusted their wagers accordingly — as the clueless croupiers kept on dealing. Stunned casino workers swarmed the hot table suspecting the players of cheating — but only later realized that the cards that had been ordered as pre-shuffled from a Missouri company “were not shuffled at all,” a Golden Nugget spokeswoman said yesterday. “The gamblers unlawfully took advantage of the Golden Nugget when they caught on to the pattern and increased their bets from as little as $10 to $5,000,” the casino said in a written statement...It has been met with a countersuit from three of the bettors, including Queens resident Ping Lin, who allegedly managed to collect $50,000 from the casino, and Brooklyn cook Hua Shi, who allegedly collected $149,000. They claim they should be allowed to cash in chips they won and keep the cash they already managed to collect.

Hedge funds nibble at Greek bonds on hopes of deal (Reuters)
A handful of plucky hedge funds are nibbling again at cut-price Greek government bonds, increasingly optimistic that progress in talks between Athens and international lenders will deliver a better principle payout for bondholders. Such funds think the bonds, which attracted few buyers after a second bailout in March inflicted heavy losses on private investors, may now be a bargain as hopes grow politicians can keep Greece on track to meet conditions for its cash lifeline.

Nomura Retrenches, Mends Fences (WSJ)
Nomura's new leaders are discussing the future of that global push as well as how to repair the company's relationship with financial authorities. On the table are deep cuts in overseas operations and a possible change to a controversial compensation plan, among other policy options, that could shift away from the globalization strategy set by former Chief Executive Kenichi Watanabe and his deputy Takumi Shibata through the acquisition of Lehman Brothers' European and Asian businesses in 2008, say people close to the talks.

Last Man Standing Means Europe Investment Banks Resist Shrinking (Bloomberg)
Europe’s failure to resolve its sovereign-debt crisis will force investment-banking chiefs in the region to consider shuttering entire businesses rather than rely on piecemeal job reductions to revive profit. Dealmaking fees may drop 25 percent this year from 2009, when the crisis began in Greece, research firm Freeman & Co. estimates. European banks have cut about 172,000 positions since then, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, the same strategy they used after Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. collapsed in 2008.

Florida couple arrested after swinger’s party takes violent turn (NYDN)
Tina Michelle Norris, 39, and her boyfriend James Albert Barfield, 56, both invited guests over to their home for sex Sunday night, the Hernando Today reported. But Norris got mad when she saw her boyfriend in bed with another woman and Barfield lost his cool when he saw his girlfriend under the sheets with two other men, according to the newspaper. The pair quickly got physical, with Norris sustaining a bloody lip and Barfield suffering multiple scratch marks on his neck and back, cops told Hernando Today. Police got quite the eyeful when they arrived at 6 a.m. to arrest the couple, both of whom were still donning their birthday suits. Norris was "very intoxicated and uncooperative" and refused to put her clothes back on, Deputy Cari Smith wrote in her affidavit. Barfield was also nude when Smith arrived at the home. A roommate, who was sleeping in a separate room of the house at the time of the incident, said she awoke to shouting and yelling. She went out into the hallway and found Norris and Barfield "pushing and shoving each other from one end of the house to the other (while) breaking things in the process," Smith wrote.

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Opening Bell: 10.23.12

Barney Frank cries foul in government's lawsuit against JPMorgan (Reuters) Democratic Congressman Barney Frank defended the largest U.S. bank on Monday, saying in a statement that the government was wrong to go after JPMorgan Chase & Co for the alleged misdeeds of Bear Stearns. Frank, who served as chairman of the House Financial Services Committee during the Bear Stearns acquisition, said federal and state officials should reconsider holding financial firms liable for the wrongdoing of institutions they absorbed at the government's urging. "The decision now to prosecute J.P. Morgan Chase because of activities undertaken by Bear Stearns before the takeover unfortunately fits the description of allowing no good deed to go unpunished," said Frank, who was also the co-author of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sued JPMorgan, the nation's largest bank by assets, on October 1 over mortgage-backed securities packaged and sold by Bear Stearns. Hedge Funds Hot For Ailing Greece's Debt (WSJ) Ever since Greece completed a debt restructuring in March that turned €200 billion in bonds into about €60 billion, distressed-debt investors—many at U.S. hedge funds—have been picking them over. Hedge-fund analysts have flooded Greek finance officials with requests for information. Prices have climbed. Third Point LLC, based in New York, crowed about Greece in its investor letter earlier this month, citing the resilience of the bonds of fellow bailout-recipient Portugal. "We expected Greece to keep its head up and undergo a similar metamorphosis," the letter said. Ever since Greece completed a debt restructuring in March that turned €200 billion in bonds into about €60 billion, distressed-debt investors—many at U.S. hedge funds—have been picking them over. Hedge-fund analysts have flooded Greek finance officials with requests for information. Prices have climbed. Third Point LLC, based in New York, crowed about Greece in its investor letter earlier this month, citing the resilience of the bonds of fellow bailout-recipient Portugal. "We expected Greece to keep its head up and undergo a similar metamorphosis," the letter said. Billionaire Wilbur Ross Interested In Buying Spanish Bank Assets (Bloomberg) Ross’s WL Ross & Co., which holds about 10 percent of Bank of Ireland and teamed up with Richard Branson to buy part of Northern Rock Plc, is in talks “almost every week” with representatives of the large Spanish banks, he said in an interview in Abu Dhabi, without naming potential targets. “Maybe next year will be the year for Spain,” he said. “We’ve been doing a lot of work in Spain. We’ve put a lot of time and effort into Spain but haven’t put any money in yet.” Doom Heralded at Hayman by Widening Trade Deficit (Bloomberg) Japan’s worsening trade gap will make it harder to service the world’s largest debt, fulfilling part of the doomsday scenario that Hayman Capital Management LP is betting on. The nation’s 10-year note yield may rise toward 10 percent from the world’s third-lowest of 0.79 percent, while the yen weakens, said Richard Howard, who oversees Dallas, Texas-based Hayman’s Japan-focused fund with J. Kyle Bass. That would represent the developed world’s second-highest borrowing costs after Greece, and a surge to that level by the end of 2013 would cause losses of 42 percent for investors purchasing the securities now, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Regulators Crash Over Volcker Definitions (WSJ) The SEC and a trio of banking regulators are butting heads over how to define the buying and selling of securities on behalf of clients, known as market-making, as well as over banks' ability to invest in outside investment vehicles such as hedge funds, according to officials close to the discussions. Since brokers, which are overseen by the SEC, conduct market-making activities, the SEC is pushing for more influence over the issue, these people said. Police: Woman fakes her own kidnapping to get day off work (WOAI) An officer on patrol went to check out a car parked near Ray Ellison and Five Palms around 6:30 p.m. on October 10th. When the officer looked inside the car, he spotted 48-year-old Sheila Bailey Eubank bound with rope. An arrest warrant affidavit states Eubank told police a man jumped into her car around 6:15 a.m. while she was at a Security Service Federal Credit Union ATM near Loop 1604 and Bandera Road. Eubank said the man held her an knife point and forced her to drive him to various locations for what she believed were drug deals. She told officers he then assaulted her, tried to choke her with a rope, and then tied her up and left her in her car. However, officers discovered a lottery ticket in Eubank's purse that was purchased that day during the hours she claimed she was being held. Investigators reviewed surveillance video from the store where the lottery ticket was purchased and found out she had entered the store by herself and appeared "healthy, unhurried, and pleasant with the clerk." Investigators then reviewed video from the Security Service Federal Credit Union where Eubank claimed she was abducted. The video showed withdrawing money from the motor ATM, but there were no signs that anyone else was with her. Police say when Eubank was confronted by investigators, she eventually admitted her story was false and that she simply wanted a day off from work and wanted attention. BofA CEO Moynihan Declares Victory Over Capital Doubters (Bloomberg) Bank of America now has the “top capital” among peers and is capable of paying a bigger dividend, said Chief Executive Officer Brian T. Moynihan. The bank has fulfilled a goal Moynihan drilled into subordinates since his first day on the job: building a “fortress balance sheet,” he said in an Oct. 17 staff meeting at the company’s Charlotte, North Carolina headquarters. “We’re going to officially declare victory on one of those operating principles,” Moynihan said in the town-hall style meeting. “The reason why is, we have the top capital in the industry, the top liquidity in the industry.” People have stopped asking if the bank needs more funds to absorb losses and now want to know when investors will get the excess, he said. Word-Smith: Greg's Book Has 0 Sachs Appeal (NYP) Among the mistakes in the book, sources noted, was Smith’s description of a town-hall meeting last year hosted by Goldman’s co-heads of investment banking — South African Richard Gnodde and Michael “Woody” Sherwood...Smith said one question from a Goldman employee during the 2011 meeting was: “What is the firm doing to address the fact that the culture is dying and our reputation is deteriorating?” According to Goldman, a female referenced in Smith’s book as a “power-hungry” managing director — identified as “Georgette” — was the individual who posed the question about culture. Georgette presented the question as: How is the firm addressing “the perception of the deteriorating culture,” according to a recording of the event, reviewed yesterday by The Post. Smith also writes about a follow-up question demanding “what specifically” the bank was doing — and that it was followed with uncomfortable laughter before some fumbling about over which executive should field the query. There was no follow-up question in the recording of the meeting. Smith embellished that aspect of the book and omitted that “Georgette” — a woman whom Smith worked with and dubbed the “Black Widow” for her cutthroat manner — was the source of the question about values because it undermined his narrative, a source inside the company said. Low Rates Pummel Bank Profits (WSJ) "The longer the Fed stays down at these levels the more it will hurt banks," said Scott Lied, the chief financial officer of ENB Financial Corp, an Ephrata, Pa., institution that has eight branches and 225 employees. "It's painful." Gupta Sentencing Set For Tomorrow (NYP) Prosecutors say Gupta, convicted by a jury in June, deserves as long as 10 years in prison. Gupta seeks probation. Gary Naftalis, a lawyer for Gupta, argued his client’s crime was an “aberrational” event in a “lifetime of good works” that merited a punishment for a man who has suffered an extraordinary fall from grace. He asked Rakoff to impose a term of community service, suggesting Gupta work with troubled youth in New York or with the poor in Rwanda. Theater Thief Costs Movie-Goers Tens of Thousands In Credit Card Fraud (Courant) A man who may have stolen as much as $70,000 a week by slithering beneath theater seats while movies were playing and lifting credit cards from women's' pocketbooks was convicted Monday of fraud and identity theft crimes. Anthony Johnson, 49, and a string of accomplices used the stolen cards to collect thousands of dollars in cash advances from Connecticut's gambling casinos and to make tens of thousands of dollars more in retail purchases in Connecticut and elsewhere, authorities said. On a "good" weekend, Johnson collected $50,000 to $70,000 from the scheme, one of his accomplices testified last week at his trial at U.S. District Court in Hartford. He had to settle for $30,000 or $40,000 on a bad weekend, the accomplice said. The accomplice, who agreed to cooperate with authorities, said Johnson, of Philadelphia, typically worked with women accomplices. They bought tickets to motion pictures likely to be popular with female audiences and chose seats from which they could watch how women in the audience stored their pocketbooks. "Once the movie started, Johnson crawled on the floor, removed credit cards from the stored purses, and returned the wallet to the purses," according to an FBI affidavit. "Johnson crawled in this manner around the theater until he was done…"

Opening Bell: 08.02.12

Knight Says Glitch Cost It $440 Million (WSJ) Knight, in a press statement Thursday, said the problematic software had been removed from its systems and that the firm would conduct business making markets and trading on behalf of its clients Thursday. Knight's broker-dealer subsidiaries are in compliance with requirements to hold capital, the company said. The estimated $440 million loss disclosed Thursday by Knight follows a $35.4 million hit taken by the company in the problematic stock-market debut of Facebook. Goldman Leads Foreign Banks Accelerating Job Cuts In Japan (Bloomberg) Goldman Sachs led foreign banks in accelerating job cuts at their Japanese brokerages last fiscal year as employees relocated to other Asian financial centers and firms trimmed costs amid a global industry slump. The number of staff at nine global securities firms in Japan fell by 537, or 7.3 percent, to a combined 6,796 as of March 31, more than double the previous year’s 3.2 percent reduction, according to company regulatory filings. Wall Street and European banks have been eliminating jobs and transferring staff from Japan to Hong Kong and Singapore to reduce expenses as the euro region’s debt woes dent global investor confidence. The worst may be over as Japan recovers from last year’s nuclear crisis and some U.S. firms start hiring junior bankers for mergers advice and asset management, said Katsunobu Komizo, a Tokyo-based recruiting consultant. BNP Paribas Second Quarter Net Falls, Hits Capital Goal Early (Reuters) Second-quarter net income fell to 1.85 billion euros ($2.27 billion), beating the average of analyst estimates of 1.74 billion in a Reuters poll. Revenue dropped 8 percent to 10.10 billion, broadly in line with the poll average of 10.13 billion. The bank hit an 8.9 percent core Tier 1 ratio under stricter new Basel III methodology due to come into force from 2013. It is six months ahead of its target to hit 9 percent by end-2013. AIG Pushing Plan For Independence (WSJ) Several analysts who follow the company say the government's stake could be cut below 30% before the November elections, if asset sales expected by AIG in the coming months help the company raise a total of $10 billion to $15 billion in excess capital. The buybacks are likely to accompany one or more public share offerings of AIG stock by the Treasury, which over the past 16 months has reduced its stake from a peak of 92% through a series of at-market sales. Boulder police: Longmont man urinated on woman at bar after she rejected his advances (CD) Boulder police arrested a Longmont man who witnesses said urinated on a woman at a local bar after she rejected his advances Saturday night, according to a report. The woman told police she was standing next to the bar at Shooters Grill and Bar, 1801 13th St., about 11:45 p.m. Saturday when a man -- later identified as Timothy Paez, 22 -- came up behind her and put his arm around her. The woman turned around and said, "Um, really?," and Paez took his arm off her, according to the report. According to police, a few seconds later, the woman said she felt some sort of liquid hitting her leg. She initially thought Paez was spilling his beer on her, but when she turned around she told police she saw Paez with his penis exposed urinating on her leg and the front of the bar. Berkshire Benefits As Buffett Wagers On U.S. Housing (Bloomberg) “I don’t know if he’s lucky, smart or patriotic, but it’s worked out for him,” Cliff Gallant, an analyst at KBW Inc., said in a phone interview. He estimates that Berkshire will post an operating profit of $1,750 a share for the second quarter, a 6.7 percent increase from a year earlier. Bacon To Return $2 Billion (NYP) Louis Moore Bacon plans to give back $2 billion, or 25 percent of his main hedge fund, to investors, saying it may be too big for him to achieve past returns as “liquidity and opportunities have become more constrained.” Bacon, who seeks to exploit macroeconomic trends such as changes in interest rates and currencies, returned a “disappointing” 0.35 percent in the first half and a “tolerable” 6 percent in the past year, according to a letter sent yesterday to clients. He has gained on average more than 18 percent a year since starting the Moore Global Investments fund in 1989. Jobless Claims Increase (WSJ) Initial jobless claims, an indication of layoffs, increased by 8,000 to a seasonally adjusted 365,000 in the week ended July 28, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires had forecast 370,000 new applications for jobless benefits last week. Your 119 Billion Google Searches Now A Central Bank Tool (Bloomberg) Margo Sugarman spent months last year searching on Google for the appliances to complete her dream kitchen, scouring the Internet for information on the latest double ovens and low-noise mixers. Not only did those queries guide the Tel Mond, Israel, resident to the best deals for her 70,000-shekel ($17,680) renovation, they also helped the Bank of Israel, which looks to searches like Sugarman’s to assess the state of the nation’s $243 billion economy. The central bank stands at the forefront of the world’s hunt for new economic indicators, analyzing keyword counts for everything from aerobics classes to refrigerators -- reported by Google almost as soon as the queries take place -- to gauge consumer demand before official statistics are released. The Federal Reserve and the central banks of England, Italy, Spain and Chile have followed up with their own studies to see if search volumes track trends in the economies they oversee. For Retiring GE Executive, $89,000/Month Not to Work (WSJ) John Krenicki is giving up his General Electric paycheck. But he's going to be collecting an allowance. As part of a deal to keep the veteran executive from joining a competitor for an usually long three years, the conglomerate has agreed to pay Mr. Krenicki $89,000 a month until 2022. The payment to Mr. Krenicki, who is 50 years old, was dubbed a retirement allowance by GE and is worth $1 million a year.

Opening Bell: 02.26.13

J.P. Morgan’s Investor Day: Cut That Headcount (Deal Journal) JP Morgan is looking to cut another $1 billion out of its expenses this year, including somewhere around 4,000 jobs, according to a new presentation...And that may not be all the cuts. In a separate presentation on the consumer bank and mortgage operations the bank expects to cut costs in mortgage banking by $3 billion over this year and next year and cut headcount there by between 13,000 and 15,000. Banks Face Hurdle In Libor Fight (WSJ) Next week, lawyers for Barclays PLC, Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC, UBS AG and more than a dozen other banks still under investigation are expected to ask a federal-court judge to throw out many of the suits, which seek class-action status. The suits, filed in civil court in California and New York by plaintiffs ranging from a retired cable-car driver in San Francisco to the city of Baltimore, have been piling up for nearly two years. They seek damages that could reach into the tens of billions of dollars from financial institutions that help determine the London interbank offered rate, or Libor. Barclays, RBS and UBS already have paid about $2.5 billion, and admitted wrongdoing, to settle rate-rigging allegations by U.S. and U.K. regulators. In court filings, lawyers for the 16 banks accused of wrongdoing say the lawsuits have no legal validity. The lawyers say regulatory settlements reached so far don't support the central allegation in most of the civil suits that banks engaged in illegal, anticompetitive behavior. Berlusconi Concedes as He Weighs Alliance (Bloomberg) Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi acknowledged rival Pier Luigi Bersani’s narrow victory in the lower house of Parliament and said he’s open to a broad alliance to avoid a second election. “Everyone needs to think what good can be done for Italy and this will take some time,” Berlusconi said in an interview with Canale 5, a station owned by his Mediaset SpA broadcaster. The country can’t be left without a government, he said. Lew gettin’ close: Senate panel to OK as next Treasury boss (NYP) Treasury Secretary-nominee Jack Lew will get the green light to replace Tim Geithner despite taking heat during and after his confirmation hearing over a loan he received from New York University. The 57-year-old former White House chief of staff has enough votes from the Senate Finance Committee, headed by Max Baucus (D-Mont.), to pass a vote today that will likely lead to his confirmation, sources said. A full Senate vote is likely to be scheduled in a couple of days and held sometime next week. Larry Summers: Sequestration 'Meat Cleaver' Is Irresponsible (CNBC) Avoiding the "sequester" is "round three" in the debt-reduction debate, former Clinton Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers told CNBC Tuesday, arguing for a "balanced approach" because President Barack Obama has agreed to more spending cuts than revenue during the process. In a "Squawk Box" interview, Summers said the funding constraints of the Budget Control Act of 2011 — which resolved that year's debt ceiling crisis — were round one. "You had spending cuts that were far larger from the discretionary side, that were far larger than anything [on revenue] that happened in December. Right now, we're way in balance toward more spending cuts." Dominique Strauss-Kahn seeks to ban 'half-man half-pig' book (Telegraph) The "biographical novel" by Marcela Iacub, a lawyer and journalist, recounts her seven-month affair with the 64-year-old Mr Strauss-Kahn last year. It is due to be published on Wednesday under the title, Belle et Bête, or Beauty and Beast. But the one-time Socialist presidential hopeful will this morning seek to have the book banned for "violation of the intimacy of private life" and the author and her publisher fined 100,000 euros (£88,000) in damages...In the work, she claims Mr Strauss-Kahn would have transformed the Elysée Palace into a "giant swingers' club" had he been elected French president. In fresh accounts by those who have read the book yesterday, the last chapter narrates the pair's final encounter, ending in Miss Iacub receiving treatment in casualty after "the pig" left her with an "eaten ear". Mr Strauss-Kahn has slammed the work of a woman who "seduces to write a book, claiming to have amorous feelings to exploit them for financial gain". Gupta's Gotta Pay GS $6.2 Million (NYP) Former Goldman Sachs director Rajat Gupta was ordered yesterday by a Manhattan federal judge to fork over a whopping $6.2 million to repay the Wall Street bank for legal fees it spent during the government’s probe of Gupta’s insider-trading case. The 64-year-old fallen star was convicted last year of giving up secrets he learned while on Goldman’s board to his pal and hedge fund honcho Raj Rajaratnam. Among the counts, the jury found Gupta guilty of giving Rajaratnam a tip on Warren Buffett’s $5 billion investment in Goldman in the throes of the financial crisis. Gupta, the former head of consulting firm McKinsey, is out on bail while he appeals the ruling. Goldman had requested restitution of $6.9 million — and submitted 542 pages of billing records from its lawyers at Sullivan Cromwell. Yahoo’s Mayer Risks Productivity With Work-From-Home Restriction (Bloomberg) Jackie Reses, Yahoo’s executive vice president of people and development, sent a memo last week asking employees with work-from-home arrangements to make their way to the company’s offices, starting June. “To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side,” according to the memo, whose contents were confirmed by a Yahoo employee who asked not to be identified because it’s not a public document. “Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.” At a time when Mayer is under pressure to jump-start growth and create innovative products, the shift may compromise Yahoo’s ability to attract employees seeking the freedom to work outside the office -- a perk offered by many of the company’s competitors. Research suggests that working from home enhances productivity, said Jody Thompson, co-founder of workforce consultant CultureRx. BP Oil-Spill Trial Begins (WSJ) Both Transocean and the Justice Department focused part of their opening statements on a 10-minute ship-to-shore phone call between two BP engineers, Donald Vidrine and Mark Hafle, less than an hour before the blast. From the rig, Mr. Vidrine allegedly talked about unusual results from a test designed to ensure the cement sealing in the bottom of the well was successful. Investigators later found that rig workers misinterpreted the results of the test. Dennis Rodman Bound For North Korea (Reuters) Retired U.S. basketball player Dennis Rodman is to visit North Korea to film a television documentary and will arrive in the capital Pyongyang on Tuesday, the Associated Press reported. Rodman, now 51 years old, won five NBA championships in his prime, achieving a mix of fame and notoriety for his on- and off-court antics. Thirty-year-old North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who has launched two long-range rockets and carried out a nuclear weapons test during his first year in power, is reported to be an avid NBA fan and had pictures taken with players from the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers during his school days in Switzerland. "At a time when tensions between the two countries (the United States and North Korea) are running high, it's important to keep lines of communication open, no matter how non-traditional those channels are," AP quoted Shane Smith, the founder of VICE, which is to make the TV series, as saying.

Opening Bell: 03.01.13

Congress Leaders To Meet With Obama As Budget Cuts Begin (Bloomberg) Democrats and Republicans are in a standoff over how to replace the cuts totaling $1.2 trillion over nine years, $85 billion of which would occur in the remaining seven months of this fiscal year. Republicans reject Democrats’ call for higher taxes on top earners to replace part of the spending reductions. “Middle-class families can’t keep paying the price for dysfunction in Washington,” Obama said in a statement yesterday. The president has until 11:59 p.m. to issue the order officially putting the cuts into effect. “How much more money do we want to steal from the American people to fund more government?” Boehner said at a news conference in Washington yesterday. “I’m for no more.” The White House meeting follows the Senate’s rejection yesterday of a pair of partisan proposals to replace the spending reductions. No additional congressional action is planned before the start of the cuts, to be split between defense and non-defense spending. Fiscal Pain to Be Parceled Out Unevenly (WSJ) Economies in and around the nation's capital are likely to feel the most pain. Federal spending accounts for about a fifth of the economic output of Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia, according to the Pew Center on the States. Other areas likely to be hit hard are Hawaii and Alaska, which have a heavy military presence, and states such as New Mexico, Kentucky and Alabama, which have major defense operations or substantial military contracting. Struggling Groupon Ousts Its Quirky CEO (WSJ) Mr. Mason didn't return calls for comment. In a memo to employees that was by turns tongue-in-cheek and rueful, he said, "After four and a half intense and wonderful years as CEO of Groupon, I've decided that I'd like to spend more time with my family. Just kidding—I was fired today." 'Girls' Gone Under (NYP) “Girls Gone Wild” founder Joe Francis has put his video empire into bankruptcy in a bid to wiggle out of some $16 million in debt — most of it owed to casino magnate Steve Wynn. Wynn’s camp claims Francis owes closer to $30 million, including $2 million for unpaid gambling debts and $7.5 million in defamation damages. Wynn first hauled Francis to court to get him to pay the $2 million debt he racked up during a 2007 gambling binge. He sued again for defamation after Francis blabbed to gossip site TMZ that Wynn threatened to kill him and bury him in the desert. Wynn won two defamation awards for $7.5 million and $20 million, although the latter wasn’t listed in the Chapter 11 filing. Michael Weaver, a spokesman for Wynn Las Vegas, said the judgments are against Francis “personally” and not the company. “Consequently, these recent bankruptcy filings by the GGW companies will not slow our efforts to collect on our judgments against Mr. Francis,” he said. New York Investigating Bank of America for Mortgages (Reuters) Bank of America said in a securities filing on Thursday that the New York State Attorney General was investigating the bank over its purchase, securitization and underwriting of home loans. SEC Scrutinizing Chesapeake Energy (WSJ) The SEC notified Chesapeake in December that it was stepping up an informal inquiry into Aubrey McClendon's ability to invest in wells that the company drills, the company disclosed in a regulatory filing. The agency has issued subpoenas for information and testimony to Chesapeake, the country's second-largest natural-gas producer. Mornings Not For Erin Burnett, Demanding Sizable Buyout (NYP) Erin Burnett made her morning-show debut yesterday on CNN with Chris Cuomo for Pope Benedict XVI’s last day on the job. But it doesn’t mean she’s going to end up there permanently, sources tell The Post’s Michael Shain. It seems Burnett is digging in her high heels and refusing the new morning assignment. She has a clause in her contract that requires CNN to air her show in prime time. If new boss Jeff Zucker wants her to get up at 4 a.m., Erin is demanding a sizable chunk of cash — more than her $2.5 million salary — to buy her out of the prime-time clause. Insiders say Zucker believes she should be grateful she’s being offered a marquee job and he has started to look elsewhere for an anchor to partner with Cuomo. Burnett is telling her staff she doesn’t want to go to the morning. “What she means is she doesn’t want to go at the old price,” sniffed a source. Druckenmiller Sees Storm Worse Than ’08 as Retirees Steal (Bloomberg) Druckenmiller, 59, said the mushrooming costs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, with unfunded liabilities as high as $211 trillion, will bankrupt the nation’s youth and pose a much greater danger than the country’s $16 trillion of debt currently being debated in Congress. “While everybody is focusing on the here and now, there’s a much, much bigger storm that’s about to hit,” Druckenmiller said in an hour-long interview with Stephanie Ruhle on Bloomberg Television’s Market Makers. “I am not against seniors. What I am against is current seniors stealing from future seniors.” Druckenmiller said unsustainable spending will eventually result in a crisis worse than the financial meltdown of 2008, when $29 trillion was erased from global equity markets. What’s particularly troubling, he said, is that government expenditures related to programs for the elderly rocketed in the past two decades, even before the first baby boomers, those born in 1946, started turning 65. Lloyds CEO Links Bonus To Stake Sale (WSJ) Chief Executive António Horta-Osório said he is "very confident" U.K. taxpayers will get their money back, referring to the stake of about 40% the government took in the bank following a series of bailouts at the height of the crisis. He requested that his £1.49 million ($2.26 million) bonus only be paid if the government sells at least a third of its holdings in Lloyds at a share price above 61 pence. The average buy-in price for the U.K. government was 63.1 pence, according to U.K. Financial Investments, a body that manages the government's stake in Lloyds. Unemployment Worsens In Euro Zone (WSJ) Eurostat, the European Union's statistics agency, said 11.9% of the euro zone's workforce was unemployed in January, the highest percentage for the 17 countries that make up the currency bloc since records began in 1995. The figure is higher than the jobless rate of 11.8% in December. Wilbur Ross: Italy Has Choice Of 'Two Clowns' (CNBC) ...in the wake of the unresolved Italian election, the WL Ross chairman said he's worried the next leader of the economically-troubled nation is a choice of two clowns — former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and comedian Beppe Grillo. "One, an acknowledged clown, and one may be inadvertent clown. And until that gets resolved, there's a great danger that the nice reforms that Mr. Monti put in will just get rolled back." Truck crashes on I-80 in Reno, spilling Heinz ketchup 'everywhere' (RGJ) A tractor trailer carrying thousands of bottles of Heinz ketchup crashed on Interstate 80 near the Robb Drive overpass this afternoon, spilling its red contents onto the freeway and snarling traffic in the process. “I have red everywhere on the highway,” said Sgt. Janay Sherven with the Nevada Highway Patrol. “No bodies, no people, just ketchup.” There were no injuries in the accident, which happened when the driver of the semi-truck likely overcorrected to avoid another car while traveling eastbound, she said. The truck hit the center median and then knocked over a light pole that slashed open the left side of the trailer. As a result, thousands of bottles and cans of ketchup were splattered onto the road like a bad horror movie. ‘“The scene looks pretty bad as far as color goes,” Sherven said.

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: 03.23.12

Credit Suisse Chief Takes Sharp Pay Cut (WSJ) Mr. Dougan's compensation more than halved to 5.8 million Swiss francs ($6.3 million) from 12.8 million francs a year earlier. Like all of Credit Suisse's top managers, he didn't get a cash bonus. While Mr. Dougan's base salary remained unchanged, his bonus, awarded in the form of deferred stocks, fell 69% to reflect the sharp drop in profits last year and the 41% drop in Credit Suisse's share price in 2011. SEC Probes Rapid Trading (WSJ) Federal securities regulators are examining whether some sophisticated, rapid-fire trading firms have used their close links to computerized stock exchanges to gain an unfair advantage over other investors, people familiar with the matter say. The wide-ranging probe, being handled by the enforcement staff of the Securities and Exchange Commission, is focusing on the computer-driven trading platforms of exchanges, including BATS Global Markets Inc., the people said. Fed’s Bullard Sees Price Threat From G-7 Delaying Tighter Policy (Bloomberg) U.S. monetary policy may be at a “turning point” and the Fed’s first interest-rate increase since the global financial crisis could come as soon as late 2013, Bullard said in a speech earlier today. That view contrasts with a debate among Fed policy makers on whether more stimulus is needed even after the U.S. economy accelerated and the unemployment rate fell. Bales Had Troubled Broker Career Before Allegations (Bloomberg) Robert Bales, the U.S. soldier suspected of shooting Afghan civilians, started selling community-bank stocks in 1996 as a 23-year-old driving a Chevy Cavalier. That may have been the peak of his financial career. Before Bales enlisted in the Army in 2001 after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he worked at five firms in five years. After he left the industry, he was hit with a $1.5 million settlement for his role in swindling a couple out of more than $600,000 from their retirement account. “He wanted to be an investment adviser, and he had a plan as to how he was going to accomplish that,” said Robert K. Cargin, who hired Bales in September 2000 at Quantum Securities Corp. in Westerville, Ohio. “It just didn’t work out.” BofA Tests An Option To Foreclosure (WSJ) Borrowers would agree to a what is known as a "deed-in-lieu" of foreclosure, where they essentially sign over ownership of the property to the lender. This is less costly to the bank and also does less damage to a borrower's credit than a foreclosure. In exchange, former owners would be offered one-year leases with options to renew the leases in each of the following two years at rents that the bank determines are at or below the current market price. Borrowers would have to demonstrate an ability to pay the market rent. ‘Linsanity’ pot nipped in bud (NYP) The Knicks’ new superstar point guard’s legal eagles threw cease-and-desist orders at three California medical-marijuana dispensaries that were offering customers “Linsanity” weed...Two of the dispensaries discontinued the names and the other simply rebranded its grass “Insanity.” Skowron plans to appeal court’s ruling on $10.2M (NYP) Joseph “Chip” Skowron, the former FrontPoint fund manager now jailed for insider trading, plans to fight a judge’s ruling that he pay $10.2 million to his former employer, Morgan Stanley. Skowron’s attorney intends to appeal the ruling handed down Tuesday by Manhattan federal judge Denise Cote, Skowron’s spokesman, Montieth Illingworth, said. Illingworth also blasted Morgan Stanley’s plans to pursue another $33 million, which Cote denied in her decision. The bank, which owned FrontPoint when the scandal hit and clients fled, wanted a total of $45 million in victim’s compensation. UBS Sees ‘Earlier’ Fed Move; Barclays Sees Rates on Hold (Bloomberg) “We regard the trend toward higher yields as a healthy development,” Andrew Cates in Singapore and Larry Hatheway and Christine Li in London wrote in a UBS report yesterday. “It reflects a healing process in the U.S. economy and recognition that the Fed will be able to normalize monetary policy earlier than many envisage.” Investors should buy two-year Treasuries, Ajay Rajadhyaksha and Dean Maki, New York-based analysts at Barclays, wrote in a report yesterday. “We consider the recent rise in Fed hike expectations premature,” they wrote Obama To Tap Kim For World Bank Post (AP) President Barack Obama will nominate Dartmouth College President Jim Yong Kim to head the World Bank, a surprise pick for the international financial institution's top job, senior administration officials said.

Opening Bell: 03.26.13

Bailout Strains European Ties (WSJ) Several officials familiar with talks in Nicosia and Brussels over the €10 billion ($13 billion) rescue for the island described more than a week of chaotic negotiations. European officials cited Cypriot foot-dragging, reversals and dropped communications, a situation one European Union official called "terrifying." Cypriot officials described their European opposites as demanding and inflexible. Big Cypriot Bank Depositors Could Lose 40%: Minister (Reuters) "It could be in that neighborhood but I do not want to anticipate it," Sarris told BBC radio, adding the exact figure was yet to be decided. "But what I have seen suggests a number in that neighborhood." Sheik Spars With UBS Over $20 Million Fee (WSJ) A Kuwaiti sheik alleges that a senior executive at Switzerland's UBS offered $20 million to get the bank an advisory role on one of the biggest-ever acquisitions in the Middle East, but the bank later backed out of the deal, according to the sheik's testimony in a Dubai court case. Sheik Meshal Jarah Al Sabah said in sworn testimony that UBS offered the commission in 2009 to derail a bid by the French media group Vivendi SA for the African telecommunications assets of Zain, Kuwait's biggest mobile-phone company, and to get UBS a lead role finding a different buyer. Sheik Meshal sued UBS last year in the Dubai International Financial Centre courts, where UBS has offices, claiming he wasn't paid his fee. The written submission, which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, is his first direct testimony in the case. UBS denies the allegations and said in a statement that it is "vigorously defending this claim." Spain's Deficit Woes Seen Lingering (WSJ) In a report Tuesday, including economic projections for the next two years, the Bank of Spain said the economy will remain in recession, on average, this year, and contract around 1.5%—three times bigger than the government's own official projection. The discrepancy is because an economic uptick expected later this year is likely to be weaker than hoped. Atlantic City's Revel Casino Files for Bankruptcy (Reuters) Morgan Stanley originally owned most of Revel Entertainment Group, which began building the casino, but sold its stake at a $932 million loss in February 2011 to investors led by Kevin DeSanctis. The new owners then obtained a tax package of roughly $261 million from New Jersey and lined up $1.15 billion of financing to help complete the project. DeSanctis resigned earlier this month as Revel's chief executive. Hartmann, the interim chief executive, is a former chief executive of the Mohegan Sun casino in eastern Connecticut and has more than 20 years of experience in the gaming industry. Backers had hoped Revel would become the next Borgata, a joint venture between Boyd Gaming and MGM Resorts International that opened in 2003 and became Atlantic City's top-grossing casino. UBS: $62 million from Nasdaq is paltry compensation for Facebook IPO debacle (NYP) Nasdaq got approval from regulators yesterday to pay out $62 million to trading firms hurt by Facebook’s botched share sale — but UBS is having none of it. The Swiss bank giant has already filed an arbitration demand against Nasdaq, saying the payout doesn’t begin to cover the $356 million it lost because of the exchange’s “gross mishandling” of the IPO. Blackstone Ups Heat On Dell (WSJ) On Monday, a special committee of Dell board members said it viewed a Blackstone proposal as potentially superior to the $24.4 billion take-private offer from Silver Lake Partners and founder and Chief Executive Michael Dell. Investor Carl Icahn, who separately is pursuing the Round Rock, Texas, company, said on Monday he would review Blackstone's offer and may attempt to join forces with the New York firm. Fed Banker Backs Dialing Down Easy Money (WSJ) William Dudley, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, said in a speech the Fed "should calibrate" how much U.S. debt and mortgage-backed securities it buys each month "by allowing the flow rate of purchases to respond to material changes in the labor market outlook." 'Stripper' in Jensen Beach arrested (TCPalm) St. Lucie County Sheriff's deputies March 10 went to the area of the 100 block of North El Mar Drive in Jensen Beach after a report of a woman in her underwear yelling profanities at a neighbor. They found Lisa Marie Paras, 29, in an "underwear like or bikini dress" drinking a Michelob Ultra at the end of a driveway, an affidavit states. A deputy told her to put down the beer. She said she was wearing a bikini. She also said she'd been yelling across the street because the folks there are "(rectal orifices)," an affidavit states. When a deputy tried to get more information, Paras said she's a "stripper and wanted to make me her witness," the affidavit states. Paras put her hands on the deputy's shoulders, and he told her she shouldn't touch him. Described as "obviously intoxicated," Paras tried to explain she faces trespassing charges because of her neighbors. She also thought her landlord stole cash from her bedroom. Meanwhile, the neighbors told investigators Paras came out to the road and started yelling obscenities at them as they cooked steaks on the grill. Paras, they said, was in her undies and drinking beer. Paras reportedly told a deputy she'd had eight to 12 beers. She said the people across the street are "(rectal orifices)" and are "(fornicated) up," an affidavit states. Paras, whose occupation is listed as a dancer, tried to hug a deputy when he asked her to confirm some contact information.

Opening Bell: 01.07.13

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