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Opening Bell: 08.23.12

Fed Moving Closer To Action (WSJ) The Federal Reserve sent its strongest signal yet that it is preparing new steps to bolster the economic recovery, saying measures would be needed fairly soon unless growth substantially and convincingly picks up. Minutes released Wednesday from the Fed's July 31-Aug. 1 policy meeting suggested that a new round of bond buying, known as quantitative easing, was high on its list of options. Jobless Claims In U.S. Climb For Second Week To One-Month High (Bloomberg) Jobless claims rose by 4,000 for a second week to reach 372,000 in the period ended Aug. 18, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. The median forecast of 41 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for 365,000. The four-week moving average, a less volatile measure, increased to 368,000. SAC Takes New Activist Role (NYP) The move is being spearheaded by SAC portfolio manager David Rosen, who has been butting heads with Spokane, Wash.-based Clearwater Paper Corp. since May, sources said. In May, Rosen penned a letter to Clearwater Chairman and CEO Gordon Jones calling the stock “deeply undervalued.” Last week, SAC, which has a 7.1 percent stake in the papermaker, proposed to Clearwater’s board that the company split itself in two and consider selling one or both parts. “We continue to carefully analyze their ideas, and we look forward to continuing a dialogue,” a Clearwater spokesman said. People familiar with Rosen’s plans say Clearwater won’t be the last, and that Rosen and SAC analyst Shoney Katz are scouting out more opportunities to make money through corporate cage-rattling. “My understanding is that Rosen’s portfolio has expanded its mandate to include activism,” said Ken Squire of activist research firm 13D Monitor. Citigroup Slams Nasdaq's Facebook Compensation Plan (Reuters) Citigroup slammed Nasdaq OMX Group's plan to compensate firms harmed by Facebook's botched market debut to the tune of $62 million, saying in a regulatory filing the exchange should be liable for hundreds of millions more, according to a letter seen by Reuters. Citi said Nasdaq's actions in the May 18 initial public offering amounted to "gross negligence," in the letter to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which had not yet been made public. Facebook Director’s Quick $1 Billion Share Sale Lacks Precedent (Bloomberg) While venture capitalists commonly sell their stakes after helping startups reach the public markets, they usually whittle their holdings over a period of quarters or even years. That’s to avoid flooding the market with too much new stock, which can drive down the shares, and to show continuing support for the company. Thiel’s timing was particularly precarious, because Facebook was already down about 50 percent from the IPO. “With the benefit of hindsight, you could say that the underwriters probably regret agreeing to an early release of the shares,” said Ted Hollifield, a partner at Alston & Bird LLP in Menlo Park, California, and an expert in venture capital. “The stock still seems to be searching for an actual trading range and you would ideally like to see that take place before there’s additional selling pressure.” The Morning After: A Wedding Album With A Different Spin (NYDN) Wedding photographers are being invited to an unusual kind of afterparty. Brides and grooms — who already often obsessively document their first kiss, first cake slice and first dance — are adding yet another first to their wedding photographer’s list: the morning after. Sexy shoots featuring rumpled beds and steamy showers are a hot new trend within the wedding business. As the seating charts and floral arrangements fade into memory, these intimate photo shoots take place in newlyweds’ bedrooms or even the hotels where they’ve spent their first night as husband and wife. “We do it very sexy and implied,” said New Jersey-based photographer Michelle Jonné, 34, who charges about $650 for the service...Past happy clients include Inna Shamis. “The minute she told me, I thought ‘that is brilliant,’” Shamis said. “When you get married, you’re in the best shape of your life and why not have these memories.” The New Jersey PR exec, 38, only hesitated for a few seconds when Jonné asked her and husband to jump in the shower, she said. “As the day progressed, we established this fantastic chemistry with her," said Shamis, who later posted the racy photos on Facebook and intends to someday share them with her kids. Greek Crisis Evasion To Fore As Merkel Hosts Hollande (Bloomberg) With the leaders of Europe’s two biggest economies still at the confidence-building stage, Merkel and Hollande are seeking common ground on Greece and the wider euro-area debt crisis almost three years after its inception. France sees the program targets set for Greece as too harsh given the state of its economy, a French government official said yesterday on condition of anonymity because the talks are private. Merkel and Hollande are due to give statements at 7 p.m. in Berlin. “On balance we still take the view that they’ll keep Greece ticking over,” David Owen, chief European financial economist at Jefferies International Ltd. in London, said by phone. “If that does require giving it more time, so be it.” Whale Of A Tale (NYP) Boaz Weinstein may have harpooned the London Whale, but his main fund barely has its head above water. Weinstein’s Saba Capital Master Fund is up only 0.62 percent for the year through July 31, according to an investor letter. SEC's Schapiro Cancels Vote on Money-Fund Curbs (WSJ) Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Mary Schapiro called off a highly anticipated vote on rules for the money-market mutual-fund industry after losing a swing vote she needed to push through the rules. The newly announced position of Luis Aguilar, a Democrat and former mutual-fund executive, marks a defeat for Ms. Schapiro and a setback for the Obama administration and top federal regulators, who see money funds as a source of systemic risk left over from the last financial crisis. LL Cool J breaks burglar's jaw in 'knock-down, drag-out' fight (LA Times) The burglar who broke into the Studio City home of actor-rapper LL Cool J suffered a broken nose and jaw in what police sources described as a "knock-down, drag-out" fight. Los Angeles police were called to the star's home in the 12000 block of Blairwood Drive around 1 a.m. Wednesday, officials said. LL Cool J was holding the suspect when officers arrived, officials said...LL Cool J was upstairs in his home when he heard noise coming from the kitchen area. When he went down to see what was happening, the unidentified suspect came at him, leading to the fight. LL Cool J, born James Todd Smith, rose to fame with musical hits such as "Mama Said Knock You Out."
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Fed Moving Closer To Action (WSJ)
The Federal Reserve sent its strongest signal yet that it is preparing new steps to bolster the economic recovery, saying measures would be needed fairly soon unless growth substantially and convincingly picks up. Minutes released Wednesday from the Fed's July 31-Aug. 1 policy meeting suggested that a new round of bond buying, known as quantitative easing, was high on its list of options.

Jobless Claims In U.S. Climb For Second Week To One-Month High (Bloomberg)
Jobless claims rose by 4,000 for a second week to reach 372,000 in the period ended Aug. 18, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. The median forecast of 41 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for 365,000. The four-week moving average, a less volatile measure, increased to 368,000.

SAC Takes New Activist Role (NYP)
The move is being spearheaded by SAC portfolio manager David Rosen, who has been butting heads with Spokane, Wash.-based Clearwater Paper Corp. since May, sources said. In May, Rosen penned a letter to Clearwater Chairman and CEO Gordon Jones calling the stock “deeply undervalued.” Last week, SAC, which has a 7.1 percent stake in the papermaker, proposed to Clearwater’s board that the company split itself in two and consider selling one or both parts. “We continue to carefully analyze their ideas, and we look forward to continuing a dialogue,” a Clearwater spokesman said. People familiar with Rosen’s plans say Clearwater won’t be the last, and that Rosen and SAC analyst Shoney Katz are scouting out more opportunities to make money through corporate cage-rattling. “My understanding is that Rosen’s portfolio has expanded its mandate to include activism,” said Ken Squire of activist research firm 13D Monitor.

Citigroup Slams Nasdaq's Facebook Compensation Plan (Reuters)
Citigroup slammed Nasdaq OMX Group's plan to compensate firms harmed by Facebook's botched market debut to the tune of $62 million, saying in a regulatory filing the exchange should be liable for hundreds of millions more, according to a letter seen by Reuters. Citi said Nasdaq's actions in the May 18 initial public offering amounted to "gross negligence," in the letter to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which had not yet been made public.

Facebook Director’s Quick $1 Billion Share Sale Lacks Precedent (Bloomberg)
While venture capitalists commonly sell their stakes after helping startups reach the public markets, they usually whittle their holdings over a period of quarters or even years. That’s to avoid flooding the market with too much new stock, which can drive down the shares, and to show continuing support for the company. Thiel’s timing was particularly precarious, because Facebook was already down about 50 percent from the IPO. “With the benefit of hindsight, you could say that the underwriters probably regret agreeing to an early release of the shares,” said Ted Hollifield, a partner at Alston & Bird LLP in Menlo Park, California, and an expert in venture capital. “The stock still seems to be searching for an actual trading range and you would ideally like to see that take place before there’s additional selling pressure.”

The Morning After: A Wedding Album With A Different Spin (NYDN)
Wedding photographers are being invited to an unusual kind of afterparty. Brides and grooms — who already often obsessively document their first kiss, first cake slice and first dance — are adding yet another first to their wedding photographer’s list: the morning after. Sexy shoots featuring rumpled beds and steamy showers are a hot new trend within the wedding business. As the seating charts and floral arrangements fade into memory, these intimate photo shoots take place in newlyweds’ bedrooms or even the hotels where they’ve spent their first night as husband and wife. “We do it very sexy and implied,” said New Jersey-based photographer Michelle Jonné, 34, who charges about $650 for the service...Past happy clients include Inna Shamis. “The minute she told me, I thought ‘that is brilliant,’” Shamis said. “When you get married, you’re in the best shape of your life and why not have these memories.” The New Jersey PR exec, 38, only hesitated for a few seconds when Jonné asked her and husband to jump in the shower, she said. “As the day progressed, we established this fantastic chemistry with her," said Shamis, who later posted the racy photos on Facebook and intends to someday share them with her kids.

Greek Crisis Evasion To Fore As Merkel Hosts Hollande (Bloomberg)
With the leaders of Europe’s two biggest economies still at the confidence-building stage, Merkel and Hollande are seeking common ground on Greece and the wider euro-area debt crisis almost three years after its inception. France sees the program targets set for Greece as too harsh given the state of its economy, a French government official said yesterday on condition of anonymity because the talks are private. Merkel and Hollande are due to give statements at 7 p.m. in Berlin. “On balance we still take the view that they’ll keep Greece ticking over,” David Owen, chief European financial economist at Jefferies International Ltd. in London, said by phone. “If that does require giving it more time, so be it.”

Whale Of A Tale (NYP)
Boaz Weinstein may have harpooned the London Whale, but his main fund barely has its head above water.
Weinstein’s Saba Capital Master Fund is up only 0.62 percent for the year through July 31, according to an investor letter.

SEC's Schapiro Cancels Vote on Money-Fund Curbs (WSJ)
Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Mary Schapiro called off a highly anticipated vote on rules for the money-market mutual-fund industry after losing a swing vote she needed to push through the rules. The newly announced position of Luis Aguilar, a Democrat and former mutual-fund executive, marks a defeat for Ms. Schapiro and a setback for the Obama administration and top federal regulators, who see money funds as a source of systemic risk left over from the last financial crisis.

In Defense Of Big Banks (NYT)
William B. Harrison, former JPMorgan Chief Executive: "Other criticisms of big banks that are often aired similarly don’t stand up to scrutiny. Commentators point to the inordinate influence large banks have on the political process. They fear that regulators are cowed by a large bank’s position and power. These critics seem to believe that regulators are incapable of making independent judgments. In the real world, this is just false. That said, it is perfectly appropriate and indeed necessary for regulators and politicians to engage with experts and industry practitioners to learn more about the issues. Regulators are not cowed, but they generally do need more expertise and better collaboration with one another to carry out their responsibilities successfully."

LL Cool J breaks burglar's jaw in 'knock-down, drag-out' fight (LA Times)
The burglar who broke into the Studio City home of actor-rapper LL Cool J suffered a broken nose and jaw in what police sources described as a "knock-down, drag-out" fight. Los Angeles police were called to the star's home in the 12000 block of Blairwood Drive around 1 a.m. Wednesday, officials said. LL Cool J was holding the suspect when officers arrived, officials said...LL Cool J was upstairs in his home when he heard noise coming from the kitchen area. When he went down to see what was happening, the unidentified suspect came at him, leading to the fight. LL Cool J, born James Todd Smith, rose to fame with musical hits such as "Mama Said Knock You Out."

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Opening Bell: 06.27.12

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

Opening Bell: 09.26.12

Spain Prepares More Austerity, Protesters Battle Police (Reuters) Protesters clashed with police in Spain's capital on Tuesday as the government prepared a new round of unpopular austerity measures for the 2013 budget to be announced on Thursday. Thousands gathered in Neptune plaza, a few metres from El Prado museum in central Madrid, where they formed a human chain around parliament, surrounded by barricades, police trucks and more than 1,500 police in riot gear. Police fired rubber bullets and beat protesters with truncheons, first as protesters were trying to tear down barriers and later to clear the square. The police said at least 22 people had been arrested and at least 32 injured, including four policemen. Facebook's Next Fight: Suits And More Suits (WSJ) About 50 lawsuits have been filed against Facebook, Nasdaq OMX Group Inc. and underwriters of Facebook's May IPO, according to lawyers involved in the cases. In addition, securities lawyers who represent Facebook investors say they expect hundreds of arbitration claims to be launched against brokers and securities firms that pitched the company's shares. Credit Suisse Said to Consider Merging Its Asset-Management Unit (Bloomberg) The bank is considering combining its asset-management unit with the private and investment banking divisions, a person familiar with the matter said. SAC Capital Fund Manager Said To Be Uncharged Conspirator (Bloomberg) The role allegedly played by Michael Steinberg emerged in court papers filed by the U.S. in the securities-fraud case of Jon Horvath, a former technology analyst at Cohen’s $14 billion hedge fund who Steinberg supervised. Steinberg, who hasn’t been charged with a crime, is the fifth person to be tied to insider trading while employed at SAC. Horvath faces trial Oct. 29 in Manhattan federal court along with two other portfolio managers for his part in what Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara called a “criminal club:” a conspiracy of hedge fund managers, co-workers and company insiders who reaped millions of dollars on illegal tips about Dell Inc. and Nvidia Corp. “The government added four additional co-conspirators,” prosecutors wrote in a Sept. 6 letter filed with the court, with the names blacked out. One of them, the U.S. said, is “the portfolio manager to whom Jon Horvath reported at his hedge fund.” That person was Steinberg, said the people, who declined to be identified because the matter isn’t public. UK Group To Give Up Libor Oversight (WSJ) The council of the BBA, a private trade association, voted earlier this month to give up management of Libor, according to people familiar with the matter. The move clears the way for what is likely to be the biggest change in Libor's 26-year history, and introduces the possibility that British or international regulators could be in charge of overseeing the rate, which is tied to trillions of dollars of financial contracts. Rent-a-reptile: Florida company adds alligators to kids’ pool parties (NYDN) Bob Barrett gives Florida kids pool parties they’ll never forget — because they get to swim with real live alligators. Jump houses? Pizza parties? Boring, says Barrett. “You jump for a while and that’s it, we’ve had that party before,” he told the Daily News. “Clown party, Chuck E. Cheese party, they’ve all been done.” Barrett,who runs Alligator Attractions in Madeira Beach — where visitors get to hold gators — was already bringing his reptiles around to birthday parties when he was inspired to take the next step. “We would do [an alligator demonstration] at someone’s house and they would have a pool,” he explained. “And I said, you know, ‘Hey, let’s put ‘em in the pool.’” Hedge Fund Skeptics Warn on ‘QE Infinity’ (FT) “A man’s got to know his limitations,” says “Dirty Harry” Callahan, the gun-toting, rule book-ignoring cop immortalized by Clint Eastwood in “Magnum Force.” It is a principle the U.S. Federal Reserve – which earlier this month embarked upon its own, third bout of “unorthodox” enforcement, “QE3” – could learn from, according to Stephen Jen, the former Morgan Stanley foreign-exchange guru turned hedge fund manager. “The Fed officials are some of the smartest economists around,” he wrote in his most recent note to clients. The trouble is, said Mr. Jen, “they know everything except their own limitations.” Irish Bank Offers Properties For 70% Less Than 2007 Value (Bloomberg) RBS's Irish unit offered to sell properties, including 640 apartments and a hotel, for about 70 percent less than their value at the market’s 2007 peak, according to the broker managing the sale. The Gemini portfolio, containing buildings in the Irish cities of Dublin and Cork, has an asking price of 75 million euros ($97 million), according to Domhnaill O’Sullivan, a director at Savills Plc (SVS)’s Dublin office. MIT Miscounts Its New B-School Students (WSJ) After realizing they had a student surplus, school officials emailed the incoming class on Aug. 7, offering "guaranteed admission to the class of 2015 for the first 20 admitted students who request it." The school gave them until Aug. 13 to respond, according to one student's copy of the letter, which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. But it didn't get enough takers. So, like an airline offering vouchers to travelers willing to hop off oversold flights, the school put money on the table, offering students who expressed an interest a $15,000 scholarship to be applied to next year's tuition. Students still balked, and on Aug. 21, a day after pre-term refresher courses began, Sloan raised the offer to $20,000 for the first 10 respondents. (Tuition for the 2012-2013 academic year is $58,200, with total expenses—including books, housing and food—estimated at just under $89,000.) NFL replacement referee who blew touchdown call in Green Bay Packers-Seattle Seahawks game is a full-time banker (NYDN) ...fans, particular those in Wisconsin, said the 52-year-old southern California banker with no previous professional or major college refereeing experience should have never left his desk to become a replacement during the NFL’s lockout of unionized refs. Even the Lingerie Football League piled on, revealing that some of the scab refs weren’t qualified to work its games. “Due to several on-field occurrences of incompetent officiating, we chose to part ways with a crew which apparently is now officiating in the NFL,” said Mitch Mortaza, commissioner of the female bra-and-panty league. “We have a lot of respect for our officials, but we felt the officiating was not in line with our expectations.”

Opening Bell: 10.04.12

France’s LBO Firms See ‘Death’ From Hollande’s 75% Carry Tax (Bloomberg) Hollande, who released his first annual budget on Sept. 28, plans to tax fund managers’ share of the profit from their investments, known as carried interest, at a rate of as much as 75 percent, part of a wider effort to increase taxes on the wealthy and narrow the country’s deficit. France also plans to as much as double taxes on capital gains and restrict the amount of debt interest payments a company can deduct from its taxable income, a measure that will reduce returns on leveraged buyouts. Facebook Test Turns Users Into Advertisers (FT) Facebook is testing a new product in the US that allows ordinary users to pay to promote their own status updates, marking a shift in the social network’s willingness to charge its users for a core service. The product has potential to generate revenues, analysts said, but could also threaten the organic feel of the site as people pay to market their own social lives. Mark Zuckerberg Confirms: 'I wear the same thing everyday' (DL) "I mean, I wear the same thing every day, right? I mean, it's literally, if you could see my closet," Zuckerberg starts to explain, as Lauer asks if he owns 12 of the same gray t-shirt. "Maybe about 20," Zuckerberg admits, somewhere between discussing the future of Facebook, his daily routine, the iPhone 5, and his wedding to college sweetheart Priscilla Chan last May. The Facebook CEO says that he doesn't really have much in his closet — it's mainly used by his wife, who graduated from medical school at the University of California at San Francisco shortly before their marriage. Instead, Zuckerberg's identical t-shirt collection lives in the one drawer he's allotted. Tiger Global Up 22.4 Percent (Reuters) Tiger Global, one of the world's best-performing hedge funds, ended the third quarter with strong gains, leaving the fund up 22.4 percent for the year, two people familiar with the numbers said on Wednesday. The roughly $6 billion fund, run by Chase Coleman and Feroz Dewan, has been the darling of the investment community for its string of strong returns at a time when the average hedge fund is delivering only low single-digit returns. In 2011, when most funds nursed losses, Tiger Global captured headlines with a 45 percent gain for the year after having made a good chunk of money on the short side, people familiar with the portfolio said. 'Dark Pool' And SEC Settle (WSJ) The Securities and Exchange Commission alleged in its order that Boston-based broker-dealer eBX LLC allowed the third-party operator of its trading platform, called LeveL ATS, to use details on client orders, including the stocks involved and whether they were buy or sell orders, to its own advantage. That operator is Lava Trading, an electronic-trading unit of Citigroup, according to eBX. eBX agreed to pay $800,000 to settle the SEC's allegations. It did so without admitting or denying wrongdoing. Mohamed El-Erian: No corner offices at PIMCO (Fortune) "It doesn't matter whether you're CEO or whether you're an associate, you have the same size office. No corner offices. Just a conference room. And then I knew that I had made the right decision when my very first outing with PIMCO, I had come from the IMF, 15 years working on emerging markets. I had a swagger, I thought I knew what I was talking about. I put forward my view, and this summer intern felt safe enough to get up and say, "You know what? Mohamed is wrong and this is why he's wrong." The fact that PIMCO had created this safe zone where a summer intern could get up and question someone who was supposed to be an expert confirmed to me that I was in the right place." Bank-Friendly U.S. Regulator Shifts Focus to Revamp Reputation (Bloomberg) In a stately hearing room stuffed with senators and bankers, Thomas Curry began his apologies. His agency should have stopped a major bank from helping drug cartels launder cash. The violations went on for years while his agency was overly passive. “I deeply regret we did not act sooner,” he said. Curry had been on the job for just over three months on that day in July, so the mistakes hadn’t been made on his watch. His apologies were less a confession than a signal the new Comptroller of the Currency -- long seen as the most bank- friendly of U.S. regulators -- was changing course. “I’m not interested in what people thought about in the past,” Curry said in an interview. “My focus is going forward.” Since he took over in March, at least two key staff members closely associated with the agency’s pro-industry stance have departed, notably chief counsel Julie Williams. Williams, a 19- year OCC veteran, was known for helping nationally chartered banks resist state regulation by arguing they were preempted by often less-stringent federal rules. Curry has also raised the profile of consumer protection and shifted focus toward “operational risk” -- the idea that bank practices and management can pose as much of a threat to safety and soundness as external forces. Argentine Navy Ship Seized In Asset Fight (FT) An Argentine naval vessel crewed by more than 200 sailors has been seized in Ghana as part of an attempt by the US hedge fund Elliott Capital Management to collect on bonds on which Buenos Aires defaulted in 2001. A Ghanaian court ordered an injunction and interim preservation order against the ARA Libertad, a 100-metre long tall ship, following an application by Elliott subsidiary NML Capital on Tuesday. The hedge fund, run by the US billionaire Paul Singer, has been closely monitoring the course of the Libertad, according to sources familiar with the firm. Elliott had been waiting for the ship to stop in a port where it would have a chance to enforce legal judgments previously awarded by UK and US courts. The hedge fund declined to comment. Argentina slammed the interception of the Libertad as a “trick which these unscrupulous financiers” had pulled, adding that it “violates the Vienna Convention on diplomatic immunity”. Morgan Stanley commodities talks with Qatar hit snag (Reuters) Morgan Stanley's talks with Qatar's sovereign wealth fund over the sale of its commodities business have run into difficulty, and the deal may need to be reworked if it is to go ahead, banking sources said. One of the top banks in commodity trading over the past 30 years, Morgan Stanley has been in discussion for more than a year with Qatar over the sale of at least a majority stake in the energy-focused trading business, the bankers said. "There have been some differences, and Qatar is a bit lukewarm about it," one said. "It's not dead yet but definitely not imminent." Maple syrup stolen in Quebec seized by police in New Brunswick (The Star) Quebec police have seized between 700 and 800 barrels of maple syrup from a New Brunswick exporter, linking the drums to August’s massive heist of the sweet stuff. Étienne St-Pierre, owner of S.K. Exports in Kedgwick, N.B., told the Star that police executed a search warrant Sept. 26 and hauled away the barrels. “They said they were searching to find some stolen drums from Quebec,” he said. “It was a surprise. That was the first news I received.” St-Pierre said each barrel weighs about 270 kilograms and holds 170 litres of syrup, meaning police seized at least 119,000 litres of gooey Quebec gold. A spokesperson for the Sûreté du Québec, Sgt. Bruno Beaulieu, confirmed a search warrant had been executed in Kedgwick but said he could not comment on the investigation. The Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers has never revealed the amount of syrup stolen from its secure St-Louis-de-Blandford, Que. warehouse in August. The facility held about 3.75 million litres of syrup, enough to fill one and a half Olympic swimming pools. St-Pierre said he obtained the barrels from a regular Quebec supplier, who he refused to identify.

Opening Bell: 12.10.12

U.S. authorities probe SAC for Weight Watchers (Reuters) U.S. authorities are investigating Steven A. Cohen's SAC Capital Advisors hedge fund for possible insider trading in the shares of the popular diet company Weight Watchers International Inc, according to people familiar with the matter. The investigation focuses on trading in Weight Watchers shares in the first half of 2011, when SAC Capital had taken a sizeable position in the stock, and potentially could implicate the billionaire hedge fund manager, the sources said on Friday. Regulatory filings show that Cohen's $14 billion fund briefly held 2.1 million shares in Weight Watchers during the period under scrutiny by authorities - at which time the diet company's stock price roughly doubled. The inquiry is in its early stages and it is not clear whether anything improper was done either by SAC Capital or Cohen himself, said the people familiar with the matter, who requested anonymity. The trading in Weight Watchers would be permissible as long as it was based on fundamental research or derived from individuals who did not have access to non-public corporate information. Big Money Bets On Housing Rebound (NYT) A flurry of private-equity giants and hedge funds have spent billions of dollars to buy thousands of foreclosed single-family homes. They are purchasing them on the cheap through bank auctions, multiple listing services, short sales and bulk purchases from local investors in need of cash, with plans to fix up the properties, rent them out and watch their values soar as the industry rebounds. They have raised as much as $8 billion to invest, according to Jade Rahmani, an analyst at Keefe Bruyette & Woods. The Blackstone Group, the New York private-equity firm run by Stephen A. Schwarzman, has spent more than $1 billion to buy 6,500 single-family homes so far this year. The Colony Capital Group, headed by the Los Angeles billionaire Thomas J. Barrack Jr., has bought 4,000. Wall Street workers expecting worst bonus season since 2008 (NYP) State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli estimates that the average bonus this year will be $101,000 — a 16.5 percent decline from last year and almost a 50 percent decline since 2006, when the average was $191,360. ‘‘I don’t think this year’s bonuses are going to be very good,’’ said Dan Shaffer, CEO of Shaffer Asset Management. ‘‘I don’t believe the typical bonuses, as we used to know them, exist anymore.’’ Obama Meets with Boehner Privately at White House (Bloomberg) The meeting was the first known face-to-face conversation between the two leaders since Nov. 16, when Boehner and other congressional leaders sat down with Obama at the White House. They have talked on the telephone since then. Obama met with Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic minority leader, on Dec. 7. Investors offer about $38.8 billion in Greek debt buyback (Reuters) Greece is set to purchase back about half of its debt owned by private investors, broadly succeeding in a bond buyback that is key to the country's international bailout, a Greek government official said on Saturday. Hefner Husband Takes Insider Trading Into Playboy Bedroom (Bloomberg) Christie Hefner, [daughter of Hugh and] former chief executive officer of Playboy Enterprises Inc., said she was shocked as her husband of 15 years, William Marovitz, confessed to her that he was being investigated for suspicious trading in Playboy shares. They were in their apartment atop a 42-story Lincoln Park tower overlooking the glittering Chicago skyline and Lake Michigan on a March evening in 2010. “He told me he had been contacted by the SEC,” Hefner said later in testimony before the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which didn’t accuse her of any wrongdoing. “And when did you learn your husband owned shares of Playboy?” she was asked. “In that conversation,” she replied. Hefner's husband is just one of more than 400 persons the SEC and the U.S. Department of Justice have accused of insider trading in a crackdown in the last five years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. All involved betrayal -- of clients, employers, relatives or friends. The Hefner episode and a handful of cases like it include an especially cruel breach of trust: betrayal of a wife by a husband. Tennis star Novak buys up world's supply of donkey cheese at £400 a pound for new restaurant chain (DM) The cheese, known as pule, will be one of the key attractions at a chain of restaurants the Wimbledon champion and world number one is opening in his Serbian homeland...The Zasavica farm, which lies 50 miles west of the Serbian capital Belgrade, boasts a herd of 130 and is said to be the only place in the world where donkeys are milked for cheese. Banking Industry Squirms Over European Rate Probe (WSJ) The scandal over banks' attempted manipulation of interest rates has mostly centered on the London interbank offered rate. But Libor's lesser known cousin, the euro interbank offered rate, or Euribor, is facing mounting attacks. The European Union is expected soon to accuse multiple banks of attempted collusion in the setting of Euribor, according to people briefed on the probe. Barclays has already acknowledged trying to rig the rate, and other banks are likely to be pressed by regulators in the U.S., U.K. and elsewhere into similar admissions, according to industry and regulatory officials. Mortgage Crisis Presents a New Reckoning to Banks (NYT) Regulators, prosecutors, investors and insurers have filed dozens of new claims against Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and others, related to more than $1 trillion worth of securities backed by residential mortgages. Estimates of potential costs from these cases vary widely, but some in the banking industry fear they could reach $300 billion if the institutions lose all of the litigation. Depending on the final price tag, the costs could lower profits and slow the economic recovery by weakening the banks’ ability to lend just as the housing market is showing signs of life. Crisis Measure Nears End (WSJ) Barring action by Congress, the FDIC on Dec. 31 will stop providing an unlimited guarantee on zero-interest bank accounts used by businesses and municipalities for payroll and other services. The guarantee would then revert to the normal $250,000 in insurance per depositor at any given bank. If the guarantee isn't extended, FBR Capital Markets estimates as much as $250 billion in deposits could flow out of smaller banks to large banks or big money-market mutual funds. Stylish primate charms Toronto shoppers (The Star) A North York Ikea store attracted an unusual customer Sunday afternoon, when a tiny monkey dressed in a fitted faux shearling coat and diapers appeared in the store’s upper parking garage around 2 p.m. “It was just running around screaming,” said shopper Bronwyn Page...“It was really cute,” said Lisa Lin, another shopper. “It was smaller than a cat.” But if the monkey had hoped to stock up on Billy bookcases or Swedish meatballs, its plans were thwarted. The diminutive shopper never made it into the store, said manager Alvaro Carmona. No one was hurt in the incident, which lasted no more than half an hour, he added. Animal Services identified the monkey as a rhesus macaque, an Asian species that is prohibited in Ontario. The monkeys are known for their ability to live in diverse habitats – although Canadian winters obviously require a warm coat. The owner of the primate turned himself in to Animal Services just after 5 p.m. He was charged with owning a prohibited animal, an offence that carries a $200 fine. The seven-month-old monkey has somehow managed to escape his owner’s car in the Ikea parking lot, said animal control officer David Behan.

Opening Bell: 04.20.12

Gupta Lawyers Cite Fourth Goldman Insider (WSJ) Gary Naftalis, the lead attorney representing Mr. Gupta, said in court Thursday that prosecutors informed him late Wednesday night that federal prosecutors in Los Angeles were investigating another Goldman employee for passing inside information about two public companies to Mr. Rajaratnam. U.S. Investigates a Goldman Executive Over Insider Trading (Dealbook) The new evidence could help Mr. Gupta’s defense, by suggesting that Mr. Rajaratnam had other possible tipsters inside Goldman Sachs. The Goldman executive under investigation in California was not named. “The wrong man is on trial,” Gary P. Naftalis, a lawyer for Mr. Gupta, said in a previous hearing. Mr. Naftalis has called the government’s charges baseless. Bond Trading Surge Boosts Wall Street Banks (FT) Wall Street has enjoyed its best quarter for bond trading in two years, rounded off with a surge in revenues at Morgan Stanley and Bank of America, in spite of a steep decline in risk-taking and the introduction of new regulations. Morgan Stanley and BofA both beat expectations, with each bank’s fixed income, currencies and commodities businesses driving the outperformance. Credit Suisse said the five biggest banks generated combined revenues of $20bn from their so-called FICC divisions in the first three months of this year, the best since the start of 2010. “We’re all making significantly more amounts of money with less risk,” said Bruce Thompson, chief financial officer at BofA, whose FICC division’s revenues rise 10 per cent to $4.1bn, or 170 per cent higher than the miserable final quarter of last year. World’s Richest Worth $1 Trillion on Billionaire List (Bloomberg) Mexican telecommunications magnate Carlos Slim, 72, remains the richest person in the world, with a fortune of $68.8 billion, down $572.3 million for the day. Second is Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) co-founder Bill Gates, 56, with $62.7 billion, followed by Warren Buffett, who’s worth $44.6 billion. Mark Zuckerberg is 25th on the ranking. Based on a roughly $100 billion valuation the Menlo Park, California-based company was trading at in the private market when it ceased trading April 3, Zuckerberg may be worth $20.5 billion, or about 25 percent less than previous estimates, once Facebook holds its initial public offering. Barclays Investors Force Bonus Changes (FT) After a series of bruising meetings with Barclays’ biggest shareholders over the past few weeks, Bob Diamond, chief executive, volunteered on Thursday to forgo half his 2.7 million pounds bonus for 2011 until Barclays had improved profitability. In Euro Zone, Who Will Renege Budget Targets Next? (CNBC) France is likely to be the next country to move its budget goalposts, particularly if Socialist Francois Hollande gets into the Elysee in May, according to analysts and economists. The Netherlands is also believed to be in line for changes to its budget targets after an analyst at credit rating agency Fitch warned of possible negative risks to its rating from the country’s heavy debt pile and potential property market devaluation. “The Netherlands has a rather Anglo-Saxon tendency in terms of the property market, and now it’s risking a property bubble,” Jeremy Stretch, head of currency strategy at CIBC, said. “This all shows that problems are getting closer to the core and lapping at the toes of Germany.” Woman entitled to compensation for sex injury suffered on work trip, judge rules (AAP) A public servant servant injured on a work trip while having sex with an acquaintance in a motel room is entitled to compensation, a judge has ruled...The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had challenged the rejection of her workers' compensation claim for facial and psychological injuries suffered when a glass light fitting came away from the wall above the bed as she was having sex in November 2007. The judge said the tribunal erred in finding it was necessary for the woman to show she had been taking part in an activity which led to her injury "which was expressly or impliedly induced or encouraged by her employer." “If the applicant had been injured while playing a game of cards in her motel room she would have been entitled to compensation” even though it could not be said her employer induced or encouraged that activity. Nine U.S. Banks Said to be Examined on Overdraft Fees (Bloomberg) The agency, which will decide by the end of the year whether to write new rules, is scrutinizing nine banks including JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM), Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC) and Bank of America Corp., said four people briefed on the examination. The inquiry focuses on how financial institutions persuade customers to enroll in what they call overdraft protection programs. Examiners are looking at online and mailed marketing material as well as scripts used by the banks’ customer-service representatives to determine whether they could be confusing to consumers, said the people. Lagarde: IMF loan for Egypt won't be enough (Reuters) Egypt's request for a $3.2 billion IMF loan will not be enough to meet the country's financial needs and will require additional resources from donor countries, the head of the International Monetary Fund said on Wednesday. "It will not be sufficient, and everybody knows that, so it will require other donors, other participants to also come to the table to help Egypt," IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde told a news conference before the start of the IMF and World Bank meetings in Washington. "As is always the case, we will play the catalyst role that we always play," she added. Doritos tacos spur rebound in Taco Bell sales (NYP) Taco Bell's introduction of Doritos Locos Tacos in early March has been "enormously successful," Carucci told industry analysts Thursday, one day after Yum reported sharply higher first-quarter earnings on the strength of robust overseas sales and a rebound in its U.S. performance. Rollout of tacos that use shells made of Nacho Cheese Doritos came late in the first quarter, so their full impact will be felt in the current quarter. Taco Bell also said at the time of the rollout that Cool Ranch flavored shells are in the works.

Opening Bell: 06.21.12

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

Opening Bell: 06.15.12

Forthcoming Facebook Motion Said to Discuss Nasdaq’s Role in I.P.O. (NYT) Facebook is preparing for battle. One month after its botched initial public offering, the social network is set to file a motion to consolidate all the shareholder lawsuits against the company, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. The lead underwriters, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, and JPMorgan Chase, are expected to join the motion, which could be filed in the Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York as early as Friday. The motion will represent the first time Facebook has publicly addressed the lawsuits and the performance of its highly anticipated, but ultimately lackluster, IPO on May 18. Facebook Is Not The Worst IPO (Deal Journal) Thursday marked the 4-week anniversary of the pricing of the IPO at $38 and today marks the anniversary of the innocuous opening and subsequent turmoil. Through Thursday’s close the stock was down about 26%, losing some $27 billion in market capitalization. That is ugly, but not as bad as the Halloween 2007 debut of Giant Interactive Group. The Chinese online-gaming company raised just over $1 billion in an IPO that started out well, rising about 18% on day one, but then promptly tumbled 30% through its first month, according to Dealogic. Draghi Hints ECB Is Ready To Act (WSJ) Providing liquidity "is what we have done throughout the crisis, faithful to our mandate of maintaining price stability over the medium term, and this is what we will continue to do," Mr. Draghi said. The Eurosystem, the ECB and the 17 national central banks that use the single currency "will continue to supply liquidity to solvent banks where needed," he added. Greeks Return To Ballot Box As Crisis Nears Decisive Moment (Bloomberg) The June 17 vote will turn on whether Greeks, in a fifth year of recession, accept open-ended austerity to stay in the euro or reject the conditions of a bailout and risk the turmoil of becoming the first to exit the 17-member currency. World leaders have said they’d prefer a pro-euro result, underscoring concern over global repercussions. Moody's Downgrades Dutch Banks (WSJ) In a statement, Moody's said it had cut the ratings by two notches each of ABN Amro Bank NV and ING Bank NV to A2, LeasePlan Corp. NV to Baa2 and Rabobank Nederland to Aa2. It also cut the rating of SNS Bank NV by one notch to Baa2. Giselle Is World's Highest Paid Model (Forbes) Just like last year, the Brazilian bombshell Bündchen leads the pack with a stunning $45 million in earnings (all estimates from May 1st, 2011 to May 1st, 2012). Even in her early thirties, Bündchen remains an unparalleled force within the fashion world. As the world’s most powerful supermodel, she racks up modeling gigs, spokesperson deals, and independent licensing ventures at every turn...Bündchen’s success combining business with modeling is influencing young, ascendant models. “The ones that are coming up, their model for excellence is Gisele. They’re looking at her and saying ‘that’s what I want to shoot for,’” Razek said. Fed Loans Backing AIG, Bear Repaid (WSJ) On Thursday, the regional Federal Reserve bank said it has been repaid, with interest, on $53.1 billion in loans it made to two crisis-era vehicles that held complex subprime mortgage bonds, home loans, commercial-property loans and other unwanted assets from Bear and AIG. The New York Fed earlier recouped a separate $19.5 billion loan that financed the purchase of mortgage-backed securities from AIG. Warren Buffett fired Benjamin Moore CEO after Bermuda cruise (NYP) “[Abrams] kept asking what he’d done wrong,” according to an insider briefed on the ouster. “[Berkshire officials] told him to clear his stuff out while they stood and watched every move he made.” Gupta Hopes Family Guy Image Will Help (NYP) The 63-year-old former Goldman Sachs director — facing 25 years in prison on charges of leaking inside information to his hedge fund pal Raj Rajaratnam — has surrounded himself with family and friends throughout the four-week trial. Gupta’s four Ivy League-educated daughters, his wife, Anita, and sister, Kumkum, in-laws and colleagues — roughly a dozen daily attendees — were in the courtroom each day, taking up the first two rows of the gallery. As the jury today starts its second day of deliberations, the fallen Wall Street star hopes the family vibe helps push the panel toward an acquittal. In the Facebook Era, Reminders of Loss if Families Fracture (NYT) The Times just found out that one of the weird things about Facebook is that you can find out things about people you haven't spoken to in years: Not long ago, estrangements between family members, for all the anguish they can cause, could mean a fairly clean break. People would cut off contact, never to be heard from again unless they reconciled. But in a social network world, estrangement is being redefined, with new complications. Relatives can get vivid glimpses of one another’s lives through Facebook updates, Twitter feeds and Instagram pictures of a grandchild or a wedding rehearsal dinner. And those glimpses are often painful reminders of what they have lost.

Opening Bell: 12.19.12

UBS In $1.5 Billion Libor Fine (WSJ) As part of the deal, UBS acknowledged that dozens of its employees were involved in widespread efforts to manipulate the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, as well as other benchmark rates, which together serve as the basis for interest rates on hundreds of trillions of dollars of financial contracts around the world. UBS's unit in Japan, where much of the attempted manipulation took place, pleaded guilty to one U.S. count of fraud. Authorities on Wednesday painted a picture of "routine and widespread" attempts by UBS employees to rig Libor and the euro interbank offered rate, or Euribor. The U.K. Financial Services Authority said it had identified more than 2,000 such attempts between 2005 and 2010 with the participation or awareness of at least 45 UBS traders and executives. Regulators on Wednesday released a trove of internal UBS emails and other communications—many of them colorful and expletive-laden—in which bank traders, sometimes with the knowledge of their managers, sought to manipulate the rates in order to boost their trading profits or mask the Swiss bank's mounting financial problems in 2008. UBS Traders' 'Humongous' Libor-Fixing Boasts (CNBC) The FSA documents suggest a macho trading culture on the UBS trading floor. Trader A also said: "if you keep 6s [i.e. the six month JPY LIBOR rate] unchanged today ... I will ****ing do one humongous deal with you ... Like a 50,000 buck deal." Traders and brokers implicated in the scandal referred to each other as "the three muscateers [sic]" and "captain caos [sic]." SAC's top consumer trader draws scrutiny from U.S. authorities (Reuters) U.S. authorities are examining trading by one of SAC Capital Advisors' most successful portfolio managers, Gabriel Plotkin, as part of a probe into the $14 billion hedge fund firm's investment in Weight Watchers International Inc last year, according to a person familiar with the investigation. Plotkin, a specialist in consumer and retail stocks who makes investment decisions for more than $1.2 billion worth of assets, is among several SAC portfolio managers whose trades are being investigated, said the source, who did not want to be identified. The source would not name the other managers. Federal authorities are trying to determine whether any of SAC Capital's retail and consumer portfolio managers traded Weight Watchers shares based on non-public confidential information about the diet company, said the source and another person familiar with the investigation. The two sources said it is too soon to conclude if there was any insider trading. Authorities have not charged Plotkin with any wrongdoing. Banks See Biggest Returns Since ’03 as Employees Suffer (Bloomberg) Shareholders, impatient for the industry to boost profit, were rewarded as Wall Street firms cut jobs and pay, and exited businesses. The shrinking unnerved employees, who watched the chiefs of two big banks lose their jobs and others contend with a drop in deal making and stock trading, stiffer regulations, trading losses, rating downgrades and scandals involving interest-rate manipulation and money laundering. “There’s always grumbling on Wall Street, which is pathetic given how overpaid we all are, but there is a level of angst this year that is just unprecedented,” Gordon Dean, who left a 26-year career at Morgan Stanley (MS) to co-found a San Francisco boutique advisory firm this year, said in a telephone interview. “It’s just a profound sadness and dissatisfaction.” Greek Bond Bet Pays Off for Hedge Fund (FT) One of the world's most prominent hedge funds is sitting on a $500 million profit after making a bet that Greece would not be forced to leave the euro zone, bucking the trend in a difficult year for the industry. Third Point, headed by the billionaire US investor Dan Loeb, tendered the majority of a $1 billion position in Greek government bonds, built up only months earlier, as part of a landmark debt buyback deal by Athens on Monday, according to people familiar with the firm. The windfall marks out the New York-based firm as one of the few hedge fund managers to have profited from the eurozone crisis. Standard and Poor's, the rating agency, raised its assessment of Greece's sovereign debt by several notches on Tuesday, citing the euro zone's"strong determination" to keep the country inside the common currency area. Fitch Warns US Could Lose AAA If 'Fiscal Cliff' Hits (Reuters) "Failure to avoid the fiscal cliff.. would exacerbate rather than diminish the uncertainty over fiscal policy, and tip the US into an avoidable and unnecessary recession," Fitch said in its 2013 global outlook published on Wednesday. "That could erode medium-term growth potential and financial stability. In such a scenario, there would be an increased likelihood that the U.S. would lose its AAA status." Science explains Rudolph's red reindeer nose (CNET) A collection of Dutch scientists contributed to a paper titled "Microcirculatory investigations of nasal mucosa in reindeer Rangifer tarandus (Mammalia, Artiodactyla, Cervidae): Rudolph's nose was overheated." According to the paper, "The exceptional physical burden of flying with a sleigh with Santa Claus as a heavy load could have caused cerebral and bodily hyperthermia, resulting in an overworked nasal cooling mechanism that resembles an overheated cooling radiator in a car: Rudolph suffered from hyperemia of the nasal mucosa (a red nose) under more extreme heat loads during flight with a sleigh." Of course, scientists don't like to put all their scientific eggs into just one basket of science. The paper's authors acknowledge other theories for the red nose, including the common cold, alcoholic intoxication, or a parasitic infection of the nostrils. GM To Buy Back Stock From Treasury (WSJ) GM said it will purchase 200 million shares of stock held by the U.S. Treasury Department in the first step of the government's eventual exit from the auto maker within the next 12 to 15 months. The auto maker will pay $5.5 billion for the shares in a deal that is expected to close by the end of the year. The repurchase price of $27.50 a share represents a 7.9% premium over the closing price on Dec. 18. Berlusconi Says Italy May Be Forced to Leave the Euro Zone (Reuters) "If Germany doesn't accept that the ECB must be a real central bank, if interest rates don't come down, we will be forced to leave the euro and return to our own currency in order to be competitive," Berlusconi said in comments reported by Italian news agencies Ansa and Agi. Knight, Getco Confirm Merger (WSJ) The $1.8 billion deal for Knight, which values the firm at $1.4 billion plus $400 million in debt held by Getco, will create a trading powerhouse ranking as one of the largest players on U.S. exchanges and the main trading partner of online brokerage firms that service everyday investors. Porsche Executives Charged Over VW Bid (WSJ) Prosecutors have charged the former top executives of Porsche Automobil Holding SE with allegedly manipulating financial markets during the company's attempt to take over Volkswagen AG in 2008, lawyers representing the executives said Wednesday. A court in Stuttgart must now decide whether to open criminal proceedings against Porsche's former chief executive Wendelin Wiedeking and former finance chief Holger Härter, who are suspected of misleading investors when they denied trying to take over VW in 2008. Market manipulation in Germany can be punished with up to five years' imprisonment. From early March to October of 2008, Porsche issued at least five statements denying it was trying to raise its stake in Volkswagen to 75%, but the prosecutors allege that Messrs. Wiedeking and Härter had already decided to try to raise the stake and were preparing for the move by purchasing buy options on ordinary and preference shares of Volkswagen. The denials induced investors to sell or make bets the shares would fall by so-called short selling, the prosecutors said, which benefited Porsche by lowering the share price ahead of the planned takeover. Spanx Bandit On The Loose After JCPenney Heist (TSG) An unknown thief (or thieves) stole a whopping $4182 worth of the popular body shapers from a JCPenney in Vero Beach, according to an Indian River County Sheriff’s Office report. The Spanx theft was reported Friday afternoon after a JCPenney employee noticed “the empty rack in the women’s undergarment section.” The worker noted that the Spanx stock had been there the prior evening. A subsequent search of the store revealed that about 100 Spanx “were taken along with their plastic hangers.” The purloined undergarments--tan and black tops and bottoms--were from Spanx’s Assets Red Hot Label line, police reported. A JCPenney store manager gave cops an itemized list of the boosted body shapers, but it appears the Spanx Bandit will escape unscathed. Due to a lack of witnesses, evidence, or store surveillance video, no further investigative activity could be undertaken by a sheriff’s deputy.