Opening Bell: 09.06.12

Draghi Says Officials Agree On ECB Unlimited Bond-Buying (Bloomberg) The program “will enable us to address severe distortions in government bond markets which originate from, in particular, unfounded fears on the part of investors of the reversibility of the euro,” Draghi said at a press conference in Frankfurt after the ECB held its benchmark rate at a record low of 0.75 percent. “Under appropriate conditions, we will have a fully effective backstop to avoid destructive scenarios with potentially severe challenges for price stability in the euro area.” Positive Signs Emerge For Job Market (WSJ) Private-sector jobs in the U.S. increased by 201,000 last month, according to a national employment report calculated by payroll processor Automatic Data Processing Inc. and consultancy Macroeconomic Advisers. The August number was well above the 145,000 expected by economists. The July estimate was revised to 173,000 from the 163,000 reported last month. AIG To Sell $2 Billion Of AIA Shares (WSJ) AIG is seeking to raise around US$2 billion by selling more shares in AIA Group Ltd, its former pan-Asian life insurance unit, as it continues to repay the U.S. government bailout it received during the 2008 financial crisis. The U.S. insurer also said in a statement it plans to buy back another $5 billion in stock from the U.S. Treasury. AIG has been aggressively buying back shares this year and is expected to buy more from the Treasury this fall, as part of a push that could make the U.S. government a minority shareholder before the November elections and enable the company to fully repay its bailout sooner than expected. The Treasury Department sold $5 billion worth of shares in AIG last month, its fourth sale so far, reducing the government's stake to 55% and bringing down the amount the government needs to recoup from the bailout to $25 billion. Summer Rally Puts The Hurt On Fund Managers (WSJ) "The gap we are looking at is going to be very hard…for hedge funds to make up," said Anurag Bhardwaj, head of hedge-fund consulting at Barclays PLC. "At this late stage in the year, when the rally has been around for a bit, do you decide to get into the game now?" Alec Baldwin's daughter discusses ‘pig’ call (NYP) Alec Baldwin’s daughter Ireland has talked for the first time about his infamous 2007 voice mail in which he called her, then 12, “a rude, thoughtless, little pig” — saying he often speaks like that “because he’s frustrated.” Ireland, the 16-year-old daughter of Baldwin and Kim Basinger, thinks the incident — which created a viral scandal and prompted Baldwin to temporarily lose visitation rights — was blown wildly out of proportion. “The only problem with that voice mail was that people made it out to be a way bigger deal than it was,” she tells Page Six Magazine, out today. “He’s said stuff like that before just because he’s frustrated. “For me it was like, ‘OK, whatever.’ I called him back I was like, ‘Sorry Dad, I didn’t have my phone.’ That was it.” DE Shaw Is Back On Top (DJ) This year, Shaw has had the biggest asset growth among the top 20 hedge fund firms in Absolute Return’s Billion Dollar Club, which tracks the biggest hedgies twice a year. Shaw added $2.4 billion to its hedge-fund coffers this year, a 14 percent gain, bringing its assets to $19.4 billion as of July 1, according to the ranking out today. Clinton Nominates Obama, Rebuts Romney Criticism On Jobs (Bloomberg) Bill Clinton said President Barack Obama deserves re-election because he contained the economic crisis and put the nation on a path to recovery, casting the 2012 election as a choice between “shared opportunities and shared responsibility” and a “winner-take-all, you’re-on-your- own society.” Clinton, 66, praised Obama’s commitment to “constructive cooperation” and described him as a man who is “cool on the outside, but who burns for America on the inside.” The former president used a 48-minute address before the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, last night to deliver a rebuttal of criticisms leveled at Obama by challenger Mitt Romney and his running mate during last week’s Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida -- at one point saying it “takes some brass” for Obama’s partisan adversaries to lob some of their attacks. “Nobody’s right all the time and a broken clock is right twice a day,” Clinton said. “We’re compelled to spend our fleeting lives between those two extremes.” Most Of Nomura's Cuts To Come In Europe, US (WSJ) The brokerage house said Thursday 45% of the cuts would be in Europe and 21% in the U.S. Nomura said 45% of the total cuts would be in the form of labor costs. Love Triangle Leads To Million-Dollar Return Battle At Neiman Marcus (FDL) The meeting was awkward. Malcolm Reuben, the buttoned-up vice president and general manager of Neiman Marcus’ NorthPark Center store, stood inside the multimillion-dollar Addison home of one of his top customers, Patricia Walker. Beside him were two colleagues: a Neiman Marcus attorney and his store’s loss-prevention manager. Walker was joined by her own attorney and her personal assistant. It was a summer day in 2010. Glancing around the sleek Max Levy–designed house, the only things more dazzling than the sculptural masonry columns or the steel-and-glass staircase were the piles of designer goods: handbags, shoes, furs, clothing, crystal figurines, fine jewelry. It represented the bulk of $1.4 million in merchandise charged to Walker over a period of years. “There was a variety of merchandise laying all over the house,” Reuben testified in a March video deposition. “She wanted to return all of the merchandise because of the affair.” Oh, yes. The affair. Walker had learned that Favi Lo, her longtime Neiman Marcus sales associate at NorthPark, was sleeping with her husband. And Walker saw that her charges had soared in recent years while she recovered from a horrific head-on auto collision. She came to believe that her husband was responsible for many of the purchases and had used them to pump up commissions for his mistress.
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Draghi Says Officials Agree On ECB Unlimited Bond-Buying (Bloomberg)
The program “will enable us to address severe distortions in government bond markets which originate from, in particular, unfounded fears on the part of investors of the reversibility of the euro,” Draghi said at a press conference in Frankfurt after the ECB held its benchmark rate at a record low of 0.75 percent. “Under appropriate conditions, we will have a fully effective backstop to avoid destructive scenarios with potentially severe challenges for price stability in the euro area.”

Positive Signs Emerge For Job Market (WSJ)
Private-sector jobs in the U.S. increased by 201,000 last month, according to a national employment report calculated by payroll processor Automatic Data Processing Inc. and consultancy Macroeconomic Advisers. The August number was well above the 145,000 expected by economists. The July estimate was revised to 173,000 from the 163,000 reported last month.

AIG To Sell $2 Billion Of AIA Shares (WSJ)
AIG is seeking to raise around US$2 billion by selling more shares in AIA Group Ltd, its former pan-Asian life insurance unit, as it continues to repay the U.S. government bailout it received during the 2008 financial crisis. The U.S. insurer also said in a statement it plans to buy back another $5 billion in stock from the U.S. Treasury. AIG has been aggressively buying back shares this year and is expected to buy more from the Treasury this fall, as part of a push that could make the U.S. government a minority shareholder before the November elections and enable the company to fully repay its bailout sooner than expected. The Treasury Department sold $5 billion worth of shares in AIG last month, its fourth sale so far, reducing the government's stake to 55% and bringing down the amount the government needs to recoup from the bailout to $25 billion.

Summer Rally Puts The Hurt On Fund Managers (WSJ)
"The gap we are looking at is going to be very hard…for hedge funds to make up," said Anurag Bhardwaj, head of hedge-fund consulting at Barclays PLC. "At this late stage in the year, when the rally has been around for a bit, do you decide to get into the game now?"

Alec Baldwin's daughter discusses ‘pig’ call (NYP)
Alec Baldwin’s daughter Ireland has talked for the first time about his infamous 2007 voice mail in which he called her, then 12, “a rude, thoughtless, little pig” — saying he often speaks like that “because he’s frustrated.” Ireland, the 16-year-old daughter of Baldwin and Kim Basinger, thinks the incident — which created a viral scandal and prompted Baldwin to temporarily lose visitation rights — was blown wildly out of proportion. “The only problem with that voice mail was that people made it out to be a way bigger deal than it was,” she tells Page Six Magazine, out today. “He’s said stuff like that before just because he’s frustrated. “For me it was like, ‘OK, whatever.’ I called him back I was like, ‘Sorry Dad, I didn’t have my phone.’ That was it.”

DE Shaw Is Back On Top (DJ)
This year, Shaw has had the biggest asset growth among the top 20 hedge fund firms in Absolute Return’s Billion Dollar Club, which tracks the biggest hedgies twice a year. Shaw added $2.4 billion to its hedge-fund coffers this year, a 14 percent gain, bringing its assets to $19.4 billion as of July 1, according to the ranking out today.

Clinton Nominates Obama, Rebuts Romney Criticism On Jobs (Bloomberg)
Bill Clinton said President Barack Obama deserves re-election because he contained the economic crisis and put the nation on a path to recovery, casting the 2012 election as a choice between “shared opportunities and shared responsibility” and a “winner-take-all, you’re-on-your- own society.” Clinton, 66, praised Obama’s commitment to “constructive cooperation” and described him as a man who is “cool on the outside, but who burns for America on the inside.” The former president used a 48-minute address before the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, last night to deliver a rebuttal of criticisms leveled at Obama by challenger Mitt Romney and his running mate during last week’s Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida -- at one point saying it “takes some brass” for Obama’s partisan adversaries to lob some of their attacks. “Nobody’s right all the time and a broken clock is right twice a day,” Clinton said. “We’re compelled to spend our fleeting lives between those two extremes.”

Most Of Nomura's Cuts To Come In Europe, US (WSJ)
The brokerage house said Thursday 45% of the cuts would be in Europe and 21% in the U.S. Nomura said 45% of the total cuts would be in the form of labor costs.

Ben & Jerry's Sues Over Trademark Violation (AP)
The ice cream maker that introduced the flavors Schweddy Balls and Karamel Sutra sued the maker of "Ben & Cherry's" X-rated DVDs Wednesday, saying the "hardcore pornographic" films have smeared its reputation. The trademark lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Manhattan said the sale of hardcore and exploitive pornographic DVDs and related goods is tarnishing Ben & Jerry's Homemade Inc.'s name by creating an association with pornography. It said the claims arise from the distribution and sale of a series of DVDs containing "exploitative, hardcore pornographic films" featuring titles and themes based on "well-known and iconic" Ben & Jerry's ice cream flavors as well as packaging that contains key company features such as a grazing cow, green grass and large white puffy clouds. The lawsuit by the Vermont-based company said the films would likely cause "confusion, mistake or deception" regarding the company's trademarks. It identified some of the X-rated names similar to its own as "Boston Cream Thigh," ''New York Fat & Chunky" and "Peanut Butter D-Cup." Ben & Jerry's has ice cream flavors titled: "Boston Cream Pie," ''New York Super Fudge Chunk" and "Peanut Butter Cup."

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Opening Bell: 12.11.12

HSBC To Pay Record Penalty (WSJ) HSBC on Tuesday plans to acknowledge that for years it ignored possible money laundering, part of a record $1.9 billion settlement with U.S. authorities that caps the bank's disastrous foray into the U.S. market. The U.K.-based banking company is expected to forfeit nearly $1.3 billion as part of a deferred prosecution agreement, the largest-ever U.S. forfeiture for a bank, according to people briefed on the agreement between HSBC and multiple U.S. agencies. The deal includes a civil fine of more than $650 million, according to these people. As part of the agreement, the bank will admit to violating the Bank Secrecy Act, the Trading with the Enemy Act and other U.S. laws intended to prohibit money laundering, a government official said. Three Arrested In Libor Probe (WSJ) Three British men have been arrested as part of an investigation into the rigging of interest rates, the U.K. Serious Fraud Office said Tuesday. The SFO said the men, aged 33, 41 and 47, are being questioned at a London police station, and that it and the City of London Police executed search warrants on a home in Surrey and two homes in Essex. The arrests are the first by authorities amid a global probe into alleged rigging by bank personnel of the London interbank offered rate over several years. Morgan Stanley Weighs Share Buyback (WSJ) Morgan Stanley might soon ask U.S. regulators to let the securities firm buy back shares for the first time in more than four years, according to people familiar with the firm's thinking. The Wall Street bank could make its request to the Federal Reserve as soon as January as part of the annual "stress-test" process, these people said. The stress tests started in 2009 as a way to convince investors that the largest banks could survive a financial crisis. They have been used to determine banks' ability to pay dividends or buy back shares. Share-repurchase and dividend plans are due from 19 large financial firms by Jan. 7. "Fiscal cliff" outcome still uncertain; talks continue (Reuters) As the pace of talks quickened to avert the "fiscal cliff" of steep tax hikes and spending cuts set for the end of the year, senior members of the U.S. House of Representatives of both parties cautioned that an agreement on all the outstanding issues remained uncertain. Republicans and Democrats are not close to "finishing anything," California Representative Kevin McCarthy, the Republican whip in the House, told Fox News Monday night. "There's nothing agreed to. They are just beginning to talk," he said of House Speaker John Boehner and President Barack Obama. Meanwhile, Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said on MSNBC Monday he thought Congress could resolve some of the issues by the December 31 deadline -- among them the hikes in tax rates-but might have to leave others for the new Congress that takes office in January. Europe in Better Shape Than US: Strategists (CNBC) "The 'fiscal cliff' in the U.S. is a worry," Garry Evans,Global Head of Equity Strategy at HSBC told CNBC on Tuesday. "And that's one of the reasons that I'm underweight the U.S. and I prefer Europe - it's a bit of an unusual place to be." Insider Trading Probe Widens (WSJ) Federal prosecutors and securities regulators are taking a deeper look into how executives use prearranged trading plans to buy and sell shares of their company stock. The Manhattan U.S. attorney's office has launched a broad criminal investigation into whether seven corporate executives cited in a recent Wall Street Journal article traded improperly in shares of their own company's stock, according to a person familiar with the matter. These executives lead companies in industries ranging from retailing to energy to data processing. Stephen Baldwin Wants Tax Truce (NYP) Stephen Baldwin is hoping to set things right after he was arrested Thursday and charged with failure to file state income taxes for three years. “I went myself [to the police] in a pre-arranged kind of way, but that won’t stop the process of the powers that be being upset about it,” Baldwin told Page Six at the Plaza Hotel’s Oak Room on Sunday. “I had this pretty serious issue with filings that weren’t handled appropriately. To be honest with you, it’s a situation right now where my lawyers are in a conversation now with New York state and the district attorney’s office, and I’m very hopeful that everything should be fine,” he said. According to reports, the “Usual Suspects” star was arraigned for failure to file tax returns from 2008 to 2010. He owes more than $350,000 in taxes and penalties, and could face jail time. “You have to pay your taxes . . . I just got caught up in a situation that I’m hoping we’re gonna work out,” he said. U.S. Profit on AIG Climbs to $22.7 Billion on Share Sale (Bloomberg) The Treasury Department is selling 234.2 million shares at $32.50 each in the sixth offering since the 2008 rescue. The proceeds boost the U.S. profit on the rescue that began in 2008 to $22.7 billion, the Treasury said in an e-mailed statement. Fed Seen Pumping Up Assets to $4 Trillion in New Buying (Bloomberg) “It’s going to be massive and open-ended in size,” said Joseph LaVorgna, chief U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank Securities Inc. in New York and a former New York Fed economist. In EU, A Test Of Wills (WSJ) Among the concerns of EU officials are moves by regulators in countries such as Germany and the U.K. to discourage European banks from moving funds back to their home countries, these officials said. EU officials are considering taking legal action against governments that they view as having adopted overzealous policies that violate the single-market rules, these officials said. The first step would be a formal warning to national authorities. The dispute could eventually land before the European Court of Justice if there is no policy change. The officials' hope, though, is that they can resolve the dispute without resorting to legal action. Celtics’ Chris Wilcox fined $25K for flipping off ‘Kiss Cam’ during loss to 76ers (YS) ...The gag concludes when the camera pans to the opposing bench, where players usually laugh, fake kiss or just ignore the camera. Boston's Chris Wilcox had a slightly different and less appropriate reaction. Wilcox greeted the 17,921 Wells Fargo Center fans with his middle finger. He was serenaded by boos and received an earful from an assistant coach moments later.

Opening Bell: 08.14.12

Barclays Cheaper Than Peers Fuels Breakup Talk (Bloomberg) The break-up discussion will be one of the first issues facing new chairman David Walker, who will succeed Marcus Agius as chairman of Barclays on Nov. 1. Walker said in an interview with the Telegraph newspaper that “my view is that this should continue to be a universal bank,” according to the Aug. 11 article. Agius has also defended the so-called universal banking model, which combines consumer lending with corporate and investment banking. Paul Ryan And What Wall Street Should Know (Dealbook) While Mr. Ryan may appear to be a friend of business, he doesn’t agree with the industry’s biggest talking point these days, the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan. He was a member of the commission and voted it down, arguing that it did not go far enough in overhauling health care entitlements. He later criticized President Obama for not supporting it. That prompted Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council under President Obama, to retort on CNN: “Paul Ryan, talking about walking away from a balanced plan like Bowles-Simpson is, I don’t know, somewhere between laughable and a new definition for chutzpah.” Greece Completes Largest Debt Sale In Two Years (WSJ) Give it up for Greece, everyone: "The Greek Public Debt Management Agency said it sold €4.063 billion ($5.01 billion) of 13-week treasury bills at an auction, which included a 30% noncompetitive tranche. The uniform yield was 4.43%. Most of the funds will go to repay €3.1 billion in bonds held by the ECB that mature Aug. 20. That will ensure that the country avoids a default that would make it impossible for Greek banks to continue borrowing from the ECB, on which they currently depend for their survival." Wilbur Ross: Just Let Greece Go, It's Fine (CNBC) "I've been in favor of Greece going out, frankly both from the Greek point of view and the EU point of view," Ross said. "I think there are enough firewalls being built up, particularly now that (European Central Bank chief) Mario Draghi is acting like the lender of last resort, that I don't think it would be that traumatic anymore. Most of the indebtedness of Greece is official debt, no longer private debt, so you don't have the domino problem." Crocs co-founder George Boedecker blames 'girlfriend' Taylor Swift following arrest for drunk driving in Colorado (NYDN) A witness called Boulder authorities early Saturday evening after seeing Crocs co-founder George Boedecker passed out at the wheel of a Porsche with the engine running, according to the Denver Post. Boedecker was busted on suspicion of driving under the influence and is free on $500 bond. When confronted by cops, the 51-year-old Boedecker said that it was actually the 22-year-old Swift who was driving the car, according to a police report obtained by The Smoking Gun and the Denver Post. According to the report, Boedecker said that his "girlfriend" left the vehicle after they got into a fight. When asked who his girlfriend was, Boedecker told the officer she was a "really (expletive) famous" singer, then asked the officer if he knew who Taylor Swift was. When the officer asked Boedecker where Swift was, Boedecker gestured toward a nearby yard, and “said she was in Nashville,” according to the police report. He also described his girlfriend as “bats--- crazy.” Authorities could not find anyone in the area, and Swift is currently dating Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s 18-year-old son, Conor. Boedecker reeked of booze and was uncooperative with cops, saying “I’m not doing your f------ maneuvers" when asked to take a sobriety test. When asked for his address, Boedecker replied, "I have 17 (expletive) homes," and also told the cops he would have their badges, according to the police report. Knight $440 Million Loss Sealed By New Rules On Canceling Trades (Bloomberg) Knight, whose market-making unit executes 10 percent of U.S. equity volume, lost $440 million on Aug. 1 and its stock has plunged 73 percent after a computer malfunction bombarded the market with unintended orders that exchanges declined to cancel. A decade ago, the firm suffered almost no consequences in a similar breakdown when officials agreed to void trades after Knight mistakenly sold 1 million of its own shares. Peregrine CEO Is Indicted (WSJ) The chief executive of Peregrine Financial Group Inc. was indicted Monday on 31 charges of lying to government regulators regarding the failed brokerage's operations. Russell Wasendorf Sr. faces a maximum sentence of 155 years' imprisonment on the charges and fines of about $7.75 million, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Iowa. Hedge Funds Have $74 Billion As Europe Fire Sale Delayed (Bloomberg) Apollo Global Management, Oaktree Capital Group, Avenue Capital Group, and Davidson Kempner Capital Management are among U.S. firms that have flocked to Europe, setting up offices and raising funds to benefit from the most severe period of distress in the region. The money raised for distressed-debt funds gives the firms about 100 billion euros to spend on deals including leverage, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. Facebook Shares Unlocking (WSJ) An avalanche of privately held Facebook shares could begin hitting the market this week—potentially putting further pressure on the company's stock—as rules expire that have kept some early investors from cashing out. Record 17-foot python caught in Everglades (Herald Tribune) Scientists say they've caught the biggest Burmese python ever recorded in Florida. The python weighed in at 164½ pounds and measured 17 feet, 7 inches long. It was pregnant with 87 eggs. The snakes are native to Southeast Asia but have established a population of tens of thousands in the Everglades, where the latest find was recorded Friday. It was euthanized and is being studied at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

Opening Bell: 03.04.13

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

Opening Bell: 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: 03.21.13

ECB Threatens To Cut Off Cypriot Banks (WSJ) The European Central Bank ramped up pressure on Cyprus to seal a bailout agreement with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund by Monday, making further funding for the island's ailing banks contingent on a deal. The ECB said it would extend emergency funding that has kept the island's banks in operation while the bailout plan was being negotiated in recent months only until Monday. "Thereafter, Emergency Liquidity Assistance (ELA) could only be considered if an European Union/International Monetary Fund program is in place that would ensure the solvency of the concerned banks," the ECB said in a statement. Italy's Five-Star Party Reiterates Demand for Euro Referendum (WSJ) Representatives of Italy's Five-Star Movement reiterated their anti-establishment party's demands for a referendum on the country's membership of the euro, and insisted that they should form the country's next government. Italian President Giorgio Napolitano is consulting political leaders on forming a government after last month's inconclusive election result. Deustche Bank Legal Bill Mounts (WSJ) Deustche Bank revised fourth-quarter earnings downward, setting aside about €600 million ($773 million) in legal provisions for U.S. mortgage litigation in another sign that mounting legal liabilities are cutting into investment -bank profits. The bank updated its fourth-quarter net loss to 2.54 billion euros, wider than the originally reported loss of €2.17 billion. This compared with a profit of €147 million a year earlier. The bank also reiterated that it would make first-quarter targets for a key measure of the bank's health known as the capital ratio, indicating a strong first quarter, analysts said. Deutsche Bank has now set aside €2.4 billion for litigation, with additional identified non-provisioned legal risks of €1.5 billion. The bank's legal provisions were nearly 10 times net profit of €237 million for 2012, compared with a profit of €4.1 billion in 2011. Total legal risk is likely much higher than what the bank has publicly identified, analysts said. Lululemon Sees Sheerness Issue Hitting Profits (WSJ) Lululemon Athletica said Thursday its fourth-quarter profit climbed 48%, but said it expects the transparency issue related to some of its yoga pants to reduce first-quarter earnings by 11 to 12 cents a share. Bernanke Saying He’s Dispensable Suggests Tenure Ending (Bloomberg) Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said he’s “spoken to the president a bit” about his future and that he feels no personal responsibility to stay at the helm until the Fed winds down its unprecedented policies to stimulate the economy. “I don’t think that I’m the only person in the world who can manage the exit,” Bernanke said when asked at a news conference in Washington if he’s discussed his plans with President Barack Obama. His term expires at the end of January. Personal assistant pleads guilty to embezzling 821G from hedge funder Todd Meister (NYP) After a year of denials, glamorous Ukranian embezzler Renata Shamrakova admitted in Manhattan Supreme Court yesterday that she stole nearly $1 million while working as the personal assistant to hedge funder Todd Meister. Under the plea deal, she will serve no jail time but must repay what she took within two years. “Yes, your honor,” Shamrakova told the judge, when asked if she had committed grand larceny in the second degree by stealing from Meister, 42, a Harvard-educated money man who famously married Nicky Hilton for just six weeks in 2004. Shamrakova, 28, wore a gray cashmere sweater over a short, floral-print skirt and spoke in a quiet, girlish voice as she sat at the defense table and admitted her crimes. In addition to ripping off Meister, she tried to dodge a search warrant by hiding financial records. Dell Walks Fine Line in Pitch for Buyout (WSJ) Mr. Dell needs to persuade Dell Inc. investors that the prospects for the company he founded in his dorm room in 1984 and has been running for the past six years are anything but rosy if he is to succeed with his plan to take the computer maker private. Friday marks the end of a 45-day window to flush out alternative offers to the $24.4 billion buyout deal that Mr. Dell and private-equity firm Silver Lake Partners reached last month. The $13.65-a-share offer has sparked derision from some shareholders who believe the price undervalues the Round Rock, Texas, company. No alternative bid has been offered, but late Wednesday Blackstone Group LP was working on a few scenarios for a potential bid that would see the private-equity giant team with a partner to buy all or part of the computer maker, according to people familiar with the matter. JPMorgan To Return Money To MF Global Customers (AP) JPMorgan Chase has agreed to a deal that will return $546 million to former customers of trading firm MF Global Holdings Ltd., which collapsed in 2011 with $1.6 billion missing from its accounts. Initial Jobless Claims in U.S. Rise Less Than Forecast (Bloomberg) Applications for jobless benefits increased by 2,000 to 336,000 in the week ended March 16, Labor Department figures showed today. Economists projected 340,000 claims, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg survey. The monthly average, which smoothes the week-to-week volatility, dropped to the lowest level since February 2008. Regulator finds flaws in Deutsche Bank's Libor supervision (Reuters) German markets watchdog Bafin is set to tell Deutsche Bank of "organizational flaws" in how it supervised its contribution to the setting of inter-bank lending rates at the heart of the international rate-rigging scandal, sources familiar with the watchdog's investigation said. Wis. limits use of nude beach to reduce sex, drugs (AP) Wisconsin authorities announced Tuesday they will shut down one of nation's most popular nude beaches on weekdays after struggling for years to curtail sex and drugs on the sandbar and surrounding woods. Nudists from around the country have been traveling to the public beach on the Wisconsin River near Mazomanie, about 25 miles northwest of Madison, for decades as word spread that prosecutors in ultra-liberal Dane County wouldn't go after anyone for showing skin. But visitors haven't stopped at just stripping down. They've been slipping off into the woods for trysts and drugs. Authorities say that's crossing the line, but they haven't been able to stop the shenanigans. Their frustration reached a tipping point Tuesday, when the state Department of Natural Resources announced it will close the beach, the islands immediately off it and the surrounding woods to the public on weekdays, when wardens say troublemakers tend to operate unseen. The closures begin immediately. The area will remain open on weekends, though. Bob Morton, executive director of the Austin, Tex.-based Naturist Action Committee, which lobbies on behalf of nudists, has visited the beach several times. He criticized the DNR for not consulting with beachgoers before closing the area. "Honestly, we're on their side when it comes to enforcing things that are lewd and lascivious," Morton said. "There's something to be said about consulting the users of the place. There's got to be more to this somewhere."

Opening Bell: 04.16.12

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

Opening Bell: 09.13.12

Ray Dalio: US Economy Out Of Intensive Care (Reuters) Hedge fund titan Ray Dalio said the U.S economy had come out of the "intensive care unit," but he warned against any quick move to "austerity" budget measures. "We were in the intensive care unit," Dalio, who runs the $120 billion hedge fund Bridgewater Associates, told more than 200 guests at the Council of Foreign Relations in New York on Wednesday. "We are largely healed and largely operating in a manner that is sustainable if we don't hit an air pocket." Dalio said a major challenge for U.S. politicians will be dealing with the so-called "fiscal cliff," the year-end expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts and previously agreed-upon cuts in defense spending and social programs, a combination which some economists say could lead to a recession. Dalio sided with economists who worry that a sharp reduction in government spending could lead the United States back into recession. "We can't just worry about too much debt," Dalio said. "We have to worry about too much austerity." German Court Clears Rescue Fund (WSJ) Germany's highest court cautiously approved the creation of the euro zone's permanent bailout facility, but insisted that the country keep its effective veto on all of the vehicle's decisions, a ruling that removes a question mark over two crucial elements of the euro zone's plans for mastering its debt crisis. Treasury Backs Plan For Standard Chartered Settlement (NYT) The lawyers approved a potential prepayment amount this week, a crucial step to a final agreement, though it will be much smaller than the $340 million the bank had to pay to New York State’s top banking regulator in a related case, according to three officials with direct knowledge of the settlement talks. The differing penalties stem from determinations by federal authorities and Manhattan prosecutors that the bank’s suspected wrongdoing was much less extensive than the state banking regulator’s claims that Standard Chartered had schemed with Iran to hide from regulators 60,000 transactions worth $250 billion over a decade. Insiders Get Post IPO Pass (WSJ) Wall Street underwriters increasingly are allowing corporate insiders to sidestep agreements that prevent them from quickly selling shares after initial public offerings. In the latest instance, several Wall Street banks on Wednesday allowed early investors and management of ExactTarget Inc. to sell more than seven million shares of the online marketing company a week ahead of the planned end of a "lockup" agreement. Under lockup pacts, underwriters bar company insiders from selling their shares, usually for 180 days after an IPO. The lockup restricts the supply of shares, helping buoy IPO prices; releasing more shares on the market can keep a lid on stock prices. Anna Gristina sits down with TV shrink Dr. Phil, says she won't talk to prosecutors about associate (NYDN) The Soccer Mom Madam's little black book has been whittled down to a single name. In her first major interview since being released from Rikers Island in June, Anna Gristina dishes to TV talk show shrink Dr. Phil about how prosecutors have hounded her for dirt on a just one associate. “They have an agenda to get me to talk about a certain person,” she told the daytime doc. Gristina refused to reveal the mystery man, or woman. Oprah's former head-shrink sidekick, who sat down at the kitchen table in Gristina's Monroe, N.Y. farmhouse, asked why the accused flesh-peddler didn't just save herself and give prosecutors the information they want. “I have a deep sense of loyalty and I'm Scottish." Gristina denied the criminal allegations during the teary interview, maintaining she was developing an online dating site where married men could meet single women. Whistleblower Key To Buyout Probe (WSJ) New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's probe of tax practices at private-equity firms is based on information from a whistleblower, according to a person familiar with the matter. The information came from someone who approached Mr. Schneiderman's office between roughly nine months and a year ago, this person said. Under the state's False Claims Act, the attorney general can investigate alleged fraud against the state basedon a whistleblower's allegations. The ongoing probe is examining whether partners at private-equity firms changed management fees into investment income to delay tax payment and pay less—or avoid taxes altogether. Some private-equity firms use so-called management-fee conversions, while other firms avoid them. Wall Street Hopes for Romney, but Expects Obama to Win (CNBC) In an unscientific poll, 46 percent of respondents to the September CNBC Fed Survey said they expect President Obama to win reelection. Only 24 percent believe Republican Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney will get the job. Longtime Madoff Employee To Plead Guilty (Reuters) Irwin Lipkin, a former controller of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC, will appear in Manhattan federal court on Th ursday, prosecutors said in a letter to the judge. He will plead guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit securities fraud and falsifying documents, prosecutors told U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain in the letter. Suspect pulls gun on victim while having sex in a moving car (WNN) The incident began Sep. 2 when the victim and his two friends went to the Paddy Wagon Irish Pub in Port Charlotte. When the bar closed early Monday morning they invited two girls they met to one of the friend’s home on Atlas Street. One of the women and the victim went into a bedroom to have sex. The girl said she needed $250, which he said he didn’t have. She asked how much he had and he gave her $120. The victim then went to the bathroom and when he returned, found the two women had left the home. The victim had obtained the woman’s cell phone number earlier at the bar and called her; they agreed to meet at the Pick N Run store on Peachland Boulevard. When he got there he expected to meet the woman who took the $120. Instead, Linscott walked up to his Nissan Sentra and said the other girl ditched her. Linscott got into his car and as they drove off, he said she began touching him and having sex while he was driving. The victim told detectives she also said she needed money and he told her he already gave her friend $120 earlier. The victim said Linscott then put a .357 Taurus revolver to his head and demanded money. The victim grabbed the gun and a fight ensued in the moving car; he said he punched her in the head so she would release the gun. He told detectives he was in fear of his life and lost control of his car, struck a palm tree, went airborne and then ran across two front yards in the 1200 block of Dewhurst Street.

Opening Bell: 02.21.13

Feds Split Over When To Close Cash Spigot (WSJ) Minutes released Wednesday from the Fed's January policy meeting show officials concerned that the current easy-money policies could lead to excessive risk-taking and instability in financial markets. The Fed is buying $85 billion in mortgage and U.S. Treasury securities a month to drive down long-term rates and has promised to keep short-term rates near zero until unemployment improves. Citigroup Chairman Not Pressing Bank Breakup (WSJ) Michael E. O'Neill was among a small group of directors who after the financial crisis urged the company to weigh the pros and cons of splitting up the third-largest U.S. bank, said people familiar with the deliberations. Mr. O'Neill, now chairman, has overseen a management shake-up in the past year and is backing a broad cost-cutting plan. But exploring a breakup is no longer among his top priorities. Mr. O'Neill has concluded that breaking up Citigroup doesn't make sense now, given economic and regulatory uncertainty as well as a host of financial considerations, these people said. Wells Fargo ramps up private equity despite Volcker Rule (Reuters) The fine print of the Volcker Rule is expected to be finalized as soon as this year. Major banks such as Bank of America Corp and Citigroup are already pulling back from private equity investments ahead of the rules. But Wells Fargo is taking a different path. The bank invests in buyouts and venture capital deals largely on its own, with capital only from Wells Fargo itself and some employees. By avoiding equity from outside investors, the bank is considered to be engaging in "merchant banking," an activity that is likely to be exempt under the Volcker Rule, lawyers and people familiar with the matter said. Dimon Defends His Duel Leadership Roles (NYP) JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon has no intention of relinquishing his chairmanship, insiders say, despite renewed calls from a group of shareholders to split the roles at the nation’s biggest lender. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a granddaddy of public employee unions, as well as New York City and Connecticut pension funds, are pressuring the bank in the wake of its $6 billion “London Whale” trading blunder. The shareholders, which hold about $1 billion worth of bank shares, say the move would help to avoid a repeat of last year’s debacle, which led the board to slash Dimon’s pay in half. JPMorgan officials, though, don’t want to go as far as splitting the roles, saying their boss steered the bank successfully through the financial crisis and is well suited for both jobs. Regulator Weighs Ban For Corzine (WSJ) Two newly elected directors of the National Futures Association plan to push the agency to hold a hearing on the matter, having criticized the response of federal regulators some 16 months after the industry was shaken by the collapse of brokerage MF Global where the former New Jersey governor was chief executive. Shia LaBeouf Pulls Out Of Broadway's Orphans (NYP) Producers announced that LaBeouf parted ways with the show after just a week of rehearsals due to “creative differences,” even though the play’s scheduled to begin previews March 19. But last night LaBeouf, 26, posted e-mail exchanges on Twitter revealing divisions between him and bombastic Baldwin. In a message titled “Creative Differences” LaBeouf posted an e-mail to him from director Dan Sullivan, which reads, “I’m too old for disagreeable situations. You’re one hell of a great actor. Alec is who he is. You are who you are. You two are incompatible. I should have known it. This one will haunt me. You tried to warn me. You said you were a different breed. I didn’t get it.” Russia's Missing Billions Revealed (FT) Russia's central bank governor has lifted the lid on $49 billion in illegal capital flight - more than half of which, he says, is controlled "by one well-organized group of individuals" that he declined to name. Sergei Ignatiev, due to step down in June after 11 years in his post, is seldom outspoken about any issue other than interest rates. But he unburdened himself in an interview with the Moscow newspaper Vedomosti about money leaving the country through the back door, which he said equaled 2.5 percent of gross domestic product last year. "This might be payment for supplies of narcotics...illegal imports...bribes and kickbacks for bureaucrats...and avoiding taxes," he told the daily, which is part-owned by the Financial Times. New York Times Looks To Sell Boston Globe (CNBC) This follows the Times Company's sale of other regional papers as well as the About.com group, as it focuses in on its core asset — the New York Times brand. And with that focus, the publisher is honing in on what's really been working for the company — the New York Times subscription model. The company has retained Evercore Partners to advise on and manage the sale, but won't say who it's already talked to, or how much it thinks the assets are worth. Citi analyst Leo Kulp, who calls this a "positive move," estimates that the segment could fetch about $200 million. The segment generated $395 million in 2012 revenue, which Kulp says implies about $67 million in EBITDA in 2012. He applies a three times multiple — "on the high end of comparable large metro newspaper sales" — to give the paper a $200 million price tag. Herbalife Prez Goes On Offensive (NYP) President Des Walsh, in a conference call, said that “despite what we believe to be unprecedented, unfair and untrue attacks on this company, our business continues to do well.” Deputies: Couple started fighting over man scratching himself (WWSB) According to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, Shalamar Petrarca complained to her boyfriend, 30-year-old Ronald Howard, that it was rude and disgusting to be “scratching his testicles” while she was about to eat dinner. She told deputies that Howard began yelling at her, pushed her into the kitchen, causing her to get a scratch on her ankle, then threw her out of the house. Howard told deputies that she punched him in the eye for “scratching his balls”, and the he pushed her through the door in self-defense. Deputies say Howard had no visible injuries, but Petrarca did have a scratch on her ankle.