Opening Bell: 09.25.12

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

Gary Gensler Calls For Libor Replacement (WSJ)
"It is time for a new or revised benchmark—a healthy benchmark anchored in actual, observable market transactions—to restore the confidence of people around the globe," Mr. Gensler said. "There are no rules requiring controls, firewalls, independent testing, policies and procedures, or a methodology ensuring that submissions are transaction-focused, as the benchmark was originally intended," he said.

German Banks Have Big Exposure To Spain (WSJ)
German lenders have the highest exposure in Europe to Spain, at $139.9 billion, of which $45.9 billion alone is exposure to banks, according to the Bank for International Settlements.

Easier Eton Exits (NYP)
Eric Mindich’s $11 billion Eton Park Capital Management has rolled back its complicated lock-up period for most investors by more than a third. Starting in early 2013, those investors will be able to withdraw their cash in 21 months, down from a three-year lock-up period...“It’s an attempt to keep people in by relaxing the terms and conditions,” said Brian Schapiro, president of Simplify, a hedge-fund research provider, of the Mindich move. But the lock-up rollback, aimed to quell investor rage, hasn’t made them all happy. “They’ve gone from a three-year lock to a two-year lock. Big deal,” said one investor who’s been taking as much money out as he could for several years.

For Investors, A New Pick Of The Crop (WSJ)
Fresh apple consumption in China, which produces more than half of the global supply of the fruit, has soared 80% from the 2007-2008 crop year to the crop year ending in June 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That compares with growth of just 36% world-wide in the same period. The surge is shaking up a small corner of the commodities world, the market for apple-juice concentrate in the U.S., and has led to the first-ever futures contract for the product.

LI youth baseball coach spent $50G on ‘revenge’ kids team (NYP)
Angered after his own son failed to flourish on the Long Island Infernos traveling baseball team for 10- and 11-year-olds, Robert Sanfilippo used his own money to create and fund the Long Island Vengeance to even the score against his boy’s former squad, a law-enforcement source said. Obsessed with vanquishing the Infernos, Sanfilippo aggressively recruited players in newspaper ads and appealed to kids cut from other teams, sources said. While the players’ parents usually fork out for traveling teams, Sanfilippo — who resides in a pricey Huntington home — footed the entire bill for the Vengeance. “No one could understand why this guy was spending so much money on 10-year-olds,” said another coach. “It was all about revenge.” Sanfilippo faces harassment and stalking charges after he allegedly sent threatening messages to rival coach John Reardon. The pair had argued during a Memorial Day baseball game.While other Long Island teams had modest equipment, Sanfilippo spent like a Suffolk County Steinbrenner. The Vengeance sported top of the line helmets with airbrushed skull and crossbones insignias that cost upwards of $300 each for a team of roughly 20 kids. The squad also provided each player with two uniforms and baseball bags worth hundreds of dollars.

Merkel: Europe Must Take ‘Deep Breath’ and Enact Reforms (Reuters)
Speaking at a meeting of the Federation of German Industries (BDI), Merkel acknowledged that Germany was "not an island" that could disconnect from economic developments in Europe and the world economy. But she placed the onus on Berlin's struggling euro zone partners to fix their own economies, rejecting the idea that Germany should relax its own productivity drive in order to help its partners. "We need to take a deep breath to overcome this crisis," Merkel said. "We must make the efforts that will allow Europe to come out of this crisis stronger than it went in.

Key Galleon Witness Gets Probation (WSJ)
U.S. District Judge Barbara Jones sentenced Rajiv Goel to two years of probation, fined him $10,000 and ordered him to forfeit $266,649. She said he had the "good sense" to cooperate once he was caught, and called that type of cooperation "essential" to complicated white-collar-crime investigations.

CIT Soars On Target Talk (Bloomberg)
Just remember: nothing happens until John Thain gets taken care of.

Bacon, pork shortage 'now unavoidable,' industry group says (LA Times)
Might want to get your fill of ham this year, because "a world shortage of pork and bacon next year is now unavoidable," according to an industry trade group. Blame the drought conditions that blazed through the corn and soybean crop this year. Less feed led to herds declining across the European Union “at a significant rate,” according to the National Pig Assn. in Britain...In the second half of next year, the number of slaughtered pigs could fall 10%, doubling the price of European pork, according to the release.

Click here to sign up for Dealbreaker's Opening Bell daily email. It's the same exact thing as above, but delivered to your inbox, which is moderately exciting.

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Opening Bell: 04.09.13

KPMG Fires L.A. Partner Over Alleged Insider-Trading Tips (WSJ) KPMG LLP has fired a senior partner in its Los Angeles office, saying the unidentified partner had provided inside information about its clients to someone who had used that information in stock trading. In a statement late Monday night, the Big Four accounting firm also said it had resigned as the outside auditor of two of its clients because of the actions of the partner, who it described as the partner in charge of its audit practice in its Los Angeles business unit. KPMG said the partner "was involved in providing nonpublic client information to a third party, who then used that information in stock trades involving several West Coast companies." The firm didn't identify the third party or any of the companies involved. KPMG Said to Resign as Herbalife’s Auditor Over Investigation (Dealbook) Herbalife is poised to disclose on Tuesday that KPMG will have to resign as the company’s auditor, after the accounting firm fired a senior partner, according to a person briefed on the matter. JPMorgan Leads Job Cuts as Banks Seek to Bolster Profit (Bloomberg) Even after the industry posted its best results since 2006, the six largest U.S. banks announced plans in the first three months of this year to eliminate about 21,000 positions, or 1.8 percent of their combined workforce, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That’s the most since 2011’s third quarter. JPMorgan Chase, whose 259,000 people produced three straight years of record profit, topped the list with 17,000 reductions scheduled by the end of 2014. Fed Warned To Reign In QE (FT) Rick Rieder, who oversees $763 billion in fixed income investments for BlackRock, spoke out as the Fed debates how long to persist with the unorthodox measures it has used to stimulate the U.S. economy. His comments add BlackRock to the growing list of Fed critics who are warning of trouble ahead for the bond market. Fitch Cuts China Debt Rating (WSJ) The credit-rating firm Tuesday lowered China's long-term local currency rating to A-plus from AA-minus, with a stable outlook. It kept the foreign-currency rating unchanged at A+, saying it is well supported by China's massive foreign exchange reserves, worth $3.387 trillion at the end of 2012. KKR, Others In Mega-Deal (NYP) Private-equity titans Henry Kravis and Steven Schwarzman are teaming up on what is likely the biggest leveraged buyout in several years. KKR has joined an investor group of Blackstone, Carlyle, TPG Capital and Temasek to bid more than $12 billion for Life Technologies, a source said. SeaWorld IPO Could Raise $621 Million (Deal Journal) SeaWorld Entertainment plans to sell 10 million shares and Blackstone Group plans to sell the other 10 million, giving each up to $270 million a piece. Following the sale, Blackstone will continue to be the company’s majority shareholder, and would hold about 70.5% of the stock if the underwriter’s sold their full option. Trip to Cuba by Beyoncé and Jay-Z Is Investigated (NYT) The United States Treasury Department has begun investigating whether Jay-Z and Beyoncé — music’s royal couple — violated the trade embargo against Cuba by traveling to the island two weeks ago during their wedding anniversary, according to officials and a person who helped arrange their visit...Questions about the megastars’ trip have been swirling for days, with some Cuban exile bloggers describing the trip as a propaganda mission “carefully planned and controlled by the Castro dictatorship.” Putin Squeezing Out UBS to Deutsche Bank Using Oligarchs (Bloomberg) OAO Sberbank, Russias’s biggest lender, and VTB Group have increased investment-banking fee income more than fivefold since 2005, according to data compiled by Freeman & Co., a New York-based consulting firm. European financial institutions including UBS, Deutsche Bank and Royal Bank of Scotland lost almost half their market share during the period. EU Launches Probe Into MasterCard (WSJ) The European Union has opened an antitrust investigation into MasterCard, following concerns that some of the credit-card company's interbank fees are anticompetitive. Citigroup To Cut Senior Posts In Streamlining (WSJ) Under Mr. Forese's plan, there no longer will be a head of securities and banking, a post that Mr. Forese had held until his elevation to his new position. Also expected to go is the head of transaction services, currently occupied by Francesco Vanni d'Archirafi. Clarence man with frog phobia wins $1.6 million verdict (Buffalo News) “I’m petrified of the little creatures,” said Marinaccio, 65. If that sounds bizarre or far-fetched, consider one of Marinaccio’s childhood memories. He traces his deep-seated fear of frogs to when he was a child in an Italian vineyard, where his parents worked. He remembers wandering to a nearby property for figs and being chased away by a man holding bullfrogs. Decades later, frogs again have Marinaccio on the run. In the spring and summer months, they show up on his driveway and lawn – keeping him inside his home. Marinaccio sued the Town of Clarence and the developer of a nearby subdivision for diverting runoff onto his land and won a $1.6 million award...Neither side knows for sure how Marinaccio’s frog phobia affected the case. But jurors who returned the verdict in his favor heard his startling testimony on the witness stand in 2009. “You people don’t understand,” Marinaccio said in court. “I am petrified. I go home at night, and I can’t get in my garage because of the frogs. They’re right in front of the damn door, OK?” He talked about how he had to call his grown daughter, who lives a few miles away, two or three nights a week to come over and shoo away the frogs. “In the winter, it’s OK, because I know there’s no frogs,” he said. “But in the summertime, I mean I’m a damn prisoner in my own home.”

Opening Bell: 01.30.13

MF Global's Bankruptcy Nears Happy Conclusion (NYT) On Thursday, a bankruptcy court will review a proposal that would return 93 percent of the missing money to customers like Mr. Desai, who lost his $580,000 nest egg in the brokerage firm's chaotic final days. And the trustee who has submitted the proposal, James W. Giddens, has quietly identified a way that, if sent to the judge and approved, could plug the remaining shortfall for customers in the United States, according to people involved in the case. The broad push to make MF Global customers nearly whole, a goal now surprisingly within reach, is a remarkable turnaround from the firm's 2011 bankruptcy filing when such a recovery seemed impossible. "I'm surprised that, magically, the money has shown up," said Mr. Desai, a software account executive who, like most customers in the United States, has only 80 percent of his money. "I feel very relieved." Deutsche Bank Seen Missing Goldman-Led Gains on Cost Rise (Bloomberg) Europe’s biggest bank by assets may post a loss of 210 million euros ($282 million) compared with a profit of 147 million euros in the fourth quarter of 2011, when it reports earnings tomorrow, according to the average estimate of nine analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. Goldman Sachs and three other leading U.S. investment banks saw their combined net income jump 92 percent annually to $9.73 billion in the period. Co-Chief Executive Officers Juergen Fitschen and Anshu Jain are eliminating staff and bolstering capital levels, the lowest among Europe’s biggest investment banks, in their first year in charge to help meet stricter capital rules. The costs countered a surge in trading revenue, spurred by the European Central Bank’s measures to stem Europe’s sovereign debt crisis. “Deutsche Bank is trying to look forward and hoping no one can really blame fourth-quarter losses on the new management as they only took over mid-year,” Andreas Plaesier, an M.M. Warburg analyst who recommends investors buy the shares, said by telephone from Hamburg. “It would rather see its earnings wrecked in one quarter and show it’s making progress on building capital.” Chesapeake CEO To Exit (WSJ) Chesapeake Energy Corp. Chief Executive Aubrey K. McClendon is leaving the company he built into the country's second-biggest natural-gas producer, citing "philosophical differences" with a board of directors largely installed by shareholders to curb his risk-taking and free-spending ways. Paul Singer Is a Backer of 'Les Miserables' (CNBC) Singer writes in his investor note: "December marked the end of the 'Beverly Boulevard II' film slate submission period. We accepted the final two additional film submissions during the quarter, bringing our remaining funding commitment to seven films set for release in 2013 and 2014. One film in the slate, 'Les Miserables,' was released during the quarter. It will be several more weeks before we begin to have any reliable idea of the ultimate economic performance and value of the big-screen version of this huge stage hit, but early indications are promising and the film just garnered three major awards at this year's Golden Globe Awards." "Beverly Boulevard II" is run by Relativity Media and Elliott Management appears to be a large investor in the company, at least according to this 2010 article from Institutional Investor. JPMorgan Bet Against Itself In 'Whale' Trade (Reuters) It was widely known that a group of about eight credit-focused hedge funds, such as BlueMountain Capital Management and Saba Capital Management, were on the other side of the trades that JPMorgan's London-based Whale team made on an index tied to corporate default rates. But the role JPMorgan's own investment bank may have played in the messy unwinding of the derivatives trade has not come out until now. One of the three people familiar with the matter claimed that JPMorgan managers discussed merging the two sets of trades in an attempt to offset some of the CIO's losses. Those talks ended about a month before Bloomberg News first reported the CIO trades on April 5 last year, the source said. JPMorgan's Kristin Lemkau said that this "never came up in our exhaustive internal investigation." Police Say Man Steals Ambulance, Then Tries to Steal Horses (WHNT) Police say it all began when Todd was arrested for DUI after a car crash. He was taken to Marshall Medical Center South for treatment. Police say while at the hospital, he walked out, got into a running ambulance and drove away. They say he later got the ambulance stuck on Barnard Street, but that was just the beginning. “He walked across a pasture and got into a barn where he tried to saddle up two horses,” says Boaz Assistant Chief Todd Adams. “One was two wild for him and the other he appeared to be too intoxicated to properly saddle the horse.” Police say Anderson then stole a car, which he crashed. They say he then stole another car and got away. However, on Saturday police say Anderson started bleeding from his original injuries. He sought treatment back at the hospital, was recognized and then arrested. Fed Risks Losses From Bonds (WSJ) The Federal Reserve could be charting a course that leaves the highly profitable central bank with no extra income to hand over to the U.S. Treasury for several years. That is the conclusion of five Fed staff economists who examined how the central bank's bond-buying programs will affect its profitability over the long run. Right now the Fed is earning large returns on its bond portfolio and sending most of its profits to the Treasury. Several years from now, when the economy is stronger, the Fed is expected to sell bonds and raise short-term interest rates to tighten credit and restrain inflation. The group found the Fed might have to sell bonds at a loss and incur higher expenses on interest it pays to banks on the reserves they hold at the Fed. Italy Scours Deals Abroad for Elusive Tax Revenue (WSJ) Italy, which has one of the biggest tax-cheating problems in the developed world, is cracking down on suspect offshore investments as part of an unprecedented drive to find new sources of tax revenue and ease concerns about its €2 trillion ($2.69 trillion) in debt. The country just added a new property tax and is boosting its sales taxes to narrow its fiscal gap. In an effort to claw back an estimated €120 billion a year in unpaid taxes, it has limited cash payments to €1,000 so that untaxed money can't slosh around the economy without leaving a paper trail and is hunting down people who buy luxury yachts yet report little income. One of the brightest spotlights is on companies suspected of earning money or shifting it abroad to avoid paying Italian taxes. Italy netted €600 million in additional taxes last year after prosecutors pursued two cases involving money stored illicitly to Switzerland. NBA Union Chief Hunter Fires Family After Nepotism Report (Bloomberg) Billy Hunter purged family members from roles in the National Basketball Association players union that he runs after a report that criticized nepotism at the organization. The moves dismissing personnel including his daughter and daughter-in-law were disclosed in a letter from Hunter to members of a special committee of players established prior to the investigation by the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. A copy of the letter, dated Jan. 23, was obtained by Bloomberg News. No Twinkies 'Til September? (NYP) While bankrupt Hostess Brands is expected to select a preferred bidder for its snacks business today, regulatory approval, time needed to close the deal and then the firing up of the Twinkies manufacturing process means it’ll be early September before the spongecake treats are available at retailers, experts said. Leon Black’s Apollo Global Management and co-bidder C. Dean Metropoulos, a veteran food exec, are expected to be named the preferred bidder for Twinkies, Ding Dongs, Donettes and other Hostess snacks. Zimbabwe has $217 in the bank: finance minister (AFP) After paying public workers’ salaries last week, the balance in cash-strapped Zimbabwe’s government public account stood at just $217, Finance Minister Tendai Biti said Tuesday. “Last week when we paid civil servants there was $217 (left) in government coffers,” Biti told journalists in the capital Harare, claiming some of them had healthier bank balances than the state. “The government finances are in paralysis state at the present moment. We are failing to meet our targets.” Biti said that left no choice but to ask the donors for cash. “We will be approaching the international community,” he said.

Opening Bell: 03.11.13

EU Chiefs Seeking to Stave Off Euro Crisis Turn to Cyprus (Bloomberg) European leaders grappling with political deadlock in Italy and spiraling unemployment in France will turn to a financial rescue for Cyprus in an effort to stave off a return of market turmoil over the debt crisis. European Union leaders will meet for a March 14-15 summit in Brussels to discuss terms for Cyprus, including the island nation’s debt sustainability and possibly imposing losses on depositors. That comes as Italy struggles to form a government after an inconclusive Feb. 24-25 election and as concern over the French economy mounts with unemployment at a 13-year high. Spain's Bailout Fund Said to Seek Help on Bank Strategy (WSJ) Spain's bank bailout fund is seeking to hire advisers to help shape a long-term strategy for dealing with its portfolio of nationalized lenders, a week after calling off an auction of one of the most troubled banks. People briefed about the plan said the fund, known by its Spanish acronym FROB, will make contact with strategic consultants, and possibly with investment banks, once the plan has been approved by the FROB's board of directors. Is There Life After Work? By Erin Callan (NYT) "I didn’t start out with the goal of devoting all of myself to my job. It crept in over time. Each year that went by, slight modifications became the new normal. First I spent a half-hour on Sunday organizing my e-mail, to-do list and calendar to make Monday morning easier. Then I was working a few hours on Sunday, then all day. My boundaries slipped away until work was all that was left...I have often wondered whether I would have been asked to be C.F.O. if I had not worked the way that I did. Until recently, I thought my singular focus on my career was the most powerful ingredient in my success. But I am beginning to realize that I sold myself short. I was talented, intelligent and energetic. It didn’t have to be so extreme. Besides, there were diminishing returns to that kind of labor. I didn’t have to be on my BlackBerry from my first moment in the morning to my last moment at night. I didn’t have to eat the majority of my meals at my desk. I didn’t have to fly overnight to a meeting in Europe on my birthday. I now believe that I could have made it to a similar place with at least some better version of a personal life. Not without sacrifice — I don’t think I could have “had it all” — but with somewhat more harmony. I have also wondered where I would be today if Lehman Brothers hadn’t collapsed. In 2007, I did start to have my doubts about the way I was living my life. Or not really living it. But I felt locked in to my career. I had just been asked to be C.F.O. I had a responsibility. Without the crisis, I may never have been strong enough to step away. Perhaps I needed what felt at the time like some of the worst experiences in my life to come to a place where I could be grateful for the life I had. I had to learn to begin to appreciate what was left. At the end of the day, that is the best guidance I can give. Whatever valuable advice I have about managing a career, I am only now learning how to manage a life." Paper Trail Goes Cold in Case Against S&P (Reuters) In early 2007, as signs of distress began appearing in securities backed by residential mortgages, executives at Standard & Poor's began advising analysts responsible for rating mortgage bonds that they should put the phrase "privileged and confidential" on emails to one another. Analysts working for the McGraw Hill Cos division also were discouraged from doodling on notepads and official documents during meetings to discuss pending deals and existing ratings, several former S&P employees said. That was not the first time S&P had tried to caution employees about paper trails. In 2005, a full two years before the housing market began to melt down, several top S&P managers attended an off-site meeting at hotel in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, to discuss ways to increase the fees it collected from Wall Street banks for rating mortgage bonds. A former S&P executive said that after the meeting, employees were instructed to discard any notes they had taken from the meeting. InTrade Shuts Down (WSJ) InTrade, the Ireland-based website that allows users to place wagers on non-sports-related upcoming events, announced on Sunday that it is shutting its site down. In an official statement, the company does not go into great detail as to why it is closing its doors, only that it is related to “financial irregularities which, in accordance with Irish law,” require InTrade to cease operations until resolved. “At this time and until further notice, it is not possible to make any payments to members in accordance with their settled account balance until the investigations have concluded,” the company said. Commodities Squeeze Banks (WSJ) The sharp fall in commodity revenue has already claimed some victims. UBS AG, the Swiss bank that has been under pressure to cut costs and improve its performance, last year closed all its commodities-trading desks aside from those dealing in precious metals. Goldman, UBS, Deutsche Bank, and Barclays have all suffered departures of senior commodity traders to hedge funds and independent trading companies over the last several months. Average staffing in commodities trading declined 5.9% last year at major banks, according to Coalition. Artist Teaches George W. Bush How To Paint (Fox5) An artist in Cumming, GA spent a month teaching former President George W. Bush how to paint. Bonnie Flood said that President Bush has a passion for painting and shows real potential as an artists. "He started off painting dogs. I think he said he painted 50 dogs," Flood said. "He pulled out this canvas and started painting dogs and I thought, 'Oh my God, I don't paint dogs!" Flood, who does most of paintings at her home in Cumming, occasionally conducts workshops in Florida. That's where the former President heard about her. The next thing she knew, she was packing up her paints to spend a month in Boca Grande with President Bush. She said that she spent about six hours a day with the President, mixing paints and teaching him proper brush strokes. She says she wasn't intimidated but admits she really didn't know what to call him until she found the magic number. "I called him '43' because that's the way he signed his paintings. "When I really wanted him to do something, I would say, 'Mr. President you know that you don't do it that way.'" She says the President learned quickly and soon started painting fewer dogs and more landscapes. "He has such a passion for painting, it's amazing," Flood said. "He's going to go down in the history books as a great artist." Hostess Creditor, Private-Equity Firms Show Interest in Twinkies Brand (Reuters) Hostess Brands creditor Silver Point Capital and hedge fund Hurst Capital have expressed interest in buying Hostess's snack cake brands, including Twinkies, the New York Post reported. Paulson Said to Explore Puerto Rico as Home With Low Tax (Bloomberg) John Paulson, a lifelong New Yorker, is exploring a move to Puerto Rico, where a new law would eliminate taxes on gains from the $9.5 billion he has invested in his own hedge funds, according to four people who have spoken to him about a possible relocation. More US Profits Parked Abroad (WSJ) A Wall Street Journal analysis of 60 big U.S. companies found that, together, they parked a total of $166 billion offshore last year. That shielded more than 40% of their annual profits from U.S. taxes, though it left the money off-limits for paying dividends, buying back shares or making investments in the U.S. The 60 companies were chosen for the analysis because each of them had held at least $5 billion offshore in 2011. Twitter, Social Media Are Fertile Ground For Stock Hoaxes (Reuters) "Twitter pump and dump schemes are obviously something for the market to be concerned about, even if they are just a new way for people to do schemes that have been done forever," said Keith McCullough, chief executive officer at Hedgeye Risk Management in New Haven, Connecticut. He uses Twitter and has more than 22,000 followers. In such hoaxes, anonymous users set up accounts with names that sound like prominent market players, issue negative commentary, and spark massive declines. The selling that follows shows how the rapid spread of information on social media can make for volatile trading, and is a warning to investors who trade on news before fully verifying the source. SEC: Goldman Cannot Ignore Proposal to Split Chairman, CEO Roles (Reuters) SEC staff sent a letter to Goldman internal counsel Beverly O'Toole this week, saying the agency is "unable to concur" with Goldman's view that the shareholder proposal does not warrant a vote. El Paso Sheriff's deputies arrest 2 ice cream men for possession of pot (EPT) Saturday afternoon, Sheriff's deputies spotted a purple ice cream truck with a cracked windshield and an expired registration sticker along the 8600 block of Alameda. During the traffic stop, one of the occupants left the vehicle and led deputies on a brief foot pursuit before being caught. Two tupperware bowls containing a green leafy substance, believed to be marijuana, was found on the man, who was identified as 19-year-old Elijah Sanchez. The second occupant, identified as 29-year-old Anthony Arellano, was also charged with possession of marijuana after deputies found marijuana inside the vehicle. Arellano has been arrested in the past for numerous felony charges and a previous possession of marijuana charge in 2006, deputies said.

Opening Bell: 10.18.12

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

Opening Bell: 03.29.12

Facebook Targeting May IPO (WSJ) The Menlo Park, Calif., social network halted trading of its shares on the secondary market this week, as it sets about nailing down its shareholder count, according to a person familiar with the matter...It's unclear which week in May Facebook is aiming to go public, cautioned the person, and the timing may still change. The timing depends in large part on the SEC and isn't in Facebook's control, this person added. Jobless Claims Near Four-Year Low (WSJ) Initial jobless claims fell by 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 359,000 in the week ended March 24, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires had forecast that claims would increase by 2,000. Morgan Stanley’s Jennings Asks Court to Dismiss Stabbing Case (BusinessWeek) The motion to dismiss the case was filed yesterday in state court in Stamford, Connecticut, said Jennings’s lawyer, Eugene Riccio. “The motion speaks for itself,” Riccio said in a phone interview. “There are serious deficiencies in the application for the arrest warrant.” Jennings, 45, is accused of attacking the driver, Mohamed Ammar, on Dec. 22 with a 2 1/2-inch blade and using racial slurs after a 40-mile ride from New York to the banker’s home in Darien, Connecticut. SEC Said to Review Credit Suisse VIX Note (Bloomberg) U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission investigators are reviewing a Credit Suisse Group AG (CSGN) exchange-traded note that became unhinged from its benchmark and whipsawed investors, a person familiar with the matter said. The VelocityShares Daily 2x VIX Short-Term ETN (TVIX), which seeks to provide twice the daily return of the VIX volatility index, climbed almost 90 percent above its asset value after the Zurich-based bank stopped issuing shares in February. The value of the note, which had risen to almost $700 million from about $163 million at the end of 2011, plunged last week when Credit Suisse said it would begin creating shares again. Stock Market Flaws Not So Rare, Data Shows (NYT) The communication breakdown that blocked trading on parts of the BATS exchange for more than an hour has been seen in at least 110 instances across the nation’s 13 stock exchanges over the last year, a review of data from Nasdaq shows. That number has gone up every year since 2007. In one instance in January, BATS said it was unable to trade with the New York Stock Exchange for nearly 30 minutes. Meanwhile, exchanges have halted trading in company shares after sudden spikes or falls, as happened Friday with Apple, at least 265 times over the last year — more than one for every day of trading, according to data analyzed by the Tabb Group, a market research firm. These circuit breakers kick in after stocks experience 10 percent swings in a short period of time and can be caused by a technical error or waves of electronic trading on news developments. Espirito Santo Among Five Portugal Lenders Downgraded by Moody’s (BW) Espirito Santo, Portugal’s largest publicly traded bank by market value, had its debt rating lowered one level to Ba3, Moody’s said yesterday in a statement. It took the same action for Caixa Geral de Depositos SA and Banco BPI SA. (BPI) Banco Internacional do Funchal was downgraded to B1 from Ba3. Mark Zuckerberg meets Japan's prime minister (AP) Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says Japan’s massive tsunami inspired him to seek more ways for his social network to help people hit by natural disasters. Zuckerberg, who is visiting Japan, told Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda that he believes Facebook can be used to help people in disasters keep in touch and provide them with crucial information. He did not go into details during the brief meeting Thursday. Noda expressed his appreciation and said he felt odd meeting the young entrepreneur after seeing the hit movie “The Social Network,” which was based on Zuckerberg’s life and the legal problems he had with others during Facebook’s early days. Laughing, Zuckerberg said the Hollywood portrayal of him wasn’t completely on target. “Very different,” he said. What To Do After You Hit The Megamillions Jackpot (AP) "Q: Whom should I tell first? A: Contacting a lawyer and a financial planner would be a lot wiser than updating your Facebook status. Make sure it's someone you can trust and, it's hoped, dealt with before. If you don't have anyone in mind, ask a close family member or friend. Oklahoma City attorney Richard Craig, whose firm has represented a handful of lottery winners, says it's essential to assemble a team of financial managers, tax experts, accountants and bankers." Eddie Lampert quietly shopping Lands End (NYP) Lampert, who inherited Lands’ End when he took control of Sears in 2005 by merging it with Kmart, has approached a handful of private-equity firms as he looks to raise as much as $2 billion in cash, sources said. SocGen To Rejig Investment Bank (WSJ) Société Générale aims to better integrate the investment bank's different teams as it shifts its business model toward originating loans that it will then move off its balance sheet by selling to investors, a person said. French banks have traditionally kept the loans they issue on their books, but in light of new capital demands from regulators, they are moving toward selling them to investors to prevent them from swelling their balance sheets. Charlie Sheen saying 'sorry' to America for troubled time (NYP) Despite his fresh start, Sheen admitted that he still has "a little bit" of bitterness towards "Two and a Half Men," but he says he "just [has] to work through that." "I wish they'd taken better care of the child left behind," he said.

Opening Bell: 10.19.12

Schapiro SEC Reign Nears End With Rescue Mission Not Done (Bloomberg) Admirers and critics agree Schapiro rescued the agency from the threat of extinction when she was appointed by President Barack Obama four years ago. Still, she hasn’t fulfilled her mission -- to overcome the SEC’s image as a failed watchdog by punishing those who steered the financial system toward disaster and by proving regulators can head off future breakdowns. “It was harder than I thought it was going to be,” Schapiro, 57, said during an interview in her office that looks out on the Capitol dome. “You have this nice little box of things you want to do all tied up with a bow, and you walk in the door and it’s very hard to keep at least one eye on that agenda while you’re dealing with the flash crashes and the new legislation and the whole range of things that happened,” she said. Morgan Stanley CEO Hints Of Commodity Arm Sale (Reuters) Morgan Stanley has an obligation to explore "different structures" for its commodities trading business because new regulations are limiting the unit's activities, Chief Executive James Gorman said on Thursday. The CEO's comments were the first time Morgan Stanley has publicly hinted at a possible sale of its multibillion-dollar oil and metals trading arm, which has been reported in the media for months. Morgan Stanley has been in discussions with OPEC member Qatar for more than a year over the sale of at least a majority stake in its energy-focused trading business, according to bankers. Speaking on a conference call with analysts after the firm reported better-than-expected quarterly results on Thursday, Gorman said changes under the U.S.' Dodd-Frank financial reform law restrict the kind of trading the firm can do in commodities. Europe Agrees On Banking Supervisor (WSJ) European leaders early Friday agreed to have a new supervisor for euro-zone banks up and running next year, a step that will pave the way for the bloc's bailout fund to pump capital directly into banks throughout the single-currency area. John Paulson Doubles Down On Housing (WSJ) Hedge-fund manager John Paulson famously made nearly $4 billion in 2007 correctly betting that the housing bubble, fueled by the subprime mortgage market, would pop. Then the billionaire investor somewhat reversed course, arguing that the housing cycle had hit a low point. "If you don't own a home, buy one," he said in a 2010 speech at the University Club in New York. "If you own one home, buy another one, and if you own two homes, buy a third and lend your relatives the money to buy a home." So far, that bet has been a loser: The Wall Street tycoon lost about $3 billion personally in 2011, according to people close to the hedge-fund manager, speculating that the economy would recover faster than it did. But through the downturn Mr. Paulson—whose net worth is estimated to be around $11 billion, according to people familiar with his situation—continued his real estate spending spree. Over the last eight years, he has spent more than $145 million on six properties, including two estates in Southampton, N.Y., two properties near Aspen, Colo., and two residences in Manhattan, where he is based, according to public records. (He later sold one of the Southampton properties, for $10 million in 2009, a year after buying a larger estate nearby). In June, Mr. Paulson snapped up a 90-acre Aspen ranch and an adjoining property from Prince Bandar bin Sultan for a total of $49 million, according to public records, one of the highest prices ever paid for property in the area. Ben Stein: Taxes Are Too Low (Mediaite) Author and economist Ben Stein joined Fox & Friends on Thursday where he stunned the hosts after he called for raising the tax rates on people making more than $2 million per year. He said that he did not think that the United States simply had a spending problem, and cited the early post-war period as an example of a time when you could have high tax rates and high growth. “I hate to say this on Fox – I hope I’ll be allowed to leave here alive – but I don’t think there is any way we can cut spending enough to make a meaningful difference,” said Stein. “We’re going to have to raise taxes on very, very rich people. People with incomes of, say, $2, $3, $4 million a year and up. And then slowly, slowly, slowly move it down. $250,000 a year, that’s not a rich person.” Stein said that the government has a spending problem, but they also have a “too low taxes problem.” “With all due respect to Fox, who I love like brothers and sisters, taxes are too low,” said Stein. “That sounds like Bowles-Simpson,” said Gretchen Carlson. “It is Bowles-Simpson,” Stein replied. Should've Left That At Home, Teacher Is Told On Jury Duty (NYT) Damian Esteban was qualified to teach students at a specialized New York City high school, and had just been deemed reasonable enough to judge a man’s fate in a murder trial. But passing through the metal detectors at a Manhattan courthouse may have been too tough a test. Mr. Esteban, 33, was arrested on Wednesday as he returned from a break in a trial in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the state Office of Court Administration, said. As Mr. Esteban, a teacher at the Williamsburg School of Architecture and Design in Brooklyn, passed through a metal detector at the courthouse, it beeped. A court officer, Laura Cannon, found the culprit to be a cigarette box in Mr. Esteban’s pocket. Upon opening the cigarette box, Ms. Cannon reported that she found a much bigger problem: 18 small bags of heroin. A Daunting To-Do List For Citigroup's New CEO (BusinessWeek) Citigroup’s largest problem may be internal. The company, analyst Richard Bove says, “is a political swamp. It’s a snake pit.” Cleansing the culture must be a priority, says Mike Mayo, an analyst at Crédit Agricole Securities. “So whether it’s the inappropriate pay for subpar performance; the lack of adequate disclosure, such as returns by business line; the failure to properly oversee the many different businesses; or the poor tone set at the top of the firm for corporate governance, they all add up to the need to improve the culture,” Mayo says. Cooling The Pits: ICE Yelling Ends (WSJ) Augustine Lauria knew his 37-year career as a floor trader was over when he got a memo from IntercontinentalExchange in late July announcing the closing of the exchange operator's last trading pits. Friday will be the last chance the 61-year-old trader will get to put on his navy-blue and yellow trading jacket and badge. It will be the final day of rough-and-tumble "open-outcry" commodities trading on the ICE-owned pits in lower Manhattan where options on cotton, coffee, cocoa, sugar and orange juice are bought and sold. "What can I do? I can count fast and yell loud," says Mr. Lauria, who boards the Staten Island Ferry before sunrise to get to work in time for the 8:10 a.m. bell. Amanda Larrivee Speaks Out about Incident at Samuel’s (ABC) Amanda Larrivee and her brother Robert Larrivee were arrested at Samuels Sports Bar Sunday for allegedly stealing TV’s from the bathroom. Now, the woman involved is speaking out about what happened that night and the “immature” remark made by her brother. The legal case against Amanda has been dropped, but a comment made by her brother is getting all the attention. He told police that the two were in the bathroom having sex. Amanda says that was not the case. “The comment was taken out of context and it’s not what it looks like,” said Larrivee...“I just want to come out and really let people know that it’s not what it looked like. It’s humiliating and the comment having sexual relations with my brother was an impulse, immature comment made by him that is not the truth,” said Larrivee. Amanda says Robert wasn’t trying to steal the TV’s, but was upset over seeing his ex-girlfriend. “He had an outburst at the time you know it turned into you know touching the TV on the wall, turned into an ugly scene,” said Larrivee. “He took the televisions down. He had no intention of stealing. He’s not walking out with two televisions,” said Attorney Jack St. Clair.

Opening Bell: 02.07.13

Credit Suisse Returns To Profit (WSJ) In the fourth quarter, Credit Suisse's net profit was 397 million francs, compared with a net loss of 637 million francs a year earlier when restructuring charges weighed on earnings. Revenue, which includes interest income, fees and trading proceeds, rose 29% to 5.8 billion francs. Analysts had expected a profit of 563 million francs and revenue of 6.14 billion francs. State Lawsuits Could Add To S&P Exposure (WSJ) On Tuesday, the Justice Department sued S&P for allegedly causing some banks and credit unions to lose $5 billion after relying on the company's ratings of mortgage-linked securities. However, the $5 billion claim, which S&P has dismissed as "meritless," is only part of the legal battle being fought by the world's largest credit-ratings firm by number of deals rated. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia have followed in the Justice Department's footsteps, filing separate lawsuits against S&P on Tuesday. The California attorney general alone is suing S&P for about $4 billion to recover funds for two of the country's largest public pension funds, according to its lawsuit. Other states, such as Colorado and Arkansas, are demanding S&P give back the revenue it earned on precrisis ratings of hundreds of securities. State prosecutors allege S&P presented its ratings as based on objective and independent analysis but actually were inflated to cater to the banks that helped arrange and sell the securities. S&P Hires Top Defense Attorney for $5 Billion Lawsuit (Reuters) Standard and Poor's has hired John Keker, one of the country's top white-collar defense attorneys, to help fight the $5 billion lawsuit brought by the U.S. government this week. Keker, who is based in San Francisco and has represented everyone from cyclist Lance Armstrong to Enron's Andrew Fastow, was hired at the recommendation of Floyd Abrams, a prominent New York attorney who also represents the ratings firm. RBS Settles Rate Charges (WSJ) CFTC enforcement chief David Meister said Wednesday that the trading floor was "laden with conflicts of interest," where RBS traders "seized the opportunity to ask colleagues sitting in the next chair for false rate submissions." From mid-2006 to the end of 2010, traders at RBS tried hundreds of times to rig the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, sometimes succeeding, said U.S. and U.K. regulators as they announced a $612 million settlement with the British bank. ‘Historic Winter Storm’ Moving Toward U.S. Northeast (Bloomberg) A “potential historic winter storm” and blizzard may dump 2 feet of snow on Boston and eastern Massachusetts, potentially causing power outages and leaving 10 inches in New York City. Eighteen to 24 inches (46 to 61 centimeters) of snow may fall in Boston, and the city has an 85 percent chance of receiving at least 12 inches from the storm that is expected to arrive in two days, according to the latest forecast from National Weather Service in Taunton, Massachusetts, published at at 4:25 a.m. Eastern Standard Time. “Heavy snow and gusty winds will bring the potential for blizzard conditions. The worst of the storm will be Friday night into the morning,” the weather service said. The storm arrives on almost the 35th anniversary of the Blizzard of 1978, which killed 99 people, destroyed 2,000 homes, drove 10,000 residents into shelters and paralyzed eastern Massachusetts and northern Rhode Island for a week, according to the weather service. Ireland Moves Toward Debt Deal (WSJ) Under Ireland's new proposal, the government will provide a long-term bond to the Irish central bank that replaces the note, the Irish finance ministry said. IBRC will be liquidated and its remaining commercial property assets will be dispatched to Ireland's so-called bad bank, the National Asset Management Agency. Mr. Noonan told lawmakers early Thursday that there was still "no deal," but he needed to announce new powers to liquidate IBRC—the first step toward potentially striking such a debt agreement—to protect the country from unspecified legal challenges. Man Claims IRS Agent Coerced Him Into Sex (CBS) An Oregon man is suing the U.S. Government and a female IRS agent he alleges pressured him into sex, by threatening a tax penalty. Vincent Burroughs, of Fall Creek, Ore., says the harassing relationship began in August of 2011 when Dora Abrahamson, an agent with the Internal Revenue Service, called him and said he would be audited, CBS affiliate KVAL reports. Burroughs says he didn't know Abrahamson, and that he hadn't met her before those calls - nor had he heard that he was being audited by the IRS. "She was sending me texts that she wanted to come out, give me massages because she needed to help me relax," Burroughs said in a phone interview with KVAL News. Over the next two months, Burroughs alleges that Abrahamson sent him several flirtatious text messages - offering to give massages, asking to meet him, and sending racy photos of herself to his cell phone. "She said she knew more than my mother knew about me," said Burroughs. In the lawsuit, Burroughs says in September 2011 Abrahamson came to his home wearing provocative attire. "Next thing I know, she's at my gate, honking...so I opened my gate, she came into my property dressed exactly like [when] she texted me," Burroughs said. The lawsuit states: "She said that she could impose no penalty, or a 40% penalty, and that if he would give her what she wanted, she would give him what she needed." E-Mails Imply JPMorgan Knew Some Mortgage Deals Were Bad (NYT) When an outside analysis uncovered serious flaws with thousands of home loans, JPMorgan Chase executives found an easy fix. Rather than disclosing the full extent of problems like fraudulent home appraisals and overextended borrowers, the bank adjusted the critical reviews,according to documents filed early Tuesday in federal court in Manhattan. As a result, the mortgages, which JPMorgan bundled into complex securities, appeared healthier, making the deals more appealing to investors. The trove of internal e-mails and employee interviews, filed as part of a lawsuit by one of the investors in the securities, offers a fresh glimpse into Wall Street's mortgage machine, which churned out billions of dollars of securities that later imploded. The documents reveal that JPMorgan, as well as two firms the bank acquired during the credit crisis, Washington Mutual and Bear Stearns, flouted quality controls and ignored problems, sometimes hiding them entirely, in a quest for profit. Harvard’s Gopinath Helps France Beat Euro Straitjacket (Bloomberg) When French President Francois Hollande unveiled a plan in November for a business tax credit and higher sales taxes as a way to revive the economy, he was implementing an idea championed by economist Gita Gopinath. Gopinath, 41, a professor at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has pushed for tax intervention as a way forward for euro-area countries that cannot devalue their exchange rates. “Fiscal devaluation” is helping France turn the corner during a period of extreme budget constraints, former Airbus SAS chief Louis Gallois said in a business- competitiveness report Hollande commissioned. Gopinath’s support for the theory took shape through her years teaching at Harvard and the University of Chicago and particularly as a Ph.D. student at Princeton University under the guidance of Kenneth Rogoff, Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas and Ben Bernanke, now chairman of the Federal Reserve. While her earlier work on current accounts and balance of payments garnered praise, it is her recent focus on the 17 euro nations that has national leaders paying action. John Thomas Financial Said To Draw Regulatory Probe (NYP) Wall Street brokerage firm John Thomas Financial, owned by flamboyant founder and CEO Tommy Belesis — who gained more than 15 minutes of fame from his role in Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” — is being probed by the brokerage industry, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the FBI, The Post has learned. Agents from the FBI’s New York office have been knocking on doors of people associated with the firm, asking questions about JTF’s business practices, including cold calling by brokers and Belesis’ overseas accounts, sources told The Post. Fewer Workers Filed Claims for U.S. Jobless Benefits Last Week (Bloomberg) Applications for jobless benefits dropped 5,000 to 366,000 in the week ended Feb. 2, Labor Department figures showed today. Economists forecast 360,000 claims, according to the median of 53 estimates in a Bloomberg survey. Big Mac Prices Show Which Euro Zone States Best at Belt-Tightening (Reuter) Economist Guntram Wolff took the data and found that the price rise in Greece, Portugal and Spain has been less than the euro zone average, while in Ireland the price actually fell. These are the main countries undergoing deep economic reform due to the debt crisis. This contrasts with price rises above the euro zone burger average in Germany. Wolff concludes from this that economic adjustment is working. For example, In Ireland, which has made spending cuts after receiving international aid, the burger price has fallen from 3.80 euros to less than 3.50 euros. There is one notable exception, however. Heavily-indebted Italy is the most expensive country in the euro area to buy a Big Mac - 3.85 euros - while it costs just 3.64 euros in Germany. PETA: Naked chicken corpses aren't sexy (CM) The American founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, president Ingrid Newkirk, criticised a newspaper for running a picture of a raw chicken. "We don't want to see any chickens on display, but instead want them to live natural, happy lives with their families. Sexily displaying the corpse of a chicken who has been bred to grow so big, so quickly, that many collapse under their own weight, is just additionally offensive."

Opening Bell: 05.02.12

UBS Earnings Helped By Wealth-Management Focus, Risk-Cutting (WSJ) UBS's first-quarter earnings showed that the Swiss bank's strategy of shifting its focus to managing assets for wealthy clients and reducing risk is starting to pay off, demonstrating that it is putting behind it a troubled past marked by huge investment bank losses during the financial crisis, a bruising battle with U.S. tax authorities and a trading scandal last year. Worries about the global economy are likely to prevent clients from investing much in the second quarter, but "we believe our wealth-management businesses as a whole will continue to attract net new money, as our clients recognize our efforts and continue to entrust us with their assets... We have the utmost confidence in our firm's future," UBS said in a statement. The bank's wealth-management units recorded a rise in pretax profit during the quarter and attracted CHF10.9 billion ($12.1 billion) in new assets from clients. UBS also managed to shed more risky assets during the quarter, raised new capital and is on track to meet its target of saving CHF2 billion in costs annually...Reported results for the bank as a whole were less pleasing because an accounting loss on UBS's own debt led to a 54% drop in net profit. Excluding this charge, which was higher than forecast, earnings beat analysts' estimates and contributed to the rise in UBS's shares. The Zurich-based bank said net profit fell to 827 million Swiss francs in the quarter ended March 31 from CHF1.81 billion a year earlier. Revenue fell 22% to CHF6.53 billion from CHF8.34 billion, while operating expenses declined 15% to CHF5.22 billion. Wealthy Americans Queue To Give Up Their Passports (Bloomberg) Rich Americans renouncing U.S. citizenship rose sevenfold since UBS AG (UBSN) whistle-blower Bradley Birkenfeld triggered a crackdown on tax evasion four years ago. About 1,780 expatriates gave up their nationality at U.S. embassies last year, up from 235 in 2008, according to Andy Sundberg, secretary of Geneva’s Overseas American Academy, citing figures from the government’s Federal Register. The embassy in Bern, the Swiss capital, redeployed staff to clear a backlog as Americans queued to relinquish their passports. The Big Doubt Over Facebook's IPO (WSJ) "The question with Facebook and many of the social media sites is, 'What are we getting for our dollars?'" said Michael Sprague, vice president of marketing at Kia Motors Corp.'s North American division. The automaker has advertised on Facebook since 2009 and plans to increase its ad spending on the site. While building brand awareness on a site with 900 million users is valuable, Mr. Sprague said he's unclear if "a consumer sees my ad, and does that ultimately lead to a new vehicle sale?" The concerns from Kia and other advertisers underscore the difficulties of measuring results of nascent-forms of social-media advertising. Madness In Spain Lingers As Ireland Chases Recovery (Bloomberg) “Ireland faced up to its problems faster than others and we expect growth there rather soon,” said Cinzia Alcidi, an analyst at the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels. “In Spain, there was kind of a denial of the scale of the problem and it may be faced with many years of significant challenges before full recovery takes place.” Euro-Zone Economic Woes Deepen (WSJ) The euro-zone economy contracted by 0.3% in the fourth quarter of last year, and most recent data suggest it did so again in the first quarter of this year. Many economists regard two quarters of contraction as indicating an economy is in recession. Carlyle's big-name IPO may not generate big gains (NYP) Like debt asset manager Oaktree Capital Group, which declined on its first day of trading earlier this month, Carlyle warns that its first priority is to the interests of its fund investors, and it could make decisions that would reduce revenue in the short-term, such as limiting the assets under management that it oversees or reducing management fees. Did May Day Save Occupy Wall Street? (TDB) For some protesters, the lack of one or two key demands and a stronger organizational structure made the day less effective than it could have been. “I think they have to state their demands along with their actions,” said Anton Alen, a student at Hunter College, adding that he thinks Occupy Wall Street has been clear on many things it would like to see changed. Alen said that the idea of trying to occupy another space Tuesday night was in the right spirit but needed to be thought out better. “I don’t think it can be so spontaneous and still be effective,” Alen said. Sofia Gallisa of Fort Greene, Brooklyn, disagreed. “This isn’t about specific demands,” she said. “It’s never been about specific demands.” Occupy Wall Street has changed the kind of discussions Americans are having about inequality, she said, particularly around issues of class. Peter Schiff: US Treasurys Are ‘Junk,’ Dollar Headed for Collapse (CNBC) “As far as I am concerned, U.S. Treasurys are junk bonds,” Schiff said on CNBC Asia’s “Squawk Box.” “And the only reason that the U.S. government can pay the interest on the debt, and I say ‘pay’ in quotes because we never pay our bills. We borrow the money so we pretend to pay, but the only reason we can do it is because the Fed has got interest rates so artificially low.” Greenspan Says U.S. Stocks ‘Very Cheap,’ Likely to Rise (Bloomberg) “There is no place for earnings to grow except into stock prices,” Greenspan said yesterday. Treasury: No Decision On Floating-Rate Notes (WSJ) "Treasury is in the process of analyzing the feedback, and we continue to study the benefits and optimal terms of a Treasury [floating rate note]," Under Secretary for Domestic Finance Mary Miller said in a statement. Mr. Met is rated number 1 in Major League Baseball (NYDN) The longtime Flushing favorite was chosen as the nation’s No. 1 sports mascot based on his likeability, familiarity and several other factors. Even better, in a reversal of recent on-field fortunes, Mr. Met landed the top spot over NL East rival the Phillie Phanatic.