Opening Bell: 09.28.12

Bank Of America Reaches Settlement In Merrill Lynch Acquisition-Related Class Action Litigation (BW) Under terms of the proposed settlement, Bank of America would pay a total of $2.43 billion and institute certain corporate governance policies. Plaintiffs had alleged, among other claims, that Bank of America and certain of its officers made false or misleading statements about the financial health of Bank of America and Merrill Lynch. Bank of America denies the allegations and is entering into this settlement to eliminate the uncertainties, burden and expense of further protracted litigation. Greece Seeks Taxes From Wealthy With Cash Havens in London (NYT) At the request of the Athens government, the British financial authorities recently handed over a detailed list of about 400 Greek individuals who have bought and sold London properties since 2009. The list, closely guarded, has not been publicly disclosed. But Greek officials are examining it to determine whether the people named — who they say include prominent businessmen, bankers, shipping tycoons and professional athletes — have deceived the tax authorities by understating their wealth. Libor Riggers May Be Criminal, Even If Acts Not Illegal at Time (CNBC) Those who took part in the manipulation of the London interbank offered rate (Libor), the key benchmark rate, could face criminal prosecution even though Libor manipulation is not yet a criminal offense. Martin Wheatley, who is advising the U.K. government on what changes could be made to Libor to stop manipulation in the future, said that U.K. regulator the Financial Services Authority (FSA) is considering prosecuting those who took part under “broad principles of conduct.” He also recommended that the government should give the FSA power to prosecute future Libor manipulation. Libor Furor: Key Rate Gets New Scrutiny (WSJ) "There's a concern that if you're going to base financial decisions on a particular interest rate" it should be a measure that responds to changes in market conditions, "and that's not Libor," said Andrew Lo, a finance professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Macquarie Bonuses Whack Profit (WSJ) Macquarie Group may have lost its reputation as the Millionaire’s Factory as profits slumped since the onset of the global financial crisis, but according to Citigroup analysts the bank’s net profit could have been 60% higher last financial year if not for a dramatic rise in bonus payments to staff...Wes Nason estimates that while the bank’s return on equity fell to 6.8% last financial year-–hitting its lowest level since it listed in the first half of fiscal 2012 and compared with a 10-year average of 18.4%—-its average bonus payments almost tripled to A$73,000 a head, up from A$26,000 in 2009. Replacement referee Lance Easley stands by touchdown call (NYDN) Lance Easley has been vilified for awarding the Seattle Seahawks a touchdown on its Hail Mary pass in the closing seconds of Monday night’s game against the Green Bay Packers even though pretty much everyone in the country saw that the pass had been intercepted. “I processed everything properly,” Easley told the Daily News Thursday. “It was supported on video. But the bad thing is, people don’t understand the rules in that whole play. “But that play rarely ever happens, it rarely happens in the field of play and it never happens in an NFL game,” he added. “And here I got stuck in the middle of it.” The call was reviewed on instant replay — and, amazingly, upheld, despite the refs also missing a pass interference infraction by a Seattle player. Since then the 52-year-old Bank of America banker has been swept up in a whirlwind of national outrage — one that forced the NFL to end a seven-week lockout of its unionized refs early Thursday. But Easley said he and his replacements did a good job in their stint in zebra stripes. “I know where I stand,” he said. “Everything I did ... I got support from all the referees and everything, and replay and our league office and anybody else that understands the rules and how those plays function. Spanish Rescue May Throw Crisis Spotlight on Italy (Reuters) Italian government bonds risk being thrown back into the spotlight of the euro zone debt crisis once Spain decides to request aid and secures central bank support for its debt. A partial bailout for Madrid would probably trigger the European Central Bank's bond-buying plan, lowering Spain's borrowing costs and increasing investor appetite for riskier assets in general, including debt issued by Italy. But Italy could then return to the forefront of market concern as the next weak link. "The risks increase that you will get a contagion into Italy," said David Keeble, global head of fixed income strategy at Credit Agricole. Cyber Attacks On Banks Expose Computer Vulnerability (WSJ) Cyber attacks on the biggest U.S. banks, including JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Wells Fargo & Co., have breached some of the nation’s most advanced computer defenses and exposed the vulnerability of its infrastructure, said cybersecurity specialists tracking the assaults. The attack, which a U.S. official yesterday said was waged by a still-unidentified group outside the country, flooded bank websites with traffic, rendering them unavailable to consumers and disrupting transactions for hours at a time. Such a sustained network attack ranks among the worst-case scenarios envisioned by the National Security Agency, according to the U.S. official, who asked not to be identified because he isn’t authorized to speak publicly. The extent of the damage may not be known for weeks or months, said the official, who has access to classified information. Fitch Ratings Cuts China, India 2012 Growth Forecasts (CNBC) In its September Global Economic Outlook, the ratings agency said it now expected China’s economy, the world’s second largest, to grow 7.8 percent this year, down from a forecast of 8 percent made in June. It also lowered its forecast for economic growth in India to 6 percent in the financial year ending in March 2013 from a previous estimate of 6.5 percent. CIT Chief Tries To Rescue Reputation (NYP) John Thain yesterday said he brought up executive compensation at the time his firm was getting bailed out by taxpayers not for selfish reasons but to determine how much control Washington would have over his company. “One of the issues we were worried about at the time was, if you take government money how much say does the government have in how you run your business?” Thain said during an interview on CNBC. Days earlier, Thain was trashed by former bank regulator Sheila Bair, who, in her upcoming book, “Bull By the Horns,” accuses the Wall Street veteran of being fixated on pay during the height of the financial Armageddon. Bair, the former Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. boss, wrote that Thain “was desperate for capital but was worried about restrictions on executive compensation.” “I could not believe it. Where were this guy’s priorities?” she wrote, referring to Thain. The CEO, who was tapped to run the troubled lender in 2010, also addressed during the CNBC interview rumors that CIT was looking to sell itself to a large bank. “It’s absolutely not true,” Thain said yesterday. Canada Cheese-Smuggling Ring Busted (BBC) A Canadian police officer was among three people charged as the country's authorities announced they had busted a major cheese-smuggling ring. A joint US-Canadian investigation found C$200,000 (£125,600) of cheese and other products were illicitly brought over the border into southern Ontario. The smugglers sold large quantities of cheese, which is cheaper in the US, to restaurants, it is alleged. The other two men charged were civilians, one a former police officer. The charges come three days after CBC News first reported the force was conducting an internal investigation into cheese smuggling. A pizzeria owner west of Niagara Falls told CBC that he had been questioned by police over the issue, but assured them he had not bought any contraband dairy. "We get all our stuff legit," said the restaurateur. "We thought it was a joke at first. Who is going to go around trying to sell smuggled cheese?"
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Bank Of America Reaches Settlement In Merrill Lynch Acquisition-Related Class Action Litigation (BW)
Under terms of the proposed settlement, Bank of America would pay a total of $2.43 billion and institute certain corporate governance policies. Plaintiffs had alleged, among other claims, that Bank of America and certain of its officers made false or misleading statements about the financial health of Bank of America and Merrill Lynch. Bank of America denies the allegations and is entering into this settlement to eliminate the uncertainties, burden and expense of further protracted litigation.

Greece Seeks Taxes From Wealthy With Cash Havens in London (NYT)
At the request of the Athens government, the British financial authorities recently handed over a detailed list of about 400 Greek individuals who have bought and sold London properties since 2009. The list, closely guarded, has not been publicly disclosed. But Greek officials are examining it to determine whether the people named — who they say include prominent businessmen, bankers, shipping tycoons and professional athletes — have deceived the tax authorities by understating their wealth.

Libor Riggers May Be Criminal, Even If Acts Not Illegal at Time (CNBC)
Those who took part in the manipulation of the London interbank offered rate (Libor), the key benchmark rate, could face criminal prosecution even though Libor manipulation is not yet a criminal offense. Martin Wheatley, who is advising the U.K. government on what changes could be made to Libor to stop manipulation in the future, said that U.K. regulator the Financial Services Authority (FSA) is considering prosecuting those who took part under “broad principles of conduct.” He also recommended that the government should give the FSA power to prosecute future Libor manipulation.

Libor Furor: Key Rate Gets New Scrutiny (WSJ)
"There's a concern that if you're going to base financial decisions on a particular interest rate" it should be a measure that responds to changes in market conditions, "and that's not Libor," said Andrew Lo, a finance professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Macquarie Bonuses Whack Profit (WSJ)
Macquarie Group may have lost its reputation as the Millionaire’s Factory as profits slumped since the onset of the global financial crisis, but according to Citigroup analysts the bank’s net profit could have been 60% higher last financial year if not for a dramatic rise in bonus payments to staff...Wes Nason estimates that while the bank’s return on equity fell to 6.8% last financial year-–hitting its lowest level since it listed in the first half of fiscal 2012 and compared with a 10-year average of 18.4%—-its average bonus payments almost tripled to A$73,000 a head, up from A$26,000 in 2009.

Replacement referee Lance Easley stands by touchdown call (NYDN)
Lance Easley has been vilified for awarding the Seattle Seahawks a touchdown on its Hail Mary pass in the closing seconds of Monday night’s game against the Green Bay Packers even though pretty much everyone in the country saw that the pass had been intercepted. “I processed everything properly,” Easley told the Daily News Thursday. “It was supported on video. But the bad thing is, people don’t understand the rules in that whole play. “But that play rarely ever happens, it rarely happens in the field of play and it never happens in an NFL game,” he added. “And here I got stuck in the middle of it.” The call was reviewed on instant replay — and, amazingly, upheld, despite the refs also missing a pass interference infraction by a Seattle player. Since then the 52-year-old Bank of America VP has been swept up in a whirlwind of national outrage — one that forced the NFL to end a seven-week lockout of its unionized refs early Thursday. But Easley said he and his replacements did a good job in their stint in zebra stripes. “I know where I stand,” he said. “Everything I did ... I got support from all the referees and everything, and replay and our league office and anybody else that understands the rules and how those plays function.

Spanish Rescue May Throw Crisis Spotlight on Italy (Reuters)
Italian government bonds risk being thrown back into the spotlight of the euro zone debt crisis once Spain decides to request aid and secures central bank support for its debt. A partial bailout for Madrid would probably trigger the European Central Bank's bond-buying plan, lowering Spain's borrowing costs and increasing investor appetite for riskier assets in general, including debt issued by Italy. But Italy could then return to the forefront of market concern as the next weak link. "The risks increase that you will get a contagion into Italy," said David Keeble, global head of fixed income strategy at Credit Agricole.

Cyber Attacks On Banks Expose Computer Vulnerability (WSJ)
Cyber attacks on the biggest U.S. banks, including JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Wells Fargo & Co., have breached some of the nation’s most advanced computer defenses and exposed the vulnerability of its infrastructure, said cybersecurity specialists tracking the assaults.
The attack, which a U.S. official yesterday said was waged by a still-unidentified group outside the country, flooded bank websites with traffic, rendering them unavailable to consumers and disrupting transactions for hours at a time. Such a sustained network attack ranks among the worst-case scenarios envisioned by the National Security Agency, according to the U.S. official, who asked not to be identified because he isn’t authorized to speak publicly. The extent of the damage may not be known for weeks or months, said the official, who has access to classified information.

Fitch Ratings Cuts China, India 2012 Growth Forecasts (CNBC)
In its September Global Economic Outlook, the ratings agency said it now expected China’s economy, the world’s second largest, to grow 7.8 percent this year, down from a forecast of 8 percent made in June. It also lowered its forecast for economic growth in India to 6 percent in the financial year ending in March 2013 from a previous estimate of 6.5 percent.

CIT Chief Tries To Rescue Reputation (NYP)
John Thain yesterday said he brought up executive compensation at the time his firm was getting bailed out by taxpayers not for selfish reasons but to determine how much control Washington would have over his company. “One of the issues we were worried about at the time was, if you take government money how much say does the government have in how you run your business?” Thain said during an interview on CNBC. Days earlier, Thain was trashed by former bank regulator Sheila Bair, who, in her upcoming book, “Bull By the Horns,” accuses the Wall Street veteran of being fixated on pay during the height of the financial Armageddon. Bair, the former Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. boss, wrote that Thain “was desperate for capital but was worried about restrictions on executive compensation.” “I could not believe it. Where were this guy’s priorities?” she wrote, referring to Thain. The CEO, who was tapped to run the troubled lender in 2010, also addressed during the CNBC interview rumors that CIT was looking to sell itself to a large bank. “It’s absolutely not true,” Thain said yesterday.

Canada Cheese-Smuggling Ring Busted (BBC)
A Canadian police officer was among three people charged as the country's authorities announced they had busted a major cheese-smuggling ring. A joint US-Canadian investigation found C$200,000 (£125,600) of cheese and other products were illicitly brought over the border into southern Ontario. The smugglers sold large quantities of cheese, which is cheaper in the US, to restaurants, it is alleged. The other two men charged were civilians, one a former police officer. The charges come three days after CBC News first reported the force was conducting an internal investigation into cheese smuggling. A pizzeria owner west of Niagara Falls told CBC that he had been questioned by police over the issue, but assured them he had not bought any contraband dairy. "We get all our stuff legit," said the restaurateur. "We thought it was a joke at first. Who is going to go around trying to sell smuggled cheese?"

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Opening Bell: 09.26.12

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

Opening Bell: 07.16.12

Citigroup Profit Beats Analysts’ Estimates On Investment Bank (Bloomberg) Citi reported a 12 percent drop in second-quarter profit that beat analysts’ estimates on revenue from advising on mergers and underwriting stocks and bonds. Net income declined to $2.95 billion, or 95 cents a share, from $3.34 billion, or $1.09, a year earlier, the New York-based bank said today in a statement. Excluding accounting adjustments and a loss from the sale of a stake in a Turkish bank, earnings were $1 a share, compared with the average estimate of 89 cents in a Bloomberg survey of 18 analysts. HSBC Seeks To Evict Occupiers In Hong Kong (WSJ) HSBC said Monday it is seeking the right to evict an encampment of protesters that has been occupying the ground floor of the bank's Hong Kong headquarters since October, drawing inspiration from the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York last year. Libor Flaws Allowed Banks To Rig Rates Without Conspiracy (Bloomberg) FYI: “It is far easier to manipulate Libor than it may appear,” Andrew Verstein, a lecturer at Yale Law School, said in a paper to be published in the Winter 2013 issue of the Yale Journal on Regulation. “No conspiracy is required.” States Join Libor Probe (WSJ) Prosecutors in New York and Connecticut are investigating whether their states incurred losses as a result of interest-rate manipulation by banks, a probe that could lead to a wider multistate enforcement action, according to New York officials. The joint probe by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen could lead to civil enforcement action, including possible breaches of antitrust and fraud laws, the officials said. Libor Probe May Yield Criminal Charges By September (Bloomberg) Barclays traders involved in allegedly manipulating Libor rates between 2005 and 2007 may be charged by U.S. prosecutors before the Labor Day holiday on Sept. 3, said a person familiar with the Justice Department investigation in Washington. Zuckerberg’s Loan Gives New Meaning To The 1% (Bloomberg) The Facebook founder refinanced a $5.95 million mortgage on his Palo Alto, California, home with a 30-year adjustable-rate loan starting at 1.05 percent, according to public records for the property. Missteps Doomed Barclays Leaders (WSJ) Mr. Diamond's downfall may have been hastened because the U.S.-born investment banker, who became chief executive at the start of 2011, had never won acceptance by Britain's political and financial establishment. When the rate-fixing scandal erupted, Mr. Diamond had few allies. It wasn't for lack of trying. Mr. Diamond enthusiastically embraced British culture and tried to overcome his reputation as a brash American. Mr. Diamond, a native of Concord, Mass., supported the Chelsea Football Club, handing out trophies himself when the team won England's premier soccer league in 2010. A month before the Libor settlement, Mr. Diamond hosted British aristocrats and Barclays' clients at the annual Chelsea Flower Show, providing Champagne and canapés as his guests inspected elaborate gardens and floral arrangements...But Mr. Diamond, age 60, was criticized for his lofty pay packages, as well as perceived risks in the investment-banking business he built. He sometimes appeared tone deaf in a country still angry about the role of banks in the financial crisis. "There was a period of remorse and apology," he told Parliament last year. "That period needs to be over." Activists Go After Big Game (WSJ) William Ackman's $2 billion bet that he can boost the value of consumer-products giant Procter & Gamble Co. reflects a new era of activist investing, in which no company is too big a target and restless institutional investors are more willing to rock the boat. Mr. Ackman's Pershing Square Capital Management LP owns a little more than 1% of P&G's shares. A few years ago, that would have been considered too small a stake in too big a company to exert much influence on management, the board or other investors. Tax Cuts Perpetuate Inequality, Should End: Summers (CNBC) The United States should not extend Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans even as the so-called ‘fiscal cliff’ looms because it will perpetuate income inequality, says Larry Summers, former U.S. Treasury Secretary. Instead, these revenues should go towards strengthening public education and ensuring that low-income students are presented with equal opportunities as their wealthy counterparts so that they can participate in the economy. Tax breaks for the wealthy cannot continue to exist because it leads to a “perpetuation of privilege”, Summers said in the editorial in the Financial Times on Sunday. Unless steps were taken to “responsibly” increase the burden on those with high income and redistribute the proceeds, the trend toward inequality will continue, he said. Devils On The (B)rink (NYP) New Jersey Devils owner Jeff Vanderbeek is talking to private-equity firms and hedge funds about buying into his financially strapped team, according to sources close to the situation Vanderbeek is looking to sell a majority stake, but keep operating control, sources said. The talks, coming three weeks after the 55-year old former Wall Street executive seemed close to inking a deal with an investor to save the team, are leading some in the financial world to believe the deal has fallen apart. If that’s so, it would be a terrible break for Vanderbeek, who is facing an Aug. 14 deadline to get the Devils’ financing in order...Creditors are owed $80 million. Downgrade Anniversary Shows Investors Gained Buying U.S. (Bloomberg) When Standard & Poor’s downgraded the U.S. government’s credit rating in August, predictions of serious fallout soon followed. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney described it as a “meltdown” reminiscent of the economic crises of Jimmy Carter’s presidency. He warned of higher long-term interest rates and damage to foreign investors’ confidence in the U.S. U.S. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan said the government’s loss of its AAA rating would raise the cost of mortgages and car loans. Mohamed El-Erian, chief executive officer of Pacific Investment Management Co., said over time the standing of the dollar and U.S. financial markets would erode and credit costs rise “for virtually all American borrowers.” They were wrong. Almost a year later, mortgage rates have dropped to record lows, the government’s borrowing costs have eased, the dollar and the benchmark S&P stock index are up, and global investors’ enthusiasm for Treasury debt has strengthened. Woman tells police man sucked her toe at Grovetown Walmart (AC) The 18-year-old said she was shopping when a man, who looked to be in his late 30s or early 40s, walked up and asked if her toenails were painted, according to a Columbia County Sheriff’s Office incident report. After replying yes and questioning why he wanted to know, the woman was asked if she’d watched America’s Funniest Home Videos. The man told her he was with the TV show and if she complied with his requests, everything she purchased that day would be free. She said she reluctantly agreed to let him take a photo of her foot. He asked if he could kiss her foot as part of the prank and she agreed. The man guided her to an area behind a clothing rack, dropped to the floor, grabbed her ankle and told her, “Don’t worry. I don’t bite.” He then started sucking on her big toe. The woman said she screamed at him to stop. Before the man ran from the store, he told her, “It tasted so good, though.”

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: 08.03.12

JPMorgan London Whale Was Prodded (WSJ) A JPMorgan executive encouraged the trader known as the "London whale" to boost valuations on some trades, said a person who reviewed communications emerging from the bank's internal probe of recent trading losses. After reviewing emails and voice-mail messages, the bank has concluded that Bruno Iksil, the J.P. Morgan trader nicknamed for the large positions he took in the credit markets, was urged by his boss to put higher values on some positions than they might have fetched in the open market at the time, people familiar with the probe said. The bank's conclusion is based on a series of emails and voice communications in late March and April, as losses on his bullish credit-market bet mounted, the people said. The bank believes they show the executive, Javier Martin-Artajo, pushing Mr. Iksil to adjust trade prices higher, according to people close to the bank's investigation. At the time, Mr. Martin-Artajo was credit-trading chief for the company's Chief Investment Office, or CIO. RBS Loss Widens (WSJ) The 82%-government-owned bank reported a net loss of £1.99 billion ($3.09 billion), wider than the loss of £1.43 billion a year earlier. However, the result was hit by a £3 billion accounting charge for the fair value of the company's debt and a number of provisions for misselling financial products. Analysts focused on the more-positive underlying figures for the half, helping to make its shares the leading gainer on the FTSE 100. Excluding the own-debt charge, RBS would have posted a net profit of £287 million. It posted an operating profit of £1.83 billion, down from the £1.97 billion a year earlier. Nevertheless, RBS warned that it faces a number of lawsuits. The bank is cooperating with regulators in the U.S., Japan and the U.K., who are probing whether banks colluded to try and rig benchmark rates including the London interbank offered rate. RBS said that it had fired a number of traders following the investigations but said it was too early to estimate the fines the bank may have to pay. RBS’s CEO Blames Libor-Manipulation On ‘Handful’ Of Individuals (Bloomberg) RBS dismissed four employees for trying to influence the individual responsible for Libor submissions following an internal investigation, the bank said today, without identifying the staff involved. Hester said it is too early to estimate the potential cost of fines and litigation linked to rate-rigging. “The Libor issue is more to do with the wrongdoing of individuals than it is to do with a systemic problem,” Hester, 51, said on a call with journalists today after the Edinburgh- based bank reported a 22 percent drop in second-quarter operating profit. “It’s hugely regrettable that the actions of a relatively small number of wrongdoers, which seems to be the key issue here, has such a tainting effect on the industry.” Knight Said To Open Books To Suitors As Loss Pressure Grows (Bloomberg) Bank of America Corp. was among several potential partners that was in talks with Knight yesterday, said a person with knowledge of the matter. John Yiannacopoulos, a Bank of America spokesman, declined to comment. Loss Swamps Trading Firm (WSJ) Knight wouldn't comment on the status of the rescue talks. But market participants said the firm is running out of time. In the span of two days, the company's market value has plunged to $253.4 million from $1.01 billion, and its shares continued their nosedive in after-hours trading. "If they don't get an investor within the next 48 to 72 hours, I think Knight's going to have trouble surviving," said David Simon, chief executive of hedge fund Twin Capital Management LLC. Mt. Sinai urologist busted on charges he used spy cam to peek up subway riders’ skirts (NYDN) Dr. Adam Levinson, an assistant professor of urology at the hospital’s school of medicine, allegedly clipped a pen camera to a folded newspaper so he could peek up a woman’s skirt on a southbound 4 train about 5 p.m. Tuesday, authorities and a witness said. Sheldon Birthwright, 46, a construction worker who once worked for the Transportation Security Administration, said he sensed something wrong almost immediately after Levinson stepped on the train at E. 59th St. The doctor — a New York Medical College grad who twice won a national Patients’ Choice Award — held the newspaper at his side as he inched toward a woman wearing a knee-high dress and reading a Kindle. “He’s leaning on the pole right next to the door,” Birthwright told the Daily News. “He has a paper in his hand. But what’s mysterious about it, there’s a pen attached to the paper...He has it down in a very unsuspicious way. But every time the woman would move, he would move.” Catholic Fund Fails To Convince Believers (FT) JPMorgan Asset Management had hoped to attract investors who wanted exposure to investments that would not clash with tenets on issues such as birth control and civil rights. It also eschewed investments in governments of countries that have the death penalty. The aim was to replicate the success of funds compliant with Shariah law which have been in strong demand with Muslim investors. However, JPMorgan is to liquidate the Global Catholic Ethical Balanced Fund just over a year since it was launched. At May 31, it had net assets of just 4.3 million euros ($5.24 million), far short of a $30 million threshold outlined in its prospectus. Fake-bookers (NYP) Facebook admitted that some 83 million of the social network’s 955 million total users are fakes — meaning duplicates, spam or silly pages for pets. That represents nearly 9 percent of profiles on the site. The rash of fakes — equal to the population of Egypt — has shot up since Facebook’s rocky public debut in May, when it estimated “false” profiles accounted for 5 percent to 6 percent of its users. “These estimates are based on an internal review of a limited sample of accounts, and we apply significant judgment in making this determination, such as identifying names that appear to be fake or other behavior that appears inauthentic,” the company said in a recent regulatory filing. The spike is a major cause for concern, with advertisers and investors questioning Facebook’s effectiveness in reaching consumers. In particular, Facebook has been under scrutiny for slowing ad sales growth. Economy Adds 163,000 Jobs (WSJ) U.S. employers stepped up hiring in July as the economy continued its uneven recovery heading into this fall's presidential election. U.S. payrolls increased by a seasonally adjusted 163,000 jobs last month, the Labor Department said Friday, but the unemployment rate, obtained by a separate survey of U.S. households, ticked up one-tenth of a percent to 8.3%. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires expected a gain of 95,000 in payrolls and an 8.2% jobless rate. Family kept grandparents' deaths secret from Chinese diver until she won gold medal (YS) Chinese diver Wu Minxia's celebrations at winning a third Olympic gold medal were cut short after her family revealed the details of a devastating secret they had kept for several years. Wu's parents decided to withhold news of both the death of her grandparents and of her mother's long battle with breast cancer until after she won the 3-meter springboard in London so as to not interfere with her diving career. "It was essential to tell this white lie," said her father Wu Yuming...Wu's mother defended the decision to keep her situation private and admitted she only broached the subject of her breast cancer at this point because she is now in remission. Both of Wu's grandparents died more than a year ago, but the diver knew nothing of their passing until this week.

Opening Bell: 07.09.12

BofA Figures In Drug Probe (WSJ) A Mexican cocaine-trafficking cartel used accounts at Bank of America to hide money and invest illegal drug-trade proceeds in U.S. racehorses, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said. The alleged ties between the violent drug gang known as Los Zetas and the second-largest U.S. bank by assets were described in a 35-page affidavit filed in federal court in Texas last month. According to an FBI agent, a horse-buying and training business created to launder drug money had accounts at the Charlotte, N.C., bank. Libor Probe Moves To Political Arena (WSJ) The scandal over banks' manipulation of key interest rates cost the jobs of three senior financial figures last week. On Monday, the deputy governor of the Bank of England will try to ensure it doesn't derail his own career. Paul Tucker, a leading candidate to become the next governor of the Bank of England, will testify Monday afternoon before a Parliamentary committee that is examining how Barclays and other global banks improperly tried to influence interest rates like the London interbank offered rate...Barclays, after reaching a £290 million settlement with U.S. and British regulators over its attempts to manipulate Libor, sought to defend itself by releasing notes from an October 2008 phone call between Mr. Tucker and Robert Diamond. According to Mr. Diamond's notes from the call, Mr. Tucker relayed concerns from "senior" British government officials about Barclays's above-average Libor submissions. "Mr. Tucker stated…that while he was certain we did not need advice, that it did not always need to be the case that we appeared as high as we have recently," Mr. Diamond wrote to two of his colleagues the day after the call. Diamond Antithesis Seen As Key Step To Repairing Barclays (Bloomberg) The British lender faces a criminal probe and political pressure to curb or separate the investment banking unit that Diamond built up during his 16-year career at Barclays from the consumer bank. The unit generated 61 percent of the bank’s first-quarter pretax profit. At a Parliamentary hearing last week, lawmakers asked if the culture at the investment bank was “rotten” and if he lived in a “parallel universe.” Former Barclays CEO: I Too Fell for the Diamond Myth (FT) "It was a close call," Taylor says of his decision to retain Diamond as head of Barclays Capital. "I suspect the subsequent history of the business would have been very different had I asked him to go. I deserve blame for being among the first to succumb to the myth of Diamond’s indispensability, to which some in Barclays were still in thrall only a matter of days ago." SEC set to hand out up to $452M to whistleblowers (NYP) “The SEC is receiving two to three tips every day that are worth pursuing, and they’re farming them out to staffers for investigation,” said Lawrence A. West, a lawyer with Latham & Watkins. “SEC officials are eager to pay out and publicize the first whistleblower award,” said West, whose firm has gathered a number of tipsters under the new law. “Once the first award is publicized, tips to the SEC from disgruntled employees are almost certain to increase substantially.” Romney Mines Hamptons For Political Cash (NYT) EAST HAMPTON, N.Y. — A woman in a blue chiffon dress poked her head out of a black Range Rover here on Sunday afternoon and yelled to an aide to Mitt Romney. “Is there a V.I.P. entrance? We are V.I.P.” (No such entrance existed.)...what was billed as a day of elegant campaign events at the homes of the ultrarich turned out to be an afternoon of curious and clashing tableaus: protesters with their bandannas and Occupy Wall Street-inspired chants (“We got sold out, banks got bailed out!”) standing amid multimillion-dollar mansions, where live bands played “Margaritaville” and donors dined on prosciutto-wrapped melon balls...After that, Mr. Romney attended events at the Southampton homes of Clifford Sobel, the former United States ambassador to Brazil, and David Koch, the billionaire industrialist and longtime benefactor of conservative political causes. The event at Mr. Koch’s home drew about 200 protesters, who...went so far as to hire a local pilot to fly a giant red and black banner over Mr. Koch’s house, which read: “Romney has a Koch problem,” a play on the drug. (Mr. Koch’s name is pronounced the same as the word coke.) A truck, festooned with the logos of big banks like Citigroup and Wells Fargo, circled the neighborhood with a plastic dog on the roof, a jab at Mr. Romney’s much-mocked family vacation in which he traveled with his Irish setter inside a pet carrier on the roof of a car. Barclays mulls split after Libor scandal: report (MarketWatch) Board directors at U.K. bank Barclays PLC BCS -1.72% are considering splitting the company into two units, as regulatory scrutiny mounts in the wake of its role in the Libor interest-rate fixing scandal, The Sunday Times reports without citing sources. The newspaper says Barclays is examining plans to spin off its investment banking arm, which could be floated in New York, with the U.K.-headquartered retail and commercial bank retaining its London listing. (A person familiar with the matter said the story was inaccurate.) Roubini: My 'Perfect Storm' Scenario Is Unfolding Now (CNBC) In May, Roubini predicted four elements – stalling growth in the U.S., debt troubles in Europe, a slowdown in emerging markets, particularly China, and military conflict in Iran - would come together in to create a storm for the global economy in 2013. “(The) 2013 perfect storm scenario I wrote on months ago is unfolding,” Roubini said on Twitter on Monday. Tighter Control For Euro Banks (WSJ) The establishment of a single authority, with a single set of rules for the region's banks, is seen by Germany and other strong economies as an essential condition before they will consider sharing resources with other euro-zone countries. House-crasher sentenced after enjoying Diddy's food, cigars and toothbrush (NYP) A East New York man, busted for sneaking into rapper Sean “Diddy” Combs’ palatial East Hampton spread in April, guzzled the star’s top-shelf liquor, washed with his soap, and even used his toothbrush, officials revealed yesterday. “I brought a cheesesteak, a cheesecake, a bucket of fried chicken — which I ate at the house — and drank a ‘dollar’ bottle of Hennessy and four cans of Pepsi,” Quamine Taylor told prosecutors at his sentencing yesterday. He even slathered Diddy’s Frank’s Red Hot sauce on his grub, and drank a bottle of Hpnotiq, a vodka liqueur, he said, adding, “After I ate, I went upstairs and went to sleep.” He also smoked three of Diddy’s Dutch Masters cigars and drank a can of orange soda. Then he freshened up using Diddy’s soap and splashing on his aftershave.

Opening Bell: 01.22.13

Glencore, Xstrata Move Closer to Deal (WSJ) The two companies, who want to combine to form the world's fourth-largest diversified miner with a market capitalization of about $80 billion, said they still need to secure regulatory approval from China. They will also have to abide by conditions set out by the South African regulator limiting the timing and scope of any layoffs stemming from the merger. SAC Misses Out On Big Investment (WSJ) Mizuho Financial Group had discussed last year making a major investment that could have brought as much as $500 million to SAC, said people briefed on discussions with SAC executives and advisers. But the bank ultimately notified SAC that it wasn't proceeding. By December, with scrutiny of SAC's trading practices mounting, the firm's executives told advisers and others inside and outside the firm that Mizuho's decision appeared final, the people said. Global A-List Descends On Davos (WSJ) Of all the sectors it is probably the bankers who are fielding the highest concentration of big names. Anshu Jainof Deutsche Bank AG,  Brian T. Moynihan of Bank of America Corp., Lloyd C. Blankfein of Goldman Sachs and HSBC Holdings CEO Stuart T. Gulliver are just a sample. Trust in Business Leaders at Low as Davos Begins (CNBC) Less than one in five people believe business and government leaders can be trusted to make ethical and moral decisions, the survey of some 30,000 people showed, with confidence particularly low in France and Germany. Calpers Buy-Hold Rule Recoups $95 Billion Recession Loss (WSJ) The California Public Employees’ Retirement System is poised to top a record $260 billion in assets, the market value it held before the global financial crisis wiped out more than a third of its wealth, by sticking with a strategy of buy-and-hold. The largest U.S. public pension, with half of its money in publicly traded equities, was worth $253.2 billion on Jan. 17, or about 97 percent of the pre-recession high set in October 2007. The fund returned 13 percent in 2012, about the same gain as the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index achieved. Armstrong Becomes ‘Madoff on a Bike’ as Cheating Shatters Lives (Bloomberg) “He’s Bernie Madoff on a bike,” said John Llewellyn, an associate professor of communication at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “The level of self-absorption and mean-spiritedness with which he has defended himself and castigated others over a decade makes an impression that’s pretty bleak for the human spirit.” Irish lawmakers back plan to allow drink-driving ‘in moderation’ (The Journal) KERRY count councillors have voted in favour of a motion which would allow people in rural Ireland to have ‘two or three’ drinks and still drive. The motion put forward by councillor Danny Healy-Rae calls on the Minister for Justice to allow Gardaí to issue permits to people in the most isolated parts of the country to allow them to drive after drinking some alcohol. Speaking to The Journal, Danny Healy-Rae said the idea was to help “those people in every parish who are isolated and who can’t get out of their place at night." Barclays Loses Anonymity (Bloomberg) A group of Barclays employees had a request to prevent their names from being published ahead of the UK’s first trial related to manipulation of the London interbank offered rate rejected by a judge yesterday. “I simply do not see that there is any sufficient case of prejudice” to the trial, Judge Julian Flaux said in dismissing the request. The names weren’t immediately released. Affiliates of Guardian Care Homes sued Barclays over an interest-rate swap tied to Libor and argued the benchmark was manipulated. The swap resulted in a loss for the Wolverhampton, England-based Guardian and Barclays was ordered to give the company’s lawyers the identities and e-mails of bank staff that were included in disclosures to regulators. Atari’s U.S. Operations File for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy (Bloomberg) Atari SA’s U.S.-based video-game- making businesses filed for bankruptcy protection inManhattan with the intention of separating from the unprofitable French parent and seeking independent funding. New York-based Atari Inc., maker of video games “Pong” and “Asteroids,” as well as affiliates Atari Interactive Inc., Humongous Inc. and California U.S. Holdings Inc., asked to be jointly administered in filings yesterday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, according to a statement. “Within the next 90 to 120 days, the companies expect to effectuate a sale of all, or substantially all, of their assets,” in a free and clear sale under the U.S. bankruptcy laws, or confirm reorganization plans that “accomplish substantially the same result,” according to the statement. EU Approves Financial Transactions Tax (Reuters) A majority of European Union finance ministers voted on Tuesday to allow Germany, France and nine other euro zone countries to prepare to introduce a tax on financial transactions, said two officials who attended the meeting. The vote clears the way for Germany,France, Italy, Spain, Austria, Portugal, Belgium, Estonia, Greece, Slovakia and Slovenia to press ahead with their own tax on trading. Man paddles for love of Florida waters (NWFDN) Justin Riney turned his back on his degree in finance and last year followed his heart and founded his own non-profit organization: Mother Ocean...Riney needed a project to kick off his newly-founded organization and bring attention to it and when he read that 500 years had passed since Ponce de Leon discovered Florida, he decided that was a cause for celebration. On Jan. 1 he began a 365-day journey around Florida on a stand-up paddle board from Pensacola. He plans to spend six months paddling the peninsula, ending In Jacksonville on July 4. Then, he will spend six months on the inner waterways, ending Dec. 31 in Tallahassee. He has named this adventure Expedition Florida 500. Briton wrestles shark away from children in Australia (Telegraph) The incident happened on Friday in the Sunshine Coast region of the state of Queensland, and was captured by a local news team. According to Australia's Channel Nine, the shark came into very shallow waters and two men rushed to move it away before it reached children who were playing in the water nearby. Paul Marshallsea, a grandfather from Wales, and Terry Dale, a wildlife carer, pushed the shark towards open waters. The shark was also spotted in shallow waters of a creek by frightened parents, children and tourists.

Opening Bell: 10.01.12

British Banks Face Heat From On High (WSJ) The Right Reverend Justin Welby, Bishop of Durham, is grilling top bankers as part of a new parliamentary inquiry into "banking standards" that represents the U.K. government's latest attempt to shake up the industry. The inquiry was established in July on the heels of news that several banks allegedly sought to rig interest rates such as the London interbank lending rate, known as Libor. Bishop Welby, a former oil executive who sits in Britain's House of Lords, has joined nine other lawmakers in assembling a report that will consider new rules on everything from corporate governance to conflicts of interest. The inquiry also involves a series of public hearings already under way. Sitting in a castle in his diocese in northern England, Bishop Welby said the inquiry isn't about digging into the details of banks' alleged failings in the Libor scandal and other matters. Rather, it is an attempt to determine more broadly the future role of the industry. "It's an existential question," he said. "It's about why the bankingindustry is here." Spain To Borrow $267 Billion Of Debt Amid Rescue Pressure (Bloomberg) Spain’s debt will widen to 90.5 percent of gross domestic product in 2013 as the state absorbs the cost of bailing out its banks, the power system and euro-region partners Greece, Ireland and Portugal. This year’s budget deficit will be 7.4 percent of economic output, Budget Minister Cristobal Montoro said at a press conference. Spain’s 6.3 percent target will be met because it can exclude the cost of the bank rescue, he said. Euro Leaders Face October of Unrest After ECB’s September Rally (Bloomberg) With the first of three summit meetings that European Union President Herman Van Rompuy has called “crucial” taking place in Brussels on Oct. 18-19, investor sentiment toward the euro area that surged in September is on the wane. “People are beginning to look at this in a more sober way” after the ECB bond-buying plan and a German high-court decision releasing bailout financing spurred optimism over the past month, Clemens Fuest, an economist at Oxford University’s Said Business School, said in an interview yesterday. October, which marks the third anniversary of the debt crisis, will showcase euro-area leaders fighting out their differences. The discord underscores the inadequacy so far of ECB President Mario Draghi’s bid to calm the crisis through a pledge on sovereign-debt purchases. Graduates Turn Away From Wall Street (FT) MBA statistics show a steady decline in the number of graduates taking jobs at investment banks. The Wharton school at the University of Pennsylvania, which bankers consider the “conveyor belt of Wall Street”, sent 16.6 percent of its class to investment banks in 2011 compared with more than one in four in 2008. The pattern is similar at other large business schools. “The number of students going into financial services has remained steady but what’s changed has been the types of roles,” said Maryellen Lamb, director of MBA career management at Wharton. “We’ve seen more opportunity for students in private equity and hedge fund roles.” Yield hunt pushes funds into CLOs, CDOs (Reuters) Fund managers are increasingly eyeing riskier exotic assets, some of which haven't been in fashion since the financial crisis, as yields on traditional investments get close to rock bottom. Returns from investments in "junk" bonds, government guaranteed mortgage securities and even some battered euro-zone debt are plunging in the wake of global central bank policies intended to suppress borrowing costs. In particular, the Federal Reserve's latest move to juice the U.S. economy by purchasing $40 billion of agency mortgage-backed securities every month is forcing some money managers who had previously been feasting on those securities to get more creative. The only problem is they may be getting out of their comfort zones and taking on too much risk. "I would not be surprised if some managers are reaching outside of their expertise for a few extra basis points," said Bonnie Baha, a portfolio manager for DoubleLine's Global Developed Credit strategy. Arnold Schwarzenegger 60 minutes interview video: admits habit of keeping secrets, affairs (CNN) While he did not specify how many affairs he'd had before Shriver filed for divorce in July 2011, Schwarzenegger admits two women he was involved with include "Red Sonja" co-star Brigitte Nielsen (while he and Shriver were dating, according to Schwarzenegger) and his family's longtime housekeeper, Mildred Patricia Baena. Nine months after Schwarzenegger and Baena had their affair, she gave birth to a son -- less than a week after he and Shriver's fourth child, Christopher, was born. Baena remained the family's housekeeper for years, with her son sometimes around the house as well. But Schwarzenegger said in the "60 Minutes" interview that he didn't have any suspicions he was the father until the boy was 7 or 8 years old and he began to notice "that he started looking like me." "It was never discussed, but I put things together," said Schwarzenegger, whose autobiography "Total Recall" hits bookshelves Monday. After that realization, he said he began sending Baena extra money for her and her son, without talking about his being the boy's father. Schwarzenegger also denied to Shriver that he'd had an affair and that Baena's child was his son -- until Shriver confronted him during a marriage counseling session a few months before their break-up. "She said, 'Am I off on this or am I not?' And I said, 'You are absolutely correct.'" More Wall Street Layoffs Coming (NYP) Nomura analyst Glenn Schorr said in a recent report warns that many banks, which are still overstaffed, need a more liberal wielding of the ax to squeeze out more profits in the coming years, amid a global market that continues to look sluggish. “While overcapacity is weighing on returns under the current environment, most bank managements have been in the camp that the industry is currently experiencing a cyclical rather than secular downturn,” Schorr writes. “So they’ve been slow to do too much on the head-count front,” the bank analyst said regarding layoffs. According to Schorr’s research, big banks like JPMorgan, Credit Suisse, UBS and Barclays have actually added jobs over the past three years. Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley have only slashed about 1 and 2 percent of their work forces, respectively. Orange Juice Gets Squeezed (WSJ) Since the start of the current hurricane season, futures prices have climbed as high as $1.4095 a pound. Traders and analysts said the possibility of storm damage fueled much of the rise. But since no such storm has materialized, investors are taking profits or cutting their losses, they added. Vikram's Housing Woes (NYP) Pandit is on track to lose money on the sale of his Greenwich, Conn. home, which he bought in June 2001 for $4.1 million. Pandit, 55, put the two-story Colonial on the market for $4.3 million in April. Now he has lowered the price to $3.9 million, according to Trulia.com. South Florida Man Inherits 13,000 Clown Items (SS) Richard Levine is now trying to wrap his head around the unusual pickle he inherited when his father-in-law and business partner died two years ago and left him essentially a warehouse full of curated items of buffoonery. There are clown dolls with faces of joy and sorrow. Clown paintings, some more colorful than others. Clown figurines and clown puppets, some tiny, some huge, some very disturbing. There are clown photographs, clown books and clown costumes...Levine, who runs the same Waterboy Sprinklers business his father-in-law started in the 1970s, said he barely has had the time to go through all of the items. He hopes to inventory all of it, sell most of it, keep some of it and donate the rest to a local charity group. "I am slowly starting to like them and getting enthusiastic about them. I can see how Jack was into them," Levine said. "I don't go for the sad clowns much though, but I really enjoy the happy ones."

Opening Bell: 08.27.12

RBS May Be Bigger Libor Culprit Than Barclays, Says MP (Guardian) John Mann, a Labour MP on the Treasury select committee, said "City insiders" had suggested RBS's involvement may be "noticeably worse" than Barclays.' [...] Mann's comments came as a former RBS trader claimed that the bank's internal checks were so lax that anyone could change Libor rates. Court documents filed in Singapore show that Tan Chi Min, who is suing RBS for wrongful dismissal, claimed that in 2008 a trader for the bank, Will Hall, changed the Libor submission even though he was part of the Japanese yen swap desk in London. The papers show that Tan, who worked for RBS in Singapore, raised the issue at his disciplinary meeting last September, saying the bank's internal procedure in London seemed to be that "anyone can change Libor". Spain Expects to Tap About $75 Billion in Rescue Financing for Its Banks (NYT) Spain expects to use about 60 billion euros, or $75 billion, of the 100 billion euros of bank rescue financing offered by European finance ministers in June, according to the Spanish economy minister, Luis de Guindos. UK Investment Bankers Prefer Singapore (FT) The southeast-Asian city state has become the most favored location for investment bankers who are based in London, research by financial services recruitment firm Astbury Marsden shows. Of the 462 investment bankers that were asked, 31 percent said they would most like to work in Singapore. By comparison, only a fifth preferred New York and only 19 percent opted in favor of London. In the year before, 22 percent named London as their preferred location, underlining how the British capital has lost some appeal among investment bankers amid tighter regulation and a clampdown on bonuses. “A fast growing, low tax and bank friendly environment like Singapore stands as a perfect antidote to the comparatively high tax and anti-banker sentiment of London and New York,” said Mark Cameron, chief operating officer at Astbury Marsden. “Far more London-based bankers are now more willing and able to relocate the 6,700 miles to Singapore.” Another Madoff Name Nix (NYP) The second of Ponzi-schemer Bernie Madoff’s daughters-in-law is asking a court for permission to shed her now notorious married name. Deborah West Madoff, who started divorce proceedings against Bernie’s son Andrew back in 2008, has sought permission in Manhattan Supreme Court to revert to her maiden name. The couple have two children. She’s not the first in the family to do so: in 2010, her sister-in-law made a similar court application. Suits Mount In Rate Scandal (WSJ) It won't be easy for the plaintiffs to win in court even though financial institutions are likely to reach settlements with regulators in coming months totaling billions of dollars, according to people close to the Libor investigation. The plaintiffs must prove that banks successfully manipulated interest-rate benchmarks such as the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, and caused the plaintiffs to suffer a loss. Still, some investors and analysts are forecasting huge damages despite the legal hurdles. In a July report, Macquarie Research estimated that banks face potential legal liability of about $176 billion, based on the assumption that Libor was "understated" by 0.4 percentage points in 2008 and 2009. Carlyle Group marketed $25 million deal without license: Kuwaiti firm (AP) A Kuwaiti company suing the Carlyle Group over a $25 million investment that went bad is now accusing the private equity firm of marketing the deal without a license as it seeks to have its case heard in Kuwaiti courts. The latest claim by Kuwait's National Industries Group adds a new twist to its more than two-and-a-half year legal challenge to Carlyle, and could complicate the American company's relationships with other wealthy Mideast investors. NIG's lawsuit focuses on a Carlyle investment fund that was one of the earliest casualties of the financial crisis when it collapsed in 2008. The fund has been the subject of multiple lawsuits against Washington-based Carlyle. Couple in court for disturbing the peace for 'screaming, moaning and swearing during seven-hour sex romps five nights a week' (DM) Jessica Angel and Colin MacKenzie had been issued with an order requiring them to prevent ‘screaming, loud moaning, swearing and raised voices’ after police were called to their flat 20 times in just four months. However, following further complaints from neighbours, the couple were charged under the Environmental Protection Act. They face a £3,000 fine if convicted...Mr MacKenzie, 45, from Sturt, South Australia, said: ‘How can you live in a place where you can’t have sex? It’s ridiculous. Anyway, it’s mostly Jessie. The sex goes from four to seven hours, five nights a week. I’ll probably die of a heart attack – she’s almost killing me.’ German Official Opposes European Debt Purchases (NYT) The president of the German central bank said in an interview published Sunday that he remained staunchly opposed to government bond purchases by the European Central Bank, a position that could make it more difficult to deploy a weapon many economists believe is essential to saving the euro. But in a sign that the mood in Germany could be shifting, Chancellor Angela Merkel adopted a more dovish tone during a separate interview. She told members of her governing coalition to stop talking about Greece leaving the euro. “We are in a decisive phase in the battle against the euro zone debt crisis,” Ms. Merkel told ARD television. “Everyone should weigh their words very carefully.” Fed mulls open season on bond buys to help economy (Reuters) The Federal Reserve is considering a new approach to unconventional monetary policy that would give it more leeway to tailor the scale of its stimulus to changing economic winds. While fresh measures are not assured and the timing of any potential moves are still in question, some officials have said any new bond buying, or quantitative easing, could be open-ended, meaning it would not be bound by a fixed amount or time frame. "I am inclined to think that if the Fed decides on more QE it would be of the open-ended variety," said Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist at JPMorgan and a former Fed economist. BlackRock Bullish On Thai Bonds, Region’s Worst (Bloomberg) BlackRock is bullish on Thai bonds, Asia’s worst-performing in 2012, saying the central bank has room to ease monetary policy as a global slump cools demand for exports from Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy. Former SC Gov. Mark Sanford to wed ex-mistress Maria Belen Chapur (NYDN) "Yes, we are engaged, and I'm both happy and excited for what that means," Sanford said in a statement obtained by CNN. "I have long expressed my feelings for her, she's a wonderful person. My closest friends have met and love her, and I look forward to introducing her to still many more that have yet to do so." The conservative Republican's political aspirations were dashed in 2009 when he disappeared from South Carolina for five days under the pretense that he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. The father of four, who was once thought to be a potential 2012 presidential contender, later admitted that he was actually visiting Chapur, who he professed to be his "soul mate." "I've been unfaithful to my wife," Sanford said at the time. "I developed a relationship with what started as a dear, dear friend from Argentina."