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."
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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 banking industry 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."

Related

Opening Bell: 03.01.13

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

Opening 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: 07.27.12

Barclays Faces New Scrutiny (WSJ) n what could turn out to be a new black eye for the bank, Barclays said the U.K. financial regulator has started an investigation into four current and former senior employees, including Chris Lucas, Barclays's finance director. The issue centers on the "sufficiency of disclosure" in relation to fees paid when Barclays conducted an emergency £7.3 billion ($11.45 billion) capital increase with Middle Eastern investors in 2008. The cash injection likely saved Barclays from being bailed out by the government and part-nationalized. The Financial Services Authority and Barclays declined to elaborate further the issue. Barclays said in a statement that it was confident it had satisfied disclosure obligations. In a separate debacle, Barclays said it put aside £450 million to cover the misselling of derivatives products to small businesses. Merkel, Hollande Vow to Do Everything to Defend Euro (Reuters) FYI: "Germany and France are deeply committed to the integrity of the euro zone. They are determined to do everything to protect the euro zone," they said in a joint statement. Treasury Eyes Funds Hidden Overseas (WSJ) he Treasury Department released new details Thursday of a plan to ferret out Americans' global tax dodging, though some lawmakers and banks remain concerned about the initiative's scope and regulatory costs. Treasury officials said they hope to finalize the system's basic rules by the fall and expressed confidence it would be on track for implementation by 2014 as scheduled. Congressional experts said the new system would recover $8.7 billion in tax revenues over 10 years. Facebook Growth Slows Again (WSJ) The company swung to a second-quarter loss largely weighed down by expenses from compensating employees with stock upon its initial public offering in May. Revenue in the second quarter was $1.18 billion, up 32% from $895 million a year ago. That revenue growth was the lowest percentage since at least the first quarter of 2011, when Facebook was more than doubling the amount of money it brought in from advertising, and to a lesser extent, the cut of fees it takes from payments on its platform. Facebook Falls After Report Fails To Quell Growth Concerns (Bloomberg) “It took a long time for the TV market and advertising to be truly understood, it took a long time for search, and I think we’re still in that learning curve with a lot of our clients,” COO Sheryl Sandberg said. The Guy In The Clown Nose? He's An Olympian (WSJ) Terry Bartlett is a world-class gymnast who leapt, tumbled and swung for the glory of Great Britain in three Olympic Games. Today, he is also a world-class clown. Ten times a week, he dons a red nose and floppy shoes to elicit chuckles at "O," a Las Vegas water-themed circus run by Cirque du Soleil. "It's better than having a real job," says the 48-year-old Bartlett...A few months after Bartlett's audition, Cirque hired him as an acrobat for a new show in Las Vegas. At first, he says, he had to confront some stigma about joining a circus. "Some people were like, whoa, that's not much of a move from what you've done," he says. But today, he says Cirque is so well-known that he gets few smirks. Spanish Banks Hit By Real Estate Woes (WSJ) Caixabank SA, Spain's third-largest lender by market value, number five bank Banco Popular Español SA, and smaller Banco Español de Credito SA, all said they had set aside most of their profit to bolster their buffers against property sector losses, after the government twice this year raised the minimum required provisioning level for banks. Caixabank said quarterly net profit tumbled 78% to €118 million ($145.1 million) and Popular's profit fell 37% to €75.4 million. Smaller Banesto, which is owned by banking giant Banco Santander SA, said quarterly profit sank 97% to €14.4 million. Goldman PR Guru's Charm School (NYP) Under Siewert, the bank has scheduled weekly roundtable meetings between the media and executives including Goldman President Gary Cohn and CFO David Viniar. In one of those meetings yesterday, rising-star Treasurer Elizabeth “Liz” Beshel Robinson met the press for the first time. Not everyone’s keen on the changes. Goldman’s financial rock star Viniar, sources said, has sworn off appearing on TV. JPMorgan Revamps Business Units (WSJ) The bank said Frank Bisignano, who was tapped in early 2011 to lead J.P. Morgan's transformation of its mortgage banking group, will become co-chief operating officer for the entire company, in addition to continuing as chief administrative officer of the firm. He will transition the mortgage business to Gordon Smith in early 2013. Matt Zames will serve as co-COO, and will remain head of the chief investment office and mortgage capital markets...J.P. Morgan said its investment banks, treasury and securities services and global corporate banks businesses are being combined into the corporate and investment bank unit, to be chaired by Jes Staley, CEO of the investment bank business. Mike Cavanagh, head of treasury and securities, will become co-CEO of the new unit, along with Daniel Pinto, who currently heads EMEA and global fixed income. Romney Riles Londoners With Comments On Olympics Games (Bloomberg) It was supposed to be Mitt Romney’s flawless world stage debut. Instead, the Republican presidential candidate spent the start of his overseas trip fending off a furor over his London Olympics comments and scrutiny of a fundraiser with bankers linked to the Libor rate-fixing scandal. “There’s a guy called Mitt Romney who wants to know whether we’re ready,” London Mayor Boris Johnson told 80,000 cheering people gathered at Hyde Park for the arrival of the Olympic torch last night. “Are we ready? Are we ready? Yes, we are!” Romney worked to put the controversy behind him today, scheduling an interview at Olympic Park to quell the storm of criticism over his comment that the city was unprepared to host the games. “After being here a couple of days, it looks to me like London’s ready,” he told NBC’s “Today” program. “What they’ve done that I find so impressive is they took the venues and put them right in the city.” In the July 25 NBC interview, Romney described reports of difficulties recruiting enough security staff for the games, which begin today, as “disconcerting” and said, “It’s hard to know just how well it will turn out.”

Opening Bell: 11.08.12

On Wall Street, Time To Mend Fences With Obama (NYT) Few industries have made such a one-sided bet as Wall Street did in opposing President Obama and supporting his Republican rival. The top five sources of contributions to Mr. Romney, a former top private equity executive, were big banks like Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Wealthy financiers — led by hedge fund investors — were the biggest group of givers to the main “super PAC” backing Mr. Romney, providing almost $33 million, and gave generously to outside groups in races around the country. On Wednesday, Dan Loeb, who had supported Mr. Obama in 2008, was sanguine. “You win some, you lose some,” he said in an interview. “We can all disagree. I have friends and we have spirited discussions. Sure, I am not getting invited to the White House anytime soon, but as citizens of the country we are all friendly.” [...] “Wall Street is now going to have to figure out how to make this relationship work,” said Glenn Schorr, an analyst who follows the big banks for the investment bank Nomura. “It’s not impossible, but it’s not the starting point they had hoped for.” Morgan Stanley Reassures Its Bankers (WSJ) The New York bank said Monday that investment-banking chief Paul Taubman would leave the firm at year-end. Mr. Taubman was passed over for a new job overseeing both the trading and investment-banking operations, people involved in the process said. The position went to Colm Kelleher, who has overseen sales and trading. To calm nerves and soothe egos among the firms' bankers, Morgan Stanley gathered its new team of investment-banking leaders in New York this week. Mr. Kelleher and one of his new banking lieutenants, Franck Petitgas, traveled from their London office, and Mr. Petitgas spent much of the week meeting with managers in the investment-banking division and senior bankers, people familiar with the discussions said. Top executives reassured senior bankers Monday that the investment-banking business was a priority for Morgan Stanley. In a memo to employees, Chief Executive James Gorman said Morgan Stanley would "continue to build on our leadership position in investment banking and capital markets." The messages came as some rank-and-file bankers at Morgan Stanley privately expressed surprise and dismay at the news from Mr. Taubman, who announced his departure to colleagues in an emotional meeting Monday with Messrs. Kelleher and Gorman in attendance. Some Morgan Stanley bankers said they worried that the new chiefs of investment banking didn't have the stature of Mr. Taubman, who spent a significant amount of time as a mergers banker and was known internally for his staunch support of the firm's investment-banking franchise. "People are upset," one senior person inside the company said. Wall Street Trades Foiled Romney Dreams For Bowles Hopes (Bloomberg) Wall Street executives who lost a bet that Republican Mitt Romney would defeat President Barack Obama are bracing for tougher regulation and hoping a deal can be struck with Congress to cut the deficit. Obama’s choice to succeed Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner will be watched closely for signs about the administration’s approach to business and the deficit, industry executives said. Erskine Bowles, who served as chief of staff under former President Bill Clinton, would be a sign that Obama is willing to endorse a bipartisan debt-reduction plan supported by many business leaders, they said. “With the appointment of the Treasury secretary, Obama will be sending an important message to the public and to the foreign governments who own a lot of Treasuries,” Curtis Arledge, chief executive officer of Bank of New York Mellon Corp.’s investment-management arm, which oversees $1.4 trillion, told journalists in New York yesterday. “If he goes with somebody like Erskine Bowles, then the message will be that he cares about the deficit and is serious about cutting it.” Focus Shifts To Fiscal Cliff (WSJ) Barry Knapp, head of U.S. equity portfolio strategy at Barclays, turned more bearish after seeing the election results, arguing that the risk of fiscal-cliff disaster increased to more than half, from about 30% before. "When I look at what happened, I see a government that grew farther apart, which might be worse than the status quo," Mr. Knapp said. "The risk of going off the cliff has just gotten huge." Jobless Claims Fall (WSJ) Initial jobless claims, which are a measure of layoffs, decreased by 8,000 to a seasonally adjusted 355,000 in the week ended Nov. 3, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires expected 365,000 new applications for jobless benefits. Greek Jobless Rate Hits New High (WSJ) Elstat, the Greek statistical agency, Thursday said the seasonally adjusted rate of unemployment increased to 25.4% from 24.8% in July and 18.4% in August 2011. That was just below the 25.5% unemployment rate recorded by Spain in the same month, the highest in the European Union. Herd of elephants go on drunken rampage after mammoth booze up (Metro) The trunk and disorderly mammals ransacked a shop, three houses and ruined crops in the eastern village of Dumurkota, India. Police say the gang of over-the-limit tuskers downed more than 500litres of moonshine alcohol, managing to drink the place dry in a matter of minutes. The unruly mob demolished dozens of houses in their desperate hunt for more booze after hoovering up the hard stuff in record time. Local police officer Asish Samanat said the drunken elephants were more 'aggressive' than usual after their mammoth drinking session. 'Unfortunately these animals live in close proximity to man and they recognised the smell of the drink,' he explained. 'They were like any other drunk - aggressive and unreasonable but much, much bigger.' ECB Stands Ready to Buy Bonds as Economy Weakens (Bloomberg) “We are ready to undertake” Outright Monetary Transactions, “which will help to avoid extreme scenarios,” Draghi said today at a press conference in Frankfurt after policy makers left the benchmark interest rate at a historic low of 0.75 percent. “The risks surrounding the economic outlook remain on the downside” and underlying inflation pressures “should remain moderate,” he said. SocGen CEO Blames ‘Stupid’ Accounting for Profit Drop (CNBC) “Exceptional items are related in particular to this stupid accounting thing which means that when you have a credit that is improving, your CDS is going down and you have to recognise negative revenues,” Frederic Oudea told CNBC in Paris. SocGen’s third-quarter net profit was 85 million euros, down by 86 percent on the same period in 2011, after losses on asset sales. That was lower than analysts’ mean estimate of 139.1 million euros. Blackstone Leads Hedge Funds Attracting Bond-Rally Bears (Bloomberg) Funds that bet on both gains and losses in credit attracted $12.6 billion of deposits in the three months ended Sept. 30, the most since the period ended Dec. 31, 2007, according to HFR. Blackstone Group LP raised $4.05 billion during the period for its debt unit, which includes so-called long-short funds. Panning Capital Management, which was founded by Kieran Goodwin this year, started such a fund on Nov. 1 with $500 million. Two-Tier Global Housing Market Could Lead to Bubble: Goldman (CNBC) In a report titled: “Just don’t look down some house markets are flying again” Goldman argues easy money policies by the world’s major central banks has had a ripple effect on countries which have avoided the worst of the global financial crisis, boosting their house prices. According to Goldman, there now exist housing “high-flyers” - countries that have experienced real house price increases and “low-lyers” - countries where the housing market downturn appears to be more protracted. “High flyers” include Germany, Finland, Norway, France, Switzerland and Israel as well as Canada and Australia. The “low lyers” include the U.S., and the euro zone periphery of Spain, Greece, Italy and Ireland- but also those places where prices fell in the post-crisis period but have since stabilized such as the U.K., Japan and Denmark. Judge throws Dallas attorney back in jail after his Design District office trashed, vandalized with obscene drawings (DN) Attorney Tom Corea was charged earlier this year with four felonies alleging he stole from his clients. He was arrested, posted bond and was released. Weeks later, he was evicted for not paying rent for his upscale office in the 2000 block of Farrington Street near Interstate 35E and Market Center Boulevard, according to testimony before state District Judge Mike Snipes. Corea was ordered out by Oct. 31. When the president of the real estate company that represents the building, Doug Molny, showed up the next day to check out the property, he found “complete destruction,” including “penis graffiti on every single wall throughout the building,” Molny said. Written next to some of the penises was the name Doug. Molny said it appeared someone took a sledgehammer to granite counters. Additionally, doors, light fixtures, cabinets and appliances were destroyed or removed.

Opening Bell: 03.28.13

Cyprus's Banks Open After Two Weeks (Bloomberg) Cyprus’s banks opened for the first time in almost two weeks, with new rules curbing access to cash preventing an initial panic to withdraw deposits. “We expected much more people,” said Argyros Eraclides, manager of a Bank of Cyprus branch in the Stavrou area of Nicosia. “Fortunately there are only some people who needed cash for the day, but customers reacted fantastically. We expected some people to be more aggravated.” Banks opened at midday local time today, with lines of about 15 to 20 people waiting to enter branches in the Cypriot capital. The Central Bank of Cyprus’s money controls include a 300-euro ($383) daily limit on withdrawals and restrictions on transfers to accounts outside the country. Italy Minister Knows Nothing About Possible Downgrade (Reuters) Italian Economy Minister Vittorio Grilli said on Thursday he had no knowledge of any imminent decision by Moody's to cut Italy's sovereign debt rating. Fitch cut Italy's rating this month and market rumours have been swirling for days that fellow agency Moody's, which has a negative outlook on Italy, is poised to follow suit. "I have no news about that," Grilli told reporters in parliament. BofA Said to Ask Mortgage-Bond Buyers to Take Debt in Packages (Bloomberg) Investors seeking to buy higher yielding, riskier slices of home-loan bonds sold yesterday by EverBank Financial Corp. were told they’d have a better shot if they also purchased some of the AAA rated classes, showing weaker demand for the top-ranked debt. Bank of America Corp. and Barclays Plc, the underwriters of the deal, pushed investors to purchase the debt in a package as relative yields widen on AAA portions of securities tied to new mortgages without government backing, according to two people familiar with the discussions who asked not to be identified because the negotiations were private. Matthew 25 Fund Inspired By Scripture Returns 27% (Bloomberg) When the Matthew 25 Fund fell 40 percent in 2008, it kept Mark Mulholland awake at night. Mulholland, the founder and sole manager of the mutual fund -- named after a Bible passage -- says he would lie in bed thinking about the damage he had done to his investors, particularly the elderly whose nest eggs might not recover before they died. The assets he managed dwindled to $22 million from $115 million, Bloomberg Markets will report in its May issue. What Mulholland didn’t worry about were the stocks in his portfolio. “The companies we owned were so cheap that barring a total collapse of the economic system, I knew at some point we were going to make a lot of money,” he says. That time has come. Florida couple says they live next to 'neighbor from hell' (WTSP) A dispute over an alligator has ignited a feud between two neighbors that appears to be spiraling out of control. Drew and Nicole Carver say their neighbor, John McDonough, has consistently harassed them since last October. "We had a security system installed not because of the neighborhood that we live in, but because of the neighbor we live next to," said Nicole Carver. It started after the Carvers called out wildlife officials to remove an alligator from a retention pond they share with McDonough. The move apparently angered McDonough so much that he began to put up yard signs insulting Drew Carver, a trainer with the military at MacDill Air Force Base. One sign read, "In memory of Chris Kyle," an army sniper who was murdered by a fellow veteran back in February. "He removed Chris Kyle's name from the sign and he said, 'Your name will be in there next,'" said Nicole Carver. S&P Seeks to Merge State Suits Into One (WSJ) Seventeen lawsuits have piled up against Standard & Poor's Ratings Services by state attorneys general who claim the firm churned out shoddy ratings before or after the financial crisis. S&P wants to yank the cases into a federal court—and shrink the total to one. The moves are an important skirmish in a legal battle that could wind up costing S&P billions of dollars if the firm loses the cases or settles them to cut its losses. Funds Reshape Investment Mold (WSJ) Hedge funds that specialize in bonds are bulking up on stocks, in the latest sign of investor concern over the health of the long bull market in debt prices. Fund managers that have made winning bets in corporate loans, mortgage bonds and distressed debt are altering course after a flood of cash has pushed up the prices of all sorts of debt investments, raising risks and depressing expected returns. Ratings Relief For JPM (NYP) JPMorgan Chase had its credit outlook raised to stable from negative by Standard & Poor’s as doubts about last year’s record trading loss eased. Wells Fargo distances itself from 'Harlem Shake' video filmed in Atlanta bank (AP) Wells Fargo bank officials say a viral video filmed inside an Atlanta bank branch was not approved or produced by the company, and employees participated on their own time. The video, one of many depicting the "Harlem Shake," features characters dancing in the lobby of a Wells Fargo branch. One wears a diaper and has a pacifier, and another is dressed as a bottle of Colt 45.

Opening Bell: 11.16.12

JPMorgan Faces US Action (WSJ) Regulators are expected to serve J.P. Morgan Chase with a formal action alleging weaknesses in the bank's antimoney-laundering systems, said people close to the situation. The cease-and-desist order from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency is part of a broader crackdown on the nation's largest banks, the people said. The OCC is expected to require J.P. Morgan to beef up its procedures and examine past transactions, these people said...The unusually blunt tone of the OCC's meetings with large banks on Nov. 8-9 spread quickly among bank executives. Some viewed the meeting as an attempt by the OCC to counter the perception that it had been too cozy with the banking industry and to step out of the shadows of the year-old Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which has been aggressive about publicizing enforcement actions and fines levied on banks. "It was a spanking," said one senior bank executive who didn't attend the meeting but heard about it from colleagues. "The message was, 'You are living in a world of zero tolerance,'" said another bank executive briefed on the meeting. FHA To Exhaust Capital Reserves (WSJ) The Federal Housing Administration's projected losses hit $16.3 billion at the end of September, according to an independent annual audit to be released Friday, a much larger figure than had been forecast earlier. The report suggests the FHA will require taxpayer funding for the first time in its 78 years, though that won't be decided until early next year. Citigroup Seeing FX Signals of Early End to Stimulus (Bloomberg) “Does the market really believe that the 2015 Fed is going to be constrained by the 2012 Fed?” Steven Englander, Citigroup’s New York-based global head of G-10 strategy, said in a telephone interview from New York. “The answer is ‘no.’” UK Bank Bailout Money ‘May Never Be Recovered’: Report (CNBC) “There is a risk that the 66 billion pounds invested in RBS and Lloyds may never be recovered,” Margaret Hodge, chair of the Committee of Public Accounts, warned in a report into the sale of taxpayer-backed Northern Rock. Banks Seen Shrinking for Good as Layoffs Near 160,000 (Reuters) Major banks have announced some 160,000 job cuts since early last year and with more layoffs to come as the industry restructures, many will leave the shrinking sector for good as redundancies outpace new hires by roughly 2-to-1...Well-paid investment bankers are bearing the brunt of cost cuts as deals dry up and trading income falls. That is particularly the case in some activities such as stock trading, where low volumes and thin margins are squeezing banks. "When I let go tons of people in cash equities this year, I knew most would be finished in this business. It is pretty dead. Some will just have to find something completely different to do," said one top executive at an international bank in London, on condition of anonymity. Twinkies Maker to Liquidate, Lay Off 18,500 (Reuters) Hostess Brands, the bankrupt maker of Twinkies and Wonder Bread, said it had sought court permission to go out of business after failing to get wage and benefit cuts from thousands of its striking bakery workers...Irving, Texas-based Hostess has 565 distribution centers and 570 bakery outlet stores, as well as the 33 bakeries. Its brands include Wonder, Nature's Pride, Dolly Madison, Drake's, Butternut, Home Pride, and Merita, but it is probably best known for Twinkies — basically a cream-filled sponge cake. Lagarde on Greece: 'Not Over Till the Fat Lady Sings' (Reuters) "It is a question of working hard, putting our mind to it, making sure that we focus on the same objective which is that the country in particular, Greece, can operate on a sustainable basis, can recover, can get back on its feet, can reaccess markets as early as possible," Lagarde said when asked about the possibility of a Greek deal next week. "It is not over until the fat lady sings as the saying goes." Alabama secessionist says working people must unite to save America, Bring Back His Topless Carwash (AL) “Derrick B.,” the man who started a petition seeking Alabama’s withdrawal from the U.S., is a truck driving, knife collecting former owner of a topless car wash who describes himself as “an absolute Libertarian.” Derrick Belcher, 45, of Chunchula, said in an interview late Monday that secession may be the only way to save working Americans from crushing debt, burdensome federal regulations and rising taxes. “I don’t want to live in Russia. I don’t believe in socialism,” said Belcher, an operations manager for a Mobile trucking company. “America is supposed to be free.” Belcher blamed the government for shutting down his former business. Belcher said his Euro Details car wash, which featured topless women, was successful for a decade on Halls Mill Road in Mobile. But he said he was arrested and charged with obscenity by city officials in 2001. “The government ripped my business away, and now they’re choking America to death with rules and regulations,” he said. Belcher said he fully expects the petition to reach 25,000 signatures -– in fact, he’s aiming far higher, saying he’d like to double that number to ensure that it is recognized by the White House. He said the petition got a jump start at a gun and knife show held at the Greater Gulf State Fairgrounds last weekend. Tiger Global To Give Investors (Some Of) Their Money Back (NYP) Hedge-fund honchos rarely return capital voluntarily. Recently, Moore Capital’s Louis Bacon gave money back to investors, but it was because the poorly performing fund couldn’t find enough investing opportunities. That’s clearly not the case for Tiger Global, which has gained 25.5 percent so far this year. “We continue to believe that managing a smaller asset base gives us the best chance to generate strong returns over the long-term,” the managers wrote in a Nov. 9 letter to investors Journalist To Be Tried Again Over Swiss Bank List (Reuters) Greek journalist who published the names of more than 2,000 Greeks with Swiss bank accounts will stand trial again after a prosecutor appealed a decision to acquit him of breaking data privacy laws, court officials said on Friday. The speedy arrest, trial and acquittal of magazine editor Costas Vaxevanis for publishing the so-called "Lagarde List" had aroused international concern and captivated recession-weary Greeks angry at the privileges of the elite. The Athens Public Prosecutor's office said the November 1 acquittal was faulty and that Vaxevanis must be tried again by a higher misdemeanor court on the same charges. If found guilty, Vaxevanis could be jailed for up to two years or face a fine. T-Mobile customer stabbed while disputing bill (Philly) A customer who went to an Upper Darby T-Mobile store Tuesday to complain about his bill left with a stab wound to his abdomen that police said had been inflicted by an employee. Upper Darby Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood said the 59-year-old victim went to the store on State Road near Lansdowne Avenue about 1:15 p.m. to complain about being double-billed. What started out as a conversation between the customer and employee Darnell Schoolfield devolved into a physical confrontation, police said. During the fight, the customer ripped Schoolfield's name tag from his shirt and took the tag to the Upper Darby police station to file an assault complaint. "During the course of filing the complaint, he realizes he's bleeding profusely from the left side of the stomach," Chitwood said. "He'd thought he was just punched." The victim was taken to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, where he had surgery and was listed in serious condition. It's unknown what Schoolfield used to allegedly stab the victim or how their interaction went so awry.

Opening Bell: 01.04.13

SEC Drops Case Against Ex-Berkshire Exec Sokol (Reuters) The U.S. securities regulator has decided not to take action against David Sokol, once considered a possible candidate for the top job at Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, Sokol's lawyer told Reuters. In 2011, Buffett said Sokol violated the company's insider trading rules to score a $3 million windfall profit on shares of U.S. chemicals maker Lubrizol, which rose by nearly a third after Berkshire Hathaway announced it would buy the company. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission began investigating Sokol's investment in Lubrizol shortly after Sokol resigned from Berkshire Hathaway. Sokol's lawyer Barry Wm. Levine told Reuters late on Thursday that he was informed that the SEC had wrapped up its probe and decided not to take action against Sokol. "SEC has terminated its investigation and has concluded not to bring any proceedings against Sokol," said Levine, a lawyer at legal firm Dickstein Shapiro. Sokol has been "completely cleared" as there was no evidence against his client, Levine said. Cohen’s SAC Tops Most Profitable List Amid Insider Probes (Bloomberg) SAC Capital International, Cohen’s flagship fund, was the world’s most-profitable hedge fund in the first 10 months of 2012, earning $789.5 million for Cohen, 56, and his managers, according to Bloomberg Markets’ annual ranking of hedge funds...SAC Capital International is No. 1 not because of performance; it ties for No. 86 on that measure, with a 10 percent return in the Markets ranking of the 100 top-performing funds. Rather, the fund earned the most money because Cohen charges some of the highest fees on Wall Street. While most funds impose a 1 to 2 percent management fee and then take 15 to 20 percent of the profits, Cohen levies 3 percent and as much as 50 percent, according to investors. Geithner's Planned Departure Puts Obama In A Tough Spot (Reuters) The Treasury Department said Geithner would stick to his previously announced schedule to stay until sometime around the Jan. 21 inauguration. Obama chose Geithner to lead the just-ended negotiations with Congress to avert the Dec. 31 fiscal cliff of spending cuts and tax hikes that threatened to push the economy back into recession. But the deal, which preserved most of the Bush-era tax breaks for Americans, sets up a series of crucial fiscal deadlines by delaying automatic spending cuts until March 1 and not increasing the government's borrowing limit. That puts Obama in the tough spot of nominating another Treasury secretary and asking the Senate to approve his choice when lawmakers are in the middle of another budget battle. Egan Jones Says Further US Downgrades Unlikely (CNBC) "This latest round (of negotiations) indicates a sign of health. You have a major ideological clash going on in Congress and many people uncomfortable with it, but it is part of democracy. The more positive light is that we actually have a deal and can move forward," Sean Egan, managing director of Egan-Jones told CNBC on Friday. "We've gotten a lot more comfortable about the U.S. and we probably won't take additional negative actions for the foreseeable future," he added. Almost All of Wall Street Got 2012 Market Calls Wrong (Bloomberg) From John Paulson’s call for a collapse in Europe to Morgan Stanley’s warning that U.S. stocks would decline, Wall Street got little right in its prognosis for the year just ended. Paulson, who manages $19 billion in hedge funds, said the euro would fall apart and bet against the region’s debt. Morgan Stanley predicted the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index would lose 7 percent and Credit Suisse foresaw wider swings in equity prices. All of them proved wrong last year and investors would have done better listening to Goldman Sachs Chief Executive Officer Lloyd C. Blankfein, who said the real risk was being too pessimistic. The ill-timed advice shows that even the largest banks and most-successful investors failed to anticipate how government actions would influence markets. Unprecedented central bank stimulus in the U.S. and Europe sparked a 16 percent gain in the S&P 500 including dividends, led to a 23 percent drop in the Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index, paid investors in Greek debt 78 percent and gave Treasuries a 2.2 percent return even after Warren Buffett called bonds “dangerous.” Fed Divided Over Bond Buys (WSJ) A new fault line has opened up at the Federal Reserve over how long to continue bond-buying programs aimed at spurring stronger economic growth. Minutes released Thursday of the Fed's Dec. 11-12 policy meeting showed that officials were divided. Some wanted to continue the programs through the end of 2013, others wanted to end them well before then and a minority wanted to halt the programs right away. Swiss Bank Pleads Guilty In Probe (WSJ) In the latest blow to Switzerland's centuries-old banking practices, the country's oldest bank pleaded guilty to a criminal conspiracy charge in the U.S. on Thursday and admitted that it helped wealthy Americans for years avoid tens of millions of dollars in taxes by hiding their income from secret accounts abroad. Wegelin & Co., founded in 1741, is the latest Swiss bank to reach a deal with U.S. prosecutors as they crack down on Americans who kept their money in secret accounts overseas and the entities which helped them. Three Wegelin bankers also were charged criminally in the U.S. last year. Subway worker tells customer to 'fight me like a man,' during confrontation over ketchup (WFTV) Luis Martinez said he stopped by a Subway shop in a Walmart on South Semoran Boulevard late Tuesday night to get something to eat. He said he ordered a Philly cheese steak the way he always does. "American cheese, onions and ketchup," said Martinez. Lawrence Ordone was working behind the counter. "He wants ketchup on the Philly cheese steak and I have never put -- we don't even have ketchup at Subway -- I've never put ketchup on anybody's sandwich," said Ordone. Martinez said he didn't want the sandwich without the ketchup and that a man next to him in line offered to buy the sandwich. Ordone said that Martinez mouthed off at the man. Martinez denied saying anything, but neither he or Ordone disputed what they said happened next. "That's when I flew off the handle," said Ordone. "He shoved a chair to the side, like knocked it down to come at me, and I said, 'This is going to be serious,'" said Martinez. "I said, 'Let's go, fight me like a man,'" said Ordone. "I was scared. Next thing, I'm thinking a gun's going to come out," said Martinez. Ordone said he blocked the customer so he couldn't get out. "He threatened to kill me in front of my wife," said Martinez. Martinez called 911, but by the time police got there the Subway worker had already left. Ordone said he was fired from his job Wednesday, and that he is baffled the confrontation started over something as simple as ketchup. "There's ketchup three aisles down. You can go buy your own ketchup, and I promise to God, you can put as much as you want on it and nobody's going to say nothing," said Ordone. Economy Adds 155,000 Jobs (WSJ) Rebuilding following superstorm Sandy, which struck the Northeast in late October, likely added to job growth last month. Nationally, employment in the construction sector advanced by 30,000 jobs. Meanwhile, manufacturing payrolls increased by 25,000 and health-care jobs grew by 45,000. JPMorgan Faces Sanction for Refusing to Provide Madoff Documents (Bloomberg) The Treasury Department’s inspector general has threatened to punish JPMorgan Chase for failing to turn over documents to regulators investigating the bank’s ties to Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. Inspector General Eric Thorson gave the largest U.S. bank a Jan. 11 deadline to cooperate with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency probe or risk sanctions for impeding the agency’s oversight. JPMorgan, according to the Dec. 21 letter, contends the information is protected by attorney-client privilege. Rich Catch a Break With Budget Deal Providing Deductions (Bloomberg) “The increases in taxes and limits to deductions are more favorable than expected,” said Christopher Zander, partner and head of wealth planning at Evercore Partners Inc. (EVR)’s wealth management unit. “They could have been worse for high net-worth taxpayers.” Regulators to ease up on banks to get credit flowing (Reuters) Banks will get more time to build up cash buffers to protect against market shocks under a rule change that could help free up credit for struggling economies, a European regulatory source said. The Basel Committee, made up of banking supervisors from nearly 30 countries, is expected to announce the revision on Sunday to its "liquidity coverage" ratio or LCR, part of efforts to make banks less likely to need taxpayer help again in a crisis. The change comes after heavy pressure from banks and some regulators, who feared Basel's original version would suck up too much liquidity at a time when ailing economies are badly in need of a ready supply of credit to finance growth. 'Stripper' arrested after performance art leads to ruckus in Hallandale (SS) According to police and witnesses, Mena, 25, was first spotted standing and yelling in the middle of A1A outside her condo building along the 1800 block of South Ocean Drive about 10:45 a.m. on Wednesday. Noel von Kauffman, 40, said he was walking along the street when he noticed Mena trying to direct traffic while wearing a tank-top, cut-off jean shorts and tall boots...At some point, Mena picked up a traffic cone and threw it at a car driven by Dieter Heinrich, 49, of Dania Beach, according to an arrest report. The cone broke the car's side mirror, causing about $300 in damages, the report indicated. When Heinrich got out of his car, Mena allegedly spat in his face. Von Kauffman said he jumped in to help Heinrich, who had children in the back seat of his car. Mena scratched von Kauffman's wrist as the two men tried to restrain her and move her away from the busy roadway, according to the police report. After pinning her to the ground, von Kauffman said the woman first tried to say the incident was part of a television show and that everything was being caught on camera. Then she claimed she was a federal agent. Then she said she was friends with Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper and everyone involved would be in trouble, von Kauffman said.

Opening Bell: 12.14.12

UBS Unit Said to Be Close to Guilty Plea in Rate-Rigging Scandal (NYT) Federal prosecutors are close to securing a guilty plea from a UBS subsidiary at the center of a global investigation into interest rate manipulation, the first big bank to agree to criminal charges in more than a decade. UBS is in final negotiations with American, British and Swiss authorities to settle accusations that its employees reported false rates, a deal in which the bank's Japanese unit is expected to plead guilty to a criminal charge, according to people briefed on the matter who spoke of private discussions on the condition of anonymity. Along with the rare admission of criminal wrongdoing at the subsidiary, UBS could face about $1 billion in fines and regulatory sanctions, the people said. Meet Them In St. Louis: Bankers Move (WSJ) Smaller cities around the nation have emerged as unlikely hives of financial-services hiring, thanks to lower wages, municipal-tax incentives and the misfortunes of older hubs that are home to companies ravaged by the 2008-2009 financial crisis. The beneficiaries are spread across the U.S., according to an analysis of data by The Wall Street Journal. In St. Louis, the 19th-largest U.S. metropolitan area, securities-industry employment surged 85% between January 2007 and September 2012 to a recent 12,190, according to figures compiled by Moody's Analytics. New York lost 9% of its jobs in the securities, commodities, asset-management and fiduciary-trust areas over the same period, leaving it with 195,000. Counter-Terrorism Tools Used to Spot Staff Fraud (FT) JPMorgan Chase has turned to technology used for countering terrorism to spot fraud risk among its own employees and to tackle problems such as deciding how much to charge when selling property behind troubled mortgages. The technology involves crunching vast amounts of data to identify hard-to-detect patterns in markets or individual behavior that could reveal risks or openings to make money. Other banks are also turning to "big data", the name given to using large bodies of information, to identify potential rogue traders who might land them with massive losses, according to experts in the field...Guy Chiarello, JPMorgan's chief information officer, said the bank was mining massive bodies of data in "a couple of dozen projects" that promised to have a significant affect on its business, although he refused to give further details. According to three people familiar with its activities, JPMorgan has used Palantir Technologies, a Silicon Valley company whose technology was honed while working for the US intelligence services, for part of its effort. It first used the technology to spot fraudsters trying to hack into client accounts or ATMs, but has recently started to turn it on its own 250,000-strong staff. Obama Meets Boehner at White House for Budget Talks (Bloomberg) President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner met for a third time at the White House to discuss averting spending cuts and tax increases before a year- end deadline. Boehner and Obama met for almost an hour yesterday, with no public announcement of progress. In January, more than $600 billion in spending cuts and tax increases, the so-called fiscal cliff, are scheduled to begin. “The president and speaker had a frank meeting in the Oval Office,” Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said in an e-mailed statement, adding that the “lines of communication remain open.” Britain's Queen Quizzes Central Bank on Financial Crisis (CNBC) During a visit to the Bank of England on Thursday, the Queen was overheard asking whether a "lax" attitude to financial regulation had contributed to the financial crisis. After touring the vast vaults of gold bullion that lie beneath the central bank in London, Queen Elizabeth reportedly asked the central bank officials whether the Financial Services Authority (FSA) that was meant to regulate the banking system had not been aggressive enough - "did not have the teeth" - in its response to the crisis...The Queen was then told that officials in the room were charged with ensuring the crisis did not happen again. The Queen's husband, Prince Philip, then jokingly asked "There's not another one coming, is there?" before telling the officials present "Don't do it again." John McAfee Returns to US, Admits Playing 'Crazy Card' (ABC) After three weeks ducking authorities in Belize, by hiding in attics, in the jungle and in dingy hotels, he turned up in Guatemala Dec. 3. Barely a day later he was detained for entering the country illegally. As Guatemala officials grappled with how to handle his request for asylum and the Belize government's demand for his deportation, McAfee fell ill. The mysterious illness, described by his attorney alternately as a heart ailment or a nervous breakdown, led to a scene with reporters chasing his ambulance down the narrow streets of Guatemala City and right into the emergency room, where McAfee appeared unresponsive. He now says it was all a ruse: "It was a deception but who did it hurt? I look pretty healthy, don't I?" He says he faked the illness in order to buy some time for a judge to hear his case and stay his deportation to Belize, a government he believes wants him dead. When asked whether he believes Belize officials where inept, he didn't mince words. "I was on the run with a 20-year-old girl for three and a half weeks inside their borders and everyone was looking for me, and they did not catch me," he said. "I escaped, was captured and they tried to send me back. Now I'm sitting in Miami. There had to be some ineptness." [...] He denies any involvement in his neighbor's death but adds that he is not particularly concerned about clearing his name. He is focused on getting his 20-year-old and 17-year-old girlfriends out of Belize and says he has no idea what he'll do next, where he'll live or how he'll support himself. CNBC v. Buffett (NYP) The “Oracle of Omaha” sent a terse e-mail to editors at CNBC yesterday after a reporter for the cable news network railed against his recent repurchase of Berkshire Hathaway shares. Gary Kaminsky, CNBC’s capital markets editor, took Buffett to task for the $1.2 billion stock buyback, calling it “hypocritical to the maximum level.” Kaminsky claimed that Buffett’s purchase allowed the seller — described by Berkshire as the “estate of a long-time shareholder” — to avoid potentially higher capital gains taxes next year...In his rebuttal e-mail, Buffett said capital gains taxes don’t apply to estates. “Mr. Kaminsky also made the statement that the estate that was a seller was better off by selling in 2012 than 2013,” he wrote. “This, too, was incorrect.” He said capital gains are wiped out by stepped-up basis rules, with assets marked at their current fair-market value at the time of death. Buffett also blasted Kaminsky for saying his buyback was hypocritical on principal as Buffett is known to eschew buybacks. Buffett attached a copy of Berkshire’s 1984 annual report showing he has outlined conditions under which he would favor buybacks. CNBC anchor Melissa Lee read a correction late Tuesday that thanked the famed investor for “watching and setting us straight.” Fisher: Fed Risks 'Hotel California' Monetary Policy (CNBC) Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher told CNBC that he's worried the U.S. central bank is in a "Hotel California" type of monetary policy because of its "engorged balance sheet." Evoking lyrics from the famous song by The Eagles, he said he feared the Fed would be able to "check out anytime you like, but never leave." Fisher said on "Squawk Box" that he argued against revealing the new inflation and unemployment targets set by the Fed this week, saying he's worried that the markets will become "overly concerned" with the thresholds. Euro-Zone Downturn Eases (WSJ) Data company Markit said on Friday its preliminary purchasing managers' index, a gauge of activity among euro-zone factories and services companies, rose to 47.3 in December from 46.5 in November. A reading above 50.0 would signal an expansion. The national measure for Germany picked up to 50.5 from 49.2 in November, indicating that activity rose in the euro zone's largest member. "The euro-zone downturn showed further signs of easing in December, adding to hopes that the outlook for next year is brightening," said Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit. Residents find neighbor at their door with machete (KS) A 38-year-old Bremerton man was arrested by police Monday night for allegedly confronting his neighbors with a machete in response to alleged vandalism at his residence, according to documents filed in Kitsap County District Court. Officers were called to a Nollwood Lane address shortly after 8 p.m. Monday. Two residents said when they answered a knock at their door, a man was standing in the doorway holding a machete. The man, a neighbor, reportedly said he was tired of vandalism to his home and blamed it on a family member of his neighbors, police said. The neighbors attempted to slam the door on the man, but he reportedly put his foot into the door holding it open, police said. The neighbors were ultimately able to close it, though the suspect denies he put his foot in the door. Police interviewed the man, 38, who admitted he'd retrieved the machete out of anger after another incident of vandalism.