Opening Bell: 10.02.12

JPMorgan Sued On Mortgage Bonds (WSJ) New York's top prosecutor opened a new front in efforts to hold banks accountable for the financial crisis by filing a civil lawsuit against J.P. Morgan Chase, alleging widespread fraud by the company's Bear Stearns unit in the sale of mortgage-backed securities. The case is the first to be brought under the aegis of a group of federal and state prosecutors and regulators formed by President Barack Obama in January. If successful, the lawsuit could point the way to significantly more financial pain for the big banks, which face threatened government actions and numerous investor lawsuits tied to mortgage securities that soured in the crisis. Greece's Creditors Look Askance At Cutbacks (WSJ) Greece's international lenders cast doubt on parts of Athens' plans to save billions of euros through new cutbacks and tax measures, throwing a potential wrench in the government's efforts to reach a quick deal to unlock new aid for the country. The troika of Greece's international inspectors—the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank—rejected as much as €2 billion ($2.57 billion) of austerity measures, a senior finance ministry official said. Spain Adds $32 Billion Power-System Bailout to Bank Rescue (Bloomberg) After Spain’s rescue of its banks and cash-strapped regions, the 2013 budget reveals a bailout of the power industry to cover 25 billion euros ($32 billion) of debt accumulated by the electricity system. The spending blueprint released two days ago adds 100 billion euros to the nation’s debt from the rescue packages by the end of 2012, driving its ratio to gross domestic product up 16.8 percentage points to 85.3 percent of total output. Fed Chief Takes On Critics (WSJ) Some Republican lawmakers and foreign government officials say the Fed's policies, by lowering the U.S. government's borrowing costs, take pressure off the White House and Congress to restrain the growing deficit. "I find this argument unpersuasive," Mr. Bernanke said in a speech to the Economic Club of Indiana. "The responsibility for fiscal policy lies squarely with the administration and the Congress." Moreover, he said, "using monetary policy to try to influence the political debate on the budget would be highly inappropriate." Woman who chomped off boyfriend's testicles back in court for breaching non-contact order after he took her (NYDN) Martin Douglas required emergency surgery and 19 stitches to re-attach his scrotum after the drunken assault by his then-girlfriend Maria Topp. But after rekindling their unlikely romance Topp says she was 'stabbed in the back' by Mr Douglas after he reported her to police for breaching her restraining order. Topp, 45, admitted unlawfully and maliciously inflicting grievous bodily harm as her trial at Newcastle Crown Court was about to start last October. The mother-of-four was handed a 12-month sentence, suspended for 18 months, plus a restraining order which banned her from contacting Mr Douglas. However, after a ‘chance’ encounter in Newcastle in March this year, the pair got back together again. Topp, 45, had a ‘friendly chat’ with her ex-flame when they bumped into each other in Yates’ wine bar in the city centre. She then sent Mr Douglas a text asking ‘Do you still love me?’ Topp and Mr Douglas resumed their old relationship, which fizzled out again in June this year at which point Mr Douglas reported Topp’s breach of her restraining order. Merrill Plots Raid On Vulnerable Rival (WSJ) In a raid that stands out even in Wall Street's aggressive recruiting culture, Merrill Lynch is arming some managers with lists of top Morgan Stanley Wealth Management brokers who are considered ripe for defection, according to people familiar with the firm's recruiting. The so-called "mapping" of Morgan Stanley brokers shows the Bank of America Corp. unit is pushing to capitalize on technological and reputational blows at Morgan Stanley, according to these people. Morgan Stanley is coming off a tumultuous computer system conversion and Facebook's botched initial public offering, which has left investors nursing billions of dollars in losses. Merrill Lynch has enlisted some of its 11 market executives—regional managers who report to brokerage head John Thiel—to call top-grossing Morgan Stanley brokers. Those calls typically are made by lower-ranking workers such as branch managers, these people said. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has baby boy, becomes first-time mom (NYP) CEO Marissa Mayer is a mom after giving birth last night, her husband, Zachary Bogue, posted on Twitter. “Baby boy Bogue born last night. Mom (@marissamayer) and baby are doing great — we couldn’t be more excited!” Bogue tweeted this morning...Mayer has said she is taking a few weeks of “working” maternity leave and is expected to bring her son to work. Ex-Madoff Workers Face More Charges in Fraud Indictment (Bloomberg) Five longtime employees of Bernard Madoff’s former investment firm face more charges related to the jailed con man’s Ponzi scheme, which the government claims got its start in the 1970s. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in Manhattan yesterday released a revised indictment expanding the charges against former Madoff employees Daniel Bonventre, Annette Bongiorno, Joann Crupi, Jerome O’Hara and George Perez. The indictment adds to the 17 criminal counts filed against the former employees in November 2010, for a total of 33 counts. Bacon Shortage Is ‘Overblown,’ Economists Say (ABC) If you started stocking your freezer with bacon to prepare for the upcoming pork shortage, you can start cooking some of it. Economists are telling consumers to expect a slight rise in price but not the “overblown” price increase in recent news reports. “It seems alarmist,” said Purdue University economist Christ Hurt, in response to the prediction that pork prices would double by the end of next year. While Hurt says pork prices might increase only 4 or 5 percent, though he notes that the drought has caused feed prices to go up sharply. “The one thing we don’t want to do is scare consumers,” he says, suggesting people try other types of meat if they are trying to save money.
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JPMorgan Sued On Mortgage Bonds (WSJ)
New York's top prosecutor opened a new front in efforts to hold banks accountable for the financial crisis by filing a civil lawsuit against J.P. Morgan Chase, alleging widespread fraud by the company's Bear Stearns unit in the sale of mortgage-backed securities. The case is the first to be brought under the aegis of a group of federal and state prosecutors and regulators formed by President Barack Obama in January. If successful, the lawsuit could point the way to significantly more financial pain for the big banks, which face threatened government actions and numerous investor lawsuits tied to mortgage securities that soured in the crisis.

Greece's Creditors Look Askance At Cutbacks (WSJ)
Greece's international lenders cast doubt on parts of Athens' plans to save billions of euros through new cutbacks and tax measures, throwing a potential wrench in the government's efforts to reach a quick deal to unlock new aid for the country. The troika of Greece's international inspectors—the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank—rejected as much as €2 billion ($2.57 billion) of austerity measures, a senior finance ministry official said.

Spain Adds $32 Billion Power-System Bailout to Bank Rescue (Bloomberg)
After Spain’s rescue of its banks and cash-strapped regions, the 2013 budget reveals a bailout of the power industry to cover 25 billion euros ($32 billion) of debt accumulated by the electricity system. The spending blueprint released two days ago adds 100 billion euros to the nation’s debt from the rescue packages by the end of 2012, driving its ratio to gross domestic product up 16.8 percentage points to 85.3 percent of total output.

Fed Chief Takes On Critics (WSJ)
Some Republican lawmakers and foreign government officials say the Fed's policies, by lowering the U.S. government's borrowing costs, take pressure off the White House and Congress to restrain the growing deficit. "I find this argument unpersuasive," Mr. Bernanke said in a speech to the Economic Club of Indiana. "The responsibility for fiscal policy lies squarely with the administration and the Congress." Moreover, he said, "using monetary policy to try to influence the political debate on the budget would be highly inappropriate."

Woman who chomped off boyfriend's testicles back in court for breaching non-contact order after he took her (NYDN)
Martin Douglas required emergency surgery and 19 stitches to re-attach his scrotum after the drunken assault by his then-girlfriend Maria Topp. But after rekindling their unlikely romance Topp says she was 'stabbed in the back' by Mr Douglas after he reported her to police for breaching her restraining order. Topp, 45, admitted unlawfully and maliciously inflicting grievous bodily harm as her trial at Newcastle Crown Court was about to start last October. The mother-of-four was handed a 12-month sentence, suspended for 18 months, plus a restraining order which banned her from contacting Mr Douglas. However, after a ‘chance’ encounter in Newcastle in March this year, the pair got back together again. Topp, 45, had a ‘friendly chat’ with her ex-flame when they bumped into each other in Yates’ wine bar in the city centre. She then sent Mr Douglas a text asking ‘Do you still love me?’ Topp and Mr Douglas resumed their old relationship, which fizzled out again in June this year at which point Mr Douglas reported Topp’s breach of her restraining order.

Merrill Plots Raid On Vulnerable Rival (WSJ)
In a raid that stands out even in Wall Street's aggressive recruiting culture, Merrill Lynch is arming some managers with lists of top Morgan Stanley Wealth Management brokers who are considered ripe for defection, according to people familiar with the firm's recruiting. The so-called "mapping" of Morgan Stanley brokers shows the Bank of America Corp. unit is pushing to capitalize on technological and reputational blows at Morgan Stanley, according to these people. Morgan Stanley is coming off a tumultuous computer system conversion and Facebook's botched initial public offering, which has left investors nursing billions of dollars in losses. Merrill Lynch has enlisted some of its 11 market executives—regional managers who report to brokerage head John Thiel—to call top-grossing Morgan Stanley brokers. Those calls typically are made by lower-ranking workers such as branch managers, these people said.

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has baby boy, becomes first-time mom (NYP)
CEO Marissa Mayer is a mom after giving birth last night, her husband, Zachary Bogue, posted on Twitter. “Baby boy Bogue born last night. Mom (@marissamayer) and baby are doing great — we couldn’t be more excited!” Bogue tweeted this morning...Mayer has said she is taking a few weeks of “working” maternity leave and is expected to bring her son to work.

Ex-Madoff Workers Face More Charges in Fraud Indictment (Bloomberg)
Five longtime employees of Bernard Madoff’s former investment firm face more charges related to the jailed con man’s Ponzi scheme, which the government claims got its start in the 1970s. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in Manhattan yesterday released a revised indictment expanding the charges against former Madoff employees Daniel Bonventre, Annette Bongiorno, Joann Crupi, Jerome O’Hara and George Perez. The indictment adds to the 17 criminal counts filed against the former employees in November 2010, for a total of 33 counts.

Bacon Shortage Is ‘Overblown,’ Economists Say (ABC)
If you started stocking your freezer with bacon to prepare for the upcoming pork shortage, you can start cooking some of it. Economists are telling consumers to expect a slight rise in price but not the “overblown” price increase in recent news reports. “It seems alarmist,” said Purdue University economist Christ Hurt, in response to the prediction that pork prices would double by the end of next year. While Hurt says pork prices might increase only 4 or 5 percent, though he notes that the drought has caused feed prices to go up sharply. “The one thing we don’t want to do is scare consumers,” he says, suggesting people try other types of meat if they are trying to save money.

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Opening Bell: 07.30.12

New York Lender Files Libor Suit (WSJ) Berkshire Bank, with 11 branches in New York and New Jersey and about $881 million in assets, claims in a proposed class-action lawsuit in U.S. District Court in New York that "tens, if not hundreds, of billions of dollars" of loans made or sold in the state were affected by rigging the London interbank offered rate. Many adjustable-rate commercial and home loans are pegged to Libor, meaning that "misrepresentation…on the date on which a loan resets will generally reduce the amount of interest that a lender receives by an equivalent amount," the bank alleges..."Libor could well be the asbestos claims of this century," said James Cox, a law professor at Duke University in Durham, N.C. "Misreporting an index used around the world" has "ginormous" ramifications, he added. HSBC Hit By Provisions (WSJ) HSBC said Monday that net profit fell in the first half, as the bank was forced to put aside $2 billion to cover the fallout of a U.S. money-laundering probe and the improper selling of financial products. The series of provisions at the bank pushed up underlying costs by $1.9 billion and ate into the lender's bottom line, cutting net profit attributable to ordinary shareholders in the first six months by 9% to $8.15 billion. HSBC Apologizes For Compliance Failures (Bloomberg) “Regulatory and compliance events in the first six months of the year overshadowed financial performance,” Chairman Douglas Flint said in a statement today. “HSBC has made mistakes in the past, and for them I am very sorry.” Big Banks Are Getting Tough With Hedge-Fund Clients (Reuters) Major banks face growing pressure to extract more money from, or even sever ties with, unprofitable hedge-fund clients as they cut costs in the face of tough trading conditions and try to refocus on the biggest managers. Industry insiders say prime brokers are sifting through their client lists, in some cases demanding higher fees on trading or a greater share of a fund's business, and sometimes telling funds to look elsewhere. Investors eye wine, art funds for hedging (NYP) Rising fears that traditional investing has become a lose-lose proposition have a growing number of wealthy folks seeing dollar signs in niche funds that invest in art, wine, musical instruments and even classic cars. They’re known as “collectible” funds or “treasure” funds, and while they come with plenty of skeptics and potential pitfalls, they’re also promising returns reminiscent of the days before the Great Recession. Sergio Esposito, founder of Union Square’s wine shop Italian Wine Merchants, said the wine fund he helped start in 2010, The Bottled Asset Fund, has been doing so well he hopes to launch another next year. After selling its first batches of wine this year, the $8.2 million fund is now seeing profits upward of 30 percent, he said. Gymnast’s parents perform their own routine at London 2012 (The Score) Lynn and Rick Raisman have been watching their daughter Aly work towards the Olympics since they first brought her to a gym when she was two two years old. It’s no wonder then that watching her compete for an Olympic medal is a nail biting experience. Here they are with their eyes trained on Aly’s uneven bars routine in London. Her dad just about makes it through unscathed: Fed Weighs Cutting Interest On Banks’ Reserves After ECB Move (Bloomberg) “They’re reconsidering it,” said Ward McCarthy, a former Richmond Fed economist. A July 5 decision by the European Central Bank to cut its deposit rate to zero is prompting renewed interest in the strategy, said McCarthy, chief financial economist at Jefferies & Co. McCarthy said it’s unlikely the Fed will reduce the rate at a two-day meeting that starts tomorrow. Used Lamborghinis Linger On H.K. Lots Amid China Lull (Bloomberg) Dealers of such second-hand cars say job cuts and the worsening global economic outlook are creating uncertainty among the finance-industry and expatriate professionals who make up the bulk of their buyers. Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, and Deutsche Bank are among firms with Asian headquarters in Hong Kong that are cutting jobs worldwide. “The more expensive the car, the more dry the business,” said Tommy Siu at the Causeway Bay showroom of Vin’s Motors Co., the used-car dealership he founded two decades ago. Sales of ultra-luxury cars have halved in the past two or three months, he said. “A lot of bankers don’t want to spend too much money for a car now. At this moment, they don’t know if they’ll have a big bonus.” “In the car market, it’s not buying like watches,” said Booz & Co.’s Russo. “Here you are getting a true look at a category of product bought by Hong Kong buyers. It’s a pulse check on how Hong Kong residents view the stability of the financial system.” Sarbanes-Oxley's Jail-Time Threat Hasn't Been Applied in Crisis-Related Cases (WSJ) After the financial crisis, the certification rules seemed like a strong weapon against executives suspected of misleading investors. But prosecutors haven't brought any criminal cases for false certification related to the crisis. Regulators have brought only a handful of crisis-related civil allegations in that area...For example: Richard Fuld, former CEO of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. A bankruptcy examiner's report on Lehman's 2008 collapse said there was enough evidence to support claims that Mr. Fuld failed to ensure the firm's quarterly reports were accurate, because he knew or should have known Lehman had cut its balance sheet through questionable transactions. But the government hasn't charged Mr. Fuld with false certification or other wrongdoing. His attorney couldn't be reached for comment. There also haven't been any charges against James Cayne, Bear Stearns Cos.' ex-CEO, which spiraled into a liquidity crisis that led to a 2008 forced sale to J.P. Morgan. Mr. Cayne and other Bear executives recently agreed to a $275 million settlement of shareholder litigation accusing them of misleading investors about the firm's finances—including allegations that Mr. Cayne falsely certified Bear's financial reports. Fla. Man Who Lost Hand Charged With Feeding Gator (AP) A Florida airboat captain whose hand was bitten off by a 9-foot alligator faces charges of feeding of the animal. Collier County Jail records show 63-year-old Wallace Weatherholt was charged Friday with unlawful feeding of an alligator and later posted $1,000 bond. His next court date is Aug. 22. Weatherholt was attacked on June 12th as he was giving an Indiana family a tour of the Everglades. The family said Weatherholt hung a fish over the side of the boat and had his hand at the water's surface when the alligator attacked. Wildlife officers tracked and euthanized the gator. Weatherholt's hand was found but could not be reattached. A criminal investigation followed. Feeding alligators is a second-degree misdemeanor.

Opening Bell: 05.14.12

JPMorgan Loss Claims Official Who Oversaw Trading Unit (NYTimes) The $2 billion trading loss at JPMorgan Chase will claim its first casualty among top officials at the bank as early as Monday, with chief executive Jamie Dimon set to accept the resignation of the executive who oversaw the trade, Ina R. Drew. Ms. Drew, a 55-year-old banker who has worked at the company for three decades and serves as chief investment officer, had repeatedly offered to resign since the scale of the loss became apparent in late April, but Mr. Dimon had held off until now on accepting it, several JPMorgan Chase executives said. Two traders who worked for Ms. Drew also planned to resign, JPMorgan Chase officials said. Her exit would mark a stunning fall from grace for one of the most powerful women on Wall Street, as well as a trusted lieutenant of Mr. Dimon...Former senior-level executives at JPMorgan said it was a shame that Ms. Drew has ended up suffering much of the fallout from the soured trade. They said that Thursday’s announcement of the $2 billion loss was the first real misstep that Ms. Drew has had and said that the position was not meant to drum up bigger profits for the bank, but rather to ensure that JPMorgan could continue to hold lending positions in Europe. “This is killing her,” a former JP Morgan executive said, adding “in banking there are very large knives.” Jamie Dimon: Trading Losses Are Not Life-Threatening (CNBC) “This is a stupid thing that we should never have done but we’re still going to earn a lot of money this quarter so it isn’t like the company is jeopardized,” he said in an interview with NBC’s “Meet with Press.” “We hurt ourselves and our credibility, yes — and that you’ve got to fully expect and pay the price for that.” Yahoo’s Thompson Out Amid Inquiry; Levinsohn Is Interim CEO (Bloomberg, earlier) Thompson, 54, was brought on to orchestrate a turnaround after Google Inc. and Facebook Inc. lured users and advertising dollars. Thompson’s undoing stems from erroneous biographical references to him as holding a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Stonehill College. A former EBay Inc. (EBAY) executive, he earned a degree in accounting from the Easton, Massachusetts- based school, and the information is correctly listed in EBay regulatory filings and some Yahoo press releases. The incorrect degree showed up in Yahoo’s April 27 10-K filing, as well as on the company’s website. As part of the board changes, Daniel Loeb, chief executive officer of Third Point, joins as a director along with Harry Wilson and Michael Wolf. A fourth nominee, Jeffrey Zucker, said in today’s statement that he withdrew his nomination to allow a quick transition. Euro Officials Begin to Weigh Greek Exit (Bloomberg) Greek withdrawal “is not necessarily fatal, but it is not attractive,” European Central Bank Governing Council member Patrick Honohan said in Tallinn on May 12. An exit was “technically” possible yet would damage the euro, he said. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble reiterated in an interview in Sueddeutsche Zeitung that member states seeking to hold the line on austerity for Greece could not force the country to stay. LightSquared Moves Toward Bankruptcy Filing (WSJ) Hedge-fund manager Philip Falcone's LightSquared Inc. venture was preparing Sunday to file for bankruptcy protection after negotiations with lenders to avoid a potential debt default faltered, said people familiar with the matter. LightSquared and its lenders still have until 5 p.m. Monday to reach a deal that would keep the wireless-networking company out of bankruptcy court, and there were some indications over the weekend that a final decision hadn't yet been reached on its fate. Still, the two sides remained far apart, and people involved in the negotiations expected LightSquared to begin making bankruptcy preparations in earnest. Facebook cofounder living large in Singapore as he stiffs US for a possible $600M in taxes (NYP) Saverin is renouncing his US citizenship in favor of Singapore, the Southeast Asian city-state that has no capital-gains tax, where he has lived like royalty since 2009. The move already has saved him about $288 million in taxes, and will save him much more if he chooses to sell his $4 billion personal stake in Facebook, which goes public next week. “This pisses me off,” fellow tech-industry billionaire Mark Cuban spat on Twitter Friday upon hearing news of Saverin’s decision. Saverin’s spokesman has defended the move, claiming he has investments in the Far East, and Europe and the permanent move makes perfect sense. “Eduardo recently found it more practical to become a resident of Singapore since he plans to live there for an indefinite period of time,” Saverin’s spokesman told Bloomberg. JPMorgan Unit's London Staff May Go as Loss Prompts Exits (Bloomberg) The entire London staff of JPMorgan Chase’s chief investment office is at risk of dismissal as a $2 billion trading loss prompts the first executive departures as soon as this week, a person familiar with the situation said. The firm is examining whether anyone in the unit, which employs a few dozen people in London, sought to hide risks, said the person, who requested anonymity because the deliberations are private. In Wake Of JPMorgan Loss, Rivals Fret About New Rules, Downgrades (WSJ) Over the weekend, rival banks scurried to explain why they believe a similar trading loss couldn't happen at their firm. Some companies pointed to moves already taken to reduce risk and sell off volatile and opaque assets such as derivatives on credit indexes. In a statement, Citigroup "has a small amount of straight-forward economic hedges managed at the corporate center to mitigate our credit exposure, principally relating to consumer loans." About half of that total is in cash, with most of the rest in U.S. Treasury bonds and other conservative investments. At Morgan Stanley, the portfolio most similar to J.P. Morgan's investment office is a $32 billion "available for sale" portfolio. The portfolio primarily consists of easily traded U.S. Treasury and government agency securities. It doesn't hold any derivatives instruments, a person familiar with Morgan Stanley's operations said. Goldman Sachs has no similar unit to the one at J.P. Morgan that suffered the loss. Apple Founder Wozniak to Buy Facebook Regardless of Price (Bloomberg) “I would invest in Facebook,” he said in an interview yesterday on Bloomberg Television. “I don’t care what the opening price is.” Missing: Stats on Crisis Convictions (WSJ) It is a question that has been asked time and again since the financial crisis: How many executives have been convicted of criminal wrongdoing related to the tumultuous events of 2008-2009? The Justice Department doesn't know the answer. That is because the department doesn't keep count of the numbers of board-level prosecutions. In a response earlier this month to a March request from Sen. Charles Grassley (R.,Iowa), the Justice Department said it doesn't hold information on defendants' business titles. "Consequently, we are unable to generate the [requested] comprehensive list" of Wall Street convictions stemming from the 2008 meltdown, the letter from the Department of Justice to Mr. Grassley said. Man Charged in Death Offers Victim's Foot for Deal (AP) A homeless man charged with killing and dismembering his friend says he can't remember much about the crime. But in a jailhouse interview, Leslie Sandoval told the Anderson Independent-Mail he remembers where he put the victim's missing left foot and is willing to tell a prosecutor if she will make him a deal. Sandoval says he went on a January drinking binge with Seth Foster. Foster's torso was found under an Anderson home, and his head, hands and right foot were found different places. Sandoval says he is confused about exactly what happened. But he disagrees with a coroner's finding he beat Foster and denies a claim from investigators that he confessed and gave them the knife used to dismember Foster.

Opening Bell: 10.18.12

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

Opening Bell: 01.16.13

Goldman Profit Soars (WSJ) "While economic conditions remained challenging for much of last year, the strengths of our business model and client franchise, coupled with our focus on disciplined management, delivered solid performance for our shareholders," Chief Executive Lloyd C. Blankfein said. Overall, the investment-banking arm recorded revenue of $1.41 billion for the quarter, up from $857 million a year ago and $1.16 billion in the third quarter. Financial advisory revenue rose 8.1% from year ago. Debt underwriting revenue surged to $593 million from $196 million in the year ago and the $466 million reported in the third quarter. Equity underwriting revenue popped 59% from the year ago and 61% from the prior quarter to $304 million. Revenue from fixed income, currency and commodity trading totaled $2.04 billion, versus $1.36 billion a year earlier and $2.22 billion in the third quarter. Revenue from equities execution rose 45% from a year ago to $764 million but fell 10% from the third quarter. Overall profit for the fourth quarter totaled $2.89 billion, compared with a year-earlier profit of $1.01 billion. Earnings per share, reflecting the payment of preferred dividends, jumped to $5.60 from $1.84. Net revenue, including net interest income, surged 53% to $9.24 billion. JPMorgan Profit Tops Estimates (WSJ) JPMorgan's fourth-quarter earnings surged 53% on strong revenue and better credit, as the bank further detailed the fallout from more than $6 billion in trading losses last year. The outsized, complex trades on credit default swaps tied to corporate bonds became known as the "London Whale." On Wednesday, the bank made public an internal report outlining mistakes and oversights by executives who played a role in the matter, including Chief Investment Officer Ina Drew, who has since left the bank, and Douglas Braunstein, who was chief financial officer during the episode and has since become a vice chairman. It also said its Treasury and Chief Investment Office, where the "Whale" trades were made, recorded a loss of $157 million on the fourth quarter, compared to net income of $417 million in the year ago. J.P. Morgan also said it halved the 2012 compensation of Chief Executive James Dimon to $11.5 million. Additionally, he will have to wait up to another 18 months before he can start exercising two million options that were awarded to him five years ago. Overall, J.P. Morgan reported a profit of $5.69 billion, or $1.39 a share, for the fourth quarter, up from $3.73 billion, or 90 cents a share, a year ago. Bankers Get IOUs Instead Of Bonus Cash (WSJ) Several thousand Morgan Stanley traders, investment bankers and other employees will get IOUs instead of cash when bonus day arrives Thursday, a fundamental change in Wall Street pay triggered by the financial crisis. The New York company will pay its bonuses in four equal installments, according to people briefed on the plan, with the first chunk coming in May and the last in January 2016. Employees who quit or are laid off before the payments stand to lose their deferred compensation unless they negotiate a separate deal with the company. "I don't think there will be a lot of cheers on the trading floors of Morgan Stanley," said Mark Williams, a former Federal Reserve bank examiner who now teaches at Boston University. "Bonuses were used to buy houses and cars. They were savings vehicles." AIG Seeks Approval To File More Bank Suits (NYT) Since the summer of 2011, the insurance giant American International Group has been battling Bank of America over claims that the bank packaged and sold it defective mortgages that dealt A.I.G. billions of dollars in losses. Now A.I.G. wants to be able to sue other banks that sold it mortgage-backed securities that plunged in value during the financial crisis. It has not said which banks, but possibilities include Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase. But to sue, A.I.G. first must win a court fight with an entity controlled by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which the insurer says is blocking its efforts to pursue the banks that caused it financial harm. Hungary Attacks Roubini Over Currency 'Advice' (CNBC) Hungary's Ministry for National Economy said in a statement that the forint began to depreciate after economist Nouriel Roubini – dubbed Dr Doom for his pessimistic forecasts – said in a newsletter that failure to secure a deal with the International Monetary Fund was bad news for the currency. The forint has been in decline since last week hitting seven-month lows earlier this week but has since gained some ground. Hungarian officials rounded on Roubini saying; "On Thursday speculators seem to have taken Roubini's advice and attacked the forint." BofA Takes A Mortgage Mulligan (WSJ) Less than two years after embarking on a painful retreat from home lending, Bank of America Corp. is girding for a new run at the U.S. mortgage business. Whether that gamble pays off will depend in large measure on how long the mortgage market's run of record profits continues. The Charlotte, N.C., company aims to sell more mortgages through its 5,000-plus branches, executives said. The fourth-biggest U.S. mortgage lender, after Wells Fargo & Co., J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and U.S. Bancorp, is intent on "growing that business," Chief Executive Brian Moynihan said at a December investor conference. Eurozone Plan May Be Watered Down (WSJ) One of the euro zone's most significant commitments last year aimed at containing its financial crisis—a plan to allow the bloc's bailout fund to directly boost the capital of banks in countries facing debt troubles—could be undermined by technical complications and second thoughts by some governments. Germany Repatriates Gold Reserves (WSJ) Germany's central bank said it would remove nearly a fifth of its total gold reserves from deposits at the New York Federal Reserve Bank and the Bank of France and bring them back to Germany, amid a debate in the country over the transparency of its global gold holdings. Inside Trader Sent To Kinnu-can (NYP) John Kinnucan, the former head of Portland, Ore.-based firm Broadband Research, was sentenced to four years and three months in prison after admitting to feeding illegal stock tips to his well-heeled hedge fund clients. Reporter fired for secret stripping job gets new journalism gig with same (NYDN) Tressler, 30, is now a reporter for the San Antonio Express-News, covering “cops, crime and general mayhem,” according to her Twitter account. In April, the gorgeous Tressler was fired from her job as a society reporter for the Houston Chronicle for failing to tell the newspaper about her after-hours gig as a stripper, which she chronicled in her blog, “Diary of an Angry Stripper.” Tressler then sued her former employer's parent company, the Hearst Corp., which also owns the Express-News, alleging that the firing was unfair. She hired celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred and filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, saying the paper’s reason for firing her -- failing to write on her application that she had been working part-time as a stripper -- was ridiculous. "I've worked at KB Toys. I've worked at a surf shop. I've worked at multiple coffee shops. I've worked at Taco Bell. I've worked as a line cook at a restaurant," Tressler told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in June. “Do you really want me to put every single one of those on my job application?" Over the summer, Tressler embarked on a national stripping tour and pushed a book, which shared the same title as her blog. She also picked up some freelance assignments for “Good Morning America.” After the suit and the tour, it seemed unlikely Tressler would re-enter Texas journalism, let alone for a newspaper owned by the same parent company that fired her. Some have suspected that her new job was part of a settlement she reached with the company.

Opening Bell: 08.16.12

No Criminal Case Is Likely In Loss At MF Global (NYT) A criminal investigation into the collapse of the brokerage firm MF Global and the disappearance of about $1 billion in customer money is now heading into its final stage without charges expected against any top executives. After 10 months of stitching together evidence on the firm's demise, criminal investigators are concluding that chaos and porous risk controls at the firm, rather than fraud, allowed the money to disappear, according to people involved in the case...In the most telling indication yet that the MF Global investigation is winding down, federal authorities are seeking to interview the former chief of the firm, Jon Corzine, next month, according to the people involved in the case. Authorities hope that Corzine, who is expected to accept the invitation, will shed light on the actions of other employees at MF Global. Standard Chartered's Deal Rankles Regulators (WSJ) Officials at the U.K. Financial Services Authority complained afterward to the New York regulator, which oversees Standard Chartered's U.S. unit, that the sudden move could have damaged the stability of the bank and that the lack of advance notice breached long-standing protocol among bank regulators, these people said. The New York case ended Tuesday when Standard Chartered agreed to pay the regulator $340 million to settle allegations it broke U.S. laws in handling transactions for Iranian customers...The New York office's success in pursuing a case without the help of the U.S. Justice Department and U.S. Treasury Department could embolden other state regulators, while adding to pressure on federal regulators who have been criticized for a perceived failure to confront large banks. "Holding a bank accountable for past misconduct doesn't need to take years of negotiation over the size of the penalty," said Sen. Carl Levin (D., Mich.). "It simply requires a regulator with backbone to act." Knight Puts Fate In Familiar Hands (WSJ) At about 9 p.m. on Aug. 1, Knight Chief Executive Thomas Joyce called Carlos Hernandez to seek emergency funding from J.P. Morgan, the lead bank on a primary credit line, to plug losses from errant trades caused by a software upgrade, according to people familiar with the conversation. Mr. Hernandez, J.P. Morgan's global head of equities, had just returned from business meetings in Mexico. "We've had these issues," the Knight chief, known as T.J., told his longtime acquaintance, the people said. "We're looking for help." J.P. Morgan executives have been on the receiving end of similar pleas for help in some of Wall Street's biggest meltdowns. Jobless Claims In U.S. Little Changed As Market Stable (Bloomberg) Jobless claims climbed by 2,000 to 366,000 in the week ended Aug. 11, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. The median forecast of 45 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News called for an increase to 365,000. The four-week moving average, a less volatile measure, dropped to 363,750, the fewest since the week ended March 31. Chocolate Losing To Cocaine On Colombia Cocoa Slump (Bloomberg) Cocaine is proving a more resilient commodity than chocolate in Colombia, the largest supplier of the narcotic to the U.S. Prices of cocoa beans, used to make chocolate, have dropped 40 percent this year in Colombia, South America’s third-largest supplier, as the cost of leaves processed into cocaine holds steady, according to data compiled by police and growers. Morgan Stanley Unit Fined Over Trader’s $1.3 Billion Bet (Bloomberg) Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, the brokerage venture of Morgan Stanley and Citigroup, was fined $450,000 after a trader amassed a $1.3 billion bet in 2009, Financial Industry Regulatory Authority records show. The brokerage didn’t have enough controls in place to detect that Jared Weinryt, 31, had breached his $116 million trading limit as he made overnight bets on futures, Finra said this month. The trades led to losses for Morgan Stanley Smith Barney of about $14.9 million, according to Finra. MF Global Trustee to Join Existing Suits Against Executives (WSJ) The move Wednesday by James Giddens could accelerate a morass of lawsuits that seek money from former MF Global executives, directors and other people accused in the suits of failing to protect customer money. As a result of the agreement, Mr. Giddens will give lawyers in those cases access to documents and other evidence gathered in his probe. Facebook Freeing 60% More Shares Seen Weighing On Stock (Bloomberg) Early Facebook investors such as DST Global Ltd., Goldman Sachs, Elevation Partners and Accel Partners get a green light today to start selling part of their holdings, Menlo Park, California-based Facebook has said in filings. That’s after the lifting of restrictions designed to prevent a flood of shares immediately after an IPO. The prospect of more stock sales means Facebook will need to work even harder to convince investors that it deserves a higher valuation, compared with earnings, than all but two of its closest competitors including Google. The shares freed up today make up only 14 percent of the 1.91 billion that will be available for sales in the coming nine months. “Buckle your seatbelts for the next couple of months until they make it through all these shares coming unlocked,” said Tom Forte, an analyst at Telsey Advisory Group in New York.

Opening Bell: 06.15.12

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

Opening Bell: 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: 03.05.12

Greek Bond Swap Deal Rests on Knife Edge (FT) People close to some bondholders warned other investors to take seriously threats by policymakers that if the deal fails Greece will default on its debt. “Some investors seem to think they will be rescued. That just isn’t the case,” one said. People involved in the deal denied that there was any nervousness about the outcome but nobody was willing to guess how high the participation rate would be. Slim Beats Gates in First Daily Billionaire Ranking (Bloomberg) If you like obsessively measuring your penis you'll love this: Carlos Slim, the telecommunications tycoon who controls Mexico’s America Movil SAB, is the richest person on Earth, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a daily ranking of the world’s 20 wealthiest individuals...The Bloomberg Billionaires Index takes measure of the world’s wealthiest people based on market and economic changes and Bloomberg News reporting. Each net worth figure is updated every business day at 5:30 p.m. in New York. The valuations are listed in U.S. dollars. Zuckerberg Doesn’t Rank on Billionaire Index (Bloomberg) Sad trombone: At the time of the offering, Zuckerberg is likely to sell about $1.75 billion of Facebook stock to pay off the tax obligation he will incur when he exercises options to buy 120 million shares. The combined transactions will dilute Zuckerberg’s stake from 28.4 percent to about 21 percent. If the company maintains its projected $100 billion valuation, that would make Zuckerberg worth about $21 billion, less than the $28.4 billion implied by his stated ownership. At that net worth, Zuckerberg isn’t rich enough to qualify for the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a new daily ranking of the world’s 20 richest people. The 20th spot is currently occupied by L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt. AIG to Sell $6 Billion In Asian Insurer's Stock (WSJ) American International Group Inc. kicked off a $6 billion sale of shares in Asian life insurer AIA Group Ltd. on Monday morning in Hong Kong, moving forward with plans to repay another chunk of its 2008 U.S. bailout. AIG said the shares will be placed with institutional investors and expects them to be priced by Tuesday. The 1.7 billion shares up for sale represent around 14% of AIA, less than half the 32.9% stake AIG holds, according to a term sheet. Proceeds from this week's sale have been earmarked to repay the U.S. government, which rescued AIG from near collapse during the financial crisis with a record $182.3 billion bailout that has been partially repaid. The Treasury Department still has to recoup about $50 billion in taxpayer funds, and about $8.4 billion of that amount will be repaid when AIG sells the AIA shares and other assets, including its airplane-leasing subsidiary. The rest of the money—roughly $42 billion—is supposed to come from the government's sale of its 77% stake in AIG. Lenders Stress Over Test Results (WSJ) The 19 biggest U.S. banks in January submitted reams of data in response to regulators' questions, outlining how they would perform in a severe downturn. Now, citing competitive concerns, bankers are pressing the Fed to limit its release of information—expected as early as next week—to what was published after the first test of big banks in 2009. JFK Airport search of drug mule who said she was three months pregnant reveals she carried $20,000 worth of heroin (NYDN) Awoyemi, coming off an Air France flight from Paris to New York and wearing a “loose-fitting dress” was asked whether she was pregnant, and the woman replied that she was three months along, Homeland Security special agent John Moloney stated in a complaint filed in Brooklyn Federal Court. The customs inspector noted that Awoyemi appeared nervous, so she was selected for a pat-down search. After feeling a “bulge” in Awoyemi’s groin area, the situation escalated to a partial strip-search, according to the complaint. When she dropped her drawers, Awoyemi’s scheme fell apart. Pellets containing brown powder began dropping from her groin area — and the substance tested positive for heroin. Awoyemi was taken to a medical facility at the airport, where the federal cops administered a pregnancy test that came back negative. An X-ray showed more pellets in her intestinal tract, and by the end of the day she had passed about 25 pellets of heroin in a special commode that Customs officials have dubbed the “Drug Loo.” The high-tech toilet sanitizes the incriminating evidence. More On The Morgan Stanley Executive Charged in Cab Hate Crime Attack (Bloomberg) Jennings left a bank holiday party sometime before 11 p.m. and headed to the street, where he was supposed to be met by a car service, Jennings said. He hailed Ammar’s cab after the livery car didn’t appear, according to the report. Ammar said Jennings agreed on the fare and told him he would pay cash. Jennings fell asleep during the trip, the driver said. Once at the destination, though, Jennings said “he did not feel like paying” because he was already home, Ammar told police...When Ammar threatened to call the local police, Jennings said they wouldn’t do anything to help because he pays $10,000 in taxes, according to a report by the Darien police department...The Morgan Stanley executive told police he was afraid to come forward after the incident because the cab driver knew where he lived. He then went on vacation to Florida, police said. Jennings told officers he subsequently called his lawyer after a friend told him police were looking for a suspect in the stabbing incident, according to the report. JPMorgan Star To Launch Own Hedge Fund (FT) London-based Mike Stewart, JPMorgan’s global head of proprietary trading, and former head of emerging markets, is set to start his own new hedge fund, Whard Stewart, in the second quarter, people familiar with his plans said. Mr Stewart’s emerging markets trading team at the bank is expected to join him. The departures come despite word last week that US regulators will probably delay implementation of the so-called “Volcker rule” , under which banks are in effect banned from proprietary trading. Friends With Benefits (NYP) Unlike his fallen pal Raj Rajaratnam, former Goldman Sachs director Rajat Gupta appears to have no shortage of character witnesses willing to testify at his upcoming insider trading trial. Indeed, dozens of well-heeled supporters are already putting their names on the line for the former consulting titan, including world-renowned speaker Deepak Chopra and Mukesh Ambani, the ninth-richest man in the world. “I have never seen him ask for anything for himself, always for the greater good,” Ambani, the chairman of Reliance Industries, said recently on a little-noticed website called friendsofrajat.com. Cigarettes: The Most Stable International Currency (BusinessWeek) Cartons of Good Cat brand cigarettes are selling for as much as RMB5,600 (US$890) per carton in the city of Xi’an, in Shaanxi Province. The suspicion, according to reports this week, is that they are being used to bribe officials. Election Year Poses Challenge For Stocks (WSJ) The Dow is off to its best start to a year since 1998. But if history is a guide, this exuberance soon could give way to the first pangs of electoral anxiety. In a typical presidential-election year, stocks start well but slip into a funk by spring, according to Ned Davis Research, which has measured election-year trends back to 1900. At least in part, the slump reflects the electoral unknowns, Ned Davis has concluded. In a good year, investors deal with their jitters by late summer or early autumn and stocks recover. People get more comfortable with the November election outlook and put money back into stocks. This year, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average up 6.2% in just over two months, many investors and analysts expect a pullback soon. The looming election adds to ambient uncertainty about European debt and U.S. and Chinese growth prospects. Tony Welch, an analyst at Ned Davis Research, says the Dow could pull back 5% or 6% in the coming weeks. "We think the election-year trend could be strong this year," Mr. Welch says. "The market prefers certainty. It doesn't like unknowns." Ochocinco was urinated on by a lion and lived to tweet the tale (YS) The New England Patriots receiver was at a charity event in Miami on Saturday night when he ran into the caged animal. According to Ochocinco's Twitter account, the king of the jungle proceeded to become the urine sprayer at the party. Tweets included: "Swear to lil 10 pound bearded baby Jesus I just got peed on by a real "Lion" I'm not lying either. And y'all wonder why I don't go out!!!!!," "It's not funny i have on my good church clothes," and "I wasn't that close, he sprayed like a water gun."