Opening Bell: 10.17.12

BofA Sees Profit Slump (WSJ) Bank of America reported a profit $340 million versus a profit of $6.23 billion a year earlier. On a per-share basis, which includes the payment of preferred dividends, the bank reported a profit of less than a penny versus 56 cents a year earlier. The year-earlier period included 27 cents a share in net gains from one-time. Revenue fell 28% to $20.43 billion. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected a per-share loss of seven cents on revenue of $21.89 billion. BNY Mellon Profit Increases as Rising Stocks Boost Assets (Bloomberg) Net income increased to $720 million, or 61 cents a share, from $651 million, or 53 cents, a year earlier, the New York- based bank said today in a statement. Analysts had expected the New York-based company to report a profit of 54 cents a share, according to the average of 16 estimates in a Bloomberg survey. Citi's Pandit Quits Amid Board Clash (WSJ) The shake-up amounts to an extraordinary flexing of boardroom muscle at Citigroup, a company that until recently had a board stocked with directors handpicked by former CEO Sanford Weill who rarely challenged management decisions. The action raises questions about whether the sprawling Citigroup empire ultimately will be dramatically pared back or broken up, something Mr. Pandit opposed. When it was formed in 1998, Citigroup was envisaged as the prototype of the modern bank, a "financial supermarket" with tentacles in all areas of lending, securities and deposits. Its creation helped spark the end of the Depression-era Glass Steagall Act separating securities and banking. Citigroup's New CEO Has A Lot To Tackle (Fortune) Corbat is a Connecticut native. He is listed as the owner of a 4-bedroom, 1-and-a-half-bath, 3,500 square foot Manhattan apartment on Central Park West. The apartment has a fireplace and exposed wood beams in the living room. But Corbat doesn't appear to live there. According to the real estate website Streeteasy, the apartment was rented out in March for $33,000 a month. Corbat also owns a house in 6,300 square foot house in Wilson, Wyoming. That house was estimated to be worth $3.7 million in 2010, according to real estate website Trulia. Pay seems to be part of the reason for Pandit's department. Earlier this year, shareholders voted to reject a $15 million pay package for the Citi's former CEO. Corbat said he will take $1.5 million as a base salary, plus a bonus to be determined later. RBS Exits Government Insurance Plan (WSJ) RBS said it has struck a deal with the U.K. Treasury to exit the government's Asset Protection Scheme, effective Thursday, the earliest date possible under the terms of the contract. The program was crafted at the height of the financial crisis in an effort to shield banks by insuring their assets after the lenders absorbed an initial loss. The insurance program is now considered largely unnecessary because many of RBS's insured assets have been sold or written off. The bank, which is 81% government-owned, will have paid £2.5 billion ($4.03 billion) in fees for its participation in the APS without having made a claim, in addition to about £1.5 billion paid to the Treasury for support received during the financial crisis. Passenger Jet In Low Altitude Search (Australian) An Air Canada jet descended from 38,000ft to as low as 3700ft (1128m) to allow passengers to look for a yacht missing off the NSW coast. The Boeing 777 flying from Vancouver to Sydney joined an Air New Zealand Airbus A320 in the initial search for the damaged boat. Captain Andrew Robertson said the airline was approaching top of descent and talking to air traffic control in Brisbane at 8.18am when it was asked to assist in the search. The flight crew programmed the coordinates ofthe stricken yacht into the aircraft's flight computer and determined it was about 160 nautical miles (296km) further out from the coast than the 777 but that the aircraft was enough fuel to reach the location.. "We were at 38,000ft and we just kept going down," said Captain Andrew Robertson. "I knew we would have to get really low and we got down to 5000ft above the water as we approached the area. "I had already made a PA announcement telling passengers what we were doing and as we got into the area, I said: "We're coming into the search area, please everybody look out to the window and if you seen anything let us know. Norway’s Housing Boom Could Lead to Spain-Style Bust, Say Some (CNBC) Norway’s housing sector, which has seen prices jump by almost 30 percent since 2006 — could end up replicating a pattern of housing booms and busts seen across the globe, from the U.S. to Japan to Spain and Ireland, according to a report by Bank of New York Mellon. Indeed, Norway's house price rise has been so dramatic that the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco wrote a paper on the subject in June that made parallels between the lead up to the U.S. housing crisis and the “irrationally exuberant bubble” of Norway’s present boom. BlackRock Profit Rises 7.9% on as Assets Rise on ETFs (Bloomberg) Net income climbed 7.9 percent to $642 million, or $3.65 a share, from $595 million, or $3.23, a year earlier, the New York-based company said today in a statement. Excluding certain one-time items, profit of $3.47 per share exceeded the $3.32-a- share average estimate of 19 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. Knight Capital Posts Third-Quarter Loss Due To Fallout Over Software Glitch (AP) The company company reported a loss attributable to common shareholders of $764.3 million, or $6.30 per share, for the period ended Sept. 30. That compares with net income of $26.9 million, or 29 cents per share, a year ago. Knight Capital said Wednesday that the loss from the software glitch was more than $400 million. Excluding $2.46 per share related to the software glitch and other items, earnings came to a penny per share. Analysts forecast 2 cents per share, according to a FactSet survey. Police: Alanis Morissette Music Leads To Domestic Violence (N4J) A 24-year-old Jacksonville man who didn't like his boyfriend's taste in music let him know about it by hitting him in the face with a plate, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office. Police said 33-year-old Todd Fletcher has a large cut on the side of his face to prove it. Allen Casey was arrested Sunday after police said he acted on his displeasure that Fletcher was listening to Alanis Morissette. "That's all that (expletive) listens to," Casey said, according to a police report.
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BofA Sees Profit Slump (WSJ)
Bank of America reported a profit $340 million versus a profit of $6.23 billion a year earlier. On a per-share basis, which includes the payment of preferred dividends, the bank reported a profit of less than a penny versus 56 cents a year earlier. The year-earlier period included 27 cents a share in net gains from one-time. Revenue fell 28% to $20.43 billion. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected a per-share loss of seven cents on revenue of $21.89 billion.

BNY Mellon Profit Increases as Rising Stocks Boost Assets (Bloomberg)
Net income increased to $720 million, or 61 cents a share, from $651 million, or 53 cents, a year earlier, the New York- based bank said today in a statement. Analysts had expected the New York-based company to report a profit of 54 cents a share, according to the average of 16 estimates in a Bloomberg survey.

Citi's Pandit Quits Amid Board Clash, What's Next? (WSJ)
The shake-up amounts to an extraordinary flexing of boardroom muscle at Citigroup, a company that until recently had a board stocked with directors handpicked by former CEO Sanford Weill who rarely challenged management decisions. The action raises questions about whether the sprawling Citigroup empire ultimately will be dramatically pared back or broken up, something Mr. Pandit opposed. When it was formed in 1998, Citigroup was envisaged as the prototype of the modern bank, a "financial supermarket" with tentacles in all areas of lending, securities and deposits. Its creation helped spark the end of the Depression-era Glass Steagall Act separating securities and banking.

Citigroup's New CEO Has A Lot To Tackle (Fortune)
Corbat is a Connecticut native. He is listed as the owner of a 4-bedroom, 1-and-a-half-bath, 3,500 square foot Manhattan apartment on Central Park West. The apartment has a fireplace and exposed wood beams in the living room. But Corbat doesn't appear to live there. According to the real estate website Streeteasy, the apartment was rented out in March for $33,000 a month. Corbat also owns a house in 6,300 square foot house in Wilson, Wyoming. That house was estimated to be worth $3.7 million in 2010, according to real estate website Trulia. Pay seems to be part of the reason for Pandit's department. Earlier this year, shareholders voted to reject a $15 million pay package for the Citi's former CEO. Corbat said he will take $1.5 million as a base salary, plus a bonus to be determined later.

RBS Exits Government Insurance Plan (WSJ)
RBS said it has struck a deal with the U.K. Treasury to exit the government's Asset Protection Scheme, effective Thursday, the earliest date possible under the terms of the contract. The program was crafted at the height of the financial crisis in an effort to shield banks by insuring their assets after the lenders absorbed an initial loss. The insurance program is now considered largely unnecessary because many of RBS's insured assets have been sold or written off. The bank, which is 81% government-owned, will have paid £2.5 billion ($4.03 billion) in fees for its participation in the APS without having made a claim, in addition to about £1.5 billion paid to the Treasury for support received during the financial crisis.

Passenger Jet In Low Altitude Search (Australian)
An Air Canada jet descended from 38,000ft to as low as 3700ft (1128m) to allow passengers to look for a yacht missing off the NSW coast. The Boeing 777 flying from Vancouver to Sydney joined an Air New Zealand Airbus A320 in the initial search for the damaged boat. Captain Andrew Robertson said the airline was approaching top of descent and talking to air traffic control in Brisbane at 8.18am when it was asked to assist in the search. The flight crew programmed the coordinates of the stricken yacht into the aircraft's flight computer and determined it was about 160 nautical miles (296km) further out from the coast than the 777 but that the aircraft was enough fuel to reach the location.. "We were at 38,000ft and we just kept going down," said Captain Andrew Robertson. "I knew we would have to get really low and we got down to 5000ft above the water as we approached the area. "I had already made a PA announcement telling passengers what we were doing and as we got into the area, I said: "We're coming into the search area, please everybody look out to the window and if you seen anything let us know.

Norway’s Housing Boom Could Lead to Spain-Style Bust, Say Some (CNBC)
Norway’s housing sector, which has seen prices jump by almost 30 percent since 2006 — could end up replicating a pattern of housing booms and busts seen across the globe, from the U.S. to Japan to Spain and Ireland, according to a report by Bank of New York Mellon. Indeed, Norway's house price rise has been so dramatic that the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco wrote a paper on the subject in June that made parallels between the lead up to the U.S. housing crisis and the “irrationally exuberant bubble” of Norway’s present boom.

BlackRock Profit Rises 7.9% on as Assets Rise on ETFs (Bloomberg)
Net income climbed 7.9 percent to $642 million, or $3.65 a share, from $595 million, or $3.23, a year earlier, the New York-based company said today in a statement. Excluding certain one-time items, profit of $3.47 per share exceeded the $3.32-a- share average estimate of 19 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.

Knight Capital Posts Third-Quarter Loss Due To Fallout Over Software Glitch (AP)
The company company reported a loss attributable to common shareholders of $764.3 million, or $6.30 per share, for the period ended Sept. 30. That compares with net income of $26.9 million, or 29 cents per share, a year ago. Knight Capital said Wednesday that the loss from the software glitch was more than $400 million. Excluding $2.46 per share related to the software glitch and other items, earnings came to a penny per share. Analysts forecast 2 cents per share, according to a FactSet survey.

Police: Alanis Morissette Music Leads To Domestic Violence (N4J)
A 24-year-old Jacksonville man who didn't like his boyfriend's taste in music let him know about it by hitting him in the face with a plate, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office. Police said 33-year-old Todd Fletcher has a large cut on the side of his face to prove it. Allen Casey was arrested Sunday after police said he acted on his displeasure that Fletcher was listening to Alanis Morissette. "That's all that (expletive) listens to," Casey said, according to a police report.

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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: 01.24.13

Witness Adds Thread To SAC Probe (WSJ) A government informant has implicated a prominent former trader at SAC Capital Advisors, telling federal investigators the two swapped confidential stock tips for years, according to people briefed on the matter. The connection between ex-SAC portfolio manager Dipak Patel and the undercover mole, a California-based former portfolio manager at an investment fund, hasn't previously been disclosed. Mr. Patel and his lawyer didn't respond to requests for comment...Mr. Patel, who hasn't been charged with any wrongdoing, was a technology-stock manager who worked under Mr. Cohen for years before leaving in 2010. Obama To Name White As SEC Chief (WSJ) President Barack Obama on Thursday will name Mary Jo White, a former star prosecutor who pursued terrorists and mobsters in New York, to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission, a White House official said. Barclays CEO Says Bank Was Too Aggressive, Too Self-Serving (CNBC) The bank which paid a fine of 290 million pounds for manipulating Libor and was caught up in the payment protection insurance scandal, has been trying to turn a new leaf. Jenkins, who took over as CEO in August, said the company was addressing its past mistakes. "We were too aggressive, we were too short-term focused and too self-serving," Jenkins told CNBC at the World Economic Forum in Davos. "The industry, and Barclays, got it wrong on occasions," he added. Merkel Says Europe Must Persist With Reforms (CNBC) German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged European nations to continue the economic reforms they have begun and argued that the debt crisis offered an opportunity for the bloc to become more competitive. "The political experience is that often you need pressure for political structural reforms," she told delegates at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. "If Europe is in a difficult situation today we need to implement structural reforms now so that we may live better tomorrow," she said. Knight Capital's Profit Slides 84% (WSJ) Profit in the quarter to Dec. 31 fell to $6.5 million from $40.2 million a year earlier, with per-share earnings sliding to a penny from 43 cents, below the three-cent consensus among analysts polled by Thomson Reuters. Revenue fell 16% to $287.7 million. Jobless Claims Fall To 5-Year Low (WSJ) Initial jobless claims, a measure of layoffs, fell by 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 330,000 in the week ended Jan. 19, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires expected 360,000 new applications for jobless benefits last week. Two men charged with robbery, assault and battery after stealing $400 from Girl Scouts selling cookies (NYDN) Two men are being held on charges they stole nearly $400 from a group of Girl Scouts selling cookies at a store in Massachussetts. An adult supervising the Scouts suffered a broken nose and arm injuries trying to stop the men. Authorities say 22-year-old Nicholas Taverna of Greenfield and 25-year-old Cassidy Michalski of Deerfield were held on $5,000 bail each at their arraignment Tuesday on charges of unarmed robbery, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and shoplifting. Police say the suspects stole two cellphones from the Walmart in Northampton on Saturday and tried to trade them for drugs in Holyoke. When that failed, they returned to Northampton where they had seen the 11- and 12-year-old Scouts earlier, and stole their cash box. US Lawmaker Set to Unveil Financial Revamp (Reuters) The proposal, expected as early as this week, will come from House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, whose panel has been exploring a broad tax code overhaul for more than a year. Camp wants to slash the top corporate tax rate to 25 percent from 35 percent and simplify the code.Critics of the current corporate tax system note that the United States has one of the steepest corporate tax rates in the world. Commerzbank to Cut 6,000 Jobs (WSJ) The cuts, representing up to 12% of the bank's 49,215 full-time staff, will affect all group levels and units, in Germany and abroad, although online bank Comdirect AG and Polish unit BRE Bank will be excluded, according to an internal memo to staff. Japan Posts Record Trade Deficit (WSJ) Japan's trade deficit nearly tripled to a record ¥6.927 trillion ($78.3 billion) last year and few expect a drastic improvement anytime soon, leaving Tokyo no choice but to carry on with efforts to boost the economy. Citigroup’s Corbat Says Environment to Stay ‘Challenging’ (Bloomberg) “People recognize the times we are in, these are challenging times,” Corbat, 52, said in an interview with with Bloomberg Television’s Erik Schatzker at the World Economic Forum in Davos today. “Things will remain challenging going forward for a period of time. Our people recognize that.” Corbat replaced the ousted Vikram Pandit as CEO at the third-biggest U.S. bank in October. He has since announced plans to fire about 11,000 employees and pull back from certain markets as he seeks to cut Citigroup’s costs and boost rewards for shareholders. Profit at the lender’s ongoing businesses slid 8 percent last year while costs rose. Citigroup cut investment bankers’ bonuses by 10 percent to 20 percent globally after a revenue slump, people with knowledge of the matter said last week. Corbat said the firm can still be “absolutely competitive,” on banker pay. “I think morale is good,” he said, without saying whether the company plans to cut more jobs. “Our employees are very confident around the strategy if you think about what’s going on in the world today.” N.J. men sue Subway, claim they've been shorted on footlong sandwiches (AP) The suit, filed Tuesday in Superior Court in Mount Holly, may be the first legal filing aimed at the sandwich shops after an embarrassment went viral last week when someone posted a photo of a footlong and a ruler on the company's Facebook page to show that the sandwich was not as long as advertised. At the time, the company issued a statement saying that the sandwich length can vary a bit when franchises do not bake to the exact corporate standards. Stephen DeNittis, the lawyer for the plaintiffs in the New Jersey suit, said he's seeking class-action status and is also preparing to file a similar suit in Pennsylvania state court in Philadelphia. He said he's had sandwiches from 17 shops measured — and every one came up short. "The case is about holding companies to deliver what they've promised," he said.

Opening Bell: 10.18.12

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

Opening Bell: 03.20.12

Bernanke Returns to Academic Roots to Justify Fed’s Existence (Bloomberg) Bernanke will lecture to about 30 undergraduate students at George Washington University in the first of four hour-long talks on the history of the Fed as part of what public relations specialist Richard Dukas called a “P.R. offensive” to buff the central bank’s tarnished image. The Fed is being attacked from both the left and the right, with liberals criticizing it for not doing enough to bring down unemployment, and conservatives blaming it for doing too much and risking faster inflation...The lecture series -- the brainchild of the Fed and the first by a sitting chairman -- will be streamed live on the central-bank’s website and on ustream.tv. Afterwards, it will be posted on the Fed’s YouTube page. The central bank said transcripts also will be available. “I understand he’s excited about coming back and being in the classroom,” said Tim Fort, the professor in charge of the half-semester class. Mets owners could actually make money in Madoff settlement (NYP) Under the deal, Mets owners have agreed to pay back $162 million in phantom profits that they withdrew from their Madoff accounts between 2002 and 2008 — the year the Ponzi pyramid collapsed. Picard also dropped his claim that the owners were “willfully blind” to the scheme — allowing them to claim up to $178 million as victims of the fraud. Goldman Sachs Cuts Staff in Annual Review Process (Reuters) Goldman Sachs has begun a new round of staff cuts in its trading and investment banking divisions, three sources familiar with the matter said, a sign of continued cutbacks on Wall Street...The latest round of cuts is part of Goldman's annual employee review process. It's unclear how many people will be affected by the job eliminations, which began two weeks ago, because different divisions have received different targets, sources said. While management has formulated an overall plan for cost-cutting, all of the job cuts may not be completed for months, said a source familiar with the matter. Deutsche Bank Cuts Board’s Pay 19% as Profit Goal Missed (Bloomberg) Jain earned 5.81 million euros ($7.67 million) in salary and bonuses for last year, down from 7.55 million euros, Deutsche Bank said today in its financial report. Jain and the board’s other six members received 26.4 million euros compared with 32.4 million euros in 2010, when there were eight members. Jefferies Net Down 12%; Revenue Tops Forecasts (WSJ) Fixed-income trading revenue came in at $339.1 million in the quarter ended Feb. 29, up 6.6% from a year earlier and more than double what the firm booked in the prior quarter. Investment-banking revenue rose to $285.8 million, up 20% from a year earlier and 9.4% from the previous quarter. Overall, Jefferies reported a profit of $77.1 million, or 33 cents a share, compared with a year-earlier profit of $87.3 million, or 42 cents a share. Revenue increased 2.2% to $758.1 million. Analysts expected a per-share profit of 29 cents on $699 million in revenue, according to a poll conducted by Thomson Reuters. The Banker And The Cabbie: When Two Worlds Collide (Reuters) The day, December 21, 2011, had started out normally as Jennings left the kind of home - sweeping curved staircase, perfectly plumped chintz pillows, backyard swimming pool and a Ferrari in the garage - that makes many New Yorkers deeply jealous, and headed to the steel-and-glass tower in midtown Manhattan where he directed the firm's bond business...Morgan Stanley has already placed him on leave. The firm's spokesman declined to comment, other than to say no decision has been made regarding Jennings' longer-term status at the firm. One top-ranking Morgan Stanley executive, though, said he "does not stand a chance of getting his job back." Deutsche Bank Sued In US Over Libor (CNBC) Deutsche Bank said it received subpoenas and requests for information from U.S. and European Union agencies as part of a global probe into interbank offered rates and that it was also being sued over alleged dollar interbank rate manipulation...The inquiries relate to periods between 2005 and 2011, the bank said, adding it was cooperating with the investigations. Geithner Warns Europe Against Draconian Austerity (Reuters) "Economic growth is likely to be weak for some time. The path of fiscal consolidation should be gradual with a multiyear phase-in of reforms," Geithner said in remarks prepared for delivery to the House Financial Services Committee on Tuesday. "If every time economic growth disappoints, governments are forced to cut spending or raise taxes immediately to make up for the impact of weaker growth on deficits, this would risk a self-reinforcing negative spiral of growth-killing austerity," he said. Wall Street Can Learn From The Goldman Flap (WSJ) Rather than extolling Goldman's "client-driven" culture, as they did in their response to Mr Smith last week, Mr Blankfein and his No. 2 Gary Cohn should have seized the opportunity to explain how the business of finance really works. Jobseekers Get Asked For Facebook Passwords (AP) Bassett, a New York City statistician, had just finished answering a few character questions when the interviewer turned to her computer to search for his Facebook page. But she couldn't see his private profile. She turned back and asked him to hand over his login information. Bassett refused and withdrew his application, saying he didn't want to work for a company that would seek such personal information. Jon Hamm sticks to his guns in calling Kim Kardashian an 'idiot (NYDN) NBC “Today” show host Matt Lauer asked the AMC retro-series actor to clarify the earlier comments he made to Elle UK about Kardashian being a famous-for-being-famous “idiot,” which the reality starlet called “careless.” “I don’t think it was careless. I think it was accurate,” he told Lauer.

Opening Bell: 10.25.12

Credit Suisse Profit Falls (Reuters) The Swiss bank said on Thursday third-quarter net profit fell 63 percent to 254 million francs, missing analysts' average forecast of 370 million. The quarter was hit by 1.05 billion francs in charges, mainly linked to its own debt. Brady Dougan: More Tough Times Ahead For Financials (CNBC) More aggressive cost cutting will be necessary in the coming years, Credit Suisse CEO Brady Dougan told CNBC Thursday, adding that he expects the financial services industry to continue to operate in a volatile market environment. The bank is targeting cost savings of a billion Swiss francs ($1.07 billion) by next year with further cuts in the years after that. “We believe we should be in mode of driving business more efficiently. We have cut 2 billion Swiss francs in the last year and we can take another billion in 2013 and [we have] set further targets for 2014 and 2015. We want to drive that efficiency and we are in a volatile revenue environment and that’ll be the case for the industry for some time,” Dougan said. CEOs Call For Deficit Action (WSJ) Chief executives of more than 80 big-name U.S. corporations, from Aetna to Weyerhaeuser Co. are banding together to pressure Congress to reduce the federal deficit with tax-revenue increases as well as spending cuts. The CEOs, in a statement to be released on Thursday, say any fiscal plan "that can succeed both financially and politically" has to limit the growth of health-care spending, make Social Security solvent and "include comprehensive and pro-growth tax reform, which broadens the base, lowers rates, raises revenues and reduces the deficit." The CEOs who signed the manifesto deem tax increases inevitable no matter which party succeeds at the polls in November. "There is no possible way; you can do the arithmetic a million different ways" to avoid raising taxes, said Mark Bertolini, CEO of Aetna. "You can't tax your way to fix this problem, and you can't cut entitlements enough to fix this problem." Crew Of Argentine Ship Seized By Hedge Fund Elliot Associates Returns Home (AP) They were supposed to sail the Argentine military's signature tall ship into the port of Buenos Aires in full glory after a goodwill tour asserting the South American country's place in the world. Instead, hundreds of sailors had to abandon their frigate, evacuated on orders from President Cristina Fernandez, after the ARA Libertad was detained by a Ghanaian judge in a debt dispute. Frustrated and disheartened but determined to go back as soon as possible to retrieve their three-masted ship, the sailors arrived home early Thursday on an Air France charter. The Argentine government couldn't send one of its own planes, for fear that it, too, could be seized as collateral. China Surpasses US as Top Foreign Investment Venue (Reuters) China overtook the U.S. as the world's top destination for foreign direct investment in the first half of 2012, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. China absorbed $59.1 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI) in the first six months, down slightly from $60.9 billion a year earlier, the agency said in a report. The United States attracted $57.4 billion in 2012's first half, down 39 percent from a year earlier, it said. Stephen Colbert Makes Donald Trump An Offer (Mediaite) Reality star Donald Trump yesterday offered to donate $5 million to a charity of Barack Obama‘s choosing if the President “opens up and gives his college records and applications, and if he gives his passport applications and records.” Stephen Colbert, touched by Trump’s generosity, made an offer of his own last night. He is vowing to pledge $1 million from his Super PAC to any charity Trump wants if: “…you let me dip my balls in your mouth.” Fed Steady On Policy (WSJ) The Fed expanded bond purchasing at its September meeting and plans to do its next major evaluation of its bond-buying programs at its final meeting of the year on Dec. 11-12. Policy makers are still gathering evidence on whether their programs are working. "The Committee remains concerned that, without sufficient policy accommodation, economic growth might not be strong enough to generate sustained improvement in labor market conditions," the Federal Open Market Committee, the Fed's policy-making committee, said in a statement issued at the end of its two-day meeting. Jobless Claims Show Moderate Labor Progress (Bloomberg) Jobless claims decreased by 23,000 to 369,000 in the week ended Oct. 20 from a revised 392,000 the prior period, the Labor Department reported today in Washington. Lazard Profit Drops As Merger-Advisory Revenue Falls (Bloomberg) Lazard, the largest independent merger-advisory firm, posted a 33 percent drop in third-quarter profit as revenue from advising on mergers declined. The firm said it would implement a cost-cutting plan. Earnings fell to $35.4 million, or 26 cents a share, from $52.9 million, or 39 cents, a year earlier, the Hamilton, Bermuda-based firm said today in a statement. The average estimate of 11 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg was for per-share profit of 21 cents. Japanese man pays $780K for virginity of 20-year-old Brazil woman, who’ll use money for charity housing project (NYDN) A Brazilian student is set to sell her virginity for a staggering $780,000 after she put it up for auction online. A man called Natsu, from Japan, fended off strong competition from American bidders Jack Miller and Jack Right, and a big-spender from India, Rudra Chatterjee, to secure a date with 20-year-old Catarina Migliorini. The auction ended at 4 a.m. EST this morning, and the physical education student — who said she will use the cash to build homes for poverty-stricken families — was the subject of 15 bids. “The auction is just business, I'm a romantic girl at heart and believe in love. But this will make a big difference to my area,” she told Folha newspaper. “If you only do it once in your life then you are not a prostitute, just like if you take one amazing photograph it does not automatically make you a photographer.

Opening Bell: 07.18.12

BofA Swings To Profit, Topping Analysts' Estimates (WSJ) Bank of America reported a profit of $2.46 billion, compared with a year-earlier loss of $8.83 billion. On a per-share basis, which reflect the payment of preferred dividends, earnings came in at 19 cents from a loss of 90 cents a year earlier. The year-ago quarter's results included a charge of $1.23 a share in mortgage-related and other adjustments. Total revenue surged 66% to $21.97 billion. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected earnings of 14 cents a share on $22.87 billion in revenue. The bank's profit was helped by reduced provisions for loan losses as credit quality continued to improve. Credit-loss provisions totaled $1.77 billion compared with $3.26 billion a year ago and $2.42 billion in the first quarter. HSBC Probe Brings Promises Regulator, Bank Will Clean Up Act (Bloomberg) HSBC executives apologized for opening their U.S. affiliate to a river of Mexican drug lords’ cash, and the U.S. regulator that failed to stem the flow vowed to prevent a repeat. “I deeply regret we did not act sooner and more decisively,” Comptroller of the Currency Thomas Curry said at a day-long hearing yesterday of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. He said his agency, which regulates HSBC’s U.S. arm, is partially responsible for letting Europe’s largest bank give terrorists, drug cartels and criminals access to the U.S. financial system and will take “a much more aggressive posture.” Opinion: Investing In America Produces The Best Returns, By Lloyd Blankfein (Politico) The question I’m most often asked these days is, “Where should I invest?” In recent years, we all know, there has been an unusually high degree of uncertainty. It falls into two broad categories: cyclical concerns that focus on the outlook for near-term economic growth and structural concerns that center on the viability of existing political or economic systems — for example, the European Union. The cyclical and structural challenges are considerable, and in some cases, even daunting. But when I meet with chief executive officers and institutional investors and they ask me where to invest, my response is that the United States remains as attractive as ever. And it would be even more attractive if it can make some short-term progress in a few key areas. Hugh Hendry: ‘Bad Things are Going to Happen’ (FT) Hendry believes that financial markets are single-digit years away from a crash that will present investors with opportunities of a lifetime. “Bad things are going to happen and I still think the closest analogy is the 1930s.” For Yahoo CEO, Two New Roles (WSJ) Just hours after Yahoo named Marissa Mayer as its new chief, the real conversation kicked in: how she will juggle pregnancy and being the CEO charged with saving a foundering Internet giant. The 37 year-old former Google executive is expecting her first child, a son, in early October. On Tuesday, she started her new job at Yahoo, which reported another quarter of lackluster sales growth...No Yahoo directors expressed concern about her pregnancy, according to Ms. Mayer, who told the board in late June, about a week after Yahoo's recruiter contacted her. She says she plans to work during her maternity leave, which will last several weeks...Ms. Mayer's husband, Zachary Bogue, a former attorney, is co-managing partner at Data Collective, an early-stage venture capital fund specializing in tech start-ups. JFK jet in laser scare (NYP) A lunatic aimed a powerful laser beam at an airliner flying over Long Island on its way into JFK — sending the pilot to the hospital and endangering the lives of the 84 people aboard. The first officer on JetBlue Flight 657 from Syracuse was treated for injuries to both eyes after the blinding flash of light lit up the cockpit Sunday night — as the FBI and Suffolk cops hunted for the person responsible, who could face federal prison time. The Embraer E190 jet landed safely, and the injured pilot — identified by sources as First Officer Robert Pemberton, 52 — was met at the gate and taken to Jamaica Hospital. Authorities believe the beam came from around West Islip, Babylon or Lindenhurst. “You wouldn’t think a pen laser would go that far of a distance,” said shocked West Babylon resident Cindy Konik, 50...A startled co-pilot, who was not identified, immediately took over the controls from his temporarily blinded colleague. “We just got lasered up here — two green flashes into the cockpit,” the captain radioed controllers at Ronkonkoma. Credit Suisse Sets Capital Plan (WSJ) moved Wednesday to stanch recent concerns about its financial strength, saying it is raising capital through the sale of convertible bonds, more divestments and the launch of another cost-savings program. It is a surprise twist in a spat with the country's central bank, which recently warned that Switzerland's number two bank wasn't strong enough to withstand a major crisis. Credit Suisse initially rejected the central bank's criticism, saying it was among the world's best-capitalized banks. This didn't impress investors, who offloaded their shares, wiping out 2 billion Swiss francs ($2.05 billion) in market value. At one point last month the bank even felt compelled to reassure investors that it was profitable in the second quarter, even though profitability over the period was never in doubt. Strong Possibility Of Further Fed Easing By September: Goldman (CNBC) In a testimony before the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke offered no new hints that the central bank is planning more easing, but repeated a pledge that the Fed “is prepared to take further action as appropriate to promote stronger economic recovery.” “While we think that a modest easing step is a strong possibility at the August or September meeting, we suspect that a large move is more likely to come after the election or in early 2013, barring rapid further deterioration in the already-cautious near term Fed economic outlook,” Goldman Sachs conomist Andrew Tilton said in a report. BlackRock's Net Slips 11% (WSJ) BlackRock reported a profit of $554 million, or $3.08 a share, compared with a year-earlier profit of $619 million, or $3.21 a share. Stripping out one-time items, per-share earnings rose to $3.10 from $3. Revenue slipped 5% to $2.23 billion. Analysts expected earnings of $3.01 a share on $2.26 billion in revenue, according to a poll conducted by Thomson Reuters. BNY Mellon profit falls 37 percent on litigation charge (Reuters) Bank of New York Mellon Corp said on Wednesday that second-quarter net income had fallen 37 percent on lower foreign exchange revenue and after it paid $212 million to settle an investor lawsuit. The world's largest custody bank reported net income of $466 million, or 39 cents a share, compared with $735 million, or 59 cents a share, a year earlier. As announced earlier this month, the results included an after-tax charge of $212 million to settle an investor lawsuit accusing the bank of imprudently investing their cash in a risky debt vehicle that collapsed in 2008. Quarterly revenue fell to $3.62 billion from $3.85 billion. Residents warned: 6-foot lizard loose in Colorado (AP) A sheriff has warned residents in a tourist town northwest of Colorado Springs that a strong, aggressive 6-foot lizard that eats small animals — including dogs and cats — is on the loose in the area. Teller County Sheriff Mike Ensinger said Tuesday that a 25-pound pet Nile monitor lizard has gone missing after breaking a mesh leash and crawling away. Ensinger said about 400 homes in the Woodland Park area were warned. He added that the animal, which escaped Monday and is known as Dino, has not bitten any humans — yet. "We have a 6-foot reptile out and about," Ensinger said. "If it gets hungry enough, we don't know what it will do." Ensinger said officers may use a tracking dog if Dino isn't located by Tuesday afternoon. "I'm not going after it," Ensinger said. "I don't do reptiles."

Opening Bell: 01.17.13

Charges Weigh On Bank Of America's Profit (WSJ) Overall, Bank of America reported a profit of $732 million versus a profit of $1.99 billion a year earlier. On a per-share basis, which includes the payment of preferred dividends, the bank reported earnings of three cents versus 15 cents a year earlier. The most recent period included a per-share impact of 16 cents from the Fannie Mae settlement, a six cent impact from the foreclosure review and litigation expense of five cents a share, among other items. Revenue dropped 25% to $18.66 billion as noninterest income fell 41%. Excluding $700 million of debit valuation and fair value option adjustments, and $3 billion for the cost of $3 billion, revenue was $22.6 billion. Citigroup Earnings Miss Analysts’ Estimates on Litigation (Bloomberg) Net income climbed 25 percent to $1.2 billion in the fourth quarter, or 38 cents a share, from $956 million, or 31 cents, a year earlier, the New York-based lender said today in a statement. Earnings adjusted for one-time items including restructuring costs were 69 cents a share. Twenty-one analysts surveyed by Bloomberg estimated 96 cents on average, with some items Citigroup didn’t include. Chief Executive Officer Michael Corbat, 52, took over in October and last month announced plans to eliminate about 11,000 employees and pull back from some emerging markets, undoing part of the expansion strategy of his predecessor, Vikram Pandit. Litigation costs included $305 million from a settlement between U.S. banks and federal regulators, who were probing claims that lenders improperly seized homes. Goldman Profits By Going On Offensive (WSJ) The value of Goldman Sachs's investment portfolio doubled last year. Bond underwriting hit a five-year high. The firm's workforce shrank and remaining employees were paid a smaller chunk of overall revenue. Those were just some of the ingredients in a bigger-than-expected profit jump by the New York company, which said net income almost tripled to $2.83 billion in the fourth quarter from $1.01 billion a year earlier. Wednesday's results were packed with evidence of Goldman's discipline in cutting costs, taking less risk with its own money and riding out financial crises in the U.S. and then Europe. Goldman Agonized Over Pay Cuts as Profits Suffered (Reuters) Top executives at Goldman Sachs have been considering deep cuts to staffing levels and pay for at least two years, but feared too many layoffs would leave the firm unprepared for an eventual pickup in business, people familiar with the bank said. They instead chipped away at staff levels and focused on non-personnel expenses that are less painful to cut. But investors pressured the bank to cut costs further, the sources said, and on Wednesday, Goldman gave in. The largest standalone investment bank said in the fourth quarter it cut the percentage of revenues it pays to employees in half to 21 percent. That brings the ratio for the entire year to its second-lowest level since the bank went public in 1999. Fed Concerned About Overheated Markets Amid Record Bond-Buying (Bloomberg) Now, as central bankers boost their stimulus with additional bond purchases, policy makers from Chairman Ben S. Bernanke to Kansas City Fed President Esther George are on the lookout for financial distortions that may reverse abruptly when the Fed stops adding to its portfolio and eventually shrinks it. “Prices of assets such as bonds, agricultural land, and high-yield and leveraged loans are at historically high levels,” George said in a speech last week. “We must not ignore the possibility that the low-interest rate policy may be creating incentives that lead to future financial imbalances.” Estonian president’s Twitter fight with Paul Krugman becomes an opera (RS) A Twitter feud in June between the Estonian president and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman who questioned the impact of Estonia’s austerity measures, is being turned into an opera, US composer Eugene Birman told AFP on Wednesday. “Our short opera will be first performed by Iris Oja and the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra conducted by Risto Joost during Tallinn Music Week on April 7,” Birman, who moved from Riga to the US at age of six, told AFP. The piece, in two movements, uses two voices, those of Krugman and Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, reflecting their exchanges on the Twitter social network...The bow-tie loving Ilves went on a tweet-rant after Krugman, the winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize for Economics, argued in a short article entitled “Estonian Rhapsody” that while Estonia had been globally praised for its austerity measures, its recovery was in fact lukewarm. “Let’s write about something we know nothing about & be smug, overbearing & patronizing…Guess a Nobel in trade means you can pontificate on fiscal matters & declare my country a ‘wasteland,’” Ilves responded on his page on the on the micro-blogging site Twitter. “But yes, what do we know? We’re just dumb and silly East Europeans,” he added, before writing in his final tweet, “Let’s sh*t on East Europeans.” Deutsche Bank Derivative Helped Monte Paschi Mask Losses (Bloomberg) Deutsche Bank designed a derivative for Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena SpA at the height of the financial crisis that obscured losses at the world’s oldest lender before it sought a taxpayer bailout. Germany’s largest bank loaned Monte Paschi about 1.5 billion euros ($2 billion) in December 2008 through the transaction, dubbed Project Santorini, according to more than 70 pages of documents outlining the deal and obtained by Bloomberg News. The trade helped Monte Paschi mitigate a 367 million-euro loss from an older derivative contract with Deutsche Bank. As part of the arrangement, the Italian lender made a losing bet on the value of the country’s government bonds, said six derivatives specialists who reviewed the files. BlackRock Net Jumps 24% (WSJ) The company said net inflows in long-term products totaled $47 billion at the year's end, reflecting equity, fixed income and multiasset class product net inflows of $31.2 billion, $12.4 billion and $4.1 billion, respectively. The net inflows were partially offset by alternatives net outflows of $700 million. Total assets under management were $3.792 trillion as of the end of the fourth quarter, versus $3.513 trillion a year earlier and $3.673 trillion in the third quarter. Jobless Claims Drop To 5-Year Low (Reuters) Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell 37,000 to a seasonally adjusted 335,000, the lowest level since January 2008, the Labor Department said on Thursday. It was the largest weekly drop since February 2010. Khuzami defends corp. settlements (NYP) Robert Khuzami, the Securities and Exchange Commission’s enforcement chief, is on his way out the door — but he says in an interview with The Post that the agency’s much-maligned practice of settling cases is here to stay. Khuzami, 56, defended the SEC’s policy of allowing targets to settle cases — usually without an admission of wrongdoing — despite recent criticism. “There are certain myths about SEC practices, including how ‘neither admit nor deny’ works and why we use it,” said Khuzami, who is leaving his post after heading the agency’s crackdown on big banks following the financial crisis. “I speak out against these myths in the hope of reducing the level of cynicism felt by the public, which are often fueled by mischaracterizations or misunderstandings of how we operate.” Commissioners approve regulations governing sexy coffee stands (Kitsap Sun) Owners of adult-themed coffee stands in unincorporated Kitsap County will have to post signs warning would-be customers about their scantily-clad baristas, and they'll have to do more to protect passers-by from seeing into their businesses. That's according to an ordinance passed Monday in a unanimous vote of the Kitsap County commissioners. The stands have 60 days to comply with the changes, which include a site visit by county planning staff to check the signs are posted and additional screening is added...The ordinance requires adult espresso stands — the three existing stands and any new ones — to install an 8-foot-high fence or landscape buffer, approved by the county Department of Community Development, in front of windows that face the street or other businesses, blocking views by the public. Businesses also must receive a one-time certification from DCD to guarantee the regulations are met. A boiling point was hit more than a year ago when five stands — three of them within a half-mile stretch of Highway 303 — advertised employees in pasties and lingerie. Unhappy parents demanded commissioners regulate the businesses. The health department doesn't require clothing, instead it looks at whether employees have food handler permits, said Department of Community Development associate planner Heather Adams. The state Department of Labor and Industries also has no rules dictating required clothing at coffee stands, Adams said.

Opening Bell: 04.18.12

IMF Says Recovery Remains Fragile (WSJ) "An uneasy calm remains," IMF chief economist Olivier Blanchard said. "One has the feeling that any moment, things could well get very bad again." Worst Yet to Come as Crisis Rescue Cash Ebbs, Deutsche Bank Says (Bloomberg) The worst may be yet to come in the global financial crisis as the central bank spending that kept defaults low runs out, according to Deutsche Bank AG. Credit-default swap prices imply that four or more European nations may suffer so-called credit events such as having to restructure their debt, strategists led by Jim Reid and Nick Burns said in a note. The Markit iTraxx SovX Western Europe Index of contracts on 15 governments including Spain and Italy jumped 26 percent in the past month as the region’s crisis flared up. “If these implied defaults come vaguely close to being realised then the next five years of corporate and financial defaults could easily be worse than the last five relatively calm years,” the analysts in London said. “Much may eventually depend on how much money-printing can be tolerated as we are very close to being maxed out fiscally.” BNY Mellon Profit Falls as Record-Low Rates Cut Returns (Bloomberg) Net income fell to $619 million, or 52 cents a share, from $625 million or 50 cents, a year earlier, BNY Mellon said today in a statement. Analysts (BK) had expected the New York-based company to report a profit of 51 cents a share, according to the average of 15 estimates in a Bloomberg survey. Flat BlackRock Profit Tops Forecasts (WSJ) BlackRock reported a profit of $572 million, or $3.14 a share, compared with a year-earlier profit of $568 million, or $2.89 a share. Stripping out one-time items, per-share earnings rose to $3.16 from $2.96 a year ago. Revenue slipped 1.4% to $2.25 billion. Analysts expected earnings of $3.04 a share on $2.23 billion in revenue, according to a poll conducted by Thomson Reuters. Paulson Goes Short on German Bunds (FT) Paulson told investors in a call on Monday that he was betting against the creditworthiness of Germany, regarded in markets as among the safest sovereign borrowers, because he saw the problems affecting the euro zone deteriorating severely, said a person familiar with his strategy. Guy With Spreadsheet of Match.com ‘Prospects’ Says He Was Just Trying to Be Organized (Jezebel, earlier) "I work with spreadsheets a lot," he said. "It's a great additional tool. I work long days, go to the gym, go out on a couple of midweek dates or what not, get home late...how am I going to remember them? I'm not. So I made the spreadsheets. My comments aren't malicious or mean. This was an honest attempt to stay organized." He said he sent the spreadsheet to his date because "she works with spreadsheets a lot too" and she "seemed like a very sweet girl." Italy Puts Back Balanced Budget Goal by a Year (Reuters) Italy will delay by a year its plan to balance the budget in 2013 due to a weakening economic outlook, according to a draft document due to be approved by the cabinet of Prime Minister Mario Monti on Wednesday. The draft Economic and Financial document (DEF), which has been obtained by Reuters, raises the budget deficit forecasts for 2012-2014 and slashes this year's economic growth outlook. Bank of America Faces Bad Home-Equity Loans: Mortgages (Bloomberg) Bank of America, whose home- equity mortgage portfolio exceeds its stock market value, probably will say about $2 billion of junior loans are bad assets tomorrow even as some borrowers are still paying on time. That’s what Barclays Capital estimates the bank will report in its first-quarter results, following decisions by JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Citigroup to reclassify $4.1 billion of junior liens as nonperforming. In Facebook Deal For Instagram, Board Was Little Involved (WSJ) On the morning of Sunday, April 8, Facebook Inc.'s youthful chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, alerted his board of directors that he intended to buy Instagram, the hot photo-sharing service. It was the first the board heard of what, later that day, would become Facebook's largest acquisition ever, according to several people familiar with the matter. Mr. Zuckerberg and his counterpart at Instagram, Kevin Systrom, had already been talking over the deal for three days, these people said. Negotiating mostly on his own, Mr. Zuckerberg had fielded Mr. Systrom's opening number, $2 billion, and whittled it down over several meetings at Mr. Zuckerberg's $7 million five-bedroom home in Palo Alto. Later that Sunday, the two 20-somethings would agree on a sale valued at $1 billion.