Opening Bell: 10.22.12

Some Investors Open to Higher US Tax to Shave Deficit (Reuters) In recent weeks, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein and JPMorgan Chase's Jamie Dimon became the latest Wall Street heavyweights to say they would be willing to pay more in exchange for a deal to balance the country's books. AIG's Benmosche On Why Capitalism Still Works (NYM) As its vaguely omnipotent name suggests, American International Group contained a little of everything: a small bank, an airline-leasing company, and a terrifyingly vast array of international companies that underwrote everything from cows in India to satellites orbiting the Earth. To the emergency team that came in following the crises, the impulse was to get rid of everything, to disassemble this Frankenstein monster once and for all. This was the idea behind Project Destiny. Benmosche had a different one. “Say you’re sitting there, you have gangrene,” he says to me one morning, before I’ve even had coffee. “And I don’t have any instruments. All I have is an ax. And I’ve gotta grab the ax and cut that sucker off. But the ax is dull. And it makes a mess. That’s what they did, in the beginning. They whacked that sucker off. And they kept hacking. But there was value in the body that was left. The body could produce things. And it owed people. What are you going to do, kill the body? Want it to be so ugly and deformed that it could never live? No! What you do is you clean it up, make it more cosmetic. Maybe we can help them get a prosthesis. Maybe they can run in the Olympics one day, like a double amputee, as we saw. Can you imagine that? A double amputee running in the race.” Goldman Bonus System Corrupted In 2005, Smith Book Says (Bloomberg) Before 2005, the company determined workers’ annual awards “not just on how much business you’d brought in, but also on how good you were for the organization,” Smith, a former vice president, writes in “Why I Left Goldman Sachs: A Wall Street Story.” “From 2005 until the present day, the system has become largely mathematical: you were paid a percentage of the amount of revenue next to your name,” a figure that could vary from 5 percent to 7 percent, wrote Smith, 33, without saying how he learned about such a change. “The problem with the new system was that people would now do anything they could -- anything -- to pump up the number next to their name.” 129 Minutes With Goldman Turncoat Greg Smith (NYM) Why I Left Goldman Sachs may disappoint those who hoped for a collection of sordid Wall Street bacchanalia. Smith saw no financial crimes in progress at the bank, and his tales of Goldman life are mostly anodyne workplace micro-dramas told with wide-eyed breathlessness. The book’s most lurid revelation is that Smith once saw Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein naked at the company gym. With the book done, Smith says he’s looking forward to resuming a normal life, possibly as a speaker and pundit. Among other things, he’d like to meet a woman. “I’m not anti-capitalism at all,” he says. “I want Goldman to be admired. I just don’t like this notion that ethics and capitalism are different things.” Argentina orders evacuation of ship seized by hedgie Paul Singer as collateral for unpaid bonds (AP) Argentina announced the immediate evacuation Saturday of about 300 crew members from the ARA Libertad, a navy training ship seized in Africa nearly three weeks ago as collateral for unpaid bonds dating from the South American nation's economic crisis a decade ago. Only the captain and a few other members of the crew of 326 sailors will remain on the three-masted tall ship, a symbol of Argentina's navy. Girl, 9, in black and white costume shot as relative mistakes her for skunk (NYDN) A 9-year-old girl was shot outside a Halloween party Saturday night in Western Pennsylvania, taking a bullet to the shoulder from a male relative who mistook her for a skunk. The condition of the girl wasn’t released Sunday, but police in rural New Sewickley Township said she was alert and talking as she was flown to a hospital in Pittsburgh, 30 miles away. Neither the girl nor her relative was identified. She was spotted on a hillside around 8:30 p.m. wearing a black costume and black hat with a white tassel, according to the Beaver County Times. The relative who accidentally injured her was carrying a shotgun. Police Chief Ronald Leindecker said the man wasn’t under the influence of alcohol, and was unsure whether he would be charged. Prince Alwaleed Praises Pandit for Citigroup Crisis Handling (Bloomberg) Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal praised Vikram Pandit for his handling of the financial crisis while chief executive officer at Citigroup, saying he helped position the bank for further growth. “Many companies like HSBC, Barclays and Standard Chartered shrank and went back to their roots,” Alwaleed, the largest individual investor in Citigroup, said today at a conference in Dubai. “Citigroup never blinked on that. It’s the only global bank at the moment and really the potential is there,” 57-year- old Alwaleed said, adding that Pandit did a “good” job as CEO. West Coast Will Be In 'Colossal' Mess In 5 To 10 Years, Says Marc Faber (CNBC) Faber argued that the political systems in place in the West would allow the debt burden to continue to expand. Under such a scenario of never-ending deficits, the Western world would rack up huge deficits. One day, the system would break, he said. “Eventually, you have either huge changes occurring in a peaceful fashion through reforms, or, usually, through revolutions,” he said. The U.S. is getting closer to such a revolution, he said, as is Europe. Vampire Pong: Ex-Goldman Banker Takes On A Pro (Fortune) Halfway through a recent match, set up by Fortune between Smith and Wally Green, one of the top pros in the country, Smith crouches, leans his head toward the table and serves. The pro swings and misses. Ace....Smith brought own paddle in a soft vinyl case to the match, which was held at Spin, a club in New York. The best part of Smith's game is his serve, which is a deceptive spinning wonder that appears to be going much faster than it is. His first serve of the match, like a number of others, goes right by Green. Smith is up 1-0. "That's a very good serve," says Green. Baby Walrus Adapts To Life In Brooklyn (NYT) A team of 15 is caring for him around the clock. His favorite toy is a plastic bucket. He has taken swimmingly to a large pool. And on Friday, he had his first taste of solid food — surf clams. “He’s hitting every milestone we’re hoping to see,” said Jon Forrest Dohlin, director of the New York Aquarium in Coney Island, Brooklyn, part of the Wildlife Conservation Society. “He still has some issues with his bladder, but they are trending in the right direction. Behaviorally, he’s doing great and we’re feeling good about his progress.” He was describing Mitik, or Mit for short, one of two walrus calves separated from a herd in the Arctic Ocean and orphaned in Alaska in July. The Alaska SeaLife Center took them in and found new homes for each. (The other walrus, Pakak, went to the Indianapolis Zoo.) The New York Aquarium, eager for a young companion for its two older walruses, stepped up, flying a staff member, Martha Hiatt, to Alaska to work with Mit for a month. On Oct. 11, Ms. Hiatt, the aquarium’s behavioral husbandry supervisor, along with a veterinarian, accompanied Mit on a FedEx cargo jet from Anchorage to Newark. The walrus, believed to be about 16 weeks old, stayed in his crate during the six-hour flight. “It was loud,” Ms. Hiatt said of the trip. “He pretty much sang to us the entire time. We stayed with him, talked to him and hosed him off now and then.” [...] much of Mit’s day consists of play, which helps his development and encourages his cooperation during medical procedures and feedings. One of his favorite activities is to scoop up a giant white bucket with holes through it. “He loves to run around with that on his head and vocalize,” Ms. Hiatt said.
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Some Investors Open to Higher US Tax to Shave Deficit (Reuters)
In recent weeks, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein and JPMorgan Chase's Jamie Dimon became the latest Wall Street heavyweights to say they would be willing to pay more in exchange for a deal to balance the country's books.

AIG's Benmosche On Why Capitalism Still Works (NYM)
As its vaguely omnipotent name suggests, American International Group contained a little of everything: a small bank, an airline-leasing company, and a terrifyingly vast array of international companies that underwrote everything from cows in India to satellites orbiting the Earth. To the emergency team that came in following the crises, the impulse was to get rid of everything, to disassemble this Frankenstein monster once and for all. This was the idea behind Project Destiny. Benmosche had a different one. “Say you’re sitting there, you have gangrene,” he says to me one morning, before I’ve even had coffee. “And I don’t have any instruments. All I have is an ax. And I’ve gotta grab the ax and cut that sucker off. But the ax is dull. And it makes a mess. That’s what they did, in the beginning. They whacked that sucker off. And they kept hacking. But there was value in the body that was left. The body could produce things. And it owed people. What are you going to do, kill the body? Want it to be so ugly and deformed that it could never live? No! What you do is you clean it up, make it more cosmetic. Maybe we can help them get a prosthesis. Maybe they can run in the Olympics one day, like a double amputee, as we saw. Can you imagine that? A double amputee running in the race.”

Goldman Bonus System Corrupted In 2005, Smith Book Says (Bloomberg)
Before 2005, the company determined workers’ annual awards “not just on how much business you’d brought in, but also on how good you were for the organization,” Smith, a former vice president, writes in “Why I Left Goldman Sachs: A Wall Street Story.” “From 2005 until the present day, the system has become largely mathematical: you were paid a percentage of the amount of revenue next to your name,” a figure that could vary from 5 percent to 7 percent, wrote Smith, 33, without saying how he learned about such a change. “The problem with the new system was that people would now do anything they could -- anything -- to pump up the number next to their name.”

129 Minutes With Goldman Turncoat Greg Smith (NYM)
With the book done, Smith says he’s looking forward to resuming a normal life, possibly as a speaker and pundit. Among other things, he’d like to meet a woman. “I’m not anti-capitalism at all,” he says. “I want Goldman to be admired. I just don’t like this notion that ethics and capitalism are different things.”

Argentina orders evacuation of ship seized by hedgie Paul Singer as collateral for unpaid bonds (AP)
Argentina announced the immediate evacuation Saturday of about 300 crew members from the ARA Libertad, a navy training ship seized in Africa nearly three weeks ago as collateral for unpaid bonds dating from the South American nation's economic crisis a decade ago. Only the captain and a few other members of the crew of 326 sailors will remain on the three-masted tall ship, a symbol of Argentina's navy.

Girl, 9, in black and white costume shot as relative mistakes her for skunk (NYDN)
A 9-year-old girl was shot outside a Halloween party Saturday night in Western Pennsylvania, taking a bullet to the shoulder from a male relative who mistook her for a skunk. The condition of the girl wasn’t released Sunday, but police in rural New Sewickley Township said she was alert and talking as she was flown to a hospital in Pittsburgh, 30 miles away. Neither the girl nor her relative was identified. She was spotted on a hillside around 8:30 p.m. wearing a black costume and black hat with a white tassel, according to the Beaver County Times. The relative who accidentally injured her was carrying a shotgun. Police Chief Ronald Leindecker said the man wasn’t under the influence of alcohol, and was unsure whether he would be charged.

Prince Alwaleed Praises Pandit for Citigroup Crisis Handling (Bloomberg)
Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal praised Vikram Pandit for his handling of the financial crisis while chief executive officer at Citigroup, saying he helped position the bank for further growth. “Many companies like HSBC, Barclays and Standard Chartered shrank and went back to their roots,” Alwaleed, the largest individual investor in Citigroup, said today at a conference in Dubai. “Citigroup never blinked on that. It’s the only global bank at the moment and really the potential is there,” 57-year- old Alwaleed said, adding that Pandit did a “good” job as CEO.

West Coast Will Be In 'Colossal' Mess In 5 To 10 Years, Says Marc Faber (CNBC)
Faber argued that the political systems in place in the West would allow the debt burden to continue to expand. Under such a scenario of never-ending deficits, the Western world would rack up huge deficits. One day, the system would break, he said. “Eventually, you have either huge changes occurring in a peaceful fashion through reforms, or, usually, through revolutions,” he said. The U.S. is getting closer to such a revolution, he said, as is Europe.

Vampire Pong: Ex-Goldman Banker Takes On A Pro (Fortune)
Halfway through a recent match, set up by Fortune between Smith and Wally Green, one of the top pros in the country, Smith crouches, leans his head toward the table and serves. The pro swings and misses. Ace....Smith brought own paddle in a soft vinyl case to the match, which was held at Spin, a club in New York. The best part of Smith's game is his serve, which is a deceptive spinning wonder that appears to be going much faster than it is. His first serve of the match, like a number of others, goes right by Green. Smith is up 1-0. "That's a very good serve," says Green.

Baby Walrus Adapts To Life In Brooklyn (NYT)
A team of 15 is caring for him around the clock. His favorite toy is a plastic bucket. He has taken swimmingly to a large pool. And on Friday, he had his first taste of solid food — surf clams. “He’s hitting every milestone we’re hoping to see,” said Jon Forrest Dohlin, director of the New York Aquarium in Coney Island, Brooklyn, part of the Wildlife Conservation Society. “He still has some issues with his bladder, but they are trending in the right direction. Behaviorally, he’s doing great and we’re feeling good about his progress.” He was describing Mitik, or Mit for short, one of two walrus calves separated from a herd in the Arctic Ocean and orphaned in Alaska in July. The Alaska SeaLife Center took them in and found new homes for each. (The other walrus, Pakak, went to the Indianapolis Zoo.) The New York Aquarium, eager for a young companion for its two older walruses, stepped up, flying a staff member, Martha Hiatt, to Alaska to work with Mit for a month. On Oct. 11, Ms. Hiatt, the aquarium’s behavioral husbandry supervisor, along with a veterinarian, accompanied Mit on a FedEx cargo jet from Anchorage to Newark. The walrus, believed to be about 16 weeks old, stayed in his crate during the six-hour flight. “It was loud,” Ms. Hiatt said of the trip. “He pretty much sang to us the entire time. We stayed with him, talked to him and hosed him off now and then.” [...] Now, much of Mit’s day consists of play, which helps his development and encourages his cooperation during medical procedures and feedings. One of his favorite activities is to scoop up a giant white bucket with holes through it. “He loves to run around with that on his head and vocalize,” Ms. Hiatt said.

Related

Opening Bell: 10.10.12

Banks Must Cut Deeper to Help Stock Prices, McKinsey Says (Bloomberg) Banks must make deeper and more sweeping cost reductions if they want to restore profitability levels that are acceptable to investors, McKinsey & Co. said in an annual review of the industry. “It has to go a lot further,” Toos Daruvala, a director in the consulting firm’s North American banking practice and a co-author of the report, said yesterday in a phone interview. “Banks have done quite a lot on cost-cutting but frankly the environment has deteriorated over the last year” because of economic weakness, he said. Argentina rejects Singer’s $20M in ransom for ship’s release (NYP) At a court hearing today in Ghana, where hedge fund manager Paul Singer’s lawyers are holding the ARA Libertad hostage, a lawyer for Argentina argued that Singer had no right to detain the ship because it’s a military vessel and immune from seizure. Lawyer Larry Otoo called the seizure — a move by Singer to force Argentina to repay a $1.6 billion debt he says he’s owed — an embarrassment to Ghana and demanded the ship’s immediate return. The court is expected to rule Thursday on whether to release the ship. Singer, the head of hedge fund giant Elliot Management, is seeking to recoup some of the $600 million in bonds he purchased as Argentina was headed for default in 2001. Elliot bought the bonds at steep discounts, paying as little as 15 cents on the dollar in some cases, but has since won judgments of as much as $1.6 billion. Elliot’s NML Capital unit is pursuing Argentina’s assets all over the world in an effort to collect on its debt. In Gupta Sentencing, A Judgment Call (WSJ) Former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. director Rajat Gupta is the highest-profile of more than 70 defendants convicted of insider trading in New York federal court in the past three years. But this month he will likely receive a more lenient sentence than the 11-year-prison term given to Raj Rajaratnam, to whom Mr. Gupta provided his illegal leaks, legal experts say. The sentence may have reverberations beyond the 63-year-old Mr. Gupta, a former chief of consulting giant McKinsey & Co. It will be widely watched in executive suites nationwide because it will be among the first handed down to a major corporate figure in the recent insider-trading crackdown. Previous sentences have largely involved traders, lawyers, lower-rung corporate employees and others. Mr. Gupta, who was convicted in June of three counts of securities fraud relating to tips about Goldman and one count of conspiracy, didn't trade or profit directly from his illegal tips. Before the conviction, he had a long and stellar career in corporate America and philanthropy. All this will be balanced against the nature of the crimes and the need to discourage others from similar offenses when U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff hands down his sentence, scheduled for Oct. 24. Judge Rakoff often imposes sentences further below federal sentencing guidelines than some other judges do, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis...Since 2010, Judge Rakoff has imposed an average sentence of 21 months on insider-trading defendants who didn't cooperate with prosecutors—about 38% below the guideline minimum, according to the Journal analysis. By comparison, U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan issued seven sentences in that period averaging 6.3% below the guideline minimum. U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty issued three sentences at 20.3% less than the minimum. Goldman Pushes On Limits In Volcker Rule (WSJ) Some executives at the New York company believe they have found a way to extricate the credit funds from proposed limits on how much can be invested in hedge funds and private-equity funds, according to people briefed on the efforts. The Volcker rule caps a bank's total investments in hedge funds and private-equity funds at 3% of its so-called Tier-1 capital. It also prevents any single bank from accounting for more than 3% of a fund's investments. Those limits are among the biggest components of the rule, named after former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker and designed to curtail risk-taking among financial firms. The rule is the most contentious part of the Dodd-Frank financial-overhaul law of 2010 but, like much of the rest of the legislation, the details of its implementation are still being worked out. Credit funds lend to companies that might not otherwise get financing, such as companies backed by private-equity firms, and tend to hold their investments to maturity while using a limited amount of leverage. Goldman has argued in meetings with regulators and in letters to them that these funds function like banks, just with a different structure, according to public records and the people familiar with the efforts. Report: 20% of US Firms Cook the Books During Earnings (CNBC) ...a new report by finance professors at Emory and Duke University raises questions about the quality of earnings in general. In an anonymous survey of CFOs last year, the study found that at least 20% of companies are "managing" earnings and using aggressive accounting methods to legally alter the outcome of their earnings reports. Of the 20% of companies that manipulated their earnings to hit a target, Graham says, a surprising 40% did so to the downside, not the upside, to pad and improve future quarters' earnings. Banks Chasing Asian Millionaires Create Singapore’s Canary Wharf (Bloomberg) Singapore’s Marina Bay area is emerging as the city’s new financial hub, with banks including Standard Chartered Plc and Barclays taking bigger offices as they pursue Asia’s expanding ranks of millionaires. Corrections & Amplifications (WSJ via Lauren Tara LaCapra) "Annie Hubbard, the woman appearing alongside Goldman Sachs's chief financial officer, Harvey Schwartz, in a photograph with a page-one article about Goldman on Tuesday, was incorrectly identified as his wife. Mr. Schwartz isn't married." Hulk Hogan ‘devastated’ by leak of sex tape filmed six years ago with friend’s wife Heather Clem (NYDN) The wrestling star tried to explain the kinky love triangle to Howard Stern Tuesday using a thinly veiled euphemism. “Let’s say I’ve been doing laundry, brother, for this person forever, and all of a sudden this person hates the way I do laundry. And that person says, ‘You suck. I hate you. F-you every single day. I hate the way you do laundry. I’m going to find somebody else to do laundry. Somebody younger, faster, stronger,’” he said, clearly taking a jab at his ex-wife, who he was still married to at the time of the taping. “But my buddy, you know, him and his girl say, ‘Hey, you can do our laundry any time you want!’ Both of them are saying that,” he told Stern. “Finally after the person I was doing laundry with for millions and millions of years left, and all of a sudden there was nobody there to do laundry, I was depressed… I go to my buddy’s house and he says, ‘Hey man you can do this other person’s laundry that I’m partners with.’ I said, 'Sure.’” Official Warmth And Public Rage For A German Leader In Athens (NYT) ...even as Ms. Merkel said that she had come as a “good friend and a real partner,” not a “taskmaster or teacher to give grades,” the approximately 40,000 Greeks who took to the streets in protest (a rather modest number, by Greek standards) treated the visit as a provocation by the arch-nemesis in the euro crisis whose austerity medicine is obliterating the Greek middle class. Some banners read “Don’t cry for us Mrs. Merkel” and “Merkel, you are not welcome here.” A small group of protesters burned a flag bearing the Nazi swastika, while a handful of protesters dressed in Nazi-style uniforms drew cheers of approval as they rode a small vehicle past a police cordon. Variety Being Sold To Penske, Third Point (Reuters) Variety, the century-old entertainment trade newspaper once considered the bible of the movie industry, is being sold to online publisher Jay Penske and Third Point LLC for about $25 million, two sources with knowledge of the deal told Reuters. Penske and Third Point have struck a deal to buy the money-losing, 107-year-old newspaper from medical and technical publisher Reed Elsevier, which put it up for sale in March, the sources said. IMF warns eurozone on capital flight (FT) In its global financial stability report, the IMF concluded that capital flight from the eurozone’s periphery to the bloc’s core, driven by fears of a break-up of the currency union, had sparked “extreme fragmentation” of the euro area’s funding markets. The fund said this was causing renewed pressure for banks to shrink their balance sheets, particularly those in countries with fiscal woes. A Fat, Mustachioed Orphan Finds a Home (NYT) How do you transport a 234-pound baby to New York City? If he’s a 15-week-old walrus rescued from the open ocean off Alaska, the answer is a jumbo-size crate aboard a FedEx cargo jet, accompanied by a veterinarian and a handler. “If he’s calm and comfortable, no worries,” said Jon Forrest Dohlin, director of the New York Aquarium, which will receive the walrus calf, named Mitik, on Thursday. “But his needs and comfort come first. So he may very well travel with his head in our keeper’s lap.” Since late July, Mitik and a second orphaned walrus, Pakak, have been nursed to health with bottle feedings and exercise at the Alaska SeaLife Center, an aquarium in Seward that conducts research and responds to strandings of marine mammals. (Pakak, nicknamed Pak, will arrive at the Indianapolis Zoo on Thursday.) Mitik — or Mit, for short — was weak from illness and considerably smaller than Pakak when he was found by a hunting vessel several miles offshore. Mit initially suffered from bladder problems and could not take a bottle, requiring both a catheter and feeding tube. But he is now sucking assertively from a bottle and putting on a pound a day...With his multiple chins and doleful expression, Mit is also exhibiting an undeniable pluck that should serve him well in his new surroundings. Martha Hiatt, the aquarium’s behavioral husbandry supervisor, traveled to Alaska in September to help care for him. At first, she said, Pakak totally dominated him, but no longer. “If Mit is resting with his head on my lap, sucking my fingers, looking sweetly into my eyes, and Pak comes anywhere near us, he pops up, yells at Pak and tries to head-butt him,” she said. “Then he’ll turn to me and be all cuddly again. We say he is small, but scrappy — the perfect New Yorker.”

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: 03.22.12

Goldman conducts company-wide email review (Reuters) Goldman Sachs Group Inc has begun scanning internal emails for the term "muppet" and other evidence that employees referred to clients in derogatory ways, Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein told partners in a conference call this week, according to people familiar with the call...It was not clear when the search would be completed or what actions, if any, Goldman would take if the search turns up derogatory comments. Jobless Claims in U.S. Fall to Lowest Level in Four Years (Bloomberg) Jobless claims decreased by 5,000 to 348,000 in the week ended March 17, the fewest since February 2008, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. The median forecast of 46 economists in a Bloomberg News survey projected 350,000. The number of people on unemployment benefit rolls and those getting extended payments also fell. ‘Worst Still to Come’ for Europe Says Citi Economist (CNBC) Despite high-profile measures such as the Greek debt deal and mass pumping of liquidity into the banking system, Europe’s problems have merely been delayed for another day, Willem Buiter, chief economist at Citi, told CNBC. “We have really just paused for breath,” he said. “It (the long-term refinancing operation) really hasn’t solved the problem, and for Europe the worst is still to come.” On Wall St., Keeping a Tight Rein on Twitter (Dealbook) So a cottage industry has emerged. Adept start-ups act as guides on Wall Street’s social media adventure, providing the software that helps firms comply with regulations that date to a sleepier era of communication. “Here they were, these organizations that had never used the social networks because they had completely locked down access,” said Chad Bockius, the chief executive of Socialware, a start-up based in Austin, Tex., that advises financial firms on social media. “This is the same thing we saw when people started to use the Internet for business purposes.” Mr. Bockius, 35, says his company was the first to offer social media compliance products for the financial industry. Socialware sells software that can archive messages, house a library of prewritten content and allow compliance officers to oversee postings. Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, which Mr. Bockius holds up as one of his most enterprising clients, gave about 600 of its 17,800 financial advisers access to Twitter and LinkedIn last summer, and now plans to expand those ranks. “We’re trailblazing, so to speak,” said Lauren W. Boyman, who runs social media at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney. “Even with the restrictions that we have, we’ve seen a lot of success.” John Edwards is First Name Uncovered in 'Millionaire Madam' Investigation (DNAI via Daily Intel) Edwards allegedly hooked up with one of Gristina’s high-end hookers in 2007 when the dashing pol from North Carolina brought his then high-flying presidential campaign to the Big Apple. The one-night fling allegedly took place at an Upper East Side hotel suite and was arranged by an aide with help from a New Yorker familiar with Gristina’s prostitution ring, sources said...“Most of the women don’t have any idea about the identities of the men they sleep with,” a source explained. “How would they know a money man from Wall Street or the face of a lawyer or banker who shows up? “But the face of the national politician?” the source rhetorically asked. “She knew.” Volcker Says U.S. Needs Reforms in Finance, Government (Bloomberg) “It is not only our economic prosperity that’s in jeopardy, but our national security and our ability to play a constructive role in a changing world,” said Volcker, 84. Volcker said that progress has been made toward improving financial regulatory oversight, capital and liquidity standards and rules for derivatives. He said more needed to be done to regulate money market mutual funds, which he called “a new systemic risk,” and to rebuild a private market for home mortgages to replace the government-sponsored entities that dominate the business. “The reform report card still reads, ‘Promising but definitely incomplete,’” Volcker said. More Wings, Please — Signs Small Biz Is Improving (AP) Some diners at Hurricane Grill & Wings had been limiting themselves to a small order of the chain's saucy chicken wings and a glass of tap water. These days, many of those people are upgrading to a bigger order of as many as 15 wings and a soda. For Hurricane Grill, which sells its wings in more than 30 varieties of sauces, the larger plates and the sodas are a sign that customers are OK about spending a little more when they go out to eat. The evidence may not be a big economic report like gross domestic product or factory orders in a region, but small businesses have their own indicators that the economy is improving. Rich Would Skirt 'Buffett Rule' Report Shows (WSJ) The administration's proposal to end the Bush-era tax cuts for couples making more than $250,000 would raise about $850 billion over the next decade. Mr. Obama also wants to limit the value of many deductions for families making more than $250,000. That would raise a further $584 billion over the decade. But millionaires likely would find legal ways to avoid paying higher taxes under another of Mr. Obama's new tax proposals, his so-called "Buffett Rule," a separate congressional estimate found. The proposal—spelled out in Mr. Obama's State of the Union address but not included in his budget—would impose a 30% minimum tax rate on those who make more than $1 million a year. It's named for the billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who advocates higher taxes on the very wealthy. Taxpayers' likely efforts to sidestep the rule's impact mean it would raise about $47 billion in extra revenue over the next decade, according to a new estimate by the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation, a congressional advisory body that functions as the official congressional scorekeeper for legislation affecting government tax revenues. The Tax Policy Center had estimated the Buffett rule would raise about $114 billion over the next decade. Monster titanoboa snake invades New York (AP) New York commuters arriving at Grand Central Station will soon be greeted by a monstrous sight: a 48-foot-long, 2,500-pound titanoboa snake. The good news: It's not alive. Anymore. But the full-scale replica of the reptile -- which will make its first appearance at the commuter hub on March 22 -- is intended, as Smithsonian spokesperson Randall Kremer happily admitted, to "scare the daylights out of people" -- actually has a higher calling: to "communicate science to a lot of people." The scientifically scary-accurate model will go a long way toward that: If this snake slithered by you, it would be waist-high and measure the length of a school bus. Think of it as the T-rex of snakes.

Opening Bell: 07.27.12

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

Opening Bell: 02.26.13

J.P. Morgan’s Investor Day: Cut That Headcount (Deal Journal) JP Morgan is looking to cut another $1 billion out of its expenses this year, including somewhere around 4,000 jobs, according to a new presentation...And that may not be all the cuts. In a separate presentation on the consumer bank and mortgage operations the bank expects to cut costs in mortgage banking by $3 billion over this year and next year and cut headcount there by between 13,000 and 15,000. Banks Face Hurdle In Libor Fight (WSJ) Next week, lawyers for Barclays PLC, Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC, UBS AG and more than a dozen other banks still under investigation are expected to ask a federal-court judge to throw out many of the suits, which seek class-action status. The suits, filed in civil court in California and New York by plaintiffs ranging from a retired cable-car driver in San Francisco to the city of Baltimore, have been piling up for nearly two years. They seek damages that could reach into the tens of billions of dollars from financial institutions that help determine the London interbank offered rate, or Libor. Barclays, RBS and UBS already have paid about $2.5 billion, and admitted wrongdoing, to settle rate-rigging allegations by U.S. and U.K. regulators. In court filings, lawyers for the 16 banks accused of wrongdoing say the lawsuits have no legal validity. The lawyers say regulatory settlements reached so far don't support the central allegation in most of the civil suits that banks engaged in illegal, anticompetitive behavior. Berlusconi Concedes as He Weighs Alliance (Bloomberg) Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi acknowledged rival Pier Luigi Bersani’s narrow victory in the lower house of Parliament and said he’s open to a broad alliance to avoid a second election. “Everyone needs to think what good can be done for Italy and this will take some time,” Berlusconi said in an interview with Canale 5, a station owned by his Mediaset SpA broadcaster. The country can’t be left without a government, he said. Lew gettin’ close: Senate panel to OK as next Treasury boss (NYP) Treasury Secretary-nominee Jack Lew will get the green light to replace Tim Geithner despite taking heat during and after his confirmation hearing over a loan he received from New York University. The 57-year-old former White House chief of staff has enough votes from the Senate Finance Committee, headed by Max Baucus (D-Mont.), to pass a vote today that will likely lead to his confirmation, sources said. A full Senate vote is likely to be scheduled in a couple of days and held sometime next week. Larry Summers: Sequestration 'Meat Cleaver' Is Irresponsible (CNBC) Avoiding the "sequester" is "round three" in the debt-reduction debate, former Clinton Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers told CNBC Tuesday, arguing for a "balanced approach" because President Barack Obama has agreed to more spending cuts than revenue during the process. In a "Squawk Box" interview, Summers said the funding constraints of the Budget Control Act of 2011 — which resolved that year's debt ceiling crisis — were round one. "You had spending cuts that were far larger from the discretionary side, that were far larger than anything [on revenue] that happened in December. Right now, we're way in balance toward more spending cuts." Dominique Strauss-Kahn seeks to ban 'half-man half-pig' book (Telegraph) The "biographical novel" by Marcela Iacub, a lawyer and journalist, recounts her seven-month affair with the 64-year-old Mr Strauss-Kahn last year. It is due to be published on Wednesday under the title, Belle et Bête, or Beauty and Beast. But the one-time Socialist presidential hopeful will this morning seek to have the book banned for "violation of the intimacy of private life" and the author and her publisher fined 100,000 euros (£88,000) in damages...In the work, she claims Mr Strauss-Kahn would have transformed the Elysée Palace into a "giant swingers' club" had he been elected French president. In fresh accounts by those who have read the book yesterday, the last chapter narrates the pair's final encounter, ending in Miss Iacub receiving treatment in casualty after "the pig" left her with an "eaten ear". Mr Strauss-Kahn has slammed the work of a woman who "seduces to write a book, claiming to have amorous feelings to exploit them for financial gain". Gupta's Gotta Pay GS $6.2 Million (NYP) Former Goldman Sachs director Rajat Gupta was ordered yesterday by a Manhattan federal judge to fork over a whopping $6.2 million to repay the Wall Street bank for legal fees it spent during the government’s probe of Gupta’s insider-trading case. The 64-year-old fallen star was convicted last year of giving up secrets he learned while on Goldman’s board to his pal and hedge fund honcho Raj Rajaratnam. Among the counts, the jury found Gupta guilty of giving Rajaratnam a tip on Warren Buffett’s $5 billion investment in Goldman in the throes of the financial crisis. Gupta, the former head of consulting firm McKinsey, is out on bail while he appeals the ruling. Goldman had requested restitution of $6.9 million — and submitted 542 pages of billing records from its lawyers at Sullivan Cromwell. Yahoo’s Mayer Risks Productivity With Work-From-Home Restriction (Bloomberg) Jackie Reses, Yahoo’s executive vice president of people and development, sent a memo last week asking employees with work-from-home arrangements to make their way to the company’s offices, starting June. “To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side,” according to the memo, whose contents were confirmed by a Yahoo employee who asked not to be identified because it’s not a public document. “Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.” At a time when Mayer is under pressure to jump-start growth and create innovative products, the shift may compromise Yahoo’s ability to attract employees seeking the freedom to work outside the office -- a perk offered by many of the company’s competitors. Research suggests that working from home enhances productivity, said Jody Thompson, co-founder of workforce consultant CultureRx. BP Oil-Spill Trial Begins (WSJ) Both Transocean and the Justice Department focused part of their opening statements on a 10-minute ship-to-shore phone call between two BP engineers, Donald Vidrine and Mark Hafle, less than an hour before the blast. From the rig, Mr. Vidrine allegedly talked about unusual results from a test designed to ensure the cement sealing in the bottom of the well was successful. Investigators later found that rig workers misinterpreted the results of the test. Dennis Rodman Bound For North Korea (Reuters) Retired U.S. basketball player Dennis Rodman is to visit North Korea to film a television documentary and will arrive in the capital Pyongyang on Tuesday, the Associated Press reported. Rodman, now 51 years old, won five NBA championships in his prime, achieving a mix of fame and notoriety for his on- and off-court antics. Thirty-year-old North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who has launched two long-range rockets and carried out a nuclear weapons test during his first year in power, is reported to be an avid NBA fan and had pictures taken with players from the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers during his school days in Switzerland. "At a time when tensions between the two countries (the United States and North Korea) are running high, it's important to keep lines of communication open, no matter how non-traditional those channels are," AP quoted Shane Smith, the founder of VICE, which is to make the TV series, as saying.

Opening Bell: 03.15.12

Goldman Roiled by Op-Ed Loses $2.2 Billion for Shareholders (Bloomberg) Goldman Sachs slid $4.17 to $120.37 yesterday, leaving the shares still up 33 percent this year...Smith, who also wrote that he was quitting after 12 years at the company, blamed Blankfein, 57, and President Gary D. Cohn, 51, for a “decline in the firm’s moral fiber.” They responded in a memo to current and former employees, saying that Smith’s assertions don’t reflect the firm’s values, culture or “how the vast majority of people at Goldman Sachs think about the firm and the work it does on behalf of our clients.” You Have Less Than Two Hours To Sign Up For The Dealbreaker NCAA Tournament Challenge (DB) Do it here, do it now, or lose us forever (the password is: animalliar). SEC Cracks Down On Pre-IPO Trading (WSJ) Federal regulators are cracking down on an obscure but booming market for trading shares in companies before they go public. The Securities and Exchange Commission brought charges against two money managers, alleging they misled and overcharged investors on funds formed to buy shares of Facebook Inc., Twitter Inc. and other social-media companies. A so-called secondary market in these companies' private shares has grown rapidly as more investors seek to buy into the companies before their initial public offerings, hoping to profit later from a "pop" in the stock price after the IPO. The allegations by the SEC mark the first major regulatory blow to the market, which the agency says emerged in 2009 and which industry participants say has been fueled lately on the anticipation of a Facebook IPO in the coming months. Citi Rejection Stings Pandit (WSJ) The board of directors held a meeting by telephone shortly after the Federal Reserve said Tuesday it had turned down the capital plan the New York company submitted as part of its latest "stress test," according to people familiar with the situation. Neither Citigroup nor the Fed disclosed what the bank had been seeking, but in recent months the bank's executives had repeatedly said they wanted to return capital to shareholders through dividends or share buybacks in 2012. "Everyone was taken by surprise," said a person with knowledge of the reaction among Citigroup executives and board members. Jobless Claims in U.S. Decrease, Matching Four-Year Low (Bloomberg) Claims for jobless benefits dropped last week in the U.S., matching the lowest level in four years, more evidence the labor market is improving. Applications for unemployment insurance payments fell by 14,000 to 351,000 in the week ended March 10, Labor Department figures showed today. Economists forecast 357,000, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey. Claims reached the same level a month ago, the lowest since March 2008. UBS Cuts Bonus Pool (WSJ, DB) That would be putting it mildly. JPMorgan's Dimon Responds to Goldman Column (Reuters) J.P. Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon told employees to resist taking advantage of competitors and to focus instead on strengthening the bank's own standards, in an internal memo sent in response to the firestorm engulfing Goldman Sachs after a former banker published his resignation letter in the New York Times. Meredith Whitney: Banks Oversold, Muni Defaults Still Coming (CNBC) "The banks should trade at tangible (book value) or a little better," she said. "But that doesn't mean they're off to the races and that there's tremendous momentum behind the fundamentals of these banks." Goldman fights back after employee's scathing public exit (NYP) After the memo was distributed, Goldman brass went into damage-control mode, fielding calls from investors and clients searching for reaction from the 143-year-old firm. Blankfein was light-hearted about the surprise attack but tried to be extremely responsive to client inquiries about it, sources said. Privately, some Goldman officials played down Smith’s significance within the firm, describing him as a “disgruntled mid-level employee.” Two Billionaires Side With Greg Smith Against Goldman (Forbes) Jim Clark said Smith’s criticism of Goldman’s treatment of its customers is “what I experienced over the four to five years” he entrusted some of his funds with the firm’s private wealth management division...Billionaire Stephen Jarislowsky, CEO of Canadian investment firm Jarislowsky, Fraser, says he also supports Smith’s op-ed. “It’s about ethics and fiduciary responsibility, and the lack thereof,” explains Jarislowsky. “If you’re a fiduciary you should work for your client and not for anyone else. If you’re a doctor, you’re not supposed to work for your pocketbook, but for your client’s health.” Chinese Economy Already in ‘Hard Landing,’ JPMorgan’s Mowat Says (Bloomberg) China’s economy is already in a so- called “hard landing,” according to Adrian Mowat, JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s chief Asian and emerging-market strategist. “If you look at the Chinese data, you should stop debating about a hard landing,” Mowat, who is based in Hong Kong, said at a conference in Singapore yesterday. “China is in a hard landing. Car sales are down, cement production is down, steel production is down, construction stocks are down. It’s not a debate anymore, it’s a fact.” Arrest warrant issued for Russell Brand over iPhone rage (NYP) Brand was named in a police report on Monday night after allegedly grabbing a photographer's cell phone out of his hand and hurling it through the window of a law firm. The paparazzo, Timothy Jackson, filed a police report immediately after the incident, citing "criminal damages." According to Jackson, he had been out with several fellow photographers when he started taking pictures of the 36-year-old British comedian and actor with his iPhone. Brand allegedly "flipped out," snatched the cell phone and threw it at a building, breaking a window in the process. His reps have contacted the law firm and offered to pay for the broken window.

Opening Bell: 10.23.12

Barney Frank cries foul in government's lawsuit against JPMorgan (Reuters) Democratic Congressman Barney Frank defended the largest U.S. bank on Monday, saying in a statement that the government was wrong to go after JPMorgan Chase & Co for the alleged misdeeds of Bear Stearns. Frank, who served as chairman of the House Financial Services Committee during the Bear Stearns acquisition, said federal and state officials should reconsider holding financial firms liable for the wrongdoing of institutions they absorbed at the government's urging. "The decision now to prosecute J.P. Morgan Chase because of activities undertaken by Bear Stearns before the takeover unfortunately fits the description of allowing no good deed to go unpunished," said Frank, who was also the co-author of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sued JPMorgan, the nation's largest bank by assets, on October 1 over mortgage-backed securities packaged and sold by Bear Stearns. Hedge Funds Hot For Ailing Greece's Debt (WSJ) Ever since Greece completed a debt restructuring in March that turned €200 billion in bonds into about €60 billion, distressed-debt investors—many at U.S. hedge funds—have been picking them over. Hedge-fund analysts have flooded Greek finance officials with requests for information. Prices have climbed. Third Point LLC, based in New York, crowed about Greece in its investor letter earlier this month, citing the resilience of the bonds of fellow bailout-recipient Portugal. "We expected Greece to keep its head up and undergo a similar metamorphosis," the letter said. Ever since Greece completed a debt restructuring in March that turned €200 billion in bonds into about €60 billion, distressed-debt investors—many at U.S. hedge funds—have been picking them over. Hedge-fund analysts have flooded Greek finance officials with requests for information. Prices have climbed. Third Point LLC, based in New York, crowed about Greece in its investor letter earlier this month, citing the resilience of the bonds of fellow bailout-recipient Portugal. "We expected Greece to keep its head up and undergo a similar metamorphosis," the letter said. Billionaire Wilbur Ross Interested In Buying Spanish Bank Assets (Bloomberg) Ross’s WL Ross & Co., which holds about 10 percent of Bank of Ireland and teamed up with Richard Branson to buy part of Northern Rock Plc, is in talks “almost every week” with representatives of the large Spanish banks, he said in an interview in Abu Dhabi, without naming potential targets. “Maybe next year will be the year for Spain,” he said. “We’ve been doing a lot of work in Spain. We’ve put a lot of time and effort into Spain but haven’t put any money in yet.” Doom Heralded at Hayman by Widening Trade Deficit (Bloomberg) Japan’s worsening trade gap will make it harder to service the world’s largest debt, fulfilling part of the doomsday scenario that Hayman Capital Management LP is betting on. The nation’s 10-year note yield may rise toward 10 percent from the world’s third-lowest of 0.79 percent, while the yen weakens, said Richard Howard, who oversees Dallas, Texas-based Hayman’s Japan-focused fund with J. Kyle Bass. That would represent the developed world’s second-highest borrowing costs after Greece, and a surge to that level by the end of 2013 would cause losses of 42 percent for investors purchasing the securities now, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Regulators Crash Over Volcker Definitions (WSJ) The SEC and a trio of banking regulators are butting heads over how to define the buying and selling of securities on behalf of clients, known as market-making, as well as over banks' ability to invest in outside investment vehicles such as hedge funds, according to officials close to the discussions. Since brokers, which are overseen by the SEC, conduct market-making activities, the SEC is pushing for more influence over the issue, these people said. Police: Woman fakes her own kidnapping to get day off work (WOAI) An officer on patrol went to check out a car parked near Ray Ellison and Five Palms around 6:30 p.m. on October 10th. When the officer looked inside the car, he spotted 48-year-old Sheila Bailey Eubank bound with rope. An arrest warrant affidavit states Eubank told police a man jumped into her car around 6:15 a.m. while she was at a Security Service Federal Credit Union ATM near Loop 1604 and Bandera Road. Eubank said the man held her an knife point and forced her to drive him to various locations for what she believed were drug deals. She told officers he then assaulted her, tried to choke her with a rope, and then tied her up and left her in her car. However, officers discovered a lottery ticket in Eubank's purse that was purchased that day during the hours she claimed she was being held. Investigators reviewed surveillance video from the store where the lottery ticket was purchased and found out she had entered the store by herself and appeared "healthy, unhurried, and pleasant with the clerk." Investigators then reviewed video from the Security Service Federal Credit Union where Eubank claimed she was abducted. The video showed withdrawing money from the motor ATM, but there were no signs that anyone else was with her. Police say when Eubank was confronted by investigators, she eventually admitted her story was false and that she simply wanted a day off from work and wanted attention. BofA CEO Moynihan Declares Victory Over Capital Doubters (Bloomberg) Bank of America now has the “top capital” among peers and is capable of paying a bigger dividend, said Chief Executive Officer Brian T. Moynihan. The bank has fulfilled a goal Moynihan drilled into subordinates since his first day on the job: building a “fortress balance sheet,” he said in an Oct. 17 staff meeting at the company’s Charlotte, North Carolina headquarters. “We’re going to officially declare victory on one of those operating principles,” Moynihan said in the town-hall style meeting. “The reason why is, we have the top capital in the industry, the top liquidity in the industry.” People have stopped asking if the bank needs more funds to absorb losses and now want to know when investors will get the excess, he said. Word-Smith: Greg's Book Has 0 Sachs Appeal (NYP) Among the mistakes in the book, sources noted, was Smith’s description of a town-hall meeting last year hosted by Goldman’s co-heads of investment banking — South African Richard Gnodde and Michael “Woody” Sherwood...Smith said one question from a Goldman employee during the 2011 meeting was: “What is the firm doing to address the fact that the culture is dying and our reputation is deteriorating?” According to Goldman, a female referenced in Smith’s book as a “power-hungry” managing director — identified as “Georgette” — was the individual who posed the question about culture. Georgette presented the question as: How is the firm addressing “the perception of the deteriorating culture,” according to a recording of the event, reviewed yesterday by The Post. Smith also writes about a follow-up question demanding “what specifically” the bank was doing — and that it was followed with uncomfortable laughter before some fumbling about over which executive should field the query. There was no follow-up question in the recording of the meeting. Smith embellished that aspect of the book and omitted that “Georgette” — a woman whom Smith worked with and dubbed the “Black Widow” for her cutthroat manner — was the source of the question about values because it undermined his narrative, a source inside the company said. Low Rates Pummel Bank Profits (WSJ) "The longer the Fed stays down at these levels the more it will hurt banks," said Scott Lied, the chief financial officer of ENB Financial Corp, an Ephrata, Pa., institution that has eight branches and 225 employees. "It's painful." Gupta Sentencing Set For Tomorrow (NYP) Prosecutors say Gupta, convicted by a jury in June, deserves as long as 10 years in prison. Gupta seeks probation. Gary Naftalis, a lawyer for Gupta, argued his client’s crime was an “aberrational” event in a “lifetime of good works” that merited a punishment for a man who has suffered an extraordinary fall from grace. He asked Rakoff to impose a term of community service, suggesting Gupta work with troubled youth in New York or with the poor in Rwanda. Theater Thief Costs Movie-Goers Tens of Thousands In Credit Card Fraud (Courant) A man who may have stolen as much as $70,000 a week by slithering beneath theater seats while movies were playing and lifting credit cards from women's' pocketbooks was convicted Monday of fraud and identity theft crimes. Anthony Johnson, 49, and a string of accomplices used the stolen cards to collect thousands of dollars in cash advances from Connecticut's gambling casinos and to make tens of thousands of dollars more in retail purchases in Connecticut and elsewhere, authorities said. On a "good" weekend, Johnson collected $50,000 to $70,000 from the scheme, one of his accomplices testified last week at his trial at U.S. District Court in Hartford. He had to settle for $30,000 or $40,000 on a bad weekend, the accomplice said. The accomplice, who agreed to cooperate with authorities, said Johnson, of Philadelphia, typically worked with women accomplices. They bought tickets to motion pictures likely to be popular with female audiences and chose seats from which they could watch how women in the audience stored their pocketbooks. "Once the movie started, Johnson crawled on the floor, removed credit cards from the stored purses, and returned the wallet to the purses," according to an FBI affidavit. "Johnson crawled in this manner around the theater until he was done…"

Opening Bell: 05.17.12

White House Steps Up Push To Toughen Rules On Banks (WSJ) White House officials have intensified their talks with the Treasury Department in the days since J.P. Morgan's losses came to light, these people say—representing the first tangible political impact from a trading mess that has cost one of the nation's most prominent banks more than $2 billion...White House and Treasury officials are still determining whether the Volcker rule would have prevented the losses at J.P. Morgan, people familiar with the discussions said. Some of the president's political advisers are concerned that the J.P. Morgan trades, even if determined to violate the spirit of the rule, might slip through the regulatory net. From 'Caveman' To 'Whale' (WSJ) Even after Dynegy's holding company filed for bankruptcy protection on Nov. 7, the trade seemed like it still would be a loser for Mr. Iksil and J.P. Morgan. Only about six weeks remained until the trade was set to expire, and another company needed to default for J.P. Morgan to make money and the bullish hedge funds to lose out. Some traders took to calling Mr. Iksil a "caveman" for stubbornly pursing the trade. Mr. Iksil continued to bet against the index, however, and it soon weakened, causing a buzz among unhappy rivals, these traders say. "We called the trade the 'pain trade' and the 'widow maker'; it kept going down for no reason," said a trader at another firm, who called his broker and says he was told it was Mr. Iksil who was doing all the bearish trading. "It felt like Bruno was trying to wipe everyone out." Then on Nov. 29, in something of a shock, AMR Corp., American Airlines' parent company and one of the companies in the index, filed for bankruptcy protection. "People freaked out," recalls a hedge-fund trader. The index weakened significantly, allowing J.P. Morgan to rack up about $450 million in total profits from the trade, according to traders. Rival firms suffered similar-size losses. It capped a successful year for Mr. Iksil and his group, though the profits would be more than offset this year when they shifted to a more bullish tack on corporate credit, losing $2 billion-plus in the process. Goldman to Cash Out $1 Billion of Facebook Holding in IPO (Bloomberg) The investment bank and its funds will sell 28.7 million of the 65.9 million shares they own, more than twice the amount initially planned, Menlo Park, California-based Facebook said yesterday in a filing. The shares are being offered in a range of $34 to $38 apiece, meaning the stock being sold in this week’s IPO is valued between $975 million and $1.09 billion. SEC Probes Roles Of Hedge Fund In CDOs (WSJ) U.S. securities regulators are investigating hedge-fund firm Magnetar Capital LLC, which bet on several mortgage-bond deals that wound up imploding during the financial crisis, according to people familiar with the matter. While Magnetar has faced scrutiny over its role in various collateralized debt obligations, or CDOs, the Illinois firm itself now is a target of an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission, these people said. ECB Bars Access to Four Greek Banks (FT) The move raises the pressure on Greece to stick to its international bailout by highlighting the risk that eurozone central bankers could pull the plug on its financial system. It reflected ECB fears that a planned recapitalisation of Greece’s banks could be delayed. Greek Euro Exit Would Risk Asia Crisis-Style Rout, Zeti Says (Bloomberg) A Greek exit from the euro could cause contagion comparable to the Asian financial crisis, according to Malaysia’s central bank Governor Zeti Akhtar Aziz, who had first-hand experience of that turmoil. “The worst-case scenario is what we saw in Asia,” Zeti, 64, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television in Istanbul yesterday. “When one economy collapses, then the market usually moves on to focus on the next one, then there will be a contagion that will affect different countries that probably don’t deserve those kinds of consequences.” Strippers in Paris Go on Strike, Say Wages 'Miserable' (Reuters) The Crazy Horse, one of the most popular establishments of its kind in the world, said it was forced to cancel performances this week for the first time since the cabaret was created in 1951. The night club, which declined to give details on salary demands or current wages, said in a statement that it had always taken the wellbeing of its artists very seriously and that talks were continuing to resolve the dispute. "It's an exceptional place which has the specialty of presenting a fully naked show," Suzanne, one of the dancers, told RTL radio. "What's wrong is that we are asked to work 24 days per month for a pay that is worse than miserable," she said. JPMorgan’s Trading Loss Is Said to Rise at Least 50% (NYT) The trading losses suffered by JPMorgan Chase have surged in recent days, surpassing the bank’s initial $2 billion estimate by at least $1 billion, according to people with knowledge of the losses. When Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan’s chief executive, announced the losses last Thursday, he indicated they could double within the next few quarters. But that process has been compressed into four trading days as hedge funds and other investors take advantage of JPMorgan’s distress, fueling faster deterioration in the underlying credit market positions held by the bank. A spokeswoman for the bank declined to comment, although Mr. Dimon has said the total paper trading losses will be volatile depending on day-to-day market fluctuations. Several on FOMC Said Easing May Be Needed on Faltering (Bloomberg) The Federal Reserve signaled further monetary easing remains an option to protect the U.S. economy from the danger that lawmakers will fail to reach agreement on the budget or Europe’s debt woes worsen. Several members of the Federal Open Market Committee said new actions could be necessary if the economy loses momentum or “downside risks to the forecast became great enough,” according to minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee’s April meeting released yesterday in Washington. Judge Denies Gupta's Wiretap Motion (NYP) Ex-Goldman Sachs director Rajat Gupta lost his bid to get three key wiretaps tossed as evidence in his upcoming insider-trading trial. Manhattan federal judge Jed Rakoff gave tentative approval yesterday for the jury to hear the wiretaps, which are crucial to the government’s case against Gupta. A former head of McKinsey & Co., who also sat on Procter & Gamble’s board, Gupta is accused of feeding tips to ex-hedge funder Raj Rajaratnam, who began an 11-year prison term last October for insider trading. The taped conversations between Rajaratnam and his traders have him talking about tips from a unnamed leaker on Goldman’s board. Man protests restaurant's all-you-can-eat policy (TMJ4) A disturbance at a local restaurant when one man got upset that an all-you-can-eat fish fry didn't live up to its name. At 6'6" and 350 lbs, Bill Wisth admits he's a big guy who can pack it away more than most. And he wants one restaurant to make all-you-can-eat, all he can eat too. "It's false advertising," said Wisth to TODAY'S TMJ4. He was there Friday when the restaurant cut him off after he ate a dozen pieces. "Well, we asked for more fish and they refused to give us any more fish," recalled Wisth. The restaurant says it was running out of fish and patience; arguing Bill has been a problem customer before. They sent him on his way with another eight pieces, but that still wasn't enough. He was so fired up, he called the police. "I think that people have to stand up for consumers," said Wisth. Elizabeth Roeming is a waitress there and says they've tried to work with Bill over the years -- like letting him have a tab he still hasn't paid off. Bill isn't backing down, saying his fish fry fight isn't over. But in the end, even he had something nice to say. "They do have like some of the best pizza in town if you like deep dish pizza," said Wisth. He says he will picket every Sunday until the restaurant rethinks what happened.