Opening/Hurricane Bell: 10.29.12

Bracing for Storm, U.S. Stock Markets to Close (Dealbook) All United States stock and options markets will close on Monday as Hurricane Sandy approaches, reversing course as Wall Street braces for the storm to barrel through the heart of the country’s financial center. The decision, made late Sunday night, leaves the American stock markets closed for weather conditions for the first time in nearly three decades. The New York Stock Exchange had previously planned on closing only its physical trading floor, while allowing for trading on its Arca electronic exchange. It has now decided to halt all trading. The Nasdaq and BATS stock markets, which are built on electronic trading, also decided to close. The CME Group, which operates the Nymex commodities exchange, said earlier on Sunday that it would close its physical trading floor on Monday, though trading would continue on its electronic trading platforms. The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, or Sifma, said in an e-mailed statement that it was calling for bond trading, which is all done electronically, to close at noon Monday, though it left the final decision to member firms. The N.Y.S.E. last closed trading for weather reasons in 1985, when Hurricane Gloria lashed the metropolitan area. Markets Go Dark Ahead Of Storm (WSJ) Customers had complained to the exchanges and to the Securities and Exchange Commission that partial closures of the market would be too complicated, according to people with knowledge of the matter. US Stock Markets To Possibly Stay Closed Through Tuesday (Reuters) In a statement, the company said that "the dangerous conditions developing as a result of Hurricane Sandy will make it extremely difficult to ensure the safety of our people and communities, and safety must be our first priority." Citigroup, Goldman Sachs Shut Some NYC Offices for Storm (Bloomberg) Citigroup and and Goldman Sachs are among Wall Street firms planning to shift operations to other cities and have staff work from home as Hurricane Sandy’s arrival in New York forces evacuations. Employees at Citigroup, the third-biggest U.S. bank by assets, won’t be able to enter Lower Manhattan offices on Greenwich Street and Wall Street, which include the main trading floor, according to a memo sent to workers and confirmed by Shannon Bell, a spokeswoman. Goldman Sachs, whose corporate headquarters at 200 West St. is also located in an evacuation zone, told the staff in an internal memo that most of them will work from home...European-based firms including Deutsche Bank AG, Credit Suisse Group AG and UBS AG, which have offices outside of the mandatory evacuation zone, are making arrangements to provide transportation and hotels for workers. Christie: "Don't Be Stupid" (AP) A year after telling New Jersey residents to "Get the hell off the beach" as Hurricane Irene approached, Gov. Chris Christie has a new message for people on the coastline: "Don't be stupid — get out," Christie said Sunday afternoon at a news conference, where he updated residents on the status of the huge storm bearing down on the state. Stock Pickers Game The Fiscal Cliff (WSJ) A number of companies are seeking to get ahead of the tax increases by paying out big special dividends before Dec. 31. In the past two weeks, at least four Standard & Poor's 500 companies have announced special payouts, including a $750 million payout by casino operator Wynn Resorts Ltd., a $1.1 billion dividend from hospital operator HCA Holdings Inc. and a $1.6 billion dividend from LyondellBasell Industries NV, a New York-listed chemicals group. The game for investors is to figure out which companies could be next. Jay Wong, a Los Angeles-based portfolio manager for Payden & Rydel, a money manager with $75 billion under management, is on high alert for potential payouts. He increased his stake in Wynn earlier this month in anticipation of a special dividend and is looking for others. He declined to be specific, citing a desire to not give his trades away. Occupy Wall Street's Stacey Hessler Splits From Husband (NYP, earlier) The filing lists Curtiss’ occupation as banker and says he earns $65,000 a year. Her job is listed in court papers as “protester” and her employer as “Occupy Wall Street.” Annual salary: $0. Divorce papers cite “irreconcilable differences” for the split, saying the 19-year marriage “is irretrievably broken.” One OWS protester who knows her says that Stacey’s devotion to the movement caused the divorce but that she was unfazed by the breakup. “She didn’t seem sad about any of it,” the source said. “It was just so matter-of-fact.” As recently as last month, Stacey, 39, was sleeping in front of a Wells Fargo bank branch in the Financial District near Zuccotti Park, but it appears she scrambled back home to suburban DeLand to finalize the divorce. Wearing her professional-protester uniform — a bandana and patchwork clothes — she refused to say what her plans were or when she’d be leaving the house. But she did respond when a Post reporter asked about a YouTube video showing her making out with another protester during an Occupy “Kiss In” on Valentine’s Day. “I actually made out with four guys,” she said, laughing wildly. Governments to debate 50 billion euro cut to EU budget (Reuters) The cut will be proposed in the latest EU negotiating text on the bloc's spending plan for 2014-2020, but is unlikely to be deep enough to satisfy Britain, Germany, France and other net budget contributors. They want strict limits on EU spending to reflect the austerity imposed by national governments to reduce debt, and called for cuts of 100-200 billion euros to the total proposed by the EU's executive, the European Commission. The proposal is also likely to anger Poland and other former communist EU countries who are the major beneficiaries of EU funds, and oppose any cuts to the Commission's blueprint which they argue is vital for their future economic growth. "As I see it now, the reduction from the Commission proposal will be 50 billion euros plus. That will be the basis for negotiations," said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Greek Journalist Held Over List of Swiss-Account Holders (Bloomberg) Kostas Vaxevanis, editor of the Greek magazine Hot Doc, was arrested in Athens today, according to a message posted on his Twitter account at 11 a.m. local time. An arrest warrant was issued yesterday after the magazine published what’s been dubbed the “Lagarde list,” an electronic file given to Greece in 2010 by then-French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde of about 2,000 Greeks with Swiss accounts. Insurers Prepare For Impact Of Hurricane Sandy (Reuters) Had Sandy hit in 2011, it may have been more of a problem for the insurance industry, which dealt with record-breaking losses around the world last year, mostly from U.S. tornadoes and Asia-Pacific earthquakes. But in 2012, most insurers' disaster losses are down substantially, leaving them with more capacity to absorb the billions of dollars in costs some expect from Hurricane Sandy. "In terms of losses, I certainly don't think it's going to be the largest loss of the last 100 years," Tom Larsen, senior vice president of Eqecat, said in an interview late Friday. "It's not an end-of-days scenario." SEC Weighs Bringing Back Fractions in Stock Prices (WSJ) The move would at least partly undo an 11-year-old rule that replaced fractions of a dollar in stock prices, like 1/8 and 1/16, with pennies. The idea of that change was to trim investors' trading costs: One-cent increments can lead to narrower gaps between the prices at which brokers buy and sell shares—potentially reducing their opportunity to shave off profits. Those championing the fraction's return say it would spur securities firms to buy and sell more shares of some companies by making it more profitable for them to do so. Opponents say fractions would increase trading costs for investors with little or no benefit to companies. UBS, RBS Traders Suspended as Rates Probe Goes Beyond Libor (Bloomberg) UBS and Royal Bank of Scotland suspended more than three traders in Singapore as regulators investigating Libor-rigging turn their attention to the rates used to set prices on foreign exchange derivatives. At least two foreign-exchange traders at UBS, Switzerland’s largest bank, have been put on leave as part of an internal probe into the manipulation of non-deliverable forwards, a derivative traders use to speculate on the movement of currencies that are subject to domestic foreign exchange restrictions, according to a person with direct knowledge of the operation. Edinburgh-based RBS also put Ken Choy, a director in its emerging markets foreign exchange trading unit, on leave, a person briefed on the matter said on Oct. 26. Women who knew 'cannibal cop' worried they were on his 'cook list' (NYP) “Freaked-out” female acquaintances of would-be cannibal cop Gilberto “Gil” Valle yesterday wondered whether they were on his alleged list of 100 ladies to kidnap, rape, torture, cook — and eat. “I was so shaken when I found out it was him,” said Beverly Seiger, who knew Valle, 28, from the Forest Hills, Queens, park he visited nightly with his wife and baby daughter. “I used to walk his dog. I’ve been to his house many times. He’s been to my house,” she said of Valle, whom federal prosecutors accuse of plotting with three fiendish pals to kidnap, cook and consume scores of females. “I don’t want to be on his list!” Seiger said. “I’m so thin, he would use me as toothpicks. “The women in this neighborhood now are freaked out,” she said. Another female resident asked a reporter, “Are we on this list? “I fit in an oven,” she said, referring to Valle’s alleged boasting online of having an oven “big enough to fit one of these girls if I folded their legs.”
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Bracing for Storm, U.S. Stock Markets to Close (Dealbook)
All United States stock and options markets will close on Monday as Hurricane Sandy approaches, reversing course as Wall Street braces for the storm to barrel through the heart of the country’s financial center. The decision, made late Sunday night, leaves the American stock markets closed for weather conditions for the first time in nearly three decades. The New York Stock Exchange had previously planned on closing only its physical trading floor, while allowing for trading on its Arca electronic exchange. It has now decided to halt all trading. The Nasdaq and BATS stock markets, which are built on electronic trading, also decided to close. The CME Group, which operates the Nymex commodities exchange, said earlier on Sunday that it would close its physical trading floor on Monday, though trading would continue on its electronic trading platforms. The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, or Sifma, said in an e-mailed statement that it was calling for bond trading, which is all done electronically, to close at noon Monday, though it left the final decision to member firms. The N.Y.S.E. last closed trading for weather reasons in 1985, when Hurricane Gloria lashed the metropolitan area.

Markets Go Dark Ahead Of Storm (WSJ)
Customers had complained to the exchanges and to the Securities and Exchange Commission that partial closures of the market would be too complicated, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

US Stock Markets To Possibly Stay Closed Through Tuesday (Reuters)
In a statement, the company said that "the dangerous conditions developing as a result of Hurricane Sandy will make it extremely difficult to ensure the safety of our people and communities, and safety must be our first priority."

Citigroup, Goldman Sachs Shut Some NYC Offices for Storm (Bloomberg)
Citigroup and and Goldman Sachs are among Wall Street firms planning to shift operations to other cities and have staff work from home as Hurricane Sandy’s arrival in New York forces evacuations. Employees at Citigroup, the third-biggest U.S. bank by assets, won’t be able to enter Lower Manhattan offices on Greenwich Street and Wall Street, which include the main trading floor, according to a memo sent to workers and confirmed by Shannon Bell, a spokeswoman. Goldman Sachs, whose corporate headquarters at 200 West St. is also located in an evacuation zone, told the staff in an internal memo that most of them will work from home...European-based firms including Deutsche Bank AG, Credit Suisse Group AG and UBS AG, which have offices outside of the mandatory evacuation zone, are making arrangements to provide transportation and hotels for workers.

Christie: "Don't Be Stupid" (AP)
A year after telling New Jersey residents to "Get the hell off the beach" as Hurricane Irene approached, Gov. Chris Christie has a new message for people on the coastline: "Don't be stupid — get out," Christie said Sunday afternoon at a news conference, where he updated residents on the status of the huge storm bearing down on the state.

Stock Pickers Game The Fiscal Cliff (WSJ)
A number of companies are seeking to get ahead of the tax increases by paying out big special dividends before Dec. 31. In the past two weeks, at least four Standard & Poor's 500 companies have announced special payouts, including a $750 million payout by casino operator Wynn Resorts Ltd., a $1.1 billion dividend from hospital operator HCA Holdings Inc. and a $1.6 billion dividend from LyondellBasell Industries NV, a New York-listed chemicals group. The game for investors is to figure out which companies could be next. Jay Wong, a Los Angeles-based portfolio manager for Payden & Rydel, a money manager with $75 billion under management, is on high alert for potential payouts. He increased his stake in Wynn earlier this month in anticipation of a special dividend and is looking for others. He declined to be specific, citing a desire to not give his trades away.

Occupy Wall Street's Stacey Hessler Splits From Husband (NYP, earlier)
The filing lists Curtiss’ occupation as banker and says he earns $65,000 a year. Her job is listed in court papers as “protester” and her employer as “Occupy Wall Street.” Annual salary: $0. Divorce papers cite “irreconcilable differences” for the split, saying the 19-year marriage “is irretrievably broken.” One OWS protester who knows her says that Stacey’s devotion to the movement caused the divorce but that she was unfazed by the breakup. “She didn’t seem sad about any of it,” the source said. “It was just so matter-of-fact.” As recently as last month, Stacey, 39, was sleeping in front of a Wells Fargo bank branch in the Financial District near Zuccotti Park, but it appears she scrambled back home to suburban DeLand to finalize the divorce. Wearing her professional-protester uniform — a bandana and patchwork clothes — she refused to say what her plans were or when she’d be leaving the house. But she did respond when a Post reporter asked about a YouTube video showing her making out with another protester during an Occupy “Kiss In” on Valentine’s Day. “I actually made out with four guys,” she said, laughing wildly.

Governments to debate 50 billion euro cut to EU budget (Reuters)
The cut will be proposed in the latest EU negotiating text on the bloc's spending plan for 2014-2020, but is unlikely to be deep enough to satisfy Britain, Germany, France and other net budget contributors. They want strict limits on EU spending to reflect the austerity imposed by national governments to reduce debt, and called for cuts of 100-200 billion euros to the total proposed by the EU's executive, the European Commission. The proposal is also likely to anger Poland and other former communist EU countries who are the major beneficiaries of EU funds, and oppose any cuts to the Commission's blueprint which they argue is vital for their future economic growth. "As I see it now, the reduction from the Commission proposal will be 50 billion euros plus. That will be the basis for negotiations," said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Greek Journalist Held Over List of Swiss-Account Holders (Bloomberg)
Kostas Vaxevanis, editor of the Greek magazine Hot Doc, was arrested in Athens today, according to a message posted on his Twitter account at 11 a.m. local time. An arrest warrant was issued yesterday after the magazine published what’s been dubbed the “Lagarde list,” an electronic file given to Greece in 2010 by then-French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde of about 2,000 Greeks with Swiss accounts.

Insurers Prepare For Impact Of Hurricane Sandy (Reuters)
Had Sandy hit in 2011, it may have been more of a problem for the insurance industry, which dealt with record-breaking losses around the world last year, mostly from U.S. tornadoes and Asia-Pacific earthquakes. But in 2012, most insurers' disaster losses are down substantially, leaving them with more capacity to absorb the billions of dollars in costs some expect from Hurricane Sandy. "In terms of losses, I certainly don't think it's going to be the largest loss of the last 100 years," Tom Larsen, senior vice president of Eqecat, said in an interview late Friday. "It's not an end-of-days scenario."

SEC Weighs Bringing Back Fractions in Stock Prices (WSJ)
The move would at least partly undo an 11-year-old rule that replaced fractions of a dollar in stock prices, like 1/8 and 1/16, with pennies. The idea of that change was to trim investors' trading costs: One-cent increments can lead to narrower gaps between the prices at which brokers buy and sell shares—potentially reducing their opportunity to shave off profits. Those championing the fraction's return say it would spur securities firms to buy and sell more shares of some companies by making it more profitable for them to do so. Opponents say fractions would increase trading costs for investors with little or no benefit to companies.

UBS, RBS Traders Suspended as Rates Probe Goes Beyond Libor (Bloomberg)
UBS and Royal Bank of Scotland suspended more than three traders in Singapore as regulators investigating Libor-rigging turn their attention to the rates used to set prices on foreign exchange derivatives. At least two foreign-exchange traders at UBS, Switzerland’s largest bank, have been put on leave as part of an internal probe into the manipulation of non-deliverable forwards, a derivative traders use to speculate on the movement of currencies that are subject to domestic foreign exchange restrictions, according to a person with direct knowledge of the operation. Edinburgh-based RBS also put Ken Choy, a director in its emerging markets foreign exchange trading unit, on leave, a person briefed on the matter said on Oct. 26.

Women who knew 'cannibal cop' worried they were on his 'cook list' (NYP)
“Freaked-out” female acquaintances of would-be cannibal cop Gilberto “Gil” Valle yesterday wondered whether they were on his alleged list of 100 ladies to kidnap, rape, torture, cook — and eat. “I was so shaken when I found out it was him,” said Beverly Seiger, who knew Valle, 28, from the Forest Hills, Queens, park he visited nightly with his wife and baby daughter. “I used to walk his dog. I’ve been to his house many times. He’s been to my house,” she said of Valle, whom federal prosecutors accuse of plotting with three fiendish pals to kidnap, cook and consume scores of females. “I don’t want to be on his list!” Seiger said. “I’m so thin, he would use me as toothpicks. “The women in this neighborhood now are freaked out,” she said. Another female resident asked a reporter, “Are we on this list? “I fit in an oven,” she said, referring to Valle’s alleged boasting online of having an oven “big enough to fit one of these girls if I folded their legs.”

Related

Hurricane Bell: 10.30.12

U.S. Super Storm’s Record Flooding Lands Blackout Blow (Bloomberg) Record tides from a wintry super storm combined with hours of pounding wind and rain to deal an unprecedented blow at the U.S Northeast’s power grid, flooding electrical substations and shutting down New York City’s financial district. At nightfall, Consolidated Edison Inc., New York City’s utility, killed power in parts of downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn as seawater encroached on crucial electrical equipment and warned more power cuts may be coming. Crews in Connecticut threw up a dike around a substation serving downtown Stamford and stood ready to shut down four others should floodwaters rise by the forecast 11 feet. “The last time we saw this threat was never,” Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy said at a press conference yesterday, warning the worst seawater flooding in 70 years could have tides lapping at the base of at least one inland dam. As of 8 p.m. in New York, the storm had knocked out power to some 3.6 million homes and businesses, according to the U.S. Energy Department. That figure may increase overnight. Power blackouts that may eventually affect as many as 10 million people in the region for as long as 10 days left homes in the dark, closed the stock market, and disrupted operations at refineries, pipelines and power plants. Damaged power lines, substations and other infrastructure will contribute to the $20 billion in total storm costs estimated by Eqecat Inc., a risk- management company in Oakland, California. NYU Hospital Evacuated As Generator Goes Down (CBS) New York University Langone Medical Center was evacuated Monday night, after power went out as a result of Superstorm Sandy, and generators subsequently began to go down. As CBS2’s Dick Brennan reported, power went down across Manhattan from 39th Street south to the southern tip of the island – a region that includes the hospital. Backup generators were in operation, but started to fail in the 11 p.m. hour, and an evacuation began. Massive Transformer Explosion Rocks ConEd Plant (WP) The explosion happened shortly before 8:30 p.m. at the building located in Stuyvesant Town..."There was an explosion about 5 minutes ago and I could see Blue sparks coming from the plant! The plant is dark and smoke stacks are not lit up!" Mario Camilla said in an email. Con Ed has since confirmed the spectacular blow out, which was also captured on video, and said it was a substation equipment failure. The utility said at more or less the same time it lost power at its central command station but it has now been restored. Building Collapses On 14th Street (NBC) A four-story multiple-unit residence at 92 8th Avenue between 14th and 15th streets collapsed Monday evening, according to the FDNY and witnesses. Susan Milyavsky was standing on the balcony of a friend's apartment just across the street from the building when its front collapsed. "It was like it just melted off," Milyavsky said. "It crumbled down." Idled Stock And Bond Traders Watch, Wait, And Position (WSJ) Even with the U.S. stock market closed, investors found ways to trade. "You can work around it to a certain extent," said Nanette Buziak, head of equity trading at ING Investment Management. On Monday morning, "where I would have been trading in stocks, we ended up trading what we needed to in futures. We're also still trading where we need to in international markets." [...] But activity in the municipal-bond market ground to a halt Monday, as issuers postponed deals and trading wrapped up early. Some of the week's biggest deals are being pushed back to later in the week or are on a day-to-day schedule, if they aren't postponed indefinitely...A handful of other markets stayed active, but trading was thin and many people could not get to their desks. As a result, those who were around found themselves buzzing with activity, as traders hunted for scarce counterparties. "Actually, we are very busy today. Can I hang up now?" said Mamoru Arai, senior currency trader at Mizuho in New York, who said his firm was operating with only two traders on the floor today, compared with more than a dozen on a normal day. NYSE To Test New Contingency Plan Tuesday (WSJ) The broader plan outlined Monday night by NYSE and rival exchange groups BATS Global Markets Inc. and Direct Edge Holdings LLC would see the Big Board operator's all-electronic NYSE Arca platform handle critical opening and closing auctions. The New York Stock Exchange and the smaller NYSE MKT exchange would remain closed under the plan being discussed, The plan deviates from a proposal floated Sunday by NYSE Euronext, which involved operating the New York Stock Exchange using Arca's systems. This drew concerns from brokerage officials worried that they weren't properly prepared for the unconventional approach. Under the plan outlined late Monday, all trading in NYSE-listed securities would execute on the Arca exchange, according to the notice from NYSE Euronext. Labor Department Says Hurricane May Affect Jobs Report (Bloomberg) The U.S. Labor Department will wait to gauge the impact of Hurricane Sandy before determining the status of the October jobs report, the last before next week’s presidential election. The monthly employment data are scheduled to be released Nov. 2 at 8:30 a.m. in Washington. The median forecasts of economists surveyed by Bloomberg call for payrolls to rise by 125,000 workers in October and for the jobless rate to increase to 7.9 percent from 7.8 percent. “We will assess the situation when the weather emergency is over and notify the press and public of any changes at that time,” Labor Department spokesman Gary Steinberg said in an e- mailed statement today. As Sandy strengthens, Connecticut governor issues 'Katrina-like' warning (MN) Governor Dannel P. Malloy called a quick press briefing at 9:15 p.m. after consulting with town officials and getting updates from the situation on Long Island. His biggest worries were for region one, which extends from Bridgeport to Greenwich, but he also has substantial concerns for residents along the Shoreline from Old Saybrook to West Haven. The governor said he was issuing "a Katrina-like" warning, telling residents to get to the highest place in their homes if they are already experiencing flooding, or if necessary to their roofs. Behind Decision To Close Markets (WSJ) Even if traders no longer flock to the exchange floors to buy and sell stocks and other securities, the software engineers and other technology staff who are responsible for maintaining those electronic systems still must be connected. And like the hundreds of thousands of East Coast residents immobilized by the storm, many traders couldn't find transportation to take them to their firms' trading floors. That issue took on added importance late Monday when parts of lower Manhattan flooded and were without power. Opening the U.S. stock markets without the New York Stock Exchange wasn't an option, according to one person involved in the discussions over the weekend. While other, all-electronic exchanges could have opened for business, the Big Board's role as the official opening and closing price-setter for many benchmark stocks would have posed problems for firms catering to retail investors and mutual funds that calculate their valuations against prices set on the NYSE. Some customers worried they didn't have enough time to address any technical problems that may have surfaced as they rerouted systems to send orders to NYSE's Arca electronic exchange. Others faced the prospect of not being able to handle any trades whatsoever, due to not having adequate backup plans, according to people close to the matter. UBS To Reveal Investment Bank Exit Plans Tuesday (Reuters) The move will focus Zurich-based UBS around its private bank and a smaller investment bank, ditching much of the trading business that saw it lose $50 billion in the financial crisis and one rogue trader lose $2.3 billion last year...Investors are keen for details on how the Swiss bank will wind down the fixed income unit without incurring big losses. Employees complain they have been in a state of limbo after months of rumors of cuts. "It's becoming like torture, especially for those that don't think they will be compatible with the new Orcel team," said one employee, referring to Andrea Orcel, a close ally of Ermotti from Bank of America who arrived in July and is expected to run the investment banking unit's remaining businesses. Bankers were already anxiously awaiting news of an initial 400 job cuts set to hit this week, though that will likely be just the beginning of a cycle of layoffs that will hit those in fixed income trading the worst. Nomura Trails Goldman in Return on Equity Amid Losses Abroad (Bloomberg) “The current levels of net income are absolutely not adequate,” Nomura’s Co-Deputy Chief Financial Officer Jonathan Lewis said in a phone interview yesterday. “Return on equity of 0.5 percent for the second quarter is not where we want to be.” Investors Play Lehman Claims Games (WSJ) In the Lehman case, some big investors have been buying the claims against the London unit for more than 100% of their original value, according to buyers and sellers, as well as the administrator for the subsidiary. This stands out, as IOUs from bankrupt companies typically fetch severely discounted prices of half or less than their original value. Claims against other Lehman units are selling for far less. Milken's Past Invoked In Gupta Sentencing (Dealbook) Judge Jed S. Rakoff, the presiding judge in Mr. Gupta’s case, made a surprising reference to Mr. Milken during the hearing. It came after Mr. Gupta’s lawyer, Gary P. Naftalis, made a plea for a lenient sentence. Mr. Naftalis cited the hundreds of letters of support for Mr. Gupta, who in addition to his business accomplishments has played a leading role in fighting global disease. He read a letter from Barry Bloom, the former dean of the Harvard School of Public Health. “Dr. Bloom stated, ‘To my knowledge, as someone who has worked in global health for 40 years, with the sole exception of Bill Gates, no leader of the private sector or corporate world has invested so much of his time, energy, and personal credit to do so much for the poorest people of the poorest countries than Rajat Gupta,” Mr. Naftalis said. “I’m glad he didn’t say except for Michael Milken,” Judge Rakoff responded. Storm Overwhelms Atlantic City (NYT) “The city is under siege,” said Thomas Foley, the city’s chief of emergency management. “Sandy is pretty furious at Atlantic City. She must have lost a bet or something. As we say in our slogan, ‘Do A.C.’ She’s doing A.C., all right.”

Opening Bell: 04.18.13

Morgan Stanley Sees Core Earnings Weaken (WSJ) Morgan Stanley saw core earnings weaken, although the investment bank swung to a first-quarter profit as it benefited from a comparison with a year-earlier period bogged down by a heavy charge. For the quarter, the bank reported a profit of $984 million, compared with a year-earlier loss of $94 million. The per-share profit, which reflects the payment of preferred dividends, was 49 cents compared with a loss of six cents a year earlier. The latest period featured a decline in fixed-income trading revenue, but strong stock trading and continued improvements in Morgan Stanley's wealth-management division, which was buoyed by strong markets. ... Revenue jumped 18% to $8.16 billion. Excluding debt valuation, revenue was $8.48 billion. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters most recently expected earnings, excluding debt-valuation adjustments, of 57 cents, on revenue of $8.35 billion. Blackstone First-Quarter Profit Rises on Fund Performance (Bloomberg) Blackstone Group LP (BX), the world’s biggest buyout firm, said first-quarter profit rose 28 percent as market gains lifted the carrying value of its holdings. Economic net income, a measure of earnings excluding some costs tied to the firm’s 2007 initial public offering, increased to $628.3 million, or 55 cents a share, from $491.2 million, or 44 cents, a year earlier, New York-based Blackstone said today in a statement. Analysts had expected earnings of 53 cents a share, according to the average of 15 estimates in a Bloomberg survey. Barclays Head of Investment Banking Rich Ricci to Retire in June (Bloomberg) Barclays Plc’s Rich Ricci, the head of investment banking and one of the last members of former Chief Executive Officer Robert Diamond’s management team, will retire at the end of June. Ricci, 49, will be replaced by Eric Bommensath and Tom King, 52, as co-chief executive officers of corporate and investment banking in May, the London-based bank said in a statement today. “The market will see this as an inevitable and appropriate piece of transitioning,” said Ian Gordon, an analyst at Investec Plc (INVP) in London. “Few tears will be shed and the reshuffle will be broadly welcomed.” Special Report: The battle for the Swiss soul (Reuters) A sign on display in UBS's museum, from a bank founded in 1747 in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, could almost be Switzerland's mantra: "MASSIMA DISCREZIONE" it promises. Swiss bankers have long adhered to an unwritten code similar to that observed by doctors or priests. Bankers do not acknowledge clients in public for fear of exposing them as account holders; they often carry business cards with just a name, rather than bank or contact details; and, at least until the 1990s, they never advertised abroad. ... Even today, few Swiss like to discuss the fact that much of the country's prosperity was built on bankers helping foreigners evade taxes. Visitors should avoid personal questions, advises Communicaid, a consultancy which advises businesses on cross-cultural awareness. It would also be wise to steer clear of discussing "Swiss banks, money or Switzerland's military role in World War One or Two." Reinhart/Rogoff and Growth in a Time Before Debt (RortyBomb via Felix Salmon) Here is a simple question: does a high debt-to-GDP ratio better predict future growth rates, or past ones? If the former is true, it would be consistent with the argument that higher debt levels cause growth to fall. On the other hand, if higher debt "predicts" past growth, that is a signature of reverse causality. ... As is evident, current period debt-to-GDP is a pretty poor predictor of future GDP growth at debt-to-GDP ratios of 30 or greater—the range where one might expect to find a tipping point dynamic. But it does a great job predicting past growth. Ottawa sets up taxpayer-funded food truck in Mexico to promote Canadian cuisine (National Post) When author Anita Stewart first heard about the Canadian government’s new food truck parked in Mexico City, she laughed so hard she cried. The new Canada-branded, taxpayer-funded venture, which kicked off its three-week pilot project last week, is serving up a Mexican-ized version of poutine, using Oaxaca cheese instead of curds. Also on the menu are Alberta beef tourtière, and maple-glazed Albacore tuna. China Vows Wider Yuan Movement (WSJ) China's central bank plans to widen the yuan's trading band in the near future, People's Bank of China Vice Governor Yi Gang said Wednesday, suggesting that China's leaders will press ahead with change despite the surprise slowing of the economy. "The exchange rate is going to be more market-oriented," Mr. Yi said on a panel at the International Monetary Fund spring meetings in Washington. "I think in the near future we are going to increase the floating band even further." IMF warns on risks of excessive easing (FT) Extraordinarily loose monetary policy risks sparking credit bubbles that threaten to tip the world back into financial crisis, the International Monetary Fund warned on Wednesday. In its global financial stability report, the fund cautioned that policy reforms were needed urgently to restore long-term health to the financial system before the long-term dangers of monetary stimulus materialised. German Parliament Approves Bailout for Cyprus (WSJ) German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble called the vote a "strong signal" by Germany in favor of the euro and the euro zone. The parliament also voted in favor of a seven-year extension of the maturity on European Financial Stability Facility loans for Ireland and Portugal with a large majority. SEC to Move Past Financial Crisis Cases Under New Chairman White (Bloomberg) Mary Jo White, the first former prosecutor to serve as chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, has pledged to run a “bold and unrelenting” enforcement program at the agency charged with regulating Wall Street. With financial crisis cases mostly done and some of the biggest insider-trading cases in history closed, White will have to chart a course into new areas to keep that pledge. White, who was sworn in last week, has already provided a few signals about what that might be. During her Senate confirmation hearing, she said she intends to focus on high- frequency and automated trading. She has also raised questions about a drop in the number of accounting fraud cases the agency has brought in recent years. Dispute in Hamptons Set Off by Effort to Hold Back Ocean (NYT) Soon after Hurricane Sandy hit last fall, Joshua Harris, a billionaire hedge fund founder and an owner of the Philadelphia 76ers, began to fear that his $25 million home on the water in Southampton might fall victim to the next major storm. So he installed a costly defense against incoming waves: a shield of large metal plates on the beach, camouflaged by sand. His neighbor, Mark Rachesky, another billionaire hedge fund founder, put up similar fortifications between his home and the surf. Chris Shumway, who closed his $8 billion hedge fund two years ago, trucked in boulders the size of Volkswagens. Across a section of this wealthy town, some residents, accustomed to having their way in the business world, are now trying to hold back the ocean. ‘Elvis’ is busted in ricin terror (NYP) The FBI last night busted a troubled Mississippi Elvis impersonator as the poison-wielding man who mailed ricin-laced letters to President Obama and two other officials. ... Despite his rock ’n’ roll hobby, Curtis shows his angry side on Facebook, where he lashes out in a conspiracy-filled rant. “I’m on the hidden front lines of a secret war,” he wrote. “They burned down my home, killed my dogs, my cat, my rabbit, blew up my 1966 Plymouth Valiant . . . and guess what? I am still a thorn in their corrupt anals! I will remain here until Jesus Christ decides it’s time for me to go.”

Opening Bell: 02.28.13

EU Bonus Rules Meet Anger (WSJ) The new rules would prevent banks from promising bonuses that exceed an employee's salary—though, with shareholder approval, bonus payments could rise to double the salary. The rules, which are supposed to kick in at the beginning of next year and appear to be the world's toughest, still need to be approved by EU member states and the full European Parliament. European banking executives and trade groups say the rules—which are likely to apply to all European bank's employees around the world—will put the industry at a severe disadvantage relative to U.S. and Asian banks, and that it will provoke unintended consequences. Banks early Thursday weren't yet publicly commenting as they digested the news. But executives privately didn't hold back. "It's a disaster," said a senior investment-banking executive at a top European bank. "It's a crazy policy" that could jeopardize European banks' abilities to hire employees in the U.S. or Asia. Jockeying Stalls Deal On Spending Cuts (WSJ) With mandatory across-the-board spending cuts set to begin Friday, the White House and congressional Republicans are poised to let the deadline pass, each calculating that their hand in negotiations only grows stronger if they scorn a quick compromise. The first face-to-face meeting on the issue between President Barack Obama and congressional leaders won't happen until Friday—the deadline for Mr. Obama to set in motion $85 billion in broad spending cuts. None of the participants expect the morning meeting at the White House to produce a breakthrough. In the run-up, with no serious talks under way, each side is maneuvering to ensure the other catches the blame if the cuts kick in. Cuts Unlike To Deliver Promised US Budget Savings (Reuters) The $85 billion cut to budget authority amounts to about 2.4 percent of the $3.6 trillion the U.S. government is expected to spend in the fiscal year that ends on Sept. 30. The actual amount of savings is much less - $43 billion in the current fiscal year, according to the Congressional Budget Office. That's because federal agencies don't spend all of the money they are allocated in any given fiscal year. A $1 billion aircraft carrier, for example, may take years to build. Even at that lower level, the effects are likely to ripple across the world's largest economy in a way that will work against deficit-reduction efforts. Scrutiny Of Heinz Trades Grows (WSJ) The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, a Wall Street self-regulator, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are reviewing numerous trades in Heinz stock shortly before the buyout announcement sent the share price soaring Feb. 14, the people said. The inquiries add to an investigation the Securities and Exchange Commission disclosed Feb. 15 into what it called a "highly suspicious" $90,000 purchase of stock options the day before the deal, a position with a potential profit of $1.7 million. The FBI also has said it launched a criminal investigation into options activity ahead of the deal. Flowers Foods Set To Buy Wonderbread From Hostess (NYP) After no other bidders emerged to challenge it, Flowers Foods is set to snare Wonder and a slew of other bread brands being sold by bankrupt Hostess Brands for $360 million. How The Pope's Retirement Package Compares To Yours (CNBC) Let's start with the basics: The pope emeritus will receive a monthly pension of 2,500 euros, according to Italian newspaper La Stampa. That translates to almost $3,300, or close to the monthly maximum of $3,350 that Social Security will pay to an American who retires this year. Few people will actually qualify for that amount. For starters, you would have to wait until 70 to retire. You would also have to spend most of your working life earning Social Security's taxable maximum pay, which is set at $113,700 this year. "That's quite rare," said Richard Johnson, director of the program on retirement policy at the Urban Institute. He pointed out that the average Social Security check is about $1,200 a month — not enough to pay for the typical American retiree's expenses. "For most people, if you look at the median, Social Security counts for about 40 percent of their income. So it's important, but people rely a lot on other savings, like pensions or 401(k) savings," Johnson said. A big nest egg is not something the pope emeritus has to worry about. The Roman Catholic Church will cover his living expenses, provide him with a spacious home inside the Vatican and pay for everything from cooked meals to housekeepers, according to The Telegraph. Such services are not available to the typical American senior, unless he or she pays for an assisted living facility or resides in a nursing home, Johnson said...Health care costs are one of the big risks that older Americans face, and while Medicare pays for the bulk of their expenses, many things are left uncovered, Johnson said. Meanwhile, the pope emeritus will continue to be a member of the Vatican's generous private health care policy, the BBC reported. Blackstone Profits From Regulation With Citigroup Deal (Bloomberg) Blackstone has devised a way to profit from regulation: It’s helping banks meet tougher capital rules without the pain of selling assets or raising equity. The firm last year insured Citigroup against any initial losses on a $1.2 billion pool of shipping loans, said two people with knowledge of the transaction, who asked not to be identified because the matter is private. The regulatory capital trade, Blackstone’s first, will let Citigroup cut how much it setsaside to cover defaults by as much as 96 percent, while keeping the loans on its balance sheet, the people said. RBS Moves To Appease UK (WSJ) The 81%-state-owned bank unveiled a series of moves to ease government and regulatory pressure on the bank to become more U.K. focused and better capitalized. Chief Executive Stephen Hester confirmed that it would list around 25% of the U.S.-based RBS Citizens bank in the next two years "to highlight the valuable nature of the business." RBS also said it would further pare back its investment bank, shedding jobs and cutting risk-weighted assets to £80 billion ($121.3 billion), from £101.3 billion at the end of 2012. Unemployment aid claims fall by 22,000 last week (AP) The number of Americans seeking unemployment aid fell 22,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 344,000, evidence that the job market may be picking up. The four-week average of applications dropped 6,750 to 355,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. That was the first drop in three weeks. Too Big To Fail Hurting Too Small To Compete Banks (Bloomberg) Investors such as Joshua Siegel, founder and managing principal at New York-based StoneCastle Partners LLC, see bigger changes at the other end of the spectrum. Small banks will seek mergers because their management teams are aging and new regulations are too costly to bear, he says. “If you need one major overriding theme of the industry in the next three, five, seven, 10 years: massive consolidation, thousands of banks,” says Siegel, whose firm managed $5.1 billion as of the end of last year and invests in small banks. In the U.S., “I do see probably anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000 banks being swallowed up, and what you’ll see then is a more- concentrated system.” Dennis Rodman Tells Kim Jong Un: You Have A Friend For Life (NYP) Rodman and Kim sat side by side at an exhibition game in Pyongyang on Thursday, chatting as they watched players from North Korea and the US play in mixed teams, Alex Detrick, a spokesman for the New York-based VICE media company, told The Associated Press. Rodman later addressed Kim before a crowd of thousands, telling him, "You have a friend for life," Detrick said. The encounter makes Rodman the most high-profile American to meet with the young North Korean leader, said to be a diehard basketball fan.

Opening Bell: 11.20.12

Former UBS Trader Found Guilty (WSJ) Former trader Kweku Adoboli was found guilty on one count of fraud in connection with a $2.3 billion loss the Swiss bank suffered last year, as the juryin the alleged rogue-trading case continued to deliberate on five other counts he was charged with. The partial verdict comes nearly a week after the jury began deliberating following a roughly eight-week trial. It is unclear when the jury might reach verdicts on the other five counts or when sentencing might take place. Mr. Adoboli pleaded not guilty to all six counts. Shakeup At Credit Suisse (WSJ) Credit Suisse said Tuesday that it will combine the Swiss bank's asset management unit with its private bank, but stopped short of announcing the more drastic revamp analysts expected after crosstown rival UBS decided to fire 10,000 bankers. Robert Shafir, who currently heads the U.S. business of Credit Suisse, will take the helm of a new private banking and wealth management division jointly with Hans-Ulrich Meister, who has run the private banking business, the bank said. At the investment bank, Gael deBoissard is being promoted to co-head of the division, jointly with incumbent Eric Varvel. Following the revamp, Credit Suisse will have only two units—wealth management and investment banking--which are distinctly separate from each other, a move that is "in alignment with the new regulatory reality," Chairman Urs Rohner said. Greece Waits Nervously For Vital Bailout Funds (Reuters) Officials familiar with preparations for the finance ministers' meeting expect a "political endorsement in principle" on unfreezing loans to Athens, after Greece completed almost all the reforms that were required of it in exchange for funding. The final go-ahead from the ministers is likely to come only once the remaining few Greek reforms are in place and once there is agreement in the euro zone on how to reduce the country's huge debt and secure extra financing while it is being done. French Downgrade Widens Gulf With Germany as Talks Loom (Bloomberg) France’s loss of the top credit rating at Moody’s Investors Service may weaken President Francois Hollande’s leverage in European budget talks and deepen concern in Germany over its neighbor’s lagging competitiveness. The downgrade late yesterday of Europe’s second-biggest economy underscores the concern expressed by allies of German Chancellor Angela Merkel that the Socialist Hollande’s failure to recognize the urgency of France’s woes risks a deepening of Europe’s slump. “This downgrade will certainly increase pressure on France big-time,” Jan Techau, director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace office in Brussels, said today in a phone interview. “It gives Germany more of an edge over France.” ‘Tide Turning’ Against France, Say Economists (CNBC) “The tide is turning for France. Although the country's bond market is likely to remain resilient — the yield on 10-year paper is little changed [Tuesday] morning and still stands a whisker above its record low of 2.06 percent on July 19 — French debt looks more and more overvalued relative to fundamentals,” Nicholas Spiro, Managing Director of Spiro Sovereign Strategy, said in a note on Tuesday. France has enjoyed low borrowing costs as investors have viewed the country as a safe haven in comparison with its southern European cousins. The downgrade of France to AA1 with a negative outlook by Moody’s has thrown its “deteriorating fundamentals….into sharp relief” Spiro said. China’s Richest Woman Divorces Husband, Fortune Declines (Bloomberg) Longfor Properties Co. Chairwoman Wu Yajun is no longer China’s richest woman after divorcing Cai Kui and transferring about 40 percent of the developer’s shares the couple used to own to her ex-husband. Her stake in Longfor, which Wu co-founded with Cai, dropped from a combined 72 percent to 43 percent, while Cai retains 29 percent, according to filings from Hong Kong’s stock exchange. Wu’s net worth is estimated at $4.2 billion, down from $7.3 billion as of 5:30 p.m. New York time yesterday, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. New York Prepares Lawsuit Against Credit Suisse (Reuters) The New York attorney-general is preparing to file a civil lawsuit against Credit Suisse for misleading investors who lost billions of dollars on mortgage-backed securities, according to a source familiar with the matter. The lawsuit, which is expected to be filed on Wednesday, will allege that Credit Suisse misrepresented the quality of loans packaged in securities, according to the source. Petraeus Mistress Paula Broadwell To Jill Kelley: 'I can make you go away' (NYDN) The notes Paula Broadwell sent to Jill Kelley were far more sinister than previously reported and seemed like the rantings of someone “clearly unhinged,” a close friend of Kelley said Monday. “This wasn’t just a catfight. Any normal person who got emails like that would have immediately called the police,” said the friend. She said Kelley read her the emails when she called, panic-stricken and seeking advice in the days before the scandal became a stunning public spectacle and led to Petraeus’ resignation as CIA director. The friend, who did not want to be identified, said Kelley saw the emails as death threats, specifically one in which Broadwell vowed to “make you go away.” [Meanwhile,] Broadwell...bloodied a female news photographer’s forehead Monday in a confrontation outside the biographer’s Charlotte, N.C., home. Broadwell smacked the photographer with the driver’s-side door of her Nissan Pathfinder SUV. “I had my camera and in all the chaos the door slammed and I got hit in the head with the flash,” said Nell Redmond, a freelancer for The Associated Press. Redmond suffered a small cut and is not pressing charges. Morgan Stanley’s Doom Scenario: Major Recession in 2013 (CNBC) The bank’s economics team forecasts a full-blown recession next year, under a pessimistic scenario, with global gross domestic product (GDP) likely to plunge 2 percent. “More than ever, the economic outlook hinges upon the actions taken or not taken by governments and central banks,” Morgan Stanley said in a report. Under the bank’s more gloomy scenario, the U.S. would go over the “fiscal cliff” leading to a contraction in U.S. GDP for the first three quarters of 2013. In Europe, the bank’s pessimistic scenario assumes a failure of the European Central Bank (ECB) in cutting rates and a delay of its bond-buying program. Judge Tosses Suit Over AIG (WSJ) A federal judge in Manhattan dismissed a $25 billion lawsuit by Starr International Co., which Mr. Greenberg runs, against the New York Federal Reserve Bank over claims the Fed breached its fiduciary duty to AIG's shareholders in the rescue during the U.S. financial crisis. It is one of two lawsuits Starr, AIG's largest shareholder at the time of the government takeover, is pursuing over the bailout. Mark Cuban Throws A Tantrum On Facebook Fee (NYP) Facebook used to be a “time suck” — now it just sucks. That’s the view of Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who is urging marketers to take their business elsewhere after the social network started charging the tech billionaire to send messages to all the team’s fans. “In the past we put FB first, Twitter second,” Cuban wrote in a roughly 1,700-word blog post calling out the social network. “FB has been moved to the bottom of a longer list.” He added: “FB doesn’t seem to want to accept that its best purpose in life is as a huge time suck.” At issue is Facebook’s filtering of posts that appear in users’ news feeds. The site says it is trying to present users with content that they have shown an interest in while cutting down on spam. But Cuban says it is a pay-to-play move. He argues that Facebook is making it harder for marketers to reach their fans without paying for so-called “promoted posts.” And making the site more targeted and efficient is actually a mistake, according to Cuban. He claims most people go to the site because it’s a “time suck” that they enjoy. Cannibal Cop Pleads Not Guilty (NYDN) “cannibal cop,” accused of conspiring with an online buddy to kidnap, rape and slow-cook women, pleaded “not guilty” Monday to two federal charges. Gilberto Valle, 28, was arraigned in Manhattan Federal Court on charges of conspiracy to commit kidnapping and accessing the federal National Crime Information Center database without authorization. Valle’s public defender, Julia Gatto, made a third attempt at getting bail for her now-infamous client. "You have a hard row to hoe," said Judge Paul Gardephe...Valle — who was suspended after being arrested last month in a joint NYPD and FBI investigation — is accused of chatting last July with a sick online buddy about “kidnapping, cooking and eating body parts” of a woman identified as Victim 1, according to the indictment released Friday.

Opening Bell: 12.20.12

Report Says Libor-Tied Losses at Fannie, Freddie May Top $3 Billion (WSJ) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac may have lost more than $3 billion as a result of banks' alleged manipulation of a key interest rate, according to an internal report by a federal watchdog sent to the mortgage companies' regulator and reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. The unpublished report urges Fannie and Freddie to consider suing the banks involved in setting the London interbank offered rate, which would add to the mounting legal headaches financial firms such as UBS AG and Barclays face from cities, insurers, investors and lenders over claims tied to the benchmark rate. Libor Documents May Boost Civil Suits (WSJ) Analysts have published a range of estimates of the potential impact to the industry of lawsuits stemming from the manipulation—in some cases they reach into the tens of billions of dollars or more. It likely will be years before the extent of any liabilities becomes clear. For the lawsuits to succeed, plaintiffs must prove that banks successfully altered the interest-rate benchmarks and caused the plaintiffs to suffer a loss. Michael Hausfeld, chairman of Hausfeld LLP, a co-lead counsel on one of the lawsuits, said the UBS settlement was "extremely useful" for the litigation. The "extraordinary emails" published by the regulators exposed the "pervasiveness of the culture and the activity." UBS Trader Hayes Exposed at Core of Libor Investigation (Bloomberg) Tom Hayes, one of two former UBS AG traders charged by U.S. prosecutors, is portrayed by American regulators as the kingpin of a three-year campaign that succeeded in manipulating global interest rates. Hayes, 33, was charged with wire fraud and price-fixing, the Department of Justice said in a criminal complaint unsealed yesterday. The trader and Roger Darin, a former short-term interest-rates trader at UBS whose responsibilities included the firm’s yen Libor quotes, were also charged with conspiracy...Hayes colluded with brokers, counterparts at other firms and his colleagues to manipulate the rate, the Justice Department said. Between 2006 and 2009, a UBS trader made at least 800 requests to the firm’s yen Libor rate-setters, about 100 to traders at other banks, and 1,200 to interdealer brokers, according to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which didn’t identify Hayes by name. “Many UBS yen derivatives traders and managers were involved in the manipulative conduct and made requests to serve their own trading positions’ interests,” the CFTC said. “But the volume of unlawful requests submitted by one particular senior yen derivatives trader in Tokyo dwarfed them all.” IntercontinentalExchange Agrees to Acquire NYSE Euronext (Bloomberg) IntercontinentalExchange Inc., the 12-year-old energy and commodity futures bourse, agreed to acquire NYSE Euronext for cash and stock worth $8.2 billion, moving to take control of the world’s biggest equities market. ICE, based in Atlanta, will pay $33.12 a share for the owner of the New York Stock Exchange, 38 percent above yesterday’s closing price, according to a statement today. Both boards approved the proposal and the companies expect to complete the transaction in the second half of 2013. Last year, the U.S. Justice Department blocked a joint hostile bid by ICE and Nasdaq OMX Group for the New York-based company on concern the combination would dominate U.S. stock listings. Greece Faces 'Make or Break' Year (FT) We can make it next year if we can stick to the program agreed with the EU and IMF," finance minister Yannis Stournaras said in an interview with the Financial Times. However, "the break would be if the political system finds the situation too difficult to handle", he added, referring to the danger of social unrest about austerity that could force the two left-of-center parties to bring down the governing coalition. "What we have done so far is necessary but not sufficient to achieve a permanent solution for Greece," Mr Stournaras said. "The issue now is implementation." Boehner's 'Plan B' Gets Pushback (WSJ) The mood at the White House was gloomy, while on Capitol Hill it fluctuated. Few seemed confident the nation would avoid the tax increases and spending cuts known as the fiscal cliff, but others noted major Washington deals are usually reached only after several near-death experiences. Preparing for the World's End, Just in Case (WSJ) Tony Brown, a private investigator in Southern California, says he has spent nearly $60,000 preparing for Teotwawki — an acronym for "the end of the world as we know it"—or SHTF—when the "s--- hits the fan." Mr. Brown has purchased an ultralight plane and amassed three tons of food in his kitchen, about a third in freeze-dried meals. About a year ago, Mr. Brown started a website to recruit a community of preppers to plan for a cataclysm. In the first several months, he said he received few inquiries. But by the summer, traffic to the site soared and applications have come rolling in since. He recently capped the group at 175 members—all are responsible for their own one-year supply of food—though he is still seeking a doctor, meteorologist and ham-radio operator. Mr. Brown has contingency plans for four doomsday scenarios he deems most likely—a supervolcano, solar flare, major earthquake or hyper inflation—and a large underground bunker in case of a nuclear attack. He doesn't believe the world will end on Dec. 21, "but, just in case, I want to have everything ready by then," he said. US Economy Grew 3.1%; Jobless Claims Rise (Reuters) Weekly jobless claims rose to 361,000 in the latest week. Claims has been expected to rise to 357,000, from 343,000 the prior week. BofA’s Moynihan Said to Kill Proposal to Cut Pay for Brokers (Bloomberg) Bank of America Corp. Chief Executive Officer Brian T. Moynihan blocked a proposal to cut the main component of most brokers’ pay for 2013, said a person with direct knowledge of the matter. The plan would have reduced the so-called grid payout for Merrill Lynch financial advisers by two percentage points, the person said, requesting anonymity because it wasn’t made public. The changes, which would have affected advisers generating less than $1 million in commissions, were seen as a way to cushion the costs of new bonuses, the person said. In $18 Million Theft, Victim Was a Canadian Maple Syrup Cartel (NYT) It was an inside job of sorts. Thieves with access to a warehouse and a careful plan loaded up trucks and, over time, made off with $18 million of a valuable commodity. The question is what was more unusual: that the commodity in question was maple syrup, or that it came from something called the global strategic maple syrup reserve, run by what amounts to a Canadian cartel. On Tuesday, the police in Quebec arrested three men in connection with the theft from the warehouse, which is southwest of Quebec City. The authorities are searching for five others suspected of being involved, and law enforcement agencies in other parts of Canada and the United States are trying to recover some of the stolen syrup. Both the size and the international scope of the theft underscore Quebec’s outsize position in the maple syrup industry. Depending on the year, the province can produce more than three-quarters of the world’s supply. And its marketing organization appears to have taken some tips from the producers of another valuable liquid commodity when it comes to exploiting market dominance. “It’s like OPEC,” said Simon Trépanier, acting general manager of the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers. “We’re not producing all the maple syrup in the world. But by producing 70 to 78 percent, we have the ability to adjust the quantity that is in the marketplace.” NYers who believe in Mayan apocalypse search for sex before the world ends (NYP) While some people around the world are arming themselves and digging into bunkers, many New Yorkers are simply hoping for a hot time. “I will be looking for an end-of-the-world hook-up,” Dennis Cintron, 29, a Lower East Side bartender, told The Post. “If you’re going to go out, go out with a bang.” Cintron said he’ll buy new clothes and get a haircut for the big day because he wants some “companionship” to ring in the rapture. Sara Saperstein, 26, of Bushwick is also hoping for one last romp. “It’s like New Year’s. I want to go out on a wild note!” Saperstein said. She won’t have trouble finding a spot for that. More than a dozen bars and clubs in New York City are throwing end-of-days bashes, including a comedy show at the Bell House in Gowanus and an “End of the Funking World Party” at B.B. King Blues Club in Midtown. Other singles posted ads on Craigslist.org and OKCupid.com, seeking apocalypse-themed dates, “casual encounters” and even “end of the world sex.” “If you’ve got no plans for the apocalypse, let’s get together,” wrote a 30-year-old single guy from Midtown. He added, “Send me how you’d like to spend your last hours on earth — and a photo.”

Opening Bell: 11.01.12

Wall Street Sputters Back To Life (WSJ) It wasn't until Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYSE Euronext Chief Executive Officer Duncan Niederauer rang the opening bell that traders knew for sure that the systems would work. "Out of this postapocalyptic world that we're all looking at, that's a ray of good news, that they're actually able to get the exchange open," said Keith Bliss, senior vice president at Cuttone & Co., a brokerage with operations on the NYSE floor. Barclays Faces $435 Million Fine, Another Probe (WSJ) Barclays aced a double-barreled assault from U.S. authorities, as the federal energy-market regulator sought a record $435 million in penalties for the bank's alleged manipulation of U.S. electricity markets, and the lender also disclosed that it was facing a U.S. anticorruption investigation. The corruption investigation focuses on potential violations during the bank's efforts to raise money from Middle Eastern investors in the early days of the financial crisis. The probe, being conducted by the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission, is at an early stage. Wells Expands Into Investment Banking As Others Retreat (Reuters) The growth worries some investors who want the notoriously conservative bank to stick to its knitting, but Wells Fargo believes that now is a good time to hire. "Our eyes are wide open," said John Shrewsberry, head of the bank's investment banking and capital markets operations, known as Wells Fargo Securities. "There are a lot of very talented people at different stages of availability," he added in an interview this week. The fourth-largest U.S. bank says it can earn solid returns in investment banking while taking little risk for itself. It is focusing on services that its corporate lending customers need, such as stock and bond underwriting and merger advice. For investors, it is looking at areas like processing futures and swaps trades. The bank shies away from riskier undertakings like trading for its own account. The Wells Fargo Securities unit is relatively small now. It's biggest hub is in Charlotte, North Carolina, far from the storm that has hobbled Wall Street this week. In a few years, the unit could account for twice as much of the firm's revenue as it does now - an estimated 10 percent compared to its current five, Deutsche Bank analyst Matt O'Connor wrote in a report. Sandy's Economic Cost: Up To $50 Billion And Counting (CNBC) By contrast, the two costliest hurricanes in U.S. history to date were Katrina, with estimated losses of $146 billion, and Andrew, with loses estimated at $44 billion. But there are offsets and Moody's Mark Zandi and other economists note that there will be considerable rebuilding that will accompany the storm. Because the storm hit early in the quarter, Zandi points out that if $20 billion is spent cleaning up and rebuilding, the actual measured impact on gross domestic product could be zero. IHS Global Insight U.S. Economists Gregory Daco and Nigel Gault are doubtful. They note that the rebuilding often takes the place of investment elsewhere and often not everything is rebuilt. “The effect on growth for the fourth quarter will not be catastrophic but might still be noticeable, especially in an economy with little momentum anyway,” IHS wrote. The debate begs the question of whether such natural disasters can ultimately stimulate an economy. Eric Strobl, of the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris, who has studied the impact of hurricanes for more than a decade, found that hurricanes at the local level are usually negative for growth. NYC Struggles to Come Back to Life as Storm Chaos Lingers (Bloomberg) New York City struggled to return to normal life after superstorm Sandy, managing a partial resumption of mass transit amid a landscape of miles-long traffic jams, widespread blackouts and swarms of marooned residents. Limited service on the Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road commuter trains began today, and service on 14 of 23 subway lines will resume tomorrow, Governor Andrew Cuomo said at a news briefing in Manhattan. Still, power losses kept thousands of people and businesses in the dark and prevented trains from running below 34th Street in Manhattan. Basements and homes were waterlogged or submerged, and 6,300 remained in shelters...The lack of transit options is unprecedented, said Bernie Wagenblast, who has monitored metro traffic for more than 30 years, including stints as a radio reporter on WABC and WINS. “It reminds me a little of back in the ’70s when we had the gas crisis and cars were lined up for long, long distances trying to get gasoline,” Wagenblast said. “Now you’ve got cars in addition to people with their gas cans waiting on line who are trying to get fuel.” In Manhattan, an unofficial line divided the haves with power from the have-nots. South of about 34th Street, far fewer shops or restaurants than usual were open. Traffic lights were inoperable, though an unspoken etiquette emerged as many drivers took turns letting one another pass through intersections. Work was stopped at the Ground Zero construction site, which is still flooded. LaGuardia Airport, the only one of the three major New York-area airports that remains closed, can’t resume flights until floodwaters are drained and ground lights and equipment are checked. Labor Dept. Report on Jobs to Appear Friday as Planned (NYT) The hurricane had shut down government offices on Monday and Tuesday, and threatened to delay the release of the monthly jobs numbers. That led to hand-wringing in the presidential campaigns and even some accusations that the Obama administration might delay the numbers for its political benefit. But a Labor Department spokesman said Wednesday in an e-mail message that the report would come out as planned, at 8:30 a.m. E.S.T. on Friday. The Philadelphia 76ers unveil the world’s largest T-shirt cannon (YS) On opening night, the Sixers [unveiled] Big Bella, the world's largest T-shirt launcher that fires 100 tees in just 60 seconds. Big Bella weighs 600 pounds and, when firing T-shirts into the upper reaches of the Wells Fargo Center, can be up to 10 feet high. The team commissioned the creation of Big Bella from FX in Motion, an entertainment elements company out of New Berlin, Wisc. The team will also drop T-shirts, free game tickets and other promotional items from the rafters of the Wells Fargo Center down to fans below in a new themed "Sixers Parachute Drop." Australia Targets China’s Rich With “Millionaire” Visa (Deal Journal) Got 5 million Australian dollars (US$5.2 million) spare and need a residency visa? Australia’s doors will soon be open. From Nov. 24, Australia will accept applications under a new program, known as the Significant Investor Visa scheme, aimed at attracting the world’s wealthy to make the move and park their money Down Under. The only catch is that the A$5 million must be invested in state and territory Australian government debt, privately-owned Australian companies and managed funds that invest in Australian assets regulated by the Australian Securities & Investment Commission for four years. The new visa has already got financial advisers throughout Australia devising investment solutions for applicants. Consultants expect no shortage of takers especially from China, which is seeing an increasing flow of wealthy citizens sending money overseas, investing in assets as diverse as condos in Cyprus, or education for children overseas. A Wall Street Journal analysis of these flows suggests that in the 12 months through September, about US$225 billion headed out of China, equivalent to about 3% of the nation’s economic output last year. Harvard Business School Survey: HBS Students Favor Obama (Harbus) Surveys completed by 668 members of the HBS student body last week revealed that President Barack Obama had the support of 65% of the student community. Challenger Mitt Romney captured 32% of the vote while the remainder said they supported a third-party candidate, were unsure, or did not plan to vote. A Year After MF Global's Collapse, Brokerage Firms Feel Less Pressure For Change (Dealbook) For their part, many MF Global employees remain chastened by their firm’s collapse. Lawmakers hauled Mr. Corzine, a former senator from New Jersey, to Washington three times to testify before Congressional committees. Some MF Global employees remain unemployed while others took major pay cuts to work for the trustee unwinding the firm’s assets. Several MF Global employees planned to gather on Thursday for drinks at a Midtown Manhattan bar, just blocks from their old firm, to commiserate on their trying year. They canceled the event after another disaster, Hurricane Sandy, left some people stranded without power. Hawaii Tourist Saved By Taekwondo Skills (ABC) A 12-foot-long tiger shark messed with the wrong person. Mariko Haugen, a taekwando black belt, was enjoying a swim in Maui, Hawaii, when she was confronted by the creature. “She saw it a few seconds before it hit – and she gave it her best Tae Kwon Do black belt punch in the nose,” Don Haugen, Mariko’s husband, wrote on Facebook. Haugen’s husband and another man saw the attack and helped carry her to safety. She received more than 100 stitches to close wounds on her right hand and thigh.

Opening Bell: 12.18.12

Dozens Likely Implicated In UBS Libor Deal (FT) bout three dozen bankers and senior managers will be implicated in the alleged rigging of Libor interest rates when UBS settles with global regulators later this week, according to people familiar with the matter. UBS is close to finalizing a deal with UK, US and Swiss authorities in which the bank will pay close to $1.5 billion and its Japanese securities subsidiary will plead guilty to a US criminal offence. Terms of the guilty plea were still being negotiated, one person familiar with the matter said on Monday, adding that the bank will not lose its ability to conduct business in Japan...Not all of the three dozen individuals will face criminal or civil charges and the level of alleged misconduct varies among them. While it also is not clear how many bankers will be criminally charged, people familiar with the investigation said the settlement documents will document an intercontinental scheme to manipulate the Yen-Libor interest rate over several years involving desks from Tokyo to London. Cerberus Seeks Sale of Gun Maker Freedom Group (WSJ) Private-equity firm Cerberus Capital Management LP said it is seeking to sell the company that manufactures a gun used in last week's shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. "We have determined to immediately engage in a formal process to sell our investment in Freedom Group…We believe that this decision allows us to meet our obligations to the investors whose interests we are entrusted to protect without being drawn into the national debate that is more properly pursued by those with the formal charter and public responsibility to do so," Cerberus said in a statement Tuesday. Cliff Talks Narrow (WSJ) President Barack Obama backed away from his long-standing call for raising tax rates on households making more than $250,000 a year, a development that inches the White House and congressional Republicans closer to a budget deal. Mr. Obama's move, a counter to Republicans' recent proposal to raise tax rates on income over $1 million, further narrows the differences between the two sides. During a meeting with House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) Monday the president proposed allowing Bush-era tax rates to expire for households making more than $400,000 in annual income, people familiar with the meeting said. Poland Finds It's Not Immune To Euro Crisis (NYT) During much of the region’s debt crisis so far, Poland has counted itself fortunate that the troubles began before the country had joined the euro currency union. By being part of the E.U.’s common market, but not bound by euro strictures, Poland has been one of the Continent’s rare economic good-news stories. But the deceleration in Polish growth, which has prompted the central bank to begin a series of interest rate cuts to stimulate the economy, has underscored the country’s exposure to slumping euro zone consumer markets. Hedge Fund Managers Convicted of Insider-Trading Scheme (Bloomberg) Level Global Investors LP co-founder Anthony Chiasson and former Diamondback Capital Management LLC portfolio manager Todd Newman were convicted of securities fraud and conspiracy for an insider-trading scheme that reaped more than $72 million. After deliberating a little more than two days, a federal jury in New York found both men guilty of conspiracy to commit securities fraud for a scheme to trade on Dell Inc. (DELL) and Nvidia Corp. (NVDA) using illicit tips. The panel found Chiasson, 39, guilty of five counts of securities fraud, earning Level Global $68.5 million on inside tips trading on the two technology company stocks. Newman, 48, was convicted of four counts of securities fraud related to trades on inside information that earned his fund about $3.8 million. “We had all the evidence we needed,” said Felicia Rivera, a juror from Westchester County near New York City, said after court. Credit unions sue JPM for $3.6B (NYP) The nation’s credit-union watchdog sued JPMorgan for a second time yesterday over $3.6 billion of Bear Stearns mortgage bonds that imploded in the wake of the financial crisis. The suit brought by the National Credit Union Administration accuses Bear Stearns, the failed bank acquired by JPMorgan in 2008, of peddling toxic securities to four credit unions that later collapsed. The same government agency sued JPMorgan last year over $1.4 billion in mortgage-backed securities that led to losses for credit unions. That suit is still pending. In the latest complaint, the credit union regulator said Bear Stearns conspired with at least 16 outfits that cranked out toxic mortgages and securities sold to unsuspecting buyers. Those included notorious subprime mortgage outfits such as Countrywide Financial, New Century and People’s Choice Home Loans. Man wears 70 items of clothing at airport to avoid baggage charge (DS) A man took to putting on 70 items of clothing to avoid an extra baggage charge at an airport. The unidentified passenger turned up at Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport in China, described as looking like a 'sumo wrestler'. According to Guangzhou Daily, the man's luggage exceeded the weight limit. He did not want to pay the extra baggage costs, and thus took out and wore more than 60 shirts and nine pairs of jeans. Wanting to board a flight to Nairobi, Kenya, he was stopped by the metal detector and had to undergo a full body search. AIG Raises $6.45 Billion as AIA Priced in Top Half of Range (Bloomberg) AIG sold 1.65 billion shares at HK$30.30 each, AIA said in a statement today. The shares were offered at HK$29.65 to HK$30.65 each. AIA fell 3.3 percent to close at HK$30.60 in Hong Kong, the most since July 23. It was the biggest decliner and most actively traded stock by both volume and value in the city’s benchmark Hang Seng Index (HSI) with HK$56.6 billion ($7.3 billion) worth of shares changing hands today. Probe Sparks Split On Trades (WSJ) A regulatory investigation into whether stock exchanges have given unfair advantages to high-speed traders has sparked complaints against the exchanges, fueling a broader debate about how the market operates and is regulated. The Investment Company Institute, trade group for mutual funds, complained in a recent letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission that U.S. stock exchanges "facilitate strategies" for rapid-fire trading firms "that can lead to disorderly markets or that can benefit market participants at the expense of long-term investors." Buybacks Rule The Day (WSJ) American companies bought back $274 billion more shares than they issued in the year through September, according to Ed Yardeni, president of investment advisory firm Yardeni Research. And the spending spree looks set to continue, a sign that companies have the cash to put to work but don't yet see an economic case for using it to expand their businesses or create jobs. Dog swallows a foot of Christmas lights (Mirror) Charlie, a seven-year-old crossbreed dog from Southampton, was saved by surgeons from veterinary charity PDSA after wolfing down his family's Christmas lights recently. And the dog has a track record for getting his paws, and teeth, on household objects, having once eaten his owner Sharon Fay's scarf. Ms Fay, who aptly refers to her dog as the "light of her life", became concerned when she noticed bits of wire sticking out of Charlie's faeces in the garden. The 45-year-old said: "I hadn't even noticed that the lights had been chewed at this stage but it quickly became clear what had happened. "Back in March he ate one of my scarves and needed an operation to remove it, but I thought it was just a one-off incident as he hadn't shown any signs that he was going to be a repeat offender. I've had dogs all my life and have never known a dog act like this before." An X-ray immediately cast a light on Charlie's problem - the tangled remains of the decorations clearly showed up in his stomach and would have proved fatal if they were not removed. Vets rushed Charlie to the operating table and removed the Christmas decorations, also finding a shoelace.

Opening Bell: 02.04.13

UK Regulators Could Split Banks (WSJ) U.K. Treasury chief George Osborne on Monday will announce new powers for regulators to split up banks that flout rules designed to ring-fence retail banking from riskier investment-banking activity. In a wide-ranging speech on banking in Bournemouth, England, Mr. Osborne is expected to say the new powers are needed so that taxpayers will never again be on the hook when banks fail, as they were during the financial crisis. "We're not going to repeat the mistakes of the past. In America and elsewhere, banks found ways to undermine and get around the rules," Mr. Osborne will say, according to the extracts of his speech. "We could see that again—so we are going to arm ourselves in advance. In the jargon, we will "electrify the ring fence." New Details Suggest a Defense in SAC Case (NYT) In bringing its charges, the government said that SAC not only sold out of its position, but also bet against — or shorted — the drug companies' stocks before the public announcement of the bad news. The SAC short position, according to prosecutors, allowed it to earn big profits after shares of the companies, Elan and Wyeth, plummeted. "The fund didn't merely avoid losses, it greedily schemed to profit further by shorting Elan and Wyeth stock," said April Brooks, a senior F.B.I. official in New York, during a press conference on Nov. 20, the day Mr. Martoma was arrested. Internal SAC trading records, according to people directly involved in the case, indicate that the hedge fund did not have a negative bet in place in advance of the announcement of the drug trial's disappointing results. Instead, the records indicated that SAC, through a series of trades, including a complex transaction known as an equity swap, had virtually no exposure — neither long nor short — heading into the disclosure of the drug data. Blackstone To Become Investment Bank? (FT) Blackstone, one of the world's largest alternative asset managers, has quietly secured a securities underwriting licence as its expanding capital markets operation strays into investment banking territory. The licence marks the latest stage in the transformation of big listed private equity groups as they become more broadly based alternative asset managers. Apollo and KKR , two of Blackstone's biggest rivals, also have securities underwriting licences. The move highlights the pressure listed private equity groups are under to generate new sources of fee income to satisfy their public shareholders. "The private equity business is lousy for shareholders," says the head of capital markets for one buyout firm that is not listed. Obama: more tax revenue needed to address deficit (Reuters) President Barack Obama said on Sunday more tax revenue would be needed to reduce the U.S. deficit and signaled he would push hard to get rid of loopholes such as the "carried interest" tax break enjoyed by private equity and hedge fund managers. Herbalife Is The Subject Of 'Pending' Probe (NYP) The Los Angeles-based distributor of nutritional products is the subject of a law enforcement investigation, The Post has learned. The existence of the probe emerged after the Federal Trade Commission, responding to a Freedom of Information Law request by The Post, released 192 complaints filed against Herbalife over the past seven years. New Orleans Braces From Fallout From Blackout (AP) The outage, blamed on an unspecified "abnormality" in the Superdome's power system, was an embarrassment for New Orleans, which was hosting its first Super Bowl since 2002 and was eager to show off how it has been rebuilt since Hurricane Katrina. Mayor Mitch Landrieu called Sunday night's outage "an unfortunate moment in what has been an otherwise shining Super Bowl week for the city of New Orleans." He said he expected to receive "a full after-action report from all parties involved" in the coming days...For 34 minutes, the players tried to stay loose, the fans milled about in darkened corridors, and stadium officials scrambled to figure out what went wrong. The Ravens barely hung on for a 34-31 victory over the San Francisco 49ers, needing a goal-line stand in the closing minutes to preserve the championship. "It really hurt us," Baltimore fullback Vonta Leach said. "We had lot of momentum." There is sure to be some fallout for the city and the Superdome — especially since New Orleans plans to bid for the title game in 2018, in conjunction with the 300th anniversary of its founding. Escalators stopped working and credit-card machines shut down, though auxiliary power kept the playing field and concourses from going totally dark. "We sincerely apologize for the incident," Superdome spokesman Eric Eagan said. Most fans seemed to take the outage in stride, even starting up the wave to pass the time. "So we had to spend 30 minutes in the dark? That was just more time for fans to refill their drinks," said Amanda Black of Columbus, Miss. Question of Aiding Cyprus Places Germany in a Bind (NYT) In recent days, Germany has signaled that it is reluctantly edging toward a bailout for Cyprus, a haven for Russian cash, after lifelines have been extended to Greece, Ireland and Portugal to prevent potentially calamitous defaults. While Cyprus makes up just a sliver of the euro zone economy, it is proving to be a first-rate political headache. "I don't think that Germany has ever in the history of the euro zone crisis left itself so little wiggle room," said Nicholas Spiro, the managing director of Spiro Sovereign Strategy in London. "But Germany wants the euro to succeed and survive, and they are saying we can't afford a Cyprus bankruptcy." BlackRock Sued by Funds Over Securities Lending Fees (Bloomberg) BlackRock is accused in a lawsuit by two pension funds of reaping “grossly excessive” compensation from securities- lending returns associated with iShares Inc. “Defendants have systematically violated their fiduciary duties, setting up an excessive fee structure designed to loot securities lending returns properly due to iShares investors,” the funds, which invest in iShares, said in a complaint in federal court in Nashville, Tennessee. Two Top Barclays Executives Resign (WSJ) Barclays, whose chairman, chief executive and chief operating officer all resigned last summer in the wake of a series of controversies, said Sunday evening that finance chief Chris Lucas and Mark Harding, its general counsel, will both be retiring in coming months...Messrs. Lucas and Harding were longtime Barclays veterans who worked closely with former CEO Robert Diamond, who resigned last summer after the bank admitted that it had tried to rig benchmark interest rates and paid a roughly $450 million penalty. Youngest American Woman Billionaire Found With In-N-Out (Bloomberg) Lunchtime at the flagship In-N-Out Burger restaurant in Baldwin Park, California, is a study in efficiency. As the order line swells, smiling workers swoop in to operate empty cash registers. Another staffer cleans tables, asking customers if they’re enjoying their hamburger. Outside, a woman armed with a hand-held ordering machine speeds up the drive-through line. Such service has helped In-N-Out create a rabid fan base -- and make Lynsi Torres, the chain’s 30-year-old owner and president, one of the youngest female billionaires on Earth. New store openings often resemble product releases from Apple, with customers lined up hours in advance. City officials plead with the Irvine, California-based company to open restaurants in their municipalities. “They have done a fantastic job of building and maintaining a kind of cult following,” said Bob Goldin, executive vice president of Chicago-based food industry research firm Technomic Inc. “Someone would love to buy them.” That someone includes billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who told a group of visiting business students in 2005 that he’d like to own the chain, according to an account of the meeting on the UCLA Anderson School of Management website. Mint officially ends distribution of Canadian penny (CP) The phasing-out of the penny will lurch ahead today with the Royal Canadian Mint officially ending its distribution of one-cent coins to Canada's financial institutions. The move comes nearly a year after Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced the demise of the penny, whose production cost came to exceed its monetary value. But as it faces extinction in the pockets and tills of most Canadians, the humble penny is still in demand in some artistic circles where it retains significant value. Renee Gruszecki, a Halifax-based academic and archivist, has spent the past year making a living through a jewelry business devoted primarily to preserving the country's stray cents. About 30,000 strategically sorted pennies fill Gruszecki's home and eventually find their way into the accessories produced at Coin Coin Designs and Co. Gruszecki, a long-time collector of lucky pennies, believes her pieces will help preserve a symbol that is both an object of superstition and a Canadian icon. "The maple leaf is synonymous with everything Canadian. We all identify with it," she said in a telephone interview. "Now it's just no longer going to be present among us, so I'm saddened by that." The Bank of Canada's Currency Museum has already taken steps to preserve the penny's place in Canadian culture. A mural consisting of nearly 16,000 one-cent pieces has been assembled at the museum to commemorate the coin's history, said assistant curator Raewyn Passmore. The mosaic, which depicts a giant penny measuring about two square metres, is comprised of coins ranging from the lustrous to the tarnished.