Opening Bell: 11.19.12

Geithner: Deal To Avoid 'Fiscal Cliff' Can Be Made In Weeks (Bloomberg) Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner said he’s confident an agreement on averting the fiscal cliff can be concluded within weeks after White House talks between President Barack Obama and congressional leaders. “It was a good meeting, and the tone was very good,” Geithner said in an interview in Washington. “I think this is doable within several weeks.” Geithner said a deal must be reached soon to prevent further damaging consumer confidence. The lack of agreement is “this huge cloud of uncertainty hanging over the economy,” he said. As the peak of holiday shopping season approaches, “You’d want to do it as soon as you can.” “This is within our grasp, within our reach,” Geithner said. “It’s not that complicated.” Geithner repeated the administration’s calls for an immediate extension of middle-class tax cuts, and said a deal on high-end tax cuts shouldn’t be delayed. “I think deferring things doesn’t work,” he said. “You know, we’ve had several periods now where there was a choice made to defer.” Obama Calls CEOs, Including Buffett, Dimon (Politico) President Obama made calls to a handful of top business leaders over the weekend, a White House official said Sunday, as part of effort to build support for his approach to averting the fiscal cliff. In conversations that came during his weekend of travel to and in Asia, Obama stressed "the need to find a balanced deficit reduction solution that protects the middle class and continues to move our economy forward," the official said. Obama spoke to Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett, Apple CEO Tim Cook, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, Boeing CEO Jim McNerney and Costco CEO Craig Jelinek, the official said. Lagarde: Reality' Not 'Wishful Thinking' Needed on Greece (Reuters) "I am always trying to be constructive but I am driven by two objectives," Lagarde said in an interview, "to build and approve a program for Greece that is solid, that is convincing today, that will be sustainable tomorrow, that is rooted in reality and not in wishful thinking. Investment Falls Off A Cliff (WSJ) U.S. companies are scaling back investment plans at the fastest pace since the recession, signaling more trouble for the economic recovery. Half of the nation's 40 biggest publicly traded corporate spenders have announced plans to curtail capital expenditures this year or next, according to a review by The Wall Street Journal of securities filings and conference calls. Sahara Feeling Heat Over Bond Sales (WSJ) India's Sahara Group has built an empire by offering financial products to tens of millions of rural Indians who typically stashed their meager savings under the mattress. Business was so good that Sahara, using fees and investments from its customers' deposits, grew into a multi-billion-dollar conglomerate that includes a 10,000-acre township, New York's Plaza Hotel building and a Formula-1 racing team. Today, the company's practices are coming under intense public scrutiny, the product of years of tussle between Sahara and regulators who worry India's informal financial sector has grown dangerously fast and without oversight. Many savers who scraped together money to put with Sahara now fear they could face lengthy delays in getting their money back. Opportunists Stockpile Twinkies for Big Payday (AP) Hours after the maker of Twinkies, Hostess Brands, announced its plans to close forever, people flocked to stores to fill their shopping baskets with boxes of Twinkies, which are cream-filled sponge cakes, and other snacks made by the company — Ding Dongs, Ho Hos and Zingers. Late Friday and Saturday, the opportunists took to the Web sites eBay and Craigslist. They began marketing their hoards to whimsical collectors and junk-food lovers for hundreds, in some cases thousands, of dollars. That is a fat profit margin, considering the retail price for a box of 10 Twinkies is about $5. Bond Investor Takes Big Punt On Ireland (FT) Franklin Templeton funds increased their holdings of Irish bonds by more than a third to at least €8.4 billion in the third quarter. This means that the San Francisco-based US asset manager now controls almost a 10th of Ireland’s entire government bond market. Most of the bonds have been snapped up by funds controlled by Michael Hasenstab, co-director of Franklin Templeton’s international bond department, and particularly by the $64 billion Templeton Global Bond Fund he manages. Kim Kardashian Weighs In On The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (HP) Kim Kardashian is apparently neutral when it comes to the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The reality star first tweeted support for Israel: "Praying for everyone in Israel," she wrote. And after five minutes of backlash, the star tweeted again: "And praying for everyone in Palestine and across the world!" she wrote. Kardashian is clearly the last person anyone wanted to hear from regarding the issue, and the 32-year-old was immediately hit with more backlash over the tweets -- including death threats. The star has since deleted the tweets and explained her reasons for tweeting about the conflict in a blog post on her website. Shadow Banking Grows to $67 Trillion Industry, Regulators Say (Bloomberg) The shadow banking industry has grown to about $67 trillion, $6 trillion bigger than previously thought, leading global regulators to seek more oversight of financial transactions that fall outside traditional oversight. The size of the shadow banking system, which includes the activities of money market funds, monoline insurers and off- balance sheet investment vehicles, “can create systemic risks” and “amplify market reactions when market liquidity is scarce,” the Financial Stability Board said in a report, which utilized more data than last year’s probe into the sector. “Appropriate monitoring and regulatory frameworks for the shadow banking system needs to be in place to mitigate the build-up of risks,” the FSB said in the report published on its website. Lehman Trustee Ends Citigroup Fight (WSJ) The trustee unwinding Lehman Brothers Inc. reached an agreement with Citigroup that ends a long-running legal fight over more than $1 billion that Lehman deposited at the bank the week it filed for bankruptcy protection. The deal puts $435 million in the coffers of Lehman's brokerage unit, LBI, for distribution to customers and other creditors, according to the settlement filed Friday night in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan. Europe Seeks More Taxes From US Multinationals (NYT) Google, Amazon, Starbucks and other American companies facing tax scrutiny say they are doing nothing wrong. They use complex accounting strategies to exploit national differences across Europe in corporate tax rates, which range from less than 10 percent to more than 30 percent, and loopholes that can reduce their effective European tax levies to almost nothing. Google, for example, records most of its international revenue at its European headquarters in Ireland, where the corporate tax rate is 12.5 percent. Across Europe, customers who buy advertising, Google’s primary source of revenue, sign contracts with the company’s subsidiary in Ireland, rather than with local branches. Google ends up paying Irish taxes on only a fraction of the billions of euros that course through its Dublin office. That is because the company uses a variety of methods, including royalty payments to a unit in Bermuda, to reduce further the amount of money exposed to tax liability. So, while Google told the Securities and Exchange Commission that it generated more than $4 billion in sales in Britain last year, it reported revenue of only £396 million, or $629 million, in itsofficial filings there. Central New York district attorney Marc Suben admits to '70s porn star past (NYDN) Prior to this year’s election, Marc Suben denied appearing in 1970s skin flicks, telling reporters he was the subject of a campaign by political rivals who wanted to sully his reputation. But Friday, CNYCentral.com published a story highlighting a YouTube video comparing Suben with porn actor Gus Thomas, whose IMDB film credits include “Deep Throat Part 2” and “Doctor’s Teenage Dilemma.” Suben swiftly called a press conference and “humbly” apologized to those he had deceived. He admitted to using “bad judgment” both by appearing in adult films in his youth and by lying about them as a public official. He was first elected in 2008. “I was shocked and embarrassed to be confronted with this so many years later,” said Suben, who has also served as a judge. “I was embarrassed for my family and friends who stood by me. I also denied my actions to my family, my friends and my staff.” He declined to say whether he plans to resign.
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Geithner: Deal To Avoid 'Fiscal Cliff' Can Be Made In Weeks (Bloomberg)
Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner said he’s confident an agreement on averting the fiscal cliff can be concluded within weeks after White House talks between President Barack Obama and congressional leaders. “It was a good meeting, and the tone was very good,” Geithner said in an interview in Washington. “I think this is doable within several weeks.” Geithner said a deal must be reached soon to prevent further damaging consumer confidence. The lack of agreement is “this huge cloud of uncertainty hanging over the economy,” he said. As the peak of holiday shopping season approaches, “You’d want to do it as soon as you can.” “This is within our grasp, within our reach,” Geithner said. “It’s not that complicated.” Geithner repeated the administration’s calls for an immediate extension of middle-class tax cuts, and said a deal on high-end tax cuts shouldn’t be delayed. “I think deferring things doesn’t work,” he said. “You know, we’ve had several periods now where there was a choice made to defer.”

Obama Calls CEOs, Including Buffett, Dimon (Politico)
President Obama made calls to a handful of top business leaders over the weekend, a White House official said Sunday, as part of effort to build support for his approach to averting the fiscal cliff. In conversations that came during his weekend of travel to and in Asia, Obama stressed "the need to find a balanced deficit reduction solution that protects the middle class and continues to move our economy forward," the official said. Obama spoke to Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett, Apple CEO Tim Cook, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, Boeing CEO Jim McNerney and Costco CEO Craig Jelinek, the official said.

Lagarde: Reality' Not 'Wishful Thinking' Needed on Greece (Reuters)
"I am always trying to be constructive but I am driven by two objectives," Lagarde said in an interview, "to build and approve a program for Greece that is solid, that is convincing today, that will be sustainable tomorrow, that is rooted in reality and not in wishful thinking.

Investment Falls Off A Cliff (WSJ)
U.S. companies are scaling back investment plans at the fastest pace since the recession, signaling more trouble for the economic recovery. Half of the nation's 40 biggest publicly traded corporate spenders have announced plans to curtail capital expenditures this year or next, according to a review by The Wall Street Journal of securities filings and conference calls.

Sahara Feeling Heat Over Bond Sales (WSJ)
India's Sahara Group has built an empire by offering financial products to tens of millions of rural Indians who typically stashed their meager savings under the mattress. Business was so good that Sahara, using fees and investments from its customers' deposits, grew into a multi-billion-dollar conglomerate that includes a 10,000-acre township, New York's Plaza Hotel building and a Formula-1 racing team. Today, the company's practices are coming under intense public scrutiny, the product of years of tussle between Sahara and regulators who worry India's informal financial sector has grown dangerously fast and without oversight. Many savers who scraped together money to put with Sahara now fear they could face lengthy delays in getting their money back.

Opportunists Stockpile Twinkies for Big Payday (AP)
Hours after the maker of Twinkies, Hostess Brands, announced its plans to close forever, people flocked to stores to fill their shopping baskets with boxes of Twinkies, which are cream-filled sponge cakes, and other snacks made by the company — Ding Dongs, Ho Hos and Zingers. Late Friday and Saturday, the opportunists took to the Web sites eBay and Craigslist. They began marketing their hoards to whimsical collectors and junk-food lovers for hundreds, in some cases thousands, of dollars. That is a fat profit margin, considering the retail price for a box of 10 Twinkies is about $5.

Bond Investor Takes Big Punt On Ireland (FT)
Franklin Templeton funds increased their holdings of Irish bonds by more than a third to at least €8.4 billion in the third quarter. This means that the San Francisco-based US asset manager now controls almost a 10th of Ireland’s entire government bond market. Most of the bonds have been snapped up by funds controlled by Michael Hasenstab, co-director of Franklin Templeton’s international bond department, and particularly by the $64 billion Templeton Global Bond Fund he manages.

Kim Kardashian Weighs In On The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (HP)
Kim Kardashian is apparently neutral when it comes to the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The reality star first tweeted support for Israel: "Praying for everyone in Israel," she wrote. And after five minutes of backlash, the star tweeted again: "And praying for everyone in Palestine and across the world!" she wrote. Kardashian is clearly the last person anyone wanted to hear from regarding the issue, and the 32-year-old was immediately hit with more backlash over the tweets -- including death threats. The star has since deleted the tweets and explained her reasons for tweeting about the conflict in a blog post on her website.

Shadow Banking Grows to $67 Trillion Industry, Regulators Say (Bloomberg)
The shadow banking industry has grown to about $67 trillion, $6 trillion bigger than previously thought, leading global regulators to seek more oversight of financial transactions that fall outside traditional oversight. The size of the shadow banking system, which includes the activities of money market funds, monoline insurers and off- balance sheet investment vehicles, “can create systemic risks” and “amplify market reactions when market liquidity is scarce,” the Financial Stability Board said in a report, which utilized more data than last year’s probe into the sector. “Appropriate monitoring and regulatory frameworks for the shadow banking system needs to be in place to mitigate the build-up of risks,” the FSB said in the report published on its website.

Lehman Trustee Ends Citigroup Fight (WSJ)
The trustee unwinding Lehman Brothers Inc. reached an agreement with Citigroup that ends a long-running legal fight over more than $1 billion that Lehman deposited at the bank the week it filed for bankruptcy protection. The deal puts $435 million in the coffers of Lehman's brokerage unit, LBI, for distribution to customers and other creditors, according to the settlement filed Friday night in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan.

Europe Seeks More Taxes From US Multinationals (NYT)
Google, Amazon, Starbucks and other American companies facing tax scrutiny say they are doing nothing wrong. They use complex accounting strategies to exploit national differences across Europe in corporate tax rates, which range from less than 10 percent to more than 30 percent, and loopholes that can reduce their effective European tax levies to almost nothing. Google, for example, records most of its international revenue at its European headquarters in Ireland, where the corporate tax rate is 12.5 percent. Across Europe, customers who buy advertising, Google’s primary source of revenue, sign contracts with the company’s subsidiary in Ireland, rather than with local branches. Google ends up paying Irish taxes on only a fraction of the billions of euros that course through its Dublin office. That is because the company uses a variety of methods, including royalty payments to a unit in Bermuda, to reduce further the amount of money exposed to tax liability. So, while Google told the Securities and Exchange Commission that it generated more than $4 billion in sales in Britain last year, it reported revenue of only £396 million, or $629 million, in its official filings there.

Central New York district attorney Marc Suben admits to '70s porn star past (NYDN)
Prior to this year’s election, Marc Suben denied appearing in 1970s skin flicks, telling reporters he was the subject of a campaign by political rivals who wanted to sully his reputation. But Friday, CNYCentral.com published a story highlighting a YouTube video comparing Suben with porn actor Gus Thomas, whose IMDB film credits include “Deep Throat Part 2” and “Doctor’s Teenage Dilemma.” Suben swiftly called a press conference and “humbly” apologized to those he had deceived. He admitted to using “bad judgment” both by appearing in adult films in his youth and by lying about them as a public official. He was first elected in 2008. “I was shocked and embarrassed to be confronted with this so many years later,” said Suben, who has also served as a judge. “I was embarrassed for my family and friends who stood by me. I also denied my actions to my family, my friends and my staff.” He declined to say whether he plans to resign.

Related

Opening Bell: 01.23.13

Greece Charges Statisticians Over Size of Deficit (FT) Greece has brought criminal charges against the official responsible for measuring the country's debt, thereby calling into question the validity of its 172 billion euros second bailout by the EU and International Monetary Fund. Andreas Georgiou, head of the independent statistical agency Elstat, and two senior officials are accused of undermining the country's "national interests" by inflating the 2009 budget deficit figure used as the benchmark for successive austerity packages. The three statistical experts face criminal charges of making false statements and corrupt practices, a judicial official said, adding that if found guilty they could serve prison terms of five to 10 years. They have denied any wrongdoing. Spain's Recession Deepens (WSJ) Spain's central bank said a recession in the euro zone's fourth-largest economy deepened slightly in the final quarter of last year, but it said austerity cuts are bringing the country's runaway budget deficit under control. Obama-Bashing Swapped for Pragmatism at Davos (Bloomberg) “We have to move on in our society,” Blackstone found Stephen Schwarzman said today in an interview in Davos with Bloomberg Television’s Erik Schatzker. “I like President Obama as a person, and he’s well- intentioned.” Schwarzman, 65, warned in Davos in 2010 that banks could restrict lending because “their entire world is being shaken and they’re being attacked personally.” Later that year, at a nonprofit group meeting, he likened Obama’s tax proposals to Hitler’s invasion of Poland. Third Point LLC CEO Daniel Loeb, who in 2010 compared Wall Street’s Obama supporters to “battered wives,” will help lead a Jan. 25 Davos dinner discussion, “Can Capitalism Evolve?” Schwarzman apologized in 2010 for his comparison of Obama’s effort to double taxes on private-equity income to the invasion of Poland. He said the analogy was inappropriate and that the administration’s need to work with business “is still of very serious concern.” JPMorgan's Jamie Dimon Apologizes, Attacks (WSJ) James Dimon of J.P. Morgan Chase was prepared in Davos to apologize for the more than $6 billion of trading losses racked up by the so-called London Whale, but he certainly wasn’t prepared to abase himself...Min Zhu, deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund, reeled off a string of statistics to show that the industry certainly hadn’t cleaned up its act since the crisis, and Paul Singer, principal of hedge fund Elliott Associates, was also keen to lambaste big banks, including Mr. Dimon’s. The two had some testy exchanges and the body language indicated that Messrs. Singer and Dimon have exchanged fire quite a few times previously. Still, Mr. Dimon gave us good as he got. He kicked off with repeating his apology to shareholders for the London Whale trading losses, which led to his own bonus being slashed, saying, “If you’re a shareholder of mine, I apologize deeply.” Having offered this apology he then went on the offense. He pointed out that his bank lent money to a whole host of worthy organizations such as schools, hospitals, governments, and Italian and Spanish corporates and governments. And he also had some snappy comebacks. Elliott’s Singer said that the global banks are “too big, too leveraged, too opaque,” which left Mr. Dimon with an easy retort about how could a hedge fund possibly criticize a bank about being opaque? “Our [securities filing] 10K is 400 pages long,” Mr. Dimon said. “What would you like to know?” Geithner Exit Next Friday (AFP) US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who steered the administration of President Obama through the financial crisis, will step down from his post Friday, a source told Agence France Presse yesterday. Golfer Mickelson recants tax rant (NYP) Mickelson — who hinted he might move from his home state of California to escape higher taxes — said he regretted his public rant on the issue after setting off a political firestorm. “Finances and taxes are a personal matter and I should not have made my opinions on them public,” according to a statement from Mickelson, who plans to elaborate today at the Farmers Insurance Open. “I apologize to those I have upset or insulted and assure you I intend to not let it happen again.” Senator Lautenberg Suggests Spanking In Store For Mayor Cory Booker (CI via DI) "I have four children, I love each one of them. I can't tell you that one of them wasn't occasionally disrespectful, so I gave them a spanking and everything was OK," Lautenberg said with a smile in his first public comments since Booker announced he was considering a run for Senate. Banker's Latest Bet: Teamwork on Bonds (WSJ) Texas banking tycoon Andrew Beal is known for making unconventional moves, including gambling on high-stakes poker and a self-financed plan to launch rockets into space. His latest gambit: an attempt to wring money from giant banks by banding together aggrieved bondholders. Mr. Beal's CXA Corp. ran a pair of advertisements late last year, one appearing in The Wall Street Journal. The ads listed an alphabet soup of residential mortgage-backed securities held by CXA and asked those with positions in the same securities to join the company in investigating possible infractions by banks that sold the debt. If the groups can prove the mortgages that underlie the bonds were approved through shoddy underwriting, they could be entitled to compensation—CXA's payday alone could be tens of millions of dollars. Firms Keep Stockpiles Of 'Foreign' Cash In US (WSJ) Some companies, including Internet giant Google, software maker Microsoft, and data-storage specialist EMC Corp, keep more than three-quarters of the cash owned by their foreign subsidiaries at U.S. banks, held in U.S. dollars or parked in U.S. government and corporate securities, according to people familiar with the companies' cash positions. In the eyes of the law, the Internal Revenue Service and company executives, however, this money is overseas. As long as it doesn't flow back to the U.S. parent company, the U.S. doesn't tax it. And as long as it sits in U.S. bank accounts or in U.S. Treasurys, it is safer than if it were plowed into potentially risky foreign investments. SEC Reins In Ratings Firm (WSJ) The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission barred Egan-Jones Ratings Co. from issuing ratings on certain bonds, an unprecedented step by the regulator and a setback for a small credit-rating firm with a history of courting controversy. The SEC said Tuesday that Egan-Jones couldn't officially rate bonds issued by countries, U.S. states and local governments, or securities backed by assets such as mortgages, for at least the next 18 months. The ban was part of an agreement the SEC reached with Egan-Jones and its president, Sean Egan, to settle charges that they filed inaccurate documents with the regulator in 2008. The SEC alleged that Egan-Jones misled investors about its expertise, and that Mr. Egan caused the firm to violate conflict-of-interest provisions. Lindenhurst dentist busted after reporting to work reeking of booze and drilling teeth while allegedly drunk (NYDN) Dr. Robert Garelick was hauled out of his Lindenhurst office in handcuffs Monday after his dental hygienist smelled booze on his breath and caught him administering Novocain to the wrong side of a patient’s mouth. “I observed Dr. Garelick looking for cavities in the right side of the patient’s mouth, but the cavities were in the left side,” hygienist Kimberly Curtis told police in a written statement. “I pointed this out to the doctor and that’s when he ordered more Novocain for the patient,” Curtis told cops. “So now, he basically numbed the whole patient’s mouth.” After noticing Garelick’s wobbly behavior Monday, Curtis texted co-worker Dina Fara, who called 911. Curtis said she sent the message after Garelick used a drill to treat another patient who had a chipped tooth. “He was filing the tooth down,” Curtis said. “When you’re using that drill, you have to be very careful and have a steady hand.” She said that just before Garelick treated the chipped tooth, he slipped into his office. “I noticed that he was drinking from a white and purple squeeze bottle,” Curtis said. “At first I didn’t think anything was wrong,” Curtis said. “But right after, he took a drink from that bottle, he got up and walked past me. When he did this I smelled a strong odor of alcohol.” The dentist initially claimed he only had a couple of beers with pizza during lunch Monday, according to Suffolk County cops. But Garelick, who was charged with misdemeanor reckless endangerment, later confessed to his drunken dentistry while being taken to a police precinct in the back of squad car. “I never had any beers with my pizza. I’ve been sipping at that bottle all along today,” he told police, referring to his squeeze bottle filled with vodka, according to a criminal complaint.

Opening Bell: 01.08.13

Obama Said Close to Choosing Lew for Treasury Secretary (Bloomberg) President Barack Obama may choose White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew to replace Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner as soon as this week, according to two people familiar with the matter. The selection of Lew would trigger a White House shuffle for Obama’s second term as he replaces his chief of staff and moves senior aides into new roles, said the people, who requested anonymity to discuss personnel matters. While Obama hasn’t made a final decision to pick Lew, the president’s staff has been instructed to prepare for his nomination, said one of the people. Rescued by a Bailout, AIG May Sue Its Savior (NYT) The board of A.I.G. will meet on Wednesday to consider joining a $25 billion shareholder lawsuit against the government, court records show. The lawsuit does not argue that government help was not needed. It contends that the onerous nature of the rescue — the taking of what became a 92 percent stake in the company, the deal's high interest rates and the funneling of billions to the insurer's Wall Street clients — deprived shareholders of tens of billions of dollars and violated the Fifth Amendment, which prohibits the taking of private property for "public use, without just compensation." Greenberg: 'Cadre' Hurt AIG (NYP) Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, former chief executive officer of American International Group, says in a soon-to-be-published book that the company was almost destroyed by overzealous overseers. The insurer was “ultimately taken over and run aground by a cadre of auditors, lawyers, outside directors, and government officials,” according to an excerpt of “The AIG Story” on Amazon.com’s website. JPMorgan’s Staley Quits to Join BlueMountain Hedge Fund (Bloomberg) ames E. Staley, the JPMorgan Chase executive who was once seen as a possible candidate to become chief executive officer, quit to join BlueMountain Capital Management LLC, a $12 billion hedge fund with close ties to the New York bank. Staley, who was at JPMorgan for more than 34 years, most recently as chairman of the corporate and investment bank, will become a managing partner and purchase a stake in BlueMountain, the New York-based firm said today in a statement. Proceeds from the stake sale will be invested in new infrastructure, technology and people, the firm said. “I’m very excited to be joining BlueMountain at a time when sea changes in the financial industry combined with the firm’s unique strengths open up enormous possibilities to deliver value to clients,” Staley, 56, said in the statement. HSBC N.J. Client Admits Conspiracy in Offshore Tax Case (Bloomberg) A New Jersey client of HSBC Holdings pleaded guilty to charges that he hid as much as $4.7 million through Swiss and Indian accounts not declared to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. Sanjay Sethi, 52, who owns SanVision Technology Inc., conspired with HSBC bankers in New York, London and Geneva to hide assets from the IRS, he admitted yesterday in federal court in Newark, New Jersey. Sethi will pay a $2.37 million penalty for failing to file reports required for foreign accounts. “Sethi and his co-conspirators used nominee and shell companies formed in tax-haven jurisdictions and elsewhere to conceal the defendant’s ownership and control of assets and income from the IRS,” according to his charging document. Bill Ackman Says Just Getting Started Exposing Herbalife (Bloomberg) “We’re prepared to spend whatever it costs and do whatever is required to make sure that the world understands the facts about this company,” he said in a telephone interview. “We can’t imagine how the SEC or the Federal Trade Commission or any other relevant regulator will ignore what we have said.” Ackman said he would make all his information available to U.S. regulators. Chinese Tech Titans Eye Brazil (WSJ) The Chinese like emerging markets because, for a change, they don't have to start way behind established American companies. By moving into Brazil aggressively, Chinese PC maker Lenovo Group and Internet-search company Baidu hope to gain an edge over companies like Hewlett-Packard and Google In addition, some U.S. companies that are leaders at home and in Europe have a smaller footprint here because of Brazil's long history of protectionism and red tape and its high cost of labor, particularly compared with Asia. Oregon brewer Daniel Keeton creates nutritional, non-alcoholic brew for his dog (NYDN) Oregon man Daniel Keeton enjoys serving beer to customers at the brewery he works for, so why shouldn't he serve up some healthy brew for the dog he cares about? The dog brew is non-alcoholic of course, but it is a big hit with Keeton's canine Lola Jane. And now Keeton's special brew is available to anyone who wants it. After years of planning, Keeton launched his company Dawg Grog over the summer. Keeton, who works at Boneyard Brewery in Bend, says Dawg Grog is good for the dogs, and they can't seem to get enough of it. "Bend is a dog-loving community and a beer-loving community," Keeton told the Daily News on Monday. "I wanted to marry those two together in some way." Keeton spent years refining the ingredients to his special brew, which includes low-sodium vegetable broth, water and spent grain from Boneyard Brewery. "After a couple of years of trying recipes I came up with one that I am really happy with, and one that my dog is really happy with," he said. Secret Goldman Team Sidesteps Volcker After Blankfein Vow (Bloomberg) MSI wagers about $1 billion of the New York-based firm’s own funds on the stocks and bonds of companies, including a mortgage servicer and a cement producer, according to interviews with more than 20 people who worked for and with the group, some as recently as last year. The unit, headed by two 1999 Princeton University classmates, has no clients, the people said...The team of about a dozen people, based at the firm’s Manhattan headquarters, is headed by Daniel Oneglia and Geoff Adamson. Oneglia was treasurer of the Princeton eating club Tiger Inn, where his nicknames included “the Don” and “the Weasel,” according to the university’s website. Adamson was coxswain for men’s heavyweight varsity crew. A Boston Globe photo shows teammates flinging him into a Massachusetts lake after a victory. Carlyle Bags $4 Billion Profit From China Insurance Exit (Reuters) Private equity firm Carlyle Group sold its remaining stake in China's No.3 insurer CPIC in a deal valued at $793 million, exiting the business with its largest dollar profit on an investment. After several stake sales in the past two years, Carlyle will finish with a total profit of more than $4 billion, five times the $800 million it invested in CPIC between 2005 and 2007 for a 17 percent stake, Thomson Reuters calculations show. By private equity standards, where making two times cash paid and a few hundred million is considered a success, the CPIC exit is an historic deal for Carlyle. London Quantitative Hedge Funds Report Second Year of Losses (Bloomberg) The performance of the funds belies their popularity with investors, who’ve poured $108.2 billion into the pools since the end of 2008, according to Fairfield, Iowa-based BarclayHedge Ltd. While quants made money during the financial crisis when other hedge funds didn’t, they’ve since stumbled as market sentiment swung from optimism to pessimism following political announcements in Washington and Brussels, breaking up the trends they try to follow. That may force investors to withdraw money. Japan Executives Warn Yen May Get Too Weak (WSJ) The executives, who gathered at an annual New Year's reception held by Japan's three biggest corporate lobbies, praised Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's new government for its proposals to boost the economy and tame the strong yen, which erodes exporters' profits and makes it harder to sell Japan-made goods overseas. But they also cautioned that if the economy stays weak, or if the government doesn't take steps to get its bloated finances under control, investors could lose confidence in Japan and flee, sending the yen into free fall. KFC diner stumbles upon strange brain-like organ in his meal (TS) Disgusted Ibrahim Langoo was tucking into a Gladiator box meal when he spotted what he thought was a “wrinkled brain” inside a piece of chicken. KFC have apologised and, after having the photographs analysed, reckon the unsightly organ may in fact be a kidney. The 19-year-old took a photograph of the three-inch stomach-churning discovery on his mobile phone and complained to staff. Apologetic bosses at the fast-food chain – known for its Finger Lickin’ Good slogan – have now offered him vouchers for even more KFC meals.

Opening Bell: 01.04.13

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

Opening Bell: 03.11.13

EU Chiefs Seeking to Stave Off Euro Crisis Turn to Cyprus (Bloomberg) European leaders grappling with political deadlock in Italy and spiraling unemployment in France will turn to a financial rescue for Cyprus in an effort to stave off a return of market turmoil over the debt crisis. European Union leaders will meet for a March 14-15 summit in Brussels to discuss terms for Cyprus, including the island nation’s debt sustainability and possibly imposing losses on depositors. That comes as Italy struggles to form a government after an inconclusive Feb. 24-25 election and as concern over the French economy mounts with unemployment at a 13-year high. Spain's Bailout Fund Said to Seek Help on Bank Strategy (WSJ) Spain's bank bailout fund is seeking to hire advisers to help shape a long-term strategy for dealing with its portfolio of nationalized lenders, a week after calling off an auction of one of the most troubled banks. People briefed about the plan said the fund, known by its Spanish acronym FROB, will make contact with strategic consultants, and possibly with investment banks, once the plan has been approved by the FROB's board of directors. Is There Life After Work? By Erin Callan (NYT) "I didn’t start out with the goal of devoting all of myself to my job. It crept in over time. Each year that went by, slight modifications became the new normal. First I spent a half-hour on Sunday organizing my e-mail, to-do list and calendar to make Monday morning easier. Then I was working a few hours on Sunday, then all day. My boundaries slipped away until work was all that was left...I have often wondered whether I would have been asked to be C.F.O. if I had not worked the way that I did. Until recently, I thought my singular focus on my career was the most powerful ingredient in my success. But I am beginning to realize that I sold myself short. I was talented, intelligent and energetic. It didn’t have to be so extreme. Besides, there were diminishing returns to that kind of labor. I didn’t have to be on my BlackBerry from my first moment in the morning to my last moment at night. I didn’t have to eat the majority of my meals at my desk. I didn’t have to fly overnight to a meeting in Europe on my birthday. I now believe that I could have made it to a similar place with at least some better version of a personal life. Not without sacrifice — I don’t think I could have “had it all” — but with somewhat more harmony. I have also wondered where I would be today if Lehman Brothers hadn’t collapsed. In 2007, I did start to have my doubts about the way I was living my life. Or not really living it. But I felt locked in to my career. I had just been asked to be C.F.O. I had a responsibility. Without the crisis, I may never have been strong enough to step away. Perhaps I needed what felt at the time like some of the worst experiences in my life to come to a place where I could be grateful for the life I had. I had to learn to begin to appreciate what was left. At the end of the day, that is the best guidance I can give. Whatever valuable advice I have about managing a career, I am only now learning how to manage a life." Paper Trail Goes Cold in Case Against S&P (Reuters) In early 2007, as signs of distress began appearing in securities backed by residential mortgages, executives at Standard & Poor's began advising analysts responsible for rating mortgage bonds that they should put the phrase "privileged and confidential" on emails to one another. Analysts working for the McGraw Hill Cos division also were discouraged from doodling on notepads and official documents during meetings to discuss pending deals and existing ratings, several former S&P employees said. That was not the first time S&P had tried to caution employees about paper trails. In 2005, a full two years before the housing market began to melt down, several top S&P managers attended an off-site meeting at hotel in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, to discuss ways to increase the fees it collected from Wall Street banks for rating mortgage bonds. A former S&P executive said that after the meeting, employees were instructed to discard any notes they had taken from the meeting. InTrade Shuts Down (WSJ) InTrade, the Ireland-based website that allows users to place wagers on non-sports-related upcoming events, announced on Sunday that it is shutting its site down. In an official statement, the company does not go into great detail as to why it is closing its doors, only that it is related to “financial irregularities which, in accordance with Irish law,” require InTrade to cease operations until resolved. “At this time and until further notice, it is not possible to make any payments to members in accordance with their settled account balance until the investigations have concluded,” the company said. Commodities Squeeze Banks (WSJ) The sharp fall in commodity revenue has already claimed some victims. UBS AG, the Swiss bank that has been under pressure to cut costs and improve its performance, last year closed all its commodities-trading desks aside from those dealing in precious metals. Goldman, UBS, Deutsche Bank, and Barclays have all suffered departures of senior commodity traders to hedge funds and independent trading companies over the last several months. Average staffing in commodities trading declined 5.9% last year at major banks, according to Coalition. Artist Teaches George W. Bush How To Paint (Fox5) An artist in Cumming, GA spent a month teaching former President George W. Bush how to paint. Bonnie Flood said that President Bush has a passion for painting and shows real potential as an artists. "He started off painting dogs. I think he said he painted 50 dogs," Flood said. "He pulled out this canvas and started painting dogs and I thought, 'Oh my God, I don't paint dogs!" Flood, who does most of paintings at her home in Cumming, occasionally conducts workshops in Florida. That's where the former President heard about her. The next thing she knew, she was packing up her paints to spend a month in Boca Grande with President Bush. She said that she spent about six hours a day with the President, mixing paints and teaching him proper brush strokes. She says she wasn't intimidated but admits she really didn't know what to call him until she found the magic number. "I called him '43' because that's the way he signed his paintings. "When I really wanted him to do something, I would say, 'Mr. President you know that you don't do it that way.'" She says the President learned quickly and soon started painting fewer dogs and more landscapes. "He has such a passion for painting, it's amazing," Flood said. "He's going to go down in the history books as a great artist." Hostess Creditor, Private-Equity Firms Show Interest in Twinkies Brand (Reuters) Hostess Brands creditor Silver Point Capital and hedge fund Hurst Capital have expressed interest in buying Hostess's snack cake brands, including Twinkies, the New York Post reported. Paulson Said to Explore Puerto Rico as Home With Low Tax (Bloomberg) John Paulson, a lifelong New Yorker, is exploring a move to Puerto Rico, where a new law would eliminate taxes on gains from the $9.5 billion he has invested in his own hedge funds, according to four people who have spoken to him about a possible relocation. More US Profits Parked Abroad (WSJ) A Wall Street Journal analysis of 60 big U.S. companies found that, together, they parked a total of $166 billion offshore last year. That shielded more than 40% of their annual profits from U.S. taxes, though it left the money off-limits for paying dividends, buying back shares or making investments in the U.S. The 60 companies were chosen for the analysis because each of them had held at least $5 billion offshore in 2011. Twitter, Social Media Are Fertile Ground For Stock Hoaxes (Reuters) "Twitter pump and dump schemes are obviously something for the market to be concerned about, even if they are just a new way for people to do schemes that have been done forever," said Keith McCullough, chief executive officer at Hedgeye Risk Management in New Haven, Connecticut. He uses Twitter and has more than 22,000 followers. In such hoaxes, anonymous users set up accounts with names that sound like prominent market players, issue negative commentary, and spark massive declines. The selling that follows shows how the rapid spread of information on social media can make for volatile trading, and is a warning to investors who trade on news before fully verifying the source. SEC: Goldman Cannot Ignore Proposal to Split Chairman, CEO Roles (Reuters) SEC staff sent a letter to Goldman internal counsel Beverly O'Toole this week, saying the agency is "unable to concur" with Goldman's view that the shareholder proposal does not warrant a vote. El Paso Sheriff's deputies arrest 2 ice cream men for possession of pot (EPT) Saturday afternoon, Sheriff's deputies spotted a purple ice cream truck with a cracked windshield and an expired registration sticker along the 8600 block of Alameda. During the traffic stop, one of the occupants left the vehicle and led deputies on a brief foot pursuit before being caught. Two tupperware bowls containing a green leafy substance, believed to be marijuana, was found on the man, who was identified as 19-year-old Elijah Sanchez. The second occupant, identified as 29-year-old Anthony Arellano, was also charged with possession of marijuana after deputies found marijuana inside the vehicle. Arellano has been arrested in the past for numerous felony charges and a previous possession of marijuana charge in 2006, deputies said.

Opening Bell: 12.17.12

SAC E-Mails Show Steve Cohen Consulted on Key Dell Trade (Bloomberg) Two days before Dell Inc. was set to report second-quarter 2008 earnings, Jon Horvath, a technology analyst at SAC Capital Advisors LP, e-mailed his boss Michael S. Steinberg and another portfolio manager to warn that the computer maker would miss earnings estimates. “I have a 2nd hand read from someone at the company,” Horvath began the Aug. 26 message, which provided details on gross margins, expenditures and revenue. “Please keep to yourself as obviously not well known.” Steinberg, a 15-year veteran of the hedge fund founded by billionaire Steven A. Cohen, responded: “Yes normally we would never divulge data like this, so please be discreet. Thanks.” The e-mails indicate Steinberg, the longest-serving SAC employee linked to the U.S. insider-trading probe, discussed the Dell trade with Cohen. While neither has been accused of any wrongdoing, the messages were admitted as evidence at the New York insider-trading trial of two hedge-fund managers last week after a judge ruled they supported prosecutor claims that Steinberg should be considered an unindicted co-conspirator. AIG To Sell Life Insurer Stake (WSJ) AIG will sell its stake in Asian life insurer AIA Group Ltd., raising as much as $6.5 billion in what could be the second-largest deal in Asia this year. Completion of the sale will mark another step forward for AIG, which is shedding noncore assets, as it seeks to repay its debt to the U.S. government, which took over the company in a $182 billion bailout in 2008. A Shadow Over Banks As UBS Nears Libor Deal (WSJ) The Swiss bank is set to agree as soon as this week to pay roughly $1.5 billion to settle allegations of wrongdoing related to benchmarks such as the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, say people close to the talks. So far, UBS has agreed in principle with the U.S. Justice Department that a company unit in Japan will plead guilty to a criminal charge, according to a person familiar with the tentative deal. The Zurich-based parent will pay the fine in return for a deal that lets it avoid criminal prosecution. Criminal charges against individuals are expected to be filed in tandem with the settlement, according to U.S. officials briefed on the matter. The pursuit of criminal charges and the higher-than-expected fine are ominous signs for more than a dozen financial firms still under investigation. "There's no panic—yet," says someone close to one of the banks in the sprawling probe. Moody’s Gets No Respect as Bonds Shun 56% of Country Ratings (Bloomberg) The global bond market disagreed with Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s more often than not this year when the companies told investors that governments were becoming safer or more risky. Yields on sovereign securities moved in the opposite direction from what ratings suggested in 53 percent of the 32 upgrades, downgrades and changes in credit outlook, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That’s worse than the longer-term average of 47 percent, based on more than 300 changes since 1974. This year, investors ignored 56 percent of Moody’s rating and outlook changes and 50 percent of those by S&P. Economy Poised To Nudge Ahead In 2013 (WSJ) So that's nice. Boehner Opens the Door to Tax Hikes on the Wealthy (Reuters) U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner's offer to accept a tax rate increase for the wealthiest Americans knocks down a key Republican road block to a deal resolving the year-end "fiscal cliff." The question now boils down to what President Barack Obama offers in return. Such major questions, still unanswered so close to the end of the year suggest, however, that no spending and tax agreement is imminent. A source familiar with the Obama-Boehner talks confirmed that Boehner proposed extending low tax rates for everyone who has less than $1 million in net annual income, meaning tax rates would rise on all above that line. Actor Depardieu Hits Back at French PM Over Taxes (CNBC) Actor Gerard Depardieu, accused by French government leaders of trying to dodge taxes by buying a house over the border in Belgium, retorted that he was leaving because "success" was now being punished in his homeland. A popular and colourful figure in France, the 63-year-old Depardieu is the latest wealthy Frenchman to seek shelter outside his native country after tax increases by Socialist President Francois Hollande. Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault described Depardieu's behaviour as "pathetic" and unpatriotic at a time when the French are being asked to pay higher taxes to reduce a bloated national debt. "Pathetic, you said pathetic? How pathetic is that?" Depardieu said in a letter distributed to the media. "I am leaving because you believe that success, creation, talent, anything different must be sanctioned," he said. [...] The "Cyrano de Bergerac" star recently bought a house in Nechin, a Belgian village a short walk from the border with France, where 27 percent of residents are French nationals, and put up his sumptuous Parisian home up for sale. Depardieu, who has also inquired about procedures for acquiring Belgian residency, said he was handing in his passport and social security card. Singapore Establishment Challenged by Carson Block on Olam (Bloomberg) When Carson Block likened Olam International Ltd. to fraud-ridden Enron Corp., he challenged more than the accounting of the Singapore-based commodities firm. He also took on Temasek Holdings Pte, the government-owned investment company whose money has helped build the city-state into a corporate dynamo known as Singapore Inc. Temasek is Olam’s second-largest shareholder, with a 16 percent stake that has lost more than $100 million in value since Nov. 19, when Block’s Muddy Waters LLC first questioned the validity of the company’s finances and said it was betting against the stock. Temasek is also the biggest shareholder in many of the country’s best-known companies, including DBS Group Holdings Ltd., Southeast Asia’s largest bank, Singapore Telecommunications Ltd. and Singapore Airlines Ltd. “Carson Block is putting his whole reputation on this one,” said Low Chee Keong, associate professor of corporate law at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “He’s taking on the Singapore government, Singapore Inc. here.” UN court orders immediate release of Argentine ship seized by hedge funder Paul Singer over unpaid debt (AP) A United Nations court ordered the immediate release Saturday of an Argentine navy training ship held in Ghana two months ago at the request of an American hedge fund. The ARA Libertad was held Oct. 2 in the port of Tema as collateral for unpaid bonds dating from Argentina's economic crisis a decade ago. Argentina appealed to the UN's International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea for the ship's release, arguing that as a warship the Libertad is immune from being seized. In an expedited ruling, the court ordered that Ghana "forthwith and unconditionally release the frigate ARA Libertad" and ensure the ship and its crew can leave Ghanaian waters. It also ordered that the vessel should be resupplied as needed. Detaining the ship was "a source of conflict that may endanger friendly relations among states," the court said. The ruling leaves untouched the parties' rights to seek further international arbitration on the matter. Debt Loads Climb In Buyout Deals (WSJ) Private-equity firms are using almost as much debt to fund acquisitions as they did before the financial crisis, as return-hungry investors rush to buy bonds and loans backing those takeovers. The rise in borrowed money, or leverage, heralds the possibility of juicy returns for buyout groups. Ominously, the surge also brings back memories of the last credit binge around six years ago, which saddled dozens of companies with huge levels of debt. Berlusconi's Love Life Lost in Translation (CNBC) Global media reports that the former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi announced his engagement to his 28-year-old girlfriend on one of his TV Channels on Sunday, have been dismissed by native Italians who say Berlusconi has been mis-translated. Various newspapers have reported that Berlusconi is to get married for the third time, when in fact he announced that he is in love and in a relationship...Professor of Modern Italian History at University College London (UCL), John Foot, told CNBC that Pascale is a"girlfriend, nothing more." "In Italy the phrase 'Mi sono fidanzato' usually means 'I have a girlfriend or boyfriend' and not 'I am engaged to be married'. This can cause confusion abroad but is pretty clear in the Italian context," he told CNBC. Twinkies again by spring? It could happen (NBC) It’s not even Christmas, but Twinkies fans may be able to start looking forward to an Easter present. Bankrupt Hostess Brands has received a number of bids from companies interested in buying the maker of Twinkies, Ho Hos, and Wonder bread, including retail heavyweights such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Kroger Co, Bloomberg News reported Friday, quoting an unnamed person familiar with the matter...Anthony Michael Sabino, a bankruptcy attorney and a professor at St. John's University, said bankruptcy judge Robert Drain was motivated to move quickly. Bidding will likely take place by early January, since the assets — if not the treats themselves — could become stale. “I think this will move a at a fairly decent pace. He knows what’s at stake here.

Opening Bell: 09.11.12

Before Scandal, Class Over Control Of Libor (WSJ) At an April 25, 2008, meeting with officials at the Bank of England, Angela Knight, head of the British Bankers' Association, argued that the London interbank offered rate had become too big for her organization to manage, according to minutes of the meeting and a person who was there. Her suggestion went nowhere. Even as Libor's deep flaws became apparent, regulators resisted a greater oversight role, the BBA's member banks clung to control of Libor, and BBA executives bickered with one another over whether to hang onto the lucrative business, according to people who were involved and a Wall Street Journal review of hundreds of pages of emails, meeting minutes and other documents. Treasury Sells Big Chunk Of AIG Stock (WSJ) The Treasury sold about 554 million shares to the public at $32.50 apiece for a total of $18 billion in one of the biggest global follow-on stock offerings since the financial crisis. The offering was the Treasury's fifth sale of AIG stock since early last year and reduced the government's stake in the company to about 22% from 92% in early 2011. The price set Monday was above the government's cost basis of $28.73 a share, meaning taxpayers will earn a profit on the sale. New iPhone could boost U.S. GDP by up to 0.5 percent, JP Morgan says (Reuters) "Calculated using the so-called retail control method, sales of iPhone 5 could boost annualized GDP growth by $3.2 billion, or $12.8 billion at an annual rate," Feroli wrote. That 0.33 percentage-point boost, he added, "would limit the downside risk to our Q4 GDP growth protection, which remains 2.0 percent." Feroli laid out his math. J.P. Morgan's analysts expect Apple to sell around 8 million iPhone 5s in the fourth quarter. They expect the sales price to be about $600. With about $200 in discounted import component costs, the government can factor in $400 per phone into its measure of gross domestic product for the fourth quarter. Feroli said the estimate of between a quarter to a half point of annualized GDP "seems fairly large, and for that reason should be treated skeptically." But, he added, "we think the recent evidence is consistent with this projection." Geithner Holds His Own on Triathlon Front (Dealbook) Geithner participated in the 7th annual Nation’s Triathlon to Benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society on Sunday, swimming, biking and running his way through the nation’s capital. The race involved a 1.5-kilometer swim in the Potomac River, a 40-kilometer bike ride through the city and a 10-kilometer run. And Mr. Geithner, 51, can boast of a pretty good finish to his race, completing the course in 2:33:07. He placed ninth in his division, men aged 50 to 54, according to the race’s Web site. Individually, he completed the swim in 29:10, the bike ride in 1:13:52 and the run in 45:51. New Yorker Cartoon Dept Temporarily Banned From Facebook For Violating ‘Nudity And Sex’ Standards (Mediaite) In a post entitled “Nipplegate,” the New Yorker‘s cartoon editor, Robert Mankoff, detailed how the magazine’s cartoon department became temporarily banned on Facebook: a particular Mick Stevens cartoon violated the social networking site’s community standards on “Nudity and Sex.” Stevens redrew the cartoon, he said, “but the gain in clothes caused too great a loss in humor.” He then noted that Facebook has different standards when it comes to males and females. As “the guidelines say, ‘male nipples are ok.’ It’s the ‘female nipple bulges’ that are the problem.” Big Banks Hide Risk Transforming Collateral for Traders (Bloomberg) JPMorgan and Bank of America are helping clients find an extra $2.6 trillion to back derivatives trades amid signs that a shortage of quality collateral will erode efforts to safeguard the financial system. Starting next year, new rules designed to prevent another meltdown will force traders to post U.S. Treasury bonds or other top-rated holdings to guarantee more of their bets. The change takes effect as the $10.8 trillion market for Treasuries is already stretched thin by banks rebuilding balance sheets and investors seeking safety, leaving fewer bonds available to backstop the $648 trillion derivatives market. The solution: At least seven banks plan to let customers swap lower-rated securities that don’t meet standards in return for a loan of Treasuries or similar holdings that do qualify, a process dubbed “collateral transformation.” That’s raising concerns among investors, bank executives and academics that measures intended to avert risk are hiding it instead. Soros: Germany going into depression in 6 months (MarketWatch) The recession in Europe will spread to Germany, the euro-zone's largest economy, within six months, said George Soros, chairman of Soros Fund Management. "The policy of fiscal retrenchment in the midst of rising unemployment is pro-cyclical and pushing Europe into a deeper and longer depression," Soros said in prepared remarks for a speech in Berlin Monday. "That is no longer a forecast; it is an observation. The German public doesn't yet feel it and doesn't quite believe it. But it is all too real in the periphery and it will reach Germany in the next six months or so." Lindsay Lohan encourages President Obama to slash taxes for 'Forbes millionaires' (DM) In a tweet fired off on Friday, the 26-year-old actress encouraged President Barack Obama to consider lowering taxes for the one-percenters listed on the Forbes Magazine’ millionaires’ list. Lohan, who has been very active on Twitter recently, was responding to a message posted by the Obama campaign following his Thursday speech at the Democratic National Convention. ‘I’ve cut taxes for those who need it: middle-class families, small businesses,’ the tweet read. About 10 minutes later, the star of the upcoming Elizabeth Taylor biopic ‘Liz and Dick’ put in her two cents on the issue of tax cuts: ‘We also need to cut them for those that are listed on Forbes as "millionaires" if they are not, you must consider that as well,’ her late-night message read. Gross Says Age of Credit Expansion Led Fund Returns Over (Bloomberg) Gross’s outlook follows his commentary last month, which sparked debate among investors and analysts after he declared that the “cult of equity” was dying. In his August comments, he compared long-term returns from equities to a “Ponzi scheme” and said returns of 6.6 percent above inflation, known as the Siegel Constant, won’t be seen again. “Our credit-based financial system is burdened by excessive fat and interest rates that are too low,” Gross wrote. “Central banks are agog in disbelief that the endless stream of” liquidity pumped into the banking sector has not stimulated lending, Gross wrote. Queen's Corgi Buried At Balmor (TDB) The dog, Monty was involved in a fight recently when he was one of a number of dogs which attacked Princess Beatrice's terrier Max over the summer, but it appears the fight - Max came off worst and nearly lost an ear in the fracas - was not a contributory cause of death. Buckingham Palace is not officially revealing how or when the corgi, named Monty (after the American horse whisperer Monty Roberts who has advised the queen on dogs and horses) met his end, but palace sources told the Royalist the animal passed away of old age over the summer. The animal died at the Royal Scottish residence of Balmoral, where, in accordance with tradition, he has been buried in the Royal pet cemetery opened by Queen Victoria when her beloved Collie, Noble, died there in 1887...the Queen is known to take the deaths of her pets hard: Lady Pamela Hicks, the mother of India Hicks once wrote a note when one of the Queen’s corgis died and received a six-page letter back.

Opening Bell: 03.05.12

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

Opening Bell: 03.20.12

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