Holiday Bell: 12.26.12

Budget Talks Cloud Outlook (WSJ) Lawmakers returning to town this week will see whether they can agree on a plan to avoid the full brunt of the fiscal cliff, the combined $500 billion in tax increases and spending cuts set to begin next week. Little if any progress was made in the talks before Congress and President Barack Obama left town last Friday for Christmas. The president plans to leave his vacation in Hawaii late Wednesday night, returning to Washington on Thursday, the White House said. Aides in both parties say they expect a potential solution to start taking shape by the end of the week. But with so little time, hopes are dimming for anything other than a partial agreement, which would prolong the uncertainty and leave in place some tax or spending measures that act as a serious drag on the weak recovery. This could even trigger another recession, exacerbating the global economic slowdown. Grand Bargain Shrinks as Congress Nears U.S. Budget Deadline (Bloomberg) “At this point there’s zero percent chance of a big deal and maybe a 10 percent chance of a small deal before Jan. 1,” said Stan Collender, a former staff member of the House Ways and Means Committee and the House and Senate Budget committees who is now at Qorvis Communications in Washington. He has predicted a no-deal scenario since before Memorial Day, and said the past two weeks of inaction reinforced his projection. At this point, Collender said, whether the Senate moves first won’t matter. “Nothing will move House Republicans if they don’t feel like getting moved,” he said. “They’ve never been swayed by the Senate before.” The remaining option for averting the cliff, he said, would be if Boehner risks his House speakership to put to the floor a tax deal that would get a majority of Democrats to support it and few -- perhaps less than 50 -- Republicans. “The Republican caucus would never forgive him,” he said. “The statesmanlike thing to do would be to say I’m the speaker of the House, not the head of the Republican party. That is the equivalent of never running for speaker again.” Some 'Cliff' With Your Coffee? Starbucks Urges Unity (Reuters) Chief Executive Howard Schultz is urging workers in Starbucks' roughly 120 Washington-area shops to write "come together'' on customers' cups on Thursday and Friday, as U.S. President Barack Obama and lawmakers return to work and attempt to revive fiscal cliff negotiations that collapsed before the Christmas holiday. Herbalife Goes On Offensive (WSJ) Herbalife Ltd. said it has hired a strategic adviser and will hold an analyst and investor meeting next month in an effort to thwart a wave of criticism reignited by investor William Ackman. In addition, Herbalife is working with law firm Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP in connection with the dispute, according to people familiar with the matter. It wasn't immediately clear what kind of counsel Boies Schiller might provide...The company's moves, announced Monday, come after Mr. Ackman last week revealed that his firm has been betting against Herbalife shares for months in a negative wager that he characterized as "enormous." He also said the nutritional-supplement maker operates as a "pyramid scheme." He said distributors, or salespeople, for the Los Angeles-based company make more money by recruiting other distributors than by selling the company's diet and nutritional products. Herbalife last week called Mr. Ackman's stance "a malicious attack on Herbalife's business model based largely on outdated, distorted and inaccurate information." NJ Pension Fund Sues NYSE-Euronext on ICE Deal (Reuters) The New Jersey Carpenters Pension Fund on Friday filed a complaint in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan contending that NYSE-Euronext breached its duty to maximize returns for shareholders. The lawsuit seeks class-action status on behalf of other NYSE-Euronext shareholders and aims to block the sale. Titan to Withdraw Money From SAC (WSJ) Titan Advisors LLC recently told clients that it had decided to withdraw its entire investment from SAC, said clients who received phone calls from Titan. "They've told us they still think SAC is a good firm but Titan doesn't need the headline risk, and we sure don't," said Tom Taneyhill, executive director of the Fire & Police Employees' Retirement System of the City of Baltimore, on Friday...Titan's departure is significant given SAC's long-standing relationship with one of Titan's founders. Titan co-founder George Fox began investing in SAC in the mid-90s, several years after Mr. Cohen started what became the firm in 1992. Madoff, in Christmas Eve Letter, Says Insider Trading Has Gone on 'Forever' (CNBC) In a Christmas Eve letter from the medium security federal prison in North Carolina where he is serving a 150-year sentence for running a massive Ponzi scheme, Madoff tells CNBC that insider trading has been around "forever." He also rails against what he calls a lack of transparency in the financial markets, and says the growth of hedge funds is forcing market players to take outsized risks in order to earn decent returns. [...] "(O)ne would be led to believe that with the recent spate of insider trading prosecution that insider trading is a new development," Madoff writes. "This is false. It has been present in the market forever, but rarely prosecuted. The same can be said of front running of orders." Venture Capital to Suppress Its Appetite for Risk in 2013 (WSJ) Internet entrepreneurs have had the upper hand over venture capitalists in recent years but that balance of power is now showing some signs of shifting, a trend that could accelerate in 2013. Spurring the change is a dramatically lower appetite for risk from venture capitalists. Many investors rushed to get into Web startup deals in 2010, 2011 and in the early part of this year, often acceding to entrepreneurs' demands for rising valuations in order to snag a stake in their companies. But following the disappointing stock market performances of recently public Web companies Facebook, Zynga, and Groupon venture capitalists are reining in their spending in areas like the consumer Internet. Israel Hedge Funds Defy Iran Threat Multiplying in Tech Center (Bloomberg) Tal Keinan, an Israeli fund manager, was ready for the question he’s always asked when he met with investors in New York in October: Why put your money with a manager whose country Iran has threatened to obliterate. “We tell them ‘if the Iranians attack, the worst thing that can happen is you lose your money manager not your money’,” Keinan, chief executive officer of Tel Aviv-based KCPS & Company, which oversees $1 billion in assets, said in an interview on Oct. 14. “The notion is trade global markets with global assets and clients, but just do it from Israel because of the concentration of talent here.” The country is becoming a magnet for hedge fund managers as lower operating costs, the world’s highest number of Ph.D.s and hi-tech startups per capita overshadow concern that Israel may be attacked by missiles from Tehran. The number of funds has grown to 60 overseeing about $2 billion from 13 in 2006, according to a survey of the local industry published in July by Tzur Management. Israel may be on track to replicate the growth that propelled Singapore’s industry from fewer than 20 managers in 2001 to 320 overseeing $48 billion in 2009, Yitz Raab, founder and managing partner of the Tel Aviv-based fund administration company, said in an interview on Nov. 11. Even Cupid Wants To Know Your Credit Score (NYT) The credit score, once a little-known metric derived from a complex formula that incorporates outstanding debt and payment histories, has become an increasingly important number used to bestow credit, determine housing and even distinguish between job candidates. It’s so widely used that it has also become a bigger factor in dating decisions, sometimes eclipsing more traditional priorities like a good job, shared interests and physical chemistry. That’s according to interviews with more than 50 daters across the country, all under the age of 40. Report: Hedgies prime for comeback (NYP) Banking giant UBS says so-called active investing could be making a comeback after several years of lagging performance, according to a recent report sent to clients. “Although the recent market environment has been difficult for active managers, conditions appear to be improving,” according to the report by UBS’s wealth-management group, which advises clients on their investment strategies. “We expect this to lead to better manager performance.” London VC Spared Jail After ‘Groin Thrusting’ Sexual Assault On Tube During Olympics (TechCrunch) Stefan Glaenzer, a partner in London VC firm Passion Capital has been spared jail after pleading guilty to, and being convicted of, sexual assault on the London underground during the Olympics period...In November, the former chairman of Last.fm admitted sexually assaulting an American tourist on a packed Central Line train by thrusting his groin into her back, Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard. His defence was that he was under the influence of cannabis. Programming Note: We’re on an abbreviated, vacation-esque schedule this week (opening news roundups and limited updates whenever the urge to reach out and touch you moves us). We still want to hear from you, though, so if anything happens that you think might tickle our fancy, do not hesitate to let us know.
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Budget Talks Cloud Outlook (WSJ)
Lawmakers returning to town this week will see whether they can agree on a plan to avoid the full brunt of the fiscal cliff, the combined $500 billion in tax increases and spending cuts set to begin next week. Little if any progress was made in the talks before Congress and President Barack Obama left town last Friday for Christmas. The president plans to leave his vacation in Hawaii late Wednesday night, returning to Washington on Thursday, the White House said. Aides in both parties say they expect a potential solution to start taking shape by the end of the week. But with so little time, hopes are dimming for anything other than a partial agreement, which would prolong the uncertainty and leave in place some tax or spending measures that act as a serious drag on the weak recovery. This could even trigger another recession, exacerbating the global economic slowdown.

Grand Bargain Shrinks as Congress Nears U.S. Budget Deadline (Bloomberg)
“At this point there’s zero percent chance of a big deal and maybe a 10 percent chance of a small deal before Jan. 1,” said Stan Collender, a former staff member of the House Ways and Means Committee and the House and Senate Budget committees who is now at Qorvis Communications in Washington. He has predicted a no-deal scenario since before Memorial Day, and said the past two weeks of inaction reinforced his projection. At this point, Collender said, whether the Senate moves first won’t matter. “Nothing will move House Republicans if they don’t feel like getting moved,” he said. “They’ve never been swayed by the Senate before.” The remaining option for averting the cliff, he said, would be if Boehner risks his House speakership to put to the floor a tax deal that would get a majority of Democrats to support it and few -- perhaps less than 50 -- Republicans. “The Republican caucus would never forgive him,” he said. “The statesmanlike thing to do would be to say I’m the speaker of the House, not the head of the Republican party. That is the equivalent of never running for speaker again.”

Some 'Cliff' With Your Coffee? Starbucks Urges Unity (Reuters)
Chief Executive Howard Schultz is urging workers in Starbucks' roughly 120 Washington-area shops to write "come together'' on customers' cups on Thursday and Friday, as U.S. President Barack Obama and lawmakers return to work and attempt to revive fiscal cliff negotiations that collapsed before the Christmas holiday.

Herbalife Goes On Offensive (WSJ)
Herbalife Ltd. said it has hired a strategic adviser and will hold an analyst and investor meeting next month in an effort to thwart a wave of criticism reignited by investor William Ackman. In addition, Herbalife is working with law firm Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP in connection with the dispute, according to people familiar with the matter. It wasn't immediately clear what kind of counsel Boies Schiller might provide...The company's moves, announced Monday, come after Mr. Ackman last week revealed that his firm has been betting against Herbalife shares for months in a negative wager that he characterized as "enormous." He also said the nutritional-supplement maker operates as a "pyramid scheme." He said distributors, or salespeople, for the Los Angeles-based company make more money by recruiting other distributors than by selling the company's diet and nutritional products. Herbalife last week called Mr. Ackman's stance "a malicious attack on Herbalife's business model based largely on outdated, distorted and inaccurate information."

NJ Pension Fund Sues NYSE-Euronext on ICE Deal (Reuters)
The New Jersey Carpenters Pension Fund on Friday filed a complaint in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan contending that NYSE-Euronext breached its duty to maximize returns for shareholders. The lawsuit seeks class-action status on behalf of other NYSE-Euronext shareholders and aims to block the sale.

Titan to Withdraw Money From SAC (WSJ)
Titan Advisors LLC recently told clients that it had decided to withdraw its entire investment from SAC, said clients who received phone calls from Titan. "They've told us they still think SAC is a good firm but Titan doesn't need the headline risk, and we sure don't," said Tom Taneyhill, executive director of the Fire & Police Employees' Retirement System of the City of Baltimore, on Friday...Titan's departure is significant given SAC's long-standing relationship with one of Titan's founders. Titan co-founder George Fox began investing in SAC in the mid-90s, several years after Mr. Cohen started what became the firm in 1992.

Madoff, in Christmas Eve Letter, Says Insider Trading Has Gone on 'Forever' (CNBC)
In a Christmas Eve letter from the medium security federal prison in North Carolina where he is serving a 150-year sentence for running a massive Ponzi scheme, Madoff tells CNBC that insider trading has been around "forever." He also rails against what he calls a lack of transparency in the financial markets, and says the growth of hedge funds is forcing market players to take outsized risks in order to earn decent returns. [...] "(O)ne would be led to believe that with the recent spate of insider trading prosecution that insider trading is a new development," Madoff writes. "This is false. It has been present in the market forever, but rarely prosecuted. The same can be said of front running of orders."

Venture Capital to Suppress Its Appetite for Risk in 2013 (WSJ)
Internet entrepreneurs have had the upper hand over venture capitalists in recent years but that balance of power is now showing some signs of shifting, a trend that could accelerate in 2013. Spurring the change is a dramatically lower appetite for risk from venture capitalists. Many investors rushed to get into Web startup deals in 2010, 2011 and in the early part of this year, often acceding to entrepreneurs' demands for rising valuations in order to snag a stake in their companies. But following the disappointing stock market performances of recently public Web companies Facebook, Zynga, and Groupon venture capitalists are reining in their spending in areas like the consumer Internet.

Israel Hedge Funds Defy Iran Threat Multiplying in Tech Center (Bloomberg)
Tal Keinan, an Israeli fund manager, was ready for the question he’s always asked when he met with investors in New York in October: Why put your money with a manager whose country Iran has threatened to obliterate. “We tell them ‘if the Iranians attack, the worst thing that can happen is you lose your money manager not your money’,” Keinan, chief executive officer of Tel Aviv-based KCPS & Company, which oversees $1 billion in assets, said in an interview on Oct. 14. “The notion is trade global markets with global assets and clients, but just do it from Israel because of the concentration of talent here.” The country is becoming a magnet for hedge fund managers as lower operating costs, the world’s highest number of Ph.D.s and hi-tech startups per capita overshadow concern that Israel may be attacked by missiles from Tehran. The number of funds has grown to 60 overseeing about $2 billion from 13 in 2006, according to a survey of the local industry published in July by Tzur Management. Israel may be on track to replicate the growth that propelled Singapore’s industry from fewer than 20 managers in 2001 to 320 overseeing $48 billion in 2009, Yitz Raab, founder and managing partner of the Tel Aviv-based fund administration company, said in an interview on Nov. 11.

Even Cupid Wants To Know Your Credit Score (NYT)
The credit score, once a little-known metric derived from a complex formula that incorporates outstanding debt and payment histories, has become an increasingly important number used to bestow credit, determine housing and even distinguish between job candidates. It’s so widely used that it has also become a bigger factor in dating decisions, sometimes eclipsing more traditional priorities like a good job, shared interests and physical chemistry. That’s according to interviews with more than 50 daters across the country, all under the age of 40.

Report: Hedgies prime for comeback (NYP)
Banking giant UBS says so-called active investing could be making a comeback after several years of lagging performance, according to a recent report sent to clients. “Although the recent market environment has been difficult for active managers, conditions appear to be improving,” according to the report by UBS’s wealth-management group, which advises clients on their investment strategies. “We expect this to lead to better manager performance.”

London VC Spared Jail After ‘Groin Thrusting’ Sexual Assault On Tube During Olympics (TechCrunch)
Stefan Glaenzer, a partner in London VC firm Passion Capital has been spared jail after pleading guilty to, and being convicted of, sexual assault on the London underground during the Olympics period...In November, the former chairman of Last.fm admitted sexually assaulting an American tourist on a packed Central Line train by thrusting his groin into her back, Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard. His defence was that he was under the influence of cannabis.

Programming Note: We’re on an abbreviated, vacation-esque schedule this week (opening news roundups and limited updates whenever the urge to reach out and touch you moves us). We still want to hear from you, though, so if anything happens that you think might tickle our fancy, do not hesitate to let us know.

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Holiday Bell: 12.31.12

Cliff's Edge Draws Close (WSJ) What happens Monday could go some way to determining the short-term fate of the U.S. economy and the reputation of the government, both of which have been dinged by the spectacle of endless seemingly circular negotiations. Carrying the baton late into Sunday evening were Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky) and Vice President Joe Biden. A spokesman for Mr. McConnell said Monday morning that the two men "will continue to work toward a solution." In the past two weeks, at least three different sets of negotiation teams have sought a way out...Still, some remained hopeful elements of a deal were on the table and could be brought into alignment at the last minute. "We're very close," said Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D., Md.). "It is like a kaleidoscope," meaning there are many moving parts that can look beautiful or ugly depending how they're arrayed. Experts Forecast The Cost Of Failure To Compromise (NYT) In the event no compromise is found, however,the Congressional Budget Office and many private economists warn that the sudden pullback in spending and the rise in taxes would push the economy into recession in the first half of the year. Under this outcome, Mr. Gault said, the economy could shrink by 0.5 percent over all of 2013. With the clock ticking, some observers bolstered their criticism of Washington. "If we have a recession, it's unforgivable," said Bernard Baumohl, chief global economist at the Economic Outlook Group. "For the first time in modern history, we will have a self-inflicted recession in the U.S." New Year's Countdown To Higher US Taxes Starts (Bloomberg) The IRS has said it will issue guidance by today on paycheck withholding for 2013, which depends on the income-tax rates Congress is debating. Higher rates would mean less take- home pay for workers starting as early as the first paycheck in January. Both Democrats and Republicans support extending current rates for families making less than $250,000. They disagree on whether to raise levies for top earners. Rates are scheduled to increase for all income levels Jan. 1 if Congress doesn’t act. Parties Pivot To Blame (WSJ) If Congress and the White House fail to strike a deal to avert the so-called fiscal cliff, Republicans are under few illusions as to who will get much of the blame—even if past polls suggest there will be plenty to go around. "The poor Republicans will get the brunt of it, which may be unfair, but such is life," said Republican Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, a former White House budget chief under George W. Bush. "The Republicans are seen as the obstinate ones, where at the very least, the president and his side are equally so." Polls since the November election have found Americans more ready to blame the GOP than President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats if the two sides fail to reach a deal to avoid the wave of tax increases and spending cuts coming Jan. 1. A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll earlier this month showed 24% would blame Republicans while 19% would blame Democrats. Merkel Says Euro Zone Crisis Far From Over (Reuters) FYI. Mario Batali wins biz feud over UK chef Gordon Ramsay (NYP, related, related) Batali says the prickly Brit star has agreed to give up on using the name The Spotted Pig for a London eatery — amid outcry that he had swiped it from Batali and his partners. “It didn’t make him look great,” Batali said of Ramsay’s recent trademarking of the name in the UK. “I don’t think it was an intentional shot across the bow by Gordon,” Batali told the Eater Vegas blog. “His team is just [trying] to build businesses. There’s got to be a thousand other animals they could have chosen besides The Spotted Pig. A striped minx, for example.” Experts Back Deutsche Whistleblowers (FT) Accounting experts say Deutsche Bank appears to have improperly accounted for billions of dollars of credit derivatives trades by failing to value adequately the risk that its trading counterparties could walk away. Jersey woman charged at boyfriend with hammer after he refuses to pay for laundry, reports say (NJ) Jazmin Duran, 24, was arrested and charged with aggravated assault, terroristic threats, criminal mischief, domestic violence, possession of weapon, unlawful possession of a weapon, resisting arrest police reports said. Police were called to Garfield Avenue near Armstrong Avenue at 2:52 p.m. on a report that a man was locked in the bathroom and his girlfriend was hitting the door with a hammer, reports said. When police arrived, the 49-year-old boyfriend, was still locked in the bathroom, reports said. After a brief struggle, police were able to detain Duran, reports said. When he came out he told police that Duran was mad at him and attacked him with a hammer, reports said. The victim said that he was undressing to get in the shower while talking to his girlfriend about getting her eyebrows done, when she asked for him to pay for doing her laundry, reports said. He responded that he didn't have money to pay for her laundry, reports said. He said she became irate and began to scream, reports said. BofA Settlement Hits Snags (WSJ) A big legal settlement usually marks the end of the bulk of the work for the Justice Department. But a year after a $335 million deal with Bank of America Corp. to compensate minority borrowers for alleged discrimination, much remains to be done. The department's settlement administrator just began notifying affected borrowers in November, about five months later than originally planned. Then, weeks after letters went out to more than 233,000 presumed victims, about 10% of those letters have been returned as undeliverable, according to Justice Department officials. U.S. officials had warned that it might take two years for eligible borrowers to receive money from the settlement, but they also expressed hope that checks could be mailed out sooner. Those hopes have dimmed. Facebook Analysts Stick To Script (WSJ) Facebook Inc. FB +1.03% has gotten a thumbs-down from investors since its initial public offering. But securities analysts who work at the investment banks that did the deal have never wavered in their enthusiasm. Since the social-networking company went public in May, analysts at Morgan Stanley, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and Goldman Sachs—Facebook's three biggest underwriters—have issued 40 reports on the stock. Every report has urged investors to buy. Skin In The Game (NYP) West Village cosmetic doctor Yelena Yeretsky usually works to make the power women of Wall Street look flawless. But now men are asking for her services. Yeretsky says, “The men usually want chemical peels so they look glowy. I remove lesions and skin tags and non-cancerous growths from years of playing golf in the sun.” French Court Says 75% Tax Rate on Rich Is Unconstitutional (Bloomberg) President Francois Hollande’s 75 percent millionaire-tax is unconstitutional because it fails to guarantee taxpayer equality, France’s top court ruled today. The tax, one of Hollande’s campaign promises, had become a focal point of discontent among entrepreneurs and other wealth creators, some of whom have quit French shores as a result. The ruling comes as the president seeks to cut France’s public deficit to 3 percent of gross domestic product next year from a projected 4.5 percent this year. For Euro, All Eyes On ECB's Playbook (WSJ) "Global central banks are engaged in a race to the bottom. It's difficult to call which major currency will be the ugliest," said Munich-based Thomas Kressin, who heads currency strategy for Pacific Investment Management Co., one of the world's biggest bond-fund managers. Expert: Champagne cork can put an eye out (UPI) The pressure inside a champagne bottle can launch a cork at 50 miles per hour as it leaves the bottle, fast enough to shatter glass, U.S. eye experts say. Dr. Monica L. Monica, an ophthalmologist and spokeswoman for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, said the speed at which a cork can be unleashed is fast enough to permanently damage vision, including rupture of the eye wall, acute glaucoma, retinal detachment, ocular bleeding, dislocation of the lens and damage to the eye's bone structure. These injuries sometimes require urgent eye surgeries, Monica said. "When a champagne cork flies, you really have no time to react and protect your delicate eyes," Monica said in a statement. Programming Note: We're on an abbreviated, vacation-esque schedule. Opening wraps and brief updates should anything happen that people need to know about (fiscal cliff deal is struck, Raj Rajaratnam leads his fellow inmates in a NYE flashmob set to 'Thriller,' etc). Happy New Year and we'll see you in 2013!

Holiday Bell: 12.27.12

Debt Ceiling Nears As Talks Stymied (WSJ) The Treasury Department said Wednesday the government would hit its legal borrowing limit by Monday, setting in motion emergency measures to keep the government operating for several more weeks and serving as a reminder that the nation's budget wrangling could continue well into 2013. The Treasury's financial maneuvering is designed to put off until February or March the prospect of a full-blown debt crisis. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's two-paragraph letter to Congress didn't specify when the emergency measures might be exhausted, blaming the "significant uncertainty that now exists with regard to unresolved tax and spending policies for 2013." The White House and congressional leaders have shown no signs of progress toward crafting an agreement to avoid the year-end tax increases and spending cuts known as the fiscal cliff. Rajaratnam Pays $1.45 Million Over Gupta Insider Tips (WSJ) As part of a consent agreement signed by Mr. Rajaratnam earlier this month and approved by a federal judge on Monday, he agreed to disgorge more than $1.29 million, representing his profits or losses avoided as a result of his alleged trading on Mr. Gupta's tips, and to pay prejudgment interest of $147,738. SeaWorld Files For IPO (WSJ) Though the number of shares and the price range for offering haven't been determined, the filing pegged it at up to $100 million. IBM Insider Net Expands (Reuters) Federal prosecutors charged Trent Martin, a research analyst at a Connecticut brokerage firm, with trading and tipping others before computer giant IBM’s $1.2 billion acquisition of SPSS in 2009, expanding a related insider-trading case filed last month. Martin was also charged with passing the information to others, including two stockbrokers and his roommate. The group allegedly netted more than $1 million. Shark Tank Explodes In Shanghai Mall (NYDN) Security video inside a Shanghai shopping mall captured the terrifying moment an aquarium with live sharks burst open, injuring at least 15 people and leading to the death of dozens of animals. The chaotic scene on Dec. 18 inside the Shanghai Oriental Shopping Center left many of the victims with cuts from the broken glass, while one of them suffered a broken ankle, according to the China Daily. Many of those hurt were mall employees. In addition, three lemon sharks and dozens of smaller fish and turtles were killed when the 33-ton tank exploded, sending water and glass cascading through part of the shopping center, the BBC reported. At least four people were standing right in front of the display at the time. “It was horrible, like a bomb explosion,” one mall vendor told the China Daily. “Some pedestrians were pushed (6-1/2 feet) away by the force of the water.” Officials were investigating whether low temperatures in Shanghai combined with shoddy building materials to make the shark tank — built just two years ago — suddenly rupture. This isn't the first time the display has been damaged: A broken water pipe in June led to the death of three sharks, according to reports. Mall officials have apparently had enough and told local media they don't plan to rebuild. Jobless Claims Drop as U.S. States Tally Data After Break (Bloomberg) Applications for jobless benefits decreased 12,000 to 350,000 in the week ended Dec. 22, Labor Department figures showed today. Economists forecast 360,000, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg survey. Claims in 19 states and territories were estimated because government office closures on Dec. 24 prevented a complete count, a Labor Department spokesman said as the figures were released. France, Italy See Economic Bright Spots (WSJ) So that's nice. Gross Doubles New York Bet as California Loses Lead (Bloomberg) The $285 billion Total Return Fund, which Gross runs at Pacific Investment Management Co., boosted its New York state allocation to about a $3 billion market value in the quarter ending Sept. 30, from $1.4 billion as of June 30, according to a semiannual filing the firm released this month. It was the largest increase by amount among U.S. states. Zuckerberg's Sister Can't Keep Privacy Rules Straight (NYP) Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg’s older sister, Randi, complained yesterday when one of her Twitter followers publicly posted a photo of the family, including her famous brother, standing in the kitchen reacting to the company’s new Poke app. “Not sure where you got this photo,” Randi tweeted in response @cschweitz. “I posted it only to friends on FB. You reposting it on Twitter is way uncool.” It turns out that not even Randi — Facebook’s former marketing director — is up to speed on the site’s often-confusing privacy settings. Her gaffe provided fodder for critics of the site, which in the past has changed its policies with little warning and to the dismay of users. “We’ve all been dealing with loss of privacy in Facebook, now she feels what we all do everyday,” one Twitter user responded. Apple CEO Cook Gets $4.17 Million Compensation, No Stock (Bloomberg) The total includes $1.36 million salary and $2.8 million in incentive plan compensation, Cupertino, California-based Apple said today in a regulatory filing. Cook’s 2011 compensation of $378 million, one of the biggest pay packages on record, was boosted by $376.2 million in stock awards that he’ll get over a decade. McDonald’s trips cost high school secretary $9,000 in fines (NYDN) Kappry Vera of the Urban Assembly School for Construction and Design in Hell’s Kitchen made more than $3,000 in personal purchases on the school credit card from August 2009 through May 2011, investigators charge. The administrator, who lives in Williamsburg, spent most of the money on fast food — including $765 on dozens of visits to McDonald’s between October 2009 and May 2011, charging the city for purchases there up to four times each day. Vera, 33, also dropped $342 at Subway and spent another $190 on Burger King in illegal uses of her city-funded credit card that was only meant for official school purchases, investigators said. Vera only halted her runaway junk-food spending after her principal noticed “questionable purchases” in the school budget and confronted her about it, investigators said. Under questioning, Vera admitted that she bought food for herself on the school card on five occasions, but she wouldn’t give investigators receipts to explain the bulk of her purchases. Programming Note: We’re on an abbreviated, vacation-esque schedule this week (opening news roundups and limited updates whenever the urge to reach out and touch you moves us). We still want to hear from you, though, so if anything happens that you think might tickle our fancy, do not hesitate to let us know.

Holiday Bell: 03.29.13

SAC Capital Advisors Trader Charged With Fraud (WSJ) Early Friday morning, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents arrested a longtime SAC Capital portfolio manager on insider-trading charges, making him the most senior employee of one of the nation's most prominent hedge funds to be snared in the government's sprawling probe. Michael Steinberg, 40 years old, was led out of his building on New York's Park Avenue in handcuffs around 6 a.m. Mr. Steinberg has worked at Stamford, Conn.-based SAC since 1997 and at its Sigma Capital Management unit in New York since 2003, dealing closely with SAC's billionaire founder Steven A. Cohen. "Michael Steinberg did absolutely nothing wrong," his lawyer, Barry H. Berke, said in a statement Friday. "His trading decisions were based on detailed analysis" and information "he understood had been properly obtained through the types of channels that institutional investors rely upon on a daily basis." Mr. Steinberg was charged Friday with conspiracy to commit securities fraud and four counts of securities fraud, alleging that he made illegal trades in Dell and Nvidia Corp. based on information relayed to him by a Sigma Capital analyst. He faces as much as 20 years in prison on each fraud charge. He is expected to appear in Manhattan federal court later Friday. The Securities and Exchange Commission also separately filed a civil lawsuit against him in Manhattan federal court on Friday. "Mike has conducted himself professionally and ethically during his long tenure at the firm. We believe him to be a man of integrity," a SAC spokesman said Friday. SAC’s Steinberg Arrested as Probe Gets Closer to Cohen (Bloomberg) Jon Horvath, who worked for Steinberg, pleaded guilty in September, admitting that he provided illegal tips to his portfolio manager, who then traded on them...Two days before Dell was set to report second-quarter 2008 earnings, Horvath e-mailed 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 said in the Aug. 26 e-mail, which provided details on gross margins, expenditures and revenue. “Please keep to yourself as obviously not well known.” Steinberg replied, “Yes normally we would never divulge data like this, so please be discreet. Thanks.” Judge Sullivan concluded in December that e-mail and instant messages he reviewed showed that Steinberg could have known information he used for trades came from insiders. “The e-mails that were relayed to Steinberg do indicate to me that he understands the source of the information that he’s getting and he’s trading on it,” Sullivan wrote. “All of that indicates this is inside information from the company that’s not available anywhere else.” Cypriots Cast Blame As Banks Open (WSJ) President Nicos Anastasiades on Thursday ordered the creation of a three-member committee to investigate the roots of the economic malaise engulfing the island. The committee will be chaired by three former judges from Cyprus's supreme court, including Georgios Pikis, the court's former president and a former member of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Cyprus Says Threat Contained, No Plan to Leave Euro (Reuters) FYI. BofA Tops Financial-Complaint List (WSJ) Bank of America accounted for the largest share of consumer complaints lodged with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau over the past 16 months, highlighting the challenges the nation's second-largest bank faces as it tries to simplify its sprawling operations. Illinois Man Charged In 21-Ton Cheese Heist (ABC) Veniamin Balika, 34, of Plainfield, Ill., was accused of stealing 42,000 pounds of Muenster cheese from a Wisconsin cheese company. He was arrested at a Bergen County rest area on the New Jersey Turnpike on Monday, the result of a joint investigation with the Saddle Brook New Jersey Police Department and the New Jersey State Police. “He was charged with receiving stolen property and fencing,” New Jersey State Police Sergeant Adam Grossman told ABCNews.com. Balika allegedly attempted to sell the load of 1,135 cases of cheese at the rest area. Morgan Stanley's Porat Passes On Treasury Post (NYP) Morgan Stanley’s chief financial officer has taken herself out of the running for the No. 2 job at the Treasury Department after months of speculation that she was all but certain to join the Obama administration. The 56-year-old high-profile Wall Streeter, who had been the top candidate to work alongside Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, called the White House late Wednesday to remove her name after fretting about possibly being raked over the coals during a Senate confirmation hearing, sources told The Post. Putin May Cap Golden Parachutes After $100 Million Payout (Bloomberg) President Vladimir Putin proposed limiting severance payments to Russian executives, after a former KGB colleague was granted about $100 million when he stepped down as the head of OAO GMK Norilsk Nickel. While so-called golden parachutes should “stimulate top- class managers” to work efficiently, “sensible limits” are needed, Putin said at a meeting of his People’s Front movement in Rostov-on-Don today. Capping such payments would comply with global standards, Putin said. France's Hollande Hits Companies With 75% Wealth Tax (Reuters) French President Francois Hollande declared on Thursday that companies would have to pay a 75 percent tax on salaries over a million euros after his plan for a "super-tax" on individuals was knocked down by the constitutional court. Deutsche Bank probe finds incomplete data given to prosecutors (Reuters) An internal investigation at Deutsche Bank has found that incomplete data related to a carbon tax fraud probe were handed over to prosecutors, German magazine Der Spiegel said on Friday. The probe is one of several legal headaches with which Germany's biggest lender is grappling. For CEOs, Buyout Game Can Be Second Act (WSJ) Less than two months after agreeing to leave Chesapeake under pressure from shareholders over his free-spending ways, Aubrey McClendon is meeting with private-equity investors and others to discuss potentially teaming up for new ventures, according to several people familiar with the discussions. Mitt Romney Thinks His Grandkids’ Names Are Ridiculous (Daily Intel) "A few months ago we had twins come in, and you can't believe what they're named: Winston and Eleanor. [Laughs.] I mean, it's going back to the glorious days of the thirties and forties, I guess. But these are just darling little infants, and to have such big names on them is really something, although they call them Ellie and Win ... When I heard Winston and Eleanor, I thought, It sounds like two English bulldogs, but they're adorable children."

Holiday Bell: 11.23.12

FBI Tried To Flip Trader Against Cohen (WSJ) A year before the government charged Mathew Martoma with insider trading, it tried to get him to turn against his former boss, Steven A. Cohen. Federal agents, including Federal Bureau of Investigation case agent Matthew T. Callahan, turned up at the Boca Raton, Fla., home of Mr. Martoma, a former portfolio manager at an affiliate of SAC Capital Advisors L.P. Agents tried and failed to persuade him to be a cooperating witness in the government's effort to build a criminal case against Mr. Cohen, the founder of SAC and one of the biggest names in the hedge-fund world, said people close to the case...The government's attempt to engage Mr. Martoma as a cooperating witness shows the high level of focus placed on Mr. Cohen, whose $14 billion fund has posted some of the best returns on Wall Street. It also demonstrates how the government has been unable so far to implicate Mr. Cohen in Mr. Martoma's alleged wrongdoing...Each of the two securities fraud charges against Mr. Martoma carry a maximum of 20 years in prison; federal sentencing guidelines, based on the amount of the alleged illegal profits, recommend a sentence of 15 to 19 years. By contrast, most people who have pleaded guilty to insider trading and cooperated with the government have been sentenced to little or no jail time. Mr. Martoma is married with children. "Twenty years is a very long time in prison," said Thomas Gorman, a partner at Dorsey & Whitney LLP in Washington, referring to the sentence Mr. Martoma could serve if convicted. "There will be an enormous amount of pressure to earn a cooperation credit to try to mitigate that." Cohen’s ’Elan Guy’ Martoma Dropped Ethics for Hedge Fund (Bloomberg) Martoma got his undergraduate degree at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, according to the university registrar. During his first year, he was inducted into Phi Eta Sigma, an honors society for freshmen who attain at least a 3.5 grade point average, according to the university registrar. He graduated in December 1995. Less than two years later, he went off to Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He wrote two medical-ethics papers, one of which identifies him as a member of Harvard Law’s class of 2000 and as the former deputy director of the National Human Genome Research Institute’s Office of Genome Ethics. He left Harvard in December 1998 without attaining a degree, according to the school’s registrar, and attended Stanford Business School, where he joined three alumni groups including MBA Class of 2003, according to university records. In 2001, he changed his name from Ajai Mathew Mariamdani Thomas...Former colleagues, who asked not to be named because the fund is private, said the Martoma, who stood almost six feet tall, had a quiet demeanor and left little impression except for an outsized trade that earned him the name “the Elan guy.” Trading Case Casts a Deeper Shadow on a Hedge Fund Mogul (NYT) Thus far, any potential evidence against Mr. Cohen is entirely circumstantial. The government's complaint includes e-mails about secretly selling the Elan and Wyeth shares through esoteric methods like algorithms and dark pools. But that is common practice among large, sophisticated funds that do not want to alert competitors or move the stock too much. Moreover, while SAC dumped its large positions in the two stocks quickly - raising the question of what prompted it to do so - Mr. Cohen is known for a rapid-fire trading style. He frequently moves aggressively in and out of stocks while processing gobs of information fed to him by his underlings. It would be difficult for a jury to infer anything incriminating just from the way these trades were executed. The government in this case also lacks the powerful wiretap evidence that it has used to convict dozens others, including Raj Rajaratnam, the head of the Galleon Group. Greek Bond Buyback In Doubt (WSJ) The rally in outstanding Greek bonds has made any buyback plan more expensive, eroding the impact it would have on Greece's debt. It raises the challenge for euro-zone finance ministers to seal a deal at their next meeting on Monday that would both plug holes in Greece's €246 billion ($316.95 billion) bailouts and bring the country's debt load to a more manageable level. S&P Confirms France's AA-Plus Rating (WSJ) The decision removes the immediate threat of another downgrade of France, though S&P kept a negative outlook on the country's debt. That indicates a one-in-three chance of a cut in France's credit rating during 2013. Diamond, Dimon’s Early Risks Made Them Better: Adoboli (Bloomberg) Adoboli, who was jailed Nov. 20 for causing the largest unauthorized trading loss in British history, said in an e-mail exchange with Bloomberg News that Jamie Dimon, Bob Diamond and Yassine Bouhara, the former co-head of global equities at UBS, all lost large amounts of money at some point in their careers. The more senior you are the easier it is to avoid getting slammed to the wall,” Adoboli wrote in a Nov. 14 e-mail. “Funny thing is though, losing money seems to make you better at making money. Perhaps that’s why traders who lose money always get rehired, as long as they still have their risk appetite.” Canada Police Arrest Man Who Told Kids Santa Isn't Real (Star) As Christmas-themed floats slowly rolled down Princess St. during Kingston’s annual Santa Claus parade, an intoxicated man shouted blasphemous lies to shocked children: Santa doesn’t exist. The man, whose gelled hair “looked like a set of devil horns protruding from his head,” was reported to Kingston police, Const. Steve Koopman said. Police arrested a 24-year-old man around 6 p.m. “It was pretty despicable that someone, during this time of the year, would tell kids Santa isn’t real — which of course we would argue,” Koopman said. Higher Gas-Tax Idea Joins Fiscal-Cliff Talks (WSJ) Other industries also are moving to have initiatives attached to a budget deal—as part of either a short-term agreement this year or a longer-term plan reached next year to overhaul spending and taxes. Casinos are pushing a measure to legalize Internet poker games nationally. Small banks are pressing to extend a program that gives unlimited federal guarantees to certain bank deposits. Governors want additional aid to cover destruction wrought by Hurricane Sandy. The financial industry is pushing to loosen regulations on complex financial derivatives. "Basically, you've got a bunch of people waiting in the wings to stick the collection plate out and grab whatever they can grab," said Dan Kish, senior vice president for policy at the Institute for Energy Research, which advocates for free-market energy policies. Jain Gets Silent Treatment as Bankers Eat Humble Pie (Bloomberg) Deutsche Bank co-Chief Executive Anshu Jain says telling people he works in banking is a conversation-killer at parties, as the industry fails to convince the general public that it’s changing. “If you go to a party these days, you’re asked what you do and you say you’re a banker, people go all quiet,” Jain said before a conference on Europe’s finance industry began in Frankfurt. “We’re still the subject of anger.” Judge Rules For Singer (Reuters) A federal judge has ordered Argentina to pay holders of defaulted bonds, including Paul Singer’s Elliott Management, immediately, a blow to the country’s efforts to overcome a 2002 debt crisis that has raised fears of another default. In a ruling Wednesday, Judge Thomas Griesa lifted a previous order stalling payments to so-called holdout investors who refused to take part in two swaps of defaulted debt. Argentina’s president, Cristina Fernandez, has said her government will not pay “one dollar,” and Griesa’s ruling cited threats by Argentina’s leaders to defy his rulings in the decade-old dispute. Germany Halts Swiss Tax Deal (WSJ) The bilateral treaty was vetoed by the left-leaning Social Democrat and Green opposition parties in the Bundesrat, which represents Germany's 16 states. The treaty's opponents argue that it is too lenient on tax evaders. We want a treaty that is "more painful to Swiss banks and German tax evaders," Norbert Walter-Borjans, the Social Democrat finance minister of the German state North Rhine-Westphalia said in a debate in the upper house preceding the vote Friday. A ‘Whale’ of a Chase is on (NYP) JPMorgan Chase turned its chief investment office into a proprietary-trading unit that caused more than $6.2 billion in losses, pension funds said in a revised complaint in their suit against the bank. JPMorgan contended the unit’s primary role was managing risk when in fact it was engaging in trades to generate profit for the bank, the funds said in an amended complaint filed in Manhattan federal court. CEO Jamie Dimon “secretly transformed the CIO from a risk management unit into a proprietary-trading desk,” the plaintiffs said. The pension funds allege they incurred losses in their holdings because of trades by the chief investment office and Bruno Iksil, known as “the London Whale.” Porn star vows night of passion if Barcelona wins (NYDN) Colombian-born Janeira Ventura said she would give "any Barca fan who dares" the "night of their lives" if Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and co. fire them to the top of La Liga by the end of the season. The adult actress told Mundo Deportivo, "If we win the league this year, I pledge publicly to spend a night of passion with any Barcelona member or supporter who dares. "How can they prove they support the team? It's easy, by showing me the membership card or photos and tickets to a game. They just have to contact me on my website." The 27-year-old was born in Barranquilla, moved to Spain when she was a baby and now lives in Toronto. She added, "I've been a Barcelona fan since I was little, I love the team, the way they play, and above all I love the players. The most sexy ones? Messi, Xavi and Puyol." Her obsession extends to having two cats, who are called Leo and Messi, and plans to tattoo the Argentine striker's name "in a secret place" when she returns to Spain in 2013. She also wants to convince Barcelona bosses to let her be their "official club porn star."

Opening Bell: 02.15.13

SEC Looks At Trades A Day Before Heinz Deal (NYT) Regulators are scrutinizing unusual trading surrounding the planned $23 billion takeover of the food company H. J. Heinz, raising questions about potential illegal activity in one of the biggest deals in recent memory, a person briefed on the matter said. The Securities and Exchange Commission opened an insider trading inquiry on Thursday as Berkshire Hathaway and the investment firm 3G Capital agreed to pay $72.50 a share for Heinz, this person said. Regulators first noticed a suspicious spike in trading on Wednesday. Deferred Pay Draws Fed's Scrutiny (WSJ) U.S. banks and securities firms would have to step up their compensation disclosures under rules being considered by the Federal Reserve, said a person familiar with the central bank's regulatory efforts. The rules are in the formative stages and wouldn't take effect for some time. But an early draft has circulated internally at the Fed, this person said, marking a step on the path toward a public proposal. The Fed's push ultimately could give investors sheaves of new data on how and when companies pay their employees—including scarce numbers on how much compensation has been promised but not yet paid out. Shifting Blame Muddles S&P Suit (WSJ) The Delphinus deal, which means "dolphin" in Latin and is the name of a small constellation in the Northern Hemisphere, was one of more than 30 CDOs included in the federal government's lawsuit against Standard & Poor's Ratings Services last week. Federal prosecutors say that S&P, a unit of McGraw-Hill Cos., disregarded its own standards when rating Delphinus and the other CDOs, misled investors and should cover losses suffered by federally insured banks and credit unions that bought the securities, which included bundles of subprime mortgages. The discrepancy could give S&P a way to counterattack the Justice Department as the two sides gird for a battle that legal experts say will be grueling. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is seeking more than $5 billion in damages from S&P, which claims the allegations are "meritless." The U.S. government's conflicting opinions about the Delphinus deal might be a problem if the civil-fraud suit goes to trial. The ratings firm probably will argue that "these banks aren't victims," says Samuel Buell, a former federal prosecutor who now is a law professor at Duke University. Ackman: Herbalife Short Unaffected By Icahn Stake (CNBC) In his first public comments following the disclosure of activist investor Carl Icahn's stake in Herbalife, hedge fund manager Bill Ackman, who made $1 billion short bet against the stock, told CNBC he remains convinced that "Herbalife is a pyramid scheme." Ackman's statement read, "We invest based on a careful analysis of the facts. After 18 months of due diligence, we have concluded that it is a certainty that Herbalife is a pyramid scheme. Our conclusions are unaffected by who is on the other side of the investment. Our goal was to shine a spotlight on Herbalife. To the extent Mr. Icahn is helping achieve this objective, we welcome his involvement." G-20 Seeks Common Ground on Currencies After Yen Split (Bloomberg) Group of 20 finance ministers and central bankers begin talks in Moscow today with investors seeking clarity on how comfortable they are with a sliding yen. Questions are being asked after the Group of Seven united around a pledge not to target exchange rates only to divide over its meaning for Japan. “We have to get to the bottom of this, of course, listen to our Japanese colleagues and how they explain this and what decisions they will take and what exchange-rate policy they will follow,” Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said in an interview yesterday before hosting the meeting. He said the G-20 should adopt more “specific” language opposing exchange-rate interference in a statement to be released tomorrow. Corvette's stick shift thwarts Orlando man (OS) Orlando police said the 20-year-old tried to carjack a man inside a Corvette near Orlando Regional Medical Center late last month, but couldn't steal the car because he didn't know how to use the clutch or stick-shift. He and his accomplice ran away from the car, but not before stealing the victim's wallet and cell phone, police said. Soon after the failed carjacking, the victim's credit card was used at a McDonald's on Kirkman Road. Surveillance video inside the restaurant showed Sayles at the register, placing an order at about 12:15 a.m. Jan. 28. Not long after, the stolen cellphone's internal GPS registered with the phone company. Authorities tracked the phone to a home on Grandiflora Drive in a neighborhood off Kirkman Road. On Feb. 8, police went to the home, and Sayles answered the door. Officers noted in their arrest report that they immediately recognized him from the surveillance video inside the McDonald's. When asked why the victim's stolen cellphone would detect at his house, the report said, Sayles said a lot of people come to his residence and they could have brought it. One-Man Bank Keeps German Village Business Running (Reuters) The Raiffeisen Gammesfeld eG cooperative bank in southern Germany is one of the country's 10 smallest banks by deposits and is the only one to be run by just one member of staff. Small banks like this dominate the German banking landscape. Rooted in communities, they offer a limited range of accounts and loans to personal and local business customers. While numbers have shrunk from around 7,000 in the 1970s to around 1,100 now, cooperative banks like Raiffeisen Gammesfeld provide competition for Germany's two largest banks - Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank. A typical day's work for Breiter involves providing villagers with cash for their day-to-day needs and arranging small loans for local businesses. Not to mention cleaning the one-story building that houses the bank, which is 200 meters from his own front door. Moving from a bigger bank, where it was all "sell, sell, sell", Gammesfeld-born Breiter says taking up this job in 2008 was the best decision he ever made. The advertisement required someone to work by hand, without computers. The typewriter and the adding machine bear the signs of constant use, although Breiter, in his standard work outfit of jeans and jumper, does now have a computer. "It's so much fun," Breiter, a keen mathematician, says as he deals with a steady stream of lunchtime customers. He knows his customers by name and regularly offers advice on jobs, relationship and money woes. Ex-Analyst At SAC Felt Pressured For Tips (WSJ) The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Manhattan U.S. Attorney's office now are using the statements from the analyst to try to build a case against the SAC portfolio manager, Michael Steinberg, and others that could result in charges in the coming months, these people said. Authorities currently are preparing to present evidence to a grand jury against Mr. Steinberg, according to a person familiar with the investigation. The development ramps up the legal pressure on the big hedge fund, highlighting that the previously reported insider-trading investigation of SAC and its founder, Steven A. Cohen, is proceeding on multiple fronts. Blackstone Keeps Most Of Its Money With SAC (NYT) The Blackstone Group, the largest outside investor in the hedge fund SAC Capital Advisors, said it would keep most of its $550 million with the hedge fund for three more months while it monitors developments in the government's insider trading investigation. Performance Tops Pedigree in Money Managers’ Fortunes (Bloomberg) Virtus Investment Partners Inc. and Artio Global Investors Inc. set out on their own in 2009 within nine months of one another. The paths of the two money managers couldn’t have been more different. Virtus, which started as a virtually unknown money manager, has surged 18-fold since its public debut as assets have soared, with its shares hitting a record on Feb. 14. Artio, which listed in September 2009 after spinning out from Switzerland’s 122- year-old wealth manager Julius Baer Group Ltd., saw its life as an independent firm come to an abrupt end with its Feb. 14 acquisition by Aberdeen Asset Management Plc after assets slumped and shares plunged about 90 percent. Banks Warned Not To Leave Libor (WSJ) The Financial Services Authority recently sent letters to a handful of major banks—including France's BNP Paribas SA and the Netherlands' Rabobank Group—warning them not to pull out of the panel that sets the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, these people said. The letters came after executives at those banks privately informed the British Bankers' Association, the trade organization that oversees Libor, that they planned to exit the rate-setting panel. Australian couple get married in IKEA (DM) Lynne said: 'We wanted to get married in IKEA for a very simple reason - we adore IKEA. 'It felt right to be able to show our commitment to one another by getting married somewhere we both love and to show the world that romance can be alive anywhere, even in the aisles of IKEA. Our visits to IKEA over the years have actually brought the two of us closer!' Every element of the special day featured IKEA products handpicked by the happy couple, including crockery, lighting, dining furniture, decorations, glassware and meatballs.

Opening Bell: 03.21.12

Hartford Bows to Paulson Wish to Exit Annuity Business (WSJ, earlier) Bowing to pressure from hedge-fund titan John Paulson, Hartford Financial Services Group said Wednesday it would exit its annuity business and weigh a sale of a large portion of its life-insurance operation. The move will allow Hartford to focus on its property-casualty unit, where the company got its start more than 200 years ago, as well as its group benefits business and its "high return" mutual fund operation, Chief Executive Liam McGee said in a statement. The announcement marks a substantial change of strategy for Hartford, which has long resisted calls to separate its life insurer from its property-casualty arm. Mr. Paulson, whose hedge fund is Hartford's largest shareholder, became the latest to push for such a move when he took to the company's fourth-quarter-earnings call in February to criticize management and urge them to "do something drastic" to boost the share price. Bernanke As Professor Tries To Buff Fed's Image (NYT) Mr. Bernanke, one of the most powerful men in Washington, has agreed to moonlight as a college professor, delivering four lectures on central banking over the next two weeks. He also will read some student papers...“It always surprises you to realize that this guy actually exists and he’s not just on TV,” said Max Sanders, a 19-year-old from New York. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hear lectures from him,” said Noah Wiviott, 21, of New Jersey. “He clearly knows what he’s talking about.” Not everyone, however, found him convincing. Yuqi Wu, a 20-year-old student from China, said she did not agree with Mr. Bernanke’s criticism of her government’s monetary policy. “I definitely support the Chinese government’s position,” she said. Buffett Seizes Lead in Bet on Stocks Beating Hedge Funds (Bloomberg) Warren Buffett made a friendly bet four years ago that funds that invest in hedge funds for their clients couldn’t beat the stock market over a decade. So far he’s winning. The wager that began on Jan. 1, 2008, pits the Omaha, Nebraska, billionaire against Protégé Partners LLC, a New York fund of hedge funds co-founded by Ted Seides and Jeffrey Tarrant. Protégé built an index of five funds that invest in hedge funds to compete against a Vanguard mutual fund that tracks the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index. The winner’s charity of choice gets $1 million when the bet ends on Dec. 31, 2017. Banks Seek Delay On Volcker Rule (WSJ) The Volcker rule, which restricts banks' ability to trade with their own money, is set to take effect July 21, whether or not regulators have a final rule in place, according to the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial overhaul law. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said last month that regulators likely wouldn't have a rule in time. A group representing banks and others involved in bundling and selling loans is warning that deals worth hundreds of billions of dollars may need to be shut down because of wording in the law requiring compliance with a rule that doesn't yet exist. Cops arrest Occupy Wall Street protesters in Union Square (NYP) Cops shut down Union Square and kicked out a large crowd of Occupy Wall Street protesters last night, arresting nine demonstrators last night and this morning, just days after larger clashes at the group's former encampment downtown. I love lava lamp (Politico) Another amusing exchange as Mitt Romney walked past a Chicago Google employee with a big blue lava lamp (turned off) on his desk: "That's a big lava lamp, congratulations," Romney said. Wilbur Ross: Long-Term Bond Bubble Getting Ready To Burst (CNBC) "I think the greatest bubble that is about to burst is the 10-year and longer Treasury, because the idea that inflation is gone forever and for all time, and therefore these artificially low rates can last, is silly," the president of W.H. Ross & Co. said in an interview. Bernanke: Fed Is Ready To Act If Europe Falters (Reuters) "In the past few months, financial stresses in Europe have lessened, which has contributed to an improved tone of financial markets around the world, including in the United States," Bernanke said in testimony prepared for a House hearing Wednesday. Bernanke stresses, however, that a full resolution of the crisis "will require a further strengthening of the European banking system; a significant expansion of financial backstops, or “firewalls,” to guard against contagion in sovereign debt markets." Greece Names New Finance Minister (WSJ) Greek Deputy Finance Minister Philippos Sachinidis will be the country's new finance minister, replacing Evangelos Venizelos, the prime minister's office said Wednesday.

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.

Holiday Bell: 4.3.15

First quarter was good to Loeb, Ackman, Rosenstein; The brokers "never visited the building during daylight, always staggered their arrival times and parked in the back"; The Cuban Money Crisis; "Deputy Ordered To Undergo Counseling After He Took Photo With Snoop Dogg"; and more.