Opening Bell: 12.10.12

U.S. authorities probe SAC for Weight Watchers (Reuters) U.S. authorities are investigating Steven A. Cohen's SAC Capital Advisors hedge fund for possible insider trading in the shares of the popular diet company Weight Watchers International Inc, according to people familiar with the matter. The investigation focuses on trading in Weight Watchers shares in the first half of 2011, when SAC Capital had taken a sizeable position in the stock, and potentially could implicate the billionaire hedge fund manager, the sources said on Friday. Regulatory filings show that Cohen's $14 billion fund briefly held 2.1 million shares in Weight Watchers during the period under scrutiny by authorities - at which time the diet company's stock price roughly doubled. The inquiry is in its early stages and it is not clear whether anything improper was done either by SAC Capital or Cohen himself, said the people familiar with the matter, who requested anonymity. The trading in Weight Watchers would be permissible as long as it was based on fundamental research or derived from individuals who did not have access to non-public corporate information. Big Money Bets On Housing Rebound (NYT) A flurry of private-equity giants and hedge funds have spent billions of dollars to buy thousands of foreclosed single-family homes. They are purchasing them on the cheap through bank auctions, multiple listing services, short sales and bulk purchases from local investors in need of cash, with plans to fix up the properties, rent them out and watch their values soar as the industry rebounds. They have raised as much as $8 billion to invest, according to Jade Rahmani, an analyst at Keefe Bruyette & Woods. The Blackstone Group, the New York private-equity firm run by Stephen A. Schwarzman, has spent more than $1 billion to buy 6,500 single-family homes so far this year. The Colony Capital Group, headed by the Los Angeles billionaire Thomas J. Barrack Jr., has bought 4,000. Wall Street workers expecting worst bonus season since 2008 (NYP) State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli estimates that the average bonus this year will be $101,000 — a 16.5 percent decline from last year and almost a 50 percent decline since 2006, when the average was $191,360. ‘‘I don’t think this year’s bonuses are going to be very good,’’ said Dan Shaffer, CEO of Shaffer Asset Management. ‘‘I don’t believe the typical bonuses, as we used to know them, exist anymore.’’ Obama Meets with Boehner Privately at White House (Bloomberg) The meeting was the first known face-to-face conversation between the two leaders since Nov. 16, when Boehner and other congressional leaders sat down with Obama at the White House. They have talked on the telephone since then. Obama met with Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic minority leader, on Dec. 7. Investors offer about $38.8 billion in Greek debt buyback (Reuters) Greece is set to purchase back about half of its debt owned by private investors, broadly succeeding in a bond buyback that is key to the country's international bailout, a Greek government official said on Saturday. Hefner Husband Takes Insider Trading Into Playboy Bedroom (Bloomberg) Christie Hefner, [daughter of Hugh and] former chief executive officer of Playboy Enterprises Inc., said she was shocked as her husband of 15 years, William Marovitz, confessed to her that he was being investigated for suspicious trading in Playboy shares. They were in their apartment atop a 42-story Lincoln Park tower overlooking the glittering Chicago skyline and Lake Michigan on a March evening in 2010. “He told me he had been contacted by the SEC,” Hefner said later in testimony before the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which didn’t accuse her of any wrongdoing. “And when did you learn your husband owned shares of Playboy?” she was asked. “In that conversation,” she replied. Hefner's husband is just one of more than 400 persons the SEC and the U.S. Department of Justice have accused of insider trading in a crackdown in the last five years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. All involved betrayal -- of clients, employers, relatives or friends. The Hefner episode and a handful of cases like it include an especially cruel breach of trust: betrayal of a wife by a husband. Tennis star Novak buys up world's supply of donkey cheese at £400 a pound for new restaurant chain (DM) The cheese, known as pule, will be one of the key attractions at a chain of restaurants the Wimbledon champion and world number one is opening in his Serbian homeland...The Zasavica farm, which lies 50 miles west of the Serbian capital Belgrade, boasts a herd of 130 and is said to be the only place in the world where donkeys are milked for cheese. Banking Industry Squirms Over European Rate Probe (WSJ) The scandal over banks' attempted manipulation of interest rates has mostly centered on the London interbank offered rate. But Libor's lesser known cousin, the euro interbank offered rate, or Euribor, is facing mounting attacks. The European Union is expected soon to accuse multiple banks of attempted collusion in the setting of Euribor, according to people briefed on the probe. Barclays has already acknowledged trying to rig the rate, and other banks are likely to be pressed by regulators in the U.S., U.K. and elsewhere into similar admissions, according to industry and regulatory officials. Mortgage Crisis Presents a New Reckoning to Banks (NYT) Regulators, prosecutors, investors and insurers have filed dozens of new claims against Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and others, related to more than $1 trillion worth of securities backed by residential mortgages. Estimates of potential costs from these cases vary widely, but some in the banking industry fear they could reach $300 billion if the institutions lose all of the litigation. Depending on the final price tag, the costs could lower profits and slow the economic recovery by weakening the banks’ ability to lend just as the housing market is showing signs of life. Crisis Measure Nears End (WSJ) Barring action by Congress, the FDIC on Dec. 31 will stop providing an unlimited guarantee on zero-interest bank accounts used by businesses and municipalities for payroll and other services. The guarantee would then revert to the normal $250,000 in insurance per depositor at any given bank. If the guarantee isn't extended, FBR Capital Markets estimates as much as $250 billion in deposits could flow out of smaller banks to large banks or big money-market mutual funds. Stylish primate charms Toronto shoppers (The Star) A North York Ikea store attracted an unusual customer Sunday afternoon, when a tiny monkey dressed in a fitted faux shearling coat and diapers appeared in the store’s upper parking garage around 2 p.m. “It was just running around screaming,” said shopper Bronwyn Page...“It was really cute,” said Lisa Lin, another shopper. “It was smaller than a cat.” But if the monkey had hoped to stock up on Billy bookcases or Swedish meatballs, its plans were thwarted. The diminutive shopper never made it into the store, said manager Alvaro Carmona. No one was hurt in the incident, which lasted no more than half an hour, he added. Animal Services identified the monkey as a rhesus macaque, an Asian species that is prohibited in Ontario. The monkeys are known for their ability to live in diverse habitats – although Canadian winters obviously require a warm coat. The owner of the primate turned himself in to Animal Services just after 5 p.m. He was charged with owning a prohibited animal, an offence that carries a $200 fine. The seven-month-old monkey has somehow managed to escape his owner’s car in the Ikea parking lot, said animal control officer David Behan.
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U.S. authorities probe SAC for Weight Watchers (Reuters)
U.S. authorities are investigating Steven A. Cohen's SAC Capital Advisors hedge fund for possible insider trading in the shares of the popular diet company Weight Watchers International Inc, according to people familiar with the matter. The investigation focuses on trading in Weight Watchers shares in the first half of 2011, when SAC Capital had taken a sizeable position in the stock, and potentially could implicate the billionaire hedge fund manager, the sources said on Friday. Regulatory filings show that Cohen's $14 billion fund briefly held 2.1 million shares in Weight Watchers during the period under scrutiny by authorities - at which time the diet company's stock price roughly doubled. The inquiry is in its early stages and it is not clear whether anything improper was done either by SAC Capital or Cohen himself, said the people familiar with the matter, who requested anonymity. The trading in Weight Watchers would be permissible as long as it was based on fundamental research or derived from individuals who did not have access to non-public corporate information.

Big Money Bets On Housing Rebound (NYT)
A flurry of private-equity giants and hedge funds have spent billions of dollars to buy thousands of foreclosed single-family homes. They are purchasing them on the cheap through bank auctions, multiple listing services, short sales and bulk purchases from local investors in need of cash, with plans to fix up the properties, rent them out and watch their values soar as the industry rebounds. They have raised as much as $8 billion to invest, according to Jade Rahmani, an analyst at Keefe Bruyette & Woods. The Blackstone Group, the New York private-equity firm run by Stephen A. Schwarzman, has spent more than $1 billion to buy 6,500 single-family homes so far this year. The Colony Capital Group, headed by the Los Angeles billionaire Thomas J. Barrack Jr., has bought 4,000.

Wall Street workers expecting worst bonus season since 2008 (NYP)
State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli estimates that the average bonus this year will be $101,000 — a 16.5 percent decline from last year and almost a 50 percent decline since 2006, when the average was $191,360. ‘‘I don’t think this year’s bonuses are going to be very good,’’ said Dan Shaffer, CEO of Shaffer Asset Management. ‘‘I don’t believe the typical bonuses, as we used to know them, exist anymore.’’

Obama Meets with Boehner Privately at White House (Bloomberg)
The meeting was the first known face-to-face conversation between the two leaders since Nov. 16, when Boehner and other congressional leaders sat down with Obama at the White House. They have talked on the telephone since then. Obama met with Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic minority leader, on Dec. 7.

Investors offer about $38.8 billion in Greek debt buyback (Reuters)
Greece is set to purchase back about half of its debt owned by private investors, broadly succeeding in a bond buyback that is key to the country's international bailout, a Greek government official said on Saturday.

Hefner Husband Takes Insider Trading Into Playboy Bedroom (Bloomberg)
Christie Hefner, [daughter of Hugh and] former chief executive officer of Playboy Enterprises Inc., said she was shocked as her husband of 15 years, William Marovitz, confessed to her that he was being investigated for suspicious trading in Playboy shares. They were in their apartment atop a 42-story Lincoln Park tower overlooking the glittering Chicago skyline and Lake Michigan on a March evening in 2010. “He told me he had been contacted by the SEC,” Hefner said later in testimony before the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which didn’t accuse her of any wrongdoing. “And when did you learn your husband owned shares of Playboy?” she was asked. “In that conversation,” she replied. Hefner's husband is just one of more than 400 persons the SEC and the U.S. Department of Justice have accused of insider trading in a crackdown in the last five years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. All involved betrayal -- of clients, employers, relatives or friends. The Hefner episode and a handful of cases like it include an especially cruel breach of trust: betrayal of a wife by a husband.

Tennis star Novak buys up world's supply of donkey cheese at £400 a pound for new restaurant chain (DM)
The cheese, known as pule, will be one of the key attractions at a chain of restaurants the Wimbledon champion and world number one is opening in his Serbian homeland...The Zasavica farm, which lies 50 miles west of the Serbian capital Belgrade, boasts a herd of 130 and is said to be the only place in the world where donkeys are milked for cheese.

Banking Industry Squirms Over European Rate Probe (WSJ)
The scandal over banks' attempted manipulation of interest rates has mostly centered on the London interbank offered rate. But Libor's lesser known cousin, the euro interbank offered rate, or Euribor, is facing mounting attacks. The European Union is expected soon to accuse multiple banks of attempted collusion in the setting of Euribor, according to people briefed on the probe. Barclays has already acknowledged trying to rig the rate, and other banks are likely to be pressed by regulators in the U.S., U.K. and elsewhere into similar admissions, according to industry and regulatory officials.

Mortgage Crisis Presents a New Reckoning to Banks (NYT)
Regulators, prosecutors, investors and insurers have filed dozens of new claims against Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and others, related to more than $1 trillion worth of securities backed by residential mortgages. Estimates of potential costs from these cases vary widely, but some in the banking industry fear they could reach $300 billion if the institutions lose all of the litigation. Depending on the final price tag, the costs could lower profits and slow the economic recovery by weakening the banks’ ability to lend just as the housing market is showing signs of life.

Crisis Measure Nears End (WSJ)
Barring action by Congress, the FDIC on Dec. 31 will stop providing an unlimited guarantee on zero-interest bank accounts used by businesses and municipalities for payroll and other services. The guarantee would then revert to the normal $250,000 in insurance per depositor at any given bank. If the guarantee isn't extended, FBR Capital Markets estimates as much as $250 billion in deposits could flow out of smaller banks to large banks or big money-market mutual funds.

Stylish primate charms Toronto shoppers (The Star)
A North York Ikea store attracted an unusual customer Sunday afternoon, when a tiny monkey dressed in a fitted faux shearling coat and diapers appeared in the store’s upper parking garage around 2 p.m. “It was just running around screaming,” said shopper Bronwyn Page...“It was really cute,” said Lisa Lin, another shopper. “It was smaller than a cat.” But if the monkey had hoped to stock up on Billy bookcases or Swedish meatballs, its plans were thwarted. The diminutive shopper never made it into the store, said manager Alvaro Carmona. No one was hurt in the incident, which lasted no more than half an hour, he added. Animal Services identified the monkey as a rhesus macaque, an Asian species that is prohibited in Ontario. The monkeys are known for their ability to live in diverse habitats – although Canadian winters obviously require a warm coat. The owner of the primate turned himself in to Animal Services just after 5 p.m. He was charged with owning a prohibited animal, an offence that carries a $200 fine. The seven-month-old monkey has somehow managed to escape his owner’s car in the Ikea parking lot, said animal control officer David Behan.

Related

Opening Bell: 02.28.13

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

Opening Bell: 03.06.13

EU Fines Microsoft $732 Million (WSJ) The European Commission said it was imposing the fine after the U.S. software giant became the first company to break a voluntary agreement with regulators, which would have allowed at least 15 million consumers to pick alternatives to its Internet Explorer browser. The penalty is the latest episode in over a decade of wranglings between the EU and Microsoft, which has already seen the commission fine Microsoft €1.6 billion for failing to provide rivals with information at fair prices and for tying its media player to its operating system. Fed Holds Ground On Stress Tests (WSJ) The first component of the release, data on how banks will fare in an economic downturn, is slated for after U.S. stock markets close on Thursday. The second part, the Fed's response to buyback-and-dividend requests, is scheduled for publication a week later. Some executives warn that the delay could boost volatility in bank shares, as traders speculate on what the first round of results might mean for bank capital plans. Others warn of shareholder lawsuits if banks fail to disclose any information they receive, even informally, from regulators on the capital plans. Stress Tests Seen Boosting U.S. Bank Shareholder Payouts (Bloomberg) The six largest U.S. banks may return almost $41 billion to investors in the next 12 months, the most since 2007, as regulators conclude firms have amassed enough capital to withstand another economic shock. Lenders including Citigroup and Bank of America will buy back $26.4 billion in shares, up from $23.8 billion, according to the average estimate of three Wall Street analysts. An additional $14.5 billion will be paid out in dividends, $3.4 billion more than 2012, separate estimates show. The payouts are contingent on approval by the Federal Reserve. Forbes Hits Back at Saudi Prince Over Rich List (CNBC) A spat between Saudi billionaire Alwaleed Bin Talal and Forbes over the exact fortune of the prince has taken another bizarre twist. After the prince announced a severing of ties due to what he argued were flawed valuation methods, Forbes has now responded with an in-depth investigation, hitting back by describing his estimates as an "alternate reality". Forbes went on to say that the valuation of Kingdom Holding, the publicly traded company of Prince Alwaleed, gyrated for reasons "that, coincidentally, seem more tied to the Forbes billionaires list than fundamentals". In the lengthy piece published on Wednesday, the magazine also details its relationship with Prince Alwaleed since it began in 1988, recounting what it classified as "intermittent lobbying, cajoling and threatening" to influence his net worth listing over the years. AIG to Start Loan Investment Unit as Housing Rebounds (Bloomberg) AIG plans to buy loans backed by its United Guaranty Corp. unit, the largest seller of traditional private mortgage insurance last year, according to Donna DeMaio, 54, the unit’s chief executive officer. The debt will be held as long-term investments by AIG insurance companies. “You’re cutting the middle man out of the securitization process,” DeMaio said, referring to bonds that package home loans. The yield on an individual mortgage “is better than if you just bought the paper backed by the whole loan.” Two Hedgies Top The Field (NYP) Stephen Mandel and David Tepper earned more money for clients than any other hedge-fund manager in 2012, LCH Investments said. Mandel’s Lone Pine Capital made about $4.6 billion; Tepper’s Appaloosa Management made $3.3 billion. Traders Flee Asia Hedge Funds as Job Haven Turns Dead End (Bloomberg) Asian hedge-fund assets are 28 percent below their 2007 peak, according to data provider Eurekahedge Pte. Globally, money overseen by the funds increased 21 percent since 2007 to a new high of $2.3 trillion as of December, data from Chicago- based Hedge Fund Research Inc. show. A total of 296 Asian hedge funds liquidated in the two years to December, 33 more than the number that started. On a global basis, 1,839 new funds outnumber those that shut by 371, according to Eurekahedge. Ikea recalls cakes in 23 countries after sewage bacteria found (Telegraph) The furniture giant admitted on Tuesday that coliform bacteria had been found in two batches of almond cake from a supplier in Sweden. It comes after Chinese customs officials announced that they had destroyed a batch of 1,800 cakes after finding it contained high levels of coliforms which failed to meet hygiene standards. Coliforms, common bacteria which are found in faeces as well as soil and water, do not normally cause serious illness but are a sign of contamination which can indicate the presence of more harmful bacteria such as E.coli. It comes after Ikea recalled meatballs and sausages from 24 countries due to fears they could have been contaminated with horse meat. Oil Trader Ex-Wife Shouldn't Get Offshore Assets: Lawyers (Bloomberg) An oil trader’s ex-wife shouldn’t have any claim to properties held by offshore companies in which he invested as part of a 17.5 million-pound ($26.4 million) divorce settlement, lawyers said at a hearing in the U.K.’s highest court. The three Isle of Man-based companies, including Petrodel Resources Ltd., are “not relevant as a party to the litigation,” Tim Amos, the lawyer representing the companies, said today. The firms have asked the seven-judge panel of Britain’s Supreme Court to dismiss the wife’s claim. Yasmin Prest appealed an earlier ruling that denied her access to properties held and controlled by her ex-husband to cover part of the 2011 divorce settlement, which Michael Prest hasn’t paid, according to court documents at the U.K. top court. Her ex-husband isn’t a party to the litigation. ADP Says Companies in U.S. Added 198,000 Workers in February (Bloomberg) The 198,000 increase in employment followed a revised 215,000 gain the prior month that was more than initially estimated, figures from the Roseland, New Jersey-based ADP Research Institute showed today. The median forecast of 41 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for an advance of 170,000. Madoff Trustee ‘Unlikely’ to Win Merkin Suit, N.Y. Says (Bloomberg) The judge shouldn’t allow trustee Irving Picard to block the deal because “in the unlikely event” that Picard can win part of his suit, Merkin’s funds would be able to pay him, Schneiderman said in a filing with U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff yesterday. The attorney general made his filing saying Picard’s “unusual” request for an injunction -- to give him time to proof his own $500 million case -- required an additional response. Zoo shuts in panic as male and female escape from cage because cleaner forgot to lock the door (DM) A zoo in China was forced to close after two lions escaped from their unlocked cages. Riot police, snipers and zoo workers armed with tranquiliser guns worked to capture the ferocious animals after theyescaped at the zoo in Chongqing, south west China. According to reports, the lion and lioness were given free run of the zoo when a keeper who was cleaning their enclosure forgot to lock the gate. The zoo was completely evacuated following the escape at 8am. While the lionness was caught within the hour, the male was at large for almost four hours before he was recaptured. A zoo spokesman said: 'We found the female first and subdued her with a tranquiliser gun but the male took longer to find and bring back. 'They both recovered quickly and are no worse off for their adventure.' Officials have issued an apology to visitors for the panic caused. One said: 'You can't blame the lions. It was human error and they naturally took advantage of it.'

Opening Bell: 06.21.13

U.S. Weighs Doubling Leverage Standard for Biggest Banks (Bloomberg) The standard would increase the amount of capital the lenders must hold to 6 percent of total assets, regardless of their risk, according to four people with knowledge of the talks. That’s twice the level set by global banking supervisors. ... "The 3 percent was clearly inadequate, nothing really,” said Simon Johnson, an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a former chief economist for the International Monetary Fund. “Going up to five or six will make the rule be worth something. Having a lot of capital is crucial for banks to be sound. The leverage ratio is a good safety tool because risk-weighting can be gamed by banks so easily.” China steps back from severe cash crunch (FT) China pulled back from the brink of a severe cash crunch on Friday, with money rates falling after reports that the People’s Bank of China, the central bank, had acted to alleviate market stresses. Nevertheless, interbank conditions remained tight and analysts said the PBoC would continue its hard line of recent days to compel financial institutions to pare back their leverage. Sprint Beats Dish’s Latest Bid for Clearwire (DealBook) Sprint Nextel raised its bid for Clearwire to $5 a share on Thursday, hoping to knock out a rival offer from Dish Network. The new offer, which values Clearwire at about $14 billion, is 47 percent higher than Sprint’s last proposal. It is also higher than Dish’s most recent bid of $4.40 a share. Banks Race to Increase Salaries to Beat EU Bonus Caps (IBT) Banks are racing to overhaul their remuneration structures by bumping up fixed salaries ahead of European Union-imposed bonus caps in 2015. According to a prominent employment partner at law firm Pinsent Masons, banks are stuck between having to overhaul remuneration procedures by a certain deadline but without concrete rules, which is likely to result in across-the-board increases in salary. FAA to Relax Rules for Gadgets in Flight (WSJ) The Federal Aviation Administration is expected to relax the ban on using some types of personal-electronic devices at low altitudes, allowing passengers leeway during taxiing and even takeoffs and landings, according to industry officials and draft recommendations prepared by a high-level advisory panel to the agency. For fliers, the new rules would likely mean an end to familiar admonitions to turn off and stow all electronic devices. Cellphone calls are expected to remain off limits, however. War of words erupts after wedding guests gift bride 'cheap and embarrassing' food hamper containing marshmallow fluff and croutons Kathy Mason from Hamilton, Ontario, and her boyfriend, who wished to remain anonymous, decided to create a food hamper for their friends' same-sex marriage and packed it with a mix of 'fun' treats including pasta, olive oil, croutons, biscuits, Marshmallow Fluff and Sour Patch Kids. They attached a carefully worded card to the parcel which read: 'Enjoy . . . Life is delicious.' However, the European newlyweds were less than impressed with the gesture and contacted the couple the next day via text message to ask if they had the receipt so they could get the money back instead. ... 'You ate steak, chicken, booze, and a beautiful venue . . . If anything you should be embarrassed for being so cheap and embarrassing,' the brides said in one message. Creeping mistrust stops euro zone banks lending to peers across bloc (Reuters) In a trend that could reignite fears about the euro and its banks, European Central Bank data shows the share of interbank funding that crosses borders within the euro zone dropped by a third, to just 22.5 percent in April from 34.5 percent at the beginning of 2008. Banks are now lending to other banks across euro zone borders at only about the same rate as when the single currency was first launched, 15 years ago. Greek markets rattled by political disarray (FT) The benchmark 10-year bond yield of Greece rose 75 basis points to 11.6 per cent by late morning in London, while the Athens stock exchange index fell 2.9 per cent to its lowest level since early April. ... Investor sentiment towards Greece is not helped by uncertainty over how to plug a funding gap in the country’s bailout programme. The FT reported on Thursday that the International Monetary Fund might suspend aid to Greece next month unless the eurozone stepped in. Losses loom for investors enmeshed in U.S. mortgage chaos (Reuters) A review of loan documents, property records and the monthly reports made available to investors show that mortgage servicers are reporting individual houses are still in foreclosure long after they have been sold to new buyers or the underlying mortgages have been paid off. ... In one case, Reuters found that Bank of America Corp had been collecting a monthlyservicing fee of $50.73 from investors on a loan that had been paid off nearly two years ago, investor reports show. Bank of America filed a document at a local county office on July 22, 2011 showing that the $162,400 loan on a cream-colored duplex in Greenacres, Florida, owned by a drywall hanger named Roman Pino, had been satisfied and "cancelled." But investors in Pino's loan and more than 6,700 other similar mortgages that are bundled together in a subprime mortgage bond still have not been informed that the loan no longer exists, according to the last investor report in May. Good and Evil Battle Volatility on Summer Solstice (CNBC) "Summer Solstice is upon us: the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere where some religions in the western world believe the sun defeats the forces of evil." Also it's triple witching. Oracle to Leave Nasdaq for the Big Board (DealBook) Oracle, one of the most prominent technology companies listed on the Nasdaq, is defecting to a rival exchange. The company, which has been traded on the Nasdaq since 1986, has applied to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange, it said in a filing on Thursday. The transfer, among the largest ever between the exchanges, represents a significant gain for the Big Board, which has been trying to bolster its technology credentials. FINRA beefs up policing of arbitrators (Reuters) The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority's policy change comes after Reuters asked questions about the background of Demetrio Timban, a Medford, New Jersey-based arbitrator who has become a central figure in a lawsuit between Goldman Sachs Group Inc and a wealthy investor. Timban was indicted by the state of New Jersey for practicing law without a license, although charges were later dropped under a state program to deal with non-violent offences. He was also reprimanded by a Michigan regulator for the New Jersey incident and passing $18,000 in bad checks. Timban said in an interview he had closed his New Jersey office and the check-writing incident was "accidental," as a family member was supposed to wire funds to cover the check. But FINRA said it did not learn of the New Jersey indictment for five months and that Timban failed to tell it about the Michigan problems altogether, while he arbitrated the Goldman case. Brooklyn framer accuses former boss of firing him for being too fat (NYP) The owner of a picture-framing shop in Brooklyn fired a worker because he was too fat to fit in the aisles, a lawsuit claims. Seth Bogadanove, 52, of Bath Beach, is suing Frame It In Brooklyn, in Sunset Park, and owner Jerry Greenberg, claiming he was canned after gaining weight because of medication. “Oh, my God! What happened to you? You got so fat!” the suit says Greenberg told Bogadanove after he returned from a leave. ... But Greenberg told The Post he never hired Bogadanove back, only gave him an opportunity to work from home. He called Bogadonove’s story “ridiculous.” “He was sweating, and he couldn’t make it up stairs,” Greenberg recalled. “But that would never come out of my mouth in my wildest dreams.” Video shows woman tossing perceived rival off cliff (CBS) Surveillance video caught a brutal fight between a woman and her perceived romantic rival in Arequipa, Peru, but it's pretty one-sided. A woman caught her husband walking with a younger woman while they were out on a stroll by a cliff back in January. She is seen grabbing the younger woman by the hair and dragging her off a cliff, where she reportedly plunged about 20 feet. She is okay after the fall - she only sustained some cuts and bruises, was treated at a hospital and released.

Opening Bell: 04.17.12

Goldman Earnings Beat Expectations (WSJ) For the first quarter, the firm's revenue from fixed income, currency and commodity trading totaled $3.46 billion, down 20% from a year earlier although more than double what the firm booked in the fourth quarter. Investment-banking revenue came in at $1.15 billion, down 9.1% from a year, yet up 35% from a fourth quarter that was bleak across Wall Street. Goldman posted a profit of $2.11 billion, compared with a year-earlier profit of $2.74 billion. Earnings per share—reflecting the payment of preferred dividends—rose to $3.92 from $1.56 a year earlier, topping the $3.55 per-share profit expected by analysts polled by Thomson Reuters. Paulson Said to Short Europe Bonds Amid Spain Concern (Bloomberg) John Paulson, the billionaire hedge-fund manager seeking to reverse record losses in 2011, told investors he is shorting European sovereign bonds, according to a person familiar with the matter. Paulson, 56, said during a call with investors that he is also buying credit-default swaps on European debt, or protection against the chance of default, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the information is private. Spanish banks are of particular concern as their holdings of the country’s debt and client withdrawals make them overly dependent on European Central Bank financing, Paulson told investors. No Double-Dip Deja Vu Seen for U.S. Economy (Bloomberg) “It feels eerily similar to last year, but fundamentally it’s quite different,” said Joseph LaVorgna, chief U.S. economist for Deutsche Bank Securities in New York. He sees the economy growing 3 percent in the fourth quarter from a year earlier, compared with 1.6 percent in 2011. Ainslie's Maverick Makes First Start-Up Seeding In Sycamore Lane (WSJ) Maverick Capital Management LP, the $9 billion investment firm run by Lee Ainslie, has made its first seeding investment in a start-up hedge fund, according to marketing materials sent to investors. According to the materials sent by Sycamore Lane Partners to investors, Maverick provided it with start-up capital, allowing the long/short value-driven equity fund to begin investing April 2. The amount of Maverick's investment isn't outlined, but is described as "significant capital contributions with extended lock through 2015." Alabama Bond Fight Begins New Round (WSJ) Wall Street has sparred with Jefferson County for years over the local government's crippling debt. Now the battle has moved underground, and the two sides are arguing over the condition of 3,200 miles of sewage pipes below Alabama's largest metropolitan area. A federal judge is weighing whether officials of the bankrupt county can divert money that would have gone to pay J.P. Morgan Chase and other debtholders in order to upgrade its leaky sewer system. The case could have far-reaching implications for the $3.7 trillion municipal-bond market. A ruling in the county's favor could upend the notion that holders of debt backed by revenues from utilities such as sewer systems should continue to be paid in full when a municipality files for bankruptcy protection. Toms River Couple Sues Landlord Over Alleged Paranormal Activity (CBS) Jose Chinchilla and his fiancée Michele Callan say they hear eerie noises, that lights flicker, doors slam and a spectral presence tugs on their bed sheets. Chinchilla and Callan are suing the landlord for their $2,250security deposit claiming the paranormal activity forced them out of the home only a week after moving in. For Two Economists, the ‘Buffett Rule’ Is Just a Start (NYT) As much as Mr. Piketty’s and Mr. Saez’s work has informed the national debate over earnings and fairness, their proposed corrective remains far outside the bounds of polite political conversation: much, much higher top marginal tax rates on the rich, up to 50 percent, or 70 percent or even 90 percent, from the current top rate of 35 percent. The two economists argue that even Democrats’ boldest plan to increase taxes on the wealthy — the “Buffett Rule,” a 30 percent minimum tax on earnings over $1 million — would do little to reverse the rich’s gains. Many of the Republican tax proposals on the table might increase income inequality, at least in the short term, according to William G. Gale of the Tax Policy Center and many other left-leaning and centrist economists. Romney Not Too Rich To Relate (Bloomberg) Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney said he isn’t too rich to relate to average Americans and President Barack Obama should “start packing” for a White House departure in 2013. Romney made the remarks in an ABC News interview aired yesterday as Democrats accused him of running a secretive campaign and called on him to release more tax records....Periodically while campaigning this year Romney has made comments drawing attention to his wealth -- and earning scorn from opponents -- including saying he has friends who are NASCAR owners and that his wife, Ann, owns a “couple” of Cadillacs. Brazil’s Unpredictable Central Banker Tombini Confounds Critics (Bloomberg) No central banker in the world’s top 10 economies has surprised analysts as frequently as Brazil’s Alexandre Tombini. Since taking office 15 months ago, Tombini set interest rates lower than economists expected in three out of 10 policy meetings, including an August reduction that all 62 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg failed to anticipate. Russia’s central bank, the second most unpredictable, defied economists in three out of 14 rate decisions in the same period. So far, Tombini has been vindicated. Inflation in Brazil, at 5.24 percent in March, is easing at a pace faster than analysts forecast. While investors have speculated that Tombini may be yielding to political pressure to lower rates, his gloomy assessment of the world economy and risk-taking may prove correct, according to Citigroup Inc.’s Dirk Willer. Husband watching porn online finds film starring his wife (Emirates) An Egyptian man who went online to watch a porno film for the first time got the shock of his life when he found that the woman in the film was his own wife. The man, identified as Ramadan, instantly collapsed in disbelief on the floor at an internet shop before coming round and rushing home to face his unfaithful wife. The woman first denied his allegations and started to swear at him, prompting her husband to face her with the film...“I found 11 films showing my wife in indecent scenes with her lover….it was the first time I watched a porno film and I did this just out of curiosity,” Ramadan told Egyptian newspapers at his house in the northeastern province of Dakhalia...Ramadan said he had been happy during his marriage life until he logged on to that website.

Opening Bell: 12.18.12

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

Opening Bell: 05.25.12

J.P. Morgan Unit Made Risky Bets on Firms (WSJ) The JPMorgan unit whose wrong-way bets on corporate credit cost the bank more than $2 billion includes a group that has invested in financially challenged companies, including LightSquared Inc., the wireless broadband provider that this month filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection...The Special Investments Group last year took a $150 million stake in closely held LightSquared, in a deal that J.P. Morgan lost money on, according to a person familiar with the bank. Both Campaigns Seize on Romney’s Years at Bain (NYT) ...the Romney campaign is actively recruiting testimonials from workers who have had positive experiences with Bain. It is getting ready to release advertising highlighting Bain’s marquee success stories, like the turnaround of Staples. It is considering seeking out middle-class surrogates — a fireman or members of a teachers union, for instance — who would be willing to talk about how Bain managed and increased the size of their pension funds, a lesser-known aspect of private equity...Mr. Romney’s advisers are betting that if they stay out of the nuances of private equity and tell a story about turning around failing companies, they can transform the Bain attacks into a narrative that underscores Mr. Romney’s image as a skilled executive who can steer a troubled economy back to prosperity. ECB Official: On Greece, ‘We Are Working on Plan A’ (CNBC) "It's our strong preference that Greece stays in the euro zone...We are working on plan A," Joerg Asmussen said in the interview yesterday. "I always work on plan A. I am not speculating, I am working to make plan A successful," he added. What Would A Greek Exit Mean For The US Economy? (Reuters) usiness investment would stall, banks would pull back on credit, and lost wealth as equity prices fall would cause consumers to slow their spending. Commodity prices would plunge, helping importers but hurting growth in export economies. Merkel May Be Persuaded On Euro Debt-Sharing Compromise (Bloomberg) Chancellor Angela Merkel left the door open to a compromise on debt sharing in the euro area as Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti said he can help bring Germany round to acting in Europe’s “common good.” Short Sellers Find Friends In Banks (WSJ) As traders at Morgan Stanley were frantically trying to shore up Facebook Inc.'s FB share price following the company's initial public offering, other managers on the deal were helping short sellers bet that the newly minted stock would fall. Trading desks at Goldman Sachs Group and J.P. Morgan Chase, two of the firms that helped Morgan Stanley underwrite the IPO, were among those lending out Facebook shares that hedge funds needed for short sales, according to people familiar with the matter. While it isn't uncommon for Wall Street firms to make shares available for shorting on IPOs they manage, Morgan Stanley, the lead underwriter, didn't lend shares, according to people familiar with the matter. Escaped monkey holds up flight at JFK for hours (NYP) Monkey business held up a Beijing-bound flight at Kennedy Airport nearly four hours yesterday. A monkey escaped its crate in the cargo hold of an Air China Boeing 747 scheduled to leave Terminal 1 at 4:50 p.m., said Port Authority police. Port Authority emergency services officers and an airport worker caught the monkey and handed it over to the airline. The animal never got out of the jet’s cargo hold. The foot-tall monkey was one of about 50 to 60 being shipped to China for medical research, said police sources. “He was a slippery little beast,” one source said. Bankia Shares Suspended Ahead of Board Meeting (WSJ) EFE news agency reported Thursday that the lender will ask the government for more than €15 billion ($18.80 billion). The bank said it requested the suspension ahead of the meeting, at which it will also approve its 2011 earnings report. The board meeting will begin at 2:30 p.m. GMT. Moody's Downgrades Major Nordic Banks (WSJ) Moody's said the funding and margin issues left the banks susceptible to unexpected losses from which it would be a challenge for them to rebuild capital. It also highlighted risks to asset quality, with the Swedish economy exposed to weakness in Europe and the banks' variable-rate mortgage books vulnerable to interest rate changes. USDA Is a Tough Collector When Mortgages Go Bad (WSJ) Unlike private firms, the USDA doesn't need permission from a court to start collecting on unpaid debts. It can in some cases seize government benefits and tax refunds before a foreclosure is completed. After foreclosure, the USDA can go after unpaid balances, even in states that limit such actions by private lenders. Nasdaq CEO went ahead with Facebook IPO despite signs new software had bugs (NYP) During a conference call on Monday evening, Nasdaq officials said that they were unaware of any problems with the system. However, sources said that there may have been signs that the system wasn’t glitch-free even at the 11th hour and that Nasdaq opted to roll the dice. “They may have thought they did not have any material issues with the systems,” said one exchange platform official. Lacrosse Party-Boy Image Worries Coaches Who See Slower Growth (Bloomberg) “It’s really important that the lacrosse world grows up a little bit,” Danowski said from his office in Durham, North Carolina. “We are getting more TV exposure; more people are able to make a living through lacrosse. If we want to be accepted in the mainstream, then it’s time for us to grow up.”

Opening Bell: 12.19.12

UBS In $1.5 Billion Libor Fine (WSJ) As part of the deal, UBS acknowledged that dozens of its employees were involved in widespread efforts to manipulate the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, as well as other benchmark rates, which together serve as the basis for interest rates on hundreds of trillions of dollars of financial contracts around the world. UBS's unit in Japan, where much of the attempted manipulation took place, pleaded guilty to one U.S. count of fraud. Authorities on Wednesday painted a picture of "routine and widespread" attempts by UBS employees to rig Libor and the euro interbank offered rate, or Euribor. The U.K. Financial Services Authority said it had identified more than 2,000 such attempts between 2005 and 2010 with the participation or awareness of at least 45 UBS traders and executives. Regulators on Wednesday released a trove of internal UBS emails and other communications—many of them colorful and expletive-laden—in which bank traders, sometimes with the knowledge of their managers, sought to manipulate the rates in order to boost their trading profits or mask the Swiss bank's mounting financial problems in 2008. UBS Traders' 'Humongous' Libor-Fixing Boasts (CNBC) The FSA documents suggest a macho trading culture on the UBS trading floor. Trader A also said: "if you keep 6s [i.e. the six month JPY LIBOR rate] unchanged today ... I will ****ing do one humongous deal with you ... Like a 50,000 buck deal." Traders and brokers implicated in the scandal referred to each other as "the three muscateers [sic]" and "captain caos [sic]." SAC's top consumer trader draws scrutiny from U.S. authorities (Reuters) U.S. authorities are examining trading by one of SAC Capital Advisors' most successful portfolio managers, Gabriel Plotkin, as part of a probe into the $14 billion hedge fund firm's investment in Weight Watchers International Inc last year, according to a person familiar with the investigation. Plotkin, a specialist in consumer and retail stocks who makes investment decisions for more than $1.2 billion worth of assets, is among several SAC portfolio managers whose trades are being investigated, said the source, who did not want to be identified. The source would not name the other managers. Federal authorities are trying to determine whether any of SAC Capital's retail and consumer portfolio managers traded Weight Watchers shares based on non-public confidential information about the diet company, said the source and another person familiar with the investigation. The two sources said it is too soon to conclude if there was any insider trading. Authorities have not charged Plotkin with any wrongdoing. Banks See Biggest Returns Since ’03 as Employees Suffer (Bloomberg) Shareholders, impatient for the industry to boost profit, were rewarded as Wall Street firms cut jobs and pay, and exited businesses. The shrinking unnerved employees, who watched the chiefs of two big banks lose their jobs and others contend with a drop in deal making and stock trading, stiffer regulations, trading losses, rating downgrades and scandals involving interest-rate manipulation and money laundering. “There’s always grumbling on Wall Street, which is pathetic given how overpaid we all are, but there is a level of angst this year that is just unprecedented,” Gordon Dean, who left a 26-year career at Morgan Stanley (MS) to co-found a San Francisco boutique advisory firm this year, said in a telephone interview. “It’s just a profound sadness and dissatisfaction.” Greek Bond Bet Pays Off for Hedge Fund (FT) One of the world's most prominent hedge funds is sitting on a $500 million profit after making a bet that Greece would not be forced to leave the euro zone, bucking the trend in a difficult year for the industry. Third Point, headed by the billionaire US investor Dan Loeb, tendered the majority of a $1 billion position in Greek government bonds, built up only months earlier, as part of a landmark debt buyback deal by Athens on Monday, according to people familiar with the firm. The windfall marks out the New York-based firm as one of the few hedge fund managers to have profited from the eurozone crisis. Standard and Poor's, the rating agency, raised its assessment of Greece's sovereign debt by several notches on Tuesday, citing the euro zone's"strong determination" to keep the country inside the common currency area. Fitch Warns US Could Lose AAA If 'Fiscal Cliff' Hits (Reuters) "Failure to avoid the fiscal cliff.. would exacerbate rather than diminish the uncertainty over fiscal policy, and tip the US into an avoidable and unnecessary recession," Fitch said in its 2013 global outlook published on Wednesday. "That could erode medium-term growth potential and financial stability. In such a scenario, there would be an increased likelihood that the U.S. would lose its AAA status." Science explains Rudolph's red reindeer nose (CNET) A collection of Dutch scientists contributed to a paper titled "Microcirculatory investigations of nasal mucosa in reindeer Rangifer tarandus (Mammalia, Artiodactyla, Cervidae): Rudolph's nose was overheated." According to the paper, "The exceptional physical burden of flying with a sleigh with Santa Claus as a heavy load could have caused cerebral and bodily hyperthermia, resulting in an overworked nasal cooling mechanism that resembles an overheated cooling radiator in a car: Rudolph suffered from hyperemia of the nasal mucosa (a red nose) under more extreme heat loads during flight with a sleigh." Of course, scientists don't like to put all their scientific eggs into just one basket of science. The paper's authors acknowledge other theories for the red nose, including the common cold, alcoholic intoxication, or a parasitic infection of the nostrils. GM To Buy Back Stock From Treasury (WSJ) GM said it will purchase 200 million shares of stock held by the U.S. Treasury Department in the first step of the government's eventual exit from the auto maker within the next 12 to 15 months. The auto maker will pay $5.5 billion for the shares in a deal that is expected to close by the end of the year. The repurchase price of $27.50 a share represents a 7.9% premium over the closing price on Dec. 18. Berlusconi Says Italy May Be Forced to Leave the Euro Zone (Reuters) "If Germany doesn't accept that the ECB must be a real central bank, if interest rates don't come down, we will be forced to leave the euro and return to our own currency in order to be competitive," Berlusconi said in comments reported by Italian news agencies Ansa and Agi. Knight, Getco Confirm Merger (WSJ) The $1.8 billion deal for Knight, which values the firm at $1.4 billion plus $400 million in debt held by Getco, will create a trading powerhouse ranking as one of the largest players on U.S. exchanges and the main trading partner of online brokerage firms that service everyday investors. Porsche Executives Charged Over VW Bid (WSJ) Prosecutors have charged the former top executives of Porsche Automobil Holding SE with allegedly manipulating financial markets during the company's attempt to take over Volkswagen AG in 2008, lawyers representing the executives said Wednesday. A court in Stuttgart must now decide whether to open criminal proceedings against Porsche's former chief executive Wendelin Wiedeking and former finance chief Holger Härter, who are suspected of misleading investors when they denied trying to take over VW in 2008. Market manipulation in Germany can be punished with up to five years' imprisonment. From early March to October of 2008, Porsche issued at least five statements denying it was trying to raise its stake in Volkswagen to 75%, but the prosecutors allege that Messrs. Wiedeking and Härter had already decided to try to raise the stake and were preparing for the move by purchasing buy options on ordinary and preference shares of Volkswagen. The denials induced investors to sell or make bets the shares would fall by so-called short selling, the prosecutors said, which benefited Porsche by lowering the share price ahead of the planned takeover. Spanx Bandit On The Loose After JCPenney Heist (TSG) An unknown thief (or thieves) stole a whopping $4182 worth of the popular body shapers from a JCPenney in Vero Beach, according to an Indian River County Sheriff’s Office report. The Spanx theft was reported Friday afternoon after a JCPenney employee noticed “the empty rack in the women’s undergarment section.” The worker noted that the Spanx stock had been there the prior evening. A subsequent search of the store revealed that about 100 Spanx “were taken along with their plastic hangers.” The purloined undergarments--tan and black tops and bottoms--were from Spanx’s Assets Red Hot Label line, police reported. A JCPenney store manager gave cops an itemized list of the boosted body shapers, but it appears the Spanx Bandit will escape unscathed. Due to a lack of witnesses, evidence, or store surveillance video, no further investigative activity could be undertaken by a sheriff’s deputy.

Opening Bell: 05.16.12

Greece Teeters As Talks Fail (WSJ) In a potent sign of Greeks' rising anxiety, depositors withdrew €700 million ($898 million) from local banks on Monday alone, according to the country's national bank—a significant escalation in capital flight from the country. Greek President Karolos Papoulias told party leaders that the situation facing Greece's lenders was very difficult and that "the strength of banks is very weak right now," according to a transcript released Tuesday. Merkel: I Want Greece To Stay In The Euro (CNBC) In an interview with CNBC's "Worldwide Exchange," Merkel said: "I want, just like Jean-Claude Juncker, that Greece stays in the euro. I think that would be good for Greece and for all of us. If Greece believes that we can find more stimulus in Europe in addition to the Memorandum (the deal stuck with the Troika), then we have to talk about that," she said, but she underlined that Greece and its euro zone partners had to be able to trust each other. What Happens When Greece's Money Runs Out (Reuters) "I'm really not sure Greece could survive for very long if external money was cut off," said Darren Williams, economist at fund manager AllianceBernstein. "But what an experience of IOUs may do rather quickly is bring home to the average Greek citizen just how much more difficult a place it is outside the bailout program and outside the euro." Moore Leads Hedge Funds Betting on JPMorgan Before Losses (Bloomberg) Hedge funds Moore Capital Management LLC and Blue Ridge Capital LLC boosted their stakes in JPMorgan Chase, while Kingdon Capital Management LLC divested, before the shares plunged because of a $2 billion trading loss. Moore, the $15 billion New York-based firm run by Louis Moore Bacon, bought 6 million shares of JPMorgan and its $297.3 million stake was its largest U.S. stock holding as of March 31, according to a filing yesterday with the Securities and Exchange Commission. John Griffin’s New York-based Blue Ridge purchased 1.85 million shares, raising its stake in the bank to 6.14 million. The man who beached ‘Moby Iksil’ (NYP) Boaz Weinstein, a renowned CDS index arbitrageur who launched Saba in 2009, in early February recommended the index, which tracks a basket of US corporate bonds. “They are very attractive” and can be bought at a “very good discount,” said Weinstein, a former Deutsche Bank proprietary trader, speaking at the Harbor Investment Conference on Feb. 2. It appears the index was so cheap because Iksil was buying it to make a big short bet. Weinstein, whose Saba overseas $5.5 billion in assets, decided to go long and said he bought the index a few days before the conference at around 120 basis points. For a while, Weinstein’s genius trade wasn’t working out. The IG9 Index continued to sink under the weight of the Whale’s buys — hitting a low of 105 on March 21. But two weeks later, on April 3, reports surfaced about the Whale’s outsize positions and the tide started to turn. The price spiked to 130 as traders piled on. What JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon first termed a “tempest in a teapot” started to get serious. By last week, Dimon announced a $2.3 billion loss on the Whale’s trade, and word spread that Iksil’s head may roll. Meanwhile, Weinstein, who earned roughly $100 million last year, saw his position and the index continue to soar. The CDS index traded around 146 yesterday. Facebook Said to Raise Size of IPO to 421 Million Shares (Bloomberg) Facebook is boosting the number of shares for sale in its initial public offering to 421.2 million, allowing the world’s most popular social network to raise as much as $16 billion. Existing holders will offer 241.2 million shares, compared with the 157.4 million they originally planned to sell, according to a regulatory filing today. Menlo Park, California- based Facebook and its existing holders had earlier planned to offer 337.4 million shares. Soros’s Firm Buys JPMorgan, Suntrust in First Quarter (Bloomberg) The $25 billion Soros Fund Management LLC, based in New York, increased the value of its stake in financials by 7 percent, including 606,000 shares of JPMorgan worth $28 million as of March 31, and 3.2 million shares of Atlanta-based Suntrust valued at $77 million, according to a filing yesterday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Paulson Holds to Gold ETFs in First Quarter, Profits as Prices Rise (Reuters) So that's nice. Housing Starts Probably Rebounded From a Five-Month Low (Bloomberg) “Homebuilding is inching up pretty much everywhere in the U.S.,” said Patrick Newport, an economist at IHS Global Insight in Lexington, Massachusetts. “The days when housing was a drag on the economy are behind us.” Even so, “housing activity is at depressed levels,” with foreclosures “still a problem for builders,” he said. Bloomberg Reporter Makes Wardrobe Adjustment On Camera (DM, NYO) A microphone mishap led one television reporter from revealing a bit more than she expected. When it became clear that one reporter's mic was not working, the cameraman swapped over quickly to Sara Eisen. Clearly thinking she was off-camera, the Bloomberg News reporter was adjusting her skirt and smoothing out her undergarments. Because the camera swapped over to her sooner than expected, the financial-savvy viewers caught a glimpse of Ms Eisen's underwear...In spite of the hiccup, Ms Eisen was able to brush her skirt down and get back to business. She flashed a quick, knowing smile and then moved right into the news about Spain's banking system debate.