Opening Bell: 12.12.12

Three Questioned In Libor Probe (WSJ) While the SFO didn't identify the men, one of them is Thomas Hayes, a former trader at UBS and Citigroup, according to people familiar with the matter. Authorities in multiple countries have been looking into Mr. Hayes as an alleged coordinator of a group of employees at multiple banks who sought to manipulate the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, according to people familiar with the case. One of the others arrested was Terry Farr, an employee of British brokerage firm R.P. Martin Holdings Ltd. in London who is currently on leave from the firm, according to a person familiar with the case. Mr. Farr has been under investigation for possibly helping bank employees coordinate their efforts to influence Libor, according to people familiar with the case. HSBC Mexican Branches Said to Be Traffickers’ Favorites (Bloomberg) From 2006 to 2010, the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico and the Norte del Valle Cartel in Columbia moved more than $881 million in proceeds through HSBC’s U.S. unit, said Lanny Breuer, assistant attorney general for the U.S. Justice Department’s criminal division. Breuer, along with U.S. Attorney Lorretta Lynch in Brooklyn, New York, announced yesterday the bank had agreed to pay at least $1.9 billion to settle money laundering probes. “These traffickers didn’t have to try very hard,” Breuer said at a press conference in Brooklyn. “They would sometimes deposit hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash in a single day into a single account using boxes designed to fit the precise dimension of the tellers’ windows in HSBC’s Mexico branches.” It Could Get Hairy Before 'Cliff' Deal: Greenspan (CNBC) "The best possible outcome is to take something like Simpson-Bowles as it came out originally and work off that," he said, of a deal to avoid the automatic tax hikes and spending cuts that go into effect at the end of the year. But he said that reaching a final agreement won't be an easy process, since the president believes he has a mandate following the election while House Republicans believe they, too, have a mandate. "I'm not at altogether clear how much control (Speaker) Boehner has over the overall caucus," Greenspan said. "At the end of the day it will all work out but it's going to be a bit hairy before we get there." Buffett Joins Soros in Effort to Raise Taxes on Estates (Bloomberg) Billionaireinvestors Warren Buffett and George Soros are calling on Congress to increase the estate tax as lawmakers near a decision on tax policies that expire Dec. 31. In a joint statement Tuesday, Buffett, Soros and more than 20 other wealthy individuals asked Congress to lower the estate tax’s per-person exemption to $2 million from $5.12 million and raise the top rate to more than 45 percent from 35 percent. An estate tax structured this way will “raise significant revenue to reduce the deficit and fund vital services, will only be paid by the top one percent of estates, will raise more from the wealthiest estates” and will simplify compliance, said the statement. It also was signed by John Bogle, founder of mutual fund company Vanguard Group Inc., and former President Jimmy Carter. U.S. Probe of SAC Trading Said to Be Linked to 2010 Case (Bloomberg) A U.S. investigation of possible insider trading at SAC Capital Advisors LP, the $14 billion hedge fund run by Steven A. Cohen, is linked to a 2010 regulatory lawsuit over allegedly illegal trades in InterMune Inc, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Securities and Exchange Commission’s probe of trades that SAC Capital made in the Brisbane, California-based biopharmaceutical company is tied to a December 2010 SEC lawsuit against an investor, said the person, who asked not to be named because the matter isn’t public. The investor bought InterMune options before a European Union regulatory panel urged approval of the company’s drug Esbriet to treat a fatal lung disease, the person said, declining to elaborate. Man says law standing between him and sex acts with donkey is unconstitutional (NYDN) Lawyers representing the frisky farmhand thrown in jail for allegedly masturbating with a donkey are now fighting to have Florida’s statute banning sex with animals declared unconstitutional. “By making sexual conduct with an animal a crime, the statute demeans individuals like Defendant by making his private sexual conduct a crime,” attorneys for 32-year-old Carlos R. Romero wrote in a motion filed last week, the Ocala-Star Banner reported. Romero was cuffed at an Ocala farm back in September after farm proprietor Gerald James told police he saw Romero with his pants down as he was seemingly having sex with a donkey named Doodle in an equipment room on Aug. 15, according to police report obtained by thesmokinggun.com. Romero later pleaded not guilty to a first-degree misdemeanor charge of sexual activities involving animals. He announced last week that he wanted his case to go to trial. His attorneys argue that Florida’s statute violates the farmhand’s rights by stripping him of his “personal liberty and autonomy when it comes to private intimate activities.”They say the statute is unconstitutional because it doesn’t require the state to provide any proof of the animal’s suffering “or any proof of the sexual activity being non-consensual.” Inside The Risky Bets Of Central Banks (WSJ) While many national governments, including the U.S., have failed to agree on fiscal policy—how best to balance tax revenues with spending during slow growth—the central bankers have forged their own path, independent of voters and politicians, bound by frequent conversations and relationships stretching back to university days. If the central bankers are correct, they will help the world economy avoid prolonged stagnation and a repeat of central banking mistakes in the 1930s. If they are wrong, they could kindle inflation or sow the seeds of another financial crisis. Failure also could lead to new restrictions on the power and independence of central banks, tools deemed crucial in such emergencies as the 2008-2009 financial crisis. Freeport's $20 Billion Deal Stirs Backlash (WSJ) Freeport agreed last week to acquire energy explorers McMoRan Exploration Co. MMR +0.85% and Plains Exploration & Production Co. PXP -0.42% in transactions that will cost the Arizona mining giant about $20 billion including assumed debt. The deal will result in six directors with overlapping roles at Freeport and McMoRan Exploration receiving payouts for their shares totaling more than $130 million, according to securities filings. Some Freeport investors and analysts also have questioned the wisdom of a metals miner diving into the oil and gas business. They have taken issue with what they call conflicts of interests among the shared executives and directors at Freeport and McMoRan and the fact that the deal as structured doesn't require a Freeport shareholder vote. Fed Discourages Bank Dealmaking (WSJ) The Federal Reserve is pushing large U.S. banks to forget about all but the smallest acquisitions for a while amid a raging debate over the risk big lenders pose to the financial system. Man Drive 100 MPH To Wedding, Gets Arrested (Again) (NWI) Timothy N. Thompson, 23, of Valparaiso, was supposed to be married in a 7 p.m. ceremony. Instead, Thompson was arrested for resisting law enforcement, criminal recklessness and reckless driving. He was also cited for speeding and improper passing. According to police, an officer spotted Thompson about 6:30 p.m. Saturday speeding north in the center lane of Willowcreek Road. The officer estimated Thompson was driving 100 mph. Thompson allegedly continued to drive erratically, switching lanes abruptly and, according to the report, nearly wrecking. Police reported they followed Thompson as he turned into the parking lot of Nativity of Our Savior Church on Willowcreek Road, where he again nearly tipped over the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Once he entered the church's parking lot, three people -- later identified as relatives -- began flailing their arms and yelling at him. Thompson drove through the parking lot, accelerating and doing a "doughnut," creating a thick blanket of tire smoke, according to the report. When he stopped, Thompson told police he was late for his wedding and estimated he was doing "about 90" mph. He also told police he had his emergency flashers on and was sounding his horn to alert drivers. When an officer walked away from Thompson's vehicle, Thompson reentered his vehicle and drove toward the entrance of the church, where he was stopped by police again. "Oh, I thought you were done and I'm late for a party in Chicago," police reported Thompson saying. "It now means I have to drive really fast to get there." Thompson, who also told police he had just been released from jail that day, didn't make his wedding. He was transported to Porter County Jail and held without bond.
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Three Questioned In Libor Probe (WSJ)
While the SFO didn't identify the men, one of them is Thomas Hayes, a former trader at UBS and Citigroup, according to people familiar with the matter. Authorities in multiple countries have been looking into Mr. Hayes as an alleged coordinator of a group of employees at multiple banks who sought to manipulate the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, according to people familiar with the case. One of the others arrested was Terry Farr, an employee of British brokerage firm R.P. Martin Holdings Ltd. in London who is currently on leave from the firm, according to a person familiar with the case. Mr. Farr has been under investigation for possibly helping bank employees coordinate their efforts to influence Libor, according to people familiar with the case.

HSBC Mexican Branches Said to Be Traffickers’ Favorites (Bloomberg)
From 2006 to 2010, the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico and the Norte del Valle Cartel in Columbia moved more than $881 million in proceeds through HSBC’s U.S. unit, said Lanny Breuer, assistant attorney general for the U.S. Justice Department’s criminal division. Breuer, along with U.S. Attorney Lorretta Lynch in Brooklyn, New York, announced yesterday the bank had agreed to pay at least $1.9 billion to settle money laundering probes. “These traffickers didn’t have to try very hard,” Breuer said at a press conference in Brooklyn. “They would sometimes deposit hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash in a single day into a single account using boxes designed to fit the precise dimension of the tellers’ windows in HSBC’s Mexico branches.”

It Could Get Hairy Before 'Cliff' Deal: Greenspan (CNBC)
"The best possible outcome is to take something like Simpson-Bowles as it came out originally and work off that," he said, of a deal to avoid the automatic tax hikes and spending cuts that go into effect at the end of the year. But he said that reaching a final agreement won't be an easy process, since the president believes he has a mandate following the election while House Republicans believe they, too, have a mandate. "I'm not at altogether clear how much control (Speaker) Boehner has over the overall caucus," Greenspan said. "At the end of the day it will all work out but it's going to be a bit hairy before we get there."

Buffett Joins Soros in Effort to Raise Taxes on Estates (Bloomberg)
Billionaire investors Warren Buffett and George Soros are calling on Congress to increase the estate tax as lawmakers near a decision on tax policies that expire Dec. 31. In a joint statement Tuesday, Buffett, Soros and more than 20 other wealthy individuals asked Congress to lower the estate tax’s per-person exemption to $2 million from $5.12 million and raise the top rate to more than 45 percent from 35 percent. An estate tax structured this way will “raise significant revenue to reduce the deficit and fund vital services, will only be paid by the top one percent of estates, will raise more from the wealthiest estates” and will simplify compliance, said the statement. It also was signed by John Bogle, founder of mutual fund company Vanguard Group Inc., and former President Jimmy Carter.

U.S. Probe of SAC Trading Said to Be Linked to 2010 Case (Bloomberg)
A U.S. investigation of possible insider trading at SAC Capital Advisors LP, the $14 billion hedge fund run by Steven A. Cohen, is linked to a 2010 regulatory lawsuit over allegedly illegal trades in InterMune Inc, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Securities and Exchange Commission’s probe of trades that SAC Capital made in the Brisbane, California-based biopharmaceutical company is tied to a December 2010 SEC lawsuit against an investor, said the person, who asked not to be named because the matter isn’t public. The investor bought InterMune options before a European Union regulatory panel urged approval of the company’s drug Esbriet to treat a fatal lung disease, the person said, declining to elaborate.

Man says law standing between him and sex acts with donkey is unconstitutional (NYDN)
Lawyers representing the frisky farmhand thrown in jail for allegedly masturbating with a donkey are now fighting to have Florida’s statute banning sex with animals declared unconstitutional. “By making sexual conduct with an animal a crime, the statute demeans individuals like Defendant by making his private sexual conduct a crime,” attorneys for 32-year-old Carlos R. Romero wrote in a motion filed last week, the Ocala-Star Banner reported. Romero was cuffed at an Ocala farm back in September after farm proprietor Gerald James told police he saw Romero with his pants down as he was seemingly having sex with a donkey named Doodle in an equipment room on Aug. 15, according to police report obtained by thesmokinggun.com. Romero later pleaded not guilty to a first-degree misdemeanor charge of sexual activities involving animals. He announced last week that he wanted his case to go to trial. His attorneys argue that Florida’s statute violates the farmhand’s rights by stripping him of his “personal liberty and autonomy when it comes to private intimate activities.”They say the statute is unconstitutional because it doesn’t require the state to provide any proof of the animal’s suffering “or any proof of the sexual activity being non-consensual.”

Inside The Risky Bets Of Central Banks (WSJ)
While many national governments, including the U.S., have failed to agree on fiscal policy—how best to balance tax revenues with spending during slow growth—the central bankers have forged their own path, independent of voters and politicians, bound by frequent conversations and relationships stretching back to university days. If the central bankers are correct, they will help the world economy avoid prolonged stagnation and a repeat of central banking mistakes in the 1930s. If they are wrong, they could kindle inflation or sow the seeds of another financial crisis. Failure also could lead to new restrictions on the power and independence of central banks, tools deemed crucial in such emergencies as the 2008-2009 financial crisis.

Freeport's $20 Billion Deal Stirs Backlash (WSJ)
Freeport agreed last week to acquire energy explorers McMoRan Exploration Co. MMR +0.85% and Plains Exploration & Production Co. PXP -0.42% in transactions that will cost the Arizona mining giant about $20 billion including assumed debt. The deal will result in six directors with overlapping roles at Freeport and McMoRan Exploration receiving payouts for their shares totaling more than $130 million, according to securities filings. Some Freeport investors and analysts also have questioned the wisdom of a metals miner diving into the oil and gas business. They have taken issue with what they call conflicts of interests among the shared executives and directors at Freeport and McMoRan and the fact that the deal as structured doesn't require a Freeport shareholder vote.

Fed Discourages Bank Dealmaking (WSJ)
The Federal Reserve is pushing large U.S. banks to forget about all but the smallest acquisitions for a while amid a raging debate over the risk big lenders pose to the financial system.

Man Drive 100 MPH To Wedding, Gets Arrested (Again) (NWI)
Timothy N. Thompson, 23, of Valparaiso, was supposed to be married in a 7 p.m. ceremony. Instead, Thompson was arrested for resisting law enforcement, criminal recklessness and reckless driving. He was also cited for speeding and improper passing. According to police, an officer spotted Thompson about 6:30 p.m. Saturday speeding north in the center lane of Willowcreek Road. The officer estimated Thompson was driving 100 mph. Thompson allegedly continued to drive erratically, switching lanes abruptly and, according to the report, nearly wrecking. Police reported they followed Thompson as he turned into the parking lot of Nativity of Our Savior Church on Willowcreek Road, where he again nearly tipped over the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Once he entered the church's parking lot, three people -- later identified as relatives -- began flailing their arms and yelling at him. Thompson drove through the parking lot, accelerating and doing a "doughnut," creating a thick blanket of tire smoke, according to the report. When he stopped, Thompson told police he was late for his wedding and estimated he was doing "about 90" mph. He also told police he had his emergency flashers on and was sounding his horn to alert drivers. When an officer walked away from Thompson's vehicle, Thompson reentered his vehicle and drove toward the entrance of the church, where he was stopped by police again. "Oh, I thought you were done and I'm late for a party in Chicago," police reported Thompson saying. "It now means I have to drive really fast to get there." Thompson, who also told police he had just been released from jail that day, didn't make his wedding. He was transported to Porter County Jail and held without bond.

Related

Opening Bell: 07.12.12

Fed Weighs More Stimulus (WSJ) A few Fed officials were ready to move aggressively when the Fed met in June and several others said they might want to take new measures if the recovery loses momentum or their growth and employment forecasts are cut once again. That is according to minutes of the central bank's June 19-20 meeting, which were released Wednesday with their usual three-week lag. Gold to Hit $2,000 by Year-End on More Fed Easing: Merrill (CNBC) "We think that $2,000 an ounce is sort of the right number,” Francisco Blanch, Head of Global Commodity & Multi-Asset Strategy Research at the investment bank, said Thursday. Regulators’ Shake-Up Seen as Missed Bid to Police JPMorgan (NYT) After the financial crisis, regulators vowed to overhaul supervision of the nation’s largest banks. As part of that effort, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in mid-2011 replaced virtually all of its roughly 40 examiners at JPMorgan Chase to bolster the team’s expertise and prevent regulators from forming cozy ties with executives, according to several current and former government officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity. But those changes left the New York Fed’s front-line examiners without deep knowledge of JPMorgan’s operations for a brief yet critical time, said those people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because there is a federal investigation of the bank. Forced to play catch-up, the examiners struggled to understand the inner workings of a powerful investment unit, those officials said. At first, the examiners sought basic information about the group, including the name of the unit’s core trading portfolio. Neb. Man Jailed for Bomb Threat on Job Application (AP) the Legacy 272 Lounge employee who reviewed 38-year-old Jason Dornhoff's application last Thursday called police when he read the threat that closed with: "If you be quiet and help me, you won't die." Police arrested Dornhoff, of Heartwell, Neb., at gunpoint and searched his truck, but didn't find any bomb. Court documents say Dornhoff told police he uses methamphetamines and went to the restaurant hoping to find a way to fulfill his sexual fantasies. Clock Is Ticking On Crisis Charges (WSJ) Federal laws under which the Securities and Exchange Commission usually goes after alleged fraud and other misdeeds have a five-year statute of limitations. The five-year limit is causing SEC officials to race to file lawsuits in some cases and ask lawyers representing the targets of certain investigations to give the agency more time, according to people close to the investigation. The SEC intends to file charges against firms and people involved in the creation of a $1.6 billion mortgage-bond deal called Delphinus CDO 2007-1, people close to the investigation said. Credit Suisse Clients Targets Of Tax Probe (WSJ) German tax inspectors in recent weeks have been raiding the homes of Credit Suisse Group AG clients suspected of evading taxes, according to bank and German government officials. The investigation is centering on about 5,000 clients who between 2005 and 2009 allegedly bought insurance policies at a Bermuda-based subsidiary of the Swiss bank. In These Knife Fights, Only Pride Gets Wounded (WSJ) Donavon Phillips windmilled his arms. He hopped a few times to get the blood flowing in his legs. A light sweat formed under his black-and-red jersey—just the right dew. "You can't go into this cold, because it's an all-out sport," said Mr. Phillips, pulling his right arm across his chest. He was warming up for a cutthroat event: the 10th annual World Championship Cutting Competition. It takes razor-sharp focus to be a cutting champ, along with a blade that resembles a bulkier, sharper version of a kitchen meat cleaver. Mr. Phillips is one of a few who have helped make a sport out of demonstrating they can swiftly, flawlessly slice through a dozen water bottles or chop a rolling tennis ball in half. Having won the national title in May, he is a favorite on the cutting circuit. SEC Votes To Require Consolidated Audit Trail For Markets (Bloomberg) “A consolidated audit trail that accurately tracks orders throughout their lifecycle and identifies the broker-dealers handling them will provide us with an unprecedented ability to effectively oversee the markets we regulate,” said SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro. The rule is a “great leap forward,” she said. BofA Execs Dodge A Bullet (NYP) Bank of America won a federal court ruling dismissing claims against former Chief Executive Officer Ken Lewis and others in a securities-fraud lawsuit over the bank’s use of an electronic mortgage registry. Buffett: US Economic Growth Slowing, US Slipping "Pretty Fast" (CNBC) Despite the slowdown, Buffett says the U.S. economy is still doing better than "virtually any other big economy" around the world. New York Fed to Release Libor Documents Friday, Official Says (Reuters) The Federal Reserve Bank of New York will release on Friday documents showing it took "prompt action" four years ago to highlight problems with the benchmark interest rate known as Libor and to press for reform, an official at the regional U.S. central bank said on Wednesday. 'Con artists' scammed Hamptons homeowners by turning rentals into teen party pads: officials (NYP) Two real-estate con artists made hundreds of thousands of dollars by renting homes in the Hamptons and using them as post-prom and graduation-party crash pads for raucous teens, authorities said. Officials and outraged homeowners said the front man, 25-year-old Lee Hnetinka, of Jericho, would rent the mansions saying he intended to use them for his own family reunions. “He said it was his aunt having a party at his house,” said Lucy Sachs, 64, who rented her family’s East Hampton home to Hnetinka for $30,000 a month. When a neighbor called on June 8 to tell her that a “party bus with a disco ball had arrived” at Sachs’ place in the middle of the night, she rushed over, confused. What Sachs found was a houseful of nearly 100 teens smoking and drinking in the century-old building. Hnetinka allegedly teamed up with Leslie Jennemann (both inset), a Hamptons real-estate agent who in 2002 was convicted of running over and killing a migrant potato picker on her way home from a party, Southampton officials said...The suspects charged students $355 each for three days at the house, homeowners said. Scarlato estimated that the pair brought in $60,000 to $80,000 a weekend and had as many as 10 rentals. Another East Hampton homeowner, Eli Braha, rented to Hnetinka and became suspicious after a landscaper called to ask about all the trash and as many as 30 inflatable beds in the home.

Opening Bell: 12.14.12

UBS Unit Said to Be Close to Guilty Plea in Rate-Rigging Scandal (NYT) Federal prosecutors are close to securing a guilty plea from a UBS subsidiary at the center of a global investigation into interest rate manipulation, the first big bank to agree to criminal charges in more than a decade. UBS is in final negotiations with American, British and Swiss authorities to settle accusations that its employees reported false rates, a deal in which the bank's Japanese unit is expected to plead guilty to a criminal charge, according to people briefed on the matter who spoke of private discussions on the condition of anonymity. Along with the rare admission of criminal wrongdoing at the subsidiary, UBS could face about $1 billion in fines and regulatory sanctions, the people said. Meet Them In St. Louis: Bankers Move (WSJ) Smaller cities around the nation have emerged as unlikely hives of financial-services hiring, thanks to lower wages, municipal-tax incentives and the misfortunes of older hubs that are home to companies ravaged by the 2008-2009 financial crisis. The beneficiaries are spread across the U.S., according to an analysis of data by The Wall Street Journal. In St. Louis, the 19th-largest U.S. metropolitan area, securities-industry employment surged 85% between January 2007 and September 2012 to a recent 12,190, according to figures compiled by Moody's Analytics. New York lost 9% of its jobs in the securities, commodities, asset-management and fiduciary-trust areas over the same period, leaving it with 195,000. Counter-Terrorism Tools Used to Spot Staff Fraud (FT) JPMorgan Chase has turned to technology used for countering terrorism to spot fraud risk among its own employees and to tackle problems such as deciding how much to charge when selling property behind troubled mortgages. The technology involves crunching vast amounts of data to identify hard-to-detect patterns in markets or individual behavior that could reveal risks or openings to make money. Other banks are also turning to "big data", the name given to using large bodies of information, to identify potential rogue traders who might land them with massive losses, according to experts in the field...Guy Chiarello, JPMorgan's chief information officer, said the bank was mining massive bodies of data in "a couple of dozen projects" that promised to have a significant affect on its business, although he refused to give further details. According to three people familiar with its activities, JPMorgan has used Palantir Technologies, a Silicon Valley company whose technology was honed while working for the US intelligence services, for part of its effort. It first used the technology to spot fraudsters trying to hack into client accounts or ATMs, but has recently started to turn it on its own 250,000-strong staff. Obama Meets Boehner at White House for Budget Talks (Bloomberg) President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner met for a third time at the White House to discuss averting spending cuts and tax increases before a year- end deadline. Boehner and Obama met for almost an hour yesterday, with no public announcement of progress. In January, more than $600 billion in spending cuts and tax increases, the so-called fiscal cliff, are scheduled to begin. “The president and speaker had a frank meeting in the Oval Office,” Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said in an e-mailed statement, adding that the “lines of communication remain open.” Britain's Queen Quizzes Central Bank on Financial Crisis (CNBC) During a visit to the Bank of England on Thursday, the Queen was overheard asking whether a "lax" attitude to financial regulation had contributed to the financial crisis. After touring the vast vaults of gold bullion that lie beneath the central bank in London, Queen Elizabeth reportedly asked the central bank officials whether the Financial Services Authority (FSA) that was meant to regulate the banking system had not been aggressive enough - "did not have the teeth" - in its response to the crisis...The Queen was then told that officials in the room were charged with ensuring the crisis did not happen again. The Queen's husband, Prince Philip, then jokingly asked "There's not another one coming, is there?" before telling the officials present "Don't do it again." John McAfee Returns to US, Admits Playing 'Crazy Card' (ABC) After three weeks ducking authorities in Belize, by hiding in attics, in the jungle and in dingy hotels, he turned up in Guatemala Dec. 3. Barely a day later he was detained for entering the country illegally. As Guatemala officials grappled with how to handle his request for asylum and the Belize government's demand for his deportation, McAfee fell ill. The mysterious illness, described by his attorney alternately as a heart ailment or a nervous breakdown, led to a scene with reporters chasing his ambulance down the narrow streets of Guatemala City and right into the emergency room, where McAfee appeared unresponsive. He now says it was all a ruse: "It was a deception but who did it hurt? I look pretty healthy, don't I?" He says he faked the illness in order to buy some time for a judge to hear his case and stay his deportation to Belize, a government he believes wants him dead. When asked whether he believes Belize officials where inept, he didn't mince words. "I was on the run with a 20-year-old girl for three and a half weeks inside their borders and everyone was looking for me, and they did not catch me," he said. "I escaped, was captured and they tried to send me back. Now I'm sitting in Miami. There had to be some ineptness." [...] He denies any involvement in his neighbor's death but adds that he is not particularly concerned about clearing his name. He is focused on getting his 20-year-old and 17-year-old girlfriends out of Belize and says he has no idea what he'll do next, where he'll live or how he'll support himself. CNBC v. Buffett (NYP) The “Oracle of Omaha” sent a terse e-mail to editors at CNBC yesterday after a reporter for the cable news network railed against his recent repurchase of Berkshire Hathaway shares. Gary Kaminsky, CNBC’s capital markets editor, took Buffett to task for the $1.2 billion stock buyback, calling it “hypocritical to the maximum level.” Kaminsky claimed that Buffett’s purchase allowed the seller — described by Berkshire as the “estate of a long-time shareholder” — to avoid potentially higher capital gains taxes next year...In his rebuttal e-mail, Buffett said capital gains taxes don’t apply to estates. “Mr. Kaminsky also made the statement that the estate that was a seller was better off by selling in 2012 than 2013,” he wrote. “This, too, was incorrect.” He said capital gains are wiped out by stepped-up basis rules, with assets marked at their current fair-market value at the time of death. Buffett also blasted Kaminsky for saying his buyback was hypocritical on principal as Buffett is known to eschew buybacks. Buffett attached a copy of Berkshire’s 1984 annual report showing he has outlined conditions under which he would favor buybacks. CNBC anchor Melissa Lee read a correction late Tuesday that thanked the famed investor for “watching and setting us straight.” Fisher: Fed Risks 'Hotel California' Monetary Policy (CNBC) Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher told CNBC that he's worried the U.S. central bank is in a "Hotel California" type of monetary policy because of its "engorged balance sheet." Evoking lyrics from the famous song by The Eagles, he said he feared the Fed would be able to "check out anytime you like, but never leave." Fisher said on "Squawk Box" that he argued against revealing the new inflation and unemployment targets set by the Fed this week, saying he's worried that the markets will become "overly concerned" with the thresholds. Euro-Zone Downturn Eases (WSJ) Data company Markit said on Friday its preliminary purchasing managers' index, a gauge of activity among euro-zone factories and services companies, rose to 47.3 in December from 46.5 in November. A reading above 50.0 would signal an expansion. The national measure for Germany picked up to 50.5 from 49.2 in November, indicating that activity rose in the euro zone's largest member. "The euro-zone downturn showed further signs of easing in December, adding to hopes that the outlook for next year is brightening," said Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit. Residents find neighbor at their door with machete (KS) A 38-year-old Bremerton man was arrested by police Monday night for allegedly confronting his neighbors with a machete in response to alleged vandalism at his residence, according to documents filed in Kitsap County District Court. Officers were called to a Nollwood Lane address shortly after 8 p.m. Monday. Two residents said when they answered a knock at their door, a man was standing in the doorway holding a machete. The man, a neighbor, reportedly said he was tired of vandalism to his home and blamed it on a family member of his neighbors, police said. The neighbors attempted to slam the door on the man, but he reportedly put his foot into the door holding it open, police said. The neighbors were ultimately able to close it, though the suspect denies he put his foot in the door. Police interviewed the man, 38, who admitted he'd retrieved the machete out of anger after another incident of vandalism.

Opening Bell: 05.30.12

Anger Over Christine Lagarde's Tax-Free Salary (Independent) Lagarde was accused of hypocrisy yesterday after it emerged that she pays no income tax – just days after blaming the Greeks for causing their financial peril by dodging their own bills. The managing director of the International Monetary Fund is paid a salary of $467,940 (£298,675), automatically increased every year according to inflation. On top of that she receives an allowance of $83,760 – payable without "justification" – and additional expenses for entertainment, making her total package worth more than the amount received by US President Barack Obama according to reports last night. Unlike Mr Obama, however, she does not have to pay any tax on this substantial income because of her diplomatic status. EU Proposes 'Banking Union' (WSJ) The 17 countries that use the euro should consider setting up a "banking union" that allows them to share the burden of bank failures, the European Union's executive arm said Wednesday in a report on the currency union's crisis-fighting efforts. To further stop expensive bank bailouts from pulling down governments' own finances, allowing the euro zone's new rescue fund to directly boost the capital of banks "might be envisaged," the European Commission said. Greeks Flock To Germany Even As They Criticize It (CNBC) Germany, Europe's economic powerhouse and a country which has been criticized by many Greeks over its harsh demands for austerity cuts in return for bailout cash, has experienced an influx of young skilled immigrants. Der Spiegel magazine noted that while Greek newspapers "printed cartoons depicting the Germans as Nazis, concentration camp guards and euro zone imperialists who allow their debtors to bleed to death," the Greeks have kept arriving — bringing an "anything is better than Athens" attitude with them. Pissarides Says Euro Exit Would Aid Rich Greeks At Cost To Poor (Bloomberg) Nobel economics laureate Christopher Pissarides said wealthy Greeks would benefit at the expense of poorer citizens were the country to exit the euro. “A lot of Greeks” have withdrawn money and deposited it with banks elswhere in the 17-nation currency zone, Pissarides said in an interview in London today. If the country returned to the drachma, the new currency would be so devalued they could buy it cheaply on international markets with the cash they’d exported, enabling them to buy more assets in Greece. While poorer Greeks are equally able to appreciate the difficulties facing their country, they’re not as able to shield their funds from an exit from the common currency, Pissarides said. They need to preserve quick access to their savings, which isn’t as easy to do if it’s held at a foreign bank, and such lenders may not always accept small deposits. Zuckerberg Drops Off Billionaires Index As Facebook Falls (Bloomberg) The 28-year-old’s fortune fell to $14.7 billion yesterday from $16.2 billion on May 25, as shares of the world’s largest social-networking company dropped 9.6 percent to $28.84. Woman's Boyfriend Took Car Without Permission Before She Slammed It Into House (NYP, earlier) Dan Sajewski, 23, arrived at his family’s Huntington estate last weekend with Anderson, 21, his on-again, off-again waitress girlfriend. While his parents vacationed on Long Island’s North Fork, the duo helped themselves to his mother’s 2003 Mercedes-Benz CLK 320, a birthday gift from Sajewski’s anesthesiologist father, a source said. They took a joyride to the Hamptons, where they had a little too much fun. A field Breathalyzer test revealed that Anderson drove home with a .30 Blood-Alcohol Content — nearly four times the legal limit and the equivalent of about 15 drinks, prosecutors said at her arraignment yesterday. They drove back to Huntington and she was speeding along Southdown Road when she failed to turn at a T-instersection — ramming through the front of Indiere’s house, obliterating her kitchen, and exiting through the back wall, prosecutors said. “We can’t believe he just let this girl drive a car he wasn’t even supposed to have in the first place,” a Sajewski family member said. “He’s done this before; he took his sister’s Jeep and just took off. “He was trying to get the car home before the family got home from their own Memorial Day weekend. He’s not exactly the model son.’’ The relative added that Sajewski didn’t call his father about the accident until two hours later. In the police report, Anderson told cops “her power steering got stuck, causing her to crash,” and that she only drank “three beers.” Housing Market Crawls Back (WSJ) Housing prices across the U.S. fell in March, but not as much as in earlier months, according to a report Tuesday that offered fresh evidence of a real-estate market on the mend. Compared with February, prices fell just 0.03% in March, and after adjusting for seasonal factors, they rose 0.09%, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller 20-city home-price index. "This is the first flat report we've had in quite some time," said David M. Blitzer, chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Indices. Still, "while there has been improvement in some regions, housing prices have not turned" everywhere, he said. Bankers Hired By Blackberry Maker (NYP) Research In Motion said yesterday it hired investment banks JPMorgan and RBC to review its “options,” which most investors took to mean a potential sale, and warned of another quarterly loss. Gold Investors Rush For The Exits (WSJ) Investors in SPDR Gold Shares and iShares Gold Trust, two high-profile exchange-traded funds that hold physical bullion, also have pulled back recently. Through Friday, the two funds had reduced the number of tons of gold they're holding this month. As of May 15, hedge funds, pension funds and other money managers also had slashed their bets that gold prices will rise in the futures market, to the lowest level since January 20, 2009, according to weekly data released by the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission. The bullish bets rose slightly last week, but remain near the low for the year. Police Find Another Human Body Part In Package In Ottawa (OC) Police found a human hand at the Ottawa Postal Terminal Tuesday night, hours after a bloody foot was delivered to the Conservative party's Ottawa headquarters just blocks from Parliament Hill. Ottawa police were still trying to understand what they were dealing with even as detectives in Montreal combed through a crime scene where a torso was found in a suitcase in that city's Snowdon district. Police discovered the second package, sent from the same place as the package sent to Tory headquarters, Tuesday evening. Officers carried it from the huge Riverside Drive terminal in a brown paper bag, which they X-rayed before they opened it to find the hand. The gruesome events began shortly before noon when access to the Conservative party's headquarters was restricted after the fire department's Hazmat team was called in to investigate a suspicious package. A party staffer had started to open a blood-stained box sent to the office at 130 Albert St. before police were called to investigate. At first, it was thought there was a human heart inside, but after the box was X-rayed, police confirmed that it contained a foot.

Opening Bell: 09.05.12

ECB Plan Said To Pledge Unlimited, Sterilized Bond-Buying (Bloomberg) Under the blueprint, which may be called “Monetary Outright Transactions,” the ECB would refrain from setting a public cap on yields, according to the people, and a third official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The plan will only focus on government bonds rather than a broader range of assets and will target short-dated maturities of up to about three years, two of the people said. Facebook Plays Defense (WSJ) In a regulatory filing Tuesday, Facebook said Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg won't sell any stock in the company for a year, and that two of its directors—Marc Andreessen and Donald Graham—have no plans to sell their personal holdings beyond the amount needed to cover their tax liabilities. Facebook also detailed how it will essentially buy back 101 million shares when it issues previously restricted stock units to its staff in October. At recent prices, it would spend roughly $1.9 billion to keep those shares off the market. Spain Seeks To Stem Bank Crisis (WSJ) It's on the to-do list. Banks Faces Suits As States Weigh Libor Losses (NYT) The scandal over global interest rates has state officials like Janet Cowell of North Carolina working intensely behind the scenes to build a case for suing the nation’s largest banks. Ms. Cowell, the state’s elected treasurer, and several of her staff members have spent the summer combing through the state’s investments trying to determine how much the state may have lost because of suspected manipulation of Libor. “We think this could be as big as the mortgage crisis settlement, that this could be a really high impact situation and that we should be aggressive on this,” Ms. Cowell said, referring to the $25 billion settlement that the nation’s biggest banks entered with state attorneys general. Socialite In Traffic Bust On LI (NYP) Lisa Falcone leaded with the owner of the Mercedes she hit, Bob Cohen, and Verizon worker Fred Ledermann not to call police, “saying her husband would pay for everything,” the witness said. But Ledermann did call. soon arrived and shouted at cops to wait for a tow truck. A Southampton Town officer got so fed up with the billionaire’s bellowing that he ordered him to the side of the road and called for backup, the witness added. Because she smelled of alcohol and was staggering, the officer asked Lisa Falcone to take a Breathalyzer, according to a police report. From the side of the road, her still-simmering husband yelled, “Don’t take it!’’ When the cop threatened to arrest her because of the refusal, Phil changed his advice to “Take it! Take it!’’ according to the witness. SEC Charges China Firm With Falsifying Earnings (WSJ) The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission charged China Sky One Medical Inc. with falsely inflating its earnings, a rare action by the regulator almost two years after doubts about the accuracy of disclosures by small Chinese firms sent U.S. investors fleeing their stocks. In a statement published on its website Tuesday, the SEC said that Sky One Medical, which makes Chinese medicine and was once listed on the Nasdaq Stock Market, created about $19.8 million worth of phony export sales over the course of 2007 and 2008. Lehman’s Detroit Escape Means 90% Loss On Properties (Bloomberg) Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. has said it plans to be patient in selling real estate holdings four years after filing the largest U.S. bankruptcy in history. In Detroit, it’s willing to accept less than 10 cents on the dollar to get out while it can. Lehman is selling a 251,000-square-foot (23,000-square- meter) office property in suburban Farmington Hills. In June, the bank offered it at auction for $10 a square foot, which would have recovered less than 10 percent of the $27.5 million mortgage it extended in 2007. It’s also selling 1 Woodward Ave., a tower overlooking the city’s riverfront and border with Canada that’s 44 percent vacant. Gross: Fed Is Harming, Not Helping Economy (CNBC) In his latest investment outlook, the co-chief investment officer of Pimco said the level of "carry" or spreads that banks and investors can make has fallen to such lows that it was now hurting investments, exacerbating the deleveraging process already underway in the economy. “A lender will not easily lend money to an obese over-indebted borrower — that much is clear — but she will also not extend a check when the yield, carry and return on investment is so low that it cannot compensate for historic business model overheads," Gross said.

Opening Bell: 10.19.12

Schapiro SEC Reign Nears End With Rescue Mission Not Done (Bloomberg) Admirers and critics agree Schapiro rescued the agency from the threat of extinction when she was appointed by President Barack Obama four years ago. Still, she hasn’t fulfilled her mission -- to overcome the SEC’s image as a failed watchdog by punishing those who steered the financial system toward disaster and by proving regulators can head off future breakdowns. “It was harder than I thought it was going to be,” Schapiro, 57, said during an interview in her office that looks out on the Capitol dome. “You have this nice little box of things you want to do all tied up with a bow, and you walk in the door and it’s very hard to keep at least one eye on that agenda while you’re dealing with the flash crashes and the new legislation and the whole range of things that happened,” she said. Morgan Stanley CEO Hints Of Commodity Arm Sale (Reuters) Morgan Stanley has an obligation to explore "different structures" for its commodities trading business because new regulations are limiting the unit's activities, Chief Executive James Gorman said on Thursday. The CEO's comments were the first time Morgan Stanley has publicly hinted at a possible sale of its multibillion-dollar oil and metals trading arm, which has been reported in the media for months. Morgan Stanley has been in discussions with OPEC member Qatar for more than a year over the sale of at least a majority stake in its energy-focused trading business, according to bankers. Speaking on a conference call with analysts after the firm reported better-than-expected quarterly results on Thursday, Gorman said changes under the U.S.' Dodd-Frank financial reform law restrict the kind of trading the firm can do in commodities. Europe Agrees On Banking Supervisor (WSJ) European leaders early Friday agreed to have a new supervisor for euro-zone banks up and running next year, a step that will pave the way for the bloc's bailout fund to pump capital directly into banks throughout the single-currency area. John Paulson Doubles Down On Housing (WSJ) Hedge-fund manager John Paulson famously made nearly $4 billion in 2007 correctly betting that the housing bubble, fueled by the subprime mortgage market, would pop. Then the billionaire investor somewhat reversed course, arguing that the housing cycle had hit a low point. "If you don't own a home, buy one," he said in a 2010 speech at the University Club in New York. "If you own one home, buy another one, and if you own two homes, buy a third and lend your relatives the money to buy a home." So far, that bet has been a loser: The Wall Street tycoon lost about $3 billion personally in 2011, according to people close to the hedge-fund manager, speculating that the economy would recover faster than it did. But through the downturn Mr. Paulson—whose net worth is estimated to be around $11 billion, according to people familiar with his situation—continued his real estate spending spree. Over the last eight years, he has spent more than $145 million on six properties, including two estates in Southampton, N.Y., two properties near Aspen, Colo., and two residences in Manhattan, where he is based, according to public records. (He later sold one of the Southampton properties, for $10 million in 2009, a year after buying a larger estate nearby). In June, Mr. Paulson snapped up a 90-acre Aspen ranch and an adjoining property from Prince Bandar bin Sultan for a total of $49 million, according to public records, one of the highest prices ever paid for property in the area. Ben Stein: Taxes Are Too Low (Mediaite) Author and economist Ben Stein joined Fox & Friends on Thursday where he stunned the hosts after he called for raising the tax rates on people making more than $2 million per year. He said that he did not think that the United States simply had a spending problem, and cited the early post-war period as an example of a time when you could have high tax rates and high growth. “I hate to say this on Fox – I hope I’ll be allowed to leave here alive – but I don’t think there is any way we can cut spending enough to make a meaningful difference,” said Stein. “We’re going to have to raise taxes on very, very rich people. People with incomes of, say, $2, $3, $4 million a year and up. And then slowly, slowly, slowly move it down. $250,000 a year, that’s not a rich person.” Stein said that the government has a spending problem, but they also have a “too low taxes problem.” “With all due respect to Fox, who I love like brothers and sisters, taxes are too low,” said Stein. “That sounds like Bowles-Simpson,” said Gretchen Carlson. “It is Bowles-Simpson,” Stein replied. Should've Left That At Home, Teacher Is Told On Jury Duty (NYT) Damian Esteban was qualified to teach students at a specialized New York City high school, and had just been deemed reasonable enough to judge a man’s fate in a murder trial. But passing through the metal detectors at a Manhattan courthouse may have been too tough a test. Mr. Esteban, 33, was arrested on Wednesday as he returned from a break in a trial in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the state Office of Court Administration, said. As Mr. Esteban, a teacher at the Williamsburg School of Architecture and Design in Brooklyn, passed through a metal detector at the courthouse, it beeped. A court officer, Laura Cannon, found the culprit to be a cigarette box in Mr. Esteban’s pocket. Upon opening the cigarette box, Ms. Cannon reported that she found a much bigger problem: 18 small bags of heroin. A Daunting To-Do List For Citigroup's New CEO (BusinessWeek) Citigroup’s largest problem may be internal. The company, analyst Richard Bove says, “is a political swamp. It’s a snake pit.” Cleansing the culture must be a priority, says Mike Mayo, an analyst at Crédit Agricole Securities. “So whether it’s the inappropriate pay for subpar performance; the lack of adequate disclosure, such as returns by business line; the failure to properly oversee the many different businesses; or the poor tone set at the top of the firm for corporate governance, they all add up to the need to improve the culture,” Mayo says. Cooling The Pits: ICE Yelling Ends (WSJ) Augustine Lauria knew his 37-year career as a floor trader was over when he got a memo from IntercontinentalExchange in late July announcing the closing of the exchange operator's last trading pits. Friday will be the last chance the 61-year-old trader will get to put on his navy-blue and yellow trading jacket and badge. It will be the final day of rough-and-tumble "open-outcry" commodities trading on the ICE-owned pits in lower Manhattan where options on cotton, coffee, cocoa, sugar and orange juice are bought and sold. "What can I do? I can count fast and yell loud," says Mr. Lauria, who boards the Staten Island Ferry before sunrise to get to work in time for the 8:10 a.m. bell. Amanda Larrivee Speaks Out about Incident at Samuel’s (ABC) Amanda Larrivee and her brother Robert Larrivee were arrested at Samuels Sports Bar Sunday for allegedly stealing TV’s from the bathroom. Now, the woman involved is speaking out about what happened that night and the “immature” remark made by her brother. The legal case against Amanda has been dropped, but a comment made by her brother is getting all the attention. He told police that the two were in the bathroom having sex. Amanda says that was not the case. “The comment was taken out of context and it’s not what it looks like,” said Larrivee...“I just want to come out and really let people know that it’s not what it looked like. It’s humiliating and the comment having sexual relations with my brother was an impulse, immature comment made by him that is not the truth,” said Larrivee. Amanda says Robert wasn’t trying to steal the TV’s, but was upset over seeing his ex-girlfriend. “He had an outburst at the time you know it turned into you know touching the TV on the wall, turned into an ugly scene,” said Larrivee. “He took the televisions down. He had no intention of stealing. He’s not walking out with two televisions,” said Attorney Jack St. Clair.

Opening Bell: 02.19.13

SAC’s Cohen May Face SEC Suit as Deposition Hurts Case (Bloomberg) U.S. investigators have subpoenaed a 2011 deposition of SAC Capital Advisors LP founder Steven Cohen, whose sworn statements on insider-trading compliance may hurt him as he tries to persuade regulators not to file a lawsuit with the potential to shut his $14 billion firm. The SEC told the hedge fund Nov. 20 that it planned to sue SAC for securities fraud and so-called control-person liability for failing to supervise employees. The same day, the agency accused an ex-SAC portfolio manager and his hedge-fund unit of insider trading for persuading Cohen, 56, to make $700 million in illegal trades. Prosecutors also indicted the manager. Cohen’s testimony, reviewed by Bloomberg News, establishes his personal control over the unit, CR Intrinsic, and records his unfamiliarity with his firm’s compliance and ethics policies on insider trading. “I’ve read the compliance manual, but I don’t remember exactly what it says,” Cohen said. Morgan Stanley Strives to Coordinate 2 Departments Often at Odds (Dealbook) Traditionally, traders and investment bankers think of themselves as the elite of Wall Street and look down on the retail business, seeing it as pedestrian...Yet since Morgan Stanley moved to acquire control of the Smith Barney brokerage business from Citigroup in 2009, the balance of power has shifted to wealth management, which now accounts for almost 52 percent of the company’s earnings, up from roughly 16 percent in 2006. Paulson Leads Funds to Bermuda Tax Dodge Aiding Billionaires (Bloomberg) A decade after the U.S. Internal Revenue Service threatened to crack down on what it said were abuses by hedge-fund backed reinsurers, more high-profile money managers are setting up shop in tax havens. Paulson, SAC Capital Advisors LP’s Steven A. Cohen and Third Point LLC’s Daniel Loeb have started Bermuda reinsurance companies since 2011, following a similar Cayman Islands venture by Greenlight Capital Inc.’s David Einhorn. Options Activity Questioned Again (WSJ) Over the past year, unusually large positions were established shortly in advance of news that moved shares of Nexen Inc., Youku Inc., Human Genome Sciences Inc., Constellation Brands Inc. and, most recently, CBS Corp. All turned profitable after the news. A spokeswoman for the SEC, which regulates stock and options trading, said the agency would neither confirm nor deny the existence of inquiries into trading tied to those companies. No charges have been filed in the Heinz case, which was linked to a Swiss trading account, but the move to freeze the assets is one of the fastest enforcement actions ever filed by the agency, according to officials. The SEC said Friday that the timing and size of the trades were highly suspicious given the account had no history of trading in Heinz securities in the last six months. Prosecutors, Shifting Strategy, Build New Wall Street Cases (Dealbook) Criticized for letting Wall Street off the hook after the financial crisis, the Justice Department is building a new model for prosecuting big banks. In a recent round of actions that shook the financial industry, the government pushed for guilty pleas, rather than just the usual fines and reforms. Prosecutors now aim to apply the approach broadly to financial fraud cases, according to officials involved in the investigations...The new strategy first materialized in recent settlements with UBS and the Royal Bank of Scotland, which were accused of manipulating interest rates to bolster profit. As part of a broader deal, the banks’ Japanese subsidiaries pleaded guilty to felony wire fraud. Russians Wade Into the Snow to Seek Treasure From the Sky (NYT) Ever since the meteor exploded somewhere over this impoverished Siberian town, Larisa V. Briyukova wondered what to do with the fist-size stone she found under a hole in the roof tiles of her woodshed. On Monday, a stranger knocked on her door, offering about $60, Ms. Briyukova said. After some haggling, they settled on a price of $230. A few hours later, another man pulled up, looked at the hole in the roof and offered $1,300. “Now I regret selling it,” said Ms. Briyukova, a 43-year-old homemaker. “But then, who knows? The police might have come and taken it away anyway.” On Friday, terror rained from the skies, blowing out windows and scaring people over an enormous swath of Siberia. But by Monday, for many people what fell from the sky had turned to pure gold, and it touched off a rush to retrieve the fragments, many buried in deep February snows. Many of those out prospecting looked a lot like Sasha Zarezina, 8, who happily plunged into a snowbank here in this village of a thousand, laughing, kicking and throwing up plumes of powdery snow. Then she stopped, bent over and started to dig. “I found one!” she yelled. A warm breath and a rub on her pants later, a small black pebble, oval like a river rock, charred and smooth, was freed of ice. While trade in material from meteorites is largely illegal, there is a flourishing global market, with fragments widely available for sale on the Internet, usually at modest prices. At least one from the recent meteor was available on eBay on Monday for $32, and there is a Web site called Star-bits.com devoted to the trade — much to the displeasure of scientists and the countries where the objects were found. UK's Lloyds fined $6.7 million for mis-sold insurance (Reuters) Britain's financial regulator on Tuesday fined Lloyds Banking Group 4.3 million pounds ($6.7 million) for failing to handle complaints relating to insurance sold on loans and mortgages properly. The Financial Services Authority (FSA) said failings in the bank's systems and controls resulted in up to 140,000 customers experiencing delays in receiving compensation for being mis-sold payment protection insurance (PPI). Horsemeat Scandal Draws in Nestlé (FT) Switzerland-based Nestle on Monday removed pasta meals from shelves in Italy and Spain and suspended deliveries of all processed products containing meat from German supplier, H.J. Schypke, after tests revealed traces of horse DNA above 1 per cent. Nestle said it had informed the authorities. Is Berlusconi Getting a Poll Bounce From Tax Evaders? (CNBC) The media mogul, who has been convicted of tax fraud, has promised to introduce a tax amnesty for evaders if elected and to abolish the real estate tax. Swelling U.S. Labor Force Keeps Fed at Ease (Bloomberg) In the short run, the larger labor force will have an unfortunate side effect: It will slow the fall in unemployment. Mellman sees the jobless rate dropping to 7.5 percent by year- end from 7.9 percent now. It fell 0.7 percentage point in 2012. In the longer run, a bigger supply of labor is good news because it swells the pool of Americans available and willing to work, enhancing the economy’s potential to grow, according to Julie Hotchkiss, a policy adviser at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. It also has a silver lining for investors. The gradual fall in unemployment will allow policy makers to keep monetary policy looser for longer without having to worry about igniting a wage- driven rise in inflation. Couple Getting Affectionate Drive Through Home (WO) "She told the investigating trooper that her and the boyfriend were getting a little amorous and the trooper suspects that's probably why she lost control of the vehicle," said Florida Highway Patrol spokeswoman Kim Montes. Walker lost control of the vehicle and slammed into an unoccupied home. The vehicle went all the way through the house. The impact was so dramatic, the pressure blew a window in another part of the house out. Florida Highway Patrol troopers said Walker was injured when debris fell inside the vehicle. She was taken to Halifax Medical Center to be checked out. Her boyfriend, Charles Phillips, was not hurt.

Opening Bell: 03.25.13

Cyprus Gets New Bailout Deal (WSJ) Cyprus secured a bailout from its international creditors early Monday, ending a week of financial panic that threatened to see the small island nation become the first government to leave the euro zone. But lasting damage has likely been inflicted on the Cypriot economy. Officials said they believe the country will now need strict controls on money transfers in and out of the economy in the coming weeks or possibly months, cutting off its citizens and companies from much of the rest of the euro zone's financial system. And the bailout program aims to slash the size of Cypriot banks, perhaps forever ending the country's status as an offshore tax haven and financial-services center. Cyprus could see its economy contract by 10% or more in the years ahead, economists said. Dell Confirms Rival Offers (WSJ) Dell has received two alternative takeover proposals—one from activist investor Carl Icahn and the other from a private equity fund managed by Blackstone Group —that a special board committee said may result in superior proposals to the one offered last month by founder Michael Dell. Falcone Follows Michael Jackson Path Taking Fortress Loan (Bloomberg) Hedge-fund manager Philip Falcone, beset by declining assets, federal securities regulators and the bankruptcy of his largest investment, is borrowing money against personal real estate he bought during better days. Falcone and his wife, Lisa, pledged their $39 million Caribbean villa to Fortress Credit Corp., the lender that provided Michael Jackson with a mortgage on his Neverland Ranch when the late pop idol was close to insolvency, according to a February regulatory filing. Within the past year, the couple also agreed to post both of their Manhattan townhouses as collateral for about $25 million of personal loans, real estate records show. SEC Approves Facebook IPO Compensation Plan (WSJ) The Securities and Exchange Commission approved Nasdaq OMX Group Inc.'s plan to pay customers as much as $62 million for losses stemming from last year's bungled Facebook stock-market debut, according to an order made public on Monday by the regulator. Brooklyn man furious his roommate wanted to move out allegedly murdered her fish (NYP) A Brooklyn man furious that his longtime roommate wanted to move out turned his rage on her pet fish — flushing one down the toilet and letting the other suffocate, law-enforcement sources told The Post. José Santiago murdered his roommate’s scaly pals — Bonnie and Clyde — when he saw her packing her bags in their Flatbush apartment on Wednesday, she said. “They were my babies! I can’t have children, so my pets are like my kids,” Brenda Alvarez said yesterday. “They were beautiful fish and cost about $25 each. “I did everything for him, and the only thing I ever asked him to do was the laundry,” she said. “So, why did he do this to me?” Alvarez, 45, said she wanted to move out of the Nostrand Avenue apartment because of growing tension between the longtime friends, who grew up a block apart in Bay Ridge. “I was gonna leave . . . so, I started packing, but he kept antagonizing me,” Alvarez recalled. “Then he went crazy!” U.S. Hedge Funds Swoop on Traders at Struggling Europe Startups (Bloomberg) U.S. hedge funds Pine River Capital Management LP, Millennium Management LLC and SAC Capital Advisors LLC are taking advantage of the struggle of European startup funds to grab their pick of the region’s traders. The three firms, which manage a combined $46 billion, have over the past year all hired employees from hedge funds started by former European bankers, according to regulatory records and people with knowledge of the matter. They joined from firms including Edoma Partners LLP, Occitan Capital Partners LLP and Portman Square Capital LLP, London hedge funds that have either shut down, posted losses or failed to meet their fundraising goals, said the people, who declined to be identified because the companies are private. Buyout Firm to Acquire Blockbuster's U.K. Unit (WSJ) Private-equity firm Gordon Brothers Europe agreed to buy the British arm of DVD-rental firm Blockbuster Inc., which had entered a form of bankruptcy in January. The deal will help save 264 Blockbuster stores and more than 2,000 jobs in the U.K., Gordon Brothers Europe said in a statement Saturday. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed. Man charged with drinking $102,000 worth of pre-Prohibition whiskey (WTAE) Hidden behind a basement staircase at a Westmoreland County mansion was a secret stash of liquid gold: old farm pure rye whiskey. Distilled in 1912 and delivered to industrialist J.P. Brennan in 1917, nearly 100 bottles of West Overton Distilling Company's pure rye collected dust until their discovery recently. Homeowner Patricia Hill surmised Brennan hid the whiskey during Prohibition. Hill purchased the South Broadway mansion from Brennan's daughter at auction in 1986. Since then, Hill has been remodeling the mansion and filling it with antiques in order to open a bed and breakfast, which she did in December 2012. "The whiskey was buried right back here under these stairs. They were doing renovations down here for the plumbing and electrical and they had to rip out underneath the stairs. Whenever they did, they discovered 9 cases of the old farm, pure rye whiskey," said South Broadway Manor's chef and innkeeper, Rick Bruckner. "The story with this isn't just, 'Hey, we have some really old whiskey.' It's, 'Hey, we have some really old, historical whiskey.'" Bruckner explained Brennan was acquainted with Henry Frick and Andrew Carnegie, among other important Pittsburghers during the early 1900's. He said the men would come over to the mansion and likely drink this whiskey. Hill had rented the basement apartment to John Saunders, 62. Saunders is now charged by Scottdale police with consuming 48 bottles of the historic whiskey. In a criminal complaint, Chief Barry Pritts wrote Saunders denied drinking the whiskey or removing labels from the bottles. Saunders reportedly told police he moved the cases to clean them several times but never opened any of the bottles. "Saunders said that the whiskey probably evaporated and being that old, it was probably no good," Pritts wrote.

Opening Bell: 01.04.13

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