Opening Bell: 01.03.13

Fresh Budget Fights Brewing (WSJ) If Congress doesn't do more in the coming months, Moody's warned, the company could follow Standard & Poor's in downgrading U.S. debt. "Further measures that bring about a downward debt trajectory over the medium term are likely to be needed to support the AAA rating," Moody's said Wednesday. But the battles on how to do that are far from over. Republicans say any further deficit reduction or legislation to avoid across-the-board spending cuts should come from reducing spending. President Obama and many Democrats advocate a combination of tax increases and spending cuts. The most serious skirmish will arrive toward the end of February, when the U.S. Treasury is expected to be unable to pay all the government's bills unless Congress boosts the federal borrowing limit. Then on March 1, the across-the-board spending cuts of the fiscal cliff, deferred in this week's deal, are scheduled to begin slicing into military and domestic programs. And on March 27, a government shutdown looms unless Congress approves funding for government operations for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. CEOs Pan Fiscal Cliff Deal, Vow to Continue Debt Fight (Reuters) "I think this deal's a disaster," said Peter Huntsman, chief executive of chemical producer Huntsman Corp. "We're just living in a fantasy land. We're borrowing more and more money. This did absolutely nothing to address the fundamental issue of the debt cliff." Former Wells Fargo CEO Dick Kovacevich said the agreement confirms that Washington and both parties are totally out of control. "I think it's a joke," Kovacevich said of the deal. "It's stunning to me that after working on this for months and supposedly really getting to work in the last 30 days that this is what you come up with." Obama’s Warning to Boehner Started Road to Budget Plan (Bloomberg) President Barack Obama had a warning for John Boehner at a Dec. 13 White House meeting: Stop opposing higher tax rates for top earners, or the president would dedicate his second term to blaming Republicans for a global recession. The next day, the House speaker called the president and said he was open to a tax-rate increase on annual income of more than $1 million...While the budget deal Obama and Boehner were negotiating fell apart, the speaker’s concession on tax rates ultimately allowed Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, to craft the last-minute plan Congress passed Jan. 1. Nouriel Roubini: US Will Soon 'Get Messy' Again (CNBC) "It won't be long before there is another crisis. Two months, in fact." Pershing to Take 'Passive Shareholder' Role in General Growth (WSJ) Pershing Square Capital Management LP agreed to sell $271.9 million in General Growth Properties warrants to Brookfield Asset Management Inc., as part of a deal between the mall owner's two biggest shareholders that would resolve their recent disputes and see Pershing become a passive shareholder. Brookfield, in turn, offered to sell the warrants, which represent the right to acquire 18.4 million shares of General Growth stock, back to General Growth for the same purchase price. Pershing also agreed to limit its ownership stake in General Growth to no more than 9.9% and intends to become a passive shareholder. Brookfield agreed to limit its ownership in General Growth to 45%. Bank Of Canada won’t discuss melting plastic bills, says national security behind silence (NP) Disclosing details of behind-the-scenes discussions about tales of melting banknotes could endanger national security or international relations, says Canada’s central bank. In response to a formal request from The Canadian Press, the Bank Of Canada released 134 pages of internal records — almost completely blanked out — concerning allegations its new polymer bills melted in the scorching summer sun. The bank began issuing $100 polymer banknotes in late 2011, saying they were harder to counterfeit than paper notes and would last much longer. Unconfirmed reports of cooked currency emerged in July when a Kelowna, B.C., bank teller said she had heard of cases in which several bills had melted together inside a car. Soon after, Mona Billard of Cambridge, Ont., reported that she had returned eight plastic bills in January, after her son stashed his $800 Christmas bonus in a tin can and hid it near a baseboard heater. When he retrieved them the next day to make a deposit, the $100 banknotes had shriveled and melted. Ms. Billard exchanged clean bills for the shrunken, unusable ones. “The leather couch is up against the baseboard heater, it doesn’t melt,” she said. “The kids’ toys are back there, they don’t melt.” The Bank of Canada will reimburse damaged notes, but only if they clear an examination by an Ottawa laboratory. Paulson&Co Added To Abacus Suit Against Goldman (Bloomberg) Paulson & Co. was named as a defendant in a proposed revised lawsuit by ACA Financial Guaranty Corp. against Goldman Sachs over a collateralized debt obligation called Abacus. Paulson conspired with Goldman Sachs to deceive ACA Financial, which provided financial guaranty insurance for the deal, ACA Financial said in papers filed yesterday in Manhattan. Private Sector Added 215,000 Jobs Last Month (WSJ) Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires expected ADP to report a gain of 150,000 private jobs. Preet Bharara and other financial heavyweights opposing Paul Singer's attempt to get Argentina to pay debt (NYP) US Attorney Preet Bharara and BlackRock CEO Larry Fink are among the latest bold-faced names to oppose Singer’s attempt to get Argentina to pay him and others $1.3 billion on defaulted debt. Singer, the hedge fund billionaire who runs Elliott Management, is among the 8 percent of Argentina debtholders who refused to accept a 70 percent haircut following a 2001 default by the embattled South American country. Singer inched closer to winning the epic legal showdown in November when a federal judge ruled Argentina could not pay Fink’s BlackRock or other holders of the reorganized debt without putting money in escrow for Singer’s band of investors. An appeals court slowed Singer’s victory parade but refused to set aside the judge’s order. Now, Bharara, Fink’s $3.67 trillion bond firm and others are urging the appeals court to throw the case out. Basel Becomes Babel as Conflicting Rules Undermine Safety (Bloomberg) While higher capital requirements, curbs on banks trading with their own money and other rules have reduced risk, they have magnified the complexity of supervision, according to two dozen regulators, bankers and analysts interviewed by Bloomberg News. Even if the new regulations can be enforced, they don’t go far enough to ensure safety, said Robert Jenkins, a member of the Bank of England’s financial policy committee. Cops: Woman, 50, Battered Boyfriend, 32, Because Six Came Before Nine (TSG) Jennie Scott, 50, was booked into the Manatee County lockup on a misdemeanor charge stemming from the 11 PM encounter in the Palmetto bedroom of Jilberto Deleon, 32. Scott has dated Deleon “for the last 5 years on and off,” according to a sheriff’s report. Deputies were summoned to Deleon’s home by a witness who heard the couple arguing and saw Scott atop Deleon “punching and scratching him.” She also allegedly struck Deleon with a stick and threatened to hit him with a wrench before the tool was taken from her hand by the witness. When questioned by a cop, Scott explained that she and Deleon “were giving each other oral pleasure in the bedroom” when Deleon “finished first and stopped pleasuring her.” Scott added that she “became upset and they began arguing.” A deputy noted that Scott said that she was also mad at Deleon because she had “heard [him] having sex with another woman over the phone earlier in the day.” Scott struggled with deputies before being placed in a police cruiser, where she kicked a window until being warned that she would be maced unless she stopped.
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Fresh Budget Fights Brewing (WSJ)
If Congress doesn't do more in the coming months, Moody's warned, the company could follow Standard & Poor's in downgrading U.S. debt. "Further measures that bring about a downward debt trajectory over the medium term are likely to be needed to support the AAA rating," Moody's said Wednesday. But the battles on how to do that are far from over. Republicans say any further deficit reduction or legislation to avoid across-the-board spending cuts should come from reducing spending. President Obama and many Democrats advocate a combination of tax increases and spending cuts. The most serious skirmish will arrive toward the end of February, when the U.S. Treasury is expected to be unable to pay all the government's bills unless Congress boosts the federal borrowing limit. Then on March 1, the across-the-board spending cuts of the fiscal cliff, deferred in this week's deal, are scheduled to begin slicing into military and domestic programs. And on March 27, a government shutdown looms unless Congress approves funding for government operations for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

CEOs Pan Fiscal Cliff Deal, Vow to Continue Debt Fight (Reuters)
"I think this deal's a disaster," said Peter Huntsman, chief executive of chemical producer Huntsman Corp. "We're just living in a fantasy land. We're borrowing more and more money. This did absolutely nothing to address the fundamental issue of the debt cliff." Former Wells Fargo CEO Dick Kovacevich said the agreement confirms that Washington and both parties are totally out of control. "I think it's a joke," Kovacevich said of the deal. "It's stunning to me that after working on this for months and supposedly really getting to work in the last 30 days that this is what you come up with."

Obama’s Warning to Boehner Started Road to Budget Plan (Bloomberg)
President Barack Obama had a warning for John Boehner at a Dec. 13 White House meeting: Stop opposing higher tax rates for top earners, or the president would dedicate his second term to blaming Republicans for a global recession. The next day, the House speaker called the president and said he was open to a tax-rate increase on annual income of more than $1 million...While the budget deal Obama and Boehner were negotiating fell apart, the speaker’s concession on tax rates ultimately allowed Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, to craft the last-minute plan Congress passed Jan. 1.

Nouriel Roubini: US Will Soon 'Get Messy' Again (CNBC)
"It won't be long before there is another crisis. Two months, in fact."

Pershing to Take 'Passive Shareholder' Role in General Growth (WSJ)
Pershing Square Capital Management LP agreed to sell $271.9 million in General Growth Properties warrants to Brookfield Asset Management Inc., as part of a deal between the mall owner's two biggest shareholders that would resolve their recent disputes and see Pershing become a passive shareholder. Brookfield, in turn, offered to sell the warrants, which represent the right to acquire 18.4 million shares of General Growth stock, back to General Growth for the same purchase price. Pershing also agreed to limit its ownership stake in General Growth to no more than 9.9% and intends to become a passive shareholder. Brookfield agreed to limit its ownership in General Growth to 45%.

Bank Of Canada won’t discuss melting plastic bills, says national security behind silence (NP)
Disclosing details of behind-the-scenes discussions about tales of melting banknotes could endanger national security or international relations, says Canada’s central bank. In response to a formal request from The Canadian Press, the Bank Of Canada released 134 pages of internal records — almost completely blanked out — concerning allegations its new polymer bills melted in the scorching summer sun. The bank began issuing $100 polymer banknotes in late 2011, saying they were harder to counterfeit than paper notes and would last much longer. Unconfirmed reports of cooked currency emerged in July when a Kelowna, B.C., bank teller said she had heard of cases in which several bills had melted together inside a car. Soon after, Mona Billard of Cambridge, Ont., reported that she had returned eight plastic bills in January, after her son stashed his $800 Christmas bonus in a tin can and hid it near a baseboard heater. When he retrieved them the next day to make a deposit, the $100 banknotes had shriveled and melted. Ms. Billard exchanged clean bills for the shrunken, unusable ones. “The leather couch is up against the baseboard heater, it doesn’t melt,” she said. “The kids’ toys are back there, they don’t melt.” The Bank of Canada will reimburse damaged notes, but only if they clear an examination by an Ottawa laboratory.

Paulson&Co Added To Abacus Suit Against Goldman (Bloomberg)
Paulson & Co. was named as a defendant in a proposed revised lawsuit by ACA Financial Guaranty Corp. against Goldman Sachs over a collateralized debt obligation called Abacus. Paulson conspired with Goldman Sachs to deceive ACA Financial, which provided financial guaranty insurance for the deal, ACA Financial said in papers filed yesterday in Manhattan.

Private Sector Added 215,000 Jobs Last Month (WSJ)
Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires expected ADP to report a gain of 150,000 private jobs.

Preet Bharara and other financial heavyweights opposing Paul Singer's attempt to get Argentina to pay debt (NYP)
US Attorney Preet Bharara and BlackRock CEO Larry Fink are among the latest bold-faced names to oppose Singer’s attempt to get Argentina to pay him and others $1.3 billion on defaulted debt. Singer, the hedge fund billionaire who runs Elliott Management, is among the 8 percent of Argentina debtholders who refused to accept a 70 percent haircut following a 2001 default by the embattled South American country. Singer inched closer to winning the epic legal showdown in November when a federal judge ruled Argentina could not pay Fink’s BlackRock or other holders of the reorganized debt without putting money in escrow for Singer’s band of investors. An appeals court slowed Singer’s victory parade but refused to set aside the judge’s order. Now, Bharara, Fink’s $3.67 trillion bond firm and others are urging the appeals court to throw the case out.

Basel Becomes Babel as Conflicting Rules Undermine Safety (Bloomberg)
While higher capital requirements, curbs on banks trading with their own money and other rules have reduced risk, they have magnified the complexity of supervision, according to two dozen regulators, bankers and analysts interviewed by Bloomberg News. Even if the new regulations can be enforced, they don’t go far enough to ensure safety, said Robert Jenkins, a member of the Bank of England’s financial policy committee.

Cops: Woman, 50, Battered Boyfriend, 32, Because Six Came Before Nine (TSG)
Jennie Scott, 50, was booked into the Manatee County lockup on a misdemeanor charge stemming from the 11 PM encounter in the Palmetto bedroom of Jilberto Deleon, 32. Scott has dated Deleon “for the last 5 years on and off,” according to a sheriff’s report. Deputies were summoned to Deleon’s home by a witness who heard the couple arguing and saw Scott atop Deleon ���punching and scratching him.” She also allegedly struck Deleon with a stick and threatened to hit him with a wrench before the tool was taken from her hand by the witness. When questioned by a cop, Scott explained that she and Deleon “were giving each other oral pleasure in the bedroom” when Deleon “finished first and stopped pleasuring her.” Scott added that she “became upset and they began arguing.” A deputy noted that Scott said that she was also mad at Deleon because she had “heard [him] having sex with another woman over the phone earlier in the day.” Scott struggled with deputies before being placed in a police cruiser, where she kicked a window until being warned that she would be maced unless she stopped.

Related

Opening Bell: 11.26.12

UBS Stung By Adoboli Case (WSJ) Swiss financial market regulator Finma said it will keep a close eye on UBS's investment bank for the foreseeable future and may ask it to raise fresh capital, following an investigation into failures that allowed London-based trader Kweku Adoboli to make unauthorized trades. At the same time, the U.K. Financial Services Authority fined UBS £29.7 million ($47.6 million). Mr. Adoboli was convicted of fraud last week and sentenced to a seven-year prison term. "The measures ordered by Finma include capital restrictions and an acquisition ban on the investment bank, and any new business initiative it plans must be approved by Finma," the regulator said. Finma will also consider "whether UBS must increase capital backing for its operational risks," will appoint a third party to ensure corrective measures are introduced, and will organize an audit to review the steps taken by UBS. Finma declined to say when the auditing review would be completed or when a decision on a capital increase would be made, though a spokesman said this is likely to be within months rather than years. SAC Fund Manager Faces Choice of Trial or Deal (Bloomberg) Martoma, 38, used illegal tips to help SAC make $276 million on shares of pharmaceutical companies Elan Corp. and Wyeth LLC, according to the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission. Arrested last week, he is to appear today in Manhattan federal court for masterminding what the U.S. calls the most lucrative insider-trading case ever. Flowers Foods Sizes Up Hostess (WSJ) The Thomasville, Ga., company is considered a likely bidder for some of the assets owned by Hostess, which last week was granted permission by a federal bankruptcy-court judge to begin liquidating. The end came after a contentious bankruptcy that began in January and culminated this month in a strike. Goldman Turns Down Southern Europe Banks as Crisis Lingers (Bloomberg) Goldman Sachs, the No. 1 stock underwriter in Europe, turned down roles in offerings by banks in Spain and Italy this year, the only top U.S. securities firm not to take part in the fundraisings by southern European lenders as the region’s debt crisis stretches to a fourth year. The firm declined a role in Banco Popular Espanol SA’s 2.5 billion-euro ($3.2 billion) rights offering this month because it wanted greater protection to avoid potential losses on the sale, two people familiar with the talks said. JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley are helping to guarantee the deal. Goldman also didn’t underwrite this year’s share sales by Italy’s UniCredit SpA and Portugal’s Banco Espirito Santo SA, which drew Bank of America Corp. and Citigroup. Knight Seen Getting Acquisition Bids This Week (Bloomberg) The company with a market value of about $430 million was bailed out by six financial firms in August after losing $457 million in a trading error. Chicago-based Getco LLC, one of the rescuers, and Virtu Financial LLC in New York are among the likely bidders, said the person, who requested anonymity because the negotiations are private. The Wall Street Journal reported Nov. 23 that Knight expected offers for its market-making unit. Woman who rode manatee charged with violating protection act (Sentinel) A 53-year-old Pinellas County woman was arrested Saturday for violating the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act by riding a sea cow in the waters near St. Petersburg in September. Ana Gloria Garcia Gutierrez of St. Petersburg was arrested at her place of employment — Sears at Tyrone Square Mall in St. Petersburg — on a warrant issued by the State Attorney's Office. The charge is a second-degree misdemeanor. The punishment could be a $500 fine or up to 60 days in jail, the Tampa Bay Times said. Gutierrez stepped forward after the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office released photos of a then-unknown woman riding a manatee near Fort DeSoto Park in Pinellas County on Sept. 30. "Gutierrez admitted to the offense claiming she is new to the area and did not realize it was against the law to touch or harass manatees,'' the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said in a statement. Escrowyou too, judge! (NYP) Argentina, bruised and battered after a 10-year battle to sidestep billions of dollars in bond payments, is lashing out at US courts and a Manhattan federal court judge. A high-ranking member of Argentina President Cristina Kirchner’s administration terms “judicial imperialism” the Thanksgiving eve ruling by Judge Thomas Griesa that ordered the South American country to place a $1.3 billion bond payment in escrow pending the end of the legal tussle. Kirchner has repeatedly said she would not pay up. Griesa, frustrated with Argentina’s repeated attempts to stall the legal proceedings, sided with New York hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer, whose Elliott Management owns Argentine bonds that were defaulted on back in 2002. 'Cliff' Threatens Holiday Spending (WSJ) The White House warned in a new report that going off the so-called "fiscal cliff" could slow the growth of real gross domestic product by 1.4% and limit consumer spending during the holiday season. The report comes as lawmakers are returning to Washington with just weeks left to find an agreement to prevent taxes from going up on millions and spending cuts from kicking in. It will likely provide fodder for both political parties as they seek to find a compromise. At Some Firms, Cutting Corporate Rates May Cost Billions (WSJ) President Barack Obama has said, most recently during last month's presidential debates, that the 35% U.S. corporate tax rate should be cut. That would mean lower tax bills for many companies. But it also could prompt large write-downs by Citigroup, AIG, Ford and other companies that hold piles of "deferred tax assets," or DTAs...Citigroup, for instance, acknowledged during its recent third-quarter earnings conference call that a cut in the tax rate could lead to a DTA-related charge of $4 billion to $5 billion against earnings. Cohen's General Counsel Gives SAC Boss Cover (NYP) The sharks of the US Attorney’s office have SAC Capital Advisors surrounded — and owner Steven Cohen is looking a lot like chum. Good thing the billionaire hedgie has a large supply of shark repellent. That would be Peter Nussbaum, SAC’s longtime general counsel who, over his 12 years at the Stamford, Conn., firm, has built up an impressive 30-person compliance department — not including an additional tech compliance team. “Nussbaum is the most respected person at SAC,” said a hedge fund executive not at SAC. “He is going to do what he thinks is best for the firm and not be cowed by anyone.” Nussbaum’s huge compliance department, observers said, was built, in large part, because of the perception that the government was determined to bust Cohen. Confidential Police Docs Found in Macy's Parade Confetti (WPIX) Confidential personal information is what some paradegoers found among confetti tossed during the world's most famous parade. That information included social security numbers and banking information for police employees, some of whom are undercover officers. Ethan Finkelstein, who was home from college on Thanksgiving break, was watching the parade at 65th Street and Central Park West, when he and a friend noticed a strip of confetti stuck onto her coat. "It landed on her shoulder," Finkelstein told PIX11 News, "and it says 'SSN' and it's written like a social security number, and we're like, 'That's really bizarre.' It made the Tufts University freshman concerned, so he and his friends picked up more of the confetti that had fallen around them. "There are phone numbers, addresses, more social security numbers, license plate numbers and then we find all these incident reports from police." One confetti strip indicates that it's from an arrest record, and other strips offer more detail. "This is really shocking," Finkelstein said. "It says, 'At 4:30 A.M. a pipe bomb was thrown at a house in the Kings Grant' area." A closer look shows that the documents are from the Nassau County Police Department. The papers were shredded, but clearly not well enough.

Opening Bell: 08.07.12

Probe May Hit UK Bank's Clean Image (WSJ) Last week, Standard Chartered PLC Chief Executive Peter Sands told analysts that "our culture and values are our first and last line of defense." On Tuesday, allegations by a New York financial regulator that Standard Chartered hid illegal Iranian transactions seemed to breach that line, sending the lender's shares down and wiping £7.65 billion ($11.9 billion) off its market value. In the U.K., Mr. Sands has long been heralded as a voice of reason in the country's turbulent banking sector. The former consultant, who was named Standard Chartered CEO in 2006, regularly espoused the importance of sound governance and sensible investment. While several of its British peers were being bailed out by taxpayers, Mr. Sands was guiding the Asia-focused bank to record profits boosted by growing trade between emerging nations. The executive stressed the fact that Standard Chartered doesn't have an investment bank and didn't need European Central Bank cheap loans to keep its business ticking over. Italian's Job: Premier Talks Tough in Bid to Save Euro (WSJ) During an all-night European summit in June, Mario Monti, the Italian prime minister, gave German Chancellor Angela Merkel an unexpected ultimatum: He would block all deals until she agreed to take action against Italy's and Spain's rising borrowing costs. Ms. Merkel, who has held most of the euro's cards for the past two years, wasn't used to being put on the defensive. "This is not helpful, Mario," Ms. Merkel warned, according to people present. Europe's leaders were gathered on the fifth floor of the European Union's boxy glass headquarters in Brussels, about to break for dinner. "I know," Italy's premier replied. Bill Gross: Stay Away From Europe (CNBC) “Investors get distracted by the hundreds of billions of euros in sovereign policy checks, promises that make for media headlines but forget it’s their trillions that are the real objective,” Gross wrote. “Even Mr Hollande in left-leaning France recognizes that the private sector is critical for future growth in the EU. He knows that, without its partnership, a one-sided funding via state-controlled banks and central banks will inevitably lead to high debt-to-GDP ratios and a downhill vicious cycle of recession.” “Psst…investors: Stay dry my friends!” Gross said. Richest Family Offices Seeing Fastest Growth As Firms Oust Banks (Bloomberg Markets) They call it “money camp.” Twice a week, 6- to 11-year-old scions of wealthy families take classes on being rich. They compete to corner commodities markets in Pit, the raucous Parker Brothers card game, and take part in a workshop called “business in a box,” examining products that aren’t obvious gold mines, such as the packaging on Apple Inc.’s iPhone rather than the phone itself. It’s all part of managing money for the wealthiest families, says Katherine Lintz, founder of Clayton, Missouri- based Financial Management Partners, which runs the camp for the children of clients. Supplying the families with good stock picks and a wily tax strategy isn’t enough anymore. These days, it’s about applying the human touch, she says. Lintz, 58, is on to something. Her 22-year-old firm was No. 2 among the fastest-growing multifamily offices in the second annual Bloomberg Markets ranking of companies that manage affairs for dynastic clans, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its September issue. The assets that FMP supervises grew 30 percent to $2.6 billion as of Dec. 31, just behind Signature, a Norfolk, Virginia-based family office that expanded 36 percent in 2011 to $3.6 billion. MS Takes Trading Hit (NYP) Morgan Stanley, which had the largest trading-revenue drop among major US banks last quarter, lost money in that business on 15 days in the period, up from eight days a year earlier. Morgan Stanley traders generated more than $100 million on three days in the period, compared with seven days in the second quarter of 2011, the company said in a regulatory filing yesterday. None of the daily losses exceeded the firm’s value-at-risk, a measure of how much the bank estimates it could lose on 95 percent of days. Morgan Stanley had a 48 percent year-over-year decrease in trading revenue, excluding accounting gains, led by a 60 percent drop in fixed-income revenue. Former Lloyds Digital Security Chief Admits $3.76 Million Fraud (Bloomberg) Lloyds Banking Group's former head of digital banking fraud and security pleaded guilty to submitting false invoices totaling more than 2.4 million pounds ($3.76 million)...Jessica Harper admitted to submitting fake invoices between 2007 and 2011 and then laundering the proceeds, the CPS said. She will be sentenced on Sept. 21, and faces as long as 24 years in prison for the two charges, a CPS spokesman said, although she will get credit for the guilty plea. Ex Lehman Exec Requests Rehab To Avoid Jail Time (NYP) Former Lehman Brothers Co-Chief Operating Officer Bradley H. Jack, arrested twice in less than a year on charges of prescription forgery, said he is willing to undergo a program for drug and alcohol treatment to avoid prosecution. Jack applied for the program at a hearing yesterday in Connecticut Superior Court in Norwalk. Judge Bruce Hudock ordered a doctor’s report to determine if he is eligible for the new program, which the judge said would be “a rare event.” Fed Official Calls For Bond Buying (WSJ) Eric Rosengren, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, called on the Fed to launch an aggressive, open-ended bond buying program that the central bank would continue until economic growth picks up and unemployment starts falling again. His call came in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, the first since the central bank signaled last week that it was leaning strongly toward taking new measures to support economic growth. Mr. Rosengren isn't currently among the regional Fed bank presidents with a vote on monetary policy. Although all 12 presidents participate in Fed deliberations, only five join the seven Fed governors in Washington in the formal committee vote. Tokyo Exchange Glitch Halts Derivatives Trading (WSJ) The Tokyo Stock Exchange on Tuesday temporarily suspended all derivatives trading soon after the morning open due to an unidentified system problem, the second significant trading glitch on the exchange this year. Amazon Exec Swindled By Tom Petty Con Artist (NYDN) Brian Valentine simply wanted to give his wife the wedding present of a lifetime - a performance by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. The senior vice president of Amazon, instead, fell victim to fraud, losing a whopping $165,000 to a Las Vegas man who pretended to be a concert booking agent, the Smoking Gun reported. FBI agents arrested the fraudulent agent, Chad Christopher Lund, on Aug. 2 in Illinois, after a private investigator Valentine had hired found that Lund had skipped town. But the ordeal began almost ten months before in late 2011, a year after Valentine, 52, popped the question to fellow Amazon employee, Gianna Puerini, 39, according to a wire fraud complaint unsealed by the U.S. District Court. Valentine decided that he wanted the "Won't Back Down" singer to perform a set at the couple's wedding reception since he proposed to Puerini at a Petty concert in Seattle. He turned to the Internet, where he found the website of Lund's firm, lundlive.com, boasting to have booked acts like Petty, Run-DMC and Ludacris. Lundlive.com no longer exists. Valentine connected with Lund over email and by October 2011, Lund told the Amazon exec that he had negotiated with Petty's representatives "down to a price of $330,000 for the performance." Later in the month, Lund sent Valentine a contract with the forged signature of Petty's manager, Tony Dimitraides. Valentine sent Lund a $165,000 down payment in return. Valentine finally uncovered the fraud in early April 2012, when the wedding was just three months away. He contacted Petty's management to discuss the performance only to find out that they had no idea about the planned appearance. "We have never heard of Chris Lund or his agency," Dimitraides wrote in an email to Valentine. "We are not aware of any deal for Tom Petty to play Seattle in July and I have never signed a contract for any such." "It looks like you have been defrauded."

Opening Bell: 10.10.12

Banks Must Cut Deeper to Help Stock Prices, McKinsey Says (Bloomberg) Banks must make deeper and more sweeping cost reductions if they want to restore profitability levels that are acceptable to investors, McKinsey & Co. said in an annual review of the industry. “It has to go a lot further,” Toos Daruvala, a director in the consulting firm’s North American banking practice and a co-author of the report, said yesterday in a phone interview. “Banks have done quite a lot on cost-cutting but frankly the environment has deteriorated over the last year” because of economic weakness, he said. Argentina rejects Singer’s $20M in ransom for ship’s release (NYP) At a court hearing today in Ghana, where hedge fund manager Paul Singer’s lawyers are holding the ARA Libertad hostage, a lawyer for Argentina argued that Singer had no right to detain the ship because it’s a military vessel and immune from seizure. Lawyer Larry Otoo called the seizure — a move by Singer to force Argentina to repay a $1.6 billion debt he says he’s owed — an embarrassment to Ghana and demanded the ship’s immediate return. The court is expected to rule Thursday on whether to release the ship. Singer, the head of hedge fund giant Elliot Management, is seeking to recoup some of the $600 million in bonds he purchased as Argentina was headed for default in 2001. Elliot bought the bonds at steep discounts, paying as little as 15 cents on the dollar in some cases, but has since won judgments of as much as $1.6 billion. Elliot’s NML Capital unit is pursuing Argentina’s assets all over the world in an effort to collect on its debt. In Gupta Sentencing, A Judgment Call (WSJ) Former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. director Rajat Gupta is the highest-profile of more than 70 defendants convicted of insider trading in New York federal court in the past three years. But this month he will likely receive a more lenient sentence than the 11-year-prison term given to Raj Rajaratnam, to whom Mr. Gupta provided his illegal leaks, legal experts say. The sentence may have reverberations beyond the 63-year-old Mr. Gupta, a former chief of consulting giant McKinsey & Co. It will be widely watched in executive suites nationwide because it will be among the first handed down to a major corporate figure in the recent insider-trading crackdown. Previous sentences have largely involved traders, lawyers, lower-rung corporate employees and others. Mr. Gupta, who was convicted in June of three counts of securities fraud relating to tips about Goldman and one count of conspiracy, didn't trade or profit directly from his illegal tips. Before the conviction, he had a long and stellar career in corporate America and philanthropy. All this will be balanced against the nature of the crimes and the need to discourage others from similar offenses when U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff hands down his sentence, scheduled for Oct. 24. Judge Rakoff often imposes sentences further below federal sentencing guidelines than some other judges do, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis...Since 2010, Judge Rakoff has imposed an average sentence of 21 months on insider-trading defendants who didn't cooperate with prosecutors—about 38% below the guideline minimum, according to the Journal analysis. By comparison, U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan issued seven sentences in that period averaging 6.3% below the guideline minimum. U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty issued three sentences at 20.3% less than the minimum. Goldman Pushes On Limits In Volcker Rule (WSJ) Some executives at the New York company believe they have found a way to extricate the credit funds from proposed limits on how much can be invested in hedge funds and private-equity funds, according to people briefed on the efforts. The Volcker rule caps a bank's total investments in hedge funds and private-equity funds at 3% of its so-called Tier-1 capital. It also prevents any single bank from accounting for more than 3% of a fund's investments. Those limits are among the biggest components of the rule, named after former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker and designed to curtail risk-taking among financial firms. The rule is the most contentious part of the Dodd-Frank financial-overhaul law of 2010 but, like much of the rest of the legislation, the details of its implementation are still being worked out. Credit funds lend to companies that might not otherwise get financing, such as companies backed by private-equity firms, and tend to hold their investments to maturity while using a limited amount of leverage. Goldman has argued in meetings with regulators and in letters to them that these funds function like banks, just with a different structure, according to public records and the people familiar with the efforts. Report: 20% of US Firms Cook the Books During Earnings (CNBC) ...a new report by finance professors at Emory and Duke University raises questions about the quality of earnings in general. In an anonymous survey of CFOs last year, the study found that at least 20% of companies are "managing" earnings and using aggressive accounting methods to legally alter the outcome of their earnings reports. Of the 20% of companies that manipulated their earnings to hit a target, Graham says, a surprising 40% did so to the downside, not the upside, to pad and improve future quarters' earnings. Banks Chasing Asian Millionaires Create Singapore’s Canary Wharf (Bloomberg) Singapore’s Marina Bay area is emerging as the city’s new financial hub, with banks including Standard Chartered Plc and Barclays taking bigger offices as they pursue Asia’s expanding ranks of millionaires. Corrections & Amplifications (WSJ via Lauren Tara LaCapra) "Annie Hubbard, the woman appearing alongside Goldman Sachs's chief financial officer, Harvey Schwartz, in a photograph with a page-one article about Goldman on Tuesday, was incorrectly identified as his wife. Mr. Schwartz isn't married." Hulk Hogan ‘devastated’ by leak of sex tape filmed six years ago with friend’s wife Heather Clem (NYDN) The wrestling star tried to explain the kinky love triangle to Howard Stern Tuesday using a thinly veiled euphemism. “Let’s say I’ve been doing laundry, brother, for this person forever, and all of a sudden this person hates the way I do laundry. And that person says, ‘You suck. I hate you. F-you every single day. I hate the way you do laundry. I’m going to find somebody else to do laundry. Somebody younger, faster, stronger,’” he said, clearly taking a jab at his ex-wife, who he was still married to at the time of the taping. “But my buddy, you know, him and his girl say, ‘Hey, you can do our laundry any time you want!’ Both of them are saying that,” he told Stern. “Finally after the person I was doing laundry with for millions and millions of years left, and all of a sudden there was nobody there to do laundry, I was depressed… I go to my buddy’s house and he says, ‘Hey man you can do this other person’s laundry that I’m partners with.’ I said, 'Sure.’” Official Warmth And Public Rage For A German Leader In Athens (NYT) ...even as Ms. Merkel said that she had come as a “good friend and a real partner,” not a “taskmaster or teacher to give grades,” the approximately 40,000 Greeks who took to the streets in protest (a rather modest number, by Greek standards) treated the visit as a provocation by the arch-nemesis in the euro crisis whose austerity medicine is obliterating the Greek middle class. Some banners read “Don’t cry for us Mrs. Merkel” and “Merkel, you are not welcome here.” A small group of protesters burned a flag bearing the Nazi swastika, while a handful of protesters dressed in Nazi-style uniforms drew cheers of approval as they rode a small vehicle past a police cordon. Variety Being Sold To Penske, Third Point (Reuters) Variety, the century-old entertainment trade newspaper once considered the bible of the movie industry, is being sold to online publisher Jay Penske and Third Point LLC for about $25 million, two sources with knowledge of the deal told Reuters. Penske and Third Point have struck a deal to buy the money-losing, 107-year-old newspaper from medical and technical publisher Reed Elsevier, which put it up for sale in March, the sources said. IMF warns eurozone on capital flight (FT) In its global financial stability report, the IMF concluded that capital flight from the eurozone’s periphery to the bloc’s core, driven by fears of a break-up of the currency union, had sparked “extreme fragmentation” of the euro area’s funding markets. The fund said this was causing renewed pressure for banks to shrink their balance sheets, particularly those in countries with fiscal woes. A Fat, Mustachioed Orphan Finds a Home (NYT) How do you transport a 234-pound baby to New York City? If he’s a 15-week-old walrus rescued from the open ocean off Alaska, the answer is a jumbo-size crate aboard a FedEx cargo jet, accompanied by a veterinarian and a handler. “If he’s calm and comfortable, no worries,” said Jon Forrest Dohlin, director of the New York Aquarium, which will receive the walrus calf, named Mitik, on Thursday. “But his needs and comfort come first. So he may very well travel with his head in our keeper’s lap.” Since late July, Mitik and a second orphaned walrus, Pakak, have been nursed to health with bottle feedings and exercise at the Alaska SeaLife Center, an aquarium in Seward that conducts research and responds to strandings of marine mammals. (Pakak, nicknamed Pak, will arrive at the Indianapolis Zoo on Thursday.) Mitik — or Mit, for short — was weak from illness and considerably smaller than Pakak when he was found by a hunting vessel several miles offshore. Mit initially suffered from bladder problems and could not take a bottle, requiring both a catheter and feeding tube. But he is now sucking assertively from a bottle and putting on a pound a day...With his multiple chins and doleful expression, Mit is also exhibiting an undeniable pluck that should serve him well in his new surroundings. Martha Hiatt, the aquarium’s behavioral husbandry supervisor, traveled to Alaska in September to help care for him. At first, she said, Pakak totally dominated him, but no longer. “If Mit is resting with his head on my lap, sucking my fingers, looking sweetly into my eyes, and Pak comes anywhere near us, he pops up, yells at Pak and tries to head-butt him,” she said. “Then he’ll turn to me and be all cuddly again. We say he is small, but scrappy — the perfect New Yorker.”

Opening Bell: 12.21.12

Critics Say UBS Let Off Too Easy (WSJ) Our goal here is not to destroy a major financial institution," Lanny Breuer, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's criminal division, said Wednesday after the $1.5 billion fine against UBS was announced. Prosecutors have to at least "evaluate whether or not innocent people might lose jobs" and other types of potential collateral damage. Sen. Charles Grassley (R., Iowa), a Senate Finance Committee member, said he is unsatisfied that prosecutors didn't go higher up the corporate ladder at UBS than its Japanese subsidiary..."The reluctance of U.S. prosecutors to file criminal charges over big-time bank fraud is frustrating and hard to understand," Mr. Grassley said. The $1.5 billion fine is a "spit in the ocean compared to the money lost by borrowers at every level, including taxpayers." Regulatory 'Whale' Hunt Advances (WSJ) The first regulatory ripples from the "London Whale" trading fiasco are about to hit J.P. Morgan Chase. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, led by Comptroller Thomas Curry, is preparing to take a formal action demanding that J.P. Morgan remedy the lapses in risk controls that allowed a small group of London-based traders to rack up losses of more than $6 billion this year, according to people familiar with the company's discussions with regulators. Khuzami To Leave SEC Enforcement Post (WSJ) Robert Khuzami, head of the Securities and Exchange Commission's enforcement unit, plans to leave the agency as soon as next month, a person familiar with the expected move said Thursday. Boehner Drops ‘Plan B’ as Budget Effort Turns to Disarray (Bloomberg) House Speaker John Boehner scrapped a plan to allow higher tax rates on annual income above $1 million, yielding to anti-tax resistance within his own party and throwing already-stalled budget talks deeper into turmoil. He will hold a news conference today at 10 a.m. Washington time to discuss the next steps in the budget dispute, a Republican leadership aide said. House members and senators won’t vote on the end-of-year budget issues until after Christmas, giving them less than a week to reach agreement to avert tax increases and spending cuts set to take effect in January. The partisan divide hardened yesterday, making the path to a deal more uncertain. BlackRock Sees Distortions in Country Ratings Seeking S&P Change (Bloomberg) Credit rating companies are distorting capital markets by assigning the same debt ranking to countries from Italy to Thailand and Kazakhstan, according to BlackRock, the world’s biggest money manager. While 23 countries share the BBB+ to BBB- levels assessed by Standard & Poor’s, the lowest investment grades, up from 15 in 2008 at the beginning of the financial crisis, their debt to gross domestic product ratios range from 12 percent for Kazakhstan to 44 percent for Thailand and 126 percent for Italy, International Monetary Fund estimates show. The cost of insuring against a default by Italy, ranked BBB+, over the next five years is almost triple that for Thailand, which has the same rating. For BlackRock, which oversees $3.7 trillion in assets, the measures are so untrustworthy that the firm is setting up its own system to gauge the risk of investing in government bonds. This year, the market moved in the opposite direction suggested by changes to levels and outlooks 53 percent of the time, data compiled by Bloomberg show. “The rating agencies were very, very slow to the game,” Benjamin Brodsky, a managing director at BlackRock International Ltd., said in a Nov. 23 interview from London. “They all came after the fact. For us, this is not good enough.” If You Bought Greek Bonds in January You Earned 80% (Bloomberg) Greek government bonds returned 80 percent this year, compared with 3.7 percent for German bunds and 6.1 percent for Spanish securities, Bank of America Merrill Lynch indexes show. It’s the first year since 2009 that investors made money on Greek securities, with 2012 providing the biggest advance since Merrill began compiling the data in 1998, according to figures that don’t reflect this month’s debt buyback by the government. Texas lawmaker: ‘Ping-pongs’ deadlier than guns (The Ticket) Incoming Texas State Rep. Kyle Kacal says guns don’t kill people—ping-pong kills people. "I've heard of people being killed playing ping-pong—ping-pongs are more dangerous than guns," he says. "Flat-screen TVs are injuring more kids today than anything." The lifetime rancher, who will take his seat in 2013 as a freshman, says that new gun restrictions are unnecessary. Kacal, who reportedly operates a hunting business, notably came out against a bill instructing Texans how to secure their assault weapons. "People know what they need to do to be safe. We don't need to legislate that—it's common sense," he said. "Once everyone's gun is locked up, then the bad guys know everyone's gun is locked up." Flare-up in war of words between Ackman, Herbalife (NYP) “This is the highest conviction I’ve ever had about any investment I’ve ever made,” Ackman said yesterday in a series of interviews. The investor told CNBC that he expects the Federal Trade Commission will take a “hard look” at the company. The heavyweight battle picked up steam over the last two days and has become, in the typically slow days leading up to Christmas, one of the most-watched events on Wall Street. As the financial world watched, Herbalife CEO Michael Johnson returned fire — calling Ackman’s statements “bogus” and asking the Securities and Exchange Commission to probe the motives of Ackman and his Pershing Square Capital hedge fund. A spokeswoman said if Johnson were allowed the chance to face-off against the investor at the Downtown conference, the CEO “would have been able to tear Mr. Ackman’s premises and interpretation of our business model apart.” Citigroup Said to Give CCA Managers 75% Stake in Funds for Free (Bloomberg) Among Vikram Pandit’s last jobs as Citigroup’s chief executive officer was to decide the fate of the bank’s hedge-fund unit, which employs some of his oldest colleagues. He agreed to give them most of it for free. While Citigroup is keeping a 25 percent stake, managers at the Citi Capital Advisors unit will pay nothing for the remaining 75 percent of that business as it becomes a new firm managing as much as $2.5 billion of the bank’s money, according to people with knowledge of the plan. The lender will pay the executives fees while gradually pulling out assets to comply with impending U.S. rules, said the people, who requested anonymity because the terms aren’t public. The deal was Citigroup’s response to the Volcker rule. Peter Madoff Is Sentenced to 10 Years for His Role in Fraud (Dealbook) A lawyer by training, Peter Madoff is the second figure in the scandal to be sentenced. His older brother, Bernard, pleaded guilty in March 2009 and is serving a prison term of 150 years. UK Boom in Pound Shops: An Austerity-Proof Business Model? (CNBC) Pound shops in the U.K. are reporting massive increases in profits across the board showing that the formula "pile 'em high and sell 'em cheap" has particular resonance in Britain's current age of austerity. Names like "Poundstretcher," "Poundland" and "99p Stores" in the U.K. have become high street stalwarts as other brands go bust. The chains, immediately recognizable on price point, are opening new stores and reporting record results reflecting the increasing public demand for cheaper goods. U.K. based "Poundland" is one such chain reporting steep sales growth as its range of 3,000 items -- from umbrellas and pregnancy tests (it sells 14,000 a week) to bird feeders and bags of crisps all priced at one pound – resonates with cash-strapped Britons. In the year to April 2012, the Warburg Pincus owned company said its turnover increased 22 percent to 780 million pounds ($1.25 billion) and profits increased by 50 percent to 18.3 million pounds from last year's figure of 12.2 million. Former Olympian Suzy Favor Hamilton admits to life as a $600-an-hour hooker (NYP) Steamy, lingerie-clad images of the champion runner helped tout her services on the Web site of a Vegas escort agency called Haley Heston’s Private Collection, where Favor Hamilton operated under the name “Kelly Lundy,” according to The Smoking Gun. Customers could hire her lithe Olympic-class runner’s body for $600 an hour, $1,000 for two hours and $6,000 for 24 hours. The site described her build as “athletic,” her bosom as “perky,” and her belly button as “pierced.” She was willing to provide horny customers the full “girlfriend experience,” and would also engage in a certain undisclosed sex act for an extra $300. “I enjoy men of all shapes, sizes and colors, and I have an affinity for women (I am bisexual),” “Kelly” wrote on her page on the escort service’s Web site. “I consider dates with couples an experience to cherish.” Her sexual skills reportedly earned her a high rating on The Erotic Review, a Web site frequented by prostitution fans. Favor Hamilton’s lusty secret life might have stayed secret if she had not made the mistake of revealing her true identity to some of her wealthy johns, who went to the media.

Opening Bell: 04.02.12

Greece Faces Bond-Swap Holdouts (WSJ) The majority of investors holding foreign law Greek bonds haven't yet been included in the country's debt-swap deal as they have rejected or failed to agree to the exchange, said the country's debt agency Monday, setting a new deadline for the offer. Financiers and Sex Trafficking (NYT) "THE biggest forum for sex trafficking of under-age girls in the United States appears to be a Web site called Backpage.com. This emporium for girls and women — some under age or forced into prostitution — is in turn owned by an opaque private company called Village Voice Media. Until now it has been unclear who the ultimate owners are. That mystery is solved. The owners turn out to include private equity financiers, including Goldman Sachs with a 16 percent stake. Goldman Sachs was mortified when I began inquiring last week about its stake in America’s leading Web site for prostitution ads. It began working frantically to unload its shares, and on Friday afternoon it called to say that it had just signed an agreement to sell its stake to management. 'We had no influence over operations,' Andrea Raphael, a Goldman Sachs spokeswoman, told me." Bond King's Trade Pays Off (WSJ) After suffering one of his worst performances ever in 2011, over the past three months, Bill Gross, manager of Pacific Investment Management Co.'s Total Return Fund, rode an aggressive bet on mortgage bonds to beat most of the fund's rivals and the index against which bond-fund managers measure themselves. Mr. Gross's fund, the world's biggest bond fund with $252 billion in assets, recorded a 2.88% return in the three months through March. The performance beat the benchmark Barclays Capital Aggregate Bond Index by 2.58 percentage points, ranking in the top 11% of all bond mutual funds for the quarter, according to investment-research firm Morningstar Inc. In Wake of Groupon Issues, Critics Wary of JOBS Act (WSJ) A little-noticed provision in the new JOBS Act would allow companies to iron out disagreements with regulators behind closed doors before they go public—a provision that might have prevented investors from finding out about Groupon Inc.'s early accounting questions until after they had been resolved...Critics say that measure would allow a company like Groupon, which had well-publicized disagreements with the SEC over its accounting last year, to resolve such issues under the radar, without investors learning of them until later although still before any IPO. Goldman Eyes $3 Billion Property Debt Fund (Reuters) A private equity arm of Goldman Sachs is looking to launch a $3 billion property debt fund in a bid to take advantage of a growing shortage of real estate financing across the UK and Europe...Real Estate Principal Investment Area (REPIA) is exploring options to create a fund that would provide senior and mezzanine loans to property investors, and will target property lending that is riskier but which would offer higher potential returns. Md. woman won't share $105M lotto jackpot with McD's co-workers (NYP) Workers at the fast-food joint who pooled their cash for tickets are furious at a colleague who claims she won with a ticket she bought for herself and has no intention of sharing. “We had a group plan, but I went and played by myself. [The ‘winning’ ticket] wasn’t on the group plan,” McDonald’s “winner’’ Mirlande Wilson 37, told The Post yesterday, insisting she alone bought one of the three tickets nationwide that will split a record $656 million payout...[On Saturday], a delirious Wilson had called co-workers to break the news — tellingly used the first-person singular. “I won! I won!” she cried, Allen said. Another colleague, Davon Wilson, no relation, said he was there when Mirlande Wilson called. “She said, ‘Turn on the news.’ She said she had won. I thought it was a joke or something. She doesn’t seem like a person who’d do this,” he said. Allan said he and Layla went to Wilson’s home and pounded on the door for 20 minutes until she finally came out. “These people are going to kill you. It’s not worth your life!” Allen said he told her. “All right! All right! I’ll share, but I can’t find the ticket right now,” she finally said, according to Allen. Resistance to austerity stirs in southern Europe (Reuters) An unexpectedly broad general strike in Spain on Thursday and mounting opposition to Prime Minister Mario Monti in Italy are among indicators that resistance is growing in a region at the center of concerns about a resurgence of the euro zone debt crisis. Biggest Bond Traders See Worst Over for Treasuries (Bloomberg) Signs of strength in the economy, which caused a 5.56 percent loss in bonds maturing in 10 years or more last quarter, may fade in the second half of 2012, the dealers say. Tax cuts are expiring, $1 trillion of mandatory federal budget cuts are due to kick in and $100-a-barrel oil is eating into consumer spending. With inflation in check, Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said last week that the central bank will consider further stimulus, even after upgrading its economic outlook March 13. Marc Faber: "Massive Wealth Destruction Is About To Hit Investors" (CNBC) FYI. Twitter takes Connecticut official's April Fools' Day joke to the public (NHR) It all started with a tweet at 5:30 a.m. Sunday, from state government official Mike Lawlor: “Rep. Dargan in hospital following accident.” By 11 a.m., news organizations statewide, including the NewHaven Register, were retweeting the “news” and calling officials to confirm details of the accident. After all, it was assumed, it must be accurate if the tweet came from the highly respected Lawlor, a former longtime state representative and now the state’s undersecretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning. But no... Dargan was reached by phone and confirmed he was fine and did not have an accident. “I am fine. Lawlor must have tweeted it.

Opening Bell: 10.22.12

Some Investors Open to Higher US Tax to Shave Deficit (Reuters) In recent weeks, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein and JPMorgan Chase's Jamie Dimon became the latest Wall Street heavyweights to say they would be willing to pay more in exchange for a deal to balance the country's books. AIG's Benmosche On Why Capitalism Still Works (NYM) As its vaguely omnipotent name suggests, American International Group contained a little of everything: a small bank, an airline-leasing company, and a terrifyingly vast array of international companies that underwrote everything from cows in India to satellites orbiting the Earth. To the emergency team that came in following the crises, the impulse was to get rid of everything, to disassemble this Frankenstein monster once and for all. This was the idea behind Project Destiny. Benmosche had a different one. “Say you’re sitting there, you have gangrene,” he says to me one morning, before I’ve even had coffee. “And I don’t have any instruments. All I have is an ax. And I’ve gotta grab the ax and cut that sucker off. But the ax is dull. And it makes a mess. That’s what they did, in the beginning. They whacked that sucker off. And they kept hacking. But there was value in the body that was left. The body could produce things. And it owed people. What are you going to do, kill the body? Want it to be so ugly and deformed that it could never live? No! What you do is you clean it up, make it more cosmetic. Maybe we can help them get a prosthesis. Maybe they can run in the Olympics one day, like a double amputee, as we saw. Can you imagine that? A double amputee running in the race.” Goldman Bonus System Corrupted In 2005, Smith Book Says (Bloomberg) Before 2005, the company determined workers’ annual awards “not just on how much business you’d brought in, but also on how good you were for the organization,” Smith, a former vice president, writes in “Why I Left Goldman Sachs: A Wall Street Story.” “From 2005 until the present day, the system has become largely mathematical: you were paid a percentage of the amount of revenue next to your name,” a figure that could vary from 5 percent to 7 percent, wrote Smith, 33, without saying how he learned about such a change. “The problem with the new system was that people would now do anything they could -- anything -- to pump up the number next to their name.” 129 Minutes With Goldman Turncoat Greg Smith (NYM) Why I Left Goldman Sachs may disappoint those who hoped for a collection of sordid Wall Street bacchanalia. Smith saw no financial crimes in progress at the bank, and his tales of Goldman life are mostly anodyne workplace micro-dramas told with wide-eyed breathlessness. The book’s most lurid revelation is that Smith once saw Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein naked at the company gym. With the book done, Smith says he’s looking forward to resuming a normal life, possibly as a speaker and pundit. Among other things, he’d like to meet a woman. “I’m not anti-capitalism at all,” he says. “I want Goldman to be admired. I just don’t like this notion that ethics and capitalism are different things.” Argentina orders evacuation of ship seized by hedgie Paul Singer as collateral for unpaid bonds (AP) Argentina announced the immediate evacuation Saturday of about 300 crew members from the ARA Libertad, a navy training ship seized in Africa nearly three weeks ago as collateral for unpaid bonds dating from the South American nation's economic crisis a decade ago. Only the captain and a few other members of the crew of 326 sailors will remain on the three-masted tall ship, a symbol of Argentina's navy. Girl, 9, in black and white costume shot as relative mistakes her for skunk (NYDN) A 9-year-old girl was shot outside a Halloween party Saturday night in Western Pennsylvania, taking a bullet to the shoulder from a male relative who mistook her for a skunk. The condition of the girl wasn’t released Sunday, but police in rural New Sewickley Township said she was alert and talking as she was flown to a hospital in Pittsburgh, 30 miles away. Neither the girl nor her relative was identified. She was spotted on a hillside around 8:30 p.m. wearing a black costume and black hat with a white tassel, according to the Beaver County Times. The relative who accidentally injured her was carrying a shotgun. Police Chief Ronald Leindecker said the man wasn’t under the influence of alcohol, and was unsure whether he would be charged. Prince Alwaleed Praises Pandit for Citigroup Crisis Handling (Bloomberg) Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal praised Vikram Pandit for his handling of the financial crisis while chief executive officer at Citigroup, saying he helped position the bank for further growth. “Many companies like HSBC, Barclays and Standard Chartered shrank and went back to their roots,” Alwaleed, the largest individual investor in Citigroup, said today at a conference in Dubai. “Citigroup never blinked on that. It’s the only global bank at the moment and really the potential is there,” 57-year- old Alwaleed said, adding that Pandit did a “good” job as CEO. West Coast Will Be In 'Colossal' Mess In 5 To 10 Years, Says Marc Faber (CNBC) Faber argued that the political systems in place in the West would allow the debt burden to continue to expand. Under such a scenario of never-ending deficits, the Western world would rack up huge deficits. One day, the system would break, he said. “Eventually, you have either huge changes occurring in a peaceful fashion through reforms, or, usually, through revolutions,” he said. The U.S. is getting closer to such a revolution, he said, as is Europe. Vampire Pong: Ex-Goldman Banker Takes On A Pro (Fortune) Halfway through a recent match, set up by Fortune between Smith and Wally Green, one of the top pros in the country, Smith crouches, leans his head toward the table and serves. The pro swings and misses. Ace....Smith brought own paddle in a soft vinyl case to the match, which was held at Spin, a club in New York. The best part of Smith's game is his serve, which is a deceptive spinning wonder that appears to be going much faster than it is. His first serve of the match, like a number of others, goes right by Green. Smith is up 1-0. "That's a very good serve," says Green. Baby Walrus Adapts To Life In Brooklyn (NYT) A team of 15 is caring for him around the clock. His favorite toy is a plastic bucket. He has taken swimmingly to a large pool. And on Friday, he had his first taste of solid food — surf clams. “He’s hitting every milestone we’re hoping to see,” said Jon Forrest Dohlin, director of the New York Aquarium in Coney Island, Brooklyn, part of the Wildlife Conservation Society. “He still has some issues with his bladder, but they are trending in the right direction. Behaviorally, he’s doing great and we’re feeling good about his progress.” He was describing Mitik, or Mit for short, one of two walrus calves separated from a herd in the Arctic Ocean and orphaned in Alaska in July. The Alaska SeaLife Center took them in and found new homes for each. (The other walrus, Pakak, went to the Indianapolis Zoo.) The New York Aquarium, eager for a young companion for its two older walruses, stepped up, flying a staff member, Martha Hiatt, to Alaska to work with Mit for a month. On Oct. 11, Ms. Hiatt, the aquarium’s behavioral husbandry supervisor, along with a veterinarian, accompanied Mit on a FedEx cargo jet from Anchorage to Newark. The walrus, believed to be about 16 weeks old, stayed in his crate during the six-hour flight. “It was loud,” Ms. Hiatt said of the trip. “He pretty much sang to us the entire time. We stayed with him, talked to him and hosed him off now and then.” [...] much of Mit’s day consists of play, which helps his development and encourages his cooperation during medical procedures and feedings. One of his favorite activities is to scoop up a giant white bucket with holes through it. “He loves to run around with that on his head and vocalize,” Ms. Hiatt said.

Opening Bell: 04.25.12

Credit Suisse Sees Profit Drop (WSJ) Credit Suisse Wednesday reported a sharp drop in net profit for the first quarter, pressured by an accounting loss on its own debt and lower revenue at its investment bank, which shed risky assets to adapt to a tougher regulatory and market environment. Still, the bank managed a sharp turnaround from a dismal fourth quarter when it reported a loss, on improving market conditions. But Chief Financial Officer David Mathers warned that this may not necessarily be the trend going forward, as markets weren't as favorable in April as they were during the first quarter. Credit Suisse said net profit fell 96% to 44 million Swiss francs ($48.3 million) in the first quarter from 1.14 billion francs a year earlier. This was better than the net loss expected by analysts. Excluding a raft of one-off items, net profit would be 1.36 billion francs, Credit Suisse said. Net profit suffered from a 1.55 billion franc accounting loss on the bank's own credit. The bank also recorded costs of 534 million francs for 2011 bonuses. Moody's Hears It From Banks (WSJ) In the latest sign that U.S. banks are bridling at tighter oversight that began after the financial crisis, a handful of big lenders have been jawboning Moody's Investors Service ahead of potential downgrades expected this spring. Bank of America Corp. Chief Executive Brian Moynihan and Citigroup Inc. CEO Vikram Pandit have argued against downgrades in person, people familiar with the talks said. An executive at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. last week publicly questioned Moody's methods on a conference call with analysts and investors. Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman, who has met with the ratings firm more often than usual in the past quarter, called Moody's decision to delay any potential downgrades by a month "constructive." Housing Declared Bottoming in U.S. After Six-Year Slump (Bloomberg) The U.S. housing market is showing more signs of stabilization as price declines ease and home demand improves, spurring several economists to call a bottom to the worst real estate collapse since the 1930s. “The crash is over,” Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Analytics Inc. in West Chester, Pennsylvania, said in a telephone interview yesterday. “Home sales -- both new and existing -- and housing starts are now off the bottom.” US taxpayers still on hook for $119B in TARP funds (MarketWatch) US taxpayers are still owed $119 billion in outstanding Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds, a watchdog for the government crisis program said Wednesday in a quarterly report to Congress. That number is down from $133 billion in TARP funds owed as of January, according to the author of the report, the Office of the Special Inspector General for the TARP. The government expects TARP to lose $60 billion. Surviving ’Taxmageddon’ Without Maiming Economy (Bloomberg) Peter Orszag: "At the end of this year, all the Bush tax cuts expire -- amounting to about $250 billion a year. The payroll-tax holiday, at more than $100 billion a year, ends too, as do expanded unemployment-insurance benefits. And we face other spending cuts of about $100 billion, from the sequester set up by the 2011 debt-limit deal. All told, this fiscal tightening adds up to about $500 billion -- or more than 3 percent of gross domestic product. The economy will be in no shape to handle that much of a squeeze. If we do nothing to reduce or stop it, the economy could be thrown back into a recession." Goose strike forces JetBlue flight into emergency landing at Westchester (NYP) Geese smacked into a JetBlue plane taking off from Westchester Airport last night, forcing the pilots to make an immediate emergency landing. “We got to come back. We hit two big geese,” a pilot aboard Flight 571 to West Palm Beach, Fla., radioed to controllers after the plane took off at 6:45 p.m. “We are declaring an emergency.” The pilots made it just six miles northwest of the airport before turning around. They were back on the ground seven minutes later. “JetBlue 571, nice to have you back,” a relieved controller radioed as the plane touched down at 6:52. The geese smashed into the jet’s windshield. “I was petrified,’’ said passenger Janice Hilbrink, of White Plains. “Seriously very frightened. “I heard the noise. It was very loud and the plane had a lot of turbulence. The pilot told us the windshield was cracked.’’ When she got off the plane, “the whole front of it was covered in bird.’’ Missing MF Global Funds Found (CNNM) Investigators probing the collapse of bankrupt brokerage MF Global said Tuesday that they have located the $1.6 billion in customer money that had gone missing from the firm. But just how much of those funds can be returned to the firm's clients, and who will be held responsible for their misappropriation, remains to be seen. James Giddens, the trustee overseeing the liquidation of MF Global Inc, told the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday that his team's analysis of how the money went missing "is substantially concluded." "We can trace where the cash and securities in the firm went, and that we've done," Giddens said. Europe Struggles With Painful Deficit Cures (WSJ) The target, set in 2009, is still seen as an important signal that the budget rules won't be flouted as they were in the past. But meeting the 2013 goal, which for most countries was a deficit of 3% of gross domestic product, will entail more spending cuts or tax increases by governments across the EU. Soros And Roubini Take Aim At Euro Zone (CNBC) Nouriel Roubini, an economist and founder of RGE Monitor used a series of tweets on Tuesday evening to call for action on weakening the euro. “If domestic demand is going to be anemic and weak in this fiscal adjustment because of private and public sector deleveraging you need net exports to improve to restore growth,” wrote Roubini who believes much looser monetary policy is needed. “In order to have an improvement in net exports you need a weaker currency and a much more easy monetary policy to help induce that nominal and real depreciation that is not occurring right now in the euro zone,” said Roubini. “That’s one of the reasons why we’re getting a recession that’s even more severe,” he said. During a debate on Tuesday, billionaire Investor George Soros made it clear what side of the growth versus austerity debate he is on. “Europe is similar to the Soviet Union in the way that the euro crisis has the potential of destroying, undermining the European Union,” he said. “The euro is undermining the political cohesion of the European Union, and, if it continues like that, could even destroy the European Union,” said Soros. New Fashion Wrinkle: Stylishly Hiding the Gun (NYT, related) Woolrich, a 182-year-old clothing company, describes its new chino pants as an elegant and sturdy fashion statement, with a clean profile and fabric that provides comfort and flexibility. And they are great for hiding a handgun. The company has added a second pocket behind the traditional front pocket for a weapon. Or, for those who prefer to pack their gun in a holster, it can be tucked inside the stretchable waistband...The chinos, which cost $65, are not for commandos, but rather, the company says, for the fashion-aware gun owner.

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.