Opening Bell: 01.11.13

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Wells Fargo Profit Rises as Bank Gains From Refinancing (Bloomberg)
Net income advanced to a record $5.09 billion, or 91 cents a share, from $4.11 billion, or 73 cents, a year earlier, the San Francisco-based bank said today in a statement. That beat the 89-cent average estimate of 27 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg, some of whom were excluding one-time costs tied to a regulatory settlement.

SAC Is Bracing For Big Exodus Of Funds (WSJ)
Hedge-fund group SAC Capital Advisors has told employees and business partners it is bracing for client withdrawals of at least $1 billion this year—nearly 17% of the money it manages for outside investors—amid intense regulatory scrutiny of alleged insider trading, people briefed on the conversations said...SAC manages $14 billion in total, but only around $6 billion comes from outside investors, most of the rest belonging to Mr. Cohen and SAC employees. Clients have until Feb. 15 to put in a redemption request to receive money by the first quarter's end; it is likely even SAC won't know the precise figure that investors will ask to pull until then. However, in recent weeks the firm's executives have been alerting advisers and senior employees that the withdrawal requests, known as "redemptions" in the hedge-fund industry, could total $1 billion or more. At the same time, SAC's top ranks have been reaching out to investors to gauge whether they want to keep their money with the firm or not, the people briefed said.

Geithner’s Tenure Defined by Financial Crisis (NYT)
Looking back, he is remarkably sanguine. He is comfortable with his decisions: the policy choices available to him were far from ideal, he said, but his team did the best it could within the realm of the politically possible. “It was a very bad crisis. No playbook. No road map. No clear precedent,” he said. “If we had a different set of constraints, particularly in fiscal policy, then I think that the economic outcome could have been modestly better.”

Herbalife defends its honor as Ackman presses case (Reuters)
Herbalife Ltd executives defended their business on Thursday as a "legitimate company" with customers outside the network of people who sign up to sell its nutrition products, stepping up the defense against pyramid scheme accusations by short seller Bill Ackman...minutes after the company's presentation ended, Ackman's hedge fund claimed Herbalife did not answer Pershing Square's points as it said it would. "The company distorted, mischaracterized, and outright ignored large portions of our presentation," Ackman said in a statement.

British Panel Castigates Ex-UBS Officials at Hearing (Dealbook)
“What we have heard are appalling mistakes that can only be described as gross negligence and incompetence,” said Andrew Tyrie, a politician who leads the Parliament’s commission on banking standards that is investigating wrongdoing at the firms operating in London. “The level of ignorance seems staggering to the point of incredulity.”

Nicky Hilton's ex to face off against alleged filching assistant (NYP)
Hedge funder Todd Meister -- the ex-husband of Nicky Hilton -- now has a courtroom Valentine's date with his accused embezzling "personal" assistant. A Manhattan judge today set Feb. 14 as the trial date for the allegedly filching assistant, Ukranian beauty Renata Shamrakova, accused of swiping $900,000 from Meister. Prosecutors say Shamrakova had no authority to ring up the nearly $1 million in expenses on Meister's credit card. Shamrakova counters that she was only hired in the first place to be Meister's very personal assistant. Meister let her run up the card as a gift during the course of their romantic relationship, she says.

Wads Of Cash Squeeze Bank Margins (WSJ)
Deposits reached a record $10.6 trillion at the end of 2012, according to Market Rates Insight Inc., a San Anselmo, Calif., firm that tracks deposit data. Meanwhile, the share of each deposit dollar that banks lend out hit a postfinancial-crisis low in the third quarter, according to data tracker SNL Financial of Charlottesville, Va. Extra cash can help cushion banks in an economic downturn, but it also helps to explain why banks' net interest margin—the sum they collect by pocketing the difference between the interest they pay to depositors and the rate they charge borrowers—has fallen sharply. Wells Fargo has been among the hardest hit in recent quarters, with its net interest margin falling to 3.66% in the third quarter from 3.84% a year earlier.

A Hawk Assails Easy Money (WSJ)
Esther George, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, stepped forward as a new, high-profile internal critic of the Federal Reserve's easy-money policies. Ms. George told an audience in Kansas City, Mo., Thursday that current Fed policies made her "uneasy" and warned that the Fed "must not ignore the possibility" that monetary policy could contribute to new bubbles that harm the financial system.

AmEx Cuts Jobs as Digital Age Transforms Travel Business (Bloomberg)
American Express Co. will eliminate 5,400 jobs this year, mostly in travel services, as consumers and businesses rely more on digital technology for bookings.

AC casinos were bad bet, with 8% revenue hit (NYP)
Hedge-fund high rollers who bet big on a comeback for Atlantic City’s casinos are watching their gambling profits dwindle. The city’s casino industry suffered its sixth straight decline last year, with winnings down 8 percent to $3.05 billion, the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement said in its latest annual report, released yesterday. Even before Sandy laid waste to the city’s famed boardwalk and emptied its casinos, the gaming industry was down 4.8 percent through September, the regulator said. The numbers suggest the odds are increasingly stacked against deep-pocketed backers who play a key role in reviving the city’s fortunes. They include Marc Lasry’s $12 billion Avenue Capital, a big investor in Trump Entertainment, which owns Trump Taj Mahal and Trump Plaza. Lasry led a group of investors who brought Trump Entertainment out of bankruptcy in 2010. Billionaire investor Carl Icahn owns Tropicana Casino and Resorts, which he bought out of bankruptcy in 2010. Lasry’s Trump Taj Mahal saw casino winnings fall 15 percent last year, while Trump Plaza was down 25 percent, according to yesterday’s report. Icahn’s Tropicana fell 9.8 percent.

Lew’s Lack of Geithner Global Rolodex Not Biggest Hurdle (Bloomberg)
Geithner’s expertise ensured that his foreign counterparts would consider his views. Still, he was often frustrated that the euro area didn’t move more forcefully to fight its sovereign debt crisis. Geithner’s cause was undermined by the U.S.’s trillion-dollar deficits and infighting over the budget, according to some European officials. Lew, 57, will face the same hurdle if he is confirmed by the Senate. “There is nothing gained by having someone who has a Rolodex and knows everyone around the world,” said Jacob Funk Kirkegaard, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. “As the U.S. races to another cliff, its credibility is very small,” he said, referring to the budget disputes in Washington. Obama yesterday called Lew a “master of policy” in announcing that he will nominate his chief of staff to become the 76th U.S. Treasury secretary. Geithner will stay on through Jan. 25, according to a department official.

Man crashes into Lincoln Valentino's restaurant, orders pizza (AP)
Lincoln, Nebraska police say a man crashed his car through the front door of a pizza restaurant before ordering a pie for himself. The man drove his Honda through a Valentino's chain store Wednesday morning. While trapped in his car, the man ordered a pizza. Fire officials took it as a good sign that the man was alert. He was taken to a local hospital. No other injuries were reported. The building was not damaged structurally. No electrical or gas issues were reported.

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Opening Bell: 03.21.13

ECB Threatens To Cut Off Cypriot Banks (WSJ) The European Central Bank ramped up pressure on Cyprus to seal a bailout agreement with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund by Monday, making further funding for the island's ailing banks contingent on a deal. The ECB said it would extend emergency funding that has kept the island's banks in operation while the bailout plan was being negotiated in recent months only until Monday. "Thereafter, Emergency Liquidity Assistance (ELA) could only be considered if an European Union/International Monetary Fund program is in place that would ensure the solvency of the concerned banks," the ECB said in a statement. Italy's Five-Star Party Reiterates Demand for Euro Referendum (WSJ) Representatives of Italy's Five-Star Movement reiterated their anti-establishment party's demands for a referendum on the country's membership of the euro, and insisted that they should form the country's next government. Italian President Giorgio Napolitano is consulting political leaders on forming a government after last month's inconclusive election result. Deustche Bank Legal Bill Mounts (WSJ) Deustche Bank revised fourth-quarter earnings downward, setting aside about €600 million ($773 million) in legal provisions for U.S. mortgage litigation in another sign that mounting legal liabilities are cutting into investment -bank profits. The bank updated its fourth-quarter net loss to 2.54 billion euros, wider than the originally reported loss of €2.17 billion. This compared with a profit of €147 million a year earlier. The bank also reiterated that it would make first-quarter targets for a key measure of the bank's health known as the capital ratio, indicating a strong first quarter, analysts said. Deutsche Bank has now set aside €2.4 billion for litigation, with additional identified non-provisioned legal risks of €1.5 billion. The bank's legal provisions were nearly 10 times net profit of €237 million for 2012, compared with a profit of €4.1 billion in 2011. Total legal risk is likely much higher than what the bank has publicly identified, analysts said. Lululemon Sees Sheerness Issue Hitting Profits (WSJ) Lululemon Athletica said Thursday its fourth-quarter profit climbed 48%, but said it expects the transparency issue related to some of its yoga pants to reduce first-quarter earnings by 11 to 12 cents a share. Bernanke Saying He’s Dispensable Suggests Tenure Ending (Bloomberg) Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said he’s “spoken to the president a bit” about his future and that he feels no personal responsibility to stay at the helm until the Fed winds down its unprecedented policies to stimulate the economy. “I don’t think that I’m the only person in the world who can manage the exit,” Bernanke said when asked at a news conference in Washington if he’s discussed his plans with President Barack Obama. His term expires at the end of January. Personal assistant pleads guilty to embezzling 821G from hedge funder Todd Meister (NYP) After a year of denials, glamorous Ukranian embezzler Renata Shamrakova admitted in Manhattan Supreme Court yesterday that she stole nearly $1 million while working as the personal assistant to hedge funder Todd Meister. Under the plea deal, she will serve no jail time but must repay what she took within two years. “Yes, your honor,” Shamrakova told the judge, when asked if she had committed grand larceny in the second degree by stealing from Meister, 42, a Harvard-educated money man who famously married Nicky Hilton for just six weeks in 2004. Shamrakova, 28, wore a gray cashmere sweater over a short, floral-print skirt and spoke in a quiet, girlish voice as she sat at the defense table and admitted her crimes. In addition to ripping off Meister, she tried to dodge a search warrant by hiding financial records. Dell Walks Fine Line in Pitch for Buyout (WSJ) Mr. Dell needs to persuade Dell Inc. investors that the prospects for the company he founded in his dorm room in 1984 and has been running for the past six years are anything but rosy if he is to succeed with his plan to take the computer maker private. Friday marks the end of a 45-day window to flush out alternative offers to the $24.4 billion buyout deal that Mr. Dell and private-equity firm Silver Lake Partners reached last month. The $13.65-a-share offer has sparked derision from some shareholders who believe the price undervalues the Round Rock, Texas, company. No alternative bid has been offered, but late Wednesday Blackstone Group LP was working on a few scenarios for a potential bid that would see the private-equity giant team with a partner to buy all or part of the computer maker, according to people familiar with the matter. JPMorgan To Return Money To MF Global Customers (AP) JPMorgan Chase has agreed to a deal that will return $546 million to former customers of trading firm MF Global Holdings Ltd., which collapsed in 2011 with $1.6 billion missing from its accounts. Initial Jobless Claims in U.S. Rise Less Than Forecast (Bloomberg) Applications for jobless benefits increased by 2,000 to 336,000 in the week ended March 16, Labor Department figures showed today. Economists projected 340,000 claims, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg survey. The monthly average, which smoothes the week-to-week volatility, dropped to the lowest level since February 2008. Regulator finds flaws in Deutsche Bank's Libor supervision (Reuters) German markets watchdog Bafin is set to tell Deutsche Bank of "organizational flaws" in how it supervised its contribution to the setting of inter-bank lending rates at the heart of the international rate-rigging scandal, sources familiar with the watchdog's investigation said. Wis. limits use of nude beach to reduce sex, drugs (AP) Wisconsin authorities announced Tuesday they will shut down one of nation's most popular nude beaches on weekdays after struggling for years to curtail sex and drugs on the sandbar and surrounding woods. Nudists from around the country have been traveling to the public beach on the Wisconsin River near Mazomanie, about 25 miles northwest of Madison, for decades as word spread that prosecutors in ultra-liberal Dane County wouldn't go after anyone for showing skin. But visitors haven't stopped at just stripping down. They've been slipping off into the woods for trysts and drugs. Authorities say that's crossing the line, but they haven't been able to stop the shenanigans. Their frustration reached a tipping point Tuesday, when the state Department of Natural Resources announced it will close the beach, the islands immediately off it and the surrounding woods to the public on weekdays, when wardens say troublemakers tend to operate unseen. The closures begin immediately. The area will remain open on weekends, though. Bob Morton, executive director of the Austin, Tex.-based Naturist Action Committee, which lobbies on behalf of nudists, has visited the beach several times. He criticized the DNR for not consulting with beachgoers before closing the area. "Honestly, we're on their side when it comes to enforcing things that are lewd and lascivious," Morton said. "There's something to be said about consulting the users of the place. There's got to be more to this somewhere."

Opening Bell: 02.06.13

RBS Fined $612M by Regulators for Manipulating Libor Rate (Bloomberg) The lender will pay $325 million to the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, $150 million to the Department of Justice and 87.5 million pounds ($137 million) to the U.K.’s Financial Services Authority, the CFTC said in a statement today. RBS said it will recoup about 300 million pounds to pay the fines by cutting bonuses and clawing back previous awards. The bank’s Japanese unit agreed to plead guilty to wire fraud as part of a deal with the Justice Department, the CFTC said. “The public is deprived of an honest benchmark interest rate when a group of traders sits around a desk for years falsely spinning their bank’s Libor submissions, trying to manufacture winning trades,” said David Meister, the CFTC’s director of enforcement. “That’s what happened at RBS.” Nasdaq Faces Facebook Fine (WSJ) Nasdaq is in preliminary talks with the Securities and Exchange Commission over a potential settlement related to its botched handling of Facebook's much-anticipated offering, according to people with knowledge of the discussions. While a settlement agreement isn't assured, the two sides are discussing a monetary penalty of about $5 million, people involved with the discussions said. In addition, Nasdaq has offered to compensate customers $62 million for losses stemming from Facebook IPO trades. U.S., S&P Settle In for Bitter Combat (WSJ) The lawsuit, filed in a federal court in Los Angeles, represents the Justice Department's most aggressive move yet to try to hold accountable companies that were at the center of the financial meltdown. While banks and others have settled with the government and a settlement is possible in the S&P case, both sides indicated Tuesday that they were preparing for a long and costly legal fight. William Black, a former regulator at the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, said U.S. officials seem "willing to push this case harder than with any financial-crisis case against a major bank." The government's case relies heavily on emails and other communications that allegedly show S&P officials knew the housing market was collapsing but dragged their feet on downgrading hundreds of securities because executives worried the firm would lose business and anger clients. In March 2007, an analyst sent colleagues song lyrics about the deteriorating market, set to the tune of the Talking Heads 1980s song "Burning Down the House," according to the government's complaint. Minutes later, the analyst sent a follow-up email: "For obvious, professional reasons please do not forward this song. If you are interested, I can sing it in your cube ;-)." Default in 10 Months After AAA Spurred Justice on Credit Ratings (Bloomberg) In May 2007, Standard & Poor’s confirmed its initial AAA ratings on $772 million of a collateralized debt obligation known as Octonion I. Within 10 months, the Citigroup Inc. deal defaulted, costing investors and the bank almost all their money. The CDO, which repackaged mortgage-backed securities and other similar bundles of debt, was among dozens of transactions valued at tens of billions of dollars in 2007 that the ratings firm never should have blessed, the Justice Department said Feb. 4 in a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles. Octonion I underscores how inflated grades during the credit boom contributed to more than $2.1 trillion in losses at the world’s financial institutions after home-loan defaults soared and residential prices plummeted. “During this period, nearly every single mortgage-backed CDO that was rated by S&P not only underperformed but failed,” Attorney General Eric Holder said yesterday at a news conference. “Put simply, this alleged conduct is egregious, and it goes to the very heart of the recent financial crisis.” Monopoly Fans Vote To Add Cat, Toss Iron (NYP) Scottie dog has a new nemesis in Monopoly after fans voted in an online contest to add a cat token to the property trading game, replacing the iron, toy maker Hasbro Inc. announced Wednesday. The results were announced after the shoe, wheelbarrow and iron were neck and neck for elimination in the final hours of voting that sparked passionate efforts by fans to save their favorite tokens, and by businesses eager to capitalize on publicity surrounding pieces that represent their products. The vote on Facebook closed just before midnight on Tuesday, marking the first time that fans have had a say on which of the eight tokens to add and which one to toss. The pieces identify the players and have changed quite a lot since Parker Brothers bought the game from its original designer in 1935. Fed Says Internal Site Breached by Hackers, No Critical Functions Affected (Reuters) The admission, which raises questions about cyber security at the Fed, follows a claim that hackers linked to the activist group Anonymous had struck the Fed on Sunday, accessing personal information of more than 4,000 U.S. bank executives, which it published on the Web. "The Federal Reserve system is aware that information was obtained by exploiting a temporary vulnerability in a website vendor product," a Fed spokeswoman said. "Exposure was fixed shortly after discovery and is no longer an issue. This incident did not affect critical operations of the Federal Reserve system," the spokeswoman said, adding that all individuals effected by the breach had been contacted. HSBC's Global Spread Left It Open To Crime, Says CEO (Reuters) "Our structure was not fit for purpose for a modern world," Stuart Gulliver told lawmakers on a British banking inquiry on Wednesday. "Our geographic footprint became very attractive to trans-national criminal organizations, whether they are terrorist in origin or criminal in origin." HSBC, whose former slogan "The world's local bank" reflects its presence in more than 80 countries, was in December given a $1.9 billion fine, the largest ever imposed on a bank, following a U.S. investigation into its Mexican and U.S. operations. Florida Keys 'Sea Hag' Gets 30 Years in Prison for Shooting Man Who Refused to Give Her Beer (NBC) The Florida Keys woman known as "the sea hag" who shot and killed her neighbor after he refused to give her a beer has been sentenced to 30 years behind bars. Dukeshire, who was facing a first-degree murder charge and made a deal with prosecutors, submitted a statement to the judge saying she was remorseful and would pay the rest of her life for losing her composure. Police say Dukeshire had approached Mazur outside his Conch Key home and asked him for a can of Busch Light. "Do you have a cold beer for me?" she asked, according to a Monroe County Sheriff's Office report.