Opening Bell: 01.15.13

Westminster Hits At Goldman Sachs Bonus Plan (FT) Goldman Sachs provoked a furious reaction in Westminster after it emerged that the U.S. investment bank was mulling a plan to delay its U.K. bonus payments to take advantage of the imminent cut to the top rate of tax. John Mann, a Labour member of the Treasury select committee, criticized an "opportunistic money grab" by banks at a time of intensifying public anger against the sector. Some 10 banks had previously considered delaying bonuses until the top rate falls from 50 to 45 pence - although most have since concluded that this would be damaging. Chris Leslie, shadow Treasury minister, said banks needed to think carefully about their reputations. Fitch Warns Of US Downgrade Over Debt Fight (CNBC) In a statement Fitch said the debt ceiling was "an ineffective and potentially dangerous mechanism for enforcing fiscal discipline. It does not prevent tax and spending decisions that will incur debt issuance in excess of the ceiling while the sanction of not raising the ceilingrisks a sovereign default and renders such a threat incredible." Fitch Upbeat On Ireland (Reuters) If [Ireland's] debts could be shared out among euro zone states through the region's bailout mechanisms there could be scope for Ireland's BBB-plus rating to rise into the single-A category, according to Fitch analyst Douglas Renwick. "If there is an element of risk sharing, say perhaps through the ESM (European Stability Mechanism) over a bit of time, it could rise back to the single-A (range)," Renwick said. JPMorgan Ordered To Fix Lapses (WSJ) US regulators hit JPMorgan with four formal enforcement actions targeting lapses in risk-management and money-laundering controls, including the first sanctions in response to the bank's multibillion-dollar 2012 trading debacle. One set of cease-and-desist orders from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Reserve instructs the largest U.S. bank by assets to remedy the breakdowns that allowed a small group of London-based traders to rack up more than $6 billion in losses last year. Another requires the bank to beef up its antimoney-laundering procedures and mirrors an action taken last April when regulators ordered Citigroup to upgrade its transaction-monitoring procedures and enhance internal audit. None of the orders issued Monday require any fines or monetary penalties, but regulators left the door open to future action. Wells Fargo Bets On Charlotte Trading After BofA Flees (Bloomberg) \Wells Fargo is betting its securities business can thrive 600 miles from New York in the same city Bank of America's traders largely abandoned. The first of 900 Wells Fargo employees moved last month into a new space on two floors of a 48-story tower in Charlotte, North Carolina. From their windows they can see the complex a half-mile away where Bank of America built its own state-of-the- art facility less than a decade ago for about 550 traders and investment bankers. Most have since been fired or moved to New York. Police: Teacher offers sexual favors to officer to avoid DUI arrest (WPBF) According to the arrest report, an empty gallon jug of Carlo Rossi wine was found behind the driver's seat of Maloney's damaged van, which was parked on the side of the street when officers arrived. Police said Maloney refused to cooperate with officers during their DUI investigation. Police said she began yelling at them and made random vulgar statements. While she was on her way to the police station, Maloney allegedly told an officer, "How much do I need to pay you to just let me go? Don't you understand I am a school teacher?" She then offered to perform oral sex on the officer and let him fondle her breasts, the report stated. RBS Libor Fine May Hit $800M+ (Bloomberg) US and UK regulators could hit the Royal Bank of Scotland with as much as $804 million in fines next week to settle allegations traders tried to rig interest rates, two people with knowledge of the matter said. Investment banking chief John Hourican and Peter Nielsen, the head of markets, may also be asked to leave because they had responsibility for the parts of the company where the alleged wrongdoing occurred. The fine would be the second-largest levied by regulators in their investigation into allegations traders at the world’s biggest lenders manipulated submissions used to set the London interbank offered rate. UBS AG, Switzerland’s biggest lender, was fined $1.5 billion in December for rate-rigging, exceeding the 290 million pounds Barclays paid in June. Bob Khuzami, Master Blaster (NYP) Robert Khuzami yesterday took aim at a Columbia University professor who chided the SEC’s head of enforcement for not suing enough high-ranking individuals at large financial institutions, choosing instead to settle with those companies...Khuzami said in a blistering 1,500-word article in the National Law Journal that the SEC has charged a total of 102 individuals associated with the credit crisis, including high-level executives at Citigroup, Credit Suisse, Bear Stearns, and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac...It’s the second time in as many weeks that Khuzami has called out his critics by name. Just before New Year’s Eve, the Brooklyn native blasted Simon Johnson, a professor at MIT Sloan School of Management, for a New York Times blog that said Khuzami’s hire was a “mistake” because of his former ties to Deutsche Bank. Khuzami shot back in the comment section of the blog — an unusual move for a public official. Wall Street Pay Gets Tougher Look (WSJ) Daniel Loeb, who runs hedge-fund firm Third Point LLC, has raised questions about whether compensation levels at Morgan Stanley are justified given the New York company's size and relative simplicity compared with larger bank. Hedge Funds' Manhattan Migration (WSJ) Of the new firms starting out in Manhattan, Greenwich or Stamford, about 86% picked the Big Apple, on average, from 2003 to 2008, according to eVestment, which tracks data on about 70% of U.S. hedge-fund firms. In 2009 and 2010, Manhattan was home to an average of 92% of the fund launches. Data for 2011 suggest the trend has continued. "There are blips in the data, but it's clear launches shifted toward New York after the crisis," says Peter Laurelli, eVestment's head of research. Detroit mafia boss says Jimmy Hoffa is buried in shallow grave north of Detroit (NYDN) Tony Zerilli, 85, says Hoffa was buried in a field outside Detroit, about 20 miles from the restaurant where he was last seen in July 1975. The aging Zerilli, who was in prison at the time of Hoffa’s disappearance, told TV news stations WNBC and WDIV that the plan was to move Hoffa’s body, but that never happened. “The master plan was, that I understood, was that they were going to put him in a shallow grave here. Then, they were going to take him from here to Rogers City upstate,” Zerilli said. “There was a hunting lodge and they were going to bury in a shallow grave then take him up there for final burial. Then, I understand, that it just fell through.” It was unclear why Zerilli chose to speak now about the 37-year-old mystery that has elicited dozens of false leads and conspiracy theories in the past. Zerilli said is to be ailing and penniless since his release from prison in 2008. WNBC reported he is promoting an upcoming book titled "Hoffa Found.” “All this speculation about where he is and he’s not,” Zerilli said. “They say he was in a meat grinder. It’s all baloney.”
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Westminster Hits At Goldman Sachs Bonus Plan (FT)
Goldman Sachs provoked a furious reaction in Westminster after it emerged that the U.S. investment bank was mulling a plan to delay its U.K. bonus payments to take advantage of the imminent cut to the top rate of tax. John Mann, a Labour member of the Treasury select committee, criticized an "opportunistic money grab" by banks at a time of intensifying public anger against the sector. Some 10 banks had previously considered delaying bonuses until the top rate falls from 50 to 45 pence - although most have since concluded that this would be damaging. Chris Leslie, shadow Treasury minister, said banks needed to think carefully about their reputations.

Fitch Warns Of US Downgrade Over Debt Fight (CNBC)
In a statement Fitch said the debt ceiling was "an ineffective and potentially dangerous mechanism for enforcing fiscal discipline. It does not prevent tax and spending decisions that will incur debt issuance in excess of the ceiling while the sanction of not raising the ceiling risks a sovereign default and renders such a threat incredible."

Fitch Upbeat On Ireland (Reuters)
If [Ireland's] debts could be shared out among euro zone states through the region's bailout mechanisms there could be scope for Ireland's BBB-plus rating to rise into the single-A category, according to Fitch analyst Douglas Renwick. "If there is an element of risk sharing, say perhaps through the ESM (European Stability Mechanism) over a bit of time, it could rise back to the single-A (range)," Renwick said.

JPMorgan Ordered To Fix Lapses (WSJ)
US regulators hit JPMorgan with four formal enforcement actions targeting lapses in risk-management and money-laundering controls, including the first sanctions in response to the bank's multibillion-dollar 2012 trading debacle. One set of cease-and-desist orders from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Reserve instructs the largest U.S. bank by assets to remedy the breakdowns that allowed a small group of London-based traders to rack up more than $6 billion in losses last year. Another requires the bank to beef up its antimoney-laundering procedures and mirrors an action taken last April when regulators ordered Citigroup to upgrade its transaction-monitoring procedures and enhance internal audit. None of the orders issued Monday require any fines or monetary penalties, but regulators left the door open to future action.

Wells Fargo Bets On Charlotte Trading After BofA Flees (Bloomberg)
Wells Fargo is betting its securities business can thrive 600 miles from New York in the same city Bank of America's traders largely abandoned. The first of 900 Wells Fargo employees moved last month into a new space on two floors of a 48-story tower in Charlotte, North Carolina. From their windows they can see the complex a half-mile away where Bank of America built its own state-of-the- art facility less than a decade ago for about 550 traders and investment bankers. Most have since been fired or moved to New York.

Police: Teacher offers sexual favors to officer to avoid DUI arrest (WPBF)
According to the arrest report, an empty gallon jug of Carlo Rossi wine was found behind the driver's seat of Maloney's damaged van, which was parked on the side of the street when officers arrived. Police said Maloney refused to cooperate with officers during their DUI investigation. Police said she began yelling at them and made random vulgar statements. While she was on her way to the police station, Maloney allegedly told an officer, "How much do I need to pay you to just let me go? Don't you understand I am a school teacher?" She then offered to perform oral sex on the officer and let him fondle her breasts, the report stated.

RBS Libor Fine May Hit $800M+ (Bloomberg)
US and UK regulators could hit the Royal Bank of Scotland with as much as $804 million in fines next week to settle allegations traders tried to rig interest rates, two people with knowledge of the matter said. Investment banking chief John Hourican and Peter Nielsen, the head of markets, may also be asked to leave because they had responsibility for the parts of the company where the alleged wrongdoing occurred. The fine would be the second-largest levied by regulators in their investigation into allegations traders at the world’s biggest lenders manipulated submissions used to set the London interbank offered rate. UBS AG, Switzerland’s biggest lender, was fined $1.5 billion in December for rate-rigging, exceeding the 290 million pounds Barclays paid in June.

Bob Khuzami, Master Blaster (NYP)
Robert Khuzami yesterday took aim at a Columbia University professor who chided the SEC’s head of enforcement for not suing enough high-ranking individuals at large financial institutions, choosing instead to settle with those companies...Khuzami said in a blistering 1,500-word article in the National Law Journal that the SEC has charged a total of 102 individuals associated with the credit crisis, including high-level executives at Citigroup, Credit Suisse, Bear Stearns, and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac...It’s the second time in as many weeks that Khuzami has called out his critics by name. Just before New Year’s Eve, the Brooklyn native blasted Simon Johnson, a professor at MIT Sloan School of Management, for a New York Times blog that said Khuzami’s hire was a “mistake” because of his former ties to Deutsche Bank. Khuzami shot back in the comment section of the blog — an unusual move for a public official.

Wall Street Pay Gets Tougher Look (WSJ)
Daniel Loeb, who runs hedge-fund firm Third Point LLC, has raised questions about whether compensation levels at Morgan Stanley are justified given the New York company's size and relative simplicity compared with larger bank.

Hedge Funds' Manhattan Migration (WSJ)
Of the new firms starting out in Manhattan, Greenwich or Stamford, about 86% picked the Big Apple, on average, from 2003 to 2008, according to eVestment, which tracks data on about 70% of U.S. hedge-fund firms. In 2009 and 2010, Manhattan was home to an average of 92% of the fund launches. Data for 2011 suggest the trend has continued. "There are blips in the data, but it's clear launches shifted toward New York after the crisis," says Peter Laurelli, eVestment's head of research.

Detroit mafia boss says Jimmy Hoffa is buried in shallow grave north of Detroit (NYDN)
Tony Zerilli, 85, says Hoffa was buried in a field outside Detroit, about 20 miles from the restaurant where he was last seen in July 1975. The aging Zerilli, who was in prison at the time of Hoffa’s disappearance, told TV news stations WNBC and WDIV that the plan was to move Hoffa’s body, but that never happened. “The master plan was, that I understood, was that they were going to put him in a shallow grave here. Then, they were going to take him from here to Rogers City upstate,” Zerilli said. “There was a hunting lodge and they were going to bury in a shallow grave then take him up there for final burial. Then, I understand, that it just fell through.” It was unclear why Zerilli chose to speak now about the 37-year-old mystery that has elicited dozens of false leads and conspiracy theories in the past. Zerilli said is to be ailing and penniless since his release from prison in 2008. WNBC reported he is promoting an upcoming book titled "Hoffa Found.” “All this speculation about where he is and he’s not,” Zerilli said. “They say he was in a meat grinder. It’s all baloney.”

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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: 12.19.12

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

Opening Bell: 11.07.12

Obama Wins Re-Election With Romney Defeated In Key States (Bloomberg) Obama defeated Republican Mitt Romney, winning at least 303 electoral votes in yesterday’s election with 270 needed for the victory. With one state -- Florida -- yet to be decided, Romney had 206 electoral votes...Obama won the battleground states of Ohio, Virginia, Iowa, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Nevada and Colorado. He also carried Pennsylvania, where Romney made an 11th-hour bid for support to try to derail the president’s drive for re-election. North Carolina was the only battleground Romney won. Romney Campaigns To The End (WSJ) Hours before Mitt Romney lost his six-year quest to win the presidency, he said he had prepared only one speech—a victory speech...Until the final hour, Mr. Romney and his aides expressed confidence that he would win. The candidate, who prefers data and metrics to chitchat, appeared to be caught off guard by the loss even though he trailed in polls in crucial battlegrounds such as Ohio. Triumph Of The Nerds: Nate Silver Wins In 50 States (Mashable) The Fivethirtyeight.com analyst, despite being pilloried by the pundits, outdid even his 2008 prediction. In that year, his mathematical model correctly called 49 out of 50 states, missing only Indiana (which went to Obama by 0.1%.) This year, according to all projections, Silver’s model has correctly predicted 50 out of 50 states. A last-minute flip for Florida, which finally went blue in Silver’s prediction on Monday night, helped him to a perfect game. Loser Ryan Also A Winner (NYP) The Republican vice-presidential hopeful hedged his bet by running for re-election to his congressional seat in Wisconsin — where last night, he was declared the winner for an eighth straight time. Goldman Partners Pocket $22 Million (WSJ) More than 30 executives, including Chief Executive Officer Lloyd C. Blankfein, recently cashed in stock options awarded in the afterglow of the company's initial public offering in 1999. According to a securities filing, the executives, all Goldman partners, pocketed a total of $21.8 million by exercising options and selling the underlying shares in the three days after the firm reported third-quarter results in mid-October. The options expire at the end of November, and cashing in produced instant profits because Goldman's share price is more than 50% higher than when the options were awarded in 2002. "By exercising 10-year-old options before they expired later this year, executives captured some of the value we have built for shareholders over that period," said a spokesman for the securities firm. In contrast, many of the executives' remaining options are worthless, at least for now, because they were granted from 2005 to 2008. The stock peaked in October 2007 at about $239, or 89% higher than Tuesday's closing price of $126.25 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading at 4 p.m. The biggest gain went to Michael S. Sherwood, a Goldman vice chairman and the firm's top executive in Europe, who received $5.2 million from exercising options on 115,211 shares. Mr. Blankfein collected $3.1 million, while departing Chief Financial Officer David A. Viniar got $2.3 million, the filing shows. JPMorgan Nears SEC Settlement (WSJ) JPMorgan is close to a settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission that would end one probe into how the company's Bear Stearns Cos. unit packaged and sold home loans to investors, according to people familiar with the case. A pact with the nation's largest bank by assets would be the first tangible victory in a wide-ranging SEC investigation into Wall Street's sale of mortgage-backed securities before the onset of the financial crisis. Since 2010, the SEC has issued more than 300 subpoenas or document requests related to the probe and collected more than 30 million pages of documents, enforcement chief Robert Khuzami said earlier this year. BNP Paribas Third Quarter Net Doubles On Trading Gains (Bloomberg) Pretax profit at BNP Paribas’s corporate- and investment- banking unit, or CIB, rose 7.3 percent to 732 million euros, beating analysts’ estimate of 686 million euros. Revenue from equity and advisory operations climbed 51 percent to 444 million euros, while fixed-income sales more than doubled to 1.13 billion euros. After Obama Victory, Donald Trump Rants On Twitter (ABC) “We can’t let this happen. We should march on Washington and stop this travesty,” Trump Tweeted. “Our nation is totally divided! Lets fight like hell and stop this great and disgusting injustice! The world is laughing at us. This election is a total sham and a travesty. We are not a democracy! And then: “Our country is now in serious and unprecedented trouble…like never before. Our nation is a once great nation divided! The electoral college is a disaster for a democracy. Hopefully the House of Representatives can hold our country together for four more years…stay strong and never give up! House of Representatives shouldn’t give anything to Obama unless he terminates Obamacare.” And finally: “This election is a total sham and a travesty. We are not a democracy!” Fitch: No Fiscal Honeymoon For President Obama (CNBC) President Barack Obama will need to quickly secure agreement on avoiding the "fiscal cliff" and raising the debt ceiling following Tuesday's elections, Fitch Ratings said. The economic policy challenge facing the president is to put in place a credible deficit-reduction plan necessary to underpin economic recovery and confidence in the full faith and credit of the U.S., according to Fitch. Resolution of these fiscal policy choices would likely result in the U.S. retaining its triple-A status from Fitch, the firm said. Failure to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff and raise the debt ceiling in a timely manner, as well as securing agreement on credible deficit reduction, would likely result in a rating downgrade in 2013, Fitch said. The New Haven For Investors (WSJ) Treasurys have a new rival for safe-haven status: U.S. companies. Bonds of Exxon Mobil and Johnson & Johnson are trading with yields below those of comparable Treasurys, a sign that investors perceive them as a safer bet. It is a rare phenomenon that some market observers said could be the beginning of a new era for debt markets. It could ultimately mean some companies will borrow at lower rates than the U.S. government. Swiss, Greeks Begin Talks On Tax Deal (WSJ) Switzerland has begun formal talks on a deal to tax assets stashed in secret Swiss bank accounts by Greek citizens, in line with similar agreements struck with other European countries, the Swiss government said Wednesday. Woman Wearing MIT Shirt Nearly Banned From Voting In Boca Raton (BNN) A woman attempting to vote in West Boca Raton yesterday was initially prohibited from entering the polling place because she was wearing a t-shirt with the letters MIT. BocaNewsNow.com heard from multiple sources that an election supervisor at the polling place ultimately realized that MIT stands for “Massachusetts Institute of Technology” — a school where students tend to know how to spell — and was not a campaign shirt for the Republican candidate, who spells his name MITT. Campaigning is not permitted within several yards of a polling place. The woman was ultimately allowed to vote.

Opening Bell: 09.28.12

Bank Of America Reaches Settlement In Merrill Lynch Acquisition-Related Class Action Litigation (BW) Under terms of the proposed settlement, Bank of America would pay a total of $2.43 billion and institute certain corporate governance policies. Plaintiffs had alleged, among other claims, that Bank of America and certain of its officers made false or misleading statements about the financial health of Bank of America and Merrill Lynch. Bank of America denies the allegations and is entering into this settlement to eliminate the uncertainties, burden and expense of further protracted litigation. Greece Seeks Taxes From Wealthy With Cash Havens in London (NYT) At the request of the Athens government, the British financial authorities recently handed over a detailed list of about 400 Greek individuals who have bought and sold London properties since 2009. The list, closely guarded, has not been publicly disclosed. But Greek officials are examining it to determine whether the people named — who they say include prominent businessmen, bankers, shipping tycoons and professional athletes — have deceived the tax authorities by understating their wealth. Libor Riggers May Be Criminal, Even If Acts Not Illegal at Time (CNBC) Those who took part in the manipulation of the London interbank offered rate (Libor), the key benchmark rate, could face criminal prosecution even though Libor manipulation is not yet a criminal offense. Martin Wheatley, who is advising the U.K. government on what changes could be made to Libor to stop manipulation in the future, said that U.K. regulator the Financial Services Authority (FSA) is considering prosecuting those who took part under “broad principles of conduct.” He also recommended that the government should give the FSA power to prosecute future Libor manipulation. Libor Furor: Key Rate Gets New Scrutiny (WSJ) "There's a concern that if you're going to base financial decisions on a particular interest rate" it should be a measure that responds to changes in market conditions, "and that's not Libor," said Andrew Lo, a finance professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Macquarie Bonuses Whack Profit (WSJ) Macquarie Group may have lost its reputation as the Millionaire’s Factory as profits slumped since the onset of the global financial crisis, but according to Citigroup analysts the bank’s net profit could have been 60% higher last financial year if not for a dramatic rise in bonus payments to staff...Wes Nason estimates that while the bank’s return on equity fell to 6.8% last financial year-–hitting its lowest level since it listed in the first half of fiscal 2012 and compared with a 10-year average of 18.4%—-its average bonus payments almost tripled to A$73,000 a head, up from A$26,000 in 2009. Replacement referee Lance Easley stands by touchdown call (NYDN) Lance Easley has been vilified for awarding the Seattle Seahawks a touchdown on its Hail Mary pass in the closing seconds of Monday night’s game against the Green Bay Packers even though pretty much everyone in the country saw that the pass had been intercepted. “I processed everything properly,” Easley told the Daily News Thursday. “It was supported on video. But the bad thing is, people don’t understand the rules in that whole play. “But that play rarely ever happens, it rarely happens in the field of play and it never happens in an NFL game,” he added. “And here I got stuck in the middle of it.” The call was reviewed on instant replay — and, amazingly, upheld, despite the refs also missing a pass interference infraction by a Seattle player. Since then the 52-year-old Bank of America banker has been swept up in a whirlwind of national outrage — one that forced the NFL to end a seven-week lockout of its unionized refs early Thursday. But Easley said he and his replacements did a good job in their stint in zebra stripes. “I know where I stand,” he said. “Everything I did ... I got support from all the referees and everything, and replay and our league office and anybody else that understands the rules and how those plays function. Spanish Rescue May Throw Crisis Spotlight on Italy (Reuters) Italian government bonds risk being thrown back into the spotlight of the euro zone debt crisis once Spain decides to request aid and secures central bank support for its debt. A partial bailout for Madrid would probably trigger the European Central Bank's bond-buying plan, lowering Spain's borrowing costs and increasing investor appetite for riskier assets in general, including debt issued by Italy. But Italy could then return to the forefront of market concern as the next weak link. "The risks increase that you will get a contagion into Italy," said David Keeble, global head of fixed income strategy at Credit Agricole. Cyber Attacks On Banks Expose Computer Vulnerability (WSJ) Cyber attacks on the biggest U.S. banks, including JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Wells Fargo & Co., have breached some of the nation’s most advanced computer defenses and exposed the vulnerability of its infrastructure, said cybersecurity specialists tracking the assaults. The attack, which a U.S. official yesterday said was waged by a still-unidentified group outside the country, flooded bank websites with traffic, rendering them unavailable to consumers and disrupting transactions for hours at a time. Such a sustained network attack ranks among the worst-case scenarios envisioned by the National Security Agency, according to the U.S. official, who asked not to be identified because he isn’t authorized to speak publicly. The extent of the damage may not be known for weeks or months, said the official, who has access to classified information. Fitch Ratings Cuts China, India 2012 Growth Forecasts (CNBC) In its September Global Economic Outlook, the ratings agency said it now expected China’s economy, the world’s second largest, to grow 7.8 percent this year, down from a forecast of 8 percent made in June. It also lowered its forecast for economic growth in India to 6 percent in the financial year ending in March 2013 from a previous estimate of 6.5 percent. CIT Chief Tries To Rescue Reputation (NYP) John Thain yesterday said he brought up executive compensation at the time his firm was getting bailed out by taxpayers not for selfish reasons but to determine how much control Washington would have over his company. “One of the issues we were worried about at the time was, if you take government money how much say does the government have in how you run your business?” Thain said during an interview on CNBC. Days earlier, Thain was trashed by former bank regulator Sheila Bair, who, in her upcoming book, “Bull By the Horns,” accuses the Wall Street veteran of being fixated on pay during the height of the financial Armageddon. Bair, the former Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. boss, wrote that Thain “was desperate for capital but was worried about restrictions on executive compensation.” “I could not believe it. Where were this guy’s priorities?” she wrote, referring to Thain. The CEO, who was tapped to run the troubled lender in 2010, also addressed during the CNBC interview rumors that CIT was looking to sell itself to a large bank. “It’s absolutely not true,” Thain said yesterday. Canada Cheese-Smuggling Ring Busted (BBC) A Canadian police officer was among three people charged as the country's authorities announced they had busted a major cheese-smuggling ring. A joint US-Canadian investigation found C$200,000 (£125,600) of cheese and other products were illicitly brought over the border into southern Ontario. The smugglers sold large quantities of cheese, which is cheaper in the US, to restaurants, it is alleged. The other two men charged were civilians, one a former police officer. The charges come three days after CBC News first reported the force was conducting an internal investigation into cheese smuggling. A pizzeria owner west of Niagara Falls told CBC that he had been questioned by police over the issue, but assured them he had not bought any contraband dairy. "We get all our stuff legit," said the restaurateur. "We thought it was a joke at first. Who is going to go around trying to sell smuggled cheese?"

Opening Bell: 03.20.13

JPMorgan Bosses Hit By Bank Regulator (WSJ) JP Morgan was downgraded in a confidential government scorecard over concerns about the company's management and its board, a blow to a firm that has long been considered one of the best-run on Wall Street. The New York company's management rating from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency fell one notch last July to a level that signifies oversight "needs improvement," following the revelation of what are known as the "London whale" trading losses, said people familiar with the regulatory assessment. Grading is on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being worst. J.P. Morgan had been at level 2, indicating "satisfactory management." The people said the downgrade to level 3 wasn't solely related to a London employee's large trades—in indexes tracking the health of a group of companies—that led to losses exceeding $6 billion. BlackRock’s CEO Fink Says Cyprus Is Not a Major Problem (Bloomberg) Laurence D. Fink, chief executive officer of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, said Cyprus is not a major problem and U.S. equities will rise 20 percent this year as the economy rebounds. “It has some symbolism impact on Europe, but it’s not a really major economic issue,” Fink said of Cyprus in a Bloomberg Television interview in Hong Kong today. “It’s a $10 billion issue. It does remind us of the frailty of Europe. It does remind us that the European fix will be multiple years.” Freddie Mac Sues Big Banks (WSJ) sued more than a dozen of the world's biggest banks for alleged manipulation of interest rates, in the first government-backed private litigation over the rate-rigging scandal. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, by the mortgage-finance giant joins scores of other suits piling up in U.S. courts, seeking billions of dollars in damages from banks that allegedly manipulated the London interbank offered rate and other crucial financial benchmarks. Freddie Mac sued the British Bankers' Association alongside the banks, putting the private association of large British banks for the first time in the cross hairs of a Libor lawsuit. A probe by U.S. and U.K. regulators has uncovered evidence of widespread rate rigging by some traders. Three banks have agreed to pay penalties totaling about $2.5 billion, and about a dozen companies remain under investigation. The BBA has agreed to transfer its responsibility for overseeing Libor to a new operator. Litigation Forces Deutsche Bank to Restate Profits (Reuters) Deutsche Bank cut its previously reported 2012 pretax profit by 600 million euros ($773 million) on Wednesday, hit by new charges related to mortgage-related lawsuits and other regulatory investigations. Europe's biggest bank by assets declined to say why it had increased litigation provisions to 2.4 billion euros, forcing it to correct its Jan. 31 earnings report which already showed the worst quarterly loss in four years. Yoga-Pants Supplier Says Lululemon Stretches Truth (WSJ) A Taiwanese supplier to Lululemon Athletica was bent out of shape on Tuesday after the yoga-clothes retailer blamed it for producing a shipment of pants that were unacceptably see-through. The supplier, Eclat Textile Co. of Taiwan, hit back at Lululemon, saying the clothes it shipped weren't "problematic." "All shipments to Lululemon went through a certification process which Lululemon had approved," Eclat Chief Financial Officer Roger Lo said in an interview. "All the pants were manufactured according to the requirements set out in the contract with Lululemon." Bernanke Seen Keeping Up Pace of QE Until Fourth Quarter (Bloomberg) The Fed chief will probably halt the unprecedented easing in the first half of next year after expanding central bank assets to a record of about $4 trillion, according to median estimates by 46 economists surveyed March 13-18 before a two-day meeting of policy makers ending today. Unemployment will have fallen to 7.3 percent from its current 7.7 percent when the Fed starts to pull back on its buying, the economists said. Supreme Court Sacks Goldman (NYP) The Supreme Court yesterday refused to hear the bank’s appeal of a federal court ruling in a lawsuit alleging it misled investors about dicey mortgage-backed securities. SEC Digging Into Fund Fees (WSJ) The Securities and Exchange Commission is closely scrutinizing the fees and expenses, including travel and entertainment, that hedge funds and private-equity firms charge to their investors. As part of the Dodd-Frank financial law, the SEC now oversees more than 1,500 additional such advisers that were required to register with the agency. In that capacity, the SEC is checking to ensure they are charging their investors reasonable expenses. "Exotic" expenses like travel, entertainment and consulting arrangements are more likely to attract the agency's attention than routine charges like legal and accounting fees, say compliance consultants who advise funds on registration and reporting requirements. A Volatile Investor Buys Into a Softer Approach (WSJ) It has been a long slog for Mr. Hohn, whose fund bets big on a small number of out-of-favor stocks and often holds on for several years. It lost 43% in 2008, among the worst losses by a hedge-fund that year, according to industry-tracker HFR. Hedge funds on average lost 19% that year. Even the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index, which plunged as the economy descended into the worst financial crisis in decades, did better. But with a 30% return in 2012 and a 14% gain this year, TCI has crossed its high-water mark, or the point at which investment gains make up for losses and managers can begin collecting performance fees again, according to clients. "A lot of people wrote me off," Mr. Hohn said in an interview last month. "A lot of people fired us, a few people stuck by us, and we've worked and worked and made it all back for them." JPMorgan, MF Global Trustee Reach $546 Million Settlement (Reuters) As part of a settlement reached with James Giddens, the trustee who is tasked with liquidating MF Global Inc, JPMorgan will pay $100 million that will be made available for distribution to former MF Global customers. JPMorgan will also return more than $29 million of the brokerage's funds held by the bank, while releasing claims on$417 million that was previously returned to Giddens. Man, 18, forbidden from saying 'bingo' for 6 months (NKY) As part of 18-year-old Austin Whaley’s punishment, Kenton District Judge Douglas Grothaus recently ordered the Covington man not to say the word “bingo” for six months. “Just like you can’t run into a theater and yell ‘fire’ when it’s not on fire, you can’t run into a crowded bingo hall and yell ‘bingo’ when there isn’t one,” said Park Hills Police Sgt. Richard Webster, the officer who cited Whaley. On Feb. 9, Webster was working an off-duty security detail at a Covington bingo hall on West Pike Street when Whaley entered the hall with several other youths and yelled “bingo,” Webster said. “This caused the hall to quit operating since they thought someone had won,” Webster wrote on his citation. “This delayed the game by several minutes and caused alarm to patrons.” Webster said the crowd of mostly elderly women did not take kindly to Whaley’s bingo call. “At first, everybody started moaning and groaning when they thought they’d lost,” Webster said. “When they realized it wasn’t a real bingo, they started hooting and hollering and yelling and cussing. People take their bingo very seriously.” Had Whaley apologized for his actions, Webster said he probably would have sent him on his way with a warning. “But he refused to say he was sorry,” Webster said...WhenWhaley appeared in Kenton District Court last week, the judge ordered Whaley: “Do not say the word ‘bingo’ for six months.” The youthful defendant could have faced up to 90 days in a jail and a $250 fine on the misdemeanor charge. So long as Whaley, who had no prior criminal record, doesn’t get into any more trouble within six months, though, the charge will be dismissed.

Opening Bell: 02.22.12

Fitch Downgrades Greece (WSJ) Fitch Ratings downgraded Greece's credit rating to C from triple-C Wednesday after confirmation of the country's second bailout package, which includes a debt exchange that will force bondholders to take a loss on their holdings of Greek debt. "The rating action is in line with Fitch's statement on 6 June 2011, which outlined its rating approach to a sovereign-debt exchange," the ratings company said. Fitch said it will lower its rating on the country's sovereign bonds to "restricted default" upon the completion of the debt exchange aimed at reducing the country's debt burden.

Opening Bell: 01.17.13

Charges Weigh On Bank Of America's Profit (WSJ) Overall, Bank of America reported a profit of $732 million versus a profit of $1.99 billion a year earlier. On a per-share basis, which includes the payment of preferred dividends, the bank reported earnings of three cents versus 15 cents a year earlier. The most recent period included a per-share impact of 16 cents from the Fannie Mae settlement, a six cent impact from the foreclosure review and litigation expense of five cents a share, among other items. Revenue dropped 25% to $18.66 billion as noninterest income fell 41%. Excluding $700 million of debit valuation and fair value option adjustments, and $3 billion for the cost of $3 billion, revenue was $22.6 billion. Citigroup Earnings Miss Analysts’ Estimates on Litigation (Bloomberg) Net income climbed 25 percent to $1.2 billion in the fourth quarter, or 38 cents a share, from $956 million, or 31 cents, a year earlier, the New York-based lender said today in a statement. Earnings adjusted for one-time items including restructuring costs were 69 cents a share. Twenty-one analysts surveyed by Bloomberg estimated 96 cents on average, with some items Citigroup didn’t include. Chief Executive Officer Michael Corbat, 52, took over in October and last month announced plans to eliminate about 11,000 employees and pull back from some emerging markets, undoing part of the expansion strategy of his predecessor, Vikram Pandit. Litigation costs included $305 million from a settlement between U.S. banks and federal regulators, who were probing claims that lenders improperly seized homes. Goldman Profits By Going On Offensive (WSJ) The value of Goldman Sachs's investment portfolio doubled last year. Bond underwriting hit a five-year high. The firm's workforce shrank and remaining employees were paid a smaller chunk of overall revenue. Those were just some of the ingredients in a bigger-than-expected profit jump by the New York company, which said net income almost tripled to $2.83 billion in the fourth quarter from $1.01 billion a year earlier. Wednesday's results were packed with evidence of Goldman's discipline in cutting costs, taking less risk with its own money and riding out financial crises in the U.S. and then Europe. Goldman Agonized Over Pay Cuts as Profits Suffered (Reuters) Top executives at Goldman Sachs have been considering deep cuts to staffing levels and pay for at least two years, but feared too many layoffs would leave the firm unprepared for an eventual pickup in business, people familiar with the bank said. They instead chipped away at staff levels and focused on non-personnel expenses that are less painful to cut. But investors pressured the bank to cut costs further, the sources said, and on Wednesday, Goldman gave in. The largest standalone investment bank said in the fourth quarter it cut the percentage of revenues it pays to employees in half to 21 percent. That brings the ratio for the entire year to its second-lowest level since the bank went public in 1999. Fed Concerned About Overheated Markets Amid Record Bond-Buying (Bloomberg) Now, as central bankers boost their stimulus with additional bond purchases, policy makers from Chairman Ben S. Bernanke to Kansas City Fed President Esther George are on the lookout for financial distortions that may reverse abruptly when the Fed stops adding to its portfolio and eventually shrinks it. “Prices of assets such as bonds, agricultural land, and high-yield and leveraged loans are at historically high levels,” George said in a speech last week. “We must not ignore the possibility that the low-interest rate policy may be creating incentives that lead to future financial imbalances.” Estonian president’s Twitter fight with Paul Krugman becomes an opera (RS) A Twitter feud in June between the Estonian president and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman who questioned the impact of Estonia’s austerity measures, is being turned into an opera, US composer Eugene Birman told AFP on Wednesday. “Our short opera will be first performed by Iris Oja and the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra conducted by Risto Joost during Tallinn Music Week on April 7,” Birman, who moved from Riga to the US at age of six, told AFP. The piece, in two movements, uses two voices, those of Krugman and Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, reflecting their exchanges on the Twitter social network...The bow-tie loving Ilves went on a tweet-rant after Krugman, the winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize for Economics, argued in a short article entitled “Estonian Rhapsody” that while Estonia had been globally praised for its austerity measures, its recovery was in fact lukewarm. “Let’s write about something we know nothing about & be smug, overbearing & patronizing…Guess a Nobel in trade means you can pontificate on fiscal matters & declare my country a ‘wasteland,’” Ilves responded on his page on the on the micro-blogging site Twitter. “But yes, what do we know? We’re just dumb and silly East Europeans,” he added, before writing in his final tweet, “Let’s sh*t on East Europeans.” Deutsche Bank Derivative Helped Monte Paschi Mask Losses (Bloomberg) Deutsche Bank designed a derivative for Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena SpA at the height of the financial crisis that obscured losses at the world’s oldest lender before it sought a taxpayer bailout. Germany’s largest bank loaned Monte Paschi about 1.5 billion euros ($2 billion) in December 2008 through the transaction, dubbed Project Santorini, according to more than 70 pages of documents outlining the deal and obtained by Bloomberg News. The trade helped Monte Paschi mitigate a 367 million-euro loss from an older derivative contract with Deutsche Bank. As part of the arrangement, the Italian lender made a losing bet on the value of the country’s government bonds, said six derivatives specialists who reviewed the files. BlackRock Net Jumps 24% (WSJ) The company said net inflows in long-term products totaled $47 billion at the year's end, reflecting equity, fixed income and multiasset class product net inflows of $31.2 billion, $12.4 billion and $4.1 billion, respectively. The net inflows were partially offset by alternatives net outflows of $700 million. Total assets under management were $3.792 trillion as of the end of the fourth quarter, versus $3.513 trillion a year earlier and $3.673 trillion in the third quarter. Jobless Claims Drop To 5-Year Low (Reuters) Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell 37,000 to a seasonally adjusted 335,000, the lowest level since January 2008, the Labor Department said on Thursday. It was the largest weekly drop since February 2010. Khuzami defends corp. settlements (NYP) Robert Khuzami, the Securities and Exchange Commission’s enforcement chief, is on his way out the door — but he says in an interview with The Post that the agency’s much-maligned practice of settling cases is here to stay. Khuzami, 56, defended the SEC’s policy of allowing targets to settle cases — usually without an admission of wrongdoing — despite recent criticism. “There are certain myths about SEC practices, including how ‘neither admit nor deny’ works and why we use it,” said Khuzami, who is leaving his post after heading the agency’s crackdown on big banks following the financial crisis. “I speak out against these myths in the hope of reducing the level of cynicism felt by the public, which are often fueled by mischaracterizations or misunderstandings of how we operate.” Commissioners approve regulations governing sexy coffee stands (Kitsap Sun) Owners of adult-themed coffee stands in unincorporated Kitsap County will have to post signs warning would-be customers about their scantily-clad baristas, and they'll have to do more to protect passers-by from seeing into their businesses. That's according to an ordinance passed Monday in a unanimous vote of the Kitsap County commissioners. The stands have 60 days to comply with the changes, which include a site visit by county planning staff to check the signs are posted and additional screening is added...The ordinance requires adult espresso stands — the three existing stands and any new ones — to install an 8-foot-high fence or landscape buffer, approved by the county Department of Community Development, in front of windows that face the street or other businesses, blocking views by the public. Businesses also must receive a one-time certification from DCD to guarantee the regulations are met. A boiling point was hit more than a year ago when five stands — three of them within a half-mile stretch of Highway 303 — advertised employees in pasties and lingerie. Unhappy parents demanded commissioners regulate the businesses. The health department doesn't require clothing, instead it looks at whether employees have food handler permits, said Department of Community Development associate planner Heather Adams. The state Department of Labor and Industries also has no rules dictating required clothing at coffee stands, Adams said.

Opening Bell: 05.22.12

JPMorgan's Losses Are Rival's Boons (WSJ) A group of about a dozen banks, including Goldman Sachs Group and Bank of America have scored profits that collectively could total $500 million to $1 billion on trades that sometimes pit them directly against J.P. Morgan's Chief Investment Office, according to traders and people close to the matter. Facebook 11% Drop Means Morgan Stanley Gets Blame (Bloomberg) Some investors say they felt misled by the underwriters. According to one London-based fund manager who asked not to be named, bankers indicated demand was so strong that he placed a bigger order than he thought he would get, leaving him with 40 percent more Facebook shares than anticipated. He sold most of that stock on the first day of trading. Morgan Stanley Cut Facebook Estimates Just Before IPO (Reuters) In the run-up to Facebook's $16 billion IPO, Morgan Stanley, the lead underwriter on the deal, unexpectedly delivered some negative news to major clients: The bank's consumer Internet analyst, Scott Devitt, was reducing his revenue forecasts for the company. The sudden caution very close to the huge initial public offering, and while an investor roadshow was underway, was a big shock to some, said two investors who were advised of the revised forecast. They say it may have contributed to the weak performance of Facebook shares, which sank on Monday - their second day of trading - to end 10 percent below the IPO price. The $38 per share IPO price valued Facebook at $104 billion. Deutsche Bank: 'Geuro' an Alternative to Greek Euro Exit (CNBC) Greece’s best chance of survival may be to stay in the euro but opt for its own parallel currency or “Geuro,” according to Deutsche Bank’s head of research, Thomas Mayer. In a research piece, Mayer said the Geuro would help Greece balance its primary budget without financial support from the 'Troika' of international lenders (the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the European Central Bank). This would allow the incoming Greek government to reject the strict austerity program on which aid is contingent. IMF Chief, OECD Call For More Euro Debt Sharing (WSJ) International Monetary Fund head Christine Lagarde Tuesday called on euro-zone governments to accept more common liability for each other's debts, saying that the region urgently needs to take further steps to contain the crisis. "We consider that more needs to be done, particularly by way of fiscal liability-sharing, and there are multiple ways to do that," Ms. Lagarde told a press conference in London to mark the completion of a regular review of U.K. finances. Greece Needs To Accept Bailout Terms, Says South Korea (CNBC) South Korea’s President Lee Myung-bak says Greece needs to accept the terms of a $130 billion international bailout agreed in March and there will be no disbursement of money from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), unless the country does so. Floating bales of marijuana a mystery (OCG) The floating bundles, weighing a total of 8,068 pounds, were first seen by a boater near the harbor around 12:01 p.m. Sunday, U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Seth Johnson said. The bales were reportedly floating at least 15 miles off shore. The Orange County Sheriff's Department sent three Harbor Patrol ships to aid in recovering the marijuana. A Coast Guard cutter was also sent to assist. Michael Jimenez, a Border Patrol spokesman, called Sunday's incident unusual. In most scenarios when marijuana bales are found dumped in the water it is because a vessel is trying to flee from authorities. "At other events, they've dumped the bales to get rid of weight if they're being chased," he said. "Generally in these cases we're aware they're being dumped. What's more unusual is that the bales were floating with no boat in sight." Fitch Downgrades Japan (WSJ) Fitch Ratings downgraded Japan's sovereign rating to A-plus and said it was maintaining a negative outlook due to the "leisurely" pace of the county's efforts to remedy its dire fiscal situation. The firm's long-term foreign-currency rating had been AA and its local currency issuer default rating had been AA-minus. JPMorgan Veered From Hedging Practices At Competing Banks (Bloomberg) JPMorgan's biggest U.S. competitors say their corporate investment offices avoid the use of derivatives that led to the bank’s $2 billion loss and buy fewer bonds exposed to credit risk. Bank of America, Citigroup, and Wells Fargo. say the offices don’t trade credit-default swaps on indexes linked to the health of companies. JPMorgan is said to have amassed positions in such indexes that were so large they drove price moves in the $10 trillion market. The loss has prompted shareholders to join regulators in scrutinizing how banks use their investment offices to hedge risks and manage deposits they aren’t using for loans. JPMorgan’s competitors confine corporate-level trading mostly to interest-rate and currency swaps -- the most common derivatives -- and put a greater percentage of funds into U.S. government- backed securities such as Treasury bonds. Blackstone Moves Into Motel 6 (WSJ) Blackstone Group LP is acquiring discount lodging chain Motel 6 in a deal valued at $1.9 billion, as the private-equity firm continues to invest aggressively through its $10 billion real estate war-chest. Jon Corzine Got $8.4 Million In Year Before MF Global Collapse (NYP) Corzine received a bonus of $1.25 million in addition to his salary of about $1.8 million last year. He also was awarded $5.35 million in now-worthless stock options. Other MF Global insiders, including Chief Operating Officer Bradley Abelow, also saw big pay days. Abelow, who is still working at the firm, was paid $2.7 million in cash, including a $1.25 million bonus, plus restricted stock valued at $1.5 million. Woman Claims She Was Fired For Being "Too Hot" (Reuters) A New Jersey woman said on Monday that she was dismissed from a temporary job at a New York lingerie warehouse because her male employers felt she was too busty and dressed too provocatively for the workplace. Wearing a form-fitting sequined black dress and black leather, sequin-studded boots, Lauren Odes, 29, said her Orthodox Jewish employers at Native Intimates told her that outfit and others like it were "too hot" for the warehouse. "We should not be judged by the size of our breasts or the shape of our body," Odes said. Odes's attorney, celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred, said she filed a gender and religious discrimination complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in New York.