Opening Bell: 02.04.13

UK Regulators Could Split Banks (WSJ) U.K. Treasury chief George Osborne on Monday will announce new powers for regulators to split up banks that flout rules designed to ring-fence retail banking from riskier investment-banking activity. In a wide-ranging speech on banking in Bournemouth, England, Mr. Osborne is expected to say the new powers are needed so that taxpayers will never again be on the hook when banks fail, as they were during the financial crisis. "We're not going to repeat the mistakes of the past. In America and elsewhere, banks found ways to undermine and get around the rules," Mr. Osborne will say, according to the extracts of his speech. "We could see that again—so we are going to arm ourselves in advance. In the jargon, we will "electrify the ring fence." New Details Suggest a Defense in SAC Case (NYT) In bringing its charges, the government said that SAC not only sold out of its position, but also bet against — or shorted — the drug companies' stocks before the public announcement of the bad news. The SAC short position, according to prosecutors, allowed it to earn big profits after shares of the companies, Elan and Wyeth, plummeted. "The fund didn't merely avoid losses, it greedily schemed to profit further by shorting Elan and Wyeth stock," said April Brooks, a senior F.B.I. official in New York, during a press conference on Nov. 20, the day Mr. Martoma was arrested. Internal SAC trading records, according to people directly involved in the case, indicate that the hedge fund did not have a negative bet in place in advance of the announcement of the drug trial's disappointing results. Instead, the records indicated that SAC, through a series of trades, including a complex transaction known as an equity swap, had virtually no exposure — neither long nor short — heading into the disclosure of the drug data. Blackstone To Become Investment Bank? (FT) Blackstone, one of the world's largest alternative asset managers, has quietly secured a securities underwriting licence as its expanding capital markets operation strays into investment banking territory. The licence marks the latest stage in the transformation of big listed private equity groups as they become more broadly based alternative asset managers. Apollo and KKR , two of Blackstone's biggest rivals, also have securities underwriting licences. The move highlights the pressure listed private equity groups are under to generate new sources of fee income to satisfy their public shareholders. "The private equity business is lousy for shareholders," says the head of capital markets for one buyout firm that is not listed. Obama: more tax revenue needed to address deficit (Reuters) President Barack Obama said on Sunday more tax revenue would be needed to reduce the U.S. deficit and signaled he would push hard to get rid of loopholes such as the "carried interest" tax break enjoyed by private equity and hedge fund managers. Herbalife Is The Subject Of 'Pending' Probe (NYP) The Los Angeles-based distributor of nutritional products is the subject of a law enforcement investigation, The Post has learned. The existence of the probe emerged after the Federal Trade Commission, responding to a Freedom of Information Law request by The Post, released 192 complaints filed against Herbalife over the past seven years. New Orleans Braces From Fallout From Blackout (AP) The outage, blamed on an unspecified "abnormality" in the Superdome's power system, was an embarrassment for New Orleans, which was hosting its first Super Bowl since 2002 and was eager to show off how it has been rebuilt since Hurricane Katrina. Mayor Mitch Landrieu called Sunday night's outage "an unfortunate moment in what has been an otherwise shining Super Bowl week for the city of New Orleans." He said he expected to receive "a full after-action report from all parties involved" in the coming days...For 34 minutes, the players tried to stay loose, the fans milled about in darkened corridors, and stadium officials scrambled to figure out what went wrong. The Ravens barely hung on for a 34-31 victory over the San Francisco 49ers, needing a goal-line stand in the closing minutes to preserve the championship. "It really hurt us," Baltimore fullback Vonta Leach said. "We had lot of momentum." There is sure to be some fallout for the city and the Superdome — especially since New Orleans plans to bid for the title game in 2018, in conjunction with the 300th anniversary of its founding. Escalators stopped working and credit-card machines shut down, though auxiliary power kept the playing field and concourses from going totally dark. "We sincerely apologize for the incident," Superdome spokesman Eric Eagan said. Most fans seemed to take the outage in stride, even starting up the wave to pass the time. "So we had to spend 30 minutes in the dark? That was just more time for fans to refill their drinks," said Amanda Black of Columbus, Miss. Question of Aiding Cyprus Places Germany in a Bind (NYT) In recent days, Germany has signaled that it is reluctantly edging toward a bailout for Cyprus, a haven for Russian cash, after lifelines have been extended to Greece, Ireland and Portugal to prevent potentially calamitous defaults. While Cyprus makes up just a sliver of the euro zone economy, it is proving to be a first-rate political headache. "I don't think that Germany has ever in the history of the euro zone crisis left itself so little wiggle room," said Nicholas Spiro, the managing director of Spiro Sovereign Strategy in London. "But Germany wants the euro to succeed and survive, and they are saying we can't afford a Cyprus bankruptcy." BlackRock Sued by Funds Over Securities Lending Fees (Bloomberg) BlackRock is accused in a lawsuit by two pension funds of reaping “grossly excessive” compensation from securities- lending returns associated with iShares Inc. “Defendants have systematically violated their fiduciary duties, setting up an excessive fee structure designed to loot securities lending returns properly due to iShares investors,” the funds, which invest in iShares, said in a complaint in federal court in Nashville, Tennessee. Two Top Barclays Executives Resign (WSJ) Barclays, whose chairman, chief executive and chief operating officer all resigned last summer in the wake of a series of controversies, said Sunday evening that finance chief Chris Lucas and Mark Harding, its general counsel, will both be retiring in coming months...Messrs. Lucas and Harding were longtime Barclays veterans who worked closely with former CEO Robert Diamond, who resigned last summer after the bank admitted that it had tried to rig benchmark interest rates and paid a roughly $450 million penalty. Youngest American Woman Billionaire Found With In-N-Out (Bloomberg) Lunchtime at the flagship In-N-Out Burger restaurant in Baldwin Park, California, is a study in efficiency. As the order line swells, smiling workers swoop in to operate empty cash registers. Another staffer cleans tables, asking customers if they’re enjoying their hamburger. Outside, a woman armed with a hand-held ordering machine speeds up the drive-through line. Such service has helped In-N-Out create a rabid fan base -- and make Lynsi Torres, the chain’s 30-year-old owner and president, one of the youngest female billionaires on Earth. New store openings often resemble product releases from Apple, with customers lined up hours in advance. City officials plead with the Irvine, California-based company to open restaurants in their municipalities. “They have done a fantastic job of building and maintaining a kind of cult following,” said Bob Goldin, executive vice president of Chicago-based food industry research firm Technomic Inc. “Someone would love to buy them.” That someone includes billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who told a group of visiting business students in 2005 that he’d like to own the chain, according to an account of the meeting on the UCLA Anderson School of Management website. Mint officially ends distribution of Canadian penny (CP) The phasing-out of the penny will lurch ahead today with the Royal Canadian Mint officially ending its distribution of one-cent coins to Canada's financial institutions. The move comes nearly a year after Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced the demise of the penny, whose production cost came to exceed its monetary value. But as it faces extinction in the pockets and tills of most Canadians, the humble penny is still in demand in some artistic circles where it retains significant value. Renee Gruszecki, a Halifax-based academic and archivist, has spent the past year making a living through a jewelry business devoted primarily to preserving the country's stray cents. About 30,000 strategically sorted pennies fill Gruszecki's home and eventually find their way into the accessories produced at Coin Coin Designs and Co. Gruszecki, a long-time collector of lucky pennies, believes her pieces will help preserve a symbol that is both an object of superstition and a Canadian icon. "The maple leaf is synonymous with everything Canadian. We all identify with it," she said in a telephone interview. "Now it's just no longer going to be present among us, so I'm saddened by that." The Bank of Canada's Currency Museum has already taken steps to preserve the penny's place in Canadian culture. A mural consisting of nearly 16,000 one-cent pieces has been assembled at the museum to commemorate the coin's history, said assistant curator Raewyn Passmore. The mosaic, which depicts a giant penny measuring about two square metres, is comprised of coins ranging from the lustrous to the tarnished.
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UK Regulators Could Split Banks (WSJ)
U.K. Treasury chief George Osborne on Monday will announce new powers for regulators to split up banks that flout rules designed to ring-fence retail banking from riskier investment-banking activity. In a wide-ranging speech on banking in Bournemouth, England, Mr. Osborne is expected to say the new powers are needed so that taxpayers will never again be on the hook when banks fail, as they were during the financial crisis. "We're not going to repeat the mistakes of the past. In America and elsewhere, banks found ways to undermine and get around the rules," Mr. Osborne will say, according to the extracts of his speech. "We could see that again—so we are going to arm ourselves in advance. In the jargon, we will "electrify the ring fence."

New Details Suggest a Defense in SAC Case (NYT)
In bringing its charges, the government said that SAC not only sold out of its position, but also bet against — or shorted — the drug companies' stocks before the public announcement of the bad news. The SAC short position, according to prosecutors, allowed it to earn big profits after shares of the companies, Elan and Wyeth, plummeted. "The fund didn't merely avoid losses, it greedily schemed to profit further by shorting Elan and Wyeth stock," said April Brooks, a senior F.B.I. official in New York, during a press conference on Nov. 20, the day Mr. Martoma was arrested. Internal SAC trading records, according to people directly involved in the case, indicate that the hedge fund did not have a negative bet in place in advance of the announcement of the drug trial's disappointing results. Instead, the records indicated that SAC, through a series of trades, including a complex transaction known as an equity swap, had virtually no exposure — neither long nor short — heading into the disclosure of the drug data.

Blackstone To Become Investment Bank? (FT)
Blackstone, one of the world's largest alternative asset managers, has quietly secured a securities underwriting licence as its expanding capital markets operation strays into investment banking territory. The licence marks the latest stage in the transformation of big listed private equity groups as they become more broadly based alternative asset managers. Apollo and KKR , two of Blackstone's biggest rivals, also have securities underwriting licences. The move highlights the pressure listed private equity groups are under to generate new sources of fee income to satisfy their public shareholders. "The private equity business is lousy for shareholders," says the head of capital markets for one buyout firm that is not listed.

Obama: more tax revenue needed to address deficit (Reuters)
President Barack Obama said on Sunday more tax revenue would be needed to reduce the U.S. deficit and signaled he would push hard to get rid of loopholes such as the "carried interest" tax break enjoyed by private equity and hedge fund managers.

Herbalife Is The Subject Of 'Pending' Probe (NYP)
The Los Angeles-based distributor of nutritional products is the subject of a law enforcement investigation, The Post has learned. The existence of the probe emerged after the Federal Trade Commission, responding to a Freedom of Information Law request by The Post, released 192 complaints filed against Herbalife over the past seven years.

New Orleans Braces From Fallout From Blackout (AP)
The outage, blamed on an unspecified "abnormality" in the Superdome's power system, was an embarrassment for New Orleans, which was hosting its first Super Bowl since 2002 and was eager to show off how it has been rebuilt since Hurricane Katrina. Mayor Mitch Landrieu called Sunday night's outage "an unfortunate moment in what has been an otherwise shining Super Bowl week for the city of New Orleans." He said he expected to receive "a full after-action report from all parties involved" in the coming days...For 34 minutes, the players tried to stay loose, the fans milled about in darkened corridors, and stadium officials scrambled to figure out what went wrong. The Ravens barely hung on for a 34-31 victory over the San Francisco 49ers, needing a goal-line stand in the closing minutes to preserve the championship. "It really hurt us," Baltimore fullback Vonta Leach said. "We had lot of momentum." There is sure to be some fallout for the city and the Superdome — especially since New Orleans plans to bid for the title game in 2018, in conjunction with the 300th anniversary of its founding. Escalators stopped working and credit-card machines shut down, though auxiliary power kept the playing field and concourses from going totally dark. "We sincerely apologize for the incident," Superdome spokesman Eric Eagan said. Most fans seemed to take the outage in stride, even starting up the wave to pass the time. "So we had to spend 30 minutes in the dark? That was just more time for fans to refill their drinks," said Amanda Black of Columbus, Miss.

Question of Aiding Cyprus Places Germany in a Bind (NYT)
In recent days, Germany has signaled that it is reluctantly edging toward a bailout for Cyprus, a haven for Russian cash, after lifelines have been extended to Greece, Ireland and Portugal to prevent potentially calamitous defaults. While Cyprus makes up just a sliver of the euro zone economy, it is proving to be a first-rate political headache. "I don't think that Germany has ever in the history of the euro zone crisis left itself so little wiggle room," said Nicholas Spiro, the managing director of Spiro Sovereign Strategy in London. "But Germany wants the euro to succeed and survive, and they are saying we can't afford a Cyprus bankruptcy."

BlackRock Sued by Funds Over Securities Lending Fees (Bloomberg)
BlackRock is accused in a lawsuit by two pension funds of reaping “grossly excessive” compensation from securities- lending returns associated with iShares Inc. “Defendants have systematically violated their fiduciary duties, setting up an excessive fee structure designed to loot securities lending returns properly due to iShares investors,” the funds, which invest in iShares, said in a complaint in federal court in Nashville, Tennessee.

Two Top Barclays Executives Resign (WSJ)
Barclays, whose chairman, chief executive and chief operating officer all resigned last summer in the wake of a series of controversies, said Sunday evening that finance chief Chris Lucas and Mark Harding, its general counsel, will both be retiring in coming months...Messrs. Lucas and Harding were longtime Barclays veterans who worked closely with former CEO Robert Diamond, who resigned last summer after the bank admitted that it had tried to rig benchmark interest rates and paid a roughly $450 million penalty.

Youngest American Woman Billionaire Found With In-N-Out (Bloomberg)
Lunchtime at the flagship In-N-Out Burger restaurant in Baldwin Park, California, is a study in efficiency. As the order line swells, smiling workers swoop in to operate empty cash registers. Another staffer cleans tables, asking customers if they’re enjoying their hamburger. Outside, a woman armed with a hand-held ordering machine speeds up the drive-through line. Such service has helped In-N-Out create a rabid fan base -- and make Lynsi Torres, the chain’s 30-year-old owner and president, one of the youngest female billionaires on Earth. New store openings often resemble product releases from Apple, with customers lined up hours in advance. City officials plead with the Irvine, California-based company to open restaurants in their municipalities. “They have done a fantastic job of building and maintaining a kind of cult following,” said Bob Goldin, executive vice president of Chicago-based food industry research firm Technomic Inc. “Someone would love to buy them.” That someone includes billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who told a group of visiting business students in 2005 that he’d like to own the chain, according to an account of the meeting on the UCLA Anderson School of Management website.

Mint officially ends distribution of Canadian penny (CP)
The phasing-out of the penny will lurch ahead today with the Royal Canadian Mint officially ending its distribution of one-cent coins to Canada's financial institutions. The move comes nearly a year after Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced the demise of the penny, whose production cost came to exceed its monetary value. But as it faces extinction in the pockets and tills of most Canadians, the humble penny is still in demand in some artistic circles where it retains significant value. Renee Gruszecki, a Halifax-based academic and archivist, has spent the past year making a living through a jewelry business devoted primarily to preserving the country's stray cents. About 30,000 strategically sorted pennies fill Gruszecki's home and eventually find their way into the accessories produced at Coin Coin Designs and Co. Gruszecki, a long-time collector of lucky pennies, believes her pieces will help preserve a symbol that is both an object of superstition and a Canadian icon. "The maple leaf is synonymous with everything Canadian. We all identify with it," she said in a telephone interview. "Now it's just no longer going to be present among us, so I'm saddened by that." The Bank of Canada's Currency Museum has already taken steps to preserve the penny's place in Canadian culture. A mural consisting of nearly 16,000 one-cent pieces has been assembled at the museum to commemorate the coin's history, said assistant curator Raewyn Passmore. The mosaic, which depicts a giant penny measuring about two square metres, is comprised of coins ranging from the lustrous to the tarnished.

Related

Opening Bell: 12.10.12

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

Opening Bell: 10.17.12

BofA Sees Profit Slump (WSJ) Bank of America reported a profit $340 million versus a profit of $6.23 billion a year earlier. On a per-share basis, which includes the payment of preferred dividends, the bank reported a profit of less than a penny versus 56 cents a year earlier. The year-earlier period included 27 cents a share in net gains from one-time. Revenue fell 28% to $20.43 billion. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected a per-share loss of seven cents on revenue of $21.89 billion. BNY Mellon Profit Increases as Rising Stocks Boost Assets (Bloomberg) Net income increased to $720 million, or 61 cents a share, from $651 million, or 53 cents, a year earlier, the New York- based bank said today in a statement. Analysts had expected the New York-based company to report a profit of 54 cents a share, according to the average of 16 estimates in a Bloomberg survey. Citi's Pandit Quits Amid Board Clash (WSJ) The shake-up amounts to an extraordinary flexing of boardroom muscle at Citigroup, a company that until recently had a board stocked with directors handpicked by former CEO Sanford Weill who rarely challenged management decisions. The action raises questions about whether the sprawling Citigroup empire ultimately will be dramatically pared back or broken up, something Mr. Pandit opposed. When it was formed in 1998, Citigroup was envisaged as the prototype of the modern bank, a "financial supermarket" with tentacles in all areas of lending, securities and deposits. Its creation helped spark the end of the Depression-era Glass Steagall Act separating securities and banking. Citigroup's New CEO Has A Lot To Tackle (Fortune) Corbat is a Connecticut native. He is listed as the owner of a 4-bedroom, 1-and-a-half-bath, 3,500 square foot Manhattan apartment on Central Park West. The apartment has a fireplace and exposed wood beams in the living room. But Corbat doesn't appear to live there. According to the real estate website Streeteasy, the apartment was rented out in March for $33,000 a month. Corbat also owns a house in 6,300 square foot house in Wilson, Wyoming. That house was estimated to be worth $3.7 million in 2010, according to real estate website Trulia. Pay seems to be part of the reason for Pandit's department. Earlier this year, shareholders voted to reject a $15 million pay package for the Citi's former CEO. Corbat said he will take $1.5 million as a base salary, plus a bonus to be determined later. RBS Exits Government Insurance Plan (WSJ) RBS said it has struck a deal with the U.K. Treasury to exit the government's Asset Protection Scheme, effective Thursday, the earliest date possible under the terms of the contract. The program was crafted at the height of the financial crisis in an effort to shield banks by insuring their assets after the lenders absorbed an initial loss. The insurance program is now considered largely unnecessary because many of RBS's insured assets have been sold or written off. The bank, which is 81% government-owned, will have paid £2.5 billion ($4.03 billion) in fees for its participation in the APS without having made a claim, in addition to about £1.5 billion paid to the Treasury for support received during the financial crisis. Passenger Jet In Low Altitude Search (Australian) An Air Canada jet descended from 38,000ft to as low as 3700ft (1128m) to allow passengers to look for a yacht missing off the NSW coast. The Boeing 777 flying from Vancouver to Sydney joined an Air New Zealand Airbus A320 in the initial search for the damaged boat. Captain Andrew Robertson said the airline was approaching top of descent and talking to air traffic control in Brisbane at 8.18am when it was asked to assist in the search. The flight crew programmed the coordinates ofthe stricken yacht into the aircraft's flight computer and determined it was about 160 nautical miles (296km) further out from the coast than the 777 but that the aircraft was enough fuel to reach the location.. "We were at 38,000ft and we just kept going down," said Captain Andrew Robertson. "I knew we would have to get really low and we got down to 5000ft above the water as we approached the area. "I had already made a PA announcement telling passengers what we were doing and as we got into the area, I said: "We're coming into the search area, please everybody look out to the window and if you seen anything let us know. Norway’s Housing Boom Could Lead to Spain-Style Bust, Say Some (CNBC) Norway’s housing sector, which has seen prices jump by almost 30 percent since 2006 — could end up replicating a pattern of housing booms and busts seen across the globe, from the U.S. to Japan to Spain and Ireland, according to a report by Bank of New York Mellon. Indeed, Norway's house price rise has been so dramatic that the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco wrote a paper on the subject in June that made parallels between the lead up to the U.S. housing crisis and the “irrationally exuberant bubble” of Norway’s present boom. BlackRock Profit Rises 7.9% on as Assets Rise on ETFs (Bloomberg) Net income climbed 7.9 percent to $642 million, or $3.65 a share, from $595 million, or $3.23, a year earlier, the New York-based company said today in a statement. Excluding certain one-time items, profit of $3.47 per share exceeded the $3.32-a- share average estimate of 19 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. Knight Capital Posts Third-Quarter Loss Due To Fallout Over Software Glitch (AP) The company company reported a loss attributable to common shareholders of $764.3 million, or $6.30 per share, for the period ended Sept. 30. That compares with net income of $26.9 million, or 29 cents per share, a year ago. Knight Capital said Wednesday that the loss from the software glitch was more than $400 million. Excluding $2.46 per share related to the software glitch and other items, earnings came to a penny per share. Analysts forecast 2 cents per share, according to a FactSet survey. Police: Alanis Morissette Music Leads To Domestic Violence (N4J) A 24-year-old Jacksonville man who didn't like his boyfriend's taste in music let him know about it by hitting him in the face with a plate, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office. Police said 33-year-old Todd Fletcher has a large cut on the side of his face to prove it. Allen Casey was arrested Sunday after police said he acted on his displeasure that Fletcher was listening to Alanis Morissette. "That's all that (expletive) listens to," Casey said, according to a police report.

Opening Bell: 04.18.13

Morgan Stanley Sees Core Earnings Weaken (WSJ) Morgan Stanley saw core earnings weaken, although the investment bank swung to a first-quarter profit as it benefited from a comparison with a year-earlier period bogged down by a heavy charge. For the quarter, the bank reported a profit of $984 million, compared with a year-earlier loss of $94 million. The per-share profit, which reflects the payment of preferred dividends, was 49 cents compared with a loss of six cents a year earlier. The latest period featured a decline in fixed-income trading revenue, but strong stock trading and continued improvements in Morgan Stanley's wealth-management division, which was buoyed by strong markets. ... Revenue jumped 18% to $8.16 billion. Excluding debt valuation, revenue was $8.48 billion. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters most recently expected earnings, excluding debt-valuation adjustments, of 57 cents, on revenue of $8.35 billion. Blackstone First-Quarter Profit Rises on Fund Performance (Bloomberg) Blackstone Group LP (BX), the world’s biggest buyout firm, said first-quarter profit rose 28 percent as market gains lifted the carrying value of its holdings. Economic net income, a measure of earnings excluding some costs tied to the firm’s 2007 initial public offering, increased to $628.3 million, or 55 cents a share, from $491.2 million, or 44 cents, a year earlier, New York-based Blackstone said today in a statement. Analysts had expected earnings of 53 cents a share, according to the average of 15 estimates in a Bloomberg survey. Barclays Head of Investment Banking Rich Ricci to Retire in June (Bloomberg) Barclays Plc’s Rich Ricci, the head of investment banking and one of the last members of former Chief Executive Officer Robert Diamond’s management team, will retire at the end of June. Ricci, 49, will be replaced by Eric Bommensath and Tom King, 52, as co-chief executive officers of corporate and investment banking in May, the London-based bank said in a statement today. “The market will see this as an inevitable and appropriate piece of transitioning,” said Ian Gordon, an analyst at Investec Plc (INVP) in London. “Few tears will be shed and the reshuffle will be broadly welcomed.” Special Report: The battle for the Swiss soul (Reuters) A sign on display in UBS's museum, from a bank founded in 1747 in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, could almost be Switzerland's mantra: "MASSIMA DISCREZIONE" it promises. Swiss bankers have long adhered to an unwritten code similar to that observed by doctors or priests. Bankers do not acknowledge clients in public for fear of exposing them as account holders; they often carry business cards with just a name, rather than bank or contact details; and, at least until the 1990s, they never advertised abroad. ... Even today, few Swiss like to discuss the fact that much of the country's prosperity was built on bankers helping foreigners evade taxes. Visitors should avoid personal questions, advises Communicaid, a consultancy which advises businesses on cross-cultural awareness. It would also be wise to steer clear of discussing "Swiss banks, money or Switzerland's military role in World War One or Two." Reinhart/Rogoff and Growth in a Time Before Debt (RortyBomb via Felix Salmon) Here is a simple question: does a high debt-to-GDP ratio better predict future growth rates, or past ones? If the former is true, it would be consistent with the argument that higher debt levels cause growth to fall. On the other hand, if higher debt "predicts" past growth, that is a signature of reverse causality. ... As is evident, current period debt-to-GDP is a pretty poor predictor of future GDP growth at debt-to-GDP ratios of 30 or greater—the range where one might expect to find a tipping point dynamic. But it does a great job predicting past growth. Ottawa sets up taxpayer-funded food truck in Mexico to promote Canadian cuisine (National Post) When author Anita Stewart first heard about the Canadian government’s new food truck parked in Mexico City, she laughed so hard she cried. The new Canada-branded, taxpayer-funded venture, which kicked off its three-week pilot project last week, is serving up a Mexican-ized version of poutine, using Oaxaca cheese instead of curds. Also on the menu are Alberta beef tourtière, and maple-glazed Albacore tuna. China Vows Wider Yuan Movement (WSJ) China's central bank plans to widen the yuan's trading band in the near future, People's Bank of China Vice Governor Yi Gang said Wednesday, suggesting that China's leaders will press ahead with change despite the surprise slowing of the economy. "The exchange rate is going to be more market-oriented," Mr. Yi said on a panel at the International Monetary Fund spring meetings in Washington. "I think in the near future we are going to increase the floating band even further." IMF warns on risks of excessive easing (FT) Extraordinarily loose monetary policy risks sparking credit bubbles that threaten to tip the world back into financial crisis, the International Monetary Fund warned on Wednesday. In its global financial stability report, the fund cautioned that policy reforms were needed urgently to restore long-term health to the financial system before the long-term dangers of monetary stimulus materialised. German Parliament Approves Bailout for Cyprus (WSJ) German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble called the vote a "strong signal" by Germany in favor of the euro and the euro zone. The parliament also voted in favor of a seven-year extension of the maturity on European Financial Stability Facility loans for Ireland and Portugal with a large majority. SEC to Move Past Financial Crisis Cases Under New Chairman White (Bloomberg) Mary Jo White, the first former prosecutor to serve as chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, has pledged to run a “bold and unrelenting” enforcement program at the agency charged with regulating Wall Street. With financial crisis cases mostly done and some of the biggest insider-trading cases in history closed, White will have to chart a course into new areas to keep that pledge. White, who was sworn in last week, has already provided a few signals about what that might be. During her Senate confirmation hearing, she said she intends to focus on high- frequency and automated trading. She has also raised questions about a drop in the number of accounting fraud cases the agency has brought in recent years. Dispute in Hamptons Set Off by Effort to Hold Back Ocean (NYT) Soon after Hurricane Sandy hit last fall, Joshua Harris, a billionaire hedge fund founder and an owner of the Philadelphia 76ers, began to fear that his $25 million home on the water in Southampton might fall victim to the next major storm. So he installed a costly defense against incoming waves: a shield of large metal plates on the beach, camouflaged by sand. His neighbor, Mark Rachesky, another billionaire hedge fund founder, put up similar fortifications between his home and the surf. Chris Shumway, who closed his $8 billion hedge fund two years ago, trucked in boulders the size of Volkswagens. Across a section of this wealthy town, some residents, accustomed to having their way in the business world, are now trying to hold back the ocean. ‘Elvis’ is busted in ricin terror (NYP) The FBI last night busted a troubled Mississippi Elvis impersonator as the poison-wielding man who mailed ricin-laced letters to President Obama and two other officials. ... Despite his rock ’n’ roll hobby, Curtis shows his angry side on Facebook, where he lashes out in a conspiracy-filled rant. “I’m on the hidden front lines of a secret war,” he wrote. “They burned down my home, killed my dogs, my cat, my rabbit, blew up my 1966 Plymouth Valiant . . . and guess what? I am still a thorn in their corrupt anals! I will remain here until Jesus Christ decides it’s time for me to go.”

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: 06.14.12

Geithner Seeks More Euro-Zone Measures (WSJ) Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner called the bailout of Spain's banking system "a good, concrete signal" of the euro-zone commitment to financial integration, but said the currency union must act quickly with more measures to quell its crisis. "This is a very challenging crisis for them still," he said Wednesday in a discussion at the Council on Foreign Relations. "They recognize they're going to have to do a bunch more to…restore a bit of calm and to convince people they're going to do what's necessary to make this work." Spanish Crisis Deepens (WSJ) The financial crisis threatening the Spanish government deepened Thursday as Spain's borrowing costs surpassed their euro-zone record, touching levels that previously forced other euro-zone countries to seek sovereign debt bailouts. The move followed yet another sovereign credit downgrade and coincided with fresh evidence Thursday of economic and financial stress as the decline of Spanish housing prices accelerated to a 12.6% annual rate in the first quarter and Spanish banks increased their reliance on European Central Bank funding. Spain Credit Rating Slashed by Moody's, Egan-Jones (Reuters) Moody's Investors Service cut its rating on Spanish government debt by three notches on Wednesday From A-3 to to Baa-3, saying the newly approved euro zone plan to help the country's banks will increase the country's debt burden. Moody's, which said it could lower Spain's rating further, also cited the Spanish government's "very limited'' access to international debt markets and the weakness of the country's economy. Greek Banks Under Pressure (WSJ) In a sign of heightened nervousness within the country, depositors have been steadily increasing their withdrawals from Greek banks. The withdrawals, according to senior bankers in Athens, approach the level of deposit flight seen when government coalition talks collapsed after inconclusive elections on May 6, forcing the new vote. "Why I'm Betting Big On Europe" (Fortune) David Herro seems awfully relaxed for a man who has more than $1 billion invested in European banks. It's a sunny morning in late May, and I'm sitting across from the boyish 51-year-old fund manager in his downtown Chicago office. He's giving me his full attention, but I can't stop glancing at the headlines blinking on the Bloomberg terminal behind him. The euro is about to hit a two-year low. Greece is on the brink of disaster. Spain's real estate market is in shambles, and Italian sovereign debt is as fragile as stained glass. The global economy is roiling, and Herro is positively beatific. "Eventually they're going to get these problems solved," he says. "If you look at the economic history of the world, problems come and problems go. There are problems, and they do have to be dealt with. And our view is that all these problems are manageable." Large Institutions Discuss New Marketplace for Bonds (WSJ) In recent weeks, senior traders at investment managers and big Wall Street banks have been discussing how the financial industry can set up a centralized electronic market that would let all participants trade bonds freely with one another, according to people involved in the talks. BofA Beating JPMorgan As BNP Leads French Lenders Retreat (Bloomberg) Bank of America overtook JPMorgan Chase as the biggest lender to the commodities industry in the first five months as French lenders led by BNP Paribas retreated amid the debt crisis. Commodity loans arranged by Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America totaled $14.71 billion, and New York-based JPMorgan’s $14.41 billion ranked it second, according to syndicated-loan data compiled by Bloomberg. Citigroup was the third biggest with $13.68 billion of financing, rising from fourth last year. BNP Paribas slipped to 17th from second. Lazard elects former Citigroup chairman Richard Parsons to board (NYP) Financial advisory and asset management firm Lazard Ltd. said Wednesday that it elected former Citigroup chairman Richard Parsons to its board, effective immediately. Parsons served as chairman of Citigroup Inc. from February 2009 until his retirement in April 2012. He had served as a director on its board since 1996. Before that, he was chairman and chief executive of the media and entertainment company Time Warner Inc. Montreal teacher suspended with pay for showing students ‘Canadian Cannibal’ Luke Magnotta murder video (NYDN) A Canadian teacher was fighting for his job after he was suspended for showing students a gory video allegedly showing Maple Leaf man-eater Luke Magnotta killing his Chinese lover. The Cavelier-De LaSalle High School 10th grade teacher appeared before a labor board on Wednesday to explain himself, and Montreal police were mulling whether to slap him with criminal charges, The Canadian Press reported. School officials said the teacher, who is in his 20s, polled students about whether they wanted to watch the grisly snuff video during class on June 4. The yays outweighed the nays, according to the Press. In the 11-minute video, Magnotta, a porn actor and sometime escort, allegedly tortured Jun Lin, 33 — beheading and dismembering his body, eating his flesh with a knife and fork and performing sex acts on the corpse.

Opening Bell: 12.20.12

Report Says Libor-Tied Losses at Fannie, Freddie May Top $3 Billion (WSJ) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac may have lost more than $3 billion as a result of banks' alleged manipulation of a key interest rate, according to an internal report by a federal watchdog sent to the mortgage companies' regulator and reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. The unpublished report urges Fannie and Freddie to consider suing the banks involved in setting the London interbank offered rate, which would add to the mounting legal headaches financial firms such as UBS AG and Barclays face from cities, insurers, investors and lenders over claims tied to the benchmark rate. Libor Documents May Boost Civil Suits (WSJ) Analysts have published a range of estimates of the potential impact to the industry of lawsuits stemming from the manipulation—in some cases they reach into the tens of billions of dollars or more. It likely will be years before the extent of any liabilities becomes clear. For the lawsuits to succeed, plaintiffs must prove that banks successfully altered the interest-rate benchmarks and caused the plaintiffs to suffer a loss. Michael Hausfeld, chairman of Hausfeld LLP, a co-lead counsel on one of the lawsuits, said the UBS settlement was "extremely useful" for the litigation. The "extraordinary emails" published by the regulators exposed the "pervasiveness of the culture and the activity." UBS Trader Hayes Exposed at Core of Libor Investigation (Bloomberg) Tom Hayes, one of two former UBS AG traders charged by U.S. prosecutors, is portrayed by American regulators as the kingpin of a three-year campaign that succeeded in manipulating global interest rates. Hayes, 33, was charged with wire fraud and price-fixing, the Department of Justice said in a criminal complaint unsealed yesterday. The trader and Roger Darin, a former short-term interest-rates trader at UBS whose responsibilities included the firm’s yen Libor quotes, were also charged with conspiracy...Hayes colluded with brokers, counterparts at other firms and his colleagues to manipulate the rate, the Justice Department said. Between 2006 and 2009, a UBS trader made at least 800 requests to the firm’s yen Libor rate-setters, about 100 to traders at other banks, and 1,200 to interdealer brokers, according to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which didn’t identify Hayes by name. “Many UBS yen derivatives traders and managers were involved in the manipulative conduct and made requests to serve their own trading positions’ interests,” the CFTC said. “But the volume of unlawful requests submitted by one particular senior yen derivatives trader in Tokyo dwarfed them all.” IntercontinentalExchange Agrees to Acquire NYSE Euronext (Bloomberg) IntercontinentalExchange Inc., the 12-year-old energy and commodity futures bourse, agreed to acquire NYSE Euronext for cash and stock worth $8.2 billion, moving to take control of the world’s biggest equities market. ICE, based in Atlanta, will pay $33.12 a share for the owner of the New York Stock Exchange, 38 percent above yesterday’s closing price, according to a statement today. Both boards approved the proposal and the companies expect to complete the transaction in the second half of 2013. Last year, the U.S. Justice Department blocked a joint hostile bid by ICE and Nasdaq OMX Group for the New York-based company on concern the combination would dominate U.S. stock listings. Greece Faces 'Make or Break' Year (FT) We can make it next year if we can stick to the program agreed with the EU and IMF," finance minister Yannis Stournaras said in an interview with the Financial Times. However, "the break would be if the political system finds the situation too difficult to handle", he added, referring to the danger of social unrest about austerity that could force the two left-of-center parties to bring down the governing coalition. "What we have done so far is necessary but not sufficient to achieve a permanent solution for Greece," Mr Stournaras said. "The issue now is implementation." Boehner's 'Plan B' Gets Pushback (WSJ) The mood at the White House was gloomy, while on Capitol Hill it fluctuated. Few seemed confident the nation would avoid the tax increases and spending cuts known as the fiscal cliff, but others noted major Washington deals are usually reached only after several near-death experiences. Preparing for the World's End, Just in Case (WSJ) Tony Brown, a private investigator in Southern California, says he has spent nearly $60,000 preparing for Teotwawki — an acronym for "the end of the world as we know it"—or SHTF—when the "s--- hits the fan." Mr. Brown has purchased an ultralight plane and amassed three tons of food in his kitchen, about a third in freeze-dried meals. About a year ago, Mr. Brown started a website to recruit a community of preppers to plan for a cataclysm. In the first several months, he said he received few inquiries. But by the summer, traffic to the site soared and applications have come rolling in since. He recently capped the group at 175 members—all are responsible for their own one-year supply of food—though he is still seeking a doctor, meteorologist and ham-radio operator. Mr. Brown has contingency plans for four doomsday scenarios he deems most likely—a supervolcano, solar flare, major earthquake or hyper inflation—and a large underground bunker in case of a nuclear attack. He doesn't believe the world will end on Dec. 21, "but, just in case, I want to have everything ready by then," he said. US Economy Grew 3.1%; Jobless Claims Rise (Reuters) Weekly jobless claims rose to 361,000 in the latest week. Claims has been expected to rise to 357,000, from 343,000 the prior week. BofA’s Moynihan Said to Kill Proposal to Cut Pay for Brokers (Bloomberg) Bank of America Corp. Chief Executive Officer Brian T. Moynihan blocked a proposal to cut the main component of most brokers’ pay for 2013, said a person with direct knowledge of the matter. The plan would have reduced the so-called grid payout for Merrill Lynch financial advisers by two percentage points, the person said, requesting anonymity because it wasn’t made public. The changes, which would have affected advisers generating less than $1 million in commissions, were seen as a way to cushion the costs of new bonuses, the person said. In $18 Million Theft, Victim Was a Canadian Maple Syrup Cartel (NYT) It was an inside job of sorts. Thieves with access to a warehouse and a careful plan loaded up trucks and, over time, made off with $18 million of a valuable commodity. The question is what was more unusual: that the commodity in question was maple syrup, or that it came from something called the global strategic maple syrup reserve, run by what amounts to a Canadian cartel. On Tuesday, the police in Quebec arrested three men in connection with the theft from the warehouse, which is southwest of Quebec City. The authorities are searching for five others suspected of being involved, and law enforcement agencies in other parts of Canada and the United States are trying to recover some of the stolen syrup. Both the size and the international scope of the theft underscore Quebec’s outsize position in the maple syrup industry. Depending on the year, the province can produce more than three-quarters of the world’s supply. And its marketing organization appears to have taken some tips from the producers of another valuable liquid commodity when it comes to exploiting market dominance. “It’s like OPEC,” said Simon Trépanier, acting general manager of the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers. “We’re not producing all the maple syrup in the world. But by producing 70 to 78 percent, we have the ability to adjust the quantity that is in the marketplace.” NYers who believe in Mayan apocalypse search for sex before the world ends (NYP) While some people around the world are arming themselves and digging into bunkers, many New Yorkers are simply hoping for a hot time. “I will be looking for an end-of-the-world hook-up,” Dennis Cintron, 29, a Lower East Side bartender, told The Post. “If you’re going to go out, go out with a bang.” Cintron said he’ll buy new clothes and get a haircut for the big day because he wants some “companionship” to ring in the rapture. Sara Saperstein, 26, of Bushwick is also hoping for one last romp. “It’s like New Year’s. I want to go out on a wild note!” Saperstein said. She won’t have trouble finding a spot for that. More than a dozen bars and clubs in New York City are throwing end-of-days bashes, including a comedy show at the Bell House in Gowanus and an “End of the Funking World Party” at B.B. King Blues Club in Midtown. Other singles posted ads on Craigslist.org and OKCupid.com, seeking apocalypse-themed dates, “casual encounters” and even “end of the world sex.” “If you’ve got no plans for the apocalypse, let’s get together,” wrote a 30-year-old single guy from Midtown. He added, “Send me how you’d like to spend your last hours on earth — and a photo.”

Opening Bell: 01.24.13

Witness Adds Thread To SAC Probe (WSJ) A government informant has implicated a prominent former trader at SAC Capital Advisors, telling federal investigators the two swapped confidential stock tips for years, according to people briefed on the matter. The connection between ex-SAC portfolio manager Dipak Patel and the undercover mole, a California-based former portfolio manager at an investment fund, hasn't previously been disclosed. Mr. Patel and his lawyer didn't respond to requests for comment...Mr. Patel, who hasn't been charged with any wrongdoing, was a technology-stock manager who worked under Mr. Cohen for years before leaving in 2010. Obama To Name White As SEC Chief (WSJ) President Barack Obama on Thursday will name Mary Jo White, a former star prosecutor who pursued terrorists and mobsters in New York, to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission, a White House official said. Barclays CEO Says Bank Was Too Aggressive, Too Self-Serving (CNBC) The bank which paid a fine of 290 million pounds for manipulating Libor and was caught up in the payment protection insurance scandal, has been trying to turn a new leaf. Jenkins, who took over as CEO in August, said the company was addressing its past mistakes. "We were too aggressive, we were too short-term focused and too self-serving," Jenkins told CNBC at the World Economic Forum in Davos. "The industry, and Barclays, got it wrong on occasions," he added. Merkel Says Europe Must Persist With Reforms (CNBC) German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged European nations to continue the economic reforms they have begun and argued that the debt crisis offered an opportunity for the bloc to become more competitive. "The political experience is that often you need pressure for political structural reforms," she told delegates at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. "If Europe is in a difficult situation today we need to implement structural reforms now so that we may live better tomorrow," she said. Knight Capital's Profit Slides 84% (WSJ) Profit in the quarter to Dec. 31 fell to $6.5 million from $40.2 million a year earlier, with per-share earnings sliding to a penny from 43 cents, below the three-cent consensus among analysts polled by Thomson Reuters. Revenue fell 16% to $287.7 million. Jobless Claims Fall To 5-Year Low (WSJ) Initial jobless claims, a measure of layoffs, fell by 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 330,000 in the week ended Jan. 19, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires expected 360,000 new applications for jobless benefits last week. Two men charged with robbery, assault and battery after stealing $400 from Girl Scouts selling cookies (NYDN) Two men are being held on charges they stole nearly $400 from a group of Girl Scouts selling cookies at a store in Massachussetts. An adult supervising the Scouts suffered a broken nose and arm injuries trying to stop the men. Authorities say 22-year-old Nicholas Taverna of Greenfield and 25-year-old Cassidy Michalski of Deerfield were held on $5,000 bail each at their arraignment Tuesday on charges of unarmed robbery, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and shoplifting. Police say the suspects stole two cellphones from the Walmart in Northampton on Saturday and tried to trade them for drugs in Holyoke. When that failed, they returned to Northampton where they had seen the 11- and 12-year-old Scouts earlier, and stole their cash box. US Lawmaker Set to Unveil Financial Revamp (Reuters) The proposal, expected as early as this week, will come from House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, whose panel has been exploring a broad tax code overhaul for more than a year. Camp wants to slash the top corporate tax rate to 25 percent from 35 percent and simplify the code.Critics of the current corporate tax system note that the United States has one of the steepest corporate tax rates in the world. Commerzbank to Cut 6,000 Jobs (WSJ) The cuts, representing up to 12% of the bank's 49,215 full-time staff, will affect all group levels and units, in Germany and abroad, although online bank Comdirect AG and Polish unit BRE Bank will be excluded, according to an internal memo to staff. Japan Posts Record Trade Deficit (WSJ) Japan's trade deficit nearly tripled to a record ¥6.927 trillion ($78.3 billion) last year and few expect a drastic improvement anytime soon, leaving Tokyo no choice but to carry on with efforts to boost the economy. Citigroup’s Corbat Says Environment to Stay ‘Challenging’ (Bloomberg) “People recognize the times we are in, these are challenging times,” Corbat, 52, said in an interview with with Bloomberg Television’s Erik Schatzker at the World Economic Forum in Davos today. “Things will remain challenging going forward for a period of time. Our people recognize that.” Corbat replaced the ousted Vikram Pandit as CEO at the third-biggest U.S. bank in October. He has since announced plans to fire about 11,000 employees and pull back from certain markets as he seeks to cut Citigroup’s costs and boost rewards for shareholders. Profit at the lender’s ongoing businesses slid 8 percent last year while costs rose. Citigroup cut investment bankers’ bonuses by 10 percent to 20 percent globally after a revenue slump, people with knowledge of the matter said last week. Corbat said the firm can still be “absolutely competitive,” on banker pay. “I think morale is good,” he said, without saying whether the company plans to cut more jobs. “Our employees are very confident around the strategy if you think about what’s going on in the world today.” N.J. men sue Subway, claim they've been shorted on footlong sandwiches (AP) The suit, filed Tuesday in Superior Court in Mount Holly, may be the first legal filing aimed at the sandwich shops after an embarrassment went viral last week when someone posted a photo of a footlong and a ruler on the company's Facebook page to show that the sandwich was not as long as advertised. At the time, the company issued a statement saying that the sandwich length can vary a bit when franchises do not bake to the exact corporate standards. Stephen DeNittis, the lawyer for the plaintiffs in the New Jersey suit, said he's seeking class-action status and is also preparing to file a similar suit in Pennsylvania state court in Philadelphia. He said he's had sandwiches from 17 shops measured — and every one came up short. "The case is about holding companies to deliver what they've promised," he said.

Opening Bell: 03.30.12

Three Major Banks Prepare for Possible Credit Downgrades (NYT) Moody’s Investors Service has said it will decide in mid-May whether to lower its ratings for 17 global financial companies. Morgan Stanley, which was hit hard in the financial crisis, appears to be the most vulnerable. Moody’s is threatening to cut the bank’s ratings by three notches, to a level that would be well below the rating of a rival like JPMorgan Chase. Eurozone Lifts Firewall (WSJ) Euro-zone finance ministers on Friday agreed on a temporary boost of the bloc's bailout lending limit to €700 billion ($931 billion), opting for a less ambitious plan that some fear won't be enough to prevent a re-awakening of euro zone financial turmoil. Dalio Earns $3.9bn to Top Hedge Fund Pay List (FT) Ray Dalio, head of Bridgewater, the world’s largest hedge fund, personally made $3.9 billion in a year that his $70 billion Pure Alpha fund produced $13.8 billion of investment profits for its investors, according to industry rankings. He tops a list published Friday by Absolute Return magazine of the richest 25 hedge fund managers. The select group took home $14.4 billion in pay and paper profits on their own investments last year, down from $22 billion in 2010 in a sign of the industry’s struggle to deliver returns for its clients in 2011. Goldman Bets on Property Rebound With New Fund: Mortgages (Bloomberg) The U.S. Housing Recovery Fund is expected to finish its first round of capital raising and open April 1, according to a marketing document obtained by Bloomberg News. It will focus on senior-ranked securities without government backing, many of which now carry junk credit grades. BATS Weighs Cooling Its Listing Push (WSJ) BATS Global Markets Inc. is considering suspending its efforts to recruit corporate listings after a software glitch last Friday derailed the exchange operator's IPO, people familiar with the matter said. Concerns about BATS's bungled initial public offering could disrupt its efforts to draw other companies to list their stocks on its electronic exchange, forestalling ambitions by the electronic-markets operator to become a full-service exchange company. Such a move could entail notifying the Securities and Exchange Commission, which last year approved BATS's plan to list shares and exchange-traded products. Canada Eliminates Penny Costing Penny-and-a-Half to Make (Bloomberg) Canada will withdraw the penny from circulation this year, saving taxpayers about C$11 million ($11 million) annually and forcing retailers to round prices to the nearest nickel, the government announced in its budget today. Grand Central nabs tell-all by ex-Goldman exec Smith (NYP) Greg Smith, the former Goldman Sachs executive who became an instant sensation when he ripped the Wall Street investment bank with a resignation letter published as an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, has scored a $1.5 million advance to write a memoir of his experiences. Oil Rally Fails to Lift Commodity Hedge Funds' Returns (FT) Many multibillion managers have been wary of potential political shocks in the Middle East and a repeat of last year’s May oil sell-off. They have shunned risk over the past three months or lost out by betting that oil markets would become more choppy. Many of the sector’s leading names have underperformed broader hedge fund peers, which have enjoyed one of their best quarters on the back of rising global equity markets. Billions Lost In Tax Refund Scam (WSJ) The perpetrators of the scheme, authorities say, swipe the Social Security numbers of Puerto Rican citizens, who don't have to pay federal income tax—and are less likely to be on the IRS radar—and use their information to file fake returns. In some cases, they enlist U.S. mail carriers to intercept the refund checks that are disbursed. The plot, which includes participants from around the U.S. and Latin America, has been around for at least five years. Prosecutors have obtained multiple convictions but none involving those believed to be among the top players in the operation, according to several people briefed on investigations into the fraud. BlackBerry Maker In Turmoil (WSJ) The overhaul comes just two months after Thorsten Heins took the reins at RIM and confidently proclaimed there was no need for "seismic" change. But with the company's sales tumbling 25% in the latest quarter, new BlackBerrys piling up unsold and a crucial lineup of new devices still not expected to arrive until later this year, Mr. Heins is taking more drastic actions. RIM will back out of its high-profile attempt to win business among consumers to focus on its core corporate customers. Queen Creek couple accused in dog-sex plan plead not guilty (AZC) A Queen Creek couple have pleaded not guilty to charges of planning to have sex with a dog. The case prompted Sheriff Joe Arpaio to ask the website Craigslist to better monitor its personal ads. Shane Walker, 33, and his wife Sarah Walker, 39, posted a Craigslist ad on Feb. 7 titled, "Wife looking for K9," according to Maricopa County Superior Court records.