Opening Bell: 02.13.12

Société Générale to Restructure (WSJ) Société Générale said Wednesday it will roll out a restructuring plan to cut costs and boost revenue, as the French bank posted a larger-than-expected fourth-quarter loss and painted a stark picture of the outlook for retail banking in France against the backdrop of a stagnant economy...The Paris-based lender, France's second-largest publicly listed bank by market capitalization, reported a €476 million net loss ($640 million) in the three months ended Dec. 31, compared with €100 million net profit last year, well below analysts' expectations. Apple's Cook Calls Einhorn Lawsuit 'Silly Sideshow', Says Company's Not Tight-Fisted (CNBC) Wading into a controversy that was bought to a head last week by fund manager David Einhorn, Cook touted his company's investment in product development and research. The CEO rejected the basis of a lawsuit filed by Einhorn that the fund manager asserts will restrict Apple's ability to distribute its excess cash to its investors. "Frankly I find it bizarre that we would find ourselves being sued for doing something that's good for shareholders," Cook told the Goldman Sachs' Technology and Internet Conference. Apple checkmate: Another big investor backs company vs. Einhorn (NYP) The California State Teachers’ Retirement System, a $157.8 billion pension fund that owns 1.6 million Apple shares, told The Post they are siding with Apple against Einhorn. CalSTRS supports the proposal because “blank check” preferred stock “can be used as anti-takeover defenses and entrench a board,” said Anne Sheehan, the director of corporate governance. SAC Probe Said to Be Hampered by Auto-Deleted E-Mails (Bloomberg) The federal investigation of insider trading by SAC Capital Advisors LP and its founder, Steven A. Cohen, has been hampered by a lack of extensive e-mail evidence. One reason: During the period of time at the heart of the probe, July 2008, SAC automatically deleted its e-mails. Unluckily for the U.S. government, SAC changed its policy just months later, requiring preservation of electronic communications. By then, most messages relevant to the $700 million in alleged illegal trades had been erased, according to a person familiar with the matter. Until the fall of 2008, SAC e-mails were deleted from employee electronic mailboxes every 30 or 60 days, according to SAC General Counsel Peter Nussbaum. Comcast Buys Rest Of NBC's Parent (WSJ) Comcast Corp, in a bullish bet on traditional entertainment, is buying General Electric Co.'s stake in NBCUniversal for $16.7 billion, giving the cable operator full ownership of the film and television giant much sooner than expected. Kate Upton on Antarctic shoot for SI: 'My body was shutting down' (NBC) The theme of this year’s issue, which hit newsstands Tuesday, put models in exotic settings on all seven continents. Upton was sent to the most forbidding one of them all, Antarctica, to endure with frigid temperatures in skimpy outfits, including the parka top and bikini bottom she is wearing on the magazine's cover. “I was very surprised by the news that that’s where my shoot was going to be located,’’ she said on TODAY Tuesday in her first interview since making the cover. “It was freezing. I’m from Florida, so it wasn’t great for me. When I came back I was losing hearing and eyesight because my body was shutting down, it was working so hard to keep warm. I was thinking warm thoughts." Eurozone Worries Intensify (WSJ) Industrial production in the euro zone fell at its sharpest quarterly rate in more than three years at the end of last year, despite rising in December, stoking fears of a third consecutive quarterly economic contraction. But data released on Wednesday suggested the euro-zone economy reached a low point in November and could be showing early signs of recovery, as production in Germany, the currency bloc's biggest single economy, rose in December after falling for four consecutive months. Russia Says It Is Moving Away From Currency Manipulation (CNBC) FYI. ING To Cut 2,400 More Jobs (WSJ) The Netherlands' biggest bank by assets, which had about 85,000 employees world-wide at the end of the fourth quarter, is cutting costs in response to the weak European economy and tougher regulations for banks. As US Gasoline Prices Soar, Hedge Fund Oil Bets Near Record (Reuters) U.S. motorists searching for someone to blame for the highest gasoline prices ever at this time of year have an easy target: hedge funds who have been quietly amassing winning bets on hundreds of millions of barrels of oil. At a filling station in Midtown New York last week, several people were prepared to blame traders on Wall Street as they paid more than $4 per gallon to fill up their cars. "It really is not supply and demand. It's definitely speculation," said John Keegan, an exterminator with pest control company Terminate Control, who was filling up his van. A cab driver said he was convinced the price would be just $1 a gallon if the government "stopped Wall Street trading oil." No Ordinary Affenpinscher, Banana Joe Is Named Best in Show (NYT) Banana Joe, a black dog with a monkeylike face, became the first affenpinscher to win Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on Tuesday night. He defeated six dogs, one a Portuguese water dog on the same night that Bo, who is the same breed, watched his master, President Obama, deliver the State of the Union address. “He’s won a lot of big, big shows, but none like this one,” said his handler, Ernesto Lara, who held onto Joey, as he calls him, during a postshow news conference. Joey sat calmly, as if he could have gone back onto the floor of Madison Square Garden and taken on his challengers again. He stuck his tongue out as Lara answered questions. He didn’t appear to need any celebratory drinks or snacks. “I don’t think he has anything to prove,” Lara said. “I’m not bragging, this is just the way he is. The best thing is that I was in cue with him.” He added: “This isn’t a breed you train. He’s like a human. You befriend him.”
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Société Générale to Restructure (WSJ)
Société Générale said Wednesday it will roll out a restructuring plan to cut costs and boost revenue, as the French bank posted a larger-than-expected fourth-quarter loss and painted a stark picture of the outlook for retail banking in France against the backdrop of a stagnant economy...The Paris-based lender, France's second-largest publicly listed bank by market capitalization, reported a €476 million net loss ($640 million) in the three months ended Dec. 31, compared with €100 million net profit last year, well below analysts' expectations.

Apple's Cook Calls Einhorn Lawsuit 'Silly Sideshow', Says Company's Not Tight-Fisted (CNBC)
Wading into a controversy that was bought to a head last week by fund manager David Einhorn, Cook touted his company's investment in product development and research. The CEO rejected the basis of a lawsuit filed by Einhorn that the fund manager asserts will restrict Apple's ability to distribute its excess cash to its investors. "Frankly I find it bizarre that we would find ourselves being sued for doing something that's good for shareholders," Cook told the Goldman Sachs' Technology and Internet Conference.

Apple checkmate: Another big investor backs company vs. Einhorn (NYP)
The California State Teachers’ Retirement System, a $157.8 billion pension fund that owns 1.6 million Apple shares, told The Post they are siding with Apple against Einhorn. CalSTRS supports the proposal because “blank check” preferred stock “can be used as anti-takeover defenses and entrench a board,” said Anne Sheehan, the director of corporate governance.

SAC Probe Said to Be Hampered by Auto-Deleted E-Mails (Bloomberg)
The federal investigation of insider trading by SAC Capital Advisors LP and its founder, Steven A. Cohen, has been hampered by a lack of extensive e-mail evidence. One reason: During the period of time at the heart of the probe, July 2008, SAC automatically deleted its e-mails. Unluckily for the U.S. government, SAC changed its policy just months later, requiring preservation of electronic communications. By then, most messages relevant to the $700 million in alleged illegal trades had been erased, according to a person familiar with the matter. Until the fall of 2008, SAC e-mails were deleted from employee electronic mailboxes every 30 or 60 days, according to SAC General Counsel Peter Nussbaum.

Comcast Buys Rest Of NBC's Parent (WSJ)
Comcast Corp, in a bullish bet on traditional entertainment, is buying General Electric Co.'s stake in NBCUniversal for $16.7 billion, giving the cable operator full ownership of the film and television giant much sooner than expected.

Kate Upton on Antarctic shoot for SI: 'My body was shutting down' (NBC)
The theme of this year’s issue, which hit newsstands Tuesday, put models in exotic settings on all seven continents. Upton was sent to the most forbidding one of them all, Antarctica, to endure with frigid temperatures in skimpy outfits, including the parka top and bikini bottom she is wearing on the magazine's cover. “I was very surprised by the news that that’s where my shoot was going to be located,’’ she said on TODAY Tuesday in her first interview since making the cover. “It was freezing. I’m from Florida, so it wasn’t great for me. When I came back I was losing hearing and eyesight because my body was shutting down, it was working so hard to keep warm. I was thinking warm thoughts."

Eurozone Worries Intensify (WSJ)
Industrial production in the euro zone fell at its sharpest quarterly rate in more than three years at the end of last year, despite rising in December, stoking fears of a third consecutive quarterly economic contraction. But data released on Wednesday suggested the euro-zone economy reached a low point in November and could be showing early signs of recovery, as production in Germany, the currency bloc's biggest single economy, rose in December after falling for four consecutive months.

Russia Says It Is Moving Away From Currency Manipulation (CNBC)
FYI.

ING To Cut 2,400 More Jobs (WSJ)
The Netherlands' biggest bank by assets, which had about 85,000 employees world-wide at the end of the fourth quarter, is cutting costs in response to the weak European economy and tougher regulations for banks.

As US Gasoline Prices Soar, Hedge Fund Oil Bets Near Record (Reuters)
U.S. motorists searching for someone to blame for the highest gasoline prices ever at this time of year have an easy target: hedge funds who have been quietly amassing winning bets on hundreds of millions of barrels of oil. At a filling station in Midtown New York last week, several people were prepared to blame traders on Wall Street as they paid more than $4 per gallon to fill up their cars. "It really is not supply and demand. It's definitely speculation," said John Keegan, an exterminator with pest control company Terminate Control, who was filling up his van. A cab driver said he was convinced the price would be just $1 a gallon if the government "stopped Wall Street trading oil."

No Ordinary Affenpinscher, Banana Joe Is Named Best in Show (NYT)
Banana Joe, a black dog with a monkeylike face, became the first affenpinscher to win Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on Tuesday night. He defeated six dogs, one a Portuguese water dog on the same night that Bo, who is the same breed, watched his master, President Obama, deliver the State of the Union address. “He’s won a lot of big, big shows, but none like this one,” said his handler, Ernesto Lara, who held onto Joey, as he calls him, during a postshow news conference. Joey sat calmly, as if he could have gone back onto the floor of Madison Square Garden and taken on his challengers again. He stuck his tongue out as Lara answered questions. He didn’t appear to need any celebratory drinks or snacks. “I don’t think he has anything to prove,” Lara said. “I’m not bragging, this is just the way he is. The best thing is that I was in cue with him.” He added: “This isn’t a breed you train. He’s like a human. You befriend him.”

Related

Opening Bell: 11.15.12

FSA Warns Global Banks Over Bonus Levels (FT) Global banks operating in London have been warned by the top UK bank supervisor that this year’s staff bonuses must reflect the mis-selling and market manipulation scandals that have damaged the sector in the past 12 months. Andrew Bailey, head of the Financial Services Authority’s prudential business unit, wrote to bank chief executives in late October ahead of this year’s bonus round warning them that the watchdog would be looking for evidence they had “clawed back” deferred bonuses from people involved in scandals. He also urged banks to consider firm-wide bonus reductions to account for the impact of the scandals. The letter went not only to UK banks but also global institutions with substantial presences in the country. Blankfein Backs Higher Taxes (NYP) “I believe that tax increases, especially for the wealthiest, are appropriate,” Blankfein wrote in his 1,000-plus-word column entitled “The Business Plan for American Revival.” He added that raising taxes needed to be coupled with “serious” cuts to discretionary spending and entitlements. JPMorgan Energy Unit Curbed (WSJ) U.S. energy-market regulators Wednesday handed J.P. Morgan Chase's energy-trading unit a six-month suspension from some of its activities in electricity markets, the latest in a string of clashes with Wall Street. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission cited false information it has said the company submitted as part of a probe into alleged market manipulation. It was a rare move for the commission and another signal that it is trying to assert itself as a regulatory heavy hitter. The agency, which oversees transmission lines and natural-gas pipelines, also recently proposed a record penalty of nearly $470 million against Barclays for alleged market manipulation. Barclays denies the charges. FHA Nears Need For Taxpayer Funds (WSJ) The Federal Housing Administration is expected to report this week it could exhaust its reserves because of rising mortgage delinquencies, according to people familiar with the agency's finances, a development that could result in the agency needing to draw on taxpayer funding for the first time in its 78-year history. Fed Moves Toward Tying Interest-Rate Decisions to Economic Data (Bloomberg) Policy makers “generally favored the use of economic variables” to provide guidance on the when they are likely to approve their first interest-rate increase since 2008, according to minutes of their Oct. 23-24 meeting released yesterday. Such measures might replace or supplement a calendar date, currently set at mid-2015. Israel Wages Twitter War With Hamas Over #Gaza Attacks (BusinessWeek) The Israeli Defense Forces took to its Twitter account yesterday to announce “a widespread campaign on terror sites & operatives in the Gaza Strip” even as its jets began attacking. Within minutes, Hamas, the group that controls Gaza, announced through its English-language account the assassination of its “top leader Ahmed Jabari” by “Israeli drones.” As Israeli jets bombarded suspected missile facilities and other buildings in Gaza, the service run by San Francisco-based Twitter lit up with 140-character chronicles of the assault and the reaction. Most of the messages known as tweets were identified with #Gaza, a “hashtag” with a pound sign before a key word that lets those on Twitter search for information. The two sides even fought for sympathy through the names they gave the operation. While Israeli tweeters called it #PillarOfDefense, Palestinians used #GazaUnderAttack. As airstrikes intensified, an IDF spokesman tweeted that “we recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces aboveground in the days ahead.” Hamas’s @AlqassamBrigades account quickly retorted, “@idfspokesperson Our blessed hands will reach your leaders and soldiers wherever they are (You Opened Hell Gates on Yourselves.” Hedge Funds Back Off Apple (NYP) Lee Ainslie’s Maverick Capital, Chase Coleman’s Tiger Global, Eric Mindich’s Eton Park Capital, David Einhorn’s Greenlight Capital and Steve Cohen’s SAC Capital Advisors each pared their Apple positions during the quarter, according to reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission filed yesterday...Despite selling off Apple shares, the tech titan remains one of the biggest holdings for Maverick, Tiger Global and Greenlight. In fact, its slide pushed their monthly returns negative. Jobless Claims Rise Following Storm (WSJ) People seeking unemployment benefits increased by 78,000 to a seasonally adjusted 439,000 in the week ended Nov. 10, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires expected 375,000 new applications for jobless benefits. Bank of America Slashes $4.75 Billion Off Mortgages (CNBC) The bank, which took on the burden of Countrywide Financial’s mortgage ills when it bought the company, has completed or approved a total of $15.8 billion in consumer relief for about 164,000 homeowners as of Sept. 30 and is on track, according to officials, to meet its total financial obligations within the first year of the three-year agreement. South Africa holds diamond smuggler who swallowed 220 gems (BBC) South African police have arrested a man who they say swallowed 220 polished diamonds in an attempt to smuggle them out of the country. The man was arrested as he waited to board a plane at Johannesburg airport. Officials said a scan of his body revealed the diamonds he had ingested, worth $2.3m (£1.4m; 1.8m euros), inside.

Opening Bell: 12.06.12

Diamondback to Close Down as Investors Pull $520 Million (WSJ) Diamondback Capital Management LLC, among the hedge funds that was raided by the FBI about two years ago as part of the U.S. investigation of insider trading on Wall Street, is liquidating after clients pulled money. The Stamford, Connecticut-based fund received requests from investors to withdraw about $520 million, or 26 percent of its assets, co-founders Richard Schimel and Lawrence Sapanski, said today in a client letter. They said they plan to return the majority of the money next month. “We especially appreciate your patience and support during the last two difficult years during which we reached closure of the government’s investigation,” they said in the letter. SEC Probes Deutsche Bank (Bloomberg) U.S. securities regulators are investigating allegations that Deutsche Bank hid billions of dollars of paper losses during the financial crisis, according to people close to the investigation. The German bank said Wednesday that the allegations, by three former U.S.-based employees, were "wholly unfounded" and had been the subject of a "careful and thorough" review it had commissioned. The former employees have told the Securities and Exchange Commission that traders at Deutsche Bank overvalued a portfolio of derivatives to hide rapidly mounting losses when financial markets were collapsing in 2008, the people close to the investigation said. The details of the allegations were reported by the Financial Times on Wednesday. Wall Street Job Reductions Seen Persisting After Citigroup Cuts (WSJ) Wall Street’s cost cuts and dismissals, which have helped erase more than 300,000 financial- industry jobs in the past two years, are far from over. Citigroup's announcement yesterday of plans to eliminate 11,000 positions in units spanning equities trading to consumer banking is the latest sign of strain from a market slowdown, stiffer capital rules and weak economic growth. Lenders around the globe are likely to trim more jobs if revenue doesn’t rebound sharply next year, analysts and recruiters said. “The knives are sharpened and ready,” said Jason Kennedy, chief executive officer of London-based search firm Kennedy Group. “These institutions are too big for the business they are generating but they are still quite bullish that the market will return by mid-2013. Unless the markets picks up, there will be more cuts in the first half.” Broadening Tax Base and Raising Rates Key to 'Cliff' Deal: Summers (CNBC) The wiggle-room in the "fiscal cliff" negotiations comes down to a balanced approach on raising tax rates for wealthier Americans and broadening the tax base by closing loopholes and deductions, former Clinton Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers told CNBC. "The president is not signing legislation — no way — that does not raise tax rates. The president has been clear as day," Summers said Thursday on "Squawk Box." Summers also pointed out that President Barack Obama isn't married to repealing the Bush tax cuts for the top 2 percent of wage earners all the way back to the Clinton-era tax rates of 39.6 percent. So rates might not go that high if there's sufficient revenue coming from the base-broadening side of the equation. Geithner: Ready to Go Over 'Cliff' If Taxes Don't Rise (CNBC) Treasury Secretary Timothy Geither told CNBC Wednesday that Republicans are "making a little bit of progress" in "fiscal cliff" talks but said the Obama administration was "absolutely" ready to go over the cliff if the GOP doesn't agree to raise tax rates on the wealthy. "I think they're making a little bit of progress," Geithner said. "They're clearly moving and figuring out how to try to move further." But Geithner said the White House would "absolutely" go over the fiscal cliff — triggering over $600 billion in automatic spending cuts and tax increases — unless tax rates increase on the top 2 percent of wage earners. Steinberg Is Eyed In SAC Trial (NYP) Prosecutors yesterday confirmed the worst-kept secret in the insider-trading trial unfolding in Manhattan federal court: They view former SAC Capital money manager Michael Steinberg as a co-conspirator in the case. Prosecutor Antonia Apps argued yesterday that Steinberg, a portfolio manager with SAC’s Sigma Alpha unit, should be officially labeled a co-conspirator in the case because he knew his former analyst, John Horvath, was receiving illegal tips on computer-maker Dell. The government has already alluded to Steinberg’s alleged role in earlier court documents, when it referred to four unnamed co-conspirators, including “the portfolio manager to whom Jon Horvath reported at his hedge fund.” That person is Steinberg. New Zealand Dogs Learn How to Drive (ABC) Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? Not the New Zealand chapter of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), which has launched a marketing campaign featuring dogs — real dogs — learning how to drive. Really. SPCA Auckland chose three abandoned dogs — Monty, Ginny and Porter — and put them behind the wheel of a car to show that rescue dogs are a first-rate choice for adoptions. “I think sometimes people think because they’re getting an animal that’s been abandoned that somehow it’s a second-class animal,” SPCA Auckland’s CEO, Christine Kalin, told the New Zealand Herald. “Driving a car actively demonstrates to potential rescue dog adopters that you can teach an old dog new tricks.” The trio of highway-ready rescue dogs was chosen by SPCA two months ago and then relocated to Animals on Q, a “premiere New Zealand animal talent agency,” according to its website, to begin their “doggy driver training process,” the Herald reported. The dogs have trained for the past eight weeks under the supervision of Animals on Q owner Mark Vette. Next week one of the dog’s skills will be put to the test in front of a live national TV audience. Porter, a 10-month-old Beardie Cross and the star among the three pups, will drive a Mini Countryman on the “Campbell Live” program on New Zealand’s 3 News, the station reported in a sneak peek that aired last night. The TV appearance will mark the first time that Porter, or any of the other pups, drives without human assistance. While training, Porter — along with Monty, an 18-month Giant Schnauzer, and, Ginny, a 1-year-old whippets cross — used a canine-modified Mini, but had human help in the form of steering wheel adjustments and verbal commands. Nasdaq drops ball on IPO — again (NYP) The electronic exchange run by CEO Robert Greifeld was forced yesterday to cancel orders on a planned $100 million initial public offering of WhiteHorse Finance due to “human error,” a Nasdaq spokesman said. A staffer in the exchange’s market-watch department “inadvertently” pressed a button to cancel trading rather than to delay the launch of the company. Standard Chartered to Pay Additional $330 Million in Iran Settlement (WSJ) Standard Chartered said Thursday it expects to pay an additional $330 million to settle with U.S. authorities over past transactions with Iranian clients that may have violated U.S. sanctions, putting its total bill at around $670 million. Madam Set To Name NFL Big (NYP) Notorious Upper East Side madam Anna Gristina is about to start naming names of high-power clients from her little black book — and an unlucky NFL executive will be the first bombshell name she lets fly, we’re told. “There is going to be a giant name dropped — actually, a couple of them,” Gristina told The Post’s Laura Italiano, speaking of her plans for an upcoming interview with TV host psychologist Dr. Phil. Asked if those names would be “giant” with a capital “G,” the Hockey Mom Madam gave a distinctly mischievous laugh that portends bad news for the bigwig client...“Everyone’s going to have to watch Dr. Phil,” she said. “I will tell you that one of the names is high-level [NFL] management. Then there’s an older [football] player who’s still very well known. Tune in to Dr. Phil!” Jobless Claims Fall (Reuters) Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 25,000 to a seasonally adjusted 370,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday. The prior week's figure was revised to show 2,000 more applications than previously reported. EU Pushes Crackdown On Tax Havens (WSJ) The European Union's executive Thursday moved to step up efforts against tax havens, encouraging members to name and shame ultra-low-tax jurisdictions and crack down on cross-border tax avoidance within the 27-nation bloc. Guatemalan Police Arrest Software Guru McAfee (AP) Software company founder John McAfee was arrested by police in Guatemala on Wednesday for entering the country illegally, hours after he said he would seek asylum in the Central American country. The anti-virus guru was detained at a hotel in an upscale Guatemala City neighborhood with the help of Interpol agents and taken to an old, three-story building used to house migrants who enter the country illegally, said Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez Bonilla. It was the latest twist in a bizarre tale that has seen McAfee refuse to turn himself in to authorities in Belize, where he is a person of interest in the killing of a neighbor, then go on the lam, updating his progress on a blog and claiming to be hiding in plain sight, before secretly crossing the border into Guatemala. "He will be in danger if he is returned to Belize, where he has denounced authorities," said his lawyer in Guatemala, Telesforo Guerra. "His life is in danger." Guerra said he would ask that a judge look at McAfee's case as soon as possible. "From them moment he asked for asylum he has to have the protection of the Guatemalan government." Earlier Wednesday, McAfee said he had formally requested asylum in Guatemala after entering the country from Belize, where he says he fears for his safety because he has sensitive information about official corruption and refused to donate to local politicians. "Yes, we are presenting this, and I want it to be clear, because of the persecution, not because of the murder," he told the AP about his asylum bid.

Opening Bell: 12.17.12

SAC E-Mails Show Steve Cohen Consulted on Key Dell Trade (Bloomberg) Two days before Dell Inc. was set to report second-quarter 2008 earnings, Jon Horvath, a technology analyst at SAC Capital Advisors LP, e-mailed his boss Michael S. Steinberg and another portfolio manager to warn that the computer maker would miss earnings estimates. “I have a 2nd hand read from someone at the company,” Horvath began the Aug. 26 message, which provided details on gross margins, expenditures and revenue. “Please keep to yourself as obviously not well known.” Steinberg, a 15-year veteran of the hedge fund founded by billionaire Steven A. Cohen, responded: “Yes normally we would never divulge data like this, so please be discreet. Thanks.” The e-mails indicate Steinberg, the longest-serving SAC employee linked to the U.S. insider-trading probe, discussed the Dell trade with Cohen. While neither has been accused of any wrongdoing, the messages were admitted as evidence at the New York insider-trading trial of two hedge-fund managers last week after a judge ruled they supported prosecutor claims that Steinberg should be considered an unindicted co-conspirator. AIG To Sell Life Insurer Stake (WSJ) AIG will sell its stake in Asian life insurer AIA Group Ltd., raising as much as $6.5 billion in what could be the second-largest deal in Asia this year. Completion of the sale will mark another step forward for AIG, which is shedding noncore assets, as it seeks to repay its debt to the U.S. government, which took over the company in a $182 billion bailout in 2008. A Shadow Over Banks As UBS Nears Libor Deal (WSJ) The Swiss bank is set to agree as soon as this week to pay roughly $1.5 billion to settle allegations of wrongdoing related to benchmarks such as the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, say people close to the talks. So far, UBS has agreed in principle with the U.S. Justice Department that a company unit in Japan will plead guilty to a criminal charge, according to a person familiar with the tentative deal. The Zurich-based parent will pay the fine in return for a deal that lets it avoid criminal prosecution. Criminal charges against individuals are expected to be filed in tandem with the settlement, according to U.S. officials briefed on the matter. The pursuit of criminal charges and the higher-than-expected fine are ominous signs for more than a dozen financial firms still under investigation. "There's no panic—yet," says someone close to one of the banks in the sprawling probe. Moody’s Gets No Respect as Bonds Shun 56% of Country Ratings (Bloomberg) The global bond market disagreed with Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s more often than not this year when the companies told investors that governments were becoming safer or more risky. Yields on sovereign securities moved in the opposite direction from what ratings suggested in 53 percent of the 32 upgrades, downgrades and changes in credit outlook, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That’s worse than the longer-term average of 47 percent, based on more than 300 changes since 1974. This year, investors ignored 56 percent of Moody’s rating and outlook changes and 50 percent of those by S&P. Economy Poised To Nudge Ahead In 2013 (WSJ) So that's nice. Boehner Opens the Door to Tax Hikes on the Wealthy (Reuters) U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner's offer to accept a tax rate increase for the wealthiest Americans knocks down a key Republican road block to a deal resolving the year-end "fiscal cliff." The question now boils down to what President Barack Obama offers in return. Such major questions, still unanswered so close to the end of the year suggest, however, that no spending and tax agreement is imminent. A source familiar with the Obama-Boehner talks confirmed that Boehner proposed extending low tax rates for everyone who has less than $1 million in net annual income, meaning tax rates would rise on all above that line. Actor Depardieu Hits Back at French PM Over Taxes (CNBC) Actor Gerard Depardieu, accused by French government leaders of trying to dodge taxes by buying a house over the border in Belgium, retorted that he was leaving because "success" was now being punished in his homeland. A popular and colourful figure in France, the 63-year-old Depardieu is the latest wealthy Frenchman to seek shelter outside his native country after tax increases by Socialist President Francois Hollande. Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault described Depardieu's behaviour as "pathetic" and unpatriotic at a time when the French are being asked to pay higher taxes to reduce a bloated national debt. "Pathetic, you said pathetic? How pathetic is that?" Depardieu said in a letter distributed to the media. "I am leaving because you believe that success, creation, talent, anything different must be sanctioned," he said. [...] The "Cyrano de Bergerac" star recently bought a house in Nechin, a Belgian village a short walk from the border with France, where 27 percent of residents are French nationals, and put up his sumptuous Parisian home up for sale. Depardieu, who has also inquired about procedures for acquiring Belgian residency, said he was handing in his passport and social security card. Singapore Establishment Challenged by Carson Block on Olam (Bloomberg) When Carson Block likened Olam International Ltd. to fraud-ridden Enron Corp., he challenged more than the accounting of the Singapore-based commodities firm. He also took on Temasek Holdings Pte, the government-owned investment company whose money has helped build the city-state into a corporate dynamo known as Singapore Inc. Temasek is Olam’s second-largest shareholder, with a 16 percent stake that has lost more than $100 million in value since Nov. 19, when Block’s Muddy Waters LLC first questioned the validity of the company’s finances and said it was betting against the stock. Temasek is also the biggest shareholder in many of the country’s best-known companies, including DBS Group Holdings Ltd., Southeast Asia’s largest bank, Singapore Telecommunications Ltd. and Singapore Airlines Ltd. “Carson Block is putting his whole reputation on this one,” said Low Chee Keong, associate professor of corporate law at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “He’s taking on the Singapore government, Singapore Inc. here.” UN court orders immediate release of Argentine ship seized by hedge funder Paul Singer over unpaid debt (AP) A United Nations court ordered the immediate release Saturday of an Argentine navy training ship held in Ghana two months ago at the request of an American hedge fund. The ARA Libertad was held Oct. 2 in the port of Tema as collateral for unpaid bonds dating from Argentina's economic crisis a decade ago. Argentina appealed to the UN's International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea for the ship's release, arguing that as a warship the Libertad is immune from being seized. In an expedited ruling, the court ordered that Ghana "forthwith and unconditionally release the frigate ARA Libertad" and ensure the ship and its crew can leave Ghanaian waters. It also ordered that the vessel should be resupplied as needed. Detaining the ship was "a source of conflict that may endanger friendly relations among states," the court said. The ruling leaves untouched the parties' rights to seek further international arbitration on the matter. Debt Loads Climb In Buyout Deals (WSJ) Private-equity firms are using almost as much debt to fund acquisitions as they did before the financial crisis, as return-hungry investors rush to buy bonds and loans backing those takeovers. The rise in borrowed money, or leverage, heralds the possibility of juicy returns for buyout groups. Ominously, the surge also brings back memories of the last credit binge around six years ago, which saddled dozens of companies with huge levels of debt. Berlusconi's Love Life Lost in Translation (CNBC) Global media reports that the former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi announced his engagement to his 28-year-old girlfriend on one of his TV Channels on Sunday, have been dismissed by native Italians who say Berlusconi has been mis-translated. Various newspapers have reported that Berlusconi is to get married for the third time, when in fact he announced that he is in love and in a relationship...Professor of Modern Italian History at University College London (UCL), John Foot, told CNBC that Pascale is a"girlfriend, nothing more." "In Italy the phrase 'Mi sono fidanzato' usually means 'I have a girlfriend or boyfriend' and not 'I am engaged to be married'. This can cause confusion abroad but is pretty clear in the Italian context," he told CNBC. Twinkies again by spring? It could happen (NBC) It’s not even Christmas, but Twinkies fans may be able to start looking forward to an Easter present. Bankrupt Hostess Brands has received a number of bids from companies interested in buying the maker of Twinkies, Ho Hos, and Wonder bread, including retail heavyweights such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Kroger Co, Bloomberg News reported Friday, quoting an unnamed person familiar with the matter...Anthony Michael Sabino, a bankruptcy attorney and a professor at St. John's University, said bankruptcy judge Robert Drain was motivated to move quickly. Bidding will likely take place by early January, since the assets — if not the treats themselves — could become stale. “I think this will move a at a fairly decent pace. He knows what’s at stake here.

Opening Bell: 02.20.13

Regulator set to weigh lifetime futures-trading ban for Corzine (NYP) Two directors of the National Futures Association will move tomorrow to ban Corzine from the multibillion-dollar futures trading industry in light of the scandalous collapse of MF Global — the commodity futures brokerage firm Corzine once headed. If the motion is approved, NFA would hold hearings to determine whether Corzine, MF’s former CEO, deserves a “lifetime ban” from the industry...Corzine, who declined to comment on the proposed ban, is reportedly looking to set up a hedge fund. An NFA ban would limit his ability to trade futures in any fund with outside investors, experts said. It could also hinder his ability to raise money from pension funds and other large investors, experts said. Corzine could also be asked to fork over as much as $250,000 for each violation, according to NFA rules. The proposed ban cites nine rule violations, which could ding the disgraced Corzine for as much as $2.5 million. Rhetoric Turns Harsh As Budget Cuts Loom (WSJ) With less than two weeks to go before the latest fiscal face-off, rhetoric heated up Tuesday as the political parties exchanged fire over whom to blame if looming spending cuts take effect. With Congress in recess this week, Republican and Democratic leaders sent lawmakers home armed with fact sheets about the $85 billion in across-the-board federal spending cuts due to start March 1, and talking points on how to blame the other side. Meantime, the White House and lawmakers are making no progress toward forging a compromise to avoid the reductions, which are known in Washington as the sequester. Thousands of Greeks Rally in Anti-Austerity Strike (Reuters) Tens of thousands of Greeks took to the streets of Athens on Wednesday during a nationwide strike against wage cuts and high taxes that kept ferries stuck in ports, schools shut and hospitals with only emergency staff. Beating drums and chanting "Robbers, robbers!" more than 60,000 people marched to parliament in the biggest anti-austerity protest so far this year. The two biggest labour unions brought much of crisis-hit Greece to a standstill during the 24-hour protest against policies which they say deepen the hardship of people struggling through the country's worst peacetime downturn. Judge Says Einhorn Hedge Fund May Succeed in Apple Case (Reuters) David Einhorn's hedge fund has shown a "likelihood of success" if his legal attack against Apple goes forward, a U.S. judge said, though he made no immediate ruling on fund's request to block a shareholder vote on a proxy proposal next week. U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan on Tuesday reserved decision on a lawsuit by the fund, Greenlight Capital, to stop a Feb. 27 shareholder vote on an Apple proposal to end the issuance of preferred stock without investor approval. "Candidly I do think the likelihood of success is in favor for Greenlight," Sullivan said at a court hearing in New York. Big Anglo-French Buyout Planned (FT) A British-based private equity consortium is preparing a bid of 3.5 billion euros for French catering company Elior in what would be the biggest buyout in continental Europe since Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2008. CVC Capital Partners and BC Partners have teamed up to launch a buyout of Elior, underlining how confidence is returning to Europe's private equity sector. New York mom charged with child endangerment after hiring strippers to perform lap dances at her 16-year-old son's birthday party (NYDN) Judy Viger, 33, hired the women from a company called Tops in Bottoms and arranged for them to perform in a private room at the Spare Time Bowling Center in South Glens Falls on Nov. 3. At the party, the women performed what police describe as “personal and intimate” dances with the party guests, some of whom were as young as 13. Approximately 80 people attended the party, including a 13-year-old and many adults who later said they were outraged at the sexually charged performances. Police were alerted to the party activities after raunchy photos of the lap dances were posted online. The mother of a 15-year-old boy who attended the party saw some of the photos on her son’s Facebook page and alerted South Glens Falls authorities...The company providing the strippers said that the dancers were unaware that the kids at the party were underage, local CBS affiliate WRGB reported, and that the incident was being “blown out of proportion.” Heinz Deal Feeds Chatter About Food-Industry Consolidation (WSJ) The deal sparked speculation of what Heinz may want to buy and what other food company has the wherewithal to become a consolidator. With the potential for more tie-ups, that may also jar loose some brands or businesses—possibly Heinz's underperforming frozen-foods business—that could make a nice fit in another company's pantry. The speculation makes just about everyone a buyer or a seller. "Most of what food companies discuss at the conference will now be taken in the context of what it may mean for further industry consolidation or portfolio change," Barclays packaged-food analyst Andrew Lazar said. Brink’s Says Brussels Diamond Robbery Will Hurt Quarter’s Profit (Bloomberg) Brink’s Co., a provider of armored cars to transport valuables, said a diamond robbery at Brussels airport will have a “significant impact” on first-quarter earnings. A portion of the gems stolen two days ago was being shipped by Brink’s, the Richmond, Virgina-based company said today in a statement. The Antwerp World Diamond Centre has said about $50 million of rough and polished diamonds were stolen as the gems were being loaded onto a plane bound for Switzerland. Revel Into Chapter 11 (AP) Revel, the casino many people had hoped would turn around Atlantic City’s sagging fortunes, said yesterday that it will file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March, less than a year after it opened. The voluntary, prepackaged bankruptcy envisioned for late March will wipe away about two-thirds of its $1.5 billion in debt by converting more than $1 billion of it into equity for lenders. JPMorgan Leads U.S. Banks Lending Least Deposits in 5 Years (Bloomberg) The biggest U.S. banks including JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Citigroup Inc. are lending the smallest portion of their deposits in five years as cash floods in from savers and a slow economy damps demand from borrowers. The average loan-to-deposit ratio for the top eight commercial banks fell to 84 percent in the fourth quarter from 87 percent a year earlier and 101 percent in 2007, according to data compiled by Credit Suisse Group AG. Lending as a proportion of deposits dropped at five of the banks and was unchanged at two, the data show. New Grey Poupon 'Pardon Me' ad to air during Oscars (AP) After a 16-year hiatus, the mustard that mocked its own stuffy image in one of TV’s most famous commercials will once again take to the airwaves during the Feb. 24 Academy Awards show. The spot comes as Kraft Foods looks to boost sagging sales of the Dijon mustard, which is facing competition from a growing variety of high-end condiments on supermarket shelves. The new ad begins in the same way as the original — an aristocratic English gentleman is being chauffeured in the countryside, when another car pulls up alongside them at a stop. The back window rolls down and a second man asks in an over-the-top snooty accent, “Pardon me, would you have any Grey Poupon?”

Opening Bell: 04.01.13

Central Bank Details Losses at Bank of Cyprus (WSJ) Cyprus's central bank spelled out the financial damage to big deposit holders at Bank of Cyprus PCL, the country's biggest lender, saying they will lose almost 40% of their deposits as a result of a sweeping restructuring of the lender. Losses could grow even steeper in the months ahead. In a statement Saturday, Cyprus's central bank said that 37.5% of all deposits over €100,000 ($128,700) will immediately be converted into a special class of shares at the lender as part of its recapitalization plan. As Banks in Cyprus Falter, Other Tax Havens Step In (NYT) Bloodied by a harsh bailout deal that drives a stake through the heart of this Mediterranean country's oversize financial industry, Cyprus now faces a further blow to its role as an offshore tax haven: the vultures from competing countries are circling. With a flood of e-mails and phone calls in recent days to lawyers and accountants here who make a living from helping wealthy Russians and others avoid taxes, competitors in alternative financial centers across Europe and beyond are promoting their own skills at keeping money hidden and safe. In Herbalife Fight, Both Sides Prevail (WSJ) But for the time being, all three investors are in the black, showing that for all the bluster and bravado, timing is everything in financial markets. Mr. Loeb has cashed out the most, whereas the others have made only paper profits. Mr. Loeb's hedge-fund firm, Third Point LLC, has made at least $50 million on its estimated bet of more than $200 million, according to a person familiar with the firm. As of several weeks ago, the firm had largely exited its Herbalife stake, according to people familiar with Third Point. Mr. Icahn has made roughly $25 million in unrealized gains on his about $590 million bet. Mr. Ackman's Pershing Square Capital Management LP has notched more than $200 million, also in paper profits, on a bet of more than $1 billion. Insider Case Against SAC Manager May Be Tough to Prove (Reuters) On Friday, U.S. authorities arrested and charged Michael Steinberg, a 16-year veteran of Cohen's $15 billion SAC Capital Advisors, with insider trading in shares of the technology stocks Dell and Nvidia. The case against Steinberg, 40, is built heavily on the testimony of one of his former colleagues, Jon Horvath, who has admitted to insider trading and is now cooperating with the government. "What they're going to need to prove is that Steinberg got inside information that he knew came from an insider and that he then traded on it," said Marc Greenwald, a former U.S. prosecutor in New York who is now a partner at Quinn Emanuel in New York, and not involved in the case. "It all depends on what Horvath said he said and whether everybody believes him." Princeton alumna, who told female students to get married, defends provocative advice: ‘Find a husband!' (NYDN) "Here's what nobody is telling you," Patton wrote. "Find a husband on campus before you graduate. Yes, I went there." This controversial column, which she described as "little more than honest advice from a Jewish mother," outraged countless readers when it appeared in The Daily Princetonian on Friday and then went viral. "I sincerely feel that too much focus has been placed on encouraging young women only to achieve professionally," Patton told the Daily News. "I think in the back of their heads they all know this but nobody is saying it." Patton decided to write the open letter after speaking at a Women and Leadership conference on campus a few weeks ago. Many said Patton was scolding women for not marrying her youngest son, a junior at Princeton. ("I am the mother of two sons who are both Princetonians," she said. "My older son had the good judgment and great fortune to marry a classmate of his, but he could have married anyone. My younger son is a junior and the universe of women he can marry is limitless. Men regularly marry women who are younger, less intelligent, less educated. It’s amazing how forgiving men can be about a woman’s lack of erudition, if she is exceptionally pretty. Smart women can’t (shouldn’t) marry men who aren’t at least their intellectual equal. As Princeton women, we have almost priced ourselves out of the market. Simply put, there is a very limited population of men who are as smart or smarter than we are. And I say again — you will never again be surrounded by this concentration of men who are worthy of you.") Libor Suits by Bondholders Tossed Over Lack of Damages (Bloomberg) While potential damages were estimated to be in the billions of dollars, the judge ruled the cases must be dismissed because of the inability of litigants that included brokerage Charles Schwab, pension funds and other bondholders to show they were harmed. Buchwald, whose March 29 ruling allowed some commodities-manipulations claims to proceed to a trial, said that, while private plaintiffs must show actual harm, her ruling didn’t impede governments from pursuing antitrust claims tied to attempts to manipulate Libor. Michael Dell Said to Consider Blackstone LBO Only With CEO Guarantee (Bloomberg) In several recent meetings in Austin, Texas, with Chinh Chu and David Johnson -- the Blackstone executives overseeing the firm’s bid -- Michael Dell said he would be more likely to support their proposal if he retained an influential role, a second person familiar with the talks said. Negotiations are ongoing and the two sides may not reach an understanding. Argentina sticks to its guns on debt payout (NYP) The country, in a filing late Friday, refused to follow a court order that mandated it give equal treatment to a group of holdout bondholders led by billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Singer and his Elliott Management. Instead, Kirchner offered the group, owed $1.44 billion, the same deal it offered exchange bondholders in 2010. Pregnant woman's leg amputated after being hit with car (KHOU) The incident happened in the 9600 block of Ravensworth Drive, where Kelly, 21, lives with her boyfriend, Christopher Chaney. Chaney said his ex-girlfriend, 26-year-old Shareyll Hunter, showed up at the house Thursday morning and started arguing with Kelly. "I was in my house asleep, and then one of my kids’ mothers came," Chaney said. "I mean, they been texting and talking over the phone saying they want to fight each other and meet up right here and do it." All of the commotion outside roused Chaney from bed. "When I came outside, I seen my kids’ mother punching on the window and she wanted to fight the other one," Chaney said. He said Hunter jumped into his car and gunned it, pinning her 21-year-old rival between the car and the house, police said. Kelly was rushed to the hospital with two broken legs. Doctors had to amputate one leg. The baby is expected to be OK. Hunter drove off in her ex-boyfriend’s four-door Lincoln LS. She remained on the loose at last check. Hunter is five months pregnant and the victim is four months pregnant. Chaney, 26, says he is the father in both cases. Reporter: "You think it [the hit-and-run] is because of you getting them pregnant?" Christopher Chaney: "I mean, I’m handsome."

Opening Bell: 01.22.13

Glencore, Xstrata Move Closer to Deal (WSJ) The two companies, who want to combine to form the world's fourth-largest diversified miner with a market capitalization of about $80 billion, said they still need to secure regulatory approval from China. They will also have to abide by conditions set out by the South African regulator limiting the timing and scope of any layoffs stemming from the merger. SAC Misses Out On Big Investment (WSJ) Mizuho Financial Group had discussed last year making a major investment that could have brought as much as $500 million to SAC, said people briefed on discussions with SAC executives and advisers. But the bank ultimately notified SAC that it wasn't proceeding. By December, with scrutiny of SAC's trading practices mounting, the firm's executives told advisers and others inside and outside the firm that Mizuho's decision appeared final, the people said. Global A-List Descends On Davos (WSJ) Of all the sectors it is probably the bankers who are fielding the highest concentration of big names. Anshu Jainof Deutsche Bank AG,  Brian T. Moynihan of Bank of America Corp., Lloyd C. Blankfein of Goldman Sachs and HSBC Holdings CEO Stuart T. Gulliver are just a sample. Trust in Business Leaders at Low as Davos Begins (CNBC) Less than one in five people believe business and government leaders can be trusted to make ethical and moral decisions, the survey of some 30,000 people showed, with confidence particularly low in France and Germany. Calpers Buy-Hold Rule Recoups $95 Billion Recession Loss (WSJ) The California Public Employees’ Retirement System is poised to top a record $260 billion in assets, the market value it held before the global financial crisis wiped out more than a third of its wealth, by sticking with a strategy of buy-and-hold. The largest U.S. public pension, with half of its money in publicly traded equities, was worth $253.2 billion on Jan. 17, or about 97 percent of the pre-recession high set in October 2007. The fund returned 13 percent in 2012, about the same gain as the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index achieved. Armstrong Becomes ‘Madoff on a Bike’ as Cheating Shatters Lives (Bloomberg) “He’s Bernie Madoff on a bike,” said John Llewellyn, an associate professor of communication at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “The level of self-absorption and mean-spiritedness with which he has defended himself and castigated others over a decade makes an impression that’s pretty bleak for the human spirit.” Irish lawmakers back plan to allow drink-driving ‘in moderation’ (The Journal) KERRY count councillors have voted in favour of a motion which would allow people in rural Ireland to have ‘two or three’ drinks and still drive. The motion put forward by councillor Danny Healy-Rae calls on the Minister for Justice to allow Gardaí to issue permits to people in the most isolated parts of the country to allow them to drive after drinking some alcohol. Speaking to The Journal, Danny Healy-Rae said the idea was to help “those people in every parish who are isolated and who can’t get out of their place at night." Barclays Loses Anonymity (Bloomberg) A group of Barclays employees had a request to prevent their names from being published ahead of the UK’s first trial related to manipulation of the London interbank offered rate rejected by a judge yesterday. “I simply do not see that there is any sufficient case of prejudice” to the trial, Judge Julian Flaux said in dismissing the request. The names weren’t immediately released. Affiliates of Guardian Care Homes sued Barclays over an interest-rate swap tied to Libor and argued the benchmark was manipulated. The swap resulted in a loss for the Wolverhampton, England-based Guardian and Barclays was ordered to give the company’s lawyers the identities and e-mails of bank staff that were included in disclosures to regulators. Atari’s U.S. Operations File for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy (Bloomberg) Atari SA’s U.S.-based video-game- making businesses filed for bankruptcy protection inManhattan with the intention of separating from the unprofitable French parent and seeking independent funding. New York-based Atari Inc., maker of video games “Pong” and “Asteroids,” as well as affiliates Atari Interactive Inc., Humongous Inc. and California U.S. Holdings Inc., asked to be jointly administered in filings yesterday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, according to a statement. “Within the next 90 to 120 days, the companies expect to effectuate a sale of all, or substantially all, of their assets,” in a free and clear sale under the U.S. bankruptcy laws, or confirm reorganization plans that “accomplish substantially the same result,” according to the statement. EU Approves Financial Transactions Tax (Reuters) A majority of European Union finance ministers voted on Tuesday to allow Germany, France and nine other euro zone countries to prepare to introduce a tax on financial transactions, said two officials who attended the meeting. The vote clears the way for Germany,France, Italy, Spain, Austria, Portugal, Belgium, Estonia, Greece, Slovakia and Slovenia to press ahead with their own tax on trading. Man paddles for love of Florida waters (NWFDN) Justin Riney turned his back on his degree in finance and last year followed his heart and founded his own non-profit organization: Mother Ocean...Riney needed a project to kick off his newly-founded organization and bring attention to it and when he read that 500 years had passed since Ponce de Leon discovered Florida, he decided that was a cause for celebration. On Jan. 1 he began a 365-day journey around Florida on a stand-up paddle board from Pensacola. He plans to spend six months paddling the peninsula, ending In Jacksonville on July 4. Then, he will spend six months on the inner waterways, ending Dec. 31 in Tallahassee. He has named this adventure Expedition Florida 500. Briton wrestles shark away from children in Australia (Telegraph) The incident happened on Friday in the Sunshine Coast region of the state of Queensland, and was captured by a local news team. According to Australia's Channel Nine, the shark came into very shallow waters and two men rushed to move it away before it reached children who were playing in the water nearby. Paul Marshallsea, a grandfather from Wales, and Terry Dale, a wildlife carer, pushed the shark towards open waters. The shark was also spotted in shallow waters of a creek by frightened parents, children and tourists.

Opening Bell: 06.21.12

SEC Said To Depose SAC’s Cohen In Insider-Trading Probe (Bloomberg) Cohen, 56, was recently deposed by Securities and Exchange Commission investigators in New York about trades made close to news such as mergers and earnings that generated profits at his hedge fund, said one of the people, who asked not to be identified because the investigation isn’t public. Neither Cohen nor SAC Capital, which oversees about $14 billion, has been accused of wrongdoing. Four-Week Jobless Claims Average Reaches 2012 High (Reuters) Initial claims for state unemployment benefits slipped 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 387,000, the Labor Department said. The prior week's figure was revised up to 389,000 from the previously reported 386,000. Lawmakers Call For IPO Overhaul (WSJ) A bipartisan group of lawmakers called on regulators to overhaul the way initial public offerings are conducted, concerned that last month's flubbed stock sale by Facebook shows the current system unfairly punishes small investors. In a letter to Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Mary Schapiro, Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) prodded the agency to revamp rules for pricing and disclosure in IPOs. Mr. Issa, who wrote the letter on behalf of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said the social-networking company's steep share-price decline since its May 18 offering is a sign that investment banks are able to "dictate pricing while only indirectly considering market supply-and-demand." Separately, the Democratic chairman of a subcommittee of the Senate Banking Committee said regulatory changes are needed to bolster investor confidence sapped by Facebook's botched debut. Facebook’s 22% Rally Helps Stock Avoid Worst IPO Return In U.S. (Bloomberg) So that's something! Riskier Bets Pitched To Asia's Rising Rich (WSJ) In Japan, brokers are dangling what they claim is a tasty product in front of wealthy investors: a "triple-decker" that uses options to squeeze higher returns from stocks, "junk" bonds or other assets. If a triple-decker doesn't suit an investor's fancy, there is the increasingly popular—and slightly less complex—"double-decker." Elsewhere in Asia, so-called hybrid bonds and other high-yield varieties can be had. Investors in Singapore recently could buy so-called perpetual bonds through ATMs. Across Asia, brokers are pushing to sell increasingly complex products to the region's expanding ranks of investors, especially wealthy ones. These types of products appeal to those hungry for yield who normally focus on stocks and real estate but are worried about falling equity markets and the sudden shortage of initial public offerings. BlueMountain Said To Help Unwind JPMorgan’s Whale Trades (Bloomberg) A hedge fund run by a former JPMorgan Chase executive who helped create the credit- derivatives market is aiding the lender as it unwinds trades in an index at the heart of a loss of more than $2 billion. BlueMountain Capital Management LLC, co-founded by Andrew Feldstein, has been compiling trades in Series 9 of the Markit CDX North America Investment Grade Index in recent weeks, then selling the positions to the New York-based bank, according to three people outside the firms who are familiar with the strategy. JPMorgan tapped BlueMountain as a middleman after trades in its London chief investment office grew so large that the bank was creating price distortions that hedge funds sought to exploit, said the market participants, who asked not to be identified because they weren’t authorized to discuss the trades. BlueMountain was one of the funds that benefited from the price dislocations, the people said. US Olympic committee send cease and desist letter to knitting Olympics (TNT) The US Olympic committee has sent a cease and desist letter to the social networking group Ravelry, who had organised a Ravelympics in which contestants would compete in events such as ‘scarf hockey’ while watching the actual Games on TV...The US Olympic Committee has said that “the athletes of Team USA have spent the better part of the entire lives training for the opportunity to compete at the Olympic Games and represent their country in a sport that means everything to them” and that “using the name ‘Ravelympics’ for a competition that involves an afghan marathon and sweater triathlon tends to denigrate the true nature of the Olympic Games”. Romney Campaign Said To Ask Scott To Downplay Job Gains (Bloomberg) Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign asked Florida Governor Rick Scott to tone down his statements heralding improvements in the state’s economy because they clash with the presumptive Republican nominee’s message that the nation is suffering under President Barack Obama, according to two people familiar with the matter. Scott, a Republican, was asked to say that the state’s jobless rate could improve faster under a Romney presidency, according to the people, who asked not to be named. Lonely Hedge Fund Bullish On Greece Tries To Woo Investors (Bloomberg) In March, Elliott met with the investment chief of a family office in London who said within seconds of sitting down that the firm had no interest in giving money to a hedge fund wagering on Greece. The executive merely wanted to hear his story, Elliott, the founder of Naftilia Asset Management Ltd., said in a telephone interview from his office in Athens. Elliott, 39, responded by asking a few questions of his own, including whether the executive had invested in Russia after its 1998 currency crisis, in Argentina 10 years ago after the nation defaulted on its debt or in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index (SPX) in March 2009, when the benchmark plunged to its lowest point in 13 years. Finally, Elliott questioned whether the family office’s investment chief had ever bought shares of Apple. In all cases, the answer was no. “Then you are not qualified to be discussing Greece with me because you have missed the best investment opportunities over the past 20 years,” Elliott retorted. National Bank Of Greece To Sell Luxury Resort As Slump Bites (Bloomberg) If you know anyone who's interested: The 3.3 million-square-foot (307,000 square-meter) Astir Palace complex has already drawn investors’ interest, according to Aristotelis Karytinos, general manager of real estate at the lender. The Athens-based bank and Greece’s privatization fund, which owns part of the property, will put out a public tender in coming months, he said. Fed Warns Of Risk To Economy (WSJ) Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke made clear in a news conference after the policy makers' meeting that he is prepared to take further action if he doesn't see progress on bringing down unemployment, which was 8.2% in May. "I wouldn't accept the proposition though that the Fed has no more ammunition," Mr. Bernanke said. He added, "if we don't see continued improvement in the labor market we'll be prepared to take additional steps." Australian mega-brothel gets go-ahead (AP) A Sydney brothel has received the green light for a multi-million-dollar expansion which will see it become Australia's largest sex premises, with rooms featuring multiple beds and pool tables. Plans to double the number of rooms at inner Sydney's "Stiletto" into a mega-brothel complex were knocked back late last year by the city council on the grounds that it was too big. But the owners won an appeal to the Land and Environment Court this week, with Commissioner Susan O'Neill ruling the Aus$12 million ($12.2 million) development, including a wing for group bookings, should go ahead...Stiletto promotes itself as "the world's finest short-stay boutique hotel and Sydney brothel". Its standard hourly rate of Aus$370 includes room, lady of choice and beverages.

Opening Bell: 07.10.12

Diamond To Forgo Deferred Bonuses (WSJ) Former Barclays Chief Executive Robert Diamond has given up bonuses of up to £20 million ($31 million) in an apparent effort to shield the lender as the bank looks to defuse anger following the rate-fixing scandal...According to Mr. Diamond's contract, he will receive up to 12 months' salary, pension allowance and other benefits. Barclays Chairman Marcus Agius said that this amounts to around £2 million. Paulson Funds Fell In June As Rally Undercut Euro Wager (Bloomberg) The $22 billion firm had losses in all its funds last month as stock markets rose. The losses were led by a 7.9 percent drop in his Advantage Plus Fund, according to an update to investors obtained by Bloomberg News. That leaves the fund, which seeks to profit from corporate events such as takeovers and bankruptcies and uses leverage to amplify returns, down 16 percent this year. Einhorn says Fed stimulus counterproductive (Reuters) "I think it's actually counterproductive," Einhorn said of the stimulus program, adding that it lowers the standard of living and drives up food and oil prices. He said he would suggest a rise in interest rates on U.S. Treasury bonds to "a reasonable level" of 2 to 3 percent. Einhorn said Apple, which he praised at this year's Ira Sohn investing conference, was "the best big-growth company we have." "We're two, three years into the Apple investment, and the way it seems headed it's likely we'll be there for a good while longer," he said. "I think the stock is very very substantially undervalued." He said Amazon.com Inc was "tough on its competitors" because it does not "feel the need to make a profit." "It's very hard to compete against somebody who doesn't feel the need to make a profit," he said, adding that he is not "short" Amazon. Investment Bankers Face Termination As Europe Fees Fall (Bloomberg) Credit Suisse and UBS face the most pressure to boost efficiency as that country runs ahead of others in introducing tougher capital and liquidity rules to curtail risk-taking, making some businesses unviable...While the situation may be most acute at the Swiss banks, similar dynamics are at work at other firms as the debt crisis drags on, capital requirements ratchet higher and economic growth grinds to a halt. “Bankers are really gloomy and a lot of people are worried about their jobs,” said Edward Cumming-Bruce, a partner at London-based advisory firm Gleacher Shacklock LLP who has more than 20 years’ experience. “Banks are under remorseless pressure to cut costs and balance sheets as we witness a significant change in the way the financial industry works.” Sitting for More Than Three Hours a Day Cuts Life Expectancy (WSJ) Sitting down for more than three hours a day can shave a person's life expectancy by two years, even if he or she is physically active and refrains from dangerous habits like smoking, according to a study to be published on Tuesday in the online journal BMJ Open. Watching TV for more than two hours a day can exacerbate that problem, decreasing life expectancy by another 1.4 years, said the report, which analyzed five underlying studies of nearly 167,000 people over a range of four to 14 years. Futures Broker Freezes Accounts (WSJ) Peregrine, based in Cedar Falls, Iowa, couldn't be reached for comment on the NFA action, but in an earlier statement to clients said "some accounting irregularities are being investigated regarding company accounts." "What this means is no customers are able to trade except to liquidate positions. Until further notice, PFGBEST is not authorized to release any funds," said PFGBest in its statement. Also in the statement, the firm said Russell R. Wasendorf Sr., its founder, chairman and chief executive, had experienced a "recent emergency" and described it as a "suicide attempt." A spokeswoman for PFGBest said Mr. Wasendorf was in critical condition in a hospital. Four Companies Break Through IPO Drought (WSJ) What do two fast-growing technology companies, an iconic guitar maker and a skin-infection specialist have in common? All four aim to break the latest dry spell in the IPO market. Fender Musical Instruments Corp., which has supplied guitars to rock artists from Buddy Holly to Kurt Cobain and John Mayer, network-security firm Palo Alto Networks Inc., travel website Kayak Software Corp. and pharmaceutical firm Durata Therapeutics Inc. said Monday that they plan to push ahead with initial public offerings in coming weeks. JPMorgan Silence On Risk Model Spurs Calls For Disclosure (Bloomberg) The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is probing JPMorgan’s belated May 10 disclosure that a change to its mathematical model for gauging trading risk helped fuel the loss in its chief investment office. While the SEC would have to prove that the biggest U.S. bank improperly kept important information from investors, regulators probably will press Wall Street firms to tell more about the risks they’re taking, three former SEC lawyers said. Would You Stress Over A Millionaire Wife? (CNBC) The study, conducted by SEI and Phoenix Marketing, found that a third of the women who are the financial leads in millionaire households say their partner feels “stressed” by their financial roles. By contrast, only 14 percent of males in male-led millionaire households said they feel tension from their partner. Actor who kicked in doors to Ed Sullivan theater escapes jail time (NYDN) The struggling actor who kicked in the glass doors to the Ed Sullivan Theatre and urinated on the lobby floor last year got lucky with a no-jail sentence Monday. But he had to pay $7,377.28 in restitution. James Whittemore, 23, who now deejays in Massachusetts under the name DJ Nutron, never formally apologized to David Letterman face to face, but he said he'd like to..."Someone stole my iPhone, I quit my job, my girlfriend broke up with me, I was having a rough day," he said.