Opening Bell: 03.04.13

Euro-Zone Deal Faces Hurdles (WSJ) Germany's reluctance to put its taxpayers' money at risk in other countries' banks is proving the biggest obstacle to letting the euro zone's bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism, invest directly in banks that need more capital. In Ireland, Spain, Greece and Cyprus, bailouts of struggling banks are placing heavy burdens on the state, adding to fast-rising national debts. Buffett Disappointed With Berkshire's 'Subpar' $24 Billion Gain (CNBC) Warren Buffett called 2012 "subpar" in his annual letter to shareholders as Berkshire Hathaway's per-share book value rose 14.4 percent, less than the S&P 500's 16-percent increase. It's the ninth time in 48 years this has happened. Buffett notes that the S&P has outpaced Berkshire over the past four years and if the market continues to gain this year the benchmark stock index could have its first five-year win ever. "When the partnership I ran took control of Berkshire in 1965, I could never have dreamed that a year in which we had a gain of $24.1 billion would be subpar ... But subpar it was." Buffett: Berkshire on hunt for more Heinz-like deals (Reuters) "If we get a chance to buy another Heinz, we will do that," Buffett said on CNBC. Berkshire likes the ketchup maker's business, the price of the $23 billion deal, and its partner in the transaction, private equity firm 3G Capital, Buffett said in an extended interview. HSBC Reports Declining Profit and Says Costs Are Increasing (Bloomberg) Pretax profit for 2012 dropped 5.6 percent to $20.65 billion, trailing the $23.49 billion estimate of 26 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. Revenue fell 5.4 percent to $68.33 billion from $72.28 billion, HSBC said today in a statement. Chief Executive Officer Stuart Gulliver is being thwarted in his plan to reduce costs to 48 percent to 52 percent of revenue as the London-based lender set aside $1.9 billion to settle U.S. money-laundering probes and boosted spending on compliance by $500 million. Expenses as a proportion of revenue climbed to 62.8 percent from 57.5 percent, and wage inflation in markets such as Latin America is increasing, HSBC said today. Swiss Back Executive-Pay Controls (WSJ) The plan, dubbed the "rip off" initiative by the country's media, bans so-called golden-handshake and golden-parachute severance agreements. It also requires greater transparency on loans and retirement packages for senior executives and directors. Beauty queen took my heart, then she took me for $96,000 ride: hedge-funder's suit (NYP) Rishi Bajaj, 33, says he opened his heart, then his wallet, to Miss New Mexico Teen USA 2007 Liz Kranz after she told him she was considering selling her eggs to raise cash for a relative in rehab. The sob story got the beauty a $20,000 loan from Bajaj, he claims in a Manhattan Supreme Court lawsuit. Bajaj, who co-manages the $620 million hedge fund Altai Capital, then told Kranz, 24, to pick out a car for the couple to share — and was “surprised” when she selected a 2012 BMW that came with a $17,070 down payment. They met in July 2012 and dated for “several months,” even vacationing together in Italy, where, Bajaj said in court papers, he let Kranz use his American Express card. Kranz, of the Lower East Side, was also allowed to use Bajaj’s AmEx to buy a dress for a wedding they attended. Bajaj and Kranz, who lived briefly in LA, eventually broke up. There were “disagreements about their remaining obligations to each other,” Bajaj said in court papers. He claims the pageant queen kept her hands on his credit card and racked up tens of thousands in charges...In all, Bajaj claims Kranz spent $58,860 on his credit card over three months last year. In a November letter, his lawyer accused her of “theft, fraud and other egregious misconduct” and demanded she repay the full $58,860 in credit-card purchases. NYC to be hit hard by sequester: Merrill Lynch economist (NYP) Two months’ worth of job gains are about to vanish nationwide, warns a Merrill Lynch economist — and New York City, whose unemployment rate is already at an eye-popping 8.8 percent, will be hit exceptionally hard in this employment carnage as Washington begins to enact a series of controversial spending cuts known as the sequester. “It will set the economy back a few months in the job market,” Ethan Harris, co-head of global economics research at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, told The Post. “The national job market recovery has been modest, and it has been weaker locally in New York.” Nationally, Harris calculated a loss of about 300,000 jobs, roughly two months of average job gains, if the sequester is enacted untouched. Job-Hunt Time Shrinks in U.S. From Record High (Bloomberg) For 13 million out-of-work Americans, record spells of joblessness are abating. The median duration fell to 16 weeks in January from 25 weeks in June 2010, Labor Department data show. Fewer people compete for each opening as hiring expands, and persistent long-term unemployment is starting to mend. The progress supports Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke’s view that America’s labor market remains flexible and isn’t succumbing to hysteresis, or permanently higher joblessness, similar to Europe in the 1980s, said Dale Mortensen, a professor of economics at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and 2010 Nobel laureate. That suggests continued monetary stimulus can bring about a faster healing. Slim Risks Losing World’s Richest Person Title as Troubles Mount (Bloomberg) Slim’s lead over the next-wealthiest man, Bill Gates, narrowed last week to about $4.8 billion -- the closest spread in almost a year. The Lebanese immigrant’s son, who acquired Mexico’s phone monopoly and turned it into a pan-Latin American powerhouse, lost almost a 10th of his net worth last month, winnowing his fortune to $71 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Dennis Rodman: Kim Jong Un Wants President Obama to ‘Call Him’ (ABC) In his first interview since returning to the U.S. from an unprecedented visit to North Korea last week, former NBA star Dennis Rodman said he bears a message for President Obama from the country’s oppressive leader, Kim Jong Un. “He wants Obama to do one thing: Call him,” Rodman told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on “This Week.” “He said, ‘If you can, Dennis – I don’t want [to] do war. I don’t want to do war.’ He said that to me.” The athlete also offered Kim some diplomatic advice for potential future talks with President Obama. “[Kim] loves basketball. And I said the same thing, I said, ‘Obama loves basketball.’ Let’s start there,” Rodman said.
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Euro-Zone Deal Faces Hurdles (WSJ)
Germany's reluctance to put its taxpayers' money at risk in other countries' banks is proving the biggest obstacle to letting the euro zone's bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism, invest directly in banks that need more capital. In Ireland, Spain, Greece and Cyprus, bailouts of struggling banks are placing heavy burdens on the state, adding to fast-rising national debts.

Buffett Disappointed With Berkshire's 'Subpar' $24 Billion Gain (CNBC)
Warren Buffett called 2012 "subpar" in his annual letter to shareholders as Berkshire Hathaway's per-share book value rose 14.4 percent, less than the S&P 500's 16-percent increase. It's the ninth time in 48 years this has happened. Buffett notes that the S&P has outpaced Berkshire over the past four years and if the market continues to gain this year the benchmark stock index could have its first five-year win ever. "When the partnership I ran took control of Berkshire in 1965, I could never have dreamed that a year in which we had a gain of $24.1 billion would be subpar ... But subpar it was."

Buffett: Berkshire on hunt for more Heinz-like deals (Reuters)
"If we get a chance to buy another Heinz, we will do that," Buffett said on CNBC. Berkshire likes the ketchup maker's business, the price of the $23 billion deal, and its partner in the transaction, private equity firm 3G Capital, Buffett said in an extended interview.

HSBC Reports Declining Profit and Says Costs Are Increasing (Bloomberg)
Pretax profit for 2012 dropped 5.6 percent to $20.65 billion, trailing the $23.49 billion estimate of 26 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. Revenue fell 5.4 percent to $68.33 billion from $72.28 billion, HSBC said today in a statement. Chief Executive Officer Stuart Gulliver is being thwarted in his plan to reduce costs to 48 percent to 52 percent of revenue as the London-based lender set aside $1.9 billion to settle U.S. money-laundering probes and boosted spending on compliance by $500 million. Expenses as a proportion of revenue climbed to 62.8 percent from 57.5 percent, and wage inflation in markets such as Latin America is increasing, HSBC said today.

Swiss Back Executive-Pay Controls (WSJ)
The plan, dubbed the "rip off" initiative by the country's media, bans so-called golden-handshake and golden-parachute severance agreements. It also requires greater transparency on loans and retirement packages for senior executives and directors.

Beauty queen took my heart, then she took me for $96,000 ride: hedge-funder's suit (NYP)
Rishi Bajaj, 33, says he opened his heart, then his wallet, to Miss New Mexico Teen USA 2007 Liz Kranz after she told him she was considering selling her eggs to raise cash for a relative in rehab. The sob story got the beauty a $20,000 loan from Bajaj, he claims in a Manhattan Supreme Court lawsuit. Bajaj, who co-manages the $620 million hedge fund Altai Capital, then told Kranz, 24, to pick out a car for the couple to share — and was “surprised” when she selected a 2012 BMW that came with a $17,070 down payment. They met in July 2012 and dated for “several months,” even vacationing together in Italy, where, Bajaj said in court papers, he let Kranz use his American Express card. Kranz, of the Lower East Side, was also allowed to use Bajaj’s AmEx to buy a dress for a wedding they attended. Bajaj and Kranz, who lived briefly in LA, eventually broke up. There were “disagreements about their remaining obligations to each other,” Bajaj said in court papers. He claims the pageant queen kept her hands on his credit card and racked up tens of thousands in charges...In all, Bajaj claims Kranz spent $58,860 on his credit card over three months last year. In a November letter, his lawyer accused her of “theft, fraud and other egregious misconduct” and demanded she repay the full $58,860 in credit-card purchases.

NYC to be hit hard by sequester: Merrill Lynch economist (NYP)
Two months’ worth of job gains are about to vanish nationwide, warns a Merrill Lynch economist — and New York City, whose unemployment rate is already at an eye-popping 8.8 percent, will be hit exceptionally hard in this employment carnage as Washington begins to enact a series of controversial spending cuts known as the sequester. “It will set the economy back a few months in the job market,” Ethan Harris, co-head of global economics research at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, told The Post. “The national job market recovery has been modest, and it has been weaker locally in New York.” Nationally, Harris calculated a loss of about 300,000 jobs, roughly two months of average job gains, if the sequester is enacted untouched.

Job-Hunt Time Shrinks in U.S. From Record High (Bloomberg)
For 13 million out-of-work Americans, record spells of joblessness are abating. The median duration fell to 16 weeks in January from 25 weeks in June 2010, Labor Department data show. Fewer people compete for each opening as hiring expands, and persistent long-term unemployment is starting to mend. The progress supports Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke’s view that America’s labor market remains flexible and isn’t succumbing to hysteresis, or permanently higher joblessness, similar to Europe in the 1980s, said Dale Mortensen, a professor of economics at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and 2010 Nobel laureate. That suggests continued monetary stimulus can bring about a faster healing.

Slim Risks Losing World’s Richest Person Title as Troubles Mount (Bloomberg)
Slim’s lead over the next-wealthiest man, Bill Gates, narrowed last week to about $4.8 billion -- the closest spread in almost a year. The Lebanese immigrant’s son, who acquired Mexico’s phone monopoly and turned it into a pan-Latin American powerhouse, lost almost a 10th of his net worth last month, winnowing his fortune to $71 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Dennis Rodman: Kim Jong Un Wants President Obama to ‘Call Him’ (ABC)
In his first interview since returning to the U.S. from an unprecedented visit to North Korea last week, former NBA star Dennis Rodman said he bears a message for President Obama from the country’s oppressive leader, Kim Jong Un. “He wants Obama to do one thing: Call him,” Rodman told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on “This Week.” “He said, ‘If you can, Dennis – I don’t want [to] do war. I don’t want to do war.’ He said that to me.” The athlete also offered Kim some diplomatic advice for potential future talks with President Obama. “[Kim] loves basketball. And I said the same thing, I said, ‘Obama loves basketball.’ Let’s start there,” Rodman said.

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Opening Bell: 01.04.13

SEC Drops Case Against Ex-Berkshire Exec Sokol (Reuters) The U.S. securities regulator has decided not to take action against David Sokol, once considered a possible candidate for the top job at Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, Sokol's lawyer told Reuters. In 2011, Buffett said Sokol violated the company's insider trading rules to score a $3 million windfall profit on shares of U.S. chemicals maker Lubrizol, which rose by nearly a third after Berkshire Hathaway announced it would buy the company. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission began investigating Sokol's investment in Lubrizol shortly after Sokol resigned from Berkshire Hathaway. Sokol's lawyer Barry Wm. Levine told Reuters late on Thursday that he was informed that the SEC had wrapped up its probe and decided not to take action against Sokol. "SEC has terminated its investigation and has concluded not to bring any proceedings against Sokol," said Levine, a lawyer at legal firm Dickstein Shapiro. Sokol has been "completely cleared" as there was no evidence against his client, Levine said. Cohen’s SAC Tops Most Profitable List Amid Insider Probes (Bloomberg) SAC Capital International, Cohen’s flagship fund, was the world’s most-profitable hedge fund in the first 10 months of 2012, earning $789.5 million for Cohen, 56, and his managers, according to Bloomberg Markets’ annual ranking of hedge funds...SAC Capital International is No. 1 not because of performance; it ties for No. 86 on that measure, with a 10 percent return in the Markets ranking of the 100 top-performing funds. Rather, the fund earned the most money because Cohen charges some of the highest fees on Wall Street. While most funds impose a 1 to 2 percent management fee and then take 15 to 20 percent of the profits, Cohen levies 3 percent and as much as 50 percent, according to investors. Geithner's Planned Departure Puts Obama In A Tough Spot (Reuters) The Treasury Department said Geithner would stick to his previously announced schedule to stay until sometime around the Jan. 21 inauguration. Obama chose Geithner to lead the just-ended negotiations with Congress to avert the Dec. 31 fiscal cliff of spending cuts and tax hikes that threatened to push the economy back into recession. But the deal, which preserved most of the Bush-era tax breaks for Americans, sets up a series of crucial fiscal deadlines by delaying automatic spending cuts until March 1 and not increasing the government's borrowing limit. That puts Obama in the tough spot of nominating another Treasury secretary and asking the Senate to approve his choice when lawmakers are in the middle of another budget battle. Egan Jones Says Further US Downgrades Unlikely (CNBC) "This latest round (of negotiations) indicates a sign of health. You have a major ideological clash going on in Congress and many people uncomfortable with it, but it is part of democracy. The more positive light is that we actually have a deal and can move forward," Sean Egan, managing director of Egan-Jones told CNBC on Friday. "We've gotten a lot more comfortable about the U.S. and we probably won't take additional negative actions for the foreseeable future," he added. Almost All of Wall Street Got 2012 Market Calls Wrong (Bloomberg) From John Paulson’s call for a collapse in Europe to Morgan Stanley’s warning that U.S. stocks would decline, Wall Street got little right in its prognosis for the year just ended. Paulson, who manages $19 billion in hedge funds, said the euro would fall apart and bet against the region’s debt. Morgan Stanley predicted the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index would lose 7 percent and Credit Suisse foresaw wider swings in equity prices. All of them proved wrong last year and investors would have done better listening to Goldman Sachs Chief Executive Officer Lloyd C. Blankfein, who said the real risk was being too pessimistic. The ill-timed advice shows that even the largest banks and most-successful investors failed to anticipate how government actions would influence markets. Unprecedented central bank stimulus in the U.S. and Europe sparked a 16 percent gain in the S&P 500 including dividends, led to a 23 percent drop in the Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index, paid investors in Greek debt 78 percent and gave Treasuries a 2.2 percent return even after Warren Buffett called bonds “dangerous.” Fed Divided Over Bond Buys (WSJ) A new fault line has opened up at the Federal Reserve over how long to continue bond-buying programs aimed at spurring stronger economic growth. Minutes released Thursday of the Fed's Dec. 11-12 policy meeting showed that officials were divided. Some wanted to continue the programs through the end of 2013, others wanted to end them well before then and a minority wanted to halt the programs right away. Swiss Bank Pleads Guilty In Probe (WSJ) In the latest blow to Switzerland's centuries-old banking practices, the country's oldest bank pleaded guilty to a criminal conspiracy charge in the U.S. on Thursday and admitted that it helped wealthy Americans for years avoid tens of millions of dollars in taxes by hiding their income from secret accounts abroad. Wegelin & Co., founded in 1741, is the latest Swiss bank to reach a deal with U.S. prosecutors as they crack down on Americans who kept their money in secret accounts overseas and the entities which helped them. Three Wegelin bankers also were charged criminally in the U.S. last year. Subway worker tells customer to 'fight me like a man,' during confrontation over ketchup (WFTV) Luis Martinez said he stopped by a Subway shop in a Walmart on South Semoran Boulevard late Tuesday night to get something to eat. He said he ordered a Philly cheese steak the way he always does. "American cheese, onions and ketchup," said Martinez. Lawrence Ordone was working behind the counter. "He wants ketchup on the Philly cheese steak and I have never put -- we don't even have ketchup at Subway -- I've never put ketchup on anybody's sandwich," said Ordone. Martinez said he didn't want the sandwich without the ketchup and that a man next to him in line offered to buy the sandwich. Ordone said that Martinez mouthed off at the man. Martinez denied saying anything, but neither he or Ordone disputed what they said happened next. "That's when I flew off the handle," said Ordone. "He shoved a chair to the side, like knocked it down to come at me, and I said, 'This is going to be serious,'" said Martinez. "I said, 'Let's go, fight me like a man,'" said Ordone. "I was scared. Next thing, I'm thinking a gun's going to come out," said Martinez. Ordone said he blocked the customer so he couldn't get out. "He threatened to kill me in front of my wife," said Martinez. Martinez called 911, but by the time police got there the Subway worker had already left. Ordone said he was fired from his job Wednesday, and that he is baffled the confrontation started over something as simple as ketchup. "There's ketchup three aisles down. You can go buy your own ketchup, and I promise to God, you can put as much as you want on it and nobody's going to say nothing," said Ordone. Economy Adds 155,000 Jobs (WSJ) Rebuilding following superstorm Sandy, which struck the Northeast in late October, likely added to job growth last month. Nationally, employment in the construction sector advanced by 30,000 jobs. Meanwhile, manufacturing payrolls increased by 25,000 and health-care jobs grew by 45,000. JPMorgan Faces Sanction for Refusing to Provide Madoff Documents (Bloomberg) The Treasury Department’s inspector general has threatened to punish JPMorgan Chase for failing to turn over documents to regulators investigating the bank’s ties to Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. Inspector General Eric Thorson gave the largest U.S. bank a Jan. 11 deadline to cooperate with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency probe or risk sanctions for impeding the agency’s oversight. JPMorgan, according to the Dec. 21 letter, contends the information is protected by attorney-client privilege. Rich Catch a Break With Budget Deal Providing Deductions (Bloomberg) “The increases in taxes and limits to deductions are more favorable than expected,” said Christopher Zander, partner and head of wealth planning at Evercore Partners Inc. (EVR)’s wealth management unit. “They could have been worse for high net-worth taxpayers.” Regulators to ease up on banks to get credit flowing (Reuters) Banks will get more time to build up cash buffers to protect against market shocks under a rule change that could help free up credit for struggling economies, a European regulatory source said. The Basel Committee, made up of banking supervisors from nearly 30 countries, is expected to announce the revision on Sunday to its "liquidity coverage" ratio or LCR, part of efforts to make banks less likely to need taxpayer help again in a crisis. The change comes after heavy pressure from banks and some regulators, who feared Basel's original version would suck up too much liquidity at a time when ailing economies are badly in need of a ready supply of credit to finance growth. 'Stripper' arrested after performance art leads to ruckus in Hallandale (SS) According to police and witnesses, Mena, 25, was first spotted standing and yelling in the middle of A1A outside her condo building along the 1800 block of South Ocean Drive about 10:45 a.m. on Wednesday. Noel von Kauffman, 40, said he was walking along the street when he noticed Mena trying to direct traffic while wearing a tank-top, cut-off jean shorts and tall boots...At some point, Mena picked up a traffic cone and threw it at a car driven by Dieter Heinrich, 49, of Dania Beach, according to an arrest report. The cone broke the car's side mirror, causing about $300 in damages, the report indicated. When Heinrich got out of his car, Mena allegedly spat in his face. Von Kauffman said he jumped in to help Heinrich, who had children in the back seat of his car. Mena scratched von Kauffman's wrist as the two men tried to restrain her and move her away from the busy roadway, according to the police report. After pinning her to the ground, von Kauffman said the woman first tried to say the incident was part of a television show and that everything was being caught on camera. Then she claimed she was a federal agent. Then she said she was friends with Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper and everyone involved would be in trouble, von Kauffman said.

Opening Bell: 03.07.12

Goldman No.1 in Investment Bank Fees (Bloomberg Markets) Total investment banking fees for all financial institutions in 2011 were $49.1 billion, matching the $49.1 billion from 2010. Total deal volume also matched 2010, at $6.9 trillion. Goldman took the top spot in the ranking even as its total fees fell in 2011 to $3.46 billion from $3.6 billion in 2010. Goldman is also No. 1 in M&A fees for the eighth consecutive year. JPMorgan dropped to No. 3 from No. 1 in the overall ranking. Morgan Stanley held on to the No. 2 spot, with $3.26 billion in overall fees, down 11 percent from the prior 12 months. Investors With 39.3% of Greek Debt Will Swap (Bloomberg) The thirty members of the private creditor-investor committee for Greece who plan to participate in the swap hold an aggregate 81 billion euros of Greek debt, or 39.3 percent of the Greek debt eligible for the swap, according to the email. Obama pitches CEOs on economic growth (Politico) President Barack Obama pitched his proposals for economic growth to an audience of CEOs Tuesday, including Bank of America chief executive Brian Moynihan and Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan Chase. The president hailed his proposed investments in infrastructure and training and pointed to common ground with the business community, including the signing of free trade agreements and allowing Russia into the World Trade Organization, according to a pool report. Obama said he will go anywhere in the world to secure markets for American goods, and, noting a large order inked by Boeing, quipped, "I expect a gold watch upon my retirement" for all the planes he's helped sell around the world. "Obviously we've got a long way to go," he said. But, he said "the economy is speeding up." The gathering of the Business Roundtable, an association of CEOs, drew roughly 100 chief executives. But while there was polite applause when Obama was introduced, the pool report noted, “the CEOs sat silent for most of his remarks.” Private Sector Adds 216,000 Jobs (WSJ) Private-sector jobs in the U.S. increased 216,000 last month, according to a national employment report published by payroll giant Automatic Data Processing Inc. and consultancy Macroeconomic Advisers. The gain was close to expectations of 215,000 put forth by economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires. Alleged accomplice of Manhattan 'madam' indicted, remains on the lam (NYP) Accused millionaire madam Anna Gristina had an alleged partner in crime -- gorgeous strawberry-blonde Jaynie Baker, who three sources told The Post yesterday is Gristina's indicted but unapprehended accomplice. "She was running the operation with Anna," said one source with knowledge of the operation. Asked where Baker, 30, of Brooklyn, is currently, the source answered, "Nobody knows." Baker and Gristina are both charged with felony promoting prostitution for allegedly co-running an Upper East Side-based escort service that offered premium call girls to a millionaire clientele. "This was the gold standard of escort services," said a second source with knowledge of the operation. "These were high-end models who cost $2,000 a visit, and were worth every penny." World’s Richest Lose $11.3B, Mittal Falls Off Index (Bloomberg on Bloomberg) The 20 richest people on Earth lost a combined $11.3 billion yesterday as global markets fell after European economic growth slowed and investors weighed Greece’s chances of getting bondholders to accept a debt swap. Warren Buffett’s fortune fell $407.3 million, dropping his net worth to $43.9 billion. The chairman of Omaha, Nebraska- based Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRK/B), his investment holding company, ranks third on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a daily ranking of the world’s richest people. Bernanke Seen Accepting Faster Inflation as Fed Seeks Jobs Boost (Bloomberg) The Fed chairman told lawmakers last week that an increase in energy costs will boost inflation “temporarily while reducing consumers’ purchasing power.” He also said the central bank will adopt a “balanced approach” as it pursues its twin goals of price stability and full employment, which it defines as a jobless rate of between 5.2 percent and 6 percent. “The chairman seemed to suggest they will tolerate a misdemeanor on inflation as unemployment continues to fall toward their goal” over several years, said Mark Spindel, chief investment officer at Potomac River Capital, a hedge fund that manages $250 million in Washington. President Presses for Action on the Buffett Rule (WSJ) President Barack Obama took an aggressive tack on taxes at a White House news conference Tuesday, suggesting that Congress adopt his proposal for a so-called Buffett rule this year. It would require very high income earners—those making $1 million a year or more—to pay at least 30% of their income in federal tax. Newt Gingrich: 'I am the tortoise' of the 2012 Republican primary (The Hill) Newt Gingrich heralded himself as the "tortoise" of the 2012 Republican primary after a strong win in Georgia — the state he represented for two decades in Congress — and pledged to fight on for the Republican presidential nomination despite an otherwise poor showing in the Super Tuesday contests. "There are lots of bunny rabbits who run through — I am the tortoise. I just take one step at a time," Gingrich told a crowd of supporters in Atlanta.

Opening Bell: 08.02.12

Knight Says Glitch Cost It $440 Million (WSJ) Knight, in a press statement Thursday, said the problematic software had been removed from its systems and that the firm would conduct business making markets and trading on behalf of its clients Thursday. Knight's broker-dealer subsidiaries are in compliance with requirements to hold capital, the company said. The estimated $440 million loss disclosed Thursday by Knight follows a $35.4 million hit taken by the company in the problematic stock-market debut of Facebook. Goldman Leads Foreign Banks Accelerating Job Cuts In Japan (Bloomberg) Goldman Sachs led foreign banks in accelerating job cuts at their Japanese brokerages last fiscal year as employees relocated to other Asian financial centers and firms trimmed costs amid a global industry slump. The number of staff at nine global securities firms in Japan fell by 537, or 7.3 percent, to a combined 6,796 as of March 31, more than double the previous year’s 3.2 percent reduction, according to company regulatory filings. Wall Street and European banks have been eliminating jobs and transferring staff from Japan to Hong Kong and Singapore to reduce expenses as the euro region’s debt woes dent global investor confidence. The worst may be over as Japan recovers from last year’s nuclear crisis and some U.S. firms start hiring junior bankers for mergers advice and asset management, said Katsunobu Komizo, a Tokyo-based recruiting consultant. BNP Paribas Second Quarter Net Falls, Hits Capital Goal Early (Reuters) Second-quarter net income fell to 1.85 billion euros ($2.27 billion), beating the average of analyst estimates of 1.74 billion in a Reuters poll. Revenue dropped 8 percent to 10.10 billion, broadly in line with the poll average of 10.13 billion. The bank hit an 8.9 percent core Tier 1 ratio under stricter new Basel III methodology due to come into force from 2013. It is six months ahead of its target to hit 9 percent by end-2013. AIG Pushing Plan For Independence (WSJ) Several analysts who follow the company say the government's stake could be cut below 30% before the November elections, if asset sales expected by AIG in the coming months help the company raise a total of $10 billion to $15 billion in excess capital. The buybacks are likely to accompany one or more public share offerings of AIG stock by the Treasury, which over the past 16 months has reduced its stake from a peak of 92% through a series of at-market sales. Boulder police: Longmont man urinated on woman at bar after she rejected his advances (CD) Boulder police arrested a Longmont man who witnesses said urinated on a woman at a local bar after she rejected his advances Saturday night, according to a report. The woman told police she was standing next to the bar at Shooters Grill and Bar, 1801 13th St., about 11:45 p.m. Saturday when a man -- later identified as Timothy Paez, 22 -- came up behind her and put his arm around her. The woman turned around and said, "Um, really?," and Paez took his arm off her, according to the report. According to police, a few seconds later, the woman said she felt some sort of liquid hitting her leg. She initially thought Paez was spilling his beer on her, but when she turned around she told police she saw Paez with his penis exposed urinating on her leg and the front of the bar. Berkshire Benefits As Buffett Wagers On U.S. Housing (Bloomberg) “I don’t know if he’s lucky, smart or patriotic, but it’s worked out for him,” Cliff Gallant, an analyst at KBW Inc., said in a phone interview. He estimates that Berkshire will post an operating profit of $1,750 a share for the second quarter, a 6.7 percent increase from a year earlier. Bacon To Return $2 Billion (NYP) Louis Moore Bacon plans to give back $2 billion, or 25 percent of his main hedge fund, to investors, saying it may be too big for him to achieve past returns as “liquidity and opportunities have become more constrained.” Bacon, who seeks to exploit macroeconomic trends such as changes in interest rates and currencies, returned a “disappointing” 0.35 percent in the first half and a “tolerable” 6 percent in the past year, according to a letter sent yesterday to clients. He has gained on average more than 18 percent a year since starting the Moore Global Investments fund in 1989. Jobless Claims Increase (WSJ) Initial jobless claims, an indication of layoffs, increased by 8,000 to a seasonally adjusted 365,000 in the week ended July 28, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires had forecast 370,000 new applications for jobless benefits last week. Your 119 Billion Google Searches Now A Central Bank Tool (Bloomberg) Margo Sugarman spent months last year searching on Google for the appliances to complete her dream kitchen, scouring the Internet for information on the latest double ovens and low-noise mixers. Not only did those queries guide the Tel Mond, Israel, resident to the best deals for her 70,000-shekel ($17,680) renovation, they also helped the Bank of Israel, which looks to searches like Sugarman’s to assess the state of the nation’s $243 billion economy. The central bank stands at the forefront of the world’s hunt for new economic indicators, analyzing keyword counts for everything from aerobics classes to refrigerators -- reported by Google almost as soon as the queries take place -- to gauge consumer demand before official statistics are released. The Federal Reserve and the central banks of England, Italy, Spain and Chile have followed up with their own studies to see if search volumes track trends in the economies they oversee. For Retiring GE Executive, $89,000/Month Not to Work (WSJ) John Krenicki is giving up his General Electric paycheck. But he's going to be collecting an allowance. As part of a deal to keep the veteran executive from joining a competitor for an usually long three years, the conglomerate has agreed to pay Mr. Krenicki $89,000 a month until 2022. The payment to Mr. Krenicki, who is 50 years old, was dubbed a retirement allowance by GE and is worth $1 million a year.

Opening Bell: 02.26.13

J.P. Morgan’s Investor Day: Cut That Headcount (Deal Journal) JP Morgan is looking to cut another $1 billion out of its expenses this year, including somewhere around 4,000 jobs, according to a new presentation...And that may not be all the cuts. In a separate presentation on the consumer bank and mortgage operations the bank expects to cut costs in mortgage banking by $3 billion over this year and next year and cut headcount there by between 13,000 and 15,000. Banks Face Hurdle In Libor Fight (WSJ) Next week, lawyers for Barclays PLC, Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC, UBS AG and more than a dozen other banks still under investigation are expected to ask a federal-court judge to throw out many of the suits, which seek class-action status. The suits, filed in civil court in California and New York by plaintiffs ranging from a retired cable-car driver in San Francisco to the city of Baltimore, have been piling up for nearly two years. They seek damages that could reach into the tens of billions of dollars from financial institutions that help determine the London interbank offered rate, or Libor. Barclays, RBS and UBS already have paid about $2.5 billion, and admitted wrongdoing, to settle rate-rigging allegations by U.S. and U.K. regulators. In court filings, lawyers for the 16 banks accused of wrongdoing say the lawsuits have no legal validity. The lawyers say regulatory settlements reached so far don't support the central allegation in most of the civil suits that banks engaged in illegal, anticompetitive behavior. Berlusconi Concedes as He Weighs Alliance (Bloomberg) Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi acknowledged rival Pier Luigi Bersani’s narrow victory in the lower house of Parliament and said he’s open to a broad alliance to avoid a second election. “Everyone needs to think what good can be done for Italy and this will take some time,” Berlusconi said in an interview with Canale 5, a station owned by his Mediaset SpA broadcaster. The country can’t be left without a government, he said. Lew gettin’ close: Senate panel to OK as next Treasury boss (NYP) Treasury Secretary-nominee Jack Lew will get the green light to replace Tim Geithner despite taking heat during and after his confirmation hearing over a loan he received from New York University. The 57-year-old former White House chief of staff has enough votes from the Senate Finance Committee, headed by Max Baucus (D-Mont.), to pass a vote today that will likely lead to his confirmation, sources said. A full Senate vote is likely to be scheduled in a couple of days and held sometime next week. Larry Summers: Sequestration 'Meat Cleaver' Is Irresponsible (CNBC) Avoiding the "sequester" is "round three" in the debt-reduction debate, former Clinton Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers told CNBC Tuesday, arguing for a "balanced approach" because President Barack Obama has agreed to more spending cuts than revenue during the process. In a "Squawk Box" interview, Summers said the funding constraints of the Budget Control Act of 2011 — which resolved that year's debt ceiling crisis — were round one. "You had spending cuts that were far larger from the discretionary side, that were far larger than anything [on revenue] that happened in December. Right now, we're way in balance toward more spending cuts." Dominique Strauss-Kahn seeks to ban 'half-man half-pig' book (Telegraph) The "biographical novel" by Marcela Iacub, a lawyer and journalist, recounts her seven-month affair with the 64-year-old Mr Strauss-Kahn last year. It is due to be published on Wednesday under the title, Belle et Bête, or Beauty and Beast. But the one-time Socialist presidential hopeful will this morning seek to have the book banned for "violation of the intimacy of private life" and the author and her publisher fined 100,000 euros (£88,000) in damages...In the work, she claims Mr Strauss-Kahn would have transformed the Elysée Palace into a "giant swingers' club" had he been elected French president. In fresh accounts by those who have read the book yesterday, the last chapter narrates the pair's final encounter, ending in Miss Iacub receiving treatment in casualty after "the pig" left her with an "eaten ear". Mr Strauss-Kahn has slammed the work of a woman who "seduces to write a book, claiming to have amorous feelings to exploit them for financial gain". Gupta's Gotta Pay GS $6.2 Million (NYP) Former Goldman Sachs director Rajat Gupta was ordered yesterday by a Manhattan federal judge to fork over a whopping $6.2 million to repay the Wall Street bank for legal fees it spent during the government’s probe of Gupta’s insider-trading case. The 64-year-old fallen star was convicted last year of giving up secrets he learned while on Goldman’s board to his pal and hedge fund honcho Raj Rajaratnam. Among the counts, the jury found Gupta guilty of giving Rajaratnam a tip on Warren Buffett’s $5 billion investment in Goldman in the throes of the financial crisis. Gupta, the former head of consulting firm McKinsey, is out on bail while he appeals the ruling. Goldman had requested restitution of $6.9 million — and submitted 542 pages of billing records from its lawyers at Sullivan Cromwell. Yahoo’s Mayer Risks Productivity With Work-From-Home Restriction (Bloomberg) Jackie Reses, Yahoo’s executive vice president of people and development, sent a memo last week asking employees with work-from-home arrangements to make their way to the company’s offices, starting June. “To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side,” according to the memo, whose contents were confirmed by a Yahoo employee who asked not to be identified because it’s not a public document. “Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.” At a time when Mayer is under pressure to jump-start growth and create innovative products, the shift may compromise Yahoo’s ability to attract employees seeking the freedom to work outside the office -- a perk offered by many of the company’s competitors. Research suggests that working from home enhances productivity, said Jody Thompson, co-founder of workforce consultant CultureRx. BP Oil-Spill Trial Begins (WSJ) Both Transocean and the Justice Department focused part of their opening statements on a 10-minute ship-to-shore phone call between two BP engineers, Donald Vidrine and Mark Hafle, less than an hour before the blast. From the rig, Mr. Vidrine allegedly talked about unusual results from a test designed to ensure the cement sealing in the bottom of the well was successful. Investigators later found that rig workers misinterpreted the results of the test. Dennis Rodman Bound For North Korea (Reuters) Retired U.S. basketball player Dennis Rodman is to visit North Korea to film a television documentary and will arrive in the capital Pyongyang on Tuesday, the Associated Press reported. Rodman, now 51 years old, won five NBA championships in his prime, achieving a mix of fame and notoriety for his on- and off-court antics. Thirty-year-old North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who has launched two long-range rockets and carried out a nuclear weapons test during his first year in power, is reported to be an avid NBA fan and had pictures taken with players from the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers during his school days in Switzerland. "At a time when tensions between the two countries (the United States and North Korea) are running high, it's important to keep lines of communication open, no matter how non-traditional those channels are," AP quoted Shane Smith, the founder of VICE, which is to make the TV series, as saying.

Opening Bell: 11.06.12

Europe, Central Bank Spar Over Athens Aid (WSJ) Greece faces a key Treasury-bill repayment in less than two weeks, and the money isn't there unless governments provide additional aid or the ECB agrees to lend Greek banks the money to roll over the debt. It is a particularly sensitive issue for the ECB, which is trying to create a credible financial backstop to hold the euro together while governments overhaul their economies and finances. But with each step the ECB takes to help Greece and others, it inches ever closer to rules that prevent it from printing money to help governments out of their debt problems. The bank is already facing accusations in Germany that it is straying from its primary mandate to keep inflation low. Iceland Sees Mortgage Bubble Threat From Foreign Cash (Bloomberg) Iceland’s lawmakers are searching for ways to keep their economy from lurching into another asset bubble as offshore investors forced to keep their money in the country channel it into the housing market. Apartment prices have soared 17 percent since April 2010 and are now just 1.7 percent below the pre-crisis peak in March 2008, Statistics Iceland estimates. The boom stems from currency restrictions imposed in 2008 to prevent the collapse of the Krona after the country’s biggest banks defaulted on $85 billion of debt. While those controls helped cauterize a capital exodus and propel a recovery, it left about $8 billion in offshore kronur that can only flow into Icelandic assets, inflating demand for housing and mortgage bonds. The government is now seeking to correct the imbalances, which risk plunging the island into yet another boom-bust cycle just four years after the banking industry dragged the economy through its worst recession since World War II. FBI Probes Rochdale Securities (NYP) The Stamford, Conn., broker dealer is teetering on the brink of extinction, the result of an unauthorized $1 billion purchase of Apple shares on Oct. 25, sources said. The trade of 1.6 million Apple shares was made — instead of a client’s order of one-tenth that amount, or 160,000 shares — to perpetuate the alleged stock manipulation scam, people familiar with the matter said...The alleged stock manipulation scam was being worked with at least one other unidentified trader not affiliated with Rochdale, sources said. Multiple sources said the alleged scam had already pocketed the traders roughly $20 million, sources said. Drop In Financial Deals Spurs One (WSJ) New York investment bank KBW made it through the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but it couldn't outlast a drought in financial-services deal making. KBW, which struggled in recent years at the hands of a sharp slowdown in its core business—financial-industry merger advice—agreed be acquired by larger rival Stifel Financial for $575 million. Berkshire Cash Nears Record as Buffett Extends Deal Hunt (Bloomberg) Cash surged 17 percent to $47.8 billion in the three months ended Sept. 30, Omaha, Nebraska-based Berkshire said in its quarterly regulatory filing Nov. 2. That’s $115 million less than the record at the end of June 2011. “He’s elephant hunting,” said Jeff Matthews, author of “Secrets in Plain Sight: Business & Investing Secrets of Warren Buffett” and a Berkshire shareholder. “And there aren’t a lot of elephants around.” Did Wall Street Just Give Up On Romney? (NetNet) John Carney says yes: "On the eve of the election, many financial professionals on Wall Street believe that Mitt Romney has lost the election. In phone conversations, email and instant messaging exchanges, and text messages with over 20 people in different jobs on Wall Street today the message I picked up was almost universal: The president will be re-elected." Christie: Hug From Springsteen Made Me Weep (WaPo) New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told reporters Monday that he had an unexpected — and moving — conversation earlier with his hero, Bruce Springsteen. He also got a hug from the rock legend on Friday, at a benefit concert for victims of Superstorm Sandy. He later cried, calling the moment a highlight in a tough week. “Bruce and I had an opportunity to chat for a while Friday night… we hugged and he told me, ‘it’s official, we’re friends,” Christie said at a news briefing. President Obama was on the phone with the Republican governor Monday, discussing storm damage, when he briefly handed the line over to Springsteen. The rock legend is traveling on Air Force One as he campaigns for the president. Before the storm Springsteen refused to acknowledge Christie, whose budget cuts he has criticized. But in the wake of the disaster, which hit the Jersey Shore particularly hard, he has started to embrace his ardent fan. HSBC Dirty Laundry Costs (Bloomberg) HSBC Holdings said it’s likely to face criminal charges from US anti-money-laundering probes, and the cost of a settlement may “significantly” exceed the $1.5 billion the bank has set aside. The lender has made an additional $800 million provision to cover a potential settlement, adding to the $700 million it had earmarked. A Senate committee said in July that failures in HSBC money-laundering controls allowed terrorists and drug cartels access to the US financial system. Bharara insider streak on line (NYP) With a 6-0 record in trial convictions against defendants caught in his insider-trading probe, Wall Street’s top cop Wednesday will kick off his final trial emanating from that investigation. Already the insider-trading probe has resulted in 68 convictions — including guilty pleas, the biggest Wall Street crackdown since the 1980s. Squaring off against Bharara in Manhattan federal court are two well-heeled hedge-fund defendants: Anthony Chiasson, founder of the $4 billion hedge fund Level Global, and Todd Newman, a former money manager with Diamondback Global. The beginning of jury selection was delayed more than a week because of Hurricane Sandy. Chiasson and Newman stand accused of reaping more than $60 million in profits from trading confidential tips about computer maker Dell and graphics firm Nvidia. 13 People Trying To Trade Gas For Sex On Craiglist (BuzzFeed) It was probably inevitable that the gas shortages in New York and New Jersey would lead to ads like "I've got gas from Hess and looking for any sexy woman who may not want to wait in those long lines for hours and hours only to find the station empty when it's their turn. So let me know, I'm sure we could work something out to get your tank filled and empty mine. Call or text."

Opening Bell: 02.28.13

EU Bonus Rules Meet Anger (WSJ) The new rules would prevent banks from promising bonuses that exceed an employee's salary—though, with shareholder approval, bonus payments could rise to double the salary. The rules, which are supposed to kick in at the beginning of next year and appear to be the world's toughest, still need to be approved by EU member states and the full European Parliament. European banking executives and trade groups say the rules—which are likely to apply to all European bank's employees around the world—will put the industry at a severe disadvantage relative to U.S. and Asian banks, and that it will provoke unintended consequences. Banks early Thursday weren't yet publicly commenting as they digested the news. But executives privately didn't hold back. "It's a disaster," said a senior investment-banking executive at a top European bank. "It's a crazy policy" that could jeopardize European banks' abilities to hire employees in the U.S. or Asia. Jockeying Stalls Deal On Spending Cuts (WSJ) With mandatory across-the-board spending cuts set to begin Friday, the White House and congressional Republicans are poised to let the deadline pass, each calculating that their hand in negotiations only grows stronger if they scorn a quick compromise. The first face-to-face meeting on the issue between President Barack Obama and congressional leaders won't happen until Friday—the deadline for Mr. Obama to set in motion $85 billion in broad spending cuts. None of the participants expect the morning meeting at the White House to produce a breakthrough. In the run-up, with no serious talks under way, each side is maneuvering to ensure the other catches the blame if the cuts kick in. Cuts Unlike To Deliver Promised US Budget Savings (Reuters) The $85 billion cut to budget authority amounts to about 2.4 percent of the $3.6 trillion the U.S. government is expected to spend in the fiscal year that ends on Sept. 30. The actual amount of savings is much less - $43 billion in the current fiscal year, according to the Congressional Budget Office. That's because federal agencies don't spend all of the money they are allocated in any given fiscal year. A $1 billion aircraft carrier, for example, may take years to build. Even at that lower level, the effects are likely to ripple across the world's largest economy in a way that will work against deficit-reduction efforts. Scrutiny Of Heinz Trades Grows (WSJ) The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, a Wall Street self-regulator, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are reviewing numerous trades in Heinz stock shortly before the buyout announcement sent the share price soaring Feb. 14, the people said. The inquiries add to an investigation the Securities and Exchange Commission disclosed Feb. 15 into what it called a "highly suspicious" $90,000 purchase of stock options the day before the deal, a position with a potential profit of $1.7 million. The FBI also has said it launched a criminal investigation into options activity ahead of the deal. Flowers Foods Set To Buy Wonderbread From Hostess (NYP) After no other bidders emerged to challenge it, Flowers Foods is set to snare Wonder and a slew of other bread brands being sold by bankrupt Hostess Brands for $360 million. How The Pope's Retirement Package Compares To Yours (CNBC) Let's start with the basics: The pope emeritus will receive a monthly pension of 2,500 euros, according to Italian newspaper La Stampa. That translates to almost $3,300, or close to the monthly maximum of $3,350 that Social Security will pay to an American who retires this year. Few people will actually qualify for that amount. For starters, you would have to wait until 70 to retire. You would also have to spend most of your working life earning Social Security's taxable maximum pay, which is set at $113,700 this year. "That's quite rare," said Richard Johnson, director of the program on retirement policy at the Urban Institute. He pointed out that the average Social Security check is about $1,200 a month — not enough to pay for the typical American retiree's expenses. "For most people, if you look at the median, Social Security counts for about 40 percent of their income. So it's important, but people rely a lot on other savings, like pensions or 401(k) savings," Johnson said. A big nest egg is not something the pope emeritus has to worry about. The Roman Catholic Church will cover his living expenses, provide him with a spacious home inside the Vatican and pay for everything from cooked meals to housekeepers, according to The Telegraph. Such services are not available to the typical American senior, unless he or she pays for an assisted living facility or resides in a nursing home, Johnson said...Health care costs are one of the big risks that older Americans face, and while Medicare pays for the bulk of their expenses, many things are left uncovered, Johnson said. Meanwhile, the pope emeritus will continue to be a member of the Vatican's generous private health care policy, the BBC reported. Blackstone Profits From Regulation With Citigroup Deal (Bloomberg) Blackstone has devised a way to profit from regulation: It’s helping banks meet tougher capital rules without the pain of selling assets or raising equity. The firm last year insured Citigroup against any initial losses on a $1.2 billion pool of shipping loans, said two people with knowledge of the transaction, who asked not to be identified because the matter is private. The regulatory capital trade, Blackstone’s first, will let Citigroup cut how much it setsaside to cover defaults by as much as 96 percent, while keeping the loans on its balance sheet, the people said. RBS Moves To Appease UK (WSJ) The 81%-state-owned bank unveiled a series of moves to ease government and regulatory pressure on the bank to become more U.K. focused and better capitalized. Chief Executive Stephen Hester confirmed that it would list around 25% of the U.S.-based RBS Citizens bank in the next two years "to highlight the valuable nature of the business." RBS also said it would further pare back its investment bank, shedding jobs and cutting risk-weighted assets to £80 billion ($121.3 billion), from £101.3 billion at the end of 2012. Unemployment aid claims fall by 22,000 last week (AP) The number of Americans seeking unemployment aid fell 22,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 344,000, evidence that the job market may be picking up. The four-week average of applications dropped 6,750 to 355,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. That was the first drop in three weeks. Too Big To Fail Hurting Too Small To Compete Banks (Bloomberg) Investors such as Joshua Siegel, founder and managing principal at New York-based StoneCastle Partners LLC, see bigger changes at the other end of the spectrum. Small banks will seek mergers because their management teams are aging and new regulations are too costly to bear, he says. “If you need one major overriding theme of the industry in the next three, five, seven, 10 years: massive consolidation, thousands of banks,” says Siegel, whose firm managed $5.1 billion as of the end of last year and invests in small banks. In the U.S., “I do see probably anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000 banks being swallowed up, and what you’ll see then is a more- concentrated system.” Dennis Rodman Tells Kim Jong Un: You Have A Friend For Life (NYP) Rodman and Kim sat side by side at an exhibition game in Pyongyang on Thursday, chatting as they watched players from North Korea and the US play in mixed teams, Alex Detrick, a spokesman for the New York-based VICE media company, told The Associated Press. Rodman later addressed Kim before a crowd of thousands, telling him, "You have a friend for life," Detrick said. The encounter makes Rodman the most high-profile American to meet with the young North Korean leader, said to be a diehard basketball fan.

Opening Bell: 06.26.12

China's Officials Forced To Sell Luxury Cars (FT) Cash-strapped local governments in China have begun auctioning off fleets of officials’ luxury cars as part of efforts to bolster revenues hit by the country’s slowdown. Wenzhou, a south-eastern coastal city hit hard by the cooling economy, sold 215 cars at the weekend, fetching Rmb10.6 million ($1.7 million). It plans to sell 1,300 vehicles – 80 percent of the municipal fleet – by the end of the year. Moody’s Downgrades 28 Spanish Banks On Sovereign Risk (Bloomberg) While Santander and BBVA remained investment grade, at least a dozen lenders were lowered to junk status, Moody’s said yesterday in a statement. The ratings company downgraded six banks by four levels and 10 by three grades, with the rest getting one- and two-tier declines. Report Suggests ECB Bank Supervision (WSJ) Euro-zone countries should transfer oversight of their banks to a European supervisor, possibly the European Central Bank, in return for allowing the bloc's bailout fund to help insure deposits and wind down failing lenders, the European Union's top officials proposed in a report that will be debated at their summit Thursday. Facebook Analysts To Click 'Like'...Or Not (WSJ) On Tuesday, a 40-day quiet period will conclude for analysts at banks that were underwriters of Facebook's initial public offering, including lead underwriters Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan, and Goldman Sachs. The analysts are expected to publish their initial research early on Wednesday, people at the firms said. Kanye, Kim Kardashian Sued For Al Qaeda Ties (PM) Kanye West and Kim Kardashian have been sued for their alleged ties to Al-Qaeda. "Alleged" is the operative adjective here, especially when discussing the plaintiff, one Jonathan Lee Riches. He's the Guiness World Record holder as "The World's Most Litigious Man," filing over 5,000 suits in the past eight years. The reason behind this latest suit? All American citizens are in eminent danger of the defendants. Take it way, Mr. Riches: “On 6/17/2012 I was in West Virginia, deep in the hills and I stumbled upon the defendants who were all at a Al-Qaeda secret training camp." He then went on to claim that Kanye and Kim pleaded their allegiance to Al-Qaeda, burned the U.S. flag and stomped their feet on Barack Obama’s picture, performed a concert for all Al-Qaeda members, and shot AK-47s in the air. Banks Preparing For The End (WSJ) Nine of the largest financial institutions must submit their initial living wills to the FDIC and Federal Reserve by July 1. The early group includes top U.S. financial institutions as well as Deutsche Bank, Barclays, Credit Suisse, and UBS. Smaller companies have longer to craft their plans, with all due by the end of 2013. Margaritaville memo: Execs may walk plank (NYP) The boat that sank one of Warren Buffett’s top execs has been identified, and some of his crew may still get thrown overboard. Denis Abrams — who was canned as CEO of Berkshire Hathaway’s Benjamin Moore unit this month — chartered an extravagant cruise off Bermuda in a yacht called The Lady Charlotte, The Post has learned. “Abrams had a lot of his ‘yes men’ on that cruise who were responsible for a lot of what has gone wrong,” one former exec groused. “They can’t turn it around without clearing those ranks.” KKR Raises $4 Billion For Deals In Infrastructure, Energy (Bloomberg) KKR completed raising about $1 billion for infrastructure investments and $1.25 billion for natural resources, the New York-based firm said today in a statement. That’s combined with $1.3 billion in separate accounts for infrastructure, and $350 million for natural resources contributed by affiliates of KKR. Nasty Elmo Is Gone, And Other Ones Are Just Tickled (CityRoom) On Monday, the day after the police ejected a man wearing the furry, red costume from Central Park for exploding into an obscenity-laced rant, other Elmos around New York said they recognized the man from previous clashes and expressed hope that his brush with the law would help their trade’s reputation. In between posing for photos and harassing tourists for tips, the offending Elmo would often treat tourists and fellow Sesame Street impersonators alike to xenophobic and anti-Semitic tirades. The man in the costume, whose name was not released because he was not arrested, was taken to Metropolitan Hospital Center for a psychological evaluation, the police said on Monday. The man would shout “crazy stuff” about the other impersonators, said Luis, 25, a Peruvian immigrant who has been donning an Elmo suit for about six months. He often worked the pedestrian plaza on Broadway between 42nd and 43rd Streets, where Luis and a few other men in furry suits ambled from street corner to street corner Monday afternoon, keeping a wary distance from one another.

Opening Bell: 05.23.12

Merkel Heads For Debt Showdown With Hollande At EU Summit (Bloomberg) German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she won’t shy away from disagreeing with French President Francois Hollande at the summit in Brussels over dinner at 7 p.m., the next major appointment of leaders seeking to allay concerns that Greece may quit the euro, putting Spain and Italy at risk as well. Good cooperation “doesn’t exclude differing positions,” Merkel told reporters yesterday in Chicago during a meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. “These may very well arise in the context of the European discussions.” Morgan Stanley Says It Played By Rules In Facebook’s IPO (Bloomberg) “Morgan Stanley followed the same procedures for the Facebook offering that it follows for all IPOs,” Pen Pendleton, a spokesman for the New York-based investment bank, said yesterday in an e-mailed statement. “These procedures are in compliance with all applicable regulations.” Inside Facebook's Fumbled Offering (WSJ) Interviews with more than a dozen people involved in the IPO reveal that Facebook approached its deal differently than companies typically do. Facebook CFO Ebersman kept a close grip on every important decision on the stock offering, not deferring to his bankers the way many companies do, according to the people familiar with planning...Mr. Ebersman had asked Facebook's early shareholders to fill out a form indicating how many shares they would like to sell in the IPO and at what price, and to indicate whether they would be willing to sell more if the share count was increased, the person said. When Mr. Ebersman learned from Mr. Grimes that there was outsize investor demand, he went back to those forms and reached out to early shareholders to cash out more stock, the person said. Gupta On Rajaratnam's VIP List (NYP) Jailed hedge fund manager Raj Rajaratnam deemed only a handful of people — including ex-Goldman Sachs director Rajat Gupta — important enough to disturb his trading day, Rajaratnam’s former assistant testified yesterday in Manhattan federal court. Carlyn Eisenberg, the government’s first witness in the trial of Gupta on insider-trading charges, said his name was on a “special list” of those whose calls she was to put through to her then-boss. She said it was one of those calls in September 2008 that triggered a flurry of trading activity at Rajaratnam’s Galleon Group, shortly before Goldman Sachs announced it had landed a $5 billion investment from famed investor Warren Buffett...Eisenberg recalled getting a call several years ago from a man whose voice she recognized as being on the list at the time, although she said she couldn’t identify it now as belonging to Gupta. The call, which phone records later showed came from Gupta’s McKinsey & Co. office, arrived minutes before the close of markets on Sept. 23, 2008, according to Eisenberg. The caller “said it was urgent and he needed to speak to Raj,” she told jurors. After Rajaratnam took the call, he immediately brought Galleon co-founder Gary Rosenbach into his office. When Rosenbach emerged, he began making calls, saying, “buy Goldman Sachs,” Eisenberg testified. More Finance Chiefs Willing To Pay Bribes, Global Survey Finds (Bloomberg) Fifteen percent of chief financial officers around the world are willing to make cash payments to win or retain business, according to a survey of executives interviewed by the accounting firm Ernst & Young LLP. The firm’s annual “global fraud survey” of 400 finance chiefs, interviewed from November to February, found a greater tolerance of bribery compared with the previous year, when 9 percent said they would make cash payments. Five percent of CFOs said they would misstate financial performance, while 3 percent said that the year before, according to the survey. Troubleshooter In Running To Succeed Dimon (FT) For relaxation, Matt Zames shoots things. Mostly birds. But the 41-year-old JPMorgan Chase executive does not have much free time for hunting now. He is busy mopping up his bank’s biggest mess since the financial crisis. Last week Mr Zames was appointed to replace Ina Drew as head of the bank’s chief investment office, whose London-based trading unit has wiped $30bn off its parent’s market capitalisation. “When you’re in a difficult spot you find out who you want to be in a foxhole with,” says Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan. “Matt puts his hand up.” Barclays To Sell Entire BlackRock Stake For $5.5 Billion (Bloomberg) The lender sold about 26.2 million shares to money managers for $160 each, London-based Barclays said in a statement yesterday. Underwriters have the option to purchase an additional 2.6 million. New York-based BlackRock will buy back a further 6.38 million shares at $156.80 per share, about 8.8 percent less than the stock’s $171.91 close on May 18, the last trading day before the deal was announced. Tall Tales About Private Equity, By Steve Rattner (NYT) To be sure, some of Bain’s large leveraged buyouts — notably, Domino’s Pizza — added jobs. But Mr. Romney left Bain Capital two months after the Domino’s investment (7,900 new jobs claimed) was finalized. Aware of private equity’s reputation, Mr. Romney still trots around the country erroneously calling himself a “venture capitalist.” And in a further effort to deflect attention from the Bain Capital debate, Mr. Romney last week argued that President Obama was responsible for the loss of 100,000 jobs in the auto industry over the past three years. That’s both ridiculously false (auto industry and dealership jobs have increased by about 50,000 since January 2009) and a remarkable comment from a man who said that the companies should have been allowed to go bankrupt and that the industry would have been better off without President Obama’s involvement. Adding jobs was never Mitt Romney’s private sector agenda, and it’s appropriate to question his ability to do so. Stryker CEO Sought Nod For Romance (WSJ) Mr. MacMillan, 48 years old, was forced out partly because certain board members became bothered by his handling of a relationship with a former flight attendant for the company's corporate jets while his wife pursued a divorce, according to people familiar with the matter. What distinguishes his story from others in this well-worn genre is that, according to a person familiar with Mr. MacMillan's version of events, the CEO approached Mr. Parfet and Louise Francesconi, head of the board's governance and nominating committee, in late September seeking their approval to date the employee, Jennifer Koch. Facebook Analysts Who Shunned Herd Now Look Like Heroes (Bloomberg) The social networking site lost 19 percent through yesterday to $34.03 after opening at $42 on May 18. That’s consistent with warnings from Richard Greenfield of BTIG LLC and Brian Wieser of Pivotal Research Group LLC, who says the stock will slip as low as $30. It left five firms with bullish calls predicting an average rally of 36 percent and one, Tom Forte of Telsey Advisory Group, saying shares may rise 47 percent to $50.