Opening Bell: 03.21.13

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

Italy's Five-Star Party Reiterates Demand for Euro Referendum (WSJ)
Representatives of Italy's Five-Star Movement reiterated their anti-establishment party's demands for a referendum on the country's membership of the euro, and insisted that they should form the country's next government. Italian President Giorgio Napolitano is consulting political leaders on forming a government after last month's inconclusive election result.

Deustche Bank Legal Bill Mounts (WSJ)
Deustche Bank revised fourth-quarter earnings downward, setting aside about €600 million ($773 million) in legal provisions for U.S. mortgage litigation in another sign that mounting legal liabilities are cutting into investment -bank profits. The bank updated its fourth-quarter net loss to 2.54 billion euros, wider than the originally reported loss of €2.17 billion. This compared with a profit of €147 million a year earlier. The bank also reiterated that it would make first-quarter targets for a key measure of the bank's health known as the capital ratio, indicating a strong first quarter, analysts said. Deutsche Bank has now set aside €2.4 billion for litigation, with additional identified non-provisioned legal risks of €1.5 billion. The bank's legal provisions were nearly 10 times net profit of €237 million for 2012, compared with a profit of €4.1 billion in 2011. Total legal risk is likely much higher than what the bank has publicly identified, analysts said.

Lululemon Sees Sheerness Issue Hitting Profits (WSJ)
Lululemon Athletica said Thursday its fourth-quarter profit climbed 48%, but said it expects the transparency issue related to some of its yoga pants to reduce first-quarter earnings by 11 to 12 cents a share.

Bernanke Saying He’s Dispensable Suggests Tenure Ending (Bloomberg)
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said he’s “spoken to the president a bit” about his future and that he feels no personal responsibility to stay at the helm until the Fed winds down its unprecedented policies to stimulate the economy. “I don’t think that I’m the only person in the world who can manage the exit,” Bernanke said when asked at a news conference in Washington if he’s discussed his plans with President Barack Obama. His term expires at the end of January.

Personal assistant pleads guilty to embezzling 821G from hedge funder Todd Meister (NYP)
After a year of denials, glamorous Ukranian embezzler Renata Shamrakova admitted in Manhattan Supreme Court yesterday that she stole nearly $1 million while working as the personal assistant to hedge funder Todd Meister. Under the plea deal, she will serve no jail time but must repay what she took within two years. “Yes, your honor,” Shamrakova told the judge, when asked if she had committed grand larceny in the second degree by stealing from Meister, 42, a Harvard-educated money man who famously married Nicky Hilton for just six weeks in 2004. Shamrakova, 28, wore a gray cashmere sweater over a short, floral-print skirt and spoke in a quiet, girlish voice as she sat at the defense table and admitted her crimes. In addition to ripping off Meister, she tried to dodge a search warrant by hiding financial records.

Dell Walks Fine Line in Pitch for Buyout (WSJ)
Mr. Dell needs to persuade Dell Inc. investors that the prospects for the company he founded in his dorm room in 1984 and has been running for the past six years are anything but rosy if he is to succeed with his plan to take the computer maker private. Friday marks the end of a 45-day window to flush out alternative offers to the $24.4 billion buyout deal that Mr. Dell and private-equity firm Silver Lake Partners reached last month. The $13.65-a-share offer has sparked derision from some shareholders who believe the price undervalues the Round Rock, Texas, company. No alternative bid has been offered, but late Wednesday Blackstone Group LP was working on a few scenarios for a potential bid that would see the private-equity giant team with a partner to buy all or part of the computer maker, according to people familiar with the matter.

JPMorgan To Return Money To MF Global Customers (AP)
JPMorgan Chase has agreed to a deal that will return $546 million to former customers of trading firm MF Global Holdings Ltd., which collapsed in 2011 with $1.6 billion missing from its accounts.

Initial Jobless Claims in U.S. Rise Less Than Forecast (Bloomberg)
Applications for jobless benefits increased by 2,000 to 336,000 in the week ended March 16, Labor Department figures showed today. Economists projected 340,000 claims, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg survey. The monthly average, which smoothes the week-to-week volatility, dropped to the lowest level since February 2008.

Regulator finds flaws in Deutsche Bank's Libor supervision (Reuters)
German markets watchdog Bafin is set to tell Deutsche Bank of "organizational flaws" in how it supervised its contribution to the setting of inter-bank lending rates at the heart of the international rate-rigging scandal, sources familiar with the watchdog's investigation said.

Wis. limits use of nude beach to reduce sex, drugs (AP)
Wisconsin authorities announced Tuesday they will shut down one of nation's most popular nude beaches on weekdays after struggling for years to curtail sex and drugs on the sandbar and surrounding woods. Nudists from around the country have been traveling to the public beach on the Wisconsin River near Mazomanie, about 25 miles northwest of Madison, for decades as word spread that prosecutors in ultra-liberal Dane County wouldn't go after anyone for showing skin. But visitors haven't stopped at just stripping down. They've been slipping off into the woods for trysts and drugs. Authorities say that's crossing the line, but they haven't been able to stop the shenanigans. Their frustration reached a tipping point Tuesday, when the state Department of Natural Resources announced it will close the beach, the islands immediately off it and the surrounding woods to the public on weekdays, when wardens say troublemakers tend to operate unseen. The closures begin immediately. The area will remain open on weekends, though. Bob Morton, executive director of the Austin, Tex.-based Naturist Action Committee, which lobbies on behalf of nudists, has visited the beach several times. He criticized the DNR for not consulting with beachgoers before closing the area. "Honestly, we're on their side when it comes to enforcing things that are lewd and lascivious," Morton said. "There's something to be said about consulting the users of the place. There's got to be more to this somewhere."

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Opening Bell: 01.31.13

Deutsche Bank Swings To A $2.9 Billion Loss (WSJ) In the fourth quarter alone, the bank took €2.9 billion in charges, €1 billion of which was for "litigation-related charges." Mr. Jain said the charges "relate to developments in regulatory investigations and adverse court rulings which you are all familiar with," but didn't elaborate further. Deutsche Bank is currently embroiled in a number of legal disputes on both sides of the Atlantic, including the decade-long legal battle in the 2002 bankruptcy of Germany's Kirch Media Group. It is also among the banks that are under official investigation for allegedly rigging interbank benchmark rates, including the London Interbank Offered Rate. The rest of the quarter's charges were mainly related to losses from businesses bought before 2003, such as Bankers Trust and Scudder in the U.S., and impairments related to its investment in the Cosmopolitan Resort in Las Vegas and Maher Terminals in North America, which it put into an internal bad bank. The quarter's net loss of €2.17 billion compares with a profit of €147 million a year earlier. For the full year, net profit was €611 million, down from €4.13 billion. Deutsche Bank Beats Capital Goal as Jain Shrugs Off Loss (Bloomberg) “We’ve galvanized Deutsche Bank around the achievement of our capital targets,” Jain, 50, said on a conference call with analysts. The loss “reflects a number of decisions we took to position Deutsche Bank,” he said. Barclays, RBS May Pay Billions Over Improper Derivatives Sales (Bloomberg) The lenders, including Lloyds Banking Group Plc and HSBC Holdings Plc, have set aside around 740 million pounds to cover the claims. Analysts say the total charges for the industry may be much higher than that after the Financial Services Authority said it found “serious failings” in reviews of product sales. SAC And Elan Blasted By Investor Who Lost Nest Egg (NYP) Ronald Weiland realized he’d made a bad bet in 2008, when he lost his $1 million nest egg trading shares of drug company Elan. What he didn’t know then was that the cards were stacked against him. Weiland now believes that he and other investors were played by Steve Cohen’s SAC Capital Advisors when the hedge fund giant — acting on information from a former trader accused of insider trading — abruptly dumped its huge long position in Elan and Wyeth and started shorting both stocks. “They had information that I didn’t have access to,” said Weiland, a 53-year-old former consultant for Arthur Andersen. “It’s totally a matter of seeing very wealthy people being able to game the system.” The big trading swing that netted $276 million for SAC and led to the arrest of former trader Mathew Martoma has also landed the firm in hot water. Elan investors have filed at least two lawsuits against SAC, accusing the firm of costing them millions, and several class-action law firms are looking to tee up more. US Targeting Tax Evasion (WSJ) On Monday, a federal judge in New York approved an Internal Revenue Service summons demanding still more records from UBS. According to court filings, the government now is focusing on U.S. taxpayers with accounts at smaller Swiss banks that didn't have U.S. branches but served customers through a UBS account in Stamford, Conn. Interactive Map: What NYC Neighborhoods Have The Most Public Drinking Complaints? (Gothamist) Greenpoint, Williamsburg, the Lower East Side, Hamilton Heights, East Harlem and Washington Heights are the worst offenders—on the other hand, almost no one is getting in trouble in Midtown, the Financial District, Red Hook, Dumbo, and the Upper East and West Sides. Since we already know there can be a a historical correlation between public drinking and public urinating (and sometimes only the urinating part is public), we decided to look at public urination complaints too...Some conclusions from this comparison: Midtown East and Chelsea have way more urination complaints than drinking ones. Union Square, Greenpoint and Randalls Island are also urinary offenders. It seems like nobody on Staten Island cares about people urinating on their lawns, and same goes for anywhere west of East Flushing. Blackstone Swings To Fourth Quarter Profit (WSJ) As of the quarter's end, total assets under management reached a record $210.22 billion, up 26% from the year earlier, as all of Blackstone's investment businesses continued to see net inflows and carrying-value appreciation...Blackstone posted a profit of $106.4 million, or 19 cents a unit, compared with a year-earlier loss of $22.7 million, or five cents a unit. On the basis of so-called economic net income, the firm reported a profit of 59 cents a unit, versus a profit of 42 cents a unit a year earlier. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters recently expected a per-share profit of 47 cents. Ackman Ahead In Herbalife Bet (NYP) Ackman has scored a gross profit of about $260 million on his $1 billion short bet against the nutritional supplements company, based on an estimated 20 million shares shorted at an average price of $50. Loeb, who bought 8.9 million shares at an average price of $32, is up $44.5 million. Ackman has widened his lead considerably. Just two weeks ago, his gross gain stood closer to $120 million while Loeb had made an estimated $108 million. Threats Cloud Euro's Flight (WSJ) The euro, once on death's door, is on a monthslong tear, rising Wednesday to its highest level since November 2011. But even some investors who helped propel the currency above $1.3560 Wednesday say it can't fly much further. Europe's economy is still in the doldrums, they say, and a stronger euro could make the situation worse. And with central banks elsewhere racing to push down their own currencies, boosting the relative value of the euro, the European Central Bank eventually could be compelled to join them. Jobless Claims in U.S. Rose 38,000 Last Week to 368,000 (Bloomberg) Economists forecast 350,000 filings, according to the Bloomberg survey median. The increase followed a combined 45,000 drop in the prior two weeks. Guy Inadvertently Posts Public YouTube Video Inviting His Fiancée’s Best Friend Over for a Threeway (Gawker) We've all been there. You're super excited after getting the go ahead from your fiancée Cynthia to invite her best friend Zoey over for a threeway, so you hastily record a video introducing yourself to Zoey and letting her know that you're totally open to having a threeway this week, next week, the week after that, whenever, anytime, today, or maybe tomorrow, whenever possible, and you're just really excited to show her things that she's never seen and do things that were never done before in a threeway. Then you hastily upload the video to your public YouTube account that 300 people are subscribed to, and await your threeway.

Opening Bell: 04.18.13

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

Opening Bell: 10.18.12

Morgan Stanley Posts Loss (WSJ) "The rebound in fixed income and commodities sales and trading indicates that clients have re-engaged after the uncertainty of the rating review in the previous quarter," Chief Executive James Gorman said, referring to Moody's Investors Service's move over the summer to downgrade the credit rating on more than a dozen banks. "We are beginning to unlock the full potential of the Global Wealth Management franchise, having increased our ownership of, and agreed on a purchase price for the rest of, Morgan Stanley Wealth Management." For the quarter, Morgan Stanley reported a loss of $1.02 billion, compared with a year-earlier profit of $2.2 billion. The per-share loss, which reflects the payment of preferred dividends, was 55 cents compared with a profit of $1.15 a year earlier. Stripping out the impact of debt-valuation changes, the per-share profit was 28 cents versus two cents a share a year ago. Revenue fell 46% to $5.29 billion, including a negative impact of $2.3 billion from the tightening of credit spreads related to debt. Stripping out debt-valuation changes revenue was up 18% to $7.55 billion. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected earnings of 24 cents, excluding gains related to debt, on revenue of $6.36 billion. Morgan Stanley Reduces Investment-Bank Pay to $5.2 Billion (Bloomberg) The ratio of compensation to revenue in the unit fell to 44.9 percent, compared with 48.4 percent in the same period a year earlier, when excluding accounting gains and losses related to the firm’s credit spreads. That’s still higher than Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan’s investment bank. Compensation and benefits for all of Morgan Stanley totaled $12 billion in the first nine months, down 4 percent. Goldman Ex-Employee Says Firm Pushed Europe Bank Options (Bloomberg) Goldman Sachs sought to profit last year by persuading clients to buy and sell stock options on European banks such as BNP Paribas SA and UniCredit SpA, according to former employee Greg Smith’s new book. “We must have changed our view on each of these institutions from positive to negative back to positive ten times,” Smith writes in “Why I Left Goldman Sachs: A Wall Street Story,” scheduled for release on Oct. 22. “I remember thinking, ‘How can we be doing this with a straight face? No thinking client could believe that conditions on the ground could change that frequently.”’ [...] Smith also describes being disappointed with his $500,000 bonus at the end of 2006. “By any measure, I should have felt exceptionally lucky and grateful,” he writes. “But by the warped logic of Goldman Sachs and Wall Street, I was being screwed.” U.S. to Get Downgraded Amid Fiscal ‘Theater,’ Pimco Says (Bloomberg) “The U.S. will get downgraded, it’s a question of when,” Scott Mather, Pimco’s head of global portfolio management, said today in Wellington. “It depends on what the end of the year looks like, but it could be fairly soon after that.” Asian Scion's Trades Draw Scrutiny (WSJ) A federal probe into an alleged multimillion-dollar insider trading scheme is focusing on the son of a deposed Central Asian autocrat once courted by the U.S. as a key ally in the war on terror, according to people involved in the investigation. The globe-spanning criminal case marks a turnabout by the U.S. against a ruling family it once relied on to keep open military supply lines to Afghanistan. For years, the U.S. maintained good relations with then-Kyrgyzstan President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. Now, the U.S. has prepared charges against the former strongman's son, Maksim Bakiyev, who officials say spent some of his exile in London profiting from illegal tips on stocks trading on the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq. On Friday, the younger Mr. Bakiyev, 35, was arrested in England on an extradition request from the U.S. Mr. Bakiyev's U.K. attorney, Michael O'Kane, declined to comment. Computer programmer 'quadruples productivity' after hiring a woman to slap him in the face every time she catches him looking at Facebook (DM) Maneesh Sethi placed an advert on Craigslist to recruit someone willing to monitor what he was looking at on his laptop. The computer expert and writer, from San Francisco, now pays a female employee £5 ($8) an hour to strike him in the face if she spots him wasting time on social media. Mr Seethi claims the unusual motivational system has helped him boost his productivity from just 35 percent to around 98 percent during the working day...Mr Seethi published details on his blog of his Craigslist advert, which was entitled '(Domestic gigs) Slap me if I get off task'. In it he wrote: 'I'm looking for someone who can work next to me at a defined location (my house or a cafe) and will make sure to watch what is happening on my screen. 'When I am wasting time, you'll have to yell at me or if need be, slap me. 'You can do your own work at the same time. Looking for help asap. Mr Seethi said he was inundated with offers from potential slappers and quickly hired a volunteer he names only as Kara. He wrote: 'Within minutes, my inbox began blowing up. Up to 50% of Greek Workforce Strikes; Tipping Point Nears (CNBC) As European Union leaders prepare to meet in Brussels on Thursday, Greece’s workers aim to make their voices heard by holding a 24-hour strike bringing the country to a halt. With the economy in the fifth year of a recession, the lost production could prove counterproductive and cost the economy 100 million euros ($131 million), according to one expert. Most business and public sector activity is expected to grind to a halt during the strike called by the ADEDY and GSEE unions that represent around 2 million people — half of Greece’s workforce. A protracted news blackout is also expected as television and radio broadcasters and newspapers shut for the day, according to Reuters. Spain Banks Face More Pain as Worst-Case Scenario Turns Real (Bloomberg) Spain’s request for 100 billion euros of European Union financial aid to shore up its banks is increasing concern about the nation’s growing liabilities. Standard & Poor’s downgraded the country’s debt rating by two levels to BBB-, one step above junk, from BBB+ on Oct. 10, saying it wasn’t clear who will bear the cost of recapitalizing banks. It cut the ratings of 11 lenders including Banco Santander SA and Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA, Spain’s largest, two days ago, citing the sovereign downgrade. Brothels Rescue Cash-Strapped Greek Soccer Team (AP) Players on a cash-strapped Greek soccer team now wear pink practice jerseys with the logos "Villa Erotica" and "Soula's House of History," two bordellos it recruited as sponsors after drastic government spending cuts left the country's sports clubs facing ruin. Other teams have also turned to unconventional financing. One has a deal with a local funeral home and others have wooed kebab shops, a jam factory and producers of Greece's trademark feta cheese. But the amateur Voukefalas club — whose players include pizza delivery guys, students, waiters and a bartender — has raised eyebrows with its flamboyant sponsorship choice. Prostitution is legal in Greece, where brothels operate under strict guidelines. Though garish neon signs advertising their services are tolerated, the soccer sponsorship has ruffled some feathers in the sports-mad city of Larissa. League organizers have banned the pink jerseys during games, saying the deal violates "the sporting ideal" and is inappropriate for underage fans...Brothel owner Soula Alevridou, the team's new benefactor, has already paid more than 1,000 euros ($1,312) for players to wear her jerseys. The team is appealing the game ban, but that doesn't worry the 67-year-old Alevridou, who says she's only in it because she loves soccer. "It's not the kind of business that needs promotion," she said, dressed all in white and flanked by two young women in dark leggings at a recent game. "It's a word-of-mouth kind of thing."

Opening Bell: 07.18.12

BofA Swings To Profit, Topping Analysts' Estimates (WSJ) Bank of America reported a profit of $2.46 billion, compared with a year-earlier loss of $8.83 billion. On a per-share basis, which reflect the payment of preferred dividends, earnings came in at 19 cents from a loss of 90 cents a year earlier. The year-ago quarter's results included a charge of $1.23 a share in mortgage-related and other adjustments. Total revenue surged 66% to $21.97 billion. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected earnings of 14 cents a share on $22.87 billion in revenue. The bank's profit was helped by reduced provisions for loan losses as credit quality continued to improve. Credit-loss provisions totaled $1.77 billion compared with $3.26 billion a year ago and $2.42 billion in the first quarter. HSBC Probe Brings Promises Regulator, Bank Will Clean Up Act (Bloomberg) HSBC executives apologized for opening their U.S. affiliate to a river of Mexican drug lords’ cash, and the U.S. regulator that failed to stem the flow vowed to prevent a repeat. “I deeply regret we did not act sooner and more decisively,” Comptroller of the Currency Thomas Curry said at a day-long hearing yesterday of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. He said his agency, which regulates HSBC’s U.S. arm, is partially responsible for letting Europe’s largest bank give terrorists, drug cartels and criminals access to the U.S. financial system and will take “a much more aggressive posture.” Opinion: Investing In America Produces The Best Returns, By Lloyd Blankfein (Politico) The question I’m most often asked these days is, “Where should I invest?” In recent years, we all know, there has been an unusually high degree of uncertainty. It falls into two broad categories: cyclical concerns that focus on the outlook for near-term economic growth and structural concerns that center on the viability of existing political or economic systems — for example, the European Union. The cyclical and structural challenges are considerable, and in some cases, even daunting. But when I meet with chief executive officers and institutional investors and they ask me where to invest, my response is that the United States remains as attractive as ever. And it would be even more attractive if it can make some short-term progress in a few key areas. Hugh Hendry: ‘Bad Things are Going to Happen’ (FT) Hendry believes that financial markets are single-digit years away from a crash that will present investors with opportunities of a lifetime. “Bad things are going to happen and I still think the closest analogy is the 1930s.” For Yahoo CEO, Two New Roles (WSJ) Just hours after Yahoo named Marissa Mayer as its new chief, the real conversation kicked in: how she will juggle pregnancy and being the CEO charged with saving a foundering Internet giant. The 37 year-old former Google executive is expecting her first child, a son, in early October. On Tuesday, she started her new job at Yahoo, which reported another quarter of lackluster sales growth...No Yahoo directors expressed concern about her pregnancy, according to Ms. Mayer, who told the board in late June, about a week after Yahoo's recruiter contacted her. She says she plans to work during her maternity leave, which will last several weeks...Ms. Mayer's husband, Zachary Bogue, a former attorney, is co-managing partner at Data Collective, an early-stage venture capital fund specializing in tech start-ups. JFK jet in laser scare (NYP) A lunatic aimed a powerful laser beam at an airliner flying over Long Island on its way into JFK — sending the pilot to the hospital and endangering the lives of the 84 people aboard. The first officer on JetBlue Flight 657 from Syracuse was treated for injuries to both eyes after the blinding flash of light lit up the cockpit Sunday night — as the FBI and Suffolk cops hunted for the person responsible, who could face federal prison time. The Embraer E190 jet landed safely, and the injured pilot — identified by sources as First Officer Robert Pemberton, 52 — was met at the gate and taken to Jamaica Hospital. Authorities believe the beam came from around West Islip, Babylon or Lindenhurst. “You wouldn’t think a pen laser would go that far of a distance,” said shocked West Babylon resident Cindy Konik, 50...A startled co-pilot, who was not identified, immediately took over the controls from his temporarily blinded colleague. “We just got lasered up here — two green flashes into the cockpit,” the captain radioed controllers at Ronkonkoma. Credit Suisse Sets Capital Plan (WSJ) moved Wednesday to stanch recent concerns about its financial strength, saying it is raising capital through the sale of convertible bonds, more divestments and the launch of another cost-savings program. It is a surprise twist in a spat with the country's central bank, which recently warned that Switzerland's number two bank wasn't strong enough to withstand a major crisis. Credit Suisse initially rejected the central bank's criticism, saying it was among the world's best-capitalized banks. This didn't impress investors, who offloaded their shares, wiping out 2 billion Swiss francs ($2.05 billion) in market value. At one point last month the bank even felt compelled to reassure investors that it was profitable in the second quarter, even though profitability over the period was never in doubt. Strong Possibility Of Further Fed Easing By September: Goldman (CNBC) In a testimony before the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke offered no new hints that the central bank is planning more easing, but repeated a pledge that the Fed “is prepared to take further action as appropriate to promote stronger economic recovery.” “While we think that a modest easing step is a strong possibility at the August or September meeting, we suspect that a large move is more likely to come after the election or in early 2013, barring rapid further deterioration in the already-cautious near term Fed economic outlook,” Goldman Sachs conomist Andrew Tilton said in a report. BlackRock's Net Slips 11% (WSJ) BlackRock reported a profit of $554 million, or $3.08 a share, compared with a year-earlier profit of $619 million, or $3.21 a share. Stripping out one-time items, per-share earnings rose to $3.10 from $3. Revenue slipped 5% to $2.23 billion. Analysts expected earnings of $3.01 a share on $2.26 billion in revenue, according to a poll conducted by Thomson Reuters. BNY Mellon profit falls 37 percent on litigation charge (Reuters) Bank of New York Mellon Corp said on Wednesday that second-quarter net income had fallen 37 percent on lower foreign exchange revenue and after it paid $212 million to settle an investor lawsuit. The world's largest custody bank reported net income of $466 million, or 39 cents a share, compared with $735 million, or 59 cents a share, a year earlier. As announced earlier this month, the results included an after-tax charge of $212 million to settle an investor lawsuit accusing the bank of imprudently investing their cash in a risky debt vehicle that collapsed in 2008. Quarterly revenue fell to $3.62 billion from $3.85 billion. Residents warned: 6-foot lizard loose in Colorado (AP) A sheriff has warned residents in a tourist town northwest of Colorado Springs that a strong, aggressive 6-foot lizard that eats small animals — including dogs and cats — is on the loose in the area. Teller County Sheriff Mike Ensinger said Tuesday that a 25-pound pet Nile monitor lizard has gone missing after breaking a mesh leash and crawling away. Ensinger said about 400 homes in the Woodland Park area were warned. He added that the animal, which escaped Monday and is known as Dino, has not bitten any humans — yet. "We have a 6-foot reptile out and about," Ensinger said. "If it gets hungry enough, we don't know what it will do." Ensinger said officers may use a tracking dog if Dino isn't located by Tuesday afternoon. "I'm not going after it," Ensinger said. "I don't do reptiles."

Opening Bell: 01.24.13

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

Opening Bell: 02.07.13

Credit Suisse Returns To Profit (WSJ) In the fourth quarter, Credit Suisse's net profit was 397 million francs, compared with a net loss of 637 million francs a year earlier when restructuring charges weighed on earnings. Revenue, which includes interest income, fees and trading proceeds, rose 29% to 5.8 billion francs. Analysts had expected a profit of 563 million francs and revenue of 6.14 billion francs. State Lawsuits Could Add To S&P Exposure (WSJ) On Tuesday, the Justice Department sued S&P for allegedly causing some banks and credit unions to lose $5 billion after relying on the company's ratings of mortgage-linked securities. However, the $5 billion claim, which S&P has dismissed as "meritless," is only part of the legal battle being fought by the world's largest credit-ratings firm by number of deals rated. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia have followed in the Justice Department's footsteps, filing separate lawsuits against S&P on Tuesday. The California attorney general alone is suing S&P for about $4 billion to recover funds for two of the country's largest public pension funds, according to its lawsuit. Other states, such as Colorado and Arkansas, are demanding S&P give back the revenue it earned on precrisis ratings of hundreds of securities. State prosecutors allege S&P presented its ratings as based on objective and independent analysis but actually were inflated to cater to the banks that helped arrange and sell the securities. S&P Hires Top Defense Attorney for $5 Billion Lawsuit (Reuters) Standard and Poor's has hired John Keker, one of the country's top white-collar defense attorneys, to help fight the $5 billion lawsuit brought by the U.S. government this week. Keker, who is based in San Francisco and has represented everyone from cyclist Lance Armstrong to Enron's Andrew Fastow, was hired at the recommendation of Floyd Abrams, a prominent New York attorney who also represents the ratings firm. RBS Settles Rate Charges (WSJ) CFTC enforcement chief David Meister said Wednesday that the trading floor was "laden with conflicts of interest," where RBS traders "seized the opportunity to ask colleagues sitting in the next chair for false rate submissions." From mid-2006 to the end of 2010, traders at RBS tried hundreds of times to rig the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, sometimes succeeding, said U.S. and U.K. regulators as they announced a $612 million settlement with the British bank. ‘Historic Winter Storm’ Moving Toward U.S. Northeast (Bloomberg) A “potential historic winter storm” and blizzard may dump 2 feet of snow on Boston and eastern Massachusetts, potentially causing power outages and leaving 10 inches in New York City. Eighteen to 24 inches (46 to 61 centimeters) of snow may fall in Boston, and the city has an 85 percent chance of receiving at least 12 inches from the storm that is expected to arrive in two days, according to the latest forecast from National Weather Service in Taunton, Massachusetts, published at at 4:25 a.m. Eastern Standard Time. “Heavy snow and gusty winds will bring the potential for blizzard conditions. The worst of the storm will be Friday night into the morning,” the weather service said. The storm arrives on almost the 35th anniversary of the Blizzard of 1978, which killed 99 people, destroyed 2,000 homes, drove 10,000 residents into shelters and paralyzed eastern Massachusetts and northern Rhode Island for a week, according to the weather service. Ireland Moves Toward Debt Deal (WSJ) Under Ireland's new proposal, the government will provide a long-term bond to the Irish central bank that replaces the note, the Irish finance ministry said. IBRC will be liquidated and its remaining commercial property assets will be dispatched to Ireland's so-called bad bank, the National Asset Management Agency. Mr. Noonan told lawmakers early Thursday that there was still "no deal," but he needed to announce new powers to liquidate IBRC—the first step toward potentially striking such a debt agreement—to protect the country from unspecified legal challenges. Man Claims IRS Agent Coerced Him Into Sex (CBS) An Oregon man is suing the U.S. Government and a female IRS agent he alleges pressured him into sex, by threatening a tax penalty. Vincent Burroughs, of Fall Creek, Ore., says the harassing relationship began in August of 2011 when Dora Abrahamson, an agent with the Internal Revenue Service, called him and said he would be audited, CBS affiliate KVAL reports. Burroughs says he didn't know Abrahamson, and that he hadn't met her before those calls - nor had he heard that he was being audited by the IRS. "She was sending me texts that she wanted to come out, give me massages because she needed to help me relax," Burroughs said in a phone interview with KVAL News. Over the next two months, Burroughs alleges that Abrahamson sent him several flirtatious text messages - offering to give massages, asking to meet him, and sending racy photos of herself to his cell phone. "She said she knew more than my mother knew about me," said Burroughs. In the lawsuit, Burroughs says in September 2011 Abrahamson came to his home wearing provocative attire. "Next thing I know, she's at my gate, honking...so I opened my gate, she came into my property dressed exactly like [when] she texted me," Burroughs said. The lawsuit states: "She said that she could impose no penalty, or a 40% penalty, and that if he would give her what she wanted, she would give him what she needed." E-Mails Imply JPMorgan Knew Some Mortgage Deals Were Bad (NYT) When an outside analysis uncovered serious flaws with thousands of home loans, JPMorgan Chase executives found an easy fix. Rather than disclosing the full extent of problems like fraudulent home appraisals and overextended borrowers, the bank adjusted the critical reviews,according to documents filed early Tuesday in federal court in Manhattan. As a result, the mortgages, which JPMorgan bundled into complex securities, appeared healthier, making the deals more appealing to investors. The trove of internal e-mails and employee interviews, filed as part of a lawsuit by one of the investors in the securities, offers a fresh glimpse into Wall Street's mortgage machine, which churned out billions of dollars of securities that later imploded. The documents reveal that JPMorgan, as well as two firms the bank acquired during the credit crisis, Washington Mutual and Bear Stearns, flouted quality controls and ignored problems, sometimes hiding them entirely, in a quest for profit. Harvard’s Gopinath Helps France Beat Euro Straitjacket (Bloomberg) When French President Francois Hollande unveiled a plan in November for a business tax credit and higher sales taxes as a way to revive the economy, he was implementing an idea championed by economist Gita Gopinath. Gopinath, 41, a professor at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has pushed for tax intervention as a way forward for euro-area countries that cannot devalue their exchange rates. “Fiscal devaluation” is helping France turn the corner during a period of extreme budget constraints, former Airbus SAS chief Louis Gallois said in a business- competitiveness report Hollande commissioned. Gopinath’s support for the theory took shape through her years teaching at Harvard and the University of Chicago and particularly as a Ph.D. student at Princeton University under the guidance of Kenneth Rogoff, Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas and Ben Bernanke, now chairman of the Federal Reserve. While her earlier work on current accounts and balance of payments garnered praise, it is her recent focus on the 17 euro nations that has national leaders paying action. John Thomas Financial Said To Draw Regulatory Probe (NYP) Wall Street brokerage firm John Thomas Financial, owned by flamboyant founder and CEO Tommy Belesis — who gained more than 15 minutes of fame from his role in Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” — is being probed by the brokerage industry, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the FBI, The Post has learned. Agents from the FBI’s New York office have been knocking on doors of people associated with the firm, asking questions about JTF’s business practices, including cold calling by brokers and Belesis’ overseas accounts, sources told The Post. Fewer Workers Filed Claims for U.S. Jobless Benefits Last Week (Bloomberg) Applications for jobless benefits dropped 5,000 to 366,000 in the week ended Feb. 2, Labor Department figures showed today. Economists forecast 360,000 claims, according to the median of 53 estimates in a Bloomberg survey. Big Mac Prices Show Which Euro Zone States Best at Belt-Tightening (Reuter) Economist Guntram Wolff took the data and found that the price rise in Greece, Portugal and Spain has been less than the euro zone average, while in Ireland the price actually fell. These are the main countries undergoing deep economic reform due to the debt crisis. This contrasts with price rises above the euro zone burger average in Germany. Wolff concludes from this that economic adjustment is working. For example, In Ireland, which has made spending cuts after receiving international aid, the burger price has fallen from 3.80 euros to less than 3.50 euros. There is one notable exception, however. Heavily-indebted Italy is the most expensive country in the euro area to buy a Big Mac - 3.85 euros - while it costs just 3.64 euros in Germany. PETA: Naked chicken corpses aren't sexy (CM) The American founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, president Ingrid Newkirk, criticised a newspaper for running a picture of a raw chicken. "We don't want to see any chickens on display, but instead want them to live natural, happy lives with their families. Sexily displaying the corpse of a chicken who has been bred to grow so big, so quickly, that many collapse under their own weight, is just additionally offensive."

Opening Bell: 04.15.13

Citi's First-Quarter Profit Rises 30% (WSJ) Citigroup reported first quarter net income on Monday of $3.8 billion, up 30% from a year earlier and triple the profit from last quarter, on improved revenue in its capital-markets unit. Per-share profit of $1.23 handily beat Wall Street consensus of $1.17. Excluding a $198 million charge for a valuation adjustment on Citi's own debt, it would have been $1.29 per share. First-quarter revenue rose 3% from a year earlier and 12% from the fourth quarter, in part because Citi pulled $652 million previously set aside for loan losses, helping the bottom line. Greece on Track to Receive Next Aid Tranche (WSJ) The deal now paves the way for Greece to receive a promised €2.8 billion ($3.67 billion) aid tranche from its creditors this month, and another €6 billion disbursement next month, pending approval from euro-zone finance ministers who are expected to discuss the country's reform program at a meeting May 13. Pension Group Moves to Split JPMorgan Chairman, CEO Roles (CNBC) A group of JPMorgan Chase shareholders urged support for its proposal to split the chairman and CEO roles at the big bank in a letter Monday. The proposal is number "6" in the proxy materials for JPMorgan's shareholder meeting, taking place May 21 in Tampa, Fla. Among the multiple reasons cited for the split, the group points to lapses in oversight evidenced during the London Whale debacle. Perhaps the most compelling reason for splitting the roles: The bank's being in constant crosshairs with regulators. It's being investigated by eight regulators at present. Iceland Is First in Europe to Sign Free Trade Pact With China (Bloomberg) Iceland’s Foreign Minister Ossur Skarphedinsson signed the deal with Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng in Beijing today, bringing to a close six years of talks, according to Iceland’s Foreign Ministry. Nesting falcon hits Vodafone customers in Southampton (BBC) A peregrine falcon nesting by a faulty transmitter has meant mobile phone reception has not been able to be restored to parts of Southampton. Vodafone engineers discovered a female bird nesting when they tried to repair the faulty mast on 9 April. The phone company said it could not legally access the mast until any chicks had fledged, possibly in June. Peregrine falcons are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. The nest's location cannot be revealed. It is not yet known if the bird was the cause of the original fault. Mobile phone users left without signal have criticised the speed of Vodafone's response. Elizabeth Corbett said: "I understand the nesting birds are out of their control but their reaction to it has been extremely slow." A Vodafone spokesman said the company was being "very careful" in dealing with the protected species. "We're already looking at alternative contingency plans and we'll inform our customers as soon as we can. "While this is inconvenient for our customers, it is great news that the falcons are nesting in the city." Cyprus Offers Citizenship to Foreign Depositors (Reuters) Cyprus will relax requirements for citizenship, including for bank depositors who lost large amounts of money in the deal with the EU and IMF, in an effort to keep foreigners interested in investing in the island state, the president said on Sunday. Getco, Knight Alter Deal Terms (WSJ) Getco and Knight on Monday altered their merger to comply with New York Stock Exchange listings standards, according to a document filed with regulators. They revised the ratio by which shares of Knight and units of privately held Getco will be exchanged for stock in the combined company. This will elevate the merged Getco-Knight's share price above the minimum $4 per-share required for new companies listed on the Big Board, according to the document. Brokers Face Pay Disclosures (WSJ) Securities regulators are widely expected to start forcing stockbrokers who get big bucks when they defect to another firm to tell their clients. Defendant tries to 'duck' into Honolulu court (HW) The basic rule for anyone wishing to enter Circuit Court on Oahu is no knives, guns, or anything that could be classified as a weapon. Michael Hubbard was well aware of the rule when he returned to the courthouse Monday morning to see his court officer regarding one of his two pending felony assault cases. What he didn't know is that the list of items not allowed in court included beer and live animals. Like the dozens of people who filed into the security line, Hubbard took his turn of waiting patiently for security guards to screen him. Upon reaching the X-ray screening machine, he gently placed his bag onto the conveyor belt and then walked through the metal detector. The officer screening Hubbard's bag noticed two bottles and an unidentified object. Deputies asked him to open his bag, but he refused, which arose their suspicions. "Deputies told him that if he didn't open the bag, he couldn't enter and that he needed to leave immediately," said Toni Schwartz, public information officer for the Department of Public Safety. Hubbard insisted on keeping the contents of his bag a secret. Officers eventually escorted him outside, where he relented and blurted out, "There's a live duck in there!" The guards didn't know what Hubbard meant, but when they opened the bag, comprehension was crystal clear. An actual live duck was inside, along with two 40-ounce bottles of beer.

Opening Bell: 04.24.13

Credit Suisse Profit Rises (WSJ) Zurich-based Credit Suisse said its bottom line was flattered by a favorable comparison with last year's result, when an accounting charge weighed on performance. Revenue at the bank rose 19% following several quarters of reported declines. The report from Switzerland's second-largest bank comes amid a cost-cutting program started in 2011 that has it eliminating thousands of jobs. The program has resulted in 2.5 billion Swiss francs ($2.6 billion) in savings, and is on track to cut costs by 4.4 billion francs by the end of 2015, the bank said. Credit Suisse said its number of full-time employees fell to 46,900 in the first quarter, from 48,700 in the same period last year. Barclays Profit Buoyed By Investment Banking Unit (WSJ) Investment banking, headed by departing executive Rich Ricci, accounted for 74% of Barclays' pretax profit, or £1.32 billion of the £1.79 billion total. The high proportion of profits in part reflected weakness in other areas, such as retail banking in Europe and Africa, but was underpinned by a strong quarter for underwriting stock offerings and servicing hedge fund clients...The bank as a whole posted a £839 million net profit, compared with a £598 million net loss in the first quarter of 2012. Both figures are distorted by accounting charges that reflect the market cost of Barclays' own debt. The £1.79 billion pretax profit was down 25% from £2.4 billion in first-quarter 2012 and slightly lower than analysts had expected. Citigroup Says Debt Beats Peers in Advance of ‘Bail-In’ Rule (Bloomberg) Citigroup, the bank that took the most U.S. aid during the credit crisis, said it’s better- prepared than some rivals to withstand the impact of new anti- bailout rules that could force lenders to sell more debt. Citigroup’s so-called bail-in plan -- a rescue that makes debt investors and stockholders absorb losses instead of taxpayers -- shows the bank already has issued more long-term debt than some of its largest rivals, Treasurer Eric Aboaf said during an April 22 investor presentation. That leaves the New York-based bank in a better position as regulators decide how much more debt lenders should add to their buffers, Aboaf said. Wall Street Jobs Plunge As Profit Soars (Bloomberg) “The desire is to drive the cost of executing a trade to its lowest point -- this means automating the system and getting rid of the traders,” Richard Bove, a bank analyst with Rafferty Capital Markets LLC, said in a telephone interview. “All they do today is hit buttons on computer screens. Twenty-five years ago they would be calling their buddies at different firms. It was a highly labor intensive effort.” New York’s “inhospitable” climate for commercial banks, along with falling demand for financial services and increasing automation is driving the decline in jobs, Bove said. Woman could face death penalty for killing man by crushing testicles (NYDN) A 42-year-old woman is on trial for allegedly grabbing a man's genitals after he told her not to park her electric bike in front of his store. He later died from shock, according to reports. "I'll squeeze it to death, you'll never have children again," witnesses reported her as saying as she called on her brother and husband for back-up. The woman, who could face the death penalty if convicted, got into the row - in the Meilan District of Haikou City, Hainan - more than a year ago on April 19, 2012. IBTimes reports that her 41-year-old victim went into a state of shock and died before paramedics could treat him. The final outcome of the trial, it adds, depends largely on the interpretation of the woman's statement of "squeeze it to death." Dr Irwin Goldstein, urologist and director of San Diego Sexual Medicine, has previously told Gizmodo it is "quite plausible" the squeeze had killed the man. "Yes, the testicles are exquisitely sensitive to touch and there is a huge release of adrenalin when there is excessive force applied to these organs," he told the site. He added that it could have brought on a heart attack. Hazy Future for S.E.C.’s Blossoming Whistle-Blower Effort (NYT) Already, a whistle-blower program has bolstered an investigation into a trading blowup that nearly toppled Knight Capital, the largest stock trading firm on Wall Street, according to lawyers briefed on the case. With help from another whistle-blower, the lawyers said, the government discovered that Oppenheimer & Company had overstated the performance of a private equity fund. And after pursuing a Texas Ponzi scheme for more than a year, a cold trail heated up in 2010 when a tipster emerged. The breakthroughs—previously undisclosed—show the promise of the agency's 20-month-old whistle-blower program. Yet, the program faces challenges on many fronts. Some Wall Street firms are urging employees to report wrongdoing internally before running to the government, and one hedge fund, Paradigm Capital Management, was accused in a lawsuit of punishing an employee who had cooperated with the S.E.C., according to court and internal documents. Another financial firm, the documents show, pressured an employee to forfeit potential "bounties or awards"—a possible violation of S.E.C. rules. Apple’s $145 Billion in Cash Fails to Win AAA Debt Rating (Bloomberg) Apple, which has $145 billion of cash, said yesterday it plans to use debt to help finance a $100 billion capital reward for shareholders after a 42 percent stock plunge. Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s responded by ranking the company a level below their top grades, with Gerald Granovsky of Moody’s citing “shifting consumer preferences” in a statement as a risk to Cupertino, California-based Apple’s business. ECB Rate Cut Could Bring Big Disappointment (CNBC) Expectations are rising that the European Central Bank will announce a rate cut when it meets next week. But according to analysts the move is likely to have a limited impact and could in fact end up being a disappointment.