Opening Bell: 03.27.13

Cyprus Sets Bank Restructuring (WSJ) Cyprus's central bank chief said Tuesday that large depositors at the island's biggest lender, Bank of Cyprus Pcl, could lose as much as 40% on their deposits. In a television interview later, the finance minister said large uninsured deposit holders at the second-biggest, Cyprus Popular Bank Pcl, might only see one-fifth of their money returned and could wait several years before being paid back. Central banker Panicos Demetriades said at a news conference that a special administrator would be appointed to oversee both the winding down of Cyprus Popular, also known as Laiki, and the merger of its healthy assets with Bank of Cyprus. Plans for the move prompted Bank of Cyprus Chairman Andreas Artemis to submit his resignation earlier in the day. UK Banks Facing Capital Shortfall (WSJ) U.K. banks must come up with £25 billion in fresh capital by the end of the year to start plugging an estimated £50 billion ($75.8 billion) capital shortfall across the sector, the Bank of England's Financial Policy Committee said Wednesday. Banks Looking At $100 Billion Legal Tab (WSJ) The largest U.S. banks—Citigroup, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp. and Wells Fargo—together have paid $61.3 billion to settle credit-crisis and mortgage claims over the past three years, according to SNL Financial, Charlottesville, Va. Research firm Compass Point Research & Trading LLC estimates that U.S. banks will wind up owing a further $24.7 billion related to the repurchase of faulty mortgage loans. From Finance to Sex Therapy: London Bankers Escape (CNBC) Mike Lousada, an investment banker turned sex therapist, told CNBC that City workers should "follow their passion" and find an interest they could even develop into their own business. Having worked for two decades at Nomura, JP Morgan, Barclays and Societe Generale "amongst others," Lousada told CNBC that his change of career from banking to sexual healing was a life choice. "I felt my City career no longer had meaning for me and I wanted to pursue something which gave my life meaning and purpose. As I grew, emotionally, I realized how unfulfilled I felt and I knew that there was something else calling me which would be more fulfilling," he told CNBC. Called the "orgasm guru" among London's chattering classes, Lousada has built up a reputation as a talented sex therapist with a long waiting list of clients paying 300 pounds ($454) for a therapy session with him. Woman Attempts To Hide Tadpoles In Her Mouth At The Airport (UPI) When airport security found a bottle of liquid in the woman's carry-on luggage, they informed her that she'd either have to immediately drink or dispose of the liquid. The woman tipped back the small bottle and drank its contents, but security became suspicious when she refused to swallow. The woman eventually spit out was she was holding in her mouth: tadpoles. Lehman plans to distribute $14.2 billion to creditors (Reuters) The distribution includes about $9.4 billion to third-party creditors and affiliates, $4.4 billion among other debtors, and $370 million for newly-allowed claims. Berkshire Set To Get Big Goldman Stake (WSJ) The billionaire chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway accepted the stake in exchange for giving up his company's right to purchase a larger number of Goldman shares at a below-market price, according to terms of the deal announced Tuesday. The pact, worth about $1.5 billion after Tuesday's close, puts an exclamation point on the Omaha, Neb. company's financial-crisis lifeline to Goldman. Berkshire's realized and paper winnings on the 2008 preferred-stock investment now exceed $3 billion, making it one of Mr. Buffett's most lucrative bets in recent years. G4S Readies Guards as Cypriot Banks Prepare to Open (Reuters) The world's largest security firm, G4S, moves cash and will provide guards for Cypriot lenders including Bank of Cyprus and Cyprus Popular Bank, the two biggest, which are to be combined and see large depositors' accounts frozen under a bailout agreed at the weekend. Cypriot banks have been shut for more than a week while the government worked out the bailout and will stay closed until Thursday to prevent a run. Meanwhile, Cypriots have been queuing to withdraw cash from automatic teller machines, with limits at some shrinking down to 100 euros a day. John Arghyrou, managing director of the Cyprus business for G4S, said its 750 employees have been working through the night, going out to replenish cash machines with police guard. Licensing rules prevented the firm from bringing in extra staff to handle the unprecedented workload. Man charged with assault after roommate drew on him (WJLA) A 31-year-old Arlington man is in jail after he was accused of assaulting his roommate when he realized he had drawn male genitalia on him. The alleged assault happened at about 5:30 a.m. Saturday inside a home in the 3100 block of North 17th Street. The accused, James Denham Watson, woke up to find that his roommate drew on his face. Watson then allegedly assaulted his roommate, leaving him with serious, extensive injuries to the face. He was taken to Virginia Hospital Center to be treated for his injuries. The suspect was subsequently arrested and charged with malicious wounding. He's being held without bond. The drawing on Watson's face was still present when he was booked.
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Cyprus Sets Bank Restructuring (WSJ)
Cyprus's central bank chief said Tuesday that large depositors at the island's biggest lender, Bank of Cyprus Pcl, could lose as much as 40% on their deposits. In a television interview later, the finance minister said large uninsured deposit holders at the second-biggest, Cyprus Popular Bank Pcl, might only see one-fifth of their money returned and could wait several years before being paid back. Central banker Panicos Demetriades said at a news conference that a special administrator would be appointed to oversee both the winding down of Cyprus Popular, also known as Laiki, and the merger of its healthy assets with Bank of Cyprus. Plans for the move prompted Bank of Cyprus Chairman Andreas Artemis to submit his resignation earlier in the day.

UK Banks Facing Capital Shortfall (WSJ)
U.K. banks must come up with £25 billion in fresh capital by the end of the year to start plugging an estimated £50 billion ($75.8 billion) capital shortfall across the sector, the Bank of England's Financial Policy Committee said Wednesday.

Banks Looking At $100 Billion Legal Tab (WSJ)
The largest U.S. banks—Citigroup, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp. and Wells Fargo—together have paid $61.3 billion to settle credit-crisis and mortgage claims over the past three years, according to SNL Financial, Charlottesville, Va. Research firm Compass Point Research & Trading LLC estimates that U.S. banks will wind up owing a further $24.7 billion related to the repurchase of faulty mortgage loans.

From Finance to Sex Therapy: London Bankers Escape (CNBC)
Mike Lousada, an investment banker turned sex therapist, told CNBC that City workers should "follow their passion" and find an interest they could even develop into their own business. Having worked for two decades at Nomura, JP Morgan, Barclays and Societe Generale "amongst others," Lousada told CNBC that his change of career from banking to sexual healing was a life choice. "I felt my City career no longer had meaning for me and I wanted to pursue something which gave my life meaning and purpose. As I grew, emotionally, I realized how unfulfilled I felt and I knew that there was something else calling me which would be more fulfilling," he told CNBC. Called the "orgasm guru" among London's chattering classes, Lousada has built up a reputation as a talented sex therapist with a long waiting list of clients paying 300 pounds ($454) for a therapy session with him.

Woman Attempts To Hide Tadpoles In Her Mouth At The Airport (UPI)
When airport security found a bottle of liquid in the woman's carry-on luggage, they informed her that she'd either have to immediately drink or dispose of the liquid. The woman tipped back the small bottle and drank its contents, but security became suspicious when she refused to swallow. The woman eventually spit out was she was holding in her mouth: tadpoles.

Lehman plans to distribute $14.2 billion to creditors (Reuters)
The distribution includes about $9.4 billion to third-party creditors and affiliates, $4.4 billion among other debtors, and $370 million for newly-allowed claims.

Berkshire Set To Get Big Goldman Stake (WSJ)
The billionaire chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway accepted the stake in exchange for giving up his company's right to purchase a larger number of Goldman shares at a below-market price, according to terms of the deal announced Tuesday. The pact, worth about $1.5 billion after Tuesday's close, puts an exclamation point on the Omaha, Neb. company's financial-crisis lifeline to Goldman. Berkshire's realized and paper winnings on the 2008 preferred-stock investment now exceed $3 billion, making it one of Mr. Buffett's most lucrative bets in recent years.

G4S Readies Guards as Cypriot Banks Prepare to Open (Reuters)
The world's largest security firm, G4S, moves cash and will provide guards for Cypriot lenders including Bank of Cyprus and Cyprus Popular Bank, the two biggest, which are to be combined and see large depositors' accounts frozen under a bailout agreed at the weekend. Cypriot banks have been shut for more than a week while the government worked out the bailout and will stay closed until Thursday to prevent a run. Meanwhile, Cypriots have been queuing to withdraw cash from automatic teller machines, with limits at some shrinking down to 100 euros a day. John Arghyrou, managing director of the Cyprus business for G4S, said its 750 employees have been working through the night, going out to replenish cash machines with police guard. Licensing rules prevented the firm from bringing in extra staff to handle the unprecedented workload.

Man charged with assault after roommate drew on him (WJLA)
A 31-year-old Arlington man is in jail after he was accused of assaulting his roommate when he realized he had drawn male genitalia on him. The alleged assault happened at about 5:30 a.m. Saturday inside a home in the 3100 block of North 17th Street. The accused, James Denham Watson, woke up to find that his roommate drew on his face.
Watson then allegedly assaulted his roommate, leaving him with serious, extensive injuries to the face. He was taken to Virginia Hospital Center to be treated for his injuries. The suspect was subsequently arrested and charged with malicious wounding. He's being held without bond. The drawing on Watson's face was still present when he was booked.

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Opening Bell: 03.25.13

Cyprus Gets New Bailout Deal (WSJ) Cyprus secured a bailout from its international creditors early Monday, ending a week of financial panic that threatened to see the small island nation become the first government to leave the euro zone. But lasting damage has likely been inflicted on the Cypriot economy. Officials said they believe the country will now need strict controls on money transfers in and out of the economy in the coming weeks or possibly months, cutting off its citizens and companies from much of the rest of the euro zone's financial system. And the bailout program aims to slash the size of Cypriot banks, perhaps forever ending the country's status as an offshore tax haven and financial-services center. Cyprus could see its economy contract by 10% or more in the years ahead, economists said. Dell Confirms Rival Offers (WSJ) Dell has received two alternative takeover proposals—one from activist investor Carl Icahn and the other from a private equity fund managed by Blackstone Group —that a special board committee said may result in superior proposals to the one offered last month by founder Michael Dell. Falcone Follows Michael Jackson Path Taking Fortress Loan (Bloomberg) Hedge-fund manager Philip Falcone, beset by declining assets, federal securities regulators and the bankruptcy of his largest investment, is borrowing money against personal real estate he bought during better days. Falcone and his wife, Lisa, pledged their $39 million Caribbean villa to Fortress Credit Corp., the lender that provided Michael Jackson with a mortgage on his Neverland Ranch when the late pop idol was close to insolvency, according to a February regulatory filing. Within the past year, the couple also agreed to post both of their Manhattan townhouses as collateral for about $25 million of personal loans, real estate records show. SEC Approves Facebook IPO Compensation Plan (WSJ) The Securities and Exchange Commission approved Nasdaq OMX Group Inc.'s plan to pay customers as much as $62 million for losses stemming from last year's bungled Facebook stock-market debut, according to an order made public on Monday by the regulator. Brooklyn man furious his roommate wanted to move out allegedly murdered her fish (NYP) A Brooklyn man furious that his longtime roommate wanted to move out turned his rage on her pet fish — flushing one down the toilet and letting the other suffocate, law-enforcement sources told The Post. José Santiago murdered his roommate’s scaly pals — Bonnie and Clyde — when he saw her packing her bags in their Flatbush apartment on Wednesday, she said. “They were my babies! I can’t have children, so my pets are like my kids,” Brenda Alvarez said yesterday. “They were beautiful fish and cost about $25 each. “I did everything for him, and the only thing I ever asked him to do was the laundry,” she said. “So, why did he do this to me?” Alvarez, 45, said she wanted to move out of the Nostrand Avenue apartment because of growing tension between the longtime friends, who grew up a block apart in Bay Ridge. “I was gonna leave . . . so, I started packing, but he kept antagonizing me,” Alvarez recalled. “Then he went crazy!” U.S. Hedge Funds Swoop on Traders at Struggling Europe Startups (Bloomberg) U.S. hedge funds Pine River Capital Management LP, Millennium Management LLC and SAC Capital Advisors LLC are taking advantage of the struggle of European startup funds to grab their pick of the region’s traders. The three firms, which manage a combined $46 billion, have over the past year all hired employees from hedge funds started by former European bankers, according to regulatory records and people with knowledge of the matter. They joined from firms including Edoma Partners LLP, Occitan Capital Partners LLP and Portman Square Capital LLP, London hedge funds that have either shut down, posted losses or failed to meet their fundraising goals, said the people, who declined to be identified because the companies are private. Buyout Firm to Acquire Blockbuster's U.K. Unit (WSJ) Private-equity firm Gordon Brothers Europe agreed to buy the British arm of DVD-rental firm Blockbuster Inc., which had entered a form of bankruptcy in January. The deal will help save 264 Blockbuster stores and more than 2,000 jobs in the U.K., Gordon Brothers Europe said in a statement Saturday. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed. Man charged with drinking $102,000 worth of pre-Prohibition whiskey (WTAE) Hidden behind a basement staircase at a Westmoreland County mansion was a secret stash of liquid gold: old farm pure rye whiskey. Distilled in 1912 and delivered to industrialist J.P. Brennan in 1917, nearly 100 bottles of West Overton Distilling Company's pure rye collected dust until their discovery recently. Homeowner Patricia Hill surmised Brennan hid the whiskey during Prohibition. Hill purchased the South Broadway mansion from Brennan's daughter at auction in 1986. Since then, Hill has been remodeling the mansion and filling it with antiques in order to open a bed and breakfast, which she did in December 2012. "The whiskey was buried right back here under these stairs. They were doing renovations down here for the plumbing and electrical and they had to rip out underneath the stairs. Whenever they did, they discovered 9 cases of the old farm, pure rye whiskey," said South Broadway Manor's chef and innkeeper, Rick Bruckner. "The story with this isn't just, 'Hey, we have some really old whiskey.' It's, 'Hey, we have some really old, historical whiskey.'" Bruckner explained Brennan was acquainted with Henry Frick and Andrew Carnegie, among other important Pittsburghers during the early 1900's. He said the men would come over to the mansion and likely drink this whiskey. Hill had rented the basement apartment to John Saunders, 62. Saunders is now charged by Scottdale police with consuming 48 bottles of the historic whiskey. In a criminal complaint, Chief Barry Pritts wrote Saunders denied drinking the whiskey or removing labels from the bottles. Saunders reportedly told police he moved the cases to clean them several times but never opened any of the bottles. "Saunders said that the whiskey probably evaporated and being that old, it was probably no good," Pritts wrote.

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: 03.28.13

Cyprus's Banks Open After Two Weeks (Bloomberg) Cyprus’s banks opened for the first time in almost two weeks, with new rules curbing access to cash preventing an initial panic to withdraw deposits. “We expected much more people,” said Argyros Eraclides, manager of a Bank of Cyprus branch in the Stavrou area of Nicosia. “Fortunately there are only some people who needed cash for the day, but customers reacted fantastically. We expected some people to be more aggravated.” Banks opened at midday local time today, with lines of about 15 to 20 people waiting to enter branches in the Cypriot capital. The Central Bank of Cyprus’s money controls include a 300-euro ($383) daily limit on withdrawals and restrictions on transfers to accounts outside the country. Italy Minister Knows Nothing About Possible Downgrade (Reuters) Italian Economy Minister Vittorio Grilli said on Thursday he had no knowledge of any imminent decision by Moody's to cut Italy's sovereign debt rating. Fitch cut Italy's rating this month and market rumours have been swirling for days that fellow agency Moody's, which has a negative outlook on Italy, is poised to follow suit. "I have no news about that," Grilli told reporters in parliament. BofA Said to Ask Mortgage-Bond Buyers to Take Debt in Packages (Bloomberg) Investors seeking to buy higher yielding, riskier slices of home-loan bonds sold yesterday by EverBank Financial Corp. were told they’d have a better shot if they also purchased some of the AAA rated classes, showing weaker demand for the top-ranked debt. Bank of America Corp. and Barclays Plc, the underwriters of the deal, pushed investors to purchase the debt in a package as relative yields widen on AAA portions of securities tied to new mortgages without government backing, according to two people familiar with the discussions who asked not to be identified because the negotiations were private. Matthew 25 Fund Inspired By Scripture Returns 27% (Bloomberg) When the Matthew 25 Fund fell 40 percent in 2008, it kept Mark Mulholland awake at night. Mulholland, the founder and sole manager of the mutual fund -- named after a Bible passage -- says he would lie in bed thinking about the damage he had done to his investors, particularly the elderly whose nest eggs might not recover before they died. The assets he managed dwindled to $22 million from $115 million, Bloomberg Markets will report in its May issue. What Mulholland didn’t worry about were the stocks in his portfolio. “The companies we owned were so cheap that barring a total collapse of the economic system, I knew at some point we were going to make a lot of money,” he says. That time has come. Florida couple says they live next to 'neighbor from hell' (WTSP) A dispute over an alligator has ignited a feud between two neighbors that appears to be spiraling out of control. Drew and Nicole Carver say their neighbor, John McDonough, has consistently harassed them since last October. "We had a security system installed not because of the neighborhood that we live in, but because of the neighbor we live next to," said Nicole Carver. It started after the Carvers called out wildlife officials to remove an alligator from a retention pond they share with McDonough. The move apparently angered McDonough so much that he began to put up yard signs insulting Drew Carver, a trainer with the military at MacDill Air Force Base. One sign read, "In memory of Chris Kyle," an army sniper who was murdered by a fellow veteran back in February. "He removed Chris Kyle's name from the sign and he said, 'Your name will be in there next,'" said Nicole Carver. S&P Seeks to Merge State Suits Into One (WSJ) Seventeen lawsuits have piled up against Standard & Poor's Ratings Services by state attorneys general who claim the firm churned out shoddy ratings before or after the financial crisis. S&P wants to yank the cases into a federal court—and shrink the total to one. The moves are an important skirmish in a legal battle that could wind up costing S&P billions of dollars if the firm loses the cases or settles them to cut its losses. Funds Reshape Investment Mold (WSJ) Hedge funds that specialize in bonds are bulking up on stocks, in the latest sign of investor concern over the health of the long bull market in debt prices. Fund managers that have made winning bets in corporate loans, mortgage bonds and distressed debt are altering course after a flood of cash has pushed up the prices of all sorts of debt investments, raising risks and depressing expected returns. Ratings Relief For JPM (NYP) JPMorgan Chase had its credit outlook raised to stable from negative by Standard & Poor’s as doubts about last year’s record trading loss eased. Wells Fargo distances itself from 'Harlem Shake' video filmed in Atlanta bank (AP) Wells Fargo bank officials say a viral video filmed inside an Atlanta bank branch was not approved or produced by the company, and employees participated on their own time. The video, one of many depicting the "Harlem Shake," features characters dancing in the lobby of a Wells Fargo branch. One wears a diaper and has a pacifier, and another is dressed as a bottle of Colt 45.

Opening Bell: 03.22.13

Clock Ticks On Cyprus (WSJ) Cyprus, in an 11th-hour bid to unlock international aid, reopen the nation's banking system and preserve membership in the euro, readied a plan that would restructure its second-largest lender and enforce unprecedented restrictions on financial transactions. The proposals, if they take effect, would allow authorities to restrict noncash transactions, curtail check cashing, limit withdrawals and even convert checking accounts into fixed-term deposits when banks reopen. They have been closed since March 16. Parliament is set to debate the measures on Friday. If Cyprus can't pass them, it could find itself with little choice but to leave the euro zone—opening a Pandora's box that could threaten Spain and Italy. Time is short: The European Central Bank on Thursday threatened to cut off a financial lifeline if Cyprus's banks aren't stabilized by Monday. Credit Suisse Chief Gets 34% Raise (WSJ) Credit Suisse rewarded Chief Executive Brady Dougan for repositioning the bank in 2012 with a 34% pay rise, despite a fall in net profit for the year and a backdrop of growing criticism of executive remuneration. Mr. Dougan earned 7.77 million Swiss francs ($8.21 million), up from 5.8 million francs in 2011, when he took a pay cut as Switzerland's No. 2 bank by assets slogged through a difficult year in which its stock price fell 41%. Europe’s Bonus Clampdown Hits Two-Thirds of Fund Managers (Bloomberg) The European Parliament’s vote to cap bonuses in the asset-management industry could affect two- thirds of senior fund managers in the U.K., U.S. funds in Europe and hedge funds open to small investors. Bonuses should not exceed base salaries for managers of mutual funds regulated by the European Union, known as UCITS, European lawmakers in the economic and monetary affairs committee voted yesterday. The rules would cover 5 trillion euros ($6.5 trillion) of assets in UCITS, which include funds managed outside Europe and some linked to hedge-fund strategies such as John Paulson’s New York-based Paulson & Co. and Och-Ziff Capital Management Group. “If the final rules are even close to what has been agreed today, then this will fundamentally change the way asset managers are paid,” said Jon Terry, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLC. Asset managers “are now facing the toughest pay rules across the whole of the financial-services sector.” Boaz Says Dimon Should Have Known (NYP) The buck stops with Jamie Dimon. That’s the view of Boaz Weinstein, the hedge-fund manager who first speared the “London Whale” that led to $6.2 billion in trading losses for Dimon’s JPMorgan. Despite making a bundle by taking the other side of the bank’s bad bet, Boaz says that requiring bank CEOs to sign off on such trades is the only way to prevent debacles. As the “ultimate boss” of JPMorgan, Dimon should have had to approve the complicated trade, he said. “If you had a rule that anytime, anyone wants to make an investment in any one thing greater than $10 billion or $20 billion, the boss has to sign off on it,” then those types of disasters wouldn’t happen, Boaz said yesterday at the Absolute Return Symposium in Manhattan. Long Island Man Accepts Plea Deal in Fake Drowning (AP) The man, Raymond Roth, 48, of Massapequa, pleaded guilty to fourth-degree conspiracy. “The restitution Mr. Roth is ordered to pay ensures that the taxpayers won’t foot the bill for this scam,” said Kathleen M. Rice, the Nassau County district attorney. Prosecutors said Mr. Roth and his son, Jonathan Roth, 22, had plotted to collect about $400,000 in life insurance. The younger man’s case is pending. On July 28, Jonathan Roth told the authorities that his father had gone for a swim at Jones Beach and never came back. Responders searched for Raymond Roth for several days, while he was actually on his way to Orlando, Fla., prosecutors said. Raymond Roth’s wife found e-mails discussing the plot, and the authorities were alerted. Raymond Roth’s lawyer, Brian Davis, said on Thursday that he believed the plea bargain was fair, adding, “At this point, he wants to put it behind him.” Mood Sours In Northern Europe (WSJ) A worsening mood among businesses largely predated fraught negotiations over a Cypriot bailout, which economists say could stoke tensions surrounding the euro zone's debt crisis. Poorer sentiment among businesses lessens the chances of a rise in corporate investment, crucial for an economic recovery in the bloc at a time when most of its member states are cutting spending to control their debts. Economists See No Crisis With U.S. Debt as Economy Gains (Bloomberg) Three years after a government spending surge in response to the recession drove the U.S. past that red line -- the nation’s $16.7 trillion total debt is now 106 percent of the $15.8 trillion economy -- key indicators reflect gathering strength. Businesses have increased spending by 27 percent since the end of 2009. The annual rate of new home construction jumped about 60 percent. Employers have created almost 6 million jobs. And with borrowing costs near record lows, the cost of paying off the debt is lower now than in the year Ronald Reagan left the White House, as a percentage of the economy. BP to return $8 billion to shareholders from TNK-BP sale (Reuters) BP, which completed the sale of the half-owned TNK-BP to Russian state oil firm Rosneft on Thursday, said the move, designed to increase the value of remaining shares, was an amount equivalent to the value of the company's original investment in TNK-BP in 2003. Man finds knife blade in his back three years after stabbing (TS) A Northwest Territories man was just scratching what he thought was an annoying old itch earlier this week when it turned out to be a knife blade that had been buried in his flesh for almost three years. “I jumped in a cab and went straight to emergency,” said Billy McNeely, 32. The story goes back to an April 2010 birthday party in McNeely’s home town of Fort Good Hope, N.W.T. McNeely said a fight broke out between himself and another man over an arm-wrestling contest that ended up with McNeely being stabbed five times. “They stitched me up and bandaged me up,” said McNeely. “They never took X-rays.” Ever since, McNeely has had a lump in his back where the knife went in. Doctors and nurses told him nerves had been damaged in the stabbing. But the old wound never stopped nagging. “I always had back pains. There was always a burning feeling with it.” The injury was constantly itchy and irritated. It set off metal detectors. That was explained away as a metal fragment that had lodged in his bone. On Monday, while McNeely and his girlfriend were asleep in bed, the pain came back. “I sat up, I tried to rub it and scratch it the way I always did, and then the tip of my nail caught a piece of something solid, something sharp. “My girlfriend got up and she started playing around with it and she manoeuvred my back in a certain way and the tip of a blade poked out of my skin.” Doctors dug out a blade measuring about seven centimetres long.

Opening Bell: 11.28.12

Gorman Enlists Morgan Stanley Workforce in Fiscal Cliff Campaign (Bloomberg) Morgan Stanley Chief Executive Officer James Gorman called on the investment bank’s employees to pressure U.S. lawmakers into reaching an agreement that averts the so-called fiscal cliff. “No issue is more critical right now for the U.S. economy, the global financial markets and the financial well-being of our clients, which is why I am asking you to participate in the democratic process and make your voice heard,” Gorman wrote in a memo, a copy of which was obtained by Bloomberg News. The message went to about 30,000 U.S. workers including 16,000 financial advisers, said James Wiggins, a company spokesman. Buffett Expects 'Fiscal Cliff' Fix, But Not By December 31 (CNBC) Buffett didn't outline a specific solution that he prefers, saying he could "go with any number of plans." But he thinks the end result should have U.S. revenues at 18.5 percent of GDP and expenditures at 21 percent. Those levels would be "sustainable" because the ratio of the nation's national debt to GDP wouldn't increase, and might even fall over time. SAC Capital Received a Wells Notice From SEC Last Week, May Be Subject to Civil Charges (CNBC) Story developing. EU Approves Spanish Banks' Restructuring Plans (WSJ) European Union regulators Wednesday gave the green light to nearly €40 billion ($51.78 billion) in euro-zone funding for Spain's stricken bank sector, as it approved the restructuring plans for four lenders. BFA/Bankia, NCG Banco, Catalunya Banc and Banco de Valencia SA BVA.MC will require a total of €37 billion for their recapitalization plans, the regulators said. The European Union's Competition Commissioner, Joaquin Almunia, said bondholders would face losses. Will Italy Need A Bailout In 2013? (CNBC) “We still see as our baseline scenario that Italy will likely be forced to ask for an international bailout at some point in 2013,” said Citi Analyst Giada Giani in a report on the country. “Italian economic fundamentals have not really improved, despite some improvement in market conditions. The negative feedbacks from fiscal austerity on growth have been severe, as the ability of the private sector to absorb fiscal tightening by lowering its saving rate is limited.” EU Agrees New Controls for Credit Rating Agencies (Reuters) European Union countries and the bloc's parliament agreed on Tuesday to introduce limited controls on credit ratings agencies after their judgment was called into question in the debt crisis. Michel Barnier, the European commissioner in charge of regulation who helped broker a deal on the new law, said it aimed to reduce the over-reliance on ratings and establish a civil liability regime. The new rules should make it easier to sue the agencies if they are judged to have made errors when, for example, ranking the creditworthiness of debt. Deutsche Bank Sued Over Home Mortgage-Backed Securities (Bloomberg) Deutsche Bank, Germany’s largest lender, was sued by a trustee over claims that some securities sold by a unit of the bank were backed by home-mortgage loans taken out by fraudulent borrowers. DB Structured Products Inc.’s pool of more than 1,500 mortgages included more than 320 that were defective, HSBC Bank USA (HSBA), acting as trustee, said in a lawsuit filed yesterday in federal court in Manhattan. “Borrowers lied, with or without the knowledge of the loan originators themselves, concerning how much money they owed, how much money they made, whether and where they worked, and where they lived,” HSBC claimed. “A handful of instances of such inaccuracies is perhaps to be expected. Hundreds of instances of borrower dishonesty is not.” HSBC seeks unspecified damages and said Frankfurt-based Deutsche Bank must buy back the breaching loans under its agreements with the trustee. Woman Jailed For Attacking Beau Over Bad Sex (TSG) A Florida woman was jailed last night for a post-coital assault on her boyfriend, an attack the victim says was prompted when only he climaxed during a sexual encounter in the couple’s residence. Raquel Gonzalez, 24, was arrested Monday afternoon for felony domestic battery and booked into the Manatee County lockup, where bond has been set at $750. According to a Manatee County Sheriff’s Office report, Gonzalez and Esric Davis, 30, are “boyfriend and girlfriend who live in the same home and are involved in a sexual relationship.” Deputies noted that Davis and Gonzalez were “involved in sexual intercourse” when “Esric then climaxed and Raquel did not.” Which reportedly angered Gonzalez, who allegedly “began hitting and scratching [Davis], causing scratches near his eye and nose.” Davis told investigators that Gonzalez “goes off” frequently and that she had previously been physical with him. Be right back, hon ... with a $53M tip (NYP) Anthony Chiasson, the founder of hedge fund Level Global, started getting illegal insider tips in 2008 when the $4 billion firm was going through a rough patch, a key government witness told a jury yesterday. The witness, Sam Adondakis, a former analyst who worked for Chiasson, said he told his boss tips on Dell came straight from the tech giant...The Dell tip that netted the firm millions wasn’t without its drama. On Aug. 27, the day before Dell announced its results, Chiasson, Level Global co-founder David Ganek, and Greg Brenner, fund executive, held a conference call about their Dell position. At the time, Adondakis, on vacation in the Hamptons, was sitting down to breakfast with his girlfriend, he said yesterday. Adondakis said he remembers the conference call well because his girlfriend “was annoyed” by the conversation, which took him away from their meal for a good 40 minutes. Banks Feel Currency Pinch (WSJ) Banks reported sharp drops in currency-trading revenue last quarter, in many cases deepening a slump that began early this year. Even Deutsche Bank AG, the world's biggest foreign-exchange bank, reported revenue "significantly lower than the prior year" even as the volume of transactions it handled hit a record high in the third quarter. Banks are struggling on two fronts. A calm in currency markets relative to the swings of the last few years has reduced overall trading activity. And the explosive growth of electronic trading has brought transparency to a roughly $4 trillion-a-day market, making buyers and sellers less reliant on big banks to pair them up. Executives' Good Luck in Trading Own Stock (WSJ) Among 20,237 executives who traded their own company's stock during the week before their companies made news, 1,418 executives recorded average stock gains of 10% (or avoided 10% losses) within a week after their trades. This was close to double the 786 who saw the stock they traded move against them that much. Most executives have a mix of trades, some that look good in retrospect and others that do not. 'Two and a Half Men' star apologizes for offending cast and crew (CNN) A day after a video posted online showed him describing "Two and a Half Men" as "filth" and advising viewers to stop watching the sitcom, actor Angus T. Jones apologized to the show's cast and crew Tuesday. "I apologize if my remarks reflect me showing indifference to and disrespect of my colleagues and a lack of appreciation of the extraordinary opportunity of which I have been blessed," Jones said in a statement released by his publicist. "I never intended that." The 19-year-old actor -- who plays Jake Harper, the CBS sitcom's "Half" man -- didn't detail what motivated him to make comments...In the video, the actor, who's been on the show since 2003, repeatedly asks viewers not to watch the sitcom. "I'm on 'Two and a Half Men,' and I don't want to be on it," Jones said. "You cannot be a true God-fearing person and be on a television show like that. I know I can't. I'm not OK with what I'm learning, what the Bible says, and being on that television show. You go all or nothing."

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."

Opening Bell: 03.13.13

Ackman Applauds Call For Herbalife Investigation (AP) The National Consumers League said that it wants the FTC to investigate the claims against Herbalife as well as the vitamin and supplement products company's responses. Ackman alleged in December that Herbalife was a pyramid scheme and made a bet the stock would fall, arguing that the company makes most of its money by recruiting new salespeople rather than on the products they sell. Herbalife disputes that. In a statement late Tuesday, Pershing Square Capital Management's Ackman said that he was pleased that the NCL was requesting an FTC investigation and believes it will show that the company is a pyramid scheme. On Wednesday, Herbalife said in a statement that "We regret that the National Consumers League has permitted itself to be the mechanism by which Pershing Square continues its attack on Herbalife." Troika, Cyprus In Talks To Shrink Bailout Package (WSJ) Officials from the troika of lenders—the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund—are working with the Cypriot government to bring the headline figure for the bailout package to about €10 billion ($13.03 billion), two officials said. The aid package had been earlier expected to be as much as €17 billion—with just shy €10 billion of that going for bank recapitalizations. Big Sugar Set For Sweet Bailout (WSJ) The U.S. Department of Agriculture is considering buying 400,000 tons of sugar—enough for 142 billion Hershey's Kisses—to stave off a wave of defaults by sugar processors that borrowed $862 million under a government price-support program. The action aims to prop up tumbling U.S. sugar prices, which have fallen 18% since the USDA made the nine-month operations-financing loans beginning in October. The purchases could leave the price-support program with an $80 million loss, its biggest in 13 years, said Barbara Fecso, an economist at the USDA, in an interview. U.S. Tax Cheats Picked Off After Adviser Mails It In (Bloomberg) Everybody knows the danger of sending things inadvertently in an e-mail. Beda Singenberger’s case shows you also have to be pretty careful when you mail things the old-fashioned way. Over an 11-year period, federal prosecutors charge, Swiss financial adviser Singenberger helped 60 people in the U.S. hide $184 million in secret offshore accounts bearing colorful names like Real Cool Investments Ltd. and Wanderlust Foundation. Then, according to a prosecutor, Singenberger inadvertently mailed a list of his U.S. clients, including their names and incriminating details, which somehow wound up in the hands of federal authorities. Now, U.S. authorities appear to be picking off the clients on that list one by one. Singenberger’s goof has already ensnared Jacques Wajsfelner, an 83-year-old exile from Nazi Germany, and Michael Canale, a retired U.S. Army surgeon, court records show. Another customer, cancer researcher Michael Reiss, pleaded guilty, though his court records don’t mention the list. White Pressed On Past Representing Banks (WSJ) Since 2002, President Barack Obama's pick to become chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission has worked for the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton LLC, where she often represented large corporations and banks. Members of the Senate Banking Committee, often from the president's own party, pressed her to guarantee that her law-firm work wouldn't stop her from taking on Wall Street's wrongdoers. "What have you done [in] the last decade that ordinary investors can look at and be assured that you will advocate for them?" Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) asked Ms. White. Wearing a bright red jacket, her hands neatly folded on the table before her, Ms. White said her work at Debevoise "hasn't changed me as a person." Killer Ukrainian dolphins on the loose (JustinGregg) After rebooting the Soviet Union’s marine mammal program just last year with the goal of teaching dolphins to find underwater mines and kill enemy divers, three of the Ukrainian military’s new recruits have gone AWOL. Apparently they swam away from their trainers this morning ostensibly in search of a “mate” out in open waters. It might not be such a big deal except that these dolphins have been trained to “attack enemy combat swimmers using special knives or pistols fixed to their heads.” Dimon’s Extra $1.4 Million Payout Hangs on Fed Decision (Bloomberg) That’s how much extra income Dimon could get from his stake of about 6 million shares if his New York-based bank raises its payout as much as analysts predict. The sum dwarfs the combined $73,300 of new annual dividends at stake for his CEO peers at Bank of America Corp., Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Wells Fargo & Co., based on forecasts compiled by Bloomberg. Bankers will find out whether they get any boost tomorrow when the Fed announces which capital plans at the 18 largest U.S. lenders won approval. Regulators have pressed firms since the 2008 credit crisis to give executives more stock and less cash to align their interests with those of shareholders. CEOs are poised to get a windfall if payouts increase and shares rise -- or to suffer with their investors if results sputter. BofA Ordered to Pay Ex-Merrill Banker Jailed in Brazil (Bloomberg) Sao Paulo’s 26th labor court said it was “incontrovertible” that the imprisonment was because of his position as a junior financial consultant at Merrill Lynch, now a division of Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America, according to a document published in the nation’s official Gazette earlier this month. Caiado wasn’t convicted of any wrongdoing. Caiado, 42, was jailed in June 2006 in a Curitiba federal prison over allegations he helped Merrill’s clients make illegal overseas money transfers. His arrest was part of an investigation that resulted in indictments of 18 bankers at Credit Suisse AG and UBS AG in Brazil. Merrill fired Caiado nine months later, saying the dismissal was part of a restructuring. Carlyle Group Lowers Velvet Rope (WSJ) In the latest effort by private-equity firms to broaden their customer base, Carlyle Group is letting some people invest in its buyout funds with as little as $50,000. The move comes as other large firms—known for offering exclusivity to big-money clients—have broadened their investment offerings in search of fresh sources of funds. KKR, for example, recently began offering mutual funds investing in bonds, with minimum investments set at $2,500. Blackstone Group launched a fund last year that for the first time lets affluent individuals invest in hedge funds and has told regulators it plans to offer another fund, though it hasn't disclosed many details about the forthcoming offering. Greenland Votes for Tougher Rules for Foreign Investors (WSJ) Voters in Greenland have elected a new ruling party that has pledged to toughen up on foreign investors looking to take advantage of the nation's wealth of natural resources. The Social Democratic Siumut party collected 43% of the votes in an election held Tuesday, enabling the party to leapfrog the ruling Inuit Ataqatigiit, which over the past four years has worked to open up the secluded country to mining companies and others capable of advancing industry. Greenland is believed to have a vast supply of untapped rare-earth minerals, oil, gas and other resources. Blankfein On Trader Talent Hunt At Morgan Stanley (NYP) The Goldman Sachs CEO is taking dead aim at Morgan Stanley’s most prized assets — its best and brightest employees — after his rival decided to defer pay for senior bankers. Blankfein, as a big game hunter, recently landed 13-year Morgan Stanley veteran Kate Richdale, head of its Asia Pacific investment banking business. The CEO’s talent hunt is continuing, sources said. Goldman currently is in selective talks with other Morgan Stanley bankers and has also lured a handful of traders from the bank. Golfer Survives Fall Into Course Sinkhole (AP) Mark Mihal was having a good opening day on the links when he noticed an unusual depression on the 14th fairway at Annbriar Golf Club in southern Illinois. Remarking to his friends how awkward it would be to have to hit out of it, he went over for a closer look. One step onto the pocked section and the 43-year-old mortgage broker plunged into a sinkhole. He landed 18 feet down with a painful thud, and his friends managed to hoist him to safety with a rope after about 20 minutes. But Friday's experience gave Mihal quite a fright, particularly after the recent death of a Florida man whose body hasn't been found since a sinkhole swallowed him and his bedroom. "I feel lucky just to come out of it with a shoulder injury, falling that far and not knowing what I was going to hit," Mihal, from the St. Louis suburb of Creve Coeur, told The Associated Press before heading off to learn whether he'll need surgery. "It was absolutely crazy."

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.