Opening Bell: 04.10.13

Trading Case Embroils KPMG (WSJ) Scott London, the partner in charge of audits of Herbalife Ltd. and Skechers USA Inc. until KPMG fired him last week, told The Wall Street Journal Tuesday that "I regret my actions in leaking nonpublic data to a third party." Mr. London said his leaks "started a few years back," adding that KPMG bore "no responsibility" for his actions. "What I have done was wrong and against everything" he believed in, said Mr. London, who was based in Los Angeles for the accounting firm...Neither KPMG nor Mr. London named the recipient of Mr. London's tips. The recipient isn't associated with a hedge fund or other professional investor, said one person familiar with the matter. Obama Proposes $3.77 Trillion Budget to Revive Debt Talks (Bloomberg) Obama’s budget for fiscal 2014 proposes $50 billion for roads, bridges and other public works, $1 billion to spur manufacturing innovation and $1 billion for an initiative to revamp higher education, according to administration officials who briefed reporters and asked to not be identified. It renews his request to raise $580 billion in revenue by limiting deductions and closing loopholes for top earners. Obama again seeks adoption of the Buffett rule, named for billionaire investor Warren Buffett, to impose a 30 percent minimum tax on households with more than $1 million in annual income. The administration projects the deficit for fiscal 2014 would be $744 billion, or 4.4 percent of the economy. That would mark the first budget shortfall of less than $1 trillion since Obama took office. Soros Tells Germany It Should Leave The Euro (CNBC) "The financial problem is that Germany is imposing the wrong policies on the euro zone. Austerity doesn't work. You can't shrink the debt burden by shrinking the budget deficit," Soros, the founder and chairman of Soros Fund Management,said during a speech in Germany's financial center of Frankfurt on Tuesday. Ackman Expected To Stick With JCPenney (NYP) The New York hedge-fund tycoon is expected to stay put as JCPenney’s biggest investor, with a nearly 18 percent stake, and back the retailer’s scramble to repair the damage done by ousted CEO Ron Johnson, sources told The Post. That’s despite the fact that it was Ackman who installed Johnson at the helm of the company 17 months ago with an ambitious but doomed plan to overhaul the aging department-store chain. “The priority right now is stabilizing the company and finding a permanent CEO,” according to an insider close to the situation, adding that Ackman appeared to be playing a key role in the process. Blackstone Solicits Partners For Dell Bid (WSJ) Blackstone Group LP is talking to several technology companies about potentially joining its bid to take computer maker Dell private, people familiar with the matter said. Any technology firm that joins the private-equity giant's potential bid for Dell would likely be involved in the company's strategic direction as well as having a financial role, the people said. Blackstone has discussed a number of scenarios with prospective partners, including an equity stake, debt financing or a combination of the two, one of the people said. City officials say they're powerless to stop Time Square's growing hoard of costume-wearing hustlers (NYP) The city used to tell the furry fiends where they could set up. But a court decision last year ruled the characters could not be treated like vendors because they are entertainers who work for tips. “Our ability to treat these characters as vendors was eliminated,” said city lawyer Gabriel Taussig. “And, absent of vending laws, there is no other law that comes close to dealing with where they can be located.” The most recent trouble came when Osvaldo Quiroz-Lopez, who was dressed as Cookie Monster, got into a tussle with the toddler son of Bollywood star Parmita Katkar after the mom said she didn’t have the money to tip for a picture. His bust followed a slew of similar cases, including a man dressed as Super Mario who was accused of groping a woman and an Elmo who went on an anti-Semitic rant. Some Fed Members Fear Monetary Policy Effects (CNBC) Minutes from the most recent Fed meeting suggest that members have grown increasingly concerned that things could get messy if it continues its policies too far into the future. Among those concerns are instability to the financial system, a sudden rise in interest rates and inflation. Bill Gross Raises Holdings of Treasuries to Highest Since July (Bloomberg) Gross raised the holdings of Treasuries held in his $289 billion flagship fund at Pacific Investment Management Co. to 33 percent of assets last month, the highest level since July. JPM On A Whale Of A Roll (NYP) Jamie Dimon is hoping another solid performance from his sprawling bank can finally sink the London Whale. JPMorgan Chase will kick off bank earnings as it nears the anniversary of the embarrassing trading scandal, which Dimon famously dismissed back on April 13 of last year as a “tempest in a teapot.” The bank is expected to benefit from the continuing stabilization of the US economy that could allow it to release capital reserves again — a move that will have the effect of helping boost its overall earnings. Barclays analyst Jason Goldberg estimates that JPMorgan will report earnings of $1.33 a share — 6 cents less than consensus estimates of $1.39 a share. Some analysts believe that the bank will beat the consensus by a few cents after buying back shares and hiking its dividend to 38 cents. Soup heist ends with Tamarac turnpike arrest (Sun Sentinel) A Florida Highway Patrol trooper tracking the rig's GPS signal arrested the driver for the alleged soup heist on Florida's Turnpike in Tamarac about 12:30 a.m. Sunday. Eusebio Diaz Acosta, 51, of Orlando, was charged with two counts of grand theft — one for the tractor trailer and one for the cargo, with a combined value of $350,000. "These are very unusual facts," Broward County Judge John "Jay" Hurley said as he read from Acosta's arrest report Monday morning. "The court has seen many things stolen. … This is the first time the court's ever seen $75,000 worth of soup stolen."
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Trading Case Embroils KPMG (WSJ)
Scott London, the partner in charge of audits of Herbalife Ltd. and Skechers USA Inc. until KPMG fired him last week, told The Wall Street Journal Tuesday that "I regret my actions in leaking nonpublic data to a third party." Mr. London said his leaks "started a few years back," adding that KPMG bore "no responsibility" for his actions. "What I have done was wrong and against everything" he believed in, said Mr. London, who was based in Los Angeles for the accounting firm...Neither KPMG nor Mr. London named the recipient of Mr. London's tips. The recipient isn't associated with a hedge fund or other professional investor, said one person familiar with the matter.

Obama Proposes $3.77 Trillion Budget to Revive Debt Talks (Bloomberg)
Obama’s budget for fiscal 2014 proposes $50 billion for roads, bridges and other public works, $1 billion to spur manufacturing innovation and $1 billion for an initiative to revamp higher education, according to administration officials who briefed reporters and asked to not be identified. It renews his request to raise $580 billion in revenue by limiting deductions and closing loopholes for top earners. Obama again seeks adoption of the Buffett rule, named for billionaire investor Warren Buffett, to impose a 30 percent minimum tax on households with more than $1 million in annual income. The administration projects the deficit for fiscal 2014 would be $744 billion, or 4.4 percent of the economy. That would mark the first budget shortfall of less than $1 trillion since Obama took office.

Soros Tells Germany It Should Leave The Euro (CNBC)
"The financial problem is that Germany is imposing the wrong policies on the euro zone. Austerity doesn't work. You can't shrink the debt burden by shrinking the budget deficit," Soros, the founder and chairman of Soros Fund Management,said during a speech in Germany's financial center of Frankfurt on Tuesday.

Ackman Expected To Stick With JCPenney (NYP)
The New York hedge-fund tycoon is expected to stay put as JCPenney’s biggest investor, with a nearly 18 percent stake, and back the retailer’s scramble to repair the damage done by ousted CEO Ron Johnson, sources told The Post. That’s despite the fact that it was Ackman who installed Johnson at the helm of the company 17 months ago with an ambitious but doomed plan to overhaul the aging department-store chain. “The priority right now is stabilizing the company and finding a permanent CEO,” according to an insider close to the situation, adding that Ackman appeared to be playing a key role in the process.

Blackstone Solicits Partners For Dell Bid (WSJ)
Blackstone Group LP is talking to several technology companies about potentially joining its bid to take computer maker Dell private, people familiar with the matter said. Any technology firm that joins the private-equity giant's potential bid for Dell would likely be involved in the company's strategic direction as well as having a financial role, the people said. Blackstone has discussed a number of scenarios with prospective partners, including an equity stake, debt financing or a combination of the two, one of the people said.

City officials say they're powerless to stop Time Square's growing hoard of costume-wearing hustlers (NYP)
The city used to tell the furry fiends where they could set up. But a court decision last year ruled the characters could not be treated like vendors because they are entertainers who work for tips. “Our ability to treat these characters as vendors was eliminated,” said city lawyer Gabriel Taussig. “And, absent of vending laws, there is no other law that comes close to dealing with where they can be located.” The most recent trouble came when Osvaldo Quiroz-Lopez, who was dressed as Cookie Monster, got into a tussle with the toddler son of Bollywood star Parmita Katkar after the mom said she didn’t have the money to tip for a picture. His bust followed a slew of similar cases, including a man dressed as Super Mario who was accused of groping a woman and an Elmo who went on an anti-Semitic rant.

Some Fed Members Fear Monetary Policy Effects (CNBC)
Minutes from the most recent Fed meeting suggest that members have grown increasingly concerned that things could get messy if it continues its policies too far into the future. Among those concerns are instability to the financial system, a sudden rise in interest rates and inflation.

Bill Gross Raises Holdings of Treasuries to Highest Since July (Bloomberg)
Gross raised the holdings of Treasuries held in his $289 billion flagship fund at Pacific Investment Management Co. to 33 percent of assets last month, the highest level since July.

JPM On A Whale Of A Roll (NYP)
Jamie Dimon is hoping another solid performance from his sprawling bank can finally sink the London Whale. JPMorgan Chase will kick off bank earnings as it nears the anniversary of the embarrassing trading scandal, which Dimon famously dismissed back on April 13 of last year as a “tempest in a teapot.” The bank is expected to benefit from the continuing stabilization of the US economy that could allow it to release capital reserves again — a move that will have the effect of helping boost its overall earnings. Barclays analyst Jason Goldberg estimates that JPMorgan will report earnings of $1.33 a share — 6 cents less than consensus estimates of $1.39 a share. Some analysts believe that the bank will beat the consensus by a few cents after buying back shares and hiking its dividend to 38 cents.

Soup heist ends with Tamarac turnpike arrest (Sun Sentinel)
A Florida Highway Patrol trooper tracking the rig's GPS signal arrested the driver for the alleged soup heist on Florida's Turnpike in Tamarac about 12:30 a.m. Sunday. Eusebio Diaz Acosta, 51, of Orlando, was charged with two counts of grand theft — one for the tractor trailer and one for the cargo, with a combined value of $350,000. "These are very unusual facts," Broward County Judge John "Jay" Hurley said as he read from Acosta's arrest report Monday morning. "The court has seen many things stolen. … This is the first time the court's ever seen $75,000 worth of soup stolen."

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Opening Bell: 01.23.13

Greece Charges Statisticians Over Size of Deficit (FT) Greece has brought criminal charges against the official responsible for measuring the country's debt, thereby calling into question the validity of its 172 billion euros second bailout by the EU and International Monetary Fund. Andreas Georgiou, head of the independent statistical agency Elstat, and two senior officials are accused of undermining the country's "national interests" by inflating the 2009 budget deficit figure used as the benchmark for successive austerity packages. The three statistical experts face criminal charges of making false statements and corrupt practices, a judicial official said, adding that if found guilty they could serve prison terms of five to 10 years. They have denied any wrongdoing. Spain's Recession Deepens (WSJ) Spain's central bank said a recession in the euro zone's fourth-largest economy deepened slightly in the final quarter of last year, but it said austerity cuts are bringing the country's runaway budget deficit under control. Obama-Bashing Swapped for Pragmatism at Davos (Bloomberg) “We have to move on in our society,” Blackstone found Stephen Schwarzman said today in an interview in Davos with Bloomberg Television’s Erik Schatzker. “I like President Obama as a person, and he’s well- intentioned.” Schwarzman, 65, warned in Davos in 2010 that banks could restrict lending because “their entire world is being shaken and they’re being attacked personally.” Later that year, at a nonprofit group meeting, he likened Obama’s tax proposals to Hitler’s invasion of Poland. Third Point LLC CEO Daniel Loeb, who in 2010 compared Wall Street’s Obama supporters to “battered wives,” will help lead a Jan. 25 Davos dinner discussion, “Can Capitalism Evolve?” Schwarzman apologized in 2010 for his comparison of Obama’s effort to double taxes on private-equity income to the invasion of Poland. He said the analogy was inappropriate and that the administration’s need to work with business “is still of very serious concern.” JPMorgan's Jamie Dimon Apologizes, Attacks (WSJ) James Dimon of J.P. Morgan Chase was prepared in Davos to apologize for the more than $6 billion of trading losses racked up by the so-called London Whale, but he certainly wasn’t prepared to abase himself...Min Zhu, deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund, reeled off a string of statistics to show that the industry certainly hadn’t cleaned up its act since the crisis, and Paul Singer, principal of hedge fund Elliott Associates, was also keen to lambaste big banks, including Mr. Dimon’s. The two had some testy exchanges and the body language indicated that Messrs. Singer and Dimon have exchanged fire quite a few times previously. Still, Mr. Dimon gave us good as he got. He kicked off with repeating his apology to shareholders for the London Whale trading losses, which led to his own bonus being slashed, saying, “If you’re a shareholder of mine, I apologize deeply.” Having offered this apology he then went on the offense. He pointed out that his bank lent money to a whole host of worthy organizations such as schools, hospitals, governments, and Italian and Spanish corporates and governments. And he also had some snappy comebacks. Elliott’s Singer said that the global banks are “too big, too leveraged, too opaque,” which left Mr. Dimon with an easy retort about how could a hedge fund possibly criticize a bank about being opaque? “Our [securities filing] 10K is 400 pages long,” Mr. Dimon said. “What would you like to know?” Geithner Exit Next Friday (AFP) US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who steered the administration of President Obama through the financial crisis, will step down from his post Friday, a source told Agence France Presse yesterday. Golfer Mickelson recants tax rant (NYP) Mickelson — who hinted he might move from his home state of California to escape higher taxes — said he regretted his public rant on the issue after setting off a political firestorm. “Finances and taxes are a personal matter and I should not have made my opinions on them public,” according to a statement from Mickelson, who plans to elaborate today at the Farmers Insurance Open. “I apologize to those I have upset or insulted and assure you I intend to not let it happen again.” Senator Lautenberg Suggests Spanking In Store For Mayor Cory Booker (CI via DI) "I have four children, I love each one of them. I can't tell you that one of them wasn't occasionally disrespectful, so I gave them a spanking and everything was OK," Lautenberg said with a smile in his first public comments since Booker announced he was considering a run for Senate. Banker's Latest Bet: Teamwork on Bonds (WSJ) Texas banking tycoon Andrew Beal is known for making unconventional moves, including gambling on high-stakes poker and a self-financed plan to launch rockets into space. His latest gambit: an attempt to wring money from giant banks by banding together aggrieved bondholders. Mr. Beal's CXA Corp. ran a pair of advertisements late last year, one appearing in The Wall Street Journal. The ads listed an alphabet soup of residential mortgage-backed securities held by CXA and asked those with positions in the same securities to join the company in investigating possible infractions by banks that sold the debt. If the groups can prove the mortgages that underlie the bonds were approved through shoddy underwriting, they could be entitled to compensation—CXA's payday alone could be tens of millions of dollars. Firms Keep Stockpiles Of 'Foreign' Cash In US (WSJ) Some companies, including Internet giant Google, software maker Microsoft, and data-storage specialist EMC Corp, keep more than three-quarters of the cash owned by their foreign subsidiaries at U.S. banks, held in U.S. dollars or parked in U.S. government and corporate securities, according to people familiar with the companies' cash positions. In the eyes of the law, the Internal Revenue Service and company executives, however, this money is overseas. As long as it doesn't flow back to the U.S. parent company, the U.S. doesn't tax it. And as long as it sits in U.S. bank accounts or in U.S. Treasurys, it is safer than if it were plowed into potentially risky foreign investments. SEC Reins In Ratings Firm (WSJ) The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission barred Egan-Jones Ratings Co. from issuing ratings on certain bonds, an unprecedented step by the regulator and a setback for a small credit-rating firm with a history of courting controversy. The SEC said Tuesday that Egan-Jones couldn't officially rate bonds issued by countries, U.S. states and local governments, or securities backed by assets such as mortgages, for at least the next 18 months. The ban was part of an agreement the SEC reached with Egan-Jones and its president, Sean Egan, to settle charges that they filed inaccurate documents with the regulator in 2008. The SEC alleged that Egan-Jones misled investors about its expertise, and that Mr. Egan caused the firm to violate conflict-of-interest provisions. Lindenhurst dentist busted after reporting to work reeking of booze and drilling teeth while allegedly drunk (NYDN) Dr. Robert Garelick was hauled out of his Lindenhurst office in handcuffs Monday after his dental hygienist smelled booze on his breath and caught him administering Novocain to the wrong side of a patient’s mouth. “I observed Dr. Garelick looking for cavities in the right side of the patient’s mouth, but the cavities were in the left side,” hygienist Kimberly Curtis told police in a written statement. “I pointed this out to the doctor and that’s when he ordered more Novocain for the patient,” Curtis told cops. “So now, he basically numbed the whole patient’s mouth.” After noticing Garelick’s wobbly behavior Monday, Curtis texted co-worker Dina Fara, who called 911. Curtis said she sent the message after Garelick used a drill to treat another patient who had a chipped tooth. “He was filing the tooth down,” Curtis said. “When you’re using that drill, you have to be very careful and have a steady hand.” She said that just before Garelick treated the chipped tooth, he slipped into his office. “I noticed that he was drinking from a white and purple squeeze bottle,” Curtis said. “At first I didn’t think anything was wrong,” Curtis said. “But right after, he took a drink from that bottle, he got up and walked past me. When he did this I smelled a strong odor of alcohol.” The dentist initially claimed he only had a couple of beers with pizza during lunch Monday, according to Suffolk County cops. But Garelick, who was charged with misdemeanor reckless endangerment, later confessed to his drunken dentistry while being taken to a police precinct in the back of squad car. “I never had any beers with my pizza. I’ve been sipping at that bottle all along today,” he told police, referring to his squeeze bottle filled with vodka, according to a criminal complaint.

Opening Bell: 12.18.12

Dozens Likely Implicated In UBS Libor Deal (FT) bout three dozen bankers and senior managers will be implicated in the alleged rigging of Libor interest rates when UBS settles with global regulators later this week, according to people familiar with the matter. UBS is close to finalizing a deal with UK, US and Swiss authorities in which the bank will pay close to $1.5 billion and its Japanese securities subsidiary will plead guilty to a US criminal offence. Terms of the guilty plea were still being negotiated, one person familiar with the matter said on Monday, adding that the bank will not lose its ability to conduct business in Japan...Not all of the three dozen individuals will face criminal or civil charges and the level of alleged misconduct varies among them. While it also is not clear how many bankers will be criminally charged, people familiar with the investigation said the settlement documents will document an intercontinental scheme to manipulate the Yen-Libor interest rate over several years involving desks from Tokyo to London. Cerberus Seeks Sale of Gun Maker Freedom Group (WSJ) Private-equity firm Cerberus Capital Management LP said it is seeking to sell the company that manufactures a gun used in last week's shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. "We have determined to immediately engage in a formal process to sell our investment in Freedom Group…We believe that this decision allows us to meet our obligations to the investors whose interests we are entrusted to protect without being drawn into the national debate that is more properly pursued by those with the formal charter and public responsibility to do so," Cerberus said in a statement Tuesday. Cliff Talks Narrow (WSJ) President Barack Obama backed away from his long-standing call for raising tax rates on households making more than $250,000 a year, a development that inches the White House and congressional Republicans closer to a budget deal. Mr. Obama's move, a counter to Republicans' recent proposal to raise tax rates on income over $1 million, further narrows the differences between the two sides. During a meeting with House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) Monday the president proposed allowing Bush-era tax rates to expire for households making more than $400,000 in annual income, people familiar with the meeting said. Poland Finds It's Not Immune To Euro Crisis (NYT) During much of the region’s debt crisis so far, Poland has counted itself fortunate that the troubles began before the country had joined the euro currency union. By being part of the E.U.’s common market, but not bound by euro strictures, Poland has been one of the Continent’s rare economic good-news stories. But the deceleration in Polish growth, which has prompted the central bank to begin a series of interest rate cuts to stimulate the economy, has underscored the country’s exposure to slumping euro zone consumer markets. Hedge Fund Managers Convicted of Insider-Trading Scheme (Bloomberg) Level Global Investors LP co-founder Anthony Chiasson and former Diamondback Capital Management LLC portfolio manager Todd Newman were convicted of securities fraud and conspiracy for an insider-trading scheme that reaped more than $72 million. After deliberating a little more than two days, a federal jury in New York found both men guilty of conspiracy to commit securities fraud for a scheme to trade on Dell Inc. (DELL) and Nvidia Corp. (NVDA) using illicit tips. The panel found Chiasson, 39, guilty of five counts of securities fraud, earning Level Global $68.5 million on inside tips trading on the two technology company stocks. Newman, 48, was convicted of four counts of securities fraud related to trades on inside information that earned his fund about $3.8 million. “We had all the evidence we needed,” said Felicia Rivera, a juror from Westchester County near New York City, said after court. Credit unions sue JPM for $3.6B (NYP) The nation’s credit-union watchdog sued JPMorgan for a second time yesterday over $3.6 billion of Bear Stearns mortgage bonds that imploded in the wake of the financial crisis. The suit brought by the National Credit Union Administration accuses Bear Stearns, the failed bank acquired by JPMorgan in 2008, of peddling toxic securities to four credit unions that later collapsed. The same government agency sued JPMorgan last year over $1.4 billion in mortgage-backed securities that led to losses for credit unions. That suit is still pending. In the latest complaint, the credit union regulator said Bear Stearns conspired with at least 16 outfits that cranked out toxic mortgages and securities sold to unsuspecting buyers. Those included notorious subprime mortgage outfits such as Countrywide Financial, New Century and People’s Choice Home Loans. Man wears 70 items of clothing at airport to avoid baggage charge (DS) A man took to putting on 70 items of clothing to avoid an extra baggage charge at an airport. The unidentified passenger turned up at Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport in China, described as looking like a 'sumo wrestler'. According to Guangzhou Daily, the man's luggage exceeded the weight limit. He did not want to pay the extra baggage costs, and thus took out and wore more than 60 shirts and nine pairs of jeans. Wanting to board a flight to Nairobi, Kenya, he was stopped by the metal detector and had to undergo a full body search. AIG Raises $6.45 Billion as AIA Priced in Top Half of Range (Bloomberg) AIG sold 1.65 billion shares at HK$30.30 each, AIA said in a statement today. The shares were offered at HK$29.65 to HK$30.65 each. AIA fell 3.3 percent to close at HK$30.60 in Hong Kong, the most since July 23. It was the biggest decliner and most actively traded stock by both volume and value in the city’s benchmark Hang Seng Index (HSI) with HK$56.6 billion ($7.3 billion) worth of shares changing hands today. Probe Sparks Split On Trades (WSJ) A regulatory investigation into whether stock exchanges have given unfair advantages to high-speed traders has sparked complaints against the exchanges, fueling a broader debate about how the market operates and is regulated. The Investment Company Institute, trade group for mutual funds, complained in a recent letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission that U.S. stock exchanges "facilitate strategies" for rapid-fire trading firms "that can lead to disorderly markets or that can benefit market participants at the expense of long-term investors." Buybacks Rule The Day (WSJ) American companies bought back $274 billion more shares than they issued in the year through September, according to Ed Yardeni, president of investment advisory firm Yardeni Research. And the spending spree looks set to continue, a sign that companies have the cash to put to work but don't yet see an economic case for using it to expand their businesses or create jobs. Dog swallows a foot of Christmas lights (Mirror) Charlie, a seven-year-old crossbreed dog from Southampton, was saved by surgeons from veterinary charity PDSA after wolfing down his family's Christmas lights recently. And the dog has a track record for getting his paws, and teeth, on household objects, having once eaten his owner Sharon Fay's scarf. Ms Fay, who aptly refers to her dog as the "light of her life", became concerned when she noticed bits of wire sticking out of Charlie's faeces in the garden. The 45-year-old said: "I hadn't even noticed that the lights had been chewed at this stage but it quickly became clear what had happened. "Back in March he ate one of my scarves and needed an operation to remove it, but I thought it was just a one-off incident as he hadn't shown any signs that he was going to be a repeat offender. I've had dogs all my life and have never known a dog act like this before." An X-ray immediately cast a light on Charlie's problem - the tangled remains of the decorations clearly showed up in his stomach and would have proved fatal if they were not removed. Vets rushed Charlie to the operating table and removed the Christmas decorations, also finding a shoelace.

Opening Bell: 04.10.12

Spain Vows Reforms As Yields Soar (WSJ) Speaking at a conference, Finance Minister Luis de Guindos defended the need for the €10 billion ($13.11 billion) in cuts his government announced Monday to the country's health and education systems as Madrid struggles to slash its budget deficit to 5.3% of gross domestic product this year from 8.5% of GDP last year. The latest cutbacks come on the heels of the 2012 state budget presented late last month, which calls for €27 billion in spending cuts and tax increases. JPMorgan’s Iksil May Spur Regulators to Dissect Trading (Bloomberg) Market-moving trades by JPMorgan Chase’s chief investment office probably will force regulators to seek more detail on banks’ derivatives positions to help them distinguish risk management from speculation. Bruno Iksil, a London-based trader in the unit, has built derivatives positions linked to corporate credit that are so big he’s moved markets, according to hedge fund managers and dealers. While Joe Evangelisti, a bank spokesman, said yesterday that the trades are part of the firm’s hedging strategy, four market participants said they resemble proprietary bets. China Swings To Trade Surplus (WSJ) China posted a surprising trade surplus in March after a hefty deficit in February, but weak imports were a primary factor in the turnaround, raising fresh concern over the outlook for the world's second-largest economy. State television painted a cautious picture of the trade outlook, quoting Zheng Yuesheng, director of statistics at the General Administration of Customs, as saying that "the current global economic situation is severe," with exports and imports facing "relatively big" downward risk. Obama To Push Millionaire Tax (WSJ) Mr. Obama and congressional Democrats aren't expected to win next week's procedural vote, and a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner alluded to the minimum tax on millionaires as a "gimmick." But Democrats want to put Senate Republicans on record voting against the tax. A number of recent public polls show support for raising taxes on millionaires running over 60%...Nicknamed the "Buffett Rule" for billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who complained that he paid a lower tax rate than his secretary, the plan would impose a minimum 30% overall federal tax rate on people earning more than $1 million a year. Student, 13, Drives Bus to Safety When Driver Faints (ABCN) A middle school student who jumped into the hot seat when his school bus driver passed out on the way to class this morning is being hailed as a "quick thinker" for leading the bus, and 15 other students, to safety. Seventh grader Jeremy Wuitschick is being praised by the local police chief for his actions when the driver of his school bus started gasping for hair and waving his hands frantically in the air, losing control of the bus. Wuitschick hopped out of his seat and grabbed the steering wheel, pulling the bus over to the side of the road before pulling the keys from the ignition, Milton Police Chief Bill Rhodes said today. "I'll tell you, I'll give the kid credit for fast thinking. He did the right thing and we're going to do something for him. The kid definitely deserves credit," Rhodes Bernanke Calls on Regulators to Curb Shadow Banking Risks (Bloomberg) Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke called for new steps to curb “shadow banking” operating beyond standard oversight while saying the economy has far to go before fully recovering from the credit crisis. “The heavy human and economic costs of the crisis underscore the importance of taking all necessary steps to avoid a repeat of the events of the past few years,” Bernanke said yesterday in a speech in Stone Mountain, Georgia. Bank of Japan Keeps Policy Unchanged as Pressure Builds (Bloomberg) “The BOJ held off on additional easing to show it isn’t willing to be pushed around by politicians,” said Junko Nishioka, a Tokyo-based analyst at RBS Securities Japan Ltd. who has worked for the central bank. “The BOJ will be under pressure to ease policy at its next board meeting because of its close-to-zero percent inflation outlook.” Criticism Over U.S.'s World Bank Pick Swells (WSJ) The front-runner to lead the World Bank, which lends tens of billions of dollars a year around the world, once admitted that he "had no idea what a hedge fund was" until three years ago when he became a university head. Jim Yong Kim, the president of Dartmouth College, got a two-day crash course in finance back then, when the physician and anthropologist was grappling with budget troubles stemming from the 2008 financial crisis. Dennis Gartman: S&P 500 Earnings to Surprise on Upside (CNBC) “Are we going to see 5-10 percent growth in earnings by almost all of the S&P 500? Probably,” Gartman, the author of The Gartman Letter, said. Vancouver's Bagpipe Ban Sparks Outcry (Globe) ...the unusually specific ban, which hit a few bagpiping buskers in Vancouver, has run into opposition from one of the city’s top Scots. That would be Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, who was sworn in for a second term wearing a kilt in reflection of his Scottish heritage. The mayor has been known to play the tuba, but is prepared to go the wall for bagpipers. He’s mindful of noise complaints, but says the ban brought about by the city engineering department will face opposition from city council, dominated by Mr. Robertson’s Vision Vancouver party. The ban is under review. “My first reaction is that a complete ban on bagpipes and percussion instruments across the city is ridiculous and culturally insensitive,” Mr. Robertson said in a statement. “The clans won’t stand for it.”

Opening Bell: 03.13.12

Bond Trading Revives Banks (WSJ) Gains in the financial firms' fixed-income businesses, which can account for as much as half of revenue, are putting companies including Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Morgan Stanley and the J.P. Morgan unit of J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. on track to report their strongest numbers since the first quarter of 2011, said bankers and analysts. Trade Fight Flares on China Minerals (WSJ) The Obama administration Tuesday intends to escalate its trade offensive against China, a move heavy with political overtones, by pressing the World Trade Organization to force the export giant to ease its stranglehold on rare-earth minerals critical to high-tech manufacturing. The announcement, which will be made by President Barack Obama, marks a new front in the administration's election-year effort to turn up the heat on China, amid competition from the president's potential Republican rivals on the matter. It could also pressure China to respond to the WTO on an issue that is of high importance to a range of manufacturers. The U.S., joined by the European Union and Japan, plans to ask the WTO, the international arbiter of trade practices, to open talks with China over its restrictions on exporting the rare-earth minerals, administration officials said. New York City Tops Global Competitiveness, Economist Report Says (Bloomberg) New York City ranks first among 120 cities across the globe in attracting capital, businesses and tourists, according to an Economist Intelligence Unit report commissioned by Citigroup. London was the second most-competitive city, followed by Singapore, with Paris and Hong Kong tied for fourth place, according to the report, which was released today. Among U.S. cities, Washington, Chicago and Boston made the top 10. The report cited New York’s diverse economy, driven by media, arts, fashion, technology and finance. In 2010, New York was second only to California’s Silicon Valley as a source of venture capital in the U.S., according to the report. Ex-Lehman exec arrested again (Stamford Advocate) Bradley H. Jack, a former investment banking chief at Lehman Brothers and an owner of the most expensive residential property in Fairfield, has been charged for the second time in less than a year with forging a prescription for a controlled substance. Jack, 53, of North Avenue, was charged Friday by Westport police with second-degree forgery in connection with an incident last November when he is said to have forged the date of a prescription for a controlled substance at a CVS pharmacy that was made out to him by a Fairfield doctor. Euro-Zone Ministers Press Spain for a Deal on Deficits (WSJ) Euro-zone finance ministers on Monday pressed a budget plan on Spain—regarded as a key test of ambitious new rules for the currency bloc—that would allow the government some leeway on its budget deficit for this year but would keep a tough deficit target for 2013. The plan would mean Spain would still have to embark on a bruising austerity program over the next two years that would cut nearly 6% of gross domestic product off its deficit. The program would be particularly challenging given Spain's contracting economy and 23% unemployment rate, Europe's highest. Ministers said after the meeting that Spain had agreed to consider the proposal. Greek Students Fight Stray Dogs and Despair Amid College Cuts (Bloomberg) Higher education in Greece, as in much of Europe, has been battered by the recession and austerity measures. Budget cuts of 23 percent since 2009 mean buildings aren’t heated in the winter, schools have slashed faculty salaries and newly hired professors can wait more than a year to be appointed. Students say it’s hard to be hopeful with youth unemployment surpassing 50 percent and protesters seizing university buildings. “People are pessimistic and sad,” said Konstantinos Markou, a 19-year-old law student, speaking in a lobby at the University of Athens, where dogs fought nearby and students say drug dealers and users congregate. “The sadness is all around the air.” Entire Arena Football team cut during pregame meal at Olive Garden (YS) The owner of the Pittsburgh Power fired all 24 members of his team during a pregame meal at an Orlando-area Olive Garden. With AFL players set to strike before the 2012 season opener, owner Matt Shaner reacted first, cutting his entire team hours before kickoff of a game against the Orlando Predators. "Mid-statement, all the players got up and left," former Power center Beau Elliott told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "Every player got up and left while he was still talking. There were 15 to 20 angry, large individuals." Tainted Libor Guessing Games Face Replacement by Verified Trades (Bloomberg) The London interbank offered rate, the benchmark for $360 trillion of securities, may not survive allegations of being corrupted unless it’s based on transactions among banks rather than guesswork about the cost of money. “The methodology used to formulate Libor is totally unsuitable for the modern world,” said Daniel Sheard, chief investment officer of asset manager GAM U.K. Ltd., which manages about $60 billion. “The British Bankers’ Association needs to come out on the front foot and say ‘this is a system that was appropriate 20 years ago but is no longer appropriate and we are going to change it.’” SEC set to file charges over private trading (FT) The Securities and Exchange Commission is close to filing civil charges tied to the trading of private stocks against at least three executives, making it the first case since regulators began reviewing secondary markets more than a year ago. The fresh scrutiny comes as Congress weighs laws to loosen restrictions on private trading, allowing private groups to have more shareholders and market their stock to a wider range of investors, to make it easier for start-up companies to raise capital and create jobs. It also comes just months ahead of an expected initial public offering for Facebook, which has been the most heavily traded private stock. Ruth Madoff Moves To Greenwich (Greenwich Time) While some Old Greenwich residents said they did not like the idea of Madoff taking up residence in the neighborhood, others shrugged off the news that Madoff was living in town. Neil Lucey, a semi-retired investment banker who has lived in Old Greenwich for 15 years, said he had "no adverse reaction" to hearing Madoff had moved in. Researchers say long-lost Leonardo may have been found (Reuters) Art researchers and scientists said on Monday that a high-tech project using tiny video probes has uncovered evidence that a fresco by Renaissance master Leonardo da Vinci lost for five centuries may still exist behind a wall of Florence's city hall...Researchers used tiny, medical-style endoscopic probes and other high-tech tools inserted through existing cracks in the outer wall holding the Vasari fresco and took samples of substances. "We found traces of pigments that appear to be those known to have been used exclusively by Leonardo," said Maurizio Seracini, an engineer and expert in art diagnostics who has been on the trail of the "Lost Leonardo" for three decades. "These data are very encouraging," he said, adding that one black pigment found was believed to be of the same type used by Leonardo on the Mona Lisa.

Opening Bell: 11.27.12

Greece's Creditors Reach Aid Deal (WSJ) struck a deal in Brussels to cut Greece's debt to a level below 124% of gross domestic product by 2020, officials said. To satisfy IMF concerns that Greece's debt must fall even more to be considered "sustainable," euro-zone ministers agreed to bring the government's debt to under 110% of GDP in 2022. The deal will allow Greece to receive loan payments of about €44 billion ($57 billion) to be paid in three installments early 2013, tied to Greece's implementation of the continuing measures, said Eurogroup president Jean-Claude Juncker. The deal will lower Greece's debt through a mix of interest-rate cuts on loans to Athens, a buyback of Greek debt at sharply discounted prices and the European Central Bank returning profits linked to its holdings of Greek bonds to the Greek government. London Bankers Bracing for Leaner Bonuses Than New York (Bloomberg) nvestment bankers and traders at European banks should expect at least a 15 percent cut in pay this year, while U.S. lenders may leave compensation unchanged, three consultants surveyed by Bloomberg said. That’s because bonus pools at European banks may be reduced by as much as half, while those at U.S. firms, which can cushion the impact of falling fees in the region with earnings from home, may fall 20 percent, they said. “The real split is coming, and we will see the quantum divide this year,” said Tom Gosling, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP in London, referring to the difference in pay between the two financial centers. “U.S. regulators don’t have the same obsession with pay structures that European regulators have.” Dimon Would Be Best to Lead Treasury in Crisis, Buffett Says (Bloomberg) “If we did run into problems in markets, I think he would actually be the best person you could have in the job,” Buffett said in response to a question about Dimon from Charlie Rose, according to the transcript of an interview that was scheduled to air yesterday on PBS. “World leaders would have confidence in him.” [...] Dimon, once dubbed Obama’s “favorite banker” by the New York Times, said in a 2011 CNBC interview that he could never work as Treasury secretary and was “not suited to politics.” Carney Abondons A Haven, Leaping Into British Storm (WSJ) Philipp Hildebrand, the former head of the Swiss National Bank, described Mr. Carney as one who "speaks bluntly and politely." The son of a professor and a teacher, Mr. Carney grew up in Edmonton, the capital of Canada's western province, Alberta. He played hockey as an undergraduate at Harvard. Mr. Carney has close links to Britain, having studied in Oxford University in the early 1990s. He worked for a time in Goldman Sachs' London office...Known as a diplomat, Mr. Carney, who supports the Edmonton Oilers NHL team, in his Ottawa office displays a mock street sign alluding to one of Canada's other pro teams, the Ottawa Senators. He cultivates an everyman image, recently discussing his musical tastes—from AC/DC to the hip-hop group Down with Webster—in local media interviews. Fiscal Cliff Compromise Elusive as Congress Returns (Bloomberg) “There’s still a great deal of ground that has to be covered before they get anywhere near a budget deal, and time is running” short, said Phil English, a former Republican congressman from Pennsylvania and now a lobbyist at Arent Fox LLP in Washington. The Secret Powers Of The Son-In-Law (WSJ) In couples where the husband initially reported being close to his wife's parents, the risk of divorce over the next 16 years was 20% lower than for the group overall. Yet when the wife reported being close to her in-laws, that seemed to have the opposite effect: The risk of divorce with these couples was 20% higher. Dr. Orbuch has a possible explanation: The wife who feels close with her husband's parents may find it difficult to set boundaries and over time may come to see their close relationship with her as meddling. "Because relationships are so important to women, their identity as a wife and mother is central to their being," says Dr. Orbuch, author of the 2012 book "Finding Love Again: 6 Simple Steps to a New and Happy Relationship." "They interpret what their in-laws say and do as interference into their identity as a spouse and parent." Men, for the most part, don't have this problem. Their identity as a father and a husband is often secondary to their identity as a provider, Dr. Orbuch says. As a result, they don't tend to take what their in-laws do so personally. Chicago, Illinois charges woman $105,761 for parking infractions she did not commit (TN) Jennifer Fitzgerald is fighting back against the city, her ex-boyfriend and United Airlines with a lawsuit filed November 2 in Cook County Circuit Court. According to the complaint, the somewhat confusing story starts when her former boyfriend Brandon Preveau, bought a 1999 Chevy Monte Carlo from Fitzgerald's uncle for $600 in 2008. Despite paying all the fees associated with owning a vehicle (registration, title and insurance) he put the vehicle's registration in Fitzgerald's name -- something the West Side Chicago resident claims was done without her knowledge...the couple broke up at the start of 2009 and Preveau took the car with him after their split. He used the Monte Carlo to drive to work at O'Hare Airport where he was employed by United Airlines. Preveau would leave the vehicle in O'Hare parking lot E, a secured outdoor lot surrounded by high chain link fencing, that is open to the flying public but also utilized by airport employees. The parking lot is owned by the city of Chicago and operated by Standard Parking Corporation, but according to the complaint, United Airlines leases spaces in the lot for use by airline employees. Unbeknownst to Fitzgerald, Preveau abandoned the vehicle. According to the complaints, "On or before November 17, 2009, Brandon drove the automobile into the parking lot and never drove it out again." While the car Preveau drove began receiving parking tickets at the O'Hare lot as early as May 23, 2009, the key date for this story is November 17, 2009. On that day the vehicle was issued seven different parking tickets including being in a hazardous and dilapidated condition, no city sticker, broken headlights, missing or cracked windows, expired plates, being an abandoned vehicle and most importantly a violation for parking a vehicle for more than 30 days in a city-owned lot. Intrade, Facing Charges, Won't Take U.S. Bets (WSJ) The online-predictions exchange Intrade—known for offbeat markets on presidential politics and the Academy Awards—said it would no longer accept bets from U.S. residents. The move came just hours after U.S. regulators filed a civil complaint against the firm over its commodities-focused markets. "We are sorry to announce that due to legal and regulatory pressures, Intrade can no longer allow U.S. residents to participate in our real-money prediction markets," the Dublin-based company said in a statement on its website. Intrade said that existing customers must exit their trades and close their accounts. In China, Hidden Risk of 'Shadow Finance' (WSJ) Shadow finance in China totals about 20 trillion yuan, according to Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., or about a third the current size of the country's bank-lending market. In 2008, such informal lending represented only 5% of total bank lending. The sector is lightly regulated and opaque, raising concerns about massive loan defaults amid a softening economy, with ancillary effects on the country's banks. Harvard Doctor Turns Felon After Lure of Insider Trading (Bloomberg) Today, Joseph F. "Chip" Skowron III, 43, is serving a five-year term for insider trading at the federal prison at Minersville, Pennsylvania. At FrontPoint, Skowron lied to his bosses and law enforcement authorities, cost more than 35 people their jobs and stooped to slipping envelopes of cash to an accomplice. FrontPoint is gone. Morgan Stanley, which once owned FrontPoint, is seeking more than $65 million from Skowron, whose net worth a year ago was $22 million. Until he’s a free man, his wife of 16 years will have to care for their four children and Rocky, their golden retriever, on her own...Health care has become America’s sweet spot for insider traders like Skowron. Among researchers, physicians, government officials and corporate executives, the lure of easy money in health-care insider trading has become epidemic. Since 2008, about 400 people were sued by regulators or charged with insider trading; of those, at least 94 passed or received tips involving pharmaceutical, biotechnology or other health-care stocks. Man Arrested For Saying He Had Dynamite in His Luggage at Miami International Airport (NBC) A man was arrested for telling a TACA ticket agent that he had dynamite in his luggage, which prompted the partial evacuation of Concourse J at Miami International Airport on Monday, Miami-Dade Police said. Alejandro Leon Hurtado, 63, a doctor from Guatemala, faces a charge of false report bomb/explosives at airport, the arrest affidavit said. It wasn't immediately known if Hurtado had an attorney. The ticket agent had just accepted Hurtado luggage, when he asked him about whether it contained hazardous materials. Hurtado answered that he had dynamite in the baggage, and the ticket agent asked him again if he had dynamite in his bag, and he replied that he did and started laughing, the affidavit said. "Once the Defendant was told that police were going to be called the Defendant stated that he was joking," the affidavit said. Hurtado admitted he did say he had dynamite in his bag, but that it was a joke. Hurtado was in custody on an immigration hold Monday night, according to online Miami-Dade Corrections records.

Opening Bell: 03.05.13

Senate Report Said To Fault JPMorgan (NYT) A report by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations highlights flaws in the bank's public disclosures and takes aim at several executives, including Douglas Braunstein, who was chief financial officer at the time of the losses, according to people briefed on the inquiry. The report's findings — scheduled to be released on March 15 — are expected to fault the executives for allowingJPMorgan to build the bets without fully warning regulators and investors, these people said. The subcommittee, led by Senator Carl Levin, could ask Mr. Braunstein and other senior executives to testify at a hearing this month, according to the people. The subcommittee does not currently intend to call the bank's chief executive, Jamie Dimon, but Congressional investigators interviewed Mr. Dimon last year. Citi CEO Is Keeping Score (WSJ) At a gathering of 300 executives last month at a Hilton Hotel in East Brunswick, N.J., Mr. Corbat proposed a slate of new, more-rigorous ways to track both the performance of individual executives and the third-largest U.S. bank as a whole, said people who were there. His approach includes score cards that will rate top managers across the New York company in five categories. "You are what you measure," Mr. Corbat told the gathering. Report Faults FSA Over Rate Rigging (WSJ) The report, commissioned by the FSA in the wake of the Barclays BARC.LN +1.48%PLC £290 million ($436.1 million) settlement with regulators over attempted rate-rigging, shows the regulator either ignored or failed to follow up on a series of red flags highlighting problems with the rates. Between 2007 and 2009, the FSA said it found 26 pieces of correspondence citing direct references to "lowballing"—where banks understated their borrowing costs to make their funding positions look stronger. These include two telephone calls from Barclays managers flagging problems with rate-setting process. The regulator also said it overlooked an article in The Wall Street Journal highlighting problems with the London interbank offered rate because the article wasn't widely read within the FSA. Heinz CEO's Golden Exit Deal (WSJ) The total would consist of a $56 million "golden parachute" including bonus payments and other items, $57 million in pension and deferred compensation and $99.7 million of Heinz shares that Mr. Johnson owns or controls, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing Monday. EU Said To Weigh Extra Years For Irish Rescue Loans (Bloomberg) The European Union is weighing whether to extend Ireland’s rescue loans by five years or more, buttressing the government’s efforts to become the first country to exit a bailout since the euro-region debt crisis began. Hotel boots rowdy Rodman over Kim Jong Un scene (NYP) Dennis Rodman, just back from visiting Kim Jong Un, was escorted out of the Time Hotel in Midtown on Sunday after spending hours at the restaurant bar loudly telling anyone who would listen what a great guy the North Korean dictator is. “He was at the bar at Serafina for three hours,” says a spy. “He kept saying what a nice guy Kim is, and how Kim just wants to talk to President Obama about basketball. He was waving around a signed copy of the dictator’s huge manifesto, telling everyone they should read it.” Added the witness, “Dennis was making a total jerk of himself. He wouldn’t leave, and he wouldn’t let anyone talk to him about shutting up, or what an oppressive country North Korea is. Eventually he had to leave the bar because the bartender was starting to get [bleep]ed-off.” Ikos Co-Founder Coward Sues Ex-Wife Over Hedge-Fund Software (Bloomberg) Martin Coward, the co-founder of Ikos Asset Management Ltd., sued his estranged wife, Elena Ambrosiadou, in a U.K. court over the copyright ownership of computer software that runs the hedge fund’s trading platform. Coward was the “architect” of the “bedrock of the family business,” his lawyers said at the start of a three-week trial in London today. “Practically all of the financial markets expertise at Ikos resided in Coward himself,” said Michael Bloch, Coward’s lawyer. Ikos, which uses computer algorithms to spot profitable trades in futures markets, has been embroiled in lawsuits involving Coward and other former employees around the globe. The estranged couple, who started divorce proceedings in Greece in 2009, have filed more than 40 lawsuits against each other in at least four countries. Sequester Leaves US In 'Fantasy' World: Analyst (CNBC) Stephen King, chief global economist at HSBC, said that the U.S. was living in a"fantasy world" over its growth forecasts. "If you look at the projections from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) they assume that growth goes back to between 4 to 5 percent in real terms between 2014 and 2018. Their numbers suggest that the U.S. will post the fastest rate of productivity growth of any decade in the last 50 or 60 years," King told CNBC's "European Closing Bell." Former Lehman Derivatives Banker Helps Paschi Unravel Contracts (WSJ) Riccardo Banchetti, whose work packaging derivatives at Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. got him the top European job at the firm a week before it failed, is now making a living unraveling the kind of deals he once developed. Banchetti worked with Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena SpA to uncover 730 million euros ($955 million) of losses that the world’s oldest bank hid through the use of derivatives. The Italian banker, who also advised JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) on its defence against fraud charges over swaps with Milan, has scrutinized more than 10 billion euros of transactions since leaving Lehman, according to a person with knowledge of his activities who asked not to be identified because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly. Drugs found in Florida suspects' orifices, deputies say (WPBF) According to the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office, a deputy who initiated a traffic stop on a car without brake lights found cocaine in a man's prosthetic leg. The deputy also found morphine and hydromorphine pills in a woman's bra and a hypodermic needle hidden in another woman's buttocks.

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.

Opening Bell: 12.28.12

Blackstone seen sticking with SAC despite insider trading probe (Reuters / Matthew Goldstein) Three sources said the asset management arm of Blackstone, which has $550 million invested with SAC Capital, is in no rush to redeem money from the Stamford, Connecticut-based hedge fund. Blackstone has had at least three discussions with the $14 billion hedge fund's executives about the insider trading investigation and talked to its own investors, which include state pension funds, endowments and wealthy individuals. Hitler parody leaves French bank BNP red-faced (IN24) French banking giant BNP was left red-faced this week after it emerged managers were shown a motivational video featuring a parody of a famous scene from the film "Downfall" in which Adolf Hitler is portrayed as the boss of Germany's Deutsche Bank. It’s a scene that has been parodied thousands of times before to comic effect. But it appears not many people have seen the funny side of one particular version made by executives of French bank BNP Paribas...In the video, which was shown to around 100 managers from around the world at a seminar in Amsterdam last year, Hitler is turned into a fuming boss of Germany’s Deutsche Bank reacting furiously to news that BNP has gained an edge in the foreign exchange market. But far from being motivated, many of the managers who saw the video were outraged. “We could not believe the bank had actually dared to do that – make an analogy between our competitors and the Nazi regime. It took us a few minutes to take it in,” one BNP employee told French daily Liberation, who revealed the story this week. “We were shocked. Nobody knew how to react. Some Jewish employees from the United States did not find it funny at all,” another employee told the paper. “If this video had been shown by an American bank it would have been a major scandal,” an angry BNP source added. Rather surprisingly the video is believed to have been uploaded to the bank’s internal Intranet site before the management realised it might prove embarrassing and quickly removed it. A spokeswoman for BNP told FRANCE 24 on Friday that the bank’s senior management were totally unaware the video had been made until they were contacted by Libération this week. The spokeswoman said BNP’s CEO Jean Laurent Bonnafé had called his counterpart at Deutsche Bank Jürgen Fitschen to personally apologise for the stunt. In a statement in Libération the bank added that the message in the video was “contrary to the values of BNP." Obama Summons Congress Leaders as Budget Deadline Nears (Bloomberg) Obama, who had been negotiating one-on-one with House Speaker John Boehner, will meet today with Republicans Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, both Democrats. Cliff Talks Down To The Wire (WSJ) It is still possible the two sides can reach a deal, especially with the leaders meeting Friday. Any resolution would be a scaled-back version of the package Mr. Obama and congressional leaders had anticipated passing after the November election. The White House is pressing for the Senate to extend current tax rates for income up to $250,000, extend unemployment benefits, keep the alternative minimum tax from hitting millions of additional taxpayers and delay spending cuts set to take effect in January. The 11th-hour strategy carries enormous risk because it leaves no margin for error in Congress's balky legislative machinery. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) said the prospects for passage of a bill before the last day of the year are fading rapidly. "I have to be very honest," he said. "I don't know time-wise how it can happen now." Spain's PM does not rule out asking for European aid (Reuters) Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said on Friday he did not rule out tapping the European Central Bank's bond-buying program for troubled euro zone governments but said Spain did not expect to have to ask for aid for now. "We are not thinking of asking the European Central Bank to intervene and buy bonds in the secondary market," he said at a news conference in Madrid. "But we can't rule it out in the future." Banks pay $4.5M for muni charges (NYP) Citigroup and Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch are among five firms that will pay $4.48 million to settle regulatory claims they used funds from municipal and state bond deals to pay lobbyists. Local authorities were unfairly asked to reimburse payments that the firms made over five years to the California Public Securities Association, a lobbying group, to help influence the state, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, which oversees securities firms, said yesterday. The firms inadequately described the fees, wrapping them into bond-underwriting expenses, Finra said...The banks, also including Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley, agreed to pay $3.35 million in fines and reimburse certain California bond issuers $1.13 million. Porsche Wins Dismissal of US Hedge Fund Lawsuit Over VW (Reuters) A five-justice panel of the New York State appeals court in Manhattan unanimously found that Porsche had met its "heavy burden" to establish that the state was the wrong place in which to bring the lawsuit. That panel reversed an Aug. 6 ruling by New York State Supreme Court Justice Charles Ramos that let the case by hedge funds including Glenhill Capital LP, David Einhorn's Greenlight Capital LP and Chase Coleman's Tiger Global LP proceed. The funds accused Porsche of engineering a "massive short squeeze" in October 2008 by quietly buying nearly all freely traded ordinary VW shares in a bid to take over the company, despite publicly stating it had no plans to take a 75 percent stake. IPOs Slump To Lowest Levels Since Financial Crisis (Bloomberg) IPOs have raised $112 billion worldwide this year, the least since 2008, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Initial sales in western Europe dropped to one-third of last year’s level, while concern about China’s economy helped cut proceeds in Asia by almost half. U.S. offerings raised $41 billion, little changed from last year, as Facebook’s IPO spurred a monthlong drought in U.S. deals. Avery Johnson Jr. vents on Twitter after dad, Avery Johnson, is fired by Brooklyn Nets (NYDN, RELATED) The ex-Nets coach’s teenage son took to Twitter to vent after news broke that his dad had been given a pink slip by billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov and the Nets. “This is a f------ Outrage. My dad is a great coach, he just got coach of the month and they Fire him. #Smh. Completely new team he had,” Johnson Jr. wrote on Twitter. “The expectations were way to high for this team. We didn’t even have a losing record.... Didn’t even give my dad a full season. #OUTRAGE,” Johnson Jr. continued. Johnson was fired a day after the new-look Nets fell to .500 following a listless road loss to the Bucks. The canning comes on the heels of Deron Williams saying he’s never been comfortable playing in Johnson’s offense. Williams, who did not play in Wednesday night’s loss, is mired in a season-long shooting slump with field goal and 3-point percentages at career-worst levels. “I’m sorry (our) best players couldn’t make open shots. Yeah that’s my dad’s fault totally,” Johnson Jr. tweeted. 'Whale' Capsized Banks' Rule Effort (WSJ) Wall Street banks entered 2012 confident they could stall a wave of rules that they feared would hurt profits. But they are ending the year largely resigned that their activities will be constrained and monitored more closely by the government. One big reason for the change: J.P. Morgan Chase JPM -0.76% & Co.'s "London whale" losses. The bad trades, ultimately resulting in about $6 billion in losses, disrupted the banks' campaign against the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul, according to regulators, lawmakers and close observers of policy debates in Washington. The trades damaged the reputation of J.P. Morgan, which suffered less than other banks from the financial crisis, and its chief executive, James Dimon, during a crucial period of policy debate in Washington, putting critics of Dodd-Frank on the defensive. Before news of the whale losses emerged, banks were arguing, with some success, that too-tight regulations were crimping lending during a time of slow growth. Michael Greenberger, a finance professor at the University of Maryland and an advocate of regulations aimed at reining in bank trading, said that in early 2012 his allies' "backs were against the wall." "Then the London whale blew all of that out of the water," he said. Mortgages Fueled Hedge Funds To 13.9 Percent Gain (NYP) Hedge funds that invest in mortgage-backed securities gained 13.9 percent through November to make them the industry’s best-performing strategy, according to the Absolute Return index. Top players that did even better included Metacapital Management, Pine River, Axonic Capital, and Greg Lippman's LibreMax Capital. High-Speed Traders Race to Fend Off Regulators (WSJ) Defenders say high-frequency trading keeps markets lubricated with a constant supply of buy and sell orders that enables all participants to trade more efficiently and get better pricing. High-speed traders, supporters add, have helped foster competition among exchanges and other trading venues, lowering commission-based fees for small investors and helping bring down overall costs for mutual-fund managers. Another benefit some cite: Technology innovations spurred by high-speed traders serve to connect more investors to more trading venues, broadening their options in the markets. Critics, for their part, worry that the traders' order torrent makes markets more opaque, less stable and ultimately less fair. Will 'Fiscal Clif' Accelerate Millionaire Deaths? (NetNet) John Carney: "...it at least seems likely that some deaths that might otherwise have occurred shortly after January 1 will occur shortly before." Man gets DUI after driving on AA co-founder's lawn (AP) Vermont State Police say a man faces a drunken driving charge after driving onto the lawn of a historic home once owned by the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. Police say 55-year-old Donald Blood III of Marlborough, Mass., was ordered to appear in court in Bennington on Jan. 14. Police say Blood thought he was driving into a parking lot, but actually it was the lawn of the Wilson House, built in 1852 in Dorset, the birthplace of AA co-founder Bill Wilson. The Wilson House's website describes it as a "place of sanctuary where people can come to give thanks to God for their new lives." It still hosts several AA meetings each week. Programming Note< : We’re on an abbreviated, vacation-esque schedule this week (opening news roundups and limited updates whenever the urge to reach out and touch you moves us). We still want to hear from you, though, so if anything happens that you think might tickle our fancy, do not hesitate to let us know.