Opening Bell: 04.16.13

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Goldman Sachs’s First Quarter Profit Beats Estimates (DealBook)
Goldman Sachs on Tuesday reported a first-quarter profit of $2.2 billion, or 4.29 a share, up from the year-ago period and driven by investment banking and investment and lending. It was well of analysts’ expectations of $3.89 a share, according to Thomson Reuters. Earnings per share were up 9 percent when compared to the same quarter in 2012. ... Net revenue in Goldman’s powerful division that trades bonds, currencies and commodities was $3.2 billion, down 7 percent from the year-ago period. ... The firm’s investing and lending division however did quite well, posting revenue of $2.07 billion, up 8 percent from year-ago levels.

BlackRock profit jumps on ETF demand (FT)
Buoyant stock markets and strong demand for BlackRock’s exchange traded funds pushed profits for the world’s largest money manager up by a tenth from the year before. Net income rose 10 per cent to $632m from $572m in the first quarter of 2012. Assets under management of $3.94tn were up 7 per cent on the same period last year to their highest-ever level.

Dell reaches deal with activist investor Icahn (Reuters)
Dell Inc said it struck a deal with billionaire Carl Icahn to limit his investment in the company, while in return allowing him to enter agreements with other shareholders on a potential bid for the PC maker. The agreement with Icahn states that the activist investor would not make purchases that would cause him to own over 10 percent of Dell's shares or sign deals with other shareholders who, together with the Icahn entities, would collectively own more than 15 percent, Dell said on Tuesday.

Paschi Prosecutors Seizing $2.4 Billion of Nomura Assets (Bloomberg)
Italian prosecutors are seizing about 1.8 billion euros ($2.4 billion) of assets from Nomura Holdings Inc. as part of a probe into Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena SpA’s use of derivatives to hide losses. ... The seizures are linked to allegations of fraud and usury, prosecutors said. Monte Paschi has claimed Nomura colluded with its former managers to devise one of two derivatives in 2008 and 2009 that hid total losses of much as 557 million euros. Nomura reaped at least 88 million euros from the transaction, dubbed Alexandria, according to Italian lender.

Gold Makes Tentative Recovery (WSJ)
The shaky recovery has been stimulated by thin physical buying, as some buyers return to the market, although the metal failed to regain the key psychological $1,400/oz level. Gold rose 2.8% in midmorning European trading to trade around $1,389/oz.

Boston Seeks Answers in Deadly Blasts (NYT)
President Obama, speaking at the White House, vowed to bring those responsible for the blasts to justice. “We will get to the bottom of this,” the president said. “We will find who did this, and we will find out why they did this. Any responsible individuals, any responsible groups will feel the full weight of justice.”

Citi reaps profits from hiring rainmakers 2-3 years ago (Reuters)
In 2010, Citigroup hired Stephen Trauber, a UBS AG energy banker reputed to be among the best-connected in Houston. Hiring him was not cheap: The Wall Street Journal reported that his pay package could hit $30 million over three years. Trauber hired more bankers, telling Reuters in June 2011 that the bank had added around 50 to its energy business. ... The investment banking operation came under considerable criticism within the bank because of its high compensation costs, said a company insider who declined to be named. And the numbers sometimes did not look good. In 2011, revenue fell 9.5 percent, while expenses rose 7.5 percent. But the bank's revenue rose faster than expenses in the first quarter of 2013, boosted in part by higher deal activity. One example: Trauber's team helped advise China's CNOOC Ltd on its $15.1 billion takeover of Canadian oil and gas company Nexen Inc.

Energy Future Holdings Offers Bankruptcy Plan (DealBook)
Energy Future Holdings, the Texas energy giant that was taken private in 2007 in a record-breaking $45 billion buyout, disclosed a potential bankruptcy plan to its creditors on Monday. The proposal to restructure about $32 billion in debt is the opening move in what many say could be a long and contentious battle between the company and its largest creditors. ... Specifically, the plan would wipe out about $25 billion of debt in the affiliate that controls the retail energy and power-generation business. In exchange, the debt holders would get a stake in the parent company, as well as either $5 billion of new debt or cash, according to a filing made Monday with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Housing Starts Top Estimates; CPI Inches Lower (Reuters)
Last month, U.S. builders started 1.04 million homes on a seasonally adjusted annual rate at the fastest pace in nearly five years, new data showed. A separate report showed that U.S. consumer prices ticked lower in March for the first time in four months. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast new housing starts in March would rise to 930,000 from 917,000 in February, and estimates new building permits would tick higher to 940,000, up from 939,000.

In Break With Tradition, It’s Open Season on the Royal Family (NYT)
Spain is in the midst of an economic and identity crisis, having tied its fortunes to the now-troubled European Monetary Union. The 75-year-old king is increasingly unpopular, and polls suggest that far from attracting sympathy, his declining health has intensified calls for him to abdicate in favor of Crown Prince Felipe, his 45-year-old son. ... It seemed to start in earnest last April when the king was forced to make a highly unusual apology after returning from a lavish elephant hunting excursion to Botswana, which came to public attention only because he fell and broke his hip on the trip.

Florida Battles Giant African Land Snail Invasion (ABC)
When the Florida Department of Agriculture first discovered the current outbreak in Miami-Dade County, they found "massive amounts of these snails at every property we visited," said Mark Fagan, a spokesman. Barely more than 18 months later, Fagan estimated officials have captured more than 120,000 snails. The largest had a 6.1 inch shell. "We have a staff of 50 that's dedicated to nothing but snail hunting," Fagan said.

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Opening Bell: 11.13.12

Wall Street Damps Pay Expectations After 2011 Bonus Shock (Bloomberg) Almost 20 percent of employees won’t get year-end bonuses, according to Options Group, an executive-search company that advises banks on pay. Those collecting awards may see payouts unchanged from last year or boosted by as much as 10 percent, compensation consultant Johnson Associates Inc. estimates. Decisions are being made as banks cut costs and firms including UBS AG (UBSN) and Nomura Holdings Inc. (8604) fire investment-bank staff. Some employees were surprised as companies chopped average 2011 bonuses by as much as 30 percent and capped how much could be paid in cash. That experience, along with public statements from top executives, low trading volumes in the first half and a dearth of hiring has employees bracing for another lackluster year, consultants and recruiters said. “A lot of senior managers won’t have to pay up because they’re saying, ‘Where are these guys going to go?’” said Michael Karp, chief executive officer of New York-based Options Group. “We’re in an environment where a lot of people are just happy to have a job. Expectations have been managed so low that people will be happy with what they get.” Goldman Pares Back Partner Picks (WSJ) The New York company is expected to announce this week the promotion of about 70 employees to partner, said people familiar with the situation. The likely total is roughly one-third smaller than the 110 employees named partner by Goldman in 2010...As of Monday, the Goldman partnership committee hadn't finished the list of new partners, said people familiar with the matter. Greece Avoids Defaults (WSJ) Cash-strapped Greece on Tuesday raised the money it needs to avoid default when a Treasury bill matures later this week, but investor nerves are unlikely to be calmed as negotiations for the next slice of much-needed aid continue. The rift among Greece's official lenders over how to pare the country's growing debt pile spilled into the open late Monday, complicating efforts for an agreement that will free up a long-delayed aid payment to the country. The European Central Bank's reluctance to provide additional money to Greek banks poses a risk to the government, which in order to keep afloat has depended on support from local banks to sell its debt. Greece Needs Another 80 Billion Euros: Goldman Sachs (CNBC) The authors of the report, economists Themistoklis Fiotakis, Lasse Holboell Nielsen and Antoine Demongeot, note that the IMF’s target is “unlikely” without such a “drastic debt stock reduction.” “To increase the likelihood that the Greek debt-to-GDP ratio approaches its 120 percent by 2020 target under realistic assumptions, a much more drastic debt stock reduction (possibly north of 80 billion euros in total) will be required,” the report states. Japan Lawmakers Agree To Avert 'Fiscal Cliff' (Reuters) Japan's ruling and opposition parties agreed on Tuesday to quickly pass a deficit funding bill in parliament, in a move that will keep the country from falling off its version of a 'fiscal cliff' as the prime minister eyes elections as early as next month. The bill is needed to borrow some $480 billion and fund roughly 40 percent of this fiscal year's budget. Without it, the government could run out of money by the end of this month and would have to stop debt auctions next month, just as the economy teeters on the brink of a recession. Marc Faber: Prepare For A Massive Market Meltdown (CNBC) “I don’t think markets are going down because of Greece, I don’t think markets are going down because of the “fiscal cliff” – because there won’t be a “fiscal cliff,” Faber told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “The market is going down because corporate profits will begin to disappoint, the global economy will hardly grow next year or even contract, and that is the reason why stocks, from the highs of September of 1,470 on the S&P, will drop at least 20 percent, in my view.” FBI Agent in Petraeus Case Under Scrutiny (WSJ) A federal agent who launched the investigation that ultimately led to the resignation of Central Intelligence Agency chief David Petraeus was barred from taking part in the case over the summer due to superiors' concerns that he was personally involved in the case, according to officials familiar with the probe. After being blocked from the case, the agent continued to press the matter, relaying his concerns to a member of Congress, the officials said. New details about how the Federal Bureau of Investigation handled the case suggest that even as the bureau delved into Mr. Petraeus's personal life, the agency had to address conduct by its own agent—who allegedly sent shirtless photos of himself to a woman involved in the case prior to the investigation. Trial to Open in $68 Million Insider Trading Case (Dealbook) On Tuesday, Mr. Chiasson, 39, a co-founder of the now-defunct Level Global Investors, and Mr. Newman, 47, a former portfolio manager at Diamondback Capital Management, are set to stand trial in Federal District Court in Manhattan. Prosecutors say they were part of a conspiracy that made about $68 million illegally trading the computer company Dell and the chip maker Nvidia. MF Report Coming (Reuters) A US House of Representatives panel will release a long-awaited report that will dissect the collapse of failed commodities brokerage MF Global. The House Financial Services Committee said its Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will post the report online Thursday. A Dose of Realism for the Chief of J.C. Penney (NYT) Andrew Ross Sorkin: "You should know you have a problem when sales at your stores fall 26.1 percent in one quarter. That was the surprising decline J.C. Penney reported last week, when it disclosed that it had lost $123 million in the previous three months...Here's the good news: In the stores that have been transformed, J.C. Penney is making $269 in sales a square foot, versus $134 in sales a square foot in the older stores. So the model itself is working. And Mr. Johnson has the support of the company's largest shareholder, Pershing Square's Bill Ackman, who personally recruited Mr. Johnson. If Mr. Johnson were starting with a blank slate, it might be a great business." China Banker Sees Lower Bar for Yuan Globalization (WSJ) "Renminbi internationalization can be realized based on a partial opening of the capital-account and partial convertibility of the currency," said Mr. Li, a delegate to the 18th Communist Party Congress and longtime advocate of a greater global role for the yuan. The Eximbank is a major arm of the Chinese government for financing trade and investment overseas. Finally, a Place in Brazil Where Dogs Can Go for Discreet Sex (NYT) Heart-shaped ceiling mirror: check. Curtains drawn against the bright day: check. Red mattress: check. The establishment that opened here this year has features that demanding clients naturally expect from a love motel. Brazil, after all, is a world leader in these short-stay pleasure palaces, which beckon couples for trysts away from prying eyes with names like Swing, Absinthe and Alibi, and design motifs like medieval castles or of the American Wild West. But Belo Horizonte’s newest love motel stands apart from the crowd in one crucial aspect. It is for dogs. “I adore the romantic feel of this place,” said Andreia Kfoury, 43, a manager at a technology company who peeked inside the Motel Pet one recent morning while she and her husband were on a clothes-buying spree for their Yorkshire terrier, Harley. The couple, who are motorcycle enthusiasts, bought about $500 worth of imported Harley-Davidson brand items for their dog. “I’m definitely bringing Harley back here when it’s time for him to breed,” a smiling Ms. Kfoury said. “He is very macho, and would be a hit in this place.” Whether dogs like Harley actually need a romantic curtained-off suite to breed seems beside the point. Some dog owners simply like the concept of a love motel for their amorous pets and are willing to pay about $50 for each session, which Animalle will happily arrange.

Opening Bell: 02.05.13

Barclays CEO Vows To Improve Bank's Ethics (WSJ) Chief Executive Antony Jenkins said Tuesday he is "shredding" the legacy of the bank's self-serving culture by improving its ethics and moving beyond the misconduct issues that have cost it billions of pounds. Mr. Jenkins told a U.K. parliamentary group that his efforts so far include changing the way employee bonuses are calculated and abolishing commissions on financial-product sales. He said the changes would take time to produce results, but that ultimately he wants to eliminate a culture that at times has been "too short-term focused, too aggressive and on occasions, too self-serving." "Our resolve and intent behind this is absolute," Mr. Jenkins said. McGraw-Hill, S&P Sued by U.S. Over Mortgage-Bond Ratings (Bloomberg) The U.S. Justice Department filed a complaint Monday in federal court in Los Angeles, accusing McGraw-Hill and S&P of mail fraud, wire fraud and financial institutions fraud. Under the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act of 1989, the U.S. seeks civil penalties that can be as high as $1.1 million for each violation. Earlier today, the company’s shares tumbled the most in 25 years when it said it expected the lawsuit, the first federal case against a ratings firm for grades related to the credit crisis. “It’s a new use of this statute,” Claire Hill, a law professor at the University of Minnesota who has written about the ratings firms, said in a phone interview today from Minneapolis. “This is not a line to my knowledge that has been taken before.” Dell Nears $25 Billion Deal To Go Private (WSJ) Late Monday, Mr. Dell was in talks with Microsoft Corp and private-equity firm Silver Lake Partners to offer shareholders between $13.50 and $13.75 a share, said people familiar with the matter, about a 25% premium to Dell's stock price in January before the possibility of a deal became public. The buyout, if approved by shareholders, would be the largest such deal since the financial crisis. It also would be an admission by Mr. Dell that he wasn't able to pull off the changes needed to improve his company's revenue and profit under Wall Street's glare. The buyout would give Mr. Dell the largest stake in the company, ensuring that the 47-year-old is the one who gets to oversee any changes. Gross: Beware 'Credit Supernova' Looming Ahead (CNBC) The head of the Pacific Investment Management bond giant has issued an ominous forecast in which he worries that the global central bank-induced credit bubble "is running out of energy and time." As a result, investors will have to get used to an atmosphere of diminishing returns and portfolios that will hold more hard assets like commodities and fewer less-tangible financial assets like stocks. "Our credit-based financial markets and the economy it supports are levered, fragile and increasingly entropic," Gross said in his February newsletter. Obama to Meet With CEOs of Goldman, Yahoo, Other Firms (Reuters) President Barack Obama will meet with chief executives from 12 companies including Goldman Sachs Group's Lloyd Blankfein and Yahoo's Marissa Mayer on Tuesday to discuss immigration and deficit reduction, according to a White House official. "The president will continue his engagement with outside leaders on a number of issues, including immigration reform and how it fits into his broader economic agenda, and his efforts to achieve balanced deficit reduction," the official said Monday. Other chief executives include Arne Sorenson of Marriott International, Jeff Smisek of United Continental Holdings, and Klaus Kleinfeld of Alcoa. A Billion-Dollar Club And Not So Exclusive (NYT) an unprecedented number of high technology start-ups, easily 25 and possibly exceeding 40, are valued at $1 billion or more. Many employees are quietly getting rich, or at least building a big cushion against a crash, as they sell shares to outside investors. Airbnb, Pinterest, SurveyMonkey and Spotify are among the better-known privately held companies that have reached $1 billion. But many more with less familiar names, including Box, Violin Memory and Zscaler, are selling services to other companies. “A year from now that might be 100,” said Jim Goetz, a partner at Sequoia Capital, a venture capital business. Sequoia counts a dozen such companies in its portfolio. It is part of what he calls “a permanent change” in the way people are building their companies and financers are pushing up values. The owners of these companies say the valuations make them giddy, but also create unease. Once $1 billion was a milestone, now it is also a millstone. Bigger expectations must be managed and greater uncertainty looms. Donald Trump to sue Bill Maher after bet feud (Politico) Donald Trump filed a lawsuit Monday in California against liberal comic Bill Maher, suing him for $5 million after Trump says Maher did not follow through on a $5 million public bet he made on “The Tonight Show.” “I don’t know whether this case will be won or lost, but I felt a major obligation to bring it on behalf of the charities,” Trump said in a public statement first obtained by POLITICO. Last month, Maher said on NBC to Jay Leno that he would pay $5 million to Trump’s charity of choice if he provided a birth certificate proving that he’s not “spawn of his mother having sex with orangutan.” It was similar to an offer Trump made to President Barack Obama during the presidential campaign season, in which Trump wanted Obama to release his college records. Trump’s statement continued: “Bill Maher made an unconditional offer while offer while on The Jay Leno Show and I, without hesitation, accepted his offer and provided him with the appropriate documentation. Money-Market Funds Best By Excess Cash (WSJ) Money-market funds have a high-quality problem: investors are entrusting them with too much cash. The flood of money is prompting the funds, which buy short-term, top-rated debt, to seek higher returns in investments that until recently were seen as too risky, including French bank debt. Investors plowed $149 billion into U.S.-based money-market funds between the start of November and Jan. 30, bringing total assets under management to $2.695 trillion, close to the most since mid-2011, according to the Investment Company Institute. Knight Capital Group to Cut Workforce by 5 Percent (Reuters) Knight Capital, which recently agreed to be bought for $1.4 billion by Getco, will lay off 5 percent of its global workforce as part of efforts to restructure the automated trading firm, according to a regulatory filing released on Monday. FTC Corrects Language On Herbalife (NYP) The Federal Trade Commission yesterday corrected an earlier statement regarding a “law enforcement investigation” into Herbalife. In response to a Freedom of Information Act request by The Post, the FTC said some complaints against the company were withheld because the information was “obtained through a law enforcement investigation.” The agency said yesterday that the language in its letter accompanying the FOIA request was incorrect and it should have said that the exemption from disclosure was related to “foreign sources.” FTC spokesman Frank Dorman defined “foreign sources” as government entities, including law enforcement agencies, and the exemption relates to information-sharing between the FTC and these foreign government agencies. The FTC said that it “may not disclose any material reflecting a consumer complaint obtained from a foreign source if that foreign source has requested confidential information.” The agency said it could not confirm, or deny, an investigation into the nutritional supplements company. Hedge Fund Mogul, Swiss Villagers Clash Over Ski Slopes (Bloomberg) Since hotelier Tobias Zurbriggen can remember, the business of running Saas-Fee has been a local affair. Now, the Swiss ski resort neighboring the Matterhorn is feeling the heat from a New York-based financier. Edmond Offermann, a nuclear scientist turned millionaire working for hedge fund Renaissance Technologies LLC, invested 15 million Swiss francs ($16.4 million) in 2010 to revive Saas- Fee’s struggling ski-lift company. “It’s like a hobby, which completely got out of control,” Offermann, 53, said in an interview from Long Island, New York. He wants to shake things up by managing hotels and the ski-lift operator in one company controlled by a single chief executive. JPMorgan Joins Rental Rush For Wealthy Clients (Bloomberg) The firm’s unit that caters to individuals and families with more than $5 million, put client money in a partnership that bought more than 5,000 single family homes to rent in Florida, Arizona, Nevada and California, said David Lyon, a managing director and investment specialist at J.P. Morgan Private Bank. Investors can expect returns of as much as 8 percent annually from rental incomeas well as part of the profits when the homes are sold, he said. Man Allegedly Tries To Walk Out Of Costco With 24 Quarts Of Oil — Strapped To His Body (CBS) Jorge Sanchez, 35, was spotted about 4:30 p.m. trying to leave a Burbank Costco without paying for the oil. Store employees gave chase and officials said they lost Sanchez after he jumped a fence at the west side of the Costco parking lot. Burbank Police Sgt. Darin Ryburn told CBS2/KCAL9 reporter Andrea Fujii that nine of the 24 quarts were recovered during the foot chase. Authorities said Sanchez walked into the Costco and went straight to the oil aisle. He allegedly grabbed a couple of cases and emptied them. Said Ryburn, “He proceeded to hide the quarts of oil in his pants, socks, and in his shirt.” Sanchez was later apprehended near Beachwood Drive and Monterey Avenue, about eight blocks from the store. Officials said he was arrested on suspicion of burglary charges. Margo Martin was a witness to the apprehension. “All of a sudden, I hear ‘Get down on the ground’ and there is this man laying in our driveway.” Witnesses thought the man was running funny and weren’t sure why. Witness Manuel Atlas said, “He looked kind of heavy and out of shape.” Police said Sanchez was also running funny because he still had 15 quarts of oil strapped to him. Police said he used a bungee cord to strap the bottles down.