Opening Bell: 04.25.13

Apple Readies Its First Bond Offering (WSJ) Apple's announcement Tuesday that it plans to borrow for the first time could be as well received as its smartphone launches. Investors are desperate to take cash off the sidelines, even on high-quality securities that will yield relatively little. Despite its huge cash stockpile, Apple plans to issue debt to help fund dividend payments and stock buybacks in part because much of its cash is overseas. Raising money in the debt market would help Apple avoid the big tax bill that would come from bringing the cash back to the U.S. "We would likely buy the deal," said Matt Brill, a portfolio manager overseeing $40 billion of investment-grade bondholdings at ING Investment Management. Twitter Said To Bolster Security After AP Hack (Bloomberg) Two-step authentication will be introduced to make it harder for outsiders to gain access to an account, said the person, who declined to be identified because the information isn’t public. In addition to a password, the security measure usually requires a code sent as a text message to a user’s mobile phone, or generated on a device or software. Twitter’s defense against hacks involving the theft of passwords came under scrutiny this week after a hacker sent a false post about explosions at the White House, triggering a drop in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index that wiped out $136 billion in market value. The attack came the same month the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said companies can use social-media sites to share market-sensitive news. It also threatened to complicate efforts by Chief Executive Officer Dick Costolo to establish the service as a viable business ahead of a possible initial public offering. Hoax Won't Deter Tweeting (WSJ) The Twitter hoax won't affect the company's disclosure plans or those of companies like Dell and Exxon Mobil, which have indicated they will use social media to communicate corporate news, according to company officials...Banks say they consider sites like Twitter an increasingly important news source and expect them to become essential outlets given the SEC's recent blessing of social media as a way for companies to disclose market-moving information. Virgin America Wants Fliers to 'Get Lucky' at 35,000 Feet (CNBC) The carrier on Monday introduced a cheeky new seat-to-seat ordering system. Without the assistance of an attendant, you can discreetly order a drink, snack or meal delivered to a fellow passenger onboard your flight. Your flirting begins on the airline's touch-screen personal entertainment system, located on the back of headrests. Call up the flight's digital seat map and send a cocktail, snack or meal to a fellow traveler onboard. After selecting items and paying with a credit card, a flight attendant delivers the goodies directly to the passenger's seat. After the delivery, you can follow up and chat with your object of affection with Virgin America's existing seat-to-seat chat platform via its Red in-flight entertainment system. The chat platform allows travelers to send text messages to other fliers. "I'm not a betting man, but I say your chance of deplaning with a plus-one are at least 50 percent," Branson said in the Get Lucky on Virgin America video posted on the airline's Facebook page. PIMCO's Rising Stars Pull In Money For Future After Gross (Bloomberg) Pacific Investment Management Co. is becoming less dependent on Bill Gross, preparing for an eventual future without the world’s best-known bond investor and adding pressure on its rising stars to live up to his legacy. Gross is overseeing a smaller share of Pimco’s mutual-fund assets and pulling in less of its cash. His $289 billion Pimco Total Return Fund got 19 percent of Pimco’s new mutual-fund deposits in the two years ended March 31, down from 42 percent in the prior period and 79 percent before that, Morningstar estimates. The portion of mutual-fund assets run by Gross fell to 63 percent as of March 31 from 84 percent a decade ago. ECB Says Ditching Austerity Would Not Help Euro Zone (Reuters) European Central Bank Vice-President Vitor Constancio said that seeking to stimulate economies by stopping measures aimed at cutting government debt could merely increase countries' borrowing costs rather than triggering growth. Deutsche Bank can't shake L.A. claims over foreclosure blight (Reuters) A judge has denied Deutsche Bank AG's bid to dismiss a lawsuit by the city of Los Angeles accusing it of letting hundreds of foreclosed properties fall into disrepair and illegally evicting low-income tenants, a representative for the city's attorney said on Wednesday. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle allowed the 2011 civil enforcement action to proceed, according to the city attorney's office. The ruling was made during an April 8 hearing and a written decision was issued late on Tuesday, the city said. Traders Bet On A Sugar Rush (WSJ) Even as prices plumb nearly three-year lows, investors are betting that they will drop even more. Positions that profit when sugar prices fall hit an all-time high of 212,419 contracts—worth about $4.5 billion—on April 9. The number of these "short" contracts held by investors is up 65% from the start of the year. The wager is that Brazil, the world's biggest sugar producer, will report a record crop this year, leading to a huge global surplus. The harvest began in early April, and the weather has been ideal—dry and sunny. If growers' luck holds, prices could keep falling into late summer, when the total size of the crop begins to take shape, analysts say. 'The Rent is Too Damn High' guy is running for mayor, has an anthem to prove it (NYP, AnimalNY) McMillan has thrown his hat into the ring for the 2013 New York City mayoral race with a musicalanthem and accompanying YouTube video. "Jimmy McMillan, the political candidate whose slogan represents the one issue that all New Yorkers can agree on–that the rent is too damn high–is running for mayor," says Animal New York in the introduction to the video. "It's been two long years since I been on the scene, now I'm back in the game looking mean and lean," McMillan sings in the video. "The race may be different but the message is the same, R.I.T.D.H. is going to change the game!" "My mustache and haircut are too damn fly!"
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Apple Readies Its First Bond Offering (WSJ)
Apple's announcement Tuesday that it plans to borrow for the first time could be as well received as its smartphone launches. Investors are desperate to take cash off the sidelines, even on high-quality securities that will yield relatively little. Despite its huge cash stockpile, Apple plans to issue debt to help fund dividend payments and stock buybacks in part because much of its cash is overseas. Raising money in the debt market would help Apple avoid the big tax bill that would come from bringing the cash back to the U.S. "We would likely buy the deal," said Matt Brill, a portfolio manager overseeing $40 billion of investment-grade bondholdings at ING Investment Management.

Twitter Said To Bolster Security After AP Hack (Bloomberg)
Two-step authentication will be introduced to make it harder for outsiders to gain access to an account, said the person, who declined to be identified because the information isn’t public. In addition to a password, the security measure usually requires a code sent as a text message to a user’s mobile phone, or generated on a device or software. Twitter’s defense against hacks involving the theft of passwords came under scrutiny this week after a hacker sent a false post about explosions at the White House, triggering a drop in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index that wiped out $136 billion in market value. The attack came the same month the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said companies can use social-media sites to share market-sensitive news. It also threatened to complicate efforts by Chief Executive Officer Dick Costolo to establish the service as a viable business ahead of a possible initial public offering.

Hoax Won't Deter Tweeting (WSJ)
The Twitter hoax won't affect the company's disclosure plans or those of companies like Dell and Exxon Mobil, which have indicated they will use social media to communicate corporate news, according to company officials...Banks say they consider sites like Twitter an increasingly important news source and expect them to become essential outlets given the SEC's recent blessing of social media as a way for companies to disclose market-moving information.

PIMCO's Rising Stars Pull In Money For Future After Gross (Bloomberg)
Pacific Investment Management Co. is becoming less dependent on Bill Gross, preparing for an eventual future without the world’s best-known bond investor and adding pressure on its rising stars to live up to his legacy. Gross is overseeing a smaller share of Pimco’s mutual-fund assets and pulling in less of its cash. His $289 billion Pimco Total Return Fund got 19 percent of Pimco’s new mutual-fund deposits in the two years ended March 31, down from 42 percent in the prior period and 79 percent before that, Morningstar estimates. The portion of mutual-fund assets run by Gross fell to 63 percent as of March 31 from 84 percent a decade ago.

Virgin America Wants Fliers to 'Get Lucky' at 35,000 Feet (CNBC)
The carrier on Monday introduced a cheeky new seat-to-seat ordering system. Without the assistance of an attendant, you can discreetly order a drink, snack or meal delivered to a fellow passenger onboard your flight. Your flirting begins on the airline's touch-screen personal entertainment system, located on the back of headrests. Call up the flight's digital seat map and send a cocktail, snack or meal to a fellow traveler onboard. After selecting items and paying with a credit card, a flight attendant delivers the goodies directly to the passenger's seat. After the delivery, you can follow up and chat with your object of affection with Virgin America's existing seat-to-seat chat platform via its Red in-flight entertainment system. The chat platform allows travelers to send text messages to other fliers. "I'm not a betting man, but I say your chance of deplaning with a plus-one are at least 50 percent," Branson said in the Get Lucky on Virgin America video posted on the airline's Facebook page.

ECB Says Ditching Austerity Would Not Help Euro Zone (Reuters)
European Central Bank Vice-President Vitor Constancio said that seeking to stimulate economies by stopping measures aimed at cutting government debt could merely increase countries' borrowing costs rather than triggering growth.

Deutsche Bank can't shake L.A. claims over foreclosure blight (Reuters)
A judge has denied Deutsche Bank AG's bid to dismiss a lawsuit by the city of Los Angeles accusing it of letting hundreds of foreclosed properties fall into disrepair and illegally evicting low-income tenants, a representative for the city's attorney said on Wednesday. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle allowed the 2011 civil enforcement action to proceed, according to the city attorney's office. The ruling was made during an April 8 hearing and a written decision was issued late on Tuesday, the city said.

Traders Bet On A Sugar Rush (WSJ)
Even as prices plumb nearly three-year lows, investors are betting that they will drop even more. Positions that profit when sugar prices fall hit an all-time high of 212,419 contracts—worth about $4.5 billion—on April 9. The number of these "short" contracts held by investors is up 65% from the start of the year. The wager is that Brazil, the world's biggest sugar producer, will report a record crop this year, leading to a huge global surplus. The harvest began in early April, and the weather has been ideal—dry and sunny. If growers' luck holds, prices could keep falling into late summer, when the total size of the crop begins to take shape, analysts say.

'The Rent is Too Damn High' guy is running for mayor, has an anthem to prove it (NYP, AnimalNY)
McMillan has thrown his hat into the ring for the 2013 New York City mayoral race with a musical anthem and accompanying YouTube video. "Jimmy McMillan, the political candidate whose slogan represents the one issue that all New Yorkers can agree on–that the rent is too damn high–is running for mayor," says Animal New York in the introduction to the video. "It's been two long years since I been on the scene, now I'm back in the game looking mean and lean," McMillan sings in the video. "The race may be different but the message is the same, R.I.T.D.H. is going to change the game!" "My mustache and haircut are too damn fly!"

Related

Opening Bell: 02.21.13

Feds Split Over When To Close Cash Spigot (WSJ) Minutes released Wednesday from the Fed's January policy meeting show officials concerned that the current easy-money policies could lead to excessive risk-taking and instability in financial markets. The Fed is buying $85 billion in mortgage and U.S. Treasury securities a month to drive down long-term rates and has promised to keep short-term rates near zero until unemployment improves. Citigroup Chairman Not Pressing Bank Breakup (WSJ) Michael E. O'Neill was among a small group of directors who after the financial crisis urged the company to weigh the pros and cons of splitting up the third-largest U.S. bank, said people familiar with the deliberations. Mr. O'Neill, now chairman, has overseen a management shake-up in the past year and is backing a broad cost-cutting plan. But exploring a breakup is no longer among his top priorities. Mr. O'Neill has concluded that breaking up Citigroup doesn't make sense now, given economic and regulatory uncertainty as well as a host of financial considerations, these people said. Wells Fargo ramps up private equity despite Volcker Rule (Reuters) The fine print of the Volcker Rule is expected to be finalized as soon as this year. Major banks such as Bank of America Corp and Citigroup are already pulling back from private equity investments ahead of the rules. But Wells Fargo is taking a different path. The bank invests in buyouts and venture capital deals largely on its own, with capital only from Wells Fargo itself and some employees. By avoiding equity from outside investors, the bank is considered to be engaging in "merchant banking," an activity that is likely to be exempt under the Volcker Rule, lawyers and people familiar with the matter said. Dimon Defends His Duel Leadership Roles (NYP) JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon has no intention of relinquishing his chairmanship, insiders say, despite renewed calls from a group of shareholders to split the roles at the nation’s biggest lender. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a granddaddy of public employee unions, as well as New York City and Connecticut pension funds, are pressuring the bank in the wake of its $6 billion “London Whale” trading blunder. The shareholders, which hold about $1 billion worth of bank shares, say the move would help to avoid a repeat of last year’s debacle, which led the board to slash Dimon’s pay in half. JPMorgan officials, though, don’t want to go as far as splitting the roles, saying their boss steered the bank successfully through the financial crisis and is well suited for both jobs. Regulator Weighs Ban For Corzine (WSJ) Two newly elected directors of the National Futures Association plan to push the agency to hold a hearing on the matter, having criticized the response of federal regulators some 16 months after the industry was shaken by the collapse of brokerage MF Global where the former New Jersey governor was chief executive. Shia LaBeouf Pulls Out Of Broadway's Orphans (NYP) Producers announced that LaBeouf parted ways with the show after just a week of rehearsals due to “creative differences,” even though the play’s scheduled to begin previews March 19. But last night LaBeouf, 26, posted e-mail exchanges on Twitter revealing divisions between him and bombastic Baldwin. In a message titled “Creative Differences” LaBeouf posted an e-mail to him from director Dan Sullivan, which reads, “I’m too old for disagreeable situations. You’re one hell of a great actor. Alec is who he is. You are who you are. You two are incompatible. I should have known it. This one will haunt me. You tried to warn me. You said you were a different breed. I didn’t get it.” Russia's Missing Billions Revealed (FT) Russia's central bank governor has lifted the lid on $49 billion in illegal capital flight - more than half of which, he says, is controlled "by one well-organized group of individuals" that he declined to name. Sergei Ignatiev, due to step down in June after 11 years in his post, is seldom outspoken about any issue other than interest rates. But he unburdened himself in an interview with the Moscow newspaper Vedomosti about money leaving the country through the back door, which he said equaled 2.5 percent of gross domestic product last year. "This might be payment for supplies of narcotics...illegal imports...bribes and kickbacks for bureaucrats...and avoiding taxes," he told the daily, which is part-owned by the Financial Times. New York Times Looks To Sell Boston Globe (CNBC) This follows the Times Company's sale of other regional papers as well as the About.com group, as it focuses in on its core asset — the New York Times brand. And with that focus, the publisher is honing in on what's really been working for the company — the New York Times subscription model. The company has retained Evercore Partners to advise on and manage the sale, but won't say who it's already talked to, or how much it thinks the assets are worth. Citi analyst Leo Kulp, who calls this a "positive move," estimates that the segment could fetch about $200 million. The segment generated $395 million in 2012 revenue, which Kulp says implies about $67 million in EBITDA in 2012. He applies a three times multiple — "on the high end of comparable large metro newspaper sales" — to give the paper a $200 million price tag. Herbalife Prez Goes On Offensive (NYP) President Des Walsh, in a conference call, said that “despite what we believe to be unprecedented, unfair and untrue attacks on this company, our business continues to do well.” Deputies: Couple started fighting over man scratching himself (WWSB) According to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, Shalamar Petrarca complained to her boyfriend, 30-year-old Ronald Howard, that it was rude and disgusting to be “scratching his testicles” while she was about to eat dinner. She told deputies that Howard began yelling at her, pushed her into the kitchen, causing her to get a scratch on her ankle, then threw her out of the house. Howard told deputies that she punched him in the eye for “scratching his balls”, and the he pushed her through the door in self-defense. Deputies say Howard had no visible injuries, but Petrarca did have a scratch on her ankle.

Opening Bell: 04.22.13

Bill Gross Attacks UK and Euro Zone Austerity (FT) Bill Gross, manager of the world's largest bond fund for Pimco, has launched a stinging attack on efforts by Britain and much of the euro zone to cut debt rapidly with severe austerity measures, warning that such action risks stifling recovery. "The U.K. and almost all of Europe have erred in terms of believing that austerity, fiscal austerity in the short term, is the way to produce real growth. It is not," Mr Gross told the Financial Times. "You've got to spend money." Argentina's New Debt Offer Rejected by Holdout Creditors (WSJ) Holdout creditors on Friday rejected Argentina's proposal to pay them about 20 cents on every U.S. dollar of bonds they own, leaving a U.S. appeals court to decide how to enforce a ruling that may push Argentina into a new default. "Not only are the details of Argentina's proposal unacceptable and unresponsive; Argentina fails even to provide this court with meaningful 'assurances' that it will actually comply with its own proposal," said Theodore Olson, a lawyer for the holdouts, in a brief filed Friday. Argentina's own math values the offer at $210 million, less than 15% of the $1.47 billion that holdouts were owed on their defaulted bonds as of March 1, according to the brief. Hedge Fund Stars Suit Up At Yankee Stadium To Attract Investors (NYP) Hedge-fund mogul Stevie Cohen will be pitching at Yankee Stadium tomorrow. No, the 56-year-old billionaire is not suiting up for the Bronx Bombers — but he will be hoping the magic of the House that Ruth Built will yield some investment cash. Cohen, whose SAC Capital faces a loss of $1.7 billion from investors who want out of his $15 billion hedge fund, is one of about 70 hedge fund managers who’ll be at the Stadium tomorrow making a pitch to prospective new investors at a day-long event sponsored by Goldman Sachs. Singapore Will Replace Switzerland As Wealth Capital (CNBC) Switzerland has $2.8 trillion in assets under management, with $2.1 trillion of that coming from offshore wealth. Switzerland accounts for 34 percent of the $8.15 trillion in total global wealth. Yet the report said Singapore could overtake Switzerland in offshore assets under management by 2020. It said Swiss offshore assets could fall below $2 trillion by 2016, while Singapore's assets could more than quadruple by then. Somali Banking Starts From Ground Up (WSJ) Abdusalam Omer is a central bank governor without much to govern. The Central Bank of Somalia doesn't hold reserves in the country's currency, the shilling. There are no functioning commercial banks in the strife-torn country for it to regulate. The 75-strong staff that still turns up for work after two decades of civil war is a motley crew of money men and handymen. "I don't know why the central bank employs painters," says the 58-year-old who was named the country's top banker in January. Eventbrite Funding Slows Its IPO Chase (WSJ) Eventbrite Inc., an event ticketing company, has raised $60 million from two investors, making it the latest example of a startup to raise significant private late-stage funding that puts off an initial public offering. San Francisco-based Eventbrite had sparked expectations of an imminent IPO when it said earlier this month that it hired a chief financial officer, Mark Rubash, who previously worked at Yahoo Inc. and eBay Inc. Instead, it joins a growing number of companies that have found plentiful funding in the private markets rather than going public at an early stage. The company has raised the new cash from mutual-fund firm T. Rowe Price Group Inc. and Tiger Global Management LLC, an investment-management firm, said Kevin Hartz, co-founder and chief executive. That brings its total private fundraising to some $135 million since its inception in 2006. "This gives us flexibility in setting the timeline for a later IPO, on our schedule," said Mr. Hartz. Deutsche Bank Margin Call on Vik Sparks $2.5 Billion Dispute (Bloomberg) Alexander Vik went to Deutsche Bank AG’s London office in October 2008 to meet account managers who congratulated the Norwegian entrepreneur on how well his Sebastian Holdings Inc. investment fund was doing. Within a month, as global markets tumbled into crisis, the same bankers demanded about $530 million against the fund’s currency bets and began to liquidate its positions. Vik, 58, will argue at a 12-week trial starting in London today that the bank’s actions resulted in losses and missed profits totaling about $2.5 billion. A judge will have to decide whether Sebastian’s calculation of lost trading gains is accurate, said John Day, a lawyer at London-based litigation firm DaySparkes. Zimbabwe Prepares Law to Seize Company Stakes Without Paying (Bloomberg) Zimbabwe’s government is preparing a law that would allow it to seize controlling stakes in companies without compensation, according to a draft of the legislation obtained by Bloomberg News. The law would be an amendment to a 2007 act that compels foreign and white-owned companies such as Rio Tinto Group, Sinosteel Corp. and Impala Platinum Holding Ltd. to sell or cede 51 percent of their shares to black nationalsor state-approved agencies.

Opening Bell: 12.21.12

Critics Say UBS Let Off Too Easy (WSJ) Our goal here is not to destroy a major financial institution," Lanny Breuer, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's criminal division, said Wednesday after the $1.5 billion fine against UBS was announced. Prosecutors have to at least "evaluate whether or not innocent people might lose jobs" and other types of potential collateral damage. Sen. Charles Grassley (R., Iowa), a Senate Finance Committee member, said he is unsatisfied that prosecutors didn't go higher up the corporate ladder at UBS than its Japanese subsidiary..."The reluctance of U.S. prosecutors to file criminal charges over big-time bank fraud is frustrating and hard to understand," Mr. Grassley said. The $1.5 billion fine is a "spit in the ocean compared to the money lost by borrowers at every level, including taxpayers." Regulatory 'Whale' Hunt Advances (WSJ) The first regulatory ripples from the "London Whale" trading fiasco are about to hit J.P. Morgan Chase. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, led by Comptroller Thomas Curry, is preparing to take a formal action demanding that J.P. Morgan remedy the lapses in risk controls that allowed a small group of London-based traders to rack up losses of more than $6 billion this year, according to people familiar with the company's discussions with regulators. Khuzami To Leave SEC Enforcement Post (WSJ) Robert Khuzami, head of the Securities and Exchange Commission's enforcement unit, plans to leave the agency as soon as next month, a person familiar with the expected move said Thursday. Boehner Drops ‘Plan B’ as Budget Effort Turns to Disarray (Bloomberg) House Speaker John Boehner scrapped a plan to allow higher tax rates on annual income above $1 million, yielding to anti-tax resistance within his own party and throwing already-stalled budget talks deeper into turmoil. He will hold a news conference today at 10 a.m. Washington time to discuss the next steps in the budget dispute, a Republican leadership aide said. House members and senators won’t vote on the end-of-year budget issues until after Christmas, giving them less than a week to reach agreement to avert tax increases and spending cuts set to take effect in January. The partisan divide hardened yesterday, making the path to a deal more uncertain. BlackRock Sees Distortions in Country Ratings Seeking S&P Change (Bloomberg) Credit rating companies are distorting capital markets by assigning the same debt ranking to countries from Italy to Thailand and Kazakhstan, according to BlackRock, the world’s biggest money manager. While 23 countries share the BBB+ to BBB- levels assessed by Standard & Poor’s, the lowest investment grades, up from 15 in 2008 at the beginning of the financial crisis, their debt to gross domestic product ratios range from 12 percent for Kazakhstan to 44 percent for Thailand and 126 percent for Italy, International Monetary Fund estimates show. The cost of insuring against a default by Italy, ranked BBB+, over the next five years is almost triple that for Thailand, which has the same rating. For BlackRock, which oversees $3.7 trillion in assets, the measures are so untrustworthy that the firm is setting up its own system to gauge the risk of investing in government bonds. This year, the market moved in the opposite direction suggested by changes to levels and outlooks 53 percent of the time, data compiled by Bloomberg show. “The rating agencies were very, very slow to the game,” Benjamin Brodsky, a managing director at BlackRock International Ltd., said in a Nov. 23 interview from London. “They all came after the fact. For us, this is not good enough.” If You Bought Greek Bonds in January You Earned 80% (Bloomberg) Greek government bonds returned 80 percent this year, compared with 3.7 percent for German bunds and 6.1 percent for Spanish securities, Bank of America Merrill Lynch indexes show. It’s the first year since 2009 that investors made money on Greek securities, with 2012 providing the biggest advance since Merrill began compiling the data in 1998, according to figures that don’t reflect this month’s debt buyback by the government. Texas lawmaker: ‘Ping-pongs’ deadlier than guns (The Ticket) Incoming Texas State Rep. Kyle Kacal says guns don’t kill people—ping-pong kills people. "I've heard of people being killed playing ping-pong—ping-pongs are more dangerous than guns," he says. "Flat-screen TVs are injuring more kids today than anything." The lifetime rancher, who will take his seat in 2013 as a freshman, says that new gun restrictions are unnecessary. Kacal, who reportedly operates a hunting business, notably came out against a bill instructing Texans how to secure their assault weapons. "People know what they need to do to be safe. We don't need to legislate that—it's common sense," he said. "Once everyone's gun is locked up, then the bad guys know everyone's gun is locked up." Flare-up in war of words between Ackman, Herbalife (NYP) “This is the highest conviction I’ve ever had about any investment I’ve ever made,” Ackman said yesterday in a series of interviews. The investor told CNBC that he expects the Federal Trade Commission will take a “hard look” at the company. The heavyweight battle picked up steam over the last two days and has become, in the typically slow days leading up to Christmas, one of the most-watched events on Wall Street. As the financial world watched, Herbalife CEO Michael Johnson returned fire — calling Ackman’s statements “bogus” and asking the Securities and Exchange Commission to probe the motives of Ackman and his Pershing Square Capital hedge fund. A spokeswoman said if Johnson were allowed the chance to face-off against the investor at the Downtown conference, the CEO “would have been able to tear Mr. Ackman’s premises and interpretation of our business model apart.” Citigroup Said to Give CCA Managers 75% Stake in Funds for Free (Bloomberg) Among Vikram Pandit’s last jobs as Citigroup’s chief executive officer was to decide the fate of the bank’s hedge-fund unit, which employs some of his oldest colleagues. He agreed to give them most of it for free. While Citigroup is keeping a 25 percent stake, managers at the Citi Capital Advisors unit will pay nothing for the remaining 75 percent of that business as it becomes a new firm managing as much as $2.5 billion of the bank’s money, according to people with knowledge of the plan. The lender will pay the executives fees while gradually pulling out assets to comply with impending U.S. rules, said the people, who requested anonymity because the terms aren’t public. The deal was Citigroup’s response to the Volcker rule. Peter Madoff Is Sentenced to 10 Years for His Role in Fraud (Dealbook) A lawyer by training, Peter Madoff is the second figure in the scandal to be sentenced. His older brother, Bernard, pleaded guilty in March 2009 and is serving a prison term of 150 years. UK Boom in Pound Shops: An Austerity-Proof Business Model? (CNBC) Pound shops in the U.K. are reporting massive increases in profits across the board showing that the formula "pile 'em high and sell 'em cheap" has particular resonance in Britain's current age of austerity. Names like "Poundstretcher," "Poundland" and "99p Stores" in the U.K. have become high street stalwarts as other brands go bust. The chains, immediately recognizable on price point, are opening new stores and reporting record results reflecting the increasing public demand for cheaper goods. U.K. based "Poundland" is one such chain reporting steep sales growth as its range of 3,000 items -- from umbrellas and pregnancy tests (it sells 14,000 a week) to bird feeders and bags of crisps all priced at one pound – resonates with cash-strapped Britons. In the year to April 2012, the Warburg Pincus owned company said its turnover increased 22 percent to 780 million pounds ($1.25 billion) and profits increased by 50 percent to 18.3 million pounds from last year's figure of 12.2 million. Former Olympian Suzy Favor Hamilton admits to life as a $600-an-hour hooker (NYP) Steamy, lingerie-clad images of the champion runner helped tout her services on the Web site of a Vegas escort agency called Haley Heston’s Private Collection, where Favor Hamilton operated under the name “Kelly Lundy,” according to The Smoking Gun. Customers could hire her lithe Olympic-class runner’s body for $600 an hour, $1,000 for two hours and $6,000 for 24 hours. The site described her build as “athletic,” her bosom as “perky,” and her belly button as “pierced.” She was willing to provide horny customers the full “girlfriend experience,” and would also engage in a certain undisclosed sex act for an extra $300. “I enjoy men of all shapes, sizes and colors, and I have an affinity for women (I am bisexual),” “Kelly” wrote on her page on the escort service’s Web site. “I consider dates with couples an experience to cherish.” Her sexual skills reportedly earned her a high rating on The Erotic Review, a Web site frequented by prostitution fans. Favor Hamilton’s lusty secret life might have stayed secret if she had not made the mistake of revealing her true identity to some of her wealthy johns, who went to the media.

Opening Bell: 06.18.12

Greece's Conservatives Start Coalition Talks (WSJ) Greece's conservative leader Antonis Samaras, whose New Democracy party came first in a crucial election Sunday, is set to meet the main opposition leader, radical left Syriza's Alexis Tsipras, to start the formal process of coalition-building talks. Mr. Samaras saw the Greek president of the republic earlier Monday and received the formal mandate to start coalition-building talks, as his party is 21 seats shy of an absolute majority in the 300-seat parliament. The talks with Mr. Tsipras are purely a formality, as the radical left leader made it plain Sunday night that he wouldn't join a coalition with New Democracy. "Don't expect any surprises, this is a formal procedure. Mr. Samaras has to see the leader of the second party first, that's the protocol," Syriza's spokesman said. Greek Election Defuses One Crisis, but More Lurk (NYT) “Unless they make a radical change, we will be back with another Greek cliffhanger in three or four months’ time,” said Darren Williams, a European economist at AllianceBernstein in London. Wilbur Ross: Real Question For Greece Is What Now (CNBC) Ross also said the government has to improve tax collection for a more permanent solution to the country’s debt problems and said higher revenues would allow the country to ease up on austerity measures. “The tax avoidance in Greece — including by government officials — is ridiculous. The black economy is a ridiculously high percentage,” he said. “Those are the problems they have to deal with and if they can deal with those than more limited austerity is what’s needed.” Europe Gets Emerging Market Crisis Ultimatum As G-20 Meet (Bloomberg) As elections in Greece reduced the immediate risk of the euro area’s breakup, China and Indonesia signaled growing exasperation with more than two years of European crisis- fighting that has failed to stem the threat of global contagion. World Bank President Robert Zoellick said that policy makers bungled their attempt to rescue Spain’s banks. CUNY biz school fixed Wall Streeters' GPAs to keep receiving tuition (NYP) An internal CUNY probe found the course grades of “approximately 15 students” were falsified to keep their GPAs high enough to stay in the programs, Baruch officials acknowledged. The trickery prevented enrollees, including many mid-level Wall Streeters whose firms picked up their tabs, from flunking out — and kept their tuition checks flowing in. The accelerated “executive programs” in business and finance allow students to earn a master’s degree in 10 to 22 months while working full-time. The tuition: $45,000 to $75,000. Baruch has referred the matter to law-enforcement agencies, the college said in a statement. Spokeswoman Christina Latouf would not say if students knew their grades were being changed or were complicit in the scheme. But Baruch has started calling some recent graduates with disturbing news: Their sheepskins are invalid. “What do you mean? My diploma’s on my wall. How can you tell me I don’t have a degree?” one grad said, according to a source...Zicklin officials gave a sales pitch for prospective students last week, but directors and professors made no mention of the problems. Instead, they promised “respected and well-recognized” degrees that would put grads on the path to become chief executives and financial officers. “This is a master’s program on steroids,” one said. Pressure Mounts On Credit Suisse Chief (FT) Investors and analysts have already grown impatient in the past 12 months over Mr Dougan’s efforts to improve the bank’s profitability and cost base, which are lagging behind rivals in Europe. Although they do not question Mr. Dougan’s credentials as a bank manager, they say that a capital raising now would make it difficult for him to stay in his job. Not only would shareholders resent the dilution, but the change of tack would undermine his strategy in recent years of making generous dividend payouts, in contrast to rivals, which have used a larger share of profits to boost capital. Dollar Shortage Seen In $2 Trillion Gap Says Morgan Stanley (Bloomberg) After falling to an all-time low of 60.5 percent in the second quarter of last year, the dollar’s share of global reserves rose 1.6 percentage points to 62.1 percent in December, the latest International Monetary Fund figures show. The buying has left the private sector with $2 trillion less than it needs, according to investment-flow data by Morgan Stanley, which sees the dollar gaining 8.2 percent in 2012, the most in seven years. App Developers Too Young To Drive (WSJ) Paul Dunahoo went on a business trip to San Francisco last week, where he attended technical sessions at Apple Inc.'s AAPL +0.45% developer conference, networked with other programmers and received feedback from Apple engineers on his six productivity apps. Then, Mr. Dunahoo, chief executive of Bread and Butter Software LLC, returned to Connecticut to get ready for the eighth grade. "It's a very rare opportunity" to be at Apple's conference, said Mr. Dunahoo, who is 13 years old and wears red braces. Mr. Dunahoo is one of a growing number of teens joining the app-making frenzy. Apple, the app industry's ringleader, is encouraging the trend. Fitch Cuts India Credit Rating To Outlook Negative (Reuters) "A significant loosening of fiscal policy, which leads to an increase in the gross general government debt /GDP ratio, would result in a downgrade of India's sovereign ratings," Fitch said in a statement on Monday. Woman claims Southwest wouldn't let her board plane because of her cleavage: report (NYDN) Southwest Airlines was forced to apologize to a woman who was told she couldn't board her flight because her cleavage was "inappropriate." Jezebel reports that the woman, Avital — she only gave her first name — was boarding a 6 a.m. flight from Las Vegas to New York on June 5 when a ticket agent remarked that she couldn't fly unless she covered her breasts. Clad in a comfy cotton dress, a baggy flannel shirt and bright scarf, Avital ignored the warning and marched aboard anyway. "I didn't want to let the representative's Big Feelings about my breasts change the way I intended to board my flight," she told Jezebel. "And lo and behold, the plane didn't fall out of the sky... my cleavage did not interfere with the plane's ability to function properly." Avital slammed the Southwest for "slut shaming," and said a man on her flight had on a provocative piece of clothing, but wasn't hassled. "The guy sitting in front of me on the plane was wearing a shirt with an actual Trojan condom embedded behind a clear plastic applique and had no trouble getting on his flight," she said.

Opening Bell: 04.25.12

Credit Suisse Sees Profit Drop (WSJ) Credit Suisse Wednesday reported a sharp drop in net profit for the first quarter, pressured by an accounting loss on its own debt and lower revenue at its investment bank, which shed risky assets to adapt to a tougher regulatory and market environment. Still, the bank managed a sharp turnaround from a dismal fourth quarter when it reported a loss, on improving market conditions. But Chief Financial Officer David Mathers warned that this may not necessarily be the trend going forward, as markets weren't as favorable in April as they were during the first quarter. Credit Suisse said net profit fell 96% to 44 million Swiss francs ($48.3 million) in the first quarter from 1.14 billion francs a year earlier. This was better than the net loss expected by analysts. Excluding a raft of one-off items, net profit would be 1.36 billion francs, Credit Suisse said. Net profit suffered from a 1.55 billion franc accounting loss on the bank's own credit. The bank also recorded costs of 534 million francs for 2011 bonuses. Moody's Hears It From Banks (WSJ) In the latest sign that U.S. banks are bridling at tighter oversight that began after the financial crisis, a handful of big lenders have been jawboning Moody's Investors Service ahead of potential downgrades expected this spring. Bank of America Corp. Chief Executive Brian Moynihan and Citigroup Inc. CEO Vikram Pandit have argued against downgrades in person, people familiar with the talks said. An executive at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. last week publicly questioned Moody's methods on a conference call with analysts and investors. Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman, who has met with the ratings firm more often than usual in the past quarter, called Moody's decision to delay any potential downgrades by a month "constructive." Housing Declared Bottoming in U.S. After Six-Year Slump (Bloomberg) The U.S. housing market is showing more signs of stabilization as price declines ease and home demand improves, spurring several economists to call a bottom to the worst real estate collapse since the 1930s. “The crash is over,” Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Analytics Inc. in West Chester, Pennsylvania, said in a telephone interview yesterday. “Home sales -- both new and existing -- and housing starts are now off the bottom.” US taxpayers still on hook for $119B in TARP funds (MarketWatch) US taxpayers are still owed $119 billion in outstanding Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds, a watchdog for the government crisis program said Wednesday in a quarterly report to Congress. That number is down from $133 billion in TARP funds owed as of January, according to the author of the report, the Office of the Special Inspector General for the TARP. The government expects TARP to lose $60 billion. Surviving ’Taxmageddon’ Without Maiming Economy (Bloomberg) Peter Orszag: "At the end of this year, all the Bush tax cuts expire -- amounting to about $250 billion a year. The payroll-tax holiday, at more than $100 billion a year, ends too, as do expanded unemployment-insurance benefits. And we face other spending cuts of about $100 billion, from the sequester set up by the 2011 debt-limit deal. All told, this fiscal tightening adds up to about $500 billion -- or more than 3 percent of gross domestic product. The economy will be in no shape to handle that much of a squeeze. If we do nothing to reduce or stop it, the economy could be thrown back into a recession." Goose strike forces JetBlue flight into emergency landing at Westchester (NYP) Geese smacked into a JetBlue plane taking off from Westchester Airport last night, forcing the pilots to make an immediate emergency landing. “We got to come back. We hit two big geese,” a pilot aboard Flight 571 to West Palm Beach, Fla., radioed to controllers after the plane took off at 6:45 p.m. “We are declaring an emergency.” The pilots made it just six miles northwest of the airport before turning around. They were back on the ground seven minutes later. “JetBlue 571, nice to have you back,” a relieved controller radioed as the plane touched down at 6:52. The geese smashed into the jet’s windshield. “I was petrified,’’ said passenger Janice Hilbrink, of White Plains. “Seriously very frightened. “I heard the noise. It was very loud and the plane had a lot of turbulence. The pilot told us the windshield was cracked.’’ When she got off the plane, “the whole front of it was covered in bird.’’ Missing MF Global Funds Found (CNNM) Investigators probing the collapse of bankrupt brokerage MF Global said Tuesday that they have located the $1.6 billion in customer money that had gone missing from the firm. But just how much of those funds can be returned to the firm's clients, and who will be held responsible for their misappropriation, remains to be seen. James Giddens, the trustee overseeing the liquidation of MF Global Inc, told the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday that his team's analysis of how the money went missing "is substantially concluded." "We can trace where the cash and securities in the firm went, and that we've done," Giddens said. Europe Struggles With Painful Deficit Cures (WSJ) The target, set in 2009, is still seen as an important signal that the budget rules won't be flouted as they were in the past. But meeting the 2013 goal, which for most countries was a deficit of 3% of gross domestic product, will entail more spending cuts or tax increases by governments across the EU. Soros And Roubini Take Aim At Euro Zone (CNBC) Nouriel Roubini, an economist and founder of RGE Monitor used a series of tweets on Tuesday evening to call for action on weakening the euro. “If domestic demand is going to be anemic and weak in this fiscal adjustment because of private and public sector deleveraging you need net exports to improve to restore growth,” wrote Roubini who believes much looser monetary policy is needed. “In order to have an improvement in net exports you need a weaker currency and a much more easy monetary policy to help induce that nominal and real depreciation that is not occurring right now in the euro zone,” said Roubini. “That’s one of the reasons why we’re getting a recession that’s even more severe,” he said. During a debate on Tuesday, billionaire Investor George Soros made it clear what side of the growth versus austerity debate he is on. “Europe is similar to the Soviet Union in the way that the euro crisis has the potential of destroying, undermining the European Union,” he said. “The euro is undermining the political cohesion of the European Union, and, if it continues like that, could even destroy the European Union,” said Soros. New Fashion Wrinkle: Stylishly Hiding the Gun (NYT, related) Woolrich, a 182-year-old clothing company, describes its new chino pants as an elegant and sturdy fashion statement, with a clean profile and fabric that provides comfort and flexibility. And they are great for hiding a handgun. The company has added a second pocket behind the traditional front pocket for a weapon. Or, for those who prefer to pack their gun in a holster, it can be tucked inside the stretchable waistband...The chinos, which cost $65, are not for commandos, but rather, the company says, for the fashion-aware gun owner.

Opening Bell: 01.25.13

Ex-Barclays CEO Diamond Is Named on Latest Libor-Lawsuit List (Bloomberg) Ex-Barclays Chief Executive Officer Robert Diamond and Former Chief Operating Officer Jerry Del Missier were among 25 bank employees anonymously referred to by regulators when the lender was fined for attempted interest rate rigging. Diamond and Del Missier were included on a second list released in a London court case linking Barclays staff to the London interbank offered rate. Judge Julian Flaux refused a request by some employees to prevent their names being published in connection to the case. Deutsche Bank Trader Fired Over Rate-Rigging Loses $53 Million (Bloomberg) Deutsche Bank's Christian Bittar, one of the firm’s best-paid traders, lost about 40 million euros ($53 million) in bonuses after he was fired for trying to rig interest rates, three people with knowledge of the move said. The lender dismissed Bittar in December 2011, claiming he colluded with a Barclays Plc (BARC) trader to manipulate rates and boost the value of his trades in 2006 and 2007, said the people, who requested anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly. His attempts to rig the euro interbank offered rate and similar efforts by derivatives trader Guillaume Adolph over yen Libor are the focus of the bank’s probe, the people said. Both traders declined to comment for this story. “Upon discovering that a limited number of employees acted inappropriately, we sanctioned or dismissed those involved and clawed back all of their unvested compensation,” Deutsche Bank spokesman Michael Golden said in a statement. “To date we have found no link between the inappropriate conduct of a limited number of employees and the profits generated by these trades.” Aleksey Vayner may have died of drug overdose (DM) The Yale student who catapulted to Internet infamy with a disastrous video resume he sent to a prospective employer died at his home in Queens, New York. Vayner passed away at the age of 29, according to the New York City Medical Examiner - and reports from relatives suggest that he may have experienced a drug overdose...In the video, titled 'Impossible is Nothing,' a gravely serious Vayner attempts to prove his mental and physical fitness by talking about the meaning of success while lifting 495-pound weights, smacking tennis balls faster than 140 miles per hour, ball-dancing with a scantily-clad woman and breaking seven bricks with his hand. 'Ignore the losers, bring your A-game, your determination and your drive to the field, and the success will follow you,' he says in the video. JPMorgan to Block Shareholder Vote on Bank Break-Up (Reuters) A federation of U.S. labor unions is looking to force JPMorgan Chase's board to consider breaking up the company after the disastrous "London Whale" affair, but the bank is trying to ensure that its shareholders do not get to vote on the union's proposal. The largest U.S. bank is seeking permission from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to omit the proposal from the measures that shareholders vote on this spring,according to a letter sent to the agency on January 14. The proposal, from the AFL-CIO's Reserve Fund, a union fund that owns JPMorgan shares, calls on bank directors to form a committee that would explore "extraordinary transactions that could enhance stockholder value," including breaking off one or more of the company's businesses. As Cohen parties in Davos, legal eagles circle at home (NYP) Hedge-fund titan Steve Cohen took a break from battlinginvestor redemptions to hob-knob with other heavyweights at the World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland. But Cohen, who runs $14 billion Stamford, Conn., hedge-fund giant SAC Capital, could be facing more trouble when he gets home. At least one class-action law firm is trying to rustle up investors to sue SAC for its ties to an alleged insider-trading scheme that led to the arrest of a former portfolio manager. Wilmington, Del.-based Chimicles & Tikellis posted a notice on its website saying it is seeking SAC investors and limited partners and is “actively investigating a proposed investor lawsuit against SAC Capital.” Any resulting lawsuit would be pegged to SAC’s “mismanagement of the limited partnership and certain hedge funds.” Wisconsin Man Wearing "Breathalyzer" T-Shirt Arrested For Sixth Time For Drunk Driving (TSG) The 30-year-old was arrested early Saturday morning for drunk driving after he was found passed out at the wheel of a Chevrolet Cavalier that was parked with its engine running in the middle of a Wisconsin road. Wendler, who reeked of intoxicants, failed a series of field sobriety tests and appeared “dazed and confused,” according to a Marathon County Sheriff’s Department report, which noted that a deputy spotted an unopened six-pack of beer on the vehicle’s passenger seat. A breath sample recorded Wendler’s blood alcohol content as .19, more than twice the legal limit. As a result, he was charged with operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated--the sixth time he has been busted for drunk driving. Wendler’s extensive DWI history, of course, makes his t-shirt choice a strange one. As seen in his mug shot, Wandler was nabbed while wearing a shirt referencing drinking and a “free Breathalyzer test.” The shirt also includes an arrow (beneath the words “blow here”) pointing downward toward Wendler’s crotch. Financial Job Losses Near Four-Year High as Europe Leads (Bloomberg) Financial-services firms are on track to cut the most jobs in January since the start of 2009 as Europe struggles to emerge from the debt crisis and regulators impose tougher capital rules. The 16,040 announced and expected reductions in the past three weeks are just short of the 16,389 cuts made in the industry during January 2009 after Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. collapsed, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Bankers and consultants expect the cuts to accelerate in coming months even as financial stocks gained 26 percent last year. Credit Bubble Seen in Davos as Cohn Warns of Repricing (Bloomberg) Goldman Sachs President Gary Cohn warned of a potential drop in fixed-income prices as bankers and policy makers in Davos celebrated surging demand for financial assets. Debt markets that have seen junk-bond yields drop to record lows may face a “substantial repricing” if interest rates spike or investors begin pulling money out of fixed income, Cohn, 52, said in an interview yesterday with Bloomberg Television’s Erik Schatzker at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Morgan Stanley CEO To Take Pay Cut (WSJ) Morgan Stanley disclosed Thursday that Mr. Gorman would receive about $2.6 million in stock options for 2012. All told, he will receive $6 million in salary, cash and stock for the year, said a person familiar with the company's compensation plans, plus participation in an incentive plan whose value wasn't disclosed. His full pay package won't be disclosed until this spring's proxy statement. Thousands of crocodiles on loose after floods hit South African farm (The Guardian) Around 15,000 crocodiles made the great escape from the Rakwena crocodile farm near the border with Botswana on Sunday, according to the newspaper Beeld. Although "a few thousand" have since been recaptured, including one at a school rugby ground 75 miles away, more than half of the reptiles are still at large.

Opening Bell: 09.05.12

ECB Plan Said To Pledge Unlimited, Sterilized Bond-Buying (Bloomberg) Under the blueprint, which may be called “Monetary Outright Transactions,” the ECB would refrain from setting a public cap on yields, according to the people, and a third official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The plan will only focus on government bonds rather than a broader range of assets and will target short-dated maturities of up to about three years, two of the people said. Facebook Plays Defense (WSJ) In a regulatory filing Tuesday, Facebook said Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg won't sell any stock in the company for a year, and that two of its directors—Marc Andreessen and Donald Graham—have no plans to sell their personal holdings beyond the amount needed to cover their tax liabilities. Facebook also detailed how it will essentially buy back 101 million shares when it issues previously restricted stock units to its staff in October. At recent prices, it would spend roughly $1.9 billion to keep those shares off the market. Spain Seeks To Stem Bank Crisis (WSJ) It's on the to-do list. Banks Faces Suits As States Weigh Libor Losses (NYT) The scandal over global interest rates has state officials like Janet Cowell of North Carolina working intensely behind the scenes to build a case for suing the nation’s largest banks. Ms. Cowell, the state’s elected treasurer, and several of her staff members have spent the summer combing through the state’s investments trying to determine how much the state may have lost because of suspected manipulation of Libor. “We think this could be as big as the mortgage crisis settlement, that this could be a really high impact situation and that we should be aggressive on this,” Ms. Cowell said, referring to the $25 billion settlement that the nation’s biggest banks entered with state attorneys general. Socialite In Traffic Bust On LI (NYP) Lisa Falcone leaded with the owner of the Mercedes she hit, Bob Cohen, and Verizon worker Fred Ledermann not to call police, “saying her husband would pay for everything,” the witness said. But Ledermann did call. soon arrived and shouted at cops to wait for a tow truck. A Southampton Town officer got so fed up with the billionaire’s bellowing that he ordered him to the side of the road and called for backup, the witness added. Because she smelled of alcohol and was staggering, the officer asked Lisa Falcone to take a Breathalyzer, according to a police report. From the side of the road, her still-simmering husband yelled, “Don’t take it!’’ When the cop threatened to arrest her because of the refusal, Phil changed his advice to “Take it! Take it!’’ according to the witness. SEC Charges China Firm With Falsifying Earnings (WSJ) The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission charged China Sky One Medical Inc. with falsely inflating its earnings, a rare action by the regulator almost two years after doubts about the accuracy of disclosures by small Chinese firms sent U.S. investors fleeing their stocks. In a statement published on its website Tuesday, the SEC said that Sky One Medical, which makes Chinese medicine and was once listed on the Nasdaq Stock Market, created about $19.8 million worth of phony export sales over the course of 2007 and 2008. Lehman’s Detroit Escape Means 90% Loss On Properties (Bloomberg) Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. has said it plans to be patient in selling real estate holdings four years after filing the largest U.S. bankruptcy in history. In Detroit, it’s willing to accept less than 10 cents on the dollar to get out while it can. Lehman is selling a 251,000-square-foot (23,000-square- meter) office property in suburban Farmington Hills. In June, the bank offered it at auction for $10 a square foot, which would have recovered less than 10 percent of the $27.5 million mortgage it extended in 2007. It’s also selling 1 Woodward Ave., a tower overlooking the city’s riverfront and border with Canada that’s 44 percent vacant. Gross: Fed Is Harming, Not Helping Economy (CNBC) In his latest investment outlook, the co-chief investment officer of Pimco said the level of "carry" or spreads that banks and investors can make has fallen to such lows that it was now hurting investments, exacerbating the deleveraging process already underway in the economy. “A lender will not easily lend money to an obese over-indebted borrower — that much is clear — but she will also not extend a check when the yield, carry and return on investment is so low that it cannot compensate for historic business model overheads," Gross said.

Opening Bell: 10.18.12

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