Opening Bell: 05.07.13

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HSBC Profit Rises as It Cuts Costs (WSJ)
Chief Executive Stuart Gulliver said the bank has cut 46,000 jobs since 2011, far more than he envisioned when he presented a three-year strategy that year. Then he said he'd shave around 10% from a 300,000-strong workforce. Mr. Gulliver said the bank has had to react to tough economic conditions in many markets, although he said he now sees the banking industry moving "into calmer waters" as the euro-zone crisis appears to have settled down. ... The bank, Europe's largest by assets, reported a sharp rise in first-quarter net profit, to $6.35 billion from $2.58 billion. After stripping out the fluctuating value of HSBC's own debt and sold businesses, underlying pretax profit rose 34% to $7.59 billion from $5.65 billion in the first three months of 2012. Underlying revenue was up 5%, to $17.56 billion from $16.8 billion.

Societe Generale Announces New Cuts as Profit Falls 50% (DealBook)
The bank said first-quarter net income fell 50 percent, to 364 million euros ($476 million), from the period a year earlier. That was well below the 674.6 million euro profit expected by analysts surveyed by Reuters. Société Générale, the second-largest French lender, said it planned 900 million euros of cost reductions through 2015, adding to the 550 million euros of cuts last year. Severin Cabannes, the bank’s deputy chief executive, told CNBC television that the bank was in talks with its unions about eliminating 600 to 700 jobs at its headquarters, but added that there would be “no forced layoffs.”

German finance minister softens stance on EU banking union (Reuters)
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble signaled a softening of his stance on a European banking union on Tuesday, saying the euro zone should press ahead on the basis of current law without waiting for a controversial overhaul of the EU's Lisbon treaty. ... Just last month, Schaeuble appeared to slam on the brakes by saying the European Union needed to consider treaty change before proceeding, due to the "doubtful legal basis" on which the project rested. Those comments sparked a backlash from EU officials and German partners like France.

Portugal’s Notes Rise as Nation Sells 10-Year Debt; Bunds Slide (Bloomberg)
“Portugal’s sale is important because it marks another step in the exit from the crisis,” said Luca Cazzulani, a senior rates strategist at UniCredit SpA (UCG) in Milan. “In the current market environment, there will probably be demand. Investors are rushing into anything that grants you a good yield and when you look at the Portuguese curve the 10-year is around 5.5 percent and so I think the sale will find demand.”

Soros Rumor Underpins Turning Tide Against Aussie (CNBC)
Rumors that George Soros was planning to short the Australia dollar has taken the wind out of the robust currency, fueling expectations that the tide is turning for the Aussie dollar. The Aussie fell 0.6 percent against the U.S. dollar late Monday on a report in the Sydney Morning Herald that bets against the currency totaling $1 billion were placed via Hong Kong and Singapore, believed to be by Soros Fund Management.

Christie reveals secret stomach surgery to lose weight (NYP)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie secretly underwent lap-band stomach surgery to aggressively slim down for the sake of his wife and kids, he revealed to The Post last night. ... “A week or two ago, I went to a steakhouse and ordered a steak and ate about a third of it and I was full,” he said of his newly tamed appetite. He declined to say how much he lost, but sources said he has already shed nearly 40 pounds. ... Sources said Christie didn’t make the decision lightly — he even had private conversations about the operation with once-rotund Jet coach Rex Ryan.

U.S. Directly Blames China’s Military for Cyberattacks (NYT)
The Obama administration on Monday explicitly accused China’s military of mounting attacks on American government computer systems and defense contractors, saying one motive could be to map “military capabilities that could be exploited during a crisis.” ... [T]he Pentagon report describes something far more sophisticated: A China that has now leapt into the first ranks of offensive cybertechnologies. It is investing in electronic warfare capabilities in an effort to blind American satellites and other space assets, and hopes to use electronic and traditional weapons systems to gradually push the United States military presence into the mid-Pacific nearly 2,000 miles from China’s coast.

Subprime bond bounces back, leaving behind a subprime borrower (Reuters)
"God bless them," Monzione marvels at the traders who flipped the bond of which his loan was a part. "I don't have a clue about what the hell that means to me personally." Monzione has put his finger on a strange disconnect. Some 57 percent of borrowers' loans in MABS 2006-FRE1 are delinquent by 60 days or more, but the bond came roaring back nevertheless. Curiously, its recovery had little to do with the real-world fates of the individuals behind the bond.

The Strange Case of JPMorgan's Fight With Energy Regulators (NetNet)
It's confusing.

Microsoft prepares U-turn on Windows 8 (FT)
“Key aspects” of how the software is used will be changed when Microsoft releases an updated version of the operating system this year, Tami Reller, head of marketing and finance for the Windows business, said in an interview with the Financial Times. Referring to difficulties many users have had with mastering the software, she added: “The learning curve is definitely real.” ... Richard Doherty, analyst at tech research firm Envisioneering, said: “This is like New Coke, going on for seven months – only Coke listened better.”

Craft Brewers Chug Away Heady Pressure by Bankers to Sell (Bloomberg)
Larry Bell, whose Bell’s Brewery Inc. is among the country’s largest craft brewers, isn’t sure how many solicitation letters, packets and e-mails he gets. He’s trained the receptionist to screen them out. During a meeting a couple of months ago with a major bank, Bell was shown an internal document detailing how to structure deals with various brewers. Bell’s name was on the list. A top executive from a mega-brewer that Bell declined to name once slipped a business card into Bell’s pocket at a beer summit in San Diego saying only, “You’re selling. I’m buying.” Bell wasn’t and didn’t.

Air Force sex-assault chief arrested on sexual battery charges (LAT)
The man leading a U.S. Air Force program responsible for preventing sexual assault has been arrested on suspicion of drunkenly groping a woman in an Arlington, Va., parking lot, officials said Monday.

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Opening Bell: 04.11.12

Profit Drop at U.S. Banks Imperils Rally (Bloomberg) The six largest U.S. lenders, including JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo, may post an 11 percent drop in first-quarter profit, threatening a rally that has pushed bank stocks 19 percent higher this year. The banks will post $15.3 billion in net income when adjusted for one-time items, down from $17.3 billion in last year’s first quarter, according to a Bloomberg survey of analysts. Trading revenue at the biggest lenders is projected to fall 23 percent to $18.3 billion, according to Morgan Stanley analysts, who didn’t include their firm or Wells Fargo. Making Waves Against 'Whale' (WSJ) Dozens of hedge funds are believed to have placed bets in the derivatives markets that pit them against positions taken by Bruno Iksil, the French-born trader who works for the bank's Chief Investment Office in London, according to people familiar with the matter. Funds that traded against Mr. Iksil earlier this year recorded big paper losses as his trades helped push down one credit index. The losses made Mr. Iksil a target for some hedge funds, who felt they could capitalize on his outsize position, these people say. The funds' wagers against Mr. Iksil's positions have become increasingly profitable in recent weeks as prices in the credit-derivatives index that was at the center of one of Mr. Iksil's trades rose after his trades ceased. "I view the entire market as a chess match playing against this guy," said a person who is familiar with Mr. Iksil's positions and is trading against him. Carlyle nears road show for $8B IPO (NYP) A road show will start as early as next week for the initial public offering (IPO) of Carlyle Group that will value the private-equity firm at between $7.5 billion and $8 billion, according to a person familiar with the matter. Carlyle filed documents to the Securities and Exchange Commission earlier this month to sell a 10 percent stake. The offering is likely to generate as much as $800 million in proceeds, according to the person familiar with the matter. Germany Pays Record Low Yield (WSJ) "The modest demand is due to the historical low yields, where investors are very reluctant to buy long-dated German bonds at these low levels despite the fiscal slippage we see in Spain and the ongoing crisis in the periphery," said Jens Peter Sorensen, chief analyst at Danske Markets. But RBS analysts said poor bund auctions at these yield levels have never been a good predictor for future demand, and thus it recommended not to "overly" focus on the sale to gauge demand for bunds. Weighing SEC's Crackdown on Fraud (WSJ) SEC enforcement chief Robert Khuzami said the current total of 101 cases shows the agency is "highly effective in tackling financial-crisis wrongdoing." Of the 74 cases filed against individuals so far, the SEC went after 55 chief executives, finance chiefs or other top officers. In an interview, Mr. Khuzami said the number is "significant" and "sends a strong deterrent message." Meredith Whitney Muni Call Was 100% Wrong: Bond Pro (CNBC) High-grade municipal bonds remain a solid investment despite their sometimes-battered public image, according to fixed income expert Alexandra Lebenthal. "I have come up with a new measure of risk, which is knowledge risk," said the president and CEO of Lebenthal and Co. "Is the person who is talking about municipal bonds, corporate bonds, equities, what have you, knowledgeable and should people be listening to them?" "Yes, I have an axe to grind," continued Lebenthal, whose father, James, is one of the more prominent names in the bond business. "I am in the municipal bond business, I'm also in the wealth management business and trying to do the best for clients. But I do know what I'm talking about because I have spent over 20 years in this business and another 20 growing up listening to it." Facebook deal ‘surprised’ bankers (NYP) “People are wondering if [Facebook] couldn’t have waited until after the IPO [to purchase Instagram],” said one source, who declined to be identified. Although Facebook is still awaiting IPO clearance from regulators, underwriters led by Morgan Stanley are hoping to launch the company’s share sale next month, possibly the week of May 14. Bankers plan to start the investor marketing campaign, known as a “road show,” about two weeks prior its launch. Zuckerberg held discrete talks with Instagram’s founders and managed to keep underwriters in the dark about the sale until late in the process, sources said. Critics of the controversial deal say Facebook’s timing for the acquisition is questionable, while supporters argue that the Instagram purchase enhances Facebook’s platform and stymies rivals. Investors run scared of Spain's battered banks (Reuters) "Most are currently on liquidity life support from the ECB but asset quality continues to deteriorate as house prices keep falling and unemployment is still rising," said Georg Grodzki, head of credit research at Legal & General Investment Management. "Their funding remains constrained and competition for deposits intense," he told Reuters. Economy Minister Luis De Guindos told Reuters last week that all Spanish banks had met capital requirements set by the European Banking Authority under a 115-billion-euro recapitalization plan decided by European Union leaders in December. But fund managers remain skeptical due to the slow-burning property crash. They include Mark Glazener, head of global equities at Dutch asset manager Robeco, who sold off his exposure to Spain at the end of last year. "Given the scale of over-building over all these years, the present provisioning that the banks have made does not appear to be enough," he said. Zuckerberg Threatened to Disable Ceglia Site Amid Dispute (Bloomberg) Facebook cofounder Mark Zuckerberg threatened in 2004 to disable part of the website he was working on for Paul Ceglia, the New York man now suing him for part-ownership of the multibillion-dollar company, according to copies of e-mails filed by Facebook in federal court...“I must receive $5,000 by next Saturday at midnight, or the scroll search functionality will be removed from the site,” Zuckerberg wrote in a message to Ceglia on Feb. 21, 2004, about two weeks after he put “Thefacebook.com” online. Zuckerberg told Ceglia he owed him $10,500 of the $19,500 he’d been promised, according to the e-mails, filed by Facebook as part of the lawsuit in Buffalo, New York. Facebook last month asked the judge to throw out the lawsuit.

Opening/Hurricane Bell: 10.29.12

Bracing for Storm, U.S. Stock Markets to Close (Dealbook) All United States stock and options markets will close on Monday as Hurricane Sandy approaches, reversing course as Wall Street braces for the storm to barrel through the heart of the country’s financial center. The decision, made late Sunday night, leaves the American stock markets closed for weather conditions for the first time in nearly three decades. The New York Stock Exchange had previously planned on closing only its physical trading floor, while allowing for trading on its Arca electronic exchange. It has now decided to halt all trading. The Nasdaq and BATS stock markets, which are built on electronic trading, also decided to close. The CME Group, which operates the Nymex commodities exchange, said earlier on Sunday that it would close its physical trading floor on Monday, though trading would continue on its electronic trading platforms. The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, or Sifma, said in an e-mailed statement that it was calling for bond trading, which is all done electronically, to close at noon Monday, though it left the final decision to member firms. The N.Y.S.E. last closed trading for weather reasons in 1985, when Hurricane Gloria lashed the metropolitan area. Markets Go Dark Ahead Of Storm (WSJ) Customers had complained to the exchanges and to the Securities and Exchange Commission that partial closures of the market would be too complicated, according to people with knowledge of the matter. US Stock Markets To Possibly Stay Closed Through Tuesday (Reuters) In a statement, the company said that "the dangerous conditions developing as a result of Hurricane Sandy will make it extremely difficult to ensure the safety of our people and communities, and safety must be our first priority." Citigroup, Goldman Sachs Shut Some NYC Offices for Storm (Bloomberg) Citigroup and and Goldman Sachs are among Wall Street firms planning to shift operations to other cities and have staff work from home as Hurricane Sandy’s arrival in New York forces evacuations. Employees at Citigroup, the third-biggest U.S. bank by assets, won’t be able to enter Lower Manhattan offices on Greenwich Street and Wall Street, which include the main trading floor, according to a memo sent to workers and confirmed by Shannon Bell, a spokeswoman. Goldman Sachs, whose corporate headquarters at 200 West St. is also located in an evacuation zone, told the staff in an internal memo that most of them will work from home...European-based firms including Deutsche Bank AG, Credit Suisse Group AG and UBS AG, which have offices outside of the mandatory evacuation zone, are making arrangements to provide transportation and hotels for workers. Christie: "Don't Be Stupid" (AP) A year after telling New Jersey residents to "Get the hell off the beach" as Hurricane Irene approached, Gov. Chris Christie has a new message for people on the coastline: "Don't be stupid — get out," Christie said Sunday afternoon at a news conference, where he updated residents on the status of the huge storm bearing down on the state. Stock Pickers Game The Fiscal Cliff (WSJ) A number of companies are seeking to get ahead of the tax increases by paying out big special dividends before Dec. 31. In the past two weeks, at least four Standard & Poor's 500 companies have announced special payouts, including a $750 million payout by casino operator Wynn Resorts Ltd., a $1.1 billion dividend from hospital operator HCA Holdings Inc. and a $1.6 billion dividend from LyondellBasell Industries NV, a New York-listed chemicals group. The game for investors is to figure out which companies could be next. Jay Wong, a Los Angeles-based portfolio manager for Payden & Rydel, a money manager with $75 billion under management, is on high alert for potential payouts. He increased his stake in Wynn earlier this month in anticipation of a special dividend and is looking for others. He declined to be specific, citing a desire to not give his trades away. Occupy Wall Street's Stacey Hessler Splits From Husband (NYP, earlier) The filing lists Curtiss’ occupation as banker and says he earns $65,000 a year. Her job is listed in court papers as “protester” and her employer as “Occupy Wall Street.” Annual salary: $0. Divorce papers cite “irreconcilable differences” for the split, saying the 19-year marriage “is irretrievably broken.” One OWS protester who knows her says that Stacey’s devotion to the movement caused the divorce but that she was unfazed by the breakup. “She didn’t seem sad about any of it,” the source said. “It was just so matter-of-fact.” As recently as last month, Stacey, 39, was sleeping in front of a Wells Fargo bank branch in the Financial District near Zuccotti Park, but it appears she scrambled back home to suburban DeLand to finalize the divorce. Wearing her professional-protester uniform — a bandana and patchwork clothes — she refused to say what her plans were or when she’d be leaving the house. But she did respond when a Post reporter asked about a YouTube video showing her making out with another protester during an Occupy “Kiss In” on Valentine’s Day. “I actually made out with four guys,” she said, laughing wildly. Governments to debate 50 billion euro cut to EU budget (Reuters) The cut will be proposed in the latest EU negotiating text on the bloc's spending plan for 2014-2020, but is unlikely to be deep enough to satisfy Britain, Germany, France and other net budget contributors. They want strict limits on EU spending to reflect the austerity imposed by national governments to reduce debt, and called for cuts of 100-200 billion euros to the total proposed by the EU's executive, the European Commission. The proposal is also likely to anger Poland and other former communist EU countries who are the major beneficiaries of EU funds, and oppose any cuts to the Commission's blueprint which they argue is vital for their future economic growth. "As I see it now, the reduction from the Commission proposal will be 50 billion euros plus. That will be the basis for negotiations," said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Greek Journalist Held Over List of Swiss-Account Holders (Bloomberg) Kostas Vaxevanis, editor of the Greek magazine Hot Doc, was arrested in Athens today, according to a message posted on his Twitter account at 11 a.m. local time. An arrest warrant was issued yesterday after the magazine published what’s been dubbed the “Lagarde list,” an electronic file given to Greece in 2010 by then-French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde of about 2,000 Greeks with Swiss accounts. Insurers Prepare For Impact Of Hurricane Sandy (Reuters) Had Sandy hit in 2011, it may have been more of a problem for the insurance industry, which dealt with record-breaking losses around the world last year, mostly from U.S. tornadoes and Asia-Pacific earthquakes. But in 2012, most insurers' disaster losses are down substantially, leaving them with more capacity to absorb the billions of dollars in costs some expect from Hurricane Sandy. "In terms of losses, I certainly don't think it's going to be the largest loss of the last 100 years," Tom Larsen, senior vice president of Eqecat, said in an interview late Friday. "It's not an end-of-days scenario." SEC Weighs Bringing Back Fractions in Stock Prices (WSJ) The move would at least partly undo an 11-year-old rule that replaced fractions of a dollar in stock prices, like 1/8 and 1/16, with pennies. The idea of that change was to trim investors' trading costs: One-cent increments can lead to narrower gaps between the prices at which brokers buy and sell shares—potentially reducing their opportunity to shave off profits. Those championing the fraction's return say it would spur securities firms to buy and sell more shares of some companies by making it more profitable for them to do so. Opponents say fractions would increase trading costs for investors with little or no benefit to companies. UBS, RBS Traders Suspended as Rates Probe Goes Beyond Libor (Bloomberg) UBS and Royal Bank of Scotland suspended more than three traders in Singapore as regulators investigating Libor-rigging turn their attention to the rates used to set prices on foreign exchange derivatives. At least two foreign-exchange traders at UBS, Switzerland’s largest bank, have been put on leave as part of an internal probe into the manipulation of non-deliverable forwards, a derivative traders use to speculate on the movement of currencies that are subject to domestic foreign exchange restrictions, according to a person with direct knowledge of the operation. Edinburgh-based RBS also put Ken Choy, a director in its emerging markets foreign exchange trading unit, on leave, a person briefed on the matter said on Oct. 26. Women who knew 'cannibal cop' worried they were on his 'cook list' (NYP) “Freaked-out” female acquaintances of would-be cannibal cop Gilberto “Gil” Valle yesterday wondered whether they were on his alleged list of 100 ladies to kidnap, rape, torture, cook — and eat. “I was so shaken when I found out it was him,” said Beverly Seiger, who knew Valle, 28, from the Forest Hills, Queens, park he visited nightly with his wife and baby daughter. “I used to walk his dog. I’ve been to his house many times. He’s been to my house,” she said of Valle, whom federal prosecutors accuse of plotting with three fiendish pals to kidnap, cook and consume scores of females. “I don’t want to be on his list!” Seiger said. “I’m so thin, he would use me as toothpicks. “The women in this neighborhood now are freaked out,” she said. Another female resident asked a reporter, “Are we on this list? “I fit in an oven,” she said, referring to Valle’s alleged boasting online of having an oven “big enough to fit one of these girls if I folded their legs.”

Opening Bell: 12.10.12

U.S. authorities probe SAC for Weight Watchers (Reuters) U.S. authorities are investigating Steven A. Cohen's SAC Capital Advisors hedge fund for possible insider trading in the shares of the popular diet company Weight Watchers International Inc, according to people familiar with the matter. The investigation focuses on trading in Weight Watchers shares in the first half of 2011, when SAC Capital had taken a sizeable position in the stock, and potentially could implicate the billionaire hedge fund manager, the sources said on Friday. Regulatory filings show that Cohen's $14 billion fund briefly held 2.1 million shares in Weight Watchers during the period under scrutiny by authorities - at which time the diet company's stock price roughly doubled. The inquiry is in its early stages and it is not clear whether anything improper was done either by SAC Capital or Cohen himself, said the people familiar with the matter, who requested anonymity. The trading in Weight Watchers would be permissible as long as it was based on fundamental research or derived from individuals who did not have access to non-public corporate information. Big Money Bets On Housing Rebound (NYT) A flurry of private-equity giants and hedge funds have spent billions of dollars to buy thousands of foreclosed single-family homes. They are purchasing them on the cheap through bank auctions, multiple listing services, short sales and bulk purchases from local investors in need of cash, with plans to fix up the properties, rent them out and watch their values soar as the industry rebounds. They have raised as much as $8 billion to invest, according to Jade Rahmani, an analyst at Keefe Bruyette & Woods. The Blackstone Group, the New York private-equity firm run by Stephen A. Schwarzman, has spent more than $1 billion to buy 6,500 single-family homes so far this year. The Colony Capital Group, headed by the Los Angeles billionaire Thomas J. Barrack Jr., has bought 4,000. Wall Street workers expecting worst bonus season since 2008 (NYP) State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli estimates that the average bonus this year will be $101,000 — a 16.5 percent decline from last year and almost a 50 percent decline since 2006, when the average was $191,360. ‘‘I don’t think this year’s bonuses are going to be very good,’’ said Dan Shaffer, CEO of Shaffer Asset Management. ‘‘I don’t believe the typical bonuses, as we used to know them, exist anymore.’’ Obama Meets with Boehner Privately at White House (Bloomberg) The meeting was the first known face-to-face conversation between the two leaders since Nov. 16, when Boehner and other congressional leaders sat down with Obama at the White House. They have talked on the telephone since then. Obama met with Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic minority leader, on Dec. 7. Investors offer about $38.8 billion in Greek debt buyback (Reuters) Greece is set to purchase back about half of its debt owned by private investors, broadly succeeding in a bond buyback that is key to the country's international bailout, a Greek government official said on Saturday. Hefner Husband Takes Insider Trading Into Playboy Bedroom (Bloomberg) Christie Hefner, [daughter of Hugh and] former chief executive officer of Playboy Enterprises Inc., said she was shocked as her husband of 15 years, William Marovitz, confessed to her that he was being investigated for suspicious trading in Playboy shares. They were in their apartment atop a 42-story Lincoln Park tower overlooking the glittering Chicago skyline and Lake Michigan on a March evening in 2010. “He told me he had been contacted by the SEC,” Hefner said later in testimony before the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which didn’t accuse her of any wrongdoing. “And when did you learn your husband owned shares of Playboy?” she was asked. “In that conversation,” she replied. Hefner's husband is just one of more than 400 persons the SEC and the U.S. Department of Justice have accused of insider trading in a crackdown in the last five years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. All involved betrayal -- of clients, employers, relatives or friends. The Hefner episode and a handful of cases like it include an especially cruel breach of trust: betrayal of a wife by a husband. Tennis star Novak buys up world's supply of donkey cheese at £400 a pound for new restaurant chain (DM) The cheese, known as pule, will be one of the key attractions at a chain of restaurants the Wimbledon champion and world number one is opening in his Serbian homeland...The Zasavica farm, which lies 50 miles west of the Serbian capital Belgrade, boasts a herd of 130 and is said to be the only place in the world where donkeys are milked for cheese. Banking Industry Squirms Over European Rate Probe (WSJ) The scandal over banks' attempted manipulation of interest rates has mostly centered on the London interbank offered rate. But Libor's lesser known cousin, the euro interbank offered rate, or Euribor, is facing mounting attacks. The European Union is expected soon to accuse multiple banks of attempted collusion in the setting of Euribor, according to people briefed on the probe. Barclays has already acknowledged trying to rig the rate, and other banks are likely to be pressed by regulators in the U.S., U.K. and elsewhere into similar admissions, according to industry and regulatory officials. Mortgage Crisis Presents a New Reckoning to Banks (NYT) Regulators, prosecutors, investors and insurers have filed dozens of new claims against Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and others, related to more than $1 trillion worth of securities backed by residential mortgages. Estimates of potential costs from these cases vary widely, but some in the banking industry fear they could reach $300 billion if the institutions lose all of the litigation. Depending on the final price tag, the costs could lower profits and slow the economic recovery by weakening the banks’ ability to lend just as the housing market is showing signs of life. Crisis Measure Nears End (WSJ) Barring action by Congress, the FDIC on Dec. 31 will stop providing an unlimited guarantee on zero-interest bank accounts used by businesses and municipalities for payroll and other services. The guarantee would then revert to the normal $250,000 in insurance per depositor at any given bank. If the guarantee isn't extended, FBR Capital Markets estimates as much as $250 billion in deposits could flow out of smaller banks to large banks or big money-market mutual funds. Stylish primate charms Toronto shoppers (The Star) A North York Ikea store attracted an unusual customer Sunday afternoon, when a tiny monkey dressed in a fitted faux shearling coat and diapers appeared in the store’s upper parking garage around 2 p.m. “It was just running around screaming,” said shopper Bronwyn Page...“It was really cute,” said Lisa Lin, another shopper. “It was smaller than a cat.” But if the monkey had hoped to stock up on Billy bookcases or Swedish meatballs, its plans were thwarted. The diminutive shopper never made it into the store, said manager Alvaro Carmona. No one was hurt in the incident, which lasted no more than half an hour, he added. Animal Services identified the monkey as a rhesus macaque, an Asian species that is prohibited in Ontario. The monkeys are known for their ability to live in diverse habitats – although Canadian winters obviously require a warm coat. The owner of the primate turned himself in to Animal Services just after 5 p.m. He was charged with owning a prohibited animal, an offence that carries a $200 fine. The seven-month-old monkey has somehow managed to escape his owner’s car in the Ikea parking lot, said animal control officer David Behan.

Opening Bell: 03.01.13

Congress Leaders To Meet With Obama As Budget Cuts Begin (Bloomberg) Democrats and Republicans are in a standoff over how to replace the cuts totaling $1.2 trillion over nine years, $85 billion of which would occur in the remaining seven months of this fiscal year. Republicans reject Democrats’ call for higher taxes on top earners to replace part of the spending reductions. “Middle-class families can’t keep paying the price for dysfunction in Washington,” Obama said in a statement yesterday. The president has until 11:59 p.m. to issue the order officially putting the cuts into effect. “How much more money do we want to steal from the American people to fund more government?” Boehner said at a news conference in Washington yesterday. “I’m for no more.” The White House meeting follows the Senate’s rejection yesterday of a pair of partisan proposals to replace the spending reductions. No additional congressional action is planned before the start of the cuts, to be split between defense and non-defense spending. Fiscal Pain to Be Parceled Out Unevenly (WSJ) Economies in and around the nation's capital are likely to feel the most pain. Federal spending accounts for about a fifth of the economic output of Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia, according to the Pew Center on the States. Other areas likely to be hit hard are Hawaii and Alaska, which have a heavy military presence, and states such as New Mexico, Kentucky and Alabama, which have major defense operations or substantial military contracting. Struggling Groupon Ousts Its Quirky CEO (WSJ) Mr. Mason didn't return calls for comment. In a memo to employees that was by turns tongue-in-cheek and rueful, he said, "After four and a half intense and wonderful years as CEO of Groupon, I've decided that I'd like to spend more time with my family. Just kidding—I was fired today." 'Girls' Gone Under (NYP) “Girls Gone Wild” founder Joe Francis has put his video empire into bankruptcy in a bid to wiggle out of some $16 million in debt — most of it owed to casino magnate Steve Wynn. Wynn’s camp claims Francis owes closer to $30 million, including $2 million for unpaid gambling debts and $7.5 million in defamation damages. Wynn first hauled Francis to court to get him to pay the $2 million debt he racked up during a 2007 gambling binge. He sued again for defamation after Francis blabbed to gossip site TMZ that Wynn threatened to kill him and bury him in the desert. Wynn won two defamation awards for $7.5 million and $20 million, although the latter wasn’t listed in the Chapter 11 filing. Michael Weaver, a spokesman for Wynn Las Vegas, said the judgments are against Francis “personally” and not the company. “Consequently, these recent bankruptcy filings by the GGW companies will not slow our efforts to collect on our judgments against Mr. Francis,” he said. New York Investigating Bank of America for Mortgages (Reuters) Bank of America said in a securities filing on Thursday that the New York State Attorney General was investigating the bank over its purchase, securitization and underwriting of home loans. SEC Scrutinizing Chesapeake Energy (WSJ) The SEC notified Chesapeake in December that it was stepping up an informal inquiry into Aubrey McClendon's ability to invest in wells that the company drills, the company disclosed in a regulatory filing. The agency has issued subpoenas for information and testimony to Chesapeake, the country's second-largest natural-gas producer. Mornings Not For Erin Burnett, Demanding Sizable Buyout (NYP) Erin Burnett made her morning-show debut yesterday on CNN with Chris Cuomo for Pope Benedict XVI’s last day on the job. But it doesn’t mean she’s going to end up there permanently, sources tell The Post’s Michael Shain. It seems Burnett is digging in her high heels and refusing the new morning assignment. She has a clause in her contract that requires CNN to air her show in prime time. If new boss Jeff Zucker wants her to get up at 4 a.m., Erin is demanding a sizable chunk of cash — more than her $2.5 million salary — to buy her out of the prime-time clause. Insiders say Zucker believes she should be grateful she’s being offered a marquee job and he has started to look elsewhere for an anchor to partner with Cuomo. Burnett is telling her staff she doesn’t want to go to the morning. “What she means is she doesn’t want to go at the old price,” sniffed a source. Druckenmiller Sees Storm Worse Than ’08 as Retirees Steal (Bloomberg) Druckenmiller, 59, said the mushrooming costs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, with unfunded liabilities as high as $211 trillion, will bankrupt the nation’s youth and pose a much greater danger than the country’s $16 trillion of debt currently being debated in Congress. “While everybody is focusing on the here and now, there’s a much, much bigger storm that’s about to hit,” Druckenmiller said in an hour-long interview with Stephanie Ruhle on Bloomberg Television’s Market Makers. “I am not against seniors. What I am against is current seniors stealing from future seniors.” Druckenmiller said unsustainable spending will eventually result in a crisis worse than the financial meltdown of 2008, when $29 trillion was erased from global equity markets. What’s particularly troubling, he said, is that government expenditures related to programs for the elderly rocketed in the past two decades, even before the first baby boomers, those born in 1946, started turning 65. Lloyds CEO Links Bonus To Stake Sale (WSJ) Chief Executive António Horta-Osório said he is "very confident" U.K. taxpayers will get their money back, referring to the stake of about 40% the government took in the bank following a series of bailouts at the height of the crisis. He requested that his £1.49 million ($2.26 million) bonus only be paid if the government sells at least a third of its holdings in Lloyds at a share price above 61 pence. The average buy-in price for the U.K. government was 63.1 pence, according to U.K. Financial Investments, a body that manages the government's stake in Lloyds. Unemployment Worsens In Euro Zone (WSJ) Eurostat, the European Union's statistics agency, said 11.9% of the euro zone's workforce was unemployed in January, the highest percentage for the 17 countries that make up the currency bloc since records began in 1995. The figure is higher than the jobless rate of 11.8% in December. Wilbur Ross: Italy Has Choice Of 'Two Clowns' (CNBC) ...in the wake of the unresolved Italian election, the WL Ross chairman said he's worried the next leader of the economically-troubled nation is a choice of two clowns — former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and comedian Beppe Grillo. "One, an acknowledged clown, and one may be inadvertent clown. And until that gets resolved, there's a great danger that the nice reforms that Mr. Monti put in will just get rolled back." Truck crashes on I-80 in Reno, spilling Heinz ketchup 'everywhere' (RGJ) A tractor trailer carrying thousands of bottles of Heinz ketchup crashed on Interstate 80 near the Robb Drive overpass this afternoon, spilling its red contents onto the freeway and snarling traffic in the process. “I have red everywhere on the highway,” said Sgt. Janay Sherven with the Nevada Highway Patrol. “No bodies, no people, just ketchup.” There were no injuries in the accident, which happened when the driver of the semi-truck likely overcorrected to avoid another car while traveling eastbound, she said. The truck hit the center median and then knocked over a light pole that slashed open the left side of the trailer. As a result, thousands of bottles and cans of ketchup were splattered onto the road like a bad horror movie. ‘“The scene looks pretty bad as far as color goes,” Sherven 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."

Opening Bell: 10.16.12

Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit Resigns (WSJ) Citigroup Chief Executive Vikram Pandit is stepping down, effective immediately, and will be succeeded by Michael Corbat. "Given the progress we have made in the last few years, I have concluded that now is the right time for someone else to take the helm at Citigroup," Mr. Pandit said in a statement. "We respect Vikram's decision," Chairman Michael E. O'Neill said. "Since his appointment at the start of the financial crisis until the present time, Vikram has restructured and recapitalized the company, strengthened our global franchise and refocused the business." President and Chief Operating Officer John P. Havens also resigned. Mr. Corbat, who has spent nearly three decades at Citi, previously served as its CEO for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. "Mike is a proven, hands-on leader who is known for his focus on enhancing productivity, holding people accountable and practicing sound risk management," Mr. O'Neill said. "He has consistently delivered impressive bottom-line results at many of our major global business units and has forged a strong track record of improving efficiency and mitigating risk while also optimizing the allocation of the company's capital." Mr. Pandit is resigning as a board member as well. Vikram Pandit Steps Down, Jim Cramer Loses His Mind (CNBC) “This is a complete shock. No one expected this whatsoever,” said Cramer. "The divisions were all in very good shape, I don’t even want for a second to tell people that there was anything in the works to make this happen. There was nothing...this was the quarter where you give him a big raise, he was under a lot of pressure but he got this right.” Cramer lauded Citi’s earnings results and questioned why he would leave so abruptly. “Vikram Pandit, 24 hours ago, was the belle of the ball. This guy finally got it right. Something’s wrong here,” he said. "I don't know what the heck is going on here." Goldman Swings To Profit (WSJ) Overall, Goldman's investment-banking arm recorded revenue of $1.16 billion, up 49% from a year ago, although 3.2% lower than in the second quarter. Goldman said debt underwriting revenue surged to $466 million from $168 million a year ago. Stock underwriting revenue more than doubled to $189 million, though financial advisory revenue fell 2.7% to $509 million. Fixed income, currency and commodities client execution revenue rose 28% to $2.22 billion. Goldman posted a profit of $1.51 billion, compared with a year-earlier loss of $393 million. Earnings per share—reflecting the payment of preferred dividends—were $2.85 from a loss of 84 cents a year earlier. Net revenue, including net interest income, more than doubled to $8.35 billion. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected per-share earnings of $2.12 on revenue of $7.3 billion. Soros Demands Germany Stop Euro From Destroying Europe (Reuters) The crisis "is pushing the EU into a lasting depression, and it is entirely self-created," said Soros, chairman of Soros Fund Management. "There is a real danger of the euro destroying the European Union." He added: "The way to escape it is for Germany to accept ... greater commitment to helping not only its interests but the interests of the debtor countries, and playing the role of the benevolent hegemon." Wells Fargo Creates Markets Unit, Takes On Wall Street (Bloomberg) The division will be one of five main units under the Wells Fargo Securities brand and include equity and fixed-income sales and trading, commodities, prime services and futures clearing, the San Francisco-based firm said today in a statement. Walter Dolhare and Tim Mullins will oversee the division and report to John Shrewsberry, 47. Damien Hirst condemned for killing 9,000 butterflies in Tate show (Telegraph) Visitors to the exhibit at the Tate Modern in London observed the insects close-up as they flew, rested, and fed on bowls of fruit...Figures obtained from the Tate reveal that more than 9,000 butterflies died during the 23 weeks that the exhibition was open. Each week it was replenished with approximately 400 live butterflies to replace those that died – some of them trodden underfoot, others injured when they landed on visitors’ clothing and were brushed off. A spokesman for the RSPCA said: “In this so-called 'art exhibition’, butterflies are forced to exist in the artificial environment of a closed room for their entire lives. “There would be national outcry if the exhibition involved any other animal, such as a dog. Just because it is butterflies, that does not mean they do not deserve to be treated with kindness.” Reactions Ranges On Pandit Resignation (Reuters) Peter Jankovskis, co-chief investment officer of Oakbrook Investments: "I'm surprised...I would have expected he wanted to stay around and see some of the fruits of his labors there." Matt McCormick, analyst at Bahl & Gaynor: "He was not beloved by Wall Street. He was the accidental president. He was thrust into that position- he's a hedge fund guy." Florida cops hunt pee-wee coach for sucker-punching ref during game (NYDN) Referee Andrew Keigans told cops that he called the game a forfeit after West Park Saints assistant coach Dion Robinson, 43, made an ugly remark from the sidelines. Robinson was caught on camera pushing around Keigans before another coach restrained him. He then broke free, ran across the field and sucker-punched Keigans as he walked off the field, dropping the ref to the turf. Cops are still looking for Robinson and want to charge him with assault, the station reported.