Opening Bell: 05.23.13

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Global Markets Roiled by Nikkei's 7.3% Slide (AP)
Several reasons have been blamed for the 7.3 percent fall in the Nikkei index to 14,483.98, including a spike in Japanese government bond yields and unexpectedly weak Chinese manufacturing figures.

Euro-Zone Business Activity Falls Again (WSJ)
Markit Economics said its composite purchasing managers' index for the euro zone—a measure of activity in the services and manufacturing sectors—rose to 47.7 from 46.9 in April, a stronger outcome than that forecast by economists but still below the level of 50 that separates growth from contraction. Speaking after the surveys were released, a member of the European Central Bank's governing council said he didn't expect the euro zone's economy to pick up in the near future. "From my personal view, I don't see at the moment any indication of a significant improvement in the economic situation for the immediate future," said Ewald Nowotny, who is also governor of the Austrian central bank.

Wall Street Seeks Dodd-Frank Changes Through Trade Talks (Bloomberg)
U.S. bankers and insurers are trying to use trade deals, which can trump existing legislation, to weaken parts of the Dodd-Frank Act designed to prevent a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis. While the companies say they are seeking agreements that preserve strong regulations and encourage economic growth, their effort is drawing fire from groups who argue that Wall Street wants to make the trade negotiations a new front in its three-year campaign to stop or alter the law.

In a Plus for Electrics, Tesla Repays a Big Federal Loan Early (DealBook)
“Today’s repayment is the latest indication that the Energy Department’s portfolio of more than 30 loans is delivering big results for the American economy while costing far less than anticipated,” Ernest Moniz, the energy secretary, said in a statement. ... The Energy Department on Wednesday said that losses on its loans were equivalent to 2 percent of its $34 billion portfolio.

Rating agencies under fire again (FT)
... for not upgrading RMBS fast enough.

For Philadelphia Bicyclist, a Cat Is His Co-Pilot (AP)
"People are thrilled to see the guy with the cat ride his bike down the street," Saldia said. But online commenters have been less kind, questioning whether the unharnessed cat is safe. Saldia noted he is equally vulnerable while riding in the city and takes necessary precautions. "I'm very confident that the cat would be better off in an accident than I would be, so I'm not worried about taking her out," he said.

EU may give Greece more time to meet fiscal targets: Dijsselbloem (Reuters)
The euro zone may give Greece more time to meet fiscal targets agreed under its international bailout, the chairman of the euro zone finance ministers said in an interview published on Thursday. "The Commission's approach regarding fiscal consolidation is more flexible, giving certain countries more time to meet their targets. I believe that this will be the case for Greece if needed," Jeroen Dijsselbloem told Kathimerini newspaper.

For Proxy Advisers, Influence Wanes (WSJ)
Big firms that sell recommendations on how to vote in corporate elections are losing some of their relevance, as companies more aggressively court key investors ahead of big votes and those investors handle more of the voting analysis themselves. ... "Our power is probably shrinking a little bit,'' said David Eaton, vice president of proxy research for Glass Lewis.

Wary of China, U.S. Steps Into Sprint's Board (WSJ)
SoftBank Corp. is readying a plan to allow the U.S. government an unusual level of influence over the operations of Sprint Nextel Corp., a concession to ease security concerns raised by the proposed cross-border takeover. Tokyo-based SoftBank has agreed to give the federal government the right to approve one of the directors it names to Sprint's board. That director will be responsible for overseeing national security issues. People familiar with the matter said the government is also seeking the right to approve some of Sprint's equipment purchases and wants the removal of Chinese gear from a Sprint affiliate's network.

JPMorgan’s Wealth Unit Fined in Britain (DealBook)
British regulators fined JPMorgan Chase £3.1 million ($4.7 million) on Thursday for failings in its wealth management division. The Financial Conduct Authority of Britain said that the unit’s senior management had failed to provide clients adequate advice and carried out poor recording-keeping related to individuals’ investments between 2010 and 2012. ... “No matter who they are, customers of wealth managers should be able to expect the firm to keep complete, up-to-date client records so that they can give the right advice,” Tracey McDermott, the Financial Conduct Authority’s director of enforcement and financial crime, said in a statement. The British regulator said that the poor record-keeping had not materially affected any JPMorgan client.

Cash Piles Up as U.S. CEOs Play Safe With Slow-Growth Economy (Bloomberg)
“What concerns me is that companies have all of this excess cash and they are not deploying it into their long-term operations,” said Nick Raich, chief executive officer of the Earnings Scout, an independent economic research firm based in Cleveland. “Public outcry will erupt if companies do not spend and create jobs.”

Derek Jeter uses phony name 'Philip' at Greenwich Village Starbucks (NYP)
The Yankee shortstop was spotted yesterday leaving one of the coffee chain’s locations in Greenwich Village with a cup suspiciously marked with the name “Philip.” Without his pinstripes, the Yankee captain may have been trying to go incognito as he picked up a cup of joe. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time he’s operated under an alias. In 2007, The Smoking Gun Web site published a bill that showed the currently injured baseball star used the pseudonym “Johnny Drama” — an apparent reference to the HBO show “Entourage” — to check into a Seattle hotel with his teammates.

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Opening Bell: 06.14.12

Geithner Seeks More Euro-Zone Measures (WSJ) Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner called the bailout of Spain's banking system "a good, concrete signal" of the euro-zone commitment to financial integration, but said the currency union must act quickly with more measures to quell its crisis. "This is a very challenging crisis for them still," he said Wednesday in a discussion at the Council on Foreign Relations. "They recognize they're going to have to do a bunch more to…restore a bit of calm and to convince people they're going to do what's necessary to make this work." Spanish Crisis Deepens (WSJ) The financial crisis threatening the Spanish government deepened Thursday as Spain's borrowing costs surpassed their euro-zone record, touching levels that previously forced other euro-zone countries to seek sovereign debt bailouts. The move followed yet another sovereign credit downgrade and coincided with fresh evidence Thursday of economic and financial stress as the decline of Spanish housing prices accelerated to a 12.6% annual rate in the first quarter and Spanish banks increased their reliance on European Central Bank funding. Spain Credit Rating Slashed by Moody's, Egan-Jones (Reuters) Moody's Investors Service cut its rating on Spanish government debt by three notches on Wednesday From A-3 to to Baa-3, saying the newly approved euro zone plan to help the country's banks will increase the country's debt burden. Moody's, which said it could lower Spain's rating further, also cited the Spanish government's "very limited'' access to international debt markets and the weakness of the country's economy. Greek Banks Under Pressure (WSJ) In a sign of heightened nervousness within the country, depositors have been steadily increasing their withdrawals from Greek banks. The withdrawals, according to senior bankers in Athens, approach the level of deposit flight seen when government coalition talks collapsed after inconclusive elections on May 6, forcing the new vote. "Why I'm Betting Big On Europe" (Fortune) David Herro seems awfully relaxed for a man who has more than $1 billion invested in European banks. It's a sunny morning in late May, and I'm sitting across from the boyish 51-year-old fund manager in his downtown Chicago office. He's giving me his full attention, but I can't stop glancing at the headlines blinking on the Bloomberg terminal behind him. The euro is about to hit a two-year low. Greece is on the brink of disaster. Spain's real estate market is in shambles, and Italian sovereign debt is as fragile as stained glass. The global economy is roiling, and Herro is positively beatific. "Eventually they're going to get these problems solved," he says. "If you look at the economic history of the world, problems come and problems go. There are problems, and they do have to be dealt with. And our view is that all these problems are manageable." Large Institutions Discuss New Marketplace for Bonds (WSJ) In recent weeks, senior traders at investment managers and big Wall Street banks have been discussing how the financial industry can set up a centralized electronic market that would let all participants trade bonds freely with one another, according to people involved in the talks. BofA Beating JPMorgan As BNP Leads French Lenders Retreat (Bloomberg) Bank of America overtook JPMorgan Chase as the biggest lender to the commodities industry in the first five months as French lenders led by BNP Paribas retreated amid the debt crisis. Commodity loans arranged by Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America totaled $14.71 billion, and New York-based JPMorgan’s $14.41 billion ranked it second, according to syndicated-loan data compiled by Bloomberg. Citigroup was the third biggest with $13.68 billion of financing, rising from fourth last year. BNP Paribas slipped to 17th from second. Lazard elects former Citigroup chairman Richard Parsons to board (NYP) Financial advisory and asset management firm Lazard Ltd. said Wednesday that it elected former Citigroup chairman Richard Parsons to its board, effective immediately. Parsons served as chairman of Citigroup Inc. from February 2009 until his retirement in April 2012. He had served as a director on its board since 1996. Before that, he was chairman and chief executive of the media and entertainment company Time Warner Inc. Montreal teacher suspended with pay for showing students ‘Canadian Cannibal’ Luke Magnotta murder video (NYDN) A Canadian teacher was fighting for his job after he was suspended for showing students a gory video allegedly showing Maple Leaf man-eater Luke Magnotta killing his Chinese lover. The Cavelier-De LaSalle High School 10th grade teacher appeared before a labor board on Wednesday to explain himself, and Montreal police were mulling whether to slap him with criminal charges, The Canadian Press reported. School officials said the teacher, who is in his 20s, polled students about whether they wanted to watch the grisly snuff video during class on June 4. The yays outweighed the nays, according to the Press. In the 11-minute video, Magnotta, a porn actor and sometime escort, allegedly tortured Jun Lin, 33 — beheading and dismembering his body, eating his flesh with a knife and fork and performing sex acts on the corpse.

Opening Bell: 05.24.12

Europe Plans Girds Greece Exit (WSJ) Emerging from Wednesday night's informal European Union summit, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti said most leaders had backed issuing common debt, or euro-zone bonds, to help support troubled members. But Germany and others opposed them and demanded Greece do more. "We want Greece to remain in the euro zone," German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters after nearly eight hours of talks. "But the precondition is that Greece upholds the commitments it has made." Citi: Greek To Exit Euro, New Currency To Fall 60% (CNBC) Greece will leave the euro zone next year and the country's new currency will "immediately fall by 60 percent," according to Citi chief economist Willem Buiter. "The elections (on June 17th) will not produce a viable government that can follow the troika plan, leading to a stalemate between the Greek government and official creditors, and to the suspension of EFSF-IMF funding,” Buiter wrote in Citi's latest Global Economic Outlook. Slim Family Sees European Crisis As Good Time To Invest (Bloomberg) Carlos Slim sees Europe’s debt crisis as a “good moment” to apply his strategy of investing in times of turmoil, said the billionaire’s son, America Movil SAB Co-Chairman Carlos Slim Domit. America Movil, controlled by the elder Slim, announced a $3.4 billion bid to increase its stake in former Dutch phone monopoly Royal KPN NV earlier this month. While the acquisition would be Slim’s first major European foray, it follows a longstanding pattern, his son said. America Movil tries to stay as efficient and financially sound as possible so that it can quickly capitalize on fresh opportunities, he said. “When hard times come, you can look at opportunities in a very agile way,” Slim Domit, 45, said in an interview this week in Mexico City. “Europe is in a good moment.” After Facebook Fiasco, NYSE-Nasdaq Rivalry Heats Up (WSJ) "In the short term, if I'm deciding which platform to go with, I'd think twice at this point" before choosing Nasdaq, said Sang Lee, managing partner with Aite Group, a consultancy that researches exchanges. Investors Leery Of Paulson's Big Gold Bet (NYP) Investors are upset over Paulson’s huge gold positions — specifically, his outsize holding of AngloGold Ashanti, down 20 percent this year. That has dragged down two of Paulson’s funds. “I would be happier if he cut the gold position in half,” says one investor who put in a notice to take his money out of the fund in June. “He would have been up 4 percent in the first quarter if it weren’t for the goddamned gold.” Auction Of Ronald Reagan's Blood Stirs Debate (WSJ) Since his death in 2004 at age 93, President Ronald Reagan's popularity has only increased. Republican candidates invoke his name and policies. About 400,000 visitors a year flock to his hilltop museum outside Los Angeles, where a gift shop sells biographies, photos and his favorite jelly beans. Many people, it seems, want a piece of Mr. Reagan. But now, the sale of a very personal effect of the late president is stirring a controversy. Bidding for a vial purported to hold Mr. Reagan's blood topped $14,000 Wednesday in an online auction scheduled to end Thursday—if the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation doesn't try to block the sale first. PFC Auctions, based in the British Channel Islands, is offering the vial, said to have been obtained from a Maryland laboratory after the failed assassination attempt on Mr. Reagan in 1981. The sample was sent to the lab to test Mr. Reagan's blood for lead. A lab employee kept the vial as a memento and later passed it on to her adult child, according to the auction site. The head of the Reagan Foundation, a nonprofit group, called the sale "a craven act" and is fighting to stop it. It is uncertain what claims, if any, the foundation may have on the vial, which appears to contain dried blood residue, as depicted in a picture on the auction site...The seller, an admirer of Mr. Reagan's free-market policies, said in comments on the auction page, "I was a real fan of Reaganomics and felt that Pres. Reagan himself would rather see me sell it rather than donating it." Morgan Stanley, Others Make Profit of $100 Million Stabilizing Facebook (WSJ) These gains are expected to be offset somewhat by losses associated with reimbursing clients who lost money because of technology snafus at the Nasdaq Stock Market in Facebook's first day of trading, one of these people added. The Next Treasury Secretary (NYT) On the Democratic side, possibilities include Laurence D. Fink of BlackRock, the asset manager; Erskine Bowles, who served on President Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform; Daniel K. Tarullo, a member of the Federal Reserve Board; and Roger C. Altman, the investment banker. For the Republicans, the front-runners include Robert B. Zoellick, the head of the World Bank; John B. Taylor, the Stanford economist; Glenn Hubbard, the head of Columbia Business School and a Mitt Romney adviser; and Kevin Warsh, a former member of the Federal Reserve Board. Spain To Recapitalize Bankia (WSJ) The Spanish government will provide about €9 billion ($11.4 billion) to cover Bankia SA's provisioning needs, Finance Minister Luis de Guindos said Wednesday, in the latest sign that Spain's economic deterioration is forcing authorities to inject more public funds to bail out ailing banks. Since Bankia won't be able to meet provisioning and capital needs, Spain's Fund for Orderly Bank Restructuring will be ready to inject capital into Bankia's unlisted parent company, Banco Financiero & de Ahorros SA, which holds the company's most toxic real-estate assets, Mr. de Guindos told legislators in Parliament. Indian State OKs Shooting Tiger Poachers On Sight (AP) A state in western India has declared war on animal poaching by allowing forest guards to shoot hunters on sight in an effort to curb rampant attacks on tigers and other wildlife. The government in Maharashtra says injuring or killing suspected poachers will no longer be considered a crime. Forest guards should not be "booked for human rights violations when they have taken action against poachers," Maharashtra Forest Minister Patangrao Kadam said Tuesday. The state also will send more rangers and jeeps into the forest, and will offer secret payments to informers who give tips about poachers and animal smugglers, he said.

Opening Bell: 02.07.13

Credit Suisse Returns To Profit (WSJ) In the fourth quarter, Credit Suisse's net profit was 397 million francs, compared with a net loss of 637 million francs a year earlier when restructuring charges weighed on earnings. Revenue, which includes interest income, fees and trading proceeds, rose 29% to 5.8 billion francs. Analysts had expected a profit of 563 million francs and revenue of 6.14 billion francs. State Lawsuits Could Add To S&P Exposure (WSJ) On Tuesday, the Justice Department sued S&P for allegedly causing some banks and credit unions to lose $5 billion after relying on the company's ratings of mortgage-linked securities. However, the $5 billion claim, which S&P has dismissed as "meritless," is only part of the legal battle being fought by the world's largest credit-ratings firm by number of deals rated. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia have followed in the Justice Department's footsteps, filing separate lawsuits against S&P on Tuesday. The California attorney general alone is suing S&P for about $4 billion to recover funds for two of the country's largest public pension funds, according to its lawsuit. Other states, such as Colorado and Arkansas, are demanding S&P give back the revenue it earned on precrisis ratings of hundreds of securities. State prosecutors allege S&P presented its ratings as based on objective and independent analysis but actually were inflated to cater to the banks that helped arrange and sell the securities. S&P Hires Top Defense Attorney for $5 Billion Lawsuit (Reuters) Standard and Poor's has hired John Keker, one of the country's top white-collar defense attorneys, to help fight the $5 billion lawsuit brought by the U.S. government this week. Keker, who is based in San Francisco and has represented everyone from cyclist Lance Armstrong to Enron's Andrew Fastow, was hired at the recommendation of Floyd Abrams, a prominent New York attorney who also represents the ratings firm. RBS Settles Rate Charges (WSJ) CFTC enforcement chief David Meister said Wednesday that the trading floor was "laden with conflicts of interest," where RBS traders "seized the opportunity to ask colleagues sitting in the next chair for false rate submissions." From mid-2006 to the end of 2010, traders at RBS tried hundreds of times to rig the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, sometimes succeeding, said U.S. and U.K. regulators as they announced a $612 million settlement with the British bank. ‘Historic Winter Storm’ Moving Toward U.S. Northeast (Bloomberg) A “potential historic winter storm” and blizzard may dump 2 feet of snow on Boston and eastern Massachusetts, potentially causing power outages and leaving 10 inches in New York City. Eighteen to 24 inches (46 to 61 centimeters) of snow may fall in Boston, and the city has an 85 percent chance of receiving at least 12 inches from the storm that is expected to arrive in two days, according to the latest forecast from National Weather Service in Taunton, Massachusetts, published at at 4:25 a.m. Eastern Standard Time. “Heavy snow and gusty winds will bring the potential for blizzard conditions. The worst of the storm will be Friday night into the morning,” the weather service said. The storm arrives on almost the 35th anniversary of the Blizzard of 1978, which killed 99 people, destroyed 2,000 homes, drove 10,000 residents into shelters and paralyzed eastern Massachusetts and northern Rhode Island for a week, according to the weather service. Ireland Moves Toward Debt Deal (WSJ) Under Ireland's new proposal, the government will provide a long-term bond to the Irish central bank that replaces the note, the Irish finance ministry said. IBRC will be liquidated and its remaining commercial property assets will be dispatched to Ireland's so-called bad bank, the National Asset Management Agency. Mr. Noonan told lawmakers early Thursday that there was still "no deal," but he needed to announce new powers to liquidate IBRC—the first step toward potentially striking such a debt agreement—to protect the country from unspecified legal challenges. Man Claims IRS Agent Coerced Him Into Sex (CBS) An Oregon man is suing the U.S. Government and a female IRS agent he alleges pressured him into sex, by threatening a tax penalty. Vincent Burroughs, of Fall Creek, Ore., says the harassing relationship began in August of 2011 when Dora Abrahamson, an agent with the Internal Revenue Service, called him and said he would be audited, CBS affiliate KVAL reports. Burroughs says he didn't know Abrahamson, and that he hadn't met her before those calls - nor had he heard that he was being audited by the IRS. "She was sending me texts that she wanted to come out, give me massages because she needed to help me relax," Burroughs said in a phone interview with KVAL News. Over the next two months, Burroughs alleges that Abrahamson sent him several flirtatious text messages - offering to give massages, asking to meet him, and sending racy photos of herself to his cell phone. "She said she knew more than my mother knew about me," said Burroughs. In the lawsuit, Burroughs says in September 2011 Abrahamson came to his home wearing provocative attire. "Next thing I know, she's at my gate, honking...so I opened my gate, she came into my property dressed exactly like [when] she texted me," Burroughs said. The lawsuit states: "She said that she could impose no penalty, or a 40% penalty, and that if he would give her what she wanted, she would give him what she needed." E-Mails Imply JPMorgan Knew Some Mortgage Deals Were Bad (NYT) When an outside analysis uncovered serious flaws with thousands of home loans, JPMorgan Chase executives found an easy fix. Rather than disclosing the full extent of problems like fraudulent home appraisals and overextended borrowers, the bank adjusted the critical reviews,according to documents filed early Tuesday in federal court in Manhattan. As a result, the mortgages, which JPMorgan bundled into complex securities, appeared healthier, making the deals more appealing to investors. The trove of internal e-mails and employee interviews, filed as part of a lawsuit by one of the investors in the securities, offers a fresh glimpse into Wall Street's mortgage machine, which churned out billions of dollars of securities that later imploded. The documents reveal that JPMorgan, as well as two firms the bank acquired during the credit crisis, Washington Mutual and Bear Stearns, flouted quality controls and ignored problems, sometimes hiding them entirely, in a quest for profit. Harvard’s Gopinath Helps France Beat Euro Straitjacket (Bloomberg) When French President Francois Hollande unveiled a plan in November for a business tax credit and higher sales taxes as a way to revive the economy, he was implementing an idea championed by economist Gita Gopinath. Gopinath, 41, a professor at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has pushed for tax intervention as a way forward for euro-area countries that cannot devalue their exchange rates. “Fiscal devaluation” is helping France turn the corner during a period of extreme budget constraints, former Airbus SAS chief Louis Gallois said in a business- competitiveness report Hollande commissioned. Gopinath’s support for the theory took shape through her years teaching at Harvard and the University of Chicago and particularly as a Ph.D. student at Princeton University under the guidance of Kenneth Rogoff, Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas and Ben Bernanke, now chairman of the Federal Reserve. While her earlier work on current accounts and balance of payments garnered praise, it is her recent focus on the 17 euro nations that has national leaders paying action. John Thomas Financial Said To Draw Regulatory Probe (NYP) Wall Street brokerage firm John Thomas Financial, owned by flamboyant founder and CEO Tommy Belesis — who gained more than 15 minutes of fame from his role in Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” — is being probed by the brokerage industry, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the FBI, The Post has learned. Agents from the FBI’s New York office have been knocking on doors of people associated with the firm, asking questions about JTF’s business practices, including cold calling by brokers and Belesis’ overseas accounts, sources told The Post. Fewer Workers Filed Claims for U.S. Jobless Benefits Last Week (Bloomberg) Applications for jobless benefits dropped 5,000 to 366,000 in the week ended Feb. 2, Labor Department figures showed today. Economists forecast 360,000 claims, according to the median of 53 estimates in a Bloomberg survey. Big Mac Prices Show Which Euro Zone States Best at Belt-Tightening (Reuter) Economist Guntram Wolff took the data and found that the price rise in Greece, Portugal and Spain has been less than the euro zone average, while in Ireland the price actually fell. These are the main countries undergoing deep economic reform due to the debt crisis. This contrasts with price rises above the euro zone burger average in Germany. Wolff concludes from this that economic adjustment is working. For example, In Ireland, which has made spending cuts after receiving international aid, the burger price has fallen from 3.80 euros to less than 3.50 euros. There is one notable exception, however. Heavily-indebted Italy is the most expensive country in the euro area to buy a Big Mac - 3.85 euros - while it costs just 3.64 euros in Germany. PETA: Naked chicken corpses aren't sexy (CM) The American founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, president Ingrid Newkirk, criticised a newspaper for running a picture of a raw chicken. "We don't want to see any chickens on display, but instead want them to live natural, happy lives with their families. Sexily displaying the corpse of a chicken who has been bred to grow so big, so quickly, that many collapse under their own weight, is just additionally offensive."