Opening Bell: 05.29.13

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Improving U.S., rebounding Japan can't stop OECD cutting world growth forecast (Reuters)
The recession-hit euro zone will fall further behind a generally improving United States and a rebounding Japan this year, the OECD said on Wednesday, cutting its global growth forecasts. In its twice-yearly Economic Outlook, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development forecast the world economy would grow 3.1 percent this year before accelerating to 4 percent in 2014. The estimates marked a slightly more pessimistic view after in November the Paris-based think tank forecast global growth of 3.4 percent this year and 4.2 percent next year.

Treasury 10-Year Yields Climb to 13-Month High on Fed Outlook (Bloomberg)
Treasury 10-year yields rose to the highest level in more than 13 months as signs the U.S. economy is recovering fueled speculation the Federal Reserve will trim its debt purchases. ... “If the data continues to be on the strong side, then the sell-off will persist,” said Patrick Jacq, a senior fixed-income strategist at BNP Paribas SA in Paris. “The first step was some comments from Fed members suggesting that they may exit sooner than expected or at least ease quantitative easing. And then there was key economic data that was above expectations.”

Apple's Cook Hints at Wearable Devices (WSJ)
Most of Mr. Cook's speech was dedicated to defending Apple's prowess as a tech trend-setter, amid recent complaints that the Silicon Valley company has failed to introduce any groundbreaking products lately. "We have several more game changers in us" that the company has been "working on for a while," Mr. Cook said at the event. Mr. Cook praised devices such as Nike Inc.'s FuelBand, an activity tracker worn on the wrist. He said such wearable products "could be a profound area for technology," while expressing less excitement about Google Glass, Google Inc.'s high-tech eyeglasses that serve as a kind of heads-up display to view Internet content. He said it's "tough to see" Google's product having mass-market appeal.

Switzerland frees banks to settle U.S. tax evasion cases (Reuters)
The Swiss government agreed on Wednesday to create a legal basis that will allow its banks to settle investigations by U.S. authorities into their role in helping wealthy Americans evade billions of dollars in tax. ... Special permission will be granted to allow banks to turn over new information about the behavior of their staff and clients, although the government said no changes would be made to rules protecting clients' identities.

Liberty Reserve Joe Bogus Account Said to Reflect Evasion (Bloomberg)
Liberty Reserve SA, whose operators are charged with running a scheme that masked more than $6 billion of criminal proceeds, was designed to help users evade scrutiny, U.S. prosecutors said. The digital currency company, unlike traditional banks or legitimate online payment processors, didn’t require users to validate their identity and allowed accounts to be opened under fictitious names such as “Russia Hackers” and “Hacker Account,” according to prosecutors. An undercover agent was able to establish a Liberty Reserve account using the alias “Joe Bogus,” listing his address as “123 Fake Main Street” in “Completely Made Up City, New York,” said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. He said the prosecution is believed to be the largest money-laundering case brought by the U.S.

Are Canada’s $100 polymer bills really maple-scented? (CTV News)
The penny may be history, but some Canadians suspect the Bank of Canada has been circulating a new scent along with its plastic bank notes. Dozens of people who contacted the bank in the months after the polymer notes first appeared asked about a secret scratch-and-sniff patch that apparently smells like maple syrup. "I would like to know ... once and for all if these bills are in fact scented, as I do detect a hint of maple when smelling the bill," says a typical email from a perplexed citizen. Said another: "They all have a scent which I'd say smells like maple? Please advise if this is normal?" ... For the record, bank official Jeremy Harrison says no scent has been added to any of the new bank notes.

EU eases hard line on austerity (FT)
Brussels will on Wednesday give its clearest signal yet that it is moving away from a crisis response based on austerity, allowing three of the EU’s five largest economies to overshoot budget deficit limits and pushing instead for broader reform. In its annual verdict on national budgets of all 27 EU members France, Spain and the Netherlands will be given a waiver on the annual 3 per cent deficit limit. Brussels will also free Italy from intensive fiscal monitoring despite its new prime minister’s decision to reverse a series of tax increases imposed by his predecessor. The European Commission will make these moves on the condition that national governments embark on stalled labour market reforms.

ECB: Cyprus Shock Caused Deposit Flight (WSJ)
The euro zone's botched bailout of Cyprus caused a mini-run on banks in many of the currency union's 17 members in April, exacerbating the decline in lending to the real economy, data from the European Central Bank showed Wednesday. ... Although European officials rushed to stress that Cyprus's problems were unique, depositors in other countries, most notably in those with stressed banking sectors of their own, appear to have feared that their savings could face similar treatment as the euro zone tries to revive a partly moribund banking system.

Dell Buyout Battle Approaches Heated Phase (WSJ)
Within days, the company and its would-be buyers are expected to be able to contact investors directly to try to persuade them to vote for the deal, which will let them sell their holdings for $13.65 a share. On Tuesday, Dell shares rose two cents to $13.36. The deal has been hotly contested almost since its signing, with a portion of the long-term shareholder base already aligned against it. In the final vote, the outcome could come down to how hedge funds and the company's small shareholders end up voting, say people familiar with such showdowns. "In a close fight, it really gets down to dialing for dollars," said Brad Allen, director of Branav Shareholder Advisory Services Inc.

Smithfield to Be Sold to Shuanghui Group of China (DealBook)
Shuanghui Group of China has agreed to buy the American meat processor Smithfield Foods for around $4.7 billion, the two companies announced Wednesday. Under the terms of the deal, Shuanghui, which is the largest pork processor in China, will pay $34 a share to acquire Smithfield, representing at 31 percent premium on the company’s closing share price on Tuesday.

Where We Stand: The Class of 2013 Senior Survey (Harvard Crimson)
Of those [graduating Harvard seniors] who will be working, the most popular industry is consulting, drawing 16 percent of employed seniors. Another 15 percent will be working in finance, nearly doubling the 9 percent who entered the sector last year but still paling in comparison to 2007, when before the financial crisis, 47 percent of graduating seniors went into finance. ... 16 percent of the class has tried at least one of cocaine, ecstasy, mushrooms, LSD, and other illicit substances. Very large majorities of those who have used these drugs first tried them after starting college. 9 percent of the class has used drugs like Adderall and Ritalin ...

Cops testing night vision goggles find crab poachers hiding in the dark (NYP)
Two cops testing night vision goggles from an NYPD helicopter during a routine training exercise stumbled upon a crab-poaching operation Monday night, police said. Officer Lester Sanabria was piloting a helicopter about 500 feet off the ground around 9:45 p.m., when he and his partner Chris Maher spotted several creeping around an abandoned beach in Jamaica Bay in the pitch-black night, cops said. They hovered down to about 200 feet off the ground and their high-tech eyewear revealed Robert Wolter, 28, and Joseph Knauer, 33, loading two vessels with horseshoe crabs, Maher said. The crabs fuel a $60 million-a-year market for pharmaceutical companies that process their copper-based blood to sanitize medical equipment. One quart of the blood can fetch up to $15,000, according to experts.

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Opening Bell: 10.04.12

France’s LBO Firms See ‘Death’ From Hollande’s 75% Carry Tax (Bloomberg) Hollande, who released his first annual budget on Sept. 28, plans to tax fund managers’ share of the profit from their investments, known as carried interest, at a rate of as much as 75 percent, part of a wider effort to increase taxes on the wealthy and narrow the country’s deficit. France also plans to as much as double taxes on capital gains and restrict the amount of debt interest payments a company can deduct from its taxable income, a measure that will reduce returns on leveraged buyouts. Facebook Test Turns Users Into Advertisers (FT) Facebook is testing a new product in the US that allows ordinary users to pay to promote their own status updates, marking a shift in the social network’s willingness to charge its users for a core service. The product has potential to generate revenues, analysts said, but could also threaten the organic feel of the site as people pay to market their own social lives. Mark Zuckerberg Confirms: 'I wear the same thing everyday' (DL) "I mean, I wear the same thing every day, right? I mean, it's literally, if you could see my closet," Zuckerberg starts to explain, as Lauer asks if he owns 12 of the same gray t-shirt. "Maybe about 20," Zuckerberg admits, somewhere between discussing the future of Facebook, his daily routine, the iPhone 5, and his wedding to college sweetheart Priscilla Chan last May. The Facebook CEO says that he doesn't really have much in his closet — it's mainly used by his wife, who graduated from medical school at the University of California at San Francisco shortly before their marriage. Instead, Zuckerberg's identical t-shirt collection lives in the one drawer he's allotted. Tiger Global Up 22.4 Percent (Reuters) Tiger Global, one of the world's best-performing hedge funds, ended the third quarter with strong gains, leaving the fund up 22.4 percent for the year, two people familiar with the numbers said on Wednesday. The roughly $6 billion fund, run by Chase Coleman and Feroz Dewan, has been the darling of the investment community for its string of strong returns at a time when the average hedge fund is delivering only low single-digit returns. In 2011, when most funds nursed losses, Tiger Global captured headlines with a 45 percent gain for the year after having made a good chunk of money on the short side, people familiar with the portfolio said. 'Dark Pool' And SEC Settle (WSJ) The Securities and Exchange Commission alleged in its order that Boston-based broker-dealer eBX LLC allowed the third-party operator of its trading platform, called LeveL ATS, to use details on client orders, including the stocks involved and whether they were buy or sell orders, to its own advantage. That operator is Lava Trading, an electronic-trading unit of Citigroup, according to eBX. eBX agreed to pay $800,000 to settle the SEC's allegations. It did so without admitting or denying wrongdoing. Mohamed El-Erian: No corner offices at PIMCO (Fortune) "It doesn't matter whether you're CEO or whether you're an associate, you have the same size office. No corner offices. Just a conference room. And then I knew that I had made the right decision when my very first outing with PIMCO, I had come from the IMF, 15 years working on emerging markets. I had a swagger, I thought I knew what I was talking about. I put forward my view, and this summer intern felt safe enough to get up and say, "You know what? Mohamed is wrong and this is why he's wrong." The fact that PIMCO had created this safe zone where a summer intern could get up and question someone who was supposed to be an expert confirmed to me that I was in the right place." Bank-Friendly U.S. Regulator Shifts Focus to Revamp Reputation (Bloomberg) In a stately hearing room stuffed with senators and bankers, Thomas Curry began his apologies. His agency should have stopped a major bank from helping drug cartels launder cash. The violations went on for years while his agency was overly passive. “I deeply regret we did not act sooner,” he said. Curry had been on the job for just over three months on that day in July, so the mistakes hadn’t been made on his watch. His apologies were less a confession than a signal the new Comptroller of the Currency -- long seen as the most bank- friendly of U.S. regulators -- was changing course. “I’m not interested in what people thought about in the past,” Curry said in an interview. “My focus is going forward.” Since he took over in March, at least two key staff members closely associated with the agency’s pro-industry stance have departed, notably chief counsel Julie Williams. Williams, a 19- year OCC veteran, was known for helping nationally chartered banks resist state regulation by arguing they were preempted by often less-stringent federal rules. Curry has also raised the profile of consumer protection and shifted focus toward “operational risk” -- the idea that bank practices and management can pose as much of a threat to safety and soundness as external forces. Argentine Navy Ship Seized In Asset Fight (FT) An Argentine naval vessel crewed by more than 200 sailors has been seized in Ghana as part of an attempt by the US hedge fund Elliott Capital Management to collect on bonds on which Buenos Aires defaulted in 2001. A Ghanaian court ordered an injunction and interim preservation order against the ARA Libertad, a 100-metre long tall ship, following an application by Elliott subsidiary NML Capital on Tuesday. The hedge fund, run by the US billionaire Paul Singer, has been closely monitoring the course of the Libertad, according to sources familiar with the firm. Elliott had been waiting for the ship to stop in a port where it would have a chance to enforce legal judgments previously awarded by UK and US courts. The hedge fund declined to comment. Argentina slammed the interception of the Libertad as a “trick which these unscrupulous financiers” had pulled, adding that it “violates the Vienna Convention on diplomatic immunity”. Morgan Stanley commodities talks with Qatar hit snag (Reuters) Morgan Stanley's talks with Qatar's sovereign wealth fund over the sale of its commodities business have run into difficulty, and the deal may need to be reworked if it is to go ahead, banking sources said. One of the top banks in commodity trading over the past 30 years, Morgan Stanley has been in discussion for more than a year with Qatar over the sale of at least a majority stake in the energy-focused trading business, the bankers said. "There have been some differences, and Qatar is a bit lukewarm about it," one said. "It's not dead yet but definitely not imminent." Maple syrup stolen in Quebec seized by police in New Brunswick (The Star) Quebec police have seized between 700 and 800 barrels of maple syrup from a New Brunswick exporter, linking the drums to August’s massive heist of the sweet stuff. Étienne St-Pierre, owner of S.K. Exports in Kedgwick, N.B., told the Star that police executed a search warrant Sept. 26 and hauled away the barrels. “They said they were searching to find some stolen drums from Quebec,” he said. “It was a surprise. That was the first news I received.” St-Pierre said each barrel weighs about 270 kilograms and holds 170 litres of syrup, meaning police seized at least 119,000 litres of gooey Quebec gold. A spokesperson for the Sûreté du Québec, Sgt. Bruno Beaulieu, confirmed a search warrant had been executed in Kedgwick but said he could not comment on the investigation. The Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers has never revealed the amount of syrup stolen from its secure St-Louis-de-Blandford, Que. warehouse in August. The facility held about 3.75 million litres of syrup, enough to fill one and a half Olympic swimming pools. St-Pierre said he obtained the barrels from a regular Quebec supplier, who he refused to identify.

Opening Bell: 12.20.12

Report Says Libor-Tied Losses at Fannie, Freddie May Top $3 Billion (WSJ) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac may have lost more than $3 billion as a result of banks' alleged manipulation of a key interest rate, according to an internal report by a federal watchdog sent to the mortgage companies' regulator and reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. The unpublished report urges Fannie and Freddie to consider suing the banks involved in setting the London interbank offered rate, which would add to the mounting legal headaches financial firms such as UBS AG and Barclays face from cities, insurers, investors and lenders over claims tied to the benchmark rate. Libor Documents May Boost Civil Suits (WSJ) Analysts have published a range of estimates of the potential impact to the industry of lawsuits stemming from the manipulation—in some cases they reach into the tens of billions of dollars or more. It likely will be years before the extent of any liabilities becomes clear. For the lawsuits to succeed, plaintiffs must prove that banks successfully altered the interest-rate benchmarks and caused the plaintiffs to suffer a loss. Michael Hausfeld, chairman of Hausfeld LLP, a co-lead counsel on one of the lawsuits, said the UBS settlement was "extremely useful" for the litigation. The "extraordinary emails" published by the regulators exposed the "pervasiveness of the culture and the activity." UBS Trader Hayes Exposed at Core of Libor Investigation (Bloomberg) Tom Hayes, one of two former UBS AG traders charged by U.S. prosecutors, is portrayed by American regulators as the kingpin of a three-year campaign that succeeded in manipulating global interest rates. Hayes, 33, was charged with wire fraud and price-fixing, the Department of Justice said in a criminal complaint unsealed yesterday. The trader and Roger Darin, a former short-term interest-rates trader at UBS whose responsibilities included the firm’s yen Libor quotes, were also charged with conspiracy...Hayes colluded with brokers, counterparts at other firms and his colleagues to manipulate the rate, the Justice Department said. Between 2006 and 2009, a UBS trader made at least 800 requests to the firm’s yen Libor rate-setters, about 100 to traders at other banks, and 1,200 to interdealer brokers, according to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which didn’t identify Hayes by name. “Many UBS yen derivatives traders and managers were involved in the manipulative conduct and made requests to serve their own trading positions’ interests,” the CFTC said. “But the volume of unlawful requests submitted by one particular senior yen derivatives trader in Tokyo dwarfed them all.” IntercontinentalExchange Agrees to Acquire NYSE Euronext (Bloomberg) IntercontinentalExchange Inc., the 12-year-old energy and commodity futures bourse, agreed to acquire NYSE Euronext for cash and stock worth $8.2 billion, moving to take control of the world’s biggest equities market. ICE, based in Atlanta, will pay $33.12 a share for the owner of the New York Stock Exchange, 38 percent above yesterday’s closing price, according to a statement today. Both boards approved the proposal and the companies expect to complete the transaction in the second half of 2013. Last year, the U.S. Justice Department blocked a joint hostile bid by ICE and Nasdaq OMX Group for the New York-based company on concern the combination would dominate U.S. stock listings. Greece Faces 'Make or Break' Year (FT) We can make it next year if we can stick to the program agreed with the EU and IMF," finance minister Yannis Stournaras said in an interview with the Financial Times. However, "the break would be if the political system finds the situation too difficult to handle", he added, referring to the danger of social unrest about austerity that could force the two left-of-center parties to bring down the governing coalition. "What we have done so far is necessary but not sufficient to achieve a permanent solution for Greece," Mr Stournaras said. "The issue now is implementation." Boehner's 'Plan B' Gets Pushback (WSJ) The mood at the White House was gloomy, while on Capitol Hill it fluctuated. Few seemed confident the nation would avoid the tax increases and spending cuts known as the fiscal cliff, but others noted major Washington deals are usually reached only after several near-death experiences. Preparing for the World's End, Just in Case (WSJ) Tony Brown, a private investigator in Southern California, says he has spent nearly $60,000 preparing for Teotwawki — an acronym for "the end of the world as we know it"—or SHTF—when the "s--- hits the fan." Mr. Brown has purchased an ultralight plane and amassed three tons of food in his kitchen, about a third in freeze-dried meals. About a year ago, Mr. Brown started a website to recruit a community of preppers to plan for a cataclysm. In the first several months, he said he received few inquiries. But by the summer, traffic to the site soared and applications have come rolling in since. He recently capped the group at 175 members—all are responsible for their own one-year supply of food—though he is still seeking a doctor, meteorologist and ham-radio operator. Mr. Brown has contingency plans for four doomsday scenarios he deems most likely—a supervolcano, solar flare, major earthquake or hyper inflation—and a large underground bunker in case of a nuclear attack. He doesn't believe the world will end on Dec. 21, "but, just in case, I want to have everything ready by then," he said. US Economy Grew 3.1%; Jobless Claims Rise (Reuters) Weekly jobless claims rose to 361,000 in the latest week. Claims has been expected to rise to 357,000, from 343,000 the prior week. BofA’s Moynihan Said to Kill Proposal to Cut Pay for Brokers (Bloomberg) Bank of America Corp. Chief Executive Officer Brian T. Moynihan blocked a proposal to cut the main component of most brokers’ pay for 2013, said a person with direct knowledge of the matter. The plan would have reduced the so-called grid payout for Merrill Lynch financial advisers by two percentage points, the person said, requesting anonymity because it wasn’t made public. The changes, which would have affected advisers generating less than $1 million in commissions, were seen as a way to cushion the costs of new bonuses, the person said. In $18 Million Theft, Victim Was a Canadian Maple Syrup Cartel (NYT) It was an inside job of sorts. Thieves with access to a warehouse and a careful plan loaded up trucks and, over time, made off with $18 million of a valuable commodity. The question is what was more unusual: that the commodity in question was maple syrup, or that it came from something called the global strategic maple syrup reserve, run by what amounts to a Canadian cartel. On Tuesday, the police in Quebec arrested three men in connection with the theft from the warehouse, which is southwest of Quebec City. The authorities are searching for five others suspected of being involved, and law enforcement agencies in other parts of Canada and the United States are trying to recover some of the stolen syrup. Both the size and the international scope of the theft underscore Quebec’s outsize position in the maple syrup industry. Depending on the year, the province can produce more than three-quarters of the world’s supply. And its marketing organization appears to have taken some tips from the producers of another valuable liquid commodity when it comes to exploiting market dominance. “It’s like OPEC,” said Simon Trépanier, acting general manager of the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers. “We’re not producing all the maple syrup in the world. But by producing 70 to 78 percent, we have the ability to adjust the quantity that is in the marketplace.” NYers who believe in Mayan apocalypse search for sex before the world ends (NYP) While some people around the world are arming themselves and digging into bunkers, many New Yorkers are simply hoping for a hot time. “I will be looking for an end-of-the-world hook-up,” Dennis Cintron, 29, a Lower East Side bartender, told The Post. “If you’re going to go out, go out with a bang.” Cintron said he’ll buy new clothes and get a haircut for the big day because he wants some “companionship” to ring in the rapture. Sara Saperstein, 26, of Bushwick is also hoping for one last romp. “It’s like New Year’s. I want to go out on a wild note!” Saperstein said. She won’t have trouble finding a spot for that. More than a dozen bars and clubs in New York City are throwing end-of-days bashes, including a comedy show at the Bell House in Gowanus and an “End of the Funking World Party” at B.B. King Blues Club in Midtown. Other singles posted ads on Craigslist.org and OKCupid.com, seeking apocalypse-themed dates, “casual encounters” and even “end of the world sex.” “If you’ve got no plans for the apocalypse, let’s get together,” wrote a 30-year-old single guy from Midtown. He added, “Send me how you’d like to spend your last hours on earth — and a photo.”

Opening Bell: 8.13.15

Dean Foods/Phil Mickelson probe; Greece woes; Citigroup's bad bank makes good; "Man Assaults Brother For Not Sharing Big Macs, Police Say"; and more.