Opening Bell: 06.26.13

Author:
Updated:
Original:

Basel presses ahead with plans to limit bank borrowing (FT)
Global regulators pressed ahead on Wednesday with plans to limit overall bank borrowing and make it easier for investors to compare institutions, announcing that banks will have to calculate and disclose their “leverage ratios” according to a newly agreed global formula starting in 2015. The Basel Committee on Banking Supervision sees the leverage ratio as a crucial “backstop” that prevents banks from cheating on the main risk-based safety measure, the capital ratio. But banks argue it will unfairly penalise institutions that engage in high-volume, low-risk activities such as mortgage lending and trade finance.

Pension funds may see the silver lining on the interest rate cloud (Reuters)
As defined benefit pension fund liabilities to pensioners and prospective retirees are pre-determined and bond-like, the discount rate used to calculate them is the yield on top-rated corporate bonds - which have also risen about 80 basis points since early May. And so extraordinarily low yields have not only depressed returns on asset returns of bond-heavy funds, they also lead to a bigger liability calculation as the pension funds are deemed to need even more assets to pay retirees - leaving companies sponsoring the schemes to stump up more cash for the pot. So the bounceback in bond yields is a big relief.

Bond yields threaten recovery in global banks’ balance sheets (FT)
Banks have built giant portfolios of liquid securities, partly at the behest of regulators and also because they have not found better opportunities to lend a flood of deposits. Under new capital rules, unrealised losses in these “available for sale” portfolios hit banks’ equity capital. “I would think most institutions are going to have a fairly sizeable hit to their equity,” said a senior executive of a top US bank. “You’ve really had this concentrated one to two week period where all hell is breaking loose.”

Anthony Weiner Surges to Lead in Democratic Mayoral Race (NBC NY)
Weiner, who entered the race two years after resigning his congressional seat amid a sexting scandal, now leads City Council Speaker Christine Quinn 25 percent to 20 percent among registered Democrats, the poll by Marist found. That's a flip-flop from the last survey in May, when Quinn, the longtime front-runner, led Weiner 24 percent to 19 percent.

Wayward Pigeon Makes Trans-Pacific Journey (ABC)
Owner Hiroyasu Takasu tells ABC News the 1-year-old pigeon set off on his first race southeast of Sapporo May 10, along with 8,000 other birds. Only 20 percent of the fleet completed the 600- mile race, including the baby’s mother, who took the top prize, Takasu said. But the stout pigeon had bigger plans in mind, flying 5,000 miles across the Pacific. Canadian rescuers spotted Takasu’s phone number on a tag attached to the bird’s leg, and contacted him. “I was so relieved he was found alive,” Takasu said, adding that he’d assumed the pigeon was dead. “[Birds] usually reach their limit in a week, with no food or water. This is a superior pigeon.”

Fugitive financier Marc Rich dies (FT)
Marc Rich, the colourful and controversial commodities trader and founder of Glencore who fled the US to avoid federal indictments, has died in Switzerland aged 78. “Marc Rich died in Lucerne in a hospital as a result of a brain stroke,” said Christian König of the Marc Rich Group in a statement. ... Rich, born in Antwerp, Belgium, was an oil trader who fled to Switzerland in 1983 hours before being indicted on more than 50 charges of trading with Iran during an embargo, wire fraud, racketeering and evading more than $48m in income taxes – at the time the largest tax evasion case in US history. He remained one of the US’s most wanted fugitives until Bill Clinton pardoned him on his last day as US president in January 2001.

Weak Links Mar Investing in China (WSJ)
Analysts and investors say that for the rebound to gain any traction, China needs to revamp a system that gives state-owned enterprises preference when granting approval for initial public offerings. More-profitable companies often must wait years to tap the stock market, which is composed mostly of domestic investors, because of strict quotas on foreign ownership of stocks. ... More than half of the companies listed on the Shanghai Stock Exchange are state-owned, the direct result of the government's preference for them as IPO candidates. The State-owned Enterprises 100 Index on the Shanghai Stock Exchange has fallen 40% since it was launched in July 2009. The bourse's Private-owned Enterprises 50 Index has declined just 1.2% since its debut on the same day. In that period, the overall market has fallen 34%.

Hong Kong’s I.P.O. Market Cools (DealBook)
Hong Kong— the world’s biggest market for new share listings from 2009 to 2011 — had looked to be recovering from a 2012 slump as recently as last month, when two large I.P.O.s of more than $1 billion each were completed. But since then, the market has come under a double chill brought on by a cash crunch in China and the U.S. Federal Reserve’s plans to reduce quantitative easing. The benchmark Hang Seng Index has declined 11.5 percent in the past month. "The combination of concerns on the stability of the Chinese financial system and investor re-positioning in the wake of last week’s comments on potential Q.E. tapering has negatively impacted markets," Andrew Swan, head of Asian fundamental equities at BlackRock, an asset manager, said in an emailed statement.

Standard Chartered ‘Comfortable’ With Full-Year Estimates (Bloomberg)
Standard Chartered Plc, the U.K. bank that generates more than three-quarters of its earnings in Asia, reiterated its forecast for profit in 2013 amid a rout in emerging markets. The bank said in a statement today it’s “comfortable” with analyst estimates for full-year operating profit. That’s about $8 billion for 2013 compared with about $6.88 billion in the year-earlier-period, Finance Director Richard Meddings told reporters on a call today. Revenue growth in the first half will be in the “low single-digit” range compared with the year-earlier period, the firm said in a statement.

Royal Bank of Canada Gains by Putting the Brakes on Traders (DealBook)
One of the first things that Mr. Katsuyama’s team noticed, members said, was that his traders were having trouble getting their trades done at exchanges that were geographically closer. They discovered that in the time that it took for a trade from R.B.C. to travel through fiber optic cables from a slightly closer exchange to a slightly farther exchange, a high-speed trading firm could spot the trade, cancel its order on one exchange and raise the price on another to take advantage of the R.B.C. client. The discovery led to the invention of the bank’s trading program, named Thor, which was approved last month for a patent. The program factors in the distance between exchanges and slows signals to the closer location so that the orders reach all of the exchanges at exactly the same moment.

Italy faces restructured derivatives hit (FT)
Italy risks potential losses of billions of euros on derivatives contracts it restructured at the height of the eurozone crisis, according to a confidential report by the Rome Treasury that sheds more light on the financial tactics that enabled the debt-laden country to enter the euro in 1999. ... While the report leaves out crucial details and appears intended not to give a full picture of Italy’s potential losses, experts who examined it told the Financial Times the restructuring allowed the cash-strapped Treasury to stagger payments owed to foreign banks over a longer period but, in some cases, at more disadvantageous terms for Italy.

States Put Heat on Bitcoin (WSJ)
State regulators are warning virtual-currency exchanges and other companies that deal with bitcoin that they could be closed down if their activities run afoul of state money-transmission laws, according to people familiar with the matter. ... The money-transmission rules vary among states, but most require detailed financial data, business strategy and information about the company's management. States also typically require companies to put up a bond that could run as high as several million dollars.

IRS workers bought porn, wine using agency credit cards: watchdog (NYDN)
Poor oversight by the Internal Revenue Service allowed workers to use agency credit cards to buy wine for an expensive luncheon, dorky swag for managers’ meetings and, for one employee, romance novels and diet pills, an agency watchdog said Tuesday. Two IRS credit cards were used to buy online pornography, though the employees said the cards were stolen. One of the workers reported five agency credit cards lost or stolen.

Michigan Family Allowed to Keep Pet Deer Rescued After Mother's Death (Gawker)
The family rescued and adopted the deer shortly after its mother was hit by a car outside the family's home. ... The rehabilitation worked, and the deer, which they named Lilly, became part of their family. Lilly reportedly enjoys playing frisbee and watching Animal Planet, and she sleeps on a futon inside the house next to the family's cats.

Related

Opening Bell: 09.05.12

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

Opening Bell: 08.07.12

Probe May Hit UK Bank's Clean Image (WSJ) Last week, Standard Chartered PLC Chief Executive Peter Sands told analysts that "our culture and values are our first and last line of defense." On Tuesday, allegations by a New York financial regulator that Standard Chartered hid illegal Iranian transactions seemed to breach that line, sending the lender's shares down and wiping £7.65 billion ($11.9 billion) off its market value. In the U.K., Mr. Sands has long been heralded as a voice of reason in the country's turbulent banking sector. The former consultant, who was named Standard Chartered CEO in 2006, regularly espoused the importance of sound governance and sensible investment. While several of its British peers were being bailed out by taxpayers, Mr. Sands was guiding the Asia-focused bank to record profits boosted by growing trade between emerging nations. The executive stressed the fact that Standard Chartered doesn't have an investment bank and didn't need European Central Bank cheap loans to keep its business ticking over. Italian's Job: Premier Talks Tough in Bid to Save Euro (WSJ) During an all-night European summit in June, Mario Monti, the Italian prime minister, gave German Chancellor Angela Merkel an unexpected ultimatum: He would block all deals until she agreed to take action against Italy's and Spain's rising borrowing costs. Ms. Merkel, who has held most of the euro's cards for the past two years, wasn't used to being put on the defensive. "This is not helpful, Mario," Ms. Merkel warned, according to people present. Europe's leaders were gathered on the fifth floor of the European Union's boxy glass headquarters in Brussels, about to break for dinner. "I know," Italy's premier replied. Bill Gross: Stay Away From Europe (CNBC) “Investors get distracted by the hundreds of billions of euros in sovereign policy checks, promises that make for media headlines but forget it’s their trillions that are the real objective,” Gross wrote. “Even Mr Hollande in left-leaning France recognizes that the private sector is critical for future growth in the EU. He knows that, without its partnership, a one-sided funding via state-controlled banks and central banks will inevitably lead to high debt-to-GDP ratios and a downhill vicious cycle of recession.” “Psst…investors: Stay dry my friends!” Gross said. Richest Family Offices Seeing Fastest Growth As Firms Oust Banks (Bloomberg Markets) They call it “money camp.” Twice a week, 6- to 11-year-old scions of wealthy families take classes on being rich. They compete to corner commodities markets in Pit, the raucous Parker Brothers card game, and take part in a workshop called “business in a box,” examining products that aren’t obvious gold mines, such as the packaging on Apple Inc.’s iPhone rather than the phone itself. It’s all part of managing money for the wealthiest families, says Katherine Lintz, founder of Clayton, Missouri- based Financial Management Partners, which runs the camp for the children of clients. Supplying the families with good stock picks and a wily tax strategy isn’t enough anymore. These days, it’s about applying the human touch, she says. Lintz, 58, is on to something. Her 22-year-old firm was No. 2 among the fastest-growing multifamily offices in the second annual Bloomberg Markets ranking of companies that manage affairs for dynastic clans, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its September issue. The assets that FMP supervises grew 30 percent to $2.6 billion as of Dec. 31, just behind Signature, a Norfolk, Virginia-based family office that expanded 36 percent in 2011 to $3.6 billion. MS Takes Trading Hit (NYP) Morgan Stanley, which had the largest trading-revenue drop among major US banks last quarter, lost money in that business on 15 days in the period, up from eight days a year earlier. Morgan Stanley traders generated more than $100 million on three days in the period, compared with seven days in the second quarter of 2011, the company said in a regulatory filing yesterday. None of the daily losses exceeded the firm’s value-at-risk, a measure of how much the bank estimates it could lose on 95 percent of days. Morgan Stanley had a 48 percent year-over-year decrease in trading revenue, excluding accounting gains, led by a 60 percent drop in fixed-income revenue. Former Lloyds Digital Security Chief Admits $3.76 Million Fraud (Bloomberg) Lloyds Banking Group's former head of digital banking fraud and security pleaded guilty to submitting false invoices totaling more than 2.4 million pounds ($3.76 million)...Jessica Harper admitted to submitting fake invoices between 2007 and 2011 and then laundering the proceeds, the CPS said. She will be sentenced on Sept. 21, and faces as long as 24 years in prison for the two charges, a CPS spokesman said, although she will get credit for the guilty plea. Ex Lehman Exec Requests Rehab To Avoid Jail Time (NYP) Former Lehman Brothers Co-Chief Operating Officer Bradley H. Jack, arrested twice in less than a year on charges of prescription forgery, said he is willing to undergo a program for drug and alcohol treatment to avoid prosecution. Jack applied for the program at a hearing yesterday in Connecticut Superior Court in Norwalk. Judge Bruce Hudock ordered a doctor’s report to determine if he is eligible for the new program, which the judge said would be “a rare event.” Fed Official Calls For Bond Buying (WSJ) Eric Rosengren, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, called on the Fed to launch an aggressive, open-ended bond buying program that the central bank would continue until economic growth picks up and unemployment starts falling again. His call came in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, the first since the central bank signaled last week that it was leaning strongly toward taking new measures to support economic growth. Mr. Rosengren isn't currently among the regional Fed bank presidents with a vote on monetary policy. Although all 12 presidents participate in Fed deliberations, only five join the seven Fed governors in Washington in the formal committee vote. Tokyo Exchange Glitch Halts Derivatives Trading (WSJ) The Tokyo Stock Exchange on Tuesday temporarily suspended all derivatives trading soon after the morning open due to an unidentified system problem, the second significant trading glitch on the exchange this year. Amazon Exec Swindled By Tom Petty Con Artist (NYDN) Brian Valentine simply wanted to give his wife the wedding present of a lifetime - a performance by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. The senior vice president of Amazon, instead, fell victim to fraud, losing a whopping $165,000 to a Las Vegas man who pretended to be a concert booking agent, the Smoking Gun reported. FBI agents arrested the fraudulent agent, Chad Christopher Lund, on Aug. 2 in Illinois, after a private investigator Valentine had hired found that Lund had skipped town. But the ordeal began almost ten months before in late 2011, a year after Valentine, 52, popped the question to fellow Amazon employee, Gianna Puerini, 39, according to a wire fraud complaint unsealed by the U.S. District Court. Valentine decided that he wanted the "Won't Back Down" singer to perform a set at the couple's wedding reception since he proposed to Puerini at a Petty concert in Seattle. He turned to the Internet, where he found the website of Lund's firm, lundlive.com, boasting to have booked acts like Petty, Run-DMC and Ludacris. Lundlive.com no longer exists. Valentine connected with Lund over email and by October 2011, Lund told the Amazon exec that he had negotiated with Petty's representatives "down to a price of $330,000 for the performance." Later in the month, Lund sent Valentine a contract with the forged signature of Petty's manager, Tony Dimitraides. Valentine sent Lund a $165,000 down payment in return. Valentine finally uncovered the fraud in early April 2012, when the wedding was just three months away. He contacted Petty's management to discuss the performance only to find out that they had no idea about the planned appearance. "We have never heard of Chris Lund or his agency," Dimitraides wrote in an email to Valentine. "We are not aware of any deal for Tom Petty to play Seattle in July and I have never signed a contract for any such." "It looks like you have been defrauded."

Opening Bell: 9.8.15

BofA goes to bat for Moynihan; American Apparel employees bash (piñata likeness of) CEO's face in; Bitcoin Island; JP Morgan stops trading via hand signals; "Millionaire leaves $100K nest egg to her 32 cockatiels"; and more.

By Luccadomina (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Opening Bell: 10.4.16

Banks will get no special treatment in Brexit negotiations; Deutsche layoffs; Illinois expects others to cut ties with Wells Fargo; Man busted on lewdness charge for wearing Saran Wrap bikini on NJ beach; and more.

Opening Bell: 06.07.13

‘This Will be the Most Important Payroll Release in Years’ (WSJ MoneyBeat) Every payrolls day is a hype-fest, but particularly today. Today’s release will be the “most important payroll release in years”, wrote Michael Hartnett, chief investment strategist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. It follows “the seventh-worst month of returns for fixed income since ’85 and the largest week of bond fund redemptions since Oct ’08,” the bank says. So, no pressure. The consensus forecast gathered by Dow Jones Newswires is for a rise of 169,000 in the reading for May, with an unchanged employment rate of 7.5%. Draghi lauds ‘most successful’ ECB action (FT) A combative Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, strongly defended one of his bank’s most unorthodox and controversial moves of the eurozone crisis as “probably the most successful monetary policy measure undertaken in recent times”. Pressure in Britain Over What to Do With Bailed-Out Banks (DealBook) “As we move closer to an election, the share prices of R.B.S. and Lloyds will become more scrutinized,” said Peter Hahn, a banking professor at the Cass Business School in London. “Whoever is in government, selling shares in these banks will be a top priority.” ... The British government’s quandary over the banks stands in contrast with the experience of the United States Treasury Department, which reduced the government’s stakes in the big banks more quickly. Criminal Cases Loom in Rate Rigging (WSJ) U.S. and British authorities are preparing to bring criminal charges against former employees of Barclays for their alleged roles trying to manipulate benchmark interest rates, according to people familiar with the plans, marking an escalation of a global investigation now entering its sixth year. The charges are likely to be filed this summer, these people said, roughly a year after the big British bank became the first institution to settle over allegations that it attempted to rig the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, and other widely used financial benchmarks. NSA taps in to user data of Facebook, Apple, Google and others, secret files reveal (Guardian) The files also reveal terrible PowerPoint skills. ‘Hey, gals – be a ho!’: Pimps’ lawyer hails great pay, benefits (NYP) “I’m trying to find a job myself that pays me 10 grand a week,” defense lawyer Howard Greenberg said as summations began in the Manhattan Criminal Court trial of Vincent George Sr. and Jr., admitted father-and-son pimps. “One wonders in this economy if a girl can make up to 10 grand a week . . . Why more women don’t do it, I don’t know,” the lawyer said, arguing that there is no proof that the Georges’ pampered staff of five hookers was forced to do anything. The Georges admit they’re pimps. But they insist that they’re really nice pimps and that their stable of five women commuted happily, six nights a week, from their employer-provided houses in Allentown, Pa., to the bars of fancy Midtown hotels, where they’d hand out “masseuse” cards to randy male tourists. “The girls wanted for nothing. There was maternity leave — can you imagine that? In short, the benefits package was great,” Greenberg said. S&P cuts outlook on Brazil sovereign rating (FT) S&P said slow economic growth, expansionary fiscal policy that was likely to lead to an increase in the government’s debt burden, and “ambiguous policy signals” in decision-making were among the factors behind the surprise move. “The negative outlook reflects the at least one-in-three probability that a rising government debt burden and erosion of macroeconomic stability could lead to a downgrade of Brazil over the next two years,” the agency said. Japan's Pension Fund to Buy More Stocks (WSJ) The Government Pension Investment Fund, at a joint news conference with Japan's welfare ministry, said it has raised its target portfolio allocation of domestic stocks to 12% from the current 11%. The fund also said it would increase its allocation of overseas assets and cut back on low-yielding Japanese bonds. The GPIF is the world's largest public pension with ¥112 trillion yen ($1.16 trillion) in assets. It is closely watched by many investors for hints about potential portfolio rebalancing, which could have broad implications for financial markets. Record outflows from US junk bond funds (FT) US high-yield funds saw a record $4.63bn in outflows for the week ending on Wednesday, according to Lipper. Interest rate volatility has surged in recent weeks since benchmark Treasury yields have risen sharply, with selling spilling over into other key areas of the bond market. As exchange traded fund providers and mutual funds face redemptions, they are forced to sell more of their holdings, putting further pressure on prices. “We are definitely worried that the market is in a cycle where selling of bonds begets more selling,” said Steven Boyd, principal at Halyard Asset Management. Pimco Defends $8.5 Billion BofA Mortgage Accord (Bloomberg) Bank of America Corp.’s $8.5 billion mortgage-bond settlement is “outstanding” for investors, said a Pacific Investment Management Co. executive, who defended the deal against opposition. The settlement was reached after an investor group that included Pimco and BlackRock Inc. (BLK) at first demanded $12 billion, eventually coming down to a “take or leave it” offer of $8.5 billion, Kent Smith, an executive vice president at Pimco who helped negotiate the agreement, testified yesterday. “It’s an outstanding deal, and it’s in the best interest of our clients to support it,” Smith said. Smith was the first witness to testify in a trial over the agreement, which is being considered by Justice Barbara Kapnick of New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan. Forest braces for third bout with Icahn (Reuters) Forest Laboratories Inc is trying to avert yet another bitter proxy battle with billionaire investor Carl Icahn ahead of its annual investor meeting this summer, according to two sources familiar with the situation. ... Last year's proxy battle, for example, ended with just one of Icahn's four nominees being elected to the board - Pierre Legault, the former chief financial officer of OSI Pharma. Legault has since distanced himself from Icahn, telling people that he didn't know the investor well and wasn't "his guy", one of the sources said. Bono Sings to Warren Buffett (CNBC) "Home on the Range"; there is video. Russia's Vladimir Putin and wife Lyudmiladivorce (BBC) "It was a joint decision: we hardly see each other, each of us has our own life", Mr Putin said. Mrs Putin had rarely been seen in public in recent months, prompting much speculation in Russian media. She is known to dislike publicity, and told the TV reporter that flying was difficult for her. "Vladimir Vladimirovich is completely drowned in work," she said.