Opening Bell: 07.16.13

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Pimco's Gross Raised Rate-Risk Exposure (WSJ)
Mr. Gross's bond fund increased its duration to 5.82 years at the end of June from 5.15 years in May, according to Pimco's website. The increase in interest-rate risk cost Mr. Gross dearly. The fund suffered a loss of 2.64% in June in total return, compared with a loss of 1.55% on the Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Index, according to data from fund tracker Morningstar Inc. Mr. Gross's bond fund posted a loss of 3.6% last quarter in total return, compared with a 2.33% loss on the Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Index, according to data from fund tracker Lipper.

Bernanke faces grilling over bond buying (FT)
The Fed chairman testifies before the House Financial Services committee at 10am on Wednesday, and repeats the performance in front of the Senate Banking committee the next day, with markets still jittery about the central bank’s plan to gradually slow its $85bn-a-month in asset purchases. But Mr Bernanke has a growing problem as he tries to convince markets that a “tapering” of quantitative easing does not mean an earlier rise in interest rates: the widespread expectation that he will step down next January.

Wealth Products Threaten China Banks on Ponzi-Scheme Risk (Bloomberg)
China’s credit crunch in June spurred hundreds of millions of households and companies to divert a record share of their savings into wealth-management products, known as WMPs. The amount of such investments surged eightfold from 2009 to 8.2 trillion yuan as of the end of March, according to government data. ... WMPs look like time deposits to investors, except that about 70 percent of them don’t have their principal guaranteed by banks. About half invest in low-risk deposits, bonds and money markets. The rest venture into riskier areas including stocks, derivatives and loans to local governments and property developers, according the China Banking Regulatory Commission, which requires banks to register all WMPs they sell. The investments are popular because they provide rates of return higher than savings deposits, which are set at 3 percent annually, below this year’s government targeted inflation rate of 3.5 percent.

Spanish prime minister rejects calls to step down over scandal (Reuters)
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on Monday rejected calls to resign over a ruling party financing scandal and said he would not allow the matter to hold back his reform plans. The political pressure mounted on Rajoy as the former treasurer of his center-right People's Party gave new testimony before a judge looking into the affair, saying he had made 90,000 euros in cash payments to Rajoy and party secretary-general Maria Dolores Cospedal in 2009 and 2010.

Dave Matthews breaks down on bicycle, gets a ride to his concert from fan (Today)
A woman on her way to see the Dave Matthews Band perform in Hershey, Pa., on Saturday stopped her car to help a stranded bicyclist — and in the process saved the very rock show she was going to see. Emily Kraus and her boyfriend, Joe, were already running late when they noticed a man on the side of the road. When they pulled over to help, it was none other than Dave Matthews. The singer was out for a pre-concert bike ride when he got a flat tire, and he didn't have a cell phone to call for help.

Big Home Builders Gobble Up Rivals Starved for Cash (WSJ)
Without bank credit, small builders are unable to buy and develop the land necessary to build homes. That has allowed the biggest builders to rapidly gain market share, in large part by acquiring their smaller competition. "It's getting tougher and tougher for the little guy," said Michael P. Kahn, a building-industry consultant based in Palm Coast, Fla. "The big builders are coming in with big purses and saying, 'Sell me what you've got, I'll write you a check for it.'"

US ‘jumbo’ loan rates as cheap as standard mortgages (FT)
The average rate on so-called “jumbo” home loans was 4.84 per cent last week, according to mortgage research firm HSH Associates, only 21 basis points higher than on smaller loans that qualify for a government guarantee. Bankrate.com, the mortgage research firm, has reported that, in expensive metropolitan areas including New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, some jumbo loan rates are now lower than those on standard mortgages.

Banking Crisis is Over, But TARP Bailout is Still Alive and Kicking (FBN)
While big banks like J.P. Morgan Chase (JPM) and Citigroup (C) couldn’t return their TARP funds fast enough, dozens of publicly-traded lenders and thrifts are still sitting on nearly $5 billion in bailout cash some four years after the Great Recession ended. These TARP holdouts include medium-sized institutions like $2.3 billion Synovus Financial (SNV) and Puerto Rican lender Popular (BPOP), as well as much smaller lenders such as Atlantic Bancshares, which is on the hook for just $2 million. Banks that have been unable or unwilling to escape TARP now run the risk of being hit by a looming spike in dividend rates at the five-year anniversary of entering the government program as well as being stigmatized by customers and counterparties alike.

Early Peeks at Data Draw Scrutiny (WSJ)
A senior senator launched an investigation into an arrangement in which the University of Michigan sells early peeks at its consumer-sentiment survey to a select group of investors through Thomson Reuters Corp. In a letter sent last week, Sen. Charles Grassley (R., Iowa), the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, asked the university to answer questions about the arrangement and to provide a copy of the contract and any other similar contracts it might have entered into. "My concern is that the [university 's] decision to allow preferential access" to the report "may not be in the public interest," Mr. Grassley wrote.

$100 million house listings return with a vengeance (CNBC)
Brokers and real estate analysts say there are now more than a dozen homes in the U.S. listed or quietly on the market for $100 million or more. That's believed to top the number of $100 million-plus listings during the peak of the housing boom in 2007. "It's the most that I've ever seen," said Jonathan Miller, president and CEO of Miller Samuel, a real estate appraisal and consulting firm. "We're in this special period of time when nine-digit listings may not be commonplace, but they're certainly making their presence known."

Mom and Pop missing the rally, but OK with it (NetNet)
"They feel like, we're OK, we're not making a lot of money, we're not losing any money. We're up."

The oy of sex! Kosher lube a blessing for religious Jews (NYP)
Trigg Laboratories announced yesterday that the Rabbinical Council of California had certified 95 percent of its “Wet”-brand products as kosher after an intensive, two-year review. ... An Orthodox rabbi who works as a kosher supervisor — but who didn’t want be identified due to the subject matter — said the newly kosher lube should glide off the shelves. “There’s probably a market for it,” he said. “I’m sure for some people it’s better to have something that’s kosher than something that isn’t.”

Related

Opening Bell: 12.17.12

SAC E-Mails Show Steve Cohen Consulted on Key Dell Trade (Bloomberg) Two days before Dell Inc. was set to report second-quarter 2008 earnings, Jon Horvath, a technology analyst at SAC Capital Advisors LP, e-mailed his boss Michael S. Steinberg and another portfolio manager to warn that the computer maker would miss earnings estimates. “I have a 2nd hand read from someone at the company,” Horvath began the Aug. 26 message, which provided details on gross margins, expenditures and revenue. “Please keep to yourself as obviously not well known.” Steinberg, a 15-year veteran of the hedge fund founded by billionaire Steven A. Cohen, responded: “Yes normally we would never divulge data like this, so please be discreet. Thanks.” The e-mails indicate Steinberg, the longest-serving SAC employee linked to the U.S. insider-trading probe, discussed the Dell trade with Cohen. While neither has been accused of any wrongdoing, the messages were admitted as evidence at the New York insider-trading trial of two hedge-fund managers last week after a judge ruled they supported prosecutor claims that Steinberg should be considered an unindicted co-conspirator. AIG To Sell Life Insurer Stake (WSJ) AIG will sell its stake in Asian life insurer AIA Group Ltd., raising as much as $6.5 billion in what could be the second-largest deal in Asia this year. Completion of the sale will mark another step forward for AIG, which is shedding noncore assets, as it seeks to repay its debt to the U.S. government, which took over the company in a $182 billion bailout in 2008. A Shadow Over Banks As UBS Nears Libor Deal (WSJ) The Swiss bank is set to agree as soon as this week to pay roughly $1.5 billion to settle allegations of wrongdoing related to benchmarks such as the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, say people close to the talks. So far, UBS has agreed in principle with the U.S. Justice Department that a company unit in Japan will plead guilty to a criminal charge, according to a person familiar with the tentative deal. The Zurich-based parent will pay the fine in return for a deal that lets it avoid criminal prosecution. Criminal charges against individuals are expected to be filed in tandem with the settlement, according to U.S. officials briefed on the matter. The pursuit of criminal charges and the higher-than-expected fine are ominous signs for more than a dozen financial firms still under investigation. "There's no panic—yet," says someone close to one of the banks in the sprawling probe. Moody’s Gets No Respect as Bonds Shun 56% of Country Ratings (Bloomberg) The global bond market disagreed with Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s more often than not this year when the companies told investors that governments were becoming safer or more risky. Yields on sovereign securities moved in the opposite direction from what ratings suggested in 53 percent of the 32 upgrades, downgrades and changes in credit outlook, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That’s worse than the longer-term average of 47 percent, based on more than 300 changes since 1974. This year, investors ignored 56 percent of Moody’s rating and outlook changes and 50 percent of those by S&P. Economy Poised To Nudge Ahead In 2013 (WSJ) So that's nice. Boehner Opens the Door to Tax Hikes on the Wealthy (Reuters) U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner's offer to accept a tax rate increase for the wealthiest Americans knocks down a key Republican road block to a deal resolving the year-end "fiscal cliff." The question now boils down to what President Barack Obama offers in return. Such major questions, still unanswered so close to the end of the year suggest, however, that no spending and tax agreement is imminent. A source familiar with the Obama-Boehner talks confirmed that Boehner proposed extending low tax rates for everyone who has less than $1 million in net annual income, meaning tax rates would rise on all above that line. Actor Depardieu Hits Back at French PM Over Taxes (CNBC) Actor Gerard Depardieu, accused by French government leaders of trying to dodge taxes by buying a house over the border in Belgium, retorted that he was leaving because "success" was now being punished in his homeland. A popular and colourful figure in France, the 63-year-old Depardieu is the latest wealthy Frenchman to seek shelter outside his native country after tax increases by Socialist President Francois Hollande. Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault described Depardieu's behaviour as "pathetic" and unpatriotic at a time when the French are being asked to pay higher taxes to reduce a bloated national debt. "Pathetic, you said pathetic? How pathetic is that?" Depardieu said in a letter distributed to the media. "I am leaving because you believe that success, creation, talent, anything different must be sanctioned," he said. [...] The "Cyrano de Bergerac" star recently bought a house in Nechin, a Belgian village a short walk from the border with France, where 27 percent of residents are French nationals, and put up his sumptuous Parisian home up for sale. Depardieu, who has also inquired about procedures for acquiring Belgian residency, said he was handing in his passport and social security card. Singapore Establishment Challenged by Carson Block on Olam (Bloomberg) When Carson Block likened Olam International Ltd. to fraud-ridden Enron Corp., he challenged more than the accounting of the Singapore-based commodities firm. He also took on Temasek Holdings Pte, the government-owned investment company whose money has helped build the city-state into a corporate dynamo known as Singapore Inc. Temasek is Olam’s second-largest shareholder, with a 16 percent stake that has lost more than $100 million in value since Nov. 19, when Block’s Muddy Waters LLC first questioned the validity of the company’s finances and said it was betting against the stock. Temasek is also the biggest shareholder in many of the country’s best-known companies, including DBS Group Holdings Ltd., Southeast Asia’s largest bank, Singapore Telecommunications Ltd. and Singapore Airlines Ltd. “Carson Block is putting his whole reputation on this one,” said Low Chee Keong, associate professor of corporate law at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “He’s taking on the Singapore government, Singapore Inc. here.” UN court orders immediate release of Argentine ship seized by hedge funder Paul Singer over unpaid debt (AP) A United Nations court ordered the immediate release Saturday of an Argentine navy training ship held in Ghana two months ago at the request of an American hedge fund. The ARA Libertad was held Oct. 2 in the port of Tema as collateral for unpaid bonds dating from Argentina's economic crisis a decade ago. Argentina appealed to the UN's International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea for the ship's release, arguing that as a warship the Libertad is immune from being seized. In an expedited ruling, the court ordered that Ghana "forthwith and unconditionally release the frigate ARA Libertad" and ensure the ship and its crew can leave Ghanaian waters. It also ordered that the vessel should be resupplied as needed. Detaining the ship was "a source of conflict that may endanger friendly relations among states," the court said. The ruling leaves untouched the parties' rights to seek further international arbitration on the matter. Debt Loads Climb In Buyout Deals (WSJ) Private-equity firms are using almost as much debt to fund acquisitions as they did before the financial crisis, as return-hungry investors rush to buy bonds and loans backing those takeovers. The rise in borrowed money, or leverage, heralds the possibility of juicy returns for buyout groups. Ominously, the surge also brings back memories of the last credit binge around six years ago, which saddled dozens of companies with huge levels of debt. Berlusconi's Love Life Lost in Translation (CNBC) Global media reports that the former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi announced his engagement to his 28-year-old girlfriend on one of his TV Channels on Sunday, have been dismissed by native Italians who say Berlusconi has been mis-translated. Various newspapers have reported that Berlusconi is to get married for the third time, when in fact he announced that he is in love and in a relationship...Professor of Modern Italian History at University College London (UCL), John Foot, told CNBC that Pascale is a"girlfriend, nothing more." "In Italy the phrase 'Mi sono fidanzato' usually means 'I have a girlfriend or boyfriend' and not 'I am engaged to be married'. This can cause confusion abroad but is pretty clear in the Italian context," he told CNBC. Twinkies again by spring? It could happen (NBC) It’s not even Christmas, but Twinkies fans may be able to start looking forward to an Easter present. Bankrupt Hostess Brands has received a number of bids from companies interested in buying the maker of Twinkies, Ho Hos, and Wonder bread, including retail heavyweights such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Kroger Co, Bloomberg News reported Friday, quoting an unnamed person familiar with the matter...Anthony Michael Sabino, a bankruptcy attorney and a professor at St. John's University, said bankruptcy judge Robert Drain was motivated to move quickly. Bidding will likely take place by early January, since the assets — if not the treats themselves — could become stale. “I think this will move a at a fairly decent pace. He knows what’s at stake here.

Opening Bell: 09.04.12

Moody's Gives EU Warning (WSJ) Moody's Investors Service has put the European Union's triple-A credit rating on a negative outlook in a move that reflects actions the ratings firm has taken on some of the euro-zone's largest members, including Germany and the Netherlands. "Moody's believes that it is reasonable to assume that the EU's credit-worthiness should move in line with the credit-worthiness of its strongest key member states considering the significant linkages between member states and the EU," Moody's said in a release. Fears Rising, Spaniards Pull Out Their Cash and Get Out of Spain (NYT) After working six years as a senior executive for a multinational payroll-processing company in Barcelona, Spain, Julio Vildosola is cutting his professional and financial ties with his troubled homeland. He has moved his family to a village near Cambridge, England, where he will take the reins at a small software company, and he has transferred his savings from Spanish banks to British banks. “The macro situation in Spain is getting worse and worse,” Mr. Vildosola, 38, said last week just hours before boarding a plane to London with his wife and two small children. “There is just too much risk. Spain is going to be next after Greece, and I just don’t want to end up holding devalued pesetas.” In July, Spaniards withdrew a record 75 billion euros, or $94 billion, from their banks — an amount equal to 7 percent of the country’s overall economic output — as doubts grew about the durability of Spain’s financial system. According to official statistics, 30,000 Spaniards registered to work in Britain in the last year, and analysts say that this figure would be many multiples higher if workers without documents were counted. That is a 25 percent increase from a year earlier. Europe Bank Chief Hints At Bond Purchases (WSJ) The comments by Mario Draghi in a closed hearing at the European Parliament on Monday came ahead of the ECB's monthly policy meeting Thursday. That meeting has been keenly awaited in the financial markets for further details of how the bank could help bring down the funding costs of countries such as Spain and Italy to prevent them from having to seek full euro-zone bailouts like Greece, Ireland and Portugal. Switzerland Flirts With Recession (WSJ) "Three months ago, the Swiss economy looked charmingly strong against the backdrop of the euro zone and now it is looking on the brink of recession," said Janwillem Acket, chief economist at Julius Bär in Zurich. Nigeria Uncovers Cocaine-Stuffed Roasted Chicken (AP) The roasted chickens had an unusual stuffing — $150,000 worth of cocaine, according to Nigerian police. A Nigerian mechanic who struggled in Brazil for more than six years had hoped the drugs would buy him a life of luxury in his native land, Nigerian authorities said Monday. "This was like a retirement plan for him," said Mitchell Ofoyeju, spokesman for the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency. The accused was arrested over the weekend at the airport in Lagos after he came in from Sao Paulo with 2.6 kilograms (5.7 pounds) of cocaine, Ofoyeju said. Photos from the agency showed egg-shaped packages wrapped in gold aluminum foil and tucked into the browned chickens. Citibank Hid Firm’s Financial Troubles, Ex-Partner at Dewey & LeBoeuf Says (NYT) In a recent court filing, the former partner, Steven P. Otillar, says Citibank conspired with Dewey's management to hide the law firm's true financial condition in the months before its collapse. Mr. Otillar made the claim in response to a lawsuit brought against him by Citibank seeking repayment of a $210,000 loan. The bank lent Mr. Otillar the money to pay for his capital contribution to Dewey when he joined the partnership in August 2011. (New partners typically must make a financial contribution to a law firm when they join.) The filing said that Citibank had extended Mr. Otillar the loan as part of a fraudulent scheme intended to benefit Citibank and Dewey's management. By recruiting him and other partners to join the financially troubled firm in the months leading up to its demise—and collecting millions of dollars from them—Dewey's partners enriched themselves and kept the firm afloat. Credit Suisse Exec Facing Arrest Order (Reuters) A judge in Argentina has ordered the arrest of Credit Suisse executive and former US Treasury Undersecretary David Mulford because he failed to testify over a 2001 Argentine debt swap, the state news agency reported today. Federal Judge Marcelo Martinez de Giorgi will ask Interpol to issue an international arrest warrant seeking Mulford’s extradition for questioning over the bond exchange carried out by the government in an unsuccessful bid to avoid default. Bernanke Channeling Hatzius Dismissing Gross New Normal (Bloomberg) Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke is betting the new U.S. economy is the same as the old one as he lays out arguments for more stimulus to revive it. He made that diagnosis last week in a rebuttal to those who blame an 8.3 percent unemployment rate on structural shifts in the economy wrought by the financial crisis and who contend joblessness is permanently elevated. “I see little evidence of substantial structural change in recent years,” Bernanke told fellow central bankers and economists at the annual monetary-policy symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. “Following every previous U.S. recession since World War II, the unemployment rate has returned close to its pre-recession level.” Ice Picks Are Still Used As Weapons (NYT) Mann Rosa, 32, who lives on Perry Avenue about a block from the scene of the recent attack, said ice picks were back in vogue among street gangs all across the city. “The ice pick, from what I know, is the new thing,” Mr. Rosa said, noting how easy it was to buy and conceal. “It’s definitely the new wave.” Toward the end of the conversation, almost as if he had an afterthought, Mr. Rosa said he had been stabbed repeatedly with an ice pick about two years ago during a street fight. He rolled up the sleeve of his T-shirt to reveal two dime-size wounds, not unlike scars from a smallpox vaccination, on his shoulder and upper arm. “I was stabbed once in the chest, once in the back and twice in the arm,” Mr. Rosa said; it took 12 stitches to close the wounds. Asked if the police ever caught the perpetrator, Mr. Rosa laughed and shook his head. “We got this thing called street justice. We don’t go to the cops over something like that.”