Opening Bell: 07.26.13

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Senate letter backs Yellen for Fed role (FT)
A number of US Senate Democrats are circulating a letter supporting Janet Yellen to be the next chair of the Federal Reserve in an ominous sign for supporters of Larry Summers. Ms Yellen, vice-chair of the Fed board, and Mr Summers, a former Treasury secretary and White House economic adviser, are the two leading candidates to replace Ben Bernanke. The letter has been pushed by Sherrod Brown from Ohio, Senate officials said, one of the chamber’s leading liberals and a longtime critic of financial deregulation and trade liberalisation. Signatories include Tom Harkin of Iowa, and Dianne Feinstein of California.

Up for Debate at Fed: A Sharper Easy-Money Message (WSJ)
The Federal Reserve is on track to keep its $85 billion-a-month bond-buying program in place at its policy meeting next week, but officials will debate changes to the way the central bank describes its plans for the program and for short-term interest rates. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has been saying since May that the central bank expects to begin winding down its bond-buying program later this year, if the economy strengthens as the Fed forecasts. At their July 30-31 meeting, Fed officials are likely to discuss whether to refine or revise "forward guidance," the words they use to describe their intentions for the next few years.

Banks shiver as UBS swallows $885 million U.S. fine (Reuters)
UBS is just one of 18 banks the FHFA pursued in 2011 for allegedly misrepresenting the quality of the collateral backing securities during the run-up to the financial crisis. The regulator is seeking to recover losses on mortgage bonds sold to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. UBS is the third to settle, after Citigroup and General Electric settled for undisclosed sums.

Wall Street’s Exposure to Hacking Laid Bare (DealBook)
In a separate indictment unsealed in federal court in New York, one of the men, Aleksandr Kalinin of Russia, was charged with having gained access for two years to the servers of the Nasdaq stock exchange. While Mr. Kalinin never penetrated the main servers supporting Nasdaq’s trading operations — and appears to have caused limited damage at Nasdaq — the attack raised the prospect that hackers could be getting closer to the infrastructure that supports billions of dollars of trades each hour.

Being rude to French president no longer an offense (Reuters)
Being rude to the French president is no longer an offense after parliament agreed on Thursday to amend legislation dating back to 1881 in favour of freedom of speech. ... The change came after the European Court of Human Rights ruled in March that France violated a demonstrator's right to freedom of expression when it fined him for holding a banner up to former President Nicolas Sarkozy reading: "Get lost, jerk."

Activision in $8.2 Billion Deal to Buy Back Stake From Vivendi (DealBook)
Activision Blizzard, the world’s biggest video game publisher, has a reached an $8.2 billion deal to separate from Vivendi and become an independent company. Under a deal that was announced early Friday, Activision Blizzard and a group of investors led by the company’s management will buy back shares owned by Vivendi, the French conglomerate that controls the video game maker, leaving a majority of Activision Blizzard’s shares held by the investing public. Activision Blizzard will buy about 429 million of its shares and certain tax attributes from Vivendi for roughly $5.83 billion in cash, or $13.60 a share, the company said. In addition, Robert A. Kotick, 50, the chief executive, and Brian Kelly, the co-chairman, are leading a group in buying about 172 million shares of the company from Vivendi for about $2.34 billion.

Amazon Posts Surprise Loss After Spending on Warehouses (Bloomberg)
Amazon.com Inc. reported a surprise net loss as the world’s largest online retailer continued to pump money into warehouses and digital content, fueling sales growth at the expense of profits. The second-quarter net loss was $7 million, or 2 cents a share, compared with profit of $7 million, or 1 cent, a year earlier, the Seattle-based company said in a statement yesterday. Analysts had projected net income of $28.8 million on average, or 6 cents, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Goldman CEO on risk: The worst 'absolutely will happen' (CNBC)
"Most risk management is really just advanced contingency planning and disciplining yourself to realize that, given enough time, very low probability events not only can happen, but they absolutely will happen," said Blankfein. "The definition of infinity is that you wait long enough, everything happens." ... "Once you think that something is improbable and everybody thinks it, people modify their behavior in a way that makes it more probable," said Blankfein.

Detroit set to beat bad-faith charge over bankruptcy (Reuters)
Meetings without the chance for any back and forth, unreturned phone calls and brusque tactics. To opponents of Detroit's bankruptcy filing, Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr has utterly failed to negotiate with them. But retired city workers, who are fighting to stop their pensions from being cut, and hope to stop Detroit's bankruptcy by claiming in court that Orr didn't engage in good-faith negotiations, are likely out of luck.

Halliburton to Plead Guilty to Destroying Deepwater Horizon Evidence (WSJ)
Halliburton Co. will plead guilty to destroying evidence in the wake of the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. The government said Thursday that the company, a contractor involved in drilling the oil well that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, destroyed computer simulations it performed in the months after the accident. Those simulations didn't bear out Halliburton's contention that BP PLC, which owned the well, erred by not following its advice on using certain equipment, the Justice Department said. ... In addition to pleading guilty to one count of destruction of evidence and paying a $200,000 fine, Halliburton will donate $55 million to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the government said.

Fed-up Silda Spitzer plans to divorce Eliot after election (NYP)
Silda Spitzer is privately telling friends she plans to divorce her hooker-loving husband, Eliot Spitzer, Page Six can exclusively reveal. Multiple sources tell us long-suffering Silda — who, he last night admitted, will not be joining him on the campaign trail — “has had enough” and plans to start divorce proceedings after his run for New York City comptroller is over.

Murderer put killing wife on to-do list (UPI)
Jean Pierre Tiras stabbed his wife to death in winter 2012. But it was just part of his checklist. Trias' wife, Katherine Porter, was found dead after the stabbing. Her sisters Martha Porter and Sarah Porter filed a lawsuit that said the murder was premeditated. “Kill Kathie Kill Kathie Kill Kathie!!!!!” was written on a list of household chores in a computer file recovered by police.

Prince Harry wants to make sure Prince George "has fun" (CBS)
"It's fantastic to have an addition to the family," he added, joking, "I only hope my brother knows how expensive my babysitting charges are!"

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Opening Bell: 03.26.13

Bailout Strains European Ties (WSJ) Several officials familiar with talks in Nicosia and Brussels over the €10 billion ($13 billion) rescue for the island described more than a week of chaotic negotiations. European officials cited Cypriot foot-dragging, reversals and dropped communications, a situation one European Union official called "terrifying." Cypriot officials described their European opposites as demanding and inflexible. Big Cypriot Bank Depositors Could Lose 40%: Minister (Reuters) "It could be in that neighborhood but I do not want to anticipate it," Sarris told BBC radio, adding the exact figure was yet to be decided. "But what I have seen suggests a number in that neighborhood." Sheik Spars With UBS Over $20 Million Fee (WSJ) A Kuwaiti sheik alleges that a senior executive at Switzerland's UBS offered $20 million to get the bank an advisory role on one of the biggest-ever acquisitions in the Middle East, but the bank later backed out of the deal, according to the sheik's testimony in a Dubai court case. Sheik Meshal Jarah Al Sabah said in sworn testimony that UBS offered the commission in 2009 to derail a bid by the French media group Vivendi SA for the African telecommunications assets of Zain, Kuwait's biggest mobile-phone company, and to get UBS a lead role finding a different buyer. Sheik Meshal sued UBS last year in the Dubai International Financial Centre courts, where UBS has offices, claiming he wasn't paid his fee. The written submission, which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, is his first direct testimony in the case. UBS denies the allegations and said in a statement that it is "vigorously defending this claim." Spain's Deficit Woes Seen Lingering (WSJ) In a report Tuesday, including economic projections for the next two years, the Bank of Spain said the economy will remain in recession, on average, this year, and contract around 1.5%—three times bigger than the government's own official projection. The discrepancy is because an economic uptick expected later this year is likely to be weaker than hoped. Atlantic City's Revel Casino Files for Bankruptcy (Reuters) Morgan Stanley originally owned most of Revel Entertainment Group, which began building the casino, but sold its stake at a $932 million loss in February 2011 to investors led by Kevin DeSanctis. The new owners then obtained a tax package of roughly $261 million from New Jersey and lined up $1.15 billion of financing to help complete the project. DeSanctis resigned earlier this month as Revel's chief executive. Hartmann, the interim chief executive, is a former chief executive of the Mohegan Sun casino in eastern Connecticut and has more than 20 years of experience in the gaming industry. Backers had hoped Revel would become the next Borgata, a joint venture between Boyd Gaming and MGM Resorts International that opened in 2003 and became Atlantic City's top-grossing casino. UBS: $62 million from Nasdaq is paltry compensation for Facebook IPO debacle (NYP) Nasdaq got approval from regulators yesterday to pay out $62 million to trading firms hurt by Facebook’s botched share sale — but UBS is having none of it. The Swiss bank giant has already filed an arbitration demand against Nasdaq, saying the payout doesn’t begin to cover the $356 million it lost because of the exchange’s “gross mishandling” of the IPO. Blackstone Ups Heat On Dell (WSJ) On Monday, a special committee of Dell board members said it viewed a Blackstone proposal as potentially superior to the $24.4 billion take-private offer from Silver Lake Partners and founder and Chief Executive Michael Dell. Investor Carl Icahn, who separately is pursuing the Round Rock, Texas, company, said on Monday he would review Blackstone's offer and may attempt to join forces with the New York firm. Fed Banker Backs Dialing Down Easy Money (WSJ) William Dudley, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, said in a speech the Fed "should calibrate" how much U.S. debt and mortgage-backed securities it buys each month "by allowing the flow rate of purchases to respond to material changes in the labor market outlook." 'Stripper' in Jensen Beach arrested (TCPalm) St. Lucie County Sheriff's deputies March 10 went to the area of the 100 block of North El Mar Drive in Jensen Beach after a report of a woman in her underwear yelling profanities at a neighbor. They found Lisa Marie Paras, 29, in an "underwear like or bikini dress" drinking a Michelob Ultra at the end of a driveway, an affidavit states. A deputy told her to put down the beer. She said she was wearing a bikini. She also said she'd been yelling across the street because the folks there are "(rectal orifices)," an affidavit states. When a deputy tried to get more information, Paras said she's a "stripper and wanted to make me her witness," the affidavit states. Paras put her hands on the deputy's shoulders, and he told her she shouldn't touch him. Described as "obviously intoxicated," Paras tried to explain she faces trespassing charges because of her neighbors. She also thought her landlord stole cash from her bedroom. Meanwhile, the neighbors told investigators Paras came out to the road and started yelling obscenities at them as they cooked steaks on the grill. Paras, they said, was in her undies and drinking beer. Paras reportedly told a deputy she'd had eight to 12 beers. She said the people across the street are "(rectal orifices)" and are "(fornicated) up," an affidavit states. Paras, whose occupation is listed as a dancer, tried to hug a deputy when he asked her to confirm some contact information.

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."