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Opening Bell: 07.31.13

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Activist investor Ackman makes his biggest bet ever (CNBC)
Activist investor William Ackman's firm Pershing Square Capital Management has acquired a 9.8 percent position in $22 billion industrial gas company Air Products & Chemicals, CNBC reported on "Squawk Box" Wednesday morning. The stake is valued at $2.2 billion, according to Ackman, and is his largest investment ever by cost. The 13D filing is expected Wednesday. It comes at a time when Ackman finds himself underwater on last year's short bet against Herbalife stock. In addition to the Air Products acquisition, he also told CNBC that he hasn't "covered a single share" of Herbalife. ... As for Air Products, "it's a great business that is undervalued," Ackman told CNBC Tuesday—citing a very diverse customer and product base, high barriers to entry, and substantial pricing power. "We have some ideas on how to add value."

Loeb Letter Backs Sony Electronics While Slamming Movie Flops (Bloomberg)
Daniel Loeb, the billionaire investor pushing Sony Corp. to sell part of its entertainment units, devoted more than half of his quarterly letter to praising an electronics turnaround and slamming movie flops. Sony Chief Executive Officer Kazuo Hirai “deserves plaudits for the green shoots increasingly visible in electronics,” Loeb’s Third Point LLC said, citing momentum in smartphones. At the same time, it pointed to blunders at a “poorly managed” film unit with “high salaries for underperforming senior executives.”

Lawyers Present Closing Arguments in Former Goldman Trader’s Fraud Case (DealBook)
Fabrice Tourre, the former Goldman Sachs trader, was either a greedy scheming liar or a bright young executive just trying to do his job, according to dueling portraits presented during closing arguments Tuesday in the most prominent case from the financial crisis to go to trial. ... Mr. Tourre, a 34-year-old Frenchman, was living in a “Goldman Sachs land of make believe” where deceiving investors is not fraudulent, Mr. Martens said. Sean Coffey, a lawyer for Mr. Tourre, accused the S.E.C. of peddling “half truths” and “deceit” against his client. Unlike Mr. Martens, Mr. Coffey did not stand in one place during his closing, opting instead to pace in front of the jury, often ad-libbing. He picked up steam during his remarks and at one point appeared to be holding back tears. ... While riding the elevator down with Mr. Tourre after his closing remarks, Mr. Coffey announced, “I need a Scotch, and I am going to have one.”

Summers Hedges His Doubts on Fed's Bond Buying (WSJ)
In April, at a private gathering of investors sponsored by Drobny Global Advisors, an investment advisory group, Mr. Summers said, "there is less efficacy from quantitative easing than is supposed," according to notes of the meeting reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. But, Mr. Summers added, "The corollary of that is that if QE won't have a large effect on demand, it will not have a large effect on inflation either. So this is not a compelling argument against QE." ... "It was a very traditional Keynesian view of monetary policy," Mr. Drobny said, referring to the economic theory on the role of government in stoking demand during downturns.

Top Weiner Aide Trashes Intern Who Wrote Campaign Tell-All (TPM)
TPM called Weiner’s communications director Barbara Morgan to discuss an unrelated story Tuesday and she went off on a curse-filled rant about Nuzzi, describing her as a fame hungry “bitch” who “sucked” at her job. Morgan also called Nuzzi a “slutbag,” “twat,” and “cunt” while threatening to sue her. ... “Fucking slutbag. Nice fucking glamour shot on the cover of the Daily News. Man, see if you ever get a job in this town again,” said Morgan. ... “It’s all bullshit,” she said. “I mean, it’s such bullshit. She could fucking — fucking twat.”

BNP Paribas’s Earnings Fall 5% (DealBook)
The French bank BNP Paribas said on Wednesday that second-quarter profit fell 5 percent as it made additional provisions to cover potential losses in the face of a struggling European economy. BNP Paribas said net income in the three months ended June 30 fell to 1.76 billion euros ($2.33 billion) from 1.85 billion euros in the period a year earlier, beating analysts’ estimates, while revenue fell 2 percent, to 9.9 billion euros.

Global fertiliser shake-up after cartel falls apart (FT)
One of the two big cartels controlling the potash market has fallen apart after a leading Russian producer of the vital ingredient in fertiliser announced its withdrawal from the group, sending sector share prices tumbling. In a move likened to a break-up of Opec, the oil producers’ club that controls output, Uralkali pulled out of the Belarus Potash Corporation export cartel after it accused its Belarusian partner of violating an agreement and selling outside the partnership. Uralkali predicted the potash price would fall 25 per cent after the end of the arrangement. “This is as if Saudi Arabia left Opec – for the potash sector this is huge,” said Jeremy Redenius, an analyst at Bernstein. The two cartels – BPC and North America’s Canpotex, which includes PotashCorp of Saskatchewan, Agrium and Mosaic – have maintained prices well above marginal production costs by refraining from flooding the market.

Facebook Said to Plan to Sell TV-Style Ads for $2.5M Each (Bloomberg)
While the social network already allows advertisers to upload videos to their Facebook page and then broadcast them to a user’s news feed, the new service would let marketers buy their way directly into a person’s feed with a 15-second pitch, according to the people. That’s typically the minimum length of a television commercial. At 15 seconds, the ads also would be the same length as Facebook’s Instagram videos -- a feature that was added to the company’s photo-sharing service last month. That means the commercials would come in a familiar format for users.

Facebook stock almost hits IPO price, 14 months after rocky debut (Reuters)

SEC charges former Santander exec and judge with insider trading (FT)
US securities regulators brought a new round of cases of alleged insider trading ahead of BHP Billiton’s failed bid for PotashCorp filing fraud charges against a former high-ranking executive at Banco Santander and a former Spanish judge. The Securities and Exchange Commission sued Cedric Cañas Maillard, a Spanish citizen and former executive adviser to Santander’s chief executive, and his friend Julio Marín Ugedo, a former judge in Spain, for allegedly making a total of $1m in illegal profits after trading in advance of the planned 2010 takeover.

Wall Street into Snapchat, and regulators are on alert (CNBC)
The fear: Faith in its self-destructing technology will lead to sharing of more illicit—and potential illegal—content, according to Rich Hickman, a Utah-based digital forensics expert. "I could see Snapchat being one of the main avenues for insider trading, especially among young traders on Wall Street," Hickman said in a phone interview with CNBC. His firm, Decipher Forensics, recovers data on drives and devices for law enforcement officials, and Snapchats are easily retrieved, he said. "It's very common for young people—or anyone, really—to think when it actually does delete, that it's gone," Hickman said.

Bloomberg's ban on big sodas is unconstitutional: appeals court (Reuters)
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's controversial plan to keep large sugary drinks out of restaurants and other eateries was rejected by a state appeals court on Tuesday, which said he had overstepped his authority in trying to impose the ban. The law, which would have prohibited those businesses from selling sodas and other sugary beverages larger than 16 ounces (473 ml), "violated the state principle of separation of powers," the First Department of the state Supreme Court's Appellate Division said.

Berlusconi Wins Concession From Prosecutor at Top Court (Bloomberg)
Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, making his final appeal against a tax-fraud conviction, won a concession on the first day of hearings as the prosecutor asked judges to ease the maximum sentence. The five-year ban from public office, imposed last year by Berlusconi’s original trial court and upheld in a first appeal, should be reduced to three years, Prosecutor Antonio Mura said late yesterday as he wrapped up his case at Italy’s top court in Rome. Mura, who spoke for more than four hours before a five-judge panel, said the conviction was valid and urged the court to uphold it.

Porn maker settles with Ben & Jerry's over trademarked titles (LAT)
So much for "Boston Cream Thigh” and “Peanut Butter D-Cups.” A North Hollywood pornography studio has agreed to not release products with titles and packaging that take inspiration from Ben & Jerry's trademark ice cream flavors. The porn maker Caballero Video, also know as Rodax Distributors Inc., has reached a settlement with Ben & Jerry's, according to the law firm representing the sweets maker. The porn company will comply with a court order, filed Monday, to not sell products including the 10 titles in its "Ben & Cherry's" series.