Opening Bell: 08.07.13

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Bank of England ties future rate rises to drop in unemployment (Reuters)
The Bank of England plans to keep interest rates at a record low until unemployment falls to 7 percent - something unlikely for another three years - in a major new departure for British monetary policy. Barely a month after Canadian Mark Carney took over from the long-serving Mervyn King as BoE governor, the central bank said on Wednesday that it would keep interest rates at 0.5 percent unless inflation threatened to get out of control or there was a danger to financial stability. "Until the margin of slack within the economy has narrowed significantly, it will be appropriate to maintain the current exceptionally stimulative stance of monetary policy," the BoE said.

Obama Outlines Plans for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (NYT)
Mr. Obama on Tuesday endorsed the thrust of bipartisan legislation from a Senate group that would “end Fannie and Freddie as we know them.” The so-called government-sponsored enterprises for decades bought and sold mortgages from financial institutions to provide money for the banks to keep lending to home buyers. Under Mr. Obama’s principles, which he said were reflected in the Senate bill taking shape, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would further shrink their portfolios and lose the implicit guarantee of a federal government bailout. Instead, private investors would be most at risk, with the government a secondary guarantor. “First, private capital should take a bigger role in the mortgage markets. I know that sounds confusing to folks who call me a socialist,” Mr. Obama said, drawing laughs and applause. “I believe that our housing system should operate where there’s a limited government role,” he added, “and private lending should be the backbone of the housing market.”

SEC's Hunt for Crisis-Era Wrongdoing Loses Steam (WSJ)
Securities and Exchange Commission enforcement officials have decided not to recommend filing civil charges against hedge-fund firm Magnetar Capital LLC, which teamed up with Wall Street firms to create mortgage securities that suffered billions of dollars in losses during the financial crisis, according to people familiar with the situation. The decision is a sign the SEC's investigations into whether companies or individuals broke the law with their conduct ahead of the crisis are running out of gas.

Libor Settlements Said to Ease CFTC’s Path in Rate-Swaps Probe (Bloomberg)
The $2.5 billion of settlements reached in the London interbank offered rate rigging scandal are compelling banks to hand over information in the probe of a separate financial benchmark tied to interest-rate derivatives. Barclays Plc, UBS AG and Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc, the lenders fined in the Libor case, risk criminal prosecution in the U.S. under the settlement agreements if they’re seen as withholding evidence related to potential manipulation of the benchmark known as ISDAfix, according to a person with knowledge of the matter, who asked not to be identified because details of the investigation aren’t public.

Weiner calls 69-year-old opponent 'grandpa' at AARP mayoral forum (NYP)
Anthony Weiner went after his elder GOP opponent George McDonald yesterday, sarcastically referring to him as “grandpa” at, of all places, a forum sponsored by the AARP. The standoff started just before the debate, when the 48-year-old Weiner put his hands on the 69-year-old McDonald’s chest as he walked by, possibly to say hello. ... “He said, ‘What you going to do about it, grandpa?’ ”McDonald told The Post afterward. McDonald said he became outraged after feeling “two hard slaps on my chest.” “He reached around and slapped me with an open hand. It wasn’t some love tap,” McDonald said. The feud between the two has been simmering since at least last week, when McDonald called Weiner a “self-pleasuring freak” at a forum at a church in Laurelton, Queens.

Private-Equity Investors Take Profits on Bank Stakes (WSJ)
A handful of private-equity investors who poured money into banks during the financial crisis are cashing out, reaping billions of dollars in profits—in some cases doubling their money—even as many small lenders continue to struggle. Their success stands in contrast to dozens of other big investors who scooped up failed institutions but are still stuck with far less profitable holdings. The different outcomes show that, during banking crises, the lowest price doesn't necessarily make for the best deal. The investors who do better "are the ones who bought good franchises cheap, not distressed franchises very cheap," said Joshua Siegel, managing principal and chief executive of StoneCastle Partners LLC, a New York firm formed in 2003 to invest in banks.

TPG looks for more time to spend key fund (FT)
TPG, one of the world’s largest private equity companies, has taken the unusual step of asking investors in its $19bn flagship fund if it can have an extra year to spend $3bn of undeployed capital, underscoring the difficulty finding good deals in the aftermath of the global recession. ... In a handout accompanying a call with investors last week, TPG said the extension would allow the firm “to continue intense focus on performance” and would mean there would be “no need to begin raising TPG VII prematurely.”

Sony Brush-Off Leaves Daniel Loeb With Few Options (BreakingViews)
The civil brush-off from Sony appears to leave Mr. Loeb with few options. Even in a country more receptive to activist investors than Japan, it would not be easy to force a company to list a subsidiary against its will. Sony’s shares fell 5 percent on news of the board’s decision, suggesting investors expect Mr. Loeb to walk away. However, he does not appear to be giving up just yet. Though Mr. Loeb’s Third Point hedge fund said it was “disappointed” by the board’s decision, it welcomed Sony’s commitment to greater transparency – and promised further ideas for creating value.

Consumers Find Investors Eager to Make 'Peer-to-Peer' Loans (WSJ)
With more money chasing the loans, lenders such as Prosper are working hard to come up with enough borrowers to meet the demand. Each month, Prosper mails more than a million preapproved loan applications. In June, the company arranged $27.5 million in loans, a bit short of its goal. In July, it originated $30.3 million. Prosper and Lending Club together originated about $871 million in loans last year, more than double the prior year's total and up tenfold since 2008. Lending Club says it is on track to lend $2 billion this year.

A blunt Pope Francis targets free market economics (CNBC)
Analysts say Pope Francis—leader of some 1.2 billion Catholics—is not necessarily calling for the demise of free market theory. Instead, he's issuing a very strong warning to economic leaders over its future. "Like many people he thinks capitalism won't survive unless it decreases income disparity," said George Haley, professor of marketing and international business at the University of New Haven. ... "I don't think he's attacking capitalism or the wealthy, because if he did, that strategy would fail," said Joseph Pastore, a business professor at Pace University.

Manhattan Homes Under $3 Million Never Harder to Buy (Bloomberg)
Manhattanites with budgets that would buy mansions in most of America are discovering it’s tough to find even a two-bedroom apartment in New York as the inventory of homes shrinks. The number of available units for less than $3 million -- those generally considered nonluxury -- has plunged by the most on record, creating a shortage that’s unlikely to be alleviated any time soon as developers focus on ultra high-end condos that have set price records by wealthy investors.

French woman offers breast-feeding service to gay parents (Reuters)
A woman has posted an offer on a French website to breast-feed babies of homosexual male couples for 100 euros ($130) a day, stirring up media interest just weeks after a divisive same-sex marriage law was passed. ... "Our legal advisers are sure of this. It's illegal in France to sell maternal milk but this is a person proposing a service, not selling the milk in flasks."

Cop 'Upset' By Speeding Woman's Dying Dad Lie, Arrests Her (ABC)
A New Hampshire cop was so miffed when he discovered an "emotional" woman had lied to him about speeding in her car to get to her dying father that he later went to the woman's house and arrested her for driving with a suspended registration. "I'm pretty used to people trying to bend the truth to get out of speeding citations, but this woman preyed on my emotions as a human being," Christopher J. Cummings, the state trooper who made the arrest, told ABC News today. "She told me her father had stage four cancer, that he was breathing only six breaths a minute, and that she was trying to make it to the hospital before he passed," Cummings said.

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Opening Bell: 03.14.13

US Probes Gold Pricing (WSJ) The Commodity Futures Trading Commission is examining the setting of prices in London, in which a handful of banks meet twice daily and set the spot price for a troy ounce of physical gold, the people said. The CFTC is looking at issues including whether the setting of prices for gold—and the smaller silver market—is transparent. No formal investigation has been opened, the people said. US And UK Tussle Over Trader (WSJ) Officials in the U.S. Justice Department and the U.K. Serious Fraud Office clashed late last year in their mutual pursuit of Tom Hayes, the former UBS trader who is viewed by prosecutors in both countries as a ringleader of banks' attempts to rig the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, these people said. While jurisdictional disputes among law enforcement agencies aren't unusual, some U.S. officials worry that the friction on this case will jeopardize trans-Atlantic cooperation on future financial-fraud investigations. The spat revolves around a sequence of events that played out in rapid succession last December. The trouble began, the people said, when the U.K. government unexpectedly blocked a Justice Department request to interview Mr. Hayes, who is British and lives outside London. Then, without notifying the U.S., British fraud prosecutors on Dec. 11 arrested Mr. Hayes and two others in connection with their own probe—infuriating American officials, according to people familiar with the U.S. investigation. The U.S. prosecutors punched back the next day by filing sealed criminal fraud charges against Mr. Hayes. Banks Bow To New York On Clawbacks (WSJ) Three more top banks, including Citigroup, will broaden their clawback policies to cover more executives, increase disclosures or add potential triggers. The moves increase to six the number of leading financial companies that have bowed to pressure from the New York City's Comptroller's Office. Lehman Judge Allows 'London Whale' Subpoena in JP Morgan Fight (Dow Jones) A judge on Wednesday said Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. creditors can subpoena Bruno Iksil in its lawsuit against J.P. Morgan, ensuring the phrase "London Whale" will stay in the lexicon for at least a bit longer. Judge James Peck of U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan said Mr. Iksil, who is in France, can be questioned over the alleged mismarking of $273.3 million in derivatives when he worked at J.P. Morgan in the days leading up to Lehman's bankruptcy. "I consider it inappropriate except for in a clear case of abuse to cut off discovery of a witness that has fingerprints all over a transaction," Judge Peck said. "And in this case, Mr. Iksil's fingerprints are on the $273.3 million transaction that took on some significance in the case." Lehman U.K. Wins $1 Billion Appeal on Hedging Contracts (Bloomberg) The ruling may result in London-based Lehman Brothers International Europe and its administrators PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP receiving an extra $1 billion, according to a written decision handed down this morning by Judge Mary Arden in the U.K. Court of Appeals. Jobless Claims Unexpectedly Fall as Labor Market Improves (Bloomberg) First-time jobless claims fell by 10,000 to 332,000 in the week ended March 9, the fewest since mid January, according to data today from the Labor Department in Washington. The median forecast of 49 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for an increase to 350,000. The four-week average declined to a five- year low. JPMorgan exec sued over 'bullying' behavior (NYP) Plaintiff Walter Suarez, a former financial adviser, was banished to the company’s Delancey Street outpost when he complained about colleague Michael Quach, and the move cost Suarez an $80 million client list, $20 million of which was taken by JPMorgan, his lawyers claim. According to Suarez, Quach was a bully who resorted to physical violence to intimidate colleagues. Suarez, who is Hispanic, says Quach, an Asian-American, got away with the behavior because bosses preferred Asian employees. “Eventually, it got to the point of being ridiculous. This isn’t the corner bodega,” Suarez told The Post. “We’re investment people. This is a professional setting. That’s when I spoke up. “He just wasn’t a very professional person from the get-go, and I don’t think that I was the only person who felt that way.” Suarez told superiors that Quach had manhandled several staffers, including one woman who was “physically assaulted during working hours on the banking floor,” according to the lawsuit filed in Manhattan Supreme Court by attorneys Matthew Blit and Amanda Gudis. Suarez said Quach even threatened to punch him out in front of clients. 'Canada's Warren Buffett' Interested in Greece's Top Bank (Reuters) Greece's biggest lender, National Bank (NBG), said on Wednesday that Canadian investment fund Fairfax Holdings was interested in acquiring a stake in it by taking part in a planned recapitalization. Under the terms of cash-strapped Greece's international bailout, its top four lenders must issue new shares by the end of April to replenish their capital after the losses they suffered in the debt crisis from bad loans and bond writedowns. The European Union and the International Monetary Fund have set aside 27.5 billion euros ($37 billion) in bailout funds to invest in the new bank shares. But private investors must buy at least 10 percent of them or the lenders will be nationalized. NBG said in a bourse filing that Fairfax was among other investors who had expressed an interest, without giving details. Fairfax is controlled by investment guru Prem Watsa, known as the "Warren Buffett of Canada." SandRidge Gives In, Settling Proxy Fight (WSJ) SandRidge Energy agreed to fire its chief executive or give control of its board to an activist shareholder, settling a closely watched proxy battle amid an outbreak of investor unrest in the oil patch. SandRidge, an oil-and-gas producer with a stock-market value of about $3 billion, immediately appointed four directors to its board who were nominated by hedge fund TPG-Axon Capital LP, which owns 7.3% of its shares. Bofa Battles Credit Suisse for 50% Markups on State Loans (Bloomberg) The firms are among at least five lenders in talks to loan five states at least $6.5 billion this year -- more than double last year’s total -- as local governments seek to chop debt costs by replacing loans from a 1997 federal bailout that average 14.4 percent in reais. Credit Suisse is lending Mato Grosso, an agricultural state in western Brazil, $1 billion for 15 years. The loan, with a rate equal to 11.2 percent in reais and guaranteed by Brazil if Mato Grosso defaults, compares with 7.35 percent for yields of similar-maturity government debt. Private Equity Could Trigger Another Crisis: Bank of England (CNBC) The amount of leverage in the U.K. corporate sector poses a risk to the stability of the financial system and could produce the next big financial crisis over the coming years, the U.K.'s central bank has warned. White Rock woman holds 'Lying Cheating Sale' to sell all her husband's stuff while he's 'gone with his floozie' (The Province) A scorned White Rock woman held a yard sale on the weekend to get rid of her husband's stuff while he was "gone with his floozie," according to a Craigslist ad. "Husband left us for a piece of trash, selling everything while he is gone this weekend with his floozie," read the text of the ad, which was posted early Friday afternoon to the free classifieds site. The Province dropped by the yard sale on Saturday and, sure enough, bargain-hunters were sifting through the goods which included office chairs, camping gear and other offerings. The lady in charge of the sale declined to speak on the record. Her colourful Craigslist ad, however, said she was selling everything and moving after 10 years of marriage. The featured items included his favourite red leather reclining theatre-seating sofas, and "lots of tools which he didn't have a clue how to use." "I want the house empty on Monday when he returns because that will be a shock for him to see. So come pick out what you would like Saturday and Sunday at 8 a.m. "Don't come too early (like he did) because I will be thoroughly enjoying some wine with my girlfriends this evening as we clean out all this stuff and likely be nursing hangovers in the morning. So please speak softly to the ladies wearing the sunglasses." The ad discouraged clothes-buyers, "as we will have already burned those in the driveway," but it did offer to let visitors see the pile of ashes.

Opening Bell: 04.02.12

Greece Faces Bond-Swap Holdouts (WSJ) The majority of investors holding foreign law Greek bonds haven't yet been included in the country's debt-swap deal as they have rejected or failed to agree to the exchange, said the country's debt agency Monday, setting a new deadline for the offer. Financiers and Sex Trafficking (NYT) "THE biggest forum for sex trafficking of under-age girls in the United States appears to be a Web site called Backpage.com. This emporium for girls and women — some under age or forced into prostitution — is in turn owned by an opaque private company called Village Voice Media. Until now it has been unclear who the ultimate owners are. That mystery is solved. The owners turn out to include private equity financiers, including Goldman Sachs with a 16 percent stake. Goldman Sachs was mortified when I began inquiring last week about its stake in America’s leading Web site for prostitution ads. It began working frantically to unload its shares, and on Friday afternoon it called to say that it had just signed an agreement to sell its stake to management. 'We had no influence over operations,' Andrea Raphael, a Goldman Sachs spokeswoman, told me." Bond King's Trade Pays Off (WSJ) After suffering one of his worst performances ever in 2011, over the past three months, Bill Gross, manager of Pacific Investment Management Co.'s Total Return Fund, rode an aggressive bet on mortgage bonds to beat most of the fund's rivals and the index against which bond-fund managers measure themselves. Mr. Gross's fund, the world's biggest bond fund with $252 billion in assets, recorded a 2.88% return in the three months through March. The performance beat the benchmark Barclays Capital Aggregate Bond Index by 2.58 percentage points, ranking in the top 11% of all bond mutual funds for the quarter, according to investment-research firm Morningstar Inc. In Wake of Groupon Issues, Critics Wary of JOBS Act (WSJ) A little-noticed provision in the new JOBS Act would allow companies to iron out disagreements with regulators behind closed doors before they go public—a provision that might have prevented investors from finding out about Groupon Inc.'s early accounting questions until after they had been resolved...Critics say that measure would allow a company like Groupon, which had well-publicized disagreements with the SEC over its accounting last year, to resolve such issues under the radar, without investors learning of them until later although still before any IPO. Goldman Eyes $3 Billion Property Debt Fund (Reuters) A private equity arm of Goldman Sachs is looking to launch a $3 billion property debt fund in a bid to take advantage of a growing shortage of real estate financing across the UK and Europe...Real Estate Principal Investment Area (REPIA) is exploring options to create a fund that would provide senior and mezzanine loans to property investors, and will target property lending that is riskier but which would offer higher potential returns. Md. woman won't share $105M lotto jackpot with McD's co-workers (NYP) Workers at the fast-food joint who pooled their cash for tickets are furious at a colleague who claims she won with a ticket she bought for herself and has no intention of sharing. “We had a group plan, but I went and played by myself. [The ‘winning’ ticket] wasn’t on the group plan,” McDonald’s “winner’’ Mirlande Wilson 37, told The Post yesterday, insisting she alone bought one of the three tickets nationwide that will split a record $656 million payout...[On Saturday], a delirious Wilson had called co-workers to break the news — tellingly used the first-person singular. “I won! I won!” she cried, Allen said. Another colleague, Davon Wilson, no relation, said he was there when Mirlande Wilson called. “She said, ‘Turn on the news.’ She said she had won. I thought it was a joke or something. She doesn’t seem like a person who’d do this,” he said. Allan said he and Layla went to Wilson’s home and pounded on the door for 20 minutes until she finally came out. “These people are going to kill you. It’s not worth your life!” Allen said he told her. “All right! All right! I’ll share, but I can’t find the ticket right now,” she finally said, according to Allen. Resistance to austerity stirs in southern Europe (Reuters) An unexpectedly broad general strike in Spain on Thursday and mounting opposition to Prime Minister Mario Monti in Italy are among indicators that resistance is growing in a region at the center of concerns about a resurgence of the euro zone debt crisis. Biggest Bond Traders See Worst Over for Treasuries (Bloomberg) Signs of strength in the economy, which caused a 5.56 percent loss in bonds maturing in 10 years or more last quarter, may fade in the second half of 2012, the dealers say. Tax cuts are expiring, $1 trillion of mandatory federal budget cuts are due to kick in and $100-a-barrel oil is eating into consumer spending. With inflation in check, Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said last week that the central bank will consider further stimulus, even after upgrading its economic outlook March 13. Marc Faber: "Massive Wealth Destruction Is About To Hit Investors" (CNBC) FYI. Twitter takes Connecticut official's April Fools' Day joke to the public (NHR) It all started with a tweet at 5:30 a.m. Sunday, from state government official Mike Lawlor: “Rep. Dargan in hospital following accident.” By 11 a.m., news organizations statewide, including the NewHaven Register, were retweeting the “news” and calling officials to confirm details of the accident. After all, it was assumed, it must be accurate if the tweet came from the highly respected Lawlor, a former longtime state representative and now the state’s undersecretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning. But no... Dargan was reached by phone and confirmed he was fine and did not have an accident. “I am fine. Lawlor must have tweeted it.

Opening Bell: 1.26.16

Ackman regrets not cutting Valeant, Canadian Pacific; Deutsche Bank, RBS earnings will be bleak; AIG tells Icahn to mind his own biz; 112-year-old woman smokes 30 cigarettes a day; and more.