Opening Bell: 08.23.13

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Moody’s Threatens to Cut Credit Ratings of Banks (DealBook)
Believing that the government is now more likely to let large banks fail in a crisis, Moody’s Investors Service threatened on Thursday to downgrade the credit ratings of several big financial firms. If it follows through, Moody’s could reduce the ratings of Wall Street giants like Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase as much as two grades. Such a move might weigh most heavily on Morgan Stanley because a two-notch downgrade would leave the company just above a junk credit rating. But the effects on the bank may also be muted. Confidence in large banks, judging by their stock prices and other financial indicators, appears to have risen since Moody’s cut their ratings last year.

SEC’s White Vows Technology Safeguards Following Nasdaq Failure (Bloomberg)
U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Mary Jo White said she would push to adopt proposed automated-trading rules after system caused a three-hour halt on the Nasdaq Stock Market. The failure that affected Nasdaq’s system for reporting quotes and trades bolsters the regulator’s case for the proposal issued in March, White said in a statement yesterday. Stock and options exchanges have pushed the SEC to limit the scope of the rule, including how much information about disruptions must be provided to regulators. ... White, who told Congress earlier this year that she would scrutinize market stability efforts, also said yesterday she would “convene a meeting of the leaders of the exchanges and other major market participants to accelerate ongoing efforts to further strengthen our markets.”

Computer Bugs and Squirrels: A History of Nasdaq’s Woes (DealBook)
1987: A troublesome squirrel | Just two months after a historic stock market crash, a stray squirrel touched off a power failure in Trumbull, Conn., that shut down the Nasdaq for 82 minutes, preventing an estimated 20 million shares from being traded. The squirrel lost its life.
1994: Another squirrel, and computer bugs | After running for years without interruption, Nasdaq suffered a series of technical breakdowns that summer. To cap it off, a squirrel chewed through an electric company’s power line, leading to a 34-minute interruption when the exchange’s own backup power system in Trumbull failed to kick in. “No one is yet ready to describe the recent problems as anything more than a run of bad luck,” The New York Times wrote at the time.

JPMorgan Said to Face ‘Whale’ Fines as Soon as Next Month (Bloomberg)
U.K. and U.S. regulators are preparing to impose fines as soon as mid-September on JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) after an investigation into the bank’s London trading losses last year, a person with direct knowledge of the matter said. The U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission are in negotiations with the New York-based company to settle their probes, according to the person, who asked not to be identified because the talks aren’t public. In the U.S., the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the Justice Department are also investigating events surrounding the losses.

Sunbathers watch in shock as Russian Navy hovercraft plows onto beach (NYDN)
A massive vessel of war plowed onto a Russian beach in broad daylight, startling dozens of beachgoers who were just out to enjoy the sun. The 187-foot long military hovercraft glided onto a beach in Mechnikovo, Kaliningrad, as sunbathers took a break from tanning to gawk. Witnesses heard a “terrible roar” and saw “big waves,” but overall appeared to remain calm, Metro reports. A woman holding a child walked slowly away from the scene, but turned back for a better look. That’s when paratroopers stormed out of the 550-ton ship and ordered everyone and their towels off the beach. ... After the drill was over, the civilians were allowed to return to their fun in the sun. But they were shaken up. “What are the reasons for such military activity on a Sunday?” one witness asked.

Brazil, Indonesia launch measures to shore up their currencies (FT)
Brazil and Indonesia have moved to stem the declines in their currencies and shore up confidence at the end of a torrid week for emerging markets where local borrowing costs hit a two-year high. The central bank of Latin America’s largest economy said late on Thursday that it would launch a currency intervention programme worth about $60bn to ensure liquidity and reduce volatility in the nation’s foreign exchange market. Then on Friday, Indonesia’s chief economic minister Hatta Rajasa told reporters that the government would increase import taxes on luxury cars, introduce tax incentives for companies investing in agriculture and metals industries and aim to reduce oil imports. The move, of which more details on plans were expected later in the day, suggests that Jakarta may have given up on trying to shore up its currency through intervening in the markets.

Low inflation mystery could be a hitch in Fed's plans (Reuters)
Experts are divided over why inflation has cooled, but it could be a sign of lasting damage dealt to the economy by the 2007-09 recession. If so, it could get in the way of the Federal Reserve's plans to end a bond-buying stimulus program by the middle of next year. ... Consumer prices rose 1.3 percent in the 12 months through June, roughly half the pace recorded in early 2012, according to the Fed's preferred inflation gauge. The slowdown is also evident in a less-volatile core index, which strips out food and energy costs. Very low inflation scares policymakers because it raises the chances an economic shock - say, a meltdown in Europe or China - could tip prices and wages into a downward spiral known as deflation.

German GDP Growth Gains Steam (WSJ)
Germany's economy rebounded sharply in the second quarter from a weak start to the year, gaining steam from a pickup in investment and robust consumption, official data showed Friday. Gross domestic product swelled 0.7%, corresponding to an annualized rate of 2.9%, the national statistics office said. The figures confirm official estimates issued last week. That makes Germany the fastest growing of the world's largest industrialized economies in the second quarter.

How BlackBerry Handled Past Wealth (NYT)
BlackBerry’s corporate filings show that over the years it distributed $3.5 billion to shareholders. ... That is an impressive amount, especially considering that the entire company is now worth only a little more than $5 billion. But loyal shareholders did not receive any of that money. To get the money, an investor had to sell. The money was spent on share buybacks, and most of those buybacks came in 2008 and 2009, when the company was flying high. ... The result was a classic “sell low and buy high” strategy, one that did wonders for the executives.

Uber Filing in Delaware Shows TPG Investment at $3.5 Billion Valuation; Google Ventures Also In (AllThingsD)
According to a Delaware filing by Uber Technologies, it has sold stock in the fast-growing privately held transportation service to private equity giant TPG. In addition, according to sources who have seen other stock documents, Uber has also taken a major investment from Google Ventures. The overall valuation for the San Francisco company, according to the document — filed on August 1 — and also sources, is $3.5 billion.

Fans furious over Ben Affleck being picked to play Batman in upcoming Man of Steel sequel (NYP)
The Oscar-winning “Argo” filmmaker will don Batman’s cape and cowl for the upcoming Batman-and-Superman flick, Warner Bros. said in a surprise announcement yesterday. The studio said Affleck, 41, will star opposite 30-year-old Henry Cavill, who will reprise his role as Superman from “Man of Steel.” ... Orlando Bloom, Luke Evans and Scott Adkins were all mentioned, but the studio settled on Affleck, who played another superhero when he starred as Daredevil in the 2003 flick of the same name.

An Edmonton dentist's plan to clone Beatle John Lennon (G&M)
Can a Canadian dentist use a rotten tooth to bring back the late, great John Lennon via the miracle of cloning? Imagine. That’s the goal of Edmonton dentist Michael Zuk, who claims he has sent the dead Beatle’s molar, which he purchased at an auction last fall for $31,000, to Penn State University, where he says “scientists are considering ways to extract the genetic code from the fragile specimen.” ... “I am nervous and excited at the possibility that we will be able to fully sequence John Lennon’s DNA, very soon I hope,” he says. “With researchers working on ways to clone mammoths, the same technology certainly could make human cloning a reality.”

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Opening Bell: 03.30.12

Three Major Banks Prepare for Possible Credit Downgrades (NYT) Moody’s Investors Service has said it will decide in mid-May whether to lower its ratings for 17 global financial companies. Morgan Stanley, which was hit hard in the financial crisis, appears to be the most vulnerable. Moody’s is threatening to cut the bank’s ratings by three notches, to a level that would be well below the rating of a rival like JPMorgan Chase. Eurozone Lifts Firewall (WSJ) Euro-zone finance ministers on Friday agreed on a temporary boost of the bloc's bailout lending limit to €700 billion ($931 billion), opting for a less ambitious plan that some fear won't be enough to prevent a re-awakening of euro zone financial turmoil. Dalio Earns $3.9bn to Top Hedge Fund Pay List (FT) Ray Dalio, head of Bridgewater, the world’s largest hedge fund, personally made $3.9 billion in a year that his $70 billion Pure Alpha fund produced $13.8 billion of investment profits for its investors, according to industry rankings. He tops a list published Friday by Absolute Return magazine of the richest 25 hedge fund managers. The select group took home $14.4 billion in pay and paper profits on their own investments last year, down from $22 billion in 2010 in a sign of the industry’s struggle to deliver returns for its clients in 2011. Goldman Bets on Property Rebound With New Fund: Mortgages (Bloomberg) The U.S. Housing Recovery Fund is expected to finish its first round of capital raising and open April 1, according to a marketing document obtained by Bloomberg News. It will focus on senior-ranked securities without government backing, many of which now carry junk credit grades. BATS Weighs Cooling Its Listing Push (WSJ) BATS Global Markets Inc. is considering suspending its efforts to recruit corporate listings after a software glitch last Friday derailed the exchange operator's IPO, people familiar with the matter said. Concerns about BATS's bungled initial public offering could disrupt its efforts to draw other companies to list their stocks on its electronic exchange, forestalling ambitions by the electronic-markets operator to become a full-service exchange company. Such a move could entail notifying the Securities and Exchange Commission, which last year approved BATS's plan to list shares and exchange-traded products. Canada Eliminates Penny Costing Penny-and-a-Half to Make (Bloomberg) Canada will withdraw the penny from circulation this year, saving taxpayers about C$11 million ($11 million) annually and forcing retailers to round prices to the nearest nickel, the government announced in its budget today. Grand Central nabs tell-all by ex-Goldman exec Smith (NYP) Greg Smith, the former Goldman Sachs executive who became an instant sensation when he ripped the Wall Street investment bank with a resignation letter published as an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, has scored a $1.5 million advance to write a memoir of his experiences. Oil Rally Fails to Lift Commodity Hedge Funds' Returns (FT) Many multibillion managers have been wary of potential political shocks in the Middle East and a repeat of last year’s May oil sell-off. They have shunned risk over the past three months or lost out by betting that oil markets would become more choppy. Many of the sector’s leading names have underperformed broader hedge fund peers, which have enjoyed one of their best quarters on the back of rising global equity markets. Billions Lost In Tax Refund Scam (WSJ) The perpetrators of the scheme, authorities say, swipe the Social Security numbers of Puerto Rican citizens, who don't have to pay federal income tax—and are less likely to be on the IRS radar—and use their information to file fake returns. In some cases, they enlist U.S. mail carriers to intercept the refund checks that are disbursed. The plot, which includes participants from around the U.S. and Latin America, has been around for at least five years. Prosecutors have obtained multiple convictions but none involving those believed to be among the top players in the operation, according to several people briefed on investigations into the fraud. BlackBerry Maker In Turmoil (WSJ) The overhaul comes just two months after Thorsten Heins took the reins at RIM and confidently proclaimed there was no need for "seismic" change. But with the company's sales tumbling 25% in the latest quarter, new BlackBerrys piling up unsold and a crucial lineup of new devices still not expected to arrive until later this year, Mr. Heins is taking more drastic actions. RIM will back out of its high-profile attempt to win business among consumers to focus on its core corporate customers. Queen Creek couple accused in dog-sex plan plead not guilty (AZC) A Queen Creek couple have pleaded not guilty to charges of planning to have sex with a dog. The case prompted Sheriff Joe Arpaio to ask the website Craigslist to better monitor its personal ads. Shane Walker, 33, and his wife Sarah Walker, 39, posted a Craigslist ad on Feb. 7 titled, "Wife looking for K9," according to Maricopa County Superior Court records.

Opening Bell: 08.23.12

Fed Moving Closer To Action (WSJ) The Federal Reserve sent its strongest signal yet that it is preparing new steps to bolster the economic recovery, saying measures would be needed fairly soon unless growth substantially and convincingly picks up. Minutes released Wednesday from the Fed's July 31-Aug. 1 policy meeting suggested that a new round of bond buying, known as quantitative easing, was high on its list of options. Jobless Claims In U.S. Climb For Second Week To One-Month High (Bloomberg) Jobless claims rose by 4,000 for a second week to reach 372,000 in the period ended Aug. 18, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. The median forecast of 41 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for 365,000. The four-week moving average, a less volatile measure, increased to 368,000. SAC Takes New Activist Role (NYP) The move is being spearheaded by SAC portfolio manager David Rosen, who has been butting heads with Spokane, Wash.-based Clearwater Paper Corp. since May, sources said. In May, Rosen penned a letter to Clearwater Chairman and CEO Gordon Jones calling the stock “deeply undervalued.” Last week, SAC, which has a 7.1 percent stake in the papermaker, proposed to Clearwater’s board that the company split itself in two and consider selling one or both parts. “We continue to carefully analyze their ideas, and we look forward to continuing a dialogue,” a Clearwater spokesman said. People familiar with Rosen’s plans say Clearwater won’t be the last, and that Rosen and SAC analyst Shoney Katz are scouting out more opportunities to make money through corporate cage-rattling. “My understanding is that Rosen’s portfolio has expanded its mandate to include activism,” said Ken Squire of activist research firm 13D Monitor. Citigroup Slams Nasdaq's Facebook Compensation Plan (Reuters) Citigroup slammed Nasdaq OMX Group's plan to compensate firms harmed by Facebook's botched market debut to the tune of $62 million, saying in a regulatory filing the exchange should be liable for hundreds of millions more, according to a letter seen by Reuters. Citi said Nasdaq's actions in the May 18 initial public offering amounted to "gross negligence," in the letter to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which had not yet been made public. Facebook Director’s Quick $1 Billion Share Sale Lacks Precedent (Bloomberg) While venture capitalists commonly sell their stakes after helping startups reach the public markets, they usually whittle their holdings over a period of quarters or even years. That’s to avoid flooding the market with too much new stock, which can drive down the shares, and to show continuing support for the company. Thiel’s timing was particularly precarious, because Facebook was already down about 50 percent from the IPO. “With the benefit of hindsight, you could say that the underwriters probably regret agreeing to an early release of the shares,” said Ted Hollifield, a partner at Alston & Bird LLP in Menlo Park, California, and an expert in venture capital. “The stock still seems to be searching for an actual trading range and you would ideally like to see that take place before there’s additional selling pressure.” The Morning After: A Wedding Album With A Different Spin (NYDN) Wedding photographers are being invited to an unusual kind of afterparty. Brides and grooms — who already often obsessively document their first kiss, first cake slice and first dance — are adding yet another first to their wedding photographer’s list: the morning after. Sexy shoots featuring rumpled beds and steamy showers are a hot new trend within the wedding business. As the seating charts and floral arrangements fade into memory, these intimate photo shoots take place in newlyweds’ bedrooms or even the hotels where they’ve spent their first night as husband and wife. “We do it very sexy and implied,” said New Jersey-based photographer Michelle Jonné, 34, who charges about $650 for the service...Past happy clients include Inna Shamis. “The minute she told me, I thought ‘that is brilliant,’” Shamis said. “When you get married, you’re in the best shape of your life and why not have these memories.” The New Jersey PR exec, 38, only hesitated for a few seconds when Jonné asked her and husband to jump in the shower, she said. “As the day progressed, we established this fantastic chemistry with her," said Shamis, who later posted the racy photos on Facebook and intends to someday share them with her kids. Greek Crisis Evasion To Fore As Merkel Hosts Hollande (Bloomberg) With the leaders of Europe’s two biggest economies still at the confidence-building stage, Merkel and Hollande are seeking common ground on Greece and the wider euro-area debt crisis almost three years after its inception. France sees the program targets set for Greece as too harsh given the state of its economy, a French government official said yesterday on condition of anonymity because the talks are private. Merkel and Hollande are due to give statements at 7 p.m. in Berlin. “On balance we still take the view that they’ll keep Greece ticking over,” David Owen, chief European financial economist at Jefferies International Ltd. in London, said by phone. “If that does require giving it more time, so be it.” Whale Of A Tale (NYP) Boaz Weinstein may have harpooned the London Whale, but his main fund barely has its head above water. Weinstein’s Saba Capital Master Fund is up only 0.62 percent for the year through July 31, according to an investor letter. SEC's Schapiro Cancels Vote on Money-Fund Curbs (WSJ) Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Mary Schapiro called off a highly anticipated vote on rules for the money-market mutual-fund industry after losing a swing vote she needed to push through the rules. The newly announced position of Luis Aguilar, a Democrat and former mutual-fund executive, marks a defeat for Ms. Schapiro and a setback for the Obama administration and top federal regulators, who see money funds as a source of systemic risk left over from the last financial crisis. LL Cool J breaks burglar's jaw in 'knock-down, drag-out' fight (LA Times) The burglar who broke into the Studio City home of actor-rapper LL Cool J suffered a broken nose and jaw in what police sources described as a "knock-down, drag-out" fight. Los Angeles police were called to the star's home in the 12000 block of Blairwood Drive around 1 a.m. Wednesday, officials said. LL Cool J was holding the suspect when officers arrived, officials said...LL Cool J was upstairs in his home when he heard noise coming from the kitchen area. When he went down to see what was happening, the unidentified suspect came at him, leading to the fight. LL Cool J, born James Todd Smith, rose to fame with musical hits such as "Mama Said Knock You Out."

Opening Bell: 08.01.12

Hope For MF Global Clients (WSJ) A bankruptcy trustee sifting through the remains of MF Global Holdings Ltd. expressed confidence that the failed securities firm's U.S. customers will get all their money back. In written testimony submitted to the Senate Agriculture Committee for a hearing Wednesday, trustee Louis J. Freeh said farmers, ranchers, traders and other investors still owed an estimated $1.6 billion "eventually will be made whole," according to a copy of the testimony reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. UBS Facing Battle On Facebook After Nasdaq Set Aside Cash (Bloomberg) Nasdaq OMX’s creation of a $62 million pool to pay brokers that lost money in Facebook’s public debut shows how far apart the exchange owner is from UBS on who is to blame for losses in the botched deal. Switzerland’s biggest bank said yesterday that its second- quarter profit fell 58 percent in part because of losses that exceeded $350 million in the May 18 initial public offering. UBS is among brokers including Knight Capital Group that have said they’ll seek compensation after a design flaw in Nasdaq’s computers delayed orders and confirmations just as the shares were about to start changing hands. UBS promised legal action to get back more than five times as much money as Nasdaq has set aside. Greeks Can No Longer Afford Paying Expensive Bribes (Reuters) Greeks, whose country is facing bankruptcy, can no longer afford the expensive customary cash-filled "fakelaki" or "little envelope" bribes paid to public sector workers, according to an official. Greece, dependent on international aid to remain solvent, has struggled for years with rampant corruption that has hampered efforts to raise taxes and reform its stricken economy. The health sector and the tax authorities topped the country's corruption rankings for 2011, said a report by Leandros Rakintzis, tasked with uncovering wrongdoing in the public sector...As the crisis deepens, more and more Greeks find themselves no longer able to pay expensive bribes, Rakintzis said. "There are no longer serious corruption offences. There is no money for major wrongdoings," he was quoted as saying by Proto Thema newspaper. Oakland Leaders Enter Battle With Goldman Sachs (Reuters) Oakland is trying to get out of a Goldman-brokered interest rate swap that is costing the cash-starved city some $4 million a year. The swap, entered into 15 years ago as part of a bond sale to hedge against rising interest rates, has turned sour for Oakland now that interest rates are near zero. "I hope that other cities will follow our lead," said Oakland city council member Desley Brooks, addressing about 30 protesters outside Goldman's San Francisco offices. Société Générale Profit Hit by Write-Downs (WSJ) Revenue fell 3.6% to €6.27 billion from €6.50 billion a year earlier. Weak capital markets weighed on corporate and investment bank revenue, which dropped 33% to €1.22 billion in the quarter. French retail bank operations were flat at €2.04 billion while international retail bank revenue fell 1.7% to €1.24 billion. ADP: Private Hiring Jumps (WSJ) Private-sector jobs in the U.S. increased 163,000 last month, according to a national employment report calculated by payroll processor Automatic Data Processing Inc. and consultancy Macroeconomic Advisers. The gain was far above economists' median expectation of 108,000 contained in a survey done by Dow Jones Newswires. The June data were revised to show an advance of 172,000 instead of the 176,000 increase reported earlier. Olympics badminton: Eight players disqualified (BBC) The Badminton World Federation has disqualified eight players after accusing them of "not using one's best efforts to win." Four pairs of players - two from South Korea and one each from China and Indonesia - are out of the Olympics after their matches on Tuesday. The eight were charged after a stream of basic errors during the match. All four pairs were accused of wanting to lose in an attempt to manipulate the draw for the knockout stage. The federation met on Wednesday morning to discuss the case. As well as the "not using best efforts" charge, the players were also accused of "conducting oneself in a manner that is clearly abusive or detrimental to the sport." Speaking before the verdict, Korea's coach Sung Han-kook said: "The Chinese started this. They did it first." Regulate, Don't Split Up, Huge Banks (NYT) Steven Rattner: "We need a Dodd-Frank do-over to create the right oversight apparatus for huge banks. Regulators will always be outnumbered by bankers, and they will never find every problem. But, like prison guards, regulators are essential, even if they are outnumbered. In a world of behemoth banks, it is wrong to think we can shrink ours to a size that eliminates the “too big to fail” problem without emasculating one of our most successful industries." Poker Site Pays $731 Million Fine (WSJ) PokerStars agreed to pay $731 million to end a Justice Department lawsuit alleging bank fraud, money laundering and violations of gambling regulations against it and a another poker website. Under the terms, PokerStars, based in the Isle of Man, will pay $547 million to the Justice Department and $184 million to poker players overseas owed money by it and rival website, Full Tilt Poker. As part of the arrangement, Pokerstars will acquire the assets of Full Tilt, once a fierce rival. Stocks Perform Better If Women Are On Company Boards (Bloomberg) Shares of companies with a market capitalization of more than $10 billion and with women board members outperformed comparable businesses with all-male boards by 26 percent worldwide over a period of six years, according to a report by the Credit Suisse Research Institute, created in 2008 to analyze trends expected to affect global markets. “Companies with women on boards really outperformed when the downturn came through in 2008,” Mary Curtis, director of thematic equity research at Credit Suisse in Johannesburg and an author of the report, said in a telephone interview. “Stocks of companies with women on boards tend to be a little more risk averse and have on average a little less debt, which seems to be one of the key reasons why they’ve outperformed so strongly in this particular period.” ‘High’-end LI coke shuttle (NYP) A Bronx-based drug crew used secret car compartments activated by air conditioning and wiper buttons to deliver up to four kilograms of cocaine to the East End of Long Island each week, Suffolk County authorities said yesterday. Two Bronx men and a Riverhead distributor were busted after a seven-month investigation into the coke operation that flooded the Hamptons with $60 one-gram bags of the white powder. Suffolk DA Thomas Spota said the crew transported the product in cars with secret stash areas that opened when basic car-function buttons were pressed in sequence.