Opening Bell: 09.25.13

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ICAP Former Brokers Face Felony Charges in Libor Case (Bloomberg)
Three former ICAP Plc employees were charged by U.S. prosecutors and the interdealer broker was fined $88 million as the five-year-old probe into the rigging of benchmark interest rates ensnared another financial institution. The brokers were charged with two counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, the U.S. Justice Department said in a statement today. ICAP, the world’s largest broker of transactions between banks, was fined $65 million by the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission and 14 million pounds ($22.5 million) by the U.K. Financial Conduct Authority, the regulators said in separate statements.

Pakistan Earthquake That Created New Island Kills 271 People (Bloomberg)
The quake struck 41 miles (66 kilometers) north-northeast of Awaran in Balochistan province bordering Afghanistan and Iran, the U.S. Geological Survey said on its website. An island measuring 100 meters (328 feet) in length and about 35 feet in height emerged off the Gwadar coast after the quake, Moazzam Jah Ansari, the district police chief, said by phone today.

Prosecutors Pursue Big SAC Settlement (WSJ)
Federal prosecutors, seeking to cap a major chapter in an insider-trading crackdown, proposed settling a criminal case against hedge fund SAC Capital Advisors LP for $1.5 billion to $2 billion, people familiar with the case said. At a meeting late last week at the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan, SAC lawyers argued for a lower settlement amount—and that a separate $616 million civil regulatory penalty SAC agreed to pay earlier this year be deducted from any criminal sanction, according to the people. SAC lawyers are expected to present a counteroffer to prosecutors in coming weeks, the people said.

Wall Street Wistful About New York Life Without Mayor Bloomberg (Reuters)
"There is a great deal of wistfulness and preemptive nostalgia for Bloomberg within the industry," said one Wall Street executive who asked to remain anonymous because he did not want to be seen as publicly taking sides in the election.

Monte dei Paschi hopes to buy time on $3.4 billion fundraising: sources (Reuters)
Italy's Monte dei Paschi di Siena has delayed approval of a restructuring plan because it is hoping the European Commission will give it more time to raise a planned 2.5 billion euros ($3.4 billion), two sources close to the situation said.

CNBC Host Uses Indian Accent, Makes 7-Eleven Joke (Gawker)
Early Friday morning on CNBC Squawk Box, host Joe Kernen had some really interesting things to say about rupees. Actually he didn’t, but that didn’t stop him from adopting an Indian accent while talking about the currency.

AIG’s Benmosche Backs Off Inflammatory Comments (MoneyBeat, earlier)
American International Group Inc. chief executive Robert Benmosche said Tuesday that he regretted his phrasing when he compared the outrage about banker pay during the financial crisis to inflammatory rhetoric from the civil-rights era. “It was a poor choice of words. I never meant to offend anyone by it,” he said in a statement.

Klarman Returns Money To Investors (NYP)
The so-called smart money is bailing. That seems to be the message from hedgie Seth Klarman, who is telling investors in his $28 billion Baupost Group that he’s going to give them some of their money back at the end of the year. The fourth-largest hedge fund in the US wants to limit its size to $25 billion, according to Institutional Investor, which first reported the news.

Regulators Look Into Timing Of Trades (NYP)
US regulators are looking into how trading in financial instruments linked to gold in New York and Chicago occurred so quickly after the release of a Federal Reserve statement in Washington last week. “It’s standard practice to look at moves like this from a surveillance perspective,” Bart Chilton, a Democratic commissioner at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, said in a statement Tuesday.

China Beige Book Shows Slowdown, Opposite Official Data (Bloomberg)
Increases in business-investment and real estate revenue also slowed, while service industries picked up and employees became tougher to find, the survey from New York-based China Beige Book International said yesterday. The report is based on responses from 2,000 people from Aug. 12 to Sept. 4 as well as 32 in-depth interviews conducted later in September.

Las Vegas Oddsmakers Eye Twitter IPO (NYP)
Las Vegas is putting its money on Twitter listing on the New York Stock Exchange. Kevin Bradley, the Sportsbook Manager at Bovada.lv., puts the odds of the San Francisco microblogging site choosing the NYSE at 4 to 7 — a clear favorite...Nasdaq’s odds for grabbing the listing is 7 to 5, according to Bradley. Although it’s unusual for bookies to formulate odds on a Wall Street IPO, Bradley says that the buzz around popular tech companies like Twitter make them good betting plays. “We offered odds on the Facebook IPO back when it went public,” Bradley noted via email.

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Opening Bell: 12.19.12

UBS In $1.5 Billion Libor Fine (WSJ) As part of the deal, UBS acknowledged that dozens of its employees were involved in widespread efforts to manipulate the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, as well as other benchmark rates, which together serve as the basis for interest rates on hundreds of trillions of dollars of financial contracts around the world. UBS's unit in Japan, where much of the attempted manipulation took place, pleaded guilty to one U.S. count of fraud. Authorities on Wednesday painted a picture of "routine and widespread" attempts by UBS employees to rig Libor and the euro interbank offered rate, or Euribor. The U.K. Financial Services Authority said it had identified more than 2,000 such attempts between 2005 and 2010 with the participation or awareness of at least 45 UBS traders and executives. Regulators on Wednesday released a trove of internal UBS emails and other communications—many of them colorful and expletive-laden—in which bank traders, sometimes with the knowledge of their managers, sought to manipulate the rates in order to boost their trading profits or mask the Swiss bank's mounting financial problems in 2008. UBS Traders' 'Humongous' Libor-Fixing Boasts (CNBC) The FSA documents suggest a macho trading culture on the UBS trading floor. Trader A also said: "if you keep 6s [i.e. the six month JPY LIBOR rate] unchanged today ... I will ****ing do one humongous deal with you ... Like a 50,000 buck deal." Traders and brokers implicated in the scandal referred to each other as "the three muscateers [sic]" and "captain caos [sic]." SAC's top consumer trader draws scrutiny from U.S. authorities (Reuters) U.S. authorities are examining trading by one of SAC Capital Advisors' most successful portfolio managers, Gabriel Plotkin, as part of a probe into the $14 billion hedge fund firm's investment in Weight Watchers International Inc last year, according to a person familiar with the investigation. Plotkin, a specialist in consumer and retail stocks who makes investment decisions for more than $1.2 billion worth of assets, is among several SAC portfolio managers whose trades are being investigated, said the source, who did not want to be identified. The source would not name the other managers. Federal authorities are trying to determine whether any of SAC Capital's retail and consumer portfolio managers traded Weight Watchers shares based on non-public confidential information about the diet company, said the source and another person familiar with the investigation. The two sources said it is too soon to conclude if there was any insider trading. Authorities have not charged Plotkin with any wrongdoing. Banks See Biggest Returns Since ’03 as Employees Suffer (Bloomberg) Shareholders, impatient for the industry to boost profit, were rewarded as Wall Street firms cut jobs and pay, and exited businesses. The shrinking unnerved employees, who watched the chiefs of two big banks lose their jobs and others contend with a drop in deal making and stock trading, stiffer regulations, trading losses, rating downgrades and scandals involving interest-rate manipulation and money laundering. “There’s always grumbling on Wall Street, which is pathetic given how overpaid we all are, but there is a level of angst this year that is just unprecedented,” Gordon Dean, who left a 26-year career at Morgan Stanley (MS) to co-found a San Francisco boutique advisory firm this year, said in a telephone interview. “It’s just a profound sadness and dissatisfaction.” Greek Bond Bet Pays Off for Hedge Fund (FT) One of the world's most prominent hedge funds is sitting on a $500 million profit after making a bet that Greece would not be forced to leave the euro zone, bucking the trend in a difficult year for the industry. Third Point, headed by the billionaire US investor Dan Loeb, tendered the majority of a $1 billion position in Greek government bonds, built up only months earlier, as part of a landmark debt buyback deal by Athens on Monday, according to people familiar with the firm. The windfall marks out the New York-based firm as one of the few hedge fund managers to have profited from the eurozone crisis. Standard and Poor's, the rating agency, raised its assessment of Greece's sovereign debt by several notches on Tuesday, citing the euro zone's"strong determination" to keep the country inside the common currency area. Fitch Warns US Could Lose AAA If 'Fiscal Cliff' Hits (Reuters) "Failure to avoid the fiscal cliff.. would exacerbate rather than diminish the uncertainty over fiscal policy, and tip the US into an avoidable and unnecessary recession," Fitch said in its 2013 global outlook published on Wednesday. "That could erode medium-term growth potential and financial stability. In such a scenario, there would be an increased likelihood that the U.S. would lose its AAA status." Science explains Rudolph's red reindeer nose (CNET) A collection of Dutch scientists contributed to a paper titled "Microcirculatory investigations of nasal mucosa in reindeer Rangifer tarandus (Mammalia, Artiodactyla, Cervidae): Rudolph's nose was overheated." According to the paper, "The exceptional physical burden of flying with a sleigh with Santa Claus as a heavy load could have caused cerebral and bodily hyperthermia, resulting in an overworked nasal cooling mechanism that resembles an overheated cooling radiator in a car: Rudolph suffered from hyperemia of the nasal mucosa (a red nose) under more extreme heat loads during flight with a sleigh." Of course, scientists don't like to put all their scientific eggs into just one basket of science. The paper's authors acknowledge other theories for the red nose, including the common cold, alcoholic intoxication, or a parasitic infection of the nostrils. GM To Buy Back Stock From Treasury (WSJ) GM said it will purchase 200 million shares of stock held by the U.S. Treasury Department in the first step of the government's eventual exit from the auto maker within the next 12 to 15 months. The auto maker will pay $5.5 billion for the shares in a deal that is expected to close by the end of the year. The repurchase price of $27.50 a share represents a 7.9% premium over the closing price on Dec. 18. Berlusconi Says Italy May Be Forced to Leave the Euro Zone (Reuters) "If Germany doesn't accept that the ECB must be a real central bank, if interest rates don't come down, we will be forced to leave the euro and return to our own currency in order to be competitive," Berlusconi said in comments reported by Italian news agencies Ansa and Agi. Knight, Getco Confirm Merger (WSJ) The $1.8 billion deal for Knight, which values the firm at $1.4 billion plus $400 million in debt held by Getco, will create a trading powerhouse ranking as one of the largest players on U.S. exchanges and the main trading partner of online brokerage firms that service everyday investors. Porsche Executives Charged Over VW Bid (WSJ) Prosecutors have charged the former top executives of Porsche Automobil Holding SE with allegedly manipulating financial markets during the company's attempt to take over Volkswagen AG in 2008, lawyers representing the executives said Wednesday. A court in Stuttgart must now decide whether to open criminal proceedings against Porsche's former chief executive Wendelin Wiedeking and former finance chief Holger Härter, who are suspected of misleading investors when they denied trying to take over VW in 2008. Market manipulation in Germany can be punished with up to five years' imprisonment. From early March to October of 2008, Porsche issued at least five statements denying it was trying to raise its stake in Volkswagen to 75%, but the prosecutors allege that Messrs. Wiedeking and Härter had already decided to try to raise the stake and were preparing for the move by purchasing buy options on ordinary and preference shares of Volkswagen. The denials induced investors to sell or make bets the shares would fall by so-called short selling, the prosecutors said, which benefited Porsche by lowering the share price ahead of the planned takeover. Spanx Bandit On The Loose After JCPenney Heist (TSG) An unknown thief (or thieves) stole a whopping $4182 worth of the popular body shapers from a JCPenney in Vero Beach, according to an Indian River County Sheriff’s Office report. The Spanx theft was reported Friday afternoon after a JCPenney employee noticed “the empty rack in the women’s undergarment section.” The worker noted that the Spanx stock had been there the prior evening. A subsequent search of the store revealed that about 100 Spanx “were taken along with their plastic hangers.” The purloined undergarments--tan and black tops and bottoms--were from Spanx’s Assets Red Hot Label line, police reported. A JCPenney store manager gave cops an itemized list of the boosted body shapers, but it appears the Spanx Bandit will escape unscathed. Due to a lack of witnesses, evidence, or store surveillance video, no further investigative activity could be undertaken by a sheriff’s deputy.

Opening Bell: 02.19.13

SAC’s Cohen May Face SEC Suit as Deposition Hurts Case (Bloomberg) U.S. investigators have subpoenaed a 2011 deposition of SAC Capital Advisors LP founder Steven Cohen, whose sworn statements on insider-trading compliance may hurt him as he tries to persuade regulators not to file a lawsuit with the potential to shut his $14 billion firm. The SEC told the hedge fund Nov. 20 that it planned to sue SAC for securities fraud and so-called control-person liability for failing to supervise employees. The same day, the agency accused an ex-SAC portfolio manager and his hedge-fund unit of insider trading for persuading Cohen, 56, to make $700 million in illegal trades. Prosecutors also indicted the manager. Cohen’s testimony, reviewed by Bloomberg News, establishes his personal control over the unit, CR Intrinsic, and records his unfamiliarity with his firm’s compliance and ethics policies on insider trading. “I’ve read the compliance manual, but I don’t remember exactly what it says,” Cohen said. Morgan Stanley Strives to Coordinate 2 Departments Often at Odds (Dealbook) Traditionally, traders and investment bankers think of themselves as the elite of Wall Street and look down on the retail business, seeing it as pedestrian...Yet since Morgan Stanley moved to acquire control of the Smith Barney brokerage business from Citigroup in 2009, the balance of power has shifted to wealth management, which now accounts for almost 52 percent of the company’s earnings, up from roughly 16 percent in 2006. Paulson Leads Funds to Bermuda Tax Dodge Aiding Billionaires (Bloomberg) A decade after the U.S. Internal Revenue Service threatened to crack down on what it said were abuses by hedge-fund backed reinsurers, more high-profile money managers are setting up shop in tax havens. Paulson, SAC Capital Advisors LP’s Steven A. Cohen and Third Point LLC’s Daniel Loeb have started Bermuda reinsurance companies since 2011, following a similar Cayman Islands venture by Greenlight Capital Inc.’s David Einhorn. Options Activity Questioned Again (WSJ) Over the past year, unusually large positions were established shortly in advance of news that moved shares of Nexen Inc., Youku Inc., Human Genome Sciences Inc., Constellation Brands Inc. and, most recently, CBS Corp. All turned profitable after the news. A spokeswoman for the SEC, which regulates stock and options trading, said the agency would neither confirm nor deny the existence of inquiries into trading tied to those companies. No charges have been filed in the Heinz case, which was linked to a Swiss trading account, but the move to freeze the assets is one of the fastest enforcement actions ever filed by the agency, according to officials. The SEC said Friday that the timing and size of the trades were highly suspicious given the account had no history of trading in Heinz securities in the last six months. Prosecutors, Shifting Strategy, Build New Wall Street Cases (Dealbook) Criticized for letting Wall Street off the hook after the financial crisis, the Justice Department is building a new model for prosecuting big banks. In a recent round of actions that shook the financial industry, the government pushed for guilty pleas, rather than just the usual fines and reforms. Prosecutors now aim to apply the approach broadly to financial fraud cases, according to officials involved in the investigations...The new strategy first materialized in recent settlements with UBS and the Royal Bank of Scotland, which were accused of manipulating interest rates to bolster profit. As part of a broader deal, the banks’ Japanese subsidiaries pleaded guilty to felony wire fraud. Russians Wade Into the Snow to Seek Treasure From the Sky (NYT) Ever since the meteor exploded somewhere over this impoverished Siberian town, Larisa V. Briyukova wondered what to do with the fist-size stone she found under a hole in the roof tiles of her woodshed. On Monday, a stranger knocked on her door, offering about $60, Ms. Briyukova said. After some haggling, they settled on a price of $230. A few hours later, another man pulled up, looked at the hole in the roof and offered $1,300. “Now I regret selling it,” said Ms. Briyukova, a 43-year-old homemaker. “But then, who knows? The police might have come and taken it away anyway.” On Friday, terror rained from the skies, blowing out windows and scaring people over an enormous swath of Siberia. But by Monday, for many people what fell from the sky had turned to pure gold, and it touched off a rush to retrieve the fragments, many buried in deep February snows. Many of those out prospecting looked a lot like Sasha Zarezina, 8, who happily plunged into a snowbank here in this village of a thousand, laughing, kicking and throwing up plumes of powdery snow. Then she stopped, bent over and started to dig. “I found one!” she yelled. A warm breath and a rub on her pants later, a small black pebble, oval like a river rock, charred and smooth, was freed of ice. While trade in material from meteorites is largely illegal, there is a flourishing global market, with fragments widely available for sale on the Internet, usually at modest prices. At least one from the recent meteor was available on eBay on Monday for $32, and there is a Web site called Star-bits.com devoted to the trade — much to the displeasure of scientists and the countries where the objects were found. UK's Lloyds fined $6.7 million for mis-sold insurance (Reuters) Britain's financial regulator on Tuesday fined Lloyds Banking Group 4.3 million pounds ($6.7 million) for failing to handle complaints relating to insurance sold on loans and mortgages properly. The Financial Services Authority (FSA) said failings in the bank's systems and controls resulted in up to 140,000 customers experiencing delays in receiving compensation for being mis-sold payment protection insurance (PPI). Horsemeat Scandal Draws in Nestlé (FT) Switzerland-based Nestle on Monday removed pasta meals from shelves in Italy and Spain and suspended deliveries of all processed products containing meat from German supplier, H.J. Schypke, after tests revealed traces of horse DNA above 1 per cent. Nestle said it had informed the authorities. Is Berlusconi Getting a Poll Bounce From Tax Evaders? (CNBC) The media mogul, who has been convicted of tax fraud, has promised to introduce a tax amnesty for evaders if elected and to abolish the real estate tax. Swelling U.S. Labor Force Keeps Fed at Ease (Bloomberg) In the short run, the larger labor force will have an unfortunate side effect: It will slow the fall in unemployment. Mellman sees the jobless rate dropping to 7.5 percent by year- end from 7.9 percent now. It fell 0.7 percentage point in 2012. In the longer run, a bigger supply of labor is good news because it swells the pool of Americans available and willing to work, enhancing the economy’s potential to grow, according to Julie Hotchkiss, a policy adviser at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. It also has a silver lining for investors. The gradual fall in unemployment will allow policy makers to keep monetary policy looser for longer without having to worry about igniting a wage- driven rise in inflation. Couple Getting Affectionate Drive Through Home (WO) "She told the investigating trooper that her and the boyfriend were getting a little amorous and the trooper suspects that's probably why she lost control of the vehicle," said Florida Highway Patrol spokeswoman Kim Montes. Walker lost control of the vehicle and slammed into an unoccupied home. The vehicle went all the way through the house. The impact was so dramatic, the pressure blew a window in another part of the house out. Florida Highway Patrol troopers said Walker was injured when debris fell inside the vehicle. She was taken to Halifax Medical Center to be checked out. Her boyfriend, Charles Phillips, was not hurt.

Opening Bell: 03.18.13

Cypriot Outrage Over Tax Could Derail Euro-Area Bailout (Bloomberg) While demanding that the levy raise the targeted 5.8 billion euros ($7.6 billion), finance officials said easing the cost to smaller savers was up to Cyprus. A vote on the tax, needed to secure 10 billion euros in rescue loans, was delayed for a second day. Banks may not reopen tomorrow after a holiday today, state-run broadcaster CYBC reported. “If the government wants to change the structure of the solidarity levy for the banking sector, the government can decide as such,” European Central Bank Executive Board member Joerg Asmussen said today in Berlin. “What’s important is that the planned revenue of 5.8 billion euros remain.” Cyprus Can't Put 'Genie Back in the Bottle': O'Neill (CNBC) "I'm still trying to get my head around [it]," O'Neill said in a "Squawk Box" interview. He added that Cyprus won't be able to "put the Genie back in the bottle" despite whether or not the depositor hair-cut gets approval. "This is a biggie, in my opinion," O'Neill said. "I think my biggest concern with this is not whether or not this ultimately gets done, not that the idea that Cyprus would come up with something like this, but that the EU (European Union) would back it and go along these things." 'Wash Trades' Are Scrutinized (WSJ) U.S. regulators are investigating whether high-frequency traders are routinely distorting stock and futures markets by illegally acting as buyer and seller in the same transactions, according to people familiar with the probes. Such transactions, known as wash trades, are banned by U.S. law because they can feed false information into the market and be used to manipulate prices. Intentionally taking both sides of a trade can minimize financial risk for the trading firm while potentially creating a false impression of higher volume in the market. Anti-Euro Party Mobilizes In Germany (WSJ) A prominent group of anti-euro German economists and business leaders has formed a political party to challenge Germany's support for euro-zone bailouts, a move that could test the ruling center-right coalition's hold on conservative votes in the fall general election. With just six months until the election, the new party, which calls itself Alternative for Germany, is unlikely to gain enough traction to win seats in Parliament, analysts say. Yet even if the party comes in below the 5% threshold needed to win representation, it could still attract enough conservative votes to prevent a return of the current coalition government, a combination of Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, their Bavarian sister party, and the pro-business Free Democrats. Woman Busted In Alleged Deer Head Heist (NWFDN) The story begins when a man and woman were evicted from their apartment on James Lee Boulevard and temporarily moved in with another woman, according to an arrest report. On Jan. 24 the couple argued with the woman and moved out, taking most of their belongings with them. They left behind two mounted deer heads the woman was storing in her motor home. Divided Views of SAC Capital Settlement (NYT) Inside SAC's Stamford, Conn., headquarters, the resolution of the civil actions — announced Friday by the Securities and Exchange Commission — was seen as a victory. In a statement, the fund, which neither admitted nor denied wrongdoing, called the settlements "a substantial step toward resolving all outstanding regulatory matters."...Friday's settlements — for $602 million and $14 million — were criticized by a number of rival hedge fund managers and securities lawyers as not tough enough. Despite the S.E.C.'s trumpeting the $602 million payment as the largest settlement of an insider trading case, critics said that the commission could have sought a harsher punishment. "While $616 million would normally be a massive penalty, for Cohen this is basically a drop in the bucket," said Bradley D. Simon, a criminal defense lawyer and former federal prosecutor in New York. "There is also no debarment or admission of wrongdoing." HSBC Set to Cut Thousands More Jobs (FT) HSBC is gearing up for thousands more job cuts, with Europe's biggest bank by market value set to outline the next stage in its strategic overhaul at an investor day in two months' time. "There is no fantastical new strategy out there," said one person familiar with the bank's planning. "But there's still huge potential to be more efficient." Number Of Cases Filed By SEC Slows (WSJ) The Securities and Exchange Commission is filing significantly fewer civil fraud cases this year, as its efforts to punish misconduct related to the financial crisis start to ebb. The agency is likely to fall short this fiscal year of its record-breaking number of enforcement actions in the previous two years, said people familiar with the matter. Road Rage on I-78: Shot Fired at Woman's Car (Patch) According to troopers: The victim, who troopers did not identify by name, encountered a silver-colored, compact, four-door SUV with New Jersey license plates that was traveling about 40mph in the left lane and swerving close to a tractor-trailer in the right lane. The 39-year-old Bethlehem woman blew her car horn at the compact silver SUV. The SUV driver responded by flipping her the middle finger, then taking off “at a high rate of speed.” The silver SUV then got into the right lane and slowed down. The Bethlehem woman continued driving east in the left lane and started to pass the silver SUV as they passed the Route 33 interchange. But as that happened, the woman heard a loud bang. The SUV then “sped off again at a high rate of speed.” The victim pulled over a short time later to call 911. Arriving troopers found a single bullet hole in the passenger side rear door. The victim was not injured.