Opening Bell: 10.30.13

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BlackRock’s Fink Says There Are ‘Bubble-Like Markets Again’ (Bloomberg)
“It’s imperative that the Fed begins to taper,” Fink said Tuesday at a panel discussion in Chicago, referring to the central bank’s $85 billion in monthly bond purchases. “We’ve seen real bubble-like markets again. We’ve had a huge increase in the equity market. We’ve seen corporate-debt spreads narrow dramatically.”

Japan Widens Probe Into Mob Loans by Big Banks (Bloomberg)
Japan’s financial regulator plans to inspect the nation’s three largest lenders, widening a probe into credit given to gangsters to include Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc. and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group Inc. The inspections are to determine whether their banking units are complying with rules including those meant to curb transactions with criminal organizations, Hiroki Kato, an official at the Financial Services Agency, said by telephone yesterday. The reviews will start Nov. 5, another FSA official said, declining to be identified because of the agency’s policy.

The Most Powerful Person in the Office (WSJ)
If D'Andra Galarza were to come face to face with death, she knows whose life would flash before her eyes: the life of her boss, a president at NBCUniversal Inc. After 10 years as Edward Swindler's executive assistant, waking up at 4 a.m. to ensure he makes an early morning flight and keeping the office stocked with his favorite snacks—oyster crackers, peppermint Life Savers and Honey Nut Cheerios—Ms. Galarza says she's under no illusions about whose needs come first. "You work very, very hard...so that they can shine and they can do their best," she says. "You're kind of the stage mom." The schedulers, gatekeepers and caretakers of the corporate world are rarely seen, but they have a profound effect on the daily lives of the executives they serve. They do everything from booking business trips, ordering anniversary gifts and arranging pet care to attending high-level meetings and deciding who can and can't meet with their boss. The work can be thankless and often comes at a cost to their own personal lives, but these workers wield subtle influence at a company's highest levels--and no small amount of power...Now, a new networking group aims to emphasize the "executive" in executive assistant, pampering and pumping up these right-hand workers with nightclub parties, spa sessions and Behind Every Leader, a conference series that is coming next month to Newark, N.J. Among the scheduled sessions: "Yoga & Meditation for the Executive Assistant" and a boss's recounting of how his EA saved the company after superstorm Sandy. Victoria Rabin, the 28-year-old founder of the Executive Assistants Organization and a former assistant at a London hedge fund, says the job deserves some cachet because assisting is an "incredible career" that only a "certain breed" can do...Anikka Fragodt is considered a celebrity in the realm of executive assistants. Until last March, she was Mark Zuckerberg's right-hand woman. For more than seven years, she planned everything from a toga party for 350 people with 48 hours' notice to Mr. Zuckerberg's secret wedding to Priscilla Chan in 2012.

Chocolate Factory, Trade War Victim (NYT)
The output of the sprawling brick factory, formerly known as the Karl Marx chocolate works, has never before been so hard to sell in Russia. Since July, when Russian regulators banned all chocolate, cake, cookie and candy imports from its Ukrainian parent company, Roshen, ostensibly over health concerns, production at the plant here has plummeted 14 percent. “It’s not pleasant at all to be in this situation,” Viacheslav Moskalevskyi, the president of Roshen, Ukraine’s largest confectionery company, said in an interview. The Ukranian chocolate factory shares a problem with many businesses in the countries that lie between the European Union and Russia. It is caught in a no-man’s land for trade, a place increasingly precarious as each side tries to recruit countries into exclusive trade deals. The European Union wants Ukraine and Moldova to sign so-called Association Agreements while Russia wants these nations in its Customs Union.

Sex-Related Injury Not Compensable, Australia Court Rules (Bloomberg)
An Australian government employee who was injured while having sex on a work-related trip doesn’t qualify for workers’ compensation, the nation’s highest court ruled. The High Court of Australia today overturned a federal appeal court ruling that the woman was hurt during a work interlude and entitled to compensation from Comcare, the country’s work safety agency that pays for medical expenses and time missed from work as a result of injury. The woman, whose name can’t be published and who is referred to in court papers as PVYW, was in her late 30s when she sought compensation from Comcare, according to court documents. While engaged in sexual intercourse with an acquaintance, she claimed a glass light fitting above her bed was pulled from its mount and struck her in the face, causing nose, mouth and psychological injuries. The human relations worker at a federal government agency wasn’t encouraged to have sex by her employer and as a result isn’t eligible for work-related compensation, the majority of the High Court said in a summary of the ruling on its website. “The circumstances in which the employee was injured must be connected to an inducement or encouragement by the employer,” the court’s majority said in the summary.

U.S. House passes bill to delay fiduciary rules at SEC, Labor Dept (Reuters)
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a controversial bill on Tuesday that would delay two government regulators from adopting rules requiring stock brokers and retirement account financial advisers to put their customers' interests ahead of their own. The bill, which was approved in a 254-166 vote, has virtually no chance of becoming law, after the White House late Monday threatened to veto the measure. Its passage, however, marks yet another symbolic effort by Republicans to express their discontent over the sweeping new regulations that stem from the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law.

Linkedin revenue soars 56% as membership grows (Reuters)
LinkedIn said it expected between $415 million and $420 million in sales for the final three months, lower than the $438 million expected by analysts polled by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. Its full-year revenue estimates, although revised upward to $1.5 billion, also fell slightly short of Wall Street’s expectations.

BlackBerry Met Facebook About Bid (WSJ)
BlackBerry Ltd. executives flew to California to meet with Facebook Inc. last week to gauge its interest in a potential bid for the struggling smartphone-maker, according to people familiar with the matter. It remains unclear whether Facebook is interested in placing a bid. Spokesmen for both companies declined to comment.

Kim Kardashian is more influential than Michelle Obama and should be on the cover of Vogue, says Kanye West (NYDN)
Kanye West preached his love for his betrothed baby mama during a radio show Tuesday, arguing she's more influential than Michelle Obama and deserves a turn on the cover of Vogue magazine. "There's no way Kim Kardashian shouldn't be on the cover of Vogue. She's like the most intriguing woman right now. She's got Barbara Walters calling her like everyday," he told Ryan Seacrest Tuesday morning. "And collectively, we're the most influential with clothing. No one is looking at what [President Barack Obama] is wearing," he said. "Michelle Obama cannot Instagram a pic like what my girl Instagrammed the other day." He was referring to a photo Kardashian posted to social media a couple weeks ago that showcased her prominent posterior in a revealing white swimsuit after giving birth in June to daughter North...The rapper said he doesn't care if some people find his comments controversial. "That's not my concern," he said. "My concern is doing God's work, and he'll work everything else out."

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Opening Bell: 04.22.13

Bill Gross Attacks UK and Euro Zone Austerity (FT) Bill Gross, manager of the world's largest bond fund for Pimco, has launched a stinging attack on efforts by Britain and much of the euro zone to cut debt rapidly with severe austerity measures, warning that such action risks stifling recovery. "The U.K. and almost all of Europe have erred in terms of believing that austerity, fiscal austerity in the short term, is the way to produce real growth. It is not," Mr Gross told the Financial Times. "You've got to spend money." Argentina's New Debt Offer Rejected by Holdout Creditors (WSJ) Holdout creditors on Friday rejected Argentina's proposal to pay them about 20 cents on every U.S. dollar of bonds they own, leaving a U.S. appeals court to decide how to enforce a ruling that may push Argentina into a new default. "Not only are the details of Argentina's proposal unacceptable and unresponsive; Argentina fails even to provide this court with meaningful 'assurances' that it will actually comply with its own proposal," said Theodore Olson, a lawyer for the holdouts, in a brief filed Friday. Argentina's own math values the offer at $210 million, less than 15% of the $1.47 billion that holdouts were owed on their defaulted bonds as of March 1, according to the brief. Hedge Fund Stars Suit Up At Yankee Stadium To Attract Investors (NYP) Hedge-fund mogul Stevie Cohen will be pitching at Yankee Stadium tomorrow. No, the 56-year-old billionaire is not suiting up for the Bronx Bombers — but he will be hoping the magic of the House that Ruth Built will yield some investment cash. Cohen, whose SAC Capital faces a loss of $1.7 billion from investors who want out of his $15 billion hedge fund, is one of about 70 hedge fund managers who’ll be at the Stadium tomorrow making a pitch to prospective new investors at a day-long event sponsored by Goldman Sachs. Singapore Will Replace Switzerland As Wealth Capital (CNBC) Switzerland has $2.8 trillion in assets under management, with $2.1 trillion of that coming from offshore wealth. Switzerland accounts for 34 percent of the $8.15 trillion in total global wealth. Yet the report said Singapore could overtake Switzerland in offshore assets under management by 2020. It said Swiss offshore assets could fall below $2 trillion by 2016, while Singapore's assets could more than quadruple by then. Somali Banking Starts From Ground Up (WSJ) Abdusalam Omer is a central bank governor without much to govern. The Central Bank of Somalia doesn't hold reserves in the country's currency, the shilling. There are no functioning commercial banks in the strife-torn country for it to regulate. The 75-strong staff that still turns up for work after two decades of civil war is a motley crew of money men and handymen. "I don't know why the central bank employs painters," says the 58-year-old who was named the country's top banker in January. Eventbrite Funding Slows Its IPO Chase (WSJ) Eventbrite Inc., an event ticketing company, has raised $60 million from two investors, making it the latest example of a startup to raise significant private late-stage funding that puts off an initial public offering. San Francisco-based Eventbrite had sparked expectations of an imminent IPO when it said earlier this month that it hired a chief financial officer, Mark Rubash, who previously worked at Yahoo Inc. and eBay Inc. Instead, it joins a growing number of companies that have found plentiful funding in the private markets rather than going public at an early stage. The company has raised the new cash from mutual-fund firm T. Rowe Price Group Inc. and Tiger Global Management LLC, an investment-management firm, said Kevin Hartz, co-founder and chief executive. That brings its total private fundraising to some $135 million since its inception in 2006. "This gives us flexibility in setting the timeline for a later IPO, on our schedule," said Mr. Hartz. Deutsche Bank Margin Call on Vik Sparks $2.5 Billion Dispute (Bloomberg) Alexander Vik went to Deutsche Bank AG’s London office in October 2008 to meet account managers who congratulated the Norwegian entrepreneur on how well his Sebastian Holdings Inc. investment fund was doing. Within a month, as global markets tumbled into crisis, the same bankers demanded about $530 million against the fund’s currency bets and began to liquidate its positions. Vik, 58, will argue at a 12-week trial starting in London today that the bank’s actions resulted in losses and missed profits totaling about $2.5 billion. A judge will have to decide whether Sebastian’s calculation of lost trading gains is accurate, said John Day, a lawyer at London-based litigation firm DaySparkes. Zimbabwe Prepares Law to Seize Company Stakes Without Paying (Bloomberg) Zimbabwe’s government is preparing a law that would allow it to seize controlling stakes in companies without compensation, according to a draft of the legislation obtained by Bloomberg News. The law would be an amendment to a 2007 act that compels foreign and white-owned companies such as Rio Tinto Group, Sinosteel Corp. and Impala Platinum Holding Ltd. to sell or cede 51 percent of their shares to black nationalsor state-approved agencies.

Opening Bell: 02.04.13

UK Regulators Could Split Banks (WSJ) U.K. Treasury chief George Osborne on Monday will announce new powers for regulators to split up banks that flout rules designed to ring-fence retail banking from riskier investment-banking activity. In a wide-ranging speech on banking in Bournemouth, England, Mr. Osborne is expected to say the new powers are needed so that taxpayers will never again be on the hook when banks fail, as they were during the financial crisis. "We're not going to repeat the mistakes of the past. In America and elsewhere, banks found ways to undermine and get around the rules," Mr. Osborne will say, according to the extracts of his speech. "We could see that again—so we are going to arm ourselves in advance. In the jargon, we will "electrify the ring fence." New Details Suggest a Defense in SAC Case (NYT) In bringing its charges, the government said that SAC not only sold out of its position, but also bet against — or shorted — the drug companies' stocks before the public announcement of the bad news. The SAC short position, according to prosecutors, allowed it to earn big profits after shares of the companies, Elan and Wyeth, plummeted. "The fund didn't merely avoid losses, it greedily schemed to profit further by shorting Elan and Wyeth stock," said April Brooks, a senior F.B.I. official in New York, during a press conference on Nov. 20, the day Mr. Martoma was arrested. Internal SAC trading records, according to people directly involved in the case, indicate that the hedge fund did not have a negative bet in place in advance of the announcement of the drug trial's disappointing results. Instead, the records indicated that SAC, through a series of trades, including a complex transaction known as an equity swap, had virtually no exposure — neither long nor short — heading into the disclosure of the drug data. Blackstone To Become Investment Bank? (FT) Blackstone, one of the world's largest alternative asset managers, has quietly secured a securities underwriting licence as its expanding capital markets operation strays into investment banking territory. The licence marks the latest stage in the transformation of big listed private equity groups as they become more broadly based alternative asset managers. Apollo and KKR , two of Blackstone's biggest rivals, also have securities underwriting licences. The move highlights the pressure listed private equity groups are under to generate new sources of fee income to satisfy their public shareholders. "The private equity business is lousy for shareholders," says the head of capital markets for one buyout firm that is not listed. Obama: more tax revenue needed to address deficit (Reuters) President Barack Obama said on Sunday more tax revenue would be needed to reduce the U.S. deficit and signaled he would push hard to get rid of loopholes such as the "carried interest" tax break enjoyed by private equity and hedge fund managers. Herbalife Is The Subject Of 'Pending' Probe (NYP) The Los Angeles-based distributor of nutritional products is the subject of a law enforcement investigation, The Post has learned. The existence of the probe emerged after the Federal Trade Commission, responding to a Freedom of Information Law request by The Post, released 192 complaints filed against Herbalife over the past seven years. New Orleans Braces From Fallout From Blackout (AP) The outage, blamed on an unspecified "abnormality" in the Superdome's power system, was an embarrassment for New Orleans, which was hosting its first Super Bowl since 2002 and was eager to show off how it has been rebuilt since Hurricane Katrina. Mayor Mitch Landrieu called Sunday night's outage "an unfortunate moment in what has been an otherwise shining Super Bowl week for the city of New Orleans." He said he expected to receive "a full after-action report from all parties involved" in the coming days...For 34 minutes, the players tried to stay loose, the fans milled about in darkened corridors, and stadium officials scrambled to figure out what went wrong. The Ravens barely hung on for a 34-31 victory over the San Francisco 49ers, needing a goal-line stand in the closing minutes to preserve the championship. "It really hurt us," Baltimore fullback Vonta Leach said. "We had lot of momentum." There is sure to be some fallout for the city and the Superdome — especially since New Orleans plans to bid for the title game in 2018, in conjunction with the 300th anniversary of its founding. Escalators stopped working and credit-card machines shut down, though auxiliary power kept the playing field and concourses from going totally dark. "We sincerely apologize for the incident," Superdome spokesman Eric Eagan said. Most fans seemed to take the outage in stride, even starting up the wave to pass the time. "So we had to spend 30 minutes in the dark? That was just more time for fans to refill their drinks," said Amanda Black of Columbus, Miss. Question of Aiding Cyprus Places Germany in a Bind (NYT) In recent days, Germany has signaled that it is reluctantly edging toward a bailout for Cyprus, a haven for Russian cash, after lifelines have been extended to Greece, Ireland and Portugal to prevent potentially calamitous defaults. While Cyprus makes up just a sliver of the euro zone economy, it is proving to be a first-rate political headache. "I don't think that Germany has ever in the history of the euro zone crisis left itself so little wiggle room," said Nicholas Spiro, the managing director of Spiro Sovereign Strategy in London. "But Germany wants the euro to succeed and survive, and they are saying we can't afford a Cyprus bankruptcy." BlackRock Sued by Funds Over Securities Lending Fees (Bloomberg) BlackRock is accused in a lawsuit by two pension funds of reaping “grossly excessive” compensation from securities- lending returns associated with iShares Inc. “Defendants have systematically violated their fiduciary duties, setting up an excessive fee structure designed to loot securities lending returns properly due to iShares investors,” the funds, which invest in iShares, said in a complaint in federal court in Nashville, Tennessee. Two Top Barclays Executives Resign (WSJ) Barclays, whose chairman, chief executive and chief operating officer all resigned last summer in the wake of a series of controversies, said Sunday evening that finance chief Chris Lucas and Mark Harding, its general counsel, will both be retiring in coming months...Messrs. Lucas and Harding were longtime Barclays veterans who worked closely with former CEO Robert Diamond, who resigned last summer after the bank admitted that it had tried to rig benchmark interest rates and paid a roughly $450 million penalty. Youngest American Woman Billionaire Found With In-N-Out (Bloomberg) Lunchtime at the flagship In-N-Out Burger restaurant in Baldwin Park, California, is a study in efficiency. As the order line swells, smiling workers swoop in to operate empty cash registers. Another staffer cleans tables, asking customers if they’re enjoying their hamburger. Outside, a woman armed with a hand-held ordering machine speeds up the drive-through line. Such service has helped In-N-Out create a rabid fan base -- and make Lynsi Torres, the chain’s 30-year-old owner and president, one of the youngest female billionaires on Earth. New store openings often resemble product releases from Apple, with customers lined up hours in advance. City officials plead with the Irvine, California-based company to open restaurants in their municipalities. “They have done a fantastic job of building and maintaining a kind of cult following,” said Bob Goldin, executive vice president of Chicago-based food industry research firm Technomic Inc. “Someone would love to buy them.” That someone includes billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who told a group of visiting business students in 2005 that he’d like to own the chain, according to an account of the meeting on the UCLA Anderson School of Management website. Mint officially ends distribution of Canadian penny (CP) The phasing-out of the penny will lurch ahead today with the Royal Canadian Mint officially ending its distribution of one-cent coins to Canada's financial institutions. The move comes nearly a year after Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced the demise of the penny, whose production cost came to exceed its monetary value. But as it faces extinction in the pockets and tills of most Canadians, the humble penny is still in demand in some artistic circles where it retains significant value. Renee Gruszecki, a Halifax-based academic and archivist, has spent the past year making a living through a jewelry business devoted primarily to preserving the country's stray cents. About 30,000 strategically sorted pennies fill Gruszecki's home and eventually find their way into the accessories produced at Coin Coin Designs and Co. Gruszecki, a long-time collector of lucky pennies, believes her pieces will help preserve a symbol that is both an object of superstition and a Canadian icon. "The maple leaf is synonymous with everything Canadian. We all identify with it," she said in a telephone interview. "Now it's just no longer going to be present among us, so I'm saddened by that." The Bank of Canada's Currency Museum has already taken steps to preserve the penny's place in Canadian culture. A mural consisting of nearly 16,000 one-cent pieces has been assembled at the museum to commemorate the coin's history, said assistant curator Raewyn Passmore. The mosaic, which depicts a giant penny measuring about two square metres, is comprised of coins ranging from the lustrous to the tarnished.