Opening Bell: 11.21.13

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Goldman Sachs burned by bad currency bets in third quarter (Reuters)
Goldman Sachs Group Inc lost more than $1 billion on currency trades during the third quarter, recent regulatory filings show, offering some insight into why the firm, considered one of Wall Street's most savvy traders, reported its worst quarter in a key trading unit since the financial crisis. Foreign exchange was the only trading area that was a money loser, according to regulatory data. In the third quarter, Goldman reported its weakest revenue - $1.3 billion - in fixed-income, currency and commodities trading since the height of the financial crisis.

Inside-Trading Probe of Height Securities Over Decision on Medicare Payments Hits Wall in Capital (WSJ)
Investigators are hitting a wall in an insider-trading probe of how a government funding decision made its way to investors before it was officially released, according to people familiar with the probe. The Securities and Exchange Commission and Federal Bureau of Investigation have been examining whether anyone in government illegally passed along information April 1 about a pending decision on Medicare payments, according to officials involved in the probe. A report from a Washington policy-research firm, Height Securities, correctly called the decision just before it was announced, which sent health-care stocks soaring. The incident has put the spotlight on the burgeoning business known as political intelligence, where lobbyists, policy experts and former government officials gather insights on policy changes that they then sell to investors. But investigators are struggling over how to distinguish between illegal insider tips and accurate predictions based on research and analysis, the people familiar with the probe say.

Fed Casts About for Endgame on Easy-Money Policy (WSJ)
Central-bank officials have been debating for months when to start paring the $85 billion-a-month bond-purchase program. They were surprised during the summer when their discussions and public pronouncements on the potential timing rocked markets, pushing interest rates higher and stock prices down. Minutes of the Oct. 29-30 policy meeting, released Wednesday, showed officials continued to look toward ending the bond-buying program "in coming months." But they spent hours game-planning how to handle unexpected developments and tailoring a message to the public to soften the impact of the program's end.

SAC exec used stolen info to make ‘lots of money,’ jury told (NYP)
SAC Capital Advisors ex-money manager Michael Steinberg used stolen business information to make money — “lots of money” — for himself and his company, a Manhattan federal court jury was told Wednesday. When Steinberg “traded on that illegal information, he broke the law,” prosecutor Antonia Apps said in her opening statement. The 41-year-old Steinberg, charged with conspiracy and securities fraud, is the seventh SAC executive to face charges in US Attorney Preet Bharara’s massive multiyear crackdown on insider trading. The high-stakes criminal case, which finished jury selection Wednesday morning, opened in the afternoon before a packed courtroom...The government’s key witness will be Jon Horvath, an SAC tech research analyst who reported to Steinberg. Horvath pleaded guilty last year to similar charges regarding trading in tech stocks Dell and Nvdia. Horvath was pressured into the criminal activity after some of his recommendations failed in 2007 and he was at risk of losing his job, according to the government. “Steinberg told him he needed to get edgy proprietary information,” Apps told the jury. Horvath will testify that he called Steinberg, who was vacationing in Mexico, with an illegal stock tip about Dell, and “one minute later” the accused started to sell Dell shares, making $1 million on the trade, Apps said. But Steinberg’s lawyer, Barry Berke, said Horvath made up the story because “he was facing a very long jail sentence” and “chose self-interest over the truth.”

Mexico’s president denies meeting Bieber after pop star’s tweet (AP)
Mexico’s president has denied a tweet by Justin Bieber saying the singer met with the president and his family prior to a show. It was the latest sour note in Bieber’s controversy-filled Latin American tour. President Enrique Pena Nieto’s office put out a tweet late Monday that read “@Presidenciamx denies meeting between President @EPN with the singer @justinbieber.” That was a response to a tweet from Bieber’s official account saying “just met some amazing mexican beliebers and the presidente of mexico and his familia.” Apparently, Bieber was confused about whether the president was there or not. Early Tuesday, Bieber wrote in a tweet, “correction. I met the presidente’s family and all their friends in the private meet and greet with all their security. They were very nice.”

BOJ maintains massive stimulus, rosy economic outlook (Reuters)
The Bank of Japan maintained its ultra-loose monetary policy on Thursday and reiterated the economy is recovering moderately, in a nod to signs of a pick-up in exports that is key to sustaining the momentum generated by premier Shinzo Abe's stimulus.

Bitcoin world domination ‘a bumpy ride’: Exchange CEO (CNBC)
Bitcoin has a lot of potential and a long way to go, Bobby Lee, co-founder and CEO of BTC China, said Wednesday. "In terms of its value, I wouldn't worry too much about how many percent it's been up year to date because ... if you look at the five-year history of bitcoin, it literally started at zero," he said. "For it to be a true worldwide asset class, it would have to have a very, very large circulation value to account for the global population," he said.

Rupert And Wendi Murdoch Reach A Divorce Settlement (NYT)
At a hearing at New York State Supreme Court in Lower Manhattan, the couple sat at far ends of a small table, flanked by their lawyers. Both told a judge they had signed on to the confidential hundred-page agreement that rested on the table, which made a trial unnecessary...Mr. Murdoch met Wendi Deng in 1998 on a business trip to China, where she worked for a division of News Corporation. They married a year later in New York Harbor aboard Mr. Murdoch’s 155-foot yacht, the Morning Glory. The boat has been put up for sale.

Word Games Aren't for Play at J.P. Morgan (WSJ)
What exactly did J.P. Morgan Chase admit to in its $13 billion settlement over mortgage-backed securities? The answer depends on whom you ask. In its statement trumpeting the deal Tuesday, the Justice Department said J.P. Morgan "acknowledged that it made serious misrepresentations to the public—including the investing public—about numerous [mortgage bond] transactions." On a conference call the same day, though, J.P. Morgan finance chief Marianne Lake took a far more nuanced approach. She said that while "we acknowledge" the statement of facts that accompanied the settlement, "the way things are characterized could differ depending upon who's characterizing them." And she added that, "the firm has not admitted to any violations of the law."

Kanye West slams Zappos for 's--t product,' company responds by selling $100,000 toilet (NYDN)
On novelist Bret Easton Ellis' podcast Monday, West slammed the CEO of the shoe retailer for selling a "s--t product." "I got into this giant argument with the head of Zappos that he's trying to tell me what I need to focus on," the 36-year-old rapper said. "Meanwhile, he sells all this s--t product to everybody, his whole thing is based off of selling s--t product." In response, Zappos launched a new "s--t" product page on their site, featuring a toilet and plunger for a mere $100,000. Tony Hsieh, the Zappos CEO, released a statement on the matter: "Yes, it's true that we sell s-t product," directing readers to the new page. The description of the toilet also ribbed West through some of his own lyrics: "This is the throne, everyone has been watching," it reads. "Whether you're #1 or #2, your clique will show no mercy, even in Paris." "Avoid storms," the description concludes.

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Opening Bell: 01.17.13

Charges Weigh On Bank Of America's Profit (WSJ) Overall, Bank of America reported a profit of $732 million versus a profit of $1.99 billion a year earlier. On a per-share basis, which includes the payment of preferred dividends, the bank reported earnings of three cents versus 15 cents a year earlier. The most recent period included a per-share impact of 16 cents from the Fannie Mae settlement, a six cent impact from the foreclosure review and litigation expense of five cents a share, among other items. Revenue dropped 25% to $18.66 billion as noninterest income fell 41%. Excluding $700 million of debit valuation and fair value option adjustments, and $3 billion for the cost of $3 billion, revenue was $22.6 billion. Citigroup Earnings Miss Analysts’ Estimates on Litigation (Bloomberg) Net income climbed 25 percent to $1.2 billion in the fourth quarter, or 38 cents a share, from $956 million, or 31 cents, a year earlier, the New York-based lender said today in a statement. Earnings adjusted for one-time items including restructuring costs were 69 cents a share. Twenty-one analysts surveyed by Bloomberg estimated 96 cents on average, with some items Citigroup didn’t include. Chief Executive Officer Michael Corbat, 52, took over in October and last month announced plans to eliminate about 11,000 employees and pull back from some emerging markets, undoing part of the expansion strategy of his predecessor, Vikram Pandit. Litigation costs included $305 million from a settlement between U.S. banks and federal regulators, who were probing claims that lenders improperly seized homes. Goldman Profits By Going On Offensive (WSJ) The value of Goldman Sachs's investment portfolio doubled last year. Bond underwriting hit a five-year high. The firm's workforce shrank and remaining employees were paid a smaller chunk of overall revenue. Those were just some of the ingredients in a bigger-than-expected profit jump by the New York company, which said net income almost tripled to $2.83 billion in the fourth quarter from $1.01 billion a year earlier. Wednesday's results were packed with evidence of Goldman's discipline in cutting costs, taking less risk with its own money and riding out financial crises in the U.S. and then Europe. Goldman Agonized Over Pay Cuts as Profits Suffered (Reuters) Top executives at Goldman Sachs have been considering deep cuts to staffing levels and pay for at least two years, but feared too many layoffs would leave the firm unprepared for an eventual pickup in business, people familiar with the bank said. They instead chipped away at staff levels and focused on non-personnel expenses that are less painful to cut. But investors pressured the bank to cut costs further, the sources said, and on Wednesday, Goldman gave in. The largest standalone investment bank said in the fourth quarter it cut the percentage of revenues it pays to employees in half to 21 percent. That brings the ratio for the entire year to its second-lowest level since the bank went public in 1999. Fed Concerned About Overheated Markets Amid Record Bond-Buying (Bloomberg) Now, as central bankers boost their stimulus with additional bond purchases, policy makers from Chairman Ben S. Bernanke to Kansas City Fed President Esther George are on the lookout for financial distortions that may reverse abruptly when the Fed stops adding to its portfolio and eventually shrinks it. “Prices of assets such as bonds, agricultural land, and high-yield and leveraged loans are at historically high levels,” George said in a speech last week. “We must not ignore the possibility that the low-interest rate policy may be creating incentives that lead to future financial imbalances.” Estonian president’s Twitter fight with Paul Krugman becomes an opera (RS) A Twitter feud in June between the Estonian president and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman who questioned the impact of Estonia’s austerity measures, is being turned into an opera, US composer Eugene Birman told AFP on Wednesday. “Our short opera will be first performed by Iris Oja and the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra conducted by Risto Joost during Tallinn Music Week on April 7,” Birman, who moved from Riga to the US at age of six, told AFP. The piece, in two movements, uses two voices, those of Krugman and Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, reflecting their exchanges on the Twitter social network...The bow-tie loving Ilves went on a tweet-rant after Krugman, the winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize for Economics, argued in a short article entitled “Estonian Rhapsody” that while Estonia had been globally praised for its austerity measures, its recovery was in fact lukewarm. “Let’s write about something we know nothing about & be smug, overbearing & patronizing…Guess a Nobel in trade means you can pontificate on fiscal matters & declare my country a ‘wasteland,’” Ilves responded on his page on the on the micro-blogging site Twitter. “But yes, what do we know? We’re just dumb and silly East Europeans,” he added, before writing in his final tweet, “Let’s sh*t on East Europeans.” Deutsche Bank Derivative Helped Monte Paschi Mask Losses (Bloomberg) Deutsche Bank designed a derivative for Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena SpA at the height of the financial crisis that obscured losses at the world’s oldest lender before it sought a taxpayer bailout. Germany’s largest bank loaned Monte Paschi about 1.5 billion euros ($2 billion) in December 2008 through the transaction, dubbed Project Santorini, according to more than 70 pages of documents outlining the deal and obtained by Bloomberg News. The trade helped Monte Paschi mitigate a 367 million-euro loss from an older derivative contract with Deutsche Bank. As part of the arrangement, the Italian lender made a losing bet on the value of the country’s government bonds, said six derivatives specialists who reviewed the files. BlackRock Net Jumps 24% (WSJ) The company said net inflows in long-term products totaled $47 billion at the year's end, reflecting equity, fixed income and multiasset class product net inflows of $31.2 billion, $12.4 billion and $4.1 billion, respectively. The net inflows were partially offset by alternatives net outflows of $700 million. Total assets under management were $3.792 trillion as of the end of the fourth quarter, versus $3.513 trillion a year earlier and $3.673 trillion in the third quarter. Jobless Claims Drop To 5-Year Low (Reuters) Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell 37,000 to a seasonally adjusted 335,000, the lowest level since January 2008, the Labor Department said on Thursday. It was the largest weekly drop since February 2010. Khuzami defends corp. settlements (NYP) Robert Khuzami, the Securities and Exchange Commission’s enforcement chief, is on his way out the door — but he says in an interview with The Post that the agency’s much-maligned practice of settling cases is here to stay. Khuzami, 56, defended the SEC’s policy of allowing targets to settle cases — usually without an admission of wrongdoing — despite recent criticism. “There are certain myths about SEC practices, including how ‘neither admit nor deny’ works and why we use it,” said Khuzami, who is leaving his post after heading the agency’s crackdown on big banks following the financial crisis. “I speak out against these myths in the hope of reducing the level of cynicism felt by the public, which are often fueled by mischaracterizations or misunderstandings of how we operate.” Commissioners approve regulations governing sexy coffee stands (Kitsap Sun) Owners of adult-themed coffee stands in unincorporated Kitsap County will have to post signs warning would-be customers about their scantily-clad baristas, and they'll have to do more to protect passers-by from seeing into their businesses. That's according to an ordinance passed Monday in a unanimous vote of the Kitsap County commissioners. The stands have 60 days to comply with the changes, which include a site visit by county planning staff to check the signs are posted and additional screening is added...The ordinance requires adult espresso stands — the three existing stands and any new ones — to install an 8-foot-high fence or landscape buffer, approved by the county Department of Community Development, in front of windows that face the street or other businesses, blocking views by the public. Businesses also must receive a one-time certification from DCD to guarantee the regulations are met. A boiling point was hit more than a year ago when five stands — three of them within a half-mile stretch of Highway 303 — advertised employees in pasties and lingerie. Unhappy parents demanded commissioners regulate the businesses. The health department doesn't require clothing, instead it looks at whether employees have food handler permits, said Department of Community Development associate planner Heather Adams. The state Department of Labor and Industries also has no rules dictating required clothing at coffee stands, Adams said.

Opening Bell: 11.07.12

Obama Wins Re-Election With Romney Defeated In Key States (Bloomberg) Obama defeated Republican Mitt Romney, winning at least 303 electoral votes in yesterday’s election with 270 needed for the victory. With one state -- Florida -- yet to be decided, Romney had 206 electoral votes...Obama won the battleground states of Ohio, Virginia, Iowa, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Nevada and Colorado. He also carried Pennsylvania, where Romney made an 11th-hour bid for support to try to derail the president’s drive for re-election. North Carolina was the only battleground Romney won. Romney Campaigns To The End (WSJ) Hours before Mitt Romney lost his six-year quest to win the presidency, he said he had prepared only one speech—a victory speech...Until the final hour, Mr. Romney and his aides expressed confidence that he would win. The candidate, who prefers data and metrics to chitchat, appeared to be caught off guard by the loss even though he trailed in polls in crucial battlegrounds such as Ohio. Triumph Of The Nerds: Nate Silver Wins In 50 States (Mashable) The Fivethirtyeight.com analyst, despite being pilloried by the pundits, outdid even his 2008 prediction. In that year, his mathematical model correctly called 49 out of 50 states, missing only Indiana (which went to Obama by 0.1%.) This year, according to all projections, Silver’s model has correctly predicted 50 out of 50 states. A last-minute flip for Florida, which finally went blue in Silver’s prediction on Monday night, helped him to a perfect game. Loser Ryan Also A Winner (NYP) The Republican vice-presidential hopeful hedged his bet by running for re-election to his congressional seat in Wisconsin — where last night, he was declared the winner for an eighth straight time. Goldman Partners Pocket $22 Million (WSJ) More than 30 executives, including Chief Executive Officer Lloyd C. Blankfein, recently cashed in stock options awarded in the afterglow of the company's initial public offering in 1999. According to a securities filing, the executives, all Goldman partners, pocketed a total of $21.8 million by exercising options and selling the underlying shares in the three days after the firm reported third-quarter results in mid-October. The options expire at the end of November, and cashing in produced instant profits because Goldman's share price is more than 50% higher than when the options were awarded in 2002. "By exercising 10-year-old options before they expired later this year, executives captured some of the value we have built for shareholders over that period," said a spokesman for the securities firm. In contrast, many of the executives' remaining options are worthless, at least for now, because they were granted from 2005 to 2008. The stock peaked in October 2007 at about $239, or 89% higher than Tuesday's closing price of $126.25 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading at 4 p.m. The biggest gain went to Michael S. Sherwood, a Goldman vice chairman and the firm's top executive in Europe, who received $5.2 million from exercising options on 115,211 shares. Mr. Blankfein collected $3.1 million, while departing Chief Financial Officer David A. Viniar got $2.3 million, the filing shows. JPMorgan Nears SEC Settlement (WSJ) JPMorgan is close to a settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission that would end one probe into how the company's Bear Stearns Cos. unit packaged and sold home loans to investors, according to people familiar with the case. A pact with the nation's largest bank by assets would be the first tangible victory in a wide-ranging SEC investigation into Wall Street's sale of mortgage-backed securities before the onset of the financial crisis. Since 2010, the SEC has issued more than 300 subpoenas or document requests related to the probe and collected more than 30 million pages of documents, enforcement chief Robert Khuzami said earlier this year. BNP Paribas Third Quarter Net Doubles On Trading Gains (Bloomberg) Pretax profit at BNP Paribas’s corporate- and investment- banking unit, or CIB, rose 7.3 percent to 732 million euros, beating analysts’ estimate of 686 million euros. Revenue from equity and advisory operations climbed 51 percent to 444 million euros, while fixed-income sales more than doubled to 1.13 billion euros. After Obama Victory, Donald Trump Rants On Twitter (ABC) “We can’t let this happen. We should march on Washington and stop this travesty,” Trump Tweeted. “Our nation is totally divided! Lets fight like hell and stop this great and disgusting injustice! The world is laughing at us. This election is a total sham and a travesty. We are not a democracy! And then: “Our country is now in serious and unprecedented trouble…like never before. Our nation is a once great nation divided! The electoral college is a disaster for a democracy. Hopefully the House of Representatives can hold our country together for four more years…stay strong and never give up! House of Representatives shouldn’t give anything to Obama unless he terminates Obamacare.” And finally: “This election is a total sham and a travesty. We are not a democracy!” Fitch: No Fiscal Honeymoon For President Obama (CNBC) President Barack Obama will need to quickly secure agreement on avoiding the "fiscal cliff" and raising the debt ceiling following Tuesday's elections, Fitch Ratings said. The economic policy challenge facing the president is to put in place a credible deficit-reduction plan necessary to underpin economic recovery and confidence in the full faith and credit of the U.S., according to Fitch. Resolution of these fiscal policy choices would likely result in the U.S. retaining its triple-A status from Fitch, the firm said. Failure to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff and raise the debt ceiling in a timely manner, as well as securing agreement on credible deficit reduction, would likely result in a rating downgrade in 2013, Fitch said. The New Haven For Investors (WSJ) Treasurys have a new rival for safe-haven status: U.S. companies. Bonds of Exxon Mobil and Johnson & Johnson are trading with yields below those of comparable Treasurys, a sign that investors perceive them as a safer bet. It is a rare phenomenon that some market observers said could be the beginning of a new era for debt markets. It could ultimately mean some companies will borrow at lower rates than the U.S. government. Swiss, Greeks Begin Talks On Tax Deal (WSJ) Switzerland has begun formal talks on a deal to tax assets stashed in secret Swiss bank accounts by Greek citizens, in line with similar agreements struck with other European countries, the Swiss government said Wednesday. Woman Wearing MIT Shirt Nearly Banned From Voting In Boca Raton (BNN) A woman attempting to vote in West Boca Raton yesterday was initially prohibited from entering the polling place because she was wearing a t-shirt with the letters MIT. BocaNewsNow.com heard from multiple sources that an election supervisor at the polling place ultimately realized that MIT stands for “Massachusetts Institute of Technology” — a school where students tend to know how to spell — and was not a campaign shirt for the Republican candidate, who spells his name MITT. Campaigning is not permitted within several yards of a polling place. The woman was ultimately allowed to vote.

Opening Bell: 12.17.12

SAC E-Mails Show Steve Cohen Consulted on Key Dell Trade (Bloomberg) Two days before Dell Inc. was set to report second-quarter 2008 earnings, Jon Horvath, a technology analyst at SAC Capital Advisors LP, e-mailed his boss Michael S. Steinberg and another portfolio manager to warn that the computer maker would miss earnings estimates. “I have a 2nd hand read from someone at the company,” Horvath began the Aug. 26 message, which provided details on gross margins, expenditures and revenue. “Please keep to yourself as obviously not well known.” Steinberg, a 15-year veteran of the hedge fund founded by billionaire Steven A. Cohen, responded: “Yes normally we would never divulge data like this, so please be discreet. Thanks.” The e-mails indicate Steinberg, the longest-serving SAC employee linked to the U.S. insider-trading probe, discussed the Dell trade with Cohen. While neither has been accused of any wrongdoing, the messages were admitted as evidence at the New York insider-trading trial of two hedge-fund managers last week after a judge ruled they supported prosecutor claims that Steinberg should be considered an unindicted co-conspirator. AIG To Sell Life Insurer Stake (WSJ) AIG will sell its stake in Asian life insurer AIA Group Ltd., raising as much as $6.5 billion in what could be the second-largest deal in Asia this year. Completion of the sale will mark another step forward for AIG, which is shedding noncore assets, as it seeks to repay its debt to the U.S. government, which took over the company in a $182 billion bailout in 2008. A Shadow Over Banks As UBS Nears Libor Deal (WSJ) The Swiss bank is set to agree as soon as this week to pay roughly $1.5 billion to settle allegations of wrongdoing related to benchmarks such as the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, say people close to the talks. So far, UBS has agreed in principle with the U.S. Justice Department that a company unit in Japan will plead guilty to a criminal charge, according to a person familiar with the tentative deal. The Zurich-based parent will pay the fine in return for a deal that lets it avoid criminal prosecution. Criminal charges against individuals are expected to be filed in tandem with the settlement, according to U.S. officials briefed on the matter. The pursuit of criminal charges and the higher-than-expected fine are ominous signs for more than a dozen financial firms still under investigation. "There's no panic—yet," says someone close to one of the banks in the sprawling probe. Moody’s Gets No Respect as Bonds Shun 56% of Country Ratings (Bloomberg) The global bond market disagreed with Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s more often than not this year when the companies told investors that governments were becoming safer or more risky. Yields on sovereign securities moved in the opposite direction from what ratings suggested in 53 percent of the 32 upgrades, downgrades and changes in credit outlook, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That’s worse than the longer-term average of 47 percent, based on more than 300 changes since 1974. This year, investors ignored 56 percent of Moody’s rating and outlook changes and 50 percent of those by S&P. Economy Poised To Nudge Ahead In 2013 (WSJ) So that's nice. Boehner Opens the Door to Tax Hikes on the Wealthy (Reuters) U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner's offer to accept a tax rate increase for the wealthiest Americans knocks down a key Republican road block to a deal resolving the year-end "fiscal cliff." The question now boils down to what President Barack Obama offers in return. Such major questions, still unanswered so close to the end of the year suggest, however, that no spending and tax agreement is imminent. A source familiar with the Obama-Boehner talks confirmed that Boehner proposed extending low tax rates for everyone who has less than $1 million in net annual income, meaning tax rates would rise on all above that line. Actor Depardieu Hits Back at French PM Over Taxes (CNBC) Actor Gerard Depardieu, accused by French government leaders of trying to dodge taxes by buying a house over the border in Belgium, retorted that he was leaving because "success" was now being punished in his homeland. A popular and colourful figure in France, the 63-year-old Depardieu is the latest wealthy Frenchman to seek shelter outside his native country after tax increases by Socialist President Francois Hollande. Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault described Depardieu's behaviour as "pathetic" and unpatriotic at a time when the French are being asked to pay higher taxes to reduce a bloated national debt. "Pathetic, you said pathetic? How pathetic is that?" Depardieu said in a letter distributed to the media. "I am leaving because you believe that success, creation, talent, anything different must be sanctioned," he said. [...] The "Cyrano de Bergerac" star recently bought a house in Nechin, a Belgian village a short walk from the border with France, where 27 percent of residents are French nationals, and put up his sumptuous Parisian home up for sale. Depardieu, who has also inquired about procedures for acquiring Belgian residency, said he was handing in his passport and social security card. Singapore Establishment Challenged by Carson Block on Olam (Bloomberg) When Carson Block likened Olam International Ltd. to fraud-ridden Enron Corp., he challenged more than the accounting of the Singapore-based commodities firm. He also took on Temasek Holdings Pte, the government-owned investment company whose money has helped build the city-state into a corporate dynamo known as Singapore Inc. Temasek is Olam’s second-largest shareholder, with a 16 percent stake that has lost more than $100 million in value since Nov. 19, when Block’s Muddy Waters LLC first questioned the validity of the company’s finances and said it was betting against the stock. Temasek is also the biggest shareholder in many of the country’s best-known companies, including DBS Group Holdings Ltd., Southeast Asia’s largest bank, Singapore Telecommunications Ltd. and Singapore Airlines Ltd. “Carson Block is putting his whole reputation on this one,” said Low Chee Keong, associate professor of corporate law at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “He’s taking on the Singapore government, Singapore Inc. here.” UN court orders immediate release of Argentine ship seized by hedge funder Paul Singer over unpaid debt (AP) A United Nations court ordered the immediate release Saturday of an Argentine navy training ship held in Ghana two months ago at the request of an American hedge fund. The ARA Libertad was held Oct. 2 in the port of Tema as collateral for unpaid bonds dating from Argentina's economic crisis a decade ago. Argentina appealed to the UN's International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea for the ship's release, arguing that as a warship the Libertad is immune from being seized. In an expedited ruling, the court ordered that Ghana "forthwith and unconditionally release the frigate ARA Libertad" and ensure the ship and its crew can leave Ghanaian waters. It also ordered that the vessel should be resupplied as needed. Detaining the ship was "a source of conflict that may endanger friendly relations among states," the court said. The ruling leaves untouched the parties' rights to seek further international arbitration on the matter. Debt Loads Climb In Buyout Deals (WSJ) Private-equity firms are using almost as much debt to fund acquisitions as they did before the financial crisis, as return-hungry investors rush to buy bonds and loans backing those takeovers. The rise in borrowed money, or leverage, heralds the possibility of juicy returns for buyout groups. Ominously, the surge also brings back memories of the last credit binge around six years ago, which saddled dozens of companies with huge levels of debt. Berlusconi's Love Life Lost in Translation (CNBC) Global media reports that the former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi announced his engagement to his 28-year-old girlfriend on one of his TV Channels on Sunday, have been dismissed by native Italians who say Berlusconi has been mis-translated. Various newspapers have reported that Berlusconi is to get married for the third time, when in fact he announced that he is in love and in a relationship...Professor of Modern Italian History at University College London (UCL), John Foot, told CNBC that Pascale is a"girlfriend, nothing more." "In Italy the phrase 'Mi sono fidanzato' usually means 'I have a girlfriend or boyfriend' and not 'I am engaged to be married'. This can cause confusion abroad but is pretty clear in the Italian context," he told CNBC. Twinkies again by spring? It could happen (NBC) It’s not even Christmas, but Twinkies fans may be able to start looking forward to an Easter present. Bankrupt Hostess Brands has received a number of bids from companies interested in buying the maker of Twinkies, Ho Hos, and Wonder bread, including retail heavyweights such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Kroger Co, Bloomberg News reported Friday, quoting an unnamed person familiar with the matter...Anthony Michael Sabino, a bankruptcy attorney and a professor at St. John's University, said bankruptcy judge Robert Drain was motivated to move quickly. Bidding will likely take place by early January, since the assets — if not the treats themselves — could become stale. “I think this will move a at a fairly decent pace. He knows what’s at stake here.

Opening Bell: 09.26.12

Spain Prepares More Austerity, Protesters Battle Police (Reuters) Protesters clashed with police in Spain's capital on Tuesday as the government prepared a new round of unpopular austerity measures for the 2013 budget to be announced on Thursday. Thousands gathered in Neptune plaza, a few metres from El Prado museum in central Madrid, where they formed a human chain around parliament, surrounded by barricades, police trucks and more than 1,500 police in riot gear. Police fired rubber bullets and beat protesters with truncheons, first as protesters were trying to tear down barriers and later to clear the square. The police said at least 22 people had been arrested and at least 32 injured, including four policemen. Facebook's Next Fight: Suits And More Suits (WSJ) About 50 lawsuits have been filed against Facebook, Nasdaq OMX Group Inc. and underwriters of Facebook's May IPO, according to lawyers involved in the cases. In addition, securities lawyers who represent Facebook investors say they expect hundreds of arbitration claims to be launched against brokers and securities firms that pitched the company's shares. Credit Suisse Said to Consider Merging Its Asset-Management Unit (Bloomberg) The bank is considering combining its asset-management unit with the private and investment banking divisions, a person familiar with the matter said. SAC Capital Fund Manager Said To Be Uncharged Conspirator (Bloomberg) The role allegedly played by Michael Steinberg emerged in court papers filed by the U.S. in the securities-fraud case of Jon Horvath, a former technology analyst at Cohen’s $14 billion hedge fund who Steinberg supervised. Steinberg, who hasn’t been charged with a crime, is the fifth person to be tied to insider trading while employed at SAC. Horvath faces trial Oct. 29 in Manhattan federal court along with two other portfolio managers for his part in what Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara called a “criminal club:” a conspiracy of hedge fund managers, co-workers and company insiders who reaped millions of dollars on illegal tips about Dell Inc. and Nvidia Corp. “The government added four additional co-conspirators,” prosecutors wrote in a Sept. 6 letter filed with the court, with the names blacked out. One of them, the U.S. said, is “the portfolio manager to whom Jon Horvath reported at his hedge fund.” That person was Steinberg, said the people, who declined to be identified because the matter isn’t public. UK Group To Give Up Libor Oversight (WSJ) The council of the BBA, a private trade association, voted earlier this month to give up management of Libor, according to people familiar with the matter. The move clears the way for what is likely to be the biggest change in Libor's 26-year history, and introduces the possibility that British or international regulators could be in charge of overseeing the rate, which is tied to trillions of dollars of financial contracts. Rent-a-reptile: Florida company adds alligators to kids’ pool parties (NYDN) Bob Barrett gives Florida kids pool parties they’ll never forget — because they get to swim with real live alligators. Jump houses? Pizza parties? Boring, says Barrett. “You jump for a while and that’s it, we’ve had that party before,” he told the Daily News. “Clown party, Chuck E. Cheese party, they’ve all been done.” Barrett,who runs Alligator Attractions in Madeira Beach — where visitors get to hold gators — was already bringing his reptiles around to birthday parties when he was inspired to take the next step. “We would do [an alligator demonstration] at someone’s house and they would have a pool,” he explained. “And I said, you know, ‘Hey, let’s put ‘em in the pool.’” Hedge Fund Skeptics Warn on ‘QE Infinity’ (FT) “A man’s got to know his limitations,” says “Dirty Harry” Callahan, the gun-toting, rule book-ignoring cop immortalized by Clint Eastwood in “Magnum Force.” It is a principle the U.S. Federal Reserve – which earlier this month embarked upon its own, third bout of “unorthodox” enforcement, “QE3” – could learn from, according to Stephen Jen, the former Morgan Stanley foreign-exchange guru turned hedge fund manager. “The Fed officials are some of the smartest economists around,” he wrote in his most recent note to clients. The trouble is, said Mr. Jen, “they know everything except their own limitations.” Irish Bank Offers Properties For 70% Less Than 2007 Value (Bloomberg) RBS's Irish unit offered to sell properties, including 640 apartments and a hotel, for about 70 percent less than their value at the market’s 2007 peak, according to the broker managing the sale. The Gemini portfolio, containing buildings in the Irish cities of Dublin and Cork, has an asking price of 75 million euros ($97 million), according to Domhnaill O’Sullivan, a director at Savills Plc (SVS)’s Dublin office. MIT Miscounts Its New B-School Students (WSJ) After realizing they had a student surplus, school officials emailed the incoming class on Aug. 7, offering "guaranteed admission to the class of 2015 for the first 20 admitted students who request it." The school gave them until Aug. 13 to respond, according to one student's copy of the letter, which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. But it didn't get enough takers. So, like an airline offering vouchers to travelers willing to hop off oversold flights, the school put money on the table, offering students who expressed an interest a $15,000 scholarship to be applied to next year's tuition. Students still balked, and on Aug. 21, a day after pre-term refresher courses began, Sloan raised the offer to $20,000 for the first 10 respondents. (Tuition for the 2012-2013 academic year is $58,200, with total expenses—including books, housing and food—estimated at just under $89,000.) NFL replacement referee who blew touchdown call in Green Bay Packers-Seattle Seahawks game is a full-time banker (NYDN) ...fans, particular those in Wisconsin, said the 52-year-old southern California banker with no previous professional or major college refereeing experience should have never left his desk to become a replacement during the NFL’s lockout of unionized refs. Even the Lingerie Football League piled on, revealing that some of the scab refs weren’t qualified to work its games. “Due to several on-field occurrences of incompetent officiating, we chose to part ways with a crew which apparently is now officiating in the NFL,” said Mitch Mortaza, commissioner of the female bra-and-panty league. “We have a lot of respect for our officials, but we felt the officiating was not in line with our expectations.”