Opening Bell: 12.04.13

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Wall Street Sweats Out Volcker Rule Impact on Revenue (Bloomberg)
Wall Street banks, which already shut proprietary trading units that helped fuel record profits, are girding to learn next week how much revenue the Volcker rule may cut from the $44 billion they say comes from market-making. With U.S. regulators scheduled to vote Dec. 10, the largest firms are getting little detail about the final terms of the Volcker rule’s ban on proprietary trades, and still have basic questions about what kind of market-making will be allowed, said three senior U.S. bankers. They’re also wondering whether they’ll have to change practices or curtail business in some less-liquid markets, the bankers said.

EU Fines Financial Institutions Over Fixing Key Benchmarks (WSJ)
Six financial institutions were fined €1.71 billion ($2.32 billion) by European Union regulators Wednesday for colluding in an attempt to manipulate key benchmark interest rates, the EU's largest-ever penalty in a cartel case. The settlements involved penalties against some of the world's biggest banks, including Deutsche Bank AG, Société Générale SA, Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC and J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. The action brings to roughly €6 billion the total penalties levied by regulators against financial institutions in connection with probes into manipulation of the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, and other widely used financial benchmarks. Further penalties are possible.

Accuser’s credibility ripped in SAC manager trial (NYP)
Horvath earlier testified that Steinberg asked him to get “edgy, proprietary” information after trade ideas of his lost money in 2007, and Horvath said he took that to mean “nonpublic, material” info — or inside information. But Berke, getting his first shot at cross-examination of Horvath in Manhattan federal court Tuesday, used two hours of withering questions to reveal that Horvath used one of the terms even before he joined Steve Cohen’s SAC hedge fund. In a bombshell piece of evidence, a document called “Jon’s Trading Rules,” created by Horvath — which prosecutors didn’t know existed — Horvath asked himself the question, “What do I have that is proprietary?” With Steinberg barely suppressing a smile, Berke asked about “Jon’s Trading Rules.” A squirming Horvath first said it was written while he was at SAC. He then said he could not remember when he wrote it. Finally, he said, “I don’t remember creating this document.” Nor did Horvath remember the day he began working at the hedge fund, or the email Steinberg forwarded to him on his first day, Sept. 18, 2006. Written by former SAC analyst Nils Tristan, it used the word “edgy” three times to discuss the type of research information on companies SAC found useful. “If you hear something from the grapevine, there is a 90 percent chance it’s not edgy,” the email, written in 2004, said. “We no longer use that type of information.” The email also mentioned making sure information has been “triangulated by multiple proprietary sources.” Horvath conceded the words “edgy” and “proprietary” were used often during his time at SAC — and weren’t referring to illegal info — but said that Steinberg meant something different when he asked him to get that type of information in 2007. “I don’t think edgy proprietary has the same meaning as the conversation we had later,” he told the jury.

House of Morgan Divided on Junk as Returns Wane: Credit Markets (Bloomberg)
JPMorgan Chase & Co. recommends sticking with U.S. high-yield bonds next year as the best protection against rising interest rates. Morgan Stanley cautions that valuations are unattractive following a record five-year rally. Speculative-grade debt will return 5 percent in 2014 with default rates remaining below historic averages, according to analysts at JPMorgan, the largest underwriter of the notes since 2010. Investors need to lower their expectations and will see gains of 2.8 percent, Morgan Stanley said yesterday.

Deputies Looking For Men Who Stole Condoms, Family Planning Materials (ABC)
HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. - The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office is looking for two men who stole about $460 worth of condoms and family planning materials. Detectives say the men stole the items from a CVS near Hillsborough Avenue and Memorial Highway around 3 p.m. on November 26. They placed the items in a backpack and left without paying. They drove off in a newer model four door white or silver Honda.

NY to free ex-Tyco exec Dennis Kozlowski on parole (NYP)
“I will seek, obtain and maintain employment,” the board’s required Kozlowski to pledge — along with prohibitions on drinking booze and doing drugs. The parole board also made it clear they don’t want Kozlowski getting back to his old tricks, specifically barring him from acting in any “fiduciary capacity,” having a bank account, or opening a credit card without the permission of his parole board. Kozlowski showed so much gall at the helm of Tyco he kept two ex-mistresses on his payroll, even charged the company for a “yacht stylist” for his $130 million sloop, and kept tidy with the help of an $80,000-a-year housemaid.

Hayman Capital Said to Take Stake in GM as U.S. Exits (Bloomberg)
The largest U.S. automaker should increase in value by more than 40 percent in 12 to 18 months, Hayman Capital said in a presentation published on website The GM stake is one of the fund’s largest investments, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the matter is private. “GM equity represents one of the most compelling risk/reward situations of any large cap in the world today,” the Dallas-based fund founded by J. Kyle Bass said in the presentation. “Detroit is back. And GM could lead the way forward on the equity front.”

U.S. Banks Again Fail to Comply With Parts of Mortgage Settlement (WSJ)
Three of the largest U.S. mortgage servicers again failed to comply with parts of a $25 billion landmark national mortgage settlement, the watchdog overseeing the process said Wednesday. Joseph A. Smith said that Bank of America Corp., J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and Citigroup Inc. C -0.99% each failed at least two of 29 metrics that measure standards over how to provide relief to homeowners under threat of foreclosure. In total, the three banks failed on seven metrics in the first half of 2013.

Jason Biggs slams Paul Walker-inspired tip jars at Los Angeles Coffee Bean (NYDN)
Jason Biggs has his limits.
The 35-year-old actor took to Twitter to share his confusion and disapproval of a "poor taste" gimmick by a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf in Los Angeles on Tuesday. The shop displayed two tip jars, one marked "Fast and Furious" and the other "Varsity Blues," which happen to be two films of the late Paul Walker, 40, who died in fiery car crash on Saturday. "Umm, am I crazy, or does this seem exploitive and in poor taste? @CoffeeBeanLA," Biggs, tweeted with a photo of the two almost full jars. The containers appear to have been in effort for customers to give tip money for whichever popular movie of Walker's they liked better. The Coffee Bean franchise responded to Biggs' tweet expressing their concern over the situation. "@JasonBiggs This is completely inconsistent w/our brand values & the jars have since been removed. Thank you 4 bringing this 2 our attention," the Twitter account wrote back to the "Orange is the New Black" star.


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.