Opening Bell: 12.16.13

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Germany Appears To Backtrack On EU Banking Deal (WSJ)
EU finance ministers have promised to agree on a so-called single-resolution mechanism—consisting of more centralized decision-making and financing for the shuttering or downsizing of failing banks—before the end of the year. But a letter sent by Wolfgang Schäuble to some of his counterparts sets clear limits on how far Europe's biggest economy is willing to go. Mr. Schäuble's letter, dated Dec. 12 and seen by The Wall Street Journal, was described by German officials as reiterating Berlin's concerns expressed in recent talks. But several other European officials see it as backtracking on earlier German concessions that had made possible an agreement last Tuesday on broad principles among the finance ministers of the euro zone's biggest countries. That preliminary agreement was meant to lead to a more-specific and detailed deal among 28 EU countries this week.

UBS Wins End to Suit Over Adoboli’s $2.3 Billion Losses (Bloomberg)
UBS won dismissal of a suit claiming the bank lied to investors about its risk-management practices before its disclosure of a $2.3 billion trading loss by “rogue trader” Kweku Adoboli. Adoboli, who worked in UBS’s London office, was convicted of fraud and sentenced to seven years in prison last year. The unauthorized trading loss was the biggest in British history. “That a ‘rogue trader’ was able to cause such a significant loss to UBS is more akin to a claim of mismanagement than of fraud,” U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest in Manhattan said yesterday in a ruling dismissing the suit.

Fed could set off year-end fireworks (Reuters)
Though the odds still point to no major policy change when U.S. central bankers meet December 17-18, most of the recent domestic economic data suggest the beginning of the end of their massive bond-buying program is coming sooner than later. If it acts it may reflect as much a growth in confidence in the global economy, for whom the withdrawal of the flow of cheap dollars will be a shock, as in the recovery in the United States alone. Growth in jobs, retail sales, services and overall output in the world's biggest economy - combined with last week's breakthrough budget deal in Washington - has convinced some economists that the Fed will announce a reduction to its $85-billion a month in purchases on Wednesday.

Gold Funds See Unprecedented 31% Slump as World Loses Faith (Bloomberg)
Holdings in the 14 biggest ETPs plunged 31 percent to 1,813.7 metric tons since the start of January, the first annual decrease since the funds started trading in 2003, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The removals erased $69.5 billion in the value of the assets as prices fell by the most since 1981. A further 311 tons will be withdrawn next year, according to the median of 11 analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg. ETP investments reached a record $148 billion last year, helping sustain the bull market that drove a more than sixfold increase in prices since 2001 by offering a way to own bullion without needing to store it. The slump shows some investors losing faith in gold as a preserver of wealth after inflation failed to accelerate and the Federal Reserve signaled it may curb stimulus. John Paulson, the biggest investor in the largest ETP, said last month he doesn’t plan to buy more.

A Cold Meal (NYP)
Billionaire businessman Steve Schwarzman likes cold hard cash. But a meat-locker-cold steakhouse? Not so much. With temperatures already dipping into the teens on Thursday night, a shivering Schwarzman groused multiple times at a private dinner hosted by the private-equity tycoon’s Blackstone Group at Smith & Wollensky. “Can we get some heat in here?” Schwarzman griped during the event at one point.

Wal-Mart Employee Arrested For Shooting Co-Worker’s Car Over Award (CBS)
According to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report last month’s employee of the month at a Deerfield Beach Wal-Mart store on South Military Trail had her car shot up by a co-worker who was angry after she won the award. Willie Mitchell is charged with discharging a firearm from a vehicle. The Broward Sheriff’s Office said surveillance video from a Wal-Mart parking lot shows Mitchell parking next to a co-worker’s earlier in December. A few minutes later, investigators said Mitchell rolls down a back window, fires a shot into his co-worker’s car then drives off. The co-worker was not in her vehicle at the time. BSO Spokesperson Veda Coleman-Wright said the shooting stemmed from some bad feelings after the victim won an Employee of the Month Award. “She was announced as the employee of the month which you would think that would be something good, people would be happy for her,” Coleman-Wright said. “But there was one employee who wasn’t happy.”

Government Rests Case Against Former SAC Trader (Dealbook)
After three weeks and 13 witnesses, the government on Friday rested its insider trading case against Michael S. Steinberg, a former fund manager at SAC Capital Advisors. The defense’s case will take considerably less time. It said it might call one witness on Monday, and then both sides will present their closing arguments. Mr. Steinberg will not take the witness stand.

Banks Live Up to Too-Big-to-Fail Name (WSJ)
For the first time in years, the cost of insuring $10 million of debt against default at all six of the biggest U.S. banks has fallen to about $100,000 or less annually, according to data from Markit. In the wake of the financial crisis, credit-default swaps for some of the banks were at various points priced as much as four to six times higher.

U.S. Exchanges Near Deal for Infrastructure Upgrade (WSJ)
U.S. exchanges are near an agreement to upgrade a central piece of the country's trading infrastructure that critics say has been neglected and caused a serious market outage in August, according to people with knowledge of the discussions. Designed to avoid another large-scale breakdown, the plan would establish faster backups for a key part of the market's plumbing known as securities information processors, or SIPs, which consolidate the quote and trade data from exchanges before it is displayed to the public.

Madoff: I Helped Feds Nab JP Morgan (NYP)
The 75-year-old felon boasted in an email made public Friday that he provided “key information” to the Treasury’s Inspector General’s office that, presumably, was relayed up the chain of command and eventually used by Manhattan prosecutors in their expected $2 billion criminal action against the bank. At this point, it isn’t clear if the disgraced swindler provided any substantial evidence, or any evidence at all, in identifying JPMorgan or any other banks as being aware of his $20 billion-plus scheme. Madoff made his claim from the Butner (NC) Federal Correctional Complex — where he’s serving a 150-year sentence — in an email to CNBC correspondent Scott Cohn.

Sex party couple accused of €1m tax fraud (The Local)
The husband and wife were questioned by police after officers broke up one of their sex parties in a Frankfurt hotel room on Wednesday evening. There were five people present including the couple. The pair from Brandenburg are accused of failing to declare takings for the last eight years from their pricey events where entry cost €180 ($247) per person. They now owe the treasury almost €1 million in tax payments from earnings made from around 450 sex parties organized since 2005, authorities said. The man, aged 51, and woman, aged 49, organized parties across the country, a Frankfurt police spokesman told The Local on Friday. He added that the couple had been barred from the hotel. Both of the organizers claimed...unemployment benefits and are officially registered as unemployed.

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By Jones7224 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Opening Bell: 8.1.16

Gundlach says sell everything; Goldman is making Olympics predictions; Lawsuit filed in New York over handling of dachshund's $100,000 trust fund; and more.

Opening Bell: 09.10.12

US To Slash Stake In AIG (WSJ) The U.S. Treasury Department said it will sell $18 billion of American International Group Inc., slashing its stake in the New York company by more than half and making the government a minority shareholder for the first time since the financial crisis was roaring in September 2008. Banks Rethinking Executive Compensation (WSJ) At J.P. Morgan, the biggest U.S. bank by assets, directors are considering lower 2012 bonuses for Chief Executive James Dimon and other top executives in the wake of a multibillion-dollar trading disaster, said people close to the discussions. But they also are grappling with the question of how to do that without drastically reducing the executives' take-home pay, the people said. More than 93% of Mr. Dimon's $23 million in compensation last year came from either stock- or cash-based bonuses. Citigroup's board, meanwhile, is expected to decide this fall how to fine-tune next year's compensation plan to win broader support among investors, people familiar with the situation said. Former UBS trader faces trial over $2.3 billion losses (Reuters) Investment banker Kweku Adoboli, who was arrested a year ago when the huge losses came to light, has pleaded not guilty to two charges of fraud and two of false accounting related to disastrous trades that UBS says were unauthorized. "Given how serious the consequences of the incident were, we must assume that UBS's culture and practices will be examined during the course of the trial," UBS chief executive Sergio Ermotti told the bank's staff last week. "As uncomfortable as the entire trial will be for UBS, it will show us what the consequences are when misconduct occurs or when individuals do not take their responsibilities seriously," he wrote in an internal message published on its website. Alligators, Bearded Dragons Among Wild Animals Seized in Brooklyn Raid (DNAI) Police seized 13 exotic animals, including alligators, bearded dragons, and a tarantula in the raid of a public housing unit Friday, police said. On Friday afternoon at 1:30 p.m., Animal Care and Control officers removed five pythons and a boa constrictor, as well as two alligators, two bearded dragons, a gecko, a scorpion, and a tarantula, from the fifth-floor apartment of a Crown Heights public housing complex called the Weeksville Houses, police said, as part of an ongoing investigation. ‘Lead or Leave Euro’, Soros Tells Germany (FT) “Lead or leave: this is a legitimate decision for Germany to make,” the billionaire financier and philanthropist said in an interview with the Financial Times. “Either throw in your fate with the rest of Europe, take the risk of sinking or swimming together, or leave the euro, because if you have left, the problems of the eurozone would get better.” Few Hedgies Kicking Butt (NYP) There are some bright spots in hedge fund land, however, thanks in large part to Apple, which has long been a favored holding of the funds seeded by or spun out of Julian Robertson’s Tiger Management. Chase Coleman’s Tiger Global, which he co-manages with Feroz Dewan, gained 21 percent through August, and the flagship of Lee Ainslee’s Maverick Capital, one of the original Tiger cubs, rose 20 percent. Deutsche Bank Chiefs To Unveil Plans (WSJ) A major question is whether Deutsche Bank will need to raise capital. Tougher regulatory capital requirements are being phased in starting next year, and the bank will need as much as €10 billion to meet the new targets, analysts say. Nomura CEO Sees Overseas Units Posting Profit by June 2014 (Bloomberg) Nomura Holdings’s Koji Nagai, who took over as chief executive officer last month, said he plans to make overseas operations profitable by June 2014 at Japan’s largest brokerage. “We are not going to lower the flag as a global bank,” Nagai, 53, said in an interview in Tokyo on Sept. 7. “We want be an Asia-based global investment bank.” Schumer: Newfangled detergent 'pods' look too much like candy (NYDN) The Consumer Product Safety Commission should crack down on detergent companies whose superconcentrated cleanser “pods” look so much like candy that even a sitting senator wanted to gobble one. Since April, 40 local children in the city have mistakenly downed the colorful laundry packs such as Tide Pods, leading to numerous hospitalizations, some emergency intestinal surgery, and pangs of hunger of Sen. Charles Schumer. “The incidents are skyrocketing,” Schumer said Sunday joined by several medical professionals. “These pods were supposed to make household chores easier, not tempt our children to swallow harmful chemicals. I saw one on my staffer's desk and I wanted to eat it.”

Opening Bell: 09.04.12

Moody's Gives EU Warning (WSJ) Moody's Investors Service has put the European Union's triple-A credit rating on a negative outlook in a move that reflects actions the ratings firm has taken on some of the euro-zone's largest members, including Germany and the Netherlands. "Moody's believes that it is reasonable to assume that the EU's credit-worthiness should move in line with the credit-worthiness of its strongest key member states considering the significant linkages between member states and the EU," Moody's said in a release. Fears Rising, Spaniards Pull Out Their Cash and Get Out of Spain (NYT) After working six years as a senior executive for a multinational payroll-processing company in Barcelona, Spain, Julio Vildosola is cutting his professional and financial ties with his troubled homeland. He has moved his family to a village near Cambridge, England, where he will take the reins at a small software company, and he has transferred his savings from Spanish banks to British banks. “The macro situation in Spain is getting worse and worse,” Mr. Vildosola, 38, said last week just hours before boarding a plane to London with his wife and two small children. “There is just too much risk. Spain is going to be next after Greece, and I just don’t want to end up holding devalued pesetas.” In July, Spaniards withdrew a record 75 billion euros, or $94 billion, from their banks — an amount equal to 7 percent of the country’s overall economic output — as doubts grew about the durability of Spain’s financial system. According to official statistics, 30,000 Spaniards registered to work in Britain in the last year, and analysts say that this figure would be many multiples higher if workers without documents were counted. That is a 25 percent increase from a year earlier. Europe Bank Chief Hints At Bond Purchases (WSJ) The comments by Mario Draghi in a closed hearing at the European Parliament on Monday came ahead of the ECB's monthly policy meeting Thursday. That meeting has been keenly awaited in the financial markets for further details of how the bank could help bring down the funding costs of countries such as Spain and Italy to prevent them from having to seek full euro-zone bailouts like Greece, Ireland and Portugal. Switzerland Flirts With Recession (WSJ) "Three months ago, the Swiss economy looked charmingly strong against the backdrop of the euro zone and now it is looking on the brink of recession," said Janwillem Acket, chief economist at Julius Bär in Zurich. Nigeria Uncovers Cocaine-Stuffed Roasted Chicken (AP) The roasted chickens had an unusual stuffing — $150,000 worth of cocaine, according to Nigerian police. A Nigerian mechanic who struggled in Brazil for more than six years had hoped the drugs would buy him a life of luxury in his native land, Nigerian authorities said Monday. "This was like a retirement plan for him," said Mitchell Ofoyeju, spokesman for the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency. The accused was arrested over the weekend at the airport in Lagos after he came in from Sao Paulo with 2.6 kilograms (5.7 pounds) of cocaine, Ofoyeju said. Photos from the agency showed egg-shaped packages wrapped in gold aluminum foil and tucked into the browned chickens. Citibank Hid Firm’s Financial Troubles, Ex-Partner at Dewey & LeBoeuf Says (NYT) In a recent court filing, the former partner, Steven P. Otillar, says Citibank conspired with Dewey's management to hide the law firm's true financial condition in the months before its collapse. Mr. Otillar made the claim in response to a lawsuit brought against him by Citibank seeking repayment of a $210,000 loan. The bank lent Mr. Otillar the money to pay for his capital contribution to Dewey when he joined the partnership in August 2011. (New partners typically must make a financial contribution to a law firm when they join.) The filing said that Citibank had extended Mr. Otillar the loan as part of a fraudulent scheme intended to benefit Citibank and Dewey's management. By recruiting him and other partners to join the financially troubled firm in the months leading up to its demise—and collecting millions of dollars from them—Dewey's partners enriched themselves and kept the firm afloat. Credit Suisse Exec Facing Arrest Order (Reuters) A judge in Argentina has ordered the arrest of Credit Suisse executive and former US Treasury Undersecretary David Mulford because he failed to testify over a 2001 Argentine debt swap, the state news agency reported today. Federal Judge Marcelo Martinez de Giorgi will ask Interpol to issue an international arrest warrant seeking Mulford’s extradition for questioning over the bond exchange carried out by the government in an unsuccessful bid to avoid default. Bernanke Channeling Hatzius Dismissing Gross New Normal (Bloomberg) Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke is betting the new U.S. economy is the same as the old one as he lays out arguments for more stimulus to revive it. He made that diagnosis last week in a rebuttal to those who blame an 8.3 percent unemployment rate on structural shifts in the economy wrought by the financial crisis and who contend joblessness is permanently elevated. “I see little evidence of substantial structural change in recent years,” Bernanke told fellow central bankers and economists at the annual monetary-policy symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. “Following every previous U.S. recession since World War II, the unemployment rate has returned close to its pre-recession level.” Ice Picks Are Still Used As Weapons (NYT) Mann Rosa, 32, who lives on Perry Avenue about a block from the scene of the recent attack, said ice picks were back in vogue among street gangs all across the city. “The ice pick, from what I know, is the new thing,” Mr. Rosa said, noting how easy it was to buy and conceal. “It’s definitely the new wave.” Toward the end of the conversation, almost as if he had an afterthought, Mr. Rosa said he had been stabbed repeatedly with an ice pick about two years ago during a street fight. He rolled up the sleeve of his T-shirt to reveal two dime-size wounds, not unlike scars from a smallpox vaccination, on his shoulder and upper arm. “I was stabbed once in the chest, once in the back and twice in the arm,” Mr. Rosa said; it took 12 stitches to close the wounds. Asked if the police ever caught the perpetrator, Mr. Rosa laughed and shook his head. “We got this thing called street justice. We don’t go to the cops over something like that.”

Opening Bell: 04.16.12

Downgrades Loom For European Banks (WSJ) Under pressure from banks, Moody's Investors Service said Friday that it is delaying until early May its highly anticipated decision on whether to downgrade the credit ratings of 114 banks in 16 European countries. Moody's announced the review in February, saying it was needed in light of the banks' weak conditions and the tough environment in which they're operating. It had planned to start unveiling the decisions this week. Obama Bid to End Too-Big-to Fail Undercut as Banks Grow (Bloomberg) Two years after President Barack Obama vowed to eliminate the danger of financial institutions becoming “too big to fail,” the nation’s largest banks are bigger than they were before the credit crisis. Five banks-- JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and Goldman Sachs-- held $8.5 trillion in assets at the end of 2011, equal to 56 percent of the U.S. economy, according to the Federal Reserve. Five years earlier, before the financial crisis, the largest banks’ assets amounted to 43 percent of U.S. output. The Big Five today are about twice as large as they were a decade ago relative to the economy, sparking concern that trouble at a major bank would rock the financial system and force the government to step in as it did during the 2008 crunch. “Market participants believe that nothing has changed, that too-big-to-fail is fully intact,” said Gary Stern, former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Carlyle Takes Cautious Approach in IPO Price (WSJ) Carlyle Group plans to sell 30.5 million shares priced between $23 and $25 in its initial public offering, which could come before the end of the month, according to people familiar with the matter. Those shares would represent about 10% of the Washington, D.C., private-equity firm, in a deal that would value Carlyle at more than $7 billion, these people said. That value is toward the lower end of what earlier had been expected...Carlyle is putting less emphasis on pricing shares high at the IPO, instead hoping they rise in value once they are traded, according to people familiar with the matter. Bond Recipes Use Fresh Ingredients (WSJ) With risk-taking in vogue again, Wall Street is betting on the revival of a market for bonds made out of everything from "The English Patient" to fried chicken. The amount of so-called esoteric bonds backed by unusual assets has nearly doubled this year compared with the same period a year ago, according to Credit Suisse. Thus far this year, there have been $5.6 billion in deals done, more than twice the $2 billion in the same period last year. Over the past several months investors have bought bonds backed by revenue from Domino's Pizza DPZ +0.34% franchises, Miramax films, patents for drugs like Clarinex and Flumist and loans to buyers of Wyndham vacation time-shares. The deals show investors are becoming comfortable again with Wall Street's engineering skills, after many were hammered during the financial crisis by losses on bonds backed by subprime home loans and complex debt pools known as collateralized-debt obligations. The esoteric sales also mark a rare growth area for giant banks that have been hit hard by a slowdown in deal-making and trading. Four-year-old Heidi Hankins joins Mensa with 159 IQ (BBC) A four-year-old girl from Hampshire has been accepted into Mensa with an IQ just one point below Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking. Heidi Hankins from Winchester has a 159 IQ. She taught herself to read and was able to count to 40 at two years old. British Mensa chief executive John Stevenage said Heidi's parents "correctly identified that she shows great potential." According to Mensa, the average adult IQ score is 100. Geithner Rebuts Romney on Women and Jobs (WSJ) As the fight for women voters intensified in recent days, Mr. Romney took a swipe at Mr. Obama by saying women had borne the vast majority of job losses over the past three years. Labor Department data show women do account for 92.3% of the workers who have lost jobs since Mr. Obama took office in January 2009. But men suffered deeper job losses than women in the year before Mr. Obama's inauguration and men have gained more jobs than women since the recovery began in 2009. "It's a ridiculous way to look at the problem," Mr. Geithner said of Mr. Romney's criticism. Mr. Geithner on Sunday also defended the Obama administration's efforts to reduce the federal budget deficit, and said there was "no risk" that the U.S. would go through a debt crisis in the next two years like the one Greece is experiencing. But he had a warning for Congress, when asked on NBC's "Meet the Press" about whether Congress would act to raise the government's debt ceiling again at the end of this year. "This is Congress's obligation to do as they have always done in the past," he said. "It would be good for the country this time if they did it with less drama." Barclays' Tax Deal Faces US Scrutiny (FT) Barclays’ controversial tax planning business will come under fresh scrutiny in a U.S. court this week over whether a transaction designed by the bank cost the U.S. government more than $1 billion in lost tax receipts. The U.S. Internal Revenue Service claims that complex, cross-border deals Barclays structured for several mid-tier banks in the last decade were an abusive tax shelter that exploited loopholes between U.S. and U.K. tax laws. Prime Brokerages Consolidate After 'Big Bang' (Reuters) Hedge funds are cutting back on the brokerage accounts they hold as the prime brokerage industry begins to consolidate more than four years after the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy blew the sector wide open. Goldman Sachs Said to Raise $2.5 Billion in ICBC Sale (Bloomberg) The Wall Street firm is selling $2.5 billion of shares at HK$5.05 each, according to two people with knowledge of the matter. It sold 3.55 billion shares, or 4 percent of ICBC’s Hong Kong-traded shares, to Temasek, the Singapore state-owned investment group said. Temasek, which is increasing stakes in China’s biggest banks, paid $2.3 billion for the stock, based on the per-share price and stake size. 'Hug Me' Coke Machine Asks for Hugs, Delivers Free Coke (MFDC) Coca-Cola's global marketing campaign dubbed "Open Happiness" takes on a new twist with a Coke vending machine that asks passers by to give it a hug. The big red and white machine, located at the National University in Singapore, has "Hug Me" written across its front side. And people are actually hugging it...and given free Cokes.