Opening Bell: 12.18.13

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Goldman Dances to the New Street Beat (WSJ)
The Wall Street company, which clung to its trading roots even after a regulatory overhaul drove rivals to change course, is now reining in riskier activities, shrinking its balance sheet and steering clear of trades that don't produce the double-digit-percentage returns its shareholders crave, Goldman executives and people familiar with the company's plans said...Goldman, which derives about half its revenue trading stocks, bonds and other securities, has begun moving away from trades that require it to set aside more capital. The company is demanding to be paid more from clients for the money it does commit. At the same time, it is shrinking the inventory of securities it holds for clients, a step that frees up capital and boosts its returns. The goal is to eke out more profit from its trading unit, which in recent quarters has struggled amid tepid client activity. The changes have been gradual, as Goldman waited for the regulations to take shape, and the company's overarching strategy remains intact.

Jury Still Out On SAC's Steinberg (NYP)
Jurors in the federal insider-trading trial of SAC Capital moneyman Michael Steinberg ended their first day of deliberations without a verdict. They will resume Wednesday at Manhattan federal court. Steinberg is the first of eight employees of Steve Cohen’s SAC Capital caught in the feds insider-trading probe to go to trial. Six others have pled guilty while the eighth, Mathew Martoma, is scheduled to go on trial in January.

Ex-SAC manager Martoma fails to end part of insider case (Reuters)
A federal judge on Tuesday rejected former SAC Capital Advisors LP portfolio manager Mathew Martoma's request to dismiss some insider trading charges because they were based on transactions not covered under U.S. securities laws. U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe in Manhattan said Martoma's alleged trades in American depository receipts of Irish drugmaker Elan Corp (ELN.I) qualified as domestic transactions covered by U.S. securities laws. As a result, the judge rejected Martoma's request to dismiss one of two securities fraud charges, as well as related allegations in a conspiracy count. The defendant has pleaded not guilty to the three counts, and faces a January 6 trial.

UBS, Credit Suisse Payout Hopes Ebb as Regulators Tighten Leash (Bloomberg)
Prospects for fatter dividend payouts from Switzerland’s biggest banks are receding as Swiss authorities ratchet up capital demands. UBS AG (UBSN), the nation’s largest bank, was told to hold more capital for legal risks this quarter, while the finance minister said last month leverage rules might be tightened. Credit Suisse Group AG (CSGN), the No. 2 bank, is in talks with the regulator that may also lead to a demand for more capital, though it would be much smaller in scope than for UBS, a person with knowledge of the matter who asked not to be identified said this month.The tighter requirements, on top of stricter rules implemented over the past five years, arrived as the banks were preparing to start paying higher dividends. UBS Chief Executive Officer Sergio Ermotti, 53, pledged to pay out more than half of profits to shareholders once the company reaches a common equity ratio of 13 percent -- a level that probably would have been achieved this year without the fresh demands. “The message from regulators is very clear: ‘if you think you can pay dividends, forget it,’” Oswald Gruebel, who served as CEO of both Zurich-based UBS and Credit Suisse, said by phone. “They don’t want to let banks pay any dividend. It’s totally open how long this will last.”

Duck penis studies, lifecoaches for Senate staff: $30B in government spending questioned (NYP)
While the White House and Congress griped this year about the pain of automatic budget cuts, the federal government still managed to spend billions of dollars on seemingly frivolous projects – from a $384,989 grant for Yale University to study the duck penis to $1.9 million for “lifestyle” lessons for Senate staffers. Nearly $30 billion in questionable federal spending is detailed in the “Wastebook” that was released Tuesday by the Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who annually compiles the report...Taxpayers also got stuck with the bills for: $17.5 million for special tax exemptions for Nevada brothels, including tax deductions for groceries, wages for prostitutes, rent and utilities...$630,000 spent by the State Department to buy followers on its Facebook and Twitter accounts...$325,525 for a National Institutes of Health study that found wives would be happier if they could calm down faster during arguments with their husbands...$150,000 to support the Puppets Take Long Island festival in Sag Harbor.

Bank of Canada sees less volatility from Fed tapering (Reuters)
Market volatility spurred by the U.S. Federal Reserve's plans to scale back its massive stimulus program is far less of a concern now than it was earlier this year, Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz told Reuters on Tuesday. Investors understand the Fed's thinking much better than they did when Chairman Ben Bernanke first mentioned the possibility of tapering the U.S. central bank's $85 billion in monthly asset purchases on May 22, Poloz said. The market's huge one-way bets on the Fed continuing its so-called quantitative easing suddenly had to reverse at that time, causing market turmoil, but Poloz argued that the impact now will be much smaller.

Banks to Revamp Leveraged Muni Funds After Volcker Curbs (Bloomberg)
Wall Street banks are trying to prevent the Volcker Rule from forcing them to wind down funds that use borrowed money to bet on the $3.7 trillion municipal-bond market. The rule, named for former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker and approved by regulators last week, limits banks’ ability to run investments known as tender-option bond funds. The investments form a $70 billion segment of the local-debt market, according to the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association. The funds issue short-term securities and use the proceeds to buy longer-maturity local-government obligations, profiting from the difference in interest rates. The purchases help lift demand for tax-exempt debt by giving investors a way to make leveraged bets on munis. Banks are searching for ways to restructure the funds to keep them in compliance with the law, which goes into effect in 2015.

SEC Brings Fewer Enforcement Actions, Slows Early-Stage Probes (WSJ)
As the agency pushes into a new era of enforcement not dominated by the financial crisis, it is bringing fewer cases, according to figures released by the SEC Tuesday. In addition, the rate at which the SEC is starting early-stage probes, known as matters under inquiry, has fallen to its lowest level in at least a decade, according to previously unpublished figures released separately to The Wall Street Journal. But the more selective approach presents risks for SEC Chairman Mary Jo White if she fails to win some blockbuster cases to support her get-tough rhetoric, legal experts said. Since taking over the top job at the securities regulator in April, Ms. White has promised more aggressive and wide-ranging enforcement, saying the agency should "be the kind of cop…[that] makes you feel like we are everywhere." Now, the agency is under pressure to bring more headline-grabbing actions to convince both Wall Street and Main Street that Ms. White's talk carries weight. "The only way to do that is to have a run of significant cases and get very good settlements or, when you go to trial, make sure you win—and, right now, they're not doing either one of those," said Thomas Gorman, a former SEC enforcement lawyer who is now a partner at the law firm Dorsey & Whitney LLP.

$1M in meth found in upscale Lake Nona home (WTFV)
Federal agents and deputies said they got a tip the drugs were stashed on Kristen Park Drive in Lake Nona, so they set up surveillance and made the bust last week...Inside, agents found 80 pounds of meth worth $1 million hidden in a closet under the stairs...In the driveway was a car with a stuffed Walter White toy. Actor Bryan Cranston played White on the television show "Breaking Bad." Fans of the show know White as the master "chef" who cooks crystal meth with his partner, Jesse Pinkston.

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Opening Bell: 11.26.12

UBS Stung By Adoboli Case (WSJ) Swiss financial market regulator Finma said it will keep a close eye on UBS's investment bank for the foreseeable future and may ask it to raise fresh capital, following an investigation into failures that allowed London-based trader Kweku Adoboli to make unauthorized trades. At the same time, the U.K. Financial Services Authority fined UBS £29.7 million ($47.6 million). Mr. Adoboli was convicted of fraud last week and sentenced to a seven-year prison term. "The measures ordered by Finma include capital restrictions and an acquisition ban on the investment bank, and any new business initiative it plans must be approved by Finma," the regulator said. Finma will also consider "whether UBS must increase capital backing for its operational risks," will appoint a third party to ensure corrective measures are introduced, and will organize an audit to review the steps taken by UBS. Finma declined to say when the auditing review would be completed or when a decision on a capital increase would be made, though a spokesman said this is likely to be within months rather than years. SAC Fund Manager Faces Choice of Trial or Deal (Bloomberg) Martoma, 38, used illegal tips to help SAC make $276 million on shares of pharmaceutical companies Elan Corp. and Wyeth LLC, according to the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission. Arrested last week, he is to appear today in Manhattan federal court for masterminding what the U.S. calls the most lucrative insider-trading case ever. Flowers Foods Sizes Up Hostess (WSJ) The Thomasville, Ga., company is considered a likely bidder for some of the assets owned by Hostess, which last week was granted permission by a federal bankruptcy-court judge to begin liquidating. The end came after a contentious bankruptcy that began in January and culminated this month in a strike. Goldman Turns Down Southern Europe Banks as Crisis Lingers (Bloomberg) Goldman Sachs, the No. 1 stock underwriter in Europe, turned down roles in offerings by banks in Spain and Italy this year, the only top U.S. securities firm not to take part in the fundraisings by southern European lenders as the region’s debt crisis stretches to a fourth year. The firm declined a role in Banco Popular Espanol SA’s 2.5 billion-euro ($3.2 billion) rights offering this month because it wanted greater protection to avoid potential losses on the sale, two people familiar with the talks said. JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley are helping to guarantee the deal. Goldman also didn’t underwrite this year’s share sales by Italy’s UniCredit SpA and Portugal’s Banco Espirito Santo SA, which drew Bank of America Corp. and Citigroup. Knight Seen Getting Acquisition Bids This Week (Bloomberg) The company with a market value of about $430 million was bailed out by six financial firms in August after losing $457 million in a trading error. Chicago-based Getco LLC, one of the rescuers, and Virtu Financial LLC in New York are among the likely bidders, said the person, who requested anonymity because the negotiations are private. The Wall Street Journal reported Nov. 23 that Knight expected offers for its market-making unit. Woman who rode manatee charged with violating protection act (Sentinel) A 53-year-old Pinellas County woman was arrested Saturday for violating the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act by riding a sea cow in the waters near St. Petersburg in September. Ana Gloria Garcia Gutierrez of St. Petersburg was arrested at her place of employment — Sears at Tyrone Square Mall in St. Petersburg — on a warrant issued by the State Attorney's Office. The charge is a second-degree misdemeanor. The punishment could be a $500 fine or up to 60 days in jail, the Tampa Bay Times said. Gutierrez stepped forward after the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office released photos of a then-unknown woman riding a manatee near Fort DeSoto Park in Pinellas County on Sept. 30. "Gutierrez admitted to the offense claiming she is new to the area and did not realize it was against the law to touch or harass manatees,'' the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said in a statement. Escrowyou too, judge! (NYP) Argentina, bruised and battered after a 10-year battle to sidestep billions of dollars in bond payments, is lashing out at US courts and a Manhattan federal court judge. A high-ranking member of Argentina President Cristina Kirchner’s administration terms “judicial imperialism” the Thanksgiving eve ruling by Judge Thomas Griesa that ordered the South American country to place a $1.3 billion bond payment in escrow pending the end of the legal tussle. Kirchner has repeatedly said she would not pay up. Griesa, frustrated with Argentina’s repeated attempts to stall the legal proceedings, sided with New York hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer, whose Elliott Management owns Argentine bonds that were defaulted on back in 2002. 'Cliff' Threatens Holiday Spending (WSJ) The White House warned in a new report that going off the so-called "fiscal cliff" could slow the growth of real gross domestic product by 1.4% and limit consumer spending during the holiday season. The report comes as lawmakers are returning to Washington with just weeks left to find an agreement to prevent taxes from going up on millions and spending cuts from kicking in. It will likely provide fodder for both political parties as they seek to find a compromise. At Some Firms, Cutting Corporate Rates May Cost Billions (WSJ) President Barack Obama has said, most recently during last month's presidential debates, that the 35% U.S. corporate tax rate should be cut. That would mean lower tax bills for many companies. But it also could prompt large write-downs by Citigroup, AIG, Ford and other companies that hold piles of "deferred tax assets," or DTAs...Citigroup, for instance, acknowledged during its recent third-quarter earnings conference call that a cut in the tax rate could lead to a DTA-related charge of $4 billion to $5 billion against earnings. Cohen's General Counsel Gives SAC Boss Cover (NYP) The sharks of the US Attorney’s office have SAC Capital Advisors surrounded — and owner Steven Cohen is looking a lot like chum. Good thing the billionaire hedgie has a large supply of shark repellent. That would be Peter Nussbaum, SAC’s longtime general counsel who, over his 12 years at the Stamford, Conn., firm, has built up an impressive 30-person compliance department — not including an additional tech compliance team. “Nussbaum is the most respected person at SAC,” said a hedge fund executive not at SAC. “He is going to do what he thinks is best for the firm and not be cowed by anyone.” Nussbaum’s huge compliance department, observers said, was built, in large part, because of the perception that the government was determined to bust Cohen. Confidential Police Docs Found in Macy's Parade Confetti (WPIX) Confidential personal information is what some paradegoers found among confetti tossed during the world's most famous parade. That information included social security numbers and banking information for police employees, some of whom are undercover officers. Ethan Finkelstein, who was home from college on Thanksgiving break, was watching the parade at 65th Street and Central Park West, when he and a friend noticed a strip of confetti stuck onto her coat. "It landed on her shoulder," Finkelstein told PIX11 News, "and it says 'SSN' and it's written like a social security number, and we're like, 'That's really bizarre.' It made the Tufts University freshman concerned, so he and his friends picked up more of the confetti that had fallen around them. "There are phone numbers, addresses, more social security numbers, license plate numbers and then we find all these incident reports from police." One confetti strip indicates that it's from an arrest record, and other strips offer more detail. "This is really shocking," Finkelstein said. "It says, 'At 4:30 A.M. a pipe bomb was thrown at a house in the Kings Grant' area." A closer look shows that the documents are from the Nassau County Police Department. The papers were shredded, but clearly not well enough.

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.