Opening Bell: 12.23.13

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Goldman Real-Estate Play Skirts Volcker Ban (WSJ)
The Volcker rule prohibits banks from owning more than 3% of a hedge fund or private-equity portfolio. So why did Goldman Sachs Group Inc. tell would-be investors that it would contribute up to 20% in a new fund that makes loans backed by office buildings, hotels, shopping centers and other properties? Because regulators excluded many real-estate loans from the tough restrictions on investment funds, allowing Wall Street firms to continue making concentrated bets—sometimes risky ones—with their own capital. Goldman has raised more than $1 billion for the new fund, according to people briefed on the matter. The fund aims to boost that total to $2 billion, and Goldman expects to invest "up to 20% of total equity commitments," according to September marketing documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Banks Avoid Providing Bitcoin Services (WSJ)
Lenders are leery of dealing with virtual-currency companies because of concerns that the businesses could run afoul of anti-money-laundering laws or be involved in illegal activities, banking executives say. Regulators and central bankers around the world have raised similar concerns in recent months. The problem has grown so acute that some owners of fledgling virtual-currency businesses are trying to elude bank scrutiny by avoiding the words "bitcoin" or "bit" in their names, according to entrepreneurs and investors who actively track the industry. Patrick Murck, general counsel for the Bitcoin Foundation, a trade group, has been raising the issue in meetings with regulators and bank executives. "This is definitely causing a bottleneck in the industry," he said in an interview. "The ability of companies to get bank accounts is necessary so that they can take the next step in building out the core bitcoin infrastructure."

For a Hedge Fund Pioneer, a Tiger Fund Burning Bright (Dealbook)
Julian Robertson, the billionaire investor and an early pioneer of the hedge fund industry, is again proving to be a top picker of new talent. His $450 million Tiger Accelerator Fund, which invests in six hedge funds that Mr. Robertson personally has invested in, is up 22.6 percent net of fees as of Dec. 15, according to a person briefed on the matter. By comparison, the broadest hedge fund industry index is up just about 9 percent for the year...The six hedge funds that the Tiger Accelerator Fund’s performance tracks are Tiger Veda Globa, Cascabel, Long Oar Global, Tiger Eye, Tiger Ratan and Teewinot. The Accelerator fund’s $450 million investment is on top of the roughly $230 million Mr. Robertson committed of his own money to those funds.

Kanye Vuitton Jibe Shows Even Rich Balk at Luxury Prices (Bloomberg)
Kim Kardashian might as well be naughty this Christmas, because even if she’s nice her fiancé is unlikely to shell out for a Louis Vuitton handbag...Kanye West, who gave reality TV star Kardashian a diamond ring worth millions to celebrate their engagement, told a U.S. radio show recently that Vuitton’s prices are “just too extreme.” The criticism by West, who has collaborated with the Paris-based label on products including a range of $1,000 sneakers, is a signal some luxury companies may be charging too much, turning off even the wealthiest clients.

Russia Crisis Haunts Deutsche Bank’s Smith Seeing China Bust (Bloomberg)
When the Deutsche Bank AG equity strategist looks at the country, he says he detects some of the same signs of a financial meltdown that led him to predict Russia’s 1998 stock market crash months in advance. China’s expansion is being fueled by soaring corporate borrowing, a high-risk model that needs to be replaced by the kind of free-market measures and budget cuts that fed Russia’s growth in the aftermath of the country’s default and subsequent 44 percent monthly tumble in the Micex Index (INDEXCF), Smith said. “There is potential for a debt trap in industrial companies which can trigger an economy-wide financial crisis as early as next year,” Smith said in an interview from London on Dec. 12, a day after he issued a report predicting China’s slowdown will lead to a 10 percent decline in emerging-market stocks next year. “If I am wrong on China, I am wrong on everything.”

Wife rats out hubby’s illegal $600K Super Bowl pools (NYP)
A wife furious with her football-obsessed husband dropped a dime on a Staten Island gin mill — sparking a rare raid that shut down $600,000 in ­Super Bowl pools last week. “How can the SLA allow a $1 million illegal football pool at Talk of the Town?” the angry spouse wrote the State Liquor Authority on Nov. 13. “My husband spends all his money on these pools and not on our children.” The SLA put a rush investigation on the anonymous complaint. Last Sunday night, two investigators barged into the neighborhood saloon’s annual Christmas party. They flashed badges and snapped photos of pool boards taped to the mirrored bar back, witnesses told The Post. The Talk of the Town Tavern, at 24 Giffords Lane in the Great Kills section, was advised to shut down the gambling. SLA lawyers are now reviewing whether to slap the owner, Larry Burkert, 55, with violations carrying a typical fine of $2,500 for a first offense. The bar has told patrons the pools are dead and bettors will get ­refunds, sources said.

IMF will raise US economic growth forecast: Lagarde (Reuters)
The International Monetary Fund predicts the U.S. economy would expand at a faster pace next year, given positive economic data and some signs of compromise in Congress, the head of the Washington-based lender said on Sunday. IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde also praised the U.S. Federal Reserve's communication of its decision last week to start scaling back its massive monetary stimulus. "Growth is picking up,'' Lagarde said on NBC's "Meet the Press.'' "And unemployment is going down. So all of that gives us a much stronger outlook for 2014, which brings us to raising our forecast.''

Guilty SAC trader’s pal after conviction: ‘ooooohhh f–k’ (NYP)
Convicted SAC trader Michael Steinberg had a real pal in former hedge fund exec Andy Heller during his four-week trial, which ended Wednesday. Heller, whose brother Sandy is an art consultant for SAC founder Steve Cohen, attended the downtown Manhattan courthouse proceedings regularly. And when Steinberg was convicted, Heller, 41, the former COO of Exis Capital, could be seen throwing his head back and moaning, “ooooohhh f–ck,” sources told On The Money.

Christmas Eve scramble on for LightSquared (NYP)
The tug-of-war over wireless start-up LightSquared continues to rage into the holidays. A group led by private-equity shop Fortress is seeking to raise $2 billion in debt to buy the Reston, Va., start-up out of bankruptcy, sources told The Post. Dish Network Chairman Charlie Ergen, meanwhile, pressed a bankruptcy judge this week to move on his competing $2.2 billion offer.

Hedge funds lose out to equities, again (Reuters)
For hedge funds that made money this year there was only one strategy that really mattered - latching onto the stockmarket rally. For everyone else 2013 proved another tough year as big-name funds as varied as global macro, commodity and computer-driven funds struggled to make money, eating further into the track record of these one-time 'masters of the universe.' So far this year the average hedge fund is up 8.2 percent - their best year in three but lower than a near 21 percent rise in the MSCI World Index .MIWD00000PUS for stocks.

Wienermobile serves as Cinderella's carriage at wedding (QCT)
It wasn’t quite a sparkling carriage created by a fairy godmother out of a pumpkin and pulled by four white steeds. But newlyweds Erin Lounsberry and Jason Platt would not have been happy with anything less than the carriage for which they have been lobbying since September to carry them from their wedding at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Davenport to their reception at Black Hawk State Historic Site in Rock Island. Yes, it was Oscar Mayer’s Wienermobile, decked out with a sign on the back that said, “Just Linked,” and pulling a chain of empty ketchup and mustard bottles instead of the traditional tin cans. Lounsberry has a bit of an obsession with the red and yellow Wienermobile. Platt said he was aware of the obsession. “I’ve known her 17 years and I’ve seen her obsession,” he said.

Programming Note: We’re on an abbreviated, vacation-esque schedule. Opening/closing wraps and brief sprinkles of moral support should the urge to reach out and touch you strike us (or Goldman Sachs releases a holidaycard featuring Lloyd as a naughty elf).

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Opening Bell: 10.04.12

France’s LBO Firms See ‘Death’ From Hollande’s 75% Carry Tax (Bloomberg) Hollande, who released his first annual budget on Sept. 28, plans to tax fund managers’ share of the profit from their investments, known as carried interest, at a rate of as much as 75 percent, part of a wider effort to increase taxes on the wealthy and narrow the country’s deficit. France also plans to as much as double taxes on capital gains and restrict the amount of debt interest payments a company can deduct from its taxable income, a measure that will reduce returns on leveraged buyouts. Facebook Test Turns Users Into Advertisers (FT) Facebook is testing a new product in the US that allows ordinary users to pay to promote their own status updates, marking a shift in the social network’s willingness to charge its users for a core service. The product has potential to generate revenues, analysts said, but could also threaten the organic feel of the site as people pay to market their own social lives. Mark Zuckerberg Confirms: 'I wear the same thing everyday' (DL) "I mean, I wear the same thing every day, right? I mean, it's literally, if you could see my closet," Zuckerberg starts to explain, as Lauer asks if he owns 12 of the same gray t-shirt. "Maybe about 20," Zuckerberg admits, somewhere between discussing the future of Facebook, his daily routine, the iPhone 5, and his wedding to college sweetheart Priscilla Chan last May. The Facebook CEO says that he doesn't really have much in his closet — it's mainly used by his wife, who graduated from medical school at the University of California at San Francisco shortly before their marriage. Instead, Zuckerberg's identical t-shirt collection lives in the one drawer he's allotted. Tiger Global Up 22.4 Percent (Reuters) Tiger Global, one of the world's best-performing hedge funds, ended the third quarter with strong gains, leaving the fund up 22.4 percent for the year, two people familiar with the numbers said on Wednesday. The roughly $6 billion fund, run by Chase Coleman and Feroz Dewan, has been the darling of the investment community for its string of strong returns at a time when the average hedge fund is delivering only low single-digit returns. In 2011, when most funds nursed losses, Tiger Global captured headlines with a 45 percent gain for the year after having made a good chunk of money on the short side, people familiar with the portfolio said. 'Dark Pool' And SEC Settle (WSJ) The Securities and Exchange Commission alleged in its order that Boston-based broker-dealer eBX LLC allowed the third-party operator of its trading platform, called LeveL ATS, to use details on client orders, including the stocks involved and whether they were buy or sell orders, to its own advantage. That operator is Lava Trading, an electronic-trading unit of Citigroup, according to eBX. eBX agreed to pay $800,000 to settle the SEC's allegations. It did so without admitting or denying wrongdoing. Mohamed El-Erian: No corner offices at PIMCO (Fortune) "It doesn't matter whether you're CEO or whether you're an associate, you have the same size office. No corner offices. Just a conference room. And then I knew that I had made the right decision when my very first outing with PIMCO, I had come from the IMF, 15 years working on emerging markets. I had a swagger, I thought I knew what I was talking about. I put forward my view, and this summer intern felt safe enough to get up and say, "You know what? Mohamed is wrong and this is why he's wrong." The fact that PIMCO had created this safe zone where a summer intern could get up and question someone who was supposed to be an expert confirmed to me that I was in the right place." Bank-Friendly U.S. Regulator Shifts Focus to Revamp Reputation (Bloomberg) In a stately hearing room stuffed with senators and bankers, Thomas Curry began his apologies. His agency should have stopped a major bank from helping drug cartels launder cash. The violations went on for years while his agency was overly passive. “I deeply regret we did not act sooner,” he said. Curry had been on the job for just over three months on that day in July, so the mistakes hadn’t been made on his watch. His apologies were less a confession than a signal the new Comptroller of the Currency -- long seen as the most bank- friendly of U.S. regulators -- was changing course. “I’m not interested in what people thought about in the past,” Curry said in an interview. “My focus is going forward.” Since he took over in March, at least two key staff members closely associated with the agency’s pro-industry stance have departed, notably chief counsel Julie Williams. Williams, a 19- year OCC veteran, was known for helping nationally chartered banks resist state regulation by arguing they were preempted by often less-stringent federal rules. Curry has also raised the profile of consumer protection and shifted focus toward “operational risk” -- the idea that bank practices and management can pose as much of a threat to safety and soundness as external forces. Argentine Navy Ship Seized In Asset Fight (FT) An Argentine naval vessel crewed by more than 200 sailors has been seized in Ghana as part of an attempt by the US hedge fund Elliott Capital Management to collect on bonds on which Buenos Aires defaulted in 2001. A Ghanaian court ordered an injunction and interim preservation order against the ARA Libertad, a 100-metre long tall ship, following an application by Elliott subsidiary NML Capital on Tuesday. The hedge fund, run by the US billionaire Paul Singer, has been closely monitoring the course of the Libertad, according to sources familiar with the firm. Elliott had been waiting for the ship to stop in a port where it would have a chance to enforce legal judgments previously awarded by UK and US courts. The hedge fund declined to comment. Argentina slammed the interception of the Libertad as a “trick which these unscrupulous financiers” had pulled, adding that it “violates the Vienna Convention on diplomatic immunity”. Morgan Stanley commodities talks with Qatar hit snag (Reuters) Morgan Stanley's talks with Qatar's sovereign wealth fund over the sale of its commodities business have run into difficulty, and the deal may need to be reworked if it is to go ahead, banking sources said. One of the top banks in commodity trading over the past 30 years, Morgan Stanley has been in discussion for more than a year with Qatar over the sale of at least a majority stake in the energy-focused trading business, the bankers said. "There have been some differences, and Qatar is a bit lukewarm about it," one said. "It's not dead yet but definitely not imminent." Maple syrup stolen in Quebec seized by police in New Brunswick (The Star) Quebec police have seized between 700 and 800 barrels of maple syrup from a New Brunswick exporter, linking the drums to August’s massive heist of the sweet stuff. Étienne St-Pierre, owner of S.K. Exports in Kedgwick, N.B., told the Star that police executed a search warrant Sept. 26 and hauled away the barrels. “They said they were searching to find some stolen drums from Quebec,” he said. “It was a surprise. That was the first news I received.” St-Pierre said each barrel weighs about 270 kilograms and holds 170 litres of syrup, meaning police seized at least 119,000 litres of gooey Quebec gold. A spokesperson for the Sûreté du Québec, Sgt. Bruno Beaulieu, confirmed a search warrant had been executed in Kedgwick but said he could not comment on the investigation. The Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers has never revealed the amount of syrup stolen from its secure St-Louis-de-Blandford, Que. warehouse in August. The facility held about 3.75 million litres of syrup, enough to fill one and a half Olympic swimming pools. St-Pierre said he obtained the barrels from a regular Quebec supplier, who he refused to identify.

Opening Bell: 4.22.16

Hedge funds want Puerto Rico to pay more cash; Ex-banker charged following IMDB probe; Hamilton’s fifth-great-grandson breathes sigh of relief; Suspect throws meat at Texas police in high steaks chase; 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.”

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Opening Bell: 6.7.17

Santander gives in to Popular demand; Lloyd Blankfein's Twitter game is...odd; shareholder activism taken to its goriest limit; and more.

Opening Bell: 9.24.15

Pimco tops Gross; PF Changs tainted by alleged insider trading; Deutsche says Fed might sit tight 'til 2017; Guy robs banks dressed as Rick James; "Oklahoma man discovers he was shot twice after celebrating birthday"; and more.