Opening Bell: 01.17.14

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Morgan Stanley Surpasses Estimates on Record Brokerage Earnings (Bloomberg)
Morgan Stanley, owner of the world’s largest brokerage, reported profit that beat analysts’ estimates as equity-trading revenue increased and earnings from wealth management climbed to a record. Fourth-quarter net income fell to $181 million, or 7 cents a share, from $594 million, or 29 cents, a year earlier, the New York-based company said today in a statement. Profit was 50 cents a share excluding an accounting charge tied to the firm’s own debt, a tax benefit and legal expenses, beating the 44-cent average estimate of 26 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.

BNY Mellon's fourth-quarter profit shows modest gain (Reuters)
Excluding a one-time item, the world's largest custody bank earned $628 million, or 54 cents a share, compared with $622 million, or 53 cents a share, a year earlier. In the latest quarter, the bank recorded an after-tax loss of $115 million on an equity investment. The latest per-share result matched analysts' expectations, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. Net income was $513 million, or 44 cents a share.

Portugal Dodges S&P Downgrade But Risk Remains (WSJ)
Credit-rating firm Standard & Poor's said on Friday it decided against downgrading Portugal's rating after conducting a review of the bailed-out state, reflecting what it called "signs of stabilization." The firm said it believes Portugal's coalition government remains committed to austerity measures imposed on it by the terms of European Union and International Monetary Fund's €78 billion ($107 billion) bailout program. Still, it maintained a "negative" outlook on Portugal—a sign that it could still downgrade the country in the coming months. Portugal is rated double-B, two levels below investment grade.

Activist plots snack attack on Oreo maker: source (NYP)
Nelson Peltz, the activist investor who owns a 2.3 percent stake in the maker of Oreos, Fig Newtons and Ritz crackers, is looking to pressure snack food giant Mondelez International CEO Irene Rosenfeld to increase margins and, perhaps, explore selling the company’s coffee business, an industry source said. Peltz, if he decides to make the move before the Jan. 21 deadline, would nominate himself and perhaps a few other candidates to the board, the source added.

Weiner shoots back at jokester’s hot-dog tweet (NYP)
A passer-by said she spotted the disgraced former congressman waiting to buy a hot dog from a street vendor on Thursday — and couldn’t overlook the irony. “I just passed Anthony Weiner on Park Ave South in line for a hot dog,” tweeted Iris Blasi, a k a @IrisBlasi. “There are like 11 hidden jokes in that sentence.” Weiner, whose addiction to social media helped end his political career, quickly responded. “@IrisBlasi actually it was for biryani. Now how many are you down to?” he tweeted back.

Budget Woes Leave Swaps Agency Outgunned by Wall Street (Bloomberg)
Once little-known, the CFTC gained new powers under the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act to oversee swaps, the financial products that helped fuel the 2008 credit crisis. Continued staff defections and plummeting morale will leave the agency, with a budget of roughly $200 million, outgunned as it polices the $693 trillion worth of derivatives traded by firms like Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) and JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM), current and former regulators said. “The agency is underfunded and needs significantly more resources,” said Fred Hatfield, a former Democratic CFTC commissioner who is now at Patomak Global Partners, a Washington financial services consulting firm.

IPO Fund Lures Record Money in Best Year Since 1999 (Bloomberg)
The First Trust U.S. IPO Index Fund attracted $165 million in the last three months of 2013, the most for a quarter since it started in 2006, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That brought the total annual inflows to a record $280 million. The Bloomberg IPO Index climbed 64 percent last year, the biggest jump in 14 years, pushed by gains in Twitter and Hilton (HLT) Worldwide Holdings Inc. Facebook Inc. (FB), which began trading in 2012 and has the biggest weighting in the IPO fund, doubled.

CEO Corbat's Cachet Is Diminished as Citi's Latest Results Disappoint (WSJ)
While revenue for the year increased 10% and operating expenses fell 4%, the earnings report also broke the momentum for Mr. Corbat, who had won early plaudits for his low-key style and focus on costs since he took over from Vikram Pandit in October 2012. Mr. Corbat has tried to shrink the bank's historically bloated cost structure. Just a few months after taking over for Mr. Pandit, Mr. Corbat proposed a slate of new, more rigorous ways to track both individual performance and the bank as a whole. He also has sought to bring more accountability and discipline to a bank that was considered by some regulators, politicians and investors as too big to manage. Early on, Mr. Corbat set a target to save about $900 million by the end of 2013. The bank fell short of that target, saying it saved $872 million. Chief Financial Officer John Gerspach said on a conference call Thursday that there had been some "expense creep" in the fourth quarter.

Last surviving female Munckin from ‘Wizard of Oz’ dead at 95 (NYDN)
Ruth Robinson Duccini, the last of the original female Munchkins from the 1939 movie “The Wizard of Oz,” has died. She was 95. With her death, only one actor who played one of the original 124 Munchkins in the movie remains alive. Duccini died of natural causes in Solari Hospice Care Center in Las Vegas on Thursday. Her death was confirmed by Stephen Cox, author of “The Munchkins of Oz.” He says he learned of it from Duccini’s son...The only surviving original Munchkin is Jerry Maren, 93, of Los Angeles, who portrayed a member of the Lollipop Guild.

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Opening Bell: 10.16.12

Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit Resigns (WSJ) Citigroup Chief Executive Vikram Pandit is stepping down, effective immediately, and will be succeeded by Michael Corbat. "Given the progress we have made in the last few years, I have concluded that now is the right time for someone else to take the helm at Citigroup," Mr. Pandit said in a statement. "We respect Vikram's decision," Chairman Michael E. O'Neill said. "Since his appointment at the start of the financial crisis until the present time, Vikram has restructured and recapitalized the company, strengthened our global franchise and refocused the business." President and Chief Operating Officer John P. Havens also resigned. Mr. Corbat, who has spent nearly three decades at Citi, previously served as its CEO for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. "Mike is a proven, hands-on leader who is known for his focus on enhancing productivity, holding people accountable and practicing sound risk management," Mr. O'Neill said. "He has consistently delivered impressive bottom-line results at many of our major global business units and has forged a strong track record of improving efficiency and mitigating risk while also optimizing the allocation of the company's capital." Mr. Pandit is resigning as a board member as well. Vikram Pandit Steps Down, Jim Cramer Loses His Mind (CNBC) “This is a complete shock. No one expected this whatsoever,” said Cramer. "The divisions were all in very good shape, I don’t even want for a second to tell people that there was anything in the works to make this happen. There was nothing...this was the quarter where you give him a big raise, he was under a lot of pressure but he got this right.” Cramer lauded Citi’s earnings results and questioned why he would leave so abruptly. “Vikram Pandit, 24 hours ago, was the belle of the ball. This guy finally got it right. Something’s wrong here,” he said. "I don't know what the heck is going on here." Goldman Swings To Profit (WSJ) Overall, Goldman's investment-banking arm recorded revenue of $1.16 billion, up 49% from a year ago, although 3.2% lower than in the second quarter. Goldman said debt underwriting revenue surged to $466 million from $168 million a year ago. Stock underwriting revenue more than doubled to $189 million, though financial advisory revenue fell 2.7% to $509 million. Fixed income, currency and commodities client execution revenue rose 28% to $2.22 billion. Goldman posted a profit of $1.51 billion, compared with a year-earlier loss of $393 million. Earnings per share—reflecting the payment of preferred dividends—were $2.85 from a loss of 84 cents a year earlier. Net revenue, including net interest income, more than doubled to $8.35 billion. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected per-share earnings of $2.12 on revenue of $7.3 billion. Soros Demands Germany Stop Euro From Destroying Europe (Reuters) The crisis "is pushing the EU into a lasting depression, and it is entirely self-created," said Soros, chairman of Soros Fund Management. "There is a real danger of the euro destroying the European Union." He added: "The way to escape it is for Germany to accept ... greater commitment to helping not only its interests but the interests of the debtor countries, and playing the role of the benevolent hegemon." Wells Fargo Creates Markets Unit, Takes On Wall Street (Bloomberg) The division will be one of five main units under the Wells Fargo Securities brand and include equity and fixed-income sales and trading, commodities, prime services and futures clearing, the San Francisco-based firm said today in a statement. Walter Dolhare and Tim Mullins will oversee the division and report to John Shrewsberry, 47. Damien Hirst condemned for killing 9,000 butterflies in Tate show (Telegraph) Visitors to the exhibit at the Tate Modern in London observed the insects close-up as they flew, rested, and fed on bowls of fruit...Figures obtained from the Tate reveal that more than 9,000 butterflies died during the 23 weeks that the exhibition was open. Each week it was replenished with approximately 400 live butterflies to replace those that died – some of them trodden underfoot, others injured when they landed on visitors’ clothing and were brushed off. A spokesman for the RSPCA said: “In this so-called 'art exhibition’, butterflies are forced to exist in the artificial environment of a closed room for their entire lives. “There would be national outcry if the exhibition involved any other animal, such as a dog. Just because it is butterflies, that does not mean they do not deserve to be treated with kindness.” Reactions Ranges On Pandit Resignation (Reuters) Peter Jankovskis, co-chief investment officer of Oakbrook Investments: "I'm surprised...I would have expected he wanted to stay around and see some of the fruits of his labors there." Matt McCormick, analyst at Bahl & Gaynor: "He was not beloved by Wall Street. He was the accidental president. He was thrust into that position- he's a hedge fund guy." Florida cops hunt pee-wee coach for sucker-punching ref during game (NYDN) Referee Andrew Keigans told cops that he called the game a forfeit after West Park Saints assistant coach Dion Robinson, 43, made an ugly remark from the sidelines. Robinson was caught on camera pushing around Keigans before another coach restrained him. He then broke free, ran across the field and sucker-punched Keigans as he walked off the field, dropping the ref to the turf. Cops are still looking for Robinson and want to charge him with assault, the station reported.

Opening Bell: 01.24.13

Witness Adds Thread To SAC Probe (WSJ) A government informant has implicated a prominent former trader at SAC Capital Advisors, telling federal investigators the two swapped confidential stock tips for years, according to people briefed on the matter. The connection between ex-SAC portfolio manager Dipak Patel and the undercover mole, a California-based former portfolio manager at an investment fund, hasn't previously been disclosed. Mr. Patel and his lawyer didn't respond to requests for comment...Mr. Patel, who hasn't been charged with any wrongdoing, was a technology-stock manager who worked under Mr. Cohen for years before leaving in 2010. Obama To Name White As SEC Chief (WSJ) President Barack Obama on Thursday will name Mary Jo White, a former star prosecutor who pursued terrorists and mobsters in New York, to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission, a White House official said. Barclays CEO Says Bank Was Too Aggressive, Too Self-Serving (CNBC) The bank which paid a fine of 290 million pounds for manipulating Libor and was caught up in the payment protection insurance scandal, has been trying to turn a new leaf. Jenkins, who took over as CEO in August, said the company was addressing its past mistakes. "We were too aggressive, we were too short-term focused and too self-serving," Jenkins told CNBC at the World Economic Forum in Davos. "The industry, and Barclays, got it wrong on occasions," he added. Merkel Says Europe Must Persist With Reforms (CNBC) German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged European nations to continue the economic reforms they have begun and argued that the debt crisis offered an opportunity for the bloc to become more competitive. "The political experience is that often you need pressure for political structural reforms," she told delegates at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. "If Europe is in a difficult situation today we need to implement structural reforms now so that we may live better tomorrow," she said. Knight Capital's Profit Slides 84% (WSJ) Profit in the quarter to Dec. 31 fell to $6.5 million from $40.2 million a year earlier, with per-share earnings sliding to a penny from 43 cents, below the three-cent consensus among analysts polled by Thomson Reuters. Revenue fell 16% to $287.7 million. Jobless Claims Fall To 5-Year Low (WSJ) Initial jobless claims, a measure of layoffs, fell by 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 330,000 in the week ended Jan. 19, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires expected 360,000 new applications for jobless benefits last week. Two men charged with robbery, assault and battery after stealing $400 from Girl Scouts selling cookies (NYDN) Two men are being held on charges they stole nearly $400 from a group of Girl Scouts selling cookies at a store in Massachussetts. An adult supervising the Scouts suffered a broken nose and arm injuries trying to stop the men. Authorities say 22-year-old Nicholas Taverna of Greenfield and 25-year-old Cassidy Michalski of Deerfield were held on $5,000 bail each at their arraignment Tuesday on charges of unarmed robbery, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and shoplifting. Police say the suspects stole two cellphones from the Walmart in Northampton on Saturday and tried to trade them for drugs in Holyoke. When that failed, they returned to Northampton where they had seen the 11- and 12-year-old Scouts earlier, and stole their cash box. US Lawmaker Set to Unveil Financial Revamp (Reuters) The proposal, expected as early as this week, will come from House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, whose panel has been exploring a broad tax code overhaul for more than a year. Camp wants to slash the top corporate tax rate to 25 percent from 35 percent and simplify the code.Critics of the current corporate tax system note that the United States has one of the steepest corporate tax rates in the world. Commerzbank to Cut 6,000 Jobs (WSJ) The cuts, representing up to 12% of the bank's 49,215 full-time staff, will affect all group levels and units, in Germany and abroad, although online bank Comdirect AG and Polish unit BRE Bank will be excluded, according to an internal memo to staff. Japan Posts Record Trade Deficit (WSJ) Japan's trade deficit nearly tripled to a record ¥6.927 trillion ($78.3 billion) last year and few expect a drastic improvement anytime soon, leaving Tokyo no choice but to carry on with efforts to boost the economy. Citigroup’s Corbat Says Environment to Stay ‘Challenging’ (Bloomberg) “People recognize the times we are in, these are challenging times,” Corbat, 52, said in an interview with with Bloomberg Television’s Erik Schatzker at the World Economic Forum in Davos today. “Things will remain challenging going forward for a period of time. Our people recognize that.” Corbat replaced the ousted Vikram Pandit as CEO at the third-biggest U.S. bank in October. He has since announced plans to fire about 11,000 employees and pull back from certain markets as he seeks to cut Citigroup’s costs and boost rewards for shareholders. Profit at the lender’s ongoing businesses slid 8 percent last year while costs rose. Citigroup cut investment bankers’ bonuses by 10 percent to 20 percent globally after a revenue slump, people with knowledge of the matter said last week. Corbat said the firm can still be “absolutely competitive,” on banker pay. “I think morale is good,” he said, without saying whether the company plans to cut more jobs. “Our employees are very confident around the strategy if you think about what’s going on in the world today.” N.J. men sue Subway, claim they've been shorted on footlong sandwiches (AP) The suit, filed Tuesday in Superior Court in Mount Holly, may be the first legal filing aimed at the sandwich shops after an embarrassment went viral last week when someone posted a photo of a footlong and a ruler on the company's Facebook page to show that the sandwich was not as long as advertised. At the time, the company issued a statement saying that the sandwich length can vary a bit when franchises do not bake to the exact corporate standards. Stephen DeNittis, the lawyer for the plaintiffs in the New Jersey suit, said he's seeking class-action status and is also preparing to file a similar suit in Pennsylvania state court in Philadelphia. He said he's had sandwiches from 17 shops measured — and every one came up short. "The case is about holding companies to deliver what they've promised," he said.

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.

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Opening Bell: 7.28.16

U.S. says fund lawyer holds 1MDB clues; Fed looks to December; Sword pulled in pizza roll dispute; and more.