Opening Bell: 02.04.14

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U.S. Banks Eased Lending Standards in Late 2013 (WSJ)
Banks generally eased their lending policies for commercial and industrial loans in the fourth quarter, citing increased competition and less uncertainty about the economy, according to the Fed's quarterly survey of senior bank loan officers.

Anglo Irish executives blamed for Irish banking crisis go on trial (Guardian)
Three leading figures in the defunct and disgraced Anglo Irish Bank – Sean FitzPatrick, Pat Whelan and William McAteer – will each face 16 charges of unlawfully providing financial assistance to individuals for the purpose of buying shares in Anglo Irish Bank in 2008. All of the charges relate to transactions with 16 individuals who allegedly received financial assistance from the accused trio between 10 July and 17 July 2008. The three former bankers deny all the charges against them. Among the star witnesses expected to give evidence will be Ireland's one-time richest man, Sean Quinn, who borrowed billions from the bank to fund a global property portfolio during the Celtic Tiger boom years. When property prices collapsed across the world, Quinn owed billions and had to file for bankruptcy.

Euro May Be Resurfacing as a Safe Haven (WSJ)
The chief driver of the change has been the euro zone's large and growing current-account surplus—a broad measure of trade—analysts at BNP Paribas say. The surplus has several effects. For one, it means steady demand for euros: The euro zone is exporting more than it is importing. The current-account surplus in November widened to €23.5 billion, the highest ever. The ECB's low interest rates also makes loans in euros attractive. Overseas borrowers can use them to fund riskier, high-yielding investments elsewhere, much as investors have long funded investments with ultracheap borrowing in Japanese yen.

With Fortune Falling, a 1 Percent Divorce (NYT)
It was into [740 Park] that Elizabeth and Kent Swig stepped during a season of high financial spirits. That the Swigs managed to scale such heights surprised no one: They were something of a royal couple in property circles. Their marriage, in 1987, had united two of America’s great real estate clans, the Macklowes of New York on her side, and the Swigs of San Francisco on his. By the time the couple arrived on Park Avenue, in 2002, Kent Swig, a charismatic dealmaker with a surfer-dude demeanor, was already starting to build a name for himself with equal parts debt and daring. As the onetime protégé of his father-in-law, Harry B. Macklowe, the powerful New York property developer, Mr. Swig was soon credited with helping transform the dull-as-bond-tables financial district into a fashionable residential address. In a business where there was always revolving credit and a bigger deal, the only way, it seemed, was up. At the peak, his properties were worth an easy $3 billion. Then Lehman Brothers went bust and the bottom fell out, and the Swigs’ life collapsed beneath them, in a 10-figure version of the great American housing crisis. Creditors called in loans. Mr. Swig had personally guaranteed an estimated $116 million of debts. Lawsuits flew. One business partner struck Mr. Swig with an ice bucket.

A Lonely Bet Against Portugal’s Debt (Dealbook)
...while he may not bring with him the buzz of billionaire hedge fund moguls like Daniel S. Loeb and William A. Ackman, David Salanic, the chief executive of Tortus Capital, has his own target — Portugal — and it is bigger in size than any of the major corporations that have come under attack by his larger peers. Putting it bluntly, he said he believed that the country, despite accolades for its economic reform efforts, would soon default on its private sector bonds — in the same way Greece did in 2012...His thesis is that Portugal, with one of the slowest growth rates of any country in Europe, is in no position to make good on its debt, which, at 128 percent of gross domestic product, is on the verge of passing Italy to become the second-largest in the euro zone after Greece. Moreover, Mr. Salanic said he believed that the country’s debt was understated and that if you added in debts guaranteed by the state, as well as other off-balance-sheet transactions that state-owned corporations have put in place with foreign banks, the true figure approaches 150 percent of economic output.

Police: Man bites off brother's ear at Super Bowl party (USAT)
A man here is accused of pulling a Mike Tyson, biting off part of his brother's right ear following a Super Bowl party. Sean Fallon-Nebbia, 27, was charged with first-degree assault, a felony, after he and his brother fought at the tail end of a Super Bowl party in Fallon-Nebbia's apartment, just before midnight Sunday, according to Rochester City Court documents. He is also accused of punching his brother, Frank Fallon-Nebbia, in the face several times, rendering him unconscious when emergency responders arrived...Court papers allege that the brothers drank more than a bottle of whiskey together at the Super Bowl party and were roughhousing after the game when the incident occurred. A doctor who treated the injured brother told police that the ear was permanently disfigured, court documents show. Another resident of the apartment told police that the brothers were drunk, were "play wrestling," and latched onto one another before they "turned violent and aggressive."

Government likely to exhaust debt-ceiling options soon, Lew warns (WaPo)
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew urged Congress on Monday to act quickly to raise the federal debt limit, saying he will run short of cash to pay the nation’s bills by the end of the month without additional borrowing authority. Enforcement of the debt limit is suspended, but it will come back into force Friday under the terms of a deal lawmakers struck in the fall. That leaves Lew bumping up against the limit in tax-filing season, he said Monday, when he will have far less flexibility to juggle the books and ward off disaster. “Unlike other recent periods when we have had to use extraordinary measures to continue financing the government, this time these measures will give us only a brief span of time,” Lew said in a speech at the Bipartisan Policy Center. “Given these realities, it is imperative that Congress move right away to increase our borrowing authority.”

Buffett, Bezos, Brin: Top Execs Ride 2013 Rally (WSJ)
Warren Buffett, Jeffrey Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg and a handful of other top executives notched multibillion-dollar paper gains from their companies' shares in 2013, highlighting the outsize winnings some corporate insiders made during last year's rally. Mr. Buffett's holdings of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. appreciated by $12.7 billion last year. Amazon.com Inc. shares held by Mr. Bezos jumped by $12 billion in 2013, while the value of Mr. Zuckerberg's stake in Facebook Inc surged by $12 billion.

Insider case to jury as Martoma awaits fate (NYP)
In closing arguments Monday, prosecutors reminded the 12-person jury of the evidence they heard over the four-week trial — including testimony that Martoma got illegal tips from a drug-trial insider a week before the public did and then called his boss, SAC founder Steve Cohen. With the hot news in hand, Cohen sold out of a $700 million position in Wyeth and Elan shares — and then shorted the two stocks, it is alleged.

The Story Behind 'Milk Road,' The Bitcoin Cookie Stand (Forbes)
When her 8-year-old’s elementary school class was studying the concept of money last year, Holly sent the teacher a note advising her to include virtual currencies in the lesson. The teacher never responded to the email. Holly decided she would teach the kids herself, with a real world lesson. When they decided to take their Christmas gift cookie stand to the farmer’s market to sell cookies, Holly set up a Bitcoin wallet for them and printed out the QR code so they might get a chance to see what a Bitcoin transaction is like. “Noe Valley is a neighborhood where lots of Facebook and Google people live so I thought they might know about Bitcoin and want to use it,” she says.

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Opening Bell: 02.07.13

Credit Suisse Returns To Profit (WSJ) In the fourth quarter, Credit Suisse's net profit was 397 million francs, compared with a net loss of 637 million francs a year earlier when restructuring charges weighed on earnings. Revenue, which includes interest income, fees and trading proceeds, rose 29% to 5.8 billion francs. Analysts had expected a profit of 563 million francs and revenue of 6.14 billion francs. State Lawsuits Could Add To S&P Exposure (WSJ) On Tuesday, the Justice Department sued S&P for allegedly causing some banks and credit unions to lose $5 billion after relying on the company's ratings of mortgage-linked securities. However, the $5 billion claim, which S&P has dismissed as "meritless," is only part of the legal battle being fought by the world's largest credit-ratings firm by number of deals rated. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia have followed in the Justice Department's footsteps, filing separate lawsuits against S&P on Tuesday. The California attorney general alone is suing S&P for about $4 billion to recover funds for two of the country's largest public pension funds, according to its lawsuit. Other states, such as Colorado and Arkansas, are demanding S&P give back the revenue it earned on precrisis ratings of hundreds of securities. State prosecutors allege S&P presented its ratings as based on objective and independent analysis but actually were inflated to cater to the banks that helped arrange and sell the securities. S&P Hires Top Defense Attorney for $5 Billion Lawsuit (Reuters) Standard and Poor's has hired John Keker, one of the country's top white-collar defense attorneys, to help fight the $5 billion lawsuit brought by the U.S. government this week. Keker, who is based in San Francisco and has represented everyone from cyclist Lance Armstrong to Enron's Andrew Fastow, was hired at the recommendation of Floyd Abrams, a prominent New York attorney who also represents the ratings firm. RBS Settles Rate Charges (WSJ) CFTC enforcement chief David Meister said Wednesday that the trading floor was "laden with conflicts of interest," where RBS traders "seized the opportunity to ask colleagues sitting in the next chair for false rate submissions." From mid-2006 to the end of 2010, traders at RBS tried hundreds of times to rig the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, sometimes succeeding, said U.S. and U.K. regulators as they announced a $612 million settlement with the British bank. ‘Historic Winter Storm’ Moving Toward U.S. Northeast (Bloomberg) A “potential historic winter storm” and blizzard may dump 2 feet of snow on Boston and eastern Massachusetts, potentially causing power outages and leaving 10 inches in New York City. Eighteen to 24 inches (46 to 61 centimeters) of snow may fall in Boston, and the city has an 85 percent chance of receiving at least 12 inches from the storm that is expected to arrive in two days, according to the latest forecast from National Weather Service in Taunton, Massachusetts, published at at 4:25 a.m. Eastern Standard Time. “Heavy snow and gusty winds will bring the potential for blizzard conditions. The worst of the storm will be Friday night into the morning,” the weather service said. The storm arrives on almost the 35th anniversary of the Blizzard of 1978, which killed 99 people, destroyed 2,000 homes, drove 10,000 residents into shelters and paralyzed eastern Massachusetts and northern Rhode Island for a week, according to the weather service. Ireland Moves Toward Debt Deal (WSJ) Under Ireland's new proposal, the government will provide a long-term bond to the Irish central bank that replaces the note, the Irish finance ministry said. IBRC will be liquidated and its remaining commercial property assets will be dispatched to Ireland's so-called bad bank, the National Asset Management Agency. Mr. Noonan told lawmakers early Thursday that there was still "no deal," but he needed to announce new powers to liquidate IBRC—the first step toward potentially striking such a debt agreement—to protect the country from unspecified legal challenges. Man Claims IRS Agent Coerced Him Into Sex (CBS) An Oregon man is suing the U.S. Government and a female IRS agent he alleges pressured him into sex, by threatening a tax penalty. Vincent Burroughs, of Fall Creek, Ore., says the harassing relationship began in August of 2011 when Dora Abrahamson, an agent with the Internal Revenue Service, called him and said he would be audited, CBS affiliate KVAL reports. Burroughs says he didn't know Abrahamson, and that he hadn't met her before those calls - nor had he heard that he was being audited by the IRS. "She was sending me texts that she wanted to come out, give me massages because she needed to help me relax," Burroughs said in a phone interview with KVAL News. Over the next two months, Burroughs alleges that Abrahamson sent him several flirtatious text messages - offering to give massages, asking to meet him, and sending racy photos of herself to his cell phone. "She said she knew more than my mother knew about me," said Burroughs. In the lawsuit, Burroughs says in September 2011 Abrahamson came to his home wearing provocative attire. "Next thing I know, she's at my gate, honking...so I opened my gate, she came into my property dressed exactly like [when] she texted me," Burroughs said. The lawsuit states: "She said that she could impose no penalty, or a 40% penalty, and that if he would give her what she wanted, she would give him what she needed." E-Mails Imply JPMorgan Knew Some Mortgage Deals Were Bad (NYT) When an outside analysis uncovered serious flaws with thousands of home loans, JPMorgan Chase executives found an easy fix. Rather than disclosing the full extent of problems like fraudulent home appraisals and overextended borrowers, the bank adjusted the critical reviews,according to documents filed early Tuesday in federal court in Manhattan. As a result, the mortgages, which JPMorgan bundled into complex securities, appeared healthier, making the deals more appealing to investors. The trove of internal e-mails and employee interviews, filed as part of a lawsuit by one of the investors in the securities, offers a fresh glimpse into Wall Street's mortgage machine, which churned out billions of dollars of securities that later imploded. The documents reveal that JPMorgan, as well as two firms the bank acquired during the credit crisis, Washington Mutual and Bear Stearns, flouted quality controls and ignored problems, sometimes hiding them entirely, in a quest for profit. Harvard’s Gopinath Helps France Beat Euro Straitjacket (Bloomberg) When French President Francois Hollande unveiled a plan in November for a business tax credit and higher sales taxes as a way to revive the economy, he was implementing an idea championed by economist Gita Gopinath. Gopinath, 41, a professor at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has pushed for tax intervention as a way forward for euro-area countries that cannot devalue their exchange rates. “Fiscal devaluation” is helping France turn the corner during a period of extreme budget constraints, former Airbus SAS chief Louis Gallois said in a business- competitiveness report Hollande commissioned. Gopinath’s support for the theory took shape through her years teaching at Harvard and the University of Chicago and particularly as a Ph.D. student at Princeton University under the guidance of Kenneth Rogoff, Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas and Ben Bernanke, now chairman of the Federal Reserve. While her earlier work on current accounts and balance of payments garnered praise, it is her recent focus on the 17 euro nations that has national leaders paying action. John Thomas Financial Said To Draw Regulatory Probe (NYP) Wall Street brokerage firm John Thomas Financial, owned by flamboyant founder and CEO Tommy Belesis — who gained more than 15 minutes of fame from his role in Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” — is being probed by the brokerage industry, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the FBI, The Post has learned. Agents from the FBI’s New York office have been knocking on doors of people associated with the firm, asking questions about JTF’s business practices, including cold calling by brokers and Belesis’ overseas accounts, sources told The Post. Fewer Workers Filed Claims for U.S. Jobless Benefits Last Week (Bloomberg) Applications for jobless benefits dropped 5,000 to 366,000 in the week ended Feb. 2, Labor Department figures showed today. Economists forecast 360,000 claims, according to the median of 53 estimates in a Bloomberg survey. Big Mac Prices Show Which Euro Zone States Best at Belt-Tightening (Reuter) Economist Guntram Wolff took the data and found that the price rise in Greece, Portugal and Spain has been less than the euro zone average, while in Ireland the price actually fell. These are the main countries undergoing deep economic reform due to the debt crisis. This contrasts with price rises above the euro zone burger average in Germany. Wolff concludes from this that economic adjustment is working. For example, In Ireland, which has made spending cuts after receiving international aid, the burger price has fallen from 3.80 euros to less than 3.50 euros. There is one notable exception, however. Heavily-indebted Italy is the most expensive country in the euro area to buy a Big Mac - 3.85 euros - while it costs just 3.64 euros in Germany. PETA: Naked chicken corpses aren't sexy (CM) The American founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, president Ingrid Newkirk, criticised a newspaper for running a picture of a raw chicken. "We don't want to see any chickens on display, but instead want them to live natural, happy lives with their families. Sexily displaying the corpse of a chicken who has been bred to grow so big, so quickly, that many collapse under their own weight, is just additionally offensive."

Opening Bell: 04.08.13

Portugal Seeks Budget Options (WSJ) Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho said he would look for fresh spending cuts to keep Portugal's €78 billion ($101 billion) international bailout program on track following a Constitutional Court decision that threw his government into crisis by striking down some of its planned austerity measures. Hedge Fund Star Gets A Hip-Check (WSJ) Jeffrey Vinik's Tampa Bay Lightning are struggling, but the performance of his National Hockey League team isn't the only worry for the veteran stock-picker. Investors have asked to pull around $1.5 billion from his hedge-fund firm after a period of poor performance, according to people briefed on the matter. The withdrawal requests amount to around 18% of the roughly $8 billion that was run by Vinik Asset Management. The redemption requests have come as Mr. Vinik, who rose to fame in the 1990s as the manager of Fidelity Investments' Magellan fund, has added a new investment team and moved from Boston to Tampa to be closer to the Lightning, the franchise he owns. The moves have raised concerns in some quarters that Mr. Vinik, 54 years old, may have become less focused on investing, according to people familiar with the firm. Lew To Press For Policy Changes (NYT) Jacob J. Lew began his first trip to Europe as Treasury secretary on Sunday, a four-city tour in which he is expected to try to persuade finance ministers to pursue a little more growth and a little less austerity to improve the economic fortunes of the Continent and the world. Rogue Trader Leeson to Advise Irish Borrowers on Bank Debts (Bloomberg) Nick Leeson, the trader whose wrong- way bets on Japanese stocks ruined Barings Plc, is joining a mediation firm to advise Irish borrowers looking to renegotiate debts in the wake of the real estate collapse. Leeson, 46, who has lived in Ireland for more than 10 years, will join GDP Partnership as a principal as it expands into Dublin, the company said in a statement posted on Twitter by Leeson. There is “a lot of fear and stress currently in the country with debt the root of the problem,” it said. Greek Bank Merger Halted (WSJ) Greece's two largest lenders are heading for state control after their merger was halted by the government over the weekend. The unexpected move came after National Bank of Greece and Eurobank came up short in their plans to raise capital and amid fears by the country's international lenders that the combined entity could become too big to be bailed out by the government. Putin Faces Down Topless Protest In Germany (Reuters) Russia urged Germany to punish a group of women who staged a bare-breasted protest against President Vladimir Putin on Monday during a visit to a trade fair in Hanover with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Three members of the women's rights group Femen, which has staged protests against Russia's detention of the feminist punk band P*ssy Riot around Europe, disrupted a visit by Putin and Merkel to an industry fair focusing on Russian business. They stripped off to the waist and shouted slogans calling the Russian leader a "dictator" before being covered up and bundled away by security men. "This is ordinary hooliganism and unfortunately it happens all over the world, in any city. One needs to punish (them)," said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. Investors Bankroll Lawsuits (WSJ) A new generation of investors is plunging into "litigation finance," putting up millions of dollars to fund lawsuits in hopes of collecting when verdicts come down. Established financiers are expanding into new areas, including loans to law firms, and finding clients among the biggest American companies. Meredith Whitney Blasts Critics In Debut Book (NYP) Prominent bank analyst Meredith Whitney comes out swinging at critics in her debut book, “Fate of the States.” The Wall Street financial analyst, who made headlines with her accurate 2007 prediction that Citigroup would cut its dividend amid the unfurling financial crisis, says she was “pilloried in the financial press” after she warned of looming state- and city-bond defaults resulting from budget shortfalls. Whitney, who made her forecasts on CBS’s “60 Minutes” back in December 2009, blasted critics who claim her prediction of municipal-bond defaults suggested they would all happen at once: “For the record, I never said those 50 to 100 defaults would all happen in 2011.” Hedge Funds Cut Bets Most Since ’08 as Prices Slump: Commodities (Bloomberg) Hedge funds reduced bets on a commodity rally by the most since 2008 as rising supplies of everything from copper to sugar and slowing U.S. growth drove prices to the biggest slump in six months. General Electric to Buy Lufkin Industries for $3.38 Billion Cash (Reuters) Lufkin, which sells and services oilfield pumping units and power transmission products, has operations in the U.S., Canada, Latin America, the Middle East, and Europe. Man shot with arrow at gentleman's club (KN) The incident occurred around 3:30 a.m. Sunday at The Ball Gentleman’s Club at 3005 Alcoa Highway. Police responded to a E-911 call that someone had been shot, but upon arrival they discovered it wasn’t with a gun. A member of The Ball Gentleman’s Club security personnel appeared to have been shot with an arrow Powell said. Officers conducted an immediate search of the area, but were unable to locate the suspect. The victim was treated on scene.