Opening Bell: 02.18.14 - Dealbreaker

Opening Bell: 02.18.14

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FX Traders Facing Extinction as Computers Replace Humans (Bloomberg)
Electronic dealing, which accounted for 66 percent of all currency transactions in 2013 and 20 percent in 2001, will increase to 76 percent within five years, according to Aite Group LLC, a Boston-based consulting firm that reviewed Bank for International Settlements data. About 81 percent of spot trading -- the buying and selling of currency for immediate delivery -- will be electronic by 2018, Aite said. “Foreign-exchange traders are much like stock floor traders: a rapidly dying breed,” said Charles Geisst, author of “Wall Street: A History” and a finance professor at Manhattan College in Riverdale, New York. “Once the banks realize they are costing them money, the positions will dwindle quickly.”

Bankers Reap Benefits of 2013 Rally (WSJ)
All benefited from a steep rise in bank stocks over the past year—shares of the top six U.S. banks on average rose 41% last year, compared with a 30% gain for the Standard & Poor's 500 stock index.

Former Barclays Employees Charged by U.K. Over Libor Rigging (Bloomberg)
Three former Barclays Plc employees were charged by U.K. prosecutors with conspiring to manipulate Libor, bringing the number of people accused in global probes to more than a dozen. Peter Charles Johnson, 59, Jonathan James Mathew, 32, and Stylianos Contogoulas, 42, were charged with conspiring to defraud between June 2005 and August 2007, the Serious Fraud Office said in an e-mailed statement today. The charges are the first related to manipulation of U.S. dollar Libor, the agency said, while previous cases were linked to interest-rate benchmarks tied to the Japanese yen.

Summers: US faces a 'Downton Abbey' economy (CNBC)
The U.S. is at risk of becoming a "Downton Abbey" economy, as the gap between the top 1 percent and the poor widens, former US treasury secretary Larry Summers has warned. In a comment piece for the Financial Times, Summers highlighted that the share of income going to the top earners in the U.S. has increased sharply, while real wages and family incomes remain stagnant. These conditions will last beyond the normalisation of the economic cycle and budget deficits, Summers added. "The cumulative effect of all these developments is that the U.S. may well be on the way to becoming a Downton Abbey economy. President Barack Obama is right to be concerned. Those who condemn him for 'tearing down the wealthy' and engaging in un-American populism are, to put it politely, lacking in historical perspective," Summers wrote.

How a Big Bet on Racing Suits Left U.S. Skaters in the Cold at Sochi (WSJ)
To be sure, no one knows what role, if any, the Mach 39 played in the team's performance. Some insiders say that once doubts about the suit were planted in the team's psyche, the skaters' collective mental focus was broken. Team U.S.A. itself has pored over a multitude of other factors that could have contributed to their poor showing: race tactics, skate blades and the decision to hold their pre-Olympic camp at high altitude...The dramatic turnabout, meanwhile, has created a crisis for Under Armour. With revenues of $2.3 billion, the Baltimore-based company has skyrocketed to prominence in recent years with sleek skin-gripping sports apparel that made it a darling of athletes and investors alike. Long term effects are yet to be known, but on Friday, the stock fell 2.38%. In an interview, Matt Mirchin, the company's director of marketing, said Monday the company still believes the skinsuit gave the skaters "the strongest chance of winning." But the controversy hit the company where it hurt most—its credibility in high quality athletic apparel—exactly when it needed to shine on the world stage. With more than 90% of its revenues coming from North America, its partnership with the U.S. speedskating squad was supposed to help the company vault into new international markets.

Nike is actually making Marty McFly’s self-lacing shoes (NYP)
When Marty and Doc set a course for 2015 to blend in they needed to dress like futurites. Marty slipped on a self-adjusting jacket and put on a pair of awesome runners that automatically laced themselves up. Before our very eyes they fastened to his feet. “Power laces!” Marty cried. Now you could be doing the same next year after Nike designer Tinker Hatfield confirmed at an event in New Orleans that power laces were coming for 2015. “Are we gonna see power laces in 2015? To that, I say YES!” Hatfield said. Further information such as what models will get the special lacing system was not disclosed.

White House, Republicans Rekindle Feud Over 2009 Stimulus (WSJ)
The White House on Monday released a report that said the law "saved or created an average of 1.6 million jobs a year for four years" and raised the country's gross domestic product by between 2% and 3% from late 2009 through mid-2011. The spending "initiated" 15,000 transportation projects and helped with the construction or improvement of nearly 6,000 miles of railway lines, the report said. On one of the most polarizing points, the White House report said the law "had at most a minimal impact on the long-run debt," arguing that the legislation resulted in economic growth that offset or eliminated its costs. Republicans had a much different view, with several party leaders Monday proclaiming the law a total failure. For years, GOP leaders have said the White House's promises of "shovel ready" projects underestimated the federal bureaucracy that goes into large-scale spending programs. Republicans also criticized a loan guarantee funded by the stimulus law that went to Solyndra LLC, a solar-panel manufacturer that filed for bankruptcy in 2011.

Soros cuts J.C. Penney, trims Herbalife, others follow (Reuters)
The New York-based firm, which ranked as J.C. Penney's second biggest investor, sold 6.15 million shares during the last three months of 2013, according to a regulatory filing on Friday. At the end of the quarter, the firm owned 13.8 million shares, down 30 percent from what it held at the end of the third quarter. It also cut its stake in Herbalife, where it was the fifth biggest investor.

Hedge Funds Raise Gold Bull Bets as Paulson Holds (Bloomberg)
Investors’ return to gold after the bear market in 2013 is driving prices to the longest rally since 2011. U.S. factory output unexpectedly fell in January, and emerging-market equities and currencies weakened. Paulson, the biggest owner of the largest exchange-traded product backed by the metal, left his holdings unchanged in the fourth quarter, a government filing showed.

Here's the Skinny on NBC's Olympic Latte Secret (WSJ)
Starbucks isn't an Olympic sponsor and is therefore forbidden to have an official presence here. The nearest Starbucks is about 350 miles away by car in a little-known city called Rostov-on-Don. The only branded coffee player is supposed to be McDonald's Corp, which has been gaining grounds globally with its McCafé outlets. Olympic sponsors such as McDonald's usually defend their turf more fiercely than a Team Canada goalie...The media giant, which paid $775 million for exclusive U.S. broadcasting rights for the Games, has erected the Sochi Starbucks in its cordoned-off area of the Olympic media center. Baristas serve the free java 24-hours-a-day to the roughly 2,500 people NBC says it sent here...Bringing in the joe is a delicate exercise. NBC flies in a rotating crew of some 15 baristas from Starbucks coffee shops in Russia, sets them up with accommodations in Sochi, and pays their regular wages. As with past Games, Starbucks has gladly cooperated with the effort...NBC says its Starbucks doesn't run afoul of Olympic rules, which prevent nonsponsor companies from showing their brands or offering products at Games facilities. Their logic: The secret coffee shop is secluded within an NBC facility and isn't open to the public. "It's a personal item," says Mr. Fritsche, who calls the drinks perk "a huge morale booster."

Cops: Ohio Woman Assaulted Supermarket Worker With Pair Of "Special Cut Filets" (TSG)
While shopping with her family at the Giant Eagle store in Brunswick, a city 25 miles south of Cleveland, Slyman “went to the meat counter to retrieve some special cut filets,” according to a police report. “At some point,” cops noted, “Slyman threw 2 of the filets” at Alzbeta Barath, a 64-year-old woman working the meat counter. The filets went flying “over an alleged comment Barath made earlier toward Slyman’s husband,” according to investigators. The derogatory comment--which Barath denied making--purportedly involved the weight of Slyman’s spouse. A witness told cops that she did not hear Barath say anything to the Slymans to prompt the filet assault.

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Opening Bell: 07.27.12

Barclays Faces New Scrutiny (WSJ) n what could turn out to be a new black eye for the bank, Barclays said the U.K. financial regulator has started an investigation into four current and former senior employees, including Chris Lucas, Barclays's finance director. The issue centers on the "sufficiency of disclosure" in relation to fees paid when Barclays conducted an emergency £7.3 billion ($11.45 billion) capital increase with Middle Eastern investors in 2008. The cash injection likely saved Barclays from being bailed out by the government and part-nationalized. The Financial Services Authority and Barclays declined to elaborate further the issue. Barclays said in a statement that it was confident it had satisfied disclosure obligations. In a separate debacle, Barclays said it put aside £450 million to cover the misselling of derivatives products to small businesses. Merkel, Hollande Vow to Do Everything to Defend Euro (Reuters) FYI: "Germany and France are deeply committed to the integrity of the euro zone. They are determined to do everything to protect the euro zone," they said in a joint statement. Treasury Eyes Funds Hidden Overseas (WSJ) he Treasury Department released new details Thursday of a plan to ferret out Americans' global tax dodging, though some lawmakers and banks remain concerned about the initiative's scope and regulatory costs. Treasury officials said they hope to finalize the system's basic rules by the fall and expressed confidence it would be on track for implementation by 2014 as scheduled. Congressional experts said the new system would recover $8.7 billion in tax revenues over 10 years. Facebook Growth Slows Again (WSJ) The company swung to a second-quarter loss largely weighed down by expenses from compensating employees with stock upon its initial public offering in May. Revenue in the second quarter was $1.18 billion, up 32% from $895 million a year ago. That revenue growth was the lowest percentage since at least the first quarter of 2011, when Facebook was more than doubling the amount of money it brought in from advertising, and to a lesser extent, the cut of fees it takes from payments on its platform. Facebook Falls After Report Fails To Quell Growth Concerns (Bloomberg) “It took a long time for the TV market and advertising to be truly understood, it took a long time for search, and I think we’re still in that learning curve with a lot of our clients,” COO Sheryl Sandberg said. The Guy In The Clown Nose? He's An Olympian (WSJ) Terry Bartlett is a world-class gymnast who leapt, tumbled and swung for the glory of Great Britain in three Olympic Games. Today, he is also a world-class clown. Ten times a week, he dons a red nose and floppy shoes to elicit chuckles at "O," a Las Vegas water-themed circus run by Cirque du Soleil. "It's better than having a real job," says the 48-year-old Bartlett...A few months after Bartlett's audition, Cirque hired him as an acrobat for a new show in Las Vegas. At first, he says, he had to confront some stigma about joining a circus. "Some people were like, whoa, that's not much of a move from what you've done," he says. But today, he says Cirque is so well-known that he gets few smirks. Spanish Banks Hit By Real Estate Woes (WSJ) Caixabank SA, Spain's third-largest lender by market value, number five bank Banco Popular Español SA, and smaller Banco Español de Credito SA, all said they had set aside most of their profit to bolster their buffers against property sector losses, after the government twice this year raised the minimum required provisioning level for banks. Caixabank said quarterly net profit tumbled 78% to €118 million ($145.1 million) and Popular's profit fell 37% to €75.4 million. Smaller Banesto, which is owned by banking giant Banco Santander SA, said quarterly profit sank 97% to €14.4 million. Goldman PR Guru's Charm School (NYP) Under Siewert, the bank has scheduled weekly roundtable meetings between the media and executives including Goldman President Gary Cohn and CFO David Viniar. In one of those meetings yesterday, rising-star Treasurer Elizabeth “Liz” Beshel Robinson met the press for the first time. Not everyone’s keen on the changes. Goldman’s financial rock star Viniar, sources said, has sworn off appearing on TV. JPMorgan Revamps Business Units (WSJ) The bank said Frank Bisignano, who was tapped in early 2011 to lead J.P. Morgan's transformation of its mortgage banking group, will become co-chief operating officer for the entire company, in addition to continuing as chief administrative officer of the firm. He will transition the mortgage business to Gordon Smith in early 2013. Matt Zames will serve as co-COO, and will remain head of the chief investment office and mortgage capital markets...J.P. Morgan said its investment banks, treasury and securities services and global corporate banks businesses are being combined into the corporate and investment bank unit, to be chaired by Jes Staley, CEO of the investment bank business. Mike Cavanagh, head of treasury and securities, will become co-CEO of the new unit, along with Daniel Pinto, who currently heads EMEA and global fixed income. Romney Riles Londoners With Comments On Olympics Games (Bloomberg) It was supposed to be Mitt Romney’s flawless world stage debut. Instead, the Republican presidential candidate spent the start of his overseas trip fending off a furor over his London Olympics comments and scrutiny of a fundraiser with bankers linked to the Libor rate-fixing scandal. “There’s a guy called Mitt Romney who wants to know whether we’re ready,” London Mayor Boris Johnson told 80,000 cheering people gathered at Hyde Park for the arrival of the Olympic torch last night. “Are we ready? Are we ready? Yes, we are!” Romney worked to put the controversy behind him today, scheduling an interview at Olympic Park to quell the storm of criticism over his comment that the city was unprepared to host the games. “After being here a couple of days, it looks to me like London’s ready,” he told NBC’s “Today” program. “What they’ve done that I find so impressive is they took the venues and put them right in the city.” In the July 25 NBC interview, Romney described reports of difficulties recruiting enough security staff for the games, which begin today, as “disconcerting” and said, “It’s hard to know just how well it will turn out.”

Opening Bell: 10.14.15

JP Morgan says trading looks bleak; Tech exec headed to Chipotle; Hedge funds' rough ride; Ex-Bank of America employee's murder trial gets date; Brooklyn taqueria will award 10% stake in business to anyone who can finish 30 pound burrito (plus margarita) in an hour; and more.

Opening Bell: 06.21.12

SEC Said To Depose SAC’s Cohen In Insider-Trading Probe (Bloomberg) Cohen, 56, was recently deposed by Securities and Exchange Commission investigators in New York about trades made close to news such as mergers and earnings that generated profits at his hedge fund, said one of the people, who asked not to be identified because the investigation isn’t public. Neither Cohen nor SAC Capital, which oversees about $14 billion, has been accused of wrongdoing. Four-Week Jobless Claims Average Reaches 2012 High (Reuters) Initial claims for state unemployment benefits slipped 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 387,000, the Labor Department said. The prior week's figure was revised up to 389,000 from the previously reported 386,000. Lawmakers Call For IPO Overhaul (WSJ) A bipartisan group of lawmakers called on regulators to overhaul the way initial public offerings are conducted, concerned that last month's flubbed stock sale by Facebook shows the current system unfairly punishes small investors. In a letter to Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Mary Schapiro, Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) prodded the agency to revamp rules for pricing and disclosure in IPOs. Mr. Issa, who wrote the letter on behalf of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said the social-networking company's steep share-price decline since its May 18 offering is a sign that investment banks are able to "dictate pricing while only indirectly considering market supply-and-demand." Separately, the Democratic chairman of a subcommittee of the Senate Banking Committee said regulatory changes are needed to bolster investor confidence sapped by Facebook's botched debut. Facebook’s 22% Rally Helps Stock Avoid Worst IPO Return In U.S. (Bloomberg) So that's something! Riskier Bets Pitched To Asia's Rising Rich (WSJ) In Japan, brokers are dangling what they claim is a tasty product in front of wealthy investors: a "triple-decker" that uses options to squeeze higher returns from stocks, "junk" bonds or other assets. If a triple-decker doesn't suit an investor's fancy, there is the increasingly popular—and slightly less complex—"double-decker." Elsewhere in Asia, so-called hybrid bonds and other high-yield varieties can be had. Investors in Singapore recently could buy so-called perpetual bonds through ATMs. Across Asia, brokers are pushing to sell increasingly complex products to the region's expanding ranks of investors, especially wealthy ones. These types of products appeal to those hungry for yield who normally focus on stocks and real estate but are worried about falling equity markets and the sudden shortage of initial public offerings. BlueMountain Said To Help Unwind JPMorgan’s Whale Trades (Bloomberg) A hedge fund run by a former JPMorgan Chase executive who helped create the credit- derivatives market is aiding the lender as it unwinds trades in an index at the heart of a loss of more than $2 billion. BlueMountain Capital Management LLC, co-founded by Andrew Feldstein, has been compiling trades in Series 9 of the Markit CDX North America Investment Grade Index in recent weeks, then selling the positions to the New York-based bank, according to three people outside the firms who are familiar with the strategy. JPMorgan tapped BlueMountain as a middleman after trades in its London chief investment office grew so large that the bank was creating price distortions that hedge funds sought to exploit, said the market participants, who asked not to be identified because they weren’t authorized to discuss the trades. BlueMountain was one of the funds that benefited from the price dislocations, the people said. US Olympic committee send cease and desist letter to knitting Olympics (TNT) The US Olympic committee has sent a cease and desist letter to the social networking group Ravelry, who had organised a Ravelympics in which contestants would compete in events such as ‘scarf hockey’ while watching the actual Games on TV...The US Olympic Committee has said that “the athletes of Team USA have spent the better part of the entire lives training for the opportunity to compete at the Olympic Games and represent their country in a sport that means everything to them” and that “using the name ‘Ravelympics’ for a competition that involves an afghan marathon and sweater triathlon tends to denigrate the true nature of the Olympic Games”. Romney Campaign Said To Ask Scott To Downplay Job Gains (Bloomberg) Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign asked Florida Governor Rick Scott to tone down his statements heralding improvements in the state’s economy because they clash with the presumptive Republican nominee’s message that the nation is suffering under President Barack Obama, according to two people familiar with the matter. Scott, a Republican, was asked to say that the state’s jobless rate could improve faster under a Romney presidency, according to the people, who asked not to be named. Lonely Hedge Fund Bullish On Greece Tries To Woo Investors (Bloomberg) In March, Elliott met with the investment chief of a family office in London who said within seconds of sitting down that the firm had no interest in giving money to a hedge fund wagering on Greece. The executive merely wanted to hear his story, Elliott, the founder of Naftilia Asset Management Ltd., said in a telephone interview from his office in Athens. Elliott, 39, responded by asking a few questions of his own, including whether the executive had invested in Russia after its 1998 currency crisis, in Argentina 10 years ago after the nation defaulted on its debt or in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index (SPX) in March 2009, when the benchmark plunged to its lowest point in 13 years. Finally, Elliott questioned whether the family office’s investment chief had ever bought shares of Apple. In all cases, the answer was no. “Then you are not qualified to be discussing Greece with me because you have missed the best investment opportunities over the past 20 years,” Elliott retorted. National Bank Of Greece To Sell Luxury Resort As Slump Bites (Bloomberg) If you know anyone who's interested: The 3.3 million-square-foot (307,000 square-meter) Astir Palace complex has already drawn investors’ interest, according to Aristotelis Karytinos, general manager of real estate at the lender. The Athens-based bank and Greece’s privatization fund, which owns part of the property, will put out a public tender in coming months, he said. Fed Warns Of Risk To Economy (WSJ) Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke made clear in a news conference after the policy makers' meeting that he is prepared to take further action if he doesn't see progress on bringing down unemployment, which was 8.2% in May. "I wouldn't accept the proposition though that the Fed has no more ammunition," Mr. Bernanke said. He added, "if we don't see continued improvement in the labor market we'll be prepared to take additional steps." Australian mega-brothel gets go-ahead (AP) A Sydney brothel has received the green light for a multi-million-dollar expansion which will see it become Australia's largest sex premises, with rooms featuring multiple beds and pool tables. Plans to double the number of rooms at inner Sydney's "Stiletto" into a mega-brothel complex were knocked back late last year by the city council on the grounds that it was too big. But the owners won an appeal to the Land and Environment Court this week, with Commissioner Susan O'Neill ruling the Aus$12 million ($12.2 million) development, including a wing for group bookings, should go ahead...Stiletto promotes itself as "the world's finest short-stay boutique hotel and Sydney brothel". Its standard hourly rate of Aus$370 includes room, lady of choice and beverages.