Opening Bell: 02.20.14

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Zuckerberg Bonded With WhatsApp’s Koum Over Coffee and Chocolate (Bloomberg)
The relationship between Facebook Inc. and WhatsApp Inc. started in spring 2012 over coffee at a German bakery. It was consummated on Valentine’s Day with chocolate-covered strawberries, after just five days of talks...Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive officer, first reached out to WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum in early 2012, inviting him for coffee at the bakery in Los Altos, California. They ended up talking for more than two hours, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. The two became friends, meeting frequently for dinners and hiking together. On Feb. 9 Koum went to Zuckerberg’s Palo Alto, California house for dinner. That’s when the conversation for a possible deal became serious, the person said. The two first talked about how they could work together more closely on Zuckerberg’s Internet.org initiative for connecting the world on mobile devices. Zuckerberg, 29, then proposed that their companies join together, and that Koum join Facebook’s board. Koum took a few days to think it over. Five days later, on Feb. 14, Zuckerberg was having dinner with his wife at home when Koum showed up, strawberries in hand. They then negotiated a price.

Fed Puts Rate Increase On The Radar (WSJ)
Conversation at the Federal Reserve's most recent policy meeting turned to something that hasn't been a serious topic for years: the possibility of interest-rate increases in the near future. The Fed has held short-term interest rates near zero since December 2008, near the height of the financial crisis, and Chairwoman Janet Yellen shows no appetite for raising them soon. Investors, seeing that, generally don't see Fed rate increases until well into 2015, a view also held by many officials. Still, a "few" Fed officials argued at a Jan. 28-29 policy meeting that increases might be needed soon to prevent the economy from overheating, according to minutes of the meeting released Wednesday. These officials were most likely from the Fed's band of policy "hawks" who have largely failed in resisting the central bank's easy-money policies.

I Took the GMAT With No Preparation. Here's What Happened (BusinessWeek)
My official score report arrived a week later and included an analytical writing assessment. My score was 4.5 out of 6, placing me in the 43rd percentile. Tracey Briggs at GMAC [the owner of the GMAT exam] was right: brushing up on high school algebra and geometry would have probably inched me higher than the 35th percentile on quantitative, and some preparation might have meant I’d have to read each question only once. My 640 puts me on the very low end of the range for ultra-elite business schools. Harvard Business School’s class of 2015 range was 550-789, with a median score of 730. The Wharton School’s class of 2015 range was 630-790, with a mean score of 725. Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, No. 15 on Bloomberg Businessweek‘s 2012 ranking, might accept me more easily: The median score for the class of 2015 was 664. All told, my score was respectable: The overall median is 546...The GMAT may test your mettle and your memory, but it doesn’t measure innovation or determination. If you don’t test well, persuade schools in your essays and interviews that they need to see beyond your first year—to your future. Tell them Amy, a 640, said so.

Wall Street Girds for China Bribery Probe as IPOs Beckon (Bloomberg)
The Securities and Exchange Commission has asked several global investment banks for information about their hiring practices, according to four people familiar with the letters. The inquiry includes the leaders in international share sales by Chinese companies over the last five years: Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Morgan Stanley, according to two of those people, who asked not to be identified because the review is confidential.

Enraged Surfer Allegedly Stabs Man In The Eye With A Surfboard (HP)
Mark Morlock, 41, was surfing the popular Australian surf break Snapper Rocks last Tuesday when he was approached by a man who he had accidentally cut off while surfing about five months earlier. According to Morlock, the attacker approached him from behind and asked if he remembered who he was. "I said, 'Yeah I remember you, what do you want?'" Morlock recalled. "Then he let his board go from between his legs, straight into my face. He said, 'You're not laughing now, are you mate?'" The surfboard struck Morlock in his eye, leaving it severely damaged. Morlock was able to make his way back to shore, where he received first-aid from a lifeguard...But the altercation didn't end there. Morlock said that while he waited to be taken to a hospital, the aggressive surfer approached him again, egging him on to continue the fight. "He was hiding in some bushes and came bolting down the stairs wanting to carry it on with my eye almost hanging out of my head," Morlock said.

Ex-Madoff aide testifies at own trial, denies he knew of fraud (Reuters)
Only minutes into the prosecution's questioning of former Bernard Madoff aide Daniel Bonventre at trial on Wednesday, it was clear he was in for a long day. Assistant U.S. Attorney Randall Jackson asked Bonventre repeatedly whether he was "close friends" with one of four co-defendants accused of helping to conceal Madoff's decades-long, multibillion-dollar fraud, former portfolio manager Annette Bongiorno. Bonventre repeatedly said he did not know what Jackson meant. "You went to college, correct?" Jackson asked with a note of frustration in his voice. "Do you have any difficulty with the definition of the word ‘close'?" A flustered Bonventre eventually said, "Yes, I struggle with the meaning of ‘close.'" Bonventre did, however, acknowledge that he and Bongiorno were friendly colleagues.

Founder of Citadel Pledges $150 Million to Harvard, Its Largest Gift Ever (Dealbook)
When the billionaire hedge fund manager Kenneth C. Griffin was a sophomore at Harvard, he was betting on convertible bonds in his dorm room — thanks to a satellite dish he had hooked up on the roof — while his fellow students were going to classes. Twenty-eight years later, that formative experience will be paying dividends for his alma mater. Mr. Griffin said on Wednesday that he was donating $150 million to Harvard, the biggest single gift to the college ever. The money will largely go the college’s financial aid program as Harvard seeks to blunt criticism that higher education has become the province of the 1 percent.

BMW Tosses Salesmen For 'Geniuses' (WSJ)
BMW AG wants to bring its dealerships into the digital age, recommending they rip out showroom cubicles, install flat screen displays and hire "product geniuses" to explain the complex technology in its cars without the pressure to close a sale. BMW's new program could mean, among other things, fewer sales people and fewer cars on showroom floors, and more information delivered through video displays and by employees who are "definitely, definitely not salesmen," said sales and marketing chief Ian Robertson.

Start-Up Site Hires Critic Of Wall Street (NYT)
Matt Taibbi, who made a name as a fierce critic of Wall Street at Rolling Stone magazine, has joined First Look Media, the latest big-name journalist to leave an established brand to enter the thriving and well-financed world of news start-ups. Mr. Taibbi will start his own publication focusing on financial and political corruption, he said in an interview on Wednesday. First Look is financed by the eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, who is worth $8.5 billion, according to Forbes. Mr. Omidyar has pledged $250 million to the project.

Google to Glass users: Don’t be creepy (NYP)
“Don’t be creepy or rude … Respect others and if they have questions about Glass, don’t get snappy,” Google notes in the list of advice, which was posted to the company Web page. It also tells folks use common sense — by peeling off the robot-wear before jumping into a lake or onto a bull. “Glass is a piece of technology, so use common sense. Water skiing , cage fighting or bull riding with Glass are probably not good ideas.” Google glasses were made for short bursts of information, so also beware of getting busted “glassing out,” or staring into space, because it can make you look like a weirdo, the company notes. “If you find yourself staring off into the prism for long periods of time you’re probably looking pretty weird to the people around you. So don’t read “War and Peace” on Glass.” Do’s on the list include asking other humans for permission before snapping photos or taking videos of them.

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Opening Bell: 05.21.12

JPMorgan CIO Risk Chief Said To Have Trading-Loss History (Bloomberg) Irvin Goldman, who oversaw risks in the JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) unit that suffered more than $2 billion in trading losses, was fired by another Wall Street firm in 2007 for money-losing bets that prompted a regulatory sanction at the firm, Cantor Fitzgerald LP, three people with direct knowledge of the matter said. JPMorgan appointed Goldman in February as the top risk official in its chief investment office while the unit was managing trades that later spiraled into what Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon called “egregious,” self-inflicted mistakes. The bank knew when it picked Goldman that his earlier work at Cantor led regulators to penalize that company, according to a person briefed on the situation. Risk Manager's Past Scrutinized (WSJ) Mr. Goldman joined J.P. Morgan's CIO in January 2008 as a trader. The bank placed him on leave in September 2008 after it learned that NYSE Arca had opened a regulatory inquiry tied to his trading activities at Cantor Fitzgerald, people familiar with the matter said. After J.P. Morgan placed him on leave, Mr. Goldman founded a consulting firm based in New York called IJG Advisors LLC. He rejoined J.P. Morgan in September 2010 in the Chief Investment Office, this time focusing on strategy. Current J.P. Morgan Chase Chief Risk Officer John Hogan chose Mr. Goldman to serve as CRO of the office, a position that had been filled by Peter Weiland, who remains with J.P. Morgan's CIO. Mr. Hogan wasn't aware of the Cantor Fitzgerald incident or the earlier trading losses at J.P. Morgan Chase, said a person close to the bank. Eurobonds To Be Discussed At EU Summit (Reuters) Merkel has said she is not opposed to jointly underwritten euro area bonds per se, but believes it can only be discussed once the conditions are right, including much closer economic integration and coordination across the euro zone, including on fiscal matters. That remains a long way off. Will Greece Be Able to Print Drachma in a Rush? (Reuters) If or when policymakers finally decide Greece should leave the euro, the exit could happen so quickly that "new drachma" currency notes might not be printed in time. "It would be chaos," says Marios Efthymiopoulos, a visiting scholar at Johns Hopkins University Center for Advanced International Studies and president of Thessaloniki-based think tank Global Strategy. "The banks would collapse and you would have to nationalize them. You wouldn't be able to pay anyone except in coupons. There is only one (currency) printing press in Greece. It is in the museum in Athens and it doesn't work any more." Ryanair CEO: ‘No’ Campaigners in Irish Vote Are Crazy (CNBC) “I think Ireland will vote yes in the referendum and Ireland should vote yes. We have no alternative. People who are borrowing $15 billion a year to keep the lights turned on don’t have the wherewithal to vote no to the people that are lending them the money. There is no argument for voting no,” Michael O'Leary, CEO of budget airline Ryanair said. He described “no” campaigners as a “bunch of idiots and lunatics.” Barclays To Sell Entire BlackRock Stake (WSJ) Barclays said BlackRock agreed to repurchase $1 billion worth of the 19.6% stake that the bank holds in the asset-management company. The remainder of the stake will then be listed on a stock exchange. The decision to sell comes as the bank faces pressure from investors to boost its return on equity and prepares to mitigate the effects of regulation that will force the lender to hold a bigger capital buffer. Mark Zuckerberg Gets Married (AP) The couple met at Harvard and have been together for more than nine years, a guest who insisted on anonymity said. The ceremony took place in Zuckerberg's backyard before fewer than 100 guests, including Facebook's chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg. The guests all thought they were coming to celebrate Chan's graduation but were told after they arrived that the event was in fact a wedding. "Everybody was shocked," the guest said. The two had been planning the marriage for months but were waiting until Chan had graduated from medical school to hold the wedding. The timing wasn't tied to the IPO, since the date the company planned to go public was a "moving target," the guest said. Zuckerberg designed the ring featuring "a very simple ruby." Hedge Funds Rebuild Euro Bear Bets On Greek Exit Banks Weigh (Bloomberg) Hedge funds and other large speculators, which pared trades that would profit from a drop in the euro to the lowest levels since November, rebuilt them to a record high last week, figures released May 18 by the Washington-based Commodity Futures Trading Commission showed. The premium for options that grant the right to sell the euro has more than doubled since March. Nasdaq CEO Blames Software Design For Delayed Facebook Trading (Bloomberg) Nasdaq OMX Group, under scrutiny after shares of Facebook Inc. were plagued by delays and mishandled orders on its first day of trading, blamed “poor design” in the software it uses for driving auctions in initial public offerings. Fed Proves More Bullish Than Wall Street Forecasting U.S. Growth (Bloomberg) Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Pierpont Securities LLC, has derided the Federal Reserve for downplaying improvement in the U.S. economy. Yet his 2.6 percent forecast for growth this year is below the midpoint in the central bank’s projection of 2.4 percent to 2.9 percent...“I’ve been banging my head against the wall,” said Stanley in Stamford, Connecticut, a former researcher at the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, who had predicted an interest- rate increase as early as last year and now says the Fed probably will tighten in the middle of next year. “They’re willing to let things run for longer and let inflation accelerate more than historically.” Judge mulls suit vs. woman sending messages to driving boyfriend (NYP) In a case believed to be the first of its kind in the country, a New Jersey college student could be held liable this week for texting her boyfriend — knowing he was behind the wheel — and allegedly causing him to crash into a couple riding a motorcycle. “She texts. Instantly, he texts back, and, bang, the accident occurs,” said Skippy Weinstein, attorney for motorcycle enthusiasts David and Linda Kubert, both 59, who lost their left legs in the horrific 2009 accident in Mine Hill. It’s now up to a Superior Court judge in Morristown, NJ, to decide whether Shannon Colonna can be added to the suit against driver Kyle Best.

By M.Minderhoud (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Opening Bell: 6.22.16

Puerto Rico vs bondholders; Brexit, Brexit, Brexit; Man creates smoothie made of McDonald's burgers; and more.

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.

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Opening Bell: 4.13.17

Einhorn whines about GM; Asness whines about Research Associates; private equity guy whines about hot women; and more.