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Opening Bell: 03.12.14

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Ackman Says Investigation Finds Herbalife Violates Chinese Laws (Bloomberg)
Billionaire Bill Ackman, renewing his attack on the nutrition and weight-loss company Herbalife Ltd., said its investigation into the business’s Chinese operations found that they violate direct-selling laws. Ackman’s firm, Pershing Square Capital Management LP, hired OTG Research to evaluate Herbalife within China, he said yesterday during a more than two-hour webcast. Pershing said Herbalife pays people illegally based on the number of recruits they amass. The company’s “hourly consulting pay” is key to showing that it violated laws, Pershing said, citing the OTG probe. “They defraud millions of people,” Ackman said during the presentation. “Their portrayal of their China business in their SEC filings is materially false and misleading.”

Plan for Mortgage Giants Takes Shape (WSJ)
The plan, by Senate Banking Committee leaders Tim Johnson (D., S.D) and Mike Crapo (R., Idaho), calls for replacing Fannie and Freddie with a new system of federally insured mortgage securities in which private insurers would be required to take initial losses before any government guarantee would be triggered. The agreement, which faces a long road to approval, represents the most concrete step so far to resolve the last major piece of unfinished business from the 2008 financial collapse.

Puerto Rico Buys Some Time With Bond Sale (WSJ)
Completing Puerto Rico's largest-ever bond sale affords the government some breathing room after the prices of its outstanding bonds tumbled last year, sending yields sharply higher amid investor fears that the island faced a cash squeeze. Puerto Rico officials have said they intend to honor all the island's obligations. The commonwealth has been fighting to break a string of budget deficits by cutting spending, boosting taxes and making changes to pension programs. "We're looking to get a year to a year-and-a-half of liquidity" from Tuesday's bond sale, said David Chafey, chairman of the Government Development Bank for Puerto Rico, or GDB, the island's financing arm.

Singapore Broker Exodus Seen Quickening (Bloomberg)
The number of stockbrokers in Singapore fell 8.4 percent percent to 3,973 at the end of last year from 4,336 in 2011, according to data from the bourse, as the industry was buffeted by declining trading volumes and commissions as well as competition from online trading platforms. The city’s benchmark Straits Times Index trailed all its major developed-market peers in the past 12 months and slid 1.8 percent this year.

Pope's Popularity a Blessing for Media (WSJ)
As Pope Francis approaches the first anniversary of his election this week , his popularity is generating a boom for a media niche that rarely gathers much notice. "We are just working night and day to satisfy demand," said Monsignor Dario Vigano, head of the Vatican's broadcaster, Vatican Television Center, or CTV, which shadows the pope and supplies papal newscasts and images for both Catholic and lay broadcasters. Revenue at CTV leaped 40% in 2013, as broadcasters as far afield as Tanzania now want the recordings of the pope's weekly audiences. The windfall has allowed CVT to splash out on more modern cameras and a new €1.8 million ($2.45 million) control room. Last week—on Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent — Mondadori SpA, the publishing house controlled by the family of media magnate-turned-politician Silvio Berlusconi, launched a new weekly dedicated to the pope. The magazine, Il Mio Papa, which will initially cost 50 euro cents a copy, will include a pullout centerfold with Francis quotes and will print three million copies for its first month of publication.

Justin Bieber believes deposition video was a ‘set up’ (NYP)
Justin Bieber believes he was set up in his videotaped deposition by lawyers who baited him with insulting questions and planned all along to leak the tape to humiliate him. The pop superstar was shown acting insolent and angry during the taped deposition in the California lawsuit over his bodyguard allegedly beating up photographer Jeffrey Binion. Just two days after the deposition, the tape was leaked to TMZ, and Bieber’s outraged team is demanding to know if a payment was made in exchange for the tape. A source exclusively tells Page Six: “The video was leaked so quickly that Justin’s legal team believes it was all a setup. The questions Justin was being asked, including questions about Usher, had nothing to do with the case...Bieber was seen behaving like a brat as he was being grilled in the bodyguard-beatdown case. He appeared to be disrespectful of Usher, the man who made him a superstar. When quizzed if he even knew Usher, Bieber was nonchalant: “Yeah, Usher. That [name] sounds familiar.” Then, asked directly if Usher discovered him and was “instrumental” to his career, Bieber took all the credit, with one slip-up: “I was found on YouTube. I think I was detrimental to my own career.” At another point, Bieber almost lost it when asked about off-again, on-again flame Selena Gomez. With a stone-cold, angry glare, he said, “Don’t ask me about her again.”

Mark Carney: FX allegations more serious than Libor scandal (Telegraph)
Mark Carney has admitted that the allegations over foreign exchange rate fixing are “as serious as Libor, if not more so” but has fiercely denied that the Bank of England was warned about them eight years ago. The Governor of the Bank of England told MPs that ensuring the probity of foreign exchange rates is “incredibly important” for the $3 trillion (£1.8 trillion) currency market, 40pc of which is traded in London. He added that investigating the allegations was “fundamentally important” for the Bank of England itself.

Pimco Cuts Government Debt on Outlook for Fed Buying (Bloomberg)
The proportion of the securities in the $236 billion Total Return Fund (PTTRX) was 43 percent, the company’s website showed. That compared with 46 percent in January, which was the most since at least July, when Pimco revised how it classifies assets. Mortgage debt accounted for 29 percent in February, the least since July 2011, compared with 36 percent the previous month.

Twitter crashes second time in nine days, blames software glitch (Reuters)
Twitter Inc crashed on Tuesday for the second time in nine days when a software glitch stalled the popular messaging service for about one hour. The company apologized to its 250 million users in a status blog, saying it had encountered "unexpected complications" during "a planned deploy in one of our core services."

Biz Stone: We're living in a different era than dot com bust (CNBC)
"We're living in a different time than the dotcom bubble of 2000 when you saw stratospheric valuations for things that seem to be or didn't look like they were of any value," Stone said Tuesday during an interview with "Squawk on the Street" anchor Carl Quintanilla. The meteoric rises of companies such as Tesla Motors, Netflix and Stone's own Twitter have led some market observers to wonder whether investors should brace for a second-coming of the dotcom bubble of the early 2000s. Stone, however, believes companies in that era did not provide the same level of intrinsic value as the current crop of tech companies. "Even though we're seeing big numbers now, they're nowhere near as big as back then," Stone said, citing the $164 billion purchase of Time Warner by AOL in 2000. Not only can tech companies provide more value to consumers and investors than in the past, they can also raise funding and reach users much more easily than before. In January, Stone helped launched a new Web app called Jelly, a social network based on questions and answers. The app drew more users during its launch than Twitter had after its first year, Stone said. "It's just an absolutely different world launching a service today than launching Twitter," Stone said. "[With] Twitter we had to claw our way up over years. ... When you create something now, word spreads so quickly. It's amazing."

Real estate agents caught on camera getting frisky in for-sale home (NYDN)
New surveillance video released by the Denville homeowners who sued the frisky agents shows the pair making out, putting on their clothes after a romp in the bedroom — and even discovering the moment when they realized they were being filmed. The embarrassing footage — set to air on “Inside Edition” Tuesday — is the latest evidence in the legal battle pitting the homeowners Richard and Sandra Weiner against the real estate agents, Robert Lindsay and Jeannemarie Phelan. The Weiners sued in December, alleging Lindsay deliberately overpriced the home by $650,000 to keep buyers away so he could use it for at least 11 trysts caught on tape. When the homeowners called the cops to the final romantic rendezvous in January 2012, they reported they arrived to find Lindsay pulling up his pants. Both were fired from their jobs at Coldwell Banker.
Phelan lost a subsequent job once the salacious lawsuit became national news. The homeowners are seeking damages for invasion of privacy, emotional distress, breach of contract and trespass in Passaic County court.
Lindsay coutersued, accusing the Weiners of extortion.


Opening Bell: 7.29.15

Puerto Rico sitch not great for US; Hedge funds like London; Disneyland Paris probe; Twitter; Yelp; Brazil; "Fugitive-turned-actor arrested after U.S. Marshals read film write-up"; and more.

Opening Bell: 6.4.15

Greece still screwed; Day traders dupe bankers; Free bacon for life; and more.

puerto rico flag

Opening Bell: 6.10.16

Puerto Rico debt crisis bill passes house; Whistleblower aided SEC in Deutsche probe; Man reaches day 322 of eating Chipotle every day; and more.