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Opening Bell: 03.13.14

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Goldman Sachs Sees Bitcoin Future in Payments Over Money (Bloomberg)
Goldman Sachs Group Inc. analysts see Bitcoin as an innovative payments technology while doubting that it will evolve into a true alternative currency, according to a research report released today. In the report, titled “All About Bitcoin,” the researchers write that they examined multiple views of the digital currency by people inside and outside of Goldman Sachs. “So where does that leave us? With the conclusion that Bitcoin likely can’t work as a currency, but some sense that the ledger-based technology that underlies it could hold promise,” the report said.

Ex-Banker's Plea Deal Outlines Trail of a Tax-Evasion Scheme (WSJ)
Around 2001, Credit Suisse signed an agreement with the IRS in which it agreed to withhold taxes from accounts held by Americans and prohibit them from holding U.S. investments. Afterward, the bank's compliance department told bankers, including Mr. Bachmann and his bosses, not to talk about U.S. securities with U.S. customers, according to the statement. But the bankers ignored it, according to the statement. After the session, Mr. Bachmann complained about the restrictions. An executive told him something to the effect of: "You know what we expect of you-don't get caught," the statement said.

Senate’s Fannie Mae Wind-Down Faces High Political Hurdles (Bloomberg)
Senate Banking Committee leaders said the proposal, which they plan to release later this week, would replace the two U.S.-owned mortgage financiers with government bond insurance that would kick in only after private capital suffered severe losses. It remains unclear whether the measure can gain the support it would need in the next four months, before lawmakers’ attention shifts to midterm elections. A Democratic Senate aide said leadership is currently unenthusiastic about legislation that would eliminate the companies. “It’s possible, but it’s certainly not probable,” said Mark Calabria, a former aide on the Senate banking panel who now directs financial regulation studies at the Cato Institute, a Washington-based research organization that supports free markets. “You’re looking at maybe a 10 percent chance of a bill getting to the president’s desk.”

Emotions Vented Online Are Contagious, Study Finds (WSJ)
First, the researchers found that a rainy day directly influenced the emotional tenor of a person's Facebook posts. The effect was small but significant—the number of negative posts rose 1.16%, while the number of positive comments fell 1.19%. That, in turn, affected the Facebook status of one or two friends in other cities where it wasn't raining. Each additional positive post resulted in a further 1.75 positive posts among friends; while each negative post yielded 1.29 more negative posts by friends, the researchers said. Posts were sorted by whether they contained positive or negative language, such as the word "sad" or "happy." To strip out the effect of topic contagion, the researchers removed any status updates that were actually about the weather. "We wanted posts where it is raining on you and it is making you write negative posts that are not about the weather," Dr. Fowler said. With about 1.2 billion active users, a volatile upbeat or downbeat mood could quickly spread through Facebook, Dr. Fowler said. "It is going to have implications for financial markets, which have bubbles and busts, and it has implications for political activity," he said.

Coffee Cravers Ignoring Bean-Price Surge for Caffeine Fix (Bloomberg)
Doreen Cappelli is so hooked on her morning cappuccino that she says she’d pay a lot more to get it. “I don’t drink wine and alcohol,” Cappelli, 52, said after buying the $3.25 drink at Blue Bottle Coffee at San Francisco’s Ferry Building, in the shadow of the Bay Bridge. “Coffee is one of my pleasures in life. I would pay double.” While prices probably won’t go up that much just yet, pressure is growing on the $80 billion U.S. coffee industry as the cost of arabica beans used in high-end brews skyrockets. Futures in New York jumped 85 percent this year to $2.053 a pound. By May, they may reach $3, the highest since 2011, said Judy Ganes-Chase, an industry consultant in Panama City, Panama, who has been analyzing the market for three decades.

Police say Iowa man tried to trade sex for a boat trailer (WQAD)
Stan Syring, 37, of Clarence, met with an undercover Marion, Iowa Police officer who responded to his Craigslist ad Tuesday, March 4, 2014. The two met the following Monday, March 10, and agreed to an undisclosed sex act in exchange for Syring getting a boat trailer.

After Mexico fraud, Citi finds other three sets of suspect loans (Reuters)
Citigroup Inc, which recently discovered it made some $400 million in fraudulent loans to a company in Mexico, found three other sets of smaller loans that may be suspicious, the bank's chief financial officer told a group of investors last week. The three sets of problem loans were for less than $10 million each, and the bank was reviewing its underwriting and monitoring processes, Sanford C Bernstein analysts who attended last week's presentation wrote in a report dated Wednesday. "Management is confident that this is an isolated issue," according to the report, which was based on CFO John Gerspach's remarks on March 5 to a small investor conference hosted by the brokerage in Boston.

Bank of England's Mark Carney and Other Central Bankers Face Tough Decisions About Raising Interest Rates (WSJ)
"Everyone wants to know exactly when you're going to do something," said Mr. Carney, a 48-year-old Canadian, in a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal. "We can't tell them something we don't know ourselves." What he can say, he added, is "we're not going to raise interest rates until the economy can really sustain it."

Billionaire selling 63rd Street pad — Rolls-Royce included (NYP)
Fertilizer czar and Carpathian billionaire Alexander Rovt, estimated by Forbes to be worth $1.1 billion, is putting his townhouse at 232 E. 63rd St., built in 1925, on the market for $25 million today. Rovt’s Phantom Rolls-Royce, kept at the mansion, is included in the purchase price.

Street May Be Denied 'Volcker' Victory (WSJ)
Bankers have been pressing regulators to grant some relief for activities in a $300 billion market for loans to U.S. companies, much as they did for Volcker-rule requirements affecting another type of complex debt instrument held by banks. Without such relief, they warn, the availability of corporate loans could be crimped because banks will have to either sell or restructure the instruments. The banks' arguments have so far failed to convince regulators such relief is necessary, according to people familiar with regulators' thinking.

Meet Jonathan, St Helena's 182-year-old giant tortoise (BBC)
"He is virtually blind from cataracts, has no sense of smell - but his hearing is good," Joe tells me. At 182, Jonathan may be the oldest living land creature. Jonathan is a rare Seychelles Giant. His lawn-fellows hail from the Aldabra Atoll in the Indian Ocean. Aldabra Giants number about 100,000, but only one small breeding population of Seychelles tortoises exists...Nobody knows why Jonathan ended up in St Helena. During the 17th Century ships could contain hundreds of easily-stacked tortoises, like a fast-food takeaway. In the Galapagos islands alone around 200,000 tortoises are thought to have been killed and eaten at this time. How did Jonathan avoid this fate? Maybe he became a curio for Hudson Janisch, governor in the 1880s. Thirty-three governors have come and gone since then, and nobody wants Jonathan to die on their watch. Mark Capes [current Governor of the British Overseas Territories in the South Atlantic] is certainly keen "that he should be treated with the respect, attention and care he surely deserves"...Jonathan loves having his neck stroked. His head extends out from his shell to a surprising length...Though giant tortoises like Jonathan can live up to 250 years, the community has already drafted a detailed plan for when he finally pops his shell - dubbed "Operation Go Slow". It will ensure all runs smoothly when the inevitable happens, in fact his obituary has already been written. It has also been decided that stuffing Jonathan would be a rather morbid and outdated thing to do. Instead his shell will be preserved and will go on display in St Helena.

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Opening Bell: 06.22.12

Citigroup Leads Wall Street Banks In Moody’s Downgrade Dismissal (Bloomberg) Moody’s two-grade cut of Citigroup’s ratings was unwarranted, arbitrary and failed to recognize the lender’s financial strength, the New York-based bank said in a statement. Investors shouldn’t rely on “opaque” credit ratings, it said. “Moody’s approach is backward-looking and fails to recognize Citi’s transformation over the past several years,” said the bank. “Citi believes that investors and clients have become much more sophisticated in their credit analysis over the past few years, and that few rely on ratings alone -- particularly from a single agency -- to make their credit decisions.” Moody's Downgrade of Banks ‘Absurd,’ Says Dick Bove (CNBC) “This is one of the most absurd things that Moody’s has ever done perhaps in the history of the company,” said Dick Bove, Vice President of Equity Research in the Financial Sector at Connecticut-based Rochdale Securities. JPMorgan Trading Loss Drove Three-Level Standalone Cut (Bloomberg) “It illustrates the challenges of monitoring and managing risk in a complex global organization and highlights the opacity of such risks,” Moody’s said. Ratings Downgrade Cuts Deeply At Morgan Stanley (NYT) In an e-mail sent to staff members after the downgrade was announced, Mr. Gorman tried to reassure employees about the bank’s future. “While we do not believe that this outcome reflects all of the transformative changes we have made to the firm, there is an acknowledgment in Moody’s decision today that real progress has been made at Morgan Stanley, in what is an extremely difficult environment for our industry,” he wrote. Hedge Funds Mask Identities (WSJ) It is the latest in-vogue accessory among hedge-fund managers: a "masked fund." Bridgewater Associates has "ZQPGGAV00000," John Paulson has "Paulson Fund 1" while Cliff Asness's AQR Capital Management prefers "805-1355888867." The cryptic monikers, more product barcodes than real handles, enable the hedge-fund managers to shield the identities of their funds from the prying eyes of regulators and outsiders in forms filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission...The practice, allowed under a new SEC instruction that lets firms preserve the anonymity of their clients in certain cases, has irked some investors and their advisers. They argue that hiding funds' identities in regulatory filings undermines Washington's efforts to make the reticent world of hedge funds more transparent and hinders investors' efforts to keep tabs on the firms that manage their assets. Emails Ties Goldman Manager, Rajaratnam (WSJ) A current Goldman managing director exchanged emails with Galleon founder Raj Rajaratnam ahead of a daily "morning meeting" at Galleon, according to previously undisclosed emails and wiretapped phone call transcripts reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. In the emails, the Goldman manager offered what he called "tiddie biddies" about some top technology firms, including Apple and Intel Corp. Anderson Cooper Berates Photo-Snapping Airplane Passenger (LAT) "Normally I would just be like, 'We're not going to win this one,' but I've lately become emboldened," Cooper said in an interview. "I grabbed the guy on the shoulder and I said something to the effect of, 'Bitch, what ... are you doing?'" Pimco’s Gross Warns Of Risk Assets (Bloomberg) Gross, who manages $261 billion for the Pimco Total Return Fund (PTTRX), said in a Twitter post that risk markets are vulnerable as the “monetary bag of tricks empties.” Spanish Plan Is Flawed, Says IMF (WSJ) The euro zone needs to quickly set up a mechanism that allows it to directly recapitalize weak banks, "in order to break the negative feedback loop that we have between banks and sovereigns," IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said after a meeting with the bloc's finance ministers in Luxembourg. Ms. Lagarde also called for "creative and inventive" measures from the European Central Bank, suggesting that the bank could restart its bond-buying program to keep struggling countries' funding costs in check or further cut already-low interest rates. Einhorn Enters $1 Million Buy-In Poker Tournament For Charity (Bloomberg) Einhorn, who finished 18th in the World Series of Poker’s main event in 2006, is among at least 42 entrants for the July 1-3 charity event in Las Vegas, known as the Big One for One Drop. Angry Moms Take On Nutella (Bloomberg) Laura Rude-Barbato, a coffee shop owner in Imperial Beach, California, used to feed her children Nutella several times a week [because she for some reason didn't realize that a chocolate spread might be filled with sugar]. It was easy to identify with the advertising that depicted a frenzied mom serving up the chocolate-hazelnut spread with the tagline “breakfast never tasted this good,” said Rude-Barbato. Then she noticed the 10.5 grams of sugar per tablespoon. “I had no idea,” she says. “I might as well have been giving my kids a brownie for breakfast.” Rude-Barbato kicked the Nutella habit, then joined a class action lawsuit in a federal court in California that claimed Ferrero SpA’s U.S. unit misled consumers via labeling and marketing into thinking Nutella was healthy.

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Opening Bell: 12.13.17

Big upset in Alabama senate race; Google looms over Fidelity; bitcoin shorts only cost you 5x leverage; Dina Powell eyes a return to Goldman; don't check your phone while running from the police; and more.

Opening Bell: 05.31.12

At Core Of Greek Chaos, A Reviled Tax (WSJ) So despised is the property tax that its critics—which is to say, most of Greece—refer to it as the haratsi, after a per capita tax imposed by the occupying Ottomans. About three-quarters of Greece's households own their homes. Like many other European countries, Greece already has some property taxes. But those have been aimed mostly at higher-value properties and raised little revenue. JPMorgan To Spin Out 'Special Investments' (FT) The unit, whose investments include LightSquared, the wireless internet provider, will be moved to the bank’s corporate division and prevented from seeking fresh investment opportunities, bankers were told on Wednesday. Woman Who Wouldn't Be Intimidated By Citigroup Wins $31 Million (Bloomberg Markets) Sherry Hunt never expected to be a senior manager at a Wall Street bank. She was a country girl, raised in rural Michigan by a dad who taught her to fish and a mom who showed her how to find wild mushrooms. She listened to Marty Robbins and Buck Owens on the radio and came to believe that God has a bigger plan, that everything happens for a reason. She got married at 16 and didn’t go to college. After she had her first child at 17, she needed a job. A friend helped her find one in 1975, processing home loans at a small bank in Alaska. Sherry Hunt never expected to be a senior manager at a Wall Street bank. She was a country girl, raised in rural Michigan by a dad who taught her to fish and a mom who showed her how to find wild mushrooms. She listened to Marty Robbins and Buck Owens on the radio and came to believe that God has a bigger plan, that everything happens for a reason. She got married at 16 and didn’t go to college. After she had her first child at 17, she needed a job. A friend helped her find one in 1975, processing home loans at a small bank in Alaska...In March 2011, more than two years after Citigroup took $45 billion in bailouts from the U.S. government and billions more from the Federal Reserve -- more in total than any other U.S. bank -- Jeffery Polkinghorne, an O’Fallon executive in charge of loan quality, asked Hunt and a colleague to stay in a conference room after a meeting. The encounter with Polkinghorne was brief and tense, Hunt says. The number of loans classified as defective would have to fall, he told them, or it would be “your asses on the line.” Hunt says it was clear what Polkinghorne was asking -- and she wanted no part of it. Jobless Claims Increased Last Week (Bloomberg) First-time claims for jobless benefits increased by 10,000 to 383,000 in the week ended May 26 from a revised 373,000 the prior week, the Labor Department said today. The initial claims exceeded the median estimate of 370,000 in a Bloomberg News survey of economists. The number of people on unemployment benefit rolls dropped. For French CEO's, Politics Means Big Pay Cuts (WSJ) Top managers at France's state-owned companies are expected to face significant pay cuts next month, when Socialist President François Hollande plans to begin enforcing salary caps as part of his broader electoral pledge to get tough on the rich. During the presidential campaign, Mr. Hollande vowed to curb "excessive" remunerations at France's 52 state-controlled or partially state-owned companies by ordering that executive pay not exceed 20 times the salary of the lowest-ranking employees. New York Plans to Ban Sale of Big Sizes of Sugary Drinks (NYT) The proposed ban would affect virtually the entire menu of popular sugary drinks found in delis, fast-food franchises and even sports arenas, from energy drinks to pre-sweetened iced teas. The sale of any cup or bottle of sweetened drink larger than 16 fluid ounces — about the size of a medium coffee, and smaller than a common soda bottle — would be prohibited under the first-in-the-nation plan, which could take effect as soon as next March. Gorman, Greifeld ‘Face’ off (NYP) Morgan Stanley is prepared to take Nasdaq to court to recoup money it believes it lost in the flubbed Facebook initial public offering. CEO James Gorman’s investment bank, which led the now-notorious, snafu-ridden Facebook IPO, believes Bob Greifeld’s Nasdaq owes it roughly $10 million, sources said. The investment bank, which quarterbacked the $16 billion Facebook offering, had to shell out to clients a seven-figure sum to resolve a litany of Nasdaq trading glitches. Morgan Stanley's Facebook Analyst: Sober Man in World of Hype (Reuters) Scott Devitt was one of a number of analysts to lower his revenue and earnings expectations for the social media giant after the company informed analysts that it was dropping its quarterly and annual revenue guidance. Facebook also issued an amended prospectus cautioning that the shift of its users to mobile platforms could have a negative impact on revenue growth. Such a move was highly unusual because it occurred just days before Facebook's highly anticipated IPO, whose lead underwriter was Morgan Stanley, Devitt's employer. The investment bank not only had control over the process, but over 38 percent of Facebook shares being sold. Devitt's and other analysts' revised revenue forecasts were shared via phone calls with institutional investors, but not with retail investors, before the stock began trading publicly. That in turn raised questions over whether the playing field was skewed against Main Street investors from the start and sparked lawsuits. Citigroup Debt Viewed As Risky (WSJ) Gimme Credit, a fixed-income research company based in New York, said it expects debt issued by the third-biggest U.S. bank by assets to perform less well over the next six months than bonds issued by the company's peers. Russian Zuckerberg Throws Money Paper Planes At Passersby (MSN) Russian millionaire Pavel Durov reportedly spent last weekend flying paper airplanes made from 5,000-ruble notes (equal to about $160) out the window of his office in St. Petersburg. The 27-year-old gave away around $2,000 before he stopped because "people turned into animals" grabbing the cash. Durov is the CEO of Russia's largest social network Vkontakte, which sort of makes him the Russki Mark Zuckerberg. Scarf-Wearing Pig Stuns Motorists (UPI) Pennsylvania State Police said a baby pig wearing a scarf crossed rush hour traffic in Pittsburgh and disappeared into the woods. Police said the fashionable swine was spotted crossing the inbound lanes of Parkway West near the Green Tree exit around 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, and many motorists pulled off the parkway and stopped to take pictures of the unusual pedestrian. Troopers said the pig had crossed over a guardrail and into the woods by the time they arrived, and they were unable to locate the animal.

Opening Bell: 11.05.12

Wall Street Pay Rises (WSJ) Wall Street pay will bounce in 2012 from last year's sharply reduced levels, but bonuses will be lower and have more strings attached than before the financial crisis, the latest tally of finance-industry compensation shows. So-called incentive-based pay, which includes cash and stock awards, is set to be flat to up 5% to 10% from a year earlier, according to a forecast set to be released Monday by consulting firm Johnson Associates. At the same time, financial firms are keeping a lid on cash outlays by deferring more pay and trimming their workforces...Many securities-industry employees still rake in far more in pay than most other professions. But gone are the days when scores of star traders would get million-dollar, year-end windfalls. The average managing director is set to take home about $930,000 in total pay for 2012, up 3.3% from $900,000 a year ago but down about 23% from $1.2 million in 2010...Reflecting a big rebound from last year's plunge, the survey said bond traders—among the hardest hit in terms of pay in 2011—could see their bonuses rise 10% to 20%, even though several firms are scaling back fixed-income trading operations. Investment bankers and equity traders may receive as much as 10% less in bonuses than last year. Equity volumes remain weak, while global merger and acquisition volume is down 16% to $1.7 trillion through the first nine months of the year, according to Thomson Reuters. Goldman Sachs Partner List Drops 31 Since February, Filing Shows (Bloomberg) Some of the names missing from the latest filing had already been reported, such as former Securities Division Co- Head David B. Heller and Lucas van Praag, the former head of corporate communications. Others hadn’t been announced. Economy Set for Better Times Whether Obama or Romney Wins (Bloomberg) Mitt Romney says Barack Obama’s policies will consign the U.S. to an extended period of sluggish economic growth, at best. The president says his Republican challenger’s plans will sow the seeds of another mammoth recession. Both are wrong. No matter who wins the election tomorrow, the economy is on course to enjoy faster growth in the next four years as the headwinds that have held it back turn into tailwinds. Consumers are spending more and saving less after reducing household debt to the lowest since 2003. Home prices are rebounding after falling more than 30 percent from their 2006 highs. And banks are increasing lending after boosting equity capital by more than $300 billion since 2009. “The die is cast for a much stronger recovery,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist in West Chester, Pennsylvania, for Moody’s Analytics Inc. He sees growth this year and next at about 2 percent before doubling to around 4 percent in both 2014 and 2015 as consumption, construction and hiring all pick up. Chanos Unmoved by Chinese Banks’ Biggest Rally Since Jan. (Bloomberg) The biggest monthly surge in Chinese banks since January isn’t enough to stop Jim Chanos from shorting the financial shares as the portfolio manager wagers the country faces a credit crisis as bad loans increase. “You can’t look at a month and say that’s the trend, or something’s changed,” Chanos, who oversees $6 billion as the founder and president at Kynikos Associates Ltd., said in a Bloomberg television interview. Bad loans peaking at 3 percent, “seems awfully Pollyannic,” he said. Merkel: Euro Debt Crisis Will Last 5 Years Or More (Reuters) Merkel says the continent is on the right path to overcome the crisis but "whoever thinks this can be fixed in one or two years is wrong." Europe's Bank Reviews Collateral (WSJ) The issue involves about €80 billion in Spanish Treasury bills the ECB accepted as collateral for its loans. The ECB applies different discounts, or haircuts, to collateral based on the quality of the asset being posted. The Treasury bills under question were given the highest collateral rating, but Welt am Sonntag's research suggests many of the securities should have been given a lower rating, meaning more bills would have needed to be posted to obtain the same amount of ECB credit. If the ECB eventually were to downgrade the securities, banks would have to provide additional collateral to cover the nearly €17 billion in ECB loans they have received. The issue could prove to be embarrassing to the ECB if it is forced to admit it wasn't strict enough in enforcing its rules. Jeep Driven By Suspected Smugglers Gets Stuck Atop U.S.-Mexico Border Fence (TSG) A harebrained attempt by suspected smugglers to drive a Jeep Cherokee up and over a U.S.-Mexico border fence failed early Tuesday when the vehicle got stuck atop the 14-foot tall barrier. As seen above, the teetering SUV was spotted by U.S. Border Patrol agents after it had been driven up a makeshift ramp, but could not complete the trip’s final leg into Arizona. When agents approached the vehicle, two individuals on the fence's Mexican side fled. Investigators suspect that the Jeep likely contained narcotics, which were offloaded when the vehicle became stuck. Rochdale Says Bad Apple Trade Led to Rescue Bid (WSJ) "Rochdale had an unauthorized trade that left us with a negative capital position. We are in talks that would result in a healthy balance sheet, and we expect to be trading maybe as early as Monday," said Rochdale President Daniel Crowley. He said the unauthorized trading was in shares of Apple, and that, as of Saturday evening, the company was in talks with two firms for a possible injection of capital. He declined to offer more details on the unauthorized trading. S&P Found Liable by Australia Court for Misleading Rating (Bloomberg) Standard & Poor’s misled investors by giving its highest rating to securities whose value plunged during the global credit freeze, a judge ruled in an Australian case that may be cited in lawsuits around the world. S&P was “misleading and deceptive” in its rating of two structured debt issues in 2006, Federal Court Justice Jayne Jagot said in a summary of her ruling released today in Sydney. The Australian municipalities that brought the case are entitled to damages from the credit ratings company and two other defendants, ABN Amro Bank NV and Local Government Financial Services Pty., according to the ruling. Banks Going Low-Tech In Aftermath Of Sandy (WSJ) Sandy's devastating force has led many of the banks lying in its path to resort to old-fashioned, low-tech ways of serving their customers—including stocking up on cash and recording transactions by hand with ink and paper. Hulk Hogan: Bubba the Love Sponge and I 'are NOT friends and never will be friends' after sex tape leak (NYDN) They may have settled their sex tape brawl, but Hulk Hogan and Bubba the Love Sponge Clem aren’t rekindling their former friendship, the wrestling star claimed Friday. “Just for the record, Bubba and I are NOT friends and never will be friends, we are NOT friends,” Hulk Hogan said of the Florida shock jock in a Twitter message. Hogan sued Bubba Oct. 15 for invasion of privacy after grainy footage of the mustachioed muscleman having sex with Bubba’s wife surfaced on Gawker.com...Hogan, 59, maintained he was unaware of any camera and that the leak of the 6-year-old recording, made with Bubba’s consent while the wrestler’s ill-fated marriage to ex-wife Linda Hogan was on the rocks, was a devastating blow.

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Opening Bell: 7.5.16

Italian banks are screwed; Barclays traders found guilty of Libor rigging; Can SnapChat survive old people?; Joey Chestnut eats way back to Nathan's hot dog eating title; and more.

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Opening Bell: 8.23.17

Herbalife readies finishing move on Bill Ackman; Goldman plans finishing move on Volcker rule; firefighters feast on piglets they saved from fire; and more.