Opening Bell: 03.19.14

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Short Sellers Target Chinese Developers as Rout Deepens (Bloomberg)
Short interest in Evergrande Real Estate Group Ltd. (3333), the nation’s fourth-largest developer by market value, was at 8.4 percent of shares outstanding on March 17, up from 3.2 percent a year ago, according to data compiled by Bloomberg and Markit Group Ltd. It touched a record 8.6 percent on March 4. Wagers against Guangzhou R&F Properties Co. (2777) and Agile Property Holdings Ltd. (3383) have both reached the highest since December 2012.

Apple CEO Tim Cook: New book on company is 'nonsense' (CNBC)
Here is the full statement: "This nonsense belongs with some of the other books I've read about Apple. It fails to capture Apple, Steve, or anyone else in the company. Apple has over 85,000 employees that come to work each day to do their best work, to create the world's best products, to put their mark in the universe and leave it better than they found it. This has been the heart of Apple from day one and will remain at the heart for decades to come. I am very confident about our future. We've always had many doubters in our history. They only make us stronger." The book, written by former Wall Street Journal technology reporter Yukari Iwatani Kane, examines the company's performance since Jobs' death and claims that Apple's best days are behind it.

A Prison Life: Ex-Banker Struggles (WSJ)
Mr. Farkas is still fighting his 2011 conviction for masterminding a $2.9 billion fraud that contributed to the 2009 collapses of Taylor, Bean & Whitaker Mortgage Corp., his lending firm in Ocala, Fla., and the Alabama-based Colonial Bank. According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, he personally misappropriated more than $38.5 million from Taylor Bean and Colonial Bank to finance his lifestyle, including purchasing multiple homes, scores of cars, a jet and a seaplane. Mr. Farkas says he did some "things that were not really smart" but never anything illegal. "I wasn't the kind of guy they painted a picture of, big high-living," he says. "Among my peer group, I was a pauper."

Clashing Over Office Clutter (WSJ)
All nine employees of TheSquareFoot.com in New York City have neat, clean desks—except one. Co-founder Jonathan Wasserstrum's desk and the floor around it are strewed with paper, files, tech gear and old boxes. "I like being near my stuff rather than fishing for it in a cabinet somewhere," he says. Being near Mr. Wasserstrum's stuff is harder for Justin Lee, the company's other co-founder. At times, "some of his crud will spill over onto my desk," Mr. Lee says. Other co-workers at the online commercial real-estate leasing and brokerage company sometimes print new copies of documents to avoid handling food-smeared paperwork from Mr. Wasserstrum's desk.

Michigan Teacher Gives Fifth-Graders Non-Alcoholic Beer (AP)
A Michigan teacher made a poor choice by giving non-alcoholic beer to a class of fifth graders in a history lesson, a school official said. Superintendent Ed Koledo said the teacher allowed Hyatt Elementary students in Linden to sample O'Doul's that had been brought to school by a student March 6 to represent ale common in the 1700s. The students were told that many people drank ale at the time because water was sometimes dirty or unhealthy. "We talked to the teacher and said this was an inappropriate choice," Koledo said. "There were a lot better choices to represent a colonial-era drink than what was chosen here." The students were allowed a small taste but none were forced to try the non-alcoholic beer, school officials said. Koledo, who didn't identify the teacher, said allowing non-alcoholic beer into the classroom and allowing students to drink it was a mistake.

How Masters of the Universe Select Final Four Teams (BusinessWeek)
Here are the picks:
David Tepper — Appaloosa Management
Florida (1)
Arizona (1)
Louisville (4)
Virginia (1)

Gary Cohn — Goldman Sachs
Florida (1)
Arizona (1)
Michigan (2)
Michigan State (4)

David Einhorn — Greenlight Capital
Florida (1)
Wisconsin (2)
Wichita State (1)
Michigan State (4)

New Alliances in Battle for Corporate Control (Dealbook)
Mutual funds and other big money managers, which now control a record share of public company stock, are working with activist hedge funds behind the scenes, pressing for change at underperforming companies in their portfolios and lending their support to calls for management shake-ups. In some cases, the institutional investors are even stepping out from the shadows to pick their own fights. “This is the biggest shift in the battle for corporate control since private equity was invented in the 1980s,” said James Rossman, head of corporate preparedness at Lazard. “Activists realize they can influence this concentrated shareholder base at many companies, and they’re tapping into the desires of shareholders to see change take place.”

Wharton’s New Dean Garrett Promises to Bring Global Perspective (Bloomberg)
“It’s something I’m very passionate about,” Garrett said. “If you’re in the Northeast U.S., there’s an understandable geographical proximity that makes the transatlantic and Europe loom very large. But people in the Northeast, including Barack Obama, understand it’s the Asia-Pacific century and that’s the sensibility that I’ll bring to the Wharton job.”

Barclays Said to Plan Sale of Index Unit Valued at $400 Million (Bloomberg)
Barclays, the second-largest U.K. bank by assets, plans to solicit offers in the next month for its index business, which could fetch $400 million in a sale, people with knowledge of the matter said. CME Group Inc., which had approached Barclays about buying the Index, Portfolio and Risk Solutions unit last year, is expected to make an offer, one of the people said, asking not to be identified because the matter isn’t public.

Courtney Love joins search for missing Malaysia Airlines plane, posts findings on Facebook (NYDN)
The Hole singer scoured satellite images over the areas law enforcement and local officials have been circling around in hopes of finding evidence of the plane, or any wreckage — and she thinks she may have found something. "I'm no expert but up close this does look like a plane and an oil slick," Love, 49, wrote in a Facebook post Monday. She attached a photo of an area of water, with red text she added pointing to an “oil slick” and arrows pointing to a “plane?”

Related

Opening Bell: 03.07.13

Fed's Fisher Pins Slow Growth on Politicians (WSJ) Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas President Richard Fisher on Wednesday blamed both major U.S. political parties for a "horrid" political climate in Washington, and said monetary policy alone can't drive the economy. "We provided the fuel for economic recovery," Mr. Fisher said of the central bank, describing the Fed's stimulus as "very high-octane, dirt-cheap gasoline." But he said that neither Republican nor Democratic politicians in Washington have done their part by putting policies in place that spur the private sector "to take the cheap fuel that we have provided and step on the accelerator." Banks Said to Weigh Defying Fed With Dividend Disclosures (Bloomberg) The largest U.S. banks are weighing whether to disregard a Federal Reserve request and announce their dividend plans shortly after the central bank’s stress tests are released, people with knowledge of the process said. The Fed has asked 18 firms, including JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs, to wait until next week, even though the lenders will get preliminary word today about whether their capital plans were approved. Bank executives are concerned that investors could be confused and are considering whether securities laws may require prompt disclosure of their plans for dividends and share repurchases, the people said. Paulson Gold Fund Down 18% as Metal’s Slump Foils Rebound (Bloomberg) John Paulson posted an 18 percent decline in his Gold Fund last month as a slump in the metal, after more than a decade of gains, undermined efforts by the billionaire hedge-fund manager to rebound from two years of losses in some strategies. The $900 million Gold Fund, which invests in bullion- related equities and derivatives, is down 26 percent this year, Paulson & Co. said yesterday in a client update obtained by Bloomberg News. The firm’s Advantage funds also fell in February after the metal and related stocks weakened as signs of economic optimism curbed gold demand. “Despite the volatility and drawdown of our gold equity positions, we believe in the long-term outlook for these positions as quantitative easing programs continue around the world, credit expands in the United States, and gold equities continue to trade at a significant discount” to historical average valuations, the hedge fund said in a letter sent yesterday to investors, which was obtained by Bloomberg News. Carl Icahn Rachets Up Dell Fight (WSJ) In a letter released by Dell Thursday, Mr. Icahn said he has a "substantial" position in the company, and asked Dell to pay a per-share dividend of $9 if the deal is voted down by shareholders. He said that by his calculations, that transaction would be superior to the current going-private offer, citing a "stub" value of $13.81 a share which, combined with the special dividend, represents a 67% premium to the current $13.65 per-share offer price. Dell 'Welcomes' Carl Icahn to Go-Shop Process (CNBC) Dell on Thursday said it welcomed Carl Icahn, who has built up a 100 million share stake in the company, and other interested parties as the computer maker seeks to go private. The special committee appointed by the board said it was conducting a "robust go-shop process" and was looking at other alternatives after a $24.4 billion buyout led by founder Michael Dell faced opposition from some shareholders. Bad-News Bears Crash The Party (WSJ) For all their conviction, the bears realize it may be awhile before their dark predictions come true. "Unfortunately, I am bearish and I have been wrong," said Samer Nsouli, chief investment officer at Lyford Group International, a hedge fund, who argues that recent weakness in copper and oil is a portent of a global slowdown. "Make no mistake, it will end in tears. The eternal question is when." Lions Maul Two To Death In Kariba (Herald) Two people were yesterday mauled to death by lions in Mahombekombe suburb in the resort town of Kariba. Sources say the man only identified as Musinje and the woman Sharai Mawera, were attacked while spending time in a bushy area with the man managing to escape, leaving the woman behind. The man went on to report the case to police who, with the assistance of officers from the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, went in search of the lions. During the search they found an arm belonging to a man with investigations pointing to the lions having made a kill the previous night. That, the sources say, could have been the reason the lions did not completely eat the woman. BofA Times An Options Trade Well (WSJ) Bank of America's trading desk last June purchased options to buy 150,000 shares of Constellation Brands, an aggressive wager that the wine-and-beer seller's shares would rise, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of options-market data and of quarterly regulatory filings made by institutional investors. The trade helped push the volume in thinly traded Constellation options that day to more than 13 times the previous 30 days' daily average, the options data show. A week later, Constellation announced a pact to buy a Mexican beer maker out of a joint venture that imports Corona Extra and other beers into the U.S. market. Bank of America led a duo of banks that financed the $1.85 billion deal. Constellation shares soared 24% on June 29, the day the deal was made public, and Bank of America generated an estimated paper profit of more than $1 million from the options trading, the options-market data indicate. China Imitates Singer (NYP) Paul Singer’s battle with Argentina over defaulted debt is beginning to ripple through the bond world. Creditors looking to force deadbeat countries to pay up are turning to the controversial legal argument Singer used to press his case against the South American country in the US courts. On Monday, China’s Ex-Im Bank, which has an unpaid judgment worth $32 million against Grenada, sued the tiny Caribbean country in New York federal court to get its money back. China wheeled out the same “equal treatment” argument that Singer’s Elliott Management used against Argentina, and which was recently upheld at the appeals level for the first time in the US. China’s move marks the first time a creditor other than Singer and his cohorts have tested the maneuver in the US. Obama Tries Charm Offensive to Woo Republicans on Deficit (Bloomberg) The president broke bread last night with a dozen Republican senators, hosting a dinner at a luxury Washington hotel near the White House. Next week, he’ll visit Capitol Hill to meet separately with Republicans and Democrats in the Senate. Obama has also spoken by telephone with at least a half- dozen Republican lawmakers over the past few days about the budget and other priorities of his second term, including a rewrite of immigration laws and controlling gun violence. “There have been some problems, but we’re all adults and you just have to put the country ahead of party and you’ll be fine,” Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who helped organize the dinner, said before the meal. The increased outreach marks a shift in strategy for the White House, amid signs the president’s poll numbers are falling after he and Republicans were unable to avert the across-the- board spending cuts that took effect March 1. Jobless Claims in U.S. Unexpectedly Fall to a Six-Week Low (Bloomberg) First-time jobless claims unexpectedly fell by 7,000 to 340,000 in the week ended March 2, the lowest since the period ended Jan. 19, according to data today from the Labor Department in Washington. The median forecast of 50 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for an increase to 355,000. The four-week average dropped to a five-year low. JC Penney Board Can’t Be 'Delusional': Ex-CEO (CNBC) Former JC Penney CEO Allen Questrom told CNBC on Wednesday that the company's board of directors is wrong in thinking the struggling retailer can change its fortunes under current boss Ron Johnson. "The board has to take action. They can't be delusional like Ron Johnson is," Questrom said on "Fast Money Halftime Report." "This has been going on long enough. You can't say you're going to make your numbers for the year and then drop a billion dollars." Questrom, who has watched from afar as Penney's sales and stock have suffered, told CNBC that directors needed to act quickly. "If they think if it all of a sudden going to turn itself around, there is no way they can have reliable information – because Ron is not a source for that," he said. "The sooner they act, the better." 1 in 10 Yale students have engaged in prostitution, 3% have had sex with an animal (NYDN) Sexologist Dr. Jill McDevitt hosted the sex workshop session where around 55 students used their cellphones to answer questions about sex. The results were then published in real time on a screen. McDevitt, who also owns the Feminique sex store in West Chester, Pennsylvania, said the results showed "you can't have assumptions about people's backgrounds." Student Giuliana Berry, who hosted the event, told Campus Reform the workshop - part of Yale's Sex Weekend - aimed to increase understanding and compassion for people who indulged in "fringe sexual practices."

Opening Bell: 12.04.12

Banks Rediscover Money Management Again As Trading Declines (Bloomberg) Global banks, forced by regulators to reduce their dependence on profits from high-risk trading, have rediscovered the appeal of the mundane business of managing money for clients. Deutsche Bank is now counting on the fund unit it failed to sell to help boost return on equity, a measure of profitability. UBS is paring investment banking as it focuses on overseeing assets for wealthy clients. Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo, three of the five biggest U.S. banks, are considering expanding asset- management divisions as they seek to grab market share from fund companies such as Fidelity Investments. “Asset management is a terrific business,” said Ralph Schlosstein, chief executive officer of Evercore Partners Inc., a New York-based boutique investment bank that last month agreed to buy wealth manager Mt. Eden Investment Advisors LLC. “Asset managers earn fees consistently without risking capital. Compare that to other businesses in the financial services.” Hedge Funds Win as Europe Will Pay More for Greek Bonds (Bloomberg) Hedge funds drove up prices for Greek sovereign debt last week after determining that European finance ministers would back off a pledge to pay no more than about 28 percent of face value to retire the nation’s bonds. Money managers correctly wagered that not enough bondholders would participate at that level to get the deal done. That would put at risk bailout funds that Greece needs to stave off economic collapse. Transactions involving Greek bonds “increased by the day” after it became clear that the buyback was going to happen, with hedge funds accounting for most of the purchases, said Zoeb Sachee, the London-based head of European government bond trading at Citigroup Inc. “If all goes according to plan, everybody wins,” Sachee said. “Hedge funds must have bought lower than here. If it isn’t successful, Greece risks default and everybody loses.” GE's Swiss lending unit for sale, UBS to bid (Reuters) General Electric Co wants to sell its Swiss consumer lending business, two sources familiar with the matter said, with UBS one of the parties interested in a deal that could be worth up to 1.5 billion Swiss francs ($1.62 billion). The sources told Reuters that UBS was one of at least two parties who plan to submit bids in an auction process. "GE wants to finalize the sale of GE Money Bank by the end of the first quarter," said one of the sources. Brian Moynihan: 'Fiscal Cliff' Repercussions Could Stretch in 2014 (CNBC) "I'm more concerned about business behavior slowing down than I am about consumer behavior," Moynihan told "Squawk Box." "I think we're in danger if this thing strings out into 2013 that you could start to have problems of what 2014 would look like." Icahn Fails In Oshkosh Tender Offer (WSJ) The activist investor was tendered only a meek 22% of shares in an offer he used essentially as a proxy for whether shareholders would support his board nominees. Icahn, who had pledged to drop the offer and his proxy fight if he didn’t receive at least 25% of shares tendered, says he is indeed dropping the tender offer. Ex-baseball star Lenny Dykstra sentenced in bankruptcy fraud case (Reuters) Lenny Dykstra, the 1980s World Series hero who pleaded guilty earlier this year to bankruptcy fraud, was sentenced on Monday to six months in federal prison and ordered to perform 500 hours of community service. The 49-year-old former ballplayer - who is already serving time in state prison for grand theft auto, lewd conduct and assault with a deadly weapon - was also ordered to pay $200,000 in restitution. In the federal case, Dykstra pleaded guilty in July to bankruptcy fraud and other charges. According to the written plea agreement, he admitted defrauding his creditors by declaring bankruptcy in 2009, then stealing or destroying furnishings, baseball memorabilia and other property from his $18.5 million mansion. Teacher disciplined for receiving foot massages from students (SLT) A Taylorsville Elementary School teacher has returned to his third-grade classroom after being disciplined for violating professional standards after students reported they scratched his back, rubbed his feet and had other inappropriate contact while at school. Granite School District officials found no criminal conduct by elementary teacher Bryan Watts, 53, who has worked at the school since 2004, but the district claims to have taken "appropriate disciplinary action" following complaints about Watts...Granite District police Detective Randall Porter started an investigation into Watts’ conduct Oct. 9 after a mother expressed concern to the district after her daughter reported odd classroom behavior by Watts. "She complained that her daughter [name redacted] told her that Watts asks students to rub his feet and back during ‘movie time,’ that Watts told the class that they should not tell their parents about activities that happen in the classroom, and that Watts scared a student by hitting a hammer on the student’s desk," Porter wrote in his 19-page report...officials also said there were student statements about odd activities, including playing dodgeball in Watts’ classroom. Knight Capital May Go It Alone (NYP) Knight Capital’s board emerged from another meeting yesterday to review dueling takeover offers without making a decision. Both Getco and Virtu Financial have made bids for the Jersey City, NJ-based Knight, which had to be bailed out several months ago after a $460 million trading glitch nearly tanked the firm. “[Knight] can still decide to remain independent. That’s a real possibility,” said one source familiar with the bidding process. Top US Firms Are Cash-Rich Abroad, Cash-Poor At Home (WSJ) With billions of dollars overseas that may never come back, the Securities and Exchange Commission is concerned that companies haven't been presenting investors with an honest appraisal of their liquidity. As a result, regulators are pressing companies to more clearly lay out how much of their cash is in the U.S. and how much is overseas and potentially encumbered by U.S. taxes. UBS Near Libor Deal (Reuters) UBS is nearing a deal to settle claims some of its staff manipulated interest rates, and could reach agreement with US and British authorities by the end of the year, a source said yesterday. Britain’s Barclays was fined $453 million in June for manipulating Libor benchmark interest rates, and remains the only bank to settle in the investigation, which led to the resignation of the bank’s chairman and CEO. Calpers Crusader Takes Aim At Fees (WSJ) Mr. Desrochers, a 65-year-old native of Canada who last year became head of private-equity investing for the California Public Employees' Retirement System, has told buyout funds to reduce fees if they want cash from the $241 billion pension goliath, one of the nation's largest private-equity investors. He has pushed for Calpers to pay management fees below the industry's standard of 1% or more and asked for performance fees below the usual 15% to 20% of gains, according to people who have dealt with him. Mike Tyson: Brad Pitt Had Sex With My Wife (NYP) Mike Tyson claims that he caught Pitt having sex with his ex-wife, Robin Givens, while they were in the middle of their divorce in the late eighties. Tyson, who was shortly married to Givens from 1988 to 1989, said he and the actress were still sleeping with each other during their separation. "I was getting a divorce, but... every day, before I would go to my lawyer's office to say 'she's a pig and stealing,' I would go to her house to have sex with her," Tyson said on the Yahoo! Sports show “In Depth with Graham Bensinger.” "This particular day, someone beat me to the punch. And I guess Brad got there earlier than I did." How did the heavyweight boxer react? "I was mad as hell...You should have saw his face when he saw me," Tyson said.