Opening Bell: 03.25.14

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Loneliness of Kiev Bond Trader Shows Market Was Wiped Out (Bloomberg)
Not long ago, Ukraine was one of the hottest spots in emerging markets, posting returns of 24 percent on its dollar-denominated notes in 2012 and luring foreign firms led by Franklin Resources Inc. Those returns turned negative last year as the tug of war between Russian President Vladimir Putin and the West for control of Ukraine began to take shape amid the protests. The value of stocks traded on the Ukrainian Exchange has dropped 27 percent this year to 970 million hryvnia ($91 million), according to data on the bourse’s website. The benchmark equity gauge is up 9.3 percent over the past year after tumbling 69 percent the previous two years.

Morgan Stanley investors await Fed's buyback blessing (Reuters)
Morgan Stanley shareholders will find out this week whether the U.S. Federal Reserve will allow the bank to start returning capital to shareholders in a meaningful way for the first time since the financial crisis. But even if the Wall Street bank gets the Fed's blessing to buy back more shares and potentially raise its dividend, it is unlikely to hit a shareholder return target Chief Executive James Gorman set out for this year, analysts and investors said.

S&P Downgrades Brazil Credit Rating, Citing Weak Growth (WSJ)
The downgrade marks a turnaround from 2008, when Brazil's bonds were awarded investment-grade status amid the global financial crisis. The South American nation seemed to shrug off much of the global downturn, spurring an investor frenzy for Brazilian securities. Brazil soared to 7.5% growth in 2010.

SEC Is Probing Dealings by Banks and Companies in Loan Securities (WSJ)
The Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating whether a Wall Street boom in complicated bond deals is creating new avenues for fraud, according to people close to the probes. SEC investigators are looking at whether banks and companies are using the bond deals to hide certain risks illegally, said the people close to the probes. A number of likely cases in that area are in the pipeline, one of the people said. Separately, the government has expanded an inquiry into how Wall Street banks sell the deals, the people added. The securities being examined aren't traded on any exchanges or open platforms, and their prices are negotiated privately between buyers and sellers.

For Power Suits in Executive Suites, the Latest Accessory Is Rainbow Loom (WSJ)
Until his grandchildren got Rainbow Loom kits, Ralph Fatigate had never owned a bracelet. Now he has nine, all made of tiny colored rubber bands. He wears them to meetings with bankers around the world. Still, enough is enough. "I will wear no more than four at a time," said Mr. Fatigate, a former New York state banking regulator. Rainbow Loom bracelets are all the rage among the tween set, and now they are gaining favor among businessmen who can't say no to a handmade gift from their kids—or their grandchildren...Attorney Greg Keating has an even larger bracelet collection, with about 20 pieces he can choose from when getting dressed for work. Mr. Keating represents companies in employment litigation as a shareholder at law firm Littler Mendelson PC in Boston. His 11-year-old daughter Caroline started working with a looming kit last August. Now Mr. Keating said "she's probably approaching a black belt in Rainbow Loom" and recently made her dad a bracelet of glow-in-the-dark bands. Now he's noticing that other men in the workplace are wearing these bracelets, too: He's spotted them in his office elevator, at business meetings and even in the courtroom...During trials, lawyer Donald Migliori, a member at firm Motley Rice, wears two Rainbow Loom bracelets made by his children. He said he is reluctant to wear other kinds of jewelry that might distract jurors, but the loom bracelets are a welcome reminder of his kids during the more than half of the year he spends on the road for work. His 7-year-old daughter, Gloria, made him a purple, yellow and red Rainbow Loom ring recently. That's where Mr. Migliori, who has been involved in major litigation involving terrorism and tobacco, had to draw the line. The rubber accessories "are beautiful and meaningful," Mr. Migliori said. "But the ring is so thick that I can't even close my hand with it on." Still, he added, "it makes a nice little keychain."

Hurt in Crisis, TPG Pursues Smaller Deals (Dealbook)
For TPG, which still has several soured deals from the pre-crisis era in its portfolio, including huge losses on a troubled energy utility, the new approach involves moving beyond the gigantic acquisitions. Instead, it is looking more at buying minority stakes — common in the world of venture capital but rarer in the realm of buyout titans. None of TPG’s transactions since the financial crisis have topped the $5.2 billion that TPG and two partners spent in 2009 for IMS Health, which on Monday disclosed more information about its coming initial public offering.

Delaware judge calls for end to ‘deluge’ of activist votes (FT)
The chief justice’s proposals, in an article in the latest issue of the Columbia Law Review, include limiting the frequency of say-on-pay votes and charging investors to submit proposals to a company’s annual shareholder meeting. Without such curbs, Mr Strine says, investors could “turn the corporate governance process into a constant ‘Model United Nations’ where managers are repeatedly distracted by referenda on a variety of topics proposed by investors with trifling stakes”.

Adam McKay to direct finance drama 'The Big Short' (AP)
In a shift to drama, Adam McKay will write and direct an adaptation of Michael Lewis' financial crisis best-seller "The Big Short:The Doomsday Machine." Paramount Pictures announced Monday it will produce"The Big Short" along with Plan B, Brad Pitt's production company. McKay is best known as the director of comedies, including the two "Anchorman" films, "Talladega Nights" and "Step Brothers."

Kim Dotcom to list online venture in NZ$210m reverse takeover (FT)
Kim Dotcom, the flamboyant internet entrepreneur accused of masterminding the largest copyright infringement in US history, is planning to list his latest online venture on the New Zealand stock exchange. Mega Limited said on Tuesday that it had agreed to acquire TRS Investments, a shell company listed on the New Zealand stock exchange, in a reverse takeover. The all-share deal would value Mega at NZ$210m (US$180m). It remains conditional upon TRS obtaining shareholder approval. “A lot of people and other companies have expressed a desire to invest in Mega or even buy the company, so a listing is a natural step. It creates a currency,” said Mr Dotcom. He said Mega had sufficient funding to operate regardless, but that listing would enable investors to participate in the growth of a company that provided unique technology to combat “mass surveillance” by governments and corporations.

For sale: Warren Buffett's head, only $29.99 (CNBC)
Fathead.com, which sells oversized stick-on decals—usually of popular athletes—said on Monday it would launch a "Warren Buffett Big Head." The proceeds of the $29.99 decal, which measures 1'7" by 2', go two Detroit charities. "I was flattered, and frankly surprised, that anyone would want to purchase a Big Head with my face on it," Buffett said in a statement.

Oklahoma Girl Breaks Girl Scout Cookie Sales Mark (AP)
Katie Francis of Oklahoma City sold 18,107 boxes in the seven-week sales period that ended Sunday night. The previous mark was set by Elizabeth Brinton, who sold approximately 18,000 one year in the 1980s. The sixth-grade student told The Oklahoman newspaper last month that there were only three ingredients needed to rack up large sales: a lot of time, a lot of commitment and asking everyone she met to buy.

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KPMG Fires L.A. Partner Over Alleged Insider-Trading Tips (WSJ) KPMG LLP has fired a senior partner in its Los Angeles office, saying the unidentified partner had provided inside information about its clients to someone who had used that information in stock trading. In a statement late Monday night, the Big Four accounting firm also said it had resigned as the outside auditor of two of its clients because of the actions of the partner, who it described as the partner in charge of its audit practice in its Los Angeles business unit. KPMG said the partner "was involved in providing nonpublic client information to a third party, who then used that information in stock trades involving several West Coast companies." The firm didn't identify the third party or any of the companies involved. KPMG Said to Resign as Herbalife’s Auditor Over Investigation (Dealbook) Herbalife is poised to disclose on Tuesday that KPMG will have to resign as the company’s auditor, after the accounting firm fired a senior partner, according to a person briefed on the matter. JPMorgan Leads Job Cuts as Banks Seek to Bolster Profit (Bloomberg) Even after the industry posted its best results since 2006, the six largest U.S. banks announced plans in the first three months of this year to eliminate about 21,000 positions, or 1.8 percent of their combined workforce, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That’s the most since 2011’s third quarter. JPMorgan Chase, whose 259,000 people produced three straight years of record profit, topped the list with 17,000 reductions scheduled by the end of 2014. Fed Warned To Reign In QE (FT) Rick Rieder, who oversees $763 billion in fixed income investments for BlackRock, spoke out as the Fed debates how long to persist with the unorthodox measures it has used to stimulate the U.S. economy. His comments add BlackRock to the growing list of Fed critics who are warning of trouble ahead for the bond market. Fitch Cuts China Debt Rating (WSJ) The credit-rating firm Tuesday lowered China's long-term local currency rating to A-plus from AA-minus, with a stable outlook. It kept the foreign-currency rating unchanged at A+, saying it is well supported by China's massive foreign exchange reserves, worth $3.387 trillion at the end of 2012. KKR, Others In Mega-Deal (NYP) Private-equity titans Henry Kravis and Steven Schwarzman are teaming up on what is likely the biggest leveraged buyout in several years. KKR has joined an investor group of Blackstone, Carlyle, TPG Capital and Temasek to bid more than $12 billion for Life Technologies, a source said. SeaWorld IPO Could Raise $621 Million (Deal Journal) SeaWorld Entertainment plans to sell 10 million shares and Blackstone Group plans to sell the other 10 million, giving each up to $270 million a piece. Following the sale, Blackstone will continue to be the company’s majority shareholder, and would hold about 70.5% of the stock if the underwriter’s sold their full option. Trip to Cuba by Beyoncé and Jay-Z Is Investigated (NYT) The United States Treasury Department has begun investigating whether Jay-Z and Beyoncé — music’s royal couple — violated the trade embargo against Cuba by traveling to the island two weeks ago during their wedding anniversary, according to officials and a person who helped arrange their visit...Questions about the megastars’ trip have been swirling for days, with some Cuban exile bloggers describing the trip as a propaganda mission “carefully planned and controlled by the Castro dictatorship.” Putin Squeezing Out UBS to Deutsche Bank Using Oligarchs (Bloomberg) OAO Sberbank, Russias’s biggest lender, and VTB Group have increased investment-banking fee income more than fivefold since 2005, according to data compiled by Freeman & Co., a New York-based consulting firm. European financial institutions including UBS, Deutsche Bank and Royal Bank of Scotland lost almost half their market share during the period. EU Launches Probe Into MasterCard (WSJ) The European Union has opened an antitrust investigation into MasterCard, following concerns that some of the credit-card company's interbank fees are anticompetitive. Citigroup To Cut Senior Posts In Streamlining (WSJ) Under Mr. Forese's plan, there no longer will be a head of securities and banking, a post that Mr. Forese had held until his elevation to his new position. Also expected to go is the head of transaction services, currently occupied by Francesco Vanni d'Archirafi. Clarence man with frog phobia wins $1.6 million verdict (Buffalo News) “I’m petrified of the little creatures,” said Marinaccio, 65. If that sounds bizarre or far-fetched, consider one of Marinaccio’s childhood memories. He traces his deep-seated fear of frogs to when he was a child in an Italian vineyard, where his parents worked. He remembers wandering to a nearby property for figs and being chased away by a man holding bullfrogs. Decades later, frogs again have Marinaccio on the run. In the spring and summer months, they show up on his driveway and lawn – keeping him inside his home. Marinaccio sued the Town of Clarence and the developer of a nearby subdivision for diverting runoff onto his land and won a $1.6 million award...Neither side knows for sure how Marinaccio’s frog phobia affected the case. But jurors who returned the verdict in his favor heard his startling testimony on the witness stand in 2009. “You people don’t understand,” Marinaccio said in court. “I am petrified. I go home at night, and I can’t get in my garage because of the frogs. They’re right in front of the damn door, OK?” He talked about how he had to call his grown daughter, who lives a few miles away, two or three nights a week to come over and shoo away the frogs. “In the winter, it’s OK, because I know there’s no frogs,” he said. “But in the summertime, I mean I’m a damn prisoner in my own home.”

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