Opening Bell: 03.26.14 - Dealbreaker

Opening Bell: 03.26.14

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King Raises $500 Million in ‘Candy Crush’ Maker’s U.S. Offering (Bloomberg)
King and shareholders Apax Partners LLP and Index Ventures sold 22.2 million shares for $22.50 each, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, after offering them for $21 to $24. The IPO price values King at $7.09 billion.

ECB Mulls Bolder Moves to Guard Against Low Inflation (WSJ)
European Central Bank officials sent strong signals Tuesday that they are willing to consider dramatic steps to guard against dangerously low inflation, suggesting the bank is prepared to shed some of its traditionally cautious approach. The possible tools, cited by some top policy makers from different parts of the euro zone, include effective negative interest rates—meaning rates so low that commercial banks would essentially pay the ECB to park their extra cash overnight. They also include purchases of government or private-sector debt to hold down long-term rates and spur lending.

Facebook to Buy Virtual Reality Firm Oculus for $2 Billion (WSJ)
Facebook made its second blockbuster acquisition of the year, agreeing Tuesday to acquire Oculus VR Inc., a 20-month-old maker of virtual-reality goggles, for $2 billion in cash and stock. Like Facebook's $19 billion purchase last month of text-messaging service WhatsApp, the deal is part of the social-networking company's vast ambition to connect people across all kinds of devices and modes of communication. The deal also highlights the intense competition among big technology companies for promising startups, even when those startups, like Oculus and WhatsApp, have little revenue. Oculus's headset, called Rift, today is a visual device for playing videogames. But Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg said on Tuesday that the social network has bigger plans for it. "We're going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences," Mr. Zuckerberg said in a statement.

BlackRock's Fink Sounds the Alert (WSJ)
In a shot across the bow of activist investors, BlackRock Inc. BLK +1.66% Chief Executive Laurence Fink has privately warned big companies that dividends and buybacks that activists favor may create quick returns at the expense of long-term investment. In so doing, the head of the world's largest money manager by assets lent his voice to a popular criticism of activist investors, even as his firm sometimes aligns with and may benefit from their efforts. "Many commentators lament the short-term demands of the capital markets," Mr. Fink wrote in the letter reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, sent to the CEO of every S&P 500 company in recent days, according to BlackRock. "We share those concerns, and believe it is part of our collective role as actors in the global capital markets to challenge that trend."

Former Co-op bank boss recounts 'hellish' months after drugs revelation (Guardian)
Paul Flowers, the former Co-operative Bank chair and methodist minister exposed last year for allegedly taking drugs and booking male prostitutes, has spoken publicly for the first time about his addiction – revealing he spent a month in a rehab clinic, and describing the storm around his private and professional life in recent months as "hellish". Flowers said he spent 28 days before Christmas at a well-known hospital tackling his drug habit, and he was still making weekly visits for treatment. He said that while still chairman of the bank, he had come under "considerable pressure" from ministers to conclude the Co-operative's much-publicised agreement to buy 600 branches from Lloyds.

Ukrainian women launch sex boycott against Russian men (NYP)
The sex boycott is called “Don’t Give It to a Russian,” and organizers are calling on Ukraine’s “female heroes [to] fight the enemy by whatever means.” The campaign was named after a line from a poem by Ukrainian national hero Taras Shevchenko called “Kateryna” that reads “Fall in love, O dark-browed maidens, but not with the Moskaly [Russians].” Katerina Venzhik, an editor of the Russian news Web site Delo.UA who lives in Kiev, said the no-sex pledge was deadly serious. “We’ve used this campaign to draw attention to the chaos done by the Russians in Crimea: kidnapping, limiting the rights of people, preventing journalists from doing their work. And yes, Ukrainian women prefer Ukrainian men,” she told The Independent.

China Banks Drained by ‘Vampire’ Internet Funds (Bloomberg)
It has been labeled a “blood-sucking vampire” by a prominent commentator on state-run television. Executives at China’s largest banks have called for regulators to curb its rapid expansion. The focus of this ire is Internet financing, specifically Yu’E Bao, the fund pioneered nine months ago by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s online-payment affiliate Alipay. Its ease of use, involving a few taps on a smartphone, has drawn deposits from 81 million customers, more than the population of Germany, as they chase returns higher than China’s banks can offer. The total exceeded 500 billion yuan ($80 billion) as of Feb. 28, according to the official Xinhua news agency, double the amount reported by Alipay in mid-January.

Corzine loses bid to dismiss lawsuit over MF Global’s collapse (Reuters)
US District Judge Victor Marrero in Manhattan said on Monday the trustee may pursue damages over claims that Corzine, former chief operating officer Bradley Abelow and former chief financial officer Henri Steenkamp breached their duties of care and loyalty to the company.

E-Trade CEO pockets $13.5 million after just a year (Reuters)
In its annual proxy filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Tuesday, the New York-based bank and brokerage firm said Paul Idzik, a former Barclays Bank retail banking executive who joined in January 2013, received $4.42 million in cash and $9 million of stock that vests over four years.

So what happens to Rex Ryan's tattoo of his wife wearing nothing but a Mark Sanchez jersey? (NJ.com)
The Jets seem to have a hole at cornerback. There will be a quarterback competition between Michael Vick and Geno Smith. And there's still plenty of time for the rest of the roster to take shape. But forget all that. At Tuesday morning's coaches breakfast at the NFL's annual meetings in Orlando, Fla., Rex Ryan answered the franchise's most pressing question of the offseason: What's he going to do with that arm tattoo of his wife wearing nothing but a Mark Sanchez jersey? "The tattoo is still there," Ryan said, rolling up his sleeve to show the reporters gathered at his table. "I'm not going to say anything about the Sanchez tattoo. It was my tattoo, and it's still my tattoo." He then let out a hearty laugh..."I may alter it, who knows," Ryan also said of the tattoo. "I'm going to put 75 on it to honor Winston Hill [the great left tackle from the Jets' Super Bowl III championship team]. I think that's the idea. That's what I'm going to do."

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Opening Bell: 11.12.12

Leucadia Agrees to Buy Jefferies for About $2.76 Billion (Bloomberg) Leucadia National Corp agreed to buy the the portion of Jefferies Group it doesn’t already own for about $2.76 billion. Investors will receive 0.81 Leucadia share for each Jefferies share they own, the companies said today in a statement. The deal values the entire company at about $3.59 billion, based on data from the company’s most recent 10-Q regulatory filing. Jefferies management will run the firm, according to the report. Leucadia already holds about 28.6 percent of New York-based Jefferies. Jefferies Chief Executive Officer Richard Handler will become CEO of New York-based Leucadia after the transaction is completed, which the companies said they expected in the first quarter. Handler will remain CEO of Jefferies as well. “This transaction represents the realization of a personal dream for me,” Handler, 51, said in the statement. Greece Passes 2013 Austerity Budget (WSJ) Greece passed on Monday a 2013 austerity budget needed to unlock further funding for the cash-strapped country, although international creditors have indicated the disbursement may be weeks away as they squabble over how to resolve the nation's debt problems. Euro-zone finance ministers will meet Monday in Brussels, where they had been expected to approve Greece's next aid payment of €31.5 billion ($40 billion), but no decision is now expected until they are assured the country's overhauls are on track. The budget, approved by a 167-128 vote, foresees Greece taking €9.4 billion of budget cuts next year, dealing a fresh blow to an economy seen contracting 4.5% next year, its sixth year of recession. Spain Needs A Bailout Urgently: Former ECB Member (CNBC) Bini Smaghi told CNBC that Spain must not waste any more time and that it needed to apply for help from Europe's bailout fund. "They need to revitalize the economy and they need lower interest rates [and] the only way to do that [is] to request a program," he said, adding that Spain should have done so "yesterday." White House Plans Public Appeal On Deficit (WSJ) Mr. Obama has planned the meetings as policy makers start work to craft a package of deficit-reduction measures that could come in place of the so-called fiscal cliff, the mandatory spending cuts and tax increases scheduled to begin in January. His meetings with labor and business leaders come before he meets with congressional leaders Friday, evidence the White House believes Mr. Obama can use momentum from his re-election to marshal outside support and heighten pressure on Republicans to agree to tax increases on upper-income earners. The strategy comes as many Republicans appear to have softened their antitax rhetoric in the wake of the election, with many openly acknowledging that higher taxes will likely be part of any plan to reduce the deficit. Boehner Tells House GOP to Fall in Line (NYT) On a conference call with House Republicans a day after the party’s electoral battering last week, Speaker John A. Boehner dished out some bitter medicine, and for the first time in the 112th Congress, most members took their dose. Their party lost, badly, Mr. Boehner said, and while Republicans would still control the House and would continue to staunchly oppose tax rate increases as Congress grapples with the impending fiscal battle, they had to avoid the nasty showdowns that marked so much of the last two years. Members on the call, subdued and dark, murmured words of support — even a few who had been a thorn in the speaker’s side for much of this Congress. It was a striking contrast to a similar call last year, when Mr. Boehner tried to persuade members to compromise with Democrats on a deal to extend a temporary cut in payroll taxes, only to have them loudly revolt. No Increase Of Banker Bonuses This Year (NYP) That’s the dour view of executive-compensation firm Johnson Associates, which says investment-banking business is so slow that after the sector’s workers bore the brunt of most of the 7,000 job losses on the Street this year, they will find the bonus pie smaller as well. “It’s a tremendous drop from five years ago. If you were getting an average bonus of $400,000 back in 2007, then this year it will probably be around $200,000 or $250,000,” says Alan Johnson, managing director of Johnson Associates...However, fixed-income executives, who sell bonds, should see bonuses rise this year by something between 10 percent and 20 percent. Deputies: Man impersonated federal officer to get into Epcot for free (Orlando Sentinel) A 74-year-old Miami man who was trying to avoid paying nearly $100 to get into Epcot, was arrested after he impersonated a Federal officer. Emerito Pujol flashed a fake badge at an Epcot employee as he passed through the turnstiles at the park around noon on Saturday. The employee challenged him and asked to see the badge again. He claimed he was an undercover officer who was looking for someone, according to an arrest report. When a security guard approached him, Pujol again claimed he was "in service" and was "guarding someone important," the report states...Pujol was arrested and charged with unlawful use of a police badge, falsely impersonating an officer and petty theft. No Individual Charges In Probe Of JPMorgan (WSJ) The top U.S. securities regulator doesn't intend to charge any individuals in its planned enforcement action against J.P. Morgan for the allegedly fraudulent sale of mortgage bonds, according to people close to the investigation. The largest U.S. bank by assets will pay a significant financial penalty under the proposed deal, which has been approved by Securities and Exchange Commission staff but not by the agency's five commissioners, said the people close to the probe. Nomura Launches Private Equity Index (FT) The Japanese bank will look to match the returns of private equity funds – which take over companies, restructure them, and then seek to sell them at a profit – by investing in publicly traded companies in sectors that are attracting attention from buy-out groups. Morgan Stanley Sues Ex-FrontPoint Manager Over Insider Trading (Reuters) In a complaint filed in Manhattan federal court on October 31, Morgan Stanley sued ex-FrontPoint Partners hedge fund manager Joseph "Chip" Skowron over the funds the bank paid to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The lawsuit also called for unspecified compensatory and punitive damages. Doctor-turned-stock picker Skowron pleaded guilty in August to trading stock of Human Genome Sciences Inc in 2008 based on non-public information he admitted to having received from a consultant for the biotech company, who also pleaded guilty to insider trading charges. Skowron was sentenced to five years in prison and ordered to forfeit $5 million. "Beyond the harm attendant to having one of its managing directors plead guilty to serious criminal conduct, the firm expended its own reputational capital by defending Skowron during the years it believed, based entirely on his misrepresentation, that he had not violated the law," the complaint said. So, maybe that Romney face tattoo wasn’t such a good idea... (Politico) With the election over, supporters of Mitt Romney have to pack up their campaign signs and paraphernalia and get on with their lives. But what if you can’t get rid of that stuff? Literally. Eric Hartsburg caught some attention in the weeks leading up to the election for having the Romney campaign’s logo tattooed on his face. Suffice to say, he’s not happy with Tuesday’s results. “Totally disappointed, man,” Hartsburg told POLITICO. “I’m the guy who has egg all over his face, but instead of egg, it’s a big Romney/Ryan tattoo. It’s there for life.” Hartsburg’s tattoo covers a 5-by-2 inch space on the side of his face, and he did it after raising $5,000 on eBay for the effort. He didn’t even tell his wife he planned to get the tattoo until about an hour before. “Right away, she was taken aback,” Hartsburg said, adding that his wife is also a Romney/Ryan supporter. “My 15-year-old son, however, he was all about it.”

Opening Bell: 04.03.13

Barclays High-Pay Culture Brought Disrepute: Report (WSJ) Barclays PLC suffered from "a lack of self-awareness" in recent years as a culture of high pay and short-term incentives brought the bank into disrepute, according to an independent report by lawyer and investment banker Anthony Salz. The Salz Review, which was commissioned by Barclays' former chairman after the bank admitted to trying to rig interbank interest rates last summer, describes how in about 10 years the lender expanded to become a disparate set of businesses, each with its own culture. "The result of this growth was that Barclays became complex to manage," the report published Wednesday said. "Despite some attempts to establish group-wide values, the culture that emerged tended to favor transactions over relationships, the short term over sustainability, and financial over other business purposes." The 235-page report—which cost Barclays about £17 million ($25.7 million) to have produced—recommended a series of reforms aimed at trying to foster a common sense of purpose across the bank. To this end, Barclays' board must play a more active role in overseeing the business and Barclays' human resources department must be given more power to stand up on issues such as pay, the report said. Ex-Goldman Sachs Trader Taylor Said to Surrender to FBI (Bloomberg) Former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. traderMatthew Taylor planned to surrender today to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, a person familiar with the matter said. Taylor was accused Nov. 8 by the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission of concealing an $8.3 billion position in 2007 that caused New York-based Goldman Sachs to lose $118 million. Morgan Stanley hired Taylor in March 2008, less than three months after Goldman Sachs disclosed in a public filing that he had been fired for building an “inappropriately large” proprietary trading position. Cyprus Bailout Details Emerge After IMF Deal (WSJ) The IMF statement set out the tough terms the tiny nation of 800,000 has to meet to get the bailout, calling the task ahead "challenging." Cyprus, an economy of roughly €17 billion in annual output, needs to push through cuts and savings worth 4.5% of gross domestic product by 2018 to hit a primary-surplus target of 4% of GDP outlined in the bailout deal, the IMF statement said. These cuts will come on top of savings worth 5% of GDP the government is already implementing through to 2015. An extra 2% of GDP in extra revenue will come from an increase in the country's corporate tax from 10% to 12.5% and an increase in the tax on interest income from 15% to 30%. The country's corporate-tax rate will remain among the lowest in Europe, on an equal footing with Ireland's, and will allow Cyprus to continue to use its tax regime to attract businesses, but the increase in withholding tax will make it substantially less attractive as a place for individuals to leave their savings. Cyprus Leader Invites Family Firm Probe (FT) Cyprus president Nicos Anastasiades has urged judges investigating the country's banking disaster to examine transactions handled by his family law firm as "a priority" in a bid to defuse public anger over last-minute transfers by well-connected Cypriots, Russians and Ukrainians who thereby avoided a "haircut" on their uninsured deposits. The move followed questions over whether a company managed by the president's son-in-law made use of inside information to transfer more than 20 million euros out of Laiki Bank days before its collapse. Marc Lasry In French Follies (NYP) Lasry, the CEO and co-founder of Avenue Capital, is on his way to getting a plum assignment as the US ambassador to France as a reward for his many years as a big Democratic fundraiser. But the Moroccan-born, French-speaking American could encounter some uncomfortable moments when he lands in Paris, given his views on the land of fine wine, crusty baguettes — and European socialism. “We don’t invest in France,” he said at a New York hedge-fund conference sponsored by French bank BNP in June 2010, even apologizing to his hosts as he made the comment. Lasry, who is a bankruptcy lawyer by training, loves to chide other countries for their creditor-unfriendly ways. His $11.7 billion distressed debt fund buys up beaten-down credits of companies headed towards bankruptcy, with the payout determined by their ranking in the process. That can be dicey in countries like France, he explained at the BNP conference, as “the legal system is very much tilted towards helping unions and workers.” As a result, he said, “you might find your claim disallowed.” 1,000 pot plants seized in Queens in warehouse raid (NYDN) A massive drug operation went up in smoke Tuesday when law enforcement officials raided an indoor marijuana farm in Queens. Authorities seized more than 1,000 pot plants - along with grow lights and other gear - from the 44th Rd. warehouse in Long Island City just after 3 p.m. , police sources said. Officials from the NYPD, state police and the federal Drug Enforcement Agency also rounded up five suspects in the sweep. New York-for-Buenos Aires Swap Theory Spreads: Argentina Credit (Bloomberg) Argentina’s refusal to improve its offer to holders of defaulted debt suing for full payment in the U.S. is deepening speculation that the nation will sever ties with the overseas bond market. The proposal submitted on March 29 mimics the terms of Argentina’s 2005 and 2010 debt exchanges, a move that could lead to a default on the restructured notes unless the country removes them from U.S. jurisdiction. BofA Chief Moynihan Said to Summon Managers for Revenue Push (Bloomberg) Bank of America Corp. Chief Executive Officer Brian T. Moynihan has summoned more than 100 of his regional leaders to a private meeting today where they’ll be pushed to boost the lender’s flagging revenue, said two people with direct knowledge of the project. Managers at the two-day event in Chicago will be judged on how much progress they’ve made in helping to sell more products to the 53 million customers of the second-biggest U.S. lender, said the people, who asked for anonymity because Moynihan’s plan hasn’t been made public. Revenue has dropped every year of Moynihan’s three-year tenure as he sold assets, repaired the firm’s balance sheet and settled more than $40 billion in claims tied to defective mortgages. Private Sector Adds 158,000 Jobs (WSJ) Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires expected ADP to report a gain of 192,000 private jobs. However, the February job gain was revised up to 237,000 from 198,000 reported a month ago. SEC Embraces Social Media (WSJ) In a ruling that portends changes to how companies communicate with investors, the Securities and Exchange Commission said Tuesday that postings on sites such as Facebook and Twitter are just as good as news releases and company websites as long as the companies have told investors which outlets they intend to use. Gray seal pup saved from death on Montauk beach now recovering (NYDN) The three-month-old seal, underweight at 40 pounds, is now resting in one of the foundation's rehabilitation tanks at the Atlantic Marine World aquarium in Riverhead. "She feels very sassy in her tank and doesn't appreciate anything we are doing for her," laughed Kimberly Durham, director of the rescue program, "which is a good sign. A nasty seal is a good sign that she is getting better because they are wild animals.