Opening Bell: 04.15.14

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Citigroup CEO Vows to Fix Regulatory Problems as Bank Logs Higher Profit, Beats Estimates (WSJ)
Speaking after Citigroup reported better-than-expected first-quarter earnings Monday, Mr. Corbat faced more than a dozen questions from analysts on the bank's recent failure to win regulatory approval to return capital to shareholders. "Is the Fed denial a wake-up call for Citi or not?" CLSA analyst Michael Mayo asked. "We're wide awake," Mr. Corbat replied after declaring earlier, "I want, and I know shareholders deserve, an industrial-strength, permanent solution that paves the way for sustainable capital return over time."

Stockbrokers Who Fail Test Have Checkered Records (WSJ)
More than 51,500 stockbrokers failed a basic exam needed to sell securities at least once, according to data that Wall Street regulators don't disclose to investors, and those who repeatedly failed have on average worse disciplinary records. The more times a broker failed, the higher the average total of black marks was, such as criminal charges and firings, a Wall Street Journal analysis of the data found. Those who failed the test more than twice, for example, were 77% more likely to report a felony or financial-related misdemeanor than brokers who passed the exam on the first try, and about 55% more likely to have been terminated.

Mt. Gox founder won't appear in U.S. for questions about bankruptcy case (Reuters)
Mark Karpeles, the founder of Mt. Gox, said he would not come to the United States to answer questions about the Japanese bitcoin exchange's U.S. bankruptcy case, Mt. Gox lawyers told a federal judge on Monday. In the court filing, Mt. Gox lawyers cited a subpoena from the U.S. Department of Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, which has closely monitored virtual currencies like bit coin. "Mr. Karpeles is now in the process of obtaining counsel to represent him with respect to the FinCEN Subpoena. Until such time as counsel is retained and has an opportunity to 'get up to speed' and advise Mr. Karpeles, he is not willing to travel to the U.S.", the filing said.

Regulators Weigh Curbs on Trading Fees (WSJ)
SEC officials, including some commissioners, are considering a trial program to curb fees and rebates they say can make trading overly complex and pose a conflict of interest for brokers handling trades on behalf of big investors such as mutual funds.

NY attorney general probes Herbalife: sources (NYP)
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is investigating Herbalife over claims it is a pyramid scheme, The Post has learned. At least two whistleblowers have come forward and given Schneiderman’s investigators sworn testimony, sources said. The New York lawman has also fielded complaints from former Hispanic Herbalife distributors who say they were defrauded by Herbalife, sources said.

Berlusconi Given Community Service for Tax Fraud (NYT)
Former Premier Silvio Berlusconi must spend at least four hours a week in the service of the elderly to repay society for his tax fraud conviction, the first sentence against him ever confirmed by Italy's highest court. The one-year assignment, announced by a Milan court on Tuesday, curtails Berlusconi's ability to participate in the upcoming European election campaign — a point of contention among his political allies...The court stipulated that Berlusconi must spend most of his time in the Lombard region, where he lives, but granted permission to travel to Rome from Tuesday to Thursday each week. He must spend at least four straight hours one day a week at an elderly center, the court said. The document did not identify the center, or specify what Berlusconi would do there. Berlusconi was sentenced to four years for tax fraud, reduced to one year for a general amnesty. The one-year community service order may eventually be reduced by 45 days...The media mogul is on trial for political corruption in Naples and under investigation in Milan for witness tampering in trials relating to sex-fueled parties at his villa near Milan.

Moelis IPO Offers Founders Riches as Bank Shares Decline (Bloomberg)
Do you want to be buying what Kenneth Moelis is selling? The Wall Street veteran, who has helped companies from HJ Heinz Co. to NYSE Euronext decide the best time to sell, is taking his seven-year-old Moelis & Co. public today. He’s seeking a valuation of as much as $1.58 billion for the New York-based investment bank, while also structuring the sale to ensure he retains control of the firm.

Credit Suisse Value Lags UBS as Dougan Keeps Debt Trading (Bloomberg)
Dougan needs to cut Credit Suisse’s dependence on the investment bank’s fixed-income business, which is volatile and lacks scale, said Kian Abouhossein, a London-based analyst at JPMorgan Chase & Co. He also said the securities unit, which had 19,700 employees at the end of last year, or 100 more than at the end of 2008, should cut its workforce by about 15 percent.

Draghi’s Euro Warning Seen as Cheap Talk by Traders (Bloomberg)
Mario Draghi’s suggestion this weekend that the ECB may ease policy to address the euro’s advance marked a strengthening of a position he’s been setting out for weeks. Yet the 18-nation currency has shrugged off his repeated comments and climbed since the beginning of March, while options traders are about the least bearish on the euro since November 2009.

Why Munich Went Ahead and Set Up 6 Official 'Urban Naked Zones' (Atlantic Cities)
Is it OK to walk around naked in the middle of a major city? The idea of seriously debating this question might seem bizarre, but that's just what the city of Munich has been doing for much of this year. Statewide laws controlling nude sunbathing in Bavaria expired last autumn, and Germany's third largest city has had to decide for itself whether or not to allow sun-seekers to strip off in public. The answer they came up with is a qualified yes. People in Munich are now officially welcome to go naked provided they restrict themselves to six designated areas across the city. While these areas' locations in parkland gives them a degree of seclusion, none of them are fenced off or hidden away. One spot is barely ten minutes from Munich's main square, located along a stream to which tourists flock.

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Opening Bell: 01.09.13

UBS Says Cleaning Up Its Act After Libor 'Shocker' (Reuters) UBS has yet to fully purge itself of a global interest rate scandal that has cost the Swiss bank its reputation and put it at risk of a wave of costly civil suits, its investment banking chief said on Wednesday. The once-venerable institution was fined a record $1.5 billion last month for manipulating Libor interest rates, the latest in a string of scandals including a $2.3 billion rogue trading loss and a damaging tax avoidance row with the United States. "We are very focused on recovering the honor and standing the organisation had in the past," Andrea Orcel told Britain's Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, set up in the aftermath of the Libor scandal. "I am convinced that we have made a lot of progress. I am also convinced that we still need to do more." [...] Committee member Justin Welby, the incoming Archbishop of Canterbury, asked Orcel if he was the right man to turn UBS around. "I feel I have a high level of integrity," the banker said. Orcel said that UBS was working at simplifying the investment banking business to make it less risky and prone to scandal. The committee, a cross-party panel of lawmakers headed by Conservative MP Andrew Tyrie, is switching its focus to standards and culture after spending most of the past three months assessing structural reform. Tyrie on Wednesday described the Libor rigging as "a shocker of enormous proportions". Button-Down Central Bank Bets It All (WSJ) Switzerland, for decades a paragon of safety in finance, is engaged in a high-risk strategy to protect its export-driven economy, literally betting the bank in a fight to contain the prices of Swiss products sold abroad. The nation's central bank is printing and selling as many Swiss francs as needed to keep its currency from climbing against the euro, wagering an amount approaching Switzerland's total national output, and, in the process, turning from button-down conservative to the globe's biggest risk-taker. JPMorgan Overhaul Widens (WSJ) The shift of Mr. Maclin and the departure of Mr. Staley, who once was seen as a top candidate to succeed James Dimon as chief executive, are the latest steps in a drastic reshaping of J.P. Morgan's executive suite. Many of the new leaders—a group that includes corporate and investment-bank co-heads Mike Cavanagh and Daniel Pinto, co-chief operating officer Matthew Zames and Chief Financial Officer Marianne Lake—are in their 40s. Mr. Cavanagh and Mr. Zames, who were asked last May to unwind a series of botched bets placed by a trader in the bank's Chief Investment Office known as the "London whale," are viewed as front runners for the top job, said people close to the bank. Ackman Braces for Legal Battle Over Herbalife (FBN) If filed, the lawsuit could involve alleged “tortuous interference,” implying Ackman intentionally damaged Herbalife’s business relationships, people close to Ackman said. On Tuesday, a large Herbalife distributor said he was leaving the company and called on other distributors to join him amid the controversy. In a sign of the importance of its distribution channels, Herbalife says in regulatory filings its relationship with and ability to influence distributors are items that can “materially” affect its financial condition. As of late Tuesday, people with knowledge of the matter said no decision on timing or even if a lawsuit will actually be filed had been made. The company has told FOX Business it is weighing legal action against Ackman. Ackman declined to comment on the matter. Herbalife has hired famed attorney David Boies to launch possible litigation against Ackman as well as the investment bank Moelis & Co., as its financial adviser. Goldman Will Report Fund Values Each Day (WSJ) In a reversal of industry practice, Goldman Sachs Group will begin disclosing the values of its money-market mutual funds daily rather than monthly, according to people familiar with the company's plans. Some of the changes will take effect as early as Wednesday...According to people familiar with Goldman's thinking, the company is beefing up its disclosures to satisfy investors' calls for greater transparency on fluctuations in the price of their investments. Brazil prostitutes to learn English ahead of World Cup (AP) Prostitutes in one of Brazil's biggest cities are beginning to sign up for free English classes ahead of this year's Confederations Cup and the 2014 World Cup. The president of the Association of Prostitutes of the city of Belo Horizonte says by telephone that 20 have already signed up for the courses and she expects at least 300 of the group's 4,000 members to follow suit. The association is organizing the classes and seeking volunteer teachers. Prostitution is legal in Brazil. Belo Horizonte will host six World Cup matches and Vieira said Tuesday "it will be important for the girls will be able to use English to let their clients know what they are charging and learn about what turns them on." AIG Cites Duty to Weigh Suing U.S. as Lawmaker Criticism Mounts (Bloomberg, related) American International Group said it has a duty to weigh joining a suit by former Chief Executive Officer Maurice “Hank” Greenberg that claims the insurer’s 2008 U.S. bailout was unconstitutional. “The board of directors has fiduciary and legal obligations to the company and its shareholders to consider the demand served on us,” CEO Robert Benmosche said yesterday in a statement. The board is scheduled to meet today to hear arguments from representatives of Greenberg and the U.S. Lawmakers including Senators Elizabeth Warren and Robert Menendez and Representative Peter Welch said New York-based AIG shouldn’t join the suit. “Taxpayers are still furious that they rescued a company whose own conduct brought it down,” Welch said in a letter to AIG Chairman Steve Miller. “Don’t rub salt in the wounds with yet another reckless decision.” Vow of New Light For 'Dark' Trades (WSJ) Richard Ketchum, chief executive of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, said in an interview Tuesday that the regulator is expanding its oversight of the dark-trading venues, with an eye on whether orders placed in public exchanges are "trying to move prices or encourage sellers that may advance their trading in the dark market." The regulator also is boosting its surveillance of high-speed trading and is increasingly looking at rapid-fire trading across exchanges, he said. "You're going to see more [focus] in those areas in 2013," Mr. Ketchum said. Goldman, Morgan Stanley to Settle on Foreclosures (Reuters) Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are among a group of banks expected to agree as soon as this week to a $1.5 billion settlement with federal regulators over botched foreclosure claims, two sources familiar with the matter said on Tuesday. The accord would come on the heels of a separate $8.5 billion settlement announced on Monday with 10 bigger mortgage servicers, including Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo...Goldman and Morgan Stanley's respective roles in the settlement stems from mortgage-servicing businesses that the two investment banks purchased in the run-up to the subprime mortgage crisis, and have since sold. Goldman had owned Litton Loan Servicing and Morgan Stanley owned Saxon Capital. Taco Bell responds to teen's request for a custom Speedo (LI) The week before Christmas, 15-year-old Ryan Klarner posted on Taco Bell’s Facebook page, introducing himself with a rundown of his swimming and diving achievements before making an offbeat request. “[I]s there any way you guys could make me a customized Speedo that says think outside the buns on the back of it? If you did, that would mean the world to me,” the Illinois teen asked...Klarner said he first came up with the idea a couple of years earlier and decided last month to go ahead and ask, even though he never had asked a company on Facebook for anything before. “I did not expect it to blow up as much as it has. I didn’t really expect to get the Speedo out of it, either,” he said. But last Wednesday, the social media team at Taco Bell wrote back. “What size do you wear? And what’s your address?” “He really wanted something and he went after it,” Tressie Lieberman, director of digital and social engagement, said. When we think people are really extraordinary...then we want to reward them.”