Opening Bell: 05.01.14

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Fed Cuts Bond Buys, Sees Growth Pickup (WSJ)
The Federal Reserve said Wednesday it would reduce its bond purchases to $45 billion a month and it was starting to see a growth pickup in recent weeks after a harsh winter that hit the U.S. economy. The Fed is effectively in watch, wait and plan mode. The $10 billion cut in monthly bond purchases, the fourth this year, was widely expected by investors and represents a continuation of the policy strategy laid out in the past few months by Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen, who took over in February, and former Chairman Ben Bernanke.

U.S. Economy Starts Year With a Whimper (WSJ)
Gross domestic product, the broadest measure of goods and services produced across the economy, grew at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 0.1% in the first quarter, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. It marked the second-worst quarterly performance since the recession ended in mid-2009...Harsh weather likely slowed first-quarter business investment and discretionary consumer spending. It could have even blocked exports—which notched their sharpest decline since the recovery began—from reaching ports.

Moguls Winfrey, Geffen, Ellison Weigh Bid for Clippers (Bloomberg)
Winfrey, the former talk-show host turned network owner, is discussing a joint bid for the Clippers with fellow billionaires David Geffen, the ex-music industry executive, and Oracle Corp. Chief Executive Officer Larry Ellison. Earvin “Magic” Johnson, the Hall of Fame basketball player and part owner of baseball’s Los Angeles Dodgers, said he was interested. “I will be owning an NBA team at some time,” Johnson said yesterday at the Milken Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California. “It has to be the right situation. Is the Clippers the right situation? Of course, it’s one of the premier franchises. Despite what we think of him, he’s done a good job with the business,” Johnson said of team owner Donald Sterling. “So we’ll just have to see.”

Buffett Pressures Coca-Cola Over Executive Pay (WSJ)
Coca-Cola likely will revise its executive-compensation plan before it goes into effect next year, bowing to pressure from billionaire investor Warren Buffett, according to people familiar with the matter. The potential changes come as a surprise after voting shareholders approved Coke's plan last week—and Mr. Buffett declined to vote against it. Mr. Buffett aired his reservations about the plan privately in recent weeks to Coke Chief Executive Muhtar Kent in three conversations, including at a dinner in Mr. Buffett's hometown of Omaha, Neb., according to some of the people familiar with the matter.

Accounting Group Taps Michael Bloomberg, Mary Schapiro (WSJ)
The Sustainability Accounting Standards Board, which sets voluntary accounting standards for publicly traded companies, is expected to announce the appointments Thursday. Mr. Bloomberg will serve as chair of its board and Ms. Schapiro as vice chair.

Mayor Rob Ford 'ready to take a break' (Toronto Sun)
Mayor Rob Ford says he’s “ready to take a break” from the mayoral election campaign to “go get help.” The decision to immediately step away from the campaign — while staying on the ballot — came after the Toronto Sun exclusively obtained a new raunchy audio recording of Ford ranting and swearing in an Etobicoke bar. The Globe and Mail also published a report that a new video surfaced of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford smoking what has been described as crack-cocaine early Saturday morning. Ford told the Sun columnist Joe Warmington that he realizes “it’s time” and that he “wants” to “deal with his issues.” He said he is being urged to not leave the mayoral race by people around him. The audio recording, covertly taped by a patron of Sullie Gorman’s Monday night, captures the mayor being unruly as he’s ordering booze at the Royal York Rd. bar, complaining about his wife Renata and making lewd comments about mayoral contender Karen Stintz. “I’d like to f-----g jam her (Stintz), but she doesn’t want ... I can’t talk like this...I’m so sorry,” Ford is heard saying on the recording. “I forgot there’s a woman in the house.” According to one witness, Ford was seen buying shooters and tequila and trying to fight with patrons Monday. “He was really wasted,” said the witness. “And he was acting like a real ass.” [...] The mayor said he didn’t recall saying any of the things on the recording, but confirmed he was at Sullie Gorman’s that night. “I wouldn’t say that — I wouldn’t say the word, ‘jam,’ — that’s not my terminology,” he said in a phone interview with Warmington Wednesday afternoon. “I am appalled (at what I said). I’d like to verify this (audio) first. Of course, I’m just joking around. Clearly, that’s what I mean.” [...] Ford is heard using threatening language: “Give me a shot right now or I’ll f-----g break your legs. I want another one.” A few moments later, he says, “If you don’t give me a shot I’m going to knock your f-----g teeth out.”

Funds for Troubled Mortgages Are on the Rise (Dealbook)
Donald R. Mullen Jr., the manager of Goldman Sachs’s subprime mortgage trade during the housing bubble, is raising $1 billion for a fund to be managed by his investment firm, Pretium Partners. Deepak Narula’s Metacapital Management also plans to start a fund to invest in delinquent mortgages, said a person briefed on the matter who was not authorized to speak publicly. Both Mr. Mullen and Mr. Narula are jumping into an increasingly crowded space. The hedge funds Ellington Management Group, One William Street Capital and Angelo, Gordon & Company are either already in the market or planning their own funds. Other institutional investors that are active in the so-called nonperforming loan market include the Blackstone Group, Oaktree Capital and Lone Star Funds.

IMF signs off on $17bn Ukraine package (FT)
The fund will disperse $3.2bn immediately, after its executive board agreed a two-year standby agreement. That will keep the government in Kiev afloat and able to service its debts, including gas debts to Russia.

N.J.’s Christie Used Chopper Almost Every Three Days (Bloomberg)
Flight logs for Christie, a 51-year-old Republican, were released to Bloomberg as a result of a New Jersey Open Public Records Act request. Christie has stepped up his air time even as he imposes municipal budget constraints and insists that public workers must pay higher costs for pensions and benefits. The flights last year compare with 23 in 2010, his first year in office; 66 in 2012; and 70 in 2011, records show. Christie, who took office promising to “tear up the state’s credit card,” was criticized in 2011 after he arrived at his son’s high school baseball game on a State Police helicopter, then re-boarded for a political meeting at the governor’s mansion in Princeton. He and the Republican Party, some of whose fundraisers were courting Christie to run for president in 2012, reimbursed the state for the trips...On Aug. 25, the governor and his friend, the best-selling novelist Harlan Coben, were inducted into the Little League Hall of Excellence in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania. The governor flew to Williamsport Regional Airport aboard a $12.5 million State Police-owned AgustaWestland AW139. The flight log included eight unnamed passengers, and the aircraft was engaged for eight hours, with almost three hours of flight time.

Exclusive: Faulty technology triggered CME trading outage - chairman (Reuters)
The worst-ever trading outage on the world's most important agricultural markets was triggered when sophisticated technology tripped over a trading halt in a single market, the executive chairman of exchange operator CME Group Inc told Reuters. The April 8 outage stopped electronic trading in 31 agricultural markets that influence global prices for food staples such as wheat, corn and pork, and sent a flood of traders into CME's (CME.O) normally deserted open-outcry futures pits to execute transactions. The electronic trading platform handles around 95 percent of the volumes in grain futures on a typical day, and market participants have been in the dark about the cause of the failure, with CME only saying a "technical issue" was to blame.

Mother-of-four sets world record for eating 12lbs of pudding worth...in only 3 minutes (DM)
Nebraska-based Molly Schuyler, 34, a competitive eater with several food guzzling accolades to her name already, smashed the previous world record, which was a paltry 2lbs 15oz of pudding in the same time. The stomach-churning feat was performed on Dish Nation and uploaded to YouTube, and sees the slim brunette consume a whopping 15,120 calories in one sitting - that's the equivalent of over seven days' worth of recommended calorie intake for a woman. In the three minute stunt, which tows the fine like between revolting and riveting, Ms Schuyler crouches eagerly over the enormous glass bowl of creamy pudding and shovels it down her throat with hawk-like concentration and lightning-fast spoon-to-mouth motion. The five hosts behind her observe slack-jawed with disbelief, one repeatedly questioning: 'Is she even breathing?' 'I don’t think she’s swallowing, I think it’s just, like, this natural gravitational pull', observes another...it's far from the first time she has demonstrated her eating prowess for the world to see. She is currently ranked the number one Female Independent Competitive Eater in the world. Other records include demolishing a 12lb sandwich washed down with 1lb of French fries in just under an hour - the only woman to even finish this particular challenge.

Related

Opening Bell: 01.29.13

US Wants Criminal Charges For RBS (WSJ) U.S. authorities are pushing for a settlement of interest-rate-rigging allegations with Royal Bank of Scotland that would result in a unit of the big British bank pleading guilty to criminal charges in addition to paying a penalty, according to people briefed on the negotiations. RBS executives are resisting any guilty plea, fearful that it could lead clients to cut off activity with the bank and that it could increase exposure to costly litigation, some of these people said. The negotiations reflect a newly tough stance by U.S. authorities, who until recently have faced criticism for rarely pursuing criminal action against big banks.U.S. authorities are pushing for a settlement of interest-rate-rigging allegations with Royal Bank of Scotland Group RBS.LN +0.52% PLC that would result in a unit of the big British bank pleading guilty to criminal charges in addition to paying a penalty, according to people briefed on the negotiations. RBS executives are resisting any guilty plea, fearful that it could lead clients to cut off activity with the bank and that it could increase exposure to costly litigation, some of these people said. The negotiations reflect a newly tough stance by U.S. authorities, who until recently have faced criticism for rarely pursuing criminal action against big banks. IRS can seek UBS records for taxpayers hiding income at Wegelin (Reuters) A federal judge on Monday authorized the Internal Revenue Service to seek records from UBS AG of U.S. taxpayers suspected of hiding their income in accounts with Swiss bank Wegelin. Wegelin, the oldest Swiss private bank, pleaded guilty in Manhattan federal court on January 3 to charges of helping wealthy Americans evade taxes through secret accounts and then announced it would close down as a result. Little Debbie Maker to Buy Drake’s Brand, Hostess Says (Bloomberg) Hostess Brands Inc. said McKee Foods Corp., maker of Little Debbie snacks, agreed to pay $27.5 million for its Drake’s brand and United States Bakery Inc. offered to buy certain bread brands for $28.9 million. “The contemplated purchase prices for Drake’s and the four bread brands, together with our previous announced stalking- horse bid for the majority of our bread business, means we have agreements to sell these assets for at least $440 million,” Hostess Chief Executive Officer Gregory F. Rayburn said today in a statement. United States Bakery agreed to buy the Sweetheart, Eddy’s, Standish Farms and Grandma Emilie’s bread brands, four bakeries and 14 depots, plus certain equipment, according to court papers. Iceland Wins Case On Deposit Guarantees (WSJ) Iceland won a sweeping victory in a court fight over its responsibilities to foreign depositors in Icelandic bank Landsbanki, which failed in 2008. The court of the European Free Trade Association on Monday said Iceland didn't breach European Economic Area directives on deposit guarantees by not compensating U.K. and Dutch depositors in Landsbanki's online savings accounts, known as Icesave accounts. The EFTA Surveillance Authority, or ESA, which brought the case against Iceland, had claimed that Iceland should have made sure U.K. and Dutch savers who lost money on Icesave got repaid from deposit insurance. Jamie-Lynn Sigler engaged to Lenny Dykstra's son (NYDN) The actress who played Meadow Soprano announced on Twitter Monday that she's engaged to Cutter Dykstra, a baseball player with the Washington Nationals. "So this just happened," she tweeted along with a photo showing off her huge new diamond alongside her smiling fiancé. "Thank you so much for all the love everyone. I am so happy and more importantly lucky," Sigler, 31, said in a follow-up tweet. "She said yes!!" Cutter, 23, wrote on his own Twitter feed. Sigler was by Cutter's side last month when family members filed into a federal courthouse in downtown Los Angeles for Lenny Dykstra's sentencing in his bankruptcy fraud case. Yahoo Profit Drops But Revenue Rises (WSJ) For Ms. Mayer, the results were enough that the "honeymoon period is going to last at least a couple of more quarters" while investors wait to see progress, said Sameet Sinha, an analyst at B. Riley & Co. Mayor Bloomberg Has Opinions (NYDN) In a New York Magazine profile about Christine Quinn, the City Council Speaker and candidate for mayor, the author recalled being introduced to Bloomberg at what he described as “a Christmas party for the rich” on the Upper East Side. “My friend and I followed the host over, shook Bloomberg’s hand, and my friend thanked him for his position on gun control,” the author writes. “Without even acknowledging the comment, Bloomberg gestured toward a woman in a very tight floor-length gown standing nearby and said, ‘Look at the ass on her.’” According to the article, Bloomberg also has strong opinions about Quinn’s appearance – turning up his nose when she wears flats or waits too long before coloring her hair. “The mayor has no use for flat shoes,” Quinn told the reporter. “I was at a parade with him once and he said, ‘What are those?’ and I said, ‘They’re comfortable,’ and he said, ‘I never want to hear those words out of your mouth again,’” she recalled. “He likes me in high heels.” “Another big thing with the mayor, when I am rooting … like, the couple of days a week before I need to get my hair colored, he’ll say, ‘Do you pay a lot to make your hair be two colors? Because now it’s three with the gray,’” Quinn continued. TARP Firms' Pay Unchecked (WSJ) Christy Romero, the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, on Monday said the Treasury failed to look out for taxpayers by relying "to a great extent on the companies' proposals and justifications without conducting its own independent analysis." Ms. Romero also said the Treasury hasn't put in place policies that would ensure salaries are within guidelines designed to discourage excessive risk taking by companies receiving bailout aid. Bridgewater’s Dalio Sees ‘Game Changer’ as Money Shifts (Bloomberg) Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates LP, the world’s biggest hedge fund, said 2013 will be a “game changer” for the economy as investors reallocate money after risks such as Europe’s sovereign debt crisis receded. “There’s a lot of money in a place that’s getting a very bad return and in this particular year there’s going to be, in my opinion, a shift,” Dalio said at a Bloomberg panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “The complexion of the world will change as that money goes from cash into other things. The landscape will change, particularly later in the year and beyond.” Will the New BlackBerry Win Back Corporate Customers? (WSJ) Survey says: probably not but maybe, who knows. Credit Suisse Said to Seek to Sublet at Hong Kong Skyscraper (Bloomberg) If you know anyone who's interested: Credit Suisse is seeking to sublet as much as 64,000 square feet of office space in Hong Kong’s tallest skyscraper, as prime office vacancies rise in the city amid job cuts by global financial services companies. The Zurich-based bank is looking for tenants to take up two floors, or about a fifth of the space it currently occupies at the International Commerce Centre in West Kowloon, according to two people with knowledge of the matter, who declined to be identified because the information isn’t public. Woman accused of putting poison in her privates in bid to kill husband (Mirror) A woman is being sued by her husband for allegedly trying to kill him by putting poison in her genitals and then asking him to perform oral sex. The Brazilian wife is accused of planting a toxic substance on her genitals before luring her husband to bed. Reports in the South American country suggest he was ready and willing, and only escaped death because he noticed a strange smell. The curious husband then took his wife to hospital in Sao Jose do Rito Preto to find out the cause of the unusual odour. The alleged attempt on his life was exposed when tests on his wife discovered traces of a poisonous substance down below.

Opening/Hurricane Bell: 10.29.12

Bracing for Storm, U.S. Stock Markets to Close (Dealbook) All United States stock and options markets will close on Monday as Hurricane Sandy approaches, reversing course as Wall Street braces for the storm to barrel through the heart of the country’s financial center. The decision, made late Sunday night, leaves the American stock markets closed for weather conditions for the first time in nearly three decades. The New York Stock Exchange had previously planned on closing only its physical trading floor, while allowing for trading on its Arca electronic exchange. It has now decided to halt all trading. The Nasdaq and BATS stock markets, which are built on electronic trading, also decided to close. The CME Group, which operates the Nymex commodities exchange, said earlier on Sunday that it would close its physical trading floor on Monday, though trading would continue on its electronic trading platforms. The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, or Sifma, said in an e-mailed statement that it was calling for bond trading, which is all done electronically, to close at noon Monday, though it left the final decision to member firms. The N.Y.S.E. last closed trading for weather reasons in 1985, when Hurricane Gloria lashed the metropolitan area. Markets Go Dark Ahead Of Storm (WSJ) Customers had complained to the exchanges and to the Securities and Exchange Commission that partial closures of the market would be too complicated, according to people with knowledge of the matter. US Stock Markets To Possibly Stay Closed Through Tuesday (Reuters) In a statement, the company said that "the dangerous conditions developing as a result of Hurricane Sandy will make it extremely difficult to ensure the safety of our people and communities, and safety must be our first priority." Citigroup, Goldman Sachs Shut Some NYC Offices for Storm (Bloomberg) Citigroup and and Goldman Sachs are among Wall Street firms planning to shift operations to other cities and have staff work from home as Hurricane Sandy’s arrival in New York forces evacuations. Employees at Citigroup, the third-biggest U.S. bank by assets, won’t be able to enter Lower Manhattan offices on Greenwich Street and Wall Street, which include the main trading floor, according to a memo sent to workers and confirmed by Shannon Bell, a spokeswoman. Goldman Sachs, whose corporate headquarters at 200 West St. is also located in an evacuation zone, told the staff in an internal memo that most of them will work from home...European-based firms including Deutsche Bank AG, Credit Suisse Group AG and UBS AG, which have offices outside of the mandatory evacuation zone, are making arrangements to provide transportation and hotels for workers. Christie: "Don't Be Stupid" (AP) A year after telling New Jersey residents to "Get the hell off the beach" as Hurricane Irene approached, Gov. Chris Christie has a new message for people on the coastline: "Don't be stupid — get out," Christie said Sunday afternoon at a news conference, where he updated residents on the status of the huge storm bearing down on the state. Stock Pickers Game The Fiscal Cliff (WSJ) A number of companies are seeking to get ahead of the tax increases by paying out big special dividends before Dec. 31. In the past two weeks, at least four Standard & Poor's 500 companies have announced special payouts, including a $750 million payout by casino operator Wynn Resorts Ltd., a $1.1 billion dividend from hospital operator HCA Holdings Inc. and a $1.6 billion dividend from LyondellBasell Industries NV, a New York-listed chemicals group. The game for investors is to figure out which companies could be next. Jay Wong, a Los Angeles-based portfolio manager for Payden & Rydel, a money manager with $75 billion under management, is on high alert for potential payouts. He increased his stake in Wynn earlier this month in anticipation of a special dividend and is looking for others. He declined to be specific, citing a desire to not give his trades away. Occupy Wall Street's Stacey Hessler Splits From Husband (NYP, earlier) The filing lists Curtiss’ occupation as banker and says he earns $65,000 a year. Her job is listed in court papers as “protester” and her employer as “Occupy Wall Street.” Annual salary: $0. Divorce papers cite “irreconcilable differences” for the split, saying the 19-year marriage “is irretrievably broken.” One OWS protester who knows her says that Stacey’s devotion to the movement caused the divorce but that she was unfazed by the breakup. “She didn’t seem sad about any of it,” the source said. “It was just so matter-of-fact.” As recently as last month, Stacey, 39, was sleeping in front of a Wells Fargo bank branch in the Financial District near Zuccotti Park, but it appears she scrambled back home to suburban DeLand to finalize the divorce. Wearing her professional-protester uniform — a bandana and patchwork clothes — she refused to say what her plans were or when she’d be leaving the house. But she did respond when a Post reporter asked about a YouTube video showing her making out with another protester during an Occupy “Kiss In” on Valentine’s Day. “I actually made out with four guys,” she said, laughing wildly. Governments to debate 50 billion euro cut to EU budget (Reuters) The cut will be proposed in the latest EU negotiating text on the bloc's spending plan for 2014-2020, but is unlikely to be deep enough to satisfy Britain, Germany, France and other net budget contributors. They want strict limits on EU spending to reflect the austerity imposed by national governments to reduce debt, and called for cuts of 100-200 billion euros to the total proposed by the EU's executive, the European Commission. The proposal is also likely to anger Poland and other former communist EU countries who are the major beneficiaries of EU funds, and oppose any cuts to the Commission's blueprint which they argue is vital for their future economic growth. "As I see it now, the reduction from the Commission proposal will be 50 billion euros plus. That will be the basis for negotiations," said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Greek Journalist Held Over List of Swiss-Account Holders (Bloomberg) Kostas Vaxevanis, editor of the Greek magazine Hot Doc, was arrested in Athens today, according to a message posted on his Twitter account at 11 a.m. local time. An arrest warrant was issued yesterday after the magazine published what’s been dubbed the “Lagarde list,” an electronic file given to Greece in 2010 by then-French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde of about 2,000 Greeks with Swiss accounts. Insurers Prepare For Impact Of Hurricane Sandy (Reuters) Had Sandy hit in 2011, it may have been more of a problem for the insurance industry, which dealt with record-breaking losses around the world last year, mostly from U.S. tornadoes and Asia-Pacific earthquakes. But in 2012, most insurers' disaster losses are down substantially, leaving them with more capacity to absorb the billions of dollars in costs some expect from Hurricane Sandy. "In terms of losses, I certainly don't think it's going to be the largest loss of the last 100 years," Tom Larsen, senior vice president of Eqecat, said in an interview late Friday. "It's not an end-of-days scenario." SEC Weighs Bringing Back Fractions in Stock Prices (WSJ) The move would at least partly undo an 11-year-old rule that replaced fractions of a dollar in stock prices, like 1/8 and 1/16, with pennies. The idea of that change was to trim investors' trading costs: One-cent increments can lead to narrower gaps between the prices at which brokers buy and sell shares—potentially reducing their opportunity to shave off profits. Those championing the fraction's return say it would spur securities firms to buy and sell more shares of some companies by making it more profitable for them to do so. Opponents say fractions would increase trading costs for investors with little or no benefit to companies. UBS, RBS Traders Suspended as Rates Probe Goes Beyond Libor (Bloomberg) UBS and Royal Bank of Scotland suspended more than three traders in Singapore as regulators investigating Libor-rigging turn their attention to the rates used to set prices on foreign exchange derivatives. At least two foreign-exchange traders at UBS, Switzerland’s largest bank, have been put on leave as part of an internal probe into the manipulation of non-deliverable forwards, a derivative traders use to speculate on the movement of currencies that are subject to domestic foreign exchange restrictions, according to a person with direct knowledge of the operation. Edinburgh-based RBS also put Ken Choy, a director in its emerging markets foreign exchange trading unit, on leave, a person briefed on the matter said on Oct. 26. Women who knew 'cannibal cop' worried they were on his 'cook list' (NYP) “Freaked-out” female acquaintances of would-be cannibal cop Gilberto “Gil” Valle yesterday wondered whether they were on his alleged list of 100 ladies to kidnap, rape, torture, cook — and eat. “I was so shaken when I found out it was him,” said Beverly Seiger, who knew Valle, 28, from the Forest Hills, Queens, park he visited nightly with his wife and baby daughter. “I used to walk his dog. I’ve been to his house many times. He’s been to my house,” she said of Valle, whom federal prosecutors accuse of plotting with three fiendish pals to kidnap, cook and consume scores of females. “I don’t want to be on his list!” Seiger said. “I’m so thin, he would use me as toothpicks. “The women in this neighborhood now are freaked out,” she said. Another female resident asked a reporter, “Are we on this list? “I fit in an oven,” she said, referring to Valle’s alleged boasting online of having an oven “big enough to fit one of these girls if I folded their legs.”