Opening Bell: 05.12.14

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Boom times for bank trading have gone, and may never come back (Reuters)
Even though it's taken Western economies several years to regain pre-crisis national output levels, many doubt banks will ever revisit the pre-crisis high watermark of their trading activities. Revenues from fixed income, currencies and commodities - the so-called 'FICC' universe - continued to tumble for most major U.S. and European banks during the first quarter of 2014, increasing the pressure on them to rethink business models...FICC income at Goldman Sachs last year was 72 percent of the bank's overall revenue, compared with 82 percent in 2010. Morgan Stanley's FICC revenue was 70 percent of its total, well down from 82 percent in 2003.

Tracking Brain Waves to Boost Investment Returns (BusinessWeek)
In a quest to improve its trading methods, hedge fund Sang Lucci Partners Capital sent a crew of traders from New York to Los Angeles last month to have their brains tested. As the traders bought and sold options and stocks on a simulated system, computers recorded their brains’ electrical activity. “These guys, their whole profit and loss statement is being determined by their mind, and yet they have no way to analyze it,” says Charlie Bathgate, a Sang Lucci partner who organized the test. “There’s this big gap there. So we’re trying to fill that a little bit.”

Tech Stocks Are Still 'Too Silly' for Some (WSJ)
Tesla trades at 89 times next year's earnings, according to FactSet. That is down from a price-to-earnings multiple of 117 in March, but still about six times more expensive than the S&P 500. Daily-deals site Groupon trades at 35 times next year's earnings. "We've gone from three times silly to two times silly," said Mitch Rubin, chief investment officer at RiverPark Funds, which has $3.1 billion under management. As investors start focusing more on the fundamentals of these stocks, they could easily fall further, he said. "When the facts start to matter for these stocks, the bottom is a long way off."

Race for AIG's Top Job Has Two Favorites (WSJ)
In their search for the next chief executive at AIG, the insurer's directors have narrowed the field of internal candidates to two executives, Peter Hancock and Jay Wintrob, who work on opposite ends of the U.S. and have different specialties, according to people familiar with the matter. The board hopes to make a selection as soon as September, according to one person with knowledge of the company.

Atherton mansion madness: Homes of the rich and (tech) famous (CNBC)
High-end homes in Atherton are selling like hotcakes, and often over the asking price, and frequently for all cash. That's saying something when you are talking about $10 million-plus estates... Location is a big reason why Atherton is the perfect place for the super-rich. The town is 45 minutes south of San Francisco, and less than 20 minutes to the headquarters of Facebook, Google and most of the major tech companies in Silicon Valley...investors from China will often pay for a mansion sight unseen.

Brits do enough cocaine to contaminate their water (NYP)
Experts from the Drinking Water Inspectorate experts found traces of the party drug, in a form that has been passed through the body, in treated tap water — despite intensive water purification treatments. Steve Rolles, from the drug policy think tank Transform, told The Sunday Times that the findings reveal how widely used cocaine is. “We have the near highest level of cocaine use in western Europe,” he said. “It has also been getting cheaper and cheaper at the same time as its use has been going up.” [...] health officials stressed that the traces of drugs found in the water supply were very low and unlikely to represent a danger to the public. “Estimated exposures for most of the detected compounds are at least thousands of times below doses seen to produce adverse effects in animals and hundreds of thousands below human therapeutic doses,” the report said.

J.P. Morgan Is Reviewing U.S. Correspondent-Bank Relationships (WSJ)
The bank has been examining its relationships with so-called domestic correspondent banks, for which it clears payments and processes other transactions, the people said. The industrywide review started in January and comes as J.P. Morgan tries to shore up controls in a period of heightened regulatory scrutiny and record fines. As part of the review, J.P. Morgan stopped soliciting new business from its few hundred domestic correspondent-banking clients. The bank, the largest in the U.S. by assets, also stopped accepting new clients while the review of internal controls and clients continues, the people added.

UK fraud office steps up probe into Barclays over Qatar: FT (Reuters)
Bob Diamond and John Varley, both former chief executives of the bank, and other senior members of Barclays' former management are set to be questioned under caution by the UK's Serious Fraud Office, the article said.

Fed Official Seeks Radical Change in Bank Regulation (BusinessWeek)
The Swiss city of Basel is to central bankers what the Vatican is to Roman Catholics. But that didn’t stop Federal Reserve Governor Daniel Tarullo from slamming the Basel approach to bank regulation in a speech last week in Chicago. According to prepared remarks released by the Fed, Tarullo said the standard designed by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision creates “manifold risks of gaming, mistake, and monitoring difficulty.” The Basel standard, he said, “contributes little to market understanding of large banks’ balance sheets and thus fails to strengthen market discipline.” He even said its “relatively short, backward-looking basis for generating risk weights makes the resulting capital standards likely to be excessively pro-cyclical and insufficiently sensitive to tail risk.”

SAC’s Steinberg faces sentencing with faint hopes (NYP)
Late last week, Steinberg’s lawyer Barry Berke argued in a memo that Steinberg should get no more than two years in prison because he “is a man of many admirable individual characteristics,” in a letter to US District Judge Richard Sullivan. “More than that, he is a giver and a doer, someone whose contributions to the happiness, success and well-being of his family, friends, and many others are second to none,” Berke wrote. Unfortunately for Steinberg, JudgeSullivan has a record of being tough on white-­collar criminals. Prosecutors argue that Steinberg should serve as long as 6 1/2 years in prison, according to a sentencing memo filed late Friday.

Sterling: ‘Am I entitled to one mistake?’ (NYP)
“If I said anything wrong, I’m sorry,” Sterling told “Anderson Cooper 360″ in a segment set to air Monday night...“Am I entitled to one mistake, am I after 35 years? I mean, I love my league, I love my partners. Am I entitled to one mistake? It’s a terrible mistake, and I’ll never do it again,” Sterling said...Last week, a new tape surfaced in which Sterling told a pal that he made the racist comments because he was trying to get Stiviano into bed. “I’m talking to a girl. I’m trying to have sex with her,” Sterling said in the recent conversation, a tape of which was obtained by Radar Online. “I’m trying to play with her. If you were trying to have sex with a girl and you’re talking to her privately and you don’t think anybody’s there, you may say anything in the world!”

Related

Opening Bell: 12.07.12

SEC Warns Netflix CEO Over Facebook Post (WSJ) Mr. Hastings boasted on his Facebook page in July that Netflix exceeded 1 billion hours of video streaming in a month for the first time. The post may have violated rules of fair disclosure, the SEC said. The SEC said it may also issue a cease-and-desist proceeding against Netflix and Mr. Hastings. Mr. Hastings responded in another Facebook post Thursday. He said further disclosure at the time wasn't necessary because he has more than 200,000 subscribers to his Facebook page, which makes it a "very public" forum. Netflix had also disclosed on its blog in June that it was nearing the 1 billion streaming hours milestone, he said. Mr. Hastings, who is also on the board of Facebook, added that, at any rate, such information isn't a "material" event to investors. Germany's Central Bank Cuts Forecasts (WSJ) "The cyclical outlook for the German economy has dimmed [and] there are even indications that economic activity may fall in the final quarter of 2012 and the first quarter of 2013," the Bundesbank said in its monthly report. In its semiannual economic projections, the central bank slashed its forecast for German growth next year to 0.4% from its previous estimate of 1.6% in June. It also lowered its forecast for 2012 growth to 0.7% from 1.0%. Moody's: It's Deal Or Die (NYP) The American economy will fall into “severe recession by the spring” unless Congress lessens the tax increases and spending cuts that are set to begin in January, said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. “We’ve got to nail this down; uncertainty is killing us,” Zandi told lawmakers yesterday at a Joint Economic Committee hearing in Washington...If Congress were to “kick the can down the road” by extending the current tax-and-spend policies, Zandi predicted the US would lose its Aaa rating because “it would signal that the political will is lacking to put the nation on a sustainable fiscal path.” Fiscal Cliff? France Has ‘Fiscal Mountain’: PPR CEO (CNBC) The head of one of France's biggest companies has warned that France's problems dwarf those of the U.S. in an interview with CNBC. Francois-Henri Pinault, chief executive of luxury goods company PPR, said: "When we talk about the fiscal cliff in France it's a mountain, it's much higher than a cliff. And when it comes to France the only solution that has been put on the table is tax raises, nothing about cutting expenses. So it's a completely different situation." Greece sticks to buyback plan, says will shield banks (Reuters) Greece says it is sticking to plans to close its offer to buy back its own bonds from investors on Friday in a deal that should meet a debt writedown target set by its international lenders. The government said it would shield the country's banks from any lawsuits over losses booked if they take part in the buyback. The buyback, part of a broader debt relief package worth 40 billion euros ($52 billion) agreed by Greece's euro zone and International Monetary Fund lenders last month, is central to efforts to bring its debt to manageable levels. Judge: Ganek, Steinberg conspirators (NYP) Manhattan federal judge Richard Sullivan yesterday ruled that SAC Capital money manager Michael Steinberg and Level Global co-founder David Ganek can be named co-conspirators in the current insider trading case unfolding downtown. Neither Steinberg nor Ganek has been charged in the case, but the ruling lets prosecutors submit their e-mails and instant messages as evidence in their case against Todd Newman, a former portfolio manager at Diamondback, and Anthony Chiasson, Ganek’s former Level Global partner. The feds have accused Chiasson and Newman of improperly profiting off insider tips on Dell and Nvidia. Chiasson lawyer Greg Morvillo objected, saying that Chiasson’s former analyst Sam Adondakis, who pleaded guilty, testified that he never told Ganek he had an inside source at Dell. Judge Sullivan said the evidence is “certainly circumstantial” but sufficient enough for the government’s request to be granted. Sullivan cited the “precise information” Ganek had received leading up to Dell’s earnings as well as the “large trading positions” he authorized on the computer maker. The judge relied on three e-mail communications to implicate Steinberg, one of which he said made “clear references to keeping things on the down-low and being extra sensitive.” Burglary suspect calls 911 after Springtown homeowner holds him at gunpoint (DN) In a strange flip of events, a burglary suspect called 911 early Tuesday to report that he was being held at gunpoint by a Springtown homeowner and his son. The homeowner called 911, too, but by then he was in control, holding him at gunpoint and demanding to know what he was doing in his home. “Just unlucky, I guess,” the man responded, according to a release from the Parker County Sheriff’s Department. The incident happened around 12:30 a.m. when the homeowner and his wife woke up to find an intruder in the bedroom of their home in the 100 block of Lelon Lane. The suspect, identified as 41-year-old Christopher Lance Moore of Bedford, left the home and sat in his GMC pickup, parked in the family’s driveway. The homeowner followed him with a pistol, took the suspect’s keys and blocked his getaway with his own vehicle, while his stepson trained a shotgun on Moore, Fox 4 News reports. “If he gets out of the truck, shoot him in the legs,” James Gerow told his son. “You ain’t gotta kill him; just shoot him in the legs. … If he’d got out, I’d have expected him to shoot him.” When deputies arrived, both men were on the phone with 911. Deputies asked Moore why he had broken into the home, to which he merely said he had “bad intentions.” Morgan Stanley Alters Broker Pay Plan as Revenue Bonus Takes Hit (Bloomberg) Morgan Stanley, the brokerage with the biggest corps of financial advisers, changed its wealth- management compensation plan to encourage brokers to increase revenue and allow them to buy discounted stock. The 2013 program pays a bonus of 2 to 5 percentage points of revenue for advisers who bring in new assets and are in the top 40 percent in revenue growth, according to terms outlined in a summary obtained yesterday by Bloomberg News. That comes at the expense of a 2 percentage-point reduction in the revenue bonus paid to all brokers who generate at least $750,000. JPM Bonus Bummer (Bloomberg) JPMorgan Chase’s bonus pool for the corporate and investment bank may shrink as much as 2 percent this year as the firm completes performance reviews, three executives with direct knowledge of the process said. Fed Exit Plan May Be Redrawn as Assets Near $3 Trillion (Bloomberg) A decision by the Federal Reserve to expand its bond buying next week is likely to prompt policy makers to rewrite their 18-month old blueprint for an exit from record monetary stimulus. Under the exit strategy, the Fed would start selling bonds in mid-2015 in a bid to return its holdings to pre-crisis proportions in two to three years. An accelerated buildup of assets would also mean a faster pace of sales when the time comes to exit -- increasing the risk that a jump in interest rates would crush the economic recovery. A decision by the Federal Reserve to expand its bond buying next week is likely to prompt policy makers to rewrite their 18-month old blueprint for an exit from record monetary stimulus. Under the exit strategy, the Fed would start selling bonds in mid-2015 in a bid to return its holdings to pre-crisis proportions in two to three years. An accelerated buildup of assets would also mean a faster pace of sales when the time comes to exit -- increasing the risk that a jump in interest rates would crush the economic recovery. Danger Lurks Inside The Bond Boom (WSJ) Amid the rush of bond deals, which already have topped $1 trillion in value, these managers—from BlackRock to Federated Investment Management Co.—are pointing to unusual wrinkles suggesting that now could be one of the most dangerous times in decades to lend to investment-grade companies. Interest rates are so low and bond prices so high, they warn, that there is little room left for gains. Some worry that even a small increase in interest rates—a traditional enemy of bond returns—could eat away at bond prices. College Student Poisons Roommate's Iced Tea With Bleach Following Argument (DM) A college student faces 15 years in jail after she allegedly sprayed bleach into her roommate's iced tea. Kayla Ashlyn Bonkowski, 19, was charged with felony poisoning and appeared in court on Wednesday. She reportedly told police that she had put chemicals in the drink following an argument about cleaning the dishes with her 20-year-old roommate Emily Joseph. The poisoning occurred on November 7 at the students' apartment in Union Township, located near the Mount Pleasant school of Central Michigan University, authorities said. Miss Joseph was taken to hospital for treatment but later released. After she filed a complaint, Bonkowski was arrested. The 19-year-old 'verbally admitted' to police that she put bleach in the drink because 'Joseph is mean', according to ABC. She was arraigned on Wednesday at 2pm before posting $2,000 bond. She entered a plea of not guilty to the charge of poisoning a food, drink, medicine or water supply. The college student faces up to 15 years in prison. Reached by e-mail, Bonkowski said on Wednesday morning that she needed to consult with a lawyer before commenting.

Opening Bell: 12.17.12

SAC E-Mails Show Steve Cohen Consulted on Key Dell Trade (Bloomberg) Two days before Dell Inc. was set to report second-quarter 2008 earnings, Jon Horvath, a technology analyst at SAC Capital Advisors LP, e-mailed his boss Michael S. Steinberg and another portfolio manager to warn that the computer maker would miss earnings estimates. “I have a 2nd hand read from someone at the company,” Horvath began the Aug. 26 message, which provided details on gross margins, expenditures and revenue. “Please keep to yourself as obviously not well known.” Steinberg, a 15-year veteran of the hedge fund founded by billionaire Steven A. Cohen, responded: “Yes normally we would never divulge data like this, so please be discreet. Thanks.” The e-mails indicate Steinberg, the longest-serving SAC employee linked to the U.S. insider-trading probe, discussed the Dell trade with Cohen. While neither has been accused of any wrongdoing, the messages were admitted as evidence at the New York insider-trading trial of two hedge-fund managers last week after a judge ruled they supported prosecutor claims that Steinberg should be considered an unindicted co-conspirator. AIG To Sell Life Insurer Stake (WSJ) AIG will sell its stake in Asian life insurer AIA Group Ltd., raising as much as $6.5 billion in what could be the second-largest deal in Asia this year. Completion of the sale will mark another step forward for AIG, which is shedding noncore assets, as it seeks to repay its debt to the U.S. government, which took over the company in a $182 billion bailout in 2008. A Shadow Over Banks As UBS Nears Libor Deal (WSJ) The Swiss bank is set to agree as soon as this week to pay roughly $1.5 billion to settle allegations of wrongdoing related to benchmarks such as the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, say people close to the talks. So far, UBS has agreed in principle with the U.S. Justice Department that a company unit in Japan will plead guilty to a criminal charge, according to a person familiar with the tentative deal. The Zurich-based parent will pay the fine in return for a deal that lets it avoid criminal prosecution. Criminal charges against individuals are expected to be filed in tandem with the settlement, according to U.S. officials briefed on the matter. The pursuit of criminal charges and the higher-than-expected fine are ominous signs for more than a dozen financial firms still under investigation. "There's no panic—yet," says someone close to one of the banks in the sprawling probe. Moody’s Gets No Respect as Bonds Shun 56% of Country Ratings (Bloomberg) The global bond market disagreed with Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s more often than not this year when the companies told investors that governments were becoming safer or more risky. Yields on sovereign securities moved in the opposite direction from what ratings suggested in 53 percent of the 32 upgrades, downgrades and changes in credit outlook, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That’s worse than the longer-term average of 47 percent, based on more than 300 changes since 1974. This year, investors ignored 56 percent of Moody’s rating and outlook changes and 50 percent of those by S&P. Economy Poised To Nudge Ahead In 2013 (WSJ) So that's nice. Boehner Opens the Door to Tax Hikes on the Wealthy (Reuters) U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner's offer to accept a tax rate increase for the wealthiest Americans knocks down a key Republican road block to a deal resolving the year-end "fiscal cliff." The question now boils down to what President Barack Obama offers in return. Such major questions, still unanswered so close to the end of the year suggest, however, that no spending and tax agreement is imminent. A source familiar with the Obama-Boehner talks confirmed that Boehner proposed extending low tax rates for everyone who has less than $1 million in net annual income, meaning tax rates would rise on all above that line. Actor Depardieu Hits Back at French PM Over Taxes (CNBC) Actor Gerard Depardieu, accused by French government leaders of trying to dodge taxes by buying a house over the border in Belgium, retorted that he was leaving because "success" was now being punished in his homeland. A popular and colourful figure in France, the 63-year-old Depardieu is the latest wealthy Frenchman to seek shelter outside his native country after tax increases by Socialist President Francois Hollande. Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault described Depardieu's behaviour as "pathetic" and unpatriotic at a time when the French are being asked to pay higher taxes to reduce a bloated national debt. "Pathetic, you said pathetic? How pathetic is that?" Depardieu said in a letter distributed to the media. "I am leaving because you believe that success, creation, talent, anything different must be sanctioned," he said. [...] The "Cyrano de Bergerac" star recently bought a house in Nechin, a Belgian village a short walk from the border with France, where 27 percent of residents are French nationals, and put up his sumptuous Parisian home up for sale. Depardieu, who has also inquired about procedures for acquiring Belgian residency, said he was handing in his passport and social security card. Singapore Establishment Challenged by Carson Block on Olam (Bloomberg) When Carson Block likened Olam International Ltd. to fraud-ridden Enron Corp., he challenged more than the accounting of the Singapore-based commodities firm. He also took on Temasek Holdings Pte, the government-owned investment company whose money has helped build the city-state into a corporate dynamo known as Singapore Inc. Temasek is Olam’s second-largest shareholder, with a 16 percent stake that has lost more than $100 million in value since Nov. 19, when Block’s Muddy Waters LLC first questioned the validity of the company’s finances and said it was betting against the stock. Temasek is also the biggest shareholder in many of the country’s best-known companies, including DBS Group Holdings Ltd., Southeast Asia’s largest bank, Singapore Telecommunications Ltd. and Singapore Airlines Ltd. “Carson Block is putting his whole reputation on this one,” said Low Chee Keong, associate professor of corporate law at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “He’s taking on the Singapore government, Singapore Inc. here.” UN court orders immediate release of Argentine ship seized by hedge funder Paul Singer over unpaid debt (AP) A United Nations court ordered the immediate release Saturday of an Argentine navy training ship held in Ghana two months ago at the request of an American hedge fund. The ARA Libertad was held Oct. 2 in the port of Tema as collateral for unpaid bonds dating from Argentina's economic crisis a decade ago. Argentina appealed to the UN's International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea for the ship's release, arguing that as a warship the Libertad is immune from being seized. In an expedited ruling, the court ordered that Ghana "forthwith and unconditionally release the frigate ARA Libertad" and ensure the ship and its crew can leave Ghanaian waters. It also ordered that the vessel should be resupplied as needed. Detaining the ship was "a source of conflict that may endanger friendly relations among states," the court said. The ruling leaves untouched the parties' rights to seek further international arbitration on the matter. Debt Loads Climb In Buyout Deals (WSJ) Private-equity firms are using almost as much debt to fund acquisitions as they did before the financial crisis, as return-hungry investors rush to buy bonds and loans backing those takeovers. The rise in borrowed money, or leverage, heralds the possibility of juicy returns for buyout groups. Ominously, the surge also brings back memories of the last credit binge around six years ago, which saddled dozens of companies with huge levels of debt. Berlusconi's Love Life Lost in Translation (CNBC) Global media reports that the former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi announced his engagement to his 28-year-old girlfriend on one of his TV Channels on Sunday, have been dismissed by native Italians who say Berlusconi has been mis-translated. Various newspapers have reported that Berlusconi is to get married for the third time, when in fact he announced that he is in love and in a relationship...Professor of Modern Italian History at University College London (UCL), John Foot, told CNBC that Pascale is a"girlfriend, nothing more." "In Italy the phrase 'Mi sono fidanzato' usually means 'I have a girlfriend or boyfriend' and not 'I am engaged to be married'. This can cause confusion abroad but is pretty clear in the Italian context," he told CNBC. Twinkies again by spring? It could happen (NBC) It’s not even Christmas, but Twinkies fans may be able to start looking forward to an Easter present. Bankrupt Hostess Brands has received a number of bids from companies interested in buying the maker of Twinkies, Ho Hos, and Wonder bread, including retail heavyweights such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Kroger Co, Bloomberg News reported Friday, quoting an unnamed person familiar with the matter...Anthony Michael Sabino, a bankruptcy attorney and a professor at St. John's University, said bankruptcy judge Robert Drain was motivated to move quickly. Bidding will likely take place by early January, since the assets — if not the treats themselves — could become stale. “I think this will move a at a fairly decent pace. He knows what’s at stake here.

Opening Bell: 06.25.12

Soros Pushes EU To Start Joint Debt Fund Or Risk Summit Fiasco (Bloomberg) “There is a disagreement on the fiscal side,” Soros, 81, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television’s Francine Lacqua at his home in London. “Unless that is resolved in the next three days, then I am afraid the summit could turn out to be a fiasco. That could actually be fatal.” Greece Seen Blocked From Debt Markets Until 2017 (Bloomberg) “The challenges facing Greece remain extremely large,” said Jamie Searle, a fixed-income strategist at Citigroup Inc. in London. “It will be a long while before they can get back to the market.” Spain Asks For Help (WSJ) The Spanish government has made its formal request for European Union aid to help finance the cleanup of its ailing banking industry, the finance ministry said in a statement Monday. Nasdaq: 'Arrogance' Contributed To IPO Flop (WSJ) Chief Executive Robert Greifeld said Sunday that "arrogance" and "overconfidence" among Nasdaq staffers contributed to problems with Facebook's initial public offering last month. Addressing a conference of corporate directors at Stanford University's Law School, Mr. Greifeld said Nasdaq had tested its systems extensively before the May 18 IPO, simulating higher trading volumes than actually occurred. But he said Nasdaq was unprepared for increasing numbers of canceled orders in the hours leading up to Facebook's debut. S&P's Method's Under SEC's Lens (WSJ) The scrutiny relates to S&P's decision in July 2011 to pull its ratings on a new $1.5 billion commercial-mortgage-backed security, or CMBS, issued by Goldman Sachs and Citigroup The unusual step sent the commercial mortgage securities market into turmoil and scuttled the deal for weeks, angering investors and issuers. The SEC's inquiry is part of its annual review of S&P and other credit-rating firms. But in S&P's case regulators are looking at whether it used more lenient standards to rate new CMBS than it used on outstanding deals, the current and former employees say. JPMorgan Unit Shifts Operations (WSJ) The CIO, which is charged with investing a portfolio valued at $370 billion, equivalent to about 17% of J.P. Morgan's $2.2 trillion in assets, will avoid trying to protect the bank using infrequently traded derivatives, according to people close to the matter. The CIO unit also will avoid private-equity investments. But those changes will be driven by a judgment that certain losing strategies were poorly conceived and hedged, not by a decision to foreclose investment options. CNBC'S Guy Adami Takes On The Ironman Triathlon (NYT) But he says none of those experiences compare with the rush he felt on a sun-dappled Sunday morning in late May in Red Bank, N.J., when he crossed the finish line of his first triathlon. It was at a so-called sprint distance — a half-mile swim, followed by a 13-mile bike ride and then a 3.2-mile run — which Mr. Adami, 48, completed in just under two hours, finishing 116th in a field of 160. Just signing up for that race was no small accomplishment for Mr. Adami, who, not six months earlier, had been leading the sedentary existence of a trader and carrying a flabby 235 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame. But as a volunteer placed a medal around his neck, Mr. Adami had little time to celebrate. A far more daunting challenge loomed: on Aug. 11, he will join nearly 3,000 other weekendwarriors as they seek to endure, and complete, the first Ironman-distance triathlon to be staged in the New York metropolitan region. To put the magnitude of that 140.6-mile race in perspective, consider this. It will begin at 7 a.m. with a 2.4-mile swim in the Hudson River — the open-water equivalent of about 170 lengths in a 25-yard swimming pool, or nearly five times the distance Mr. Adami completed in that New Jersey sprint. Those participants who manage to complete that swim in 2 hours 20 minutes or less will move on to the bicycle portion — 112 miles in two loops along the deceptively hilly Palisades Interstate Parkway, or the rough equivalent of pedaling from Manhattan to Hartford. Riders who finish the bike ride before 5:30 p.m. — or 10 ½ hours after their odyssey begins — will embark on a 26.2-mile marathon, which will begin in Palisades Interstate Park on the New Jersey side of the Hudson and continue for several loops before concluding with a brisk run (or perhaps a staggering walk, which the rules permit) across the George Washington Bridge and into Riverside Park on the West Side of Manhattan. IPO Market Gets First Post-Facebook Test (WSJ) In the dry spell since the disappointing May 18 debut of the social-network company, plenty of IPOs have been pulled. And for a time it appeared there would be no attempt to test the waters in June. But a quartet of offerings is lined up for the final week of the month: cloud-based computer-services provider ServiceNow Inc., energy partnership EQT Midstream Partners LP; software firm Exa Corp., and biopharmaceutical firm Tesaro Inc. Judge likens Goldman logic to Orwell’s ‘1984’ (NYP) A federal judge blasted Goldman Sachs for its “Orwellian” defense against a lawsuit accusing it of misleading investors in the sale of risky securities, comparing the firm’s logic to the George Orwell classic “Nineteen Eighty-Four.” “Words such as ‘honesty,’ ‘integrity,’ and ‘fair dealing’ apparently do not mean what they say,” Manhattan federal court Judge Paul Crotty said in a 27-page opinion allowing the shareholder suit to proceed against the bank. The harsh words from Crotty relate to allegations that Goldman concealed conflicts of interest in several CDO transactions that were part of the subprime meltdown. $400M+ Tab For Madoff Swindler Ezra Merkin (NYP) The agreement will allow some of Merkin’s clients to recover as much as 40 percent of what they lost, with investors who had been kept in the dark recovering the most. Basel Bank Official Warns On Stimulus Measures (WSJ) Central banks currently find themselves "caught in the middle," Jaime Caruana said, "forced to be the policy makers of last resort." They are providing monetary stimulus on a "massive scale," supplying liquidity to banks unable to fund themselves in markets and easing government financing burdens by keeping interest rates low, said Mr. Caruana, speaking in Basel, Switzerland, at the annual general meeting of the BIS, a consortium of the world's central banks. "These emergency measures could have undesirable side effects if continued for too long," he said. "A worry is that monetary policy would be pressured to do still more because not enough action has been taken in other areas." Rare giant tortoise Lonesome George dies in Galapagos Islands (NYDN) The giant tortoise named Lonesome George — the last of the Pinta Island subspecies and an enduring icon of the Galapagos — died Sunday, the Galapagos National Park said in a statement. George, who was discovered in 1972 in the islands that inspired Charles Darwin’s ideas of evolution, was about 100 years old. Galapagos tortoises have been known to live for 200 years. “This morning the park ranger in charge of looking after the tortoises found Lonesome George, his body was motionless,” park director Edwin Naula told Reuters. “His life cycle came to an end.” Since 1993, various mates had been provided for Lonesome George in failed attempts to keep his subspecies alive. Two females of a different subspecies managed to lay eggs, but they were infertile. George was actually named after American actor George Gobel, a TV star of the 1950s, who called himself “Lonesome George.”

Opening Bell: 01.07.13

Regulators Give Ground To Banks (WSJ) Global banking regulators watered down a key element of their plan for creating a safer financial system, giving ground to banks that argued the rules were unworkable and financially risky. The Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, a group of the world's top regulators and central bankers, said Sunday that it agreed to relax a rule designed to ensure that big banks are able to weather financial crises without running short of cash. Bowing to two years of intense pressure from the banking industry, the regulators made it easier for banks to meet the rule, known as the "liquidity coverage ratio," and delayed its full implementation until 2019. It is the latest instance of regulators chipping away at their landmark 2010 response to the global financial crisis. The regulators argue that the changes make banking rules much stronger than they were before the crisis. Herbalifers Stay Resolute (WSJ) When hedge-fund manager William Ackman unveiled his 334-slide presentation alleging that Herbalife is a pyramid scheme, it did nothing to shake Joanne Clare. The 38-year-old Staten Island mother of three has been selling the company's weight-loss products and supplements since 2004, when she says they helped her drop from 210 to 160 pounds in four months. She now sells as much as $3,500 a month of Herbalife products to her 30 clients and the two distributors in her "down line." "People have always said it's a pyramid scheme, but it's not," Ms. Clare said, adding that the bulk of her earnings come from sales to clients, not her cut of her recruits' take. Mr. Ackman's declaration that he had bet more than $1 billion against Herbalife caused many investors to flee, sending the stock down 38% in four days in late December. But some of the company's 3.1-million-strong army of distributors were unmoved. Eliot Spitzer Ends His Show On Current TV (NYT) The announcement comes a few days after Al Jazeera said it was acquiring Current TV. Later this year, the Qatar-owned broadcaster plans to turn the channel into an Americanized version of the international news channel Al Jazeera English. Mr. Spitzer said he had a “wonderful time” at Current, but emphasized that his relationship was with Al Gore and Joel Hyatt, Current’s co-founders, not with Al Jazeera. “Moving forward, their mission will be different,” he said — more international newscasts, less liberal talk about the news. Citi's Corbat builds bridges (Reuters) Citigroup Inc's Michael Corbat has been meeting with bank regulators in his first months as CEO, as he looks to bolster relationships and finalize the bank's plan to return capital to shareholders, sources familiar with the matter said. Corbat also expects to name his team of top managers within the next week or so, one of the sources said on Sunday. Corbat is expected to play it safe when Citigroup asks the U.S. Federal Reserve for permission for moves such as buying back shares or increasing dividends, analysts and investors said. His predecessor, Vikram Pandit, lost his job in October in part because the bank's request for returning capital was denied in March. The bank, which is due to submit its plan to the Fed on Monday, has not yet done so, the source said. The third-largest U.S. bank will only seek approval to buy back shares and not raise dividends, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday. Last year, the bank wanted permission to return more than $8 billion to shareholders over two years, the paper said. For Newly Minted MBAs, A Small Paycheck (WSJ) For graduates with minimal experience—three years or less—median pay was $53,900 in 2012, down 4.6% from 2007-08, according to an analysis conducted for The Wall Street Journal by PayScale.com. Pay fell at 62% of the 186 schools examined. Even for more seasoned grads the trend is similar, says Katie Bardaro, lead economist for PayScale.com. "In general, it seems that M.B.A. pay is either stagnant or falling," she says...It is all a far cry from the late 1980s and early 1990s heyday for M.B.A.s, when some companies would hire 100 or more M.B.A.s. It wasn't uncommon to recruit first, and fill actual jobs later. DOJ pledges to respect Swiss law in tax probe (Reuters) Swiss chief finance diplomat Michael Ambuehl was given a verbal pledge from the U.S. Department of Justice to respect Swiss law when asking for bank client data of potential tax dodgers, a newspaper reported on Sunday. Switzerland is in negotiations with U.S. authorities to find a deal that would end tax probes into at least ten Swiss banks suspected of helping clients dodge taxes, including Credit Suisse and Julius Baer. The Alpine country is trying to preserve what is left of its cherished banking secrecy that suffered a severe blow in 2009 when UBS, the first Swiss bank that came under scrutiny in the U.S., was required to disclose client data. Brazilian prison gaurds catch cat that slipped through the gate with escape tools taped to its body (NYDN) Guards at a Brazilian prison nabbed a white cat that slipped through the gate with a cell phone, drills, small saws and other contraband taped to its body. Alagoas prison spokeswoman Cinthya Moreno says the cat was caught New Year’s Eve at the medium-security prison in the city of Arapiraca. The O Estado de S. Paulo newspaper reported Saturday that all of the prison’s 263 inmates are suspects in the smuggling attempt, though a spokesperson said, “It will be hard to discover who is responsible since the cat does not speak.” Loeb, Cooperman Stand Out in Horrid Year for Hedge Funds (CNBC) Third Point was the clear hedge fund standout in a horrible year for the industry as almost nine out of 10 managers underperformed the S&P 500. Omega Advisors' Leon Cooperman also scored big. Loeb — once better known for his acerbic letters to CEOs — used an activist position in Yahoo and the contrarian buying of Greek bonds to drive the firm's flagship fund to a 21 percent gain in 2012. The firm's more-leveraged Ultra fund posted an even bigger 34 percent return...Cooperman's fund had a net return of 26 percent in 2012. Banks Zero In On Foreclosure Pact (WSJ) Banks were closing in on a $10 billion foreclosure-abuse settlement with regulators that could be announced as soon as Monday, according to people familiar with the talks. The settlement was nearly complete Sunday afternoon, the people said, after the Federal Reserve backed down on a demand for more compensation for consumers and other changes to the pact. Bankers threatened to walk away from the deal if the Fed's demand for an additional $300 million was included, a person briefed on the talks said. Junk Bonds' Fire Is Poised to Fade (WSJ) Junk bonds started 2013 much like they finished 2012—on fire. In just three trading days this year, bonds of low-rated companies delivered returns of almost three-quarters of a percent, even as most other types of bonds lost value. And junk bonds continued to clock new milestones: Average prices soared to their highest since 2004 and average yields, which decline as prices rise, dropped below 6% for the first time ever, according to Barclays. But the rapid march is making fund managers and analysts wary. Prices are now so high—averaging more than 105 cents on the dollar—that there is little room for them to climb much further, some investors say. These are lofty prices for bonds that usually trade below 100 cents, reflecting the higher default risk for such companies. At the very least, returns will pale in comparison with the 15% achieved in 2012, analysts and investors say. NHL, Players Settle Labor Dispute (AP) On the 113th day of a management lockout and five days before the league's deadline for a deal, the bleary-eyed sides held a 6 a.m. news conference to announce there will be a season, after all. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and union head Donald Fehr both appeared drained, wearing sweaters and not neckties, when they stood side by side at the hotel and announced labor peace. "We have reached an agreement on the framework of a new collective bargaining agreement, the details of which need to be put to paper," Bettman said. "We've got to dot a lot of Is, cross a lot of Ts. There's still a lot of work to be done, but the basic framework of the deal has been agreed upon." Hostess in Talks to Sell Off Bread Brands (WSJ) Hostess could disclose Flowers, Grupo Bimbo or others as opening bidders in a looming bankruptcy-court auction for the assets as soon as this week, said people familiar with the matter. Hostess, whose bread brands include Wonder Bread, Nature's Pride, Home Pride, Merita and Butternut, is still determining how to split up assets and package them for buyers, one of the people said. Gérard Depardieu gives up French citizenship after bitter tax fight (GM) In a fit of pique, French movie star Gérard Depardieu announced during the weekend that he would give up his citizenship after politicians and the media took him to task for moving to Belgium and avoiding an impending tax hike for the rich. Mr. Depardieu is not France’s first fiscal refugee but his high-profile door-slamming so monopolized public debate that Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault had on Monday to parse whether or not he had insulted the actor. “I did not call Mr. Depardieu a loser, I said that it was loser-like [to move to Belgium to avoid taxes],” Mr. Ayrault told reporters...The “loser” comment seemed to have been the jab that stung Mr. Depardieu the most. “Loser, did you say loser?” the 63-year–old actor began an open letter to Mr. Ayrault that appeared Sunday in Le Journal du dimanche. Mr. Depardieu wrote that he had paid a total of €145-million in income tax in the last four decades and kept 80 people employed. He added that he had been taxed at a marginal rate of 85 per cent this year. “I am giving you back my passport and my social insurance, which I had never used. We no longer have the same fatherland. I am a true European, a citizen of the world.”