Opening Bell: 05.16.14

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Euro-Zone Economy Shows Weak Expansion (WSJ)
Euro-zone GDP has risen only 1% since the first quarter of 2013, the lowest point of the bloc's six-year slump, and remains 2.5% below its peak in early 2008. Economists reckon output would have to rise at closer to 2% a year to make a meaningful dent in euro-zone unemployment, currently 11.8% of the workforce.

SAC's Steinberg loses bid for insider trading acquittal (Reuters)
U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan in Manhattan rejected various arguments by Steinberg's lawyers, including that a jury could not have rationally found he knew corporate insiders were receiving benefits to provide illegal tips. "On the facts presented at trial, a rational jury could find that (Steinberg) knew or was willfully blind to the fact that the tippers breached duties of trust and confidence by disclosing material nonpublic information for their personal benefits," Sullivan wrote.

SAC Fund Manager’s Backers Cite Charity Before Sentencing (Bloomberg)
From co-founding a group that’s donated more than $8.7 million for work such as providing clean water and medicine in Africa, to raising money for a friend’s organ transplant with a bake sale, Steinberg has shown he deserves leniency at his sentencing today in Manhattan federal court, his supporters told the judge.

At SALT Conference, Stocks Induce Anxiety (Dealbook)
“There seems to be a general unease that with central bank policy, the only thing it is impacting are financial markets,” said Jim Chanos, president of Kynikos Associates and a well-known short-seller. “It’s not transmitting to the economy, and I think that is a real, real growing concern.” “You sort of get a growing sense that this grand experiment may be quite inconclusive when it comes to monetary policy and financial markets,” Mr. Chanos added, speaking on the sidelines of the conference on Thursday.

Investors Reject Chipotle Chiefs’ Pay Plan (Dealbook)
Investors in Chipotle Mexican Grill voted overwhelmingly on Thursday against the company’s executive compensation plans, sending a strong rebuke to a company that had awarded more than $300 million to its co-chief executives in recent years. More than 75 percent of investors voted against Chipotle’s say-on-pay measure, which asked investors to ratify a compensation plan that would continue such payments to Steve Ells, Chipotle’s founder, and his co-chief, Montgomery F. Moran, over the next few years. That was the highest vote against any say-on-pay measure among the country’s largest 3,000 companies this year.

U.S. Takes a Shot at Latte Art Championship (WSJ)
Latte art has gained steam in recent years. The whimsical, swirly designs, like tulips and hearts, drawn with the steamed milk and foam that is poured over a shot of espresso to make a latte, have tens of thousands of online fans and enthusiasts. But the final stages of the contest are stripped of whimsy. Six finalists each received eight minutes to complete two "free pour" lattes, using just swirling milk and gravity to make four drinks: two lattes and two macchiatos, which are half the size of a latte and therefore considered the most difficult...Donald Morrison says he tries to take his latte art to the dark side. His signature drink featured a winged bat. "I wanted to do something that wasn't so cute—a little more punk rock," he said. But it was Mr. Bricker's twin latte phoenix, whose tail-curls were sharpened with the tip of a golf tee, that earned him the top score at the U.S. competition. He will be up against the world's best at the championship which ends Sunday.

Paulson Sticks With Gold ETF Stake as Prices Rebound (Bloomberg)
Billionaire hedge fund manager John Paulson stuck with his holding in the biggest exchange-traded product backed by gold as prices rebounded on the escalating tension between Ukraine and Russia. Paulson & Co., the largest investor in the SPDR Gold Trust (GLD), kept its stake at 10.23 million shares as of March 31, a government filing showed yesterday. The holdings were unchanged for the third straight quarter.

Sony woes could spark another battle with Loeb (NYP)
Loeb, the founder of the Third Point hedge fund, may jump back into a battle with the Sony board if shares of the electronics company — down 5.2 percent this year, to $16.39 — continue to tumble, sources familiar with Loeb’s thinking said.

Portugal Laden With $293 Billion Debt Exits Bailout Plan (Dealbook)
The Iberian country’s 214 billion euros ($293 billion) of debt is the third highest in the euro region as a percentage of gross domestic product. The economy is about 4 percent smaller than in 2010, a year before the government had to ask for an international rescue. Borrowing costs based on 10-year (GSPT10YR) bond yields are almost twice those of France and all three major ratings companies consider the country non-investment grade.

Brooklyn love shack gets makeover as swinger haven (NYP)
A Bushwick brownstone is being gutted and repurposed as a haven for the “sex-positive community,” according to Open Love NY, a group dedicated to the polyamory community, which encourages consensual romantic relationships with multiple partners. The “Hacienda Villa” is a 15-bedroom apartment building only open to those that defy the “one true love philosophy.” “It’s not a one-size-fits-all relationship-style like monogamy, where you get one partner,” said Mischa Lin, who co-founded Open Love NY in 2009. “With polyamory, it’s all about how much you can handle.” Each floor of the sex haven boasts multiple bedrooms ranging from $750 to $1,500, depending on size and if there is a private bathroom attached.

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Opening Bell: 2.23.15

Morgan Stanley FBI informant fired; Greece reform; iCar; Tech sexual harassment trial; Guy who ate 6 lbs of bacon in 5 minutes felt fine; AND MORE.

Opening Bell: 02.04.13

UK Regulators Could Split Banks (WSJ) U.K. Treasury chief George Osborne on Monday will announce new powers for regulators to split up banks that flout rules designed to ring-fence retail banking from riskier investment-banking activity. In a wide-ranging speech on banking in Bournemouth, England, Mr. Osborne is expected to say the new powers are needed so that taxpayers will never again be on the hook when banks fail, as they were during the financial crisis. "We're not going to repeat the mistakes of the past. In America and elsewhere, banks found ways to undermine and get around the rules," Mr. Osborne will say, according to the extracts of his speech. "We could see that again—so we are going to arm ourselves in advance. In the jargon, we will "electrify the ring fence." New Details Suggest a Defense in SAC Case (NYT) In bringing its charges, the government said that SAC not only sold out of its position, but also bet against — or shorted — the drug companies' stocks before the public announcement of the bad news. The SAC short position, according to prosecutors, allowed it to earn big profits after shares of the companies, Elan and Wyeth, plummeted. "The fund didn't merely avoid losses, it greedily schemed to profit further by shorting Elan and Wyeth stock," said April Brooks, a senior F.B.I. official in New York, during a press conference on Nov. 20, the day Mr. Martoma was arrested. Internal SAC trading records, according to people directly involved in the case, indicate that the hedge fund did not have a negative bet in place in advance of the announcement of the drug trial's disappointing results. Instead, the records indicated that SAC, through a series of trades, including a complex transaction known as an equity swap, had virtually no exposure — neither long nor short — heading into the disclosure of the drug data. Blackstone To Become Investment Bank? (FT) Blackstone, one of the world's largest alternative asset managers, has quietly secured a securities underwriting licence as its expanding capital markets operation strays into investment banking territory. The licence marks the latest stage in the transformation of big listed private equity groups as they become more broadly based alternative asset managers. Apollo and KKR , two of Blackstone's biggest rivals, also have securities underwriting licences. The move highlights the pressure listed private equity groups are under to generate new sources of fee income to satisfy their public shareholders. "The private equity business is lousy for shareholders," says the head of capital markets for one buyout firm that is not listed. Obama: more tax revenue needed to address deficit (Reuters) President Barack Obama said on Sunday more tax revenue would be needed to reduce the U.S. deficit and signaled he would push hard to get rid of loopholes such as the "carried interest" tax break enjoyed by private equity and hedge fund managers. Herbalife Is The Subject Of 'Pending' Probe (NYP) The Los Angeles-based distributor of nutritional products is the subject of a law enforcement investigation, The Post has learned. The existence of the probe emerged after the Federal Trade Commission, responding to a Freedom of Information Law request by The Post, released 192 complaints filed against Herbalife over the past seven years. New Orleans Braces From Fallout From Blackout (AP) The outage, blamed on an unspecified "abnormality" in the Superdome's power system, was an embarrassment for New Orleans, which was hosting its first Super Bowl since 2002 and was eager to show off how it has been rebuilt since Hurricane Katrina. Mayor Mitch Landrieu called Sunday night's outage "an unfortunate moment in what has been an otherwise shining Super Bowl week for the city of New Orleans." He said he expected to receive "a full after-action report from all parties involved" in the coming days...For 34 minutes, the players tried to stay loose, the fans milled about in darkened corridors, and stadium officials scrambled to figure out what went wrong. The Ravens barely hung on for a 34-31 victory over the San Francisco 49ers, needing a goal-line stand in the closing minutes to preserve the championship. "It really hurt us," Baltimore fullback Vonta Leach said. "We had lot of momentum." There is sure to be some fallout for the city and the Superdome — especially since New Orleans plans to bid for the title game in 2018, in conjunction with the 300th anniversary of its founding. Escalators stopped working and credit-card machines shut down, though auxiliary power kept the playing field and concourses from going totally dark. "We sincerely apologize for the incident," Superdome spokesman Eric Eagan said. Most fans seemed to take the outage in stride, even starting up the wave to pass the time. "So we had to spend 30 minutes in the dark? That was just more time for fans to refill their drinks," said Amanda Black of Columbus, Miss. Question of Aiding Cyprus Places Germany in a Bind (NYT) In recent days, Germany has signaled that it is reluctantly edging toward a bailout for Cyprus, a haven for Russian cash, after lifelines have been extended to Greece, Ireland and Portugal to prevent potentially calamitous defaults. While Cyprus makes up just a sliver of the euro zone economy, it is proving to be a first-rate political headache. "I don't think that Germany has ever in the history of the euro zone crisis left itself so little wiggle room," said Nicholas Spiro, the managing director of Spiro Sovereign Strategy in London. "But Germany wants the euro to succeed and survive, and they are saying we can't afford a Cyprus bankruptcy." BlackRock Sued by Funds Over Securities Lending Fees (Bloomberg) BlackRock is accused in a lawsuit by two pension funds of reaping “grossly excessive” compensation from securities- lending returns associated with iShares Inc. “Defendants have systematically violated their fiduciary duties, setting up an excessive fee structure designed to loot securities lending returns properly due to iShares investors,” the funds, which invest in iShares, said in a complaint in federal court in Nashville, Tennessee. Two Top Barclays Executives Resign (WSJ) Barclays, whose chairman, chief executive and chief operating officer all resigned last summer in the wake of a series of controversies, said Sunday evening that finance chief Chris Lucas and Mark Harding, its general counsel, will both be retiring in coming months...Messrs. Lucas and Harding were longtime Barclays veterans who worked closely with former CEO Robert Diamond, who resigned last summer after the bank admitted that it had tried to rig benchmark interest rates and paid a roughly $450 million penalty. Youngest American Woman Billionaire Found With In-N-Out (Bloomberg) Lunchtime at the flagship In-N-Out Burger restaurant in Baldwin Park, California, is a study in efficiency. As the order line swells, smiling workers swoop in to operate empty cash registers. Another staffer cleans tables, asking customers if they’re enjoying their hamburger. Outside, a woman armed with a hand-held ordering machine speeds up the drive-through line. Such service has helped In-N-Out create a rabid fan base -- and make Lynsi Torres, the chain’s 30-year-old owner and president, one of the youngest female billionaires on Earth. New store openings often resemble product releases from Apple, with customers lined up hours in advance. City officials plead with the Irvine, California-based company to open restaurants in their municipalities. “They have done a fantastic job of building and maintaining a kind of cult following,” said Bob Goldin, executive vice president of Chicago-based food industry research firm Technomic Inc. “Someone would love to buy them.” That someone includes billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who told a group of visiting business students in 2005 that he’d like to own the chain, according to an account of the meeting on the UCLA Anderson School of Management website. Mint officially ends distribution of Canadian penny (CP) The phasing-out of the penny will lurch ahead today with the Royal Canadian Mint officially ending its distribution of one-cent coins to Canada's financial institutions. The move comes nearly a year after Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced the demise of the penny, whose production cost came to exceed its monetary value. But as it faces extinction in the pockets and tills of most Canadians, the humble penny is still in demand in some artistic circles where it retains significant value. Renee Gruszecki, a Halifax-based academic and archivist, has spent the past year making a living through a jewelry business devoted primarily to preserving the country's stray cents. About 30,000 strategically sorted pennies fill Gruszecki's home and eventually find their way into the accessories produced at Coin Coin Designs and Co. Gruszecki, a long-time collector of lucky pennies, believes her pieces will help preserve a symbol that is both an object of superstition and a Canadian icon. "The maple leaf is synonymous with everything Canadian. We all identify with it," she said in a telephone interview. "Now it's just no longer going to be present among us, so I'm saddened by that." The Bank of Canada's Currency Museum has already taken steps to preserve the penny's place in Canadian culture. A mural consisting of nearly 16,000 one-cent pieces has been assembled at the museum to commemorate the coin's history, said assistant curator Raewyn Passmore. The mosaic, which depicts a giant penny measuring about two square metres, is comprised of coins ranging from the lustrous to the tarnished.

Opening Bell: 01.23.13

Greece Charges Statisticians Over Size of Deficit (FT) Greece has brought criminal charges against the official responsible for measuring the country's debt, thereby calling into question the validity of its 172 billion euros second bailout by the EU and International Monetary Fund. Andreas Georgiou, head of the independent statistical agency Elstat, and two senior officials are accused of undermining the country's "national interests" by inflating the 2009 budget deficit figure used as the benchmark for successive austerity packages. The three statistical experts face criminal charges of making false statements and corrupt practices, a judicial official said, adding that if found guilty they could serve prison terms of five to 10 years. They have denied any wrongdoing. Spain's Recession Deepens (WSJ) Spain's central bank said a recession in the euro zone's fourth-largest economy deepened slightly in the final quarter of last year, but it said austerity cuts are bringing the country's runaway budget deficit under control. Obama-Bashing Swapped for Pragmatism at Davos (Bloomberg) “We have to move on in our society,” Blackstone found Stephen Schwarzman said today in an interview in Davos with Bloomberg Television’s Erik Schatzker. “I like President Obama as a person, and he’s well- intentioned.” Schwarzman, 65, warned in Davos in 2010 that banks could restrict lending because “their entire world is being shaken and they’re being attacked personally.” Later that year, at a nonprofit group meeting, he likened Obama’s tax proposals to Hitler’s invasion of Poland. Third Point LLC CEO Daniel Loeb, who in 2010 compared Wall Street’s Obama supporters to “battered wives,” will help lead a Jan. 25 Davos dinner discussion, “Can Capitalism Evolve?” Schwarzman apologized in 2010 for his comparison of Obama’s effort to double taxes on private-equity income to the invasion of Poland. He said the analogy was inappropriate and that the administration’s need to work with business “is still of very serious concern.” JPMorgan's Jamie Dimon Apologizes, Attacks (WSJ) James Dimon of J.P. Morgan Chase was prepared in Davos to apologize for the more than $6 billion of trading losses racked up by the so-called London Whale, but he certainly wasn’t prepared to abase himself...Min Zhu, deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund, reeled off a string of statistics to show that the industry certainly hadn’t cleaned up its act since the crisis, and Paul Singer, principal of hedge fund Elliott Associates, was also keen to lambaste big banks, including Mr. Dimon’s. The two had some testy exchanges and the body language indicated that Messrs. Singer and Dimon have exchanged fire quite a few times previously. Still, Mr. Dimon gave us good as he got. He kicked off with repeating his apology to shareholders for the London Whale trading losses, which led to his own bonus being slashed, saying, “If you’re a shareholder of mine, I apologize deeply.” Having offered this apology he then went on the offense. He pointed out that his bank lent money to a whole host of worthy organizations such as schools, hospitals, governments, and Italian and Spanish corporates and governments. And he also had some snappy comebacks. Elliott’s Singer said that the global banks are “too big, too leveraged, too opaque,” which left Mr. Dimon with an easy retort about how could a hedge fund possibly criticize a bank about being opaque? “Our [securities filing] 10K is 400 pages long,” Mr. Dimon said. “What would you like to know?” Geithner Exit Next Friday (AFP) US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who steered the administration of President Obama through the financial crisis, will step down from his post Friday, a source told Agence France Presse yesterday. Golfer Mickelson recants tax rant (NYP) Mickelson — who hinted he might move from his home state of California to escape higher taxes — said he regretted his public rant on the issue after setting off a political firestorm. “Finances and taxes are a personal matter and I should not have made my opinions on them public,” according to a statement from Mickelson, who plans to elaborate today at the Farmers Insurance Open. “I apologize to those I have upset or insulted and assure you I intend to not let it happen again.” Senator Lautenberg Suggests Spanking In Store For Mayor Cory Booker (CI via DI) "I have four children, I love each one of them. I can't tell you that one of them wasn't occasionally disrespectful, so I gave them a spanking and everything was OK," Lautenberg said with a smile in his first public comments since Booker announced he was considering a run for Senate. Banker's Latest Bet: Teamwork on Bonds (WSJ) Texas banking tycoon Andrew Beal is known for making unconventional moves, including gambling on high-stakes poker and a self-financed plan to launch rockets into space. His latest gambit: an attempt to wring money from giant banks by banding together aggrieved bondholders. Mr. Beal's CXA Corp. ran a pair of advertisements late last year, one appearing in The Wall Street Journal. The ads listed an alphabet soup of residential mortgage-backed securities held by CXA and asked those with positions in the same securities to join the company in investigating possible infractions by banks that sold the debt. If the groups can prove the mortgages that underlie the bonds were approved through shoddy underwriting, they could be entitled to compensation—CXA's payday alone could be tens of millions of dollars. Firms Keep Stockpiles Of 'Foreign' Cash In US (WSJ) Some companies, including Internet giant Google, software maker Microsoft, and data-storage specialist EMC Corp, keep more than three-quarters of the cash owned by their foreign subsidiaries at U.S. banks, held in U.S. dollars or parked in U.S. government and corporate securities, according to people familiar with the companies' cash positions. In the eyes of the law, the Internal Revenue Service and company executives, however, this money is overseas. As long as it doesn't flow back to the U.S. parent company, the U.S. doesn't tax it. And as long as it sits in U.S. bank accounts or in U.S. Treasurys, it is safer than if it were plowed into potentially risky foreign investments. SEC Reins In Ratings Firm (WSJ) The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission barred Egan-Jones Ratings Co. from issuing ratings on certain bonds, an unprecedented step by the regulator and a setback for a small credit-rating firm with a history of courting controversy. The SEC said Tuesday that Egan-Jones couldn't officially rate bonds issued by countries, U.S. states and local governments, or securities backed by assets such as mortgages, for at least the next 18 months. The ban was part of an agreement the SEC reached with Egan-Jones and its president, Sean Egan, to settle charges that they filed inaccurate documents with the regulator in 2008. The SEC alleged that Egan-Jones misled investors about its expertise, and that Mr. Egan caused the firm to violate conflict-of-interest provisions. Lindenhurst dentist busted after reporting to work reeking of booze and drilling teeth while allegedly drunk (NYDN) Dr. Robert Garelick was hauled out of his Lindenhurst office in handcuffs Monday after his dental hygienist smelled booze on his breath and caught him administering Novocain to the wrong side of a patient’s mouth. “I observed Dr. Garelick looking for cavities in the right side of the patient’s mouth, but the cavities were in the left side,” hygienist Kimberly Curtis told police in a written statement. “I pointed this out to the doctor and that’s when he ordered more Novocain for the patient,” Curtis told cops. “So now, he basically numbed the whole patient’s mouth.” After noticing Garelick’s wobbly behavior Monday, Curtis texted co-worker Dina Fara, who called 911. Curtis said she sent the message after Garelick used a drill to treat another patient who had a chipped tooth. “He was filing the tooth down,” Curtis said. “When you’re using that drill, you have to be very careful and have a steady hand.” She said that just before Garelick treated the chipped tooth, he slipped into his office. “I noticed that he was drinking from a white and purple squeeze bottle,” Curtis said. “At first I didn’t think anything was wrong,” Curtis said. “But right after, he took a drink from that bottle, he got up and walked past me. When he did this I smelled a strong odor of alcohol.” The dentist initially claimed he only had a couple of beers with pizza during lunch Monday, according to Suffolk County cops. But Garelick, who was charged with misdemeanor reckless endangerment, later confessed to his drunken dentistry while being taken to a police precinct in the back of squad car. “I never had any beers with my pizza. I’ve been sipping at that bottle all along today,” he told police, referring to his squeeze bottle filled with vodka, according to a criminal complaint.

Opening Bell: 05.09.12

Greek Turmoil Raises Euro Risk (WSJ) "The market is really working out what the risks are," said Justin Knight of UBS. "It is a bit of a slow burner, but it is gathering pace." Whether investors are right depends on a messy drama under way in Athens, in which the leading parties have been sidelined in favor of a collection of radicals bent on upsetting the painful measures that are Europe's price for Greece's bailout. On Tuesday, the head of Greece's leading left-wing party, Alexis Tsipras of Syriza, took a turn at trying to form a government. His conservative counterpart, whose party won slightly more votes on Sunday, tried and failed Monday. Mr. Tsipras demanded that Greece renounce the bailout's required Greek budget cuts, saying they were nullified by the "people's verdict" of the election. But Mr. Tsipras's party won just 52 of the 300 seats in parliament, and chances he could form a governing coalition appeared slim. Roubini: Situation In Europe Is A 'Slow Motion Trainwreck' (CNBC) Roubini, who warned last year that a perfect storm was coming for the global economy in 2013, said the euro zone will “eventually break up,” and expects two or three euro zone members to exit the bloc over the next few years. “Europe will be lucky if it ends up in stagnation like Japan for the next 10 years,” he added. German Patience With Greece on the Euro Wears Thin (NYT) “Germans are now predominantly of the opinion that they would be better off if Greece left the euro zone,” said Carsten Hefeker, a professor of economics and an expert on the euro at the University of Siegen. “If the country really is continuing on the path they are taking now, it would be hard to justify keeping them in. How do you deal with a country that says we don’t want to keep any of the commitments we have made?” Chesapeake CEO arranged new $450 million loan from financier (Reuters) In the weeks before Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon was stripped of his chairmanship over his personal financial dealings, he arranged an additional $450 million loan from a longtime backer, according to a person familiar with the transaction. That loan, previously undisclosed, was made by investment-management firm EIG Global Energy Partners, which was at the same time helping arrange a major $1.25 billion round of financing for Chesapeake itself. The new loan brings the energy executive's total financing from EIG since 2010 to $1.33 billion and his current balance due to $1.1 billion, this person said. It was secured by McClendon's personal stakes in wells that have yet to be drilled by Chesapeake - and by his own life-insurance policy. Remaking Yahoo's Board, Again (WSJ) "Mr. Loeb has launched a proxy fight to put himself and three other new directors onto the board. It isn't clear the Loeb team can fix the company. But at this point, shareholders should vote for his slate, given the repeated lapses in judgment by existing company leadership." Hot Dog Hooker ‘relishes’ her return (NYP) Long Island’s Hot Dog Hooker was sprung from jail yesterday, and said she’ll be serving up Sabretts and stripteases from her mobile wiener wagon this morning. “I’ll be out there in my bikini top selling my hot dogs!” Catherine Scalia boasted as she strutted out of a Nassau County jail after a court appearance. Scalia was busted for prostitution last Friday for allegedly agreeing to pleasure an undercover cop for $50 after he purchased a hot dog. Judge Anthony Paradiso sentenced Scalia to seven days in prison and ordered her to undergo a psychiatric evaluation. Green Mountain Roasted (Bloomberg) Green Mountain Coffee Roasters said Robert P. Stiller will no longer serve as chairman after he sold shares to make a margin call. Michael J. Mardy, chairman of the company’s audit and finance committee, will serve as interim chairman. Fannie Mae Won’t Seek Aid After Reporting $2.7 Billion Profit (Bloomberg) FYI. Wells Fargo Says DOJ May Seek Penalties in Fair-Lending Case (SFG) Wells Fargo & Co., the largest U.S. mortgage lender, said federal prosecutors may seek damages and penalties after investigating whether it violated anti- discrimination laws while financing homeowners. “The Department of Justice has advised Wells Fargo that it believes it can bring claims,” the bank said today in a regulatory filing, without elaborating on potential allegations. “We believe such claims should not be brought and continue seeking to demonstrate to the Department of Justice our compliance with fair-lending laws.” U.S. Millionaires Told Go Away as Tax Evasion Rule Looms (Bloomberg) The 2010 law, to be phased in starting Jan. 1, 2013, requires financial institutions based outside the U.S. to obtain and report information about income and interest payments accrued to the accounts of American clients. It means additional compliance costs for banks and fewer investment options and advisers for all U.S. citizens living abroad, which could affect their ability to generate returns.