Opening Bell: 05.30.14

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Ballmer’s $2 Billion Offer Said to Win Clippers Bidding (Bloomberg)
Donald Sterling’s approval wasn’t needed as his wife completed the $2 billion sale of the Los Angeles Clippers to former Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer, people familiar with the process said. Guidelines established in a family trust allowed for Shelly Sterling to unilaterally make the record-shattering deal, according to the people who asked not to be identified because the bidding was private...Ballmer, 58, outbid at least four other suitors. Each of the bids shattered the previous record sale price for an NBA team of $550 million paid in April for the Milwaukee Bucks.

M&A Party Attracts Uninvited Guests (WSJ)
As merger activity heats up this year, hostile or unsolicited approaches by companies undeterred by private brushoffs are also rising. Buyers have gone public with unsolicited takeover bids totaling $97.3 billion so far this year, representing about 7% of all global deals by dollar amount, according to Thomson Reuters. That's the highest percentage since 2007.

U.S. probing 15 banks, payment processors for fraud (Reuters)
The Justice Department's investigation, known as "Operation Choke Point," is more than a year old and aims to crack down on fraud by going after firms that handle and move money for various suspect businesses. According to documents released on Thursday by the House of Representatives' Oversight Committee, the DOJ had criminal probes open of four payment processors, one bank and several officials as of November 2013.

Kentucky’s Big Whiskey Investment: Is the Bourbon Boom a Bubble? (Corporate Intelligence)
A bourbon shortage today reflects decisions made many years — or decades — ago, leaving companies with few good options. Last year Beam Inc. faced a furious backlash from fans of its Maker’s Mark brand when the company said it would reduce the strength of the spirit to make limited supplies stretch further. It eventually backtracked on the decision, but not before panicking customers stockpiled supplies of the bourbon, sending sales up 44% in the quarter. Today’s big distillery expansions will put a flood of new bourbon on the market years from now. Will we still be drinking bourbon by then? Julian Proctor Van Winkle, the chief of the family business that makes Pappy Van Winkle, explained why his company is taking a conservative approach to adding capacity. “They legalize marijuana, and nobody is drinking bourbon anymore,” he said in an interview with Louisville Magazine. ”I don’t want to get caught with a bunch of whiskey.”

Realty Investors Flock to Spain (NYT)
As one of the most moribund housing markets in Europe, Spain has become a magnet for global bargain hunters. Real estate prices are down as much as 50 percent from their peak during a housing bubble, and investors from Asia to the United States and Britain are flocking to Spain to try to catch the uptick. British Airways flights to Madrid are packed with London-based real estate executives. The hedge fund Baupost is buying shopping centers, Goldman Sachs and Blackstone are buying apartments in Madrid, and Paulson & Company and George Soros’s fund are anchor investors in a publicly listed Spanish real estate investment vehicle. Kohlberg Kravis Roberts just bought a stake in a Spanish amusement park complex. Big-name private equity firms and banks are teaming up with and competing against one another on huge loan portfolios with names like Project Hercules and Project Octopus. “It’s surreal,” said Dilip Khullar, a 25-year veteran of Spanish real estate investing and director of Cadena, an investment fund. “One day it’s the worst place in the world to buy real estate and the next, it’s the best.”

UC Irvine Gives Anteaters 'Superfan' the Boot (WSJ)
A small crowd of UC Irvine parents and alumni cheered for their Anteaters. But the applause was drowned out by the hoots and hollers of one fan who looked like a California-bred cave man. He was deeply tanned, with thick, cascading blond hair, and wore a full get-up of UC Irvine gear—including fingernails painted in the team's signature blue and gold colors. "'Eaters in the house!" he yelled. The rabid reaction came from Keith Franklin, known around UC Irvine as "Superfan." He has been a zany fixture at the team's Anteater Ballpark, often clawing the net behind home plate, since 2006. He has nicknames for the players, and knows their statistics and families as if they were his own. Beyond his loud vocal stylings, Superfan is known for a repertoire of stadium theatrics. He has a special cheer for each batter, as well as for every run scored. He also celebrates with physical gusto, high-fiving people up and down rows of seats, even headbanging over the dugout. At dire moments when a run is sorely needed, he calls on the crowd to join him in breaking wind to spark a rally. Those days may be over. Mr. Franklin has been effectively banned from the team's home games, which means he can only cheer the Anteaters at road contests...Superfan's antics finally backfired several months ago, after some fans complained, according to the university. Security guards started asking him to behave, as Mr. Franklin recalls it, like "an ordinary fan." [...] Mr. Franklin's official ejection has many of UC Irvine's former players crying foul. They say he had a habit of showing up in unexpected places to shore up the team. He made it onto the field after two UC Irvine players, Matt Summers and Andrew Thurman, pitched no-hitters in recent seasons. He helped with chores like unspooling the stadium's tarp over the infield. Once, he appeared on campus at 2 a.m. to welcome the Anteaters home after a road trip.

Silicon Valley May Be in a Bubble, but It’s Not 2000 (The Upshot)
Mary Meeker says Silicon Valley is not in a bubble. Ms. Meeker, the venture capitalist and former tech stock analyst, has made an annual tradition out of the release of her slide show of Internet trends. Hovering over her projections this year — of smartphone and tablet use; China’s embrace of technology; and mobile advertising — was the question of The Bubble...Ms. Meeker has summoned a series of charts to make her case. She displayed three slides illustrating that the tech industry is nowhere near the era just ahead of the dot-com crash. Technology companies’ market value is only 19 percent of the S&P 500’s valuation, as opposed to 35 percent on March 10, 2000, the peak of the last tech bubble. The venture capital financing of start-ups is at 1998 levels and 77 percent below the 2000 peak.

Geneva, Dubai Rank as Priciest Cities in World for Hotels (Bloomberg)
Geneva, Dubai and Miami...rank among the most expensive markets for hotel rooms, according to an index compiled by Bloomberg. In Geneva, the average cost for a night is $308, followed by Dubai at $273, Kuwait City at $253 and Zurich at $250. Miami is next as the costliest place for lodging in the U.S., at $245 a night.

Why John Mack left Rosneft after only a year (NetNet)
A year after joining the Russian government-owned petroleum company Rosneft as a director, former Morgan Stanley chief executive John Mack is stepping down from it. In an interview, Mack said his resignation, which comes a month after the U.S. sanctioned Rosneft chief executive Igor Sechin over Russia's handling of the turmoil in Ukraine, had nothing to do with geopolitics. "There was no pressure from the government," he told CNBC. "I just didn't have the time anymore."

Woman Arrested For Threatening To Shoot Up A Burger King Over Stale Cinnabon Roll (TSG)
South Carolina police today announced the arrest of a woman who allegedly threatened to “shoot down” a Burger King after she received a stale Cinnabon roll earlier this month. Andrea Ann McCullough, 33, was nabbed yesterday on a misdemeanor assault charge in connection with the May 13 incident at the eatery in Mount Pleasant, a Charleston suburb. According to police, McCullough quarreled with Burger King workers when she discovered that her Cinnabon roll was not fresh. The 7 PM dispute escalated, with McCullough threatening, “I’m going to shoot down the place.” After employees said they were calling police, McCullough and two female companions fled the restaurant’s parking lot in a Dodge Charger. McCullough’s eventual apprehension was aided by Burger King workers who were able to record the getaway car’s license plate number.

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By Thomas Wolf (Der Wolf im Wald) (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Opening Bell: 8.16.17

Frankfurt doesn't want your tired, your hungry, your Brexit bankers; Rajat Gupta just wants to be normal, unassuming captain of industry again; Cheetos-only restaurant signals the end of western civilization as we know it; 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.