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Opening Bell: 06.16.14

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‘Bitcoin Jesus’ Calls Rich to Tax-Free Tropical Paradise (Bloomberg)
He’s known as Bitcoin Jesus in the world of cyber-currencies. Though he can’t promise you heaven, he is offering a haven: a condo in the Caribbean that comes with a new passport and almost zero taxes. Meet Roger Ver, ex-U.S. citizen, ex-convict, millionaire investor, self-described libertarian and founder of Passports for The ever-expanding universe of what you can buy with bitcoins includes a hotel stay in Rome, a kimono in Tokyo, and cable TV in the U.S. Ver, a pioneer investor in bitcoin startups, now says he can add citizenship to the list. Specifically, that’s the right to live in the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis, two sun-kissed islands a three-hour flight from Miami. St. Kitts has run an invest-and-become-a-citizen program since 1984, making it the oldest of its kind, says the country’s website. Plunk down $400,000 for real estate and you get a passport that allows visa-free travel to 120 countries. There are no taxes on personal income or capital gains and the islands’ restrictive disclosure laws offer shelter from outside scrutiny, according to the Tax Justice Network, a think tank that studies secrecy jurisdictions. Ver’s website, in English, Russian and Chinese, offers a way to purchase a piece of that paradise with bitcoins. He says it will help people who are hemmed in by government restrictions on cash transactions.

Wells Fargo Nears Market-Value Milestone (NYP)
A rally in its stock has put Wells Fargo on the cusp of becoming the most valuable U.S. bank of all time, eclipsing the record held by Mr. Kovacevich's long-ago employer, the bank now known as Citigroup Inc. Wells Fargo shares closed at $51.90 on Friday, up more than 14% for the year. Larger rivals J.P. Morgan Chase JPM 0.00% & Co., Bank of America Corp. BAC +0.13% and Citigroup are down in 2014. Wells Fargo's stock-market value of $272.36 billion is the most of any U.S. bank now and about $10 billion shy of the record among banks of $282.75 billion set by Citigroup in 2001. The lesson in Wells Fargo's rally: It is better to be a large Main Street bank than a big Wall Street firm. Tough rules on risk-taking and a slowdown in trading are weighing on investment banks' profits. Wells Fargo, never a big trading firm, has focused on generating revenue from its bread-and-butter businesses of commercial and consumer lending and mortgages as rivals pulled away after the financial crisis.

Allergan Defending Its Fort Botox (NYT)
...on the same day that Allergan’s board unanimously rejected Valeant’s latest bid, [Allergan's chief executive David E. I.] Pyott was in Manhattan putting his case directly to Allergan’s investor base. More than once, he reminded people that he is Glaswegian, of a tribe infamous for its toughness — a message that he was prepared for a protracted battle. “The other side is in a hurry because they have to keep buying,” Mr. Pyott told me during his visit last week. “But we are in control of our own destiny.”

Prosecutors Face New Hurdles in Insider-Trading Trial (WSJ)
Prosecutors will face a new test in their insider-trading push when the trial of Raj Rajaratnam's brother starts Tuesday. The trial marks the first insider case for Manhattan federal prosecutors following signals from a federal appeals court that they may have taken too broad a view of insider trading. Rengan Rajaratnam, who worked at his older brother's hedge fund Galleon Group, is accused of trading on confidential information related to wireless broadband company Clearwire Corp. and chip maker Advanced Micro Devices Inc. in 2008 after being tipped by his brother. The alleged scheme reaped about $800,000 in profits. In recent months, the judge presiding over the case called some of the charges "inconsistent," and prosecutors have whittled down the case against Mr. Rajaratnam from seven insider-trading-related counts filed in an indictment last year to two counts of securities fraud and one count of conspiracy—without explaining why.

Interest Wanes At Harvard (NYP)
...returns on the august institution’s $32 billion tax-sheltered endowment fund came in dead last among the Ivy Leaguers for the latest five-year period.

Giant wedding tent for elites infuriates wealthy town (NYP)
A wealthy New York couple who built a giant wedding tent at the foot of Aspen Mountain has outraged the area’s locals, who are blasting the structure as a garish monstrosity. Alexandra Steel, 31 — daughter of former New York City Deputy Mayor Robert Steel — and her groom, James Scott, 37, custom-built a 27,000-square-foot tent, chapel and dance floor in a meadow for their wedding on Saturday. But the setup — which took 50 large trucks hauling heavy scaffolding to build — is bad for the environment and causes traffic jams, locals say. “What’s happening right now is over the top concerning anything that’s ever happened on the Little Annie Basin,” Glenn Horn, of the Little Annie Homeowners Association told The Aspen Times...The tent was built on private land belonging to wedding planner John Miller, allowing the couple to skirt the area’s zoning rules, residents claimed...County planning staffers initially rejected the request, citing the “scale and intensity of the operation.” But a month later, Miller successfully petitioned the county, saying the wedding was no longer “commercial.” He said he wouldn’t be charging the couple — after learning the bride’s father was Robert Steel, a chair of The Aspen Institute and former deputy mayor for economic development in New York City. Now the pristine natural area could take years to recover, locals charged.

Medtronic Is Biggest Firm Yet to Renounce U.S. Tax Status (CNBC)
Medtronic, the globe-spanning medical device maker founded in a Minneapolis garage in 1949, is poised to become the biggest company yet to escape the U.S. tax system by shifting its incorporation abroad. Medtronic said yesterday it plans to take a legal address in tax-friendly Ireland as part of a $42.9 billion takeover of Covidien Plc. (COV) Although Covidien is run from Mansfield, Massachusetts, it’s been incorporated in Ireland since 2009. Minneapolis-based Medtronic joins some 44 American companies that have reincorporated abroad or struck plans to do so, including 14 in a recent wave of moves that began in 2012. Earlier this year, Pfizer Inc., the largest U.S. drugmaker, briefly proposed taking a U.K. address, a move that might have cut its tax bills by as much as $1 billion a year.

How To Drink Wine Like A Millionaire (NYP)
Oldman, who launched his wine career full-time in 2008, says he’ll also be covering “insider secrets” about how today’s rich drink, and discussing strategies for pairing special occasion wines with food, as well as offering advice on how to buy and store wine. For those not Aspen bound: go buy Dom Perignon Brut Champagne 2004 ($145 retail), Yao Ming’s Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley 2009 ($175), Chateau Rieussec Sauternes Grand Cru 2006 ($120), Louis Jadot Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru 2011 ($125), Domaine Faiveley Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru 2011 ($180) and Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2010 ($110). His picks for hedge-fund guys? Oldman says the finest red Burgundy and Bordeaux are setting record prices in Hong Kong.

Boston Firm AMG Near Deal to Buy D.E. Shaw Stake (WSJ)
A Boston investment firm is nearing a deal to buy a stake in hedge-fund giant D.E. Shaw Group for more than $500 million from the estate of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., according to a person familiar with the matter. Affiliated Managers Group Inc. has bid for the 20% stake in a deal that would value D.E. Shaw at more than $2 billion. An agreement in principle has been reached but a final deal isn't imminent and could still fall apart, according to people familiar with the matter.

'Money Pit' for sale: $12.5M (NYT)
The Long Island mansion used for "The Money Pit," the 1986 comedy starring Tom Hanks and Shelley Long about the ultimate fixer-upper fiasco, is poised to go on the market for $12.5 million. The annual property taxes on the home are $65,992. The eight-bedroom 1898 house in Lattingtown, N.Y., has been totally redone, meticulously designed and decorated with a Versace-esque flair. The three-story white clapboard home has a center hall and is reached through a gated entrance and down a quarter-mile-long rhododendron-lined drive to a white-pebble motor court. "It's now the anti-'Money Pit,' " said Shawn Elliott of Shawn Elliott Luxury Homes & Estates, the listing broker. "The home was restored at the highest quality." When the movie was shot, the home was owned by Eric Ridder, a publisher and a member of the American yachting team that won the gold medal at the 1952 Olympics. Front and back exteriors of the home, which is bracketed by symmetrical wings and is known as Northway, appear in the movie; most of the interior scenes were staged in a studio. Still, the current homeowners, Rich and Christina Makowsky, who bought the 5.4-acre estate in 2002, said their experience imitated art. "We didn't realize how bad it was," said Mr. Makowsky, a shoe manufacturer and distributor. "The house was falling apart when you went from room to room. We definitely could have done the sequel."

Rob Ford The Musical holds open casting on Monday (CBC)
In creating an upcoming stage musical about scandal-plagued Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, playwright Brett McCaig couldn't help but think of a certain literary figure. "Falstaff from Shakespeare," McCaig said in a telephone interview. "He's very Shakespearean or operatic. He's our modern tragic hero — he rode in on his white horse, stallion, to save his village and then through his own weaknesses fell hard." McCaig will be looking to fill the shoes of such a character on Monday when he and his collaborators hold an open casting call for "Rob Ford The Musical: The Birth of a Ford Nation" at Toronto's Second City Training Centre. The show is set to run at Toronto's Factory Theatre from Sept. 16 to Sept. 28, although McCaig said there's a possibility of extending it. "We've fielded just hundreds and hundreds of calls, so I think it's going to be a bit of a gong show," McCaig said of the audition. "But the more the merrier because then we have a bigger pool to find that perfect Rob Ford."


Opening Bell: 4.14.15

JP Morgan earnings; Wells Fargo earnings; Blythe Masters is hiring; 'Nam vet denied 69 license plate; and more.