Opening Bell: 07.16.14

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S&P Weighs Restarting Talks on U.S. Suit (WSJ)
Standard & Poor's Ratings Services, after more than a year of fighting a crisis-era lawsuit, is willing to reopen discussions with the Justice Department to settle the case, according to people familiar with the matter. The company isn't in active talks with the Justice Department and no deal is imminent, these people said. And while no penalties have been discussed, negotiations would likely focus on a range of several hundred million dollars to around $1 billion, these people said. The firm also doesn't want to admit wrongdoing, the people said, fearing such an admission would leave it vulnerable to further litigation. However, it is unclear whether the Justice Department would accept such terms. The government had previously demanded more than $1 billion before talks broke down. It then filed a lawsuit in February 2013 seeking $5 billion. S&P's apparent strategy shift is in part tied to a new general counsel taking over at S&P's parent company, McGraw Hill Financial Inc. The company also has generally grown more willing to resolve the lawsuit instead of fighting, according to the people familiar with the matter. S&P has previously called the lawsuit "meritless" and alleged it was retaliation for its 2011 downgrade of U.S. sovereign debt, which the government denied.

Bank Earnings Surprise on Pickup in Trading (WSJ)
"It's not something we should do cartwheels over, but something we can stand up and cheer" about, said Tom Jalics, a senior investment analyst for Cleveland-based Key Private Bank, which manages J.P. Morgan and Goldman shares. "We should take note today but should be cautious about trading results going forward as well."

Yahoo to Keep More of Alibaba After IPO, Return Cash (Bloomberg)
Yahoo! Inc will return at least half of the cash it reaps from Alibaba (BABA) Group Holding Ltd.’s initial public offering to shareholders, providing solace to investors who’ve hung on as Chief Executive Officer Marissa Mayer struggles to revive sales. The U.S. Web portal is also keeping a bigger stake in the Chinese e-commerce company, ensuring that Yahoo continues to benefit from its investment in the world’s largest Internet market. The plans for Alibaba were a bright spot in a report yesterday that showed Yahoo’s sales fell last quarter, missing analysts’ projections.

Ex-CalPERS CEO admits he's a crook (Fortune)
When former CalPERS CEO Fred Buenrostro was charged more than a year ago by both federal and state officials with fraud and obstruction of justice charges, something didn’t seem right. The allegations focused on how Buenrostro had forged documents to help placement agent pal Alfred Villalobos get paid by some of his private equity clients, but there was no mention of Buenrostro personally benefiting (beyond a $300k per year job with Villalobos upon retirement from CalPERS). Not was there any evidence that Buenrostro improperly influenced investment decisions at CalPERS. But it seems he did both things, according to his guilty plea last Friday in a San Francisco courthouse. Buenrostro’s attorney had previously suggested that his client was prepared to roll over on Villalobos, who continues to insist that he did nothing wrong. And roll over he did, acknowledging not only the fraud, but also: The receipt of $200,000 in cash from Villalobos — stuffed into shoe boxes and paper bags over a series of three meetings – in exchange for confidential CalPERS information and influence in directing CalPERS to invest in Villalobos’ clients...[also] Villalobos paid for Buenrostro’s 2004 wedding.

Jamie Dimon: Companies should feel free to bail on the U.S. (Fortune)
Dimon’s public thumbs up for inversions—the growing practice where American companies buy smaller foreign companies to relocate overseas and avoid paying U.S. taxes—came in response to a question from Fortune on a media conference call after JPMorgan released its second quarter results. He said the real problem was the tax code, not CEOs trying to shirk their responsibilities. “You want the choice to be able to go to Wal-Mart to get the lowest prices,” Dimon said on a conference call with reporters on Tuesday morning. “Companies should be able to make that choice as well.” Dimon did not elaborate on the difference between choosing where to buy your underwear and where a corporations calls home. In a recent cover story for Fortune, Allan Sloan argued that U.S. companies are “positively unpatriotic” when they move their corporate headquarters overseas to pay lower taxes because of the benefits they receive by being (except for tax purposes) American companies. What’s more, Sloan argued undermining the U.S. tax base will be bad for all shareholders in the long run.

Massachusetts Taco Bell employee shoots customer with BB gun (NYDN)
A Massachusetts Taco Bell employee allegedly shot a customer with a BB gun after the diner grew angry because no one would take his order. Springfield Police arrested 26-year-old Steven Noska on assault and battery charges for the Sunday morning incident, WWLP reported. Around 4 a.m., the customer, also 26, pulled into the drive-thru at the Springfield, Mass., Taco Bell, police said in a statement. He was hungry and wanted tacos, he told officers. The restaurant was open, but no one came to the window, he claimed. After waiting for a while, the customer started banging on the glass. When that didn't getthe employees' attention, the man parked his car and went to the restaurant's door. He banged on that, too. Finally, Noska came to the door to confront the fuming would-be diner. The two men started arguing, police said. Then, it got violent. Noska allegedly shoved the customer, walked to his car and grabbed a BB gun. Police said Noska shot the man several times before hitting him with the pistol.

How much do U.S. brokers make? Their business cards provide clues (Reuters)
A financial adviser who is a "managing director" is likely at the top of his game, but the honorific has different meanings at different company. A Morgan Stanley broker who is a managing director had to bring in $8 million over the previous three years (earning the broker about $1.2 million a year); at Wells Fargo it's $1 million in each of the two prior years (earning the broker $460,000 annually, not counting bonuses and deferred awards). Bank of America's Merrill Lynch Wealth Management reserves the managing director title for advisers who produced at least $3.75 million of revenue in each of two previous consecutive years (roughly $1.7 million for the broker). UBS Wealth Americas, the smallest of the big four brokerage firms, has a complicated formula, limiting the title to those who produced at least $2.6 million in the previous year and brought in $6 million over the previous two years. UBS said it looks for leadership qualities and also confers the title on any broker who has been with UBS at least 25 years.

Do Two-Thirds of Shark Tank Deals Fall Apart? (BusinessWeek)
Of the more than 35,000 people who now try out each season, fewer than 150 make into the tank. Anyone who has seen the show knows how this plays out: Contestants spend up to two hours getting drilled on their business by the panel of sharks. The sessions are edited down to less than 15 minutes and invariably include an embarrassing shot of a bewildered entrepreneur. In every show, at least one lucky entrepreneur gets a hug and a handshake worth tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. What happens next is far less inspirational. As many as two-thirds of those televised deals never come to fruition, estimates TJ Hale, who has interviewed more than 70 participants for his show, Shark Tank Podcast. Investors receive no information prior to filming, so they get to perform due diligence only after taping. They may discover legal, tax, or financial red flags. Or they can just change their minds. “One entrepreneur said basically the shark just never called them,” says Hale.

57-year-old former employee sues Twitter for age discrimination (The Examiner)
Peter Taylor, a 57-year-old who formerly managed deployment at Twitter's data center, filed his lawsuit July 9. In it, Taylor's lawyers say he received a positive employee evaluation just six weeks before he was fired without notice or explanation. "Plaintiff's supervisor made at least one critical remark about plaintiff's age," the lawsuit states. "The persons defendants employ in positions similar to plaintiff's position are all substantially younger than plaintiff. Defendants replaced plaintiff with several employees in their 20's and 30's." A month before he was fired, Taylor underwent surgery to remove kidney stones that had caused him to be ill since April 2013. In his lawsuit, Taylor claims he asked Twitter to assign extra staffers to help with his workload while he was ill. Taylor claims Twitter declined and instead gave him more responsibilities.

Madoff Sons Deleted E-Mails, Hindered Probe, Trustee Says (Bloomberg)
Bernard Madoff’s sons deleted e-mails to obstruct a 2005 U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission investigation that could have exposed their father’s $17.5 billion Ponzi scheme, the trustee unwinding his company said. The trustee said Andrew Madoff and Mark Madoff labeled printouts of some e-mails as “trash” before deleting them from a server during an SEC probe into Madoff’s investment advisory business, according to an amended complaint filed today in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan.

Workers Can Only Spend 6 Minutes In The Bathroom Each Day (HP)
During a protest before work last Wednesday, Teamsters union members at the WaterSaver Faucet Co. in Chicago told a local CBS affiliate they filed a complaint with the NLRB over a company policy that penalizes workers for spending more than 30 minutes per week -- which breaks down to just six minutes a day -- for bathroom breaks. “This year, they installed a washroom monitoring system that basically keeps track of every minute you’re in the bathroom,” Teamsters Local 743 business agent Nick Kreitman told CBS Chicago. The union said as of June, WaterSaver had already "unfairly" disciplined 19 workers for "excessive use" of the bathroom. The company, which make faucets on a manufacturing line, reportedly installed a system that requires workers to swipe in and out of the bathroom earlier this year. But the union told Progress Illinois the disciplinary action for going over the bathroom time limit is recent -- and, perhaps not coincidentally, it came after tense labor contract negotiations during which members asked for paid sick days and health care benefits. WaterSaver owner Steven Kersten told the Chicago Tribune the workers' current contract allows for a 10-minute morning break, a 30-minute lunch and 15-minute afternoon break. Kersten, who admitted to CNN he doesn't have to swipe in to use the bathroom, said the company lost 120 hours of productivity in May due to unscheduled bathroom breaks. Kersten told CNN that as an incentive to employees, the company has a rewards system under which workers can earn a gift card of up to $20 each month -- $1 a day -- if they don't use the bathroom at all during work.

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Opening Bell: 04.03.13

Barclays High-Pay Culture Brought Disrepute: Report (WSJ) Barclays PLC suffered from "a lack of self-awareness" in recent years as a culture of high pay and short-term incentives brought the bank into disrepute, according to an independent report by lawyer and investment banker Anthony Salz. The Salz Review, which was commissioned by Barclays' former chairman after the bank admitted to trying to rig interbank interest rates last summer, describes how in about 10 years the lender expanded to become a disparate set of businesses, each with its own culture. "The result of this growth was that Barclays became complex to manage," the report published Wednesday said. "Despite some attempts to establish group-wide values, the culture that emerged tended to favor transactions over relationships, the short term over sustainability, and financial over other business purposes." The 235-page report—which cost Barclays about £17 million ($25.7 million) to have produced—recommended a series of reforms aimed at trying to foster a common sense of purpose across the bank. To this end, Barclays' board must play a more active role in overseeing the business and Barclays' human resources department must be given more power to stand up on issues such as pay, the report said. Ex-Goldman Sachs Trader Taylor Said to Surrender to FBI (Bloomberg) Former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. traderMatthew Taylor planned to surrender today to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, a person familiar with the matter said. Taylor was accused Nov. 8 by the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission of concealing an $8.3 billion position in 2007 that caused New York-based Goldman Sachs to lose $118 million. Morgan Stanley hired Taylor in March 2008, less than three months after Goldman Sachs disclosed in a public filing that he had been fired for building an “inappropriately large” proprietary trading position. Cyprus Bailout Details Emerge After IMF Deal (WSJ) The IMF statement set out the tough terms the tiny nation of 800,000 has to meet to get the bailout, calling the task ahead "challenging." Cyprus, an economy of roughly €17 billion in annual output, needs to push through cuts and savings worth 4.5% of gross domestic product by 2018 to hit a primary-surplus target of 4% of GDP outlined in the bailout deal, the IMF statement said. These cuts will come on top of savings worth 5% of GDP the government is already implementing through to 2015. An extra 2% of GDP in extra revenue will come from an increase in the country's corporate tax from 10% to 12.5% and an increase in the tax on interest income from 15% to 30%. The country's corporate-tax rate will remain among the lowest in Europe, on an equal footing with Ireland's, and will allow Cyprus to continue to use its tax regime to attract businesses, but the increase in withholding tax will make it substantially less attractive as a place for individuals to leave their savings. Cyprus Leader Invites Family Firm Probe (FT) Cyprus president Nicos Anastasiades has urged judges investigating the country's banking disaster to examine transactions handled by his family law firm as "a priority" in a bid to defuse public anger over last-minute transfers by well-connected Cypriots, Russians and Ukrainians who thereby avoided a "haircut" on their uninsured deposits. The move followed questions over whether a company managed by the president's son-in-law made use of inside information to transfer more than 20 million euros out of Laiki Bank days before its collapse. Marc Lasry In French Follies (NYP) Lasry, the CEO and co-founder of Avenue Capital, is on his way to getting a plum assignment as the US ambassador to France as a reward for his many years as a big Democratic fundraiser. But the Moroccan-born, French-speaking American could encounter some uncomfortable moments when he lands in Paris, given his views on the land of fine wine, crusty baguettes — and European socialism. “We don’t invest in France,” he said at a New York hedge-fund conference sponsored by French bank BNP in June 2010, even apologizing to his hosts as he made the comment. Lasry, who is a bankruptcy lawyer by training, loves to chide other countries for their creditor-unfriendly ways. His $11.7 billion distressed debt fund buys up beaten-down credits of companies headed towards bankruptcy, with the payout determined by their ranking in the process. That can be dicey in countries like France, he explained at the BNP conference, as “the legal system is very much tilted towards helping unions and workers.” As a result, he said, “you might find your claim disallowed.” 1,000 pot plants seized in Queens in warehouse raid (NYDN) A massive drug operation went up in smoke Tuesday when law enforcement officials raided an indoor marijuana farm in Queens. Authorities seized more than 1,000 pot plants - along with grow lights and other gear - from the 44th Rd. warehouse in Long Island City just after 3 p.m. , police sources said. Officials from the NYPD, state police and the federal Drug Enforcement Agency also rounded up five suspects in the sweep. New York-for-Buenos Aires Swap Theory Spreads: Argentina Credit (Bloomberg) Argentina’s refusal to improve its offer to holders of defaulted debt suing for full payment in the U.S. is deepening speculation that the nation will sever ties with the overseas bond market. The proposal submitted on March 29 mimics the terms of Argentina’s 2005 and 2010 debt exchanges, a move that could lead to a default on the restructured notes unless the country removes them from U.S. jurisdiction. BofA Chief Moynihan Said to Summon Managers for Revenue Push (Bloomberg) Bank of America Corp. Chief Executive Officer Brian T. Moynihan has summoned more than 100 of his regional leaders to a private meeting today where they’ll be pushed to boost the lender’s flagging revenue, said two people with direct knowledge of the project. Managers at the two-day event in Chicago will be judged on how much progress they’ve made in helping to sell more products to the 53 million customers of the second-biggest U.S. lender, said the people, who asked for anonymity because Moynihan’s plan hasn’t been made public. Revenue has dropped every year of Moynihan’s three-year tenure as he sold assets, repaired the firm’s balance sheet and settled more than $40 billion in claims tied to defective mortgages. Private Sector Adds 158,000 Jobs (WSJ) Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires expected ADP to report a gain of 192,000 private jobs. However, the February job gain was revised up to 237,000 from 198,000 reported a month ago. SEC Embraces Social Media (WSJ) In a ruling that portends changes to how companies communicate with investors, the Securities and Exchange Commission said Tuesday that postings on sites such as Facebook and Twitter are just as good as news releases and company websites as long as the companies have told investors which outlets they intend to use. Gray seal pup saved from death on Montauk beach now recovering (NYDN) The three-month-old seal, underweight at 40 pounds, is now resting in one of the foundation's rehabilitation tanks at the Atlantic Marine World aquarium in Riverhead. "She feels very sassy in her tank and doesn't appreciate anything we are doing for her," laughed Kimberly Durham, director of the rescue program, "which is a good sign. A nasty seal is a good sign that she is getting better because they are wild animals.

Opening Bell: 7.22.15

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Opening Bell: 09.13.12

Ray Dalio: US Economy Out Of Intensive Care (Reuters) Hedge fund titan Ray Dalio said the U.S economy had come out of the "intensive care unit," but he warned against any quick move to "austerity" budget measures. "We were in the intensive care unit," Dalio, who runs the $120 billion hedge fund Bridgewater Associates, told more than 200 guests at the Council of Foreign Relations in New York on Wednesday. "We are largely healed and largely operating in a manner that is sustainable if we don't hit an air pocket." Dalio said a major challenge for U.S. politicians will be dealing with the so-called "fiscal cliff," the year-end expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts and previously agreed-upon cuts in defense spending and social programs, a combination which some economists say could lead to a recession. Dalio sided with economists who worry that a sharp reduction in government spending could lead the United States back into recession. "We can't just worry about too much debt," Dalio said. "We have to worry about too much austerity." German Court Clears Rescue Fund (WSJ) Germany's highest court cautiously approved the creation of the euro zone's permanent bailout facility, but insisted that the country keep its effective veto on all of the vehicle's decisions, a ruling that removes a question mark over two crucial elements of the euro zone's plans for mastering its debt crisis. Treasury Backs Plan For Standard Chartered Settlement (NYT) The lawyers approved a potential prepayment amount this week, a crucial step to a final agreement, though it will be much smaller than the $340 million the bank had to pay to New York State’s top banking regulator in a related case, according to three officials with direct knowledge of the settlement talks. The differing penalties stem from determinations by federal authorities and Manhattan prosecutors that the bank’s suspected wrongdoing was much less extensive than the state banking regulator’s claims that Standard Chartered had schemed with Iran to hide from regulators 60,000 transactions worth $250 billion over a decade. Insiders Get Post IPO Pass (WSJ) Wall Street underwriters increasingly are allowing corporate insiders to sidestep agreements that prevent them from quickly selling shares after initial public offerings. In the latest instance, several Wall Street banks on Wednesday allowed early investors and management of ExactTarget Inc. to sell more than seven million shares of the online marketing company a week ahead of the planned end of a "lockup" agreement. Under lockup pacts, underwriters bar company insiders from selling their shares, usually for 180 days after an IPO. The lockup restricts the supply of shares, helping buoy IPO prices; releasing more shares on the market can keep a lid on stock prices. Anna Gristina sits down with TV shrink Dr. Phil, says she won't talk to prosecutors about associate (NYDN) The Soccer Mom Madam's little black book has been whittled down to a single name. In her first major interview since being released from Rikers Island in June, Anna Gristina dishes to TV talk show shrink Dr. Phil about how prosecutors have hounded her for dirt on a just one associate. “They have an agenda to get me to talk about a certain person,” she told the daytime doc. Gristina refused to reveal the mystery man, or woman. Oprah's former head-shrink sidekick, who sat down at the kitchen table in Gristina's Monroe, N.Y. farmhouse, asked why the accused flesh-peddler didn't just save herself and give prosecutors the information they want. “I have a deep sense of loyalty and I'm Scottish." Gristina denied the criminal allegations during the teary interview, maintaining she was developing an online dating site where married men could meet single women. Whistleblower Key To Buyout Probe (WSJ) New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's probe of tax practices at private-equity firms is based on information from a whistleblower, according to a person familiar with the matter. The information came from someone who approached Mr. Schneiderman's office between roughly nine months and a year ago, this person said. Under the state's False Claims Act, the attorney general can investigate alleged fraud against the state basedon a whistleblower's allegations. The ongoing probe is examining whether partners at private-equity firms changed management fees into investment income to delay tax payment and pay less—or avoid taxes altogether. Some private-equity firms use so-called management-fee conversions, while other firms avoid them. Wall Street Hopes for Romney, but Expects Obama to Win (CNBC) In an unscientific poll, 46 percent of respondents to the September CNBC Fed Survey said they expect President Obama to win reelection. Only 24 percent believe Republican Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney will get the job. Longtime Madoff Employee To Plead Guilty (Reuters) Irwin Lipkin, a former controller of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC, will appear in Manhattan federal court on Th ursday, prosecutors said in a letter to the judge. He will plead guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit securities fraud and falsifying documents, prosecutors told U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain in the letter. Suspect pulls gun on victim while having sex in a moving car (WNN) The incident began Sep. 2 when the victim and his two friends went to the Paddy Wagon Irish Pub in Port Charlotte. When the bar closed early Monday morning they invited two girls they met to one of the friend’s home on Atlas Street. One of the women and the victim went into a bedroom to have sex. The girl said she needed $250, which he said he didn’t have. She asked how much he had and he gave her $120. The victim then went to the bathroom and when he returned, found the two women had left the home. The victim had obtained the woman’s cell phone number earlier at the bar and called her; they agreed to meet at the Pick N Run store on Peachland Boulevard. When he got there he expected to meet the woman who took the $120. Instead, Linscott walked up to his Nissan Sentra and said the other girl ditched her. Linscott got into his car and as they drove off, he said she began touching him and having sex while he was driving. The victim told detectives she also said she needed money and he told her he already gave her friend $120 earlier. The victim said Linscott then put a .357 Taurus revolver to his head and demanded money. The victim grabbed the gun and a fight ensued in the moving car; he said he punched her in the head so she would release the gun. He told detectives he was in fear of his life and lost control of his car, struck a palm tree, went airborne and then ran across two front yards in the 1200 block of Dewhurst Street.