Opening Bell: 07.22.14

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Argentina asks U.S. judge to put debt payment order on hold (Reuters)
Argentina asked a U.S. judge on Monday to put on hold an order requiring it to pay bondholders who did not participate in debt restructurings following the country's 2002 default, while it seeks a "global resolution." Ahead of a July 30 deadline to reach a deal or face a new default, Argentina filed papers asking a New York federal judge to stay a ruling that it pay the holdout investors $1.33 billion plus interest. Argentina, which has been in settlement talks, said any deal must take into account other bondholders and factor in a clause in its restructured bonds that could open it up to further liability. "As those risks remain, so does the necessity and appropriateness of a stay," Argentina's lawyers wrote.

Money Manager Foiled By Bad Bets (WSJ)
A former Olympic fencer who was one of the few hedge-fund managers to predict the financial crisis is floundering in more placid markets. Balestra Capital Partners LP, founded by Wall Street veteran James Melcher, saw investors yank more than $600 million—or more than 60% of its assets—at the end of the second quarter, according to investor documents. New York-based Balestra's investments were down more than 14% for this year through the end of June, the documents show. The 74-year-old Mr. Melcher, who competed for the U.S. in fencing at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, is an extreme example of the pain being inflicted on many of Wall Street's so-called macro traders. Many of those traders, who bet on global economic trends, including wagers that make money when markets fall, have been negatively affected by low interest rates and damped volatility across many of the markets in which they operate.

Wall Street Adapts to New Regulatory Regime (WSJ)
Four years after the Dodd-Frank financial law became reality, Washington's regulatory machine is altering Wall Street in fundamental ways. Banks are selling off profitable business lines, pulling back from the short-term funding market, cutting ties with businesses that could attract extra regulatory scrutiny, and building up defenses to help weather future crises. While profits are up as firms slash costs and reduce funds set aside to cover future losses, their traditional profit engine—trading—is showing signs of weakening as banks step away from some activity amid regulatory pressure.

Fantex Completes Second Football Player I.P.O., Though Demand Is Slack (Dealbook)
Shares linked to the future income of [E.J. Manuel, a 24-year-old quarterback with the Buffalo Bills] Manuel started trading on Monday on an exchange operated by Fantex, a Silicon Valley start-up that helps athletes raise money through public offerings of stock. The firm previously sold shares linked to Vernon Davis of the San Francisco 49ers. The offering of 523,700 shares received a significant amount of support from Fantex itself. Unable to sell all of the Manuel stock to investors, the company stepped in to buy 250,000 shares, or 48 percent of the total amount offered, according to Buck French, the chief executive. This level of support was expected, Mr. French said. Despite the slack demand, the stock was trading higher in its debut on Monday. After opening for trading at $10 at noon, the shares were up 15 percent in early afternoon trading.

Fox’s Time Warner bid could hit $105 a share (NYP)
...according to Moody’s Investors Service, which in a report Monday laid out a scenario where Fox could offer $105 per share for Time Warner without jeopardizing its credit rating. That’s $20 more per share than Time Warner turned down from Rupert Murdoch’s company earlier this month. Moody’s scenario also boosts the deal’s cash component to $35.34 billion, up from $28.88 billion in Fox’s initial proposal. The beauty of Moody’s analysis, however, is Fox’s not having to break the bank to reel in Time Warner. In fact, the credit rating agency projected a Fox-Time Warner combo could return to Fox’s coveted leverage ratio — 3.0 times debt to Ebitda — inside of 18 months.

Soros Chart Shows Euro-Yen Reaching 2008 High (Bloomberg)
The euro will surge to a six-year high against the yen by the end of 2014 as the European Central Bank isn’t printing money as fast as the Bank of Japan, according to Daiwa Securities Co...Japanese traders and investors refer to this gauge as a “Soros Chart,” after billionaire investor George Soros correctly predicted in the 1990s that the yen would weaken because of Japan’s burgeoning money supply. Also tracked are the euro, which recently traded at 137 yen, up 46 percent since July 2012, and the slowing inflation rate in the 18 nations sharing the common currency.

Angry husband sends wife Excel spreadsheet detailing sex-starved month (NYDN)
A woman's fed-up husband sent her an Excel spreadsheet listing every time she shot down his attempts to have sex over the past month, including her excuses, according to a Reddit post. The user throwwwwaway29 posted the doc to the site on Friday along with a plea for advice, Deadspin reported. “Yesterday morning, while in a taxi on the way to the airport, Husband sends a message to my work email which is connected to my phone,” the woman wrote. “I open it up, and it's a sarcastic diatribe basically saying he won't miss me for the 10 days I'm gone,” she said. The spurned hubby's rundown showed the couple had only had sex three times since June 3, despite 27 tries on his part to get frisky. One column listed the wife's apparent excuses, including protests that she felt "gross," was too busy watching TV or ate too much. The successful rolls in the hay were marked with an italicized "Yes." The beleaguered wife called the dry-spell "a temporary slow-down due to extenuating circumstances."

Pershing Square's Ackman: Why I think Herbalife is going to collapse (CNBC, earlier)
Bill Ackman, head of hedge fund Pershing Square Capital Management, said his firm's presentation of a Herbalife investigation will "expose incredible fraud." The talk will be held at the AXA Equitable Center in Manhattan at 10 a.m. ET on Tuesday. "We have hundreds of hours of internal video, Ackman told CNBC's Halftime Report. "We have some internal documents that were given to us by some employees."

For Banks Near Cutoff, Bigger Isn't Necessarily Better (WSJ)
Joseph Ficalora is CEO of New York Community Bancorp, a lender in Westbury, WBB -0.46% N.Y., with $47.6 billion in assets as of the end of the first quarter. The bank is projected to reach the $50 billion mark by the end of the year if it continues to expand at its current rate. But with that milestone will come myriad headaches. Once the bank reports assets of more than $50 billion on average for four quarters in a row, NYCB, as it is known, will be large enough to be considered "systemically important" by regulators. That status will require it to comply with stiff rules on capital, submit to yearly "stress tests" and create a road map to wind down the bank in the event of a crisis, moves that will add to its costs. As a result, Mr. Ficalora says NYCB is restraining its lending growth, since loans amount to assets. The rule characterizing bank holding companies over $50 billion as systemically important is part of the regulatory overhaul that followed the financial crisis and is aimed at keeping a closer eye on banks whose potential problems could endanger the broader financial system. But some critics argue that the $50 billion threshold is too low, catching companies, like NYCB, that are far from financial giants.

Cash Crops With Dividends: Financiers Transforming Strawberries Into Securities (Dealbook)
For now, American Farmland is a private company, and its founder, D. Dixon Boardman, is pitching the vision to Wall Street. Corn, cotton, lemons, walnuts, avocados: If it grows in the ground and has an attractive income stream, he is peddling it. “It’s like gold, but better, because there is this cash flow,” Mr. Boardman said. The income stream comes from the rent farmers pay American Farmland and also often includes a share of the revenue from the crops. The company buys farms with permanent crops like almonds and avocados and row crops like cotton and corn. Down the line, if American Farmland follows the same path as Farmland Partners and Gladstone Land and lists on a public exchange, Mr. Boardman will have another audience to pitch his vision to: ordinary investors.

Steven Seagal kicked out of Estonia music festival over his support of Vladimir Putin (NYDN)
The actor, who has previously vocalized his support of Vladimir Putin, was booted from performing with his band at a blues festival in Estonia in the wake of Russia's president's alleged involvement in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, which killed all 298 passengers and crew. The festival announced June 17 that Seagal, 62, and his blues band would headline Augustibluus in Haapsalu on Aug. 14, celebrating the Estonia fest's 20th year. The news sent Estonians, whose nation was formerly invaded by the Soviet Union and borders Russia, into a frenzy due to the "Above the Law" actor's statements of support for Putin, who he once described as "one of the greatest world leaders alive today." Futhermore, the "Under Siege" star came to Putin's defense for the invasion of Ukraine's Crimea territory in March, saying it was "very reasonable."

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Opening Bell: 06.07.13

‘This Will be the Most Important Payroll Release in Years’ (WSJ MoneyBeat) Every payrolls day is a hype-fest, but particularly today. Today’s release will be the “most important payroll release in years”, wrote Michael Hartnett, chief investment strategist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. It follows “the seventh-worst month of returns for fixed income since ’85 and the largest week of bond fund redemptions since Oct ’08,” the bank says. So, no pressure. The consensus forecast gathered by Dow Jones Newswires is for a rise of 169,000 in the reading for May, with an unchanged employment rate of 7.5%. Draghi lauds ‘most successful’ ECB action (FT) A combative Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, strongly defended one of his bank’s most unorthodox and controversial moves of the eurozone crisis as “probably the most successful monetary policy measure undertaken in recent times”. Pressure in Britain Over What to Do With Bailed-Out Banks (DealBook) “As we move closer to an election, the share prices of R.B.S. and Lloyds will become more scrutinized,” said Peter Hahn, a banking professor at the Cass Business School in London. “Whoever is in government, selling shares in these banks will be a top priority.” ... The British government’s quandary over the banks stands in contrast with the experience of the United States Treasury Department, which reduced the government’s stakes in the big banks more quickly. Criminal Cases Loom in Rate Rigging (WSJ) U.S. and British authorities are preparing to bring criminal charges against former employees of Barclays for their alleged roles trying to manipulate benchmark interest rates, according to people familiar with the plans, marking an escalation of a global investigation now entering its sixth year. The charges are likely to be filed this summer, these people said, roughly a year after the big British bank became the first institution to settle over allegations that it attempted to rig the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, and other widely used financial benchmarks. NSA taps in to user data of Facebook, Apple, Google and others, secret files reveal (Guardian) The files also reveal terrible PowerPoint skills. ‘Hey, gals – be a ho!’: Pimps’ lawyer hails great pay, benefits (NYP) “I’m trying to find a job myself that pays me 10 grand a week,” defense lawyer Howard Greenberg said as summations began in the Manhattan Criminal Court trial of Vincent George Sr. and Jr., admitted father-and-son pimps. “One wonders in this economy if a girl can make up to 10 grand a week . . . Why more women don’t do it, I don’t know,” the lawyer said, arguing that there is no proof that the Georges’ pampered staff of five hookers was forced to do anything. The Georges admit they’re pimps. But they insist that they’re really nice pimps and that their stable of five women commuted happily, six nights a week, from their employer-provided houses in Allentown, Pa., to the bars of fancy Midtown hotels, where they’d hand out “masseuse” cards to randy male tourists. “The girls wanted for nothing. There was maternity leave — can you imagine that? In short, the benefits package was great,” Greenberg said. S&P cuts outlook on Brazil sovereign rating (FT) S&P said slow economic growth, expansionary fiscal policy that was likely to lead to an increase in the government’s debt burden, and “ambiguous policy signals” in decision-making were among the factors behind the surprise move. “The negative outlook reflects the at least one-in-three probability that a rising government debt burden and erosion of macroeconomic stability could lead to a downgrade of Brazil over the next two years,” the agency said. Japan's Pension Fund to Buy More Stocks (WSJ) The Government Pension Investment Fund, at a joint news conference with Japan's welfare ministry, said it has raised its target portfolio allocation of domestic stocks to 12% from the current 11%. The fund also said it would increase its allocation of overseas assets and cut back on low-yielding Japanese bonds. The GPIF is the world's largest public pension with ¥112 trillion yen ($1.16 trillion) in assets. It is closely watched by many investors for hints about potential portfolio rebalancing, which could have broad implications for financial markets. Record outflows from US junk bond funds (FT) US high-yield funds saw a record $4.63bn in outflows for the week ending on Wednesday, according to Lipper. Interest rate volatility has surged in recent weeks since benchmark Treasury yields have risen sharply, with selling spilling over into other key areas of the bond market. As exchange traded fund providers and mutual funds face redemptions, they are forced to sell more of their holdings, putting further pressure on prices. “We are definitely worried that the market is in a cycle where selling of bonds begets more selling,” said Steven Boyd, principal at Halyard Asset Management. Pimco Defends $8.5 Billion BofA Mortgage Accord (Bloomberg) Bank of America Corp.’s $8.5 billion mortgage-bond settlement is “outstanding” for investors, said a Pacific Investment Management Co. executive, who defended the deal against opposition. The settlement was reached after an investor group that included Pimco and BlackRock Inc. (BLK) at first demanded $12 billion, eventually coming down to a “take or leave it” offer of $8.5 billion, Kent Smith, an executive vice president at Pimco who helped negotiate the agreement, testified yesterday. “It’s an outstanding deal, and it’s in the best interest of our clients to support it,” Smith said. Smith was the first witness to testify in a trial over the agreement, which is being considered by Justice Barbara Kapnick of New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan. Forest braces for third bout with Icahn (Reuters) Forest Laboratories Inc is trying to avert yet another bitter proxy battle with billionaire investor Carl Icahn ahead of its annual investor meeting this summer, according to two sources familiar with the situation. ... Last year's proxy battle, for example, ended with just one of Icahn's four nominees being elected to the board - Pierre Legault, the former chief financial officer of OSI Pharma. Legault has since distanced himself from Icahn, telling people that he didn't know the investor well and wasn't "his guy", one of the sources said. Bono Sings to Warren Buffett (CNBC) "Home on the Range"; there is video. Russia's Vladimir Putin and wife Lyudmiladivorce (BBC) "It was a joint decision: we hardly see each other, each of us has our own life", Mr Putin said. Mrs Putin had rarely been seen in public in recent months, prompting much speculation in Russian media. She is known to dislike publicity, and told the TV reporter that flying was difficult for her. "Vladimir Vladimirovich is completely drowned in work," she said.