Opening Bell: 08.29.14

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Bank of America seeks to void verdict in $1.27 billion 'Hustle' case (Reuters)
Bank of America Corp on Thursday asked a federal judge to throw out a jury verdict finding it liable for fraud over defective mortgages sold by its Countrywide unit that resulted in a $1.27 billion penalty. The bank urged U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff in Manhattan to rule for it as a matter of law or order a new trial, arguing that the evidence at trial did not support the jury's October 2013 verdict. Bank of America said prosecutors were required at trial to prove that loans originated by Countrywide Financial Corp in a process called "Hustle" that were then sold to government mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were not as good as the lender represented. "The trial evidence, even viewed in the light most favorable to the government, did not prove fraud under this standard," the bank's lawyers wrote.

Russian Recession Risk Seen at Record High Amid Sanctions (Bloomberg)
The chance of Russia’s economy tipping into a recession is rising as the escalating crisis in Ukraine raises the risk of the government in Moscow retaliating with further import bans, according to a survey of analysts. The probability of a recession in the next 12 months rose to 65 percent from 50 percent, the highest since the first such Bloomberg survey in June 2012, according to the median estimate of 26 economists in the poll. Russia will enact additional restrictions in retribution for sanctions imposed by the U.S. and the European Union, according to 15 of 25 economists. Of those, 12 expect Russia to target cars and consumer goods.

Project Funway: Code Names Help Spice Up the Art of the Deal (WSJ)
"Project Swift" sounds like the name of a military invasion or an Olympic marathoner's training plan. But it is actually the code name for a corporate buyout, inspired by a private-equity associate's fondness for singer Taylor Swift. Labels like Project Token, the name Apollo Global Management LLC used to mask its purchase of children's restaurant favorite Chuck E. Cheese, or Project Fusion, the code for Kinder Morgan Inc.'s consolidation of its oil-and-gas holdings into a single company, are designed to keep reporters, traders and even rival companies from sniffing out deal news before formal announcements are made. For the young bankers who get to choose them, code names are an amusing diversion from the financial modeling and PowerPoint presentations that fill their days. But one deal-making powerhouse is putting an end to the name game, opting instead to automate the process to avoid the pitfalls that go with the territory. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. now requires bankers to use name-generating software that offers 10 random options like Project Calculator or Project Daniel. The new system has been phased in across the bank over the past two years, according to people familiar with it.

Angry Birds Chief To Step Down (WSJ)
Finland's Rovio Entertainment Ltd., maker of the Angry Birds mobile game, said on Friday that Chief Executive Mikael Hed will step down in January—a move that comes amid the company's recent struggles to refresh its games lineup and revenue model. Mr. Hed will be replaced by former Nokia Corp. executive Pekka Rantala, who joined Rovio's executive team earlier this year. Rovio and its iconic Angry Birds games franchise has struggled in recent years amid stiff competition from a new breed of mobile games developers, such as Supercell Oy and Anglo-Swedish King Digital Entertainment PLC, the maker of the "Candy Crush Saga." Mr. Hed, 38, has tried to overhaul the Finnish company's games revenue model, making downloads free and charging users for purchases made in the games, but recent games haven't made much of an impact.

Falcone’s tactics in buying steel company draw fire (NYP)
Phil Falcone couldn’t play by the rules on Wall Street — so now he’s playing where there aren’t any rules. That’s the charge from critics as the hedge fund tycoon moves to take over a little known but profitable steel fabricator whose shares are traded in the loosely regulated over-the-counter market. Falcone, who last year agreed to an $18 million settlement with federal regulators for misconduct that got him barred from the securities industry for five years, is using ruthless tactics to acquire the company, Phoenix-based Schuff International, on the cheap, according to rankled investors. Last week, Falcone’s new investment vehicle, HC2, created this spring from a shell company that’s also off the exchanges, floated a tender for Schuff shares to consolidate its ownership in the firm. That’s less than three months after a surprise May 30 announcement that HC2 had acquired a 65 percent stake.

Residents Of Noiva Do Cordeiro, Almost All-Woman Town, Seek Bachelors (HP)
Life is pretty sweet for the women of Noiva Do Cordeiro. According to the Telegraph, they have constructed a society in the southeast part of Brazil that is communal, egalitarian and almost all-female. But some of the women in the town say it would be nice to have a few more dudes in the mix. "I haven’t kissed a man for a long time," Nelma Fernandes, 23, told the Telegraph. "We all dream of falling in love and getting married. But we like living here and don’t want to have to leave the town to find a husband. We’d like to get to know men who would leave their own lives and come to be a part of ours. But first they need to agree to do what we say and live according to our rules.”

Untangling the Mess of Austrian Bank Hypo (WSJ)
Here, in the headquarters of Hypo Alpe-Adria-Bank International Group AG, former detective Christian Böhler and his team are untangling a web of suspected collusion among bankers, politicians and Balkan power brokers that has tarnished the reputations of two of Europe's richest nations. The small bank's downfall has cost the governments of Austria and Germany €9.05 billion ($11.93 billion). Investigations by Austrian prosecutors and Hypo's forensics unit have resulted in criminal convictions of six of the bank's former bosses. Now, Austria's plan to wind down the nationalized bank has set Vienna up for a new struggle involving former investors—among which are a Bavarian bank that bought it in 2007 and one of the hedge funds that recently pushed Argentina to default.

Facebook Hires 18-Year-Old Intern for Full-Time Engineering Gig (Bloomberg)
"This summer internship at Facebook has been amazing, but it's not over," Sayman said in a post on his Facebook page. "Facebook has offered me a full-time job as an engineer. The adventure is just beginning."

Businesses Are Winning Cat-and-Mouse Tax Game (Dealbook)
Business taxes now make up less than 10 percent of federal revenue, and in some years as little as 6.6 percent. That is sharply down from the years after World War II, when about 30 percent of federal revenue came from corporate taxes. The decline is the result of the rise of untraditional business structures, the effects of a more globalized economy and a labyrinth of subsidies and tax credits. And though the erosion has happened gradually over decades, the surging popularity of inversions — acquisitions of overseas companies that allow American corporations to reincorporate abroad — is raising concerns that an already precarious situation is growing untenable.

Morgan Stanley plans natural gas export plant in new commodities foray (Bloomberg)
Morgan Stanley has quietly filed plans to build and run one of the first U.S. compressed natural gas export facilities, the first sign the bank is plunging back into physical commodity markets even as it sells its physical oil business. In a 23-page application to the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Fossil Energy submitted in May, the Wall Street bank outlined a proposal to build, own and operate a compression and container loading facility near Freeport, Texas, which will have capacity to ship 60 billion cubic feet a year of compressed natural gas.

BoNY still holding on to $539M in Argentine bond payments (NYP)
Bank of New York Mellon, whose Argentine banking license was yanked earlier this week, is still holding onto the $539 million in Argentine bond payments that a US court won’t allow it to disperse, The Post has learned. The bank has found itself in the middle of the dispute between Argentina and Paul Singer that sent the country into its second default in little more than a decade. As trustee for Argentine bondholders, BoNY held onto the quarterly payments, as required by Manhattan federal Judge Thomas Griesa. Griesa said BoNY can’t release those payments unless Argentina also pays Singer and other holdouts, which the country refused to do. BoNY’s cooperation with the court has angered both bondholders and Argentina. BoNY says Argentina’s move to revoke its license is “without merit” and is considering appealing the decision.

Cambridge University Selwyn master keeps 'banned' dog as 'very large cat' (BBC)
The master of a Cambridge University college that banned dogs from accommodation has been allowed to keep his canine companion after persuading officials it was "a very large cat". YoYo the bassett hound lives at Selwyn College with Roger Mosey. Mr Mosey said cats were allowed but dogs were "technically" banned. However, after a past master set a "dog-owning precedent" decades ago, the college "tongue-in-cheek agreed YoYo could stay as a large cat", he said. Mr Mosey, former editorial director of the BBC, became master of Selwyn College in October. After settling in he asked permission from the college council to have a dog, despite the rules. "Many former masters have kept cats but the greatest master, Professor Owen Chadwick, did keep dogs during the 1950s, 60s and 70s," he said. Permission was granted by the council, and duly noted in the minutes: "i. College Animal - Noting precedent under the mastership of Professor Chadwick, Council approved the Master's request to adopt a Very Large Cat in the Master's Lodge." For a while, Mr Mosey said, when he left the lodge with YoYo, he was greeted with calls of "hey, I love your big cat". YoYo, a rescue dog, has now featured in publicity material for a veterinary course and other college material.

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Opening Bell: 03.13.12

Bond Trading Revives Banks (WSJ) Gains in the financial firms' fixed-income businesses, which can account for as much as half of revenue, are putting companies including Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Morgan Stanley and the J.P. Morgan unit of J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. on track to report their strongest numbers since the first quarter of 2011, said bankers and analysts. Trade Fight Flares on China Minerals (WSJ) The Obama administration Tuesday intends to escalate its trade offensive against China, a move heavy with political overtones, by pressing the World Trade Organization to force the export giant to ease its stranglehold on rare-earth minerals critical to high-tech manufacturing. The announcement, which will be made by President Barack Obama, marks a new front in the administration's election-year effort to turn up the heat on China, amid competition from the president's potential Republican rivals on the matter. It could also pressure China to respond to the WTO on an issue that is of high importance to a range of manufacturers. The U.S., joined by the European Union and Japan, plans to ask the WTO, the international arbiter of trade practices, to open talks with China over its restrictions on exporting the rare-earth minerals, administration officials said. New York City Tops Global Competitiveness, Economist Report Says (Bloomberg) New York City ranks first among 120 cities across the globe in attracting capital, businesses and tourists, according to an Economist Intelligence Unit report commissioned by Citigroup. London was the second most-competitive city, followed by Singapore, with Paris and Hong Kong tied for fourth place, according to the report, which was released today. Among U.S. cities, Washington, Chicago and Boston made the top 10. The report cited New York’s diverse economy, driven by media, arts, fashion, technology and finance. In 2010, New York was second only to California’s Silicon Valley as a source of venture capital in the U.S., according to the report. Ex-Lehman exec arrested again (Stamford Advocate) Bradley H. Jack, a former investment banking chief at Lehman Brothers and an owner of the most expensive residential property in Fairfield, has been charged for the second time in less than a year with forging a prescription for a controlled substance. Jack, 53, of North Avenue, was charged Friday by Westport police with second-degree forgery in connection with an incident last November when he is said to have forged the date of a prescription for a controlled substance at a CVS pharmacy that was made out to him by a Fairfield doctor. Euro-Zone Ministers Press Spain for a Deal on Deficits (WSJ) Euro-zone finance ministers on Monday pressed a budget plan on Spain—regarded as a key test of ambitious new rules for the currency bloc—that would allow the government some leeway on its budget deficit for this year but would keep a tough deficit target for 2013. The plan would mean Spain would still have to embark on a bruising austerity program over the next two years that would cut nearly 6% of gross domestic product off its deficit. The program would be particularly challenging given Spain's contracting economy and 23% unemployment rate, Europe's highest. Ministers said after the meeting that Spain had agreed to consider the proposal. Greek Students Fight Stray Dogs and Despair Amid College Cuts (Bloomberg) Higher education in Greece, as in much of Europe, has been battered by the recession and austerity measures. Budget cuts of 23 percent since 2009 mean buildings aren’t heated in the winter, schools have slashed faculty salaries and newly hired professors can wait more than a year to be appointed. Students say it’s hard to be hopeful with youth unemployment surpassing 50 percent and protesters seizing university buildings. “People are pessimistic and sad,” said Konstantinos Markou, a 19-year-old law student, speaking in a lobby at the University of Athens, where dogs fought nearby and students say drug dealers and users congregate. “The sadness is all around the air.” Entire Arena Football team cut during pregame meal at Olive Garden (YS) The owner of the Pittsburgh Power fired all 24 members of his team during a pregame meal at an Orlando-area Olive Garden. With AFL players set to strike before the 2012 season opener, owner Matt Shaner reacted first, cutting his entire team hours before kickoff of a game against the Orlando Predators. "Mid-statement, all the players got up and left," former Power center Beau Elliott told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "Every player got up and left while he was still talking. There were 15 to 20 angry, large individuals." Tainted Libor Guessing Games Face Replacement by Verified Trades (Bloomberg) The London interbank offered rate, the benchmark for $360 trillion of securities, may not survive allegations of being corrupted unless it’s based on transactions among banks rather than guesswork about the cost of money. “The methodology used to formulate Libor is totally unsuitable for the modern world,” said Daniel Sheard, chief investment officer of asset manager GAM U.K. Ltd., which manages about $60 billion. “The British Bankers’ Association needs to come out on the front foot and say ‘this is a system that was appropriate 20 years ago but is no longer appropriate and we are going to change it.’” SEC set to file charges over private trading (FT) The Securities and Exchange Commission is close to filing civil charges tied to the trading of private stocks against at least three executives, making it the first case since regulators began reviewing secondary markets more than a year ago. The fresh scrutiny comes as Congress weighs laws to loosen restrictions on private trading, allowing private groups to have more shareholders and market their stock to a wider range of investors, to make it easier for start-up companies to raise capital and create jobs. It also comes just months ahead of an expected initial public offering for Facebook, which has been the most heavily traded private stock. Ruth Madoff Moves To Greenwich (Greenwich Time) While some Old Greenwich residents said they did not like the idea of Madoff taking up residence in the neighborhood, others shrugged off the news that Madoff was living in town. Neil Lucey, a semi-retired investment banker who has lived in Old Greenwich for 15 years, said he had "no adverse reaction" to hearing Madoff had moved in. Researchers say long-lost Leonardo may have been found (Reuters) Art researchers and scientists said on Monday that a high-tech project using tiny video probes has uncovered evidence that a fresco by Renaissance master Leonardo da Vinci lost for five centuries may still exist behind a wall of Florence's city hall...Researchers used tiny, medical-style endoscopic probes and other high-tech tools inserted through existing cracks in the outer wall holding the Vasari fresco and took samples of substances. "We found traces of pigments that appear to be those known to have been used exclusively by Leonardo," said Maurizio Seracini, an engineer and expert in art diagnostics who has been on the trail of the "Lost Leonardo" for three decades. "These data are very encouraging," he said, adding that one black pigment found was believed to be of the same type used by Leonardo on the Mona Lisa.