Opening Bell: 09.12.14 - Dealbreaker

Opening Bell: 09.12.14

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Treasury Is Weighing Action on Hedge-Fund Tax ‘Loophole’ (Bloomberg)
The U.S. Treasury Department said it’s considering ways to end a “loophole” that allows hedge-fund managers to avoid taxes by routing their investments through an insurance company in low-tax countries like Bermuda. The Treasury, in an Aug. 9 letter obtained by Bloomberg News today, told Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden that it’s concerned about such arrangements and is weighing legislative and administrative responses. Among the hedge-fund managers who have set up Bermuda insurance vehicles in recent years are John Paulson’s Paulson & Co. and Steven A. Cohen’s SAC Capital Advisors LP. Cohen has since cut ties with his insurer.

IMF warns of fallout from Scottish split (FT)
The International Monetary Fund has waded into the debate over Scottish independence, saying that a Yes vote in next week’s referendum could lead to market turbulence. “The main immediate effect is likely to be uncertainty over the transition to potentially new and different monetary, financial and fiscal frameworks in Scotland,” William Murray, an IMF spokesman, told reporters. “While this uncertainty could lead to negative market reactions in the short term, longer-term effects would depend on the decisions being made during the transition.” His comments highlight the questions over which currency an independent Scotland would use, the regulation of its banks, and its budget position after negotiations to separate from the UK.

Facebook's latest innovation: Copying Snapchat (Fortune)
Facebook is testing a new feature that lets users set a time to make their posts disappear – anywhere from an hour to a week in the future...A Facebook spokesperson confirmed with Fortune that the social media giant is “running a small pilot of a feature on Facebook for iOS that lets people schedule deletion of their posts in advance.”

Chained to your smartphone? Maybe try the NoPhone (CNBC)
The NoPhone, as described on its Kickstarter page is the "technology-free alternative to constant hand-to-phone contact that allows you to stay connected with the real world." The NoPhone is exactly what it looks like. It's a black piece of plastic in the shape of an iPhone that does absolutely nothing, except act as a phone surrogate for those addicted to their smartphones. "With a thin, light and completely wireless design, the NoPhone acts as a surrogate to any smart mobile device, enabling you to always have a rectangle of smooth, cold plastic to clutch without forgoing any potential engagement with your direct environment. Never again experience the unsettling feeling of flesh on flesh when closing your hand," the NoPhone Kickstarter page states.

Salt the Pasta Water: Starboard Value's Suggestions for Olive Garden (WSJ)
When cooking pasta, use salt. And go easy on the breadsticks. Those are two of many steps Starboard Value LP said late Thursday it would take to boost the value of Darden Restaurants Inc., owner of Olive Garden, if the activist hedge fund was to win control of the entire board. Among the other moves Starboard detailed in nearly 300-pages of slides: Improve Olive Garden's food quality and alcohol sales, introduce technology to reduce waiting times at restaurants and cut millions in costs. And Starboard is sticking with its suggestion, which Darden has rejected as value-destroying, of separating the company's brands apart and putting its real estate into a third public company. Starboard said those separations and improvements could put Darden shares between $67 and $86, up to 78% above Thursday's $48.29 close.

Dollar General waiting on feds for Family Dollar deal (NYP)
Dollar General plans to delay a decision whether to go “hell or high water” with its hostile offer for rival Family Dollar until it gets feedback from regulators on its proposal by mid-October, sources told The Post. Dollar General, which this week announced an $80 a share, or $9.1 billion, hostile tender for Family Dollar will stick with its public commitment to divest 1,500 stores until the Federal Trade Commission issues a second request for information, sources said. That second request is expected to give a sense of how seriously the FTC is scrutinizing Dollar General’s deal. “They’ll know in 30 days if it will be a long slog,” an anti-trust lawyer said.

Boy Charged For Desecration Of Jesus Statue (TSG)
A Pennsylvania teenager has been charged with desecrating a statue of Jesus after he posted Facebook photos that showed him simulating a sex act with the statue. According to State Police officials, the boy posed for the photos in late-July in front of Love In the Name of Christ, a Christian organization in Everett, the boy’s hometown...one of the photos posted to the teenager’s Facebook page shows him with his crotch in the face of the kneeling statue.

Draghi Says Government Spending Could Help Eurozone Economy (FT)
Speaking in English in Milan, Mr. Draghi both amplified and clarified themes he raised last month during a speech in Jackson Hole, Wyo., in which he surprised many Europeans by appearing to step back from the E.C.B.’s longtime insistence that countries focus above all on reducing budget deficits and debt. According to a text of the speech, Mr. Draghi said government stimulus should come in the form of lower taxes, financed by cuts in “unproductive” government spending. Countries should remain within the deficit and spending limits that are a condition for eurozone membership, Mr. Draghi said. He made no mention of the French government’s admission this week that it will not meet its budget targets until 2017.

Pimco’s Gross Says Good Time to Lever Up on Credit Investments (Bloomberg)
“It’s probably a good time to lever in a mild sort of way,” Bill Gross, who co-founded Pacific Investment Management Co., said in a television interview today. For the next three to five years, investors should expect “the ability to borrow short and to lend long, much like banks do.” His logic is that investors can count on earning more from longer-maturity bond yields than they have to pay to borrow for shorter periods as the Federal Reserve keeps interest rates low. While such activity may magnify losses in a selloff, it’ll juice returns at a time when yields are hovering near record lows.

Twitter Boosts Size of Convertible Bond Sale (WSJ)
Twitter sold more convertible bonds than expected late Thursday, according to two people familiar with the deal, a sign of strong demand for its first debt sale. The San Francisco company sold $900 million worth of five-year convertible notes carrying a 0.25% coupon and seven-year notes with a 1% rate, with a conversion premium of 47.5% for both issues, the person said. The deal size could increase to $2 billion if initial buyers exercise an option to buy more notes. For both the five- and seven-year notes, the $900 million deal size exceeded the $650 million Twitter had planned to raise, according to a Wednesday statement from the company.

Activist Investors Build Up Their War Chests (WSJ, earlier)
Daniel Loeb's Third Point LLC recently raised a $2.5 billion war chest that the hedge fund could deploy by year-end, people familiar with the matter said Thursday. Other activists, including Trian Fund Management LP, Pershing Square Capital Management LP and Jana Partners LLC, are also expanding the size of their coffers, people familiar with those firms said.

Amid Alibaba fever, reasons for caution in IPO market (Reuters)
The percentage of IPOs coming from money-losing companies has jumped to a 14-year high, according to Jay Ritter, a professor of finance and leading scholar of IPOs at the University of Florida. The mixed financial results could dim enthusiasm for some of the hot names coming later this year, including web hosting company GoDaddy, airline Virgin America, and possibly burger chain Shake Shack, which has been exploring an IPO. Roughly one-third of the 188 stocks that debuted this year are selling below their IPO price. New stocks have risen an average of 19 percent over the first three months of trading, compared with 36 percent in 2013, and 23 percent in 2012, according to research firm Dealogic in New York.

Man Busted Smuggling Drugs In D.A.R.E. Stuffed Animal: Cops (AP)
Troopers say Gregory Bolongnese, of Plattsburgh, was arrested Monday at the bus station in his hometown near the Canadian border. They say they found two grams of pot, about a half-gram of cocaine and LSD inside a stuffed lion doll wearing a D.A.R.E. shirt. D.A.R.E. stands for Drug Abuse Resistance Education, a program that aims to educate young people about staying away from drugs, gangs and violence. Bolognese was charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance and unlawful possession of marijuana. It couldn't be determined if he has a lawyer.

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Opening Bell: 06.15.12

Forthcoming Facebook Motion Said to Discuss Nasdaq’s Role in I.P.O. (NYT) Facebook is preparing for battle. One month after its botched initial public offering, the social network is set to file a motion to consolidate all the shareholder lawsuits against the company, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. The lead underwriters, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, and JPMorgan Chase, are expected to join the motion, which could be filed in the Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York as early as Friday. The motion will represent the first time Facebook has publicly addressed the lawsuits and the performance of its highly anticipated, but ultimately lackluster, IPO on May 18. Facebook Is Not The Worst IPO (Deal Journal) Thursday marked the 4-week anniversary of the pricing of the IPO at $38 and today marks the anniversary of the innocuous opening and subsequent turmoil. Through Thursday’s close the stock was down about 26%, losing some $27 billion in market capitalization. That is ugly, but not as bad as the Halloween 2007 debut of Giant Interactive Group. The Chinese online-gaming company raised just over $1 billion in an IPO that started out well, rising about 18% on day one, but then promptly tumbled 30% through its first month, according to Dealogic. Draghi Hints ECB Is Ready To Act (WSJ) Providing liquidity "is what we have done throughout the crisis, faithful to our mandate of maintaining price stability over the medium term, and this is what we will continue to do," Mr. Draghi said. The Eurosystem, the ECB and the 17 national central banks that use the single currency "will continue to supply liquidity to solvent banks where needed," he added. Greeks Return To Ballot Box As Crisis Nears Decisive Moment (Bloomberg) The June 17 vote will turn on whether Greeks, in a fifth year of recession, accept open-ended austerity to stay in the euro or reject the conditions of a bailout and risk the turmoil of becoming the first to exit the 17-member currency. World leaders have said they’d prefer a pro-euro result, underscoring concern over global repercussions. Moody's Downgrades Dutch Banks (WSJ) In a statement, Moody's said it had cut the ratings by two notches each of ABN Amro Bank NV and ING Bank NV to A2, LeasePlan Corp. NV to Baa2 and Rabobank Nederland to Aa2. It also cut the rating of SNS Bank NV by one notch to Baa2. Giselle Is World's Highest Paid Model (Forbes) Just like last year, the Brazilian bombshell Bündchen leads the pack with a stunning $45 million in earnings (all estimates from May 1st, 2011 to May 1st, 2012). Even in her early thirties, Bündchen remains an unparalleled force within the fashion world. As the world’s most powerful supermodel, she racks up modeling gigs, spokesperson deals, and independent licensing ventures at every turn...Bündchen’s success combining business with modeling is influencing young, ascendant models. “The ones that are coming up, their model for excellence is Gisele. They’re looking at her and saying ‘that’s what I want to shoot for,’” Razek said. Fed Loans Backing AIG, Bear Repaid (WSJ) On Thursday, the regional Federal Reserve bank said it has been repaid, with interest, on $53.1 billion in loans it made to two crisis-era vehicles that held complex subprime mortgage bonds, home loans, commercial-property loans and other unwanted assets from Bear and AIG. The New York Fed earlier recouped a separate $19.5 billion loan that financed the purchase of mortgage-backed securities from AIG. Warren Buffett fired Benjamin Moore CEO after Bermuda cruise (NYP) “[Abrams] kept asking what he’d done wrong,” according to an insider briefed on the ouster. “[Berkshire officials] told him to clear his stuff out while they stood and watched every move he made.” Gupta Hopes Family Guy Image Will Help (NYP) The 63-year-old former Goldman Sachs director — facing 25 years in prison on charges of leaking inside information to his hedge fund pal Raj Rajaratnam — has surrounded himself with family and friends throughout the four-week trial. Gupta’s four Ivy League-educated daughters, his wife, Anita, and sister, Kumkum, in-laws and colleagues — roughly a dozen daily attendees — were in the courtroom each day, taking up the first two rows of the gallery. As the jury today starts its second day of deliberations, the fallen Wall Street star hopes the family vibe helps push the panel toward an acquittal. In the Facebook Era, Reminders of Loss if Families Fracture (NYT) The Times just found out that one of the weird things about Facebook is that you can find out things about people you haven't spoken to in years: Not long ago, estrangements between family members, for all the anguish they can cause, could mean a fairly clean break. People would cut off contact, never to be heard from again unless they reconciled. But in a social network world, estrangement is being redefined, with new complications. Relatives can get vivid glimpses of one another’s lives through Facebook updates, Twitter feeds and Instagram pictures of a grandchild or a wedding rehearsal dinner. And those glimpses are often painful reminders of what they have lost.

Opening Bell: 4.19.16

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Opening Bell: 6.3.16

Ex-Barclays employees tell jury of ‘humiliation’ and pressure; Silicon Valley not feeling Trump; 'Selfie Statue' sparks fury; and more.

Opening Bell: 04.11.12

Profit Drop at U.S. Banks Imperils Rally (Bloomberg) The six largest U.S. lenders, including JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo, may post an 11 percent drop in first-quarter profit, threatening a rally that has pushed bank stocks 19 percent higher this year. The banks will post $15.3 billion in net income when adjusted for one-time items, down from $17.3 billion in last year’s first quarter, according to a Bloomberg survey of analysts. Trading revenue at the biggest lenders is projected to fall 23 percent to $18.3 billion, according to Morgan Stanley analysts, who didn’t include their firm or Wells Fargo. Making Waves Against 'Whale' (WSJ) Dozens of hedge funds are believed to have placed bets in the derivatives markets that pit them against positions taken by Bruno Iksil, the French-born trader who works for the bank's Chief Investment Office in London, according to people familiar with the matter. Funds that traded against Mr. Iksil earlier this year recorded big paper losses as his trades helped push down one credit index. The losses made Mr. Iksil a target for some hedge funds, who felt they could capitalize on his outsize position, these people say. The funds' wagers against Mr. Iksil's positions have become increasingly profitable in recent weeks as prices in the credit-derivatives index that was at the center of one of Mr. Iksil's trades rose after his trades ceased. "I view the entire market as a chess match playing against this guy," said a person who is familiar with Mr. Iksil's positions and is trading against him. Carlyle nears road show for $8B IPO (NYP) A road show will start as early as next week for the initial public offering (IPO) of Carlyle Group that will value the private-equity firm at between $7.5 billion and $8 billion, according to a person familiar with the matter. Carlyle filed documents to the Securities and Exchange Commission earlier this month to sell a 10 percent stake. The offering is likely to generate as much as $800 million in proceeds, according to the person familiar with the matter. Germany Pays Record Low Yield (WSJ) "The modest demand is due to the historical low yields, where investors are very reluctant to buy long-dated German bonds at these low levels despite the fiscal slippage we see in Spain and the ongoing crisis in the periphery," said Jens Peter Sorensen, chief analyst at Danske Markets. But RBS analysts said poor bund auctions at these yield levels have never been a good predictor for future demand, and thus it recommended not to "overly" focus on the sale to gauge demand for bunds. Weighing SEC's Crackdown on Fraud (WSJ) SEC enforcement chief Robert Khuzami said the current total of 101 cases shows the agency is "highly effective in tackling financial-crisis wrongdoing." Of the 74 cases filed against individuals so far, the SEC went after 55 chief executives, finance chiefs or other top officers. In an interview, Mr. Khuzami said the number is "significant" and "sends a strong deterrent message." Meredith Whitney Muni Call Was 100% Wrong: Bond Pro (CNBC) High-grade municipal bonds remain a solid investment despite their sometimes-battered public image, according to fixed income expert Alexandra Lebenthal. "I have come up with a new measure of risk, which is knowledge risk," said the president and CEO of Lebenthal and Co. "Is the person who is talking about municipal bonds, corporate bonds, equities, what have you, knowledgeable and should people be listening to them?" "Yes, I have an axe to grind," continued Lebenthal, whose father, James, is one of the more prominent names in the bond business. "I am in the municipal bond business, I'm also in the wealth management business and trying to do the best for clients. But I do know what I'm talking about because I have spent over 20 years in this business and another 20 growing up listening to it." Facebook deal ‘surprised’ bankers (NYP) “People are wondering if [Facebook] couldn’t have waited until after the IPO [to purchase Instagram],” said one source, who declined to be identified. Although Facebook is still awaiting IPO clearance from regulators, underwriters led by Morgan Stanley are hoping to launch the company’s share sale next month, possibly the week of May 14. Bankers plan to start the investor marketing campaign, known as a “road show,” about two weeks prior its launch. Zuckerberg held discrete talks with Instagram’s founders and managed to keep underwriters in the dark about the sale until late in the process, sources said. Critics of the controversial deal say Facebook’s timing for the acquisition is questionable, while supporters argue that the Instagram purchase enhances Facebook’s platform and stymies rivals. Investors run scared of Spain's battered banks (Reuters) "Most are currently on liquidity life support from the ECB but asset quality continues to deteriorate as house prices keep falling and unemployment is still rising," said Georg Grodzki, head of credit research at Legal & General Investment Management. "Their funding remains constrained and competition for deposits intense," he told Reuters. Economy Minister Luis De Guindos told Reuters last week that all Spanish banks had met capital requirements set by the European Banking Authority under a 115-billion-euro recapitalization plan decided by European Union leaders in December. But fund managers remain skeptical due to the slow-burning property crash. They include Mark Glazener, head of global equities at Dutch asset manager Robeco, who sold off his exposure to Spain at the end of last year. "Given the scale of over-building over all these years, the present provisioning that the banks have made does not appear to be enough," he said. Zuckerberg Threatened to Disable Ceglia Site Amid Dispute (Bloomberg) Facebook cofounder Mark Zuckerberg threatened in 2004 to disable part of the website he was working on for Paul Ceglia, the New York man now suing him for part-ownership of the multibillion-dollar company, according to copies of e-mails filed by Facebook in federal court...“I must receive $5,000 by next Saturday at midnight, or the scroll search functionality will be removed from the site,” Zuckerberg wrote in a message to Ceglia on Feb. 21, 2004, about two weeks after he put “Thefacebook.com” online. Zuckerberg told Ceglia he owed him $10,500 of the $19,500 he’d been promised, according to the e-mails, filed by Facebook as part of the lawsuit in Buffalo, New York. Facebook last month asked the judge to throw out the lawsuit.

Opening Bell: 07.02.12

Barclays Chairman Resigns (WSJ) "Last week's events, evidencing as they do unacceptable standards of behaviour within the bank, have dealt a devastating blow to Barclays' reputation," Mr. Agius said in a statement Monday. "As chairman, I am the ultimate guardian of the bank's reputation. Accordingly, the buck stops with me and I must acknowledge responsibility by standing aside." Falcone To Argue That Taking Loan Was Best For Investors (NYP) Falcone had roughly $1 billion in personal assets in 2009, at the time of the loan, sources said. That included $790 million in a deferred compensation plan tied to his flagship Masters fund, and $228 million in Harbinger’s Special Situations fund, which he eventually tapped for the loan. He also had $11 million in cash — a nice chunk of change but far short of the $113 million he needed to satisfy Uncle Sam, said a person with knowledge of the case. If the case goes to trial, Falcone will likely say that he considered taking his money from the Master fund, which was allowing withdrawals at the time. But he didn’t after he was advised that doing so could hurt clients by triggering a sell-off, potentially at fire-sale prices. Global IPO Market Keeps Shrinking (WSJ) It was in the pool. Gilt Faces Disruption During Olympics (FT) The UK Treasury has called off its weekly gilt auctions for a four-week period between mid-July and mid-August, apparently because it is afraid that too many bond traders will be working from home – or not at all – during the Olympics. Facebook To Remain On Nasdaq (WSJ) Facebook executives have decided to keep the company's stock listing on the Nasdaq Stock Market, despite lingering frustration with the exchange's bungling of its widely anticipated initial public offering. They determined a move would further drain confidence in the company's battered shares. Facebook executives have quietly blamed Nasdaq OMX Group Inc. NDAQ +3.71% for the technical glitches that marred the stock's May 18 debut. While the company considered a switch in the days after the IPO, Facebook had decided by mid-June to stay put for now, according to people familiar with the company's plans. BNP Said To Mull Plan For $50 Billion Spain-Italy Funds Gap (Bloomberg) BNP Paribas is looking to address funding concerns in Spain and Italy, where the Paris-based bank’s loans outweighing deposits was among reasons cited by Moody’s Investors Service for downgrading its credit rating last month. Transfers of loans from elsewhere to Belgium might be capped at 20 billion euros ($25 billion) and at 10 billion Swiss francs ($10.4 billion) to Switzerland, according to one of the people. Bond Market Backs Obama With Record Demand For New Debt (Bloomberg) Investors are plowing cash into new U.S. Treasuries at a record pace, making economic growth rather than budget austerity a key issue as President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney face off in November’s presidential election. Bidders offered $3.16 for each dollar of the $1.075 trillion of notes and bonds auctioned by the Treasury Department this year as yields reached all-time lows, above the previous high of $3.04 in all of 2011, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The so-called bid-to-cover ratio was 2.26 from 1998 to 2001 when the nation ran budget surpluses. China Big 4 Banks Took 29% of 2011 Global Profit (Reuters) Three Chinese banks topped the profit table, led by Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) for the second successive year, with pretax earnings of $43.2 billion, according to The Banker. ICBC was followed by China Construction Bank, which delivered a $34.8 billion profit, and Bank of China, with earnings of $26.8 billion. JPMorgan was fourth with a profit of $26.7 billion, while HSBC was the most profitable European bank, with earnings of $21.9 billion. Lolong, a massive crocodile captured in the Philippines in 2011, is the largest croc in captivity in the world (NYDN) A huge crocodile blamed for deadly attacks in the southern Philippines is the largest in captivity in the world, Guinness World Records has declared. The giant reptile has brought fear, pride, tourism revenues and attention to the remote town where it was captured. The saltwater crocodile named Lolong, which was captured last September in Bunawan town in Agusan del Sur province, measures 20.24 feet and weighs more than a ton, Guinness spokeswoman Anne-Lise Rouse said in a statement Sunday. The reptile took the top spot from an Australian crocodile measuring more than 17 feet and weighing nearly a ton. Bunawan Mayor Edwin Cox Elorde said the news sparked celebrations in his farming town of 37,000, but also fostered concerns that more giant crocodiles might be lurking in a nearby marshland and creek where villagers fish. “There were mixed feelings,” Elorde said by telephone. “We’re really proud because it proves the rich biodiversity of our place, but at the same time, there are fears that Lolong may not be alone.” Lolong has become the star attraction of a new ecotourism park and research center in the outskirts of Bunawan, and has drawn thousands of tourists since news of its capture spread. Elorde said his town has earned $72,000 from the modest entrance fees at the park, with most of the money being used to feed and care for the crocodile and for park maintenance.