Opening Bell: 09.24.14 - Dealbreaker

Opening Bell: 09.24.14

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Pimco ETF Draws Probe by SEC (WSJ)
The Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating whether bond giant Pacific Investment Management Co. artificially boosted the returns of a popular fund aimed at small investors, according to people familiar with the matter, the latest challenge for the firm run by investor Bill Gross. A probe into pricing issues at Pimco has been under way for some months, the people familiar with the matter said. Mr. Gross has been interviewed by SEC investigators, the people said. Mr. Gross declined to comment for this article. The issues being scrutinized by the SEC include the way a flagship exchange-traded fund, managed by Mr. Gross, purchased and valued certain bonds. Investigators from the SEC's enforcement division are examining whether the $3.6 billion Pimco Total Return ETF BOND +0.08% bought investments at discounted prices but relied on higher valuations for the investments when the fund calculated the value of its holdings shortly thereafter. Such a maneuver could make it seem as though the ETF had scored quick gains when it was in fact taking advantage of variations in the way some investments are valued in the bond market.

Harvard Endowment Earns 15.4% Return for Fiscal 2014 (WSJ)
Those returns exceeded internal goals and boosted the endowment's assets to $36.4 billion as of June 30. Harvard also deepened its commitment to alternative investments in hedge funds, private equity and assets such as real estate. The nonprofit agency that manages Harvard's money said it had received approval to increase allocations to private equity and hedge funds during fiscal 2015 to 34% of assets, up from 31%, according to a letter issued by Harvard endowment chief Jane Mendillo.

Oracle Cuts Ellison’s Stock Awards, Adds CEOs’ Incentives (Bloomberg)
Ellison’s performance-based stock award was cut by 187,500 shares, or $7.28 million based on Oracle’s closing price today, and his stock-option award for fiscal 2015 was reduced by 750,000 shares, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Ellison’s total compensation last year was $67.3 million, down from $79.6 million the prior year. Mark Hurd and Safra Catz were both named CEOs of the software maker on Sept. 18, while Ellison became chairman and took on the title of chief technology officer. Hurd will run sales, marketing and strategy, while Catz will remain chief financial officer and oversee legal and manufacturing operations. Each received a one-time grant of 500,000 stock options and a performance-based stock award of 125,000 shares in connection with their promotions, according to the filing.

Apple's Tim Cook: 'Get on board' with climate change (CNBC)
Apple CEO Tim Cook took on the hot-button issue of climate change on Monday during the Climate Week NYC 2014 conference. Speaking during the opening day of the high-profile climate change event, Cook said people shouldn't accept a trade-off when it comes to business and the environment. "What are the root causes?" he said. "And you are not accepting that there is a trade-off between the economy and the environment. Too many people believe you can do this or that. What we found is that both are doable. If you innovate and you set the bar high, you will find a way to do both." Cook added: "When you realize it and you see the urgency, it is time to act now. Everyone that hasn't been on board, that's OK, but now is the time to get on board."

Looking to cuddle? There’s an app for that (NYP)
The app launched on Sept. 11 allows users to set their hug preferences, including whether they like to be the big or little spoon to ensure they are matched with nearby huggers of similar tastes. Cuddlr founder Charlie Williams told The Daily Mirror newspaper that the app was only designed for a “little cuddle,” but users could take the relationship further if they pleased. “On Cuddlr, you get together straightaway, have a little cuddle, and then part ways,” he said. “If you want to hang out again, you can exchange information then and there — but you already know what kind of cuddles they give.”

Fed Said to Warn Banks on Capital Charges on Leveraged Loans (Bloomberg)
Federal Reserve officials are warning banks that rising levels of high-risk, high-yield loans on their balance sheets may require more capital held against them, according to a person familiar with the conversations. Regulators have beefed up scrutiny of the market after guidance issued in 2013 by the Fed, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. didn’t slow deal volume or declining credit standards. Banks have arranged about $411 billion of leveraged loans sold to investors such as mutual funds this year, compared with a record $696 billion in all of 2013, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. “Covenant-lite” loans, which lack requirements that can help protect lenders, are on pace to exceed 70 percent of total issuance this year, according to a Barclays Plc research report dated Sept. 5. “It appears that many banks have not fully implemented standards set forth in the interagency guidance,” Todd Vermilyea, senior associate director for banking supervision and regulation at the Fed Board, said in May.

New Tax Rules Will Slow, Not Halt, Inversion Deals (WSJ)
In 2004, after a previous wave of inversions, Congress prohibited the most overt ones, in which a company simply moved on paper to a Caribbean tax haven. But at the same time, lawmakers basically agreed to allow inversions that occur through a real merger. That has tied Treasury's hands in shutting down the new deals altogether, and helped lead to the new spate of inversions. The Obama administration, as well as many Democratic lawmakers, wants Congress to tighten the rules further, and essentially prohibit inversions through merger, unless the U.S. company accounts for half or less of the combined firm. There is little prospect that will happen soon, however, given Republican concerns. The administration still has at least one more regulatory card to play—it could limit still more of the benefits of inverting. The biggest benefit left untouched by Monday's action allows inverted firms to "strip" domestic profits out of the U.S. in the form of untaxed interest payments to their new overseas parent. Administration officials say they are still studying that one.

Wall St. Bankrolls Ex-Executive as He Sues Over A.I.G. Bailout (Dealbook)
Maurice R. Greenberg, 89, the former A.I.G. chief executive who still holds a large stake in the insurance company, filed the lawsuit on behalf of fellow shareholders. He has now raised several million dollars from three Wall Street companions to help cover the cost of the case. The investors, who are entitled to a cut of any damages Mr. Greenberg collects from the government, contributed about 15 percent of the tens of millions of dollars in legal costs, according to people with knowledge of the arrangement. Six years after the government saved Wall Street from the brink of collapse, the lawsuit is coming to trial, reopening one of the ugliest chapters in modern financial history. The trial, which begins next week in Washington, will most likely hinge on testimony from the policy makers who orchestrated A.I.G.’s rescue, including former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and former Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner. With the legal bills mounting in the three-year case, Mr. Greenberg sought support from a certain breed of investor — those who have misgivings about the government. Kenneth G. Langone, the former director of the New York Stock Exchange who spent years fending off accusations from the New York attorney general’s office, contributed to Mr. Greenberg’s legal fund, the people said. Steven A. Cohen, whose hedge fund was indicted on charges of insider trading last year, considered investing, too, but ultimately declined.

10 colleges with the most billionaire alumni (Fortune)
Fifty-two living billionaires hold a degree from [Harvard], almost twice as many as those who graduated from second-place University of Pennsylvania, with 28 billionaire alumni. The other universities in the top 10, in descending order: Stanford, NYU, Columbia, MIT, Cornell, USC, and Yale. The U.K.’s Cambridge University is the only school outside the U.S. to make the list. Eleven of its recent grads are worth $1 billion or more. Didn’t go to any of those schools? Cheer up. The ranking is part of a detailed new study of the world’s billionaires, by WealthX, a market research firm that helps businesses reach ultra-rich consumers, and UBS, whose wealth management arm handles a big chunk of their money. The report points out that, although 68% of billionaires hold at least a four-year degree, a sheepskin “is not a prerequisite to then go on and amass a billion-dollar fortune,” since one in three billionaires either never went to college at all or didn’t stick around to finish.

Queen Elizabeth ‘purred’ in joy after being told Scotland rejected independence (NYDN)
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron was caught on camera by Sky News telling former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg about Queen Elizabeth's jovial reaction the news that Scotland would remain part of the U.K. “The definition of relief is being the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and ringing the Queen and saying 'It's alright, it's okay'. That was something,” Cameron said Tuesday, according to Sky News, which captured his statement on camera. "She purred down the line."

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Greek Bailout Payment Set to Be Approved by Euro Ministers After Debt Deal (Bloomberg) Ministers from the 17 nations that share the euro will gather in Brussels today to sign off on the 130 billion-euro ($170 billion) second package for Greece after bondholders agreed last week to take a loss on the country’s debt. They’ll also focus on Spain’s budget-cutting efforts and Portugal’s aid program, underscoring their desire to prevent contagion. MF Global Bonuses Under Fire (WSJ) In a letter to former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Louis Freeh, Sen. Jon Tester (D., Mont.) said it would be "outrageous" to proceed with a proposal to a bankruptcy judge that could result in payouts of several hundred thousand dollars each for MF Global's chief operating officer, finance chief and general counsel. The size of the bonuses would depend on their job performance in helping Mr. Freeh maximize value for creditors of the company. Pandit Pay Climbs as Citigroup Revenue Slumps (Bloomberg) Pandit’s $15 million pay package for 2011 and a multi-year retention package announced in May could total $53 million, based on regulatory filings and an analyst’s estimate. The CEO also received $80 million last year from the New York-based firm’s purchase of his Old Lane Partners LP hedge fund in 2007. Latest Stress Tests Are Expected to Show Progress at Most Banks (NYT) In another milestone in the banking industry’s recovery from the financial crisis, the Federal Reserve this week will release the results of its latest stress tests, which are expected to show broadly improved balance sheets at most institutions...The examination is not merely an intellectual exercise. If institutions fall short, they could be required to raise billions in new capital, depressing their shares. If they pass, dividend increases and stock buybacks by the strongest institutions will follow as they did after the second round of tests a year ago, pleasing investors whose banks’ stocks still trade at levels far below where they where before the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008. Mortgage Deal Is Built On Tradeoffs (WSJ) Banks agreed to cut loan balances, a step they had long resisted, but they won't only get credit against their shares of the $25 billion settlement for reducing balances of loans they own. In some cases, they can receive partial credit if investors shoulder the cost of writing down loans the banks service. The banks also will receive credit for some steps they are already taking, such as approving short sales, where a home is sold for less than the amount owed, according to draft settlement documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. The Unravelling Of A Casino Marriage (WSJ) Messrs. Wynn and Okada, both known for their big, demanding egos, were something of an odd couple. Mr. Wynn is famous for a Cheshire-cat grin and smooth, grandiose soliloquies. Mr. Okada, a former engineer who had specialized in vacuum tubes, was sometimes seen as sullen and withdrawn by company outsiders. Born the same year, 1942, Mr. Wynn and Mr. Okada became "completely and totally bonded," Mr. Wynn said after they were introduced by a mutual friend. Mr. Wynn was hunting for investors who would give him leeway to create resorts that might take years to design and build. Mr. Wynn came of age during an era when casino operators were emerging from the industry's mob-infested roots. He hobnobbed with such celebrities as Steven Spielberg and Clint Eastwood. Mr. Okada, though often ranked among the richest people in Japan, largely stayed out of the spotlight. Missing Hiker Cuddled With Cat (AP) Snuggling in a blue sleeping bag, Margaret Page and her cat survived 3 1/2 weeks in a rugged New Mexico national forest, even though temperatures dropped below freezing nearly every night...The area had seen average highs reach around 60 degrees with evening lows in the 20s. It didn’t see much rain or snow, but there were some high winds...Relying on a creek for drinking water, Page and her cat named Miya lived on just a handful of supplies, rescue workers said Friday. Wells Fargo Poised to Lead Payouts Higher (Bloomberg) Wells Fargo and Citigroup may join banks unleashing more than $9 billion in dividend increases and share buybacks if they get passing grades this week on the Federal Reserve’s annual stress test. Thirteen of the 19 largest U.S. lenders may say they’ll pay out $3.79 billion in extra dividends this year and buy $5.52 billion of additional shares, according to estimates of six analysts compiled by Bloomberg. That’s 30 percent more than they spent last year. San Francisco-based Wells Fargo probably will offer the biggest difference at a combined $4.16 billion, followed by Citigroup with $2.92 billion. SEC Probes Operators’ Use of Multiple Markets (FT) According to people familiar with the probe, SEC officials are focusing on whether operators use multiple exchanges to appease customers which provide large order flows. At Lunch, Bloomberg And Obama Discuss Future (NYT) Mr. Bloomberg’s precise response is unknown. But their meeting a few weeks ago, confirmed by aides to both leaders and previously undisclosed, was potentially significant for both men, as Mr. Obama seeks support for his presidential campaign and Mr. Bloomberg ponders his post-mayoral career. Soros-led hookup may save American Apparel (NYP) George Soros has found a new financial disaster from which to profit: American Apparel. The billionaire octogenarian — who, like American Apparel’s controversial CEO Dov Charney, has lately been entangled in lawsuits with young, beautiful women — is backing a firm that’s in talks to extend a credit line worth as much as $80 million to the cash-strapped clothing chain, The Post has learned. The credit facility from Crystal Financial, a Boston-based firm that boasts Soros’ hedge fund as its lead investor, will immediately replace and expand a $75 million revolving credit line from Bank of America that matures in July, sources said. How To Become A Skeeball Master (YG) Not all skeeball machines are created equal. Between the shape of the ramp, the geometry of the backboard, and the precise characteristics of the rolling surfaces, each skeeball machine plays slightly differently -- and those variations can throw you off your game. If you're getting settled into a serious practice session, stock up with plenty of tokens and don't step away from your chosen spot....many skeeball aficionados prefer to kneel down to play. Maybe the lower stance helps them line up their shot, or perhaps being closer to the action helps them judge their throwing power a little more accurately. Whatever the reason, it's a tried and true technique for expert skeeball players -- and it might work for you, too. If you're struggling to settle into a comfortable throw, give it a try.