Opening Bell: 11.21.14

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What? Too much?

Lavish Perks Spawn New Job Category (WSJ)
The nine employees at Pinterest Inc. who report to Jen Nguyen had a busy week in August. One taught a company-only class in muay thai, a martial-arts style with kicks and punches. They put dried mango and fresh towels throughout the online scrapbook service’s new office. There was a postmortem of why a Japanese-themed lunch ran out of rice. (The reason? The rice was tasty.) “We are just providing basic standards,” says Ms. Nguyen, 40 years old, whose title is head of workplace. Free lunch, dinner, snacks and events like a Jell-O shot-making “studio night” are a big part of what it takes to keep Pinterest’s roughly 450 employees productive and happy, she adds. In the 1980s, technology companies helped pioneer creation of the chief information officer to straddle the worlds of general management and tech. Now, competition among technology companies to outdo each other’s extraordinary perks has grown so fierce that it is spawning another new job category...As perks get bigger and better, some employees figure they can ask for anything. One worker at Pinterest recently wanted the company to build a zip line to a nearby bar, while an Adobe employee asked the maker of Photoshop and Illustrator design software to buy a Slip ’N Slide for workday use.

Fed Faces Pressure to Rein in Wall Street Commodity Businesses (Bloomberg)
“You’ve got to restore the separation,” U.S. Senator Carl Levin, said in an interview yesterday after he grilled executives from Goldman Sachs Group Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Morgan Stanley (MS) at a hearing in Washington. “It’s gone way too far this integration. I don’t like the idea, frankly, of these banks being in physical commodities.” This week, a Senate panel Levin chairs released findings from a two-year investigation that concluded Wall Street’s role in owning commodities provided unfair trading advantages and could threaten the financial system if a bank’s business suffered an industrial catastrophe. A Fed official will face questions today over why the central bank allowed lenders to erode what was once a strict line separating banking from commercial activities. The Fed has drawn criticism from senators who allege it engaged in weak oversight over the last decade as banks expanded into new businesses involving aluminum warehouses, coal mines and trading in electricity and uranium. The central bank said in January that it was reviewing whether to stiffen rules.

Alibaba Becomes Wall Street’s Favorite Customer (WSJ)
The Chinese e-commerce company has emerged as this year’s biggest source of fees for banks working on capital-markets deals. After its $25 billion initial public offering in September, the largest in history, the Chinese Internet company on Thursday sold $8 billion in bonds, one of the largest corporate-bond deals of the year.

SEC director with big stock holdings stirs debate (Reuters)
Keith Higgins, who runs the office that reviews public companies' books at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, reported stock holdings worth between about $2 million and $6 million last year and the sale of stocks throughout 2014, according to SEC disclosures viewed by Reuters. Higgins disclosed holdings in about 90 public companies during his SEC tenure in 2013, making him the biggest investor in individual stocks among the agency's top officials last year. Since the beginning of the year, he has reported about 60 transactions involving sales of stocks such as Dollar Tree (DLTR.O), Apple (AAPL.O), Abbott Laboratories (ABT.N) and Raytheon (RTN.N), with about two-thirds of those occurring in late September in a flurry of sales. Higgins may no longer be the biggest stock holder among the top SEC officials Reuters reviewed because of these sales. Such stock holdings are permitted by federal and SEC ethics laws and regulations. The law already protects against conflicts by prohibiting government officials from working on matters that could benefit them financially. But Higgins' large holdings, and the volume of trading he reported during 2013 and 2014, may stoke debate about whether it's proper for the Director of Corporation Finance or other top SEC officials to be active stock market participants and whether the SEC needs to tighten its ethics policies to further reduce the appearance of potential conflicts.

Alaska troopers bag 'underwear bandit' suspect (UPI)
Alaska State Troopers said they have arrested an 18-year-old suspected of being the "underwear bandit" responsible for a series of burglaries. Investigators said troopers responding to a report of a home invasion about 11:18 a.m. Monday in Kodiak found Ryan Cornelio fleeing the scene. Cornelio was identified as a suspect in a string of seven burglaries in the area stretching back months. The burglaries led troopers to warn residents "various items such as women's underwear" had been "stolen or rifled through" in the area. Cornelio, who troopers said is also suspected of being behind three attempted break-ins in the area, was charged with three counts of first-degree burglary. Investigators said more charges are likely as the investigation continues. The culprit was nicknamed the "underwear bandit" by one victim.

Credit Suisse $2.6 Billion Deal Gives Judge Few Options (Bloomberg)
Credit Suisse AG (CSGN)’s $2.6 billion plea bargain resolving allegations it helped wealthy Americans avoid paying taxes faces a final hurdle from a federal judge who will decide whether to accept it or throw it out. The first global bank in more than a decade to plead guilty to a crime in a U.S. court, Zurich-based Credit Suisse, is slated to be sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith in Norfolk, Virginia. Under the agreement prosecutors reached with the bank, the judge is bound to either impose the terms as the sentence or throw out the entire deal, according to the government.

European shorts a windfall for Chase Coleman’s Tiger Global (NYP)
Chase Coleman’s Tiger Global hedge fund has made a killing this year shorting European stocks, including fallen UK tech stars Quindell and Monitise, through anonymous shell companies. Tiger Global, one of the world’s most reclusive hedge funds, has vastly outshone its peers this year with a 16.2 percent gain through October. That’s four times the gains of global equity markets and most hedge funds. The fund, like others coming out of the legendary Julian Robertson’s Tiger Management, is highly regarded for its shorting chops. But while Tiger Global’s US shorts were losers this year, its European shorts paid off big-time. A tiny portion of the overall fund, they made up 17 percent of its public equity gains through September, according to its third-quarter investor report, obtained by The Post. The $6.9 billion hedge fund, run by Coleman’s partner, Feroz Dewan, made those lucrative bets through one of several Cayman Islands-based shell companies. They have shorted at least 12 European companies since 2012, the Financial Times reported on Thursday.

Madoff Bankruptcy Costs Top $1 Billion Six Years Later (Bloomberg)
Six years after Bernard Madoff’s fraud collapsed, the cost of liquidating his defunct investment advisory firm to repay thousands of victims has topped $1 billion, though the con man’s former customers aren’t footing the bill. The fees, paid by the industry-backed Securities Investor Protection Corp., which is managing the case, have financed a team of lawyers who this week surpassed $10 billion in recoveries for victims, or almost 60 percent of the principal that vanished after Madoff’s arrest in December 2008.

Valeant Sets $2 Billion Buyback Plan After Losing Allergan (WSJ)
Under the program, which begins Friday, Valeant can buy back its senior notes, common shares and other securities. This replaces Valeant’s current program, which is set to expire. Valeant had pursued a hostile takeover of Allergan since April, supported by activist investor William Ackman and his hedge fund Pershing Square Capital Management LP. On Monday, Actavis said that it would purchase Allergan for $66 billion, easily topping the $53 billion Valeant had offered. Valeant then bowed out, unable to compete with the $219-a-share offer.

‘Last chance’ for woman with 100 convictions (TGG)
Rhiannon Roper (24) of Swyn-yr-Afon, Kenfig Hill, appeared for offences of shoplifting, assaulting a police officer, a breach of an ASBO, and the breach of a suspended sentence and a community order. She pleaded guilty and sentence was adjourned until next month for her to “engage with the authorities and keep out of further trouble”. Judge Eleri Rees said the court was left with a stark choice and she felt that the odds that Roper would comply with orders were low. She warned her: “If you fail to take advantage, you will be back in custody. It is up to you, it is your last chance.” Prosecutor Tony Trigg said that on October 13, Roper went to a Spar shop in Bridgend drunk, and began swearing at everybody, before walking out with a bottle of wine, which she smashed. Police spotted her in Bridgend town centre, and she was arrested for breaching an ASBO by being drunk. Roper was released on bail, and six days later was seen drunk again in Dunraven Place, Bridgend. She was taken into custody and spat in the face of a police officer. The court heard she had convictions for 100 offences, mainly drink-related, damaging property, assaulting the police, affray and breach of an Anti-Social Behaviour Order. Mr Trigg said she was in breach of a suspended sentence of 20 weeks for throwing a chair at someone in the Five Bells Inn, Bridgend. When she was arrested, she punched a police constable to the head. The breach of the community order involved theft and affray, during which she produced a knife when the police arrived on the scene. Her counsel, Hugh Wallace, said: “This is a desperate case involving an intelligent young woman back in court again. When sober, she is extremely pleasant. Custody would be a disaster because she would lose her accommodation.”

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Opening Bell: 11.30.15

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Opening Bell: 02.19.13

SAC’s Cohen May Face SEC Suit as Deposition Hurts Case (Bloomberg) U.S. investigators have subpoenaed a 2011 deposition of SAC Capital Advisors LP founder Steven Cohen, whose sworn statements on insider-trading compliance may hurt him as he tries to persuade regulators not to file a lawsuit with the potential to shut his $14 billion firm. The SEC told the hedge fund Nov. 20 that it planned to sue SAC for securities fraud and so-called control-person liability for failing to supervise employees. The same day, the agency accused an ex-SAC portfolio manager and his hedge-fund unit of insider trading for persuading Cohen, 56, to make $700 million in illegal trades. Prosecutors also indicted the manager. Cohen’s testimony, reviewed by Bloomberg News, establishes his personal control over the unit, CR Intrinsic, and records his unfamiliarity with his firm’s compliance and ethics policies on insider trading. “I’ve read the compliance manual, but I don’t remember exactly what it says,” Cohen said. Morgan Stanley Strives to Coordinate 2 Departments Often at Odds (Dealbook) Traditionally, traders and investment bankers think of themselves as the elite of Wall Street and look down on the retail business, seeing it as pedestrian...Yet since Morgan Stanley moved to acquire control of the Smith Barney brokerage business from Citigroup in 2009, the balance of power has shifted to wealth management, which now accounts for almost 52 percent of the company’s earnings, up from roughly 16 percent in 2006. Paulson Leads Funds to Bermuda Tax Dodge Aiding Billionaires (Bloomberg) A decade after the U.S. Internal Revenue Service threatened to crack down on what it said were abuses by hedge-fund backed reinsurers, more high-profile money managers are setting up shop in tax havens. Paulson, SAC Capital Advisors LP’s Steven A. Cohen and Third Point LLC’s Daniel Loeb have started Bermuda reinsurance companies since 2011, following a similar Cayman Islands venture by Greenlight Capital Inc.’s David Einhorn. Options Activity Questioned Again (WSJ) Over the past year, unusually large positions were established shortly in advance of news that moved shares of Nexen Inc., Youku Inc., Human Genome Sciences Inc., Constellation Brands Inc. and, most recently, CBS Corp. All turned profitable after the news. A spokeswoman for the SEC, which regulates stock and options trading, said the agency would neither confirm nor deny the existence of inquiries into trading tied to those companies. No charges have been filed in the Heinz case, which was linked to a Swiss trading account, but the move to freeze the assets is one of the fastest enforcement actions ever filed by the agency, according to officials. The SEC said Friday that the timing and size of the trades were highly suspicious given the account had no history of trading in Heinz securities in the last six months. Prosecutors, Shifting Strategy, Build New Wall Street Cases (Dealbook) Criticized for letting Wall Street off the hook after the financial crisis, the Justice Department is building a new model for prosecuting big banks. In a recent round of actions that shook the financial industry, the government pushed for guilty pleas, rather than just the usual fines and reforms. Prosecutors now aim to apply the approach broadly to financial fraud cases, according to officials involved in the investigations...The new strategy first materialized in recent settlements with UBS and the Royal Bank of Scotland, which were accused of manipulating interest rates to bolster profit. As part of a broader deal, the banks’ Japanese subsidiaries pleaded guilty to felony wire fraud. Russians Wade Into the Snow to Seek Treasure From the Sky (NYT) Ever since the meteor exploded somewhere over this impoverished Siberian town, Larisa V. Briyukova wondered what to do with the fist-size stone she found under a hole in the roof tiles of her woodshed. On Monday, a stranger knocked on her door, offering about $60, Ms. Briyukova said. After some haggling, they settled on a price of $230. A few hours later, another man pulled up, looked at the hole in the roof and offered $1,300. “Now I regret selling it,” said Ms. Briyukova, a 43-year-old homemaker. “But then, who knows? The police might have come and taken it away anyway.” On Friday, terror rained from the skies, blowing out windows and scaring people over an enormous swath of Siberia. But by Monday, for many people what fell from the sky had turned to pure gold, and it touched off a rush to retrieve the fragments, many buried in deep February snows. Many of those out prospecting looked a lot like Sasha Zarezina, 8, who happily plunged into a snowbank here in this village of a thousand, laughing, kicking and throwing up plumes of powdery snow. Then she stopped, bent over and started to dig. “I found one!” she yelled. A warm breath and a rub on her pants later, a small black pebble, oval like a river rock, charred and smooth, was freed of ice. While trade in material from meteorites is largely illegal, there is a flourishing global market, with fragments widely available for sale on the Internet, usually at modest prices. At least one from the recent meteor was available on eBay on Monday for $32, and there is a Web site called Star-bits.com devoted to the trade — much to the displeasure of scientists and the countries where the objects were found. UK's Lloyds fined $6.7 million for mis-sold insurance (Reuters) Britain's financial regulator on Tuesday fined Lloyds Banking Group 4.3 million pounds ($6.7 million) for failing to handle complaints relating to insurance sold on loans and mortgages properly. The Financial Services Authority (FSA) said failings in the bank's systems and controls resulted in up to 140,000 customers experiencing delays in receiving compensation for being mis-sold payment protection insurance (PPI). Horsemeat Scandal Draws in Nestlé (FT) Switzerland-based Nestle on Monday removed pasta meals from shelves in Italy and Spain and suspended deliveries of all processed products containing meat from German supplier, H.J. Schypke, after tests revealed traces of horse DNA above 1 per cent. Nestle said it had informed the authorities. Is Berlusconi Getting a Poll Bounce From Tax Evaders? (CNBC) The media mogul, who has been convicted of tax fraud, has promised to introduce a tax amnesty for evaders if elected and to abolish the real estate tax. Swelling U.S. Labor Force Keeps Fed at Ease (Bloomberg) In the short run, the larger labor force will have an unfortunate side effect: It will slow the fall in unemployment. Mellman sees the jobless rate dropping to 7.5 percent by year- end from 7.9 percent now. It fell 0.7 percentage point in 2012. In the longer run, a bigger supply of labor is good news because it swells the pool of Americans available and willing to work, enhancing the economy’s potential to grow, according to Julie Hotchkiss, a policy adviser at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. It also has a silver lining for investors. The gradual fall in unemployment will allow policy makers to keep monetary policy looser for longer without having to worry about igniting a wage- driven rise in inflation. Couple Getting Affectionate Drive Through Home (WO) "She told the investigating trooper that her and the boyfriend were getting a little amorous and the trooper suspects that's probably why she lost control of the vehicle," said Florida Highway Patrol spokeswoman Kim Montes. Walker lost control of the vehicle and slammed into an unoccupied home. The vehicle went all the way through the house. The impact was so dramatic, the pressure blew a window in another part of the house out. Florida Highway Patrol troopers said Walker was injured when debris fell inside the vehicle. She was taken to Halifax Medical Center to be checked out. Her boyfriend, Charles Phillips, was not hurt.