Holiday Bell: 12.31.14

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Ken Griffin, Illinois' richest man, buys Gold Coast condo for $13.3 million (Chicago Tribune)
Billionaire Ken Griffin, the founder and chief executive of Chicago-based hedge fund Citadel who currently is going through a nasty divorce, recently paid $13.3 million for a 37th-floor, full-floor condominium unit in the Waldorf Astoria building on the Gold Coast. The transaction is one of the 10 highest-priced residential real estate purchases in Chicago-area. It's also the second highest-priced condo sale of the year, topped only by Vistex founder and CEO Sanjay Shah's recent $17 million purchase of the 14,260-square-foot penthouse on the top floor of the Trump International Hotel and Tower. Griffin, 46, currently lives in the 7,400-square-foot unit. He also owns two full-floor penthouse units in the Park Tower nearby. He paid $6.9 million in 2000 for his first, a 67th-floor unit, and then in 2012, he paid $15 million — at that time a record for a Chicago condo – to buy the full-floor unit one level below.

Goldman Sachs Pays Top U.K. Bankers Double That of U.S. Rivals (Bloomberg)
Goldman Sachs paid its top bankers in the U.K. an average of $4.72 million in 2013, about double what its largest U.S. rivals awarded to their most senior workers in Britain. The 121 employees received $106.3 million in cash bonuses and stock valued at $377.4 million at the end of 2013 in addition to salaries of $87.3 million, according to Goldman Sachs regulatory disclosures for U.K. operations. More than two-thirds of the total went to investment-bank employees.

Blackstone Opens Up About Hidden Fees as SEC Pushes Transparency (Bloomberg)
Two of the biggest private-equity firms are disclosing fees that had largely been hidden as U.S. regulators demand increased transparency from the industry. Blackstone Group LP said it could collect as much as $20 million annually from investors and companies in its next buyout fund, for services such as health care consulting and bulk purchasing. TPG Capital put the potential charge for similar services at as much as $10 million a year for its new fund, which is currently seeking to raise as much as $10 billion. The fees, detailed in recent marketing materials obtained by Bloomberg News, are on top of other monitoring and transaction fees and haven’t been disclosed in such detail in documents governing earlier funds.

Former Korean Air Executive Arrested Over In-Flight Nut Row (Bloomberg)
Heather Cho, the daughter of Korean Air Lines Co. (003490) Chairman Cho Yang Ho, was arrested on a charge of obstructing aviation safety after she ordered a crew member to deplane during a row over in-flight service. “I’m sorry,” Cho said, looking down and surrounded by reporters in footage broadcast by YTN from outside prosecutors’ offices in Seoul. The Seoul Western District Court issued an arrest warrant for Cho late yesterday, Heo Seung, a judge at the court, said today by phone. Cho’s arrest follows a public outcry in South Korea after she ordered the head of the service crew on Flight 86 from New York to Seoul to deplane Dec. 5 after an attendant served her macadamia nuts without asking.

That New Year’s Eve Uber ride home will cost you (NYP)
The ride-hailing app, in an email warning to its customers Wednesday morning, said it expects this New Year’s Eve to be its “busiest night ever!” And while Uber doesn’t come right out and say some people will pay double and triple their usual fare, the company does advise its customers that “busy nights require surge pricing to get enough cars on the road and ensure you always have a reliable ride.” The busiest — and therefore the costliest — time to get an Uber ride will be from 12:30 a.m. to 2:30 a.m., Uber said in its e-mail. Those out welcoming in 2015 and looking to avoid getting gouged should request a ride “right when the ball drops at midnight” or much later in the morning, Uber said.

Man drives two hours with knife lodged in his head (UPI)
A Brazilian man who was stabbed in the head with an 11-inch knife survived the attack and drove himself two hours to a hospital. Juacelo Nunes, 30, said he was arguing with a man at a party in Agua Branca when the other man summoned three friends to help him attack Nunes. Nunes said he was stabbed in the throat, shoulder and chest before the knife, which bears an 11-inch blade, was embedded in his head. The knife missed Nunes' left eye and passed through his mouth to the right side of his jaw. "I did not see the moment of the stabbing, but at no time fainted and remained conscious even with pain," he said. "I thought I would die and only came to believe when I saw what happened to me, because if someone told me I would not have believed it." Nunes said he drove for two hours to a hospital in Teresina, 60 miles from Agua Branca. "The knife passed through several nerves and veins, structures that can quickly kill a patient," hospital director Gilberto Albuquerque said.

Corbat’s Quest for Boring Clashes With Citigroup Trading Push (Bloomberg)
Corbat is seeking to forge a model that can meet his performance metrics and placate regulators after the Federal Reserve rejected Citigroup’s capital plan in March on concerns that the bank wasn’t able to figure out how much money it might lose in a stressed environment. The moves come amid distractions ranging from a fraud at its Mexican unit to more than $1 billion in fines for rigging currency markets.

Jobless Claims in U.S. Decreased in 2014 to Lowest in 14 Years (Bloomberg)
Fewer Americans filed applications for unemployment benefits in 2014 than at any time in 14 years as the economic expansion strengthened. An average 308,500 workers a week filed jobless claims this year, the least since 299,600 in 2000, according to figures from the Labor Department in Washington. Applications climbed by 17,000 to 298,000 in the week ended Dec. 27, more than projected, displaying the typical year-end holiday swings.

France to Start Crackdown on ‘Uberpop-Type’ Services (WSJ)
The French government on Wednesday published a decree putting into effect elements of a new taxi and car-service law that stiffens penalties for operating a car service that uses drivers without professional licenses—such as Uber’s lower-cost service, Uberpop. Special taxi cops, known as “Boers,” will in coming days mount operations to round up drivers and impound cars for such “Uberpop-type” services, said Pierre-Henry Brandet, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry.

Ambac sues Bank of America over Countrywide mortgage bonds (Reuters)
Ambac Assurance Corp sued Bank of America Corp to recoup hundreds of millions of dollars of losses from insuring roughly $1.68 billion of securities backed at least in part by risky mortgages from the bank's Countrywide Home Loans unit. In a complaint filed on Tuesday in a New York state court in Manhattan, Ambac accused Countrywide of lying about how well it underwrote so-called "pay option adjustable-rate mortgage negative amortization" loans that backed the securities. The securities were issued in eight transactions between 2005 and 2007, Ambac said. Ambac said it faced potential claims exceeding $600 million as of Oct. 31 and that pools of loans supporting its insured certificates had suffered $3.07 billion of losses by Nov. 30. It also said it would have never guaranteed payments had it known of Countrywide's deception.

After 2014's party, investors in U.S. stock market may face a hangover (Reuters)
If the Fed tightens, the higher rates will not only raise financing costs generally but would also be a deterrent to borrowing to do the share buybacks that have helped to propel earnings per share growth and stock prices gains in the past few years. With such artificial support crumbling, corporate America will have to rely much more on demand from domestic customers to drive earnings growth. Europe is expected to grow at just above 1 percent in 2015, according to Reuters data, Russia has been slammed by oil's decline, and China and other major emerging markets are struggling with weak demand as well.

Police Unravel Robber's Toilet Paper Caper (TSG)
A stickup note written on a piece of toilet paper led to the unraveling of an ill-advised robbery plot hatched by a Pennsylvania man, cops report. According to police, Eric Frey, 29, walked into a Uniontown pizzeria Saturday night and handed worker Debbie Taggart a scrap of toilet paper containing an 11-word message written in black ink: “Don’t turn around. I have a gun. Give me 300 now.” Upon presenting the note to a restaurant worker, Frey claimed that a second armed man was outside the eatery and poised to enter the business. Taggart then surreptitiously hit a panic alarm. When cops arrived at Michael Maria’s Pizza, Frey was still inside the business, according to a District Court complaint. When confronted by police, Frey claimed that he had been accosted in an alley by a “large black man with a beard and his face covered with a hoodie.” The gunman, Frey added, threatened to shoot him unless he gave the stickup note to pizzeria workers (and then turned over the stolen cash). As detailed in the court filing first reported by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Lt. Tom Kolencik flatly told Frey that he was not buying his story about the armed mystery man. Kolencik reported that he asked Frey “if we could go to his apartment and see his bathroom and toilet paper...to check to see if his toilet paper matched that of the one used in the robbery attempt.” “Let’s go. I don’t have anything to hide,” replied Frey, who had something to hide. When police arrived at Frey’s apartment, they spotted a “newly opened pack of toilet paper” atop a table inside the bathroom. One of the rolls, Kolencik noted, had indentations “that matched the exact wording on the piece of toilet paper that Frey handed Taggart.” Next to the roll on the table was “an ink pen that was black ink.”

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