Opening Bell: 12.12.14

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Critics See Overreach in Prosecutors’ Insider-Trading PushPicking at Prosecutors’ Push (WSJ)
In the wake of Wednesday’s ruling, parties on both sides of the issue were sifting through the fallout and advocating their positions. Defense lawyers smarting from five years’ worth of defeats were seizing on the ruling as the final verdict of prosecutorial overreach. Lawyer Ross Albert of Morris Manning & Martin, who has worked at the Securities and Exchange Commission, said the ruling brings back “some needed balance to insider-trading law.” On the other side are alumni of the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office who said some of the judges’ admonishments weren’t fair. The hardest cases were saved for last, and there was always a chance of defeat. That prospect, however, wasn’t reason to avoid going to trial, they said. “When you get to the end of a series of prosecutions like these, the ones at the end are not as core and easy as the ones at the beginning,” said Jonathan Streeter, who prosecuted Raj Rajaratnam and is now a partner at Dechert LLP. Both sides agree the ruling will make insider-trading prosecutions tougher going forward. The court said prosecutors must prove traders knew that the person who provided an inside tip gained some sort of tangible reward for doing so.

Some Accused of Insider Trading May Rethink Their Guilty Pleas (Dealbook)
In legal circles it is seen as likely that the ruling will mean that Michael Steinberg, a former portfolio manager at SAC Capital Advisors, will have his conviction overturned because he traded on the same information that did not constitute an illegal tip for Mr. Chiasson and Mr. Newman. Several others who pleaded guilty and testified as cooperating witnesses in the trials of Mr. Chiasson, Mr. Newman and Mr. Steinberg may also seek to withdraw their pleas, since they implicitly pleaded guilty to something that was not a crime, according to the appellate court ruling. (Mr. Steinberg remains free pending an appeal.) Roland Riopelle, the lawyer for Danny Kuo, a former analyst who pleaded guilty to insider trading and cooperated with the government in its investigation of Mr. Chiasson and Mr. Newman, said he has contacted prosecutors in the wake of the appellate ruling.

House Narrowly Passes Bill to Avoid Shutdown; $1.1 Trillion in Spending (NYT)
The House on Thursday narrowly passed a $1.1 trillion spending package that would fund most government operations for the fiscal year after a rancorous debate that reflected the new power held by Republicans and the disarray among Democrats in the aftermath of the midterm elections. The accord was reached in a 219-206 vote amid last-minute brinkmanship and bickering that has come to mark one of the capital’s most polarized eras. The legislation now heads to the Senate, which is expected to pass it in the coming days. The split in the Democratic Party dramatically came into view when Representative Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader and one of President Obama’s most loyal supporters, broke with the administration over a provision in the bill that would roll back regulation of the Dodd-Frank Act, which Ms. Pelosi said was a giveaway to big banks whose practices helped fuel the Great Recession. She spoke on the House floor in the early afternoon, asking Democrats not to vote for the bill.

Corporate Germany Set for Gender Revolution (WSJ)
Corporate Germany is on the cusp of a gender revolution after Chancellor Angela Merkel ’s government adopted a bill on Thursday that will dramatically increase the number of women in the top echelons of the country’s mightiest corporations. The bill, which is now moving to Parliament for final approval, will require large listed companies to fill 30% of their supervisory board seats with female nonexecutive directors and force thousands of large and midsize businesses to set binding targets for women top managers.

Man has 8 minutes to convince prostitutes to quit in new reality show (EW)
A&E has greenlit a provocative new reality series in which a man tries to convince prostitutes to quit their jobs. EW has learned exclusively that the network has ordered eight episodes of 8 Minutes (working title), a series featuring cop-turned-pastor Kevin Brown surprising escorts in hotel rooms and offering to rescue them from a life of trading sex for cash. In each episode, Brown has eight minutes to make his case. Executive producer Tom Forman (Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, The Great Food Truck Race) says the show was inspired by a 2013 LA Times article about Brown, an Orange County vice cop turned pastor who teamed with his church to create an undercover prostitute intervention operation.

High-Yield Bond Funds See $1.9 Billion Outflow in Latest Week (WSJ)
The outflow is the largest weekly decline since the $2.3 billion withdrawal registered in the week ended Oct. 1, and follows $859 million that flowed out the week ended Dec. 3, according to fund tracker Lipper. Tremors from the slide in oil prices that initially hit energy bonds are now being felt across the broader $1.3 trillion junk-bond market, investors and analysts said, causing hesitation among would-be buyers and a hurried reshuffling of bond portfolios as funds look to raise cash to meet redemptions. “Everyone is just selling,” said Lane Britain, managing director at PetroCap, an oil-and-gas fund owned by Highland Capital Management.

Mark Zuckerberg's 2015 New Year's resolution (CNBC)
Zuckerberg said he has yet to come up his 2015 New Year's resolution. "It's too early!" Zuckerberg jokingly exclaimed, with 20 days still remaining in 2014. He said his past New Year's resolutions include cooking more ("it was fun") and learning Mandarin ("it was really hard…my wife tells me all the time that I'm bad at English"). His 2014 resolution was to write one note of thanks each day, which Zuckerberg admitted has been a difficult task. Why? He explained that there are two types of people in the world: those who see the beauty in things and those who want to make those things better. "I'm from the latter," he said, adding that his management team tends to laugh at him when he looks to improve people's actions rather than thank them for a job well done.

Schwarzman Says Energy Is Best Opportunity in Many Years (Bloomberg)
Stephen Schwarzman, the chairman of Blackstone Group LP (BX), said now is the best time in many years to invest in energy. “There are a lot of people who borrowed a lot of money based on higher price levels and they’re going to need more capital,” Schwarzman said today at a conference sponsored by the New York Times’ DealBook. “There are going to be restructurings to do. There’s going to be a fallout. It’s going to be one of the best opportunities we’ve had in many, many years.”

Wilbur. Dr Doom. The Hedge Fund Manager Who Loves To Grab Asses (DB)
Dealbreaker Dramatic Reading Night Part IV: December 17th.

Drunk Woman Steals Idling Taxi in Greenwich Village, Police Say (DNAI)
A drunk woman jumped into the driver's seat of a yellow taxi and took off as the stunned driver stood nearby, police said. Elizabeth Otero, 28, who does not have a driver's license, slipped into the idling 2014 Toyota Camry at East 12th Street and Fifth Avenue at 3:53 a.m. on Dec. 7, police said. A police officer tracked the cab using the taxi company’s GPS system and found Otero a mile and a half away, in front of 90 Mercer St., police said. Otero was still sitting in the driver's seat with the engine running when police discovered her. She was slurring her words and her breath smelled of alcohol, police said. Police said she was given a breathalyzer test about 6:10 a.m. and that her blood-alcohol content was .229 percent, or nearly three times the legal limit.

Related

Opening Bell: 12.07.12

SEC Warns Netflix CEO Over Facebook Post (WSJ) Mr. Hastings boasted on his Facebook page in July that Netflix exceeded 1 billion hours of video streaming in a month for the first time. The post may have violated rules of fair disclosure, the SEC said. The SEC said it may also issue a cease-and-desist proceeding against Netflix and Mr. Hastings. Mr. Hastings responded in another Facebook post Thursday. He said further disclosure at the time wasn't necessary because he has more than 200,000 subscribers to his Facebook page, which makes it a "very public" forum. Netflix had also disclosed on its blog in June that it was nearing the 1 billion streaming hours milestone, he said. Mr. Hastings, who is also on the board of Facebook, added that, at any rate, such information isn't a "material" event to investors. Germany's Central Bank Cuts Forecasts (WSJ) "The cyclical outlook for the German economy has dimmed [and] there are even indications that economic activity may fall in the final quarter of 2012 and the first quarter of 2013," the Bundesbank said in its monthly report. In its semiannual economic projections, the central bank slashed its forecast for German growth next year to 0.4% from its previous estimate of 1.6% in June. It also lowered its forecast for 2012 growth to 0.7% from 1.0%. Moody's: It's Deal Or Die (NYP) The American economy will fall into “severe recession by the spring” unless Congress lessens the tax increases and spending cuts that are set to begin in January, said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. “We’ve got to nail this down; uncertainty is killing us,” Zandi told lawmakers yesterday at a Joint Economic Committee hearing in Washington...If Congress were to “kick the can down the road” by extending the current tax-and-spend policies, Zandi predicted the US would lose its Aaa rating because “it would signal that the political will is lacking to put the nation on a sustainable fiscal path.” Fiscal Cliff? France Has ‘Fiscal Mountain’: PPR CEO (CNBC) The head of one of France's biggest companies has warned that France's problems dwarf those of the U.S. in an interview with CNBC. Francois-Henri Pinault, chief executive of luxury goods company PPR, said: "When we talk about the fiscal cliff in France it's a mountain, it's much higher than a cliff. And when it comes to France the only solution that has been put on the table is tax raises, nothing about cutting expenses. So it's a completely different situation." Greece sticks to buyback plan, says will shield banks (Reuters) Greece says it is sticking to plans to close its offer to buy back its own bonds from investors on Friday in a deal that should meet a debt writedown target set by its international lenders. The government said it would shield the country's banks from any lawsuits over losses booked if they take part in the buyback. The buyback, part of a broader debt relief package worth 40 billion euros ($52 billion) agreed by Greece's euro zone and International Monetary Fund lenders last month, is central to efforts to bring its debt to manageable levels. Judge: Ganek, Steinberg conspirators (NYP) Manhattan federal judge Richard Sullivan yesterday ruled that SAC Capital money manager Michael Steinberg and Level Global co-founder David Ganek can be named co-conspirators in the current insider trading case unfolding downtown. Neither Steinberg nor Ganek has been charged in the case, but the ruling lets prosecutors submit their e-mails and instant messages as evidence in their case against Todd Newman, a former portfolio manager at Diamondback, and Anthony Chiasson, Ganek’s former Level Global partner. The feds have accused Chiasson and Newman of improperly profiting off insider tips on Dell and Nvidia. Chiasson lawyer Greg Morvillo objected, saying that Chiasson’s former analyst Sam Adondakis, who pleaded guilty, testified that he never told Ganek he had an inside source at Dell. Judge Sullivan said the evidence is “certainly circumstantial” but sufficient enough for the government’s request to be granted. Sullivan cited the “precise information” Ganek had received leading up to Dell’s earnings as well as the “large trading positions” he authorized on the computer maker. The judge relied on three e-mail communications to implicate Steinberg, one of which he said made “clear references to keeping things on the down-low and being extra sensitive.” Burglary suspect calls 911 after Springtown homeowner holds him at gunpoint (DN) In a strange flip of events, a burglary suspect called 911 early Tuesday to report that he was being held at gunpoint by a Springtown homeowner and his son. The homeowner called 911, too, but by then he was in control, holding him at gunpoint and demanding to know what he was doing in his home. “Just unlucky, I guess,” the man responded, according to a release from the Parker County Sheriff’s Department. The incident happened around 12:30 a.m. when the homeowner and his wife woke up to find an intruder in the bedroom of their home in the 100 block of Lelon Lane. The suspect, identified as 41-year-old Christopher Lance Moore of Bedford, left the home and sat in his GMC pickup, parked in the family’s driveway. The homeowner followed him with a pistol, took the suspect’s keys and blocked his getaway with his own vehicle, while his stepson trained a shotgun on Moore, Fox 4 News reports. “If he gets out of the truck, shoot him in the legs,” James Gerow told his son. “You ain’t gotta kill him; just shoot him in the legs. … If he’d got out, I’d have expected him to shoot him.” When deputies arrived, both men were on the phone with 911. Deputies asked Moore why he had broken into the home, to which he merely said he had “bad intentions.” Morgan Stanley Alters Broker Pay Plan as Revenue Bonus Takes Hit (Bloomberg) Morgan Stanley, the brokerage with the biggest corps of financial advisers, changed its wealth- management compensation plan to encourage brokers to increase revenue and allow them to buy discounted stock. The 2013 program pays a bonus of 2 to 5 percentage points of revenue for advisers who bring in new assets and are in the top 40 percent in revenue growth, according to terms outlined in a summary obtained yesterday by Bloomberg News. That comes at the expense of a 2 percentage-point reduction in the revenue bonus paid to all brokers who generate at least $750,000. JPM Bonus Bummer (Bloomberg) JPMorgan Chase’s bonus pool for the corporate and investment bank may shrink as much as 2 percent this year as the firm completes performance reviews, three executives with direct knowledge of the process said. Fed Exit Plan May Be Redrawn as Assets Near $3 Trillion (Bloomberg) A decision by the Federal Reserve to expand its bond buying next week is likely to prompt policy makers to rewrite their 18-month old blueprint for an exit from record monetary stimulus. Under the exit strategy, the Fed would start selling bonds in mid-2015 in a bid to return its holdings to pre-crisis proportions in two to three years. An accelerated buildup of assets would also mean a faster pace of sales when the time comes to exit -- increasing the risk that a jump in interest rates would crush the economic recovery. A decision by the Federal Reserve to expand its bond buying next week is likely to prompt policy makers to rewrite their 18-month old blueprint for an exit from record monetary stimulus. Under the exit strategy, the Fed would start selling bonds in mid-2015 in a bid to return its holdings to pre-crisis proportions in two to three years. An accelerated buildup of assets would also mean a faster pace of sales when the time comes to exit -- increasing the risk that a jump in interest rates would crush the economic recovery. Danger Lurks Inside The Bond Boom (WSJ) Amid the rush of bond deals, which already have topped $1 trillion in value, these managers—from BlackRock to Federated Investment Management Co.—are pointing to unusual wrinkles suggesting that now could be one of the most dangerous times in decades to lend to investment-grade companies. Interest rates are so low and bond prices so high, they warn, that there is little room left for gains. Some worry that even a small increase in interest rates—a traditional enemy of bond returns—could eat away at bond prices. College Student Poisons Roommate's Iced Tea With Bleach Following Argument (DM) A college student faces 15 years in jail after she allegedly sprayed bleach into her roommate's iced tea. Kayla Ashlyn Bonkowski, 19, was charged with felony poisoning and appeared in court on Wednesday. She reportedly told police that she had put chemicals in the drink following an argument about cleaning the dishes with her 20-year-old roommate Emily Joseph. The poisoning occurred on November 7 at the students' apartment in Union Township, located near the Mount Pleasant school of Central Michigan University, authorities said. Miss Joseph was taken to hospital for treatment but later released. After she filed a complaint, Bonkowski was arrested. The 19-year-old 'verbally admitted' to police that she put bleach in the drink because 'Joseph is mean', according to ABC. She was arraigned on Wednesday at 2pm before posting $2,000 bond. She entered a plea of not guilty to the charge of poisoning a food, drink, medicine or water supply. The college student faces up to 15 years in prison. Reached by e-mail, Bonkowski said on Wednesday morning that she needed to consult with a lawyer before commenting.

Opening Bell: 03.05.12

Greek Bond Swap Deal Rests on Knife Edge (FT) People close to some bondholders warned other investors to take seriously threats by policymakers that if the deal fails Greece will default on its debt. “Some investors seem to think they will be rescued. That just isn’t the case,” one said. People involved in the deal denied that there was any nervousness about the outcome but nobody was willing to guess how high the participation rate would be. Slim Beats Gates in First Daily Billionaire Ranking (Bloomberg) If you like obsessively measuring your penis you'll love this: Carlos Slim, the telecommunications tycoon who controls Mexico’s America Movil SAB, is the richest person on Earth, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a daily ranking of the world’s 20 wealthiest individuals...The Bloomberg Billionaires Index takes measure of the world’s wealthiest people based on market and economic changes and Bloomberg News reporting. Each net worth figure is updated every business day at 5:30 p.m. in New York. The valuations are listed in U.S. dollars. Zuckerberg Doesn’t Rank on Billionaire Index (Bloomberg) Sad trombone: At the time of the offering, Zuckerberg is likely to sell about $1.75 billion of Facebook stock to pay off the tax obligation he will incur when he exercises options to buy 120 million shares. The combined transactions will dilute Zuckerberg’s stake from 28.4 percent to about 21 percent. If the company maintains its projected $100 billion valuation, that would make Zuckerberg worth about $21 billion, less than the $28.4 billion implied by his stated ownership. At that net worth, Zuckerberg isn’t rich enough to qualify for the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a new daily ranking of the world’s 20 richest people. The 20th spot is currently occupied by L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt. AIG to Sell $6 Billion In Asian Insurer's Stock (WSJ) American International Group Inc. kicked off a $6 billion sale of shares in Asian life insurer AIA Group Ltd. on Monday morning in Hong Kong, moving forward with plans to repay another chunk of its 2008 U.S. bailout. AIG said the shares will be placed with institutional investors and expects them to be priced by Tuesday. The 1.7 billion shares up for sale represent around 14% of AIA, less than half the 32.9% stake AIG holds, according to a term sheet. Proceeds from this week's sale have been earmarked to repay the U.S. government, which rescued AIG from near collapse during the financial crisis with a record $182.3 billion bailout that has been partially repaid. The Treasury Department still has to recoup about $50 billion in taxpayer funds, and about $8.4 billion of that amount will be repaid when AIG sells the AIA shares and other assets, including its airplane-leasing subsidiary. The rest of the money—roughly $42 billion—is supposed to come from the government's sale of its 77% stake in AIG. Lenders Stress Over Test Results (WSJ) The 19 biggest U.S. banks in January submitted reams of data in response to regulators' questions, outlining how they would perform in a severe downturn. Now, citing competitive concerns, bankers are pressing the Fed to limit its release of information—expected as early as next week—to what was published after the first test of big banks in 2009. JFK Airport search of drug mule who said she was three months pregnant reveals she carried $20,000 worth of heroin (NYDN) Awoyemi, coming off an Air France flight from Paris to New York and wearing a “loose-fitting dress” was asked whether she was pregnant, and the woman replied that she was three months along, Homeland Security special agent John Moloney stated in a complaint filed in Brooklyn Federal Court. The customs inspector noted that Awoyemi appeared nervous, so she was selected for a pat-down search. After feeling a “bulge” in Awoyemi’s groin area, the situation escalated to a partial strip-search, according to the complaint. When she dropped her drawers, Awoyemi’s scheme fell apart. Pellets containing brown powder began dropping from her groin area — and the substance tested positive for heroin. Awoyemi was taken to a medical facility at the airport, where the federal cops administered a pregnancy test that came back negative. An X-ray showed more pellets in her intestinal tract, and by the end of the day she had passed about 25 pellets of heroin in a special commode that Customs officials have dubbed the “Drug Loo.” The high-tech toilet sanitizes the incriminating evidence. More On The Morgan Stanley Executive Charged in Cab Hate Crime Attack (Bloomberg) Jennings left a bank holiday party sometime before 11 p.m. and headed to the street, where he was supposed to be met by a car service, Jennings said. He hailed Ammar’s cab after the livery car didn’t appear, according to the report. Ammar said Jennings agreed on the fare and told him he would pay cash. Jennings fell asleep during the trip, the driver said. Once at the destination, though, Jennings said “he did not feel like paying” because he was already home, Ammar told police...When Ammar threatened to call the local police, Jennings said they wouldn’t do anything to help because he pays $10,000 in taxes, according to a report by the Darien police department...The Morgan Stanley executive told police he was afraid to come forward after the incident because the cab driver knew where he lived. He then went on vacation to Florida, police said. Jennings told officers he subsequently called his lawyer after a friend told him police were looking for a suspect in the stabbing incident, according to the report. JPMorgan Star To Launch Own Hedge Fund (FT) London-based Mike Stewart, JPMorgan’s global head of proprietary trading, and former head of emerging markets, is set to start his own new hedge fund, Whard Stewart, in the second quarter, people familiar with his plans said. Mr Stewart’s emerging markets trading team at the bank is expected to join him. The departures come despite word last week that US regulators will probably delay implementation of the so-called “Volcker rule” , under which banks are in effect banned from proprietary trading. Friends With Benefits (NYP) Unlike his fallen pal Raj Rajaratnam, former Goldman Sachs director Rajat Gupta appears to have no shortage of character witnesses willing to testify at his upcoming insider trading trial. Indeed, dozens of well-heeled supporters are already putting their names on the line for the former consulting titan, including world-renowned speaker Deepak Chopra and Mukesh Ambani, the ninth-richest man in the world. “I have never seen him ask for anything for himself, always for the greater good,” Ambani, the chairman of Reliance Industries, said recently on a little-noticed website called friendsofrajat.com. Cigarettes: The Most Stable International Currency (BusinessWeek) Cartons of Good Cat brand cigarettes are selling for as much as RMB5,600 (US$890) per carton in the city of Xi’an, in Shaanxi Province. The suspicion, according to reports this week, is that they are being used to bribe officials. Election Year Poses Challenge For Stocks (WSJ) The Dow is off to its best start to a year since 1998. But if history is a guide, this exuberance soon could give way to the first pangs of electoral anxiety. In a typical presidential-election year, stocks start well but slip into a funk by spring, according to Ned Davis Research, which has measured election-year trends back to 1900. At least in part, the slump reflects the electoral unknowns, Ned Davis has concluded. In a good year, investors deal with their jitters by late summer or early autumn and stocks recover. People get more comfortable with the November election outlook and put money back into stocks. This year, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average up 6.2% in just over two months, many investors and analysts expect a pullback soon. The looming election adds to ambient uncertainty about European debt and U.S. and Chinese growth prospects. Tony Welch, an analyst at Ned Davis Research, says the Dow could pull back 5% or 6% in the coming weeks. "We think the election-year trend could be strong this year," Mr. Welch says. "The market prefers certainty. It doesn't like unknowns." Ochocinco was urinated on by a lion and lived to tweet the tale (YS) The New England Patriots receiver was at a charity event in Miami on Saturday night when he ran into the caged animal. According to Ochocinco's Twitter account, the king of the jungle proceeded to become the urine sprayer at the party. Tweets included: "Swear to lil 10 pound bearded baby Jesus I just got peed on by a real "Lion" I'm not lying either. And y'all wonder why I don't go out!!!!!," "It's not funny i have on my good church clothes," and "I wasn't that close, he sprayed like a water gun."

Opening Bell: 12.28.12

Blackstone seen sticking with SAC despite insider trading probe (Reuters / Matthew Goldstein) Three sources said the asset management arm of Blackstone, which has $550 million invested with SAC Capital, is in no rush to redeem money from the Stamford, Connecticut-based hedge fund. Blackstone has had at least three discussions with the $14 billion hedge fund's executives about the insider trading investigation and talked to its own investors, which include state pension funds, endowments and wealthy individuals. Hitler parody leaves French bank BNP red-faced (IN24) French banking giant BNP was left red-faced this week after it emerged managers were shown a motivational video featuring a parody of a famous scene from the film "Downfall" in which Adolf Hitler is portrayed as the boss of Germany's Deutsche Bank. It’s a scene that has been parodied thousands of times before to comic effect. But it appears not many people have seen the funny side of one particular version made by executives of French bank BNP Paribas...In the video, which was shown to around 100 managers from around the world at a seminar in Amsterdam last year, Hitler is turned into a fuming boss of Germany’s Deutsche Bank reacting furiously to news that BNP has gained an edge in the foreign exchange market. But far from being motivated, many of the managers who saw the video were outraged. “We could not believe the bank had actually dared to do that – make an analogy between our competitors and the Nazi regime. It took us a few minutes to take it in,” one BNP employee told French daily Liberation, who revealed the story this week. “We were shocked. Nobody knew how to react. Some Jewish employees from the United States did not find it funny at all,” another employee told the paper. “If this video had been shown by an American bank it would have been a major scandal,” an angry BNP source added. Rather surprisingly the video is believed to have been uploaded to the bank’s internal Intranet site before the management realised it might prove embarrassing and quickly removed it. A spokeswoman for BNP told FRANCE 24 on Friday that the bank’s senior management were totally unaware the video had been made until they were contacted by Libération this week. The spokeswoman said BNP’s CEO Jean Laurent Bonnafé had called his counterpart at Deutsche Bank Jürgen Fitschen to personally apologise for the stunt. In a statement in Libération the bank added that the message in the video was “contrary to the values of BNP." Obama Summons Congress Leaders as Budget Deadline Nears (Bloomberg) Obama, who had been negotiating one-on-one with House Speaker John Boehner, will meet today with Republicans Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, both Democrats. Cliff Talks Down To The Wire (WSJ) It is still possible the two sides can reach a deal, especially with the leaders meeting Friday. Any resolution would be a scaled-back version of the package Mr. Obama and congressional leaders had anticipated passing after the November election. The White House is pressing for the Senate to extend current tax rates for income up to $250,000, extend unemployment benefits, keep the alternative minimum tax from hitting millions of additional taxpayers and delay spending cuts set to take effect in January. The 11th-hour strategy carries enormous risk because it leaves no margin for error in Congress's balky legislative machinery. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) said the prospects for passage of a bill before the last day of the year are fading rapidly. "I have to be very honest," he said. "I don't know time-wise how it can happen now." Spain's PM does not rule out asking for European aid (Reuters) Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said on Friday he did not rule out tapping the European Central Bank's bond-buying program for troubled euro zone governments but said Spain did not expect to have to ask for aid for now. "We are not thinking of asking the European Central Bank to intervene and buy bonds in the secondary market," he said at a news conference in Madrid. "But we can't rule it out in the future." Banks pay $4.5M for muni charges (NYP) Citigroup and Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch are among five firms that will pay $4.48 million to settle regulatory claims they used funds from municipal and state bond deals to pay lobbyists. Local authorities were unfairly asked to reimburse payments that the firms made over five years to the California Public Securities Association, a lobbying group, to help influence the state, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, which oversees securities firms, said yesterday. The firms inadequately described the fees, wrapping them into bond-underwriting expenses, Finra said...The banks, also including Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley, agreed to pay $3.35 million in fines and reimburse certain California bond issuers $1.13 million. Porsche Wins Dismissal of US Hedge Fund Lawsuit Over VW (Reuters) A five-justice panel of the New York State appeals court in Manhattan unanimously found that Porsche had met its "heavy burden" to establish that the state was the wrong place in which to bring the lawsuit. That panel reversed an Aug. 6 ruling by New York State Supreme Court Justice Charles Ramos that let the case by hedge funds including Glenhill Capital LP, David Einhorn's Greenlight Capital LP and Chase Coleman's Tiger Global LP proceed. The funds accused Porsche of engineering a "massive short squeeze" in October 2008 by quietly buying nearly all freely traded ordinary VW shares in a bid to take over the company, despite publicly stating it had no plans to take a 75 percent stake. IPOs Slump To Lowest Levels Since Financial Crisis (Bloomberg) IPOs have raised $112 billion worldwide this year, the least since 2008, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Initial sales in western Europe dropped to one-third of last year’s level, while concern about China’s economy helped cut proceeds in Asia by almost half. U.S. offerings raised $41 billion, little changed from last year, as Facebook’s IPO spurred a monthlong drought in U.S. deals. Avery Johnson Jr. vents on Twitter after dad, Avery Johnson, is fired by Brooklyn Nets (NYDN, RELATED) The ex-Nets coach’s teenage son took to Twitter to vent after news broke that his dad had been given a pink slip by billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov and the Nets. “This is a f------ Outrage. My dad is a great coach, he just got coach of the month and they Fire him. #Smh. Completely new team he had,” Johnson Jr. wrote on Twitter. “The expectations were way to high for this team. We didn’t even have a losing record.... Didn’t even give my dad a full season. #OUTRAGE,” Johnson Jr. continued. Johnson was fired a day after the new-look Nets fell to .500 following a listless road loss to the Bucks. The canning comes on the heels of Deron Williams saying he’s never been comfortable playing in Johnson’s offense. Williams, who did not play in Wednesday night’s loss, is mired in a season-long shooting slump with field goal and 3-point percentages at career-worst levels. “I’m sorry (our) best players couldn’t make open shots. Yeah that’s my dad’s fault totally,” Johnson Jr. tweeted. 'Whale' Capsized Banks' Rule Effort (WSJ) Wall Street banks entered 2012 confident they could stall a wave of rules that they feared would hurt profits. But they are ending the year largely resigned that their activities will be constrained and monitored more closely by the government. One big reason for the change: J.P. Morgan Chase JPM -0.76% & Co.'s "London whale" losses. The bad trades, ultimately resulting in about $6 billion in losses, disrupted the banks' campaign against the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul, according to regulators, lawmakers and close observers of policy debates in Washington. The trades damaged the reputation of J.P. Morgan, which suffered less than other banks from the financial crisis, and its chief executive, James Dimon, during a crucial period of policy debate in Washington, putting critics of Dodd-Frank on the defensive. Before news of the whale losses emerged, banks were arguing, with some success, that too-tight regulations were crimping lending during a time of slow growth. Michael Greenberger, a finance professor at the University of Maryland and an advocate of regulations aimed at reining in bank trading, said that in early 2012 his allies' "backs were against the wall." "Then the London whale blew all of that out of the water," he said. Mortgages Fueled Hedge Funds To 13.9 Percent Gain (NYP) Hedge funds that invest in mortgage-backed securities gained 13.9 percent through November to make them the industry’s best-performing strategy, according to the Absolute Return index. Top players that did even better included Metacapital Management, Pine River, Axonic Capital, and Greg Lippman's LibreMax Capital. High-Speed Traders Race to Fend Off Regulators (WSJ) Defenders say high-frequency trading keeps markets lubricated with a constant supply of buy and sell orders that enables all participants to trade more efficiently and get better pricing. High-speed traders, supporters add, have helped foster competition among exchanges and other trading venues, lowering commission-based fees for small investors and helping bring down overall costs for mutual-fund managers. Another benefit some cite: Technology innovations spurred by high-speed traders serve to connect more investors to more trading venues, broadening their options in the markets. Critics, for their part, worry that the traders' order torrent makes markets more opaque, less stable and ultimately less fair. Will 'Fiscal Clif' Accelerate Millionaire Deaths? (NetNet) John Carney: "...it at least seems likely that some deaths that might otherwise have occurred shortly after January 1 will occur shortly before." Man gets DUI after driving on AA co-founder's lawn (AP) Vermont State Police say a man faces a drunken driving charge after driving onto the lawn of a historic home once owned by the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. Police say 55-year-old Donald Blood III of Marlborough, Mass., was ordered to appear in court in Bennington on Jan. 14. Police say Blood thought he was driving into a parking lot, but actually it was the lawn of the Wilson House, built in 1852 in Dorset, the birthplace of AA co-founder Bill Wilson. The Wilson House's website describes it as a "place of sanctuary where people can come to give thanks to God for their new lives." It still hosts several AA meetings each week. Programming Note< : We’re on an abbreviated, vacation-esque schedule this week (opening news roundups and limited updates whenever the urge to reach out and touch you moves us). We still want to hear from you, though, so if anything happens that you think might tickle our fancy, do not hesitate to let us know.

Opening Bell: 2.23.16

Bruno Iksil "objects to London whale nickname"; Yahoo attempts to fend off activist investor; Zenefits tells employees "Do not use the stairwells to smoke, drink, eat, or have sex"; and more.