Countrywide Whistle-Blower to Receive More Than $57 Million (Dealbook)
A former Countrywide Financial executive who became a whistle-blower is collecting more than $57 million for helping federal prosecutors force Bank of America to pay a record $16.65 billion penalty in connection with its role in churning out shoddy mortgage and related securities before the financial crisis. Edward O’Donnell reached an agreement last week with the government that enables him to collect part of the settlement that Bank of America agreed to pay in August in a deal with federal prosecutors and a number of state attorneys general, according to a court filing. The payment to Mr. O’Donnell arises from a federal civil lawsuit he filed under the False Claims Act earlier this year and which Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for Manhattan, joined and used as the basis for pressing Bank of America to reach a deal. “In my opinion, Edward O’Donnell is the person most responsible for bolstering the bank settlements and holding Wall Street accountable,” said David G. Wasinger, the lawyer for Mr. O’Donnell, who worked at Countrywide from 2003 to 2009.
Ackman Says Pershing ‘Meaningfully’ Built Fannie-Freddie Bet (Bloomberg)
Bill Ackman, founder of Pershing Square Capital Management, said he’s added “meaningfully” to his bets on U.S. mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the past two weeks. His New York-based hedge fund firm is wagering that Congress or the courts will restore value to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac securities after the companies were seized by regulators in 2008. Securities in both plunged after a federal judge threw out a lawsuit on Sept. 30 that would have forced the government to share the companies’ profits with private investors. “The government cannot act outside the law,” Ackman said Wednesday in an interview on Bloomberg Television with Erik Schatzker and Stephanie Ruhle. “This is a decision that will never stand.”
BlackBerry Tries to Win Back Die-Hards With ‘Classic’ (Bloomberg)
BlackBerry Ltd. (BBRY) is going back to its roots with a keyboard-equipped phone that looks like the original “crackberrys” that made the Canadian smartphone maker a household name. The Classic smartphone, which features a qwerty keyboard, trackpad and call and hang-up buttons nestled below a touch screen, was debuted today by Chief Executive Officer John Chen at an event in New York. It restores features largely abandoned on BlackBerry devices last year with the introduction of a new operating system. “When I went to visit customers -- and these are the CEOs of top banks in this town -- a lot of them pulled out their BlackBerrys,” Chen said at the event. Chen said one financial executive told him: “Don’t mess around with this thing.”
Office Parties—Without the Awkwardness (WSJ)
Keep office parties short—“no more than 30 minutes or an hour,” says Ms. Roth. “You don’t want to distract them for too long, and if you’re serving any alcohol, you want to watch it and not have people get too drunk, because that could get awkward.”
Intercontinental Exchange Proposing Major Stock-Market Overhaul (WSJ)
In a draft letter being circulated among large banks and investment firms, ICE is proposing a trade-off between exchanges and brokers, according to people familiar with the matter. The NYSE would drop the fee for trading stocks at its exchanges to five cents per 100 shares from 30 cents per 100 shares. Banks, in exchange, would accept a rule known as “trade at” that would give more precedence to the stock exchanges, except for transactions involving large blocks of stock and retail investors. A trade-at rule would mandate that stock trades take place on exchanges unless private venues, such as dark pools, offered a significant price improvement. It would force a significant chunk of the estimated 40% of all stock trades that occur away from exchanges back onto exchanges.
Pot shop removes smoking Santa window painting (UPI)
A Los Angeles medical marijuana dispensary removed a pot-smoking Santa painting from its window following complaints from members of the public.
The Harbor House of Dank in San Pedro hired an artist last week to create window paintings including Santa Claus smoking a blunt and a snowman holding a prescription bottle. Pictures of the paintings were posted on Facebook, where they drew hundreds of complaints. Posts on the closed "Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Watch" Facebook group criticized the paintings for being prominently displayed in an area frequented by children. The paintings were removed from the windows Tuesday. The store manager said he had the artist scrape them off the windows when he learned about the complaints from the public. The furor over the pot-smoking St. Nick may have caused further troubles for the Harbor House, as Los Angeles Councilman Joe Buscaino's office said the business is operating illegally.
Justice Department Probes Forex Site That Vanished With Cash (Bloomberg)
The U.S. Department of Justice has begun a criminal investigation into the foreign exchange trading website Secureinvestment.com, which vanished last May 1 with as much as $1 billion from investors around the world. The Financial and Capital Market Commission in Latvia is also probing the involvement of Latvian banks used by Secure Investment, says agency spokeswoman Elina Avotina. An investigator with the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York has interviewed Secure investors in the U.S. and Canada, according to the people who were contacted. Two of those people were quoted in “Anything But Secure” in the December issue of Bloomberg Markets magazine. Bloomberg had interviewed customers in 11 countries on five continents who said they saw their money evaporate with Secure Investment when its website disappeared.
Icahn brokers ‘deal’ to save Atlantic City’s Trump Taj Mahal (NYP)
Carl Icahn is saving Atlantic City’s second-biggest casino, the Trump Taj Mahal, The Post has learned. The bankrupt, nearly 25-year-old casino was scheduled to close its doors Saturday morning. The move will save 3,000 jobs. The union representing roughly 1,100 casino workers, which had been seen as a stumbling block toward keeping the Taj Mahal open, is expected Wednesday evening or Thursday morning to execute a new agreement with management, two sources said. Icahn, the billionaire investor who owns all of the $292 million in Taj Mahal bank loans, conceded Wednesday to the union’s demands to restore all work rules after earlier agreeing to restore just health care and some pension benefits, two sources close to the negotiations said.
RBS, HSBC and JPM Reveal Bets on How Far Swedish Riksbank Can Go (Bloomberg)
As Sweden’s central bank considers new measures to fight deflation, economists at some of the world’s biggest banks are speculating on how far policy makers will need to go to regain credibility. At Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc, clients are being advised to brace themselves for negative rates in February. The Riksbank will then also need to buy assets and may even resort to currency interventions, according to RBS. “If they don’t do anything, the market will probably be very disappointed,”Par Magnusson, head of Scandinavian rate strategy at RBS in Stockholm, said by phone. “To do nothing is not an option.”
Woody Johnson apologizes after Jets owner favorites tweet calling for team to fire GM (NYDN)
Jets owner Woody Johnson backtracked from a social media slip-up Tuesday night after he favorited a tweet calling for the firing of Gang Green GM John Idzik. “@woodyjohnson4 you really need to #FireIdzik at this point. This roster is garbagio,” was the tweet that the 67-year-old billionaire favorited. Shortly after 10 p.m. Tuesday, Johnson posted his first message in two weeks, saying “Have to be more careful when scrolling through my Twitter feed. The tweet I most recently favorited was inadvertent.”