Opening Bell: 12.22.14

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Whitney’s Fund Said to Drop 11% as Office Put on Market (Bloomberg)
Meredith Whitney, who started a hedge fund after becoming one of Wall Street’s most famous analysts, has found it harder to bet on stocks than scrutinize them. Her fund is down 11 percent this year through last month, its main investor has demanded money back, top executives have left and her full-floor Madison Avenue office is now on the market. Her American Revival Fund LP fell in eight of the past 11 months and was up less than 1 percent in two others, returns reviewed by Bloomberg News show. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index was up about 12 percent over that span. Soured investments include a loss of more than $2 million on Conn’s Inc. (CONN), an electronics retailer that dropped 56 percent in that period, according to a person with knowledge of her fund who asked for anonymity to describe its performance...her office, a 5,500-square-foot space in a Madison Avenue high-rise, is now available to be subleased, according to a listing. It advertises “excellent views on 3 sides; executive bathroom; furniture available.”

U.K. to Criminalize Manipulation of Financial Benchmarks (WSJ)
Manipulating financial benchmarks, including a key currencies benchmark, is set to become a criminal offense that could carry a prison sentence of up to seven years, Chancellor George Osborne said on Monday. Mr. Osborne confirmed that legislation originally introduced to regulate the Libor interest-rate benchmark will be extended to cover several other instruments, including the 4 p.m. London foreign-exchange benchmark rate and some key gold and silver fixes. The ICE Brent index and the Sterling Overnight Index Average, known as Sonia, is also included along with the ISADFix, which is used to price swaps transactions.

American Apparel confirms takeover offer, sets new 'poison pill' (Reuters)
Struggling American Apparel Inc, which fired controversial Chief Executive Dov Charney last week, said it was evaluating a proposed takeover and announced the appointment of a new head of the board, sending its shares up in early trade...American Apparel Inc announced on Sunday it had adopted a new, one-year "poison pill" takeover defense with a 10 percent trigger but said this was not meant to deter bidders. "The board implemented the rights plan as an additional means to ensure that all American Apparel stockholders are treated fairly," the company said.

German Coffee Roaster Gets Unexpected Shipment Of Cocaine (AP)
A Berlin coffee business found stimulants it didn't expect in a shipment of unroasted coffee from Brazil: 33 kilos (nearly 73 pounds) of cocaine. Police in the German capital said Thursday that employees at the coffee-roasting business found the bag full of the drug the previous day when they opened a newly arrived container of coffee, and contacted authorities. The delivery was shipped from Brazil to the German North Sea port of Bremerhaven on its way to Berlin. Police said in a statement they're investigating who was responsible and how the drugs ended up at the coffee business.

Rosneft’s Planned Deal for Morgan Stanley Oil Business Collapses (WSJ)
Morgan Stanley declared its deal to sell an oil-trading and storage business to Russia’s OAO Rosneft dead, leaving the Wall Street firm on the lookout for a new buyer of the division. Morgan Stanley and Rosneft, Russia’s largest oil company, said Monday the two sides had terminated their contract after they failed to win U.S. clearance on the deal amid tensions over Russia’s intervention in Ukraine.

Here Are Energy Stocks Goldman Sachs Recommends You Buy (Bloomberg)
Many of Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s clients, not to mention the futures curve, believe that Brent crude will remain below $70 a barrel by the end of 2015, strategists led by David Kostin wrote in a note dated Dec. 19. Oil producers, of course, are counting on a rebound and, as Kostin points out, a Bloomberg survey of professional forecasters is calling for a healthy rise by the end of next year.

With Oil Falling, Howard Marks Says Oaktree May Shed Some Caution (Dealbook)
Mr. Marks, whose investment notes are widely read on Wall Street, said in the latest letter that “high levels of confidence, complacency and composure on the part of investors have in good measure given way to disarray and doubt, making many markets much more to our liking.” Oil prices have lost about half their value since June, when prices peaked, putting pressure on the energy sector and sending tremors through emerging markets. The sharp move has also had a psychological effect, Mr. Marks said. “We knew great buying opportunities wouldn’t arrive until a negative ‘igniter’ caused the tide to go out, exposing the debt’s weakness,” he said in the note. “The current oil crisis is an example of something with the potential to grow into that role,” he said. “We’ll see how far it goes.” He suggested Oaktree could be on the verge of ramping up its investment activity. “For the last 3.5 years, Oaktree’s mantra has been ‘move forward, but with caution,’” Mr. Marks said. “For the first time in that span, with the arrival of some disarray and heightened risk aversion, events tell us it’s appropriate to drop some of our caution and substitute a degree of aggressiveness.”

Teacher Fired For Taking Kids On Ride In Car Trunk (HP)
Heather Cagle, who taught at Wells Middle School in Catoosa, allegedly packed 11 of her students into her Honda Accord last October for a trip to Walmart for snacks, according to Fox 23. Seven of the kids piled into the backseat, two rode in front, and two 12-year-old girls were locked in the trunk. She did not have parental or school permission for the snack quest. “It was a terrible mistake,” she told the school board Wednesday. “I didn't want to hurt anyone. I just wanted to do something nice."

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