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Opening Bell: 12.23.14

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Hedgies go private ahead of possible Uber IPO (NYP)
A savvy hedgie who set up a fund solely to invest in China’s Alibaba before its blockbuster IPO this year is making a similar bet on Uber Technologies. Paul Hudson of Glade Brook Capital Partners, who created a $250 million fund to buy private shares of Alibaba, has joined other alums from Julian Robertson’s Tiger Global — Lone Pine Capital and Valiant Capital Management — in financing the car-hailing app in its private stage before it goes public. By getting in at a low cost when tech companies are private, the hedgies stand to reap a big gain if the firms go public at high valuations.

Russian Finance Ministry Sells Foreign-Currency Reserves (WSJ)
The Russian finance ministry sold some of its foreign-currency reserves last week to support the battered ruble, according to data released Tuesday by Russia’s central bank. The Bank of Russia said it sold $420 million on Dec. 19 and $500 million on Dec. 18 at request of the federal treasury, a part of the finance ministry. The sales are the first since the finance ministry, which holds its funds at the central bank, said last week it would start selling its excessive holdings of foreign currency on the market to prop up the “extremely undervalued” ruble. The finance ministry holds about $7 billion of foreign-currency reserves but hasn’t said how much it would sell. The intervention from the finance ministry is separate from the central bank’s foreign currency sales, which have exceeded $10 billion so far this month.

Startup Founders Leverage Hot Market for Early Paydays (WSJ)
In July, David Byttow and Chrys Bader won the startup lottery, reaping millions of dollars in cash from the company they founded. But they didn’t sell their San Francisco company, stage an IPO or generate any revenue—the typical route to technology riches. The pair had only launched their startup, maker of a messaging app called Secret, seven months earlier. Rather, the co-founders together made about $6 million from selling some of their shares in the startup to venture capitalists as part of a $25 million, early round of financing, according to people with knowledge of the deal. Even if the business flops—and research shows most startups fail to return investors’ capital—Messrs. Byttow, 32 years old, and Bader, 30, will still be millionaires.

Entry Point of JPMorgan Data Breach Is Identified (Dealbook)
Most big banks use a double authentication scheme, known as two-factor authentication, which requires a second one-time password to gain access to a protected system. But JPMorgan’s security team had apparently neglected to upgrade one of its network servers with the dual password scheme, the people briefed on the matter said. That left the bank vulnerable to intrusion. The oversight is now the focus of an internal review at JPMorgan that seeks to identify whether there are any other unguarded holes in the bank’s vast network, several of the people briefed on the matter said, adding that, internally, the episode is seen as an embarrassment.

Drinking (A Little) At Work Could Actually Make You Better At Your Job (HP)
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago found that a certain level of inebriation can help get the creative juices flowing. In the study, participants whose blood alcohol level (BAC) was slightly under .08 percent performed better in a creative task than did their sober counterparts. (The intoxicated group, however, underperformed when they were assigned memory tasks.) The researchers determined that a person's "creative peak" is reached when the person hits a BAC of .075 percent.

Journalist gets high while reporting next to pile of burning drugs (MetroUK)
There are many dangers as a journalist in the Middle East. That includes getting high when reporting next to a pile of burning drugs. BBC journalist Quentin Sommerville found that out while reporting at some point over the last year and apparently getting high. Either that or he was just corpsing at the most inconvenient moment. He starts by saying: ‘Burning behind me is eight and a half tonnes of heroin, opium, hashish and other narcotics.’ But then when he breathes in to say his next sentence he is unable to speak, simply letting out a small giggle. The cameraman starts laughing too before they go for a second take. But the next time round it’s even worse and he strains to get ‘burning behind me…’ out before again starting to laugh. On a third attempt his lips form as though he is about to make a ‘B’ sound, but it’s too much and he breaks down again. He posted the footage on YouTube today as a Christmas present to his followers.

Cheap Oil Is Dragging Down the Price of Gold (Bloomberg)
Oil is in a bear-market freefall that began in June, spearheading the longest commodity slump in at least a generation. The collapse means that instead of the surge in consumer prices that gold buyers have been expecting for much of the past decade, the U.S. is “disinflating,” according to Bill Gross, who used to run the world’s biggest bond fund.

F-Squared Settles SEC Charges (WSJ)
F-Squared Investments Inc., which builds investment portfolios out of exchange-traded funds, admitted it misled clients about its track record and agreed to pay $35 million in a settlement with regulators. The Securities and Exchange Commission filed separate civil charges against former Chief Executive Howard Present, accusing him of making false and misleading statements to investors. Mr. Present stepped down as head of the firm last month...In reaching the deal, F-Squared admitted that it used hypothetical data to overstate the track record of its flagship index for seven years through 2008, including market-beating returns during the financial crisis. F-Squared also admitted that the formula used to create the hypothetical data inflated results by about 350%.

Hong Kong Tycoon Sentenced to Five Years in Prison Following Corruption Conviction (WSJ)
A billionaire property developer was sentenced Tuesday to five years in prison, and a former leading official received 7½ years, after guilty verdicts in a corruption trial that exposed the sway a tycoon once held over this city’s government. The sentencing draws to a close one of Hong Kong’s most visible corruption trials. Former chief secretary Rafael Hui, 66 years old, is the highest official to be convicted since the territory’s return to China in 1997. The ruling also knocked Thomas Kwok, 63, from the helm of Sun Hung Kai Properties Ltd. , a $41 billion property company responsible for much of this city’s glittering skyline.

Alibaba spent $161 million fighting fakes since 2013 (Reuters)
China's Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, the world's largest e-commerce company, spent over 1 billion yuan ($160.7 million) combating fake goods and for improving customer protection from the beginning of 2013 to the end of November, the firm said Tuesday. "From Alibaba Group's perspective, we bear a serious responsibility in this fight against counterfeits," said Alibaba Chief Executive Jonathan Lu in a statement.

Buzz Aldrin looking for love (NYP)
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin may be 84, but he’s still in the market for love. The astronaut, who divorced Lois Driggs Cannon in 2013 after 23 years and began dating 30-years-younger Michelle Sucillon, says he is still searching for a soul mate, albeit a good looking one. “I’m on the scout for cute-looking ladies,” he tells GQ.



Opening Bell: 9.10.18

Moonves forced out; Ma stepping down; Crypto crashing hard; Urine therapy is in; and more!

Opening Bell: 02.25.13

Current Employees Star In S&P Suit (WSJ) As ammunition against Standard & Poor's Ratings Services, the Justice Department packed its fraud lawsuit with vivid details about more than 25 employees who allegedly put triple-A ratings on shaky bundles of subprime mortgages—or dithered on downgrading the securities as the housing market was collapsing. David Tesher, an S&P managing director in charge of one of the firm's two collateralized-debt-obligation groups, let analysts who reported to him put the highest possible ratings on deals S&P "knew did not accurately reflect the true credit risks," the U.S. government alleged in the suit filed Feb. 4. When a different group of analysts warned that more and more borrowers were falling behind on their payments, Mr. Tesher didn't tell his analysts, federal prosecutors claim. They put his name in the 128-page lawsuit a total of 59 times. Fresh Front In Budget Battle (WSJ) A White House official said the administration wouldn't go along with such a plan to extend the lower spending levels. And Democrats are insisting that the House GOP bill also give new latitude to domestic agencies as well as the Pentagon. But an aide to Senate Democratic leaders said such a measure might be politically difficult for the lawmakers to oppose, lest they bear the blame for shutting down the government. "There's an emerging consensus that it would be a difficult battle to have," said the Senate leadership aide. "I don't think we could force a shutdown." Dimon: Let’s put ‘London Whale’ on ice (NYP) That’s the message Jamie Dimon hopes to deliver at JPMorgan Chase’s annual investor day in New York tomorrow, some nine months after the infamous “London Whale” blew a $6 billion hole in the bank’s balance sheet. Dimon will stress that the nation’s biggest bank has been growing its business and taking market share in a bid to convince investors and analysts that there will be no further whale sightings. JPMorgan, for instance, has boosted its private banker ranks to better cater to wealthy investors, adding some 650 bankers since 2008, according to people familiar with the matter. Dimon is also expected to tout the bank’s ability to ring up record profits in good times and bad. JPMorgan reaped $21.3 billion in profits in 2012, a record year despite rocky markets that shook rivals here and abroad. Knight Capital to Sell Credit Brokerage Unit to Stifel: Report (Reuters) Knight Capital Group, which recently agreed to be bought for $1.4 billion by Getco Holding, has struck a deal to sell its credit-brokerage unit to Stifel Financial, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters. The terms of the deal were not known. But Stifel will be picking up investment-grade, high-yield, asset-backed and mortgage-backed debt brokers in the U.S. and Europe through the deal the source said. Foreign Money Is Revisiting Greece (WSJ) A steady trickle of foreign money pumped €109 million ($143.8 million) into Greek stocks in the last six months of 2012, followed by an additional €27.6 million in January, according to the Athens Stock Exchange. That money helped lift Greece's major stock index 33.4% last year, making it—bizarrely—the best-performing stock market in the European Union. It is up an additional 10.51% this year, to 1003.32, although it remains well off its high of 6355 reached more than 12 years ago. IKEA Meatballs Pulled After Horse-Meat Traces Found (WSJ) IKEA on Monday became the latest company to be drawn into Europe's snowballing horse-meat scandal, as the Swedish furniture giant said it has recalled a batch of meatballs that had been distributed to 13 European countries. The move comes after Czech food inspectors found traces of horse meat in IKEA's meatballs. The company also said it is withdrawing meatball products from sale in Sweden. Japan Picks BOJ Critic to Be Its Next Chief (WSJ) Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to nominate former finance-ministry official Haruhiko Kuroda, 68 years old, as the next Bank of Japan governor, according to government officials. Mr. Kuroda, currently chief of the Asian Development Bank, ran the Japanese finance ministry's currency policy for four years in the early 2000s. There, among other things, he oversaw an extended effort to drive down the yen's value in order to make Japanese exports more affordable on the world market. Barnes & Noble Chairman to Bid for Company's Retail Assets (Reuters) Barnes & Noble Chairman Leonard Riggio has told the board he plans to buy all the retail assets of the company. The retail business includes, among other things, Barnes & Noble Booksellers and but excludes Nook Media, Riggio said in a regulatory filing on Monday. Mets Expect To Lose Money And Fans This Year (NYP) The team is expecting to lose more than $10 million this year, after bleeding red the past two seasons, while attendance is projected to fall for a fifth straight year. Monti Gets Investors’ Approval as Bonds Cast Doubt on Berlusconi (Bloomberg) Monti “is the first leader to make it clear you have to look out for future generations and not just tomorrow’s vote,” said Fabrizio Fiorini, chief investment officer at Aletti Gestielle SGR SpA. “This concept of looking out for future generations is absolutely new for Italy.” Angry moms condemn Geico’s cellphone app commercial they claim promotes bestiality (NYDN) One Million Moms wants auto insurance firm Geico to pull its latest TV campaign in which a woman appears to be flirting with a pig. The conservative Christian group that monitors children’s programming issued a statement to condemn the clip. “The Geico marketing team may have thought this would be humorous, but it is disgusting to see how the company takes lightly the act of bestiality,” One Million Moms said in a statement. The press release, which urges members to email their disgust to the firm, added that the advert was “repulsive” and “unnecessary.” It was also a “horrible commercial for families to see,” the group said. The commercial starts with Maxwell the Geico pig and the woman in a parked car on what appears to be a lover’s lane. Not knowing the car has broken down, the woman seems keen to make out with the pig. But he is uninterested and instead shows her the Geico app and the game Fruit Ninjas on his cellphone. Geico has not commented on the complaint.

Opening Bell: 5.12.15

Greek finance minister: "Let's not beat around the bush"; KKR wants $12 billion; Alibaba wants MBAs; UK man banned from airline over Pinocchio crotch tat; and more.


Opening Bell: 11.28.17

Wells Fargo forex bankers not quite as honest as you'd expect; Tesla semi still slightly fantastical; the big boys are coming back to private equity; bitcoin is a gateway drug; and more.

(Trump image courtesy Flickr user Gage Skidmore)

Opening Bell: 12.21.17

Taxes taxes taxes; JPMorgan dinged over 1MDB; PE firms regret plunging into subprime auto; someone just put a million bucks on bitcoin $50,000; yes, there is a crypto dominatrix; and more.