Opening Bell: 1.13.15

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Jim Rogers claims Russian ‘consultant’ tried to extort him (NYP)
The globetrotting tycoon — known for his spiffy bow ties as well as his investing acumen — has accused a San Diego woman of attempted extortion in a business deal gone bad, The Post has learned. In civil court papers filed last week, Rogers alleges that Laura Alexis, “a self-professed ‘media consultant’ of Russian descent,” threatened his health and reputation as she demanded that he fork over “large sums of money.” Alexis failed to deliver on a deal to create a Web-based investing channel for Rogers — and then told him in a testy e-mail that her Russian computer programmer friend “Victor” would be “justified for whatever he will do” unless Rogers coughed up $37,000, according to the suit...In response to questions from The Post, Fink said Rogers and Alexis met “in person a grand total of three or four times over six years. The only time they met in person was when he was speaking — once in Alabama, once in Colorado and once or twice in the Big Apple.” Fink added that there was “no sexual relationship whatsoever” between Alexis and Rogers, who is happily married and living in Singapore with his wife and daughters.

S.& P. Nears Settlement With Justice Over Inflated Ratings (Dealbook)
After S.&P. mounted a two-year campaign to defeat civil fraud charges — portraying them as retaliation for cutting the credit rating of the United States — the ratings agency is now negotiating with the Justice Department to settle the case, according to people briefed on the matter. For S.&P., which is accused of awarding inflated credit ratings to mortgage investments that spurred the financial crisis, the delay in settling may prove costly. The Justice Department and more than a dozen state attorneys general are demanding that S.&P. pay more than $1 billion to settle the case, the people briefed on the matter said, a penalty large enough to wipe out the rating agency’s entire operating profit for a year.

Ethical Questions Of Investing In Pot (Dealbook)
Public pension funds and university endowments are increasingly shying away from putting their money in so-called sin industries and focusing on more “socially responsible” investments, but it’s unclear where marijuana falls on this spectrum. Is marijuana closer to the health care industry, given its benefits for certain ailments, or should it be lumped into the same category as cigarettes, alcohol, gambling, guns and, in some quarters, fossil fuels and sugary soda? [...] The nation’s biggest banks — JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America — thus far refuse to allow marijuana companies to set up accounts. Even smaller local banks refuse to provide services to the industry. Geoff Lewis, a partner of Mr. Thiel, who is a longtime libertarian [and invested millions of dollars in a marijuana company, said he thought the industry was misunderstood. “If I thought it was a sin industry I would not have made the investment.”

As Oil Slips Below $50, Canada Digs In for Long Haul (WSJ)
In the escalating war of attrition among top oil-producing nations, Canada’s biggest oil-sands mines have a message for the market: Don’t look to us to cut production. Long the unloved stepchild of so-called unconventional crude production, the oil sands have lured some of the world’s top energy producers to a remote corner of Northern Alberta where the heavy oil deposits are richest. There, they have plowed billions of dollars into building up a sprawling industrial complex amid the surrounding forests.

Two New York universities make list of fastest growing Sugar Baby Schools of 2015 (NYDN)
A list of the fastest growing universities where comely coeds use Sugar Daddies to afford their tuition fees has been unveiled by the world's largest Sugar Daddy dating site — showing two New York City universities among them. New York University and Columbia University were recognized by SeekingArrangement.com this week as the third and 11th fastest growing "Sugar Baby Schools" of 2015, just behind first place's University of Texas and second place's Arizona State University. Between the two Big Apple schools, 585 students seeking a financial donor enrolled with the dating site which brands itself as "where beautiful, ambitious people graduate, debt free." It boasts an average of $3,000 per month in allowances and gifts provided to students from their so-called Sugar Daddies who are independently matched by the site’s users using online profiles. "It's a dating site just like any other," Seeking Arrangement spokesperson Brook Urick described the process to the Daily News. "Both come to it knowing what they want from a relationship. They are open and honest," she said. "So when you join the site, there is a space you can list your desired allowance." "The average debt for graduate students has more than quadrupled since 1989, which is a problem since the fastest growing careers for the coming years require these degrees," said SeekingArrangement.com's CEO and Founder, Brandon Wade. "It's not only undergraduates, but those pursuing their Masters are turning to the site."

Investors Shift Bets on Fed Rate Increase (WSJ)
Many analysts and traders say officials will be loath to increase interest rates, tightening financial conditions, when the economy is showing signs of softness. Expectations that the Fed will this year raise U.S. short-term rates for the first time since 2006 have driven a sharp rally in the dollar, as investors around the globe purchase U.S. assets in the belief that returns here will rise along with interest rates. But signs of economic softness and tumbling oil prices on Monday again sent riskier assets such as stocks lower, while investors piled into ultrasafe Treasury bonds. The yield on the benchmark 10-year U.S. note fell to 1.909%, the lowest level since May 2013.

Antonio Weiss withdraws from Treasury post consideration amid liberal backlash (Washington Times)
With liberal Democrats leading the charge against the pick, a Wall Street banker chosen by President Obama to serve in a top spot at Treasury has withdrawn from consideration, citing the “distraction” his Senate confirmation hearing would cause, White House officials said Monday. Antonio Weiss, the White House’s choice to serve as undersecretary for domestic finance, informed the president over the weekend. Mr. Weiss’s nomination sparked a fierce backlash from Mr. Obama’s own political base, progressives — led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat — who argued the former Lazard investment banker was too close to Wall Street and would have been yet another voice for the rich and powerful in Washington and at the highest levels of the Democratic administration. Instead of seeking the undersecretary for domestic finance position, Mr. Weiss will serve as counselor to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, a position that does not require Senate confirmation and one that will allow the White House to avoid a potentially embarrassing confirmation battle.

Short Sellers Bet Korean Shipyards’ Misery to Deepen (Bloomberg)
South Korean shipbuilders, last year’s biggest stock-market losers, are the most popular target for short sellers in 2015 as falling crude hurts oil-rig demand.

A Cult Following for Fed-Themed Tie Commemorating End of Stimulus (MoneyBeat)
Janet Yellen was off the Christmas list at Van Eck Global this year. The asset manager Van Eck helped the Federal Reserve chairwoman to her caricature debut on the their central bank-themed holiday ties—riding a white dove, no less. This year, the $30 billion firm cast off in a rather more literal direction. This year’s ties (and matching tote bags) show a boat called the “QE III” sailing into the sunset. The boat appears to be empty, though there are queasy waves ahead. As we reported last year, Van Eck’s ties have earned somewhat of a cult following. Prior iterations have featured “Helicopter Ben Bernanke” and a “Super Mario” version of Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank. This one, of course, is referring to the end to the third round of the Fed’s stimulus measures, called quantitative easing...As always, the ties are made by Vineyard Vines, a preppy favorite in the Northeastern financial world.

Florida Mom, 43, Facing Child Cruelty Rap For Using Teen Son As Hood Ornament (TSG)
A Florida woman is facing a child cruelty charge for allegedly using her teenage son as a hood ornament on her Mazda, police report. Tojuana Lowe, 43, was arrested Thursday morning after being spotted driving on State Road 434 near her Winter Springs home with her son “on top of the vehicle,” according to a police report. After being pulled over by a cop around 7:50 AM, Lowe claimed that her son had “jumped on her vehicle to prevent her from leaving” their residence. Lowe admitted that she drove off with the juvenile on the car, saying that, “I tried to scare him.” Lowe, pictured in the adjacent mug shot, added, “I drove off with him on the car thinking he would jump off.” Police estimate that Lowe, driving between 20 and 25 miles per hour, went about 540 yards with her child “grasping onto the hood of her vehicle.” Cops added that the state road has a “high volume of traffic flow,” and that if Lowe had gotten into an accident, her son could have been seriously injured. Lowe “admitted to me she had knowledge it was wrong for her to drive the vehicle while her son was on the top and unsecured,” a cop reported.

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Opening Bell: 10.19.12

Schapiro SEC Reign Nears End With Rescue Mission Not Done (Bloomberg) Admirers and critics agree Schapiro rescued the agency from the threat of extinction when she was appointed by President Barack Obama four years ago. Still, she hasn’t fulfilled her mission -- to overcome the SEC’s image as a failed watchdog by punishing those who steered the financial system toward disaster and by proving regulators can head off future breakdowns. “It was harder than I thought it was going to be,” Schapiro, 57, said during an interview in her office that looks out on the Capitol dome. “You have this nice little box of things you want to do all tied up with a bow, and you walk in the door and it’s very hard to keep at least one eye on that agenda while you’re dealing with the flash crashes and the new legislation and the whole range of things that happened,” she said. Morgan Stanley CEO Hints Of Commodity Arm Sale (Reuters) Morgan Stanley has an obligation to explore "different structures" for its commodities trading business because new regulations are limiting the unit's activities, Chief Executive James Gorman said on Thursday. The CEO's comments were the first time Morgan Stanley has publicly hinted at a possible sale of its multibillion-dollar oil and metals trading arm, which has been reported in the media for months. Morgan Stanley has been in discussions with OPEC member Qatar for more than a year over the sale of at least a majority stake in its energy-focused trading business, according to bankers. Speaking on a conference call with analysts after the firm reported better-than-expected quarterly results on Thursday, Gorman said changes under the U.S.' Dodd-Frank financial reform law restrict the kind of trading the firm can do in commodities. Europe Agrees On Banking Supervisor (WSJ) European leaders early Friday agreed to have a new supervisor for euro-zone banks up and running next year, a step that will pave the way for the bloc's bailout fund to pump capital directly into banks throughout the single-currency area. John Paulson Doubles Down On Housing (WSJ) Hedge-fund manager John Paulson famously made nearly $4 billion in 2007 correctly betting that the housing bubble, fueled by the subprime mortgage market, would pop. Then the billionaire investor somewhat reversed course, arguing that the housing cycle had hit a low point. "If you don't own a home, buy one," he said in a 2010 speech at the University Club in New York. "If you own one home, buy another one, and if you own two homes, buy a third and lend your relatives the money to buy a home." So far, that bet has been a loser: The Wall Street tycoon lost about $3 billion personally in 2011, according to people close to the hedge-fund manager, speculating that the economy would recover faster than it did. But through the downturn Mr. Paulson—whose net worth is estimated to be around $11 billion, according to people familiar with his situation—continued his real estate spending spree. Over the last eight years, he has spent more than $145 million on six properties, including two estates in Southampton, N.Y., two properties near Aspen, Colo., and two residences in Manhattan, where he is based, according to public records. (He later sold one of the Southampton properties, for $10 million in 2009, a year after buying a larger estate nearby). In June, Mr. Paulson snapped up a 90-acre Aspen ranch and an adjoining property from Prince Bandar bin Sultan for a total of $49 million, according to public records, one of the highest prices ever paid for property in the area. Ben Stein: Taxes Are Too Low (Mediaite) Author and economist Ben Stein joined Fox & Friends on Thursday where he stunned the hosts after he called for raising the tax rates on people making more than $2 million per year. He said that he did not think that the United States simply had a spending problem, and cited the early post-war period as an example of a time when you could have high tax rates and high growth. “I hate to say this on Fox – I hope I’ll be allowed to leave here alive – but I don’t think there is any way we can cut spending enough to make a meaningful difference,” said Stein. “We’re going to have to raise taxes on very, very rich people. People with incomes of, say, $2, $3, $4 million a year and up. And then slowly, slowly, slowly move it down. $250,000 a year, that’s not a rich person.” Stein said that the government has a spending problem, but they also have a “too low taxes problem.” “With all due respect to Fox, who I love like brothers and sisters, taxes are too low,” said Stein. “That sounds like Bowles-Simpson,” said Gretchen Carlson. “It is Bowles-Simpson,” Stein replied. Should've Left That At Home, Teacher Is Told On Jury Duty (NYT) Damian Esteban was qualified to teach students at a specialized New York City high school, and had just been deemed reasonable enough to judge a man’s fate in a murder trial. But passing through the metal detectors at a Manhattan courthouse may have been too tough a test. Mr. Esteban, 33, was arrested on Wednesday as he returned from a break in a trial in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the state Office of Court Administration, said. As Mr. Esteban, a teacher at the Williamsburg School of Architecture and Design in Brooklyn, passed through a metal detector at the courthouse, it beeped. A court officer, Laura Cannon, found the culprit to be a cigarette box in Mr. Esteban’s pocket. Upon opening the cigarette box, Ms. Cannon reported that she found a much bigger problem: 18 small bags of heroin. A Daunting To-Do List For Citigroup's New CEO (BusinessWeek) Citigroup’s largest problem may be internal. The company, analyst Richard Bove says, “is a political swamp. It’s a snake pit.” Cleansing the culture must be a priority, says Mike Mayo, an analyst at Crédit Agricole Securities. “So whether it’s the inappropriate pay for subpar performance; the lack of adequate disclosure, such as returns by business line; the failure to properly oversee the many different businesses; or the poor tone set at the top of the firm for corporate governance, they all add up to the need to improve the culture,” Mayo says. Cooling The Pits: ICE Yelling Ends (WSJ) Augustine Lauria knew his 37-year career as a floor trader was over when he got a memo from IntercontinentalExchange in late July announcing the closing of the exchange operator's last trading pits. Friday will be the last chance the 61-year-old trader will get to put on his navy-blue and yellow trading jacket and badge. It will be the final day of rough-and-tumble "open-outcry" commodities trading on the ICE-owned pits in lower Manhattan where options on cotton, coffee, cocoa, sugar and orange juice are bought and sold. "What can I do? I can count fast and yell loud," says Mr. Lauria, who boards the Staten Island Ferry before sunrise to get to work in time for the 8:10 a.m. bell. Amanda Larrivee Speaks Out about Incident at Samuel’s (ABC) Amanda Larrivee and her brother Robert Larrivee were arrested at Samuels Sports Bar Sunday for allegedly stealing TV’s from the bathroom. Now, the woman involved is speaking out about what happened that night and the “immature” remark made by her brother. The legal case against Amanda has been dropped, but a comment made by her brother is getting all the attention. He told police that the two were in the bathroom having sex. Amanda says that was not the case. “The comment was taken out of context and it’s not what it looks like,” said Larrivee...“I just want to come out and really let people know that it’s not what it looked like. It’s humiliating and the comment having sexual relations with my brother was an impulse, immature comment made by him that is not the truth,” said Larrivee. Amanda says Robert wasn’t trying to steal the TV’s, but was upset over seeing his ex-girlfriend. “He had an outburst at the time you know it turned into you know touching the TV on the wall, turned into an ugly scene,” said Larrivee. “He took the televisions down. He had no intention of stealing. He’s not walking out with two televisions,” said Attorney Jack St. Clair.

Opening Bell: 2.2.15

Ex-intern gets six-figures for ‘Screwing Wall Street’ porn; Former Maryland Banker Reveals He Used to Work for the CIA; Justice Department Investigating Moody’s Investors Service; Washington man recieves $18,000 bridge toll bill...More