S&P, SEC, Two States Agree to Roughly $80 Million Settlement (WSJ)
Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services has agreed to pay more than $77 million to settle federal and state charges that it loosened its ratings criteria to win business and did not disclose those changes to investors. The settlement announced Wednesday is with the Securities and Exchange Commission, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. Separately, S&P is still negotiating to pay more than $1.37 billion to the Justice Department and more than a dozen states to resolve claims S&P committed fraud by misrepresenting its ratings as independent and objective during the run-up to the 2008 financial crisis.
ECB Seeks to Inject Up to 1.1 Trillion Euros Into Economy in Deflation Fight (Bloomberg)
Mario Draghi called on the European Central Bank to make its biggest push yet to fend off deflation and revive the economy by unleashing a debt-buying spree of 1.1 trillion euros ($1.3 trillion). The ECB president and his Executive Board proposed spending 50 billion euros a month through December 2016, two euro-area central-bank officials said. The plan still faces a tense debate in the Governing Council and may change before the final decision on Thursday, the people said, asking not to be identified as the talks are private. An ECB spokesman declined to comment.
Druckenmiller Alums at PointState Make $1 Billion on Oil (Bloomberg)
Hedge fund manager Zach Schreiber stood on stage at Avery Fisher Hall in New York eight months ago and made a bold prediction. “We believe crude oil is going lower -- much lower,” Schreiber, 42, told the audience of roughly 3,000 investors, including some of the biggest money managers in the industry. “If you are long, I’m sorry for you.” Then he showed a slide of a car stuffed with clowns. Crude was trading at $99 a barrel that day, bolstered by speculation that Russia’s annexation of Crimea and incursions into Ukraine would crimp shipments. Prices crept up over the next weeks peaking in June at $107. Then, as Schreiber predicted, the dive began. Oil fell more than 50 percent through the end of the year as global supplies piled up, helping Schreiber’s PointState Capital make about 27 percent for the year after fees. The New York-based investment firm’s profit was about $2 billion in 2014 with about half of that from the oil trade, according to people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified because the firm is private.
Facebook study shows it’s a job creator — not a killer (NYP)
A report commissioned by Facebook claims the social network generated a whopping $227 billion worth of economic activity and 4.5 million jobs last year. The study, prepared by consulting firm Deloitte, looked at everything from businesses that maintain Facebook pages to consumers who play games on the social network. “People believe that technology creates jobs in the tech sector and destroys jobs everywhere else,” Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg told Reuters. “This report shows that’s not true.” However, critics say the study is confusing cause and effect, and assigns Facebook too much credit for a range of tangential economic activities. For instance, the study attributes 16 percent of smartphone sales to Facebook. It based that finding on a separate European survey that showed an equal number of respondents said they could not live without social media, according to WSJ.com. The study also gives credit for consumers who donated $100 million for the ALS Ice Bucket challenge, saying the social network’s auto-play video ads were a key factor, Reuters reported.
New Hampshire lotto releases bacon-scented scratch-off (UPI)
The New Hampshire Lottery announced the release of its first-ever scratch-and-sniff ticket, which is designed to give off the alluring aroma of bacon. The "I (Heart) Bacon Scratch Ticket," which sells for $1 and offers prizes of up to $1,000, was officially rolled out to stores this month, the lottery announced Monday. "The (NH) Lottery is focused on developing new and fun ways to engage customers. The I Heart Bacon scratch ticket combines two things people love: the chance to win cash and the wonderful, enticing smell of bacon," Charlie McIntyre, executive director of the New Hampshire Lottery Commission, told WMUR-TV.
Middle East Oil Producers Could See $300 Billion Export Loss (WSJ)
Oil export losses for major Middle East crude producers are likely to total $300 billion this year but large cash buffers are allowing the countries to absorb most of the impact of falling oil on their economies, the International Monetary Fund said Wednesday. Those cash reserves are why the IMF only marginally cut its economic outlook for Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Gulf Cooperation Council countries in its latest report on the region. The fund forecast the regional economy to expand by 3.4% this year, 1.1 percentage point lower than it expected last October.
Swiss Add to Russian Corporate Despair as Debt Costs Jump (Bloomberg)
The Swiss National Bank president’s surprise decision to ditch the franc cap last week swelled what Russian corporates owe through the end of next year on debt denominated in the currency by 33 billion rubles ($502 million). Since the Jan. 15 change, the extra yield investors demand to hold OAO VTB Bank’s franc notes due in May 2018 versus its dollar debt jumped 2.70 percentage points. As recently as Dec. 24, the rate was at a record discount of 2.63 percentage points.
Veronica Partridge, Christian Blogger, Vows To Give Up Yoga Pants To 'Honor God And Husband' (HP)
Christian blogger Veronica Partridge has been getting a lot of attention for a blog post earlier this month in which she vows to no longer wear leggings in public because of her religious beliefs. The decision -- which she writes weighed "heavy on her heart" for several months -- was done to inspire fewer "lustful" thoughts in men. Apparently, a discussion about the skintight garment led Partridge’s husband to confess to her that “it’s hard not to look” when he goes somewhere filled with leggings-clad women. “I try not to, but it’s not easy,” he told her, according to her to blog. The revelation that guys might be checking out Partridge’s be-spandexed bum is what led the 25-year-old to quit leggings and yoga pants — a decision she writes weighed “heavy on her heart” for several months...After spending a couple of weeks sans leggings, she writes, her “conscience is clear” and she feels she’s “honoring God and my husband in the way I dress.”