Opening Bell: 1.29.15

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Rebellion at Standard Chartered as Senior Staff Push for New Leadership (WSJ)
Standard Chartered’s two largest shareholders, which collectively control 28% of the bank’s stock, are privately pushing for new leadership, say people familiar with the matter. Customers and regulators recently have told Standard Chartered executives and board members that they are increasingly anxious about the bank’s problems, people familiar with those discussions say. Compounding the problem, some senior executives are privately blunt about their desire for Mr. Sands to be pushed out by the board, leaving him with diminished support within the organization.

Alibaba Revenue Misses Estimates, Shares Tumble 8% in Pre-Market (Bloomberg)
Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. revenue missed estimates as the e-commerce giant’s push into mobile curbed its advertising sales growth. The shares fell. Revenue was 26.2 billion yuan ($4.2 billion) in the third quarter, compared with the 27.6 billion-yuan average of 25 analyst estimates. Ads on mobile phones generate less money than on desktop computers because of smaller screens, and transactions on the Tmall platform grew at a slower pace, the Hangzhou-based company said Thursday.

Blackstone's Results Exceed Expectations (WSJ)
The New York firm reported a fourth-quarter profit of $551 million, or 90 cents a share, down from $621 million, or $1.05 a share, in the same period a year earlier. Blackstone’s fourth-quarter economic net income was $1.45 billion, or $1.25 a share, down from $1.54 billion, or $1.35 a share, a year earlier. Still, the result topped Wall Street’s estimates for the profitability measure, which includes unrealized gains as well as cash earnings. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters anticipated economic net income of 92 cents a share.

London gallery transformed into ball pit for adults (UPI)
A London design firm is promoting "the transformative power of play" by converting its gallery into an adults-only ball pit. The Pearlfisher Gallery said its Jump In installation contains 81,000 white balls and adult members of the public are being invited to "join us in an immersive winter art installation like no other." "Jump In! for an experience that promises to be a seasonal creative recharge," the firm said.

Deutsche Bank Posts a Profit, Upending Predictions of a Loss (Dealbook)
Deutsche Bank, the largest German bank, said on Thursday that it returned to profit in the fourth quarter of 2014, as revenue in the investment banking unit rose and the bank set aside less money to cover legal problems. Shares of Deutsche Bank rose 2.5 percent after it reported a fourth-quarter net profit of 441 million euros, or about $500 million, after a loss of €1.4 billion in the period a year earlier. Analysts polled by Reuters had forecast a loss for the latest quarter. Although the earnings were better than expected, Deutsche Bank managers acknowledged they were still far from meeting their goals.

Jobless Claims Fall To Lowest Levels Since 2000 (WSJ)
Initial jobless claims decreased by 43,000 to a seasonally adjusted 265,000 in the week ended Jan. 24, the Labor Department said Thursday. That was the lowest level since April 2000. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had expected 300,000 new claims.

Latest blows at headhunter CTPartners (NYP)
CTPartners, the Wall Street headhunting firm accused by former employees of sexual discrimination, lowered its profit guidance for the fourth quarter and all of 2014 late Wednesday because of an added $1.7 million in bonuses. The company, whose shares have fallen 48 percent in the past six months, also is withdrawing its earnings guidance for the first quarter and full-year 2015, it said in a statement.

Man Accused Of Urinating On Waitress (HP)
A waitress in Key West, Florida has a real reason to be pissed after a man allegedly urinated on her from a bar balcony early Saturday morning. Tia Cruz, 26, was talking with a customer at a bar called Rick's when she felt something wet on her body, according to The Smoking Gun. A fellow employee broke the news that what she thought was a few drops of tropical rain was actually a man urinating on her from a balcony above her. The alleged urinator, Orion Jones, 20, was chased throughout the bar complex by security personnel, KeysNet.com reports. When officers arrived, Jones was fighting bouncers on the ground.

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Opening Bell: 01.16.13

Goldman Profit Soars (WSJ) "While economic conditions remained challenging for much of last year, the strengths of our business model and client franchise, coupled with our focus on disciplined management, delivered solid performance for our shareholders," Chief Executive Lloyd C. Blankfein said. Overall, the investment-banking arm recorded revenue of $1.41 billion for the quarter, up from $857 million a year ago and $1.16 billion in the third quarter. Financial advisory revenue rose 8.1% from year ago. Debt underwriting revenue surged to $593 million from $196 million in the year ago and the $466 million reported in the third quarter. Equity underwriting revenue popped 59% from the year ago and 61% from the prior quarter to $304 million. Revenue from fixed income, currency and commodity trading totaled $2.04 billion, versus $1.36 billion a year earlier and $2.22 billion in the third quarter. Revenue from equities execution rose 45% from a year ago to $764 million but fell 10% from the third quarter. Overall profit for the fourth quarter totaled $2.89 billion, compared with a year-earlier profit of $1.01 billion. Earnings per share, reflecting the payment of preferred dividends, jumped to $5.60 from $1.84. Net revenue, including net interest income, surged 53% to $9.24 billion. JPMorgan Profit Tops Estimates (WSJ) JPMorgan's fourth-quarter earnings surged 53% on strong revenue and better credit, as the bank further detailed the fallout from more than $6 billion in trading losses last year. The outsized, complex trades on credit default swaps tied to corporate bonds became known as the "London Whale." On Wednesday, the bank made public an internal report outlining mistakes and oversights by executives who played a role in the matter, including Chief Investment Officer Ina Drew, who has since left the bank, and Douglas Braunstein, who was chief financial officer during the episode and has since become a vice chairman. It also said its Treasury and Chief Investment Office, where the "Whale" trades were made, recorded a loss of $157 million on the fourth quarter, compared to net income of $417 million in the year ago. J.P. Morgan also said it halved the 2012 compensation of Chief Executive James Dimon to $11.5 million. Additionally, he will have to wait up to another 18 months before he can start exercising two million options that were awarded to him five years ago. Overall, J.P. Morgan reported a profit of $5.69 billion, or $1.39 a share, for the fourth quarter, up from $3.73 billion, or 90 cents a share, a year ago. Bankers Get IOUs Instead Of Bonus Cash (WSJ) Several thousand Morgan Stanley traders, investment bankers and other employees will get IOUs instead of cash when bonus day arrives Thursday, a fundamental change in Wall Street pay triggered by the financial crisis. The New York company will pay its bonuses in four equal installments, according to people briefed on the plan, with the first chunk coming in May and the last in January 2016. Employees who quit or are laid off before the payments stand to lose their deferred compensation unless they negotiate a separate deal with the company. "I don't think there will be a lot of cheers on the trading floors of Morgan Stanley," said Mark Williams, a former Federal Reserve bank examiner who now teaches at Boston University. "Bonuses were used to buy houses and cars. They were savings vehicles." AIG Seeks Approval To File More Bank Suits (NYT) Since the summer of 2011, the insurance giant American International Group has been battling Bank of America over claims that the bank packaged and sold it defective mortgages that dealt A.I.G. billions of dollars in losses. Now A.I.G. wants to be able to sue other banks that sold it mortgage-backed securities that plunged in value during the financial crisis. It has not said which banks, but possibilities include Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase. But to sue, A.I.G. first must win a court fight with an entity controlled by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which the insurer says is blocking its efforts to pursue the banks that caused it financial harm. Hungary Attacks Roubini Over Currency 'Advice' (CNBC) Hungary's Ministry for National Economy said in a statement that the forint began to depreciate after economist Nouriel Roubini – dubbed Dr Doom for his pessimistic forecasts – said in a newsletter that failure to secure a deal with the International Monetary Fund was bad news for the currency. The forint has been in decline since last week hitting seven-month lows earlier this week but has since gained some ground. Hungarian officials rounded on Roubini saying; "On Thursday speculators seem to have taken Roubini's advice and attacked the forint." BofA Takes A Mortgage Mulligan (WSJ) Less than two years after embarking on a painful retreat from home lending, Bank of America Corp. is girding for a new run at the U.S. mortgage business. Whether that gamble pays off will depend in large measure on how long the mortgage market's run of record profits continues. The Charlotte, N.C., company aims to sell more mortgages through its 5,000-plus branches, executives said. The fourth-biggest U.S. mortgage lender, after Wells Fargo & Co., J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and U.S. Bancorp, is intent on "growing that business," Chief Executive Brian Moynihan said at a December investor conference. Eurozone Plan May Be Watered Down (WSJ) One of the euro zone's most significant commitments last year aimed at containing its financial crisis—a plan to allow the bloc's bailout fund to directly boost the capital of banks in countries facing debt troubles—could be undermined by technical complications and second thoughts by some governments. Germany Repatriates Gold Reserves (WSJ) Germany's central bank said it would remove nearly a fifth of its total gold reserves from deposits at the New York Federal Reserve Bank and the Bank of France and bring them back to Germany, amid a debate in the country over the transparency of its global gold holdings. Inside Trader Sent To Kinnu-can (NYP) John Kinnucan, the former head of Portland, Ore.-based firm Broadband Research, was sentenced to four years and three months in prison after admitting to feeding illegal stock tips to his well-heeled hedge fund clients. Reporter fired for secret stripping job gets new journalism gig with same (NYDN) Tressler, 30, is now a reporter for the San Antonio Express-News, covering “cops, crime and general mayhem,” according to her Twitter account. In April, the gorgeous Tressler was fired from her job as a society reporter for the Houston Chronicle for failing to tell the newspaper about her after-hours gig as a stripper, which she chronicled in her blog, “Diary of an Angry Stripper.” Tressler then sued her former employer's parent company, the Hearst Corp., which also owns the Express-News, alleging that the firing was unfair. She hired celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred and filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, saying the paper’s reason for firing her -- failing to write on her application that she had been working part-time as a stripper -- was ridiculous. "I've worked at KB Toys. I've worked at a surf shop. I've worked at multiple coffee shops. I've worked at Taco Bell. I've worked as a line cook at a restaurant," Tressler told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in June. “Do you really want me to put every single one of those on my job application?" Over the summer, Tressler embarked on a national stripping tour and pushed a book, which shared the same title as her blog. She also picked up some freelance assignments for “Good Morning America.” After the suit and the tour, it seemed unlikely Tressler would re-enter Texas journalism, let alone for a newspaper owned by the same parent company that fired her. Some have suspected that her new job was part of a settlement she reached with the company.

Opening Bell: 01.17.13

Charges Weigh On Bank Of America's Profit (WSJ) Overall, Bank of America reported a profit of $732 million versus a profit of $1.99 billion a year earlier. On a per-share basis, which includes the payment of preferred dividends, the bank reported earnings of three cents versus 15 cents a year earlier. The most recent period included a per-share impact of 16 cents from the Fannie Mae settlement, a six cent impact from the foreclosure review and litigation expense of five cents a share, among other items. Revenue dropped 25% to $18.66 billion as noninterest income fell 41%. Excluding $700 million of debit valuation and fair value option adjustments, and $3 billion for the cost of $3 billion, revenue was $22.6 billion. Citigroup Earnings Miss Analysts’ Estimates on Litigation (Bloomberg) Net income climbed 25 percent to $1.2 billion in the fourth quarter, or 38 cents a share, from $956 million, or 31 cents, a year earlier, the New York-based lender said today in a statement. Earnings adjusted for one-time items including restructuring costs were 69 cents a share. Twenty-one analysts surveyed by Bloomberg estimated 96 cents on average, with some items Citigroup didn’t include. Chief Executive Officer Michael Corbat, 52, took over in October and last month announced plans to eliminate about 11,000 employees and pull back from some emerging markets, undoing part of the expansion strategy of his predecessor, Vikram Pandit. Litigation costs included $305 million from a settlement between U.S. banks and federal regulators, who were probing claims that lenders improperly seized homes. Goldman Profits By Going On Offensive (WSJ) The value of Goldman Sachs's investment portfolio doubled last year. Bond underwriting hit a five-year high. The firm's workforce shrank and remaining employees were paid a smaller chunk of overall revenue. Those were just some of the ingredients in a bigger-than-expected profit jump by the New York company, which said net income almost tripled to $2.83 billion in the fourth quarter from $1.01 billion a year earlier. Wednesday's results were packed with evidence of Goldman's discipline in cutting costs, taking less risk with its own money and riding out financial crises in the U.S. and then Europe. Goldman Agonized Over Pay Cuts as Profits Suffered (Reuters) Top executives at Goldman Sachs have been considering deep cuts to staffing levels and pay for at least two years, but feared too many layoffs would leave the firm unprepared for an eventual pickup in business, people familiar with the bank said. They instead chipped away at staff levels and focused on non-personnel expenses that are less painful to cut. But investors pressured the bank to cut costs further, the sources said, and on Wednesday, Goldman gave in. The largest standalone investment bank said in the fourth quarter it cut the percentage of revenues it pays to employees in half to 21 percent. That brings the ratio for the entire year to its second-lowest level since the bank went public in 1999. Fed Concerned About Overheated Markets Amid Record Bond-Buying (Bloomberg) Now, as central bankers boost their stimulus with additional bond purchases, policy makers from Chairman Ben S. Bernanke to Kansas City Fed President Esther George are on the lookout for financial distortions that may reverse abruptly when the Fed stops adding to its portfolio and eventually shrinks it. “Prices of assets such as bonds, agricultural land, and high-yield and leveraged loans are at historically high levels,” George said in a speech last week. “We must not ignore the possibility that the low-interest rate policy may be creating incentives that lead to future financial imbalances.” Estonian president’s Twitter fight with Paul Krugman becomes an opera (RS) A Twitter feud in June between the Estonian president and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman who questioned the impact of Estonia’s austerity measures, is being turned into an opera, US composer Eugene Birman told AFP on Wednesday. “Our short opera will be first performed by Iris Oja and the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra conducted by Risto Joost during Tallinn Music Week on April 7,” Birman, who moved from Riga to the US at age of six, told AFP. The piece, in two movements, uses two voices, those of Krugman and Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, reflecting their exchanges on the Twitter social network...The bow-tie loving Ilves went on a tweet-rant after Krugman, the winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize for Economics, argued in a short article entitled “Estonian Rhapsody” that while Estonia had been globally praised for its austerity measures, its recovery was in fact lukewarm. “Let’s write about something we know nothing about & be smug, overbearing & patronizing…Guess a Nobel in trade means you can pontificate on fiscal matters & declare my country a ‘wasteland,’” Ilves responded on his page on the on the micro-blogging site Twitter. “But yes, what do we know? We’re just dumb and silly East Europeans,” he added, before writing in his final tweet, “Let’s sh*t on East Europeans.” Deutsche Bank Derivative Helped Monte Paschi Mask Losses (Bloomberg) Deutsche Bank designed a derivative for Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena SpA at the height of the financial crisis that obscured losses at the world’s oldest lender before it sought a taxpayer bailout. Germany’s largest bank loaned Monte Paschi about 1.5 billion euros ($2 billion) in December 2008 through the transaction, dubbed Project Santorini, according to more than 70 pages of documents outlining the deal and obtained by Bloomberg News. The trade helped Monte Paschi mitigate a 367 million-euro loss from an older derivative contract with Deutsche Bank. As part of the arrangement, the Italian lender made a losing bet on the value of the country’s government bonds, said six derivatives specialists who reviewed the files. BlackRock Net Jumps 24% (WSJ) The company said net inflows in long-term products totaled $47 billion at the year's end, reflecting equity, fixed income and multiasset class product net inflows of $31.2 billion, $12.4 billion and $4.1 billion, respectively. The net inflows were partially offset by alternatives net outflows of $700 million. Total assets under management were $3.792 trillion as of the end of the fourth quarter, versus $3.513 trillion a year earlier and $3.673 trillion in the third quarter. Jobless Claims Drop To 5-Year Low (Reuters) Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell 37,000 to a seasonally adjusted 335,000, the lowest level since January 2008, the Labor Department said on Thursday. It was the largest weekly drop since February 2010. Khuzami defends corp. settlements (NYP) Robert Khuzami, the Securities and Exchange Commission’s enforcement chief, is on his way out the door — but he says in an interview with The Post that the agency’s much-maligned practice of settling cases is here to stay. Khuzami, 56, defended the SEC’s policy of allowing targets to settle cases — usually without an admission of wrongdoing — despite recent criticism. “There are certain myths about SEC practices, including how ‘neither admit nor deny’ works and why we use it,” said Khuzami, who is leaving his post after heading the agency’s crackdown on big banks following the financial crisis. “I speak out against these myths in the hope of reducing the level of cynicism felt by the public, which are often fueled by mischaracterizations or misunderstandings of how we operate.” Commissioners approve regulations governing sexy coffee stands (Kitsap Sun) Owners of adult-themed coffee stands in unincorporated Kitsap County will have to post signs warning would-be customers about their scantily-clad baristas, and they'll have to do more to protect passers-by from seeing into their businesses. That's according to an ordinance passed Monday in a unanimous vote of the Kitsap County commissioners. The stands have 60 days to comply with the changes, which include a site visit by county planning staff to check the signs are posted and additional screening is added...The ordinance requires adult espresso stands — the three existing stands and any new ones — to install an 8-foot-high fence or landscape buffer, approved by the county Department of Community Development, in front of windows that face the street or other businesses, blocking views by the public. Businesses also must receive a one-time certification from DCD to guarantee the regulations are met. A boiling point was hit more than a year ago when five stands — three of them within a half-mile stretch of Highway 303 — advertised employees in pasties and lingerie. Unhappy parents demanded commissioners regulate the businesses. The health department doesn't require clothing, instead it looks at whether employees have food handler permits, said Department of Community Development associate planner Heather Adams. The state Department of Labor and Industries also has no rules dictating required clothing at coffee stands, Adams said.

Opening Bell: 01.31.13

Deutsche Bank Swings To A $2.9 Billion Loss (WSJ) In the fourth quarter alone, the bank took €2.9 billion in charges, €1 billion of which was for "litigation-related charges." Mr. Jain said the charges "relate to developments in regulatory investigations and adverse court rulings which you are all familiar with," but didn't elaborate further. Deutsche Bank is currently embroiled in a number of legal disputes on both sides of the Atlantic, including the decade-long legal battle in the 2002 bankruptcy of Germany's Kirch Media Group. It is also among the banks that are under official investigation for allegedly rigging interbank benchmark rates, including the London Interbank Offered Rate. The rest of the quarter's charges were mainly related to losses from businesses bought before 2003, such as Bankers Trust and Scudder in the U.S., and impairments related to its investment in the Cosmopolitan Resort in Las Vegas and Maher Terminals in North America, which it put into an internal bad bank. The quarter's net loss of €2.17 billion compares with a profit of €147 million a year earlier. For the full year, net profit was €611 million, down from €4.13 billion. Deutsche Bank Beats Capital Goal as Jain Shrugs Off Loss (Bloomberg) “We’ve galvanized Deutsche Bank around the achievement of our capital targets,” Jain, 50, said on a conference call with analysts. The loss “reflects a number of decisions we took to position Deutsche Bank,” he said. Barclays, RBS May Pay Billions Over Improper Derivatives Sales (Bloomberg) The lenders, including Lloyds Banking Group Plc and HSBC Holdings Plc, have set aside around 740 million pounds to cover the claims. Analysts say the total charges for the industry may be much higher than that after the Financial Services Authority said it found “serious failings” in reviews of product sales. SAC And Elan Blasted By Investor Who Lost Nest Egg (NYP) Ronald Weiland realized he’d made a bad bet in 2008, when he lost his $1 million nest egg trading shares of drug company Elan. What he didn’t know then was that the cards were stacked against him. Weiland now believes that he and other investors were played by Steve Cohen’s SAC Capital Advisors when the hedge fund giant — acting on information from a former trader accused of insider trading — abruptly dumped its huge long position in Elan and Wyeth and started shorting both stocks. “They had information that I didn’t have access to,” said Weiland, a 53-year-old former consultant for Arthur Andersen. “It’s totally a matter of seeing very wealthy people being able to game the system.” The big trading swing that netted $276 million for SAC and led to the arrest of former trader Mathew Martoma has also landed the firm in hot water. Elan investors have filed at least two lawsuits against SAC, accusing the firm of costing them millions, and several class-action law firms are looking to tee up more. US Targeting Tax Evasion (WSJ) On Monday, a federal judge in New York approved an Internal Revenue Service summons demanding still more records from UBS. According to court filings, the government now is focusing on U.S. taxpayers with accounts at smaller Swiss banks that didn't have U.S. branches but served customers through a UBS account in Stamford, Conn. Interactive Map: What NYC Neighborhoods Have The Most Public Drinking Complaints? (Gothamist) Greenpoint, Williamsburg, the Lower East Side, Hamilton Heights, East Harlem and Washington Heights are the worst offenders—on the other hand, almost no one is getting in trouble in Midtown, the Financial District, Red Hook, Dumbo, and the Upper East and West Sides. Since we already know there can be a a historical correlation between public drinking and public urinating (and sometimes only the urinating part is public), we decided to look at public urination complaints too...Some conclusions from this comparison: Midtown East and Chelsea have way more urination complaints than drinking ones. Union Square, Greenpoint and Randalls Island are also urinary offenders. It seems like nobody on Staten Island cares about people urinating on their lawns, and same goes for anywhere west of East Flushing. Blackstone Swings To Fourth Quarter Profit (WSJ) As of the quarter's end, total assets under management reached a record $210.22 billion, up 26% from the year earlier, as all of Blackstone's investment businesses continued to see net inflows and carrying-value appreciation...Blackstone posted a profit of $106.4 million, or 19 cents a unit, compared with a year-earlier loss of $22.7 million, or five cents a unit. On the basis of so-called economic net income, the firm reported a profit of 59 cents a unit, versus a profit of 42 cents a unit a year earlier. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters recently expected a per-share profit of 47 cents. Ackman Ahead In Herbalife Bet (NYP) Ackman has scored a gross profit of about $260 million on his $1 billion short bet against the nutritional supplements company, based on an estimated 20 million shares shorted at an average price of $50. Loeb, who bought 8.9 million shares at an average price of $32, is up $44.5 million. Ackman has widened his lead considerably. Just two weeks ago, his gross gain stood closer to $120 million while Loeb had made an estimated $108 million. Threats Cloud Euro's Flight (WSJ) The euro, once on death's door, is on a monthslong tear, rising Wednesday to its highest level since November 2011. But even some investors who helped propel the currency above $1.3560 Wednesday say it can't fly much further. Europe's economy is still in the doldrums, they say, and a stronger euro could make the situation worse. And with central banks elsewhere racing to push down their own currencies, boosting the relative value of the euro, the European Central Bank eventually could be compelled to join them. Jobless Claims in U.S. Rose 38,000 Last Week to 368,000 (Bloomberg) Economists forecast 350,000 filings, according to the Bloomberg survey median. The increase followed a combined 45,000 drop in the prior two weeks. Guy Inadvertently Posts Public YouTube Video Inviting His Fiancée’s Best Friend Over for a Threeway (Gawker) We've all been there. You're super excited after getting the go ahead from your fiancée Cynthia to invite her best friend Zoey over for a threeway, so you hastily record a video introducing yourself to Zoey and letting her know that you're totally open to having a threeway this week, next week, the week after that, whenever, anytime, today, or maybe tomorrow, whenever possible, and you're just really excited to show her things that she's never seen and do things that were never done before in a threeway. Then you hastily upload the video to your public YouTube account that 300 people are subscribed to, and await your threeway.