Opening Bell: 1.30.15

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Currency Tumult Stokes Big Bets (WSJ)
A surging dollar is pummeling currencies around the globe amid efforts to boost economic growth, prompting a wave of investor bets to profit from the upheaval. Many global central banks are weakening their currencies as they try to counter signs of economic gloom, signaled by falling commodity prices, declining inflation and softening growth expectations. Those shifts, together with moves such as this month’s surprise decision by the Swiss National Bank to abandon its three-year-old policy of limiting gains in the Swiss franc against the euro, have fed a jump in the price swings of currencies. These dynamics are tempting investors to make large bets on currency moves, potentially fueling further exchange-rate shifts.

Shake Shack, Born in a Park, Is Going Public With Big Dreams (Dealbook)
Conceived as a homage to the friendly Midwestern fast-food joints of Mr. Meyer’s childhood, Shake Shack has become one of the most prominent purveyors of fast-casual food. That sector, dominated by the likes of Chipotle, has fundamentally reshaped the fast-food industry with its emphasis on using fresh ingredients. In short, Americans seem willing to pay more for fast food made better, so long as they are still served quickly.

Millionaire investor exposes affair rather than make court-ordered payment (NYP)
Last July, Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Shirley Kornreich had ruled that Hugh Levey, co-founder of Gruppo, Levey & Co., owed the Virginia investment firm Pensmore the $1.3 million after he lost the money in a bad investment. But instead of coughing up the cash, Levey engaged in a drawn-out court battle that made public documents about his 12-year affair with business partner and TV talking head Claire Gruppo, according to court papers. The filings also unsealed Levey’s highly confidential net-worth statement that is part of his divorce. It shows that while Levey was cash-poor — he only had $500 in a checking account, $200 cash on hand and zero savings — he’s worth $29 million. The funds are tied up in a $15 million Fifth Avenue apartment, a $5 million Greenwich home and millions in various trusts and personal items. Levey “deliberately keeps himself cash poor in order to avoid judgments, a trick he learned in a personal bankruptcy in the 1990s,” the Pensmore suit says. Meanwhile, the 65-year-old Harvard MBA relies on his mistress, Gruppo, 61, to dole “out money to him directly and indirectly through the various trusts and entities they control together,” the suit says.

Billionaire Ken Griffin seeks trial date in divorce battle (Chicago Sun Times)
Griffin, the state’s wealthiest man, filed a brief in Cook County court Thursday seeking a definite trial date to resolve what has become a contentious divorce from his wife, Anne Dias. In the pleading, Griffin claims his wife, who is the mother of his three young children, wants $1 million a month in what is described as “allegedly ‘child-related expenses.’ ” Griffin claims the amount includes $300,000 per month for a private jet, $160,000 a month for vacation rentals, and $60,000 for an office space and professional staff — “all supposedly for the children,” according to the filing. A spokesman for Dias, who recently reverted to her maiden name, shot back: “This filing is riddled with falsehoods and just another vindictive attempt by Ken Griffin — Illinois’ richest billionaire — to punish his family and avoid his clear responsibility under Illinois law to maintain his children’s lifestyle.

Here's Why Super Bowl Ticket Prices Are Skyrocketing (Bloomberg)
"This is really something we never anticipated," said Will Flaherty, director of growth at SeatGeek. "The cheapest seat on SeatGeek right now is $8,000, but no site seems to have any inventory." Flaherty believes speculative buying is behind the spike. Ticket brokers frequently sell "air" to their customers, taking orders before they have tickets in hand. "We've noticed significantly more speculative selling activity than in recent years," Flaherty said. "Over the last few days, those sellers have been scrambling to buy up tickets to fill their orders, resulting in the Super Bowl ticket version of a short squeeze. Brokers with tickets in hand have been taking advantage of their leverage, raising prices dramatically and arbitrarily withholding some of their inventory." Ety Rybak, co-founder of the high-end brokerage Inside Sports & Entertainment Group, has spent more than anticipated this time around to fulfill orders before the game. "I can tell you some ugly horror stories about what I have had to pay. But that’s part of the business," he said. "If I sold you tickets for $2,500, and I have to pay $7,500 to do it, unfortunately that’s the world that I chose to live in." The flip side to the high costs is a brisk business in late orders.

Guys Transporting Pot Report Themselves to Idaho Police by Mistake (NewsRadio)
Eastern Idaho police say two men transporting marijuana from California to Montana called 911 while in Idaho after mistakenly believing undercover officers had discovered their secret. But police in Rexburg say they weren’t aware of the drugs until the two men called on Friday to report their location and the 20 pounds of pot worth $16,000. The Idaho State Journal reports that police arrested 21-year-old Leland Ryan Kaimipono Ayala-Doliente and 22-year-old Craig Sward Holland.

Activist Investors in Japan Find Some Doors Cracking Open (WSJ)
Aggressive investors have long faced a tough slog in Japan, where the corporate culture traditionally has favored the status quo and shunned big disruptions like split-ups or spinoffs, moves typically high on an activist investor’s wish list. But lately some activist investors, who call themselves “engagement” funds, are finding some corporate doors open to them. The receptivity, according to these investors, comes partly as companies seek to improve their use of capital and relations with shareholders, both important elements of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ’s recent drive to revitalize the corporate sector to restore growth.

Goldman Set to Be Largest Dow Member After Visa Stock Split (Bloomberg)
Goldman Sachs Group Inc. is poised to become the most heavily weighted component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average after Visa Inc. completes a 4-for-1 stock split. The Dow, which was created in 1896 by Dow Jones & Co. co-founder Charles H. Dow, is weighted based on the share prices of the 30 companies in the average. Visa, which closed today at $248 a share, announced the stock split Thursday when it reported fiscal first-quarter results. The split will take effect March 19, Foster City, California-based Visa said in a statement. Shares of New York-based Goldman Sachs climbed 1.7 percent to end the day at $175.99. The next biggest Dow components based on today’s close are 3M Co. and International Business Machines Corp.

Oil’s fall pushes Germany into deflation (FT)
Germany’s Federal Statistics Office said on Thursday it expected harmonised consumer prices, calculated to fit with the broader eurozone calculation, to decline 0.5 per cent in the year to January — a fall from a rise in costs of 0.1 per cent in the year to December. The plunge was almost entirely down to the collapse in oil prices, with energy costs falling 9 per cent over the 12 months. The last time prices fell in the eurozone’s largest economy was in September 2009 and the latest dip all but confirms that deflation across the currency area worsened in January.

Greece’s Feisty Finance Minister Tries a More Moderate Message (Dealbook)
In the first days after the election victory of the leftist party Syriza in Greece, Yanis Varoufakis, the new finance minister, has lobbed some rhetorical grenades, referring to his country’s foreign-imposed austerity budgets as “fiscal waterboarding” and calling Greece’s international bailout deals “a toxic mistake.” Now, needing to make good on promises to negotiate debt relief for his beleaguered nation, he seems eager to send a more moderate message. During an interview on Thursday morning in his office, Mr. Varoufakis, 53, poured a cup of coffee and took a large swallow. It had been a late night. On Wednesday, the day after he was sworn in, the Athens Stock Exchange had plunged on concerns that the Syriza-led government might wage a battle with Greece’s international creditors, and he had stayed up to monitor developments. In his view, the markets, as well as leaders in some national capitals, overreacted to the perceived threat from Syriza. The party swept to power Sunday on promises to reject the belt-tightening policies — a condition of 240 billion euros, or about $272 billion in international bailout loans — that have stifled the Greek economy. “People have described this as a Wild West showdown,” he said, sighing in frustration, “but it is not a ‘yes or no, take it or leave it’ situation.”

Man blames ‘vindaloo curry and too many pints’ after defecating on club dancefloor (Metro UK)
The 36-year-old was heavily intoxicated when he squatted down and defecated at Bubbles nightclub on Tangier Street, Whitehaven, on Saturday night...the man later took to social media to apologise for his behaviour, writing on his Facebook profile page that ‘a vindaloo curry and too many pints’ were responsible for the incident, the Whitehaven News reports. ‘We are not pressing charges as a public apology has been given and compensation to the person who had to clean up the mess has been sorted,’ Angela Walker, co-director of the club, told the paper.

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Opening Bell: 04.02.12

Greece Faces Bond-Swap Holdouts (WSJ) The majority of investors holding foreign law Greek bonds haven't yet been included in the country's debt-swap deal as they have rejected or failed to agree to the exchange, said the country's debt agency Monday, setting a new deadline for the offer. Financiers and Sex Trafficking (NYT) "THE biggest forum for sex trafficking of under-age girls in the United States appears to be a Web site called Backpage.com. This emporium for girls and women — some under age or forced into prostitution — is in turn owned by an opaque private company called Village Voice Media. Until now it has been unclear who the ultimate owners are. That mystery is solved. The owners turn out to include private equity financiers, including Goldman Sachs with a 16 percent stake. Goldman Sachs was mortified when I began inquiring last week about its stake in America’s leading Web site for prostitution ads. It began working frantically to unload its shares, and on Friday afternoon it called to say that it had just signed an agreement to sell its stake to management. 'We had no influence over operations,' Andrea Raphael, a Goldman Sachs spokeswoman, told me." Bond King's Trade Pays Off (WSJ) After suffering one of his worst performances ever in 2011, over the past three months, Bill Gross, manager of Pacific Investment Management Co.'s Total Return Fund, rode an aggressive bet on mortgage bonds to beat most of the fund's rivals and the index against which bond-fund managers measure themselves. Mr. Gross's fund, the world's biggest bond fund with $252 billion in assets, recorded a 2.88% return in the three months through March. The performance beat the benchmark Barclays Capital Aggregate Bond Index by 2.58 percentage points, ranking in the top 11% of all bond mutual funds for the quarter, according to investment-research firm Morningstar Inc. In Wake of Groupon Issues, Critics Wary of JOBS Act (WSJ) A little-noticed provision in the new JOBS Act would allow companies to iron out disagreements with regulators behind closed doors before they go public—a provision that might have prevented investors from finding out about Groupon Inc.'s early accounting questions until after they had been resolved...Critics say that measure would allow a company like Groupon, which had well-publicized disagreements with the SEC over its accounting last year, to resolve such issues under the radar, without investors learning of them until later although still before any IPO. Goldman Eyes $3 Billion Property Debt Fund (Reuters) A private equity arm of Goldman Sachs is looking to launch a $3 billion property debt fund in a bid to take advantage of a growing shortage of real estate financing across the UK and Europe...Real Estate Principal Investment Area (REPIA) is exploring options to create a fund that would provide senior and mezzanine loans to property investors, and will target property lending that is riskier but which would offer higher potential returns. Md. woman won't share $105M lotto jackpot with McD's co-workers (NYP) Workers at the fast-food joint who pooled their cash for tickets are furious at a colleague who claims she won with a ticket she bought for herself and has no intention of sharing. “We had a group plan, but I went and played by myself. [The ‘winning’ ticket] wasn’t on the group plan,” McDonald’s “winner’’ Mirlande Wilson 37, told The Post yesterday, insisting she alone bought one of the three tickets nationwide that will split a record $656 million payout...[On Saturday], a delirious Wilson had called co-workers to break the news — tellingly used the first-person singular. “I won! I won!” she cried, Allen said. Another colleague, Davon Wilson, no relation, said he was there when Mirlande Wilson called. “She said, ‘Turn on the news.’ She said she had won. I thought it was a joke or something. She doesn’t seem like a person who’d do this,” he said. Allan said he and Layla went to Wilson’s home and pounded on the door for 20 minutes until she finally came out. “These people are going to kill you. It’s not worth your life!” Allen said he told her. “All right! All right! I’ll share, but I can’t find the ticket right now,” she finally said, according to Allen. Resistance to austerity stirs in southern Europe (Reuters) An unexpectedly broad general strike in Spain on Thursday and mounting opposition to Prime Minister Mario Monti in Italy are among indicators that resistance is growing in a region at the center of concerns about a resurgence of the euro zone debt crisis. Biggest Bond Traders See Worst Over for Treasuries (Bloomberg) Signs of strength in the economy, which caused a 5.56 percent loss in bonds maturing in 10 years or more last quarter, may fade in the second half of 2012, the dealers say. Tax cuts are expiring, $1 trillion of mandatory federal budget cuts are due to kick in and $100-a-barrel oil is eating into consumer spending. With inflation in check, Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said last week that the central bank will consider further stimulus, even after upgrading its economic outlook March 13. Marc Faber: "Massive Wealth Destruction Is About To Hit Investors" (CNBC) FYI. Twitter takes Connecticut official's April Fools' Day joke to the public (NHR) It all started with a tweet at 5:30 a.m. Sunday, from state government official Mike Lawlor: “Rep. Dargan in hospital following accident.” By 11 a.m., news organizations statewide, including the NewHaven Register, were retweeting the “news” and calling officials to confirm details of the accident. After all, it was assumed, it must be accurate if the tweet came from the highly respected Lawlor, a former longtime state representative and now the state’s undersecretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning. But no... Dargan was reached by phone and confirmed he was fine and did not have an accident. “I am fine. Lawlor must have tweeted it.

Opening Bell: 12.15.15

Big bankers ditch Wall Street for fintech; Bond investors are freaking out; Bill Gross says chill; New startup wants you to bet $10k on your marriage lasting; and more.

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Opening Bell: 7.17.17

Nelson Peltz wants a seat at P&G; France isn't being very laissez-faire about Brexit; Ayn Rand might not be the best management guru; and more.