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.

Related

Opening Bell: 6.19.15

No deal for Greece; Elliott eyes Asia's family-run firms; State Street gets Wells notice; Man literally gives ex-wife half of everything they owned (because he sawed all their belongings in half); and more.

Opening Bell: 02.04.13

UK Regulators Could Split Banks (WSJ) U.K. Treasury chief George Osborne on Monday will announce new powers for regulators to split up banks that flout rules designed to ring-fence retail banking from riskier investment-banking activity. In a wide-ranging speech on banking in Bournemouth, England, Mr. Osborne is expected to say the new powers are needed so that taxpayers will never again be on the hook when banks fail, as they were during the financial crisis. "We're not going to repeat the mistakes of the past. In America and elsewhere, banks found ways to undermine and get around the rules," Mr. Osborne will say, according to the extracts of his speech. "We could see that again—so we are going to arm ourselves in advance. In the jargon, we will "electrify the ring fence." New Details Suggest a Defense in SAC Case (NYT) In bringing its charges, the government said that SAC not only sold out of its position, but also bet against — or shorted — the drug companies' stocks before the public announcement of the bad news. The SAC short position, according to prosecutors, allowed it to earn big profits after shares of the companies, Elan and Wyeth, plummeted. "The fund didn't merely avoid losses, it greedily schemed to profit further by shorting Elan and Wyeth stock," said April Brooks, a senior F.B.I. official in New York, during a press conference on Nov. 20, the day Mr. Martoma was arrested. Internal SAC trading records, according to people directly involved in the case, indicate that the hedge fund did not have a negative bet in place in advance of the announcement of the drug trial's disappointing results. Instead, the records indicated that SAC, through a series of trades, including a complex transaction known as an equity swap, had virtually no exposure — neither long nor short — heading into the disclosure of the drug data. Blackstone To Become Investment Bank? (FT) Blackstone, one of the world's largest alternative asset managers, has quietly secured a securities underwriting licence as its expanding capital markets operation strays into investment banking territory. The licence marks the latest stage in the transformation of big listed private equity groups as they become more broadly based alternative asset managers. Apollo and KKR , two of Blackstone's biggest rivals, also have securities underwriting licences. The move highlights the pressure listed private equity groups are under to generate new sources of fee income to satisfy their public shareholders. "The private equity business is lousy for shareholders," says the head of capital markets for one buyout firm that is not listed. Obama: more tax revenue needed to address deficit (Reuters) President Barack Obama said on Sunday more tax revenue would be needed to reduce the U.S. deficit and signaled he would push hard to get rid of loopholes such as the "carried interest" tax break enjoyed by private equity and hedge fund managers. Herbalife Is The Subject Of 'Pending' Probe (NYP) The Los Angeles-based distributor of nutritional products is the subject of a law enforcement investigation, The Post has learned. The existence of the probe emerged after the Federal Trade Commission, responding to a Freedom of Information Law request by The Post, released 192 complaints filed against Herbalife over the past seven years. New Orleans Braces From Fallout From Blackout (AP) The outage, blamed on an unspecified "abnormality" in the Superdome's power system, was an embarrassment for New Orleans, which was hosting its first Super Bowl since 2002 and was eager to show off how it has been rebuilt since Hurricane Katrina. Mayor Mitch Landrieu called Sunday night's outage "an unfortunate moment in what has been an otherwise shining Super Bowl week for the city of New Orleans." He said he expected to receive "a full after-action report from all parties involved" in the coming days...For 34 minutes, the players tried to stay loose, the fans milled about in darkened corridors, and stadium officials scrambled to figure out what went wrong. The Ravens barely hung on for a 34-31 victory over the San Francisco 49ers, needing a goal-line stand in the closing minutes to preserve the championship. "It really hurt us," Baltimore fullback Vonta Leach said. "We had lot of momentum." There is sure to be some fallout for the city and the Superdome — especially since New Orleans plans to bid for the title game in 2018, in conjunction with the 300th anniversary of its founding. Escalators stopped working and credit-card machines shut down, though auxiliary power kept the playing field and concourses from going totally dark. "We sincerely apologize for the incident," Superdome spokesman Eric Eagan said. Most fans seemed to take the outage in stride, even starting up the wave to pass the time. "So we had to spend 30 minutes in the dark? That was just more time for fans to refill their drinks," said Amanda Black of Columbus, Miss. Question of Aiding Cyprus Places Germany in a Bind (NYT) In recent days, Germany has signaled that it is reluctantly edging toward a bailout for Cyprus, a haven for Russian cash, after lifelines have been extended to Greece, Ireland and Portugal to prevent potentially calamitous defaults. While Cyprus makes up just a sliver of the euro zone economy, it is proving to be a first-rate political headache. "I don't think that Germany has ever in the history of the euro zone crisis left itself so little wiggle room," said Nicholas Spiro, the managing director of Spiro Sovereign Strategy in London. "But Germany wants the euro to succeed and survive, and they are saying we can't afford a Cyprus bankruptcy." BlackRock Sued by Funds Over Securities Lending Fees (Bloomberg) BlackRock is accused in a lawsuit by two pension funds of reaping “grossly excessive” compensation from securities- lending returns associated with iShares Inc. “Defendants have systematically violated their fiduciary duties, setting up an excessive fee structure designed to loot securities lending returns properly due to iShares investors,” the funds, which invest in iShares, said in a complaint in federal court in Nashville, Tennessee. Two Top Barclays Executives Resign (WSJ) Barclays, whose chairman, chief executive and chief operating officer all resigned last summer in the wake of a series of controversies, said Sunday evening that finance chief Chris Lucas and Mark Harding, its general counsel, will both be retiring in coming months...Messrs. Lucas and Harding were longtime Barclays veterans who worked closely with former CEO Robert Diamond, who resigned last summer after the bank admitted that it had tried to rig benchmark interest rates and paid a roughly $450 million penalty. Youngest American Woman Billionaire Found With In-N-Out (Bloomberg) Lunchtime at the flagship In-N-Out Burger restaurant in Baldwin Park, California, is a study in efficiency. As the order line swells, smiling workers swoop in to operate empty cash registers. Another staffer cleans tables, asking customers if they’re enjoying their hamburger. Outside, a woman armed with a hand-held ordering machine speeds up the drive-through line. Such service has helped In-N-Out create a rabid fan base -- and make Lynsi Torres, the chain’s 30-year-old owner and president, one of the youngest female billionaires on Earth. New store openings often resemble product releases from Apple, with customers lined up hours in advance. City officials plead with the Irvine, California-based company to open restaurants in their municipalities. “They have done a fantastic job of building and maintaining a kind of cult following,” said Bob Goldin, executive vice president of Chicago-based food industry research firm Technomic Inc. “Someone would love to buy them.” That someone includes billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who told a group of visiting business students in 2005 that he’d like to own the chain, according to an account of the meeting on the UCLA Anderson School of Management website. Mint officially ends distribution of Canadian penny (CP) The phasing-out of the penny will lurch ahead today with the Royal Canadian Mint officially ending its distribution of one-cent coins to Canada's financial institutions. The move comes nearly a year after Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced the demise of the penny, whose production cost came to exceed its monetary value. But as it faces extinction in the pockets and tills of most Canadians, the humble penny is still in demand in some artistic circles where it retains significant value. Renee Gruszecki, a Halifax-based academic and archivist, has spent the past year making a living through a jewelry business devoted primarily to preserving the country's stray cents. About 30,000 strategically sorted pennies fill Gruszecki's home and eventually find their way into the accessories produced at Coin Coin Designs and Co. Gruszecki, a long-time collector of lucky pennies, believes her pieces will help preserve a symbol that is both an object of superstition and a Canadian icon. "The maple leaf is synonymous with everything Canadian. We all identify with it," she said in a telephone interview. "Now it's just no longer going to be present among us, so I'm saddened by that." The Bank of Canada's Currency Museum has already taken steps to preserve the penny's place in Canadian culture. A mural consisting of nearly 16,000 one-cent pieces has been assembled at the museum to commemorate the coin's history, said assistant curator Raewyn Passmore. The mosaic, which depicts a giant penny measuring about two square metres, is comprised of coins ranging from the lustrous to the tarnished.