Opening Bell: 2.10.15

HSBC whistleblower warns there's more to come; Investors warns "peasants" will be coming with "pitchforks"; Oil trader warns crude prices could keep sinking; "Zoo stages escape drill with keeper dressed as leopard"; AND MORE.
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HSBC media leaks are 'tip of iceberg': Whistleblower (Reuters)
Media leaks on HSBC accounts held in Switzerland "are only the tip of the iceberg," Herve Falciani, the former HSBC employee who supplied information on the bank's clients and their tax situation, told French daily Le Parisien. Falciani, who gave no details in the interview with Le Parisien, said tax authorities have had access to much more data than media including French daily Le Monde and International Consortium of Investigative Journalists did. Asked if more clients were involved than the 106,000 identified by LeMonde, Falciani said: "Of course, there are much more than the journalists had. There were millions of transactions (between banks) in the documents I gave (to the government)."

UBS Boosted By Tax Gain (WSJ)
UBS AG posted a slight gain in fourth-quarter profit on Tuesday, thanks to a significant tax benefit and a sharp reduction in the amount of money set aside by the Swiss bank to deal with its continuing legal and regulatory issues. Zurich-based UBS said net profit in the quarter rose to 963 million Swiss francs ($1.04 billion), from 917 million francs in the same period a year earlier. The bank is continuing to apply losses suffered in the wake of the financial crisis to its reported results to slash its tax liabilities and boost profit figures. For the fourth quarter, UBS said its net tax benefit was 493 million francs, higher than some analysts had anticipated and pushed the bank’s result above many estimates.

Apple Sells Two-Part Swiss Franc Bond (WSJ)
Apple Inc. has completed its debut Swiss-franc bond sale, taking advantage of the country’s record-low borrowing costs. The iPhone maker raised 1.25 billion Swiss francs ($1.35 billion) from the two-part bond sale on Tuesday, according to one of the banks running the deal. A 875 million Swiss franc bond due to mature in November 2024 will pay investors a yield of 0.281%, while a 375 million franc 15-year bond will pay a yield of 0.74%.

Investor: Peasants Will Be Out With Pitchforks if We Don't Start Sharing the Wealth (Bloomberg)
‘‘Right now we have earnings coming off of record highs as a percentage of GDP and yet you have Wall Street saying ‘don’t worry, it’s going to soar to new highs.’ Pardon me, but when did the peasants with the pitchforks come out and start rioting? Society at large has to enjoy some of the largesse, or else the pitchforks come out. So earnings as a share of GDP can’t really advance materially from current levels, or at least it’s not healthy if they do.

KFC: 'Brain' found by teen was safe to eat (UPI)
KFC said a "brain" found by a California teenager in his meal was actually a gizzard or a kidney, but the company agreed to refund the teen's $4. Manuel Cobarubies, a Stockton High School student, said he frequented his local KFC until early February, when he discovered the unidentified chicken organ in his $4 meal. "[It looked] like a brain to me. I mean at that point, red flags were kind of raised," Cobarubies told KTXL-TV. "I ended up spitting it in the trash can because I get grossed out by that." Cobarubies tweeted a picture of the object and tagged KFC in the hopes of getting an explanation and a refund, but all he received was a brief apology. KTXL-TV tweeted at KFC and contacted the corporate office Monday, and hours later Cobarubies received a call from Richard Ramos, a KFC area consultant. Ramos said the object was not a brain, but rather a gizzard or a kidney and is safe to eat. The teenager said Ramos told him he will receive his $4 refund. The consultant said cooks would be trained to ensure they are preparing the chicken correctly, but Cobarubies said he is probably through with the restaurant.

World's Biggest Oil Trader Warns Crude Prices Could Dive Again (Bloomberg)
The oil market is slightly oversupplied, making another downward move possible in the first half before supply and demand balance in the last six months of the year, Ian Taylor, chief executive officer of Vitol Group, said Tuesday. There are no signs of slowing U.S. output even as the country’s drillers idle rigs, he said.

G-20 Leaders Back Aggressive Stimulus (WSJ)
Finance leaders from the world’s largest economies endorsed on Tuesday aggressive stimulus measures taken by many of their central banks recently as vital responses necessary to boost a weak global economy. The agreement, formalized by officials from the Group of 20—or G-20—largest economies, reflects growing concerns that a fragile global economy could get stuck in a low-growth rut without decisive cash injections from central banks. “Current economic conditions require accommodative monetary policies in some countries,” the G-20 said in an official statement. “We welcome that central banks take appropriate monetary policy action.”

Goldman is jack-of-all-trades, not master of one: CEO (Reuters)
Goldman Sachs Group Inc is trying to convince investors that its business model does not need to change. On Tuesday morning, Goldman Chief Executive Officer Lloyd Blankfein gave a presentation at a financial services conference that painted the bank as one that earns steadier profits than its peers, and delivers them through sundry business lines. Those ideas run contrary to a common narrative on Wall Street about Goldman: It is good at earning money by trading and investing its own capital, but little else.

Zoo stages escape drill with keeper dressed as leopard (UPI)
A zoo in Tokyo dressed a worker in a cartoony snow leopard costume to stage an animal escape drill and test out the zoo's response. The Tama Zoological Park drill involved worker Toshiya Nomura donning the leopard suit and running wild around the zoo -- at one point staging a mock attack on a zoo worker -- before being brought down by a tranquilizer dart. Nomura played asleep for the drill and staff members ensured the "leopard" was sedated by poking it's head with a stick. "We focused on making this drill as realistic as possible. One of our staff being knocked down and injured was a part of that," said Yukata Funda, director of the Tama Zoological Park.

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Opening Bell: 07.18.12

BofA Swings To Profit, Topping Analysts' Estimates (WSJ) Bank of America reported a profit of $2.46 billion, compared with a year-earlier loss of $8.83 billion. On a per-share basis, which reflect the payment of preferred dividends, earnings came in at 19 cents from a loss of 90 cents a year earlier. The year-ago quarter's results included a charge of $1.23 a share in mortgage-related and other adjustments. Total revenue surged 66% to $21.97 billion. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected earnings of 14 cents a share on $22.87 billion in revenue. The bank's profit was helped by reduced provisions for loan losses as credit quality continued to improve. Credit-loss provisions totaled $1.77 billion compared with $3.26 billion a year ago and $2.42 billion in the first quarter. HSBC Probe Brings Promises Regulator, Bank Will Clean Up Act (Bloomberg) HSBC executives apologized for opening their U.S. affiliate to a river of Mexican drug lords’ cash, and the U.S. regulator that failed to stem the flow vowed to prevent a repeat. “I deeply regret we did not act sooner and more decisively,” Comptroller of the Currency Thomas Curry said at a day-long hearing yesterday of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. He said his agency, which regulates HSBC’s U.S. arm, is partially responsible for letting Europe’s largest bank give terrorists, drug cartels and criminals access to the U.S. financial system and will take “a much more aggressive posture.” Opinion: Investing In America Produces The Best Returns, By Lloyd Blankfein (Politico) The question I’m most often asked these days is, “Where should I invest?” In recent years, we all know, there has been an unusually high degree of uncertainty. It falls into two broad categories: cyclical concerns that focus on the outlook for near-term economic growth and structural concerns that center on the viability of existing political or economic systems — for example, the European Union. The cyclical and structural challenges are considerable, and in some cases, even daunting. But when I meet with chief executive officers and institutional investors and they ask me where to invest, my response is that the United States remains as attractive as ever. And it would be even more attractive if it can make some short-term progress in a few key areas. Hugh Hendry: ‘Bad Things are Going to Happen’ (FT) Hendry believes that financial markets are single-digit years away from a crash that will present investors with opportunities of a lifetime. “Bad things are going to happen and I still think the closest analogy is the 1930s.” For Yahoo CEO, Two New Roles (WSJ) Just hours after Yahoo named Marissa Mayer as its new chief, the real conversation kicked in: how she will juggle pregnancy and being the CEO charged with saving a foundering Internet giant. The 37 year-old former Google executive is expecting her first child, a son, in early October. On Tuesday, she started her new job at Yahoo, which reported another quarter of lackluster sales growth...No Yahoo directors expressed concern about her pregnancy, according to Ms. Mayer, who told the board in late June, about a week after Yahoo's recruiter contacted her. She says she plans to work during her maternity leave, which will last several weeks...Ms. Mayer's husband, Zachary Bogue, a former attorney, is co-managing partner at Data Collective, an early-stage venture capital fund specializing in tech start-ups. JFK jet in laser scare (NYP) A lunatic aimed a powerful laser beam at an airliner flying over Long Island on its way into JFK — sending the pilot to the hospital and endangering the lives of the 84 people aboard. The first officer on JetBlue Flight 657 from Syracuse was treated for injuries to both eyes after the blinding flash of light lit up the cockpit Sunday night — as the FBI and Suffolk cops hunted for the person responsible, who could face federal prison time. The Embraer E190 jet landed safely, and the injured pilot — identified by sources as First Officer Robert Pemberton, 52 — was met at the gate and taken to Jamaica Hospital. Authorities believe the beam came from around West Islip, Babylon or Lindenhurst. “You wouldn’t think a pen laser would go that far of a distance,” said shocked West Babylon resident Cindy Konik, 50...A startled co-pilot, who was not identified, immediately took over the controls from his temporarily blinded colleague. “We just got lasered up here — two green flashes into the cockpit,” the captain radioed controllers at Ronkonkoma. Credit Suisse Sets Capital Plan (WSJ) moved Wednesday to stanch recent concerns about its financial strength, saying it is raising capital through the sale of convertible bonds, more divestments and the launch of another cost-savings program. It is a surprise twist in a spat with the country's central bank, which recently warned that Switzerland's number two bank wasn't strong enough to withstand a major crisis. Credit Suisse initially rejected the central bank's criticism, saying it was among the world's best-capitalized banks. This didn't impress investors, who offloaded their shares, wiping out 2 billion Swiss francs ($2.05 billion) in market value. At one point last month the bank even felt compelled to reassure investors that it was profitable in the second quarter, even though profitability over the period was never in doubt. Strong Possibility Of Further Fed Easing By September: Goldman (CNBC) In a testimony before the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke offered no new hints that the central bank is planning more easing, but repeated a pledge that the Fed “is prepared to take further action as appropriate to promote stronger economic recovery.” “While we think that a modest easing step is a strong possibility at the August or September meeting, we suspect that a large move is more likely to come after the election or in early 2013, barring rapid further deterioration in the already-cautious near term Fed economic outlook,” Goldman Sachs conomist Andrew Tilton said in a report. BlackRock's Net Slips 11% (WSJ) BlackRock reported a profit of $554 million, or $3.08 a share, compared with a year-earlier profit of $619 million, or $3.21 a share. Stripping out one-time items, per-share earnings rose to $3.10 from $3. Revenue slipped 5% to $2.23 billion. Analysts expected earnings of $3.01 a share on $2.26 billion in revenue, according to a poll conducted by Thomson Reuters. BNY Mellon profit falls 37 percent on litigation charge (Reuters) Bank of New York Mellon Corp said on Wednesday that second-quarter net income had fallen 37 percent on lower foreign exchange revenue and after it paid $212 million to settle an investor lawsuit. The world's largest custody bank reported net income of $466 million, or 39 cents a share, compared with $735 million, or 59 cents a share, a year earlier. As announced earlier this month, the results included an after-tax charge of $212 million to settle an investor lawsuit accusing the bank of imprudently investing their cash in a risky debt vehicle that collapsed in 2008. Quarterly revenue fell to $3.62 billion from $3.85 billion. Residents warned: 6-foot lizard loose in Colorado (AP) A sheriff has warned residents in a tourist town northwest of Colorado Springs that a strong, aggressive 6-foot lizard that eats small animals — including dogs and cats — is on the loose in the area. Teller County Sheriff Mike Ensinger said Tuesday that a 25-pound pet Nile monitor lizard has gone missing after breaking a mesh leash and crawling away. Ensinger said about 400 homes in the Woodland Park area were warned. He added that the animal, which escaped Monday and is known as Dino, has not bitten any humans — yet. "We have a 6-foot reptile out and about," Ensinger said. "If it gets hungry enough, we don't know what it will do." Ensinger said officers may use a tracking dog if Dino isn't located by Tuesday afternoon. "I'm not going after it," Ensinger said. "I don't do reptiles."

Opening Bell: 5.4.15

Charter interested in Time Warner; HSBC whistleblower not finished here; Berkshire will probably buy a German company; No $6 mm home run bonus for A-Rod; Toilet beards; and more.

Opening Bell: 03.06.13

EU Fines Microsoft $732 Million (WSJ) The European Commission said it was imposing the fine after the U.S. software giant became the first company to break a voluntary agreement with regulators, which would have allowed at least 15 million consumers to pick alternatives to its Internet Explorer browser. The penalty is the latest episode in over a decade of wranglings between the EU and Microsoft, which has already seen the commission fine Microsoft €1.6 billion for failing to provide rivals with information at fair prices and for tying its media player to its operating system. Fed Holds Ground On Stress Tests (WSJ) The first component of the release, data on how banks will fare in an economic downturn, is slated for after U.S. stock markets close on Thursday. The second part, the Fed's response to buyback-and-dividend requests, is scheduled for publication a week later. Some executives warn that the delay could boost volatility in bank shares, as traders speculate on what the first round of results might mean for bank capital plans. Others warn of shareholder lawsuits if banks fail to disclose any information they receive, even informally, from regulators on the capital plans. Stress Tests Seen Boosting U.S. Bank Shareholder Payouts (Bloomberg) The six largest U.S. banks may return almost $41 billion to investors in the next 12 months, the most since 2007, as regulators conclude firms have amassed enough capital to withstand another economic shock. Lenders including Citigroup and Bank of America will buy back $26.4 billion in shares, up from $23.8 billion, according to the average estimate of three Wall Street analysts. An additional $14.5 billion will be paid out in dividends, $3.4 billion more than 2012, separate estimates show. The payouts are contingent on approval by the Federal Reserve. Forbes Hits Back at Saudi Prince Over Rich List (CNBC) A spat between Saudi billionaire Alwaleed Bin Talal and Forbes over the exact fortune of the prince has taken another bizarre twist. After the prince announced a severing of ties due to what he argued were flawed valuation methods, Forbes has now responded with an in-depth investigation, hitting back by describing his estimates as an "alternate reality". Forbes went on to say that the valuation of Kingdom Holding, the publicly traded company of Prince Alwaleed, gyrated for reasons "that, coincidentally, seem more tied to the Forbes billionaires list than fundamentals". In the lengthy piece published on Wednesday, the magazine also details its relationship with Prince Alwaleed since it began in 1988, recounting what it classified as "intermittent lobbying, cajoling and threatening" to influence his net worth listing over the years. AIG to Start Loan Investment Unit as Housing Rebounds (Bloomberg) AIG plans to buy loans backed by its United Guaranty Corp. unit, the largest seller of traditional private mortgage insurance last year, according to Donna DeMaio, 54, the unit’s chief executive officer. The debt will be held as long-term investments by AIG insurance companies. “You’re cutting the middle man out of the securitization process,” DeMaio said, referring to bonds that package home loans. The yield on an individual mortgage “is better than if you just bought the paper backed by the whole loan.” Two Hedgies Top The Field (NYP) Stephen Mandel and David Tepper earned more money for clients than any other hedge-fund manager in 2012, LCH Investments said. Mandel’s Lone Pine Capital made about $4.6 billion; Tepper’s Appaloosa Management made $3.3 billion. Traders Flee Asia Hedge Funds as Job Haven Turns Dead End (Bloomberg) Asian hedge-fund assets are 28 percent below their 2007 peak, according to data provider Eurekahedge Pte. Globally, money overseen by the funds increased 21 percent since 2007 to a new high of $2.3 trillion as of December, data from Chicago- based Hedge Fund Research Inc. show. A total of 296 Asian hedge funds liquidated in the two years to December, 33 more than the number that started. On a global basis, 1,839 new funds outnumber those that shut by 371, according to Eurekahedge. Ikea recalls cakes in 23 countries after sewage bacteria found (Telegraph) The furniture giant admitted on Tuesday that coliform bacteria had been found in two batches of almond cake from a supplier in Sweden. It comes after Chinese customs officials announced that they had destroyed a batch of 1,800 cakes after finding it contained high levels of coliforms which failed to meet hygiene standards. Coliforms, common bacteria which are found in faeces as well as soil and water, do not normally cause serious illness but are a sign of contamination which can indicate the presence of more harmful bacteria such as E.coli. It comes after Ikea recalled meatballs and sausages from 24 countries due to fears they could have been contaminated with horse meat. Oil Trader Ex-Wife Shouldn't Get Offshore Assets: Lawyers (Bloomberg) An oil trader’s ex-wife shouldn’t have any claim to properties held by offshore companies in which he invested as part of a 17.5 million-pound ($26.4 million) divorce settlement, lawyers said at a hearing in the U.K.’s highest court. The three Isle of Man-based companies, including Petrodel Resources Ltd., are “not relevant as a party to the litigation,” Tim Amos, the lawyer representing the companies, said today. The firms have asked the seven-judge panel of Britain’s Supreme Court to dismiss the wife’s claim. Yasmin Prest appealed an earlier ruling that denied her access to properties held and controlled by her ex-husband to cover part of the 2011 divorce settlement, which Michael Prest hasn’t paid, according to court documents at the U.K. top court. Her ex-husband isn’t a party to the litigation. ADP Says Companies in U.S. Added 198,000 Workers in February (Bloomberg) The 198,000 increase in employment followed a revised 215,000 gain the prior month that was more than initially estimated, figures from the Roseland, New Jersey-based ADP Research Institute showed today. The median forecast of 41 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for an advance of 170,000. Madoff Trustee ‘Unlikely’ to Win Merkin Suit, N.Y. Says (Bloomberg) The judge shouldn’t allow trustee Irving Picard to block the deal because “in the unlikely event” that Picard can win part of his suit, Merkin’s funds would be able to pay him, Schneiderman said in a filing with U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff yesterday. The attorney general made his filing saying Picard’s “unusual” request for an injunction -- to give him time to proof his own $500 million case -- required an additional response. Zoo shuts in panic as male and female escape from cage because cleaner forgot to lock the door (DM) A zoo in China was forced to close after two lions escaped from their unlocked cages. Riot police, snipers and zoo workers armed with tranquiliser guns worked to capture the ferocious animals after theyescaped at the zoo in Chongqing, south west China. According to reports, the lion and lioness were given free run of the zoo when a keeper who was cleaning their enclosure forgot to lock the gate. The zoo was completely evacuated following the escape at 8am. While the lionness was caught within the hour, the male was at large for almost four hours before he was recaptured. A zoo spokesman said: 'We found the female first and subdued her with a tranquiliser gun but the male took longer to find and bring back. 'They both recovered quickly and are no worse off for their adventure.' Officials have issued an apology to visitors for the panic caused. One said: 'You can't blame the lions. It was human error and they naturally took advantage of it.'

Opening Bell: 01.07.13

Regulators Give Ground To Banks (WSJ) Global banking regulators watered down a key element of their plan for creating a safer financial system, giving ground to banks that argued the rules were unworkable and financially risky. The Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, a group of the world's top regulators and central bankers, said Sunday that it agreed to relax a rule designed to ensure that big banks are able to weather financial crises without running short of cash. Bowing to two years of intense pressure from the banking industry, the regulators made it easier for banks to meet the rule, known as the "liquidity coverage ratio," and delayed its full implementation until 2019. It is the latest instance of regulators chipping away at their landmark 2010 response to the global financial crisis. The regulators argue that the changes make banking rules much stronger than they were before the crisis. Herbalifers Stay Resolute (WSJ) When hedge-fund manager William Ackman unveiled his 334-slide presentation alleging that Herbalife is a pyramid scheme, it did nothing to shake Joanne Clare. The 38-year-old Staten Island mother of three has been selling the company's weight-loss products and supplements since 2004, when she says they helped her drop from 210 to 160 pounds in four months. She now sells as much as $3,500 a month of Herbalife products to her 30 clients and the two distributors in her "down line." "People have always said it's a pyramid scheme, but it's not," Ms. Clare said, adding that the bulk of her earnings come from sales to clients, not her cut of her recruits' take. Mr. Ackman's declaration that he had bet more than $1 billion against Herbalife caused many investors to flee, sending the stock down 38% in four days in late December. But some of the company's 3.1-million-strong army of distributors were unmoved. Eliot Spitzer Ends His Show On Current TV (NYT) The announcement comes a few days after Al Jazeera said it was acquiring Current TV. Later this year, the Qatar-owned broadcaster plans to turn the channel into an Americanized version of the international news channel Al Jazeera English. Mr. Spitzer said he had a “wonderful time” at Current, but emphasized that his relationship was with Al Gore and Joel Hyatt, Current’s co-founders, not with Al Jazeera. “Moving forward, their mission will be different,” he said — more international newscasts, less liberal talk about the news. Citi's Corbat builds bridges (Reuters) Citigroup Inc's Michael Corbat has been meeting with bank regulators in his first months as CEO, as he looks to bolster relationships and finalize the bank's plan to return capital to shareholders, sources familiar with the matter said. Corbat also expects to name his team of top managers within the next week or so, one of the sources said on Sunday. Corbat is expected to play it safe when Citigroup asks the U.S. Federal Reserve for permission for moves such as buying back shares or increasing dividends, analysts and investors said. His predecessor, Vikram Pandit, lost his job in October in part because the bank's request for returning capital was denied in March. The bank, which is due to submit its plan to the Fed on Monday, has not yet done so, the source said. The third-largest U.S. bank will only seek approval to buy back shares and not raise dividends, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday. Last year, the bank wanted permission to return more than $8 billion to shareholders over two years, the paper said. For Newly Minted MBAs, A Small Paycheck (WSJ) For graduates with minimal experience—three years or less—median pay was $53,900 in 2012, down 4.6% from 2007-08, according to an analysis conducted for The Wall Street Journal by PayScale.com. Pay fell at 62% of the 186 schools examined. Even for more seasoned grads the trend is similar, says Katie Bardaro, lead economist for PayScale.com. "In general, it seems that M.B.A. pay is either stagnant or falling," she says...It is all a far cry from the late 1980s and early 1990s heyday for M.B.A.s, when some companies would hire 100 or more M.B.A.s. It wasn't uncommon to recruit first, and fill actual jobs later. DOJ pledges to respect Swiss law in tax probe (Reuters) Swiss chief finance diplomat Michael Ambuehl was given a verbal pledge from the U.S. Department of Justice to respect Swiss law when asking for bank client data of potential tax dodgers, a newspaper reported on Sunday. Switzerland is in negotiations with U.S. authorities to find a deal that would end tax probes into at least ten Swiss banks suspected of helping clients dodge taxes, including Credit Suisse and Julius Baer. The Alpine country is trying to preserve what is left of its cherished banking secrecy that suffered a severe blow in 2009 when UBS, the first Swiss bank that came under scrutiny in the U.S., was required to disclose client data. Brazilian prison gaurds catch cat that slipped through the gate with escape tools taped to its body (NYDN) Guards at a Brazilian prison nabbed a white cat that slipped through the gate with a cell phone, drills, small saws and other contraband taped to its body. Alagoas prison spokeswoman Cinthya Moreno says the cat was caught New Year’s Eve at the medium-security prison in the city of Arapiraca. The O Estado de S. Paulo newspaper reported Saturday that all of the prison’s 263 inmates are suspects in the smuggling attempt, though a spokesperson said, “It will be hard to discover who is responsible since the cat does not speak.” Loeb, Cooperman Stand Out in Horrid Year for Hedge Funds (CNBC) Third Point was the clear hedge fund standout in a horrible year for the industry as almost nine out of 10 managers underperformed the S&P 500. Omega Advisors' Leon Cooperman also scored big. Loeb — once better known for his acerbic letters to CEOs — used an activist position in Yahoo and the contrarian buying of Greek bonds to drive the firm's flagship fund to a 21 percent gain in 2012. The firm's more-leveraged Ultra fund posted an even bigger 34 percent return...Cooperman's fund had a net return of 26 percent in 2012. Banks Zero In On Foreclosure Pact (WSJ) Banks were closing in on a $10 billion foreclosure-abuse settlement with regulators that could be announced as soon as Monday, according to people familiar with the talks. The settlement was nearly complete Sunday afternoon, the people said, after the Federal Reserve backed down on a demand for more compensation for consumers and other changes to the pact. Bankers threatened to walk away from the deal if the Fed's demand for an additional $300 million was included, a person briefed on the talks said. Junk Bonds' Fire Is Poised to Fade (WSJ) Junk bonds started 2013 much like they finished 2012—on fire. In just three trading days this year, bonds of low-rated companies delivered returns of almost three-quarters of a percent, even as most other types of bonds lost value. And junk bonds continued to clock new milestones: Average prices soared to their highest since 2004 and average yields, which decline as prices rise, dropped below 6% for the first time ever, according to Barclays. But the rapid march is making fund managers and analysts wary. Prices are now so high—averaging more than 105 cents on the dollar—that there is little room for them to climb much further, some investors say. These are lofty prices for bonds that usually trade below 100 cents, reflecting the higher default risk for such companies. At the very least, returns will pale in comparison with the 15% achieved in 2012, analysts and investors say. NHL, Players Settle Labor Dispute (AP) On the 113th day of a management lockout and five days before the league's deadline for a deal, the bleary-eyed sides held a 6 a.m. news conference to announce there will be a season, after all. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and union head Donald Fehr both appeared drained, wearing sweaters and not neckties, when they stood side by side at the hotel and announced labor peace. "We have reached an agreement on the framework of a new collective bargaining agreement, the details of which need to be put to paper," Bettman said. "We've got to dot a lot of Is, cross a lot of Ts. There's still a lot of work to be done, but the basic framework of the deal has been agreed upon." Hostess in Talks to Sell Off Bread Brands (WSJ) Hostess could disclose Flowers, Grupo Bimbo or others as opening bidders in a looming bankruptcy-court auction for the assets as soon as this week, said people familiar with the matter. Hostess, whose bread brands include Wonder Bread, Nature's Pride, Home Pride, Merita and Butternut, is still determining how to split up assets and package them for buyers, one of the people said. Gérard Depardieu gives up French citizenship after bitter tax fight (GM) In a fit of pique, French movie star Gérard Depardieu announced during the weekend that he would give up his citizenship after politicians and the media took him to task for moving to Belgium and avoiding an impending tax hike for the rich. Mr. Depardieu is not France’s first fiscal refugee but his high-profile door-slamming so monopolized public debate that Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault had on Monday to parse whether or not he had insulted the actor. “I did not call Mr. Depardieu a loser, I said that it was loser-like [to move to Belgium to avoid taxes],” Mr. Ayrault told reporters...The “loser” comment seemed to have been the jab that stung Mr. Depardieu the most. “Loser, did you say loser?” the 63-year–old actor began an open letter to Mr. Ayrault that appeared Sunday in Le Journal du dimanche. Mr. Depardieu wrote that he had paid a total of €145-million in income tax in the last four decades and kept 80 people employed. He added that he had been taxed at a marginal rate of 85 per cent this year. “I am giving you back my passport and my social insurance, which I had never used. We no longer have the same fatherland. I am a true European, a citizen of the world.”

Opening Bell: 01.23.13

Greece Charges Statisticians Over Size of Deficit (FT) Greece has brought criminal charges against the official responsible for measuring the country's debt, thereby calling into question the validity of its 172 billion euros second bailout by the EU and International Monetary Fund. Andreas Georgiou, head of the independent statistical agency Elstat, and two senior officials are accused of undermining the country's "national interests" by inflating the 2009 budget deficit figure used as the benchmark for successive austerity packages. The three statistical experts face criminal charges of making false statements and corrupt practices, a judicial official said, adding that if found guilty they could serve prison terms of five to 10 years. They have denied any wrongdoing. Spain's Recession Deepens (WSJ) Spain's central bank said a recession in the euro zone's fourth-largest economy deepened slightly in the final quarter of last year, but it said austerity cuts are bringing the country's runaway budget deficit under control. Obama-Bashing Swapped for Pragmatism at Davos (Bloomberg) “We have to move on in our society,” Blackstone found Stephen Schwarzman said today in an interview in Davos with Bloomberg Television’s Erik Schatzker. “I like President Obama as a person, and he’s well- intentioned.” Schwarzman, 65, warned in Davos in 2010 that banks could restrict lending because “their entire world is being shaken and they’re being attacked personally.” Later that year, at a nonprofit group meeting, he likened Obama’s tax proposals to Hitler’s invasion of Poland. Third Point LLC CEO Daniel Loeb, who in 2010 compared Wall Street’s Obama supporters to “battered wives,” will help lead a Jan. 25 Davos dinner discussion, “Can Capitalism Evolve?” Schwarzman apologized in 2010 for his comparison of Obama’s effort to double taxes on private-equity income to the invasion of Poland. He said the analogy was inappropriate and that the administration’s need to work with business “is still of very serious concern.” JPMorgan's Jamie Dimon Apologizes, Attacks (WSJ) James Dimon of J.P. Morgan Chase was prepared in Davos to apologize for the more than $6 billion of trading losses racked up by the so-called London Whale, but he certainly wasn’t prepared to abase himself...Min Zhu, deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund, reeled off a string of statistics to show that the industry certainly hadn’t cleaned up its act since the crisis, and Paul Singer, principal of hedge fund Elliott Associates, was also keen to lambaste big banks, including Mr. Dimon’s. The two had some testy exchanges and the body language indicated that Messrs. Singer and Dimon have exchanged fire quite a few times previously. Still, Mr. Dimon gave us good as he got. He kicked off with repeating his apology to shareholders for the London Whale trading losses, which led to his own bonus being slashed, saying, “If you’re a shareholder of mine, I apologize deeply.” Having offered this apology he then went on the offense. He pointed out that his bank lent money to a whole host of worthy organizations such as schools, hospitals, governments, and Italian and Spanish corporates and governments. And he also had some snappy comebacks. Elliott’s Singer said that the global banks are “too big, too leveraged, too opaque,” which left Mr. Dimon with an easy retort about how could a hedge fund possibly criticize a bank about being opaque? “Our [securities filing] 10K is 400 pages long,” Mr. Dimon said. “What would you like to know?” Geithner Exit Next Friday (AFP) US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who steered the administration of President Obama through the financial crisis, will step down from his post Friday, a source told Agence France Presse yesterday. Golfer Mickelson recants tax rant (NYP) Mickelson — who hinted he might move from his home state of California to escape higher taxes — said he regretted his public rant on the issue after setting off a political firestorm. “Finances and taxes are a personal matter and I should not have made my opinions on them public,” according to a statement from Mickelson, who plans to elaborate today at the Farmers Insurance Open. “I apologize to those I have upset or insulted and assure you I intend to not let it happen again.” Senator Lautenberg Suggests Spanking In Store For Mayor Cory Booker (CI via DI) "I have four children, I love each one of them. I can't tell you that one of them wasn't occasionally disrespectful, so I gave them a spanking and everything was OK," Lautenberg said with a smile in his first public comments since Booker announced he was considering a run for Senate. Banker's Latest Bet: Teamwork on Bonds (WSJ) Texas banking tycoon Andrew Beal is known for making unconventional moves, including gambling on high-stakes poker and a self-financed plan to launch rockets into space. His latest gambit: an attempt to wring money from giant banks by banding together aggrieved bondholders. Mr. Beal's CXA Corp. ran a pair of advertisements late last year, one appearing in The Wall Street Journal. The ads listed an alphabet soup of residential mortgage-backed securities held by CXA and asked those with positions in the same securities to join the company in investigating possible infractions by banks that sold the debt. If the groups can prove the mortgages that underlie the bonds were approved through shoddy underwriting, they could be entitled to compensation—CXA's payday alone could be tens of millions of dollars. Firms Keep Stockpiles Of 'Foreign' Cash In US (WSJ) Some companies, including Internet giant Google, software maker Microsoft, and data-storage specialist EMC Corp, keep more than three-quarters of the cash owned by their foreign subsidiaries at U.S. banks, held in U.S. dollars or parked in U.S. government and corporate securities, according to people familiar with the companies' cash positions. In the eyes of the law, the Internal Revenue Service and company executives, however, this money is overseas. As long as it doesn't flow back to the U.S. parent company, the U.S. doesn't tax it. And as long as it sits in U.S. bank accounts or in U.S. Treasurys, it is safer than if it were plowed into potentially risky foreign investments. SEC Reins In Ratings Firm (WSJ) The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission barred Egan-Jones Ratings Co. from issuing ratings on certain bonds, an unprecedented step by the regulator and a setback for a small credit-rating firm with a history of courting controversy. The SEC said Tuesday that Egan-Jones couldn't officially rate bonds issued by countries, U.S. states and local governments, or securities backed by assets such as mortgages, for at least the next 18 months. The ban was part of an agreement the SEC reached with Egan-Jones and its president, Sean Egan, to settle charges that they filed inaccurate documents with the regulator in 2008. The SEC alleged that Egan-Jones misled investors about its expertise, and that Mr. Egan caused the firm to violate conflict-of-interest provisions. Lindenhurst dentist busted after reporting to work reeking of booze and drilling teeth while allegedly drunk (NYDN) Dr. Robert Garelick was hauled out of his Lindenhurst office in handcuffs Monday after his dental hygienist smelled booze on his breath and caught him administering Novocain to the wrong side of a patient’s mouth. “I observed Dr. Garelick looking for cavities in the right side of the patient’s mouth, but the cavities were in the left side,” hygienist Kimberly Curtis told police in a written statement. “I pointed this out to the doctor and that’s when he ordered more Novocain for the patient,” Curtis told cops. “So now, he basically numbed the whole patient’s mouth.” After noticing Garelick’s wobbly behavior Monday, Curtis texted co-worker Dina Fara, who called 911. Curtis said she sent the message after Garelick used a drill to treat another patient who had a chipped tooth. “He was filing the tooth down,” Curtis said. “When you’re using that drill, you have to be very careful and have a steady hand.” She said that just before Garelick treated the chipped tooth, he slipped into his office. “I noticed that he was drinking from a white and purple squeeze bottle,” Curtis said. “At first I didn’t think anything was wrong,” Curtis said. “But right after, he took a drink from that bottle, he got up and walked past me. When he did this I smelled a strong odor of alcohol.” The dentist initially claimed he only had a couple of beers with pizza during lunch Monday, according to Suffolk County cops. But Garelick, who was charged with misdemeanor reckless endangerment, later confessed to his drunken dentistry while being taken to a police precinct in the back of squad car. “I never had any beers with my pizza. I’ve been sipping at that bottle all along today,” he told police, referring to his squeeze bottle filled with vodka, according to a criminal complaint.

Opening Bell: 08.13.12

Senior Merkel ally sends stark warning to Greece (Reuters) A senior member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's party issued a stark warning to Greece on Monday, saying Germany would not hesitate to veto further aid to the country if there were any signs it was not meeting the conditions of its bailout..."Even if the glass is half full, that won't be sufficient for a new aid package. Germany cannot and will not agree to that," Michael Fuchs told German newspaper Handelsblatt. "We long ago reached the point where the Greeks must show they are capable of delivering a shift. A policy of the last, last, last chance won't work anymore and must come to an end." JPMorgan aims for $1bn profit boost (FT) JPMorgan Chase aims to boost annual pre-tax profit by $1bn within five years by merging its investment and corporate banks – the first target set by the new division’s co-chief executives, Michael Cavanagh and Daniel Pinto. Africans Chase Away Almighty Dollar (WSJ) Starting next year, Angola will require oil and gas companies to pay tax revenue and local contracts in kwanza, its currency, rather than dollars. Mozambique wants companies to exchange half of their export earnings for meticais, hoping to pull more of the wealth in vast coal and natural-gas deposits into the domestic economy. And Ghana is seeking similar ways to reinforce "the primacy of the domestic currency," after the cedi plummeted more than 17% against the dollar in the first six months of this year. The sternest steps come from Zambia, a copper-rich country in southern Africa where the central bank has banned dollar-denominated transactions. Offenders who are "quoting, paying or demanding to be paid or receiving foreign currency" can face a maximum 10 years in prison, the central bank said in a two-page directive in May. Hedge Funds Capitulate On European Shorts (Bloomberg) “Macro hedge funds missed collectively the policy news of June, and with the prospect of central bank interventions they are now capitulating,” Nikolaos Panigirtzoglou, head of global asset allocation at JPMorgan in London, said in an Aug. 7 phone interview. JPMorgan has $2.3 trillion under management. “For positions to unwind, a trigger is needed. And the trigger was all this policy news.” Italy Public Debt Hits Record High, Deficit Also Up (Reuters) Italy's public debt hit an all-time high in June of almost 2 trillion euros and the annual budget deficit was also bigger than a year before, due largely to Italy's share of bailouts for other euro zone states, the central bank said on Monday. New Tactics Boost Bank Profits (WSJ) With the European crisis knocking down the value of banks' longer-term debt, some are taking advantage by buying back their debt from investors at a discount from the original value. Banks can book the difference in price as an accounting gain, adding to their bottom line—and their ability to withstand losses. Banks including Société Générale SA, Commerzbank AG, Intesa Sanpaolo SpA, Banco Santander SA and Banco Comercial Português SA recently have taken the moves, in part because traditional ways of boosting capital, such as selling businesses or raising equity in the market, are proving difficult. Europe's debt crisis has virtually cut off many European banks from private funding because investors are wary of lending to them. Julius Baer Buys Merrill Lynch Private Bank Assets (Reuters) Swiss private bank Julius Baer is to buy Bank of America's Merrill Lynch private bank outside the United States, paying 860 million Swiss francs ($882 million) to boost its assets under management by 40 percent and backing the deal with plans to raise 1.19 billion francs in new capital. Alaska: The Next Libor Litigation Frontier (Reuters) Attorney Brian Murray filed a lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of investors in Alaska — as well as investors in Wyoming, North Dakota and about 20 other states — that accuses banks of violating various state antitrust laws in allegedly rigging the London interbank offered rate. Woman May See Jail Time For Poisoning Man With Visine (AP) A woman may see jail time after allegedly poisoning a man with eyedrops. Vicki Jo Mills, 33, is accused of putting Visine in the drinking water of Thurman Nesbitt, 45, on up to a dozen occasions since June 2009, according to The Associated Press. Nesbitt’s doctor contacted authorities in June after tetrahydrozoline, a chemical found in the optical solution that can cause irregular heartbeat or chest pain, showed up in Nesbitt’s blood tests. “She never meant to kill him, [she] only wanted to make him pay more attention to her,” police say Mills told them.