Opening Bell: 2.12.15

Hedge funds love currencies again; Kyle Bass is going after pharma patents; Goldman Sachs is a special snowflake; Dominique Strauss-Kahn: I’m ‘rougher’ in bed than most men; AND MORE.
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Hedge Funds Focused on Currencies Get Big Payoff (WSJ)
Thanks to a consistently soaring dollar—and plunging euro—investment funds focused on currencies had the best month in years in January. Data from Hedge Fund Research Inc., which compiles a broad measure of currency-fund performance, show the group had its best start to a year since at least 2008. Meantime, Barclay Hedge, another research firm, says that funds that use computer algorithms to chase market trends had an even better month, reaping their biggest monthly gains in a decade in January. The funds surveyed by Barclay Hedge, with nearly $20 billion in assets, also outperformed the average hedge fund last month, the firm said. Funds that trade currencies saw returns of 3.4% in January. Funds that take bullish and bearish positions in stocks gained 0.5%, while firms that buy and sell emerging-market assets lost 0.9%, according to Barclay Hedge. HFR found currency funds gained 2.1% in January, while money managers as a whole gained 0.5%.

IMF ‘Very Close’ to Agreement on Ukraine Bailout, Lagarde Says (Bloomberg)
Lagarde, speaking to reporters in Brussels after Wednesday’s meeting of European finance ministers, didn’t elaborate and said she’ll give further details at a press conference at 9 a.m. Thursday in the Belgian capital. Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and U.S. Treasury officials have also indicated that agreement on an international bailout may be close.

Kyle Bass Fires Opening Salvo Against Pharma Patents (FINalternatives)
Texas hedge fund manager Kyle Bass, head of Hayman Capital Management, has taken the first step in what has been described as a “short activist” strategy against U.S. drug makers. In a 60-page petition filed with the U.S. Patent & Trademark office, Bass challenged the legitimacy of Acorda Therapeutics’ patents on multiple-sclerosis drug Ampyra. Bass claims the patents rely on previously known technology and minor tweaks to such things as dosage and packaging.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn: I’m ‘rougher’ in bed than most men (NYP)
Dominique Strauss-Kahn admitted to a French court on Wednesday that he is “rougher” in bed than most men — but claimed he had no clue the ​prostitutes he slept with hated it so much. After two former​ hookers described brutal sexual encounters with the disgraced ​former International Monetary Fund chief, he said he finally understands the sex wasn’t as good for them as it was for him. “I think I must have a form of sexuality which is rougher than the average. I am beginning to realize that and I deplore it. But I had no idea at the time that these experiences were so unpleasant as the women now say,” he said, according to the UK Independent...One of the “episodes” was during a “three-way” with a former prostitute named Jade and a female friend at a hotel in Brussels in 2009, he said.​​ “If Jade was so upset as she now tells us, why did she stay and chat and drink coffees with others afterwards,” Strauss-Kahn said, ignoring the possibility that she may have simply been waiting to get paid.

Bank of America Mixed Serious Banking and Fun Swaps (BloombergView/Matt Levine)
Bank of America used its insured bank to finance tax avoidance trades for hedge funds. There is a lot to unpack there. There are the tax trades, for one thing, and the insured bank thing, for another, and then there is the eternal question: Why Is This Bad?

Japan to Impose Exit Tax (Bloomberg)
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party intends to introduce a bill in parliament this month that requires people with more than 100 million yen ($840,000) in financial assets to pay tax on unrealized capital gains before moving overseas. Japan, with the heaviest debt burden among major economies, is catching up with countries including Canada and France with a levy.

In Wake of Financial Crisis, Goldman Goes It Alone (WSJ)
In the wake of the financial crisis, though, many of those rivals are retreating. J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Deutsche Bank AG , Credit Suisse Group AG and Barclays PLC are shedding some or even all of their commodities operations. In contrast, Goldman has sold just small parts of its business, including a controversial metal-warehousing unit. “We’re different from everybody else now,” says Goldman Chairman and Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein. “But everybody’s different from everybody else now.” At an investor presentation Tuesday, he described the company as “unabashedly an investment bank.”

The Most-Promising Emerging and Frontier Markets, Ranked (Bloomberg)
1. South Korea 2. Qatar 3. China 4. U.A.E. 5. Chile, Malaysia

KKR, Blackstone Back New Asian Hedge Funds (Bloomberg)
KKR & Co., Ziff Brothers Investments and Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s money management unit entered partnerships providing startup capital to hedge funds in the region for the first time in the past year. Blackstone Group LP, the world’s largest alternative asset manager, struck its second regional seed deal after a five-year hiatus, supporting a new fund in exchange for a share of its revenue.

Apple deal, tax change could spark corporate solar stampede (Reuters)
Apple Inc's deal to buy nearly $1 billion of power from a massive First Solar Inc plant could be the first of a stampede of contracts driven by the looming change in a solar tax incentive that makes such projects particularly attractive. Together with a sharp drop in the cost of solar power and corporate efforts to rack up green credentials, the expiring tax subsidies have large energy purchasers taking a hard look at buying solar under big long-term contracts. Apple on Tuesday said it would spend $848 million over 25 years to buy 130 megawatts of electricity from a 280 MW plant - the solar industry's largest-ever corporate power purchase agreement, or PPA. Apple's major financial commitment gives solar a level of mainstream credibility that should entice other new customers.

Middle School Students Given 'Fifty Shades Of Grey' Puzzles (AP)
Parents in a Pennsylvania school district are turning 50 shades of red over word search puzzles given to middle school students based on an erotic novel and movie. The students in Monessen were given puzzles based on "Fifty Shades of Grey" that contained terms including "spanking," ''submissive," ''leather cuffs" and "bondage." Other words on the list were more explicit. Parent James Carter complained about it at Tuesday night's school board meeting, saying he tried to question the school's principal and dean of students, but they refused to talk when he insisted on recording their conversation...Monessen district officials said at the meeting that they couldn't discuss the issue because they just learned about it Monday. Superintendent Leanne Spazak said the circumstances of the puzzle are under investigation. One school board member who didn't attend the meeting told WTAE-TV that the puzzle was a big mistake. "It was a huge but unintentional error and collected from the five students involved as soon as it was realized," Roberta Bergstedt wrote in an email. "Unfortunately one copy was taken by a student who then posted it on social media."

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JPMorgan Rivals Face Billions in Damages After MBS Case (Bloomberg) A state-federal task force set up this year to investigate misconduct in the bundling of mortgage loans into securities will bring other cases, according to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Investor losses in the JPMorgan case alone will be “substantially more” than the $22.5 billion cited in his complaint, he said. “We do expect this to be a matter of very significant liability, and there are others to come that will also reflect the same quantum of damages,” Schneiderman said in an interview yesterday with Bloomberg Television’s Erik Schatzker. “We’re looking at tens of billions of dollars, not just by one institution, but by quite a few.” IMF Chief Economist Says Crisis Will Last A Decade (Reuters) FYI. Private Sector Adds 1620,000 New Jobs (WSJ) The September number was slightly above the 153,000 expected by economists. 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Some executives say the style makes them appear younger—or at least, makes their age less evident—and gives them more confidence than a comb-over or monk-like pate. "I'm not saying that shaving your head makes you successful, but it starts the conversation that you've done something active," says tech entrepreneur and writer Seth Godin, 52, who has embraced the bare look for two decades. "These are people who decide to own what they have, as opposed to trying to pretend to be something else." Wharton management lecturer Albert Mannes conducted three experiments to test peoples' perceptions of men with shaved heads. In one of the experiments, he showed 344 subjects photos of the same men in two versions: one showing the man with hair and the other showing him with his hair digitally removed, so his head appears shaved. In all three tests, the subjects reported finding the men with shaved heads as more dominant than their hirsute counterparts. In one test, men with shorn heads were even perceived as an inch taller and about 13% stronger than those with fuller manes. The paper, "Shorn Scalps and Perceptions of Male Dominance," was published online, and will be included in a coming issue of journal Social Psychological and Personality Science. BlackRock Leads Firms Poised to Win From Hedge Fund Ads (Bloomberg) The Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama in April, ended a ban on the advertising of non-registered securities as part of an effort to expand funding options for startup companies. The law may give the biggest advantage to firms with trillions of dollars in assets and create a divide between asset managers that offer hedge funds, private equity and other alternatives and those that don’t, such as traditional mutual-fund companies. The Glory Days of Currency Trading Are Over: HSBC (CNBC) “In the glory days of carry, the FX market had the luxury of a clear framework for understanding and trading currencies,” the report, led by David Bloom Global Head of FX Strategy at HSBC, begins. “Life for FX market was simple. Get your interest rate calls correct, and you could both understand and trade the FX markets….In the low inflation environment, higher short rates meant a stronger currency and vice-versa…FX was beautiful. It was clear, liquid and transparent,” the report surmises. Fast forward through five years of global economic crisis and central banks ranging from the Federal Reserve to the Bank of Japan have introduced near-zero interest rates and quantitative easing in an attempt to stimulate economic growth creating “a problem for markets,” the report says. Einhorn Says No Quiero, Chipotle (NYP) In a packed conference room in Times Square yesterday, Einhorn joked that thanks to its new Cantina Bell menu, which boasts healthier options, Yum Brands’ Taco Bell is starting to “eat Chipotle’s lunch." No Joy On Wall Street (Bloomberg) “We may be on the verge of a new kind of banking crisis, and that’s a banking crisis where no one wants to own any banks as an investor,” said John Garvey, head of the financial- advisory practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP in New York. “The future looks very dim.” Brooklyn assistant principal exchanged 2,919 text messages with high school student (NYDN) In a report to schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, Richard Condon, special commissioner of investigation for the New York City School District, revealed other students witnessed questionable behavior by Del Re. The students claimed they saw Del Re playing with the young woman’s hair and leaving the Manhattan Beach school’s parking lot with her in his car. Both Del Re and the student in question told investigators that their relationship never went beyond texting and talking. “Del Re said that he never touched” the student, according to Condon’s report. Investigators examined Del Re’s cell phone and found he had texted the girl 1,442 times between Nov. 2, 2011, and Jan. 31, while the student texted him 1,477 times. It averages out to 1.3 text messages per hour between them for 91 days.

Holiday Bell: 7.3.15

Greece, Greece, Greece; Russia; Dominique Strauss-Kahn; Fireworks; "Joey Chestnut is focused on gobbling wieners after splitting from fiancee"; and more.

Opening Bell: 10.15.12

Global Finance Chiefs At Odds (WSJ) At the annual meetings here of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, European officials bickered about the damage caused by austerity; this week they head into a major euro-zone summit with no clear rescue plan for Greece. A territorial row between China and Japan, the world's second- and third-largest economies, bled into the conference with no sign of resolution, highlighting a new risk to growth. And many top finance officials pointed fingers at the U.S. for casting a new cloud over global markets by failing to make progress on the budget mess in the world's largest economy. Thousands March In Spain To Protest Austerity (Reuters) Several thousand anti-austerity protesters in Spain marched down a major street in the capital banging pots and pans Saturday. Many protesters also blew whistles as they blocked part of the Castellana boulevard Saturday carrying placards saying "We don't owe, we won't pay." "None of us pushed the banks to lend huge sums of money to greedy property speculators, yet we are being asked to pay for other's mistakes," 34-year-old civil servant Maria Costa, who was banging an old pot along with her two children, said. Bernanke Defends Fed From Claims It Is Being Selfish (NYT) Critics say the Fed’s unorthodox policies weaken the dollar and bolster the currencies of developing countries, hurting their ability to export. “It is not at all clear that accommodative policies in advanced economies impose net costs on emerging market economies,” Mr. Bernanke said at an event sponsored by the Bank of Japan and the International Monetary Fund. The Fed last month announced a program of open-ended bond purchases that will be continued until there is substantial improvement in labor market conditions, barring a sustained and unexpected spike in inflation. To start off, the central bank will buy $40 billion in mortgage-backed securities each month. “This policy not only helps strengthen the U.S. economic recovery, but by boosting U.S. spending and growth, it has the effect of helping support the global economy as well,” Mr. Bernanke said. Fischer Backs Fed QE3 as World ‘Awfully Close’ to Recession (Bloomberg) While there has been “a lot of progress made” to improve the global economy, its impact hasn’t materialized, Fischer said in an interview in Tokyo with Bloomberg Television airing Sunday. He signaled that by deciding not to set an end date or total amount to its third program of bond buying, the Fed is easing worries it will run out of ammunition before achieving its goals. Can Morgan Stanley's Gorman Save Wall Street? (BV) Gorman’s strategic moves are enough to convince one natural born skeptic, Mike Mayo, a financial-industry research analyst at Credit Agricole SA (ACA), to recommend Morgan Stanley’s stock for the first time in years. “The stock is valued as if it is a Greek or Spanish bank but its risk is far less,” he wrote in an e-mail to me. For Morgan Stanley to return to its glory days, he said, margins need to be improved in asset management, fixed-income trading needs to be further slimmed down and the core investment-banking franchise needs to be maintained and reinvigorated. Good advice. A firm built around lower risk-taking and lower overall pay while still providing clients with the advice and capital they need to innovate and expand is what we need on Wall Street. It’s the vision of one man taking seriously his responsibility to make the capital markets safe and productive for economies all over the world, instead of just some casino gone haywire where the house absorbs the losses and the profits go to the gamblers. The question is whether other leaders on Wall Street will follow Gorman’s example. Sex Life Was ‘Out of Step,’ Strauss-Kahn Says, but Not Illegal (NYT) More than a year after resigning in disgrace as the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn is seeking redemption with a new consulting company, the lecture circuit and a uniquely French legal defense to settle a criminal inquiry that exposed his hidden life as a libertine...In France, “Libertinage” has a long history in the culture, dating from a 16th-century religious sect of libertines. But the most perplexing question in the Strauss-Kahn affair is how a career politician with ambition to lead one of Europe’s most powerful nations was blinded to the possibility that his zest for sex parties could present a liability, or risk blackmail. The exclusive orgies called “parties fines” — lavish Champagne affairs costing around $13,000 each — were organized as a roving international circuit from Paris to Washington by businessmen seeking to ingratiate themselves with Mr. Strauss-Kahn. Some of that money, according to a lawyer for the main host, ultimately paid for prostitutes because of a shortage of women at the mixed soirees orchestrated largely for the benefit of Mr. Strauss-Kahn, who sometimes sought sex with three or four women. German finance chief Wolfgang Schaeuble says Greece won't default or exit (Telegraph) "Greece has to take a lot of very serious reforms" and "everyone is trusting that the Greek government is doing what is necessary", he said at a meeting with business leaders in Singapore on Sunday. Mr Schaeuble said an increasing majority of Greeks understand that being in the euro "is in the best interest of Greece" and said did not think there would be a ‘staatsbankrott’ - or state bankruptcy. He said he did not see “any sense to speculate on Greece leaving the euro” because it would be very damaging for both the country and the region. High-Speed Trading No Longer Hurtling Forward (NYT) Profits from high-speed trading in American stocks are on track to be, at most, $1.25 billion this year, down 35 percent from last year and 74 percent lower than the peak of about $4.9 billion in 2009, according to estimates from the brokerage firm Rosenblatt Securities. By comparison, Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase each earned more in the last quarter than the high-speed trading industry will earn this year. Titanic Tycoon Plans Stake Sale Talks for $8 Billion Gas Project (Bloomberg) Australian mining magnate Clive Palmer, who’s planning to build a modern replica of the Titanic, aims to start talks next year to sell stakes in a potential $8 billion natural gas project in Papua New Guinea. “We’ve had interest from major petrochemical companies who want to joint venture” including Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chinese companies, Palmer said in an interview. “We will talk to them at the appropriate time,” likely mid-2013 when field work is scheduled to be completed, he said. Occupy Supporters Stage Protest in London (AP) Several supporters of the anti-corporate Occupy movement chained themselves to the pulpit of St. Paul’s Cathedral during a service on Sunday in an action for the anniversary of its now-dismantled protest camp outside the London landmark. The dean of St. Paul’s, David Ison, said he was conducting an evening prayer service when “four young women dressed in white” chained themselves to the structure. Dutch make massive cocaine bust in fruit shipment headed for zoo, arrest five (AP) A major cocaine seizure in Europe turned out to be good news for the animals at Rotterdam’s zoo. The drugs were hidden among boxes of bananas, and the fruit went to the monkeys and other creatures at the Blijdorp zoo. Dutch prosecutors said Friday more than eight tons of cocaine was hidden among the bananas on a ship from Ecuador. The drugs were seized Monday in the Belgian port of Antwerp, while the bananas were allowed to continue on to Rotterdam – the shipment’s final destination. Dutch police arrested a Belgian truck driver and four Dutch men on Tuesday.

Opening Bell: 02.26.13

J.P. Morgan’s Investor Day: Cut That Headcount (Deal Journal) JP Morgan is looking to cut another $1 billion out of its expenses this year, including somewhere around 4,000 jobs, according to a new presentation...And that may not be all the cuts. In a separate presentation on the consumer bank and mortgage operations the bank expects to cut costs in mortgage banking by $3 billion over this year and next year and cut headcount there by between 13,000 and 15,000. Banks Face Hurdle In Libor Fight (WSJ) Next week, lawyers for Barclays PLC, Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC, UBS AG and more than a dozen other banks still under investigation are expected to ask a federal-court judge to throw out many of the suits, which seek class-action status. The suits, filed in civil court in California and New York by plaintiffs ranging from a retired cable-car driver in San Francisco to the city of Baltimore, have been piling up for nearly two years. They seek damages that could reach into the tens of billions of dollars from financial institutions that help determine the London interbank offered rate, or Libor. Barclays, RBS and UBS already have paid about $2.5 billion, and admitted wrongdoing, to settle rate-rigging allegations by U.S. and U.K. regulators. In court filings, lawyers for the 16 banks accused of wrongdoing say the lawsuits have no legal validity. The lawyers say regulatory settlements reached so far don't support the central allegation in most of the civil suits that banks engaged in illegal, anticompetitive behavior. Berlusconi Concedes as He Weighs Alliance (Bloomberg) Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi acknowledged rival Pier Luigi Bersani’s narrow victory in the lower house of Parliament and said he’s open to a broad alliance to avoid a second election. “Everyone needs to think what good can be done for Italy and this will take some time,” Berlusconi said in an interview with Canale 5, a station owned by his Mediaset SpA broadcaster. The country can’t be left without a government, he said. Lew gettin’ close: Senate panel to OK as next Treasury boss (NYP) Treasury Secretary-nominee Jack Lew will get the green light to replace Tim Geithner despite taking heat during and after his confirmation hearing over a loan he received from New York University. The 57-year-old former White House chief of staff has enough votes from the Senate Finance Committee, headed by Max Baucus (D-Mont.), to pass a vote today that will likely lead to his confirmation, sources said. A full Senate vote is likely to be scheduled in a couple of days and held sometime next week. Larry Summers: Sequestration 'Meat Cleaver' Is Irresponsible (CNBC) Avoiding the "sequester" is "round three" in the debt-reduction debate, former Clinton Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers told CNBC Tuesday, arguing for a "balanced approach" because President Barack Obama has agreed to more spending cuts than revenue during the process. In a "Squawk Box" interview, Summers said the funding constraints of the Budget Control Act of 2011 — which resolved that year's debt ceiling crisis — were round one. "You had spending cuts that were far larger from the discretionary side, that were far larger than anything [on revenue] that happened in December. Right now, we're way in balance toward more spending cuts." Dominique Strauss-Kahn seeks to ban 'half-man half-pig' book (Telegraph) The "biographical novel" by Marcela Iacub, a lawyer and journalist, recounts her seven-month affair with the 64-year-old Mr Strauss-Kahn last year. It is due to be published on Wednesday under the title, Belle et Bête, or Beauty and Beast. But the one-time Socialist presidential hopeful will this morning seek to have the book banned for "violation of the intimacy of private life" and the author and her publisher fined 100,000 euros (£88,000) in damages...In the work, she claims Mr Strauss-Kahn would have transformed the Elysée Palace into a "giant swingers' club" had he been elected French president. In fresh accounts by those who have read the book yesterday, the last chapter narrates the pair's final encounter, ending in Miss Iacub receiving treatment in casualty after "the pig" left her with an "eaten ear". Mr Strauss-Kahn has slammed the work of a woman who "seduces to write a book, claiming to have amorous feelings to exploit them for financial gain". Gupta's Gotta Pay GS $6.2 Million (NYP) Former Goldman Sachs director Rajat Gupta was ordered yesterday by a Manhattan federal judge to fork over a whopping $6.2 million to repay the Wall Street bank for legal fees it spent during the government’s probe of Gupta’s insider-trading case. The 64-year-old fallen star was convicted last year of giving up secrets he learned while on Goldman’s board to his pal and hedge fund honcho Raj Rajaratnam. Among the counts, the jury found Gupta guilty of giving Rajaratnam a tip on Warren Buffett’s $5 billion investment in Goldman in the throes of the financial crisis. Gupta, the former head of consulting firm McKinsey, is out on bail while he appeals the ruling. Goldman had requested restitution of $6.9 million — and submitted 542 pages of billing records from its lawyers at Sullivan Cromwell. Yahoo’s Mayer Risks Productivity With Work-From-Home Restriction (Bloomberg) Jackie Reses, Yahoo’s executive vice president of people and development, sent a memo last week asking employees with work-from-home arrangements to make their way to the company’s offices, starting June. “To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side,” according to the memo, whose contents were confirmed by a Yahoo employee who asked not to be identified because it’s not a public document. “Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.” At a time when Mayer is under pressure to jump-start growth and create innovative products, the shift may compromise Yahoo’s ability to attract employees seeking the freedom to work outside the office -- a perk offered by many of the company’s competitors. Research suggests that working from home enhances productivity, said Jody Thompson, co-founder of workforce consultant CultureRx. BP Oil-Spill Trial Begins (WSJ) Both Transocean and the Justice Department focused part of their opening statements on a 10-minute ship-to-shore phone call between two BP engineers, Donald Vidrine and Mark Hafle, less than an hour before the blast. From the rig, Mr. Vidrine allegedly talked about unusual results from a test designed to ensure the cement sealing in the bottom of the well was successful. Investigators later found that rig workers misinterpreted the results of the test. Dennis Rodman Bound For North Korea (Reuters) Retired U.S. basketball player Dennis Rodman is to visit North Korea to film a television documentary and will arrive in the capital Pyongyang on Tuesday, the Associated Press reported. Rodman, now 51 years old, won five NBA championships in his prime, achieving a mix of fame and notoriety for his on- and off-court antics. Thirty-year-old North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who has launched two long-range rockets and carried out a nuclear weapons test during his first year in power, is reported to be an avid NBA fan and had pictures taken with players from the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers during his school days in Switzerland. "At a time when tensions between the two countries (the United States and North Korea) are running high, it's important to keep lines of communication open, no matter how non-traditional those channels are," AP quoted Shane Smith, the founder of VICE, which is to make the TV series, as saying.