Opening Bell: 2.18.15

Snapchat thinks it's worth $19 billion; Volatility is interrupting nat-gas traders' sleep; BATS is going to try this IPO thing one more time; 12k snake deal ends in murder; AND MORE.
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Snapchat Said to Seek Up to $19 Billion Value in Financing (Bloomberg)
Snapchat, which makes a mobile application for sending photos and videos that disappear within seconds, wants to raise as much as $500 million, said the person, who asked not to be named because the talks are private. Executives are in advanced discussions with fund managers, the person said.

JPMorgan tops list of risky banks: government study (Reuters)
JPMorgan Chase & Co bears the highest potential hazard to the financial system if it were to fail, a staff study released by a U.S. government research agency showed, providing a first-of-its-kind numerical risk ranking of U.S. banks. The bank had a "systemic risk score" of 5.05 percent for 2013 in a group of 33 large U.S. bank holding companies, the study by staffers at the Treasury Department's Office of Financial Research (OFR) said. The study's numerical score is a measure of a bank's risk as a ratio of the total risk contained by a worldwide group of banks. The scores are based on metrics such as size, interconnectedness, complexity and cross-border activities, OFR said.

Buffett Ends $3.7 Billion Exxon Investment Amid Global Oil Rout (Bloomberg)
Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. exited a $3.7 billion investment in Exxon Mobil Corp. amid a slump in oil prices. Crude has fallen by about half since June as U.S. production surged and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries resisted output cuts. The decline has ravaged oil company profits and forced major producers and drillers to slash spending and fire thousands of workers.

Volatility Has Natural-Gas Traders on Alert (WSJ)
Mr. Gross, chief investment officer at Qeri LLC, a small commodity hedge fund in New York, used to wake up at 5 a.m. to look at the latest market data. Now he increasingly rises in the middle of the night to check the latest weather models and adjust his wagers. He doesn’t want to miss what he calls an “oh my God” move of 5% or more. Mr. Gross, 48 years old, says it has become common for those moves to start as early as midnight when electronic-trading programs react to weather updates hours before most human traders are awake.

Man Agreed To Buy $12,600 Worth Of Snakes, Then Shot Dealer (AP)
A Pennsylvania man who shot a snake dealer at a suburban Philadelphia shopping center has been convicted of attempted murder and robbery. The Delaware County Daily Times reports that 35-year-old Rasheem Dowdy of Allentown was also convicted in Delaware County of aggravated assault, robbery of a motor vehicle and a firearms count. Ridley Township police said Dowdy arranged to buy $12,600 worth of snakes but then robbed the breeder in the Woodlyn Shopping Center parking lot in January 2012. The robber shot the dealer and fled in his SUV but crashed it in nearby Folsom. Police later recovered a handgun and a jacket containing another gun. Prosecutors said DNA tests of the weapons and clothing matched a sample taken from Dowdy.

Holder Asks Lawyers to Pursue Bankers in Morgtage Fraud (Bloomberg)
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who forced Wall Street’s biggest banks to pay billions in fines for their roles in the subprime mortgage crisis, is pressing for action against executives at those firms, even as he prepares to leave his post. Holder, who is stepping down as soon as his successor, Loretta Lynch, is confirmed, has asked U.S. attorneys involved in residential mortgage-backed securities cases to report in 90 days on whether they can develop cases against individuals, he said Tuesday at the National Press Club in Washington.

BATS Moves Toward Another Try at an IPO (WSJ)
BATS Global Markets Inc., one of the country’s three big stock-exchange operators, is preparing to replace its chief executive officer as it lays the groundwork to take another stab at an IPO, according to people familiar with the matter...The IPO discussions come nearly three years after BATS, based in Lenexa, Kan., flubbed its first attempt at an IPO. In March 2012, the company canceled its offering after a software glitch sent its shares plunging to just a few cents in the opening moments of trading on its own exchange.

Paulson Keeps Gold Stake as Investors Lose Love for Metal (Bloomberg)
Billionaire hedge fund manager John Paulson stuck with his holding in the world’s biggest gold exchange-traded product at a time when other investors were dumping the metal. Paulson & Co., the largest holder of the SPDR Gold Trust, kept its stake at 10.23 million shares in the three months ended Dec. 31, a government filing showed. The position was unchanged for a sixth straight quarter.

Point72 Adds Facebook, Sells Baker Hughes, Exits Lyondell (Bloomberg)
Point72 Asset Management added shares of Facebook Inc. last quarter, sold stock in Baker Hughes Inc. and exited LyondellBasell Industries NV. The family office founded by Steven A. Cohen added 1.97 million shares of Facebook and the value of its stake increased by $153.4 million to $183.1 million as of Dec. 31, the biggest gain among previously disclosed holdings, according to a quarterly filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Point72 cut its holdings of Baker Hughes by 2.58 million shares, leaving 745,000 shares valued at $41.8 million, a decline of 81 percent. The firm liquidated its $122.9 million investment in LyondellBasell, selling 1.13 million shares.

Oil Muddies U.S. Economic Picture (WSJ)
The problem area is mining. Although it conjures images of headlamps, pickaxes and coal-smeared faces, the sector is dominated by the oil-and-gas-extraction industries. Due to the shale boom, these have been major contributors to industrial output in recent years. In December, they accounted for 13.7% of total industrial production versus 7.8% a decade earlier.

Boston mayor: Stop jumping out of windows into snow (UPI)
Boston is just inches away from breaking it's all-time snow total record, but that doesn't mean residents should start jumping out of windows, the city's mayor said Tuesday. Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh encouraged Bostonians not to jump out of their windows into the feet of snow buildup the city has accumulated since the beginning of the year. "I'm asking people to stop their nonsense right now. These are adults jumping out windows," he said during a news conference. "It's a foolish thing to do and you could kill yourself." "We're asking people to act responsibly in the city of Boston," Walsh said.

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Opening Bell: 2.24.16

Dimon says 'Brexit' would be a disaster; Fischer says chill; Jordan Belfort’s Ferrari is for sale; Man Turns Bedroom Into $21,000 Bat Cave; and more.

Opening Bell: 03.12.12

Greek Bailout Payment Set to Be Approved by Euro Ministers After Debt Deal (Bloomberg) Ministers from the 17 nations that share the euro will gather in Brussels today to sign off on the 130 billion-euro ($170 billion) second package for Greece after bondholders agreed last week to take a loss on the country’s debt. They’ll also focus on Spain’s budget-cutting efforts and Portugal’s aid program, underscoring their desire to prevent contagion. MF Global Bonuses Under Fire (WSJ) In a letter to former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Louis Freeh, Sen. Jon Tester (D., Mont.) said it would be "outrageous" to proceed with a proposal to a bankruptcy judge that could result in payouts of several hundred thousand dollars each for MF Global's chief operating officer, finance chief and general counsel. The size of the bonuses would depend on their job performance in helping Mr. Freeh maximize value for creditors of the company. Pandit Pay Climbs as Citigroup Revenue Slumps (Bloomberg) Pandit’s $15 million pay package for 2011 and a multi-year retention package announced in May could total $53 million, based on regulatory filings and an analyst’s estimate. The CEO also received $80 million last year from the New York-based firm’s purchase of his Old Lane Partners LP hedge fund in 2007. Latest Stress Tests Are Expected to Show Progress at Most Banks (NYT) In another milestone in the banking industry’s recovery from the financial crisis, the Federal Reserve this week will release the results of its latest stress tests, which are expected to show broadly improved balance sheets at most institutions...The examination is not merely an intellectual exercise. If institutions fall short, they could be required to raise billions in new capital, depressing their shares. If they pass, dividend increases and stock buybacks by the strongest institutions will follow as they did after the second round of tests a year ago, pleasing investors whose banks’ stocks still trade at levels far below where they where before the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008. Mortgage Deal Is Built On Tradeoffs (WSJ) Banks agreed to cut loan balances, a step they had long resisted, but they won't only get credit against their shares of the $25 billion settlement for reducing balances of loans they own. In some cases, they can receive partial credit if investors shoulder the cost of writing down loans the banks service. The banks also will receive credit for some steps they are already taking, such as approving short sales, where a home is sold for less than the amount owed, according to draft settlement documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. The Unravelling Of A Casino Marriage (WSJ) Messrs. Wynn and Okada, both known for their big, demanding egos, were something of an odd couple. Mr. Wynn is famous for a Cheshire-cat grin and smooth, grandiose soliloquies. Mr. Okada, a former engineer who had specialized in vacuum tubes, was sometimes seen as sullen and withdrawn by company outsiders. Born the same year, 1942, Mr. Wynn and Mr. Okada became "completely and totally bonded," Mr. Wynn said after they were introduced by a mutual friend. Mr. Wynn was hunting for investors who would give him leeway to create resorts that might take years to design and build. Mr. Wynn came of age during an era when casino operators were emerging from the industry's mob-infested roots. He hobnobbed with such celebrities as Steven Spielberg and Clint Eastwood. Mr. Okada, though often ranked among the richest people in Japan, largely stayed out of the spotlight. Missing Hiker Cuddled With Cat (AP) Snuggling in a blue sleeping bag, Margaret Page and her cat survived 3 1/2 weeks in a rugged New Mexico national forest, even though temperatures dropped below freezing nearly every night...The area had seen average highs reach around 60 degrees with evening lows in the 20s. It didn’t see much rain or snow, but there were some high winds...Relying on a creek for drinking water, Page and her cat named Miya lived on just a handful of supplies, rescue workers said Friday. Wells Fargo Poised to Lead Payouts Higher (Bloomberg) Wells Fargo and Citigroup may join banks unleashing more than $9 billion in dividend increases and share buybacks if they get passing grades this week on the Federal Reserve’s annual stress test. Thirteen of the 19 largest U.S. lenders may say they’ll pay out $3.79 billion in extra dividends this year and buy $5.52 billion of additional shares, according to estimates of six analysts compiled by Bloomberg. That’s 30 percent more than they spent last year. San Francisco-based Wells Fargo probably will offer the biggest difference at a combined $4.16 billion, followed by Citigroup with $2.92 billion. SEC Probes Operators’ Use of Multiple Markets (FT) According to people familiar with the probe, SEC officials are focusing on whether operators use multiple exchanges to appease customers which provide large order flows. At Lunch, Bloomberg And Obama Discuss Future (NYT) Mr. Bloomberg’s precise response is unknown. But their meeting a few weeks ago, confirmed by aides to both leaders and previously undisclosed, was potentially significant for both men, as Mr. Obama seeks support for his presidential campaign and Mr. Bloomberg ponders his post-mayoral career. Soros-led hookup may save American Apparel (NYP) George Soros has found a new financial disaster from which to profit: American Apparel. The billionaire octogenarian — who, like American Apparel’s controversial CEO Dov Charney, has lately been entangled in lawsuits with young, beautiful women — is backing a firm that’s in talks to extend a credit line worth as much as $80 million to the cash-strapped clothing chain, The Post has learned. The credit facility from Crystal Financial, a Boston-based firm that boasts Soros’ hedge fund as its lead investor, will immediately replace and expand a $75 million revolving credit line from Bank of America that matures in July, sources said. How To Become A Skeeball Master (YG) Not all skeeball machines are created equal. Between the shape of the ramp, the geometry of the backboard, and the precise characteristics of the rolling surfaces, each skeeball machine plays slightly differently -- and those variations can throw you off your game. If you're getting settled into a serious practice session, stock up with plenty of tokens and don't step away from your chosen spot....many skeeball aficionados prefer to kneel down to play. Maybe the lower stance helps them line up their shot, or perhaps being closer to the action helps them judge their throwing power a little more accurately. Whatever the reason, it's a tried and true technique for expert skeeball players -- and it might work for you, too. If you're struggling to settle into a comfortable throw, give it a try.

Opening Bell: 03.27.12

MF Global's Top Lawyer Will Break Her Silence (NYT) MF Global’s top lawyer is to break her five-month silence on today to tell Congress that she was unaware of a gaping shortfall in customer money until hours before the brokerage firm filed for bankruptcy on Oct. 31. Laurie Ferber, MF Global’s general counsel, is expected to tell a House panel that she “had no reason to believe” that the firm had raided customer accounts to meet its own obligations, according to a copy of her prepared testimony. While Ms. Ferber learned of a shortfall in customer money in the afternoon of Oct. 30, she said she believed it to be an accounting error. BATS Weighs Futures Steps (WSJ) BATS's markets functioned normally Monday, though the company ceded a little trading volume to rival U.S. exchanges. Some market participants privately expressed support for the company's leader. Separately, federal regulators indicated they were preliminarily viewing the IPO mishap as something of an isolated incident. Chairman and chief executive Joe Ratterman said two topics the board likely will discuss are potentially reviving an IPO and the status of employee bonuses in the wake of Friday's troubles. Over the weekend, BATS founder and board member Dave Cummings said the company should aim for an IPO in the second quarter, which starts next week. Goldman Diaspora Falters as Flamand Hedge Fund Declines (Bloomberg) “In spite of their pedigree, many ex-Goldman prop traders have found it much harder than they originally thought to make money,” said Matias Ringel, the New York-based head of research at EFG Asset Management, which invests in hedge funds. Poor timing led to the slow start for the Goldman Sachs diaspora as the European sovereign-debt crisis and a fragile economic recovery in the U.S. dominated global markets. Yet their failure to generate profits from investments also highlights the differences between trading at a bank, with its extensive research, technology and compliance operations, and running a hedge fund where clients pay top fees and are less tolerant of risk. Hitler Used As Spokesperson For Turkish Shampoo Commercial (IBT) The subtitles, dubbed over a clip of a Hitler speech, read: "If you're not wearing women's clothes, you shouldn't be using women's shampoo. Here it is, a real man's shampoo. Biomen." The commercial..has been met with a lot of outrage. Goldman 'Sacks' (NYP) Sehat Sutardja, 49, and his wife, Weili Dai, who founded chip giant Marvell Technology Group, have found stock certificates and related paperwork showing that Goldman had about 25 million shares of Marvell shares transferred from the family’s personal ownership, under management by Goldman, to the firm, lawyers for the couple claim. The family insisted that they had never approved such a transfer of their stock holdings, which were managed by Goldman’s private client group...The family is expected to file a new claim against Goldman today with Finra, backed by the recently discovered documents...Goldman said it hadn’t seen the new claims, adding that “Goldman Sachs has consistently denied and continues to fight Dr. Sutardja and Ms. Dai’s claims.” Goldman’s Jim O'Neill: Glass 'More Half Full Than Empty' (CNBC) "At the core of it, everybody worries about the next quarter and, linked to it, the volatility of last year is what scared a lot of longer-term investors. It's tough for a lot of pension fund trustees to live through that," O'Neill said. Added to this is the fact that the past decade has been weak for stock markets so "there's a broad anti-equity culture out there," he said, but added that the prospects for stocks are good. "I continue to see the world glass more half full than empty… on the account that the U.S. is on the way back, as it has been for some time." Fed Signals Resolve On Rates (WSJ) Investors tracking the labor market's gains had begun to expect interest rates to start climbing, said Liz Miller, president of Summit Place Financial Advisors. But Mr. Bernanke shifted that view. "What we heard from Ben Bernanke this morning was still a supportive monetary policy commitment, even in the face of improvements in the unemployment rate." Deutsche Bank No. 1 in Europe as Leverage Hits Valuation (Bloomberg) Chief Executive Officer Josef Ackermann, who has called proposals to limit bank size “misguided,” will leave behind a balance sheet about 40 percent larger than in 2006, and more than 80 percent as big as Germany’s economy, when he steps down in May. The firm is the second-most leveraged and third-least capitalized of Europe’s 10 largest banks, even after Ackermann boosted reserves and trimmed dependence on borrowed money. Carnegie Deli creates monster Tim Tebow-inspired sandwich (NYP) The famed Carnegie Deli has introduced the "Jetbow" in honor of new Jets backup quarterback, Tim Tebow -- a 3.5-pound monstrosity containing corned beef, pastrami, roast beef, American cheese, lettuce and tomato on white bread...The deli has other sandwich creations that honor celebrities, such as "The Woody Allen," and "The Melo," named after Knicks star Carmelo Anthony. But it is the first time the restaurant will be using white bread and mayonnaise in a sandwich created for a celebrity, instead of the traditional rye bread and mustard. The sandwich will cost $22.22 and was released on the same day Tebow held his first news conference in the Jets' field house.

Opening Bell: 03.07.13

Fed's Fisher Pins Slow Growth on Politicians (WSJ) Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas President Richard Fisher on Wednesday blamed both major U.S. political parties for a "horrid" political climate in Washington, and said monetary policy alone can't drive the economy. "We provided the fuel for economic recovery," Mr. Fisher said of the central bank, describing the Fed's stimulus as "very high-octane, dirt-cheap gasoline." But he said that neither Republican nor Democratic politicians in Washington have done their part by putting policies in place that spur the private sector "to take the cheap fuel that we have provided and step on the accelerator." Banks Said to Weigh Defying Fed With Dividend Disclosures (Bloomberg) The largest U.S. banks are weighing whether to disregard a Federal Reserve request and announce their dividend plans shortly after the central bank’s stress tests are released, people with knowledge of the process said. The Fed has asked 18 firms, including JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs, to wait until next week, even though the lenders will get preliminary word today about whether their capital plans were approved. Bank executives are concerned that investors could be confused and are considering whether securities laws may require prompt disclosure of their plans for dividends and share repurchases, the people said. Paulson Gold Fund Down 18% as Metal’s Slump Foils Rebound (Bloomberg) John Paulson posted an 18 percent decline in his Gold Fund last month as a slump in the metal, after more than a decade of gains, undermined efforts by the billionaire hedge-fund manager to rebound from two years of losses in some strategies. The $900 million Gold Fund, which invests in bullion- related equities and derivatives, is down 26 percent this year, Paulson & Co. said yesterday in a client update obtained by Bloomberg News. The firm’s Advantage funds also fell in February after the metal and related stocks weakened as signs of economic optimism curbed gold demand. “Despite the volatility and drawdown of our gold equity positions, we believe in the long-term outlook for these positions as quantitative easing programs continue around the world, credit expands in the United States, and gold equities continue to trade at a significant discount” to historical average valuations, the hedge fund said in a letter sent yesterday to investors, which was obtained by Bloomberg News. Carl Icahn Rachets Up Dell Fight (WSJ) In a letter released by Dell Thursday, Mr. Icahn said he has a "substantial" position in the company, and asked Dell to pay a per-share dividend of $9 if the deal is voted down by shareholders. He said that by his calculations, that transaction would be superior to the current going-private offer, citing a "stub" value of $13.81 a share which, combined with the special dividend, represents a 67% premium to the current $13.65 per-share offer price. Dell 'Welcomes' Carl Icahn to Go-Shop Process (CNBC) Dell on Thursday said it welcomed Carl Icahn, who has built up a 100 million share stake in the company, and other interested parties as the computer maker seeks to go private. The special committee appointed by the board said it was conducting a "robust go-shop process" and was looking at other alternatives after a $24.4 billion buyout led by founder Michael Dell faced opposition from some shareholders. Bad-News Bears Crash The Party (WSJ) For all their conviction, the bears realize it may be awhile before their dark predictions come true. "Unfortunately, I am bearish and I have been wrong," said Samer Nsouli, chief investment officer at Lyford Group International, a hedge fund, who argues that recent weakness in copper and oil is a portent of a global slowdown. "Make no mistake, it will end in tears. The eternal question is when." Lions Maul Two To Death In Kariba (Herald) Two people were yesterday mauled to death by lions in Mahombekombe suburb in the resort town of Kariba. Sources say the man only identified as Musinje and the woman Sharai Mawera, were attacked while spending time in a bushy area with the man managing to escape, leaving the woman behind. The man went on to report the case to police who, with the assistance of officers from the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, went in search of the lions. During the search they found an arm belonging to a man with investigations pointing to the lions having made a kill the previous night. That, the sources say, could have been the reason the lions did not completely eat the woman. BofA Times An Options Trade Well (WSJ) Bank of America's trading desk last June purchased options to buy 150,000 shares of Constellation Brands, an aggressive wager that the wine-and-beer seller's shares would rise, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of options-market data and of quarterly regulatory filings made by institutional investors. The trade helped push the volume in thinly traded Constellation options that day to more than 13 times the previous 30 days' daily average, the options data show. A week later, Constellation announced a pact to buy a Mexican beer maker out of a joint venture that imports Corona Extra and other beers into the U.S. market. Bank of America led a duo of banks that financed the $1.85 billion deal. Constellation shares soared 24% on June 29, the day the deal was made public, and Bank of America generated an estimated paper profit of more than $1 million from the options trading, the options-market data indicate. China Imitates Singer (NYP) Paul Singer’s battle with Argentina over defaulted debt is beginning to ripple through the bond world. Creditors looking to force deadbeat countries to pay up are turning to the controversial legal argument Singer used to press his case against the South American country in the US courts. On Monday, China’s Ex-Im Bank, which has an unpaid judgment worth $32 million against Grenada, sued the tiny Caribbean country in New York federal court to get its money back. China wheeled out the same “equal treatment” argument that Singer’s Elliott Management used against Argentina, and which was recently upheld at the appeals level for the first time in the US. China’s move marks the first time a creditor other than Singer and his cohorts have tested the maneuver in the US. Obama Tries Charm Offensive to Woo Republicans on Deficit (Bloomberg) The president broke bread last night with a dozen Republican senators, hosting a dinner at a luxury Washington hotel near the White House. Next week, he’ll visit Capitol Hill to meet separately with Republicans and Democrats in the Senate. Obama has also spoken by telephone with at least a half- dozen Republican lawmakers over the past few days about the budget and other priorities of his second term, including a rewrite of immigration laws and controlling gun violence. “There have been some problems, but we’re all adults and you just have to put the country ahead of party and you’ll be fine,” Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who helped organize the dinner, said before the meal. The increased outreach marks a shift in strategy for the White House, amid signs the president’s poll numbers are falling after he and Republicans were unable to avert the across-the- board spending cuts that took effect March 1. Jobless Claims in U.S. Unexpectedly Fall to a Six-Week Low (Bloomberg) First-time jobless claims unexpectedly fell by 7,000 to 340,000 in the week ended March 2, the lowest since the period ended Jan. 19, according to data today from the Labor Department in Washington. The median forecast of 50 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for an increase to 355,000. The four-week average dropped to a five-year low. JC Penney Board Can’t Be 'Delusional': Ex-CEO (CNBC) Former JC Penney CEO Allen Questrom told CNBC on Wednesday that the company's board of directors is wrong in thinking the struggling retailer can change its fortunes under current boss Ron Johnson. "The board has to take action. They can't be delusional like Ron Johnson is," Questrom said on "Fast Money Halftime Report." "This has been going on long enough. You can't say you're going to make your numbers for the year and then drop a billion dollars." Questrom, who has watched from afar as Penney's sales and stock have suffered, told CNBC that directors needed to act quickly. "If they think if it all of a sudden going to turn itself around, there is no way they can have reliable information – because Ron is not a source for that," he said. "The sooner they act, the better." 1 in 10 Yale students have engaged in prostitution, 3% have had sex with an animal (NYDN) Sexologist Dr. Jill McDevitt hosted the sex workshop session where around 55 students used their cellphones to answer questions about sex. The results were then published in real time on a screen. McDevitt, who also owns the Feminique sex store in West Chester, Pennsylvania, said the results showed "you can't have assumptions about people's backgrounds." Student Giuliana Berry, who hosted the event, told Campus Reform the workshop - part of Yale's Sex Weekend - aimed to increase understanding and compassion for people who indulged in "fringe sexual practices."

Opening Bell: 12.12.12

Three Questioned In Libor Probe (WSJ) While the SFO didn't identify the men, one of them is Thomas Hayes, a former trader at UBS and Citigroup, according to people familiar with the matter. Authorities in multiple countries have been looking into Mr. Hayes as an alleged coordinator of a group of employees at multiple banks who sought to manipulate the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, according to people familiar with the case. One of the others arrested was Terry Farr, an employee of British brokerage firm R.P. Martin Holdings Ltd. in London who is currently on leave from the firm, according to a person familiar with the case. Mr. Farr has been under investigation for possibly helping bank employees coordinate their efforts to influence Libor, according to people familiar with the case. HSBC Mexican Branches Said to Be Traffickers’ Favorites (Bloomberg) From 2006 to 2010, the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico and the Norte del Valle Cartel in Columbia moved more than $881 million in proceeds through HSBC’s U.S. unit, said Lanny Breuer, assistant attorney general for the U.S. Justice Department’s criminal division. Breuer, along with U.S. Attorney Lorretta Lynch in Brooklyn, New York, announced yesterday the bank had agreed to pay at least $1.9 billion to settle money laundering probes. “These traffickers didn’t have to try very hard,” Breuer said at a press conference in Brooklyn. “They would sometimes deposit hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash in a single day into a single account using boxes designed to fit the precise dimension of the tellers’ windows in HSBC’s Mexico branches.” It Could Get Hairy Before 'Cliff' Deal: Greenspan (CNBC) "The best possible outcome is to take something like Simpson-Bowles as it came out originally and work off that," he said, of a deal to avoid the automatic tax hikes and spending cuts that go into effect at the end of the year. But he said that reaching a final agreement won't be an easy process, since the president believes he has a mandate following the election while House Republicans believe they, too, have a mandate. "I'm not at altogether clear how much control (Speaker) Boehner has over the overall caucus," Greenspan said. "At the end of the day it will all work out but it's going to be a bit hairy before we get there." Buffett Joins Soros in Effort to Raise Taxes on Estates (Bloomberg) Billionaireinvestors Warren Buffett and George Soros are calling on Congress to increase the estate tax as lawmakers near a decision on tax policies that expire Dec. 31. In a joint statement Tuesday, Buffett, Soros and more than 20 other wealthy individuals asked Congress to lower the estate tax’s per-person exemption to $2 million from $5.12 million and raise the top rate to more than 45 percent from 35 percent. An estate tax structured this way will “raise significant revenue to reduce the deficit and fund vital services, will only be paid by the top one percent of estates, will raise more from the wealthiest estates” and will simplify compliance, said the statement. It also was signed by John Bogle, founder of mutual fund company Vanguard Group Inc., and former President Jimmy Carter. U.S. Probe of SAC Trading Said to Be Linked to 2010 Case (Bloomberg) A U.S. investigation of possible insider trading at SAC Capital Advisors LP, the $14 billion hedge fund run by Steven A. Cohen, is linked to a 2010 regulatory lawsuit over allegedly illegal trades in InterMune Inc, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Securities and Exchange Commission’s probe of trades that SAC Capital made in the Brisbane, California-based biopharmaceutical company is tied to a December 2010 SEC lawsuit against an investor, said the person, who asked not to be named because the matter isn’t public. The investor bought InterMune options before a European Union regulatory panel urged approval of the company’s drug Esbriet to treat a fatal lung disease, the person said, declining to elaborate. Man says law standing between him and sex acts with donkey is unconstitutional (NYDN) Lawyers representing the frisky farmhand thrown in jail for allegedly masturbating with a donkey are now fighting to have Florida’s statute banning sex with animals declared unconstitutional. “By making sexual conduct with an animal a crime, the statute demeans individuals like Defendant by making his private sexual conduct a crime,” attorneys for 32-year-old Carlos R. Romero wrote in a motion filed last week, the Ocala-Star Banner reported. Romero was cuffed at an Ocala farm back in September after farm proprietor Gerald James told police he saw Romero with his pants down as he was seemingly having sex with a donkey named Doodle in an equipment room on Aug. 15, according to police report obtained by thesmokinggun.com. Romero later pleaded not guilty to a first-degree misdemeanor charge of sexual activities involving animals. He announced last week that he wanted his case to go to trial. His attorneys argue that Florida’s statute violates the farmhand’s rights by stripping him of his “personal liberty and autonomy when it comes to private intimate activities.”They say the statute is unconstitutional because it doesn’t require the state to provide any proof of the animal’s suffering “or any proof of the sexual activity being non-consensual.” Inside The Risky Bets Of Central Banks (WSJ) While many national governments, including the U.S., have failed to agree on fiscal policy—how best to balance tax revenues with spending during slow growth—the central bankers have forged their own path, independent of voters and politicians, bound by frequent conversations and relationships stretching back to university days. If the central bankers are correct, they will help the world economy avoid prolonged stagnation and a repeat of central banking mistakes in the 1930s. If they are wrong, they could kindle inflation or sow the seeds of another financial crisis. Failure also could lead to new restrictions on the power and independence of central banks, tools deemed crucial in such emergencies as the 2008-2009 financial crisis. Freeport's $20 Billion Deal Stirs Backlash (WSJ) Freeport agreed last week to acquire energy explorers McMoRan Exploration Co. MMR +0.85% and Plains Exploration & Production Co. PXP -0.42% in transactions that will cost the Arizona mining giant about $20 billion including assumed debt. The deal will result in six directors with overlapping roles at Freeport and McMoRan Exploration receiving payouts for their shares totaling more than $130 million, according to securities filings. Some Freeport investors and analysts also have questioned the wisdom of a metals miner diving into the oil and gas business. They have taken issue with what they call conflicts of interests among the shared executives and directors at Freeport and McMoRan and the fact that the deal as structured doesn't require a Freeport shareholder vote. Fed Discourages Bank Dealmaking (WSJ) The Federal Reserve is pushing large U.S. banks to forget about all but the smallest acquisitions for a while amid a raging debate over the risk big lenders pose to the financial system. Man Drive 100 MPH To Wedding, Gets Arrested (Again) (NWI) Timothy N. Thompson, 23, of Valparaiso, was supposed to be married in a 7 p.m. ceremony. Instead, Thompson was arrested for resisting law enforcement, criminal recklessness and reckless driving. He was also cited for speeding and improper passing. According to police, an officer spotted Thompson about 6:30 p.m. Saturday speeding north in the center lane of Willowcreek Road. The officer estimated Thompson was driving 100 mph. Thompson allegedly continued to drive erratically, switching lanes abruptly and, according to the report, nearly wrecking. Police reported they followed Thompson as he turned into the parking lot of Nativity of Our Savior Church on Willowcreek Road, where he again nearly tipped over the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Once he entered the church's parking lot, three people -- later identified as relatives -- began flailing their arms and yelling at him. Thompson drove through the parking lot, accelerating and doing a "doughnut," creating a thick blanket of tire smoke, according to the report. When he stopped, Thompson told police he was late for his wedding and estimated he was doing "about 90" mph. He also told police he had his emergency flashers on and was sounding his horn to alert drivers. When an officer walked away from Thompson's vehicle, Thompson reentered his vehicle and drove toward the entrance of the church, where he was stopped by police again. "Oh, I thought you were done and I'm late for a party in Chicago," police reported Thompson saying. "It now means I have to drive really fast to get there." Thompson, who also told police he had just been released from jail that day, didn't make his wedding. He was transported to Porter County Jail and held without bond.