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

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Opening Bell: 2.24.15

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Opening Bell: 12.18.15

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Opening Bell: 11.10.15

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(Getty Images)

Opening Bell: 1.6.17

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Opening Bell: 10.19.12

Schapiro SEC Reign Nears End With Rescue Mission Not Done (Bloomberg) Admirers and critics agree Schapiro rescued the agency from the threat of extinction when she was appointed by President Barack Obama four years ago. Still, she hasn’t fulfilled her mission -- to overcome the SEC’s image as a failed watchdog by punishing those who steered the financial system toward disaster and by proving regulators can head off future breakdowns. “It was harder than I thought it was going to be,” Schapiro, 57, said during an interview in her office that looks out on the Capitol dome. “You have this nice little box of things you want to do all tied up with a bow, and you walk in the door and it’s very hard to keep at least one eye on that agenda while you’re dealing with the flash crashes and the new legislation and the whole range of things that happened,” she said. Morgan Stanley CEO Hints Of Commodity Arm Sale (Reuters) Morgan Stanley has an obligation to explore "different structures" for its commodities trading business because new regulations are limiting the unit's activities, Chief Executive James Gorman said on Thursday. The CEO's comments were the first time Morgan Stanley has publicly hinted at a possible sale of its multibillion-dollar oil and metals trading arm, which has been reported in the media for months. Morgan Stanley has been in discussions with OPEC member Qatar for more than a year over the sale of at least a majority stake in its energy-focused trading business, according to bankers. Speaking on a conference call with analysts after the firm reported better-than-expected quarterly results on Thursday, Gorman said changes under the U.S.' Dodd-Frank financial reform law restrict the kind of trading the firm can do in commodities. Europe Agrees On Banking Supervisor (WSJ) European leaders early Friday agreed to have a new supervisor for euro-zone banks up and running next year, a step that will pave the way for the bloc's bailout fund to pump capital directly into banks throughout the single-currency area. John Paulson Doubles Down On Housing (WSJ) Hedge-fund manager John Paulson famously made nearly $4 billion in 2007 correctly betting that the housing bubble, fueled by the subprime mortgage market, would pop. Then the billionaire investor somewhat reversed course, arguing that the housing cycle had hit a low point. "If you don't own a home, buy one," he said in a 2010 speech at the University Club in New York. "If you own one home, buy another one, and if you own two homes, buy a third and lend your relatives the money to buy a home." So far, that bet has been a loser: The Wall Street tycoon lost about $3 billion personally in 2011, according to people close to the hedge-fund manager, speculating that the economy would recover faster than it did. But through the downturn Mr. Paulson—whose net worth is estimated to be around $11 billion, according to people familiar with his situation—continued his real estate spending spree. Over the last eight years, he has spent more than $145 million on six properties, including two estates in Southampton, N.Y., two properties near Aspen, Colo., and two residences in Manhattan, where he is based, according to public records. (He later sold one of the Southampton properties, for $10 million in 2009, a year after buying a larger estate nearby). In June, Mr. Paulson snapped up a 90-acre Aspen ranch and an adjoining property from Prince Bandar bin Sultan for a total of $49 million, according to public records, one of the highest prices ever paid for property in the area. Ben Stein: Taxes Are Too Low (Mediaite) Author and economist Ben Stein joined Fox & Friends on Thursday where he stunned the hosts after he called for raising the tax rates on people making more than $2 million per year. He said that he did not think that the United States simply had a spending problem, and cited the early post-war period as an example of a time when you could have high tax rates and high growth. “I hate to say this on Fox – I hope I’ll be allowed to leave here alive – but I don’t think there is any way we can cut spending enough to make a meaningful difference,” said Stein. “We’re going to have to raise taxes on very, very rich people. People with incomes of, say, $2, $3, $4 million a year and up. And then slowly, slowly, slowly move it down. $250,000 a year, that’s not a rich person.” Stein said that the government has a spending problem, but they also have a “too low taxes problem.” “With all due respect to Fox, who I love like brothers and sisters, taxes are too low,” said Stein. “That sounds like Bowles-Simpson,” said Gretchen Carlson. “It is Bowles-Simpson,” Stein replied. Should've Left That At Home, Teacher Is Told On Jury Duty (NYT) Damian Esteban was qualified to teach students at a specialized New York City high school, and had just been deemed reasonable enough to judge a man’s fate in a murder trial. But passing through the metal detectors at a Manhattan courthouse may have been too tough a test. Mr. Esteban, 33, was arrested on Wednesday as he returned from a break in a trial in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the state Office of Court Administration, said. As Mr. Esteban, a teacher at the Williamsburg School of Architecture and Design in Brooklyn, passed through a metal detector at the courthouse, it beeped. A court officer, Laura Cannon, found the culprit to be a cigarette box in Mr. Esteban’s pocket. Upon opening the cigarette box, Ms. Cannon reported that she found a much bigger problem: 18 small bags of heroin. A Daunting To-Do List For Citigroup's New CEO (BusinessWeek) Citigroup’s largest problem may be internal. The company, analyst Richard Bove says, “is a political swamp. It’s a snake pit.” Cleansing the culture must be a priority, says Mike Mayo, an analyst at Crédit Agricole Securities. “So whether it’s the inappropriate pay for subpar performance; the lack of adequate disclosure, such as returns by business line; the failure to properly oversee the many different businesses; or the poor tone set at the top of the firm for corporate governance, they all add up to the need to improve the culture,” Mayo says. Cooling The Pits: ICE Yelling Ends (WSJ) Augustine Lauria knew his 37-year career as a floor trader was over when he got a memo from IntercontinentalExchange in late July announcing the closing of the exchange operator's last trading pits. Friday will be the last chance the 61-year-old trader will get to put on his navy-blue and yellow trading jacket and badge. It will be the final day of rough-and-tumble "open-outcry" commodities trading on the ICE-owned pits in lower Manhattan where options on cotton, coffee, cocoa, sugar and orange juice are bought and sold. "What can I do? I can count fast and yell loud," says Mr. Lauria, who boards the Staten Island Ferry before sunrise to get to work in time for the 8:10 a.m. bell. Amanda Larrivee Speaks Out about Incident at Samuel’s (ABC) Amanda Larrivee and her brother Robert Larrivee were arrested at Samuels Sports Bar Sunday for allegedly stealing TV’s from the bathroom. Now, the woman involved is speaking out about what happened that night and the “immature” remark made by her brother. The legal case against Amanda has been dropped, but a comment made by her brother is getting all the attention. He told police that the two were in the bathroom having sex. Amanda says that was not the case. “The comment was taken out of context and it’s not what it looks like,” said Larrivee...“I just want to come out and really let people know that it’s not what it looked like. It’s humiliating and the comment having sexual relations with my brother was an impulse, immature comment made by him that is not the truth,” said Larrivee. Amanda says Robert wasn’t trying to steal the TV’s, but was upset over seeing his ex-girlfriend. “He had an outburst at the time you know it turned into you know touching the TV on the wall, turned into an ugly scene,” said Larrivee. “He took the televisions down. He had no intention of stealing. He’s not walking out with two televisions,” said Attorney Jack St. Clair.

Opening/Hurricane Bell: 10.29.12

Bracing for Storm, U.S. Stock Markets to Close (Dealbook) All United States stock and options markets will close on Monday as Hurricane Sandy approaches, reversing course as Wall Street braces for the storm to barrel through the heart of the country’s financial center. The decision, made late Sunday night, leaves the American stock markets closed for weather conditions for the first time in nearly three decades. The New York Stock Exchange had previously planned on closing only its physical trading floor, while allowing for trading on its Arca electronic exchange. It has now decided to halt all trading. The Nasdaq and BATS stock markets, which are built on electronic trading, also decided to close. The CME Group, which operates the Nymex commodities exchange, said earlier on Sunday that it would close its physical trading floor on Monday, though trading would continue on its electronic trading platforms. The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, or Sifma, said in an e-mailed statement that it was calling for bond trading, which is all done electronically, to close at noon Monday, though it left the final decision to member firms. The N.Y.S.E. last closed trading for weather reasons in 1985, when Hurricane Gloria lashed the metropolitan area. Markets Go Dark Ahead Of Storm (WSJ) Customers had complained to the exchanges and to the Securities and Exchange Commission that partial closures of the market would be too complicated, according to people with knowledge of the matter. US Stock Markets To Possibly Stay Closed Through Tuesday (Reuters) In a statement, the company said that "the dangerous conditions developing as a result of Hurricane Sandy will make it extremely difficult to ensure the safety of our people and communities, and safety must be our first priority." Citigroup, Goldman Sachs Shut Some NYC Offices for Storm (Bloomberg) Citigroup and and Goldman Sachs are among Wall Street firms planning to shift operations to other cities and have staff work from home as Hurricane Sandy’s arrival in New York forces evacuations. Employees at Citigroup, the third-biggest U.S. bank by assets, won’t be able to enter Lower Manhattan offices on Greenwich Street and Wall Street, which include the main trading floor, according to a memo sent to workers and confirmed by Shannon Bell, a spokeswoman. Goldman Sachs, whose corporate headquarters at 200 West St. is also located in an evacuation zone, told the staff in an internal memo that most of them will work from home...European-based firms including Deutsche Bank AG, Credit Suisse Group AG and UBS AG, which have offices outside of the mandatory evacuation zone, are making arrangements to provide transportation and hotels for workers. Christie: "Don't Be Stupid" (AP) A year after telling New Jersey residents to "Get the hell off the beach" as Hurricane Irene approached, Gov. Chris Christie has a new message for people on the coastline: "Don't be stupid — get out," Christie said Sunday afternoon at a news conference, where he updated residents on the status of the huge storm bearing down on the state. Stock Pickers Game The Fiscal Cliff (WSJ) A number of companies are seeking to get ahead of the tax increases by paying out big special dividends before Dec. 31. In the past two weeks, at least four Standard & Poor's 500 companies have announced special payouts, including a $750 million payout by casino operator Wynn Resorts Ltd., a $1.1 billion dividend from hospital operator HCA Holdings Inc. and a $1.6 billion dividend from LyondellBasell Industries NV, a New York-listed chemicals group. The game for investors is to figure out which companies could be next. Jay Wong, a Los Angeles-based portfolio manager for Payden & Rydel, a money manager with $75 billion under management, is on high alert for potential payouts. He increased his stake in Wynn earlier this month in anticipation of a special dividend and is looking for others. He declined to be specific, citing a desire to not give his trades away. Occupy Wall Street's Stacey Hessler Splits From Husband (NYP, earlier) The filing lists Curtiss’ occupation as banker and says he earns $65,000 a year. Her job is listed in court papers as “protester” and her employer as “Occupy Wall Street.” Annual salary: $0. Divorce papers cite “irreconcilable differences” for the split, saying the 19-year marriage “is irretrievably broken.” One OWS protester who knows her says that Stacey’s devotion to the movement caused the divorce but that she was unfazed by the breakup. “She didn’t seem sad about any of it,” the source said. “It was just so matter-of-fact.” As recently as last month, Stacey, 39, was sleeping in front of a Wells Fargo bank branch in the Financial District near Zuccotti Park, but it appears she scrambled back home to suburban DeLand to finalize the divorce. Wearing her professional-protester uniform — a bandana and patchwork clothes — she refused to say what her plans were or when she’d be leaving the house. But she did respond when a Post reporter asked about a YouTube video showing her making out with another protester during an Occupy “Kiss In” on Valentine’s Day. “I actually made out with four guys,” she said, laughing wildly. Governments to debate 50 billion euro cut to EU budget (Reuters) The cut will be proposed in the latest EU negotiating text on the bloc's spending plan for 2014-2020, but is unlikely to be deep enough to satisfy Britain, Germany, France and other net budget contributors. They want strict limits on EU spending to reflect the austerity imposed by national governments to reduce debt, and called for cuts of 100-200 billion euros to the total proposed by the EU's executive, the European Commission. The proposal is also likely to anger Poland and other former communist EU countries who are the major beneficiaries of EU funds, and oppose any cuts to the Commission's blueprint which they argue is vital for their future economic growth. "As I see it now, the reduction from the Commission proposal will be 50 billion euros plus. That will be the basis for negotiations," said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Greek Journalist Held Over List of Swiss-Account Holders (Bloomberg) Kostas Vaxevanis, editor of the Greek magazine Hot Doc, was arrested in Athens today, according to a message posted on his Twitter account at 11 a.m. local time. An arrest warrant was issued yesterday after the magazine published what’s been dubbed the “Lagarde list,” an electronic file given to Greece in 2010 by then-French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde of about 2,000 Greeks with Swiss accounts. Insurers Prepare For Impact Of Hurricane Sandy (Reuters) Had Sandy hit in 2011, it may have been more of a problem for the insurance industry, which dealt with record-breaking losses around the world last year, mostly from U.S. tornadoes and Asia-Pacific earthquakes. But in 2012, most insurers' disaster losses are down substantially, leaving them with more capacity to absorb the billions of dollars in costs some expect from Hurricane Sandy. "In terms of losses, I certainly don't think it's going to be the largest loss of the last 100 years," Tom Larsen, senior vice president of Eqecat, said in an interview late Friday. "It's not an end-of-days scenario." SEC Weighs Bringing Back Fractions in Stock Prices (WSJ) The move would at least partly undo an 11-year-old rule that replaced fractions of a dollar in stock prices, like 1/8 and 1/16, with pennies. The idea of that change was to trim investors' trading costs: One-cent increments can lead to narrower gaps between the prices at which brokers buy and sell shares—potentially reducing their opportunity to shave off profits. Those championing the fraction's return say it would spur securities firms to buy and sell more shares of some companies by making it more profitable for them to do so. Opponents say fractions would increase trading costs for investors with little or no benefit to companies. UBS, RBS Traders Suspended as Rates Probe Goes Beyond Libor (Bloomberg) UBS and Royal Bank of Scotland suspended more than three traders in Singapore as regulators investigating Libor-rigging turn their attention to the rates used to set prices on foreign exchange derivatives. At least two foreign-exchange traders at UBS, Switzerland’s largest bank, have been put on leave as part of an internal probe into the manipulation of non-deliverable forwards, a derivative traders use to speculate on the movement of currencies that are subject to domestic foreign exchange restrictions, according to a person with direct knowledge of the operation. Edinburgh-based RBS also put Ken Choy, a director in its emerging markets foreign exchange trading unit, on leave, a person briefed on the matter said on Oct. 26. Women who knew 'cannibal cop' worried they were on his 'cook list' (NYP) “Freaked-out” female acquaintances of would-be cannibal cop Gilberto “Gil” Valle yesterday wondered whether they were on his alleged list of 100 ladies to kidnap, rape, torture, cook — and eat. “I was so shaken when I found out it was him,” said Beverly Seiger, who knew Valle, 28, from the Forest Hills, Queens, park he visited nightly with his wife and baby daughter. “I used to walk his dog. I’ve been to his house many times. He’s been to my house,” she said of Valle, whom federal prosecutors accuse of plotting with three fiendish pals to kidnap, cook and consume scores of females. “I don’t want to be on his list!” Seiger said. “I’m so thin, he would use me as toothpicks. “The women in this neighborhood now are freaked out,” she said. Another female resident asked a reporter, “Are we on this list? “I fit in an oven,” she said, referring to Valle’s alleged boasting online of having an oven “big enough to fit one of these girls if I folded their legs.”