Opening Bell: 2.2.15

Ex-intern gets six-figures for ‘Screwing Wall Street’ porn; Former Maryland Banker Reveals He Used to Work for the CIA; Justice Department Investigating Moody’s Investors Service; Washington man recieves $18,000 bridge toll bill...More
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Ex-intern gets six-figures for ‘Screwing Wall Street’ porn (NYP, earlier)
Just two weeks after she posted her infamous seminude farewell selfies from her job interning in the alternative-investments marketing group at Lazard Asset Management, Veronica Vain’s boasting of landing a six-figure deal to star in her first porn film, charmingly titled, “Screwing Wall Street.” The skin flick, which starts filming in LA on Sunday, is being made in partnership with sugar-daddy matchmaking site arrangementfinders.com, and will parody the 1987 classic “Wall Street” starring Michael Douglas. “We don’t have to mess with the story that much to turn it into a porno,” the Web site’s president, Kayden Kross, told The Post’s Laura Italiano. “If you extended a lot of the scenes in the movie, they would naturally lead into hard-core sex.” Or, as Vain sees it, Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street” is “basically already written as a porno without sex . . . Like, ‘If you’re not inside, you’re outside.’ That’s what Michael Douglas says to Charlie Sheen in the limo scene.” OK, then. Vain, 23, will play the Sheen role, except she sleeps her way “from bedroom to boardroom,” explains Kross, who’s also writing the opus. “She’s the broker who is basically trying to become a player,” Kross said of Vain’s character. “She does what she needs to do to get to the top.”

Former Maryland Banker Reveals He Used to Work for the CIA (WSJ)
Edwin “Ed” Hale Sr., a retired bank executive known locally for his sharp-elbowed approach to business, installed video surveillance on his 186-acre farm and still sleeps with a sawed-off shotgun by his bed. His friends, former employees and even his own daughters were shocked to learn in his recently published biography that he had ample reason to do so: The former chief executive and chairman of Bank of Baltimore says he worked covertly for the Central Intelligence Agency for almost a decade in the 1990s and early 2000s. During that time, he said, he spoke regularly with a CIA handler and allowed the agency to create a fake company under his corporate umbrella, which included shipping and trucking companies he ran at the same time he led the bank. Operatives in the field used the fictitious firm as cover when traveling the world, complete with business cards and hats. Mr. Hale said he worked under “nonofficial cover,” in which his identity was unassociated with the U.S. government. In the early 1990s, Mr. Hale said, the CIA used agents posing as his employees to track Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts and gather information on the terrorist’s financing operations.

Justice Department Investigating Moody’s Investors Service (WSJ)
Justice Department officials in recent months have quietly met with multiple former executives of Moody’s Investors Service to discuss ratings of complex securities before the crisis, according to people familiar with the situation. The Justice Department lawyers probing Moody’s are still in the early stages of their investigation, according to people familiar with the matter. It isn’t yet clear whether it will result in a lawsuit, the people said.

IPO lands Shake Shack’s Danny Meyer $342M in 1st day (NYP)
New York restaurateur Danny Meyer, who conceived the cart to help restore a then-downtrodden Madison Square Park, saw his wealth increase by $342 million Friday as stock soared 118.6 percent above its initial public offering price of $21.00 per share to end the day at $45.90. Meyer owns 7.4 million of those shares for a 21 percent stake in the hot-dog cart he turned into a humble hamburger kiosk in 2004.

'Hooters on steroids': One NFL alum's second act (CNBC)
After eight seasons in the league, Crawford Ker entered his post-football life, a period that includes financial struggles for many former athletes. "That money you have has to last," Ker told CNBC in a phone interview. "You either get a job, or you take a risk. It's very humbling to get a job making $40,000 when you were making a million." He chose the latter option, co-founding a sports bar and grill in Florida with his last half a million dollars after his retirement in 1992. He describes the chain, Ker's WingHouse, as a "Hooters on steroids," featuring wings and scantily clad waitresses. Since its founding two decades ago, the chain has grown to 24 locations. In July, Ker sold the chain—which generated $60 million in revenue last year—to private equity firm Third Lake Capital for a "good multiple." He declined to share the exact figure, and has stayed on as a consultant. Ker said his experience in the NFL furthered his ability to make tough decisions, and helped him develop his work ethic. "In the NFL, it's about performance and if you do well, they reward you," he said. "I took that same idea to the business world."

For Only Third Time In Recorded History, Man Is Arrested For Driving Zamboni While Intoxicated (TSG)
Police were summoned to the South Sports Arena in Fargo by witnesses who reported that Steven Anderson, 27, was driving the ice resurfacing machine in an erratic manner. Anderson, a seasonal worker at the municipal facility, was operating the Zamboni between periods of a girls high school hockey game. Anderson was arrested after cops concluded that he was intoxicated. Charged with DUI, Anderson was booked into the county jail, from which he was released yesterday after posting bond. In a Twitter post with the hashtag “bumperzamboni,” a spectator at the arena reported that, “I’ve never seen a zamboni have so much trouble around the edges.” Anderson was fired after his arrest. According to Cass County court records, Anderson was busted in mid-December for drunk driving (a car) and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Hedge Fund Brevan Howard’s Fortunes Blighted by Billions in Outflows and Management Row (WSJ)
For more than a decade, Brevan Howard traced a smooth upward path to become one of the most powerful hedge funds in Europe. In recent months, its fortunes have waned. Its commodities fund was closed following a run of poor performance; assets under management dropped, with billions flowing out of its flagship fund in the second half of 2014; it posted its first-ever yearly loss and two of its co-founders locked horns in a high-profile legal dispute.

As Regulators Focus on Culture, Wall Street Struggles to Define It (WSJ)
As they emerge from years of bruising fines, layoffs and losses, big banks are trying more than ever to monitor employee attitudes and values to avoid future problems. But they also have little choice: Senior officials with the Federal Reserve and other agencies in recent weeks have made it clear that they believe bad behavior at banks goes deeper than a few bad apples and are advising firms to track warning signs of excessive risk taking and other cultural breakdowns. Still, even regulators acknowledge culture is a difficult thing to measure.

Morgan Stanley Shops Oil-Storage Unit Again (WSJ)
The collapse of the oil market has dragged down prices across the energy sector. One exception is the price Morgan Stanley is seeking for its oil-trading and storage business, which could profit from the recent slide. The New York bank, whose deal to sell the division to Russian energy firm OAO Rosneft for several hundred million dollars was scuttled last month, is seeking a similar price for the business this time around, according to people familiar with the matter.

Fed's 'solid' growth view faces test as Greek drama unfolds (Reuters)
The Federal Reserve's upgraded view that growth in the world's biggest economy is "solid", and so capable of withstanding an interest rate rise this year, will be put to the test by U.S. jobs data this week. Ructions over Greece's new anti-austerity government will also continue to grip markets, and could overshadow economic data in the coming days.

Washington man recieves $18,000 bridge toll bill (UPI)
A Washington man said he was floored when he received a bill of more than $18,000 for his son's unpaid tolls. Tom Rose said his son neglected to get a "Good to Go" pass and had crossed the 520 bridge linking Seattle and Bellevue every day for work at his first job, saying he "thought he'd be billed later for it." Rose told King 5 News that his son had been living "hand to mouth" and "thought he was picking the lesser of two evils. He could save up and pay for them later." No bill was received until Rose attempted to sell the car. He discovered $1,360 in unpaid tolls and over $16,000 in penalties. After contacting the Washington State Department of Transportation, Rose was told to take the issue before an administrative judge, though it likely would not do any good. A WSDOT spokesperson told King 5 News that bills had been sent to Rose but had been returned unopened, and that they were willing to seek a resolution.

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Opening Bell: 09.04.12

Moody's Gives EU Warning (WSJ) Moody's Investors Service has put the European Union's triple-A credit rating on a negative outlook in a move that reflects actions the ratings firm has taken on some of the euro-zone's largest members, including Germany and the Netherlands. "Moody's believes that it is reasonable to assume that the EU's credit-worthiness should move in line with the credit-worthiness of its strongest key member states considering the significant linkages between member states and the EU," Moody's said in a release. Fears Rising, Spaniards Pull Out Their Cash and Get Out of Spain (NYT) After working six years as a senior executive for a multinational payroll-processing company in Barcelona, Spain, Julio Vildosola is cutting his professional and financial ties with his troubled homeland. He has moved his family to a village near Cambridge, England, where he will take the reins at a small software company, and he has transferred his savings from Spanish banks to British banks. “The macro situation in Spain is getting worse and worse,” Mr. Vildosola, 38, said last week just hours before boarding a plane to London with his wife and two small children. “There is just too much risk. Spain is going to be next after Greece, and I just don’t want to end up holding devalued pesetas.” In July, Spaniards withdrew a record 75 billion euros, or $94 billion, from their banks — an amount equal to 7 percent of the country’s overall economic output — as doubts grew about the durability of Spain’s financial system. According to official statistics, 30,000 Spaniards registered to work in Britain in the last year, and analysts say that this figure would be many multiples higher if workers without documents were counted. That is a 25 percent increase from a year earlier. Europe Bank Chief Hints At Bond Purchases (WSJ) The comments by Mario Draghi in a closed hearing at the European Parliament on Monday came ahead of the ECB's monthly policy meeting Thursday. That meeting has been keenly awaited in the financial markets for further details of how the bank could help bring down the funding costs of countries such as Spain and Italy to prevent them from having to seek full euro-zone bailouts like Greece, Ireland and Portugal. Switzerland Flirts With Recession (WSJ) "Three months ago, the Swiss economy looked charmingly strong against the backdrop of the euro zone and now it is looking on the brink of recession," said Janwillem Acket, chief economist at Julius Bär in Zurich. Nigeria Uncovers Cocaine-Stuffed Roasted Chicken (AP) The roasted chickens had an unusual stuffing — $150,000 worth of cocaine, according to Nigerian police. A Nigerian mechanic who struggled in Brazil for more than six years had hoped the drugs would buy him a life of luxury in his native land, Nigerian authorities said Monday. "This was like a retirement plan for him," said Mitchell Ofoyeju, spokesman for the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency. The accused was arrested over the weekend at the airport in Lagos after he came in from Sao Paulo with 2.6 kilograms (5.7 pounds) of cocaine, Ofoyeju said. Photos from the agency showed egg-shaped packages wrapped in gold aluminum foil and tucked into the browned chickens. Citibank Hid Firm’s Financial Troubles, Ex-Partner at Dewey & LeBoeuf Says (NYT) In a recent court filing, the former partner, Steven P. Otillar, says Citibank conspired with Dewey's management to hide the law firm's true financial condition in the months before its collapse. Mr. Otillar made the claim in response to a lawsuit brought against him by Citibank seeking repayment of a $210,000 loan. The bank lent Mr. Otillar the money to pay for his capital contribution to Dewey when he joined the partnership in August 2011. (New partners typically must make a financial contribution to a law firm when they join.) The filing said that Citibank had extended Mr. Otillar the loan as part of a fraudulent scheme intended to benefit Citibank and Dewey's management. By recruiting him and other partners to join the financially troubled firm in the months leading up to its demise—and collecting millions of dollars from them—Dewey's partners enriched themselves and kept the firm afloat. Credit Suisse Exec Facing Arrest Order (Reuters) A judge in Argentina has ordered the arrest of Credit Suisse executive and former US Treasury Undersecretary David Mulford because he failed to testify over a 2001 Argentine debt swap, the state news agency reported today. Federal Judge Marcelo Martinez de Giorgi will ask Interpol to issue an international arrest warrant seeking Mulford’s extradition for questioning over the bond exchange carried out by the government in an unsuccessful bid to avoid default. Bernanke Channeling Hatzius Dismissing Gross New Normal (Bloomberg) Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke is betting the new U.S. economy is the same as the old one as he lays out arguments for more stimulus to revive it. He made that diagnosis last week in a rebuttal to those who blame an 8.3 percent unemployment rate on structural shifts in the economy wrought by the financial crisis and who contend joblessness is permanently elevated. “I see little evidence of substantial structural change in recent years,” Bernanke told fellow central bankers and economists at the annual monetary-policy symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. “Following every previous U.S. recession since World War II, the unemployment rate has returned close to its pre-recession level.” Ice Picks Are Still Used As Weapons (NYT) Mann Rosa, 32, who lives on Perry Avenue about a block from the scene of the recent attack, said ice picks were back in vogue among street gangs all across the city. “The ice pick, from what I know, is the new thing,” Mr. Rosa said, noting how easy it was to buy and conceal. “It’s definitely the new wave.” Toward the end of the conversation, almost as if he had an afterthought, Mr. Rosa said he had been stabbed repeatedly with an ice pick about two years ago during a street fight. He rolled up the sleeve of his T-shirt to reveal two dime-size wounds, not unlike scars from a smallpox vaccination, on his shoulder and upper arm. “I was stabbed once in the chest, once in the back and twice in the arm,” Mr. Rosa said; it took 12 stitches to close the wounds. Asked if the police ever caught the perpetrator, Mr. Rosa laughed and shook his head. “We got this thing called street justice. We don’t go to the cops over something like that.”

Opening Bell: 02.07.13

Credit Suisse Returns To Profit (WSJ) In the fourth quarter, Credit Suisse's net profit was 397 million francs, compared with a net loss of 637 million francs a year earlier when restructuring charges weighed on earnings. Revenue, which includes interest income, fees and trading proceeds, rose 29% to 5.8 billion francs. Analysts had expected a profit of 563 million francs and revenue of 6.14 billion francs. State Lawsuits Could Add To S&P Exposure (WSJ) On Tuesday, the Justice Department sued S&P for allegedly causing some banks and credit unions to lose $5 billion after relying on the company's ratings of mortgage-linked securities. However, the $5 billion claim, which S&P has dismissed as "meritless," is only part of the legal battle being fought by the world's largest credit-ratings firm by number of deals rated. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia have followed in the Justice Department's footsteps, filing separate lawsuits against S&P on Tuesday. The California attorney general alone is suing S&P for about $4 billion to recover funds for two of the country's largest public pension funds, according to its lawsuit. Other states, such as Colorado and Arkansas, are demanding S&P give back the revenue it earned on precrisis ratings of hundreds of securities. State prosecutors allege S&P presented its ratings as based on objective and independent analysis but actually were inflated to cater to the banks that helped arrange and sell the securities. S&P Hires Top Defense Attorney for $5 Billion Lawsuit (Reuters) Standard and Poor's has hired John Keker, one of the country's top white-collar defense attorneys, to help fight the $5 billion lawsuit brought by the U.S. government this week. Keker, who is based in San Francisco and has represented everyone from cyclist Lance Armstrong to Enron's Andrew Fastow, was hired at the recommendation of Floyd Abrams, a prominent New York attorney who also represents the ratings firm. RBS Settles Rate Charges (WSJ) CFTC enforcement chief David Meister said Wednesday that the trading floor was "laden with conflicts of interest," where RBS traders "seized the opportunity to ask colleagues sitting in the next chair for false rate submissions." From mid-2006 to the end of 2010, traders at RBS tried hundreds of times to rig the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, sometimes succeeding, said U.S. and U.K. regulators as they announced a $612 million settlement with the British bank. ‘Historic Winter Storm’ Moving Toward U.S. Northeast (Bloomberg) A “potential historic winter storm” and blizzard may dump 2 feet of snow on Boston and eastern Massachusetts, potentially causing power outages and leaving 10 inches in New York City. Eighteen to 24 inches (46 to 61 centimeters) of snow may fall in Boston, and the city has an 85 percent chance of receiving at least 12 inches from the storm that is expected to arrive in two days, according to the latest forecast from National Weather Service in Taunton, Massachusetts, published at at 4:25 a.m. Eastern Standard Time. “Heavy snow and gusty winds will bring the potential for blizzard conditions. The worst of the storm will be Friday night into the morning,” the weather service said. The storm arrives on almost the 35th anniversary of the Blizzard of 1978, which killed 99 people, destroyed 2,000 homes, drove 10,000 residents into shelters and paralyzed eastern Massachusetts and northern Rhode Island for a week, according to the weather service. Ireland Moves Toward Debt Deal (WSJ) Under Ireland's new proposal, the government will provide a long-term bond to the Irish central bank that replaces the note, the Irish finance ministry said. IBRC will be liquidated and its remaining commercial property assets will be dispatched to Ireland's so-called bad bank, the National Asset Management Agency. Mr. Noonan told lawmakers early Thursday that there was still "no deal," but he needed to announce new powers to liquidate IBRC—the first step toward potentially striking such a debt agreement—to protect the country from unspecified legal challenges. Man Claims IRS Agent Coerced Him Into Sex (CBS) An Oregon man is suing the U.S. Government and a female IRS agent he alleges pressured him into sex, by threatening a tax penalty. Vincent Burroughs, of Fall Creek, Ore., says the harassing relationship began in August of 2011 when Dora Abrahamson, an agent with the Internal Revenue Service, called him and said he would be audited, CBS affiliate KVAL reports. Burroughs says he didn't know Abrahamson, and that he hadn't met her before those calls - nor had he heard that he was being audited by the IRS. "She was sending me texts that she wanted to come out, give me massages because she needed to help me relax," Burroughs said in a phone interview with KVAL News. Over the next two months, Burroughs alleges that Abrahamson sent him several flirtatious text messages - offering to give massages, asking to meet him, and sending racy photos of herself to his cell phone. "She said she knew more than my mother knew about me," said Burroughs. In the lawsuit, Burroughs says in September 2011 Abrahamson came to his home wearing provocative attire. "Next thing I know, she's at my gate, honking...so I opened my gate, she came into my property dressed exactly like [when] she texted me," Burroughs said. The lawsuit states: "She said that she could impose no penalty, or a 40% penalty, and that if he would give her what she wanted, she would give him what she needed." E-Mails Imply JPMorgan Knew Some Mortgage Deals Were Bad (NYT) When an outside analysis uncovered serious flaws with thousands of home loans, JPMorgan Chase executives found an easy fix. Rather than disclosing the full extent of problems like fraudulent home appraisals and overextended borrowers, the bank adjusted the critical reviews,according to documents filed early Tuesday in federal court in Manhattan. As a result, the mortgages, which JPMorgan bundled into complex securities, appeared healthier, making the deals more appealing to investors. The trove of internal e-mails and employee interviews, filed as part of a lawsuit by one of the investors in the securities, offers a fresh glimpse into Wall Street's mortgage machine, which churned out billions of dollars of securities that later imploded. The documents reveal that JPMorgan, as well as two firms the bank acquired during the credit crisis, Washington Mutual and Bear Stearns, flouted quality controls and ignored problems, sometimes hiding them entirely, in a quest for profit. Harvard’s Gopinath Helps France Beat Euro Straitjacket (Bloomberg) When French President Francois Hollande unveiled a plan in November for a business tax credit and higher sales taxes as a way to revive the economy, he was implementing an idea championed by economist Gita Gopinath. Gopinath, 41, a professor at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has pushed for tax intervention as a way forward for euro-area countries that cannot devalue their exchange rates. “Fiscal devaluation” is helping France turn the corner during a period of extreme budget constraints, former Airbus SAS chief Louis Gallois said in a business- competitiveness report Hollande commissioned. Gopinath’s support for the theory took shape through her years teaching at Harvard and the University of Chicago and particularly as a Ph.D. student at Princeton University under the guidance of Kenneth Rogoff, Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas and Ben Bernanke, now chairman of the Federal Reserve. While her earlier work on current accounts and balance of payments garnered praise, it is her recent focus on the 17 euro nations that has national leaders paying action. John Thomas Financial Said To Draw Regulatory Probe (NYP) Wall Street brokerage firm John Thomas Financial, owned by flamboyant founder and CEO Tommy Belesis — who gained more than 15 minutes of fame from his role in Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” — is being probed by the brokerage industry, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the FBI, The Post has learned. Agents from the FBI’s New York office have been knocking on doors of people associated with the firm, asking questions about JTF’s business practices, including cold calling by brokers and Belesis’ overseas accounts, sources told The Post. Fewer Workers Filed Claims for U.S. Jobless Benefits Last Week (Bloomberg) Applications for jobless benefits dropped 5,000 to 366,000 in the week ended Feb. 2, Labor Department figures showed today. Economists forecast 360,000 claims, according to the median of 53 estimates in a Bloomberg survey. Big Mac Prices Show Which Euro Zone States Best at Belt-Tightening (Reuter) Economist Guntram Wolff took the data and found that the price rise in Greece, Portugal and Spain has been less than the euro zone average, while in Ireland the price actually fell. These are the main countries undergoing deep economic reform due to the debt crisis. This contrasts with price rises above the euro zone burger average in Germany. Wolff concludes from this that economic adjustment is working. For example, In Ireland, which has made spending cuts after receiving international aid, the burger price has fallen from 3.80 euros to less than 3.50 euros. There is one notable exception, however. Heavily-indebted Italy is the most expensive country in the euro area to buy a Big Mac - 3.85 euros - while it costs just 3.64 euros in Germany. PETA: Naked chicken corpses aren't sexy (CM) The American founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, president Ingrid Newkirk, criticised a newspaper for running a picture of a raw chicken. "We don't want to see any chickens on display, but instead want them to live natural, happy lives with their families. Sexily displaying the corpse of a chicken who has been bred to grow so big, so quickly, that many collapse under their own weight, is just additionally offensive."

Opening Bell: 06.20.12

Dimon Receives Tougher Treatment (WSJ) The lectures appeared to rankle Mr. Dimon. Certain questions received sharp, defiant retorts. "We lost $2 billion to Chrysler. I assume you'd want us to continue to lend to Chrysler," Mr. Dimon shot back when Rep. Gary Ackerman suggested the bank's hedging amounted to gambling. "We don't gamble," Mr. Dimon said curtly. "We do make mistakes." Dimon gets grief from pols — and cleaning lady (NYP) After taking his lumps during his second grilling on Capitol Hill over the bank’s $2 billion trading blunder, he was confronted by Adriana Vasquez, a 38-year-old janitor who says she earns $10,000 a year cleaning JPMorgan’s tower in Houston. “Despite making billions last year, why do you deny the people cleaning your buildings a living wage?” Vasquez asked the bank chieftain at the end of his two-hour grilling before the House Financial Services Committee. As a member of the Service Employees International Union, Vasquez, who says she cleans 24 bathrooms on 11 floors of the bank building, is putting pressure on JPMorgan. The union put out a press release in advance of the hearing, announcing that it would send Vasquez to confront Dimon over the issue of janitorial pay. A JPMorgan spokeswoman told The Post that the bank is a tenant of the tower but doesn’t set pay for the janitors, who are hired by the building’s management. Dimon, who was expecting to hear from the union, told Vasquez to call his office. BOE Seen Likely To Increase Stimulus (WSJ) The Bank of England looks set to pump more stimulus into the U.K. economy after minutes of its June policy meeting revealed that Governor Mervyn King was narrowly defeated in a knife-edge vote on a fresh bout of bond purchases. Moody's Upgrades Turkey (WSJ) Moody's said the move, which raised Turkey's sovereign-debt rating by one notch to Ba1—just below investment grade—was driven by the fast-growing economy's improvements in its public finances and the shock-absorption capacity of the government's balance sheet. UK Reveals New 'Say On Pay' Laws (WSJ) The British government unveiled legislation Wednesday to give investors more say on the pay packages of senior corporate executives, a key milestone in a shareholder rebellion that has been rippling through the U.K. in recent months. The measures include giving shareholders a binding vote on how much directors are paid and increasing transparency by requiring companies to annually publish a simple figure totaling how much directors received. Falcone’s Harbinger Capital Turns To Dell’s MSD For Loan (Bloomberg) Philip Falcone’s hedge fund, having taken out a loan earlier this year at an effective annual interest rate of 24 percent, has found a new source of financing: the money-management arm of billionaire Michael Dell. Harbinger Capital Partners Master Fund I Ltd. entered into a note purchase agreement on June 14 with a credit fund run by MSDC Management LP, according to a June 18 regulatory filing. MSDC Management is an investment adviser backed by MSD Capital LP, the private investment firm for Dell and his family. Under the financing agreement, the MSD credit fund can swap as much as $50 million of loans extended to Falcone’s Harbinger Capital for part of its stake in Harbinger Group, his publicly traded investment vehicle. Honeybee Swarms Increase In NYC After Mild Spring (NYT) When Happy Miller, the Seaport restaurant manager, saw tourists flailing their arms in a cloud of airborne black specks late last month, he closed the glass door and quietly panicked. “Oh my God, what do I do?” he thought before calling 311, security guards and local news outfits. The television trucks, he said, were first to arrive. It took several hours before Officer Anthony Planakis, the New York Police Department’s unofficial beekeeper in residence, arrived with a metal swarm box and a vacuum to collect the 17,500 or so homeless creatures. Officer Planakis, who has been responding to swarm calls since 1995, said this had been New York’s busiest year of swarming he had ever experienced. Since mid-March, he said, he has tended to 31 jobs in the five boroughs, more than twice the number he handled last season, which is normally mid-April through July. “It’s been pretty hectic,” he said, adding that this week’s warmer temperatures could encourage more bees to take off. Fed Seen Extending Operation Twist And Avoiding Bond Buys (Bloomberg) The Federal Reserve will probably decide today to expand Operation Twist beyond $400 billion to spur growth and buy protection against a deeper crisis in Europe, according to a Bloomberg News survey of economists. Fifty-eight percent of respondents in a June 18 poll said the Fed will prolong the program, which seeks to lower borrowing costs by extending the average maturity of the securities in the central bank’s portfolio. The current program ends this month. US Watchdog Hits At 'Risky' London (FT) US lawmakers and regulators have attacked London as a source of financial crises and promised tougher crossborder rules in the wake of $2 billion of trading losses at the UK unit of JPMorgan Chase. Gary Gensler, chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, said on Tuesday at a congressional hearing into JPMorgan’s trading losses that the US was vulnerable to risky activity in London. He said AIG had been hit by its financial products unit in London while Citigroup had been harmed by special purpose investment vehicles set up in the UK capital. “So often it comes right back here, crashing to our shores...if the American taxpayer bails out JPMorgan, they’d be bailing out that London entity as well,” he told the House financial services committee. Hedge Funds Hurt In May Commodity Rout As Brevan Drops (Bloomberg) Funds tracked by the Newedge Commodity Trading Index lost an average 3 percent last month, the most since September. Taylor Woods Master Fund Ltd., managing more than $1 billion, retreated 4.2 percent, according to a monthly report obtained by Bloomberg News. Galena Asset Management Ltd.’s metals fund dropped 2.6 percent in May, according to the company, and Brevan Howard Commodities Strategies Master Fund Ltd. fell 2 percent, according to a monthly report to investors obtained by Bloomberg. Ken Starr's pole dancing ex shops book (NYP) ...Passage also describes how another A-list actor and his wife took her and a “massage girl” into a room at Scores. But the couple ignored the hot ladies and started “having sex right in front of us.” After an hour of the sex show, Passage says she “reached into [the star’s] pants pocket...and told him I was taking an extra $200 as a tip...He was clearly too busy to negotiate, so he just waved me off and said, ‘ Thanks.’ ”

Opening Bell: 07.25.12

Sandy Weill: Break Up The Big Banks (CNBC) “What we should probably do is go and split up investment banking from banking, have banks be deposit takers, have banks make commercial loans and real estate loans, have banks do something that’s not going to risk the taxpayer dollars, that’s not too big to fail,” Weill told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” He added: “If they want to hedge what they’re doing with their investments, let them do it in a way that’s going to be market-to-market so they’re never going to be hit.” Bank Of England Spotted Risks At JPMorgan (WSJ) More than a year before JPMorgan racked up billions of dollars in losses from bad trades in its London investment office, Bank of England officials raised concerns internally about potential risks arising from some of the office's activities, but didn't formally alert other regulators, according to people involved in the central bank's talks. In late 2010, employees at the central bank worried that the London arm of J.P. Morgan's Chief Investment Office had come to dominate some important corners of the city's financial markets—including residential mortgage-backed securities—and they were concerned about the potential impact that could have on the stability of U.K. markets, these people said. The concerns were relayed to a top central-bank oficial. But the Bank of England doesn't appear to have acted on the concerns or flagged them to regulators responsible for supervising J.P. Morgan. Private-equity bigs: no proof of bid-rigging (NYP) A handful of the country’s wealthiest and most powerful private-equity firms have asked a federal judge to toss an explosive investor lawsuit that claims the group conspired to rig the bids on $270 billion in deals over four years. The firms — including KKR, Bain Capital, Blackstone Group and Apollo Global Management — agreed not to bid on specific deals headed by a rival, thus fraudulently depressing the value of the deal. As a result, investors in those publicly-traded companies were short-changed. The group of 11 financial giants named in the suit, including Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase, claim there is no evidence of a vast bid-rigging conspiracy. New York Fed Faces Questions Over Policing Wall Street (Dealbook) In recent years, the New York Fed has beefed up oversight. Under the president, William C. Dudley, the regulator has increased the expertise of its examiners and hired new senior officials. Even so, the JPMorgan debacle and the interest-rate investigation have raised questions about the New York Fed. They highlight how the regulator is hampered by its lack of enforcement authority and dogged by concerns that it is overly cozy with the banks. Fed Moves Closer To Action (WSJ) Amid the recent wave of disappointing economic news, conversation inside the Fed has turned more intensely toward the questions of how and when to move. Central bank officials could take new steps at their meeting next week, July 31 and Aug. 1, though they might wait until their September meeting to accumulate more information on the pace of growth and job gains before deciding whether to act. Sidekick of Soccer Mom Madam to court: It's not prostitution if you just pay to watch (NYDN) Jaynie Mae Baker, the woman busted with accused Manhattan brothel operator Anna Gristina, revealed in court papers filed Tuesday that the undercover cop who arrested her watched two women have sex but didn’t participate in any. Baker’s lawyer, Robert Gottlieb, says the only recorded conversation in evidence that includes Baker took place July 19, 2011, at a Manhattan restaurant where his client, Gristina and the cop had lunch. The cop tells Baker and Gristina he is “looking for a little adventure" and to “please corrupt me," but there's no talk of arranging payment, Gottlieb says in the filing. Six days later in the sting operation, the cop is secretly videotaped in a room with two other women at Gristina's alleged brothel on E. 78th St., but he does not participate in the sex. “The undercover officer apparently remains fully clothed and merely observed the two women perform for him,” Gottlieb writes...Gottlieb says there “was not a scintilla of evidence that was produced ... establishing Ms. Baker’s involvement in arranging payment in exchange for any kind of sexual activity.” What occurred not prostitution because the undercover cop was not a participant, Gottlieb says. If watching is prostitution, then every strip club and porno director is guilty, too, he said. Germans React Coolly To Moody's Warning (WSJ) Wolf Klinz, a German member of the European Parliament from the pro-business Free Democrats, Ms. Merkel's junior coalition partner, said he doesn't dispute Moody's conclusions about Germany's risks, but rather the timing of the announcement. "There are no hard facts yet" about Germany's ultimate price tag, Mr. Klinz said. "Why come out with this right now? It may have political implications" even if that wasn't the intention, he said. Preet hit with suit by law student (NYP) Second-year law student Benula Bensam sued Bharara, along with the US Marshals Service and the Justice Department, in Manhattan federal court for “unreasonable search and seizure” after the marshals took her cell phone away during the trial of ex-Goldman Sachs director Rajat Gupta. The 25-year-old Bensam, who is representing herself, said the marshals kept her phone overnight after she refused to answer their questions about letters she wrote to Judge Jed Rakoff during Gupta’s insider-trading trial. Bensam, who attends law school at Yeshiva University and lives in the Woodside section of Queens, stopped writing Rakoff about the case after he reprimanded her. In the complaint, Bensam said Bharara “may have instigated” her dispute with the marshals. Euro Zone as We Know It Has 2 Years Left: Jim O’Neill (CNBC) “Two years maximum is my perception of the time the euro zone has left to survive in its current form, though the reality is probably far less than that. Markets being markets we’ve unveiled a degree of speed with the Spanish and Italian bond yields and I can’t see us getting through the summer without some serious consequences,” said Jim O’Neill, Chairman at Goldman Sachs Asset Management. Child Treated After Being Bit By Rabid Bat Woman Gave Go-Ahead To Touch (CBS) Even as the summer fun rolls on for JoJo Keefe, a freshly healed cut on the 10-year-old’s finger reminds her of a scary detour. “I was like oh my God it bit me!” She’s talking about a rabid bat that sunk its tiny teeth into her finger last Tuesday during a visit to the Spencer Town Beach on Lake Whittemore. The small bat was attracting quite a bit of attention on the shoreline just beyond the picnic area. The trouble really began when a woman picked it up and began asking the children gathered around her if they wanted to hold it. “Another little girl said ‘oh I want to hold it will it bite me?’ And the lady was like no it’s the friendliest thing ever,” she says...Her mother retrieved the sick animal which then tested positive for rabies. Soon after, JoJo was getting the first in a series of life saving antibiotic shots (you can’t wait with rabies).

Opening Bell: 09.20.12

Regulators Try To Beat Clock In Rate Probe (WSJ) The Justice Department recently asked several banks to sign "tolling" agreements, in which the companies promise they won't challenge any enforcement action on the grounds that the alleged wrongdoing occurred beyond the statute of limitations, people close to the investigation said. The requests were sent to all the major banks under investigation, these people said, including Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, JPMorgan, RBS, and UBS. Libor-Like Manipulation Possible in Other Benchmarks, Iosco Says (Bloomberg) The same lack of oversight that enabled traders to manipulate the London interbank offered rate plagues other benchmarks around the globe, according to a group of international securities regulators. Fewer than half of the benchmark interest rates surveyed in the U.S., Europe and Asia were based on actual transactions, according to a confidential International Organization of Securities Commissions discussion paper obtained by Bloomberg News. Instead, the rates were calculated by methodologies that were unclear, not transparent and only rarely subject to specific regulatory standards or obligations, the group said. Nomura Cuts Up to 30% of Europe Investment Bank Jobs (CNBC, earlier) Nomura is making wide-ranging cuts in its European investment banking division on Thursday, according to sources, with up to 30 percent of jobs likely to go...“Today is D-day, there is a crazy atmosphere, everybody knows it is going to be big,” one source told CNBC. Citigroup Warns Irish Investors to Plan for Losses (Bloomberg) All of the optimism that Ireland can raise money in the markets and avoid a debt restructuring is premature as the nation struggles to emerge from its worst recession in modern history, said Michael Saunders, Citigroup Inc.’s head of European economics in London. “Ireland faces an almost impossible task to get back to fiscal balance,” Saunders said. Visits to the country showed “life is tough, very tough and not getting that much better anytime soon,” he said. Debt Investors Aren't Just Waiting For the Next Downgrades in Europe (WSJ) As many investors brace for possible downgrades of Spain and Italy, some are already positioning themselves for the potential fallout in the countries' €180 billion ($234.9 billion) corporate-debt markets. Even with the prospect of aid from the European Central Bank, Spain and Italy could still face credit downgrades, investors say. The main focus is on Spain and Moody's Investors Service Inc. Moody's has said it may cut Spain to "junk" status, a move that would likely be followed by lockstep cuts of its banks and several companies to junk. Such a move would likely trigger a wave of selling from investors who can only own bonds with investment-grade ratings. Some ratings-sensitive investors are selling ahead of the move. Others are getting ready to buy. Couple Accused Of Selling Neighbor's Puppy On Craigslist (NYDN) Scott and Roxanne Duff accused of calling police when a neighbor’s 6-month-old Rottweiler and a Labrador retriever showed up at their house Sept. 3. They asked what to do with the dogs and were told to contact a local shelter or reach out to the regional dog catcher, police told the Valley News Dispatch. But that didn’t happen. While the couple returned the Labrador to their neighbor, they later told police the Rottweiler puppy had run away. That neighbor didn’t believe this story, and told police the next day that he thought the Duffs still had his puppy. When police asked the couple about the puppy again, they allegedly admitted to selling it on Craigslist for $50 High-Speed Trading In The Spotlight (WSJ) Since rapid-fire trading firms now provide many of the buy and sell orders that support the market, investors are at the mercy of automated systems that can run amok during volatile times, according to Dave Lauer, who last year quit his job as a trader for an elite Chicago high-frequency trading outfit. Mr. Lauer is part of a growing chorus of industry insiders blowing the whistle on approved trading techniques that they say are designed by the traders who derive the most benefit. Mr. Lauer is now a consultant on market-structure issues for Better Markets, a Washington, D.C., advocacy group funded by a hedge fund. He plans to tell senators how he came to believe that high-speed trading has made the market less fair for many investors, according to his advance testimony for a Senate panel on computerized trading. Blankfein Admits Tougher Regulation Needed (Reuters) "You have to go out and you have to take steps. You have to have different regulation, maybe more regulation in certain respects," he said, while addressing a room full of bankers and lawyers on Bay Street — the financial hub of Toronto. Bias Suit Against Deustche (Reuters) Kelley Voelker said she learned of her firing two weeks ago, after having been told on Aug. 21 that no one in her hedge-fund group would lose their jobs in connection with the bank’s global cost-cutting plan. Deutsche Bank had in July announced 1,900 job cuts, but on Sept. 11 said that number would grow. Voelker’s last day at her New York office was Sept. 12, her lawyer said. Voelker first sued Deutsche Bank last September. She claimed to have never been promoted since joining the bank in 1998, and that the bank had tried to demote her after she took maternity leave, which she called being “mommy-tracked.” Monica Lewinsky Set To Reveal Bill Clinton's Sex Secrets In Tell-All (NYP) Lewinsky, who turns 40 next year, is out for “revenge” and ready to air bombshell details from her Oval Office trysts with the former Horndog-in-Chief in a $12 million memoir, according to friends, who say she plans to describe plans to describe Clinton's “insatiable desire for three-way sex, orgies and the use of sex toys of all kinds." In the 14 years since she became a national punch line, Lewinsky has gotten her master’s degree, worked briefly as a news correspondent and launched a failed handbag line. “No one will hire her and she can’t get a job because of Clinton,” a sympathetic friend told The Post yesterday. “She needs to make money somehow.”

Opening Bell: 07.03.12

Barclays CEO Resigns (WSJ) Robert Diamond Robert Diamond resigned Tuesday amid intense political and investor pressure from the British bank's involvement in rigging an important interest-rate benchmark—and another senior executive appeared close to following him out the door. The scandal is tearing through Barclays's top ranks. Two people close to the bank said Tuesday that Jerry del Missier, the chief operating officer, is likely to step down from his role. Monday, the bank said Chairman Marcus Agius would resign. Mr. Agius will remain chairman while Barclays searches for his replacement—and for a new chief executive, the bank said. Mr. Diamond will leave the bank immediately...Mr. Diamond's departure comes one day before the CEO will face tough questions from the U.K.'s Treasury Select Committee about the rate-fixing efforts at Barclays. Key will be whether Mr. Diamond or his top managers expressly ordered traders to submit lower rates to make the bank's funding position look stronger during the financial crisis. Mr. Diamond had a conversation with top Bank of England official Paul Tucker about Libor rates in 2008, according to the report by regulators and people familiar with the matter. Osborne Hails Diamond Departure With Pledge To Fix Banks (Bloomberg) “It’s the right decision for Barclays, it’s the right decision for the country; we need Barclays to be focused on lending,” Osborne told BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program. “I hope it’s the first step towards a new culture of responsibility in British banking.” Barclays Chief Threatens To Hit Back (FT) Bob Diamond isthreatening to reveal potentially embarrassing details about Barclays’ dealings with regulators if he comes under fire at a parliamentary hearing on Wednesday over the Libor rate-setting scandal, according to people close to the bank’s chief executive. “If he is attacked, he will fight back,” said one person familiar with preparations for the Treasury select committee hearing. Athens Seeks Improved Bailout Deal (WSJ) Greece will push for a better bailout agreement when it resumes long-stalled talks with international lenders this week, despite warnings from a European central banker Monday that the country must press ahead with its reform program and not dally further in meeting its commitments. Morgan Stanley Got S&P To Inflate Ratings, Investors Say (Bloomberg) Morgan Stanley successfully pushed Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s Investors Service Inc. to give unwarranted investment-grade ratings in 2006 to $23 billion worth of notes backed by subprime mortgages, investors claimed in a lawsuit, citing documents unsealed in federal court...The lawsuit focuses on notes issued by Cheyne Finance Plc, a so-called structured-investment vehicle that collapsed in 2007. CEO Of Poker Site Full Tilt Is Arrested (WSJ) The chief executive of Full Tilt Poker, the beleaguered one-time Web poker giant, was arrested Monday on a plane that had just landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport as the government unveiled new criminal charges against him related to an alleged Ponzi scheme. Ray Bitar, 40 years old, is the most significant person yet to turn himself into the Justice Department's 15-month-long effort to prosecute the three one-time leading online poker companies in the U.S. He pleaded not guilty in a hearing in Manhattan federal court Monday, and will be able to be out on bail after posting a $2.5 million bond, a judge ruled. Ex-JPMorgan Trader Feldstein Biggest Winner Betting Against Bank (Bloomberg) Andrew Feldstein, who bet against JPMorgan Chase before helping the bank unwind more than $20 billion of trades, has emerged as one of the biggest winners among hedge-fund managers profiting from a flawed strategy. The $4.3 billion flagship fund of Feldstein’s BlueMountain Capital Management LLC returned 9.5 percent this year through June 22, according to a person familiar with the data. That’s up from the 5.4 percent return before JPMorgan announced a $2 billion loss by one of its traders known as the London Whale. BlueMountain, which was on the other side of those wagers, stands to make as much as $300 million, said market participants familiar with the trades. Facebook wants to cash in on 'like' button (NYP) On the hunt for new revenue streams, Facebook is pitching TV chiefs on a new online video ad model that would monetize its popular “like” button, The Post has learned. Under the plan being discussed by the social network giant and some cable TV executives, Facebook would give the networks the ability to ascertain the popularity of certain video content on its platform while taking a cut of the added ad revenue created by the increased exposure, sources said. The idea has been met with mixed reviews. “It’s hard to pin down the measure of a like,” said one senior TV executive, who added that any deal would likely have a cap to limit a company’s exposure to paying for an astronomical increase in likes. Bob Diamond Withdraws From Romney Event (FT) He's a little tied up now. Who Will Take Over For Diamond? (FT) Antony Jenkins, who runs Barclays’ retail banking operations, is seen as the most likely internal replacement for Mr Diamond as chief executive, with investment banking boss Rich Ricci also seen as a candidate. Jerry del Missier, Mr Diamond’s longtime associate who recently moved from co-head of investment banking to be chief operating officer, is not in the running for the top job. Some say he will also leave the bank. Chinese 'cannibal' attack caught on camera as drunk bus driver leaps on woman and chews on her face (NYDN) The recent terrifying spate of 'cannibal attacks' seems to have spread to China, as a drunk bus driver was caught on camera gnawing at a woman's face in a horrific random attack. The unfortunate woman will apparently require plastic surgery to repair the damage done by her crazed attacker. According to local news reports, the driver, named Dong, had been drinking heavily during lunch with his friends before the outburst on Tuesday.

Opening Bell: 12.21.12

Critics Say UBS Let Off Too Easy (WSJ) Our goal here is not to destroy a major financial institution," Lanny Breuer, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's criminal division, said Wednesday after the $1.5 billion fine against UBS was announced. Prosecutors have to at least "evaluate whether or not innocent people might lose jobs" and other types of potential collateral damage. Sen. Charles Grassley (R., Iowa), a Senate Finance Committee member, said he is unsatisfied that prosecutors didn't go higher up the corporate ladder at UBS than its Japanese subsidiary..."The reluctance of U.S. prosecutors to file criminal charges over big-time bank fraud is frustrating and hard to understand," Mr. Grassley said. The $1.5 billion fine is a "spit in the ocean compared to the money lost by borrowers at every level, including taxpayers." Regulatory 'Whale' Hunt Advances (WSJ) The first regulatory ripples from the "London Whale" trading fiasco are about to hit J.P. Morgan Chase. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, led by Comptroller Thomas Curry, is preparing to take a formal action demanding that J.P. Morgan remedy the lapses in risk controls that allowed a small group of London-based traders to rack up losses of more than $6 billion this year, according to people familiar with the company's discussions with regulators. Khuzami To Leave SEC Enforcement Post (WSJ) Robert Khuzami, head of the Securities and Exchange Commission's enforcement unit, plans to leave the agency as soon as next month, a person familiar with the expected move said Thursday. Boehner Drops ‘Plan B’ as Budget Effort Turns to Disarray (Bloomberg) House Speaker John Boehner scrapped a plan to allow higher tax rates on annual income above $1 million, yielding to anti-tax resistance within his own party and throwing already-stalled budget talks deeper into turmoil. He will hold a news conference today at 10 a.m. Washington time to discuss the next steps in the budget dispute, a Republican leadership aide said. House members and senators won’t vote on the end-of-year budget issues until after Christmas, giving them less than a week to reach agreement to avert tax increases and spending cuts set to take effect in January. The partisan divide hardened yesterday, making the path to a deal more uncertain. BlackRock Sees Distortions in Country Ratings Seeking S&P Change (Bloomberg) Credit rating companies are distorting capital markets by assigning the same debt ranking to countries from Italy to Thailand and Kazakhstan, according to BlackRock, the world’s biggest money manager. While 23 countries share the BBB+ to BBB- levels assessed by Standard & Poor’s, the lowest investment grades, up from 15 in 2008 at the beginning of the financial crisis, their debt to gross domestic product ratios range from 12 percent for Kazakhstan to 44 percent for Thailand and 126 percent for Italy, International Monetary Fund estimates show. The cost of insuring against a default by Italy, ranked BBB+, over the next five years is almost triple that for Thailand, which has the same rating. For BlackRock, which oversees $3.7 trillion in assets, the measures are so untrustworthy that the firm is setting up its own system to gauge the risk of investing in government bonds. This year, the market moved in the opposite direction suggested by changes to levels and outlooks 53 percent of the time, data compiled by Bloomberg show. “The rating agencies were very, very slow to the game,” Benjamin Brodsky, a managing director at BlackRock International Ltd., said in a Nov. 23 interview from London. “They all came after the fact. For us, this is not good enough.” If You Bought Greek Bonds in January You Earned 80% (Bloomberg) Greek government bonds returned 80 percent this year, compared with 3.7 percent for German bunds and 6.1 percent for Spanish securities, Bank of America Merrill Lynch indexes show. It’s the first year since 2009 that investors made money on Greek securities, with 2012 providing the biggest advance since Merrill began compiling the data in 1998, according to figures that don’t reflect this month’s debt buyback by the government. Texas lawmaker: ‘Ping-pongs’ deadlier than guns (The Ticket) Incoming Texas State Rep. Kyle Kacal says guns don’t kill people—ping-pong kills people. "I've heard of people being killed playing ping-pong—ping-pongs are more dangerous than guns," he says. "Flat-screen TVs are injuring more kids today than anything." The lifetime rancher, who will take his seat in 2013 as a freshman, says that new gun restrictions are unnecessary. Kacal, who reportedly operates a hunting business, notably came out against a bill instructing Texans how to secure their assault weapons. "People know what they need to do to be safe. We don't need to legislate that—it's common sense," he said. "Once everyone's gun is locked up, then the bad guys know everyone's gun is locked up." Flare-up in war of words between Ackman, Herbalife (NYP) “This is the highest conviction I’ve ever had about any investment I’ve ever made,” Ackman said yesterday in a series of interviews. The investor told CNBC that he expects the Federal Trade Commission will take a “hard look” at the company. The heavyweight battle picked up steam over the last two days and has become, in the typically slow days leading up to Christmas, one of the most-watched events on Wall Street. As the financial world watched, Herbalife CEO Michael Johnson returned fire — calling Ackman’s statements “bogus” and asking the Securities and Exchange Commission to probe the motives of Ackman and his Pershing Square Capital hedge fund. A spokeswoman said if Johnson were allowed the chance to face-off against the investor at the Downtown conference, the CEO “would have been able to tear Mr. Ackman’s premises and interpretation of our business model apart.” Citigroup Said to Give CCA Managers 75% Stake in Funds for Free (Bloomberg) Among Vikram Pandit’s last jobs as Citigroup’s chief executive officer was to decide the fate of the bank’s hedge-fund unit, which employs some of his oldest colleagues. He agreed to give them most of it for free. While Citigroup is keeping a 25 percent stake, managers at the Citi Capital Advisors unit will pay nothing for the remaining 75 percent of that business as it becomes a new firm managing as much as $2.5 billion of the bank’s money, according to people with knowledge of the plan. The lender will pay the executives fees while gradually pulling out assets to comply with impending U.S. rules, said the people, who requested anonymity because the terms aren’t public. The deal was Citigroup’s response to the Volcker rule. Peter Madoff Is Sentenced to 10 Years for His Role in Fraud (Dealbook) A lawyer by training, Peter Madoff is the second figure in the scandal to be sentenced. His older brother, Bernard, pleaded guilty in March 2009 and is serving a prison term of 150 years. UK Boom in Pound Shops: An Austerity-Proof Business Model? (CNBC) Pound shops in the U.K. are reporting massive increases in profits across the board showing that the formula "pile 'em high and sell 'em cheap" has particular resonance in Britain's current age of austerity. Names like "Poundstretcher," "Poundland" and "99p Stores" in the U.K. have become high street stalwarts as other brands go bust. The chains, immediately recognizable on price point, are opening new stores and reporting record results reflecting the increasing public demand for cheaper goods. U.K. based "Poundland" is one such chain reporting steep sales growth as its range of 3,000 items -- from umbrellas and pregnancy tests (it sells 14,000 a week) to bird feeders and bags of crisps all priced at one pound – resonates with cash-strapped Britons. In the year to April 2012, the Warburg Pincus owned company said its turnover increased 22 percent to 780 million pounds ($1.25 billion) and profits increased by 50 percent to 18.3 million pounds from last year's figure of 12.2 million. Former Olympian Suzy Favor Hamilton admits to life as a $600-an-hour hooker (NYP) Steamy, lingerie-clad images of the champion runner helped tout her services on the Web site of a Vegas escort agency called Haley Heston’s Private Collection, where Favor Hamilton operated under the name “Kelly Lundy,” according to The Smoking Gun. Customers could hire her lithe Olympic-class runner’s body for $600 an hour, $1,000 for two hours and $6,000 for 24 hours. The site described her build as “athletic,” her bosom as “perky,” and her belly button as “pierced.” She was willing to provide horny customers the full “girlfriend experience,” and would also engage in a certain undisclosed sex act for an extra $300. “I enjoy men of all shapes, sizes and colors, and I have an affinity for women (I am bisexual),” “Kelly” wrote on her page on the escort service’s Web site. “I consider dates with couples an experience to cherish.” Her sexual skills reportedly earned her a high rating on The Erotic Review, a Web site frequented by prostitution fans. Favor Hamilton’s lusty secret life might have stayed secret if she had not made the mistake of revealing her true identity to some of her wealthy johns, who went to the media.

Opening Bell: 04.24.12

Dubai Debtors Go on Hunger Strike (FT) About 20 jailed foreign businessmen have gone on hunger strike in Dubai to protest against lengthy sentences for writing checks that bounced, a criminal offence in the United Arab Emirates. “I’ve exhausted every avenue that I can see,” Peter Margetts, 48, a former property developer, told the Financial Times from a prison pay phone. “I’ve exhausted the legal system, the lawyers have their hands tied here and they’re not going to rock the boat.” Mr. Margetts is one of three British prisoners who started a hunger strike on Sunday. Other jailed businessmen come from Ireland, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Lebanon, India and Pakistan. Many of the hunger strikers fell victim to Dubai’s once-thriving real estate market, struggling to meet their payments when boom turned to bust in 2008. Twelve face sentences of more than 20 years because each bounced check can translate into a jail term of up to three years. Wall Street Promotes Junk Bonds as Europe Erupts (Bloomberg) Morgan Stanley said last week that U.S. high-yield obligations were in a “sweet spot” as borrowers cut their debt loads. JPMorgan said junk yields will fall more than half a percentage point by year-end. Bank of America favors debentures rated in the middle tier of speculative grade. Gains on U.S. high-yield, high-risk bonds, which are little changed since the end of February, are set to accelerate as central banks respond more aggressively to contain Europe’s fiscal imbalances, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan said. While forecasting the default rate will rise this year, Moody’s Investors Service says the figure will stay below historic averages. Facebook's Growth Slows (WSJ) In what is likely to be the last snapshot of its financial condition before the expected May IPO, Facebook disclosed Monday that its first-quarter profit and revenue declined from the final quarter of 2011...The company's first-quarter revenue was $1.06 billion, down 6% from the December quarter. In a regulatory filing, the company blamed the decline on "seasonal trends" in the advertising business and user growth in markets where Facebook generates less revenue per user. CIT Group Swings To A Loss (WSJ) CIT Group, the business lender that emerged from bankruptcy more than two years ago, posted a wider-than-expected loss of $446.5 million in the first quarter as costs tied to debt repayments weighed on earnings. CIT's lending activity increased, though, and its profit margins on loans improved from a year earlier, a trend that should continue as its efforts to slash debt helps reduce its funding costs in the long run. "We made further progress this quarter positioning CIT for profitability and growth," John Thain, the long-time Wall Street executive who took the helm of CIT in 2010, said in a statement. Harbinger Pays Early (AP) Phil Falcone’s Harbinger Capital Partners made a $48 million payment on its $190 million loan from Jefferies Group, avoiding a forced sale of assets of his hedge fund, according to a person familiar with the fund. The payment was made a week early and a half million dollars more than what’s due on April 30. Falcone raised money for the loan by selling some investments, said the person. Father And Son Ran 'Brothel On Wheels' (NYP) A father and son from Queens ran a lucrative — and cruel — brothel on wheels for two decades, using six livery drivers to deliver hookers to hotels and apartments, Manhattan prosecutors said today in announcing the ring’s breakup...Johns on the go could purchase and enjoy a sex act without ever leaving the back seat, officials said of the operation, quoting the price scale at $200 to $500 per customer. Business was good — one woman alone allegedly earned half-a-million dollars for the father and son last year, and the Georges employed five women at the time of the bust, officials said. But as nice as they were to customers, the alleged father and son pimps were nasty to their prostitutes, threatening them, giving them little money so as to keep them helpless and even branding them with tattoos — including a bar code on one woman’s neck, according to officials. At least one of the women had a heart tattoo on her breast with the word “Vee,” which is the dad’s nickname. At least three of the women had tattoos featuring the son’s nickname, “King Koby.” Calpers Scalpers (NYP) The former head of the nation’s biggest pension defrauded funds run by private-equity titan Leon Black’s Apollo Global Management to pay a pal’s placement agencies $20 million, a lawsuit filed yesterday charged. Federico Buenrostro, the CEO of the $235 billion California Public Employees’ Retirement System from 2002 to 2008, teamed up with buddy Alfred Villalobos’ Arvco Capital Research on a scheme to pocket the boatload of fees from Apollo, the Securities and Exchange Commission charged in a civil suit filed in a Nevada federal court. Villalobos was the deputy mayor of Los Angeles in 1993. It is charged that the two ginned up fake “disclosure letters” and sent them to Apollo, making it appear that Calpers OK’d the payment when, in fact, it had not. The two used the fake letters four times, the suit alleges. Judge: DA Can Subpoena Occupy Protester Tweets (NBC) A judge says an Occupy Wall Street protester can't stop prosecutors from getting his tweets as part of a case surrounding his arrest at a demonstration. A Manhattan criminal court judge ruled Friday there are reasonable grounds to believe the information is relevant. The judge also says Malcolm Harris can't legally challenge the subpoena sent to Twitter Inc., not him. Harris was among more than 700 demonstrators arrested Oct. 1 on the Brooklyn Bridge. Wal-Mart Said To Be Subject Of US Criminal Probe (Bloomberg) The Justice Department is investigating potential criminal charges under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, according to the person familiar with the probe who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about it. Wal-Mart is conducting its own review of allegations that its representatives paid local officials in Mexico to get stores opened faster in the early 2000s. Chris Christie Not Happy With NJ Nets Move To Brooklyn (NYDN) As the Nets were preparing their farewell, the Governor of New Jersey was kicking them out the door. “I’m not going to the Nets game tonight and my message to the Nets is ‘Goodbye,’ ” Christie said. “If you don’t want to stay, we don’t want you. Seriously, I’m not going to be in the business of begging people to stay here. That’s one of the most beautiful arenas in America that they’ve had a chance to play in. It’s in one of the country’s most vibrant cities. “They want to leave here and go to Brooklyn? Good riddance. See you later.”