Opening Bell: 2.20.15

Argentina won't meet with Paul Singer; Meredith Whitney still being sued; Seattle investor goes on dates with women who think he's the "real" Christian Grey; Man attempts to pay bar tab with rock; AND MORE.
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German-Led Bloc Willing to Let Greece Leave Euro: Malta (Bloomberg)
Germany and its allies are ready to let Greece leave the euro unless Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras accepts the conditions required to extend his country’s financial support, according to Malta’s finance minister, Edward Scicluna. Greece’s creditors are cranking up the pressure on Tsipras as he seeks a deal to prevent his country defaulting on its obligations as early as next month. By bowing to German demands, the premier risks a domestic backlash from voters and party members whom he’s promised an end to austerity.

Meredith Whitney Fund Investor Moves Dispute to New York (Bloomberg)
The biggest investor in Meredith Whitney’s hedge fund moved a lawsuit seeking to recoup its $46 million stake to New York from Bermuda, where it was originally filed last year. BlueCrest Capital Opportunities Ltd., a fund connected to billionaire Michael Platt’s BlueCrest Capital Management, filed the new complaint against Whitney in state Supreme Court in Manhattan Wednesday.

27-year-old Seattle man says women fly across the country to be with him because he's a real-life 'Christian Grey' (BI)
During a Skype call from London, Olson told Business Insider that a few years ago a woman he dated briefly pointed out over lunch that he was similar to Grey. He had not yet read the book series, but over time more and more people started making the same association, he said. "I started getting messages from people I didn't know." Leading up to the movie, he said, about 1,000 fans of the book reached out over e-mail and through Facebook messages and friend requests. "I knew the movie would bring more attention, but I continue to be really surprised by the whole matter," he said. He said some women have even flown out to Seattle to meet him. He acknowledged he had gone on dates with some of them, too.

Argentina won’t meet with Paul Singer over disputed bonds (NYP)
The hedge fund mogul has tried at least three times this year to meet with Argentine government officials — but has been ignored, a mediator said Thursday. Singer and Argentina have been locked in a decade-long battle over $1.6 billion in defaulted bonds. Singer, looking to collect full face value of the bonds — plus interest — sought to thaw the frozen stand-off by proposing the meeting, which he hoped would lead to a settlement. It hasn’t worked. “Argentina has neither accepted nor otherwise responded to the invitation by the bondholders,” mediator Daniel Pollack said Thursday.

Accused Of Bomb Scare After Trying To Pay Bar Tab With Rock (HP)
Cops in Tallahassee, Florida say that on Wednesday, Jared Simpson, 24, visited the 4th Quarter Bar & Grill and rung up a $10 tab. When it came time to pay up, Simpson allegedly tried to get the bartender to accept a rock as payment. When the woman decided that a stone wasn't legal tender, Simpson responded by throwing a ripped-up dollar bill at her and saying he "would pay [her] in other ways," according to the probable cause affidavit.

Pimco’s Chief Economist McCulley Stepping Down (WSJ)
Pacific Investment Management Co. said Friday that Paul McCulley, who returned to the firm last May to help soothe nervous investors amid ongoing turbulence, has stepped down from his roles as chief economist and managing director. Mr. McCulley, who originally left the bond-fund behemoth in 2010 after serving as a senior executive, returned to Pimco at the urging of Bill Gross, a close friend and the firm’s co-founder.

David Einhorn‘s Greenlight Capital just makes ‘D’ grade (NYP)
In an annual report card handed out by hedge fund investors, the 46-year-old investor and minority owner of the Mets received the just-passing grade. Einhorn’s Greenlight Capital was ranked 53rd out of 58 hedge funds in the Hedge Fund Report Card put out by Institutional Investor’s Alpha on Thursday. Investors slammed Einhorn for his lack of independent oversight and transparency. It’s apparently not easy for investors to get their money out of the fund either — as they also gave Greenlight a poor ranking on “liquidity terms.” This is the second year in a row that investors polled by Alpha have given Einhorn a “D.”

Wall Street Staffing Falls Again (WSJ)
The number of investment bankers, traders, salespeople and research analysts at the world’s largest banks has fallen 20% globally since its recent peak in 2010, a report by Coalition Ltd., a London research firm, shows. The latest data come after the firms, 10 of the world’s largest, trimmed 4%, or 2,100 employees, in 2014 from a year earlier amid a challenging trading environment on fixed-income desks.

Citadel's Griffin sells downtown condo (Chicago Business)
Hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin sold a three-bedroom downtown condominium for nearly $1.33 million, according to two real estate websites...Griffin, founder of Chicago-based hedge fund and financial services firm Citadel, paid nearly $1.02 million for the condo in 1995, according to Cook County property records.

Probe Clears World Bank Top Brass of Wrongdoing (WSJ)
An outside law firm investigating accusations the World Bank’s top brass may have mishandled a $1 billion Chinese loan to the bank’s poverty fund has cleared the institution’s management of any wrongdoing, according a summary of the firm’s findings released by the bank. “We found no evidence of fraud or dishonesty,” law firm Locke Lord Edwards said in a letter to the bank’s general counsel. “We found no governance violations.”

Maryland man plows snow with motorized toilet (UPI)
David Goldberg, owner of the Union Hardware store, said he created the motorized commode, dubbed "Loo-cille" or "Loo-cy" for short, for last summer's pride parade, and he is taking his hybrid vehicle out of the garage once again to clear snow from sidewalks. "This is Loo-cy. Our motorized toilet that we did this summer for the pride parade. We just added a snow plow and [we 're] ready for tomorrow morning's snow," Goldberg said in sending a picture of the toilet plow to WUSA-TV. Goldberg posted a video of the motorized toilet moving snow to YouTube. "Taking something very private and making it a spectacle is a jolt to the system by itself. But having it plow snow... Over the top!" he wrote in the video's description.

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Opening Bell: 2.3.16

Argentina attempting to settle with hedge funds; Parmesan bonds; Horse Owner Complains Man Took Prize-Winning Selfie Without 'Consent'; and more.

Opening Bell: 04.02.13

Cyprus Finance Minister Sarris Resigns After Brokering Rescue (Bloomberg) Cyprus Finance Minister Michael Sarris quit the government today after helping clinch the final terms of an international aid agreement to stave off a financial collapse of the island. Sarris told reporters in Nicosia that he resigned due to a committee set up today to investigate the reasons that led to Cyprus’s economic crisis. Sarris has served as chairman of Cyprus Popular Bank Pcl, the second-largest lender, which has been shut as part of the financial rescue. Fannie Logs Record Profit (WSJ) Fannie Mae reported an annual profit of $17.2 billion on Tuesday, its first annual profit since 2006 and its largest annual profit ever, boosted by the housing market's turnaround and sustained declines in the number of soured home loans. Fannie's profit compares with a year-earlier loss of $16.9 billion. Fannie and its smaller sibling, Freddie Mac, posted banner earnings for 2012 because rising home prices have allowed them to set aside much less to cover the cost of defaulting home loans. Bank of America Finds Profit in Foreign Tax Credit Moves (Bloomberg) Bank of America Corp. more than doubled its profits in 2012 -- with some help from the tax code. What the bank calls “restructuring” of its non-U.S. operations yielded $1.7 billion in foreign tax credits, or 41 percent of the $4.2 billion the company reported in 2012 earnings, according to securities documents including the form 10-K it filed Feb. 28. While the maneuvers didn’t provide an immediate cash tax benefit for Bank of America, the foreign tax credits count toward net income under accounting rules. Goldman Unit To Seek Risk (WSJ) Goldman Sachs is launching a specialty finance company to invest in high-risk debt primarily of midsize U.S. companies with no credit ratings. The New York firm said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission late Friday that it plans to offer shares in the new unit, Goldman Sachs Liberty Harbor Capital LLC, "as soon as practicable after the effective date of this registration statement." SEC Ex-Chief Lands at Consultant (WSJ) Promontory Financial Group LLC is expected to announce Tuesday that it has hired Ms. Schapiro, who was chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission for nearly four years. "In my case, there's no revolving door…I won't ever be going back to government," the 57-year-old Ms. Schapiro said in an interview. She decided that after spending "28 of the last 32 years as a regulator," now was the "right time…to do something different." Mothers brawl during Seattle zoo Easter egg hunt (SPI) A fight between two women during an Easter egg hunt at Woodland Park Zoo led to a bloody nose and several crying children Sunday, according to police and a witness. The incident began about 1 p.m. when a woman allegedly pushed a child aside as her own child was scrambling toward some brightly colored eggs, police spokesman Jonah Spagenthal-Lee said. “The shoving sparked a confrontation between the first woman (the supposed shover) and the second child’s mother, who began fighting and had to be separated three or four times,” Spagenthal-Lee said in a statement. “The brawl left the first woman with a bloody nose.” The children, mostly 4- to 6-year-olds, were subjected to foul language. The bloody scene left several children crying. Judge Questions Fairness of Citigroup $590 Million Settlement (Reuters) A Manhattan federal judge on Monday signaled he will not rubber-stamp Citigroup's proposed $590 million settlement of a shareholder lawsuit accusing it of hiding tens of billions of dollars of toxic mortgage assets. U.S. District Judge Sidney Stein asked lawyers for the bank and its shareholders to address several issues at an April 8 fairness hearing, including requested legal fees and expenses of roughly $100 million, and the absence of payments by former Citigroup executives. Argentine-bond tango heats up (NYP) The yearly cost to insure the debt in the credit default swaps market for five years jumped by nearly 10 percent yesterday after President Cristina Kirchner and her government refused to come up with a better offer for bondholders led by hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer’s Elliott Management. A New York appeals court is expected to rule that Argentina must pay the Elliott group $1.44 billion, and its latest proposal indicated that it will not, which could push its bonds into default. Nasdaq Accepts Credit Rating Risk in Quest to Expand (Bloomberg) For Nasdaq OMX Group Inc., the benefits of expanding into electronic bond trading justify the risk of a lower credit rating. The second-biggest operator of American equity exchanges agreed yesterday to acquire eSpeed, a platform for U.S. Treasuries, from BGC Partners Inc. (BGCP) for $750 million cash, or $1.2 billion should sales goals be met. Moody’s Investors Service said Nasdaq’s Baa3 senior rating may be cut following the deal. Hampton Waffle House employee charged for April Fool’s joke (WTKR) A Hampton Waffle House employee is now charged after officers say she played an April Fool’s joke on them. Susan Tinker is charged for lying about a robbery. Police say around 6 a.m. Monday morning, Tinker called to report the robbery at the restaurant on West Mercury Boulevard. Police say they got to the scene and spent more than an hour investigating. While waiting for the manger to get there to review surveillance tape, they figured out there was no robbery. Tinker told police it was all an April Fool’s joke. But officers say this was no laughing matter. A spokesperson for the Waffle House says they do not tolerate this kind of behavior and Tinker is no longer employed there.

Opening Bell: 04.11.12

Profit Drop at U.S. Banks Imperils Rally (Bloomberg) The six largest U.S. lenders, including JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo, may post an 11 percent drop in first-quarter profit, threatening a rally that has pushed bank stocks 19 percent higher this year. The banks will post $15.3 billion in net income when adjusted for one-time items, down from $17.3 billion in last year’s first quarter, according to a Bloomberg survey of analysts. Trading revenue at the biggest lenders is projected to fall 23 percent to $18.3 billion, according to Morgan Stanley analysts, who didn’t include their firm or Wells Fargo. Making Waves Against 'Whale' (WSJ) Dozens of hedge funds are believed to have placed bets in the derivatives markets that pit them against positions taken by Bruno Iksil, the French-born trader who works for the bank's Chief Investment Office in London, according to people familiar with the matter. Funds that traded against Mr. Iksil earlier this year recorded big paper losses as his trades helped push down one credit index. The losses made Mr. Iksil a target for some hedge funds, who felt they could capitalize on his outsize position, these people say. The funds' wagers against Mr. Iksil's positions have become increasingly profitable in recent weeks as prices in the credit-derivatives index that was at the center of one of Mr. Iksil's trades rose after his trades ceased. "I view the entire market as a chess match playing against this guy," said a person who is familiar with Mr. Iksil's positions and is trading against him. Carlyle nears road show for $8B IPO (NYP) A road show will start as early as next week for the initial public offering (IPO) of Carlyle Group that will value the private-equity firm at between $7.5 billion and $8 billion, according to a person familiar with the matter. Carlyle filed documents to the Securities and Exchange Commission earlier this month to sell a 10 percent stake. The offering is likely to generate as much as $800 million in proceeds, according to the person familiar with the matter. Germany Pays Record Low Yield (WSJ) "The modest demand is due to the historical low yields, where investors are very reluctant to buy long-dated German bonds at these low levels despite the fiscal slippage we see in Spain and the ongoing crisis in the periphery," said Jens Peter Sorensen, chief analyst at Danske Markets. But RBS analysts said poor bund auctions at these yield levels have never been a good predictor for future demand, and thus it recommended not to "overly" focus on the sale to gauge demand for bunds. Weighing SEC's Crackdown on Fraud (WSJ) SEC enforcement chief Robert Khuzami said the current total of 101 cases shows the agency is "highly effective in tackling financial-crisis wrongdoing." Of the 74 cases filed against individuals so far, the SEC went after 55 chief executives, finance chiefs or other top officers. In an interview, Mr. Khuzami said the number is "significant" and "sends a strong deterrent message." Meredith Whitney Muni Call Was 100% Wrong: Bond Pro (CNBC) High-grade municipal bonds remain a solid investment despite their sometimes-battered public image, according to fixed income expert Alexandra Lebenthal. "I have come up with a new measure of risk, which is knowledge risk," said the president and CEO of Lebenthal and Co. "Is the person who is talking about municipal bonds, corporate bonds, equities, what have you, knowledgeable and should people be listening to them?" "Yes, I have an axe to grind," continued Lebenthal, whose father, James, is one of the more prominent names in the bond business. "I am in the municipal bond business, I'm also in the wealth management business and trying to do the best for clients. But I do know what I'm talking about because I have spent over 20 years in this business and another 20 growing up listening to it." Facebook deal ‘surprised’ bankers (NYP) “People are wondering if [Facebook] couldn’t have waited until after the IPO [to purchase Instagram],” said one source, who declined to be identified. Although Facebook is still awaiting IPO clearance from regulators, underwriters led by Morgan Stanley are hoping to launch the company’s share sale next month, possibly the week of May 14. Bankers plan to start the investor marketing campaign, known as a “road show,” about two weeks prior its launch. Zuckerberg held discrete talks with Instagram’s founders and managed to keep underwriters in the dark about the sale until late in the process, sources said. Critics of the controversial deal say Facebook’s timing for the acquisition is questionable, while supporters argue that the Instagram purchase enhances Facebook’s platform and stymies rivals. Investors run scared of Spain's battered banks (Reuters) "Most are currently on liquidity life support from the ECB but asset quality continues to deteriorate as house prices keep falling and unemployment is still rising," said Georg Grodzki, head of credit research at Legal & General Investment Management. "Their funding remains constrained and competition for deposits intense," he told Reuters. Economy Minister Luis De Guindos told Reuters last week that all Spanish banks had met capital requirements set by the European Banking Authority under a 115-billion-euro recapitalization plan decided by European Union leaders in December. But fund managers remain skeptical due to the slow-burning property crash. They include Mark Glazener, head of global equities at Dutch asset manager Robeco, who sold off his exposure to Spain at the end of last year. "Given the scale of over-building over all these years, the present provisioning that the banks have made does not appear to be enough," he said. Zuckerberg Threatened to Disable Ceglia Site Amid Dispute (Bloomberg) Facebook cofounder Mark Zuckerberg threatened in 2004 to disable part of the website he was working on for Paul Ceglia, the New York man now suing him for part-ownership of the multibillion-dollar company, according to copies of e-mails filed by Facebook in federal court...“I must receive $5,000 by next Saturday at midnight, or the scroll search functionality will be removed from the site,” Zuckerberg wrote in a message to Ceglia on Feb. 21, 2004, about two weeks after he put “Thefacebook.com” online. Zuckerberg told Ceglia he owed him $10,500 of the $19,500 he’d been promised, according to the e-mails, filed by Facebook as part of the lawsuit in Buffalo, New York. Facebook last month asked the judge to throw out the lawsuit.

Opening Bell: 04.01.13

Central Bank Details Losses at Bank of Cyprus (WSJ) Cyprus's central bank spelled out the financial damage to big deposit holders at Bank of Cyprus PCL, the country's biggest lender, saying they will lose almost 40% of their deposits as a result of a sweeping restructuring of the lender. Losses could grow even steeper in the months ahead. In a statement Saturday, Cyprus's central bank said that 37.5% of all deposits over €100,000 ($128,700) will immediately be converted into a special class of shares at the lender as part of its recapitalization plan. As Banks in Cyprus Falter, Other Tax Havens Step In (NYT) Bloodied by a harsh bailout deal that drives a stake through the heart of this Mediterranean country's oversize financial industry, Cyprus now faces a further blow to its role as an offshore tax haven: the vultures from competing countries are circling. With a flood of e-mails and phone calls in recent days to lawyers and accountants here who make a living from helping wealthy Russians and others avoid taxes, competitors in alternative financial centers across Europe and beyond are promoting their own skills at keeping money hidden and safe. In Herbalife Fight, Both Sides Prevail (WSJ) But for the time being, all three investors are in the black, showing that for all the bluster and bravado, timing is everything in financial markets. Mr. Loeb has cashed out the most, whereas the others have made only paper profits. Mr. Loeb's hedge-fund firm, Third Point LLC, has made at least $50 million on its estimated bet of more than $200 million, according to a person familiar with the firm. As of several weeks ago, the firm had largely exited its Herbalife stake, according to people familiar with Third Point. Mr. Icahn has made roughly $25 million in unrealized gains on his about $590 million bet. Mr. Ackman's Pershing Square Capital Management LP has notched more than $200 million, also in paper profits, on a bet of more than $1 billion. Insider Case Against SAC Manager May Be Tough to Prove (Reuters) On Friday, U.S. authorities arrested and charged Michael Steinberg, a 16-year veteran of Cohen's $15 billion SAC Capital Advisors, with insider trading in shares of the technology stocks Dell and Nvidia. The case against Steinberg, 40, is built heavily on the testimony of one of his former colleagues, Jon Horvath, who has admitted to insider trading and is now cooperating with the government. "What they're going to need to prove is that Steinberg got inside information that he knew came from an insider and that he then traded on it," said Marc Greenwald, a former U.S. prosecutor in New York who is now a partner at Quinn Emanuel in New York, and not involved in the case. "It all depends on what Horvath said he said and whether everybody believes him." Princeton alumna, who told female students to get married, defends provocative advice: ‘Find a husband!' (NYDN) "Here's what nobody is telling you," Patton wrote. "Find a husband on campus before you graduate. Yes, I went there." This controversial column, which she described as "little more than honest advice from a Jewish mother," outraged countless readers when it appeared in The Daily Princetonian on Friday and then went viral. "I sincerely feel that too much focus has been placed on encouraging young women only to achieve professionally," Patton told the Daily News. "I think in the back of their heads they all know this but nobody is saying it." Patton decided to write the open letter after speaking at a Women and Leadership conference on campus a few weeks ago. Many said Patton was scolding women for not marrying her youngest son, a junior at Princeton. ("I am the mother of two sons who are both Princetonians," she said. "My older son had the good judgment and great fortune to marry a classmate of his, but he could have married anyone. My younger son is a junior and the universe of women he can marry is limitless. Men regularly marry women who are younger, less intelligent, less educated. It’s amazing how forgiving men can be about a woman’s lack of erudition, if she is exceptionally pretty. Smart women can’t (shouldn’t) marry men who aren’t at least their intellectual equal. As Princeton women, we have almost priced ourselves out of the market. Simply put, there is a very limited population of men who are as smart or smarter than we are. And I say again — you will never again be surrounded by this concentration of men who are worthy of you.") Libor Suits by Bondholders Tossed Over Lack of Damages (Bloomberg) While potential damages were estimated to be in the billions of dollars, the judge ruled the cases must be dismissed because of the inability of litigants that included brokerage Charles Schwab, pension funds and other bondholders to show they were harmed. Buchwald, whose March 29 ruling allowed some commodities-manipulations claims to proceed to a trial, said that, while private plaintiffs must show actual harm, her ruling didn’t impede governments from pursuing antitrust claims tied to attempts to manipulate Libor. Michael Dell Said to Consider Blackstone LBO Only With CEO Guarantee (Bloomberg) In several recent meetings in Austin, Texas, with Chinh Chu and David Johnson -- the Blackstone executives overseeing the firm’s bid -- Michael Dell said he would be more likely to support their proposal if he retained an influential role, a second person familiar with the talks said. Negotiations are ongoing and the two sides may not reach an understanding. Argentina sticks to its guns on debt payout (NYP) The country, in a filing late Friday, refused to follow a court order that mandated it give equal treatment to a group of holdout bondholders led by billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Singer and his Elliott Management. Instead, Kirchner offered the group, owed $1.44 billion, the same deal it offered exchange bondholders in 2010. Pregnant woman's leg amputated after being hit with car (KHOU) The incident happened in the 9600 block of Ravensworth Drive, where Kelly, 21, lives with her boyfriend, Christopher Chaney. Chaney said his ex-girlfriend, 26-year-old Shareyll Hunter, showed up at the house Thursday morning and started arguing with Kelly. "I was in my house asleep, and then one of my kids’ mothers came," Chaney said. "I mean, they been texting and talking over the phone saying they want to fight each other and meet up right here and do it." All of the commotion outside roused Chaney from bed. "When I came outside, I seen my kids’ mother punching on the window and she wanted to fight the other one," Chaney said. He said Hunter jumped into his car and gunned it, pinning her 21-year-old rival between the car and the house, police said. Kelly was rushed to the hospital with two broken legs. Doctors had to amputate one leg. The baby is expected to be OK. Hunter drove off in her ex-boyfriend’s four-door Lincoln LS. She remained on the loose at last check. Hunter is five months pregnant and the victim is four months pregnant. Chaney, 26, says he is the father in both cases. Reporter: "You think it [the hit-and-run] is because of you getting them pregnant?" Christopher Chaney: "I mean, I’m handsome."

Opening Bell: 12.05.12

Global Banking Under Siege as Nations Tighten Local Rules (Bloomberg) Regulators want to curtail risks exposed after global banks such as New York-based Citigroup, Edinburgh-based Royal Bank of Scotland and Zurich-based UBS took bailouts in the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression. Forcing lenders to dedicate capital and liquidity to multiple local subsidiaries, rather than a single parent, may undermine the business logic of a multinational structure. “Being big and spread out all over the world isn’t what it used to be,” said Mayra Rodriguez Valladares, managing principal at New York-based MRV Associates, which trains bank examiners and executives at financial firms. “You’ll see global banks jettison divisions abroad and at home.” Paulson Said to Blame Bet Against Europe for Most of Loss (Bloomberg) John Paulson, manager of $20 billion in hedge funds, told investors that the bulk of his losses this year came on bets that the European sovereign-debt crisis would worsen, according to a person familiar with the matter. Paulson, speaking to clients at his firm’s annual meeting yesterday in New York, said he has reduced those positions following European Central Bank President Mario Draghi’s comments in July that the ECB was committed to preserving the euro, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the meeting was private. Paulson said in a February letter to investors that the euro was “structurally flawed” and would eventually fall apart. In April, the founder of New York-based Paulson & Co. told clients he was wagering against European sovereign bonds and buying credit-default swaps on European debt, or protection against the chance of default. No Payback For Singer This Year (NYP) Paul Singer’s last-ditch attempt to get cash from Argentina this year has failed. A motion by Singer’s hedge fund, Elliott Management, requesting that the South American country put up a security deposit of $250 million by Dec. 10 was denied by a federal appeals court yesterday. “Since we will not have a big payment for ages (if ever), this looks like a huge blow to [Elliott’s] strategy,” said sovereign-debt expert Anna Gelpern. In Tax Fight, G.O.P. Seeks a Position to Fall Back On (NYT) Senator Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, who is retiring, joined a handful of other Republicans on Tuesday suggesting that Congress should pass the middle-class tax cut extensions now, then leave the fight over taxes and spending until later. Americans, she said, "should not even be questioning that we will ultimately raise taxes on low- to middle-income people." Congress could take that off the table "while you're grappling with tax cuts for the wealthy," she said. But any move toward compromise with Democrats on fiscal issues quickly comes under attack from conservatives as a surrender and unsettles the rank-and-file. It is a dynamic that has haunted Speaker John A. Boehner throughout the 112th Congress, as he has repeatedly been caught between the imperative to govern and the need to satisfy the restive right. Mr. Boehner, of Ohio, has drawn fire this week for removing a handful of House Republicans who have defied the leadership from their preferred committee seats, a step he took to enforce party discipline. Fed to launch fresh bond buying to help economy (Reuters) The Federal Reserve is set to announce a fresh round of Treasury bond purchases when it meets next week, avoiding monetary policy tightening to maintain support for the weak U.S. economy amid uncertainty over the looming year-end "fiscal cliff." Many economists think the U.S. central bank will announce monthly bond purchases of $45 billion after its policy gathering on December 11-12, signaling it will continue to pump money into the U.S. economy during 2013 in a bid to bring down unemployment. Merkel Wins Party Reelection, Eyes Third Term (Reuters) Merkel, at the height of her popularity, was returned unopposed as CDU chairwoman with 97.9 percent of votes from delegates who stood and applauded her for nearly eight minutes after she lauded Germany's economic resilience in the euro crisis and promised to fight for jobs and prosperity. McAfee Emerges From Hiding in Guatemala (FT) John McAfee, the antivirus software entrepreneur, has revealed that he has fled to Guatemala from Belize where he is wanted for questioning in relation to a murder. Posting on his website on Tuesday, the US citizen and multimillionaire said: "I apologize for all of the misdirections over the past few days . . . I am in Guatemala." His emergence closes one chapter in a bizarre chain of events that started last month when police in Belize, where Mr McAfee has lived for the past four years, discovered the dead body of Gregory Faull, the owner of a house close to Mr McAfee's main property on the island of Ambergris Caye. Mr McAfee - who Belize considers "a person of interest" in the murder investigation - fled, going into hiding and insisting on his innocence. He said he ran from the police because he believed that the Belize authorities were out to kill him. In response, Dean Barrow, the prime minister, said: "I don't want to be unkind to the gentleman, but I believe he is extremely paranoid". Mr McAfee revealed his location on Tuesday after a hacker called Simple Nomad disclosed his whereabouts by analyzing a mobile-phone photograph taken of McAfee on Monday that was posted on the internet. In a second blog post late Tuesday titled "the new fight", Mr McAfee said he had asked Telsforo Guerra, a former attorney-general of Guatemala, to help uncover what he claims is deep-rooted corruption in Belize. Separately, he told Reuters that Mr Guerra was trying to help him obtain political asylum in Guatemala, even though Belizean authorities have not charged him. EU Banks To Repay Cheap Loans (WSJ) Nearly a year ago, hundreds of European banks borrowed a total of more than €1 trillion ($1.3 trillion) from the European Central Bank as it scrambled to defuse an escalating crisis. Today, in a sign of the industry's partial healing, some of Europe's biggest banks are preparing to repay those loans. The push to repay the loans, however, has generated concerns that banks are moving prematurely and could be vulnerable if the euro-zone crisis intensifies again. The ECB activated the emergency loan program—known as the long-term refinancing operation, or LTRO—late last year, doling out two batches of inexpensive loans that are good for three years. Banks are permitted to repay them starting next month. Euro Crisis Feeds Corruption as Greece Slides in Rankings (Bloomberg) The European debt crisis has given way to a new wave of corruption as some of the most hard-hit countries in the turmoil have tumbled in an annual graft ranking, watchdog group Transparency International said. Greece, in its fifth year of recession and crippled by rounds of austerity, fell to 94th place from 80th -- ranking it below Colombia and Liberia, according to the group’s Corruption Perceptions Index. Ireland, Austria, Malta and Italy were also among member states in the single currency to slide. Moynihan: No Stress (Bloomberg) Bank of America CEO Brian T. Moynihan said the firm has plenty of capital and he’s confident it will pass the next US stress tests. “The question will be what to ask for and when, because we’re not going to fail this,” Moynihan said yesterday at a New York investor conference sponsored by Goldman Sachs. Moynihan, 53, is renewing efforts to win approval to raise the company’s dividend or repurchase shares after the Federal Reserve blocked an earlier request. Fed Filcher Gets Timeout (NYP) Bo Zhang, a Chinese-citizen computer programmer who worked for a contractor at the New York Fed, was sentenced to six months of home confinement for stealing Treasury Department software. Snake on a plane forces emergency landing (CNN) ...the incident forced the pilot to make an emergency landing in the Egyptian resort town of Al Ghardaqa on the Red Sea, according to The Jordan Times. An Egypt Air official told the paper an investigation revealed that a 48-year-old passenger, who owns a reptile shop in Kuwait, had hidden the Egyptian cobra in a carry-on bag. The passenger was trying to control the snake after it bit his hand and started slithering under the seats. The Egyptian daily al-Masry al-Youm reported that the man refused medical treatment, claiming his wound was only superficial. The plane resumed its flight to Kuwait after local authorities confiscated the snake. Doctors told the passenger he should spend 24 hours in a hospital for observation, but the man refused, the Egyptian Air official said, according to The Jordan Times.