Opening Bell: 2.26.15

Standard General likes RadioShack; Warren Buffett likes Coke; SEC sticks up for whistleblowers; You could rent this Hungarian village (population: 26) for $780/day; AND MORE.
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SEC Probes Treatment of Whistleblowers (WSJ)
The Securities and Exchange Commission is probing whether companies are muzzling corporate whistleblowers. In recent weeks the agency has sent letters to a number of companies asking for years of nondisclosure agreements, employment contracts and other documents, according to people familiar with the matter and an agency letter viewed by The Wall Street Journal. The inquiries come as SEC officials have expressed concern about a possible corporate backlash against whistleblowers. Some of these types of documents sometimes include clauses that impede employees from telling the government about wrongdoing at the company or other potential securities-law violations, according to lawyers who handle whistleblower cases and some members of Congress. In some cases, the firms require employees to agree to forgo any benefits from government probes, effectively removing the financial incentive for participating in the SEC program.

Warren Buffett believes in eating like a 6-year-old (NYP)
At 84, and with $72.8 billion and counting, Warren Buffett stirs interest when asked that age-young question. How do you do it? The answer: Eat like a 6-year-old. “I’m one-quarter Coca-Cola,” the chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway, told Fortune magazine, of the beverage giant in which he owns $16 billion in stock. “If I eat 2,700 calories a day, a quarter of that is Coca-Cola. I drink at least five 12-ounce servings. I do it every day.” The Oracle of Omaha says his diet is high-sugar and high-salt and he said he changed his eating to mirror a boy that age. “I checked the actuarial tables, and the lowest death rate is among 6-year-olds. So I decided to eat like [one],” he told the magazine...He told Fortune that for a recent breakfast he “had a bowl of chocolate-chip ice cream.”

Apple Throws Wrench Into Nasdaq’s Gearbox (WSJ)
The Nasdaq Composite Index’s longest winning streak in more than five years ended with a whimper at the hands of a surprising culprit: a pullback in the world’s most valuable company, Apple Inc. Shares of Apple slumped 2.6% after Google Inc. on Wednesday introduced technology to encourage companies and employees to use Android smartphones for work. Dubbed Android for Work, the initiative was first announced in June 2014.

Key witness in insider-trading case a free man after ‘substantial’ cooperation (NYP)
Tom Hardin, 37, who has been out on bail since he pleaded guilty in 2009, helped Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara nail convictions in more than two dozen cases of insider trading, the government said. The former investment analyst’s cooperation was “substantial, exceptional and effective,” Judge Laura Taylor Swain said at a hearing on Wednesday, as she sentenced him to time served. Hardin must forfeit $46,743 — the proceeds of insider trading in such stock as Google and Hilton Hotels — and pay a $200 fine. Hardin was first approached in 2008 and immediately admitted his crimes and offered to help the feds.

For rent: Hungarian village of 26 -- $780 per day (UPI)
The village of Megyer, which boasts a population of only 26, is being listed for rent on website jofogas.hu for the price of about $780 per day. The rental package includes seven guest houses sleeping a total 39 people, six horses, two cows, three sheep and a chicken yard. The town, which is looking to boost tourism revenue, also boasts four streets, a bus stop and 10 acres of farmland. Mayor Kristof Pajer said renters will be temporarily dubbed deputy mayor and will have the ability to assign their own temporary street names.

Morgan Stanley to Pay $2.6 Billion to Settle Mortgage Cases (WSJ)
The accord ends a U.S. Justice Department probe into allegations Morgan Stanley deceived investors by misrepresenting the quality of the home loans the firm packaged into bonds and follows multibillion-dollar pacts the government struck with other big banks.

Downgrade of Brazil Oil Giant Stirs Wider Concern (WSJ)
The downgrade was the third by Moody’s since October. Still, the size and timing of Tuesday’s cut surprised some analysts and sent the country’s leaders into a defensive crouch. Brazil’s largest company, Petrobras plays an outsize role in the nation’s economy, which is flirting with recession. Petrobras’s newfound junk status is “an unequivocal blow” to the administration of President Dilma Rousseff , Eurasia Group analysts wrote in a note on Wednesday, and “there is growing concern over a negative spillover effect in macroeconomic management and potentially in Brazil’s sovereign rating.”

Standard General to Lead Bidding in RadioShack Bankruptcy Auction (WSJ)
Standard General won the role of opening bidder after making concessions to creditors. A big lender and big shareholder of RadioShack, Standard General has said it would operate co-branded stores-within-a-store with Sprint. That will ensure the reorganized business will get the benefit of traffic from customers of cellphone services, without the drag on profits that hurt RadioShack’s business, Standard General says.

Indecency Charge Filed Against Library Cam Girl (TSG)
Prosecutors have filed a public indecency charge against the former Oregon State University student who last month filmed an X-rated webcam show inside the school’s main library, according to court records. Kendra Sunderland, 19, was named last week in a misdemeanor criminal information filed in Circuit Court in Benton County. The February 17 charging document alleges that Sunderland, a Corvallis resident, “did and with the intent of arousing the sexual desire of defendant or another person, expose her gen!tals” while inside the university’s Valley Library. Investigators allege that Sunderland’s lewd performance occurred on the evening of January 27 while she was seated at a desk on the library’s sixth floor...Sunderland is scheduled to be arraigned Thursday on the indecency charge, which carries a maximum one-year prison term and a $6250 fine.

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Opening Bell: 01.04.13

SEC Drops Case Against Ex-Berkshire Exec Sokol (Reuters) The U.S. securities regulator has decided not to take action against David Sokol, once considered a possible candidate for the top job at Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, Sokol's lawyer told Reuters. In 2011, Buffett said Sokol violated the company's insider trading rules to score a $3 million windfall profit on shares of U.S. chemicals maker Lubrizol, which rose by nearly a third after Berkshire Hathaway announced it would buy the company. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission began investigating Sokol's investment in Lubrizol shortly after Sokol resigned from Berkshire Hathaway. Sokol's lawyer Barry Wm. Levine told Reuters late on Thursday that he was informed that the SEC had wrapped up its probe and decided not to take action against Sokol. "SEC has terminated its investigation and has concluded not to bring any proceedings against Sokol," said Levine, a lawyer at legal firm Dickstein Shapiro. Sokol has been "completely cleared" as there was no evidence against his client, Levine said. Cohen’s SAC Tops Most Profitable List Amid Insider Probes (Bloomberg) SAC Capital International, Cohen’s flagship fund, was the world’s most-profitable hedge fund in the first 10 months of 2012, earning $789.5 million for Cohen, 56, and his managers, according to Bloomberg Markets’ annual ranking of hedge funds...SAC Capital International is No. 1 not because of performance; it ties for No. 86 on that measure, with a 10 percent return in the Markets ranking of the 100 top-performing funds. Rather, the fund earned the most money because Cohen charges some of the highest fees on Wall Street. While most funds impose a 1 to 2 percent management fee and then take 15 to 20 percent of the profits, Cohen levies 3 percent and as much as 50 percent, according to investors. Geithner's Planned Departure Puts Obama In A Tough Spot (Reuters) The Treasury Department said Geithner would stick to his previously announced schedule to stay until sometime around the Jan. 21 inauguration. Obama chose Geithner to lead the just-ended negotiations with Congress to avert the Dec. 31 fiscal cliff of spending cuts and tax hikes that threatened to push the economy back into recession. But the deal, which preserved most of the Bush-era tax breaks for Americans, sets up a series of crucial fiscal deadlines by delaying automatic spending cuts until March 1 and not increasing the government's borrowing limit. That puts Obama in the tough spot of nominating another Treasury secretary and asking the Senate to approve his choice when lawmakers are in the middle of another budget battle. Egan Jones Says Further US Downgrades Unlikely (CNBC) "This latest round (of negotiations) indicates a sign of health. You have a major ideological clash going on in Congress and many people uncomfortable with it, but it is part of democracy. The more positive light is that we actually have a deal and can move forward," Sean Egan, managing director of Egan-Jones told CNBC on Friday. "We've gotten a lot more comfortable about the U.S. and we probably won't take additional negative actions for the foreseeable future," he added. Almost All of Wall Street Got 2012 Market Calls Wrong (Bloomberg) From John Paulson’s call for a collapse in Europe to Morgan Stanley’s warning that U.S. stocks would decline, Wall Street got little right in its prognosis for the year just ended. Paulson, who manages $19 billion in hedge funds, said the euro would fall apart and bet against the region’s debt. Morgan Stanley predicted the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index would lose 7 percent and Credit Suisse foresaw wider swings in equity prices. All of them proved wrong last year and investors would have done better listening to Goldman Sachs Chief Executive Officer Lloyd C. Blankfein, who said the real risk was being too pessimistic. The ill-timed advice shows that even the largest banks and most-successful investors failed to anticipate how government actions would influence markets. Unprecedented central bank stimulus in the U.S. and Europe sparked a 16 percent gain in the S&P 500 including dividends, led to a 23 percent drop in the Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index, paid investors in Greek debt 78 percent and gave Treasuries a 2.2 percent return even after Warren Buffett called bonds “dangerous.” Fed Divided Over Bond Buys (WSJ) A new fault line has opened up at the Federal Reserve over how long to continue bond-buying programs aimed at spurring stronger economic growth. Minutes released Thursday of the Fed's Dec. 11-12 policy meeting showed that officials were divided. Some wanted to continue the programs through the end of 2013, others wanted to end them well before then and a minority wanted to halt the programs right away. Swiss Bank Pleads Guilty In Probe (WSJ) In the latest blow to Switzerland's centuries-old banking practices, the country's oldest bank pleaded guilty to a criminal conspiracy charge in the U.S. on Thursday and admitted that it helped wealthy Americans for years avoid tens of millions of dollars in taxes by hiding their income from secret accounts abroad. Wegelin & Co., founded in 1741, is the latest Swiss bank to reach a deal with U.S. prosecutors as they crack down on Americans who kept their money in secret accounts overseas and the entities which helped them. Three Wegelin bankers also were charged criminally in the U.S. last year. Subway worker tells customer to 'fight me like a man,' during confrontation over ketchup (WFTV) Luis Martinez said he stopped by a Subway shop in a Walmart on South Semoran Boulevard late Tuesday night to get something to eat. He said he ordered a Philly cheese steak the way he always does. "American cheese, onions and ketchup," said Martinez. Lawrence Ordone was working behind the counter. "He wants ketchup on the Philly cheese steak and I have never put -- we don't even have ketchup at Subway -- I've never put ketchup on anybody's sandwich," said Ordone. Martinez said he didn't want the sandwich without the ketchup and that a man next to him in line offered to buy the sandwich. Ordone said that Martinez mouthed off at the man. Martinez denied saying anything, but neither he or Ordone disputed what they said happened next. "That's when I flew off the handle," said Ordone. "He shoved a chair to the side, like knocked it down to come at me, and I said, 'This is going to be serious,'" said Martinez. "I said, 'Let's go, fight me like a man,'" said Ordone. "I was scared. Next thing, I'm thinking a gun's going to come out," said Martinez. Ordone said he blocked the customer so he couldn't get out. "He threatened to kill me in front of my wife," said Martinez. Martinez called 911, but by the time police got there the Subway worker had already left. Ordone said he was fired from his job Wednesday, and that he is baffled the confrontation started over something as simple as ketchup. "There's ketchup three aisles down. You can go buy your own ketchup, and I promise to God, you can put as much as you want on it and nobody's going to say nothing," said Ordone. Economy Adds 155,000 Jobs (WSJ) Rebuilding following superstorm Sandy, which struck the Northeast in late October, likely added to job growth last month. Nationally, employment in the construction sector advanced by 30,000 jobs. Meanwhile, manufacturing payrolls increased by 25,000 and health-care jobs grew by 45,000. JPMorgan Faces Sanction for Refusing to Provide Madoff Documents (Bloomberg) The Treasury Department’s inspector general has threatened to punish JPMorgan Chase for failing to turn over documents to regulators investigating the bank’s ties to Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. Inspector General Eric Thorson gave the largest U.S. bank a Jan. 11 deadline to cooperate with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency probe or risk sanctions for impeding the agency’s oversight. JPMorgan, according to the Dec. 21 letter, contends the information is protected by attorney-client privilege. Rich Catch a Break With Budget Deal Providing Deductions (Bloomberg) “The increases in taxes and limits to deductions are more favorable than expected,” said Christopher Zander, partner and head of wealth planning at Evercore Partners Inc. (EVR)’s wealth management unit. “They could have been worse for high net-worth taxpayers.” Regulators to ease up on banks to get credit flowing (Reuters) Banks will get more time to build up cash buffers to protect against market shocks under a rule change that could help free up credit for struggling economies, a European regulatory source said. The Basel Committee, made up of banking supervisors from nearly 30 countries, is expected to announce the revision on Sunday to its "liquidity coverage" ratio or LCR, part of efforts to make banks less likely to need taxpayer help again in a crisis. The change comes after heavy pressure from banks and some regulators, who feared Basel's original version would suck up too much liquidity at a time when ailing economies are badly in need of a ready supply of credit to finance growth. 'Stripper' arrested after performance art leads to ruckus in Hallandale (SS) According to police and witnesses, Mena, 25, was first spotted standing and yelling in the middle of A1A outside her condo building along the 1800 block of South Ocean Drive about 10:45 a.m. on Wednesday. Noel von Kauffman, 40, said he was walking along the street when he noticed Mena trying to direct traffic while wearing a tank-top, cut-off jean shorts and tall boots...At some point, Mena picked up a traffic cone and threw it at a car driven by Dieter Heinrich, 49, of Dania Beach, according to an arrest report. The cone broke the car's side mirror, causing about $300 in damages, the report indicated. When Heinrich got out of his car, Mena allegedly spat in his face. Von Kauffman said he jumped in to help Heinrich, who had children in the back seat of his car. Mena scratched von Kauffman's wrist as the two men tried to restrain her and move her away from the busy roadway, according to the police report. After pinning her to the ground, von Kauffman said the woman first tried to say the incident was part of a television show and that everything was being caught on camera. Then she claimed she was a federal agent. Then she said she was friends with Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper and everyone involved would be in trouble, von Kauffman said.

Opening Bell: 11.09.12

RBS, UBS Traders Said to Face Arrest in Libor Probe (Bloomberg) U.K. prosecutors are poised to arrest former traders and rate setters at UBS, Royal Bank of Scotland Group and Barclays within a month for questioning over their role in the Libor scandal, a person with knowledge of the probe said. The arrests will be made by police under the direction of prosecutors at the Serious Fraud Office within the next month, said the person, who declined to be identified because the matter isn’t public. Arrests in the U.K. are made at an early stage of the investigation, allowing police and prosecutors to question people under caution and may not lead to charges. The SFO has 40 people working on the probe into manipulation of the London interbank bank offered rate, a benchmark for financial products valued at $360 trillion worldwide, and has involved the City of London Police, said David Green, the agency’s director. “Significant developments” in the case are coming “in the near future,” Green said yesterday in an interview at his office in London without giving further details and declining to comment on any possible arrests. Pressure Mounts On Fiscal Crisis (WSJ) The CBO on Thursday detailed its view that if Washington policy makers don't act before the end of the year, the economy would contract by 0.5% in 2013. The unemployment rate would jump from 7.9% to 9.1% by the end of 2013, according to the CBO—a nonpartisan arm of Congress. Ex-Goldman Bankers See Crisis Opportunity in Greek Insurance (Bloomberg) Alexis Pantazis and Emilios Markou are on a three-year odyssey to become next-generation car insurance executives in Greece that’s a million miles from their previous incarnation as bankers for Goldman Sachs. “One of our investors says you cannot wipe out a country,” said Pantazis, 36, a consultant at Boston Consulting Group before working as an executive director at Goldman Sachs from 2005 to 2008. “A country like Greece has 11 million people and these people need basic services. They need bread, they need milk, they need car insurance.” As French banks Credit Agricole and Societe Generale sell their Greek units to exit the only euro area country that’s in need of a second rescue package, Pantazis and Markou see an opportunity. After swapping business-class lounges and sushi for budget flights and sandwiches, the pair began pitching their Internet-based vehicle policies to Greeks two months ago. SEC Left Computers Vulnerable to Cyberattacks (Reuters) Staffers at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission failed to encrypt some of their computers containing highly sensitive information from stock exchanges, leaving the data vulnerable to cyberattacks, according to people familiar with the matter. While the computers were unprotected, there was no evidence that hacking or spying on the SEC's computers took place, these people said. The computers and other electronic devices in question belonged to a handful of employees in an office within the SEC's Trading and Markets Division. That office is responsible for making sure exchanges follow certain guidelines to protect the markets from potential cyber threats and systems problems, one of those people said...The security lapses in the Trading and Markets Division are laid out in a yet-to-be-released report that by the SEC's Interim Inspector General Jon Rymer. The Last Days Of Romneyland (NBC) From the moment Mitt Romney stepped off stage Tuesday night, having just delivered a brief concession speech he wrote only that evening, the massive infrastructure surrounding his campaign quickly began to disassemble itself. Aides taking cabs home late that night got rude awakenings when they found the credit cards linked to the campaign no longer worked. "Fiscally conservative," sighed one aide the next day. In conversations on Wednesday, aides were generally wistful, not angry, at how the campaign ended. Most, like their boss, truly believed the campaign's now almost comically inaccurate models, and that a victory was well within their grasp. (Outside Republicans and donors are another story. Some are angry over what they felt was an overly rosy picture painted by the campaign, and at what amounts to the loss of their investment.) New York Subway Repairs Border ‘on the Edge of Magic’ (NYT) There were some hiccups. At West Fourth Street, unexpected third-rail and switch problems delayed the return of the D, F and M trains. As the authority prepared to bring the G train back this week, a transformer blew, keeping the train offline for the morning rush hour on Wednesday. There were still service gaps on the N train, the A train in Far Rockaway and the R line, among others. On Thursday morning, inside his office, Joseph Lhota, the chairman of the transportation authority, checked his BlackBerry often, hoping for an update on the L train. Moments later, he placed a call to Howard B. Glaser, Mr. Cuomo’s director of state operations, whom he wanted to brief on the Queens-Midtown Tunnel. The tunnel could open Friday, he told Mr. Glaser, remarking that Mr. Bloomberg, “like an idiot,” had predicted publicly that the tunnel might open over the weekend. “He’s making it up,” he said, after a brief hail of profanity in which Mr. Lhota wondered aloud who, exactly, Mr. Bloomberg had been talking to. “It’s wrong,” he told Mr. Glaser. “It’s just wrong.” Mr. Lhota also spoke of the L line’s importance, as if his audience needed convincing. “You know who knows where the L train goes?” he barked into the phone. “All the hipsters in Williamsburg.” The BlackBerry buzzed on the table in front of him. He grabbed it quickly, then put it back. No good news yet on the L, he said. Hours later, that would change. “Ladies and Gentlemen,” he wrote on Twitter. “The L train is back. Enjoy your trip home tonight.” Whistleblower To Get Big Payment In Bank Of New York-Virginia Deal (WSJ) Bank of New York Mellon Corp. has reached an agreement with the state of Virginia to resolve accusations the bank charged hidden markups on currency transactions to Virginia's employee pension fund, in a deal that will also involve a $1.1 million payment to a whistleblower group, according to a person familiar with the negotiations. The whistleblower group includes Grant Wilson, who spent two years as a secret informant while sitting on the bank's Pittsburgh trading desk. Mr. Wilson's identity was disclosed in a page-one article in The Wall Street Journal last year. As part of the agreement, Virginia won't pursue litigation against BNY Mellon, and the bank will offer reduced fees in the future under a new custodial deal, according to people familiar with the negotiations. Nearly Half Of Britons Want EU Exit (Reuters) Nearly half of Britons would vote in a referendum to leave the European Union and less than a third to stay in, according to a poll highlighting divisions facing Prime Minister David Cameron. Polling company YouGov said on Thursday 49 percent favoured leaving the EU, 28 percent would vote to stay in the 27-nation bloc, 17 percent were undecided and the rest would not vote. Crédit Agricole Posts Record Loss After Greek Sale (WSJ) The Paris-based lender, France's third-largest bank by market value, posted a third-quarter net loss of €2.85 billion ($3.63 billion), well below analyst forecasts of a €1.76 billion net loss. The bank reported a €258 million profit in the same quarter a year earlier. Rochdale Traders Await Rescue (NYP) Sixteen days after a rogue trader rocked Stamford, Conn.-based Rochdale Securities, the broker-dealer, still hasn’t reached a deal with a deep-pocketed investor, sources said. Fla. principal resigns after offering promotions for sex (WPBF) A Florida high school principal who offered teachers' promotions in exchange for sex has resigned from his position. Steve Van Gorden's resignation comes after a 300-page investigative report by Pasco County school officials into allegations of sexual harassment. Several teachers claim Van Gorden, who is also the mayor of Zephyrhills, sent text messages offering career boosts in exchange for sex and threatened them if they refused. Van Gorden said he's sorry. "The bottom line is I'm truly sorry for what occurred, and it's not going to happen again," Van Gorden said. Van Gorden has a year and a half left on his term as mayor.

Opening Bell: 09.13.12

Ray Dalio: US Economy Out Of Intensive Care (Reuters) Hedge fund titan Ray Dalio said the U.S economy had come out of the "intensive care unit," but he warned against any quick move to "austerity" budget measures. "We were in the intensive care unit," Dalio, who runs the $120 billion hedge fund Bridgewater Associates, told more than 200 guests at the Council of Foreign Relations in New York on Wednesday. "We are largely healed and largely operating in a manner that is sustainable if we don't hit an air pocket." Dalio said a major challenge for U.S. politicians will be dealing with the so-called "fiscal cliff," the year-end expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts and previously agreed-upon cuts in defense spending and social programs, a combination which some economists say could lead to a recession. Dalio sided with economists who worry that a sharp reduction in government spending could lead the United States back into recession. "We can't just worry about too much debt," Dalio said. "We have to worry about too much austerity." German Court Clears Rescue Fund (WSJ) Germany's highest court cautiously approved the creation of the euro zone's permanent bailout facility, but insisted that the country keep its effective veto on all of the vehicle's decisions, a ruling that removes a question mark over two crucial elements of the euro zone's plans for mastering its debt crisis. Treasury Backs Plan For Standard Chartered Settlement (NYT) The lawyers approved a potential prepayment amount this week, a crucial step to a final agreement, though it will be much smaller than the $340 million the bank had to pay to New York State’s top banking regulator in a related case, according to three officials with direct knowledge of the settlement talks. The differing penalties stem from determinations by federal authorities and Manhattan prosecutors that the bank’s suspected wrongdoing was much less extensive than the state banking regulator’s claims that Standard Chartered had schemed with Iran to hide from regulators 60,000 transactions worth $250 billion over a decade. Insiders Get Post IPO Pass (WSJ) Wall Street underwriters increasingly are allowing corporate insiders to sidestep agreements that prevent them from quickly selling shares after initial public offerings. In the latest instance, several Wall Street banks on Wednesday allowed early investors and management of ExactTarget Inc. to sell more than seven million shares of the online marketing company a week ahead of the planned end of a "lockup" agreement. Under lockup pacts, underwriters bar company insiders from selling their shares, usually for 180 days after an IPO. The lockup restricts the supply of shares, helping buoy IPO prices; releasing more shares on the market can keep a lid on stock prices. Anna Gristina sits down with TV shrink Dr. Phil, says she won't talk to prosecutors about associate (NYDN) The Soccer Mom Madam's little black book has been whittled down to a single name. In her first major interview since being released from Rikers Island in June, Anna Gristina dishes to TV talk show shrink Dr. Phil about how prosecutors have hounded her for dirt on a just one associate. “They have an agenda to get me to talk about a certain person,” she told the daytime doc. Gristina refused to reveal the mystery man, or woman. Oprah's former head-shrink sidekick, who sat down at the kitchen table in Gristina's Monroe, N.Y. farmhouse, asked why the accused flesh-peddler didn't just save herself and give prosecutors the information they want. “I have a deep sense of loyalty and I'm Scottish." Gristina denied the criminal allegations during the teary interview, maintaining she was developing an online dating site where married men could meet single women. Whistleblower Key To Buyout Probe (WSJ) New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's probe of tax practices at private-equity firms is based on information from a whistleblower, according to a person familiar with the matter. The information came from someone who approached Mr. Schneiderman's office between roughly nine months and a year ago, this person said. Under the state's False Claims Act, the attorney general can investigate alleged fraud against the state basedon a whistleblower's allegations. The ongoing probe is examining whether partners at private-equity firms changed management fees into investment income to delay tax payment and pay less—or avoid taxes altogether. Some private-equity firms use so-called management-fee conversions, while other firms avoid them. Wall Street Hopes for Romney, but Expects Obama to Win (CNBC) In an unscientific poll, 46 percent of respondents to the September CNBC Fed Survey said they expect President Obama to win reelection. Only 24 percent believe Republican Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney will get the job. Longtime Madoff Employee To Plead Guilty (Reuters) Irwin Lipkin, a former controller of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC, will appear in Manhattan federal court on Th ursday, prosecutors said in a letter to the judge. He will plead guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit securities fraud and falsifying documents, prosecutors told U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain in the letter. Suspect pulls gun on victim while having sex in a moving car (WNN) The incident began Sep. 2 when the victim and his two friends went to the Paddy Wagon Irish Pub in Port Charlotte. When the bar closed early Monday morning they invited two girls they met to one of the friend’s home on Atlas Street. One of the women and the victim went into a bedroom to have sex. The girl said she needed $250, which he said he didn’t have. She asked how much he had and he gave her $120. The victim then went to the bathroom and when he returned, found the two women had left the home. The victim had obtained the woman’s cell phone number earlier at the bar and called her; they agreed to meet at the Pick N Run store on Peachland Boulevard. When he got there he expected to meet the woman who took the $120. Instead, Linscott walked up to his Nissan Sentra and said the other girl ditched her. Linscott got into his car and as they drove off, he said she began touching him and having sex while he was driving. The victim told detectives she also said she needed money and he told her he already gave her friend $120 earlier. The victim said Linscott then put a .357 Taurus revolver to his head and demanded money. The victim grabbed the gun and a fight ensued in the moving car; he said he punched her in the head so she would release the gun. He told detectives he was in fear of his life and lost control of his car, struck a palm tree, went airborne and then ran across two front yards in the 1200 block of Dewhurst Street.

Opening Bell: 07.09.12

BofA Figures In Drug Probe (WSJ) A Mexican cocaine-trafficking cartel used accounts at Bank of America to hide money and invest illegal drug-trade proceeds in U.S. racehorses, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said. The alleged ties between the violent drug gang known as Los Zetas and the second-largest U.S. bank by assets were described in a 35-page affidavit filed in federal court in Texas last month. According to an FBI agent, a horse-buying and training business created to launder drug money had accounts at the Charlotte, N.C., bank. Libor Probe Moves To Political Arena (WSJ) The scandal over banks' manipulation of key interest rates cost the jobs of three senior financial figures last week. On Monday, the deputy governor of the Bank of England will try to ensure it doesn't derail his own career. Paul Tucker, a leading candidate to become the next governor of the Bank of England, will testify Monday afternoon before a Parliamentary committee that is examining how Barclays and other global banks improperly tried to influence interest rates like the London interbank offered rate...Barclays, after reaching a £290 million settlement with U.S. and British regulators over its attempts to manipulate Libor, sought to defend itself by releasing notes from an October 2008 phone call between Mr. Tucker and Robert Diamond. According to Mr. Diamond's notes from the call, Mr. Tucker relayed concerns from "senior" British government officials about Barclays's above-average Libor submissions. "Mr. Tucker stated…that while he was certain we did not need advice, that it did not always need to be the case that we appeared as high as we have recently," Mr. Diamond wrote to two of his colleagues the day after the call. Diamond Antithesis Seen As Key Step To Repairing Barclays (Bloomberg) The British lender faces a criminal probe and political pressure to curb or separate the investment banking unit that Diamond built up during his 16-year career at Barclays from the consumer bank. The unit generated 61 percent of the bank’s first-quarter pretax profit. At a Parliamentary hearing last week, lawmakers asked if the culture at the investment bank was “rotten” and if he lived in a “parallel universe.” Former Barclays CEO: I Too Fell for the Diamond Myth (FT) "It was a close call," Taylor says of his decision to retain Diamond as head of Barclays Capital. "I suspect the subsequent history of the business would have been very different had I asked him to go. I deserve blame for being among the first to succumb to the myth of Diamond’s indispensability, to which some in Barclays were still in thrall only a matter of days ago." SEC set to hand out up to $452M to whistleblowers (NYP) “The SEC is receiving two to three tips every day that are worth pursuing, and they’re farming them out to staffers for investigation,” said Lawrence A. West, a lawyer with Latham & Watkins. “SEC officials are eager to pay out and publicize the first whistleblower award,” said West, whose firm has gathered a number of tipsters under the new law. “Once the first award is publicized, tips to the SEC from disgruntled employees are almost certain to increase substantially.” Romney Mines Hamptons For Political Cash (NYT) EAST HAMPTON, N.Y. — A woman in a blue chiffon dress poked her head out of a black Range Rover here on Sunday afternoon and yelled to an aide to Mitt Romney. “Is there a V.I.P. entrance? We are V.I.P.” (No such entrance existed.)...what was billed as a day of elegant campaign events at the homes of the ultrarich turned out to be an afternoon of curious and clashing tableaus: protesters with their bandannas and Occupy Wall Street-inspired chants (“We got sold out, banks got bailed out!”) standing amid multimillion-dollar mansions, where live bands played “Margaritaville” and donors dined on prosciutto-wrapped melon balls...After that, Mr. Romney attended events at the Southampton homes of Clifford Sobel, the former United States ambassador to Brazil, and David Koch, the billionaire industrialist and longtime benefactor of conservative political causes. The event at Mr. Koch’s home drew about 200 protesters, who...went so far as to hire a local pilot to fly a giant red and black banner over Mr. Koch’s house, which read: “Romney has a Koch problem,” a play on the drug. (Mr. Koch’s name is pronounced the same as the word coke.) A truck, festooned with the logos of big banks like Citigroup and Wells Fargo, circled the neighborhood with a plastic dog on the roof, a jab at Mr. Romney’s much-mocked family vacation in which he traveled with his Irish setter inside a pet carrier on the roof of a car. Barclays mulls split after Libor scandal: report (MarketWatch) Board directors at U.K. bank Barclays PLC BCS -1.72% are considering splitting the company into two units, as regulatory scrutiny mounts in the wake of its role in the Libor interest-rate fixing scandal, The Sunday Times reports without citing sources. The newspaper says Barclays is examining plans to spin off its investment banking arm, which could be floated in New York, with the U.K.-headquartered retail and commercial bank retaining its London listing. (A person familiar with the matter said the story was inaccurate.) Roubini: My 'Perfect Storm' Scenario Is Unfolding Now (CNBC) In May, Roubini predicted four elements – stalling growth in the U.S., debt troubles in Europe, a slowdown in emerging markets, particularly China, and military conflict in Iran - would come together in to create a storm for the global economy in 2013. “(The) 2013 perfect storm scenario I wrote on months ago is unfolding,” Roubini said on Twitter on Monday. Tighter Control For Euro Banks (WSJ) The establishment of a single authority, with a single set of rules for the region's banks, is seen by Germany and other strong economies as an essential condition before they will consider sharing resources with other euro-zone countries. House-crasher sentenced after enjoying Diddy's food, cigars and toothbrush (NYP) A East New York man, busted for sneaking into rapper Sean “Diddy” Combs’ palatial East Hampton spread in April, guzzled the star’s top-shelf liquor, washed with his soap, and even used his toothbrush, officials revealed yesterday. “I brought a cheesesteak, a cheesecake, a bucket of fried chicken — which I ate at the house — and drank a ‘dollar’ bottle of Hennessy and four cans of Pepsi,” Quamine Taylor told prosecutors at his sentencing yesterday. He even slathered Diddy’s Frank’s Red Hot sauce on his grub, and drank a bottle of Hpnotiq, a vodka liqueur, he said, adding, “After I ate, I went upstairs and went to sleep.” He also smoked three of Diddy’s Dutch Masters cigars and drank a can of orange soda. Then he freshened up using Diddy’s soap and splashing on his aftershave.

Opening Bell: 05.17.12

White House Steps Up Push To Toughen Rules On Banks (WSJ) White House officials have intensified their talks with the Treasury Department in the days since J.P. Morgan's losses came to light, these people say—representing the first tangible political impact from a trading mess that has cost one of the nation's most prominent banks more than $2 billion...White House and Treasury officials are still determining whether the Volcker rule would have prevented the losses at J.P. Morgan, people familiar with the discussions said. Some of the president's political advisers are concerned that the J.P. Morgan trades, even if determined to violate the spirit of the rule, might slip through the regulatory net. From 'Caveman' To 'Whale' (WSJ) Even after Dynegy's holding company filed for bankruptcy protection on Nov. 7, the trade seemed like it still would be a loser for Mr. Iksil and J.P. Morgan. Only about six weeks remained until the trade was set to expire, and another company needed to default for J.P. Morgan to make money and the bullish hedge funds to lose out. Some traders took to calling Mr. Iksil a "caveman" for stubbornly pursing the trade. Mr. Iksil continued to bet against the index, however, and it soon weakened, causing a buzz among unhappy rivals, these traders say. "We called the trade the 'pain trade' and the 'widow maker'; it kept going down for no reason," said a trader at another firm, who called his broker and says he was told it was Mr. Iksil who was doing all the bearish trading. "It felt like Bruno was trying to wipe everyone out." Then on Nov. 29, in something of a shock, AMR Corp., American Airlines' parent company and one of the companies in the index, filed for bankruptcy protection. "People freaked out," recalls a hedge-fund trader. The index weakened significantly, allowing J.P. Morgan to rack up about $450 million in total profits from the trade, according to traders. Rival firms suffered similar-size losses. It capped a successful year for Mr. Iksil and his group, though the profits would be more than offset this year when they shifted to a more bullish tack on corporate credit, losing $2 billion-plus in the process. Goldman to Cash Out $1 Billion of Facebook Holding in IPO (Bloomberg) The investment bank and its funds will sell 28.7 million of the 65.9 million shares they own, more than twice the amount initially planned, Menlo Park, California-based Facebook said yesterday in a filing. The shares are being offered in a range of $34 to $38 apiece, meaning the stock being sold in this week’s IPO is valued between $975 million and $1.09 billion. SEC Probes Roles Of Hedge Fund In CDOs (WSJ) U.S. securities regulators are investigating hedge-fund firm Magnetar Capital LLC, which bet on several mortgage-bond deals that wound up imploding during the financial crisis, according to people familiar with the matter. While Magnetar has faced scrutiny over its role in various collateralized debt obligations, or CDOs, the Illinois firm itself now is a target of an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission, these people said. ECB Bars Access to Four Greek Banks (FT) The move raises the pressure on Greece to stick to its international bailout by highlighting the risk that eurozone central bankers could pull the plug on its financial system. It reflected ECB fears that a planned recapitalisation of Greece’s banks could be delayed. Greek Euro Exit Would Risk Asia Crisis-Style Rout, Zeti Says (Bloomberg) A Greek exit from the euro could cause contagion comparable to the Asian financial crisis, according to Malaysia’s central bank Governor Zeti Akhtar Aziz, who had first-hand experience of that turmoil. “The worst-case scenario is what we saw in Asia,” Zeti, 64, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television in Istanbul yesterday. “When one economy collapses, then the market usually moves on to focus on the next one, then there will be a contagion that will affect different countries that probably don’t deserve those kinds of consequences.” Strippers in Paris Go on Strike, Say Wages 'Miserable' (Reuters) The Crazy Horse, one of the most popular establishments of its kind in the world, said it was forced to cancel performances this week for the first time since the cabaret was created in 1951. The night club, which declined to give details on salary demands or current wages, said in a statement that it had always taken the wellbeing of its artists very seriously and that talks were continuing to resolve the dispute. "It's an exceptional place which has the specialty of presenting a fully naked show," Suzanne, one of the dancers, told RTL radio. "What's wrong is that we are asked to work 24 days per month for a pay that is worse than miserable," she said. JPMorgan’s Trading Loss Is Said to Rise at Least 50% (NYT) The trading losses suffered by JPMorgan Chase have surged in recent days, surpassing the bank’s initial $2 billion estimate by at least $1 billion, according to people with knowledge of the losses. When Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan’s chief executive, announced the losses last Thursday, he indicated they could double within the next few quarters. But that process has been compressed into four trading days as hedge funds and other investors take advantage of JPMorgan’s distress, fueling faster deterioration in the underlying credit market positions held by the bank. A spokeswoman for the bank declined to comment, although Mr. Dimon has said the total paper trading losses will be volatile depending on day-to-day market fluctuations. Several on FOMC Said Easing May Be Needed on Faltering (Bloomberg) The Federal Reserve signaled further monetary easing remains an option to protect the U.S. economy from the danger that lawmakers will fail to reach agreement on the budget or Europe’s debt woes worsen. Several members of the Federal Open Market Committee said new actions could be necessary if the economy loses momentum or “downside risks to the forecast became great enough,” according to minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee’s April meeting released yesterday in Washington. Judge Denies Gupta's Wiretap Motion (NYP) Ex-Goldman Sachs director Rajat Gupta lost his bid to get three key wiretaps tossed as evidence in his upcoming insider-trading trial. Manhattan federal judge Jed Rakoff gave tentative approval yesterday for the jury to hear the wiretaps, which are crucial to the government’s case against Gupta. A former head of McKinsey & Co., who also sat on Procter & Gamble’s board, Gupta is accused of feeding tips to ex-hedge funder Raj Rajaratnam, who began an 11-year prison term last October for insider trading. The taped conversations between Rajaratnam and his traders have him talking about tips from a unnamed leaker on Goldman’s board. Man protests restaurant's all-you-can-eat policy (TMJ4) A disturbance at a local restaurant when one man got upset that an all-you-can-eat fish fry didn't live up to its name. At 6'6" and 350 lbs, Bill Wisth admits he's a big guy who can pack it away more than most. And he wants one restaurant to make all-you-can-eat, all he can eat too. "It's false advertising," said Wisth to TODAY'S TMJ4. He was there Friday when the restaurant cut him off after he ate a dozen pieces. "Well, we asked for more fish and they refused to give us any more fish," recalled Wisth. The restaurant says it was running out of fish and patience; arguing Bill has been a problem customer before. They sent him on his way with another eight pieces, but that still wasn't enough. He was so fired up, he called the police. "I think that people have to stand up for consumers," said Wisth. Elizabeth Roeming is a waitress there and says they've tried to work with Bill over the years -- like letting him have a tab he still hasn't paid off. Bill isn't backing down, saying his fish fry fight isn't over. But in the end, even he had something nice to say. "They do have like some of the best pizza in town if you like deep dish pizza," said Wisth. He says he will picket every Sunday until the restaurant rethinks what happened.

Opening Bell: 12.17.12

SAC E-Mails Show Steve Cohen Consulted on Key Dell Trade (Bloomberg) Two days before Dell Inc. was set to report second-quarter 2008 earnings, Jon Horvath, a technology analyst at SAC Capital Advisors LP, e-mailed his boss Michael S. Steinberg and another portfolio manager to warn that the computer maker would miss earnings estimates. “I have a 2nd hand read from someone at the company,” Horvath began the Aug. 26 message, which provided details on gross margins, expenditures and revenue. “Please keep to yourself as obviously not well known.” Steinberg, a 15-year veteran of the hedge fund founded by billionaire Steven A. Cohen, responded: “Yes normally we would never divulge data like this, so please be discreet. Thanks.” The e-mails indicate Steinberg, the longest-serving SAC employee linked to the U.S. insider-trading probe, discussed the Dell trade with Cohen. While neither has been accused of any wrongdoing, the messages were admitted as evidence at the New York insider-trading trial of two hedge-fund managers last week after a judge ruled they supported prosecutor claims that Steinberg should be considered an unindicted co-conspirator. AIG To Sell Life Insurer Stake (WSJ) AIG will sell its stake in Asian life insurer AIA Group Ltd., raising as much as $6.5 billion in what could be the second-largest deal in Asia this year. Completion of the sale will mark another step forward for AIG, which is shedding noncore assets, as it seeks to repay its debt to the U.S. government, which took over the company in a $182 billion bailout in 2008. A Shadow Over Banks As UBS Nears Libor Deal (WSJ) The Swiss bank is set to agree as soon as this week to pay roughly $1.5 billion to settle allegations of wrongdoing related to benchmarks such as the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, say people close to the talks. So far, UBS has agreed in principle with the U.S. Justice Department that a company unit in Japan will plead guilty to a criminal charge, according to a person familiar with the tentative deal. The Zurich-based parent will pay the fine in return for a deal that lets it avoid criminal prosecution. Criminal charges against individuals are expected to be filed in tandem with the settlement, according to U.S. officials briefed on the matter. The pursuit of criminal charges and the higher-than-expected fine are ominous signs for more than a dozen financial firms still under investigation. "There's no panic—yet," says someone close to one of the banks in the sprawling probe. Moody’s Gets No Respect as Bonds Shun 56% of Country Ratings (Bloomberg) The global bond market disagreed with Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s more often than not this year when the companies told investors that governments were becoming safer or more risky. Yields on sovereign securities moved in the opposite direction from what ratings suggested in 53 percent of the 32 upgrades, downgrades and changes in credit outlook, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That’s worse than the longer-term average of 47 percent, based on more than 300 changes since 1974. This year, investors ignored 56 percent of Moody’s rating and outlook changes and 50 percent of those by S&P. Economy Poised To Nudge Ahead In 2013 (WSJ) So that's nice. Boehner Opens the Door to Tax Hikes on the Wealthy (Reuters) U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner's offer to accept a tax rate increase for the wealthiest Americans knocks down a key Republican road block to a deal resolving the year-end "fiscal cliff." The question now boils down to what President Barack Obama offers in return. Such major questions, still unanswered so close to the end of the year suggest, however, that no spending and tax agreement is imminent. A source familiar with the Obama-Boehner talks confirmed that Boehner proposed extending low tax rates for everyone who has less than $1 million in net annual income, meaning tax rates would rise on all above that line. Actor Depardieu Hits Back at French PM Over Taxes (CNBC) Actor Gerard Depardieu, accused by French government leaders of trying to dodge taxes by buying a house over the border in Belgium, retorted that he was leaving because "success" was now being punished in his homeland. A popular and colourful figure in France, the 63-year-old Depardieu is the latest wealthy Frenchman to seek shelter outside his native country after tax increases by Socialist President Francois Hollande. Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault described Depardieu's behaviour as "pathetic" and unpatriotic at a time when the French are being asked to pay higher taxes to reduce a bloated national debt. "Pathetic, you said pathetic? How pathetic is that?" Depardieu said in a letter distributed to the media. "I am leaving because you believe that success, creation, talent, anything different must be sanctioned," he said. [...] The "Cyrano de Bergerac" star recently bought a house in Nechin, a Belgian village a short walk from the border with France, where 27 percent of residents are French nationals, and put up his sumptuous Parisian home up for sale. Depardieu, who has also inquired about procedures for acquiring Belgian residency, said he was handing in his passport and social security card. Singapore Establishment Challenged by Carson Block on Olam (Bloomberg) When Carson Block likened Olam International Ltd. to fraud-ridden Enron Corp., he challenged more than the accounting of the Singapore-based commodities firm. He also took on Temasek Holdings Pte, the government-owned investment company whose money has helped build the city-state into a corporate dynamo known as Singapore Inc. Temasek is Olam’s second-largest shareholder, with a 16 percent stake that has lost more than $100 million in value since Nov. 19, when Block’s Muddy Waters LLC first questioned the validity of the company’s finances and said it was betting against the stock. Temasek is also the biggest shareholder in many of the country’s best-known companies, including DBS Group Holdings Ltd., Southeast Asia’s largest bank, Singapore Telecommunications Ltd. and Singapore Airlines Ltd. “Carson Block is putting his whole reputation on this one,” said Low Chee Keong, associate professor of corporate law at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “He’s taking on the Singapore government, Singapore Inc. here.” UN court orders immediate release of Argentine ship seized by hedge funder Paul Singer over unpaid debt (AP) A United Nations court ordered the immediate release Saturday of an Argentine navy training ship held in Ghana two months ago at the request of an American hedge fund. The ARA Libertad was held Oct. 2 in the port of Tema as collateral for unpaid bonds dating from Argentina's economic crisis a decade ago. Argentina appealed to the UN's International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea for the ship's release, arguing that as a warship the Libertad is immune from being seized. In an expedited ruling, the court ordered that Ghana "forthwith and unconditionally release the frigate ARA Libertad" and ensure the ship and its crew can leave Ghanaian waters. It also ordered that the vessel should be resupplied as needed. Detaining the ship was "a source of conflict that may endanger friendly relations among states," the court said. The ruling leaves untouched the parties' rights to seek further international arbitration on the matter. Debt Loads Climb In Buyout Deals (WSJ) Private-equity firms are using almost as much debt to fund acquisitions as they did before the financial crisis, as return-hungry investors rush to buy bonds and loans backing those takeovers. The rise in borrowed money, or leverage, heralds the possibility of juicy returns for buyout groups. Ominously, the surge also brings back memories of the last credit binge around six years ago, which saddled dozens of companies with huge levels of debt. Berlusconi's Love Life Lost in Translation (CNBC) Global media reports that the former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi announced his engagement to his 28-year-old girlfriend on one of his TV Channels on Sunday, have been dismissed by native Italians who say Berlusconi has been mis-translated. Various newspapers have reported that Berlusconi is to get married for the third time, when in fact he announced that he is in love and in a relationship...Professor of Modern Italian History at University College London (UCL), John Foot, told CNBC that Pascale is a"girlfriend, nothing more." "In Italy the phrase 'Mi sono fidanzato' usually means 'I have a girlfriend or boyfriend' and not 'I am engaged to be married'. This can cause confusion abroad but is pretty clear in the Italian context," he told CNBC. Twinkies again by spring? It could happen (NBC) It’s not even Christmas, but Twinkies fans may be able to start looking forward to an Easter present. Bankrupt Hostess Brands has received a number of bids from companies interested in buying the maker of Twinkies, Ho Hos, and Wonder bread, including retail heavyweights such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Kroger Co, Bloomberg News reported Friday, quoting an unnamed person familiar with the matter...Anthony Michael Sabino, a bankruptcy attorney and a professor at St. John's University, said bankruptcy judge Robert Drain was motivated to move quickly. Bidding will likely take place by early January, since the assets — if not the treats themselves — could become stale. “I think this will move a at a fairly decent pace. He knows what’s at stake here.

Opening Bell: 12.12.12

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

cohnilton

Opening Bell: 7.12.17

Gary Cohn could actually be Fed chief; Paul Singer wants to see Warren Buffett talk dirty; your sous-vide circulator doubles as a pawn in a global bot war; and more.