Opening Bell: 2.5.15

UBS may have done bad things re: taxes again, ECB kicks Greece in the nuts, Buffett wants to go on a Eurotrip, "Barber offers 'Benjamin Button' old man cuts for misbehaving kids," AND MORE.
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UBS Faces a New Tax-Evasion Probe (WSJ)
UBS, which paid $780 million in 2009 to settle a separate Justice Department tax-evasion probe, is in the cross hairs again for allegedly helping wealthy clients hide assets, this time through so-called bearer securities. These securities, which were largely phased out of the U.S. financial system beginning in 1982 because of their potential use in tax evasion and money laundering, function essentially like cash, allowing whoever holds the certificate to anonymously claim its value. Prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn are weighing evidence gathered with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to determine whether employees of the bank helped facilitate tax evasion or engaged in securities fraud, people familiar with the investigation said. Authorities are also trying to determine whether anyone at the bank engaged in criminal efforts to cover up the alleged conduct once it became more widely known about within the bank.

Greeks Meet Skepticism in Frankfurt, Brussels (WSJ)
European officials put a damper on plans by the new Greek government to ease conditions on its bailout, warning that without an extension of the existing rescue program—and the austerity measures it contains—the government will lose access to new money by the end of this month. On Wednesday evening the European Central Bank announced it would no longer accept Greek government bonds from banks seeking funds, raising costs and volatility for the country’s lenders at a time of growing deposit outflows.

Sexy, free Tinder ‘swipes’ IAC bottom-line bucks (NYP)
The wild popularity of the red-hot Tinder hook-up app left Barry Diller a little cold in the fourth quarter. Diller’s IAC/InterActiveCorp warned Wall Street on Wednesday that it may take longer than expected for Tinder to turn profitable. Plans to “monetize” the free Tinder app — transform it into a moneymaking machine by requiring paid subscriptions, tacking on fees for special features, and selling ads — have been delayed until mid-March from an initial January target, execs said. Since December, tests of the premium “Tinder Plus” app have included adding the ability to “undo” after swiping past a dating profile. Currently, a profile that gets swiped is gone forever.

Twitter’s Slowing Growth Rate Weighs on CEO (WSJ)
Twitter’s stock has fallen 16% since a third-quarter report that showed that its growth rate of monthly active users—those who log in to the service at least once a month—shrank after previously gaining momentum. Analysts have tamped down their expectations for the fourth quarter, on average estimating user growth of just 2.8% to 292 million, which would represent the smallest quarterly gain in the company’s history, according to banking-research firm Evercore ISI.

Barber offers 'Benjamin Button' old man cuts for misbehaving kids (UPI)
A suburban Atlanta barber is offering parents of misbehaving kids a "Benjamin Button Special," a haircut designed to make kids look like old men. Russell Fredrick, co-owner of the A-1 Kutz barber shop in Snellville, said the first recipient of the "Benjamin Button Special," a shaved head with the sides and back left in place in the style of a balding elderly man, was his own 12-year-old son. Fredrick told The Washington Post his son's failing grades "dramatically skyrocketed" after receiving the haircut last fall, so he decided to start offering the haircut as a free-of-charge option for parents seeking unconventional disciplinary measures for unruly kids. The first customer to accept the offer, the mother of a 10-year-old who had been misbehaving in school, said the haircut succeeded in correcting his behavior and the boy returned to the store four days later to fix the style.

Warren Buffett, Jack Welch say Fed should put off rate-hike plans (MarketWatch)
Jack Welch said it would be “crazy” for the Federal Reserve to hike interest rates in the current economic environment. “I think it would be ludicrous to raise them right now with the situation we have. We’ve got oil problems…and we’ve got a strong dollar, which is killing exports,” said the former boss of General Electric Corp. GE, -0.25% in an appearance on CNBC on Wednesday. Higher interest rates would only cause the dollar to strengthen further and exports “would fall off the table even more,” said Welch, who ran GE from 1981 to 2001. “It does nothing at all for the U.S. economy to whack it now with everybody around the world easing, easing, easing,” he said. In an interview with the Fox Business Network, Buffett said he didn’t think a rate increase would be “feasible.” “I think it is going to be very tough to raise rates when you’ve got what is going on around the world,” Buffett said.

S.E.C. Commissioners Split on Waiving Financial Industry Punishment (Dealbook)
Oppenheimer & Company has looked the part of a financial industry recidivist, its rap sheet replete with at least 30 regulatory actions over the last decade. On Wednesday, on the heels of the company’s latest infraction, some regulators questioned whether the government had enabled a cycle of misbehavior. Kara M. Stein and Luis A. Aguilar, Democratic members of the Securities and Exchange Commission, criticized their own agency for allowing Oppenheimer to avoid certain repercussions for its behavior. Although Oppenheimer settled a case last week that set off a so-called bad actor ban, which automatically disqualified it from most private offerings of securities, the S.E.C. issued a waiver from that ban. Ms. Stein and Mr. Aguilar voted against the waiver. The commission’s three other members, including two Republicans and the chairwoman, Mary Jo White, voted to support it.

Silk Road website founder Ross Ulbricht found guilty on all counts (NYT)
The FBI arrested Ulbricht in a sting operation in October 2013 accusing him of being the criminal mastermind running Silk Road where items such as narcotics, fake IDs and other illegal goods were sold using bitcoin for payment. Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, charged Ulbricht with seven counts including money laundering, drug trafficking and computer hacking among other things. During the trial the prosecution said that Ulbricht was "Dread Pirate Roberts," which was the alias for Silk Road's operator, and said that he received a portion of every transaction that occurred on the black market website. By the time Silk Road was shut down by the feds in 2013, it had generated almost $213.9 million in sales and $13.2 million in commissions, prosecutors said. Ulbricht conceded that he was indeed the creator of Silk Road, but his defense attorney Joshua Dratel argued that Ulbricht intended for the site to be a "freewheeling, free market site" where almost anything could be sold, barring a few harmful items like certain weapons. However, Ulbricht's defense said that just a few months after creating the marketplace he handed over control to others using the platform. But was lured back right before the FBI busted the operation, thus making Ulbricht the "fall guy," Dratel said. Prosecutors, however, argued that there was no evidence that Ulbricht walked away from the black market as he claimed.

Buffett tells Fox Business he wants a company in Europe (Reuters)
Billionaire investor Warren Buffett said on Wednesday he is likely to buy a small business in Western Europe and he would like to buy more businesses abroad. "We'd like to buy more businesses around the world," Buffett, the head of conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway Inc, said in an interview with Fox Business Network.

Former Fulton narcotics prosecutor disbarred for felony drug charges (AJC)
The Georgia Supreme Court announced Monday it had disbarred the former top narcotics prosecutor for Fulton County because of his own drug convictions. The high court noted the disbarment of Rand Csehy, who was then in private practice for several years, came after he had received a first-offender plea bargain in his drug case and then was jailed again in September after a Cobb Superior Court judge suspected he was on illegal drugs while representing a client in court. “The Superior Court of Cobb County, noting during an appearance that Csehy was disheveled and unable to stand without support, ordered a drug test, which showed the presence of illegal drugs in his system,” the opinion said. The Cobb episode occurred when Csehy was seeking a lesser punishment than disbarment from the high court. In October, Csehy told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he wasn’t on illegal drugs in court and he would fight the case.

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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.

Opening Bell: 04.10.13

Trading Case Embroils KPMG (WSJ) Scott London, the partner in charge of audits of Herbalife Ltd. and Skechers USA Inc. until KPMG fired him last week, told The Wall Street Journal Tuesday that "I regret my actions in leaking nonpublic data to a third party." Mr. London said his leaks "started a few years back," adding that KPMG bore "no responsibility" for his actions. "What I have done was wrong and against everything" he believed in, said Mr. London, who was based in Los Angeles for the accounting firm...Neither KPMG nor Mr. London named the recipient of Mr. London's tips. The recipient isn't associated with a hedge fund or other professional investor, said one person familiar with the matter. Obama Proposes $3.77 Trillion Budget to Revive Debt Talks (Bloomberg) Obama’s budget for fiscal 2014 proposes $50 billion for roads, bridges and other public works, $1 billion to spur manufacturing innovation and $1 billion for an initiative to revamp higher education, according to administration officials who briefed reporters and asked to not be identified. It renews his request to raise $580 billion in revenue by limiting deductions and closing loopholes for top earners. Obama again seeks adoption of the Buffett rule, named for billionaire investor Warren Buffett, to impose a 30 percent minimum tax on households with more than $1 million in annual income. The administration projects the deficit for fiscal 2014 would be $744 billion, or 4.4 percent of the economy. That would mark the first budget shortfall of less than $1 trillion since Obama took office. Soros Tells Germany It Should Leave The Euro (CNBC) "The financial problem is that Germany is imposing the wrong policies on the euro zone. Austerity doesn't work. You can't shrink the debt burden by shrinking the budget deficit," Soros, the founder and chairman of Soros Fund Management,said during a speech in Germany's financial center of Frankfurt on Tuesday. Ackman Expected To Stick With JCPenney (NYP) The New York hedge-fund tycoon is expected to stay put as JCPenney’s biggest investor, with a nearly 18 percent stake, and back the retailer’s scramble to repair the damage done by ousted CEO Ron Johnson, sources told The Post. That’s despite the fact that it was Ackman who installed Johnson at the helm of the company 17 months ago with an ambitious but doomed plan to overhaul the aging department-store chain. “The priority right now is stabilizing the company and finding a permanent CEO,” according to an insider close to the situation, adding that Ackman appeared to be playing a key role in the process. Blackstone Solicits Partners For Dell Bid (WSJ) Blackstone Group LP is talking to several technology companies about potentially joining its bid to take computer maker Dell private, people familiar with the matter said. Any technology firm that joins the private-equity giant's potential bid for Dell would likely be involved in the company's strategic direction as well as having a financial role, the people said. Blackstone has discussed a number of scenarios with prospective partners, including an equity stake, debt financing or a combination of the two, one of the people said. City officials say they're powerless to stop Time Square's growing hoard of costume-wearing hustlers (NYP) The city used to tell the furry fiends where they could set up. But a court decision last year ruled the characters could not be treated like vendors because they are entertainers who work for tips. “Our ability to treat these characters as vendors was eliminated,” said city lawyer Gabriel Taussig. “And, absent of vending laws, there is no other law that comes close to dealing with where they can be located.” The most recent trouble came when Osvaldo Quiroz-Lopez, who was dressed as Cookie Monster, got into a tussle with the toddler son of Bollywood star Parmita Katkar after the mom said she didn’t have the money to tip for a picture. His bust followed a slew of similar cases, including a man dressed as Super Mario who was accused of groping a woman and an Elmo who went on an anti-Semitic rant. Some Fed Members Fear Monetary Policy Effects (CNBC) Minutes from the most recent Fed meeting suggest that members have grown increasingly concerned that things could get messy if it continues its policies too far into the future. Among those concerns are instability to the financial system, a sudden rise in interest rates and inflation. Bill Gross Raises Holdings of Treasuries to Highest Since July (Bloomberg) Gross raised the holdings of Treasuries held in his $289 billion flagship fund at Pacific Investment Management Co. to 33 percent of assets last month, the highest level since July. JPM On A Whale Of A Roll (NYP) Jamie Dimon is hoping another solid performance from his sprawling bank can finally sink the London Whale. JPMorgan Chase will kick off bank earnings as it nears the anniversary of the embarrassing trading scandal, which Dimon famously dismissed back on April 13 of last year as a “tempest in a teapot.” The bank is expected to benefit from the continuing stabilization of the US economy that could allow it to release capital reserves again — a move that will have the effect of helping boost its overall earnings. Barclays analyst Jason Goldberg estimates that JPMorgan will report earnings of $1.33 a share — 6 cents less than consensus estimates of $1.39 a share. Some analysts believe that the bank will beat the consensus by a few cents after buying back shares and hiking its dividend to 38 cents. Soup heist ends with Tamarac turnpike arrest (Sun Sentinel) A Florida Highway Patrol trooper tracking the rig's GPS signal arrested the driver for the alleged soup heist on Florida's Turnpike in Tamarac about 12:30 a.m. Sunday. Eusebio Diaz Acosta, 51, of Orlando, was charged with two counts of grand theft — one for the tractor trailer and one for the cargo, with a combined value of $350,000. "These are very unusual facts," Broward County Judge John "Jay" Hurley said as he read from Acosta's arrest report Monday morning. "The court has seen many things stolen. … This is the first time the court's ever seen $75,000 worth of soup stolen."

Opening Bell: 06.15.12

Forthcoming Facebook Motion Said to Discuss Nasdaq’s Role in I.P.O. (NYT) Facebook is preparing for battle. One month after its botched initial public offering, the social network is set to file a motion to consolidate all the shareholder lawsuits against the company, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. The lead underwriters, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, and JPMorgan Chase, are expected to join the motion, which could be filed in the Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York as early as Friday. The motion will represent the first time Facebook has publicly addressed the lawsuits and the performance of its highly anticipated, but ultimately lackluster, IPO on May 18. Facebook Is Not The Worst IPO (Deal Journal) Thursday marked the 4-week anniversary of the pricing of the IPO at $38 and today marks the anniversary of the innocuous opening and subsequent turmoil. Through Thursday’s close the stock was down about 26%, losing some $27 billion in market capitalization. That is ugly, but not as bad as the Halloween 2007 debut of Giant Interactive Group. The Chinese online-gaming company raised just over $1 billion in an IPO that started out well, rising about 18% on day one, but then promptly tumbled 30% through its first month, according to Dealogic. Draghi Hints ECB Is Ready To Act (WSJ) Providing liquidity "is what we have done throughout the crisis, faithful to our mandate of maintaining price stability over the medium term, and this is what we will continue to do," Mr. Draghi said. The Eurosystem, the ECB and the 17 national central banks that use the single currency "will continue to supply liquidity to solvent banks where needed," he added. Greeks Return To Ballot Box As Crisis Nears Decisive Moment (Bloomberg) The June 17 vote will turn on whether Greeks, in a fifth year of recession, accept open-ended austerity to stay in the euro or reject the conditions of a bailout and risk the turmoil of becoming the first to exit the 17-member currency. World leaders have said they’d prefer a pro-euro result, underscoring concern over global repercussions. Moody's Downgrades Dutch Banks (WSJ) In a statement, Moody's said it had cut the ratings by two notches each of ABN Amro Bank NV and ING Bank NV to A2, LeasePlan Corp. NV to Baa2 and Rabobank Nederland to Aa2. It also cut the rating of SNS Bank NV by one notch to Baa2. Giselle Is World's Highest Paid Model (Forbes) Just like last year, the Brazilian bombshell Bündchen leads the pack with a stunning $45 million in earnings (all estimates from May 1st, 2011 to May 1st, 2012). Even in her early thirties, Bündchen remains an unparalleled force within the fashion world. As the world’s most powerful supermodel, she racks up modeling gigs, spokesperson deals, and independent licensing ventures at every turn...Bündchen’s success combining business with modeling is influencing young, ascendant models. “The ones that are coming up, their model for excellence is Gisele. They’re looking at her and saying ‘that’s what I want to shoot for,’” Razek said. Fed Loans Backing AIG, Bear Repaid (WSJ) On Thursday, the regional Federal Reserve bank said it has been repaid, with interest, on $53.1 billion in loans it made to two crisis-era vehicles that held complex subprime mortgage bonds, home loans, commercial-property loans and other unwanted assets from Bear and AIG. The New York Fed earlier recouped a separate $19.5 billion loan that financed the purchase of mortgage-backed securities from AIG. Warren Buffett fired Benjamin Moore CEO after Bermuda cruise (NYP) “[Abrams] kept asking what he’d done wrong,” according to an insider briefed on the ouster. “[Berkshire officials] told him to clear his stuff out while they stood and watched every move he made.” Gupta Hopes Family Guy Image Will Help (NYP) The 63-year-old former Goldman Sachs director — facing 25 years in prison on charges of leaking inside information to his hedge fund pal Raj Rajaratnam — has surrounded himself with family and friends throughout the four-week trial. Gupta’s four Ivy League-educated daughters, his wife, Anita, and sister, Kumkum, in-laws and colleagues — roughly a dozen daily attendees — were in the courtroom each day, taking up the first two rows of the gallery. As the jury today starts its second day of deliberations, the fallen Wall Street star hopes the family vibe helps push the panel toward an acquittal. In the Facebook Era, Reminders of Loss if Families Fracture (NYT) The Times just found out that one of the weird things about Facebook is that you can find out things about people you haven't spoken to in years: Not long ago, estrangements between family members, for all the anguish they can cause, could mean a fairly clean break. People would cut off contact, never to be heard from again unless they reconciled. But in a social network world, estrangement is being redefined, with new complications. Relatives can get vivid glimpses of one another’s lives through Facebook updates, Twitter feeds and Instagram pictures of a grandchild or a wedding rehearsal dinner. And those glimpses are often painful reminders of what they have lost.

Opening Bell: 01.03.13

Fresh Budget Fights Brewing (WSJ) If Congress doesn't do more in the coming months, Moody's warned, the company could follow Standard & Poor's in downgrading U.S. debt. "Further measures that bring about a downward debt trajectory over the medium term are likely to be needed to support the AAA rating," Moody's said Wednesday. But the battles on how to do that are far from over. Republicans say any further deficit reduction or legislation to avoid across-the-board spending cuts should come from reducing spending. President Obama and many Democrats advocate a combination of tax increases and spending cuts. The most serious skirmish will arrive toward the end of February, when the U.S. Treasury is expected to be unable to pay all the government's bills unless Congress boosts the federal borrowing limit. Then on March 1, the across-the-board spending cuts of the fiscal cliff, deferred in this week's deal, are scheduled to begin slicing into military and domestic programs. And on March 27, a government shutdown looms unless Congress approves funding for government operations for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. CEOs Pan Fiscal Cliff Deal, Vow to Continue Debt Fight (Reuters) "I think this deal's a disaster," said Peter Huntsman, chief executive of chemical producer Huntsman Corp. "We're just living in a fantasy land. We're borrowing more and more money. This did absolutely nothing to address the fundamental issue of the debt cliff." Former Wells Fargo CEO Dick Kovacevich said the agreement confirms that Washington and both parties are totally out of control. "I think it's a joke," Kovacevich said of the deal. "It's stunning to me that after working on this for months and supposedly really getting to work in the last 30 days that this is what you come up with." Obama’s Warning to Boehner Started Road to Budget Plan (Bloomberg) President Barack Obama had a warning for John Boehner at a Dec. 13 White House meeting: Stop opposing higher tax rates for top earners, or the president would dedicate his second term to blaming Republicans for a global recession. The next day, the House speaker called the president and said he was open to a tax-rate increase on annual income of more than $1 million...While the budget deal Obama and Boehner were negotiating fell apart, the speaker’s concession on tax rates ultimately allowed Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, to craft the last-minute plan Congress passed Jan. 1. Nouriel Roubini: US Will Soon 'Get Messy' Again (CNBC) "It won't be long before there is another crisis. Two months, in fact." Pershing to Take 'Passive Shareholder' Role in General Growth (WSJ) Pershing Square Capital Management LP agreed to sell $271.9 million in General Growth Properties warrants to Brookfield Asset Management Inc., as part of a deal between the mall owner's two biggest shareholders that would resolve their recent disputes and see Pershing become a passive shareholder. Brookfield, in turn, offered to sell the warrants, which represent the right to acquire 18.4 million shares of General Growth stock, back to General Growth for the same purchase price. Pershing also agreed to limit its ownership stake in General Growth to no more than 9.9% and intends to become a passive shareholder. Brookfield agreed to limit its ownership in General Growth to 45%. Bank Of Canada won’t discuss melting plastic bills, says national security behind silence (NP) Disclosing details of behind-the-scenes discussions about tales of melting banknotes could endanger national security or international relations, says Canada’s central bank. In response to a formal request from The Canadian Press, the Bank Of Canada released 134 pages of internal records — almost completely blanked out — concerning allegations its new polymer bills melted in the scorching summer sun. The bank began issuing $100 polymer banknotes in late 2011, saying they were harder to counterfeit than paper notes and would last much longer. Unconfirmed reports of cooked currency emerged in July when a Kelowna, B.C., bank teller said she had heard of cases in which several bills had melted together inside a car. Soon after, Mona Billard of Cambridge, Ont., reported that she had returned eight plastic bills in January, after her son stashed his $800 Christmas bonus in a tin can and hid it near a baseboard heater. When he retrieved them the next day to make a deposit, the $100 banknotes had shriveled and melted. Ms. Billard exchanged clean bills for the shrunken, unusable ones. “The leather couch is up against the baseboard heater, it doesn’t melt,” she said. “The kids’ toys are back there, they don’t melt.” The Bank of Canada will reimburse damaged notes, but only if they clear an examination by an Ottawa laboratory. Paulson&Co Added To Abacus Suit Against Goldman (Bloomberg) Paulson & Co. was named as a defendant in a proposed revised lawsuit by ACA Financial Guaranty Corp. against Goldman Sachs over a collateralized debt obligation called Abacus. Paulson conspired with Goldman Sachs to deceive ACA Financial, which provided financial guaranty insurance for the deal, ACA Financial said in papers filed yesterday in Manhattan. Private Sector Added 215,000 Jobs Last Month (WSJ) Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires expected ADP to report a gain of 150,000 private jobs. Preet Bharara and other financial heavyweights opposing Paul Singer's attempt to get Argentina to pay debt (NYP) US Attorney Preet Bharara and BlackRock CEO Larry Fink are among the latest bold-faced names to oppose Singer’s attempt to get Argentina to pay him and others $1.3 billion on defaulted debt. Singer, the hedge fund billionaire who runs Elliott Management, is among the 8 percent of Argentina debtholders who refused to accept a 70 percent haircut following a 2001 default by the embattled South American country. Singer inched closer to winning the epic legal showdown in November when a federal judge ruled Argentina could not pay Fink’s BlackRock or other holders of the reorganized debt without putting money in escrow for Singer’s band of investors. An appeals court slowed Singer’s victory parade but refused to set aside the judge’s order. Now, Bharara, Fink’s $3.67 trillion bond firm and others are urging the appeals court to throw the case out. Basel Becomes Babel as Conflicting Rules Undermine Safety (Bloomberg) While higher capital requirements, curbs on banks trading with their own money and other rules have reduced risk, they have magnified the complexity of supervision, according to two dozen regulators, bankers and analysts interviewed by Bloomberg News. Even if the new regulations can be enforced, they don’t go far enough to ensure safety, said Robert Jenkins, a member of the Bank of England’s financial policy committee. Cops: Woman, 50, Battered Boyfriend, 32, Because Six Came Before Nine (TSG) Jennie Scott, 50, was booked into the Manatee County lockup on a misdemeanor charge stemming from the 11 PM encounter in the Palmetto bedroom of Jilberto Deleon, 32. Scott has dated Deleon “for the last 5 years on and off,” according to a sheriff’s report. Deputies were summoned to Deleon’s home by a witness who heard the couple arguing and saw Scott atop Deleon “punching and scratching him.” She also allegedly struck Deleon with a stick and threatened to hit him with a wrench before the tool was taken from her hand by the witness. When questioned by a cop, Scott explained that she and Deleon “were giving each other oral pleasure in the bedroom” when Deleon “finished first and stopped pleasuring her.” Scott added that she “became upset and they began arguing.” A deputy noted that Scott said that she was also mad at Deleon because she had “heard [him] having sex with another woman over the phone earlier in the day.” Scott struggled with deputies before being placed in a police cruiser, where she kicked a window until being warned that she would be maced unless she stopped.

Opening Bell: 12.14.12

UBS Unit Said to Be Close to Guilty Plea in Rate-Rigging Scandal (NYT) Federal prosecutors are close to securing a guilty plea from a UBS subsidiary at the center of a global investigation into interest rate manipulation, the first big bank to agree to criminal charges in more than a decade. UBS is in final negotiations with American, British and Swiss authorities to settle accusations that its employees reported false rates, a deal in which the bank's Japanese unit is expected to plead guilty to a criminal charge, according to people briefed on the matter who spoke of private discussions on the condition of anonymity. Along with the rare admission of criminal wrongdoing at the subsidiary, UBS could face about $1 billion in fines and regulatory sanctions, the people said. Meet Them In St. Louis: Bankers Move (WSJ) Smaller cities around the nation have emerged as unlikely hives of financial-services hiring, thanks to lower wages, municipal-tax incentives and the misfortunes of older hubs that are home to companies ravaged by the 2008-2009 financial crisis. The beneficiaries are spread across the U.S., according to an analysis of data by The Wall Street Journal. In St. Louis, the 19th-largest U.S. metropolitan area, securities-industry employment surged 85% between January 2007 and September 2012 to a recent 12,190, according to figures compiled by Moody's Analytics. New York lost 9% of its jobs in the securities, commodities, asset-management and fiduciary-trust areas over the same period, leaving it with 195,000. Counter-Terrorism Tools Used to Spot Staff Fraud (FT) JPMorgan Chase has turned to technology used for countering terrorism to spot fraud risk among its own employees and to tackle problems such as deciding how much to charge when selling property behind troubled mortgages. The technology involves crunching vast amounts of data to identify hard-to-detect patterns in markets or individual behavior that could reveal risks or openings to make money. Other banks are also turning to "big data", the name given to using large bodies of information, to identify potential rogue traders who might land them with massive losses, according to experts in the field...Guy Chiarello, JPMorgan's chief information officer, said the bank was mining massive bodies of data in "a couple of dozen projects" that promised to have a significant affect on its business, although he refused to give further details. According to three people familiar with its activities, JPMorgan has used Palantir Technologies, a Silicon Valley company whose technology was honed while working for the US intelligence services, for part of its effort. It first used the technology to spot fraudsters trying to hack into client accounts or ATMs, but has recently started to turn it on its own 250,000-strong staff. Obama Meets Boehner at White House for Budget Talks (Bloomberg) President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner met for a third time at the White House to discuss averting spending cuts and tax increases before a year- end deadline. Boehner and Obama met for almost an hour yesterday, with no public announcement of progress. In January, more than $600 billion in spending cuts and tax increases, the so-called fiscal cliff, are scheduled to begin. “The president and speaker had a frank meeting in the Oval Office,” Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said in an e-mailed statement, adding that the “lines of communication remain open.” Britain's Queen Quizzes Central Bank on Financial Crisis (CNBC) During a visit to the Bank of England on Thursday, the Queen was overheard asking whether a "lax" attitude to financial regulation had contributed to the financial crisis. After touring the vast vaults of gold bullion that lie beneath the central bank in London, Queen Elizabeth reportedly asked the central bank officials whether the Financial Services Authority (FSA) that was meant to regulate the banking system had not been aggressive enough - "did not have the teeth" - in its response to the crisis...The Queen was then told that officials in the room were charged with ensuring the crisis did not happen again. The Queen's husband, Prince Philip, then jokingly asked "There's not another one coming, is there?" before telling the officials present "Don't do it again." John McAfee Returns to US, Admits Playing 'Crazy Card' (ABC) After three weeks ducking authorities in Belize, by hiding in attics, in the jungle and in dingy hotels, he turned up in Guatemala Dec. 3. Barely a day later he was detained for entering the country illegally. As Guatemala officials grappled with how to handle his request for asylum and the Belize government's demand for his deportation, McAfee fell ill. The mysterious illness, described by his attorney alternately as a heart ailment or a nervous breakdown, led to a scene with reporters chasing his ambulance down the narrow streets of Guatemala City and right into the emergency room, where McAfee appeared unresponsive. He now says it was all a ruse: "It was a deception but who did it hurt? I look pretty healthy, don't I?" He says he faked the illness in order to buy some time for a judge to hear his case and stay his deportation to Belize, a government he believes wants him dead. When asked whether he believes Belize officials where inept, he didn't mince words. "I was on the run with a 20-year-old girl for three and a half weeks inside their borders and everyone was looking for me, and they did not catch me," he said. "I escaped, was captured and they tried to send me back. Now I'm sitting in Miami. There had to be some ineptness." [...] He denies any involvement in his neighbor's death but adds that he is not particularly concerned about clearing his name. He is focused on getting his 20-year-old and 17-year-old girlfriends out of Belize and says he has no idea what he'll do next, where he'll live or how he'll support himself. CNBC v. Buffett (NYP) The “Oracle of Omaha” sent a terse e-mail to editors at CNBC yesterday after a reporter for the cable news network railed against his recent repurchase of Berkshire Hathaway shares. Gary Kaminsky, CNBC’s capital markets editor, took Buffett to task for the $1.2 billion stock buyback, calling it “hypocritical to the maximum level.” Kaminsky claimed that Buffett’s purchase allowed the seller — described by Berkshire as the “estate of a long-time shareholder” — to avoid potentially higher capital gains taxes next year...In his rebuttal e-mail, Buffett said capital gains taxes don’t apply to estates. “Mr. Kaminsky also made the statement that the estate that was a seller was better off by selling in 2012 than 2013,” he wrote. “This, too, was incorrect.” He said capital gains are wiped out by stepped-up basis rules, with assets marked at their current fair-market value at the time of death. Buffett also blasted Kaminsky for saying his buyback was hypocritical on principal as Buffett is known to eschew buybacks. Buffett attached a copy of Berkshire’s 1984 annual report showing he has outlined conditions under which he would favor buybacks. CNBC anchor Melissa Lee read a correction late Tuesday that thanked the famed investor for “watching and setting us straight.” Fisher: Fed Risks 'Hotel California' Monetary Policy (CNBC) Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher told CNBC that he's worried the U.S. central bank is in a "Hotel California" type of monetary policy because of its "engorged balance sheet." Evoking lyrics from the famous song by The Eagles, he said he feared the Fed would be able to "check out anytime you like, but never leave." Fisher said on "Squawk Box" that he argued against revealing the new inflation and unemployment targets set by the Fed this week, saying he's worried that the markets will become "overly concerned" with the thresholds. Euro-Zone Downturn Eases (WSJ) Data company Markit said on Friday its preliminary purchasing managers' index, a gauge of activity among euro-zone factories and services companies, rose to 47.3 in December from 46.5 in November. A reading above 50.0 would signal an expansion. The national measure for Germany picked up to 50.5 from 49.2 in November, indicating that activity rose in the euro zone's largest member. "The euro-zone downturn showed further signs of easing in December, adding to hopes that the outlook for next year is brightening," said Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit. Residents find neighbor at their door with machete (KS) A 38-year-old Bremerton man was arrested by police Monday night for allegedly confronting his neighbors with a machete in response to alleged vandalism at his residence, according to documents filed in Kitsap County District Court. Officers were called to a Nollwood Lane address shortly after 8 p.m. Monday. Two residents said when they answered a knock at their door, a man was standing in the doorway holding a machete. The man, a neighbor, reportedly said he was tired of vandalism to his home and blamed it on a family member of his neighbors, police said. The neighbors attempted to slam the door on the man, but he reportedly put his foot into the door holding it open, police said. The neighbors were ultimately able to close it, though the suspect denies he put his foot in the door. Police interviewed the man, 38, who admitted he'd retrieved the machete out of anger after another incident of vandalism.

Opening Bell: 02.04.13

UK Regulators Could Split Banks (WSJ) U.K. Treasury chief George Osborne on Monday will announce new powers for regulators to split up banks that flout rules designed to ring-fence retail banking from riskier investment-banking activity. In a wide-ranging speech on banking in Bournemouth, England, Mr. Osborne is expected to say the new powers are needed so that taxpayers will never again be on the hook when banks fail, as they were during the financial crisis. "We're not going to repeat the mistakes of the past. In America and elsewhere, banks found ways to undermine and get around the rules," Mr. Osborne will say, according to the extracts of his speech. "We could see that again—so we are going to arm ourselves in advance. In the jargon, we will "electrify the ring fence." New Details Suggest a Defense in SAC Case (NYT) In bringing its charges, the government said that SAC not only sold out of its position, but also bet against — or shorted — the drug companies' stocks before the public announcement of the bad news. The SAC short position, according to prosecutors, allowed it to earn big profits after shares of the companies, Elan and Wyeth, plummeted. "The fund didn't merely avoid losses, it greedily schemed to profit further by shorting Elan and Wyeth stock," said April Brooks, a senior F.B.I. official in New York, during a press conference on Nov. 20, the day Mr. Martoma was arrested. Internal SAC trading records, according to people directly involved in the case, indicate that the hedge fund did not have a negative bet in place in advance of the announcement of the drug trial's disappointing results. Instead, the records indicated that SAC, through a series of trades, including a complex transaction known as an equity swap, had virtually no exposure — neither long nor short — heading into the disclosure of the drug data. Blackstone To Become Investment Bank? (FT) Blackstone, one of the world's largest alternative asset managers, has quietly secured a securities underwriting licence as its expanding capital markets operation strays into investment banking territory. The licence marks the latest stage in the transformation of big listed private equity groups as they become more broadly based alternative asset managers. Apollo and KKR , two of Blackstone's biggest rivals, also have securities underwriting licences. The move highlights the pressure listed private equity groups are under to generate new sources of fee income to satisfy their public shareholders. "The private equity business is lousy for shareholders," says the head of capital markets for one buyout firm that is not listed. Obama: more tax revenue needed to address deficit (Reuters) President Barack Obama said on Sunday more tax revenue would be needed to reduce the U.S. deficit and signaled he would push hard to get rid of loopholes such as the "carried interest" tax break enjoyed by private equity and hedge fund managers. Herbalife Is The Subject Of 'Pending' Probe (NYP) The Los Angeles-based distributor of nutritional products is the subject of a law enforcement investigation, The Post has learned. The existence of the probe emerged after the Federal Trade Commission, responding to a Freedom of Information Law request by The Post, released 192 complaints filed against Herbalife over the past seven years. New Orleans Braces From Fallout From Blackout (AP) The outage, blamed on an unspecified "abnormality" in the Superdome's power system, was an embarrassment for New Orleans, which was hosting its first Super Bowl since 2002 and was eager to show off how it has been rebuilt since Hurricane Katrina. Mayor Mitch Landrieu called Sunday night's outage "an unfortunate moment in what has been an otherwise shining Super Bowl week for the city of New Orleans." He said he expected to receive "a full after-action report from all parties involved" in the coming days...For 34 minutes, the players tried to stay loose, the fans milled about in darkened corridors, and stadium officials scrambled to figure out what went wrong. The Ravens barely hung on for a 34-31 victory over the San Francisco 49ers, needing a goal-line stand in the closing minutes to preserve the championship. "It really hurt us," Baltimore fullback Vonta Leach said. "We had lot of momentum." There is sure to be some fallout for the city and the Superdome — especially since New Orleans plans to bid for the title game in 2018, in conjunction with the 300th anniversary of its founding. Escalators stopped working and credit-card machines shut down, though auxiliary power kept the playing field and concourses from going totally dark. "We sincerely apologize for the incident," Superdome spokesman Eric Eagan said. Most fans seemed to take the outage in stride, even starting up the wave to pass the time. "So we had to spend 30 minutes in the dark? That was just more time for fans to refill their drinks," said Amanda Black of Columbus, Miss. Question of Aiding Cyprus Places Germany in a Bind (NYT) In recent days, Germany has signaled that it is reluctantly edging toward a bailout for Cyprus, a haven for Russian cash, after lifelines have been extended to Greece, Ireland and Portugal to prevent potentially calamitous defaults. While Cyprus makes up just a sliver of the euro zone economy, it is proving to be a first-rate political headache. "I don't think that Germany has ever in the history of the euro zone crisis left itself so little wiggle room," said Nicholas Spiro, the managing director of Spiro Sovereign Strategy in London. "But Germany wants the euro to succeed and survive, and they are saying we can't afford a Cyprus bankruptcy." BlackRock Sued by Funds Over Securities Lending Fees (Bloomberg) BlackRock is accused in a lawsuit by two pension funds of reaping “grossly excessive” compensation from securities- lending returns associated with iShares Inc. “Defendants have systematically violated their fiduciary duties, setting up an excessive fee structure designed to loot securities lending returns properly due to iShares investors,” the funds, which invest in iShares, said in a complaint in federal court in Nashville, Tennessee. Two Top Barclays Executives Resign (WSJ) Barclays, whose chairman, chief executive and chief operating officer all resigned last summer in the wake of a series of controversies, said Sunday evening that finance chief Chris Lucas and Mark Harding, its general counsel, will both be retiring in coming months...Messrs. Lucas and Harding were longtime Barclays veterans who worked closely with former CEO Robert Diamond, who resigned last summer after the bank admitted that it had tried to rig benchmark interest rates and paid a roughly $450 million penalty. Youngest American Woman Billionaire Found With In-N-Out (Bloomberg) Lunchtime at the flagship In-N-Out Burger restaurant in Baldwin Park, California, is a study in efficiency. As the order line swells, smiling workers swoop in to operate empty cash registers. Another staffer cleans tables, asking customers if they’re enjoying their hamburger. Outside, a woman armed with a hand-held ordering machine speeds up the drive-through line. Such service has helped In-N-Out create a rabid fan base -- and make Lynsi Torres, the chain’s 30-year-old owner and president, one of the youngest female billionaires on Earth. New store openings often resemble product releases from Apple, with customers lined up hours in advance. City officials plead with the Irvine, California-based company to open restaurants in their municipalities. “They have done a fantastic job of building and maintaining a kind of cult following,” said Bob Goldin, executive vice president of Chicago-based food industry research firm Technomic Inc. “Someone would love to buy them.” That someone includes billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who told a group of visiting business students in 2005 that he’d like to own the chain, according to an account of the meeting on the UCLA Anderson School of Management website. Mint officially ends distribution of Canadian penny (CP) The phasing-out of the penny will lurch ahead today with the Royal Canadian Mint officially ending its distribution of one-cent coins to Canada's financial institutions. The move comes nearly a year after Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced the demise of the penny, whose production cost came to exceed its monetary value. But as it faces extinction in the pockets and tills of most Canadians, the humble penny is still in demand in some artistic circles where it retains significant value. Renee Gruszecki, a Halifax-based academic and archivist, has spent the past year making a living through a jewelry business devoted primarily to preserving the country's stray cents. About 30,000 strategically sorted pennies fill Gruszecki's home and eventually find their way into the accessories produced at Coin Coin Designs and Co. Gruszecki, a long-time collector of lucky pennies, believes her pieces will help preserve a symbol that is both an object of superstition and a Canadian icon. "The maple leaf is synonymous with everything Canadian. We all identify with it," she said in a telephone interview. "Now it's just no longer going to be present among us, so I'm saddened by that." The Bank of Canada's Currency Museum has already taken steps to preserve the penny's place in Canadian culture. A mural consisting of nearly 16,000 one-cent pieces has been assembled at the museum to commemorate the coin's history, said assistant curator Raewyn Passmore. The mosaic, which depicts a giant penny measuring about two square metres, is comprised of coins ranging from the lustrous to the tarnished.

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Opening Bell: 5.8.17

Warren Buffett said some things; Goldman kicks the Volcker can a bit farther; Ukraine deems Steven Seagal a national security threat; and more.

Opening Bell: 5.7.15

Billions in FX settlements coming; Dan Loeb rips Warren Buffett; Lagarde comes down on banker pay; UBS bankers turned restauranteurs; "Naked Man Threatens Neighbors With AK-47"; and more.