Opening Bell: 3.2.15

Warren Buffett hates investment bankers, loves Ajit Jain and Greg Abel; Citi CEO might get to keep his job, might not; Dennis Kozlowski is a free man; Wall Street burger club; Cap'n Crunch Donut Holes; AND MORE.
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Warren Buffett Rails Against Investment Bankers (NYT)
In his annual letter to shareholders, released on Saturday, Mr. Buffett takes umbrage with investment bankers, accusing them of being nearsighted and self-serving and pressing for deals that aren’t always in the best long-term interest of their clients. “The Street’s denizens are always ready to suspend disbelief when dubious maneuvers are used to manufacture rising per-share earnings, particularly if these acrobatics produce mergers that generate huge fees for investment bankers,” Mr. Buffett wrote. Particularly aggravating to Mr. Buffett was the notion that investment bankers were, well, doing their jobs and drumming up business.

Munger Praises Jain and Abel, Stoking Speculation About Warren Buffett's Successor (Bloomberg)
The billionaire left the world guessing on Saturday by reiterating that the Omaha, Nebraska-based company’s board has the “right person” for the job without identifying the executive in the document. Vice Chairman Charles Munger, 91, provided more fodder for speculation. In a separate passage, he highlighted two Berkshire managers -- Ajit Jain and Greg Abel -- as examples of “world-leading” executives who are in some ways better than Buffett. “Charlie just brought the two guys out to the balcony of the Kremlin and had them wave to the crowd,” said Jeff Matthews, an investor and author of books about Berkshire, including one on succession. “He wouldn’t have done it if he didn’t have a reason.”

CEO’s Job at Stake as Citigroup Awaits Fed Stress Tests (Bloomberg)
That’s when Citigroup Inc.’s chief executive officer will hear whether the Federal Reserve has blessed his 2015 capital plan after rejecting last year’s. Corbat has said he should be held accountable, and analysts and investors say he might lose his job if the New York-based firm fails a second time.

Despite Greece, euro zone is turning the corner (Reuters)
The heightened risk of a Greek default and/or exit comes just as there are signs that the euro zone is turning the corner after seven years of financial and economic crisis and that its perilous internal imbalances may be starting to diminish.

Cherry king’s secret pot farm likely made millions: expert (NYP)
“Cherry King” Arthur Mondella was likely making millions of dollars from his secret pot-growing farm, according to an expert in the city’s illicit ganja trade — former pot farmer and ex-Gambino gangster John Alite. Cops say Mondella grew at least 100 plants at a time in the basement of the Dell’s Maraschino Cherries factory in Red Hook — which could have earned him $10 million a year, according to Alite. Alite said he grew his own “wacky tobacky” in three- month cycles, with about 100 4-foot plants yielding approximately three pounds of weed each. The pot was sold for a minimum of $3,000 a pound, he said. “So that’s $1.2 million every three months,” he said. “If it’s higher quality we sold it for $6,500 a pound. So now you’re at about $2.5 million every three months.”

Tyco’s ‘Piggy,’ Out of the Pen and Living Small (NYT)
On the 35th floor of a two-bedroom rental overlooking the East River, L. Dennis Kozlowski lives with his new wife, Kimberly, in relative modesty — at least compared with his previous life as the extravagant chief of Tyco International. Gone are the Renoir and the Monet. There aren’t any souvenirs from that iniquitous $2 million Roman-orgy birthday he threw in Sardinia in 2001, complete with Jimmy Buffett on guitar and an ice sculpture of “David” urinating Stolichnaya. And there’s definitely no $6,000 gold-and-burgundy shower curtain — which landed him on The New York Post’s cover under the headline “OINK, OINK.” Ten years and a lifetime ago, Mr. Kozlowski reigned as the archetype of avarice. This helped lead to his conviction in 2005 for looting nearly $100 million from Tyco, for which he served six and a half years in prison. That showy shower curtain was in his corporate residence on Fifth Avenue — paid for with Tyco funds — and came to symbolize a life of unabashed excess. “I was piggy,” he said during a series of recent interviews with The New York Times. “But I’m not that person anymore.”

How the Boxer Brief Got Into America's Pants (Bloomberg)
Boxer briefs have “become the expected product, rather than the experimental one,” says NPD's Marshal Cohen. “It started out as very avant-garde—a statement piece. ... The shock factor of what it was, and why it was, is gone.” How did the style go from a sexy curiosity to total ubiquity? The biggest reason for the great boxer brief takeover is the desire for comfort. Pants shrunk as fashion trends slimmed silhouettes, driving men away from boxers that risk bunching up underneath tight jeans or chinos. Men are also largely shopping for their own clothes these days, researching fabrics and styles and coming to see even the color of their underwear as an interesting choice.

Jefferies boss’ extravagant Fifth Avenue buy (NYP)
It’s been tough times for investment bank Jefferies since the Sage Kelly drama, but company president Brian Friedman is doing just fine. Friedman has gone into contract on a sprawling $16.5 million apartment at 910 Fifth Ave., real-estate sources said. The full 12th-floor residence has four bedrooms, four bathrooms, a wood paneled library, a frescoed dining room, and stunning views of Central Park and down Fifth Avenue. A second source insisted that Friedman is still negotiating over the property.

European Banks’ Reciprocity Draws Scrutiny (WSJ)
Behind the scenes in Europe, banks regularly dole out lucrative work to their competitors, partly based on how much business they will receive in return. The practice, known as reciprocity, is emblematic of the industry’s clubby, tightknit nature, bankers say. In the U.K., the Financial Conduct Authority in February launched an investigation into competition in investment banking. Reciprocity is one of the practices on the regulator’s radar because of its potential to be anticompetitive, although the agency hasn’t yet decided on the precise scope of its investigation, according to a person familiar with the regulator.

Institutions Pour Cash Into Bond ETFs (WSJ)
Bond ETFs took in $32 billion globally this year through Feb. 26, according to data from Bloomberg LP, in what has been the strongest start to any year since the funds began in 2002.

After Wall Street's closing bell, on the hunt for burgers in New York (CNBC)
Seated among a large group of friends, Puma is at The Chester in Midtown Manhattan on a Tuesday night. These guys, however, are not just any group of Wall Street workers decked out in suits, ties and pocket squares. That—and the absence of talking shop during the Gotham Burger Social Club's monthly meeting—give onlookers a clue. Puma is the director of investments for a Wall Street firm's private client group. He is the founder of the group, which reviews a different Manhattan restaurant's burger each month. It all began in October 2013, "with the idea of just getting old friends together once a month," he told CNBC. The men, many of whom worked together at one time and most of whom are in the financial field, rate burgers along four categories (bun, patty, toppings and fries) using a scale of 1 to 10. Then, they calculate the average and post a review on Instagram.

Taco Bell Testing Cap'n Crunch Donut Holes Stuffed with Milk Icing (FoodBeast)
Taco Bell recently invited us over to their test kitchen to try a top-secret new dessert they plan to release. That said, here are our own photos of the new Cap'n Crunch Delights going into test immediately. Made with Cap'n Crunch Berries cereal and a warm, gooey milk icing, the Delights are the newest addition to Taco Bell's dessert lineup.

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Source: AP

Opening Bell: 5.1.17

Warren Buffett's cash is burning a hole in his pocket; company wellness programs target sales; a mysterious cat-shaver in Virginia; and more.

Opening Bell: 03.16.12

Mayor Bloomberg Visits Goldman Employees After Smith Op-Ed (BW) “The mayor stopped by to make clear that the company is a vital part of the city’s economy, and the kind of unfair attacks that we’re seeing can eventually hurt all New Yorkers,” said Stu Loeser, a spokesman for the mayor. Bloomberg visited the firm Thursday and met with Chief Executive Officer Lloyd C. Blankfein and numerous employees, Loeser said. Italy Said To Pay Morgan Stanley $3.4 Billion (Bloomberg) When Morgan Stanley said in January it had cut its “net exposure” to Italy by $3.4 billion, it didn’t tell investors that the nation paid that entire amount to the bank to exit a bet on interest rates. Italy, the second-most indebted nation in the European Union, paid the money to unwind derivative contracts from the 1990s that had backfired, said a person with direct knowledge of the Treasury’s payment. It was cheaper for Italy to cancel the transactions rather than to renew, said the person, who declined to be identified because the terms were private. Client Slams Goldman Slowness to Give Reassurances (Reuters) PG, a Dutch investment adviser that runs 300 billion euros of assets for more than 4.5 million people in the Netherlands, said it was surprised it took the Wall Street bank more than a day to offer APG any reassurance on points raised in Greg Smith's resignation letter. "We would have expected that a company that faces such a big media backlash over something so core to their business such as client trust would have instantly reached out to those clients to say something," APG spokesman Harmen Geers told Reuters. Banks Desire Assets Tied To AIG Bailout (WSJ) A potential sale of the CDOs by the New York Fed in the coming months, plus the government's recent decision to resume selling some of its AIG stock, could set the stage for the U.S. to recover the bulk of its money from the bailout before the presidential elections this year. Learning From The Spurned And Tipsy Fruit Fly (NYT) They were young males on the make, and they struck out not once, not twice, but a dozen times with a group of attractive females hovering nearby. So they did what so many men do after being repeatedly rejected: they got drunk, using alcohol as a balm for unfulfilled desire. And not one flew off in search of a rotting banana. Fruit flies apparently self-medicate just like many humans do, drowning their sorrows or frustrations for some of the same reasons, scientists reported Thursday. Male flies subjected to what amounted to a long tease — in a glass tube, not a dance club — preferred food spiked with alcohol far more than male flies that were able to mate. Buffett Awards Wall Street-Sized Pay Praised by Dimon (Bloomberg) Warren Buffett, who has said banker greed helped deepen the U.S. financial crisis, attracts the workers he wants with compensation that competes with Wall Street awards. Berkshire gave $17.4 million in 2011 compensation to Thomas P. Nerney, CEO of its United States Liability Insurance Group; $12.4 million to Geico Corp. CEO Tony Nicely and the National Indemnity Co. unit gave $9.26 million to Ajit Jain, according to filings to state regulators. Berkshire, which is set to send its annual-meeting notice to shareholders today, said in last year’s proxy that Buffett’s salary remains $100,000 at his request. St. Patrick's Day Message: Ireland Isn't Greece (CNBC) As large parts of the world turn green to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, the Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny has been flying the green, white and gold flag on a charm offensive around the world. enny is packing in trips to London, China and New York within a couple of weeks in an effort to carry forward the country’s gradual return to economic health, which has been based largely on attracting foreign investment. He opens the New York Stock Exchange on Monday, after visiting at the White House over the weekend. “This is a very important push for Ireland,” Irish businessman Barry Maloney, founder and general partner at venture capital firm Balderton Capital, told CNBC. Kozlowski in NYC work release (NYP) Convicted in 2005 of looting his company, Kozlowski was transferred from an upstate prison to the Lincoln Correctional Facility, a minimum-security site on Manhattan’s 110th Street near Fifth Avenue, on the north border of the park. He leaves every weekday morning to participate in a work-release program, said Peter Cutler, a spokesman for the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. Kozlowski is still serving a prison sentence of 8 1/3 to 25 years, Officials Cool On Yuan-Swap Proposal (WSJ) Amid growing interest in turning London into a trading hub for the Chinese yuan, some bankers have proposed to U.K financial authorities to adopt a tool increasingly used by China's central bank to foster yuan liquidity overseas: bilateral currency-swap agreements. The bankers are pushing for the Bank of England to sign a currency-swap deal withits Chinese counterpart, according to banking executives involved in the discussions. Such a deal, they say, could help foreign banks get hold of yuan and supply the currency to customers. DA grilling two 'hookers' and 'money launderer' in case of alleged madam (NYP) Court transcripts and other records, along with sources familiar with the case, indicate that the two alleged prostitutes and a mysterious “laundry man” — identified only as a 68-year-old Russian-American — have met privately with authorities to save their own hides and clinch a case against Gristina and her suspected cohort, Jaynie Mae Baker. One of the women has admitted privately to having turned tricks for Gristina at her alleged East 78th Street “brothel,” a source said. Prosecutors have engaged in hush-hush negotiations with alleged call girls Mhairiangela “Maz” Bottone, 30, and Catherine DeVries, 31 — who are both charged with prostitution, according to court documents — and with the alleged money launderer, named only as “John Doe” by authorities.

paul singer

Opening Bell: 8.21.17

Paul Singer upstages Warren Buffett; Goldman looking for commodities traders who can actually make money; Carl Icahn's DC misadventures; seriously, don't look at your phone while driving; 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.

Opening Bell: 6.8.15

Deutsche Bank co-CEOs fire themselves; Hedge funds love Japan; "Suit claims principal bribed students with strip club field trip"; and more.

Opening Bell: 2.27.15

Buffett Euro Trip; Icahn loss; JP Morgan is finishing school for CEOs in training; Guy who made love to mailboxes found dead; AND MORE.

Opening Bell: 5.2.16

Warren Buffett trashes Valeant, hedge fund fees; Marissa Mayer gets $55 million if ousted; Now You Can Get Pizza In A Pizza Box Made Out Of Pizza; and more.

Opening Bell: 11.30.12

Germany Approves Greek Aid (WSJ) German parliamentarians approved with an overwhelming majority a package of new aid measures for Greece Friday, clinching support for a plan to close a €14 billion ($18.17 billion) gap in the heavily indebted nation's finances and to ready a near €44 billion tranche of promised aid. The vote shows that German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been able to consolidate the support of her center-right coalition of Christian Democrats and Free Democrats, many of whom have expressed skepticism that Greece can be saved without significant costs to German taxpayers. Her coalition voted 90% in favor of the measures. Leave "fairy world" behind, Draghi tells euro zone (Reuters) "We have not yet emerged from the crisis," Draghi told Europe 1 radio. "The recovery for most of the euro zone will certainly begin in the second half of 2013." "The crisis has shown that we were living in a fairy world," the ECB chief later added at a conference with top financial officials, pointing to the unsustainable debts, weak banks and poor policy coordination that gave birth to the crisis three years ago. Obama Takes ‘Fiscal Cliff’ on the Road; Republicans Stew (CNBC) President Barack Obama, reapplying his re-election campaign theme of protecting the middle class, heads to Pennsylvania on Friday suggesting that Republicans could spoil Christmas by driving the country over the "fiscal cliff." The president's road trip, visiting a factory that makes Hasbro's [HAS 38.60 --- UNCH] Tinkertoys, is infuriating Republicans. House Speaker John Boehner called it a "victory lap" as he rejected Obama's proposals to avoid the cliff, the combination of tax increases and spending cuts set to start taking effect in January. Berkshire Hathaway, CaixaBank Agree to Reinsurance Deal (WSJ) Berkshire Hathaway will pay CaixaBank SA million €600 million ($778.7 million) for the future cash flow from a portfolio of life insurance policies, the Barcelona-based bank said Friday, a rare dip into a fiscally stressed euro-zone country for the investment firm run by Warren Buffett. If You Like Late Nights, Try Being an Analyst in Hungary (WSJ) As the clock ticked toward midnight on a recent night, stock analyst Gergely Gabler sat sleepily in his pajamas at the small desk in his bedroom, waiting. Then, just after 12, he sprang into action, evaluating the newly released earnings report of Hungary's largest bank. For the next two hours, Mr. Gabler worked on a report about OTP Bank's performance for clients of his firm, Hungarian brokerage Equilor Investments, before catching some shut eye, only to awake about 3½ hours later so he could be in his office to field questions by 7 a.m. Burning the midnight oil is a painful quarterly tradition for analysts and financial journalists in Hungary, where the country's biggest blue-chip companies publish their results in the wee hours, after markets in New York have closed and long before they open anywhere in Europe. "I'm a night owl, so I don't mind staying up," Mr. Gabler said. The hard part, the 28-year-old said, is getting out of bed the next day. That morning, he grabbed a red-and-black can of Hell, a caffeine-laden Hungarian energy drink, to fuel his workday. Moody's Puts Aston Martin on Watch for Downgrade (NYT) “The review was prompted by a significant deterioration in Aston Martin’s liquidity profile as per end September 2012, caused by a much weaker cash generation and operating performance in the third quarter than anticipated by the company and compared to Moody’s expectations,” Falk Frey, a Moody’s analyst, said in a statement. Harvard Approves BDSM Group (Crimson) It started last October with a meal in Currier dining hall with a handful of friends who shared something in common: an affinity for kinky sex. More than a year after the group first began informally meeting over meals to discuss issues and topics relating to kinky sex, Harvard College Munch has grown from seven to about 30 members and is one of 15 student organization that will be approved by the Committee on Student Life this Friday. Michael, who was granted anonymity by The Crimson to protect his privacy, is the founder of Munch, an informal lunch or dinner meeting for people across the kink community. For him, the recognition will provide a sense of ease for current and future members, knowing they are receiving institutional support. “It’s a little hyperbolic for me to get teary-eyed and paternal about sophomores, but it’s really a joy to see the experience they will have now,” Michael said. Michael said there are many benefits to being officially recognized on campus such as being able to poster for events and promote Munch’s presence...But for Michael, the biggest advantage to being recognized comes with “the fact of legitimacy,” he said. “[Our recognition] shows we are being taken seriously.” Mae, a member of the organization who asked to be identified by her middle name, said since its formation the group has provided her with a comfortable space to discuss her interests. “I didn’t think that anyone was even remotely interested [in kink] on campus,” Mae said. “It’s a community where you can feel safe, and you can feel comfortable talking about [kink].” Cohen's Damage Control (NYP) Beleaguered hedge fund honcho Steve Cohen held a conference call yesterday for his roughly 1,000 employees to explain potential civil charges against his firm, SAC Capital Advisors. The call with SAC’s employees went over similar talking points as the call with investors the previous day, according to a person familiar with the call. In the latest call, officials notified employees that last week, the $14 billion Stamford, Conn., hedge fund received a Wells Notice from the Securities and Exchange Commission tied to trading by a former portfolio manager who was arrested Nov. 20 on insider trading charges. McDonald’s Starved for Ideas as Burger King Lures Diners (Bloomberg) Burger King has been excelling at a game McDonald’s worked to perfect years ago, introducing a steady stream of new menu items, such as snack wraps and gingerbread sundaes for the holidays. McDonald’s has “not had anything to talk about of substance,” Michael Kelter, a New York-based analyst at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., said in an interview. “People are going elsewhere.” Hong Kong IPOs Generate Little Excitement (WSJ) Hong Kong appears unlikely to regain its position as the world's top venue for initial public offerings anytime soon. In recent days, the city's biggest IPO in two years drew only lukewarm support, while another deal ran up against insufficient demand and a third was postponed. Recession Left Baby Bust as U.S. Births Lowest Since 1920 (Bloomberg) The country’s birth rate fell 8 percent from 2007 to 2010, according to a Pew Research Center report. The rate dropped 6 percent for U.S.-born women and plummeted 14 percent for foreign-born females since 2007, the onset of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. The decline continued last year to the lowest point since records began in 1920. Rogue caviar fugitive Mario Garbarino admits his guilt in fishy egg smuggling scheme (NYDN) Isidoro (Mario) Garbarino, 69, who went on the lam 23 years ago pleaded guilty Thursday to smuggling $10 million worth of Russian and Iranian savruga and beluga to New York more than two decades ago. Garbarino’s plea deal requires him to pay $3 million in restitution. He also faces up to four years in prison when he is sentenced in January. Garbarino, a supplier to fancy gourmet shops including Zabar's, was indicted in 1987 for cheating the government on import duties. Feds say his Bronx company, Aquamar Gourmet Imports, engaged in an elaborate scheme to smuggle more than 100,000 pounds of the expensive delicacy from 1984 to 1987. As part of the plot, Garbarino switched the high-quality caviar with much cheaper American caviar which he then sold to Pan Am, other airlines and cruise ships operators as the real thing. In 1989, Garbarino fled. He was nabbed two months ago in Panama and extradited to New York. "Isidoro Garbarino ran his high-end importation business in a low-end way — cheating the government out of millions of dollars in tax revenues and defrauding his international clients who paid top dollar for exotic caviar they did not receive," said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara...Garbarino admitted he “occasionally misrepresented the nature of the caviar” to avoid paying the required taxes.