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Opening Bell: 3.26.15

3G, the company orchestrating the Kraft/Heinz merger with Warren Buffett, makes employees "get permission to make color photocopies"; Greece is still screwed; Dov Charney is being investigated by the SEC; "I Drank So Much Soda as a Child That My Veins Collapsed"; and more.
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Kraft-Heinz Deal Shows Brazilian Buyout Firm’s Cost-Cutting Recipe (WSJ)
At Kraft, as it has elsewhere, 3G plans to implement something called zero-based budgeting, an austerity measure that requires managers to justify spending plans from scratch every year. The technique has triggered sweeping cost cuts at 3G-related companies including Heinz—from eliminating hundreds of management jobs to jettisoning corporate jets and requiring employees to get permission to make color photocopies.

Kraft a Menu at the Buffett Buffet With Warren’s Latest Deal (Bloomberg)
His latest deal, the merger of Kraft Foods Group Inc. and H.J. Heinz Co., adds some intriguing possibilities to a day spent eating an all-Berkshire diet...LUNCH: Head out of the office. Sitting all day is bad for you, after all. Burger King’s brand-new Canadian tax domicile aside, Chicken Fries are back on the menu at the fast-food chain. Add a classic Whopper, or maybe an Oreo shake, or a Dairy Queen Blizzard might be another option. To drink? Coke. Always Coke. Stuck at work? Grab a Lunchables. Calories: About 1,510.

3G Capital, Warren Buffett’s Favorite Partner in Deals Worth Billions (Dealbook)
Warren E. Buffett has made a habit of criticizing ruthless Wall Street bankers and rapacious private equity firms over the years. As recently as last month, he railed against both in his annual letter to his shareholders at Berkshire Hathaway. Yet for Mr. Buffett, a genteel billionaire who has managed to put a friendly face on big business, one private equity firm stands apart from the rest. 3G Capital, the Brazilian private equity firm co-founded by the billionaire financier Jorge Paulo Lemann, has in recent years emerged as Mr. Buffett’s preferred business partner in striking multibillion-dollar deals. On Wednesday, 3G and Berkshire Hathaway teamed up to orchestrate a merger between Kraft, the big processed food maker, and Heinz, which the two companies own. Combining the companies will create a global food and beverage behemoth worth nearly $100 billion.

Dov Charney in S.E.C. Investigation, American Apparel Says (NYT)
American Apparel learned last month that the S.E.C. had begun an investigation “with respect to matters arising from” the internal review into Mr. Charney’s conduct, according to its filing. The retailer said it “intends to cooperate fully” with the S.E.C. investigation. A person briefed on the status of the investigation but not authorized to speak publicly said the matters related to Mr. Charney’s handling of company finances. The board shared its findings with the S.E.C., that person said.

I Drank So Much Soda as a Child That My Veins Collapsed (HuffingtonPost)
"When I say I drank a lot of Mountain Dew, I really mean it was the only thing I drank. For several months of my childhood, I had unlimited access to the neon-green sugar bomb, and I took a swig whenever I was thirsty. After I blacked out, I couldn't remember the last time I'd had a drink of water. It had been months."

Greek hopes to tap €1.2bn from EU fund dashed (FT)
Athens’ hope that it could alleviate a mounting cash crisis by seeking the return of €1.2bn in disputed funds from its bank rescue were dashed when the government was informed it had no legal claim on the money.

Major Central Banks Agree on Guidelines for Forex Market (WSJ)
Representatives from the foreign-exchange committees of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the Bank of Japan and the Bank of England among others have signed off on an eight-page document that explicitly bans traders from sharing client identities and information and disclosing data that could allow someone to deduce that information.

Buyout Firms Feel Pinch From Lending Crackdown (WSJ)
After resisting at first, banks have lately been falling in line with guidance regulators set in 2013, which sought to limit how much debt banks could extend for corporate takeovers. The shift is now stinging private-equity firms, whose bread-and-butter business is debt-laden buyouts.

$43K buys a private jet to college visits (CNBC)
Magellan Jets will offer 10-hour flight cards for college-bound students starting at $43,500, the company said on Wednesday. The package—which is sold from March 25 to June 30—is designed to reduce the complications that come with scheduling multiple visits to potential schools.

Farrah Abraham reveals plans to become a plastic surgeon (UPI)
Abraham, 23, is best known for her role in the MTV reality series Teen Mom and for her controversial adult film Farrah Superstar: Backdoor Teen Mom. Her experiences promoting the film and its sequel in the porn industry led Abraham to pen an erotic novel, her second book, which she plans to turn into a series. "I've taken a break after finishing the trilogy that I finished and I don't know if I'll do literary soon," she told E! News. "But then there's other novelty toys that I'm producing, and who knows, there's other stuff always." "Hopefully in five years I can go back to school," she added. "I really want to get my doctorate and I want to do plastic surgery. So that's just something on top of all of the other things I want to do, but that would probably be my end goal."

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Opening Bell: 5.11.16

General Mills cited as 3G takeover target; Inside Germany's school for central bankers; Staten Island man who stabbed his wife to death looking for an ‘awesome’ girl to write to him in prison; and more.

Opening Bell: 02.20.13

Regulator set to weigh lifetime futures-trading ban for Corzine (NYP) Two directors of the National Futures Association will move tomorrow to ban Corzine from the multibillion-dollar futures trading industry in light of the scandalous collapse of MF Global — the commodity futures brokerage firm Corzine once headed. If the motion is approved, NFA would hold hearings to determine whether Corzine, MF’s former CEO, deserves a “lifetime ban” from the industry...Corzine, who declined to comment on the proposed ban, is reportedly looking to set up a hedge fund. An NFA ban would limit his ability to trade futures in any fund with outside investors, experts said. It could also hinder his ability to raise money from pension funds and other large investors, experts said. Corzine could also be asked to fork over as much as $250,000 for each violation, according to NFA rules. The proposed ban cites nine rule violations, which could ding the disgraced Corzine for as much as $2.5 million. Rhetoric Turns Harsh As Budget Cuts Loom (WSJ) With less than two weeks to go before the latest fiscal face-off, rhetoric heated up Tuesday as the political parties exchanged fire over whom to blame if looming spending cuts take effect. With Congress in recess this week, Republican and Democratic leaders sent lawmakers home armed with fact sheets about the $85 billion in across-the-board federal spending cuts due to start March 1, and talking points on how to blame the other side. Meantime, the White House and lawmakers are making no progress toward forging a compromise to avoid the reductions, which are known in Washington as the sequester. Thousands of Greeks Rally in Anti-Austerity Strike (Reuters) Tens of thousands of Greeks took to the streets of Athens on Wednesday during a nationwide strike against wage cuts and high taxes that kept ferries stuck in ports, schools shut and hospitals with only emergency staff. Beating drums and chanting "Robbers, robbers!" more than 60,000 people marched to parliament in the biggest anti-austerity protest so far this year. The two biggest labour unions brought much of crisis-hit Greece to a standstill during the 24-hour protest against policies which they say deepen the hardship of people struggling through the country's worst peacetime downturn. Judge Says Einhorn Hedge Fund May Succeed in Apple Case (Reuters) David Einhorn's hedge fund has shown a "likelihood of success" if his legal attack against Apple goes forward, a U.S. judge said, though he made no immediate ruling on fund's request to block a shareholder vote on a proxy proposal next week. U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan on Tuesday reserved decision on a lawsuit by the fund, Greenlight Capital, to stop a Feb. 27 shareholder vote on an Apple proposal to end the issuance of preferred stock without investor approval. "Candidly I do think the likelihood of success is in favor for Greenlight," Sullivan said at a court hearing in New York. Big Anglo-French Buyout Planned (FT) A British-based private equity consortium is preparing a bid of 3.5 billion euros for French catering company Elior in what would be the biggest buyout in continental Europe since Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2008. CVC Capital Partners and BC Partners have teamed up to launch a buyout of Elior, underlining how confidence is returning to Europe's private equity sector. New York mom charged with child endangerment after hiring strippers to perform lap dances at her 16-year-old son's birthday party (NYDN) Judy Viger, 33, hired the women from a company called Tops in Bottoms and arranged for them to perform in a private room at the Spare Time Bowling Center in South Glens Falls on Nov. 3. At the party, the women performed what police describe as “personal and intimate” dances with the party guests, some of whom were as young as 13. Approximately 80 people attended the party, including a 13-year-old and many adults who later said they were outraged at the sexually charged performances. Police were alerted to the party activities after raunchy photos of the lap dances were posted online. The mother of a 15-year-old boy who attended the party saw some of the photos on her son’s Facebook page and alerted South Glens Falls authorities...The company providing the strippers said that the dancers were unaware that the kids at the party were underage, local CBS affiliate WRGB reported, and that the incident was being “blown out of proportion.” Heinz Deal Feeds Chatter About Food-Industry Consolidation (WSJ) The deal sparked speculation of what Heinz may want to buy and what other food company has the wherewithal to become a consolidator. With the potential for more tie-ups, that may also jar loose some brands or businesses—possibly Heinz's underperforming frozen-foods business—that could make a nice fit in another company's pantry. The speculation makes just about everyone a buyer or a seller. "Most of what food companies discuss at the conference will now be taken in the context of what it may mean for further industry consolidation or portfolio change," Barclays packaged-food analyst Andrew Lazar said. Brink’s Says Brussels Diamond Robbery Will Hurt Quarter’s Profit (Bloomberg) Brink’s Co., a provider of armored cars to transport valuables, said a diamond robbery at Brussels airport will have a “significant impact” on first-quarter earnings. A portion of the gems stolen two days ago was being shipped by Brink’s, the Richmond, Virgina-based company said today in a statement. The Antwerp World Diamond Centre has said about $50 million of rough and polished diamonds were stolen as the gems were being loaded onto a plane bound for Switzerland. Revel Into Chapter 11 (AP) Revel, the casino many people had hoped would turn around Atlantic City’s sagging fortunes, said yesterday that it will file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March, less than a year after it opened. The voluntary, prepackaged bankruptcy envisioned for late March will wipe away about two-thirds of its $1.5 billion in debt by converting more than $1 billion of it into equity for lenders. JPMorgan Leads U.S. Banks Lending Least Deposits in 5 Years (Bloomberg) The biggest U.S. banks including JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Citigroup Inc. are lending the smallest portion of their deposits in five years as cash floods in from savers and a slow economy damps demand from borrowers. The average loan-to-deposit ratio for the top eight commercial banks fell to 84 percent in the fourth quarter from 87 percent a year earlier and 101 percent in 2007, according to data compiled by Credit Suisse Group AG. Lending as a proportion of deposits dropped at five of the banks and was unchanged at two, the data show. New Grey Poupon 'Pardon Me' ad to air during Oscars (AP) After a 16-year hiatus, the mustard that mocked its own stuffy image in one of TV’s most famous commercials will once again take to the airwaves during the Feb. 24 Academy Awards show. The spot comes as Kraft Foods looks to boost sagging sales of the Dijon mustard, which is facing competition from a growing variety of high-end condiments on supermarket shelves. The new ad begins in the same way as the original — an aristocratic English gentleman is being chauffeured in the countryside, when another car pulls up alongside them at a stop. The back window rolls down and a second man asks in an over-the-top snooty accent, “Pardon me, would you have any Grey Poupon?”

Opening Bell: 6.1.16

Bets on Fed move this summer surge; N.Y. Mets owners reach revised deal with Madoff trustee; Divorced dad tries paying child support in pizza, court is cool with it; and more.

Opening Bell: 03.04.13

Euro-Zone Deal Faces Hurdles (WSJ) Germany's reluctance to put its taxpayers' money at risk in other countries' banks is proving the biggest obstacle to letting the euro zone's bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism, invest directly in banks that need more capital. In Ireland, Spain, Greece and Cyprus, bailouts of struggling banks are placing heavy burdens on the state, adding to fast-rising national debts. Buffett Disappointed With Berkshire's 'Subpar' $24 Billion Gain (CNBC) Warren Buffett called 2012 "subpar" in his annual letter to shareholders as Berkshire Hathaway's per-share book value rose 14.4 percent, less than the S&P 500's 16-percent increase. It's the ninth time in 48 years this has happened. Buffett notes that the S&P has outpaced Berkshire over the past four years and if the market continues to gain this year the benchmark stock index could have its first five-year win ever. "When the partnership I ran took control of Berkshire in 1965, I could never have dreamed that a year in which we had a gain of $24.1 billion would be subpar ... But subpar it was." Buffett: Berkshire on hunt for more Heinz-like deals (Reuters) "If we get a chance to buy another Heinz, we will do that," Buffett said on CNBC. Berkshire likes the ketchup maker's business, the price of the $23 billion deal, and its partner in the transaction, private equity firm 3G Capital, Buffett said in an extended interview. HSBC Reports Declining Profit and Says Costs Are Increasing (Bloomberg) Pretax profit for 2012 dropped 5.6 percent to $20.65 billion, trailing the $23.49 billion estimate of 26 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. Revenue fell 5.4 percent to $68.33 billion from $72.28 billion, HSBC said today in a statement. Chief Executive Officer Stuart Gulliver is being thwarted in his plan to reduce costs to 48 percent to 52 percent of revenue as the London-based lender set aside $1.9 billion to settle U.S. money-laundering probes and boosted spending on compliance by $500 million. Expenses as a proportion of revenue climbed to 62.8 percent from 57.5 percent, and wage inflation in markets such as Latin America is increasing, HSBC said today. Swiss Back Executive-Pay Controls (WSJ) The plan, dubbed the "rip off" initiative by the country's media, bans so-called golden-handshake and golden-parachute severance agreements. It also requires greater transparency on loans and retirement packages for senior executives and directors. Beauty queen took my heart, then she took me for $96,000 ride: hedge-funder's suit (NYP) Rishi Bajaj, 33, says he opened his heart, then his wallet, to Miss New Mexico Teen USA 2007 Liz Kranz after she told him she was considering selling her eggs to raise cash for a relative in rehab. The sob story got the beauty a $20,000 loan from Bajaj, he claims in a Manhattan Supreme Court lawsuit. Bajaj, who co-manages the $620 million hedge fund Altai Capital, then told Kranz, 24, to pick out a car for the couple to share — and was “surprised” when she selected a 2012 BMW that came with a $17,070 down payment. They met in July 2012 and dated for “several months,” even vacationing together in Italy, where, Bajaj said in court papers, he let Kranz use his American Express card. Kranz, of the Lower East Side, was also allowed to use Bajaj’s AmEx to buy a dress for a wedding they attended. Bajaj and Kranz, who lived briefly in LA, eventually broke up. There were “disagreements about their remaining obligations to each other,” Bajaj said in court papers. He claims the pageant queen kept her hands on his credit card and racked up tens of thousands in charges...In all, Bajaj claims Kranz spent $58,860 on his credit card over three months last year. In a November letter, his lawyer accused her of “theft, fraud and other egregious misconduct” and demanded she repay the full $58,860 in credit-card purchases. NYC to be hit hard by sequester: Merrill Lynch economist (NYP) Two months’ worth of job gains are about to vanish nationwide, warns a Merrill Lynch economist — and New York City, whose unemployment rate is already at an eye-popping 8.8 percent, will be hit exceptionally hard in this employment carnage as Washington begins to enact a series of controversial spending cuts known as the sequester. “It will set the economy back a few months in the job market,” Ethan Harris, co-head of global economics research at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, told The Post. “The national job market recovery has been modest, and it has been weaker locally in New York.” Nationally, Harris calculated a loss of about 300,000 jobs, roughly two months of average job gains, if the sequester is enacted untouched. Job-Hunt Time Shrinks in U.S. From Record High (Bloomberg) For 13 million out-of-work Americans, record spells of joblessness are abating. The median duration fell to 16 weeks in January from 25 weeks in June 2010, Labor Department data show. Fewer people compete for each opening as hiring expands, and persistent long-term unemployment is starting to mend. The progress supports Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke’s view that America’s labor market remains flexible and isn’t succumbing to hysteresis, or permanently higher joblessness, similar to Europe in the 1980s, said Dale Mortensen, a professor of economics at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and 2010 Nobel laureate. That suggests continued monetary stimulus can bring about a faster healing. Slim Risks Losing World’s Richest Person Title as Troubles Mount (Bloomberg) Slim’s lead over the next-wealthiest man, Bill Gates, narrowed last week to about $4.8 billion -- the closest spread in almost a year. The Lebanese immigrant’s son, who acquired Mexico’s phone monopoly and turned it into a pan-Latin American powerhouse, lost almost a 10th of his net worth last month, winnowing his fortune to $71 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Dennis Rodman: Kim Jong Un Wants President Obama to ‘Call Him’ (ABC) In his first interview since returning to the U.S. from an unprecedented visit to North Korea last week, former NBA star Dennis Rodman said he bears a message for President Obama from the country’s oppressive leader, Kim Jong Un. “He wants Obama to do one thing: Call him,” Rodman told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on “This Week.” “He said, ‘If you can, Dennis – I don’t want [to] do war. I don’t want to do war.’ He said that to me.” The athlete also offered Kim some diplomatic advice for potential future talks with President Obama. “[Kim] loves basketball. And I said the same thing, I said, ‘Obama loves basketball.’ Let’s start there,” Rodman said.

Opening Bell: 9.9.15

Warren Buffett's got $32 billion to spend; Bridgewater losses; Permission to expense underwear; "Whale vomit set to fetch a whopping £7,000 ($10,763) in auction"; and more.

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: 02.15.13

SEC Looks At Trades A Day Before Heinz Deal (NYT) Regulators are scrutinizing unusual trading surrounding the planned $23 billion takeover of the food company H. J. Heinz, raising questions about potential illegal activity in one of the biggest deals in recent memory, a person briefed on the matter said. The Securities and Exchange Commission opened an insider trading inquiry on Thursday as Berkshire Hathaway and the investment firm 3G Capital agreed to pay $72.50 a share for Heinz, this person said. Regulators first noticed a suspicious spike in trading on Wednesday. Deferred Pay Draws Fed's Scrutiny (WSJ) U.S. banks and securities firms would have to step up their compensation disclosures under rules being considered by the Federal Reserve, said a person familiar with the central bank's regulatory efforts. The rules are in the formative stages and wouldn't take effect for some time. But an early draft has circulated internally at the Fed, this person said, marking a step on the path toward a public proposal. The Fed's push ultimately could give investors sheaves of new data on how and when companies pay their employees—including scarce numbers on how much compensation has been promised but not yet paid out. Shifting Blame Muddles S&P Suit (WSJ) The Delphinus deal, which means "dolphin" in Latin and is the name of a small constellation in the Northern Hemisphere, was one of more than 30 CDOs included in the federal government's lawsuit against Standard & Poor's Ratings Services last week. Federal prosecutors say that S&P, a unit of McGraw-Hill Cos., disregarded its own standards when rating Delphinus and the other CDOs, misled investors and should cover losses suffered by federally insured banks and credit unions that bought the securities, which included bundles of subprime mortgages. The discrepancy could give S&P a way to counterattack the Justice Department as the two sides gird for a battle that legal experts say will be grueling. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is seeking more than $5 billion in damages from S&P, which claims the allegations are "meritless." The U.S. government's conflicting opinions about the Delphinus deal might be a problem if the civil-fraud suit goes to trial. The ratings firm probably will argue that "these banks aren't victims," says Samuel Buell, a former federal prosecutor who now is a law professor at Duke University. Ackman: Herbalife Short Unaffected By Icahn Stake (CNBC) In his first public comments following the disclosure of activist investor Carl Icahn's stake in Herbalife, hedge fund manager Bill Ackman, who made $1 billion short bet against the stock, told CNBC he remains convinced that "Herbalife is a pyramid scheme." Ackman's statement read, "We invest based on a careful analysis of the facts. After 18 months of due diligence, we have concluded that it is a certainty that Herbalife is a pyramid scheme. Our conclusions are unaffected by who is on the other side of the investment. Our goal was to shine a spotlight on Herbalife. To the extent Mr. Icahn is helping achieve this objective, we welcome his involvement." G-20 Seeks Common Ground on Currencies After Yen Split (Bloomberg) Group of 20 finance ministers and central bankers begin talks in Moscow today with investors seeking clarity on how comfortable they are with a sliding yen. Questions are being asked after the Group of Seven united around a pledge not to target exchange rates only to divide over its meaning for Japan. “We have to get to the bottom of this, of course, listen to our Japanese colleagues and how they explain this and what decisions they will take and what exchange-rate policy they will follow,” Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said in an interview yesterday before hosting the meeting. He said the G-20 should adopt more “specific” language opposing exchange-rate interference in a statement to be released tomorrow. Corvette's stick shift thwarts Orlando man (OS) Orlando police said the 20-year-old tried to carjack a man inside a Corvette near Orlando Regional Medical Center late last month, but couldn't steal the car because he didn't know how to use the clutch or stick-shift. He and his accomplice ran away from the car, but not before stealing the victim's wallet and cell phone, police said. Soon after the failed carjacking, the victim's credit card was used at a McDonald's on Kirkman Road. Surveillance video inside the restaurant showed Sayles at the register, placing an order at about 12:15 a.m. Jan. 28. Not long after, the stolen cellphone's internal GPS registered with the phone company. Authorities tracked the phone to a home on Grandiflora Drive in a neighborhood off Kirkman Road. On Feb. 8, police went to the home, and Sayles answered the door. Officers noted in their arrest report that they immediately recognized him from the surveillance video inside the McDonald's. When asked why the victim's stolen cellphone would detect at his house, the report said, Sayles said a lot of people come to his residence and they could have brought it. One-Man Bank Keeps German Village Business Running (Reuters) The Raiffeisen Gammesfeld eG cooperative bank in southern Germany is one of the country's 10 smallest banks by deposits and is the only one to be run by just one member of staff. Small banks like this dominate the German banking landscape. Rooted in communities, they offer a limited range of accounts and loans to personal and local business customers. While numbers have shrunk from around 7,000 in the 1970s to around 1,100 now, cooperative banks like Raiffeisen Gammesfeld provide competition for Germany's two largest banks - Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank. A typical day's work for Breiter involves providing villagers with cash for their day-to-day needs and arranging small loans for local businesses. Not to mention cleaning the one-story building that houses the bank, which is 200 meters from his own front door. Moving from a bigger bank, where it was all "sell, sell, sell", Gammesfeld-born Breiter says taking up this job in 2008 was the best decision he ever made. The advertisement required someone to work by hand, without computers. The typewriter and the adding machine bear the signs of constant use, although Breiter, in his standard work outfit of jeans and jumper, does now have a computer. "It's so much fun," Breiter, a keen mathematician, says as he deals with a steady stream of lunchtime customers. He knows his customers by name and regularly offers advice on jobs, relationship and money woes. Ex-Analyst At SAC Felt Pressured For Tips (WSJ) The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Manhattan U.S. Attorney's office now are using the statements from the analyst to try to build a case against the SAC portfolio manager, Michael Steinberg, and others that could result in charges in the coming months, these people said. Authorities currently are preparing to present evidence to a grand jury against Mr. Steinberg, according to a person familiar with the investigation. The development ramps up the legal pressure on the big hedge fund, highlighting that the previously reported insider-trading investigation of SAC and its founder, Steven A. Cohen, is proceeding on multiple fronts. Blackstone Keeps Most Of Its Money With SAC (NYT) The Blackstone Group, the largest outside investor in the hedge fund SAC Capital Advisors, said it would keep most of its $550 million with the hedge fund for three more months while it monitors developments in the government's insider trading investigation. Performance Tops Pedigree in Money Managers’ Fortunes (Bloomberg) Virtus Investment Partners Inc. and Artio Global Investors Inc. set out on their own in 2009 within nine months of one another. The paths of the two money managers couldn’t have been more different. Virtus, which started as a virtually unknown money manager, has surged 18-fold since its public debut as assets have soared, with its shares hitting a record on Feb. 14. Artio, which listed in September 2009 after spinning out from Switzerland’s 122- year-old wealth manager Julius Baer Group Ltd., saw its life as an independent firm come to an abrupt end with its Feb. 14 acquisition by Aberdeen Asset Management Plc after assets slumped and shares plunged about 90 percent. Banks Warned Not To Leave Libor (WSJ) The Financial Services Authority recently sent letters to a handful of major banks—including France's BNP Paribas SA and the Netherlands' Rabobank Group—warning them not to pull out of the panel that sets the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, these people said. The letters came after executives at those banks privately informed the British Bankers' Association, the trade organization that oversees Libor, that they planned to exit the rate-setting panel. Australian couple get married in IKEA (DM) Lynne said: 'We wanted to get married in IKEA for a very simple reason - we adore IKEA. 'It felt right to be able to show our commitment to one another by getting married somewhere we both love and to show the world that romance can be alive anywhere, even in the aisles of IKEA. Our visits to IKEA over the years have actually brought the two of us closer!' Every element of the special day featured IKEA products handpicked by the happy couple, including crockery, lighting, dining furniture, decorations, glassware and meatballs.

Opening Bell: 03.01.13

Congress Leaders To Meet With Obama As Budget Cuts Begin (Bloomberg) Democrats and Republicans are in a standoff over how to replace the cuts totaling $1.2 trillion over nine years, $85 billion of which would occur in the remaining seven months of this fiscal year. Republicans reject Democrats’ call for higher taxes on top earners to replace part of the spending reductions. “Middle-class families can’t keep paying the price for dysfunction in Washington,” Obama said in a statement yesterday. The president has until 11:59 p.m. to issue the order officially putting the cuts into effect. “How much more money do we want to steal from the American people to fund more government?” Boehner said at a news conference in Washington yesterday. “I’m for no more.” The White House meeting follows the Senate’s rejection yesterday of a pair of partisan proposals to replace the spending reductions. No additional congressional action is planned before the start of the cuts, to be split between defense and non-defense spending. Fiscal Pain to Be Parceled Out Unevenly (WSJ) Economies in and around the nation's capital are likely to feel the most pain. Federal spending accounts for about a fifth of the economic output of Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia, according to the Pew Center on the States. Other areas likely to be hit hard are Hawaii and Alaska, which have a heavy military presence, and states such as New Mexico, Kentucky and Alabama, which have major defense operations or substantial military contracting. Struggling Groupon Ousts Its Quirky CEO (WSJ) Mr. Mason didn't return calls for comment. In a memo to employees that was by turns tongue-in-cheek and rueful, he said, "After four and a half intense and wonderful years as CEO of Groupon, I've decided that I'd like to spend more time with my family. Just kidding—I was fired today." 'Girls' Gone Under (NYP) “Girls Gone Wild” founder Joe Francis has put his video empire into bankruptcy in a bid to wiggle out of some $16 million in debt — most of it owed to casino magnate Steve Wynn. Wynn’s camp claims Francis owes closer to $30 million, including $2 million for unpaid gambling debts and $7.5 million in defamation damages. Wynn first hauled Francis to court to get him to pay the $2 million debt he racked up during a 2007 gambling binge. He sued again for defamation after Francis blabbed to gossip site TMZ that Wynn threatened to kill him and bury him in the desert. Wynn won two defamation awards for $7.5 million and $20 million, although the latter wasn’t listed in the Chapter 11 filing. Michael Weaver, a spokesman for Wynn Las Vegas, said the judgments are against Francis “personally” and not the company. “Consequently, these recent bankruptcy filings by the GGW companies will not slow our efforts to collect on our judgments against Mr. Francis,” he said. New York Investigating Bank of America for Mortgages (Reuters) Bank of America said in a securities filing on Thursday that the New York State Attorney General was investigating the bank over its purchase, securitization and underwriting of home loans. SEC Scrutinizing Chesapeake Energy (WSJ) The SEC notified Chesapeake in December that it was stepping up an informal inquiry into Aubrey McClendon's ability to invest in wells that the company drills, the company disclosed in a regulatory filing. The agency has issued subpoenas for information and testimony to Chesapeake, the country's second-largest natural-gas producer. Mornings Not For Erin Burnett, Demanding Sizable Buyout (NYP) Erin Burnett made her morning-show debut yesterday on CNN with Chris Cuomo for Pope Benedict XVI’s last day on the job. But it doesn’t mean she’s going to end up there permanently, sources tell The Post’s Michael Shain. It seems Burnett is digging in her high heels and refusing the new morning assignment. She has a clause in her contract that requires CNN to air her show in prime time. If new boss Jeff Zucker wants her to get up at 4 a.m., Erin is demanding a sizable chunk of cash — more than her $2.5 million salary — to buy her out of the prime-time clause. Insiders say Zucker believes she should be grateful she’s being offered a marquee job and he has started to look elsewhere for an anchor to partner with Cuomo. Burnett is telling her staff she doesn’t want to go to the morning. “What she means is she doesn’t want to go at the old price,” sniffed a source. Druckenmiller Sees Storm Worse Than ’08 as Retirees Steal (Bloomberg) Druckenmiller, 59, said the mushrooming costs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, with unfunded liabilities as high as $211 trillion, will bankrupt the nation’s youth and pose a much greater danger than the country’s $16 trillion of debt currently being debated in Congress. “While everybody is focusing on the here and now, there’s a much, much bigger storm that’s about to hit,” Druckenmiller said in an hour-long interview with Stephanie Ruhle on Bloomberg Television’s Market Makers. “I am not against seniors. What I am against is current seniors stealing from future seniors.” Druckenmiller said unsustainable spending will eventually result in a crisis worse than the financial meltdown of 2008, when $29 trillion was erased from global equity markets. What’s particularly troubling, he said, is that government expenditures related to programs for the elderly rocketed in the past two decades, even before the first baby boomers, those born in 1946, started turning 65. Lloyds CEO Links Bonus To Stake Sale (WSJ) Chief Executive António Horta-Osório said he is "very confident" U.K. taxpayers will get their money back, referring to the stake of about 40% the government took in the bank following a series of bailouts at the height of the crisis. He requested that his £1.49 million ($2.26 million) bonus only be paid if the government sells at least a third of its holdings in Lloyds at a share price above 61 pence. The average buy-in price for the U.K. government was 63.1 pence, according to U.K. Financial Investments, a body that manages the government's stake in Lloyds. Unemployment Worsens In Euro Zone (WSJ) Eurostat, the European Union's statistics agency, said 11.9% of the euro zone's workforce was unemployed in January, the highest percentage for the 17 countries that make up the currency bloc since records began in 1995. The figure is higher than the jobless rate of 11.8% in December. Wilbur Ross: Italy Has Choice Of 'Two Clowns' (CNBC) ...in the wake of the unresolved Italian election, the WL Ross chairman said he's worried the next leader of the economically-troubled nation is a choice of two clowns — former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and comedian Beppe Grillo. "One, an acknowledged clown, and one may be inadvertent clown. And until that gets resolved, there's a great danger that the nice reforms that Mr. Monti put in will just get rolled back." Truck crashes on I-80 in Reno, spilling Heinz ketchup 'everywhere' (RGJ) A tractor trailer carrying thousands of bottles of Heinz ketchup crashed on Interstate 80 near the Robb Drive overpass this afternoon, spilling its red contents onto the freeway and snarling traffic in the process. “I have red everywhere on the highway,” said Sgt. Janay Sherven with the Nevada Highway Patrol. “No bodies, no people, just ketchup.” There were no injuries in the accident, which happened when the driver of the semi-truck likely overcorrected to avoid another car while traveling eastbound, she said. The truck hit the center median and then knocked over a light pole that slashed open the left side of the trailer. As a result, thousands of bottles and cans of ketchup were splattered onto the road like a bad horror movie. ‘“The scene looks pretty bad as far as color goes,” Sherven said.