Opening Bell: 5.12.15

Greek finance minister: "Let's not beat around the bush"; KKR wants $12 billion; Alibaba wants MBAs; UK man banned from airline over Pinocchio crotch tat; and more.
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Alibaba Wages Global Talent War for Elite MBAs (Bloomberg)
Chinese e-commerce behemoth Alibaba Group Holding launched a new effort to recruit and train some of the same promising managers North American companies are clamoring to hire, as part of a broader expansion into foreign markets, the company said Sunday. As one element of the initiative, called the Alibaba Global Leadership Development Program, second-year MBA candidates at top business schools worldwide will compete for a two-year rotation among various divisions of the company. The program's standouts will be hired full time at the end of the two years.

Kravis’s KKR Said to Seek Up to $12 Billion for Buyout Fund (Bloomberg)
The New York-based firm, led by Henry Kravis and George Roberts, expects to target at least $10 billion and will start marketing the pool in the third quarter, said the people, who asked not to be named because the information is private.

Greece two weeks from cash crisis - Yanis Varoufakis (BBC)
Greece's finance minister says his country's financial situation is "terribly urgent" and the crisis could come to a head in a couple of weeks. Yanis Varoufakis gave the warning after eurozone finance ministers met in Brussels to discuss the final €7.2bn tranche of Greece's €240bn EU/IMF bailout. Ministers said Greece had made "progress" but more work was needed. The Greek government is struggling to meet its payment obligations. Earlier, Greece began the transfer of €750m (£544m, $834m) in debt interest to the International Monetary Fund - a day ahead of a payment deadline. "The liquidity issue is a terribly urgent issue. It's common knowledge, let's not beat around the bush," Mr Varoufakis told reporters in Brussels.

Bourbon Feels the Burn of Barrel Shortage (WSJ)
In 50 years of making bourbon barrels, no one had ever offered Leroy McGinnis more than what he charged for them. But over the past six months, multiple distillers have offered to pay him $250 a barrel—a 70% premium above the $150 list price. The offer illustrates just how scarce bourbon barrels have become. As bourbon sales have soared, both barrel production and the lumber industry have struggled to keep up. Mr. McGinnis’s Missouri-based company, McGinnis Wood Products Inc., gets about four email requests a day for barrels. He turns most down. Like many of his competitors, he has only enough capacity and wood to fill orders from longtime customers. The rest go on a waiting list, perpetuating a bourbon barrel shortage now entering its third year.

Buses emblazoned with picture of topless models holding a signs saying 'Ride me all day for £3' spark outrage (Daily Mail)
New Adventure Travel Ltd (NAT), based in Cardiff, excitedly took to Twitter [Monday] morning to promote the new provocative adverts which have been emblazoned across the back of ten new buses. One advert shows a dark-haired woman posing in a sultry manner with the suggestive sign, while another shows the same sign being held by a topless male model. But the campaign backfired when passengers condemned the company for being 'unacceptable' and 'insulting'. Others accused the company of 'promoting sexism and rape culture'...NAT have now released a statement saying the adverts were intended to be a 'tongue-in-cheek way' of making bus-catching more attractive to the younger generation.

Elon Musk once scolded a Tesla employee for missing a work event to witness the birth of his child (BI)
Here's the email Musk reportedly sent to a Tesla employee who wasn't identified by name in the book: "That is no excuse. I am extremely disappointed. You need to figure out where your priorities are. We're changing the world and changing history, and you either commit or you don’t."

American Apparel to Raise Capital After Posting Wider Loss (Bloomberg)
The stock sale will be “at the market” -- meaning shares are sold from time to time rather than in one big block -- with the proceeds going toward working capital and general corporate purposes, the Los Angeles-based company said in a statement Monday. American Apparel’s net loss expanded to $26.4 million, or 15 cents a share, from $5.47 million, or 5 cents, a year earlier. Revenue fell 9.4 percent to $124.2 million.

Blue Apron Seeking $2 Billion Valuation in New Funding Round (WSJ)
The New York-based startup, which ships boxes of pre-measured ingredients to home cooks, is in talks to raise money from investors at a valuation of around $2 billion, according to people familiar with the matter. The company is seeking to raise more than $100 million, one of the people said, but the deal hasn’t been finalized.

OPEC Sees Oil Below $100 Long-Term (WSJ)
The report predicted that oil prices will be about $76 a barrel in 2025 in OPEC’s most optimistic scenario, the people said, a reflection of the cartel’s worries that American competitors will be able to cope with low prices and keep pumping out supplies. It also contemplated situations where crude oil costs below $40 a barrel in 2025, the people said.

UK man banned from airline over Pinocchio tattoo (News)
A holidaymaker who exposed his Pinocchio penis tattoo to cabin crew and waved around a sex toy while on a flight to Majorca, has dismissed the incident as “only a giggle”...Imposing the ban, chiefs at the airline described the behaviour as “disgusting”, saying they carry many families on their flights and such actions would not be tolerated. But Tom Washington said spirits were high as, along with 22 of his friends, he boarded the flight from East Midlands Airport to Majorca dressed as female cabin crew staff. Things, however, quickly turned sour on-board the plane when Tom revealed his tattoo of childhood character Pinocchio, located above his private parts, to fellow holiday-makers and cabin crew. “There were 23 of us altogether and we all met at East Midlands airport,” he said. “We got up in the early hours to do our make-up and hair like any presentable woman. “We were all excited and sober at this point, and we got on to the plane with barrels of laughter from pretty much everyone — the airport staff and members of the public. We got to our seats on the plane for the safety induction. “I got up but because my jacket was too tight, it exposed my chest which I had covered with a bra. I then proceeded to ‘help’ the cabin staff with the safety talk using a sex toy. “There were some old men on the plane as well and they were a laugh. The lads mentioned I had a tattoo of Pinocchio, which I showed them, and that was the point where the manager took my passport.”

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Opening Bell: 02.25.13

Current Employees Star In S&P Suit (WSJ) As ammunition against Standard & Poor's Ratings Services, the Justice Department packed its fraud lawsuit with vivid details about more than 25 employees who allegedly put triple-A ratings on shaky bundles of subprime mortgages—or dithered on downgrading the securities as the housing market was collapsing. David Tesher, an S&P managing director in charge of one of the firm's two collateralized-debt-obligation groups, let analysts who reported to him put the highest possible ratings on deals S&P "knew did not accurately reflect the true credit risks," the U.S. government alleged in the suit filed Feb. 4. When a different group of analysts warned that more and more borrowers were falling behind on their payments, Mr. Tesher didn't tell his analysts, federal prosecutors claim. They put his name in the 128-page lawsuit a total of 59 times. Fresh Front In Budget Battle (WSJ) A White House official said the administration wouldn't go along with such a plan to extend the lower spending levels. And Democrats are insisting that the House GOP bill also give new latitude to domestic agencies as well as the Pentagon. But an aide to Senate Democratic leaders said such a measure might be politically difficult for the lawmakers to oppose, lest they bear the blame for shutting down the government. "There's an emerging consensus that it would be a difficult battle to have," said the Senate leadership aide. "I don't think we could force a shutdown." Dimon: Let’s put ‘London Whale’ on ice (NYP) That’s the message Jamie Dimon hopes to deliver at JPMorgan Chase’s annual investor day in New York tomorrow, some nine months after the infamous “London Whale” blew a $6 billion hole in the bank’s balance sheet. Dimon will stress that the nation’s biggest bank has been growing its business and taking market share in a bid to convince investors and analysts that there will be no further whale sightings. JPMorgan, for instance, has boosted its private banker ranks to better cater to wealthy investors, adding some 650 bankers since 2008, according to people familiar with the matter. Dimon is also expected to tout the bank’s ability to ring up record profits in good times and bad. JPMorgan reaped $21.3 billion in profits in 2012, a record year despite rocky markets that shook rivals here and abroad. Knight Capital to Sell Credit Brokerage Unit to Stifel: Report (Reuters) Knight Capital Group, which recently agreed to be bought for $1.4 billion by Getco Holding, has struck a deal to sell its credit-brokerage unit to Stifel Financial, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters. The terms of the deal were not known. But Stifel will be picking up investment-grade, high-yield, asset-backed and mortgage-backed debt brokers in the U.S. and Europe through the deal the source said. Foreign Money Is Revisiting Greece (WSJ) A steady trickle of foreign money pumped €109 million ($143.8 million) into Greek stocks in the last six months of 2012, followed by an additional €27.6 million in January, according to the Athens Stock Exchange. That money helped lift Greece's major stock index 33.4% last year, making it—bizarrely—the best-performing stock market in the European Union. It is up an additional 10.51% this year, to 1003.32, although it remains well off its high of 6355 reached more than 12 years ago. IKEA Meatballs Pulled After Horse-Meat Traces Found (WSJ) IKEA on Monday became the latest company to be drawn into Europe's snowballing horse-meat scandal, as the Swedish furniture giant said it has recalled a batch of meatballs that had been distributed to 13 European countries. The move comes after Czech food inspectors found traces of horse meat in IKEA's meatballs. The company also said it is withdrawing meatball products from sale in Sweden. Japan Picks BOJ Critic to Be Its Next Chief (WSJ) Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to nominate former finance-ministry official Haruhiko Kuroda, 68 years old, as the next Bank of Japan governor, according to government officials. Mr. Kuroda, currently chief of the Asian Development Bank, ran the Japanese finance ministry's currency policy for four years in the early 2000s. There, among other things, he oversaw an extended effort to drive down the yen's value in order to make Japanese exports more affordable on the world market. Barnes & Noble Chairman to Bid for Company's Retail Assets (Reuters) Barnes & Noble Chairman Leonard Riggio has told the board he plans to buy all the retail assets of the company. The retail business includes, among other things, Barnes & Noble Booksellers and barnesandnoble.com but excludes Nook Media, Riggio said in a regulatory filing on Monday. Mets Expect To Lose Money And Fans This Year (NYP) The team is expecting to lose more than $10 million this year, after bleeding red the past two seasons, while attendance is projected to fall for a fifth straight year. Monti Gets Investors’ Approval as Bonds Cast Doubt on Berlusconi (Bloomberg) Monti “is the first leader to make it clear you have to look out for future generations and not just tomorrow’s vote,” said Fabrizio Fiorini, chief investment officer at Aletti Gestielle SGR SpA. “This concept of looking out for future generations is absolutely new for Italy.” Angry moms condemn Geico’s cellphone app commercial they claim promotes bestiality (NYDN) One Million Moms wants auto insurance firm Geico to pull its latest TV campaign in which a woman appears to be flirting with a pig. The conservative Christian group that monitors children’s programming issued a statement to condemn the clip. “The Geico marketing team may have thought this would be humorous, but it is disgusting to see how the company takes lightly the act of bestiality,” One Million Moms said in a statement. The press release, which urges members to email their disgust to the firm, added that the advert was “repulsive” and “unnecessary.” It was also a “horrible commercial for families to see,” the group said. The commercial starts with Maxwell the Geico pig and the woman in a parked car on what appears to be a lover’s lane. Not knowing the car has broken down, the woman seems keen to make out with the pig. But he is uninterested and instead shows her the Geico app and the game Fruit Ninjas on his cellphone. Geico has not commented on the complaint.

Opening Bell: 06.18.12

Greece's Conservatives Start Coalition Talks (WSJ) Greece's conservative leader Antonis Samaras, whose New Democracy party came first in a crucial election Sunday, is set to meet the main opposition leader, radical left Syriza's Alexis Tsipras, to start the formal process of coalition-building talks. Mr. Samaras saw the Greek president of the republic earlier Monday and received the formal mandate to start coalition-building talks, as his party is 21 seats shy of an absolute majority in the 300-seat parliament. The talks with Mr. Tsipras are purely a formality, as the radical left leader made it plain Sunday night that he wouldn't join a coalition with New Democracy. "Don't expect any surprises, this is a formal procedure. Mr. Samaras has to see the leader of the second party first, that's the protocol," Syriza's spokesman said. Greek Election Defuses One Crisis, but More Lurk (NYT) “Unless they make a radical change, we will be back with another Greek cliffhanger in three or four months’ time,” said Darren Williams, a European economist at AllianceBernstein in London. Wilbur Ross: Real Question For Greece Is What Now (CNBC) Ross also said the government has to improve tax collection for a more permanent solution to the country’s debt problems and said higher revenues would allow the country to ease up on austerity measures. “The tax avoidance in Greece — including by government officials — is ridiculous. The black economy is a ridiculously high percentage,” he said. “Those are the problems they have to deal with and if they can deal with those than more limited austerity is what’s needed.” Europe Gets Emerging Market Crisis Ultimatum As G-20 Meet (Bloomberg) As elections in Greece reduced the immediate risk of the euro area’s breakup, China and Indonesia signaled growing exasperation with more than two years of European crisis- fighting that has failed to stem the threat of global contagion. World Bank President Robert Zoellick said that policy makers bungled their attempt to rescue Spain’s banks. CUNY biz school fixed Wall Streeters' GPAs to keep receiving tuition (NYP) An internal CUNY probe found the course grades of “approximately 15 students” were falsified to keep their GPAs high enough to stay in the programs, Baruch officials acknowledged. The trickery prevented enrollees, including many mid-level Wall Streeters whose firms picked up their tabs, from flunking out — and kept their tuition checks flowing in. The accelerated “executive programs” in business and finance allow students to earn a master’s degree in 10 to 22 months while working full-time. The tuition: $45,000 to $75,000. Baruch has referred the matter to law-enforcement agencies, the college said in a statement. Spokeswoman Christina Latouf would not say if students knew their grades were being changed or were complicit in the scheme. But Baruch has started calling some recent graduates with disturbing news: Their sheepskins are invalid. “What do you mean? My diploma’s on my wall. How can you tell me I don’t have a degree?” one grad said, according to a source...Zicklin officials gave a sales pitch for prospective students last week, but directors and professors made no mention of the problems. Instead, they promised “respected and well-recognized” degrees that would put grads on the path to become chief executives and financial officers. “This is a master’s program on steroids,” one said. Pressure Mounts On Credit Suisse Chief (FT) Investors and analysts have already grown impatient in the past 12 months over Mr Dougan’s efforts to improve the bank’s profitability and cost base, which are lagging behind rivals in Europe. Although they do not question Mr. Dougan’s credentials as a bank manager, they say that a capital raising now would make it difficult for him to stay in his job. Not only would shareholders resent the dilution, but the change of tack would undermine his strategy in recent years of making generous dividend payouts, in contrast to rivals, which have used a larger share of profits to boost capital. Dollar Shortage Seen In $2 Trillion Gap Says Morgan Stanley (Bloomberg) After falling to an all-time low of 60.5 percent in the second quarter of last year, the dollar’s share of global reserves rose 1.6 percentage points to 62.1 percent in December, the latest International Monetary Fund figures show. The buying has left the private sector with $2 trillion less than it needs, according to investment-flow data by Morgan Stanley, which sees the dollar gaining 8.2 percent in 2012, the most in seven years. App Developers Too Young To Drive (WSJ) Paul Dunahoo went on a business trip to San Francisco last week, where he attended technical sessions at Apple Inc.'s AAPL +0.45% developer conference, networked with other programmers and received feedback from Apple engineers on his six productivity apps. Then, Mr. Dunahoo, chief executive of Bread and Butter Software LLC, returned to Connecticut to get ready for the eighth grade. "It's a very rare opportunity" to be at Apple's conference, said Mr. Dunahoo, who is 13 years old and wears red braces. Mr. Dunahoo is one of a growing number of teens joining the app-making frenzy. Apple, the app industry's ringleader, is encouraging the trend. Fitch Cuts India Credit Rating To Outlook Negative (Reuters) "A significant loosening of fiscal policy, which leads to an increase in the gross general government debt /GDP ratio, would result in a downgrade of India's sovereign ratings," Fitch said in a statement on Monday. Woman claims Southwest wouldn't let her board plane because of her cleavage: report (NYDN) Southwest Airlines was forced to apologize to a woman who was told she couldn't board her flight because her cleavage was "inappropriate." Jezebel reports that the woman, Avital — she only gave her first name — was boarding a 6 a.m. flight from Las Vegas to New York on June 5 when a ticket agent remarked that she couldn't fly unless she covered her breasts. Clad in a comfy cotton dress, a baggy flannel shirt and bright scarf, Avital ignored the warning and marched aboard anyway. "I didn't want to let the representative's Big Feelings about my breasts change the way I intended to board my flight," she told Jezebel. "And lo and behold, the plane didn't fall out of the sky... my cleavage did not interfere with the plane's ability to function properly." Avital slammed the Southwest for "slut shaming," and said a man on her flight had on a provocative piece of clothing, but wasn't hassled. "The guy sitting in front of me on the plane was wearing a shirt with an actual Trojan condom embedded behind a clear plastic applique and had no trouble getting on his flight," she said.

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Opening Bell: 6.29.16

Moody's downgrades 12 UK banks; Soros bets against Deutsche Bank; Saudi Arabia beating off bankers with a stick; Cops say woman wielded hatchet after her demands for sex were rebuffed; and more.

Opening Bell: 04.02.12

Greece Faces Bond-Swap Holdouts (WSJ) The majority of investors holding foreign law Greek bonds haven't yet been included in the country's debt-swap deal as they have rejected or failed to agree to the exchange, said the country's debt agency Monday, setting a new deadline for the offer. Financiers and Sex Trafficking (NYT) "THE biggest forum for sex trafficking of under-age girls in the United States appears to be a Web site called Backpage.com. This emporium for girls and women — some under age or forced into prostitution — is in turn owned by an opaque private company called Village Voice Media. Until now it has been unclear who the ultimate owners are. That mystery is solved. The owners turn out to include private equity financiers, including Goldman Sachs with a 16 percent stake. Goldman Sachs was mortified when I began inquiring last week about its stake in America’s leading Web site for prostitution ads. It began working frantically to unload its shares, and on Friday afternoon it called to say that it had just signed an agreement to sell its stake to management. 'We had no influence over operations,' Andrea Raphael, a Goldman Sachs spokeswoman, told me." Bond King's Trade Pays Off (WSJ) After suffering one of his worst performances ever in 2011, over the past three months, Bill Gross, manager of Pacific Investment Management Co.'s Total Return Fund, rode an aggressive bet on mortgage bonds to beat most of the fund's rivals and the index against which bond-fund managers measure themselves. Mr. Gross's fund, the world's biggest bond fund with $252 billion in assets, recorded a 2.88% return in the three months through March. The performance beat the benchmark Barclays Capital Aggregate Bond Index by 2.58 percentage points, ranking in the top 11% of all bond mutual funds for the quarter, according to investment-research firm Morningstar Inc. In Wake of Groupon Issues, Critics Wary of JOBS Act (WSJ) A little-noticed provision in the new JOBS Act would allow companies to iron out disagreements with regulators behind closed doors before they go public—a provision that might have prevented investors from finding out about Groupon Inc.'s early accounting questions until after they had been resolved...Critics say that measure would allow a company like Groupon, which had well-publicized disagreements with the SEC over its accounting last year, to resolve such issues under the radar, without investors learning of them until later although still before any IPO. Goldman Eyes $3 Billion Property Debt Fund (Reuters) A private equity arm of Goldman Sachs is looking to launch a $3 billion property debt fund in a bid to take advantage of a growing shortage of real estate financing across the UK and Europe...Real Estate Principal Investment Area (REPIA) is exploring options to create a fund that would provide senior and mezzanine loans to property investors, and will target property lending that is riskier but which would offer higher potential returns. Md. woman won't share $105M lotto jackpot with McD's co-workers (NYP) Workers at the fast-food joint who pooled their cash for tickets are furious at a colleague who claims she won with a ticket she bought for herself and has no intention of sharing. “We had a group plan, but I went and played by myself. [The ‘winning’ ticket] wasn’t on the group plan,” McDonald’s “winner’’ Mirlande Wilson 37, told The Post yesterday, insisting she alone bought one of the three tickets nationwide that will split a record $656 million payout...[On Saturday], a delirious Wilson had called co-workers to break the news — tellingly used the first-person singular. “I won! I won!” she cried, Allen said. Another colleague, Davon Wilson, no relation, said he was there when Mirlande Wilson called. “She said, ‘Turn on the news.’ She said she had won. I thought it was a joke or something. She doesn’t seem like a person who’d do this,” he said. Allan said he and Layla went to Wilson’s home and pounded on the door for 20 minutes until she finally came out. “These people are going to kill you. It’s not worth your life!” Allen said he told her. “All right! All right! I’ll share, but I can’t find the ticket right now,” she finally said, according to Allen. Resistance to austerity stirs in southern Europe (Reuters) An unexpectedly broad general strike in Spain on Thursday and mounting opposition to Prime Minister Mario Monti in Italy are among indicators that resistance is growing in a region at the center of concerns about a resurgence of the euro zone debt crisis. Biggest Bond Traders See Worst Over for Treasuries (Bloomberg) Signs of strength in the economy, which caused a 5.56 percent loss in bonds maturing in 10 years or more last quarter, may fade in the second half of 2012, the dealers say. Tax cuts are expiring, $1 trillion of mandatory federal budget cuts are due to kick in and $100-a-barrel oil is eating into consumer spending. With inflation in check, Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said last week that the central bank will consider further stimulus, even after upgrading its economic outlook March 13. Marc Faber: "Massive Wealth Destruction Is About To Hit Investors" (CNBC) FYI. Twitter takes Connecticut official's April Fools' Day joke to the public (NHR) It all started with a tweet at 5:30 a.m. Sunday, from state government official Mike Lawlor: “Rep. Dargan in hospital following accident.” By 11 a.m., news organizations statewide, including the NewHaven Register, were retweeting the “news” and calling officials to confirm details of the accident. After all, it was assumed, it must be accurate if the tweet came from the highly respected Lawlor, a former longtime state representative and now the state’s undersecretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning. But no... Dargan was reached by phone and confirmed he was fine and did not have an accident. “I am fine. Lawlor must have tweeted it.

Opening Bell: 12.20.12

Report Says Libor-Tied Losses at Fannie, Freddie May Top $3 Billion (WSJ) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac may have lost more than $3 billion as a result of banks' alleged manipulation of a key interest rate, according to an internal report by a federal watchdog sent to the mortgage companies' regulator and reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. The unpublished report urges Fannie and Freddie to consider suing the banks involved in setting the London interbank offered rate, which would add to the mounting legal headaches financial firms such as UBS AG and Barclays face from cities, insurers, investors and lenders over claims tied to the benchmark rate. Libor Documents May Boost Civil Suits (WSJ) Analysts have published a range of estimates of the potential impact to the industry of lawsuits stemming from the manipulation—in some cases they reach into the tens of billions of dollars or more. It likely will be years before the extent of any liabilities becomes clear. For the lawsuits to succeed, plaintiffs must prove that banks successfully altered the interest-rate benchmarks and caused the plaintiffs to suffer a loss. Michael Hausfeld, chairman of Hausfeld LLP, a co-lead counsel on one of the lawsuits, said the UBS settlement was "extremely useful" for the litigation. The "extraordinary emails" published by the regulators exposed the "pervasiveness of the culture and the activity." UBS Trader Hayes Exposed at Core of Libor Investigation (Bloomberg) Tom Hayes, one of two former UBS AG traders charged by U.S. prosecutors, is portrayed by American regulators as the kingpin of a three-year campaign that succeeded in manipulating global interest rates. Hayes, 33, was charged with wire fraud and price-fixing, the Department of Justice said in a criminal complaint unsealed yesterday. The trader and Roger Darin, a former short-term interest-rates trader at UBS whose responsibilities included the firm’s yen Libor quotes, were also charged with conspiracy...Hayes colluded with brokers, counterparts at other firms and his colleagues to manipulate the rate, the Justice Department said. Between 2006 and 2009, a UBS trader made at least 800 requests to the firm’s yen Libor rate-setters, about 100 to traders at other banks, and 1,200 to interdealer brokers, according to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which didn’t identify Hayes by name. “Many UBS yen derivatives traders and managers were involved in the manipulative conduct and made requests to serve their own trading positions’ interests,” the CFTC said. “But the volume of unlawful requests submitted by one particular senior yen derivatives trader in Tokyo dwarfed them all.” IntercontinentalExchange Agrees to Acquire NYSE Euronext (Bloomberg) IntercontinentalExchange Inc., the 12-year-old energy and commodity futures bourse, agreed to acquire NYSE Euronext for cash and stock worth $8.2 billion, moving to take control of the world’s biggest equities market. ICE, based in Atlanta, will pay $33.12 a share for the owner of the New York Stock Exchange, 38 percent above yesterday’s closing price, according to a statement today. Both boards approved the proposal and the companies expect to complete the transaction in the second half of 2013. Last year, the U.S. Justice Department blocked a joint hostile bid by ICE and Nasdaq OMX Group for the New York-based company on concern the combination would dominate U.S. stock listings. Greece Faces 'Make or Break' Year (FT) We can make it next year if we can stick to the program agreed with the EU and IMF," finance minister Yannis Stournaras said in an interview with the Financial Times. However, "the break would be if the political system finds the situation too difficult to handle", he added, referring to the danger of social unrest about austerity that could force the two left-of-center parties to bring down the governing coalition. "What we have done so far is necessary but not sufficient to achieve a permanent solution for Greece," Mr Stournaras said. "The issue now is implementation." Boehner's 'Plan B' Gets Pushback (WSJ) The mood at the White House was gloomy, while on Capitol Hill it fluctuated. Few seemed confident the nation would avoid the tax increases and spending cuts known as the fiscal cliff, but others noted major Washington deals are usually reached only after several near-death experiences. Preparing for the World's End, Just in Case (WSJ) Tony Brown, a private investigator in Southern California, says he has spent nearly $60,000 preparing for Teotwawki — an acronym for "the end of the world as we know it"—or SHTF—when the "s--- hits the fan." Mr. Brown has purchased an ultralight plane and amassed three tons of food in his kitchen, about a third in freeze-dried meals. About a year ago, Mr. Brown started a website to recruit a community of preppers to plan for a cataclysm. In the first several months, he said he received few inquiries. But by the summer, traffic to the site soared and applications have come rolling in since. He recently capped the group at 175 members—all are responsible for their own one-year supply of food—though he is still seeking a doctor, meteorologist and ham-radio operator. Mr. Brown has contingency plans for four doomsday scenarios he deems most likely—a supervolcano, solar flare, major earthquake or hyper inflation—and a large underground bunker in case of a nuclear attack. He doesn't believe the world will end on Dec. 21, "but, just in case, I want to have everything ready by then," he said. US Economy Grew 3.1%; Jobless Claims Rise (Reuters) Weekly jobless claims rose to 361,000 in the latest week. Claims has been expected to rise to 357,000, from 343,000 the prior week. BofA’s Moynihan Said to Kill Proposal to Cut Pay for Brokers (Bloomberg) Bank of America Corp. Chief Executive Officer Brian T. Moynihan blocked a proposal to cut the main component of most brokers’ pay for 2013, said a person with direct knowledge of the matter. The plan would have reduced the so-called grid payout for Merrill Lynch financial advisers by two percentage points, the person said, requesting anonymity because it wasn’t made public. The changes, which would have affected advisers generating less than $1 million in commissions, were seen as a way to cushion the costs of new bonuses, the person said. In $18 Million Theft, Victim Was a Canadian Maple Syrup Cartel (NYT) It was an inside job of sorts. Thieves with access to a warehouse and a careful plan loaded up trucks and, over time, made off with $18 million of a valuable commodity. The question is what was more unusual: that the commodity in question was maple syrup, or that it came from something called the global strategic maple syrup reserve, run by what amounts to a Canadian cartel. On Tuesday, the police in Quebec arrested three men in connection with the theft from the warehouse, which is southwest of Quebec City. The authorities are searching for five others suspected of being involved, and law enforcement agencies in other parts of Canada and the United States are trying to recover some of the stolen syrup. Both the size and the international scope of the theft underscore Quebec’s outsize position in the maple syrup industry. Depending on the year, the province can produce more than three-quarters of the world’s supply. And its marketing organization appears to have taken some tips from the producers of another valuable liquid commodity when it comes to exploiting market dominance. “It’s like OPEC,” said Simon Trépanier, acting general manager of the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers. “We’re not producing all the maple syrup in the world. But by producing 70 to 78 percent, we have the ability to adjust the quantity that is in the marketplace.” NYers who believe in Mayan apocalypse search for sex before the world ends (NYP) While some people around the world are arming themselves and digging into bunkers, many New Yorkers are simply hoping for a hot time. “I will be looking for an end-of-the-world hook-up,” Dennis Cintron, 29, a Lower East Side bartender, told The Post. “If you’re going to go out, go out with a bang.” Cintron said he’ll buy new clothes and get a haircut for the big day because he wants some “companionship” to ring in the rapture. Sara Saperstein, 26, of Bushwick is also hoping for one last romp. “It’s like New Year’s. I want to go out on a wild note!” Saperstein said. She won’t have trouble finding a spot for that. More than a dozen bars and clubs in New York City are throwing end-of-days bashes, including a comedy show at the Bell House in Gowanus and an “End of the Funking World Party” at B.B. King Blues Club in Midtown. Other singles posted ads on Craigslist.org and OKCupid.com, seeking apocalypse-themed dates, “casual encounters” and even “end of the world sex.” “If you’ve got no plans for the apocalypse, let’s get together,” wrote a 30-year-old single guy from Midtown. He added, “Send me how you’d like to spend your last hours on earth — and a photo.”

Opening Bell: 08.24.12

New York Fed Profits On AIG Bonds (WSJ) The Federal Reserve Bank of New York on Thursday sold the last toxic assets it acquired from the bailout of American International Group Inc., closing the book on its most controversial intervention during the financial crisis with a large gain to taxpayers. The regional Fed bank said it reaped $6.6 billion in profits from selling complex mortgage securities that it took on in late 2008 to stem AIG's cash bleed. Merkel Reiterates Greek Stance (WSJ) "The euro is more than a currency, it's an idea, and that's why it's so important," Ms. Merkel said at a news conference in Berlin, where she earlier met with Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. "I want Greece to remain a part of the euro zone and that's what I am working on." Morgan Stanley Funds In Big Facebook Bet (WSJ) U.S. mutual funds run by Morgan Stanley, the lead underwriter in Facebook Inc.'s $16 billion initial public offering, have disproportionately high investments in the social-media company, leaving fund shareholders exposed to the stock's big drop since its May 18 IPO. New data show that eight of the top nine U.S. mutual funds with Facebook shares as a percentage of total assets are run by Morgan Stanley's asset-management arm, according to fund tracker Morningstar Inc. Don't Be Fooled By Short-Selling Bans (FT) ...the conclusions from the research are clear; these economists do not think short selling bans work. For there is precious little evidence that the ban in US markets truly halted share price declines; on the contrary, the impact was (at best) neutral, they claim. However, the ban hurt market mechanisms, as liquidity dried up. HSBC In Settlement Talks With U.S. Over Money Laundering (Bloomberg) HSBC, which is under investigation by U.S. regulators for laundering funds of sanctioned nations including Iran and Sudan, is in talks to settle the matter, two people with knowledge of the case said. The bank, Europe’s largest by market value, made a $700 million provision in July for any U.S. fines after a Senate Committee found it had given terrorists and drug cartels access to the U.S. financial system. That sum might increase, Chief Executive Officer Stuart Gulliver has said. Night of drinking, sexting and a well-placed bullet leads to prison for Oregon City man (OL) The couple drank at home and at two Oregon City area bars before their late night stop at the KC's Midway, a neighborhood watering hole where Lisa Nunes played video poker and enjoyed her 10th beer -- by her count -- of the day. Lisa Nunes spoke with a man she described as a friend, who left the bar but soon began bombarding her phone with text messages and pictures of his genitals. "I'm 54 years old. I have a relationship with my husband that's non-existent," Lisa Nunes testified. Flirting with a younger man "was exciting, she said. "I was just sexting a guy. It was no big deal," she said. Thomas Nunes, 61, said he was stunned when he saw a few of the messages and a photo. He left briefly then returned, grabbed the phone and went home. He read the all text messages and combed his wife's Facebook account looking for proof of infidelity. "I couldn't believe she was doing it right in front of my face," Nunes said. "I felt betrayed." Shaken, he said he smoked marijuana and talked to his cats for about 20 minutes to calm himself and "reason out a plan." Mitt: I’d give Fed boss the heave-ho (NewsCorp) Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said yesterday that if elected, he would select a new Federal Reserve chairman, replacing Ben Bernanke, countering advice Tuesday from top economic adviser Glenn Hubbard that Bernanke should be considered for a third term. Return to Gold Standard Is Seen By Some as 'Ludicrous' (CNBC) The Financial Times reported on Friday that the Republican Party plans to set up a commission to look into re-establishing the link between the dollar and gold as part of its platform to be unveiled at the party convention in Tampa Bay, Fla., next week. But analysts told CNBC that the idea would not work. “I think it’s absolutely nonsensical,” Moorad Choudhry, head of treasury at the corporate banking division of the Royal Bank of Scotland told CNBC Friday. “There’s a very good reason they unhooked it in 1971, because their deficit didn’t enable them to maintain it with the supply of gold. In fact, is there enough gold in the world to back the U.S. debt?” Money Funds Test Geithner, Bernanke As Schapiro Defeated (Bloomberg) Money-market mutual funds, an alternative to bank accounts for individuals and companies, will test the resolve of the U.S. Federal Reserve and Treasury Department to prevent another financial crisis after the $2.6 trillion industry successfully lobbied against more regulation by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Fed Governor Daniel Tarullo has said the central bank could tighten rules on banks’ borrowing from money-market funds, and Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren has said officials have the option to force banks to back their money funds with capital. The Fed and the Treasury could also work through the Financial Stability Oversight Council, a new regulatory panel formed under the Dodd-Frank Act, to seize oversight of money funds from the SEC and grant that power to the Fed. Ryan Lochte Discusses Racing Prince Harry (NBC) Lochte had never met the prince until the royal's entourage approached him that night. "His people came over to my table and said, 'Prince Harry wants to meet you,'" he said. "I was like, 'Lets meet him.' I went over there. I was fully clothed, and he says, 'You want to race me in the pool?' I took off my shirt, jumped in and we started racing." Only hours later, all of the prince’s clothes came off in a now-infamous strip-billiards incident that took place in a hotel suite. Lochte did not get the invite to play strip billiards with the prince and his friends. “He never said anything like that,’’ Lochte said. “After our race and everything, we went our separate ways. I’m kind of happy. I don’t need that.’’

Opening Bell: 07.23.12

Prosecutors, regulators close to making Libor arrests (Reuters) U.S. prosecutors and European regulators are close to arresting individual traders and charging them with colluding to manipulate global benchmark interest rates, according to people familiar with a sweeping investigation into the rigging scandal...Defense lawyers, some of whom represent suspects, said prosecutors have indicated they plan to begin making arrests and filing criminal charges in the next few weeks. Diamond Exit Fells Last Pillar In London’s Gekko Generation (Bloomberg) When Mervyn King and Adair Turner, the U.K.’s top two financial overseers, agreed to summon Barclays’s chairman to the Bank of England on July 2 and said they had lost confidence in Diamond, London’s best-known banker, they were making clear that the rules of the road had changed. “The signal to the City has got to be that if you behave badly you will be removed from your employment,” said Paul Myners, the government’s financial-services minister from 2008 to 2010 and former chairman of Gartmore Investment Management Ltd. “It will send shivers down the spine of anybody who is up to no good.” Spain Bans Short-Selling For Three Months (Reuters) Spain's stock market regulator banned short-selling on all Spanish securities on Monday for three months and said it may extend the ban beyond Oct. 23. The ban, which will not apply to market makers, will apply to any operation on stocks or indexes, including cash operations, derivatives traded on platforms as well as OTC derivatives, the regulator said in a statement. Greece Should Pay Wages in Drachmas Says German Lawmaker (Reuters) "Greece should start to pay half of its civil service wages, pensions and other expenditures in drachmas now," Dobrint said. "A soft return to the old currency is better for Greece than a drastic move. Having the drachma as a parallel currency would allow the chance for economic growth to develop." All Eyes On Facebook Revenue (WSJ) Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expect Facebook to report second-quarter revenue of $1.1 billion on earnings of 12 cents a share. Facebook needs to hit those marks to prove that it can grow into the $100 billion valuation that it gave itself in its IPO. The valuation implies Facebook will grow at a significant pace, said Citigroup analyst Mark Mahaney. Facebook's "business has been showing significant revenue-growth deceleration," he said. "The market valuation implies at least a stabilization of revenue growth this year and next year." Using Small Business Loans To Generate Big Profits (WSJ) At a recent group-lending meeting in the Kawangware slum, about 10 miles from downtown, Jackson Munyovi sought $350 to build a new shanty for his wife and two children. The 31-year-old welder asked fellow church congregants and friends to co-sign a loan to finance building materials. A church deacon vouched for the borrower's assets, including a few metal-shop machines and his marital bed, and Mr. Munyovi promised to repay the loan in six months, plus 8% interest. And with that, Equity Bank Group—one of Africa's most ambitious banks—snagged another customer. The Kenyan bank has enjoyed a booming business lending to people with little collateral beyond the potential disgrace of letting friends down. Equity executives aren't shy about a business model that leverages societal mores and shame—often the strongest collateral to be found on a continent where formal credit records are scarce beyond the biggest cities. Avenue Capital Places Faith In Eurozone (NYT) Now, even as Europe’s economic problems worsen and the markets punish giants like Spain and Italy, Mr. Lasry is betting on a long-term comeback for the Continent. This month, his hedge fund, Avenue Capital, finished raising nearly $3 billion for a fund that will invest in the debt of troubled European companies. He has committed roughly $75 million of his own money to the new fund. That’s still a small part of his estimated $1.3 billion fortune, but Mr. Lasry is among a coterie of hedge fund and private equity managers who are gambling that the euro zone will stay intact and revive over the long run. Wealth chief could be Morgan Stanley’s No.2 (NYP) Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman may have found his No.2: Greg Fleming. That’s after Fleming, the president of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney and Morgan’s wealth management unit, proved to be the only bright spot in the firm’s otherwise disappointing second-quarter results...Gorman, 53, hasn’t anointed a second-in-command since he took over as CEO from John Mack back in 2009. But Morgan Stanley’s co-presidents of institutional securities, Colm Kelleher and Paul Taubman, and possibly CFO Ruth Porat (if she chooses to accept), are among those who could be named. Though still relatively new, having joined the company in 2009, Fleming has shown he’s a worthy contender for the crown. Tony Robbins ‘Firewalk Experience’ goes wrong (AP) Fire officials in California say at least 21 people were treated for burns after attendees of an event for motivational speaker Tony Robbins tried to walk on hot coals...at least three people went to a hospital and most suffered second or third-degree burns. Robbins was hosting a 4-day gathering called “Unleash the Power Within” at the San Jose Convention Center. Witnesses say on Thursday, a crowd went to a park where 12 lanes of hot coals were on the grass. Robbins’ website promotes “The Firewalk Experience” in which people walk on super-heated coals. Witness Jonathan Correll says he heard “screams of agony.”

Opening Bell: 01.04.13

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