Opening Bell: 5.4.15

Charter interested in Time Warner; HSBC whistleblower not finished here; Berkshire will probably buy a German company; No $6 mm home run bonus for A-Rod; Toilet beards; and more.
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Charter Expresses Interest in Friendly Deal Talks With Time Warner Cable (WSJ)
Cable pioneer John Malone,—the chairman of Charter’s largest shareholder Liberty Broadband Corp.,—called Time Warner Cable Chief Executive Rob Marcus in recent days to express Charter’s interest in pursuing friendly deal talks, people familiar with the approach said. That is in contrast to the unsuccessful hostile takeover Charter pursued last year. The call from Mr. Malone came after Comcast Corp. recently walked away from a planned merger with TWC in the face of stiff regulatory resistance.

HSBC whistleblower Falciani says his work is not done: El Mundo (Reuters)
Herve Falciani, a former HSBC employee who leaked information on the bank's clients and tax situation, told Spanish newspaper El Mundo he had knowledge of other cases and could act again, adding his "work was not done". Falciani previously said that media leaks on HSBC accounts held in Switzerland, which unleashed a public storm around the British bank, were "only the tip of the iceberg", and that tax authorities had access to a lot more data. The former information technology worker at HSBC's Swiss subsidiary hinted in the interview published on Sunday that he could be moved to make more revelations.

A Milestone for Warren Buffett, and Profits for Investors (Reuters)
Net income rose to $5.16 billion, or $3,143 a share, from $4.71 billion, or $2,862 a share, a year earlier. Quarterly operating profit increased 20 percent to $4.24 billion, or $2,583 per share, from $3.53 billion, or $2,149. Analysts on average expected operating profit of about $2,373 a share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. Revenue rose 7 percent to $48.64 billion. Book value per share, Mr. Buffett’s preferred measure of growth, rose 0.5 percent from year-end to $146,963.

Takeaways From the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting (MoneyBeat)
Berkshire is eager to do a European deal: As he always does, Mr. Buffett extolled the virtues of America. But he let it be known he thought there may be bargains to be found in Europe and that “prices may be a little more attractive there than in the United States.” Berkshire hasn’t been wildly successful in finding companies to buy on the continent, but it did just do a small deal to acquire a German motorcycle apparel and accessories retailer. Mr. Buffett said he suspects that will bring in more opportunities. “I will predict we buy at least one German company in the next five years,” he said.

Report: Some beards as dirty as a toilet (PBP)
A group of men in New Mexico had their beards swabbed and tested for bacteria, and the results in some cases were a bit shocking, according to KOAT.com. Many of the beards tested had normal levels of bacteria, but others were comparable to toilets, the report said. The results were mind-blowing, said Quest Diagnostics microbiologist John Golobic, who tested the swabs. “Those are the types of things you'd find in (fecal matter),” Golobic said. “I'm usually not surprised and I was surprised by this.” Not all this is cause for alarm: the human body is alive with bacteria, many of it beneficial and not leading to disease, researchers say. And many surfaces we come in contact with daily, such as our office desks and toothbrushes, are also covered with bacteria. Still, KOAT.com reports, Golobic suggested thorough beard-scrubbing and lots of hand-washing, and to try to keep your hands away from your face.

Trading in Greek Government Bonds Slows to a Trickle (WSJ)
Only €2 million ($2.24 million) of Greek government bonds changed hands on the country’s HDAT electronic-trading platform in April, according to the latest data from the Bank of Greece. Last year, monthly volumes averaged €866 million. Not since the run-up to Greece’s 2012 default have volumes been so low.

Icahn Says BlackRock’s Fink Makes Fixing Bad Businesses Harder (Bloomberg)
BlackRock Inc.’s Laurence Fink is protecting underperforming executives with his campaign against activist investors, according to billionaire Carl Icahn. “You can’t get rid of these guys,” Icahn said, speaking in an interview on Sunday on the “Wall Street Week” show. “A lot of them feel like they can do what they want, because of guys like Larry Fink.” In a letter last month, Fink told the CEOs of companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index that they should avoid giving in to pressure from investors seeking immediate dividends and buybacks, instead focusing on long-term growth. Icahn said some CEOs shouldn’t be allowed to invest money. BlackRock hasn’t backed his efforts to oust them, Icahn said.

Yankees Say They Won’t Pay Alex Rodriguez $6 Million Homer Bonus (Bloomberg)
The team agreed in 2007 to pay Rodriguez as much as $30 million for catching the four players ahead of him on the Major League Baseball career home run list. He was scheduled to get $6 million each for matching Mays, Babe Ruth (714) and Hank Aaron (755), as well as another $6 million each for tying and passing Barry Bonds’s record of 762 home runs. That bonus package is in addition to the 10-year, $275 million contract Rodriguez, 39, signed in 2007. His contract includes a base salary of $21 million for 2015. “We have the right, but not the obligation, to do something,” general manager Brian Cashman told reporters before Saturday’s game at Boston. “And that’s it. It’s not, ‘You do this, you get that.’”

Spotify’s Valuation Assumes Full Stream Ahead (WSJ)
...if you’re looking for big numbers, consider Spotify, the closely held streaming service based in Sweden that raised $400 million last month implying a value of $8.4 billion. Spotify is losing money but that valuation reflects hopes of big profits at some point...One example of how hard it is to value music streaming—and make a sustainable business from it—concerns Pandora Media. Yet to report an annual profit, its value soared from about $2.6 billion at its initial public offering in 2011 to almost $8 billion in 2014. It is now worth $3.7 billion.

Man sues Florida hospital after his leg found in the garbage (Reuters)
John Timiriasieff, 56, had his right leg amputated below the knee in October at Doctors Hospital in Coral Gables. "Rather than properly disposing of the plaintiff's limb as expected and as required by Florida law, Doctors Hospital threw the Plaintiff's amputated limb into the garbage, with tags indicating it belonged to the Plaintiff," according to the lawsuit filed on Wednesday in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court. A month later, Timiriasieff said his family was contacted by homicide detectives investigating if he had been the victim of foul play. When the family went back to the hospital to find out what happened, they were told it would "provide no explanation for what had occurred," the lawsuit said. Normally, amputated limbs are incinerated by hospitals, said Clay Roberts, a lawyer for Timiriasieff...In the lawsuit, Timiriasieff described the hospital's conduct as "outrageous and beyond the bounds of human decency as to be regarded as odious and utterly intolerable in a civilized community."

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Opening Bell: 03.05.12

Greek Bond Swap Deal Rests on Knife Edge (FT) People close to some bondholders warned other investors to take seriously threats by policymakers that if the deal fails Greece will default on its debt. “Some investors seem to think they will be rescued. That just isn’t the case,” one said. People involved in the deal denied that there was any nervousness about the outcome but nobody was willing to guess how high the participation rate would be. Slim Beats Gates in First Daily Billionaire Ranking (Bloomberg) If you like obsessively measuring your penis you'll love this: Carlos Slim, the telecommunications tycoon who controls Mexico’s America Movil SAB, is the richest person on Earth, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a daily ranking of the world’s 20 wealthiest individuals...The Bloomberg Billionaires Index takes measure of the world’s wealthiest people based on market and economic changes and Bloomberg News reporting. Each net worth figure is updated every business day at 5:30 p.m. in New York. The valuations are listed in U.S. dollars. Zuckerberg Doesn’t Rank on Billionaire Index (Bloomberg) Sad trombone: At the time of the offering, Zuckerberg is likely to sell about $1.75 billion of Facebook stock to pay off the tax obligation he will incur when he exercises options to buy 120 million shares. The combined transactions will dilute Zuckerberg’s stake from 28.4 percent to about 21 percent. If the company maintains its projected $100 billion valuation, that would make Zuckerberg worth about $21 billion, less than the $28.4 billion implied by his stated ownership. At that net worth, Zuckerberg isn’t rich enough to qualify for the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a new daily ranking of the world’s 20 richest people. The 20th spot is currently occupied by L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt. AIG to Sell $6 Billion In Asian Insurer's Stock (WSJ) American International Group Inc. kicked off a $6 billion sale of shares in Asian life insurer AIA Group Ltd. on Monday morning in Hong Kong, moving forward with plans to repay another chunk of its 2008 U.S. bailout. AIG said the shares will be placed with institutional investors and expects them to be priced by Tuesday. The 1.7 billion shares up for sale represent around 14% of AIA, less than half the 32.9% stake AIG holds, according to a term sheet. Proceeds from this week's sale have been earmarked to repay the U.S. government, which rescued AIG from near collapse during the financial crisis with a record $182.3 billion bailout that has been partially repaid. The Treasury Department still has to recoup about $50 billion in taxpayer funds, and about $8.4 billion of that amount will be repaid when AIG sells the AIA shares and other assets, including its airplane-leasing subsidiary. The rest of the money—roughly $42 billion—is supposed to come from the government's sale of its 77% stake in AIG. Lenders Stress Over Test Results (WSJ) The 19 biggest U.S. banks in January submitted reams of data in response to regulators' questions, outlining how they would perform in a severe downturn. Now, citing competitive concerns, bankers are pressing the Fed to limit its release of information—expected as early as next week—to what was published after the first test of big banks in 2009. JFK Airport search of drug mule who said she was three months pregnant reveals she carried $20,000 worth of heroin (NYDN) Awoyemi, coming off an Air France flight from Paris to New York and wearing a “loose-fitting dress” was asked whether she was pregnant, and the woman replied that she was three months along, Homeland Security special agent John Moloney stated in a complaint filed in Brooklyn Federal Court. The customs inspector noted that Awoyemi appeared nervous, so she was selected for a pat-down search. After feeling a “bulge” in Awoyemi’s groin area, the situation escalated to a partial strip-search, according to the complaint. When she dropped her drawers, Awoyemi’s scheme fell apart. Pellets containing brown powder began dropping from her groin area — and the substance tested positive for heroin. Awoyemi was taken to a medical facility at the airport, where the federal cops administered a pregnancy test that came back negative. An X-ray showed more pellets in her intestinal tract, and by the end of the day she had passed about 25 pellets of heroin in a special commode that Customs officials have dubbed the “Drug Loo.” The high-tech toilet sanitizes the incriminating evidence. More On The Morgan Stanley Executive Charged in Cab Hate Crime Attack (Bloomberg) Jennings left a bank holiday party sometime before 11 p.m. and headed to the street, where he was supposed to be met by a car service, Jennings said. He hailed Ammar’s cab after the livery car didn’t appear, according to the report. Ammar said Jennings agreed on the fare and told him he would pay cash. Jennings fell asleep during the trip, the driver said. Once at the destination, though, Jennings said “he did not feel like paying” because he was already home, Ammar told police...When Ammar threatened to call the local police, Jennings said they wouldn’t do anything to help because he pays $10,000 in taxes, according to a report by the Darien police department...The Morgan Stanley executive told police he was afraid to come forward after the incident because the cab driver knew where he lived. He then went on vacation to Florida, police said. Jennings told officers he subsequently called his lawyer after a friend told him police were looking for a suspect in the stabbing incident, according to the report. JPMorgan Star To Launch Own Hedge Fund (FT) London-based Mike Stewart, JPMorgan’s global head of proprietary trading, and former head of emerging markets, is set to start his own new hedge fund, Whard Stewart, in the second quarter, people familiar with his plans said. Mr Stewart’s emerging markets trading team at the bank is expected to join him. The departures come despite word last week that US regulators will probably delay implementation of the so-called “Volcker rule” , under which banks are in effect banned from proprietary trading. Friends With Benefits (NYP) Unlike his fallen pal Raj Rajaratnam, former Goldman Sachs director Rajat Gupta appears to have no shortage of character witnesses willing to testify at his upcoming insider trading trial. Indeed, dozens of well-heeled supporters are already putting their names on the line for the former consulting titan, including world-renowned speaker Deepak Chopra and Mukesh Ambani, the ninth-richest man in the world. “I have never seen him ask for anything for himself, always for the greater good,” Ambani, the chairman of Reliance Industries, said recently on a little-noticed website called friendsofrajat.com. Cigarettes: The Most Stable International Currency (BusinessWeek) Cartons of Good Cat brand cigarettes are selling for as much as RMB5,600 (US$890) per carton in the city of Xi’an, in Shaanxi Province. The suspicion, according to reports this week, is that they are being used to bribe officials. Election Year Poses Challenge For Stocks (WSJ) The Dow is off to its best start to a year since 1998. But if history is a guide, this exuberance soon could give way to the first pangs of electoral anxiety. In a typical presidential-election year, stocks start well but slip into a funk by spring, according to Ned Davis Research, which has measured election-year trends back to 1900. At least in part, the slump reflects the electoral unknowns, Ned Davis has concluded. In a good year, investors deal with their jitters by late summer or early autumn and stocks recover. People get more comfortable with the November election outlook and put money back into stocks. This year, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average up 6.2% in just over two months, many investors and analysts expect a pullback soon. The looming election adds to ambient uncertainty about European debt and U.S. and Chinese growth prospects. Tony Welch, an analyst at Ned Davis Research, says the Dow could pull back 5% or 6% in the coming weeks. "We think the election-year trend could be strong this year," Mr. Welch says. "The market prefers certainty. It doesn't like unknowns." Ochocinco was urinated on by a lion and lived to tweet the tale (YS) The New England Patriots receiver was at a charity event in Miami on Saturday night when he ran into the caged animal. According to Ochocinco's Twitter account, the king of the jungle proceeded to become the urine sprayer at the party. Tweets included: "Swear to lil 10 pound bearded baby Jesus I just got peed on by a real "Lion" I'm not lying either. And y'all wonder why I don't go out!!!!!," "It's not funny i have on my good church clothes," and "I wasn't that close, he sprayed like a water gun."

Opening Bell: 2.10.15

HSBC whistleblower warns there's more to come; Investors warns "peasants" will be coming with "pitchforks"; Oil trader warns crude prices could keep sinking; "Zoo stages escape drill with keeper dressed as leopard"; AND MORE.

Opening Bell: 06.26.12

China's Officials Forced To Sell Luxury Cars (FT) Cash-strapped local governments in China have begun auctioning off fleets of officials’ luxury cars as part of efforts to bolster revenues hit by the country’s slowdown. Wenzhou, a south-eastern coastal city hit hard by the cooling economy, sold 215 cars at the weekend, fetching Rmb10.6 million ($1.7 million). It plans to sell 1,300 vehicles – 80 percent of the municipal fleet – by the end of the year. Moody’s Downgrades 28 Spanish Banks On Sovereign Risk (Bloomberg) While Santander and BBVA remained investment grade, at least a dozen lenders were lowered to junk status, Moody’s said yesterday in a statement. The ratings company downgraded six banks by four levels and 10 by three grades, with the rest getting one- and two-tier declines. Report Suggests ECB Bank Supervision (WSJ) Euro-zone countries should transfer oversight of their banks to a European supervisor, possibly the European Central Bank, in return for allowing the bloc's bailout fund to help insure deposits and wind down failing lenders, the European Union's top officials proposed in a report that will be debated at their summit Thursday. Facebook Analysts To Click 'Like'...Or Not (WSJ) On Tuesday, a 40-day quiet period will conclude for analysts at banks that were underwriters of Facebook's initial public offering, including lead underwriters Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan, and Goldman Sachs. The analysts are expected to publish their initial research early on Wednesday, people at the firms said. Kanye, Kim Kardashian Sued For Al Qaeda Ties (PM) Kanye West and Kim Kardashian have been sued for their alleged ties to Al-Qaeda. "Alleged" is the operative adjective here, especially when discussing the plaintiff, one Jonathan Lee Riches. He's the Guiness World Record holder as "The World's Most Litigious Man," filing over 5,000 suits in the past eight years. The reason behind this latest suit? All American citizens are in eminent danger of the defendants. Take it way, Mr. Riches: “On 6/17/2012 I was in West Virginia, deep in the hills and I stumbled upon the defendants who were all at a Al-Qaeda secret training camp." He then went on to claim that Kanye and Kim pleaded their allegiance to Al-Qaeda, burned the U.S. flag and stomped their feet on Barack Obama’s picture, performed a concert for all Al-Qaeda members, and shot AK-47s in the air. Banks Preparing For The End (WSJ) Nine of the largest financial institutions must submit their initial living wills to the FDIC and Federal Reserve by July 1. The early group includes top U.S. financial institutions as well as Deutsche Bank, Barclays, Credit Suisse, and UBS. Smaller companies have longer to craft their plans, with all due by the end of 2013. Margaritaville memo: Execs may walk plank (NYP) The boat that sank one of Warren Buffett’s top execs has been identified, and some of his crew may still get thrown overboard. Denis Abrams — who was canned as CEO of Berkshire Hathaway’s Benjamin Moore unit this month — chartered an extravagant cruise off Bermuda in a yacht called The Lady Charlotte, The Post has learned. “Abrams had a lot of his ‘yes men’ on that cruise who were responsible for a lot of what has gone wrong,” one former exec groused. “They can’t turn it around without clearing those ranks.” KKR Raises $4 Billion For Deals In Infrastructure, Energy (Bloomberg) KKR completed raising about $1 billion for infrastructure investments and $1.25 billion for natural resources, the New York-based firm said today in a statement. That’s combined with $1.3 billion in separate accounts for infrastructure, and $350 million for natural resources contributed by affiliates of KKR. Nasty Elmo Is Gone, And Other Ones Are Just Tickled (CityRoom) On Monday, the day after the police ejected a man wearing the furry, red costume from Central Park for exploding into an obscenity-laced rant, other Elmos around New York said they recognized the man from previous clashes and expressed hope that his brush with the law would help their trade’s reputation. In between posing for photos and harassing tourists for tips, the offending Elmo would often treat tourists and fellow Sesame Street impersonators alike to xenophobic and anti-Semitic tirades. The man in the costume, whose name was not released because he was not arrested, was taken to Metropolitan Hospital Center for a psychological evaluation, the police said on Monday. The man would shout “crazy stuff” about the other impersonators, said Luis, 25, a Peruvian immigrant who has been donning an Elmo suit for about six months. He often worked the pedestrian plaza on Broadway between 42nd and 43rd Streets, where Luis and a few other men in furry suits ambled from street corner to street corner Monday afternoon, keeping a wary distance from one another.

Opening Bell: 11.2.15

Berkshire No. 2 Charlie Munger bashes Valeant (again); Fed rate rise odds at 50%; Hedge funds suck wind; "Rap video recorded inside Georgia jail prompts investigation"; and more.

Opening Bell: 09.13.12

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

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Opening Bell: 8.23.17

Herbalife readies finishing move on Bill Ackman; Goldman plans finishing move on Volcker rule; firefighters feast on piglets they saved from fire; and more.

Opening Bell: 2.27.15

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