Opening Bell: 10.23.15

Steve Cohen is having the best week ever; Jeff Bezos is rich; "Mr. Left issues reports laced with profanity, vivid anatomical descriptions and taunts directed at corporate executives"; and more.
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U.S. Attorney Aims to Dismiss Insider Trading Charges in SAC Capital Advisors Case (WSJ)
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara will drop charges against seven people, dealing a blow to what had been one of the most successful insider-trading prosecutions and a marquee case in his tenure. Not long ago, Mr. Bharara boasted a near-perfect conviction rate in the dozens of insider-trading cases pursued by his office. But on Thursday he moved to dismiss charges against former SAC Capital Advisors LP portfolio manager Michael Steinberg and six analysts. Mr. Steinberg’s conviction stood out, because it brought prosecutors as close as they ever got to SAC founder Steven A. Cohen, the billionaire founder of the hedge fund, which prosecutors had been investigating for a decade hoping to prove it had relied on illegal insider tips to boost its trading results.

The ‘Short’ Who Sank Valeant Stock (WSJ)
Mr. Left, the man who this week likened Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc. to Enron Corp., is among a small group of investors who publish free reports on firms they claim are overvalued or are engaged in fraud. They profit by making trades known as “shorts,” betting the shares will fall. Unlike many of his rivals, Mr. Left issues reports laced with profanity, vivid anatomical descriptions and taunts directed at corporate executives. He ended a 2014 report with a parting note to his target’s CEO: “Your first reaction will be to want to sue me. I hope you do!” He said he has been sued but has never lost a case.

Large Money Managers Suffer Bruising Quarter (WSJ)
Large money managers were bruised in the third quarter by market declines and investor outflows, the latest sign of the ills afflicting the U.S. mutual-fund industry.

Cans of 'Boiled Parrot' ruffle feathers in San Francisco (UPI)
Some of the cans are labeled "local & organic" and offer "Cherry Conures In Their Own Syrup." Brady Baltezore, one of six partners behind the Terrific Street store, said the display was meant to be humorous. "We thought, 'How funny would it be to create an installation that made it look like we were going to open a hyperlocal, hyper-sustainable business that was using the most hyperlocal food item?'" Baltezore told Hoodline. "We wouldn't harm parrots. We love parrots ... In this era, there's a little too much emphasis on what people's reaction is to art, rather than enjoying it on its own merits." Resident Julie Herrod was among those who failed to see any humor in the display.

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is the third-richest man in the nation (NYP)
The Amazon founder’s net worth surged to more than $55 billion late Thursday after the Seattle Web giant posted surprisingly strong quarterly results.

Bill Gross Could Make Money for His Old Investors Before His New Ones (Bloomberg)
Gross recently filed a lawsuit against his old employer, Pimco, in which he seeks $200 million in damages for compensation he says he was wrongly denied. Deep in the lawsuit is a point that could offer a boost to a separate shareholder suit against Pimco, filed on the last day of 2014 by Robert Kenny, an investor in the Pimco Total Return Fund.

The People Behind Sexy Pizza Rat Know You Won’t Buy Their Costume (Bloomberg)
Yandy’s Sexy Pizza Rat garnered millions of social media impressions, but only about 100 have been sold. “Let’s do it,” tweeted Stephanie, 24, in Louisville to a friend in early October. Asked if she was going to buy the costume, she admitted it was just a joke, saying, “I probably won’t be dressing up.”

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Opening Bell: 10.7.15

Fantasy sports probe; Ackman says GE was too expensive; TPG raises real estate fund; Steve Cohen is loving life; "College bro arrested over mac-and-cheese rant at food court"; and more.

Opening Bell: 11.26.12

UBS Stung By Adoboli Case (WSJ) Swiss financial market regulator Finma said it will keep a close eye on UBS's investment bank for the foreseeable future and may ask it to raise fresh capital, following an investigation into failures that allowed London-based trader Kweku Adoboli to make unauthorized trades. At the same time, the U.K. Financial Services Authority fined UBS £29.7 million ($47.6 million). Mr. Adoboli was convicted of fraud last week and sentenced to a seven-year prison term. "The measures ordered by Finma include capital restrictions and an acquisition ban on the investment bank, and any new business initiative it plans must be approved by Finma," the regulator said. Finma will also consider "whether UBS must increase capital backing for its operational risks," will appoint a third party to ensure corrective measures are introduced, and will organize an audit to review the steps taken by UBS. Finma declined to say when the auditing review would be completed or when a decision on a capital increase would be made, though a spokesman said this is likely to be within months rather than years. SAC Fund Manager Faces Choice of Trial or Deal (Bloomberg) Martoma, 38, used illegal tips to help SAC make $276 million on shares of pharmaceutical companies Elan Corp. and Wyeth LLC, according to the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission. Arrested last week, he is to appear today in Manhattan federal court for masterminding what the U.S. calls the most lucrative insider-trading case ever. Flowers Foods Sizes Up Hostess (WSJ) The Thomasville, Ga., company is considered a likely bidder for some of the assets owned by Hostess, which last week was granted permission by a federal bankruptcy-court judge to begin liquidating. The end came after a contentious bankruptcy that began in January and culminated this month in a strike. Goldman Turns Down Southern Europe Banks as Crisis Lingers (Bloomberg) Goldman Sachs, the No. 1 stock underwriter in Europe, turned down roles in offerings by banks in Spain and Italy this year, the only top U.S. securities firm not to take part in the fundraisings by southern European lenders as the region’s debt crisis stretches to a fourth year. The firm declined a role in Banco Popular Espanol SA’s 2.5 billion-euro ($3.2 billion) rights offering this month because it wanted greater protection to avoid potential losses on the sale, two people familiar with the talks said. JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley are helping to guarantee the deal. Goldman also didn’t underwrite this year’s share sales by Italy’s UniCredit SpA and Portugal’s Banco Espirito Santo SA, which drew Bank of America Corp. and Citigroup. Knight Seen Getting Acquisition Bids This Week (Bloomberg) The company with a market value of about $430 million was bailed out by six financial firms in August after losing $457 million in a trading error. Chicago-based Getco LLC, one of the rescuers, and Virtu Financial LLC in New York are among the likely bidders, said the person, who requested anonymity because the negotiations are private. The Wall Street Journal reported Nov. 23 that Knight expected offers for its market-making unit. Woman who rode manatee charged with violating protection act (Sentinel) A 53-year-old Pinellas County woman was arrested Saturday for violating the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act by riding a sea cow in the waters near St. Petersburg in September. Ana Gloria Garcia Gutierrez of St. Petersburg was arrested at her place of employment — Sears at Tyrone Square Mall in St. Petersburg — on a warrant issued by the State Attorney's Office. The charge is a second-degree misdemeanor. The punishment could be a $500 fine or up to 60 days in jail, the Tampa Bay Times said. Gutierrez stepped forward after the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office released photos of a then-unknown woman riding a manatee near Fort DeSoto Park in Pinellas County on Sept. 30. "Gutierrez admitted to the offense claiming she is new to the area and did not realize it was against the law to touch or harass manatees,'' the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said in a statement. Escrowyou too, judge! (NYP) Argentina, bruised and battered after a 10-year battle to sidestep billions of dollars in bond payments, is lashing out at US courts and a Manhattan federal court judge. A high-ranking member of Argentina President Cristina Kirchner’s administration terms “judicial imperialism” the Thanksgiving eve ruling by Judge Thomas Griesa that ordered the South American country to place a $1.3 billion bond payment in escrow pending the end of the legal tussle. Kirchner has repeatedly said she would not pay up. Griesa, frustrated with Argentina’s repeated attempts to stall the legal proceedings, sided with New York hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer, whose Elliott Management owns Argentine bonds that were defaulted on back in 2002. 'Cliff' Threatens Holiday Spending (WSJ) The White House warned in a new report that going off the so-called "fiscal cliff" could slow the growth of real gross domestic product by 1.4% and limit consumer spending during the holiday season. The report comes as lawmakers are returning to Washington with just weeks left to find an agreement to prevent taxes from going up on millions and spending cuts from kicking in. It will likely provide fodder for both political parties as they seek to find a compromise. At Some Firms, Cutting Corporate Rates May Cost Billions (WSJ) President Barack Obama has said, most recently during last month's presidential debates, that the 35% U.S. corporate tax rate should be cut. That would mean lower tax bills for many companies. But it also could prompt large write-downs by Citigroup, AIG, Ford and other companies that hold piles of "deferred tax assets," or DTAs...Citigroup, for instance, acknowledged during its recent third-quarter earnings conference call that a cut in the tax rate could lead to a DTA-related charge of $4 billion to $5 billion against earnings. Cohen's General Counsel Gives SAC Boss Cover (NYP) The sharks of the US Attorney’s office have SAC Capital Advisors surrounded — and owner Steven Cohen is looking a lot like chum. Good thing the billionaire hedgie has a large supply of shark repellent. That would be Peter Nussbaum, SAC’s longtime general counsel who, over his 12 years at the Stamford, Conn., firm, has built up an impressive 30-person compliance department — not including an additional tech compliance team. “Nussbaum is the most respected person at SAC,” said a hedge fund executive not at SAC. “He is going to do what he thinks is best for the firm and not be cowed by anyone.” Nussbaum’s huge compliance department, observers said, was built, in large part, because of the perception that the government was determined to bust Cohen. Confidential Police Docs Found in Macy's Parade Confetti (WPIX) Confidential personal information is what some paradegoers found among confetti tossed during the world's most famous parade. That information included social security numbers and banking information for police employees, some of whom are undercover officers. Ethan Finkelstein, who was home from college on Thanksgiving break, was watching the parade at 65th Street and Central Park West, when he and a friend noticed a strip of confetti stuck onto her coat. "It landed on her shoulder," Finkelstein told PIX11 News, "and it says 'SSN' and it's written like a social security number, and we're like, 'That's really bizarre.' It made the Tufts University freshman concerned, so he and his friends picked up more of the confetti that had fallen around them. "There are phone numbers, addresses, more social security numbers, license plate numbers and then we find all these incident reports from police." One confetti strip indicates that it's from an arrest record, and other strips offer more detail. "This is really shocking," Finkelstein said. "It says, 'At 4:30 A.M. a pipe bomb was thrown at a house in the Kings Grant' area." A closer look shows that the documents are from the Nassau County Police Department. The papers were shredded, but clearly not well enough.

Opening Bell: 12.03.12

Fiscal Cliff Talks At Stalemate (WSJ) Leading figures on both sides doubled down on their positions in interviews that aired Sunday, and they blamed each other for the current standoff, reflecting the talks that House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) told "Fox News Sunday" have gone "nowhere." Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, speaking on the same program for the Obama administration, suggested Republicans needed to take a breather from negotiations but would ultimately agree to raise tax rates—a key White House demand that is part of its push to raise $1.6 trillion in taxes over 10 years. "It's obviously a little hard for them now, and they're trying to figure out where they go next, and we might need to give them a little time to figure out where they go next," Mr. Geithner said. Geithner Joins Boehner to Trade Blame on Fiscal Cliff Talks (Bloomberg) “There’s not going to be an agreement without rates going up,” Geithner said in a taped interview that aired Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.” Republicans will “own the responsibility for the damage” if they “force higher rates on virtually all Americans because they’re unwilling to let tax rates go up on 2 percent of Americans.” Clock Ticks For SAC Investors (WSJ) Seventy-five days remain until Feb. 15, the date by which investors must tell SAC whether they want to pull money from the firm during the next redemption period...Some investors already decided to pull out. French bank Société Générale SA, which has client money in SAC through its Lyxor asset-management arm, has put in a request to pull its money from the firm, according to people familiar with the matter. It is unclear how much money Lyxor has in SAC. Many, however, said they would reserve judgment, at least for now. Ironwood Capital Management, a San Francisco-based investment firm with client money in SAC, has been in touch with investors about the position and is monitoring the situation, said a person familiar with the firm. Last week, a unit within Morgan Stanley's MS +0.06% asset-management arm that has client money with SAC sent a note telling employees it would monitor the situation and be in touch frequently with SAC, according to a person familiar with the bank...Greycourt & Co., Inc., a Pittsburgh-based firm that manages about $9 billion for wealthy families, says it is sticking with SAC. Greycourt cited the stellar long-term returns of the firm, what it says is a robust compliance staff at SAC, Mr. Cohen's promise to cover any penalties himself and a belief that the firm's investment portfolio would be well-protected, even if it eventually faces charges. "The SAC portfolio is liquid enough that I'm not terribly concerned," says Gregory Curtis, Greycourt's chairman. "I very much hope that [Mr.] Cohen hasn't been behaving badly, but either way I'm not too concerned about our client positions." UK’s Euro Trade Supremacy Under Attack (FT) The City of London should be deposed as the euro's main financial center so the single currency club can "control" most financial business in the euro zone, France's central bank governor has said. Christian Noyer of the Banque de France said there was "no rationale" for allowing the euro area's financial hub to be "offshore", in a blunt assessment that will fan UK concerns over EU rules being rigged against it. "Most of the euro business should be done inside the euro area. It's linked to the capacity of the central bank to provide liquidity and ensure oversight of its own currency," Mr Noyer told the Financial Times while touring Asia to promote Paris as a renminbi trading center. "We're not against some business being done in London, but the bulk of the business should be under our control. That's the consequence of the choice by the UK to remain outside the euro area." Zoe Cruz trying to make a return to high finance, has reconciled with John Mack (NYP, earlier) Sources say Cruz has reconciled with her former boss Mack, who helped fuel her rise within their firm before their falling out. He has been helping his one-time protégée in her efforts to land at a buyout firm such as KKR. Mack also has been a shoulder for Cruz to lean on as she copes with the split from her husband Ernesto Cruz...[who] was once reprimanded by his superiors in the mid-2000s for frolicking in a hotel pool in Midtown after a company Christmas gala with a group of female assistants, according to sources familiar with the situation. SEC Chief Delayed Rule Over Legacy Concerns (WSJ) Internal SEC emails, released to a congressional panel and reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, appear to show how a last-minute intervention by a consumer lobbyist might have helped persuade Ms. Schapiro to change her mind and delay one of the centerpiece measures of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups, or JOBS, Act. In Panicky Russia, It’s Official: End of World Is Not Near (NYT) There are scattered reports of unusual behavior from across Russia's nine time zones. Inmates in a women's prison near the Chinese border are said to have experienced a "collective mass psychosis" so intense that their wardens summoned a priest to calm them. In a factory town east of Moscow, panicked citizens stripped shelves of matches, kerosene, sugar and candles. A huge Mayan-style archway is being built — out of ice — on Karl Marx Street in Chelyabinsk in the south. For those not schooled in New Age prophecy, there are rumors the world will end on Dec. 21, 2012, when a 5,125-year cycle known as the Long Count in the Mayan calendar supposedly comes to a close. Russia, a nation with a penchant for mystical thinking, has taken notice. Last week, Russia's government decided to put an end to the doomsday talk. Its minister of emergency situations said Friday that he had access to "methods of monitoring what is occurring on the planet Earth," and that he could say with confidence that the world was not going to end in December. He acknowledged, however, that Russians were still vulnerable to "blizzards, ice storms, tornadoes, floods, trouble with transportation and food supply, breakdowns in heat, electricity and water supply." Similar assurances have been issued in recent days by Russia's chief sanitary doctor, a top official of the Russian Orthodox Church, lawmakers from the State Duma and a former disc jockey from Siberia who recently placed first in the television show "Battle of the Psychics." One official proposed prosecuting Russians who spread the rumor — starting on Dec. 22. Old testimony may bite Cohen in SEC case (NYP) Steve Cohen’s sworn testimony in another legal skirmish could come back to haunt his $14 billion hedge-fund empire...In 2011, Cohen gave several days of deposition testimony in the civil fraud case, in which Fairfax sued SAC and other firms for allegedly conspiring to drive down its share price. The case was dismissed due to a lack of evidence, but the testimony offers a rare look into Cohen’s views on illegal trading. In his testimony, Cohen called SEC rules on insider trading “vague” and said he doesn’t expect his employees to follow the company’s internal compliance manual to the letter. When asked whether it was “legal or illegal to trade on material nonpublic information,” Cohen said: “It depends on the circumstance.” “So there are circumstances, in your view, in which it is legal . . . to trade on the basis of material, nonpublic information?” asked Fairfax ’s lawyer, Michael Bowe. “Yes,” Cohen said. Among them, he said, is when employees trade in the opposite direction of the nonpublic information they receive. He also said he didn’t expect employees to adhere to the company’s compliance manual in every situation. “See, we don’t operate our firm in absolutes,” he said. “When I look at this manual, I see guidelines.” Morgan Stanley trader probed over trades made while at Goldman (Reuters) Morgan Stanley trader Edward Glenn Hadden is under investigation by regulators at CME Group over trades in Treasury futures four years ago while he was employed by Goldman Sachs, according to a regulatory filing. Hadden is a managing director and head of global interest rates products at Morgan Stanley. Prior to joining Morgan Stanley, Hadden was a partner at Goldman Sachs, and head of government bond trading. Hedge Funds Increase Bullish Bets Most Since August (Bloomberg) Hedge funds increased bullish bets on commodities by the most since August as evidence that China is accelerating outweighed concern that U.S. lawmakers have yet to resolve an impasse over automatic spending cuts and tax rises. Krawcheck, possible SEC head, raises Washington (Reuters) ...many who have worked with her say Krawcheck was a smart, analytical and competent executive who not only knew the business, but was good at building consensus among different units of companies. She helped restore brokerage Smith Barney's reputation at Citigroup and was popular with many of the financial advisers at Merrill Lynch. Schumer and other lawmakers contacted by Reuters did not return calls or requests for comment about meetings with Krawcheck or their thoughts about her. In the end, of course, Krawcheck may not land in Washington at all, two people who know her said. She has had discussions about a variety of roles with several companies, one source said. "She has lots of balls in the air," said the source, who asked not to be named because the conversations were private. "Sallie always has a plan." Bret Easton Ellis mistakenly asks for cocaine on Twitter (DJ) Bret Easton Ellis, famed author of "American Psycho," tweeted a request for cocaine Sunday morning, leaving many to speculate that it was supposed to be a private message...“Come over at do bring coke now,” he tweeted at 3:44AM, stranding his 360,000 followers in a state of bewilderment regarding what the cryptic tweet could possibly mean.

Opening Bell: 12.07.12

SEC Warns Netflix CEO Over Facebook Post (WSJ) Mr. Hastings boasted on his Facebook page in July that Netflix exceeded 1 billion hours of video streaming in a month for the first time. The post may have violated rules of fair disclosure, the SEC said. The SEC said it may also issue a cease-and-desist proceeding against Netflix and Mr. Hastings. Mr. Hastings responded in another Facebook post Thursday. He said further disclosure at the time wasn't necessary because he has more than 200,000 subscribers to his Facebook page, which makes it a "very public" forum. Netflix had also disclosed on its blog in June that it was nearing the 1 billion streaming hours milestone, he said. Mr. Hastings, who is also on the board of Facebook, added that, at any rate, such information isn't a "material" event to investors. Germany's Central Bank Cuts Forecasts (WSJ) "The cyclical outlook for the German economy has dimmed [and] there are even indications that economic activity may fall in the final quarter of 2012 and the first quarter of 2013," the Bundesbank said in its monthly report. In its semiannual economic projections, the central bank slashed its forecast for German growth next year to 0.4% from its previous estimate of 1.6% in June. It also lowered its forecast for 2012 growth to 0.7% from 1.0%. Moody's: It's Deal Or Die (NYP) The American economy will fall into “severe recession by the spring” unless Congress lessens the tax increases and spending cuts that are set to begin in January, said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. “We’ve got to nail this down; uncertainty is killing us,” Zandi told lawmakers yesterday at a Joint Economic Committee hearing in Washington...If Congress were to “kick the can down the road” by extending the current tax-and-spend policies, Zandi predicted the US would lose its Aaa rating because “it would signal that the political will is lacking to put the nation on a sustainable fiscal path.” Fiscal Cliff? France Has ‘Fiscal Mountain’: PPR CEO (CNBC) The head of one of France's biggest companies has warned that France's problems dwarf those of the U.S. in an interview with CNBC. Francois-Henri Pinault, chief executive of luxury goods company PPR, said: "When we talk about the fiscal cliff in France it's a mountain, it's much higher than a cliff. And when it comes to France the only solution that has been put on the table is tax raises, nothing about cutting expenses. So it's a completely different situation." Greece sticks to buyback plan, says will shield banks (Reuters) Greece says it is sticking to plans to close its offer to buy back its own bonds from investors on Friday in a deal that should meet a debt writedown target set by its international lenders. The government said it would shield the country's banks from any lawsuits over losses booked if they take part in the buyback. The buyback, part of a broader debt relief package worth 40 billion euros ($52 billion) agreed by Greece's euro zone and International Monetary Fund lenders last month, is central to efforts to bring its debt to manageable levels. Judge: Ganek, Steinberg conspirators (NYP) Manhattan federal judge Richard Sullivan yesterday ruled that SAC Capital money manager Michael Steinberg and Level Global co-founder David Ganek can be named co-conspirators in the current insider trading case unfolding downtown. Neither Steinberg nor Ganek has been charged in the case, but the ruling lets prosecutors submit their e-mails and instant messages as evidence in their case against Todd Newman, a former portfolio manager at Diamondback, and Anthony Chiasson, Ganek’s former Level Global partner. The feds have accused Chiasson and Newman of improperly profiting off insider tips on Dell and Nvidia. Chiasson lawyer Greg Morvillo objected, saying that Chiasson’s former analyst Sam Adondakis, who pleaded guilty, testified that he never told Ganek he had an inside source at Dell. Judge Sullivan said the evidence is “certainly circumstantial” but sufficient enough for the government’s request to be granted. Sullivan cited the “precise information” Ganek had received leading up to Dell’s earnings as well as the “large trading positions” he authorized on the computer maker. The judge relied on three e-mail communications to implicate Steinberg, one of which he said made “clear references to keeping things on the down-low and being extra sensitive.” Burglary suspect calls 911 after Springtown homeowner holds him at gunpoint (DN) In a strange flip of events, a burglary suspect called 911 early Tuesday to report that he was being held at gunpoint by a Springtown homeowner and his son. The homeowner called 911, too, but by then he was in control, holding him at gunpoint and demanding to know what he was doing in his home. “Just unlucky, I guess,” the man responded, according to a release from the Parker County Sheriff’s Department. The incident happened around 12:30 a.m. when the homeowner and his wife woke up to find an intruder in the bedroom of their home in the 100 block of Lelon Lane. The suspect, identified as 41-year-old Christopher Lance Moore of Bedford, left the home and sat in his GMC pickup, parked in the family’s driveway. The homeowner followed him with a pistol, took the suspect’s keys and blocked his getaway with his own vehicle, while his stepson trained a shotgun on Moore, Fox 4 News reports. “If he gets out of the truck, shoot him in the legs,” James Gerow told his son. “You ain’t gotta kill him; just shoot him in the legs. … If he’d got out, I’d have expected him to shoot him.” When deputies arrived, both men were on the phone with 911. Deputies asked Moore why he had broken into the home, to which he merely said he had “bad intentions.” Morgan Stanley Alters Broker Pay Plan as Revenue Bonus Takes Hit (Bloomberg) Morgan Stanley, the brokerage with the biggest corps of financial advisers, changed its wealth- management compensation plan to encourage brokers to increase revenue and allow them to buy discounted stock. The 2013 program pays a bonus of 2 to 5 percentage points of revenue for advisers who bring in new assets and are in the top 40 percent in revenue growth, according to terms outlined in a summary obtained yesterday by Bloomberg News. That comes at the expense of a 2 percentage-point reduction in the revenue bonus paid to all brokers who generate at least $750,000. JPM Bonus Bummer (Bloomberg) JPMorgan Chase’s bonus pool for the corporate and investment bank may shrink as much as 2 percent this year as the firm completes performance reviews, three executives with direct knowledge of the process said. Fed Exit Plan May Be Redrawn as Assets Near $3 Trillion (Bloomberg) A decision by the Federal Reserve to expand its bond buying next week is likely to prompt policy makers to rewrite their 18-month old blueprint for an exit from record monetary stimulus. Under the exit strategy, the Fed would start selling bonds in mid-2015 in a bid to return its holdings to pre-crisis proportions in two to three years. An accelerated buildup of assets would also mean a faster pace of sales when the time comes to exit -- increasing the risk that a jump in interest rates would crush the economic recovery. A decision by the Federal Reserve to expand its bond buying next week is likely to prompt policy makers to rewrite their 18-month old blueprint for an exit from record monetary stimulus. Under the exit strategy, the Fed would start selling bonds in mid-2015 in a bid to return its holdings to pre-crisis proportions in two to three years. An accelerated buildup of assets would also mean a faster pace of sales when the time comes to exit -- increasing the risk that a jump in interest rates would crush the economic recovery. Danger Lurks Inside The Bond Boom (WSJ) Amid the rush of bond deals, which already have topped $1 trillion in value, these managers—from BlackRock to Federated Investment Management Co.—are pointing to unusual wrinkles suggesting that now could be one of the most dangerous times in decades to lend to investment-grade companies. Interest rates are so low and bond prices so high, they warn, that there is little room left for gains. Some worry that even a small increase in interest rates—a traditional enemy of bond returns—could eat away at bond prices. College Student Poisons Roommate's Iced Tea With Bleach Following Argument (DM) A college student faces 15 years in jail after she allegedly sprayed bleach into her roommate's iced tea. Kayla Ashlyn Bonkowski, 19, was charged with felony poisoning and appeared in court on Wednesday. She reportedly told police that she had put chemicals in the drink following an argument about cleaning the dishes with her 20-year-old roommate Emily Joseph. The poisoning occurred on November 7 at the students' apartment in Union Township, located near the Mount Pleasant school of Central Michigan University, authorities said. Miss Joseph was taken to hospital for treatment but later released. After she filed a complaint, Bonkowski was arrested. The 19-year-old 'verbally admitted' to police that she put bleach in the drink because 'Joseph is mean', according to ABC. She was arraigned on Wednesday at 2pm before posting $2,000 bond. She entered a plea of not guilty to the charge of poisoning a food, drink, medicine or water supply. The college student faces up to 15 years in prison. Reached by e-mail, Bonkowski said on Wednesday morning that she needed to consult with a lawyer before commenting.

Opening Bell: 03.19.12

Goldman Sachs Board Must Act on Smith Op-Ed, Ex-Partner Writes (Bloomberg) Goldman Sachs directors must investigate a former employee’s allegations about a change in the firm’s culture, Jacki Zehner, who was a partner when she left the firm in 2002, wrote on her blog. “These are very serious accusations from a credible person in my view and I hope it does indeed provide a ‘wake-up’ call to the board of directors,” wrote Zehner, who was the first female trader promoted to partner and is married to a former partner. She is now CEO and president of Women Moving Millions, a non- profit supporting the advancement of women and girls worldwide. “It is the board that is accountable to shareholders and before they take another paycheck I hope they ask a heck of a lot of questions and get honest answers,” Zehner, 47, wrote in her March 16 commentary...Janet Tiebout Hanson, who left Goldman Sachs after almost 14 years in 1993 and in 1997 founded the women’s networking firm 85 Broads, wrote her own blog response to Smith’s op-ed piece, calling it a “cowardly act.” “By tossing a verbal hand grenade on his way out the door, he sullied the reputations of the vast majority of the people at the firm who work and live by the highest possible professional standards every single day,” wrote Hanson, who was the first woman at Goldman Sachs to be promoted into sales management. “He is just a quitter who never gave management an opportunity to respond before he verbally strafed the entire firm in print.” Is it Magic Johnson vs. Steve Cohen for Dodgers? (CBS) Cohen's appeal? Cash, mostly. Although Johnson is believed to have the highest total offer on the table (a rumored $1.6 billion), Cohen's bid has more cold, hard, redeemable U.S. currency involved ($900 million, to be precise). That may appeal to McCourt, who's facing a pricey divorce settlement with little more than exposed pocket linings and the Dodger Stadium parking lots to his sullied name. Additionally, as CBSSports.com Insider Jon Heyman has reported, Cohen may have additional credibility in the eyes of MLB because of his willingness to bring on board seasoned baseball men like Tony La Russa and former deputy commissioner Steve Greenberg. Lagarde Says World Can’t Be Lulled Into Sense of Security (Bloomberg) nternational Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde urged policy makers to be vigilant as oil prices, debt levels, and the risk of slowing growth in emerging markets threaten global economic stability. “Optimism should not give us a sense of comfort or lull us into a false sense of security,” Lagarde said today at a speech in Beijing at the China Development Forum. “We cannot go back to business as usual.” Gupta’s Lawyer Says ‘Wrong Man’ on Trial in Insider Case (Bloomberg) Gupta’s lawyer, Gary Naftalis, said that Rajaratnam had a different Goldman Sachs tipper, who gave him confidential information about Intel Corp. and Apple, the lawyer said. That Goldman source was also caught on government wiretaps passing the inside information, Naftalis said. Where Was The Bracket Born? (WSJ) Steven Murray, a Colorado Mesa University professor who has studied the history of sports, said the concept that inspired the bracket—a single-elimination sporting competition with many rounds—isn't a modern invention. He said the ancient Greeks held wrestling and boxing competitions starting around 700 B.C. where the combatants would draw lots to set pairings. If the tournament pairings were posted in a bracket form, Murray said, they probably would have been painted with pigment on scrolls, placards or walls and wouldn't have survived...By some accounts, the oldest existing sports bracket lies in the archives of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum, which houses memorabilia from the famous tennis tournament. According to the curator, Honor Godfrey, the Lawn Tennis Championship printed a bracket in the program to display the pairings in its inaugural year, 1877. Godfrey said she couldn't find a copy of that program, but she did unearth a Xeroxed copy of the program from the following year, 1878. That program, issued by the "All England Croquet and Lawn-Tennis Club" announced the "Lawn Tennis Championship Meeting," which would be contested for a prize of 19 Guineas. Inside, on a full page, is a one-sided bracket with 34 names. To make the pairings add up correctly, a certain E.R. Seymour and a certain H.F. Lawford were awarded byes. To this day, Wimbledon's program includes a bracket of the tournament field. Apple To Say Monday How It Will Use Cash Hoard (NYT) Apple has finally decided what to do with its cash hoard of nearly $100 billion. The company issued an unusual media alert on Sunday evening saying it planned to announce on Monday morning the long-awaited outcome to a discussion by its board about what to do with its cash balance. It will announce its plans in a conference call at 9 a.m. Eastern time. Goldman's God Problem Goes Away, For Now (Reuters) For the past two years, a group of religious institutions that hold Goldman shares has asked the investment bank to review executive compensation packages and has been successful in getting its proposal taken up at regular shareholders' meetings. This year, the group, including the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, again sought to have its proposal voted on by shareholders. But for the first time, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission sided with Goldman, which argued it had already complied with the request Scores Arrested as the Police Clear Zuccotti Park (City Room) The operation occurred after hundreds of people had gathered in the financial district to observe the founding of Occupy Wall Street six months ago. Earlier, protesters had embarked upon a winding march, after which police officers made initial arrests of about a dozen people near the park...Kobi Skolnick, 30, said that officers pushed him in several directions and that as he tried to walk away, he was struck from behind in the neck. “One of the police ran and hit me with a baton,” he said. Cambodia Embracing Capitalism With First IPO Since Khmer Rouge (Bloomberg) Enthusiasm about the start of trading at the exchange, which opened last July without a single listed company, extends beyond the borders of the Southeast Asian country. Investors including Templeton Emerging Markets Group Chairman Mark Mobius said they plan to participate in Cambodia’s stock market after state-owned Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority has its initial public offering next month. “The potential for investors in Cambodia is excellent,” Mobius, who oversees about $50 billion, wrote in an e-mail. “The listing of publicly traded stocks will drive up interest and demand. If a country can list its state-owned enterprises and list enough stocks so that foreign investors can get involved, then it can be very, very good.” E! Network Brings Clint Eastwood Clan (WSJ) Actor and director Clint Eastwood is about to add a credit to his nearly 60-year career: reality-television star. Mr. Eastwood; his wife, Dina; and two of his children, 18-year-old Francesca and 15-year-old Morgan, will appear in "Mrs. Eastwood & Co.," a reality series that tracks the family in Los Angeles, at their Carmel, Calif., home and beyond. The 10-episode series also will follow Overtone, a South African singing group that Mrs. Eastwood manages. The band appeared on the soundtrack of Mr. Eastwood's 2009 film "Invictus," which recounts Nelson Mandela's attempt to use rugby to help unify post-apartheid South Africa.

Opening Bell: 12.17.12

SAC E-Mails Show Steve Cohen Consulted on Key Dell Trade (Bloomberg) Two days before Dell Inc. was set to report second-quarter 2008 earnings, Jon Horvath, a technology analyst at SAC Capital Advisors LP, e-mailed his boss Michael S. Steinberg and another portfolio manager to warn that the computer maker would miss earnings estimates. “I have a 2nd hand read from someone at the company,” Horvath began the Aug. 26 message, which provided details on gross margins, expenditures and revenue. “Please keep to yourself as obviously not well known.” Steinberg, a 15-year veteran of the hedge fund founded by billionaire Steven A. Cohen, responded: “Yes normally we would never divulge data like this, so please be discreet. Thanks.” The e-mails indicate Steinberg, the longest-serving SAC employee linked to the U.S. insider-trading probe, discussed the Dell trade with Cohen. While neither has been accused of any wrongdoing, the messages were admitted as evidence at the New York insider-trading trial of two hedge-fund managers last week after a judge ruled they supported prosecutor claims that Steinberg should be considered an unindicted co-conspirator. AIG To Sell Life Insurer Stake (WSJ) AIG will sell its stake in Asian life insurer AIA Group Ltd., raising as much as $6.5 billion in what could be the second-largest deal in Asia this year. Completion of the sale will mark another step forward for AIG, which is shedding noncore assets, as it seeks to repay its debt to the U.S. government, which took over the company in a $182 billion bailout in 2008. A Shadow Over Banks As UBS Nears Libor Deal (WSJ) The Swiss bank is set to agree as soon as this week to pay roughly $1.5 billion to settle allegations of wrongdoing related to benchmarks such as the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, say people close to the talks. So far, UBS has agreed in principle with the U.S. Justice Department that a company unit in Japan will plead guilty to a criminal charge, according to a person familiar with the tentative deal. The Zurich-based parent will pay the fine in return for a deal that lets it avoid criminal prosecution. Criminal charges against individuals are expected to be filed in tandem with the settlement, according to U.S. officials briefed on the matter. The pursuit of criminal charges and the higher-than-expected fine are ominous signs for more than a dozen financial firms still under investigation. "There's no panic—yet," says someone close to one of the banks in the sprawling probe. Moody’s Gets No Respect as Bonds Shun 56% of Country Ratings (Bloomberg) The global bond market disagreed with Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s more often than not this year when the companies told investors that governments were becoming safer or more risky. Yields on sovereign securities moved in the opposite direction from what ratings suggested in 53 percent of the 32 upgrades, downgrades and changes in credit outlook, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That’s worse than the longer-term average of 47 percent, based on more than 300 changes since 1974. This year, investors ignored 56 percent of Moody’s rating and outlook changes and 50 percent of those by S&P. Economy Poised To Nudge Ahead In 2013 (WSJ) So that's nice. Boehner Opens the Door to Tax Hikes on the Wealthy (Reuters) U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner's offer to accept a tax rate increase for the wealthiest Americans knocks down a key Republican road block to a deal resolving the year-end "fiscal cliff." The question now boils down to what President Barack Obama offers in return. Such major questions, still unanswered so close to the end of the year suggest, however, that no spending and tax agreement is imminent. A source familiar with the Obama-Boehner talks confirmed that Boehner proposed extending low tax rates for everyone who has less than $1 million in net annual income, meaning tax rates would rise on all above that line. Actor Depardieu Hits Back at French PM Over Taxes (CNBC) Actor Gerard Depardieu, accused by French government leaders of trying to dodge taxes by buying a house over the border in Belgium, retorted that he was leaving because "success" was now being punished in his homeland. A popular and colourful figure in France, the 63-year-old Depardieu is the latest wealthy Frenchman to seek shelter outside his native country after tax increases by Socialist President Francois Hollande. Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault described Depardieu's behaviour as "pathetic" and unpatriotic at a time when the French are being asked to pay higher taxes to reduce a bloated national debt. "Pathetic, you said pathetic? How pathetic is that?" Depardieu said in a letter distributed to the media. "I am leaving because you believe that success, creation, talent, anything different must be sanctioned," he said. [...] The "Cyrano de Bergerac" star recently bought a house in Nechin, a Belgian village a short walk from the border with France, where 27 percent of residents are French nationals, and put up his sumptuous Parisian home up for sale. Depardieu, who has also inquired about procedures for acquiring Belgian residency, said he was handing in his passport and social security card. Singapore Establishment Challenged by Carson Block on Olam (Bloomberg) When Carson Block likened Olam International Ltd. to fraud-ridden Enron Corp., he challenged more than the accounting of the Singapore-based commodities firm. He also took on Temasek Holdings Pte, the government-owned investment company whose money has helped build the city-state into a corporate dynamo known as Singapore Inc. Temasek is Olam’s second-largest shareholder, with a 16 percent stake that has lost more than $100 million in value since Nov. 19, when Block’s Muddy Waters LLC first questioned the validity of the company’s finances and said it was betting against the stock. Temasek is also the biggest shareholder in many of the country’s best-known companies, including DBS Group Holdings Ltd., Southeast Asia’s largest bank, Singapore Telecommunications Ltd. and Singapore Airlines Ltd. “Carson Block is putting his whole reputation on this one,” said Low Chee Keong, associate professor of corporate law at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “He’s taking on the Singapore government, Singapore Inc. here.” UN court orders immediate release of Argentine ship seized by hedge funder Paul Singer over unpaid debt (AP) A United Nations court ordered the immediate release Saturday of an Argentine navy training ship held in Ghana two months ago at the request of an American hedge fund. The ARA Libertad was held Oct. 2 in the port of Tema as collateral for unpaid bonds dating from Argentina's economic crisis a decade ago. Argentina appealed to the UN's International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea for the ship's release, arguing that as a warship the Libertad is immune from being seized. In an expedited ruling, the court ordered that Ghana "forthwith and unconditionally release the frigate ARA Libertad" and ensure the ship and its crew can leave Ghanaian waters. It also ordered that the vessel should be resupplied as needed. Detaining the ship was "a source of conflict that may endanger friendly relations among states," the court said. The ruling leaves untouched the parties' rights to seek further international arbitration on the matter. Debt Loads Climb In Buyout Deals (WSJ) Private-equity firms are using almost as much debt to fund acquisitions as they did before the financial crisis, as return-hungry investors rush to buy bonds and loans backing those takeovers. The rise in borrowed money, or leverage, heralds the possibility of juicy returns for buyout groups. Ominously, the surge also brings back memories of the last credit binge around six years ago, which saddled dozens of companies with huge levels of debt. Berlusconi's Love Life Lost in Translation (CNBC) Global media reports that the former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi announced his engagement to his 28-year-old girlfriend on one of his TV Channels on Sunday, have been dismissed by native Italians who say Berlusconi has been mis-translated. Various newspapers have reported that Berlusconi is to get married for the third time, when in fact he announced that he is in love and in a relationship...Professor of Modern Italian History at University College London (UCL), John Foot, told CNBC that Pascale is a"girlfriend, nothing more." "In Italy the phrase 'Mi sono fidanzato' usually means 'I have a girlfriend or boyfriend' and not 'I am engaged to be married'. This can cause confusion abroad but is pretty clear in the Italian context," he told CNBC. Twinkies again by spring? It could happen (NBC) It’s not even Christmas, but Twinkies fans may be able to start looking forward to an Easter present. Bankrupt Hostess Brands has received a number of bids from companies interested in buying the maker of Twinkies, Ho Hos, and Wonder bread, including retail heavyweights such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Kroger Co, Bloomberg News reported Friday, quoting an unnamed person familiar with the matter...Anthony Michael Sabino, a bankruptcy attorney and a professor at St. John's University, said bankruptcy judge Robert Drain was motivated to move quickly. Bidding will likely take place by early January, since the assets — if not the treats themselves — could become stale. “I think this will move a at a fairly decent pace. He knows what’s at stake here.

(Getty Images)

Opening Bell: 1.2.18

Masayoshi Son is a one-man VC superfreak; Steve Cohen's new hedge fund is basically all compliance people; Putin wants a cryptorouble; Kiwis move heaven and earth to get drunk; and more.