Opening Bell: 11.30.15

Wells Fargo sales culture probed; Going public out, getting bought in; World's biggest pension fund loses $64 billion; "Brazilian police hunt Santa Claus who stole Sao Paulo helicopter"; and more.
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Wells Fargo’s Sales Culture Attracts Regulatory Attention (WSJ)
The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the San Francisco Federal Reserve are each probing the bank’s sales culture, people familiar with the matter said. The regulators want to know if the bank has pushed its employees too hard to meet sales quotas and not done enough to prevent questionable behavior, the people said.

World's Biggest Pension Fund Loses $64 Billion Amid Equity Rout (Bloomberg)
The 135.1 trillion yen ($1.1 trillion) Government Pension Investment Fund lost 5.6 percent last quarter as the value of its holdings declined by 7.9 trillion yen, according to documents released Monday in Tokyo. That’s the biggest percentage drop in comparable data starting from April 2008. The fund lost 8 trillion yen on its domestic and foreign equities and 241 billion yen on overseas debt, while Japanese bonds handed GPIF a 302 billion yen gain.

Morgan Stanley: Get Ready for a Period of Low Returns in the Market (Bloomberg)
Chief Cross-Asset Strategist Andrew Sheets is warning asset managers that the efficient frontier - the mix of stocks, bonds, and other instruments that produces the best risk-adjusted return - is about to collapse.

Forget Going Public, U.S. Companies Want to Get Bought (WSJ)
All told, the dollar volume of U.S. IPOs this year has dropped 63% from the total in 2014 to $36 billion. At the same time, more than $2.3 trillion worth of merger and acquisition deals have been announced this year, a record pace that is up 46% from the total volume of 2014.

Brazilian police hunt Santa Claus who stole Sao Paulo helicopter (Reuters)
Brazilian police are hunting for a Sao Paulo Santa Claus who kicked off the Christmas shopping season by stealing a helicopter. The thief rented the aircraft late Friday from an air taxi service at the Campo Marte airport in Sao Paulo for a Black Friday "surprise," the Sao Paulo state security secretariat said on Saturday. During the flight, the Santa forced the pilot to fly to a small farm outside of Sao Paulo city, where they were met by a third person, the secretariat said. The pilot was tied up and the two perpetrators flew away. After several hours, the pilot managed to escape and alert police. There has been no sign of the helicopter, a Robinson model 44, authorities said.

BTG Pactual CEO André Esteves Resigns After Arrest (WSJ)
Billionaire banker André Esteves resigned Sunday as chairman and chief executive of BTG Pactual, Brazil’s largest independent investment bank. The announcement was made after Brazil’s Supreme Court agreed Sunday to a request by federal prosecutors to keep Mr. Esteves in jail indefinitely. Mr. Esteves, BTG’s controlling shareholder, was arrested last week as part of an investigation into corruption at state-controlled oil company Petróleo Brasileiro SA. His attorney said Mr. Esteves denies any wrongdoing.

Private equity looks to tap hedge fund growth (FT)
Private equity groups and others are increasingly turning to hedge funds as they seek to capitalise on the maturing industry’s rich fees and growth. Credit Suisse is restarting a business that buys minority stakes in hedge fund management businesses, and Goldman Sachs is near to closing its second fund to do the same, both in private equity-style vehicles. They are joining the likes of Blackstone, Affiliated Managers Group and Dyal Capital Partners at Neuberger Berman, some of which have been buying such stakes for a decade, and are up against strategic buyers from the private equity industry including KKR and Carlyle, which buy stakes or entire funds outright.

Fed to take up 'too big to fail' emergency lending curb (Reuters)
The Federal Reserve Board will consider on Monday a proposal to curb its emergency lending powers, a change demanded by Congress after the central bank's controversial decision to aid AIG (AIG.N), Citigroup (C.N) and others in 2008. A proposed rule, to be considered by the Fed's Washington-based board in an open meeting, would require that any future emergency lending be only "broad-based" to address larger financial market problems, and not tailored to specific firms.

Cyber security agency booms in the wake of financial data breaches (NYP)
The business of insuring Wall Street against cybercrime is booming this year with a flood of financial firms signing up for protection against malicious hackers in the wake of massive breaches at JPMorgan Chase and Fidelity, among others. Crystal & Co., which has about 10,000 customers, is signing up clients for insurance policies that can top $1 million a year as companies seek protection against spiraling costs in the event their computers get ransacked, according to the firm’s founder and chief executive.

Trucker Goes Missing With 40,000 Pounds Of Meat (AP)
According to troopers, a trucker loaded $110,000 worth of meat into a trailer during a scheduled pickup and drove off. He was supposed to deliver it by Monday to a company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin -- but never showed up. A spokesman for Nicholas Meat says the customer notified him Tuesday about the missing product, which would have been enough to make 160,000 burgers. Police later discovered the driver used a fake ID to get the delivery contract...The investigation continues.

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Opening Bell: 12.19.12

UBS In $1.5 Billion Libor Fine (WSJ) As part of the deal, UBS acknowledged that dozens of its employees were involved in widespread efforts to manipulate the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, as well as other benchmark rates, which together serve as the basis for interest rates on hundreds of trillions of dollars of financial contracts around the world. UBS's unit in Japan, where much of the attempted manipulation took place, pleaded guilty to one U.S. count of fraud. Authorities on Wednesday painted a picture of "routine and widespread" attempts by UBS employees to rig Libor and the euro interbank offered rate, or Euribor. The U.K. Financial Services Authority said it had identified more than 2,000 such attempts between 2005 and 2010 with the participation or awareness of at least 45 UBS traders and executives. Regulators on Wednesday released a trove of internal UBS emails and other communications—many of them colorful and expletive-laden—in which bank traders, sometimes with the knowledge of their managers, sought to manipulate the rates in order to boost their trading profits or mask the Swiss bank's mounting financial problems in 2008. UBS Traders' 'Humongous' Libor-Fixing Boasts (CNBC) The FSA documents suggest a macho trading culture on the UBS trading floor. Trader A also said: "if you keep 6s [i.e. the six month JPY LIBOR rate] unchanged today ... I will ****ing do one humongous deal with you ... Like a 50,000 buck deal." Traders and brokers implicated in the scandal referred to each other as "the three muscateers [sic]" and "captain caos [sic]." SAC's top consumer trader draws scrutiny from U.S. authorities (Reuters) U.S. authorities are examining trading by one of SAC Capital Advisors' most successful portfolio managers, Gabriel Plotkin, as part of a probe into the $14 billion hedge fund firm's investment in Weight Watchers International Inc last year, according to a person familiar with the investigation. Plotkin, a specialist in consumer and retail stocks who makes investment decisions for more than $1.2 billion worth of assets, is among several SAC portfolio managers whose trades are being investigated, said the source, who did not want to be identified. The source would not name the other managers. Federal authorities are trying to determine whether any of SAC Capital's retail and consumer portfolio managers traded Weight Watchers shares based on non-public confidential information about the diet company, said the source and another person familiar with the investigation. The two sources said it is too soon to conclude if there was any insider trading. Authorities have not charged Plotkin with any wrongdoing. Banks See Biggest Returns Since ’03 as Employees Suffer (Bloomberg) Shareholders, impatient for the industry to boost profit, were rewarded as Wall Street firms cut jobs and pay, and exited businesses. The shrinking unnerved employees, who watched the chiefs of two big banks lose their jobs and others contend with a drop in deal making and stock trading, stiffer regulations, trading losses, rating downgrades and scandals involving interest-rate manipulation and money laundering. “There’s always grumbling on Wall Street, which is pathetic given how overpaid we all are, but there is a level of angst this year that is just unprecedented,” Gordon Dean, who left a 26-year career at Morgan Stanley (MS) to co-found a San Francisco boutique advisory firm this year, said in a telephone interview. “It’s just a profound sadness and dissatisfaction.” Greek Bond Bet Pays Off for Hedge Fund (FT) One of the world's most prominent hedge funds is sitting on a $500 million profit after making a bet that Greece would not be forced to leave the euro zone, bucking the trend in a difficult year for the industry. Third Point, headed by the billionaire US investor Dan Loeb, tendered the majority of a $1 billion position in Greek government bonds, built up only months earlier, as part of a landmark debt buyback deal by Athens on Monday, according to people familiar with the firm. The windfall marks out the New York-based firm as one of the few hedge fund managers to have profited from the eurozone crisis. Standard and Poor's, the rating agency, raised its assessment of Greece's sovereign debt by several notches on Tuesday, citing the euro zone's"strong determination" to keep the country inside the common currency area. Fitch Warns US Could Lose AAA If 'Fiscal Cliff' Hits (Reuters) "Failure to avoid the fiscal cliff.. would exacerbate rather than diminish the uncertainty over fiscal policy, and tip the US into an avoidable and unnecessary recession," Fitch said in its 2013 global outlook published on Wednesday. "That could erode medium-term growth potential and financial stability. In such a scenario, there would be an increased likelihood that the U.S. would lose its AAA status." Science explains Rudolph's red reindeer nose (CNET) A collection of Dutch scientists contributed to a paper titled "Microcirculatory investigations of nasal mucosa in reindeer Rangifer tarandus (Mammalia, Artiodactyla, Cervidae): Rudolph's nose was overheated." According to the paper, "The exceptional physical burden of flying with a sleigh with Santa Claus as a heavy load could have caused cerebral and bodily hyperthermia, resulting in an overworked nasal cooling mechanism that resembles an overheated cooling radiator in a car: Rudolph suffered from hyperemia of the nasal mucosa (a red nose) under more extreme heat loads during flight with a sleigh." Of course, scientists don't like to put all their scientific eggs into just one basket of science. The paper's authors acknowledge other theories for the red nose, including the common cold, alcoholic intoxication, or a parasitic infection of the nostrils. GM To Buy Back Stock From Treasury (WSJ) GM said it will purchase 200 million shares of stock held by the U.S. Treasury Department in the first step of the government's eventual exit from the auto maker within the next 12 to 15 months. The auto maker will pay $5.5 billion for the shares in a deal that is expected to close by the end of the year. The repurchase price of $27.50 a share represents a 7.9% premium over the closing price on Dec. 18. Berlusconi Says Italy May Be Forced to Leave the Euro Zone (Reuters) "If Germany doesn't accept that the ECB must be a real central bank, if interest rates don't come down, we will be forced to leave the euro and return to our own currency in order to be competitive," Berlusconi said in comments reported by Italian news agencies Ansa and Agi. Knight, Getco Confirm Merger (WSJ) The $1.8 billion deal for Knight, which values the firm at $1.4 billion plus $400 million in debt held by Getco, will create a trading powerhouse ranking as one of the largest players on U.S. exchanges and the main trading partner of online brokerage firms that service everyday investors. Porsche Executives Charged Over VW Bid (WSJ) Prosecutors have charged the former top executives of Porsche Automobil Holding SE with allegedly manipulating financial markets during the company's attempt to take over Volkswagen AG in 2008, lawyers representing the executives said Wednesday. A court in Stuttgart must now decide whether to open criminal proceedings against Porsche's former chief executive Wendelin Wiedeking and former finance chief Holger Härter, who are suspected of misleading investors when they denied trying to take over VW in 2008. Market manipulation in Germany can be punished with up to five years' imprisonment. From early March to October of 2008, Porsche issued at least five statements denying it was trying to raise its stake in Volkswagen to 75%, but the prosecutors allege that Messrs. Wiedeking and Härter had already decided to try to raise the stake and were preparing for the move by purchasing buy options on ordinary and preference shares of Volkswagen. The denials induced investors to sell or make bets the shares would fall by so-called short selling, the prosecutors said, which benefited Porsche by lowering the share price ahead of the planned takeover. Spanx Bandit On The Loose After JCPenney Heist (TSG) An unknown thief (or thieves) stole a whopping $4182 worth of the popular body shapers from a JCPenney in Vero Beach, according to an Indian River County Sheriff’s Office report. The Spanx theft was reported Friday afternoon after a JCPenney employee noticed “the empty rack in the women’s undergarment section.” The worker noted that the Spanx stock had been there the prior evening. A subsequent search of the store revealed that about 100 Spanx “were taken along with their plastic hangers.” The purloined undergarments--tan and black tops and bottoms--were from Spanx’s Assets Red Hot Label line, police reported. A JCPenney store manager gave cops an itemized list of the boosted body shapers, but it appears the Spanx Bandit will escape unscathed. Due to a lack of witnesses, evidence, or store surveillance video, no further investigative activity could be undertaken by a sheriff’s deputy.

Opening Bell: 04.27.12

LightSquared Lenders Pressure Falcone (WSJ) If Mr. Falcone doesn't agree to eventually leave LightSquared's board and make way for new executives and directors at the wireless communications firm, lenders are likely to balk and the company could end up filing for bankruptcy protection, they said. Shareholders Rebuke Barclays, Credit Suisse on Pay (Reuters) More than a quarter of Barclays shareholders look set to vote against the British bank's controversial pay plan for bosses and Credit Suisse is also facing a backlash as investors seek a greater share of profits. Stormy annual shareholder meetings at both banks got underway on Friday with many attendees complaining executives are getting too big a slice of bank income at their expense...Barclays Chairman Marcus Agius apologized for badly communicating the bank's pay strategy and promised to "materially" increase the dividend shareholders receive, helping to lift the bank's shares more than 4 percent. But he was heckled during his speech to a packed hall of about 2,000 shareholders and his comments about pay were greeted with laughter in some quarters. Renowned short-seller bets against Fortescue (SMH) Hedge fund short-seller Jim Chanos has singled out Fortescue Metals as a "value trap" stock, telling a New York conference that shares in billionaire Andrew Forrest's company will fall "materially." In a presentation this month to Grant's Spring Conference, a private investment forum, Mr Chanos, the boss of Kynikos Associates, told investors he feared iron ore miner Fortescue has "a somewhat promotional management team." Goldman Banker Probed For Alleged Leaks To Galleon (WSJ) U.S. prosecutors and securities regulators are investigating whether a senior Goldman investment banker gave Galleon hedge-fund traders advance word of pending health-care deals, according to people familiar with the matter. The banker, whom the people identified as Matthew Korenberg, is a San Francisco-based managing director for Goldman, a senior post. Among the merger deals being scrutinized by Los Angeles federal prosecutors and the Securities and Exchange Commission is the 2009 acquisition by Abbott Laboratories of Advanced Medical Optics, a Santa Ana, Calif., medical-device maker—a deal in which Mr. Korenberg advised Advanced Medical Optics, the people say. Another is the acquisition of APP Pharmaceuticals Inc. by Fresenius, announced in July 2008, in which Goldman advised APP, they say. Unlikely Allies (NYP) Billionaire hedge-fund mogul and Republican stalwart Paul Singer is in an odd position of late — asking the Obama administration for help to keep troubled mortgage lender ResCap out of bankruptcy. Singer, whose Elliott Associates owns debt in the mortgage lender, a unit of Ally Financial, asked Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner in recent weeks to use the government’s 74-percent stake in Ally to press for an alternative financial cure. An out-of-bankruptcy solution would help Elliott, to be sure, but would also assist the White House by keeping a unit of one of its high-profit bailouts from outright failure. But Singer, so far, hasn’t gotten any satisfaction. Geithner, insiders said, doesn’t want to use Treasury’s muscle to stop the likely Chapter 11 filing because it could be interpreted as the government overstepping its bounds. Spain Urges Focus On Reforms After Downgrade (WSJ) The government has embarked on a plan of far-reaching reforms to overhaul the economy, including new labor laws and a cleanup of the banking sector. Mr. Jiménez Latorre said these reforms will pay dividends in the medium- to long-term. The S&P ratings action "just focuses on the immediate effects," which won't be positive, Mr. Jiménez Latorre said. Dream Stenographer / Lucid Dreaming Partner (Craigslist) "I possess the wonderful gift of regularly occuring and incredibly vivid lucid dreams. In these dreams I have written Pulitzer Prize winning novels, bioengineered the cure for HIV, and brokered a lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. I have also composed Grammy winning albums. The only problem is humanity hasn't and can't benefit from my accomplishments because I forget how I achieved them shortly after waking. As a modern Renaissance man and philosopher scientist, my conscience cannot be at peace knowing I'm not doing everything possible to save my fellow human beings. Therefore I would like to a hire a dream stenographer to write down my ideas so that I may share them with the world. You, the dream stenographer, will sleep within arm's reach of me on selected nights when I feel my mind is operating at its peak performance level. Sleeping is mandatory as I'm not able to reach my optimum dream state when someone is watching me sleep. Remaining within arm's reach at all times is also mandatory so that I may wake you as quickly as possible to begin recording my stream of consciousness.Qualified applicants will be excellent note takers with unrivaled penmanship." KKR Earnings Beat Expectations (WSJ) Economic net income, a measure of private-equity firms' profitability that analysts follow because it includes both realized and unrealized investment gains, was $727.2 million, or 99 cents a share, compared to $742.5 million, or 96 cents a share, in the year-earlier period. The earnings came in at the top end of analysts' estimates, with a consensus economic net income of $486.6 million, or 74 cents a share, according to Thompson Reuters. NYSE CEO 'very disappointed' to lose out on Facebook listing (DJ) Just so you know. Wells Fargo to Buy Merlin Securities Prime Brokerage (Bloomberg) The purchase is Wells Fargo’s first foray into prime brokerage services and the bank will use the business as a foundation to expand, said Christopher Bartlett, head of equity sales and trading at the San Francisco-based lender. Prime- brokerage includes services such as lending, clearing trades and record-keeping that help hedge fund managers run their firms. Bartlett wouldn’t say how much Wells Fargo paid and a statement set to be released later today didn’t disclose the terms. Bo Xilai's Son Ticketed in Porsche (WSJ) Disputing a notion common in China that he lives a lavish lifestyle, Mr. Bo wrote to the Harvard Crimson on Tuesday saying he wished to address "rumors and allegations about myself." Among other things, "I have never driven a Ferrari," he wrote. The Wall Street Journal reported in November, based on people familiar with the episode, that Mr. Bo, the grandson of an illustrious Communist leader of the Mao era, arrived at the U.S. ambassador's residence in Beijing in a red Ferrari last year to pick up the daughter of the then-ambassador...Massachusetts Department of Transportation records show Mr. Bo was stopped by police for allegedly running stop signs in December 2010 and May 2011, one of them at 2:20 a.m., and for speeding in February 2011. The license plate of the car, which the Journal learned from someone familiar with the matter, showed it was a black 2011 Porsche Panamera registered to someone at his address.

Opening Bell: 03.19.13

BlackRock To Layoff Nearly 300 Employees (Reuters) BlackRock President Rob Kapito told employees on Monday that despite the layoffs the firm, which oversees almost $4 trillion, would continue hiring and expected to end 2013 with more employees than it currently had. "These moves will give high potential employees greater responsibility and additional career opportunities, and will make us a more agile organization better positioned to respond to changing client and market needs," Kapito said in the memo. Blackstone Said to Mull Outbidding Silver Lake for Dell LBO (Bloomberg) Blackstone is weighing a bid for Dell, the computer maker seeking offers to rival the proposed $24.4 billion buyout by its founder and Silver Lake Management LLC, said people with knowledge of the matter. Blackstone may bid as part of a group including other investors, said one of the people, who asked not to be named because the process is confidential. The New York-based private- equity firm hasn’t made a decision, another person said. Under the go-shop provision of the Silver Lake merger agreement, Dell’s board has through March 22 to seek superior proposals, and can negotiate beyond that date if it receives an offer it deems serious. Fannie Sees A Way To Repay Billions (WSJ) The rebounding housing market has helped return Fannie Mae to profitability and now might allow the government-controlled mortgage-finance company to do the once unthinkable: repay as much as $61.5 billion in rescue funds to the U.S. Treasury. The potential payment would be the upshot of an accounting move that Fannie Mae's senior executives are looking to make whereby the company would reclaim certain tax benefits that were written down shortly after the company was placed under federal control in 2008. The potential move was disclosed last week in a regulatory filing in which the company said it would delay the release of its annual report, due by Monday, as it tries to reach resolution with its accountants and regulator over the timing of the accounting move. UBS becomes latest bank to quit Euribor rates panel (Reuters) UBS said it would pull out of money market rate Euribor, one of the most prominent banks to do so after a global benchmark rate-setting scandal, in a move that renews questions about the rate's future. "We have decided to withdraw from the Euribor panel and to focus on our core funding markets Swiss franc and U.S. dollar," a UBS spokesman said, adding the decision was linked to an October decision to shut down vast parts of its investment bank. Lululemon Pulls Yoga Pants From Stores (WSJ) The yoga-apparel retailer's shares tumbled late Monday after saying it has pulled some of its popular pants from stores, after a mistake by a supplier left the pants too see-through. Lululemon Athletica said the glitch involved pants using its signature fabric, known as Luon, that arrived in stores March 1. The retailer is offering refunds to customers. Citigroup to Pay $730 Million in Bond-Lawsuit Settlement (Bloomberg) The deal would resolve a lawsuit by investors who bought Citigroup bonds and preferred stock from May 2006 through November 2008, the New York-based lender said yesterday in a statement. The accord requires court approval and would be covered by existing litigation reserves, the bank said. Ex-Calpers CEO Buenrostro Indicted Over Apollo Investment (Bloomberg) Federico Buenrostro, former chief executive officer of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, was charged with conspiring to trick the pension fund into paying millions of dollars in fees for a $3 billion investment into funds managed by Apollo Global Management. Buenrostro, 64, who led the state’s public pension fund from 2002 to 2008, was accused along with Alfred Villalobos, 69, of conspiracy to defraud the U.S., engaging in a false scheme against the U.S. and conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud in a grand jury indictment announced yesterday by U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag in San Francisco. Bernanke Tightens Hold on Fed Message Against Hawks (Bloomberg) The Fed chairman, starting tomorrow, will cut the time between the release of post-meeting statements by the Federal Open Market Committee and his news briefings, giving investors less opportunity to misperceive the Fed’s intent. In recent presentations, he has pledged to sustain easing, defending $85 billion in monthly bond purchases during congressional testimony last month and warning that “premature removal of accommodation” may weaken the expansion. Deli Workers Have Some Choice Words for Mayor Bloomberg’s New Cigarette Proposal (Daily Intel) "It's stupid. He needs to f*ck off," Fernando, the manager at M&M Market Deli on Broome Street, said. "You want to smoke, you're going to smoke no matter what. And especially at that young age, you're curious about everything." It was the principle of the thing that so irritated Fernando more than any potential loss of business. "You don't make money on cigarettes," he said. "I mean, our profit on cigarettes is 75 cents, a dollar? The whole purpose of cigarettes is to get people in — you want to buy cigarettes, then you also pick up a sandwich."

Opening Bell: 03.02.11

Financial Crisis Amnesia (WSJ) Tim Geithner: "My wife occasionally looks up from the newspaper with bewilderment while reading another story about people in the financial world or their lobbyists complaining about Wall Street reform or claiming they didn't need the Troubled Asset Relief Program. She reminds me of the panicked calls she answered for me at home late at night or early in the morning in 2008 from the then-giants of our financial system. We cannot afford to forget the lessons of the crisis and the damage it caused to millions of Americans. Amnesia is what causes financial crises. These reforms are worth fighting to preserve." IMF Says Threat Of Sharp Global Slowdown Has Eased (Reuters) So that's nice. Life as Libor Traders Knew It Seen as Abusive by Investigators (Bloomberg) Regulators probing the alleged manipulation of global interest rates are focusing on what traders involved in setting the benchmark say were routine discussions condoned by their superiors...“A few hundred people, mostly based in one city and sitting in close proximity to each other, set an index rate for trillions of dollars of securities with little or no oversight,” said Mark Sunshine, chief executive officer and chairman of Veritas Financial Partners, a Florida-based firm that provides loans to businesses and real estate companies. “That cannot continue. The mechanism itself, the oversight and the penalties if violated, are woefully inadequate.” Twitter's Slow Road To IPO (WSJ) In just six years Twitter Inc. has become the world's digital soapbox, amassing more than 100 million monthly users—from everyday people to Lady Gaga to Middle East protesters—who use the service to spread pithy updates and breaking news. Yet despite the service's growing influence on society and culture, the business behind it still has a ways to go until it's ready for an initial public offering. To understand why, travel to Cincinnati, where last June Twitter planted a staffer blocks from Procter & Gamble Co.'s headquarters and assigned him a critical task: Teach the country's biggest advertiser to use Twitter and buy its ads. But when P&G spent $150 million to promote the launch last month of a Tide laundry detergent, the company bought magazine pages, billboard spots and television commercials during the Academy Awards—and no Twitter ads. "All [P&G] brands are asking questions about what to do with Twitter and how to leverage it; nobody really had a clear, lean answer," said the staffer, J.B. Kropp. US Seeks Dismissal Of Lawsuit On AIG Takeover (Reuters) In November, Hank Greenberg's company, Starr International Co, sued the U.S. government for $25 billion, calling the 2008 federal takeover of the insurer unconstitutional. Starr sued the government in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C., which handles lawsuits seeking money from the government. It brought that lawsuit on behalf of itself and other AIG shareholders...In a filing with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, the government said although Starr may disagree with the terms to which AIG agreed, any loss resulting from that agreement should be borne by AIG and its shareholders, and not the public. Obama Back On Wall Street (Politico Morning Money) Obama raised just north of $5 million for his re-election campaign and the DNC at four events in NYC last night including a swank dinner ($35,800 per person, $71,600 per couple) at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s ABC Kitchen on East 18th Street. The dinner, the first Wall Street-heavy event since Obama doubled down on his proposed bank tax, was hosted by a handful of the President’s stalwart industry supporters including Robert Wolf, Blair Effron, Mark Gallogly, Marc Lasry and Orin Kramer. Sex Work Among Medical Students On the Rise? (ABC) Sex work among medical students is on the rise, claims a new editorial, published in the journal Student BMJ. The UK-based publication noted that students are likely seeking extreme measures to deal with their financial hardship. One in 10 students knows of another who participated in prostitution to pay their medical student loans, according to the editorial. "Mounting evidence suggests that more university students are engaging in prostitution as a means to pay increasing tuition fees, growing debts, and high living costs," Jodi Dixon, the author of the editorial, wrote. "With escalating debts, students in the United Kingdom may view prostitution as an easy way to get rich quick." Greek Swaps Headed Back to ISDA Committee (Bloomberg) Holders of credit-default swaps on Greek bonds shouldn’t tear up their contracts after yesterday’s ruling against a payout. The International Swaps & Derivatives Association said the swaps hadn’t been triggered by the European Central Bank’s exchange of Greek bonds for new securities exempt from losses taken by private investors. The group will now probably be asked to determine whether collective action clauses, or CACS, being used by Greece to impel investors to participate in a wider exchange of bonds that would trigger the swaps. Madoff moneyman Merkin near $400M AG deal (NYP) After a bitter three-year legal battle, Ezra Merkin, the Manhattan moneyman who funneled more than $2 billion to convicted Ponzi king Bernie Madoff, is nearing a settlement with the New York attorney general that could have him shell out as much as $400 million. Sources said the settlement with AG Eric Schneiderman would recover the bulk of the $470 million in fees the notorious middleman pocketed from investing his clients’ cash with Madoff. Game Changer For Zynga: No Facebook (WSJ) The San Francisco-based company, whose offerings have long been associated with Facebook as well as apps for mobile devices such as Apple Inc.'s iPhone, said a "beta," or prerelease version of what it calls the Zynga Platform, will initially allow customers to play five of its popular titles—"CityVille," "Hidden Chronicles," "Zynga Poker," "CastleVille" and "Words With Friends"—from its website. Zynga said more of its games will become available on the website over time. Cops Ticket Woman For Resting Injured Leg On Seat In Deserted Subway Train (Gothamist) Brooklyn resident Kate Wilson was riding the D train home to Sunset Park around 1 a.m. one morning in February when several police officers entered her subway car at 36th street. The subway car was mostly empty, with plenty of empty seats, and Wilson was resting her right leg—which she had injured in a race that day—on a corner of one seat. What followed was an absurd yet all too familiar encounter with overzealous, quota-filling transit cops and ended with a $50 summons.

(Getty Images)

Opening Bell: 5.11.17

Tax reform is headed the way of the Comey; hedge fund traders probed for fibbing about bonds; porn star vs sharks, round two; and more.

Opening Bell: 02.21.13

Feds Split Over When To Close Cash Spigot (WSJ) Minutes released Wednesday from the Fed's January policy meeting show officials concerned that the current easy-money policies could lead to excessive risk-taking and instability in financial markets. The Fed is buying $85 billion in mortgage and U.S. Treasury securities a month to drive down long-term rates and has promised to keep short-term rates near zero until unemployment improves. Citigroup Chairman Not Pressing Bank Breakup (WSJ) Michael E. O'Neill was among a small group of directors who after the financial crisis urged the company to weigh the pros and cons of splitting up the third-largest U.S. bank, said people familiar with the deliberations. Mr. O'Neill, now chairman, has overseen a management shake-up in the past year and is backing a broad cost-cutting plan. But exploring a breakup is no longer among his top priorities. Mr. O'Neill has concluded that breaking up Citigroup doesn't make sense now, given economic and regulatory uncertainty as well as a host of financial considerations, these people said. Wells Fargo ramps up private equity despite Volcker Rule (Reuters) The fine print of the Volcker Rule is expected to be finalized as soon as this year. Major banks such as Bank of America Corp and Citigroup are already pulling back from private equity investments ahead of the rules. But Wells Fargo is taking a different path. The bank invests in buyouts and venture capital deals largely on its own, with capital only from Wells Fargo itself and some employees. By avoiding equity from outside investors, the bank is considered to be engaging in "merchant banking," an activity that is likely to be exempt under the Volcker Rule, lawyers and people familiar with the matter said. Dimon Defends His Duel Leadership Roles (NYP) JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon has no intention of relinquishing his chairmanship, insiders say, despite renewed calls from a group of shareholders to split the roles at the nation’s biggest lender. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a granddaddy of public employee unions, as well as New York City and Connecticut pension funds, are pressuring the bank in the wake of its $6 billion “London Whale” trading blunder. The shareholders, which hold about $1 billion worth of bank shares, say the move would help to avoid a repeat of last year’s debacle, which led the board to slash Dimon’s pay in half. JPMorgan officials, though, don’t want to go as far as splitting the roles, saying their boss steered the bank successfully through the financial crisis and is well suited for both jobs. Regulator Weighs Ban For Corzine (WSJ) Two newly elected directors of the National Futures Association plan to push the agency to hold a hearing on the matter, having criticized the response of federal regulators some 16 months after the industry was shaken by the collapse of brokerage MF Global where the former New Jersey governor was chief executive. Shia LaBeouf Pulls Out Of Broadway's Orphans (NYP) Producers announced that LaBeouf parted ways with the show after just a week of rehearsals due to “creative differences,” even though the play’s scheduled to begin previews March 19. But last night LaBeouf, 26, posted e-mail exchanges on Twitter revealing divisions between him and bombastic Baldwin. In a message titled “Creative Differences” LaBeouf posted an e-mail to him from director Dan Sullivan, which reads, “I’m too old for disagreeable situations. You’re one hell of a great actor. Alec is who he is. You are who you are. You two are incompatible. I should have known it. This one will haunt me. You tried to warn me. You said you were a different breed. I didn’t get it.” Russia's Missing Billions Revealed (FT) Russia's central bank governor has lifted the lid on $49 billion in illegal capital flight - more than half of which, he says, is controlled "by one well-organized group of individuals" that he declined to name. Sergei Ignatiev, due to step down in June after 11 years in his post, is seldom outspoken about any issue other than interest rates. But he unburdened himself in an interview with the Moscow newspaper Vedomosti about money leaving the country through the back door, which he said equaled 2.5 percent of gross domestic product last year. "This might be payment for supplies of narcotics...illegal imports...bribes and kickbacks for bureaucrats...and avoiding taxes," he told the daily, which is part-owned by the Financial Times. New York Times Looks To Sell Boston Globe (CNBC) This follows the Times Company's sale of other regional papers as well as the About.com group, as it focuses in on its core asset — the New York Times brand. And with that focus, the publisher is honing in on what's really been working for the company — the New York Times subscription model. The company has retained Evercore Partners to advise on and manage the sale, but won't say who it's already talked to, or how much it thinks the assets are worth. Citi analyst Leo Kulp, who calls this a "positive move," estimates that the segment could fetch about $200 million. The segment generated $395 million in 2012 revenue, which Kulp says implies about $67 million in EBITDA in 2012. He applies a three times multiple — "on the high end of comparable large metro newspaper sales" — to give the paper a $200 million price tag. Herbalife Prez Goes On Offensive (NYP) President Des Walsh, in a conference call, said that “despite what we believe to be unprecedented, unfair and untrue attacks on this company, our business continues to do well.” Deputies: Couple started fighting over man scratching himself (WWSB) According to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, Shalamar Petrarca complained to her boyfriend, 30-year-old Ronald Howard, that it was rude and disgusting to be “scratching his testicles” while she was about to eat dinner. She told deputies that Howard began yelling at her, pushed her into the kitchen, causing her to get a scratch on her ankle, then threw her out of the house. Howard told deputies that she punched him in the eye for “scratching his balls”, and the he pushed her through the door in self-defense. Deputies say Howard had no visible injuries, but Petrarca did have a scratch on her ankle.

Opening Bell: 12.10.12

U.S. authorities probe SAC for Weight Watchers (Reuters) U.S. authorities are investigating Steven A. Cohen's SAC Capital Advisors hedge fund for possible insider trading in the shares of the popular diet company Weight Watchers International Inc, according to people familiar with the matter. The investigation focuses on trading in Weight Watchers shares in the first half of 2011, when SAC Capital had taken a sizeable position in the stock, and potentially could implicate the billionaire hedge fund manager, the sources said on Friday. Regulatory filings show that Cohen's $14 billion fund briefly held 2.1 million shares in Weight Watchers during the period under scrutiny by authorities - at which time the diet company's stock price roughly doubled. The inquiry is in its early stages and it is not clear whether anything improper was done either by SAC Capital or Cohen himself, said the people familiar with the matter, who requested anonymity. The trading in Weight Watchers would be permissible as long as it was based on fundamental research or derived from individuals who did not have access to non-public corporate information. Big Money Bets On Housing Rebound (NYT) A flurry of private-equity giants and hedge funds have spent billions of dollars to buy thousands of foreclosed single-family homes. They are purchasing them on the cheap through bank auctions, multiple listing services, short sales and bulk purchases from local investors in need of cash, with plans to fix up the properties, rent them out and watch their values soar as the industry rebounds. They have raised as much as $8 billion to invest, according to Jade Rahmani, an analyst at Keefe Bruyette & Woods. The Blackstone Group, the New York private-equity firm run by Stephen A. Schwarzman, has spent more than $1 billion to buy 6,500 single-family homes so far this year. The Colony Capital Group, headed by the Los Angeles billionaire Thomas J. Barrack Jr., has bought 4,000. Wall Street workers expecting worst bonus season since 2008 (NYP) State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli estimates that the average bonus this year will be $101,000 — a 16.5 percent decline from last year and almost a 50 percent decline since 2006, when the average was $191,360. ‘‘I don’t think this year’s bonuses are going to be very good,’’ said Dan Shaffer, CEO of Shaffer Asset Management. ‘‘I don’t believe the typical bonuses, as we used to know them, exist anymore.’’ Obama Meets with Boehner Privately at White House (Bloomberg) The meeting was the first known face-to-face conversation between the two leaders since Nov. 16, when Boehner and other congressional leaders sat down with Obama at the White House. They have talked on the telephone since then. Obama met with Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic minority leader, on Dec. 7. Investors offer about $38.8 billion in Greek debt buyback (Reuters) Greece is set to purchase back about half of its debt owned by private investors, broadly succeeding in a bond buyback that is key to the country's international bailout, a Greek government official said on Saturday. Hefner Husband Takes Insider Trading Into Playboy Bedroom (Bloomberg) Christie Hefner, [daughter of Hugh and] former chief executive officer of Playboy Enterprises Inc., said she was shocked as her husband of 15 years, William Marovitz, confessed to her that he was being investigated for suspicious trading in Playboy shares. They were in their apartment atop a 42-story Lincoln Park tower overlooking the glittering Chicago skyline and Lake Michigan on a March evening in 2010. “He told me he had been contacted by the SEC,” Hefner said later in testimony before the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which didn’t accuse her of any wrongdoing. “And when did you learn your husband owned shares of Playboy?” she was asked. “In that conversation,” she replied. Hefner's husband is just one of more than 400 persons the SEC and the U.S. Department of Justice have accused of insider trading in a crackdown in the last five years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. All involved betrayal -- of clients, employers, relatives or friends. The Hefner episode and a handful of cases like it include an especially cruel breach of trust: betrayal of a wife by a husband. Tennis star Novak buys up world's supply of donkey cheese at £400 a pound for new restaurant chain (DM) The cheese, known as pule, will be one of the key attractions at a chain of restaurants the Wimbledon champion and world number one is opening in his Serbian homeland...The Zasavica farm, which lies 50 miles west of the Serbian capital Belgrade, boasts a herd of 130 and is said to be the only place in the world where donkeys are milked for cheese. Banking Industry Squirms Over European Rate Probe (WSJ) The scandal over banks' attempted manipulation of interest rates has mostly centered on the London interbank offered rate. But Libor's lesser known cousin, the euro interbank offered rate, or Euribor, is facing mounting attacks. The European Union is expected soon to accuse multiple banks of attempted collusion in the setting of Euribor, according to people briefed on the probe. Barclays has already acknowledged trying to rig the rate, and other banks are likely to be pressed by regulators in the U.S., U.K. and elsewhere into similar admissions, according to industry and regulatory officials. Mortgage Crisis Presents a New Reckoning to Banks (NYT) Regulators, prosecutors, investors and insurers have filed dozens of new claims against Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and others, related to more than $1 trillion worth of securities backed by residential mortgages. Estimates of potential costs from these cases vary widely, but some in the banking industry fear they could reach $300 billion if the institutions lose all of the litigation. Depending on the final price tag, the costs could lower profits and slow the economic recovery by weakening the banks’ ability to lend just as the housing market is showing signs of life. Crisis Measure Nears End (WSJ) Barring action by Congress, the FDIC on Dec. 31 will stop providing an unlimited guarantee on zero-interest bank accounts used by businesses and municipalities for payroll and other services. The guarantee would then revert to the normal $250,000 in insurance per depositor at any given bank. If the guarantee isn't extended, FBR Capital Markets estimates as much as $250 billion in deposits could flow out of smaller banks to large banks or big money-market mutual funds. Stylish primate charms Toronto shoppers (The Star) A North York Ikea store attracted an unusual customer Sunday afternoon, when a tiny monkey dressed in a fitted faux shearling coat and diapers appeared in the store’s upper parking garage around 2 p.m. “It was just running around screaming,” said shopper Bronwyn Page...“It was really cute,” said Lisa Lin, another shopper. “It was smaller than a cat.” But if the monkey had hoped to stock up on Billy bookcases or Swedish meatballs, its plans were thwarted. The diminutive shopper never made it into the store, said manager Alvaro Carmona. No one was hurt in the incident, which lasted no more than half an hour, he added. Animal Services identified the monkey as a rhesus macaque, an Asian species that is prohibited in Ontario. The monkeys are known for their ability to live in diverse habitats – although Canadian winters obviously require a warm coat. The owner of the primate turned himself in to Animal Services just after 5 p.m. He was charged with owning a prohibited animal, an offence that carries a $200 fine. The seven-month-old monkey has somehow managed to escape his owner’s car in the Ikea parking lot, said animal control officer David Behan.

Opening Bell: 06.13.13

Nikkei Enters Bear Market (WSJ) Markets across Asia suffered another bruising day as investors scrambled for the exits, with Japanese stocks falling over 6% and into a bear market, and heavy losses in China and across Southeast Asia. Declines continued in U.S. stock futures and in Europe. ... The most dramatic move was in Japan, with the Nikkei Stock Average falling 6.4% to 12445.38 and putting it 21.9% down from the intraday peak reached on May 23, the day Japan's 6-month rally turned south and begun three weeks of wild trading. The big money bails on Argentina - again (Reuters) The mass exodus, which has been limited only by leftist President Cristina Fernandez's capital controls, is threatening to undermine Latin America's No. 3 economy even further by leaving it short of hard currency and new jobs. The underlying problems range from Fernandez's hostile treatment of the private sector, to severe financial distortions such as a parallel exchange rate, to the general feeling that Argentina is due for one of the periodic spasms that have racked the country every 10 years or so going back to the 1930s. EU Urges U.K. to Probe Currency Rigging in Libor’s Wake (Bloomberg) “They need to get to the bottom of it,” Sharon Bowles, 60, chairwoman of the European Parliament’s economic and monetary affairs committee and a member of the U.K. Liberal Democrat party, said in an interview. “It’s quite upsetting we have got another bad-news story. It’s time we managed to restore the reputation of our banks.” Singapore Regulator Said to Plan Bank Reprimand on Rates (Bloomberg) Singapore’s central bank plans to reprimand banks in the city-state as early as Friday following an 11-month review into how benchmark interest rates are set, five people with knowledge of the matter said. ... The monetary authority isn’t planning to impose criminal sanctions on the banks or any employees, said two of the people. MAS will probably require some of the banks to set aside funds as a deposit with the central bank for a period of time and strengthen their internal controls, two people said. U.K. Committee Says Google Avoids Tax (WSJ) Google Inc. has aggressively avoided paying corporation tax in Britain and its reputation won't be restored until it begins to pay what is due, a U.K. parliamentary committee said Thursday, in the latest sign that governments around the world are stepping up scrutiny of the tax affairs of multinational firms. In a strongly worded 64-page report, the public affairs committee also criticized the U.K. tax authority, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, for failing to challenge Google about its "highly contrived" tax arrangement and called on it to fully investigate the Internet giant. ... "It's clear from this report that the public accounts committee wants to see international companies paying more tax where their customers are located, but that's not how the rules operate today. We welcome the call to make the current system simpler and more transparent," the spokesman said. Soccer star Lionel Messi used the same trick as Apple to cut his tax bill (Qz) Lionel Messi, the Argentine soccer sensation who plays for FC Barcelona, has IP worth at least $21 million a year. That’s the value of his endorsement deals, led by his relationship with Adidas. And according to the Spanish government, he has dodged nearly €4.2 million ($5.5 million) in taxes by using that IP in a very Apple-like way. Spain accuses Messi and his father, who manages the player’s finances, of selling the rights to his brand image to shell companies in tax havens like Uruguay and Belize, and then licensing those rights to the companies and products he endorses. Such a move would shift Messi’s income from Spain, where he lives and pays taxes, to those lower-tax states. Girl group bases style on Nikkei ups and downs (Japan Times) “We base our costumes on the price of the Nikkei average of the day. For example, when the index falls below 10,000 points, we go on stage with really long skirts,” Mori explained. The higher stocks rise, the shorter their dresses get. With the Nikkei index ending above 13,000 [in late April], the four went without skirts altogether on the day of their interview with The Japan Times, instead wearing only lacy shorts. ... Machikado Keiki Japan (roughly translated as Economic Conditions on the Streets of Japan) released their debut single, “Abeno Mix,” on April 7. It pays homage to Abe’s ultraloose economic policies that have been dubbed “Abenomics” by the media. Debt Makes Comeback in Buyouts (WSJ) Shareholders in BMC Software Inc. will receive $6.9 billion to sell the corporate-software developer to a group of private-equity firms. But the buyers, led by Bain Capital LLC and Golden Gate Capital, only intend to pay $1.25 billion in cash out of their own pockets. The rest will come from debt raised by BMC to finance its takeover. The little-noticed acquisition is another milestone in the return of cheap debt and higher-risk deals to Wall Street: The cash put down by BMC's private-equity buyers is the lowest as a percentage of the purchase price of any buyout with loans exceeding $500 million since 2008, according to data-provider Thomson Reuters LPC. Apollo Tyres skids 24% on Cooper deal fears (FT) Shares in Apollo Tyres, India’s largest tyre company by sales, plunged by a quarter on Thursday amid investor concerns about higher debt related to the group’s planned $2.5bn acquisition of US-based Cooper Tire and Rubber. The all-cash deal, which would be the largest-ever Indian acquisition of a US company, is also set to increase Apollo’s consolidated net debt to equity ratio from 0.8 to around 3.8, according to Angel Broking, a Mumbai-based brokerage. “The deal will leave the company with a huge debt and that is the biggest concern,” said Yaresh Kothari, an automotive analyst at the broker. Shares in Apollo were down 24 per cent at Rs67 by 2pm in Mumbai on Thursday. The deal was announced after markets closed in Mumbai on Wednesday. Clearwire Endorses Dish’s Sweetened Bid (DealBook) Clearwire on Wednesday switched its allegiance to Dish Network, recommending that shareholders accept its bid of $4.40 a share over a rival offer from Sprint Nextel. Clearwire also postponed a shareholder vote from Thursday to June 24. Meanwhile, Dish extended its tender offer, which had been set to expire on Friday, to July 2. The change in recommendation is a setback for Sprint, which is seeking to buy the roughly 49 percent of Clearwire that it does not already own for about $3.40 a share. Its approach for Clearwire is meant to gain full control of an important affiliate whose wireless spectrum holdings are the cornerstone of a campaign to improve its network and make the company more competitive. Coty Raises About $1 Billion in Its Public Debut (DealBook) The company, whose products include Sally Hansen nail polish and perfumes endorsed by Beyoncé and Katy Perry, priced its initial public offering at $17.50 a share on Wednesday, in the middle of its expected range of $16.50 to $18.50. The stock sale values the company at about $6.7 billion. The offering, which raised just less than $1 billion in proceeds, is one of the three biggest initial offerings in the United States this year, according to data from Renaissance Capital. Washington pushed EU to dilute data protection (FT) The Obama administration successfully lobbied the European Commission to strip its data-privacy legislation of a measure that would have limited the ability of US intelligence agencies to spy on EU citizens, according to three senior EU officials. The measure – which was known within the EU as the “anti-Fisa clause”, after the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that authorises the US government to eavesdrop on international phone calls and emails – would have nullified any US request for technology and telecoms companies to hand over data on EU citizens, according to documents obtained by the Financial Times. However, the safeguard was abandoned by commission officials in January 2012, despite the assertions of Viviane Reding, the EU’s top justice official, that the exemption would have stopped the kind of surveillance recently disclosed as part of the National Security Agency’s Prism programme. Miracle-Gro’s Potty-Mouthed CEO Should Have Known Better (Bloomberg) Responding to the use of rough language during World War II, Norman Vincent Peale, a minister (and author of “The Power of Positive Thinking”), lamented to the New York Times, “The public men of other years may have cussed plenty in private, but they had the good taste to keep it out of public address.” Public expletives have become more common, and executives have moved to leverage, or perhaps weaponize, foul language to their benefit. A San Francisco appeals court has ruled that a werewolf erotica novel must be returned to Andres Martinez, an inmate of Pelican Bay State Prison, after prison guards took it away from him on the grounds that it was pornography. Although the court grants that novel in question, The Silver Crown, by Mathilde Madden, is "less than Shakespearean," it argues that the book nevertheless has literary merit and shouldn't be banned under prison obscenity laws. The court also notes that "the sex appears to be between consenting adults. No minors are involved. No bestiality is portrayed (unless werewolves count)."