Opening Bell: 12.16.15

FED; FED; FED; FED; Reindeer deliver beer to UK pubs; AND MORE FED.
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Fed Nears Decision on Interest Rates (WSJ)
The Federal Reserve is expected Wednesday to lift its interest-rate target from near zero, seven years after it pushed its benchmark rate to the floor during the financial crisis. Its biggest challenge will be communicating its decision about the path of rates in the coming years without spooking investors or upsetting the global economy.

Fight Clubs, Sleep Deprivation and Angst: Traders Await Fed (Bloomberg)
Bankers worldwide will be hitting gyms, beating the sun up and burning the midnight oil in preparation for the most hotly anticipated Federal Reserve decision in years. “It seems a good time just to go and beat the crap out of a punchbag,” said Clarke, who plans to spend a few hours at 1Rebel gym before heading back to the office for the 7 p.m. announcement.

Billionaire Sam Zell Says Recession Likely in Next 12 Months (Bloomberg)
The central bank has been too cautious and the economy would already be adjusting if it raised rates six to nine months ago, giving Chair Janet Yellen “more room if a recession is on the way,” Zell said Wednesday in an interview on Bloomberg Television. Multinational companies are laying off workers, global trade is slowing and there’s a possibility China’s economy will falter, he said.

Fitch Downgrades Brazil to Junk, With Negative Outlook (WSJ)
Fitch Ratings cut Brazil’s sovereign-credit rating to junk status on Wednesday, citing the country’s ballooning budget deficit, political turmoil and a deeper-than-expected recession.

Robbery Suspect Allegedly Shows Up To Rob Bank Again On Live TV (AP)
An Iowa television station was doing a live update on a Rochester, Minnesota, bank robbery when police say the suspect returned to rob it a second time. KIMT-TV of Mason City, Iowa, was outside Sterling State Bank in Rochester on Tuesday when a bank employee ran out and pointed out the robbery suspect. Reporter Adam Sallet broke away from the report, saying, "I have to go. I have to call 911."

House Democrats to seek testimony from Valeant in coming weeks (Reuters)
Democrats on a U.S. House of Representatives panel are planning to call Valeant Pharmaceuticals Chief Executive Michael Pearson to testify in early 2016 about steep price hikes for some of the company's drugs, a Democratic aide said.

Valeant Pharmacy Fallout to Cut 2016 Profit by $500 Million (Bloomberg)
Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc. said that the fallout and remedies from its relationship with a controversial mail-order pharmacy, Philidor Rx Services, will slash hundreds of millions of dollars from the company’s earnings this quarter and next year.

Google to Make Driverless Cars an Alphabet Company in 2016 (Bloomberg)
Google Inc. plans to make its self-driving cars unit, which will offer rides for hire, a stand-alone business under the Alphabet Inc. corporate umbrella next year, a person briefed on the company’s strategy said.

Reindeer deliver beer to UK pubs (UPI)
England's Box Steam Brewery employed the help of reindeer named Comet and Cupid to deliver beer to local Wiltshire pubs on the back of a sleigh. "We're lowering our carbon hoofprint," read the caption of a photo of sleigh driver Tony Lockyear posted on the brewery's Facebook page. The sleigh's first stop was Cross Guns pub, but the brewery's managing director says they'd be willing to travel even farther than that. "We'd be delighted to export to the North Pole," he said. "And we can lend a helping hand if there happened to be any large-scale gift distribution businesses that region experiencing a seasonal rush."

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Opening Bell: 2.25.16

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Opening Bell: 1.8.16

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Opening Bell: 04.09.12

JPMorgan Trader Iksil Fuels Prop-Trading Debate With Bets (Bloomberg) Iksil’s influence in the market has spurred some counterparts to dub him Voldemort, after the Harry Potter villain. He works in London in the bank’s chief investment office, which has assembled traders from across Wall Street to its staff of 400 who help oversee $350 billion in investments. While the firm describes the unit’s main task as hedging risks and investing excess cash, four hedge-fund managers and dealers say the trades are big enough to move indexes and resemble proprietary bets...The trades, first reported by Bloomberg News April 5, stirred debate among U.S. policy makers over the Easter-holiday weekend as they wrangle over this year’s implementation of the so-called Volcker rule, the portion of the Dodd-Frank Act that sets limits on risk-taking by banks with government backing. Taking Measure Of Citigroup And Bank Of America (NYT) Bank of America shares are up 66 percent this year, while Citigroup has risen 33 percent, amid the broader rebound in financial stocks. After staying out of the spotlight and earning $21 billion over the last two years, Citigroup’s potential problems are gaining attention again...At Barclays, the analyst Jason Goldberg said he was shocked when Citigroup did not get the go-ahead from the Fed, adding, “We had run mock stress tests with Citi passing by a fair amount.” Just as surprising, he added, has been Bank of America’s surge this year. Its performance has been a far cry from last year, when Bank of America’s stock, which closed at $9.23 on Thursday, was flirting with $5, and questions about whether it had enough capital were mounting. “If you asked me in January whether this thing would be up 66 percent, I’d have said you’re crazy,” Mr. Goldberg said, referring to Bank of America’s stock performance this year. A 'Fat Cat' With The President's Ear (WSJ) When President Barack Obama attacked "fat-cat bankers on Wall Street" in 2009, Robert Wolf had a ready response. "I said 'Mr. President, I know you think I'm overweight, but I can think of better names to call me,'" Mr. Wolf recalls. "He laughed." Humor and self-deprecation have served Mr. Wolf well in his often conflicting roles as presidential pal and Wall Street power broker. The 50-year-old president of UBS's UBS investment bank has remained a leading voice in the industry while also serving as Mr. Obama's chief Wall Street fundraiser and his current BFF (best friend in finance)...Mr. Wolf plays golf and basketball with the president and he is a frequent visitor to the White House. On vacation in Martha's Vineyard or at fundraising events, the two often bond over sports and their families, since they each have two school-age kids. As if to prove the president wrong about "fat cats," Mr. Wolf says he has lost 20 pounds in the past three months. Willing Banks Find Profits in Legal Trade With Iran (WSJ) As Western sanctions on Iran have grown tighter, some small banks have found a lucrative niche financing what remains of the legal trade with the Islamic Republic. Top-tier financial institutions including Société Générale SA GLE.FR -0.74% and Rabobank Group have stepped back from business with Iran in recent months, citing increased political risk and logistical hassles that attend even legal trade with the country. As a result, the remaining players are commanding higher fees and offering increasingly complicated services. Like Russia's First Czech-Russian Bank LLC and China's Bank of Kunlun Co. Ltd, they are typically small, obscure financial institutions often based in countries historically friendly to Iran. The firms and other intermediaries still brokering these trades are charging more than 6% per transaction for legitimate trade deals with Iran, on top of traditional banking fees, according to traders and bankers knowledgeable with the process. That is as much as triple the fees typically charged by Arab Gulf banks two years ago, before the United States and European Union significantly stiffened sanctions, according to Iranian businessmen. Easter Bunny Arrested (KTLA) An Easter Bunny was arrested this week after police found he was carrying around more than Easter eggs and candy. Joshua Lee Bolling, 24, was arrested and charged on Thursday with illegally possessing prescription narcotics. Police arrested Bolling after businesses at the Piedmont Mall in Danville, Virginia complained that the Easter Bunny was acting suspicious. "His suspicious behavior took place while he was on breaks and not during his contact with children," a police release said. UBS Faces Billionaire Olenicoff in Lawsuit Over His Tax Felony (Bloomberg) and billionaire Igor Olenicoff are scheduled to clash in court today over his claim that the bank bears blame for his failure to declare $200 million in offshore accounts on U.S. tax returns. Olenicoff, 69, a real-estate developer, pleaded guilty in 2007 to filing a false tax return, admitting he didn’t tell the Internal Revenue Service about his offshore accounts for seven years. He was sentenced to two years’ probation and ordered to pay $52 million in back taxes, fines and penalties. In 2008, he sued Zurich-based UBS, the largest Swiss bank, claiming it traded excessively in his accounts, engaged in racketeering and committed fraud by not telling him he owed U.S. taxes. He seeks as much as $1.7 billion in damages. Arguments on the bank’s motion to dismiss the case are set for today before U.S. District Judge Andrew Guilford in Santa Ana, California. Markets at the Start of a More Significant Downturn Says Marc Faber (CNBC) “The technical underpinnings of the market have been a disaster in the last couple of weeks,” Faber said on the sidelines of the Maybank Invest Asia conference. “The number of new highs have declined, the volume has been poor, insider sales just hit a record.” Faber said the weakness in economically sensitive stocks such as mining and industrial goods was particularly “disturbing.” Agencies At Odds Over New Ratings (FT) The latest example came this month when a near-$800 million bond deal backed by U.S. prime mortgages was sold to investors with triple-A ratings — provided by Standard & Poor’s and DBRS, a smaller competitor based in Canada — on some tranches. Fitch Ratings issued a statement saying it would not have rated the bonds triple A. It said it provided “feedback” on the transaction to the arranger, Credit Suisse, and “was ultimately not asked to rate the deal due to the agency’s more conservative credit stance”. Steven Vames, a Credit Suisse spokesman, said it was common for an issuer to engage multiple rating agencies to look at a deal and ultimately choose a subset of those agencies to rate it. In March, Moody’s said: “Some recent cases have come to market for which we believe increased risk has not been adequately mitigated for the level of ratings assigned by another agency.” In particular, Moody’s faulted ratings issued by S&P, Fitch and DBRS on asset-backed deals. For Big Companies, Life Is Good (WSJ) An analysis by The Wall Street Journal of corporate financial reports finds that cumulative sales, profits and employment last year among members of the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index exceeded the totals of 2007, before the recession and financial crisis. UK Cruise Retraces Titanic's Ill-Fated Voyage (Reuters) Descendants of some of the 1,500 people killed when the Titanic sank a century ago were among the passengers on a cruise ship that set off from Britain on Sunday to retrace the route of the liner's ill-fated voyage. Some donned period costume, including furs and feathered hats for women and suits and bowler hats for men, to board the MS Balmoral at Southampton on the southern English coast. The world's most famous maritime disaster has fascinated people ever since, explaining why passengers from 28 countries were prepared to pay up to 8,000 pounds ($13,000) each to be a passenger on the memorial cruise organized by a British travel firm. The Balmoral will follow in the wake of the Titanic, sailing near Cherbourg in France and then calling at Cobh inIreland before arriving at the spot where the Titanic went down...Passenger Jane Allen, whose great-uncle died on his honeymoon trip on the Titanic while her great-aunt survived, said she did not think it was "ghoulish or macabre" to go on the voyage.

Opening Bell: 11.3.15

AIG fends off Icahn; "Economists Warn of Less Sex on a Warmer Planet"; Paul Singer says run for your lives; "Drunk man woke up with tattooed beer goggles, kept them for 2 years"; and more.

Opening Bell: 3.11.15

Gundlach can't believe these "blockheads" at the Fed; New Credit Suisse CEO knows about risk unlike some people; Stress tests; Bales of weed for everyone; AND MORE.

Opening Bell: 01.08.13

Obama Said Close to Choosing Lew for Treasury Secretary (Bloomberg) President Barack Obama may choose White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew to replace Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner as soon as this week, according to two people familiar with the matter. The selection of Lew would trigger a White House shuffle for Obama’s second term as he replaces his chief of staff and moves senior aides into new roles, said the people, who requested anonymity to discuss personnel matters. While Obama hasn’t made a final decision to pick Lew, the president’s staff has been instructed to prepare for his nomination, said one of the people. Rescued by a Bailout, AIG May Sue Its Savior (NYT) The board of A.I.G. will meet on Wednesday to consider joining a $25 billion shareholder lawsuit against the government, court records show. The lawsuit does not argue that government help was not needed. It contends that the onerous nature of the rescue — the taking of what became a 92 percent stake in the company, the deal's high interest rates and the funneling of billions to the insurer's Wall Street clients — deprived shareholders of tens of billions of dollars and violated the Fifth Amendment, which prohibits the taking of private property for "public use, without just compensation." Greenberg: 'Cadre' Hurt AIG (NYP) Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, former chief executive officer of American International Group, says in a soon-to-be-published book that the company was almost destroyed by overzealous overseers. The insurer was “ultimately taken over and run aground by a cadre of auditors, lawyers, outside directors, and government officials,” according to an excerpt of “The AIG Story” on Amazon.com’s website. JPMorgan’s Staley Quits to Join BlueMountain Hedge Fund (Bloomberg) ames E. Staley, the JPMorgan Chase executive who was once seen as a possible candidate to become chief executive officer, quit to join BlueMountain Capital Management LLC, a $12 billion hedge fund with close ties to the New York bank. Staley, who was at JPMorgan for more than 34 years, most recently as chairman of the corporate and investment bank, will become a managing partner and purchase a stake in BlueMountain, the New York-based firm said today in a statement. Proceeds from the stake sale will be invested in new infrastructure, technology and people, the firm said. “I’m very excited to be joining BlueMountain at a time when sea changes in the financial industry combined with the firm’s unique strengths open up enormous possibilities to deliver value to clients,” Staley, 56, said in the statement. HSBC N.J. Client Admits Conspiracy in Offshore Tax Case (Bloomberg) A New Jersey client of HSBC Holdings pleaded guilty to charges that he hid as much as $4.7 million through Swiss and Indian accounts not declared to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. Sanjay Sethi, 52, who owns SanVision Technology Inc., conspired with HSBC bankers in New York, London and Geneva to hide assets from the IRS, he admitted yesterday in federal court in Newark, New Jersey. Sethi will pay a $2.37 million penalty for failing to file reports required for foreign accounts. “Sethi and his co-conspirators used nominee and shell companies formed in tax-haven jurisdictions and elsewhere to conceal the defendant’s ownership and control of assets and income from the IRS,” according to his charging document. Bill Ackman Says Just Getting Started Exposing Herbalife (Bloomberg) “We’re prepared to spend whatever it costs and do whatever is required to make sure that the world understands the facts about this company,” he said in a telephone interview. “We can’t imagine how the SEC or the Federal Trade Commission or any other relevant regulator will ignore what we have said.” Ackman said he would make all his information available to U.S. regulators. Chinese Tech Titans Eye Brazil (WSJ) The Chinese like emerging markets because, for a change, they don't have to start way behind established American companies. By moving into Brazil aggressively, Chinese PC maker Lenovo Group and Internet-search company Baidu hope to gain an edge over companies like Hewlett-Packard and Google In addition, some U.S. companies that are leaders at home and in Europe have a smaller footprint here because of Brazil's long history of protectionism and red tape and its high cost of labor, particularly compared with Asia. Oregon brewer Daniel Keeton creates nutritional, non-alcoholic brew for his dog (NYDN) Oregon man Daniel Keeton enjoys serving beer to customers at the brewery he works for, so why shouldn't he serve up some healthy brew for the dog he cares about? The dog brew is non-alcoholic of course, but it is a big hit with Keeton's canine Lola Jane. And now Keeton's special brew is available to anyone who wants it. After years of planning, Keeton launched his company Dawg Grog over the summer. Keeton, who works at Boneyard Brewery in Bend, says Dawg Grog is good for the dogs, and they can't seem to get enough of it. "Bend is a dog-loving community and a beer-loving community," Keeton told the Daily News on Monday. "I wanted to marry those two together in some way." Keeton spent years refining the ingredients to his special brew, which includes low-sodium vegetable broth, water and spent grain from Boneyard Brewery. "After a couple of years of trying recipes I came up with one that I am really happy with, and one that my dog is really happy with," he said. Secret Goldman Team Sidesteps Volcker After Blankfein Vow (Bloomberg) MSI wagers about $1 billion of the New York-based firm’s own funds on the stocks and bonds of companies, including a mortgage servicer and a cement producer, according to interviews with more than 20 people who worked for and with the group, some as recently as last year. The unit, headed by two 1999 Princeton University classmates, has no clients, the people said...The team of about a dozen people, based at the firm’s Manhattan headquarters, is headed by Daniel Oneglia and Geoff Adamson. Oneglia was treasurer of the Princeton eating club Tiger Inn, where his nicknames included “the Don” and “the Weasel,” according to the university’s website. Adamson was coxswain for men’s heavyweight varsity crew. A Boston Globe photo shows teammates flinging him into a Massachusetts lake after a victory. Carlyle Bags $4 Billion Profit From China Insurance Exit (Reuters) Private equity firm Carlyle Group sold its remaining stake in China's No.3 insurer CPIC in a deal valued at $793 million, exiting the business with its largest dollar profit on an investment. After several stake sales in the past two years, Carlyle will finish with a total profit of more than $4 billion, five times the $800 million it invested in CPIC between 2005 and 2007 for a 17 percent stake, Thomson Reuters calculations show. By private equity standards, where making two times cash paid and a few hundred million is considered a success, the CPIC exit is an historic deal for Carlyle. London Quantitative Hedge Funds Report Second Year of Losses (Bloomberg) The performance of the funds belies their popularity with investors, who’ve poured $108.2 billion into the pools since the end of 2008, according to Fairfield, Iowa-based BarclayHedge Ltd. While quants made money during the financial crisis when other hedge funds didn’t, they’ve since stumbled as market sentiment swung from optimism to pessimism following political announcements in Washington and Brussels, breaking up the trends they try to follow. That may force investors to withdraw money. Japan Executives Warn Yen May Get Too Weak (WSJ) The executives, who gathered at an annual New Year's reception held by Japan's three biggest corporate lobbies, praised Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's new government for its proposals to boost the economy and tame the strong yen, which erodes exporters' profits and makes it harder to sell Japan-made goods overseas. But they also cautioned that if the economy stays weak, or if the government doesn't take steps to get its bloated finances under control, investors could lose confidence in Japan and flee, sending the yen into free fall. KFC diner stumbles upon strange brain-like organ in his meal (TS) Disgusted Ibrahim Langoo was tucking into a Gladiator box meal when he spotted what he thought was a “wrinkled brain” inside a piece of chicken. KFC have apologised and, after having the photographs analysed, reckon the unsightly organ may in fact be a kidney. The 19-year-old took a photograph of the three-inch stomach-churning discovery on his mobile phone and complained to staff. Apologetic bosses at the fast-food chain – known for its Finger Lickin’ Good slogan – have now offered him vouchers for even more KFC meals.