Opening Bell: 01.06.16

North Korea RSVPs yes to World Economic Forum; Sanders tells Wall Street, Clinton to f*ck off; Hoodie with inflatable pillow funded on Kickstarter; and more.
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Bernie Sanders Sharpens His Attacks on Wall Street (WSJ, related)
...the Vermont senator reiterated his calls for breaking up banks that are too big to fail and to reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act, which kept commercial banks and investment banks separate. Reinstating the 1930s law would effectively break apart banking behemoths such as J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and Citigroup Inc. Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton has said that other measures would be more effective than reinstating Glass-Steagall. Mr. Sanders also intensified his attacks on Mrs. Clinton, whose campaign had criticized his policies on Monday. She “says we just need to impose a few more fees and regulations on the financial industry. I disagree,” Mr. Sanders said Tuesday. “Real Wall Street reform means breaking up the big banks and re-establishing firewalls that separate risk taking from traditional banking.”

Economy's Latest Growth Is Looking Increasingly Frail (RTE)
The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta said Monday it now believes fourth-quarter GDP grew at just a 0.7% pace, down from a prior estimate of 1.3% growth. J.P. Morgan Chase cut its estimate in half to 1% growth from 2%. Forecasting firm Macroeconomic Advisers lowered its estimate by three-tenths of a percentage point to 1.1%. If those estimates pan out, it would mean the economy ended 2015 in roughly the same precarious state in which it began the year. GDP grew 0.6% in the first quarter of 2015 before rebounding in the spring and summer.

North Korea accepts invite to World Economic Forum (NYP)
The World Economic Forum is likely to enrage US participants this year with its controversial decision to invite a government delegation from North Korea. The annual business, political and academic confab in the Swiss mountain resort town of Davos, which is aimed at improving the state of the world, draws bold-faced names like billionaire investor George Soros, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein and top tech bosses from Microsoft’s Satya Nadella and Google’s Eric Schmidt. The rogue nation’s acceptance of the WEF invite — the first extended in 18 years — comes just a year after Pyongyang was accused of working with hackers to wreak havoc inside Tokyo-headquartered Sony.

China to extend share-sale ban to calm markets (FT)
The extension of the sales ban is likely to reassure markets in the short term, but will raise fresh doubts about the government's willingness to liberalise its capital markets and reduce moral hazard.

Hypnos hoodie with inflatable pillow funded on Kickstarter (UPI)
A Kickstarter campaign to produce a hooded sweatshirt featuring an inflatable pillow in the hood has been funded nearly quadrupling its intended goal of $30,000. The premier product for Los Angeles-based brand Hypnos, the patent pending "sleep hoodie" is set to release in five styles and three colors after raising more than $100,000 on Kickstarter since launching in November..."The neck line of each hoodie is open and the size of the hood is large enough so no matter what the situation you may find yourself in, the hood can be maneuvered for optimal comfort," the hoodie's Kickstarter page states.

Ex-Soros executive raises $4.5bn for fund (FT)
George Soros’s former chief investment officer has raised $4.5bn for what will be one of the biggest hedge fund launches ever, signalling that investment stars can still attract large sums despite weak performance from the industry as a whole. Scott Bessent, who worked at Soros Fund Management until August, opened Key Square with a $2bn cheque from his former employer earlier this week, with commitments from at least eight other institutions that will more than double its size by March.

Credit Market Turmoil Could Sour Outlook for U.S. PE-Backed IPOs (Bloomberg)
Investors have already balked at offerings from PE-backed companies that were poised to be among the biggest of 2015. Supermarket chain Albertsons Cos., owned by Cerberus Capital Management, postponed its plans indefinitely, while KKR & Co.-backed First Data Corp., the payments company, priced its shares below the planned range.

Bank Rule Distorting Performance Is Repealed (Dealbook)
An “Alice in Wonderland” accounting rule that allowed stressed banks to book huge gains simply because they were stressed has been overturned. The Financial Accounting Standards Board, which formulates accounting rules, on Tuesday voted to do away with the rule, which took effect as the financial system was starting to crumble in 2007.

Drunken Ohio Motorist Noshed On Chicken Wings As She Led Cops On Chase (TSG)
When cops arrived on the scene around 7 PM, Knight drove directly toward a police cruiser before veering across the front lawn of an adjacent residence. She then led police on a 25 mph chase that concluded when she “had no more road to travel” inside a new housing development. As Knight staggered from her car, an officer "observed a brownish substance" around her mouth that appeared to be blood. But the cop subsequently “determined it to be barbecue sauce from chicken wings that Ms. Knight was eating in her vehicle.” Police spotted a styrofoam container “that had contained the chicken wings Ms. Knight had been eating.” The chicken remains, the report notes, “were scattered throughout the front interior passenger compartment.”

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Opening Bell: 04.04.13

Bank of Japan Launches Easing Campaign (WSJ) At his inaugural policy board meeting Thursday, Haruhiko Kuroda convinced the nine-member panel to agree to a major expansion of government bond purchases, including buying longer-term debt, which is designed to drive down longer-term rates. The BOJ also broke free from some self-imposed limits that the previous leadership under Masaaki Shirakawa adhered to. "Our stance is to take all the policy measures imaginable at this point to achieve the 2% price stability target in two years," Mr. Kuroda said at a news conference following the two-day meeting, one of the most closely watched in the central bank's recent history. ECB holds fire on rates (FT) The European Central Bank kept its main refinancing rate on hold at 0.75 per cent on Thursday, hours after the Bank of Japan stunned investors with a dramatic easing plan that will see it double its monetary base over two years. ... The ECB has been reluctant to cut its own interest rates further, which might involve moving into negative territory on its 0 per cent deposit rate, and would face difficulty adopting a quantitative easing programme itself. Yet inflation has been falling below the bank’s 2 per cent target, unemployment is at a record high and the 17-nation bloc remains in recession. Weekly Jobless Claims Get Weaker as Outlook Dims (Reuters) Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 28,000 to a seasonally adjusted 385,000, the highest level since November, the Labor Department said on Thursday. It was the third straight week of gains in claims. Coming on the heels of data on Wednesday showing private employers added the fewest jobs in five months in March, the report implied some weakening in job growth after hiring accelerated in February. Enron's Jeff Skilling Could Get Early Release From Prison (CNBC) Former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling, who is serving a 24-year prison term for his role in the energy giant's epic collapse, could get out of prison early under an agreement being discussed by his attorneys and the Justice Department, CNBC has learned. Skilling, who was convicted in 2006 of conspiracy, fraud and insider trading, has served just over six years. It is not clear how much his sentence would be shortened under the deal. MF Global Trustee's Report Blasts Former CEO Corzine (WSJ) A risky business strategy, failure to improve inadequate systems, as well as "negligent conduct" by former Chief Executive Officer Jon S. Corzine and others contributed to the unraveling of MF Global Holdings Ltd., a new report said Thursday. The report, released by Louis J. Freeh, the trustee for MF Global Holdings—the parent company of the U.S. brokerage firm MF Global Inc. and other units—laid much of the blame at Mr. Corzine's feet, accusing him of implementing trading strategies with minimal oversight and exceeding board-approved limits for some European trades the company made under his stewardship. Nightclub dancer "Ruby" stands up for Berlusconi outside court (Reuters) Carrying a large sign reading "The Ruby case: Are you not interested in the truth any more?", she said she had been used as part of a deliberate campaign against Berlusconi by magistrates and sections of the press. "Today I realize that there is a war under way against him that I do not feel part of, but which has dragged me in and injures me," she said, reading a prepared statement. "I do not want to be a victim of this situation." KKR to Carlyle Target $3.6 Trillion in 401(k)s Accounts (Bloomberg) Carlyle Group LP (CG), Blackstone Group LP (BX) and KKR & Co. (KKR), which usually open their doors only to clients willing to commit at least $5 million, are lowering that threshold or offering investments directly to individuals, an effort to attract fresh cash amid lackluster fundraising. Their ultimate goal: a slice of the $3.57 trillion Americans have accumulated in their 401(k) retirement plans. ... “We definitely would like to be part of 401(k) platforms,” Michael Gaviser, a managing director responsible for individual investor products at KKR, which oversees $76 billion, said in an interview at the firm’s New York headquarters. “We think about it every day because there’s so much demand.” Tiger Cubs Report a Rough Q1 (II Alpha) The first quarter was especially tough for long-short hedge fund managers - and the biggest, most prominent Tiger Cubs were not immune. ... New York-based Tiger Global, for example, was up only 2.5 percent in March and 5 percent for the first three months. Moscow Tries to Reinvent Itself as Financial Hub (NYT) “The idea is to upgrade the position of Moscow in ratings, to become closer to the leaders of innovation and to the big boys of international financial centers,” Andrei V. Sharonov, the deputy mayor for economic affairs, who led a roadshow tour promoting the city in Asia, said in an interview. ... Certainly Moscow has a lot of wooing to do. A city of traffic-clogged highways and sprawling concrete apartment blocks, Moscow is widely known as a singularly difficult place to do business. It did attract the big banking houses from New York and London after the fall of Communism. But cronyism, the lack of transparency and shady accounting gave companies pause. Weak courts and selective enforcement encouraged companies to conduct business outside Russia. North Korea Warns U.S. It’s Authorized Nuclear Attack (Bloomberg) North Korea stepped up threats against the U.S, authorizing its military to conduct a potential “smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear strike” while again restricting South Korean access to a joint industrial zone. Mark Zuckerberg’s Childhood Website Was Slightly Uglier Than Facebook (DI) "The only site where a yellow eye blinks at you." Norwegian schools reschedule exams amid Bieber fever (AFP) Bieber, who is 19, sparked chaos in Oslo in May last year when dozens of teenagers chased the singer's car in the hope of following him to a free concert at a location that was only revealed at the last minute.

Opening Bell: 01.29.13

US Wants Criminal Charges For RBS (WSJ) U.S. authorities are pushing for a settlement of interest-rate-rigging allegations with Royal Bank of Scotland that would result in a unit of the big British bank pleading guilty to criminal charges in addition to paying a penalty, according to people briefed on the negotiations. RBS executives are resisting any guilty plea, fearful that it could lead clients to cut off activity with the bank and that it could increase exposure to costly litigation, some of these people said. The negotiations reflect a newly tough stance by U.S. authorities, who until recently have faced criticism for rarely pursuing criminal action against big banks.U.S. authorities are pushing for a settlement of interest-rate-rigging allegations with Royal Bank of Scotland Group RBS.LN +0.52% PLC that would result in a unit of the big British bank pleading guilty to criminal charges in addition to paying a penalty, according to people briefed on the negotiations. RBS executives are resisting any guilty plea, fearful that it could lead clients to cut off activity with the bank and that it could increase exposure to costly litigation, some of these people said. The negotiations reflect a newly tough stance by U.S. authorities, who until recently have faced criticism for rarely pursuing criminal action against big banks. IRS can seek UBS records for taxpayers hiding income at Wegelin (Reuters) A federal judge on Monday authorized the Internal Revenue Service to seek records from UBS AG of U.S. taxpayers suspected of hiding their income in accounts with Swiss bank Wegelin. Wegelin, the oldest Swiss private bank, pleaded guilty in Manhattan federal court on January 3 to charges of helping wealthy Americans evade taxes through secret accounts and then announced it would close down as a result. Little Debbie Maker to Buy Drake’s Brand, Hostess Says (Bloomberg) Hostess Brands Inc. said McKee Foods Corp., maker of Little Debbie snacks, agreed to pay $27.5 million for its Drake’s brand and United States Bakery Inc. offered to buy certain bread brands for $28.9 million. “The contemplated purchase prices for Drake’s and the four bread brands, together with our previous announced stalking- horse bid for the majority of our bread business, means we have agreements to sell these assets for at least $440 million,” Hostess Chief Executive Officer Gregory F. Rayburn said today in a statement. United States Bakery agreed to buy the Sweetheart, Eddy’s, Standish Farms and Grandma Emilie’s bread brands, four bakeries and 14 depots, plus certain equipment, according to court papers. Iceland Wins Case On Deposit Guarantees (WSJ) Iceland won a sweeping victory in a court fight over its responsibilities to foreign depositors in Icelandic bank Landsbanki, which failed in 2008. The court of the European Free Trade Association on Monday said Iceland didn't breach European Economic Area directives on deposit guarantees by not compensating U.K. and Dutch depositors in Landsbanki's online savings accounts, known as Icesave accounts. The EFTA Surveillance Authority, or ESA, which brought the case against Iceland, had claimed that Iceland should have made sure U.K. and Dutch savers who lost money on Icesave got repaid from deposit insurance. Jamie-Lynn Sigler engaged to Lenny Dykstra's son (NYDN) The actress who played Meadow Soprano announced on Twitter Monday that she's engaged to Cutter Dykstra, a baseball player with the Washington Nationals. "So this just happened," she tweeted along with a photo showing off her huge new diamond alongside her smiling fiancé. "Thank you so much for all the love everyone. I am so happy and more importantly lucky," Sigler, 31, said in a follow-up tweet. "She said yes!!" Cutter, 23, wrote on his own Twitter feed. Sigler was by Cutter's side last month when family members filed into a federal courthouse in downtown Los Angeles for Lenny Dykstra's sentencing in his bankruptcy fraud case. Yahoo Profit Drops But Revenue Rises (WSJ) For Ms. Mayer, the results were enough that the "honeymoon period is going to last at least a couple of more quarters" while investors wait to see progress, said Sameet Sinha, an analyst at B. Riley & Co. Mayor Bloomberg Has Opinions (NYDN) In a New York Magazine profile about Christine Quinn, the City Council Speaker and candidate for mayor, the author recalled being introduced to Bloomberg at what he described as “a Christmas party for the rich” on the Upper East Side. “My friend and I followed the host over, shook Bloomberg’s hand, and my friend thanked him for his position on gun control,” the author writes. “Without even acknowledging the comment, Bloomberg gestured toward a woman in a very tight floor-length gown standing nearby and said, ‘Look at the ass on her.’” According to the article, Bloomberg also has strong opinions about Quinn’s appearance – turning up his nose when she wears flats or waits too long before coloring her hair. “The mayor has no use for flat shoes,” Quinn told the reporter. “I was at a parade with him once and he said, ‘What are those?’ and I said, ‘They’re comfortable,’ and he said, ‘I never want to hear those words out of your mouth again,’” she recalled. “He likes me in high heels.” “Another big thing with the mayor, when I am rooting … like, the couple of days a week before I need to get my hair colored, he’ll say, ‘Do you pay a lot to make your hair be two colors? Because now it’s three with the gray,’” Quinn continued. TARP Firms' Pay Unchecked (WSJ) Christy Romero, the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, on Monday said the Treasury failed to look out for taxpayers by relying "to a great extent on the companies' proposals and justifications without conducting its own independent analysis." Ms. Romero also said the Treasury hasn't put in place policies that would ensure salaries are within guidelines designed to discourage excessive risk taking by companies receiving bailout aid. Bridgewater’s Dalio Sees ‘Game Changer’ as Money Shifts (Bloomberg) Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates LP, the world’s biggest hedge fund, said 2013 will be a “game changer” for the economy as investors reallocate money after risks such as Europe’s sovereign debt crisis receded. “There’s a lot of money in a place that’s getting a very bad return and in this particular year there’s going to be, in my opinion, a shift,” Dalio said at a Bloomberg panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “The complexion of the world will change as that money goes from cash into other things. The landscape will change, particularly later in the year and beyond.” Will the New BlackBerry Win Back Corporate Customers? (WSJ) Survey says: probably not but maybe, who knows. Credit Suisse Said to Seek to Sublet at Hong Kong Skyscraper (Bloomberg) If you know anyone who's interested: Credit Suisse is seeking to sublet as much as 64,000 square feet of office space in Hong Kong’s tallest skyscraper, as prime office vacancies rise in the city amid job cuts by global financial services companies. The Zurich-based bank is looking for tenants to take up two floors, or about a fifth of the space it currently occupies at the International Commerce Centre in West Kowloon, according to two people with knowledge of the matter, who declined to be identified because the information isn’t public. Woman accused of putting poison in her privates in bid to kill husband (Mirror) A woman is being sued by her husband for allegedly trying to kill him by putting poison in her genitals and then asking him to perform oral sex. The Brazilian wife is accused of planting a toxic substance on her genitals before luring her husband to bed. Reports in the South American country suggest he was ready and willing, and only escaped death because he noticed a strange smell. The curious husband then took his wife to hospital in Sao Jose do Rito Preto to find out the cause of the unusual odour. The alleged attempt on his life was exposed when tests on his wife discovered traces of a poisonous substance down below.

Opening Bell: 03.04.13

Euro-Zone Deal Faces Hurdles (WSJ) Germany's reluctance to put its taxpayers' money at risk in other countries' banks is proving the biggest obstacle to letting the euro zone's bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism, invest directly in banks that need more capital. In Ireland, Spain, Greece and Cyprus, bailouts of struggling banks are placing heavy burdens on the state, adding to fast-rising national debts. Buffett Disappointed With Berkshire's 'Subpar' $24 Billion Gain (CNBC) Warren Buffett called 2012 "subpar" in his annual letter to shareholders as Berkshire Hathaway's per-share book value rose 14.4 percent, less than the S&P 500's 16-percent increase. It's the ninth time in 48 years this has happened. Buffett notes that the S&P has outpaced Berkshire over the past four years and if the market continues to gain this year the benchmark stock index could have its first five-year win ever. "When the partnership I ran took control of Berkshire in 1965, I could never have dreamed that a year in which we had a gain of $24.1 billion would be subpar ... But subpar it was." Buffett: Berkshire on hunt for more Heinz-like deals (Reuters) "If we get a chance to buy another Heinz, we will do that," Buffett said on CNBC. Berkshire likes the ketchup maker's business, the price of the $23 billion deal, and its partner in the transaction, private equity firm 3G Capital, Buffett said in an extended interview. HSBC Reports Declining Profit and Says Costs Are Increasing (Bloomberg) Pretax profit for 2012 dropped 5.6 percent to $20.65 billion, trailing the $23.49 billion estimate of 26 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. Revenue fell 5.4 percent to $68.33 billion from $72.28 billion, HSBC said today in a statement. Chief Executive Officer Stuart Gulliver is being thwarted in his plan to reduce costs to 48 percent to 52 percent of revenue as the London-based lender set aside $1.9 billion to settle U.S. money-laundering probes and boosted spending on compliance by $500 million. Expenses as a proportion of revenue climbed to 62.8 percent from 57.5 percent, and wage inflation in markets such as Latin America is increasing, HSBC said today. Swiss Back Executive-Pay Controls (WSJ) The plan, dubbed the "rip off" initiative by the country's media, bans so-called golden-handshake and golden-parachute severance agreements. It also requires greater transparency on loans and retirement packages for senior executives and directors. Beauty queen took my heart, then she took me for $96,000 ride: hedge-funder's suit (NYP) Rishi Bajaj, 33, says he opened his heart, then his wallet, to Miss New Mexico Teen USA 2007 Liz Kranz after she told him she was considering selling her eggs to raise cash for a relative in rehab. The sob story got the beauty a $20,000 loan from Bajaj, he claims in a Manhattan Supreme Court lawsuit. Bajaj, who co-manages the $620 million hedge fund Altai Capital, then told Kranz, 24, to pick out a car for the couple to share — and was “surprised” when she selected a 2012 BMW that came with a $17,070 down payment. They met in July 2012 and dated for “several months,” even vacationing together in Italy, where, Bajaj said in court papers, he let Kranz use his American Express card. Kranz, of the Lower East Side, was also allowed to use Bajaj’s AmEx to buy a dress for a wedding they attended. Bajaj and Kranz, who lived briefly in LA, eventually broke up. There were “disagreements about their remaining obligations to each other,” Bajaj said in court papers. He claims the pageant queen kept her hands on his credit card and racked up tens of thousands in charges...In all, Bajaj claims Kranz spent $58,860 on his credit card over three months last year. In a November letter, his lawyer accused her of “theft, fraud and other egregious misconduct” and demanded she repay the full $58,860 in credit-card purchases. 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The median duration fell to 16 weeks in January from 25 weeks in June 2010, Labor Department data show. Fewer people compete for each opening as hiring expands, and persistent long-term unemployment is starting to mend. The progress supports Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke’s view that America’s labor market remains flexible and isn’t succumbing to hysteresis, or permanently higher joblessness, similar to Europe in the 1980s, said Dale Mortensen, a professor of economics at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and 2010 Nobel laureate. That suggests continued monetary stimulus can bring about a faster healing. Slim Risks Losing World’s Richest Person Title as Troubles Mount (Bloomberg) Slim’s lead over the next-wealthiest man, Bill Gates, narrowed last week to about $4.8 billion -- the closest spread in almost a year. The Lebanese immigrant’s son, who acquired Mexico’s phone monopoly and turned it into a pan-Latin American powerhouse, lost almost a 10th of his net worth last month, winnowing his fortune to $71 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Dennis Rodman: Kim Jong Un Wants President Obama to ‘Call Him’ (ABC) In his first interview since returning to the U.S. from an unprecedented visit to North Korea last week, former NBA star Dennis Rodman said he bears a message for President Obama from the country’s oppressive leader, Kim Jong Un. “He wants Obama to do one thing: Call him,” Rodman told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on “This Week.” “He said, ‘If you can, Dennis – I don’t want [to] do war. I don’t want to do war.’ He said that to me.” The athlete also offered Kim some diplomatic advice for potential future talks with President Obama. “[Kim] loves basketball. And I said the same thing, I said, ‘Obama loves basketball.’ Let’s start there,” Rodman said.