Opening Bell: 1.20.16

Insider trading hits Supreme Court; BofA + MS to cut costs; Bill would scrutinize regulators; "Cat resembling Adam Driver adopted after photo went viral"; and more.
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Insider-Trading Clash Will Get U.S. Supreme Court Review (Bloomberg)
Under insider-trading law, prosecutors must show that a tipster received a “personal benefit” for leaking information. That much is clear. Now, the Supreme Court will define that term. Does it mean that the tipster received something concrete, like cash, in return for the tip? Or is it enough that the insider and the recipient of the tip share a close family relationship?

Bank of America, Morgan Stanley Ready to Cut Costs (WSJ)
Big U.S. and European banks already have eliminated more than 100,000 jobs since 2012, and billions of dollars in assets have come off their balance sheets as executives settled into the postcrisis era. Yet many of their returns still are trailing what investors consider their cost of capital, leading many to conclude 2016 will be another lean year. “Our No. 1 priority is to control what we can control given the market realities,” James Gorman, Morgan Stanley’s chairman and chief executive, said during Tuesday’s conference call with analysts.

Einhorn Buys Macy's Stake Saying It Could Be a Takeover Target (Bloomberg)
In discussing a real estate deal, Einhorn echoes remarks from activist investor Starboard Value, which has been pushing for Macy’s to tap its properties since July. While Macy’s rejected that idea last year, the math may have changed after the shares lost more than half their value from a July high of $72.80, the New York-based hedge fund firm wrote.

Proposed Legislation Would Add New Scrutiny of Wall Street Regulators (Dealbook)
A bipartisan group of senators is working on a package of regulatory reform bills that most likely would include a measure to subject the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Securities and Exchange Commission and other independent agencies to a heightened cost-benefit analysis and review process for major rules, according to people briefed on the plans.

Cat resembling Adam Driver adopted after photo went viral (UPI)
Twitter user Marci Robin posted a photo of the cat named Corey, who was being held at the Monmouth County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, comparing it to Driver, who recently stared as Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. "Tell me this cat at Monmouth County SPCA doesn't look like Adam Driver," she wrote...By Sunday, Corey's internet fame ultimately led to it finding a new home as the shelter announced via Twitter that the cat had been adopted.

Bill Gross: The Fed is old fashioned (CNBC)
One other concern Gross pointed out is the divide between the financial economy and the real economy. "What is going on is the financial economy is divorced from the real economy," Gross said. "You see the markets cave based on the opinion of the financial economy that is still highly levered."

Corporate Growth Reflects Global Slowdown (WSJ)
“I don’t see a huge case for growth,” said Eric Slover, U.S. stock strategist for Barclays. His bank projects 4% earnings gains for companies in the S&P 500 index, which get about 40% of their sales from overseas (and more at the biggest firms). “That’s basically just saying you’re limping into 2017,” he said.

Napoleon’s autograph is pretty valuable (NYP)
A 19th-century marriage document with signatures of French rulers Napoleon and Josephine Bonaparte will hit the market next month for the très grande price of $20,000, a New York collector said Tuesday. Napoleon and his wife were witnesses to the marriage of Gen. August Hulin and Marie Jeanne-Louise Tiersonnier on May 30, 1804, in Paris. The contract signed by Hulin and his wife amounted to a “19th-century version of a prenuptial agreement,” according to David Lowenherz, president of Lion Heart Autographs.

Giant church in shape of shoe to open in Taiwan (Reuters)
Budai, a township in southwest Taiwan, is building a church in the form of a giant high-heeled shoe, made of metal and blue glass tiles, seeking to attract more tourists to the area. Still under construction, the structure is some 17 meters (55.77 ft) tall at the highest point, the heel.

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Opening Bell: 02.22.13

AIG Swings to Loss on Sandy Costs, Sale of Unit (WSJ) AIG posted a loss of $3.96 billion, or $2.68 a share, compared with profit of $21.5 billion, or $11.31, a year earlier. Its life-insurance and retirement-services business earned $1.09 billion, up 20% from a year earlier. The company also said it would take a loss of about $4.4 billion on the planned sale of a 90% stake in the plane unit, International Lease Finance Corp. AIG's full-year net income of $3.4 billion marked a sharp decline from the $20.6 billion profit the company posted for 2011, when it adjusted its balance sheet to reflect its expected use of more than $18 billion in tax benefits. CFTC Sues CME Group, Alleging Trade-Data Leaks (WSJ) U.S. regulators took aim at the world's largest futures-exchange operator, accusing CME Group Inc. and two former employees of allegedly sharing details on clients' trades with a commodities broker. The civil charges, leveled Thursday by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, mark the first time the agency has sued CME in federal court. The case also highlights how regulators have responded to flagging confidence in the financial markets by scrutinizing more closely some of Wall Street's central pillars: the exchanges. The CFTC charged a unit of Chicago-based CME and two former employees with disclosing private information about trading in its big energy markets to an outside party between 2008 and 2010 in return for meals and entertainment. CME said Thursday it would contest the charges. "Markets are too important for this [type of allegation] to be taken lightly," Bart Chilton, a CFTC commissioner, said in an interview. Citigroup bows to shareholder pressure, overhauls pay (Reuters) Citigroup said on Thursday it has overhauled an executive pay plan that shareholders rejected last year as overly generous, revising it to tie bonus payments more closely to stock performance and profitability. The company also said it will pay new Chief Executive Mike Corbat $11.5 million for his work in 2012, in line with remuneration for his peers at other major banks. The new plan was crafted after board Chairman Michael O'Neill and other directors met with "nearly 20" shareholders representing more than 30 percent of Citigroup stock, Citi said in a filing. Watchdog Says LinkedIn paid no federal income tax over past three years (NYP) The Mountain View, Calif., social network for professionals escaped the tax man because of a rule that allows companies to deduct expenses from employee stock awards, the watchdog, the Center for Tax Justice, told The Post. It’s a longstanding accounting trick that has spared many tech firms — including Amazon and Yahoo from 2009 to 2011 — from sharing any of their profits with the IRS, the CTJ said. “On $160 million profits over the last three years, LinkedIn paid zero federal income taxes,” said the CTJ’s Rebecca Wilkins. “The stock option deduction was big enough to wipe out all their taxes.” Unemployment applications up 20,000 last week to 362,000 (AP) The Labor Department said Thursday that thefour-week average, a less volatile measure, rose 8,000 to 360,750, the highest in six weeks. Trump Twitter Mystery! Who Hacked the Donald? (CNBC) In what appears to be the latest in a minor wave of attacks on Twitter accounts belonging to out-sized corporate entities, an out-of-character tweet from Donald Trump's verified account set the Internet abuzz, and then disappeared, shortly before noon ET on Thursday. "These hoes think they classy, well that's the class I'm skippen," read the suspect remark issued from @realDonaldTrump. It was a glaring non sequitur following tweets such as "Republicans must be careful with immigration—don't give our country away," and "Wow, Macy's numbers just in-Trump is doing better than ever — thanks for your great support!" "Yes, obviously the account has been hacked and we are looking for the perpetrator," Rhona Graff, senior vice president, assistant to the president of the Trump Organization, told NBC News via email. This confirmation was quickly echoed by Trump himself, in a tweet that read, "My Twitter has been seriously hacked — and we are looking for the perpetrators." UBS to Trade Equity Swaps in China in Structured-Product Push (Bloomberg) Chinese regulators last month decided to allow UBS to trade total return swaps, Thomas Fang, the bank’s managing director for equities derivatives sales for Asia, said in a phone interview. The bank will use the derivatives to create structured products tied to local stocks, with plans to boost the size of its staff in the country for the business, Fang said. The China Securities Regulatory Commission’s press office didn’t immediately respond to a faxed request for confirmation. A Tax That May Change The Trading Game (NYT) The tax would be tiny for investors who buy and hold, but could prove to be significant for traders who place millions of orders a day. Under the proposal, a trade of shares worth 10,000 euros would face a tax of one-tenth of 1 percent, or 10 euros. A trade of a derivative would face a tax of one-hundredth of 1 percent. But that tax would be applied to the notional value, which can be very large relative to the cost of the derivative. So a credit-default swap on 1 million euros of debt would have a tax of 100 euros, or about 0.4 percent of the annual premium on such a swap. On Currencies, What's Fair Is Hard to Say (WSJ) What's the fair value of a euro? That depends on whether the answer comes from Berlin or Paris. German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday weighed in on what the currency should be worth, saying the euro's exchange rate is "normal in the historical context." French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici had a different take earlier this month, calling the euro "perhaps too strong." Economists say Ms. Merkel is right—technically. The euro's buying power is roughly where it should be, according to the Peterson Institute for International Economics, which judges currencies based on countries' current-account balance. But others caution Germany's relatively robust economy props up the euro's value; if weaker countries like Spain or Italy still had their own currencies, they'd be worth much less. Singapore GDP Growth Beats Initial Estimate as Asia Recovers (Bloomberg) Gross domestic product rose an annualized 3.3 percent in the three months through December from the previous quarter, when it shrank a revised 4.6 percent, the Trade Ministry said in a statement today. That compares with a January estimate of 1.8 percent and the median in a Bloomberg News survey for a 2 percent expansion. KFC employee fired for making out with boob-shaped mashed potatoes (DD) A KFC employee in Tennessee is out of a job after photos of the culprit making out with a plate of mashed potatoes ended up on Facebook. The mashed potatoes, which were apparently not served to some unknowing customer, had been arranged into the shape of a woman's boob. In the photos, the former employee can be found licking what we'd have to consider the underboob of the mashed potato mammary before throwing it into an oven. The photo became public information when it showed up on the Facebook page for Johnson City, Tenn., news channel WJHL, where it was shared 2,000 times and received more than 700 comments. Once the news organization was able to determine its locational origin—the KFC on North Roan Street—the suspected employee was terminated. KFC spokesman Rick Maynard confirmed the firing but would not name the culprit because that "wouldn't be appropriate." He stressed that the employee who took the photos is no longer with the company. "Nothing is more important to KFC than food safety," he wrote to WJHL. "As soon as our franchisee became aware of the issue, immediate action was taken.

Opening Bell: 06.11.12

Nasdaq CEO Lost Touch Amid Facebook Chaos (WSJ) At the end of Facebook's disastrous first day of trading May 18, the phone in Robert Greifeld's New York office rang. It was Mary Schapiro, head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, wanting an explanation from the chief executive of Nasdaq OMX Group for the epidemic of glitches and delays in one of the most anticipated initial public offerings ever. Mr. Greifeld couldn't talk. Having monitored the rocky process from Silicon Valley, where he had gone to join Facebook executives in remotely ringing the market's opening bell, he concluded the worst problems were fixed and caught a noon flight back to the East Coast. So, marooned for almost five hours in business class with a phone he says didn't work, he didn't realize that continuing breakdowns at his exchange had left countless investors not knowing how many Facebook shares they had bought or sold and at what price, nor did he know the SEC chief wanted to reach him. Three weeks later, Mr. Greifeld still isn't sure why technology systems failed during the crucial IPO. Nasdaq's failure to see the problem coming is something its engineers are still dissecting. "You wake up, you turn around, and there's a black or dull spot," Mr. Greifeld said in an interview, sucking on Life Savers candy at a conference table in his office. "You can't get away from it." Spain’s Bailout Gives Rajoy Best Chance To Fix Banks (Bloomberg) Spain’s request for as much as 100 billion euros ($125 billion) of European bailout funds may provide the country with enough money to shore up its banking system after three failed attempts in as many years. “Now that they have this money, it will hopefully finally be possible to recognize all the hidden losses and clean up the system,” Luis Garicano, a professor at the London School of Economics, said in a phone interview. The amount sought is about 2.7 times the funds deemed necessary for Spanish banks by the International Monetary Fund in a report released June 8 and five times the total requested by the Bankia group, the country’s third-biggest lender, to cleanse its balance sheet. Spain's economic misery will get worse this year despite bailout request, prime minister says (NYP) A day after the country conceded it needed outside help following months of denying it would seek assistance, Rajoy said more Spaniards will lose their jobs in a country where one out of every four are already unemployed. "This year is going to be a bad one," Rajoy said Sunday in his first comments about the rescue since it was announced the previous evening by his economy minister. IPOs Dry Up Post Facebook (WSJ) In the aftermath of Facebook's botched trading debut, the IPO market has gone three weeks without an offering, the longest drought in five months. It is the slowest stretch in initial public offerings since a four-week span at the end of 2011 and the beginning of this year, according to data from Ipreo. Greece Threatens Wall Street Jobs In Third Trading Plunge (Bloomberg) For a third consecutive year, revenue from investment banking and trading at U.S. firms may fall at least 30 percent from the first quarter, Richard Ramsden, a Goldman Sachs analyst, said in a note last week. Greece, which gave English the word “cycle,” has been the main reason each year that the second quarter soured after a promising first three months. Nickelback Review Goes Viral (Poynter) Music critic Josh Gross has written hundreds of stories about bands, but none has brought him as much attention as the brief he wrote this week about Nickelback’s upcoming appearance in Idaho, where Gross writes for the Boise Weekly. He summarizes the response: "In the past day, I have been told that I am a genius, a king amongst men and a hack that could be easily outdone by a one-armed cat. I should alternately win the Pulitzer and forcibly insert 45 pickles into my bum. There has been little middle ground. Why? Because I had the audacity to point out that seeing Canadian “rock” band Nickelback at the Idaho Center may not be the best use of one’s $45." Gross wrote of the Nickelback: "You can spend $5 to go see Nickelback this week. Or you could buy 45 hammers from the dollar store, hang them from the ceiling at eye level and spend an evening banging the demons out of your dome...$45 is also enough to see Men In Black III five times, buy a dozen Big Macs, do 10 loads of laundry or so many other experiences as banal and meaningless as seeing Nickelback but come without actually having to hear Nickelback. But if you must, the band is playing The Idaho Center on Wednesday, June 13, at 6PM tickets start at $45." Dimon Faces Washington Grilling Over Trading Debacle (Reuters) The Senate Banking Committee has asked Dimon to come prepared Wednesday to provide "a thorough accounting of the trading losses," a committee aide said. Senators will also ask what he knew about the risks involved in the trading strategy. Fed Colleague Backs Dimon (WSJ) "I do not think he should step down," Lee Bollinger said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. He said Mr. Dimon appears to have done nothing wrong, that critics attacking the Fed have a "false understanding" of how it works, and that it is "foolish" to say Mr. Dimon's presence on the New York Fed board creates an appearance of a conflict when the law requires bankers to serve on such boards. Private lunch with investor Warren Buffett sells for $3.5 million (WaPo) The previous four winning bids have all exceeded $2 million with records set every year. Last year’s winner, hedge fund manager Ted Weschler, paid $2,626,411. India Could Be First BRIC to Lose Investment Grade: S&P (Reuters) Standard & Poor's said on Monday that India could become the first of the so-called BRIC economies to lose its investment grade status, sending the rupee and stocks lower, less than two months after cutting its rating outlook for the country. "Slowing GDP growth and political roadblocks to economic policymaking are just some of the factors pushing up the risk that India could lose its investment-grade rating," the ratings agency said in a statement issued Monday on a report dated June 8. Town Considers Fines For Cursing (WSJ) Mimi Duphily was hanging baskets of pink geraniums on antique street lamps downtown for the Middleborough Beautification and Activities Group when she noticed something else that needed cleaning up—citizens' mouths. "The cursing has gotten very, very bad. I find it appalling and I won't tolerate it," said Ms. Duphily, a civic leader in the otherwise quiet New England community, which calls itself the Cranberry Capital of the World. "No person should be allowed to talk in that manner." Soon, Middleborough residents who do could risk a $20 fine. Ms. Duphily, 63 years old, tried scolding the cursers—whom she describes as young people shouting the "F word" back and forth—with a stern, "Hey kids, that's enough!" Then she conferred with the Beautification and Activities Group, which informed the Middleborough Business Coalition, which then called a summit with Middleborough Police Chief Bruce Gates, who now, in his sworn role, is trying to stomp out swears.

Opening Bell: 04.10.13

Trading Case Embroils KPMG (WSJ) Scott London, the partner in charge of audits of Herbalife Ltd. and Skechers USA Inc. until KPMG fired him last week, told The Wall Street Journal Tuesday that "I regret my actions in leaking nonpublic data to a third party." Mr. London said his leaks "started a few years back," adding that KPMG bore "no responsibility" for his actions. "What I have done was wrong and against everything" he believed in, said Mr. London, who was based in Los Angeles for the accounting firm...Neither KPMG nor Mr. London named the recipient of Mr. London's tips. The recipient isn't associated with a hedge fund or other professional investor, said one person familiar with the matter. Obama Proposes $3.77 Trillion Budget to Revive Debt Talks (Bloomberg) Obama’s budget for fiscal 2014 proposes $50 billion for roads, bridges and other public works, $1 billion to spur manufacturing innovation and $1 billion for an initiative to revamp higher education, according to administration officials who briefed reporters and asked to not be identified. It renews his request to raise $580 billion in revenue by limiting deductions and closing loopholes for top earners. Obama again seeks adoption of the Buffett rule, named for billionaire investor Warren Buffett, to impose a 30 percent minimum tax on households with more than $1 million in annual income. The administration projects the deficit for fiscal 2014 would be $744 billion, or 4.4 percent of the economy. That would mark the first budget shortfall of less than $1 trillion since Obama took office. Soros Tells Germany It Should Leave The Euro (CNBC) "The financial problem is that Germany is imposing the wrong policies on the euro zone. Austerity doesn't work. You can't shrink the debt burden by shrinking the budget deficit," Soros, the founder and chairman of Soros Fund Management,said during a speech in Germany's financial center of Frankfurt on Tuesday. Ackman Expected To Stick With JCPenney (NYP) The New York hedge-fund tycoon is expected to stay put as JCPenney’s biggest investor, with a nearly 18 percent stake, and back the retailer’s scramble to repair the damage done by ousted CEO Ron Johnson, sources told The Post. That’s despite the fact that it was Ackman who installed Johnson at the helm of the company 17 months ago with an ambitious but doomed plan to overhaul the aging department-store chain. “The priority right now is stabilizing the company and finding a permanent CEO,” according to an insider close to the situation, adding that Ackman appeared to be playing a key role in the process. Blackstone Solicits Partners For Dell Bid (WSJ) Blackstone Group LP is talking to several technology companies about potentially joining its bid to take computer maker Dell private, people familiar with the matter said. Any technology firm that joins the private-equity giant's potential bid for Dell would likely be involved in the company's strategic direction as well as having a financial role, the people said. Blackstone has discussed a number of scenarios with prospective partners, including an equity stake, debt financing or a combination of the two, one of the people said. City officials say they're powerless to stop Time Square's growing hoard of costume-wearing hustlers (NYP) The city used to tell the furry fiends where they could set up. But a court decision last year ruled the characters could not be treated like vendors because they are entertainers who work for tips. “Our ability to treat these characters as vendors was eliminated,” said city lawyer Gabriel Taussig. “And, absent of vending laws, there is no other law that comes close to dealing with where they can be located.” The most recent trouble came when Osvaldo Quiroz-Lopez, who was dressed as Cookie Monster, got into a tussle with the toddler son of Bollywood star Parmita Katkar after the mom said she didn’t have the money to tip for a picture. His bust followed a slew of similar cases, including a man dressed as Super Mario who was accused of groping a woman and an Elmo who went on an anti-Semitic rant. Some Fed Members Fear Monetary Policy Effects (CNBC) Minutes from the most recent Fed meeting suggest that members have grown increasingly concerned that things could get messy if it continues its policies too far into the future. Among those concerns are instability to the financial system, a sudden rise in interest rates and inflation. Bill Gross Raises Holdings of Treasuries to Highest Since July (Bloomberg) Gross raised the holdings of Treasuries held in his $289 billion flagship fund at Pacific Investment Management Co. to 33 percent of assets last month, the highest level since July. JPM On A Whale Of A Roll (NYP) Jamie Dimon is hoping another solid performance from his sprawling bank can finally sink the London Whale. JPMorgan Chase will kick off bank earnings as it nears the anniversary of the embarrassing trading scandal, which Dimon famously dismissed back on April 13 of last year as a “tempest in a teapot.” The bank is expected to benefit from the continuing stabilization of the US economy that could allow it to release capital reserves again — a move that will have the effect of helping boost its overall earnings. Barclays analyst Jason Goldberg estimates that JPMorgan will report earnings of $1.33 a share — 6 cents less than consensus estimates of $1.39 a share. Some analysts believe that the bank will beat the consensus by a few cents after buying back shares and hiking its dividend to 38 cents. Soup heist ends with Tamarac turnpike arrest (Sun Sentinel) A Florida Highway Patrol trooper tracking the rig's GPS signal arrested the driver for the alleged soup heist on Florida's Turnpike in Tamarac about 12:30 a.m. Sunday. Eusebio Diaz Acosta, 51, of Orlando, was charged with two counts of grand theft — one for the tractor trailer and one for the cargo, with a combined value of $350,000. "These are very unusual facts," Broward County Judge John "Jay" Hurley said as he read from Acosta's arrest report Monday morning. "The court has seen many things stolen. … This is the first time the court's ever seen $75,000 worth of soup stolen."

Opening Bell: 08.24.12

New York Fed Profits On AIG Bonds (WSJ) The Federal Reserve Bank of New York on Thursday sold the last toxic assets it acquired from the bailout of American International Group Inc., closing the book on its most controversial intervention during the financial crisis with a large gain to taxpayers. The regional Fed bank said it reaped $6.6 billion in profits from selling complex mortgage securities that it took on in late 2008 to stem AIG's cash bleed. Merkel Reiterates Greek Stance (WSJ) "The euro is more than a currency, it's an idea, and that's why it's so important," Ms. Merkel said at a news conference in Berlin, where she earlier met with Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. "I want Greece to remain a part of the euro zone and that's what I am working on." Morgan Stanley Funds In Big Facebook Bet (WSJ) U.S. mutual funds run by Morgan Stanley, the lead underwriter in Facebook Inc.'s $16 billion initial public offering, have disproportionately high investments in the social-media company, leaving fund shareholders exposed to the stock's big drop since its May 18 IPO. New data show that eight of the top nine U.S. mutual funds with Facebook shares as a percentage of total assets are run by Morgan Stanley's asset-management arm, according to fund tracker Morningstar Inc. Don't Be Fooled By Short-Selling Bans (FT) ...the conclusions from the research are clear; these economists do not think short selling bans work. For there is precious little evidence that the ban in US markets truly halted share price declines; on the contrary, the impact was (at best) neutral, they claim. However, the ban hurt market mechanisms, as liquidity dried up. HSBC In Settlement Talks With U.S. Over Money Laundering (Bloomberg) HSBC, which is under investigation by U.S. regulators for laundering funds of sanctioned nations including Iran and Sudan, is in talks to settle the matter, two people with knowledge of the case said. The bank, Europe’s largest by market value, made a $700 million provision in July for any U.S. fines after a Senate Committee found it had given terrorists and drug cartels access to the U.S. financial system. That sum might increase, Chief Executive Officer Stuart Gulliver has said. Night of drinking, sexting and a well-placed bullet leads to prison for Oregon City man (OL) The couple drank at home and at two Oregon City area bars before their late night stop at the KC's Midway, a neighborhood watering hole where Lisa Nunes played video poker and enjoyed her 10th beer -- by her count -- of the day. Lisa Nunes spoke with a man she described as a friend, who left the bar but soon began bombarding her phone with text messages and pictures of his genitals. "I'm 54 years old. I have a relationship with my husband that's non-existent," Lisa Nunes testified. Flirting with a younger man "was exciting, she said. "I was just sexting a guy. It was no big deal," she said. Thomas Nunes, 61, said he was stunned when he saw a few of the messages and a photo. He left briefly then returned, grabbed the phone and went home. He read the all text messages and combed his wife's Facebook account looking for proof of infidelity. "I couldn't believe she was doing it right in front of my face," Nunes said. "I felt betrayed." Shaken, he said he smoked marijuana and talked to his cats for about 20 minutes to calm himself and "reason out a plan." Mitt: I’d give Fed boss the heave-ho (NewsCorp) Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said yesterday that if elected, he would select a new Federal Reserve chairman, replacing Ben Bernanke, countering advice Tuesday from top economic adviser Glenn Hubbard that Bernanke should be considered for a third term. Return to Gold Standard Is Seen By Some as 'Ludicrous' (CNBC) The Financial Times reported on Friday that the Republican Party plans to set up a commission to look into re-establishing the link between the dollar and gold as part of its platform to be unveiled at the party convention in Tampa Bay, Fla., next week. But analysts told CNBC that the idea would not work. “I think it’s absolutely nonsensical,” Moorad Choudhry, head of treasury at the corporate banking division of the Royal Bank of Scotland told CNBC Friday. “There’s a very good reason they unhooked it in 1971, because their deficit didn’t enable them to maintain it with the supply of gold. In fact, is there enough gold in the world to back the U.S. debt?” Money Funds Test Geithner, Bernanke As Schapiro Defeated (Bloomberg) Money-market mutual funds, an alternative to bank accounts for individuals and companies, will test the resolve of the U.S. Federal Reserve and Treasury Department to prevent another financial crisis after the $2.6 trillion industry successfully lobbied against more regulation by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Fed Governor Daniel Tarullo has said the central bank could tighten rules on banks’ borrowing from money-market funds, and Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren has said officials have the option to force banks to back their money funds with capital. The Fed and the Treasury could also work through the Financial Stability Oversight Council, a new regulatory panel formed under the Dodd-Frank Act, to seize oversight of money funds from the SEC and grant that power to the Fed. Ryan Lochte Discusses Racing Prince Harry (NBC) Lochte had never met the prince until the royal's entourage approached him that night. "His people came over to my table and said, 'Prince Harry wants to meet you,'" he said. "I was like, 'Lets meet him.' I went over there. I was fully clothed, and he says, 'You want to race me in the pool?' I took off my shirt, jumped in and we started racing." Only hours later, all of the prince’s clothes came off in a now-infamous strip-billiards incident that took place in a hotel suite. Lochte did not get the invite to play strip billiards with the prince and his friends. “He never said anything like that,’’ Lochte said. “After our race and everything, we went our separate ways. I’m kind of happy. I don’t need that.’’

Opening Bell: 07.18.12

BofA Swings To Profit, Topping Analysts' Estimates (WSJ) Bank of America reported a profit of $2.46 billion, compared with a year-earlier loss of $8.83 billion. On a per-share basis, which reflect the payment of preferred dividends, earnings came in at 19 cents from a loss of 90 cents a year earlier. The year-ago quarter's results included a charge of $1.23 a share in mortgage-related and other adjustments. Total revenue surged 66% to $21.97 billion. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected earnings of 14 cents a share on $22.87 billion in revenue. The bank's profit was helped by reduced provisions for loan losses as credit quality continued to improve. Credit-loss provisions totaled $1.77 billion compared with $3.26 billion a year ago and $2.42 billion in the first quarter. HSBC Probe Brings Promises Regulator, Bank Will Clean Up Act (Bloomberg) HSBC executives apologized for opening their U.S. affiliate to a river of Mexican drug lords’ cash, and the U.S. regulator that failed to stem the flow vowed to prevent a repeat. “I deeply regret we did not act sooner and more decisively,” Comptroller of the Currency Thomas Curry said at a day-long hearing yesterday of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. He said his agency, which regulates HSBC’s U.S. arm, is partially responsible for letting Europe’s largest bank give terrorists, drug cartels and criminals access to the U.S. financial system and will take “a much more aggressive posture.” Opinion: Investing In America Produces The Best Returns, By Lloyd Blankfein (Politico) The question I’m most often asked these days is, “Where should I invest?” In recent years, we all know, there has been an unusually high degree of uncertainty. It falls into two broad categories: cyclical concerns that focus on the outlook for near-term economic growth and structural concerns that center on the viability of existing political or economic systems — for example, the European Union. The cyclical and structural challenges are considerable, and in some cases, even daunting. But when I meet with chief executive officers and institutional investors and they ask me where to invest, my response is that the United States remains as attractive as ever. And it would be even more attractive if it can make some short-term progress in a few key areas. Hugh Hendry: ‘Bad Things are Going to Happen’ (FT) Hendry believes that financial markets are single-digit years away from a crash that will present investors with opportunities of a lifetime. “Bad things are going to happen and I still think the closest analogy is the 1930s.” For Yahoo CEO, Two New Roles (WSJ) Just hours after Yahoo named Marissa Mayer as its new chief, the real conversation kicked in: how she will juggle pregnancy and being the CEO charged with saving a foundering Internet giant. The 37 year-old former Google executive is expecting her first child, a son, in early October. On Tuesday, she started her new job at Yahoo, which reported another quarter of lackluster sales growth...No Yahoo directors expressed concern about her pregnancy, according to Ms. Mayer, who told the board in late June, about a week after Yahoo's recruiter contacted her. She says she plans to work during her maternity leave, which will last several weeks...Ms. Mayer's husband, Zachary Bogue, a former attorney, is co-managing partner at Data Collective, an early-stage venture capital fund specializing in tech start-ups. JFK jet in laser scare (NYP) A lunatic aimed a powerful laser beam at an airliner flying over Long Island on its way into JFK — sending the pilot to the hospital and endangering the lives of the 84 people aboard. The first officer on JetBlue Flight 657 from Syracuse was treated for injuries to both eyes after the blinding flash of light lit up the cockpit Sunday night — as the FBI and Suffolk cops hunted for the person responsible, who could face federal prison time. The Embraer E190 jet landed safely, and the injured pilot — identified by sources as First Officer Robert Pemberton, 52 — was met at the gate and taken to Jamaica Hospital. Authorities believe the beam came from around West Islip, Babylon or Lindenhurst. “You wouldn’t think a pen laser would go that far of a distance,” said shocked West Babylon resident Cindy Konik, 50...A startled co-pilot, who was not identified, immediately took over the controls from his temporarily blinded colleague. “We just got lasered up here — two green flashes into the cockpit,” the captain radioed controllers at Ronkonkoma. Credit Suisse Sets Capital Plan (WSJ) moved Wednesday to stanch recent concerns about its financial strength, saying it is raising capital through the sale of convertible bonds, more divestments and the launch of another cost-savings program. It is a surprise twist in a spat with the country's central bank, which recently warned that Switzerland's number two bank wasn't strong enough to withstand a major crisis. Credit Suisse initially rejected the central bank's criticism, saying it was among the world's best-capitalized banks. This didn't impress investors, who offloaded their shares, wiping out 2 billion Swiss francs ($2.05 billion) in market value. At one point last month the bank even felt compelled to reassure investors that it was profitable in the second quarter, even though profitability over the period was never in doubt. Strong Possibility Of Further Fed Easing By September: Goldman (CNBC) In a testimony before the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke offered no new hints that the central bank is planning more easing, but repeated a pledge that the Fed “is prepared to take further action as appropriate to promote stronger economic recovery.” “While we think that a modest easing step is a strong possibility at the August or September meeting, we suspect that a large move is more likely to come after the election or in early 2013, barring rapid further deterioration in the already-cautious near term Fed economic outlook,” Goldman Sachs conomist Andrew Tilton said in a report. BlackRock's Net Slips 11% (WSJ) BlackRock reported a profit of $554 million, or $3.08 a share, compared with a year-earlier profit of $619 million, or $3.21 a share. Stripping out one-time items, per-share earnings rose to $3.10 from $3. Revenue slipped 5% to $2.23 billion. Analysts expected earnings of $3.01 a share on $2.26 billion in revenue, according to a poll conducted by Thomson Reuters. BNY Mellon profit falls 37 percent on litigation charge (Reuters) Bank of New York Mellon Corp said on Wednesday that second-quarter net income had fallen 37 percent on lower foreign exchange revenue and after it paid $212 million to settle an investor lawsuit. The world's largest custody bank reported net income of $466 million, or 39 cents a share, compared with $735 million, or 59 cents a share, a year earlier. As announced earlier this month, the results included an after-tax charge of $212 million to settle an investor lawsuit accusing the bank of imprudently investing their cash in a risky debt vehicle that collapsed in 2008. Quarterly revenue fell to $3.62 billion from $3.85 billion. Residents warned: 6-foot lizard loose in Colorado (AP) A sheriff has warned residents in a tourist town northwest of Colorado Springs that a strong, aggressive 6-foot lizard that eats small animals — including dogs and cats — is on the loose in the area. Teller County Sheriff Mike Ensinger said Tuesday that a 25-pound pet Nile monitor lizard has gone missing after breaking a mesh leash and crawling away. Ensinger said about 400 homes in the Woodland Park area were warned. He added that the animal, which escaped Monday and is known as Dino, has not bitten any humans — yet. "We have a 6-foot reptile out and about," Ensinger said. "If it gets hungry enough, we don't know what it will do." Ensinger said officers may use a tracking dog if Dino isn't located by Tuesday afternoon. "I'm not going after it," Ensinger said. "I don't do reptiles."

Opening Bell: 06.05.12

Germany Pushes EU Bank Oversight (WSJ) Though Berlin has resisted a banking union, Ms. Merkel's initiative shows Germany is willing to talk about an overhaul and is trying to focus the debate on Europe's biggest banks. "We will discuss to what extent we need to put systemically relevant banks under a specific European supervisory authority so that national interests do not play such a large role," Ms. Merkel told reporters ahead of a meeting in Berlin with European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, referring to the June 28-29 summit. Citi Bets That Proof Leads To Profits (WSJ) Seeking a shot in the arm for the ailing banking business, Citigroup Inc. C -2.30% is expanding into a little-known but fast-growing field known as identity proofing—the tedious and time-consuming task of proving people are who they say they are. The third-biggest U.S. bank by assets later this month will begin issuing digital-identity badges to the employees of Defense Department contractors, ranging from makers of high-tech engineering parts to the janitors who clean the bathrooms. Citigroup is the only financial institution that has clearance to sell the identity cards and grab a piece of a market whose annual sales could reach into the billions of dollars. But the badge business is just the beginning. Citigroup's hope is that the contractors will eventually use the plastic on which the badges are issued for more than just identity verification. If companies adopt the technology, their employees will be able to collect paychecks and pay business expenses using the cards—enabling Citigroup to collect fees on all of those transactions. John Paulson Buys Saudi Prince’s $49 Million Aspen Palace (CNBC) The lavish ranch, sold by Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan, was once the most expensive estate ever listed in the U.S., with a price tag in 2006 of $135 million. The property includes a main house with 15-bedrooms, 16-baths, and 56,000-square-feet. It also includes several side buildings, as well as a water treatment plant, gas pumps and other high-tech features. Mr. Paulson’s $49 million purchase included two properties — the 90-acre main property as well as a 38-acre property nearby called Bear Ranch. Bear Ranch and Hala Ranch together might have once fetched more than $150 million in 2006 or 2007, according to Aspen real-estate experts. Blankfein: Nyet to Petersburg leaks (NYP) Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein yesterday squarely disputed his former director Rajat Gupta’s claim that Gupta was permitted to speak about details of a 2008 board meeting with his alleged co-conspirator, hedge-fund titan Raj Rajaratnam. “Did you authorize Mr. Gupta to reveal any of the confidential information discussed at the board meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia?” prosecutor Reed Brodsky asked the CEO. “No,” Blankfein said. The details included directors discussing the possibility of Goldman buying a commercial bank or insurance company, including AIG, in the early days of the mortgage crisis. MF Global Trustee Sees $3 Billion in Potential Claims (Reuters) MF Global Holdings could have more than $3 billion in claims against its former affiliates, Louis Freeh, the trustee overseeing the wind-down of the parent company of the collapsed broker-dealer, said in his first status report. The potential recoveries for the parent company's creditors will come primarily from such claims, Freeh said in his 119-page report that was submitted to the bankruptcy court. Former bath-salts addict: 'It felt so evil' (CNN) The man is strapped onto a gurney and restrained, yet he is singing, making faces and twitching. "You know where you're at?" a paramedic asks him, but Freddy Sharp can't answer. He was, he explained later, off in his own world after overdosing on the synthetic drug known as "bath salts." "I'd never experienced anything like that," Sharp told CNN's Don Lemon. "It really actually scared me pretty bad." He said he was hallucinating about being in a mental hospital and being possessed by Jason Voorhees, the character from the "Friday the 13th" movies. "I just felt all kinds of crazy," said Sharp, now 27, of Tennessee, who says he hasn't used bath salts in months. "It felt so evil. It felt like the darkest, evilest thing imaginable." The drug made national headlines recently after a horrific crime in Miami, where a naked man chewed the face off a homeless man in what has been called a zombie-like attack. Australia Central Bank Cuts Rates to Fight Global Gloom (Reuters) Australia's central bank cut interest rates for a second month running on Tuesday in a bid to shore up confidence at home, just as finance chiefs of advanced economies around the world prepare to hold emergency talks on the euro zone debt crisis. Citing a weaker outlook abroad and only modest domestic growth, the Reserve Bank of Australia cut its cash rate by 25 basis points to 3.5 percent. Burbank Bets On Global Recession With Subprime Conviction (Bloomberg) In the dozen years that John Burbank has run his $3.4 billion Passport Capital hedge fund, he’s never been as negative on global stocks as he is now. Burbank, 48, expects that the U.S. and much of the rest of the world will slide into a recession, and he’s setting up for that event with a big wager that global stocks will fall. Most of his peers are still betting that stocks, especially those in the U.S., are more likely to rise than decline. “You have a great contrarian outcome here that will be obvious in hindsight, just like subprime was,” Burbank said in an interview last month. “I have a lot of conviction about something that others don’t seem to see clearly.” In Facebook, Options Traders Shift to Post-Earnings Bets (WSJ) While June and July bets have been most active since Facebook options began trading last Tuesday—accounting for more than half of the total options outstanding—contracts expiring in August and September have been picking up steam. Downside options that expire after the company's first public earnings report—expected at the end of July, though no date has been set—were the most actively traded Monday. The most popular positions included bets Facebook would fall below $25 a share over the next two to three months. Real life Garfield eats his way to 40-pound frame (NYDN) A tubby tabby named Garfield was dropped off at the North Shore Animal League last week tipping the scales at nearly 40 pounds, and now the no-kill shelter is hoping to turn him into the biggest loser. “He needs to lose at least 20 pounds,” shelter spokeswoman Devera Lynn said. “He’s so big, he’s like a dog. He actually has his own room.” Garfield meanders slowly in smaller spaces. He’s being moved to a foster home Tuesday in hopes that a next of kin claims the orange-and-white kitty. But if that doesn’t happen, the North Shore Animal League has received several applications from folks willing to give him a permanent home. Lynn said they’ll work with an owner to put the cat on a healthier track. “He’s actually outgoing for a cat,” Lynn said. “Once he loses that weight, he’s going to be a rock star.”

Opening Bell: 08.27.12

RBS May Be Bigger Libor Culprit Than Barclays, Says MP (Guardian) John Mann, a Labour MP on the Treasury select committee, said "City insiders" had suggested RBS's involvement may be "noticeably worse" than Barclays.' [...] Mann's comments came as a former RBS trader claimed that the bank's internal checks were so lax that anyone could change Libor rates. Court documents filed in Singapore show that Tan Chi Min, who is suing RBS for wrongful dismissal, claimed that in 2008 a trader for the bank, Will Hall, changed the Libor submission even though he was part of the Japanese yen swap desk in London. The papers show that Tan, who worked for RBS in Singapore, raised the issue at his disciplinary meeting last September, saying the bank's internal procedure in London seemed to be that "anyone can change Libor". Spain Expects to Tap About $75 Billion in Rescue Financing for Its Banks (NYT) Spain expects to use about 60 billion euros, or $75 billion, of the 100 billion euros of bank rescue financing offered by European finance ministers in June, according to the Spanish economy minister, Luis de Guindos. UK Investment Bankers Prefer Singapore (FT) The southeast-Asian city state has become the most favored location for investment bankers who are based in London, research by financial services recruitment firm Astbury Marsden shows. Of the 462 investment bankers that were asked, 31 percent said they would most like to work in Singapore. By comparison, only a fifth preferred New York and only 19 percent opted in favor of London. In the year before, 22 percent named London as their preferred location, underlining how the British capital has lost some appeal among investment bankers amid tighter regulation and a clampdown on bonuses. “A fast growing, low tax and bank friendly environment like Singapore stands as a perfect antidote to the comparatively high tax and anti-banker sentiment of London and New York,” said Mark Cameron, chief operating officer at Astbury Marsden. “Far more London-based bankers are now more willing and able to relocate the 6,700 miles to Singapore.” Another Madoff Name Nix (NYP) The second of Ponzi-schemer Bernie Madoff’s daughters-in-law is asking a court for permission to shed her now notorious married name. Deborah West Madoff, who started divorce proceedings against Bernie’s son Andrew back in 2008, has sought permission in Manhattan Supreme Court to revert to her maiden name. The couple have two children. She’s not the first in the family to do so: in 2010, her sister-in-law made a similar court application. Suits Mount In Rate Scandal (WSJ) It won't be easy for the plaintiffs to win in court even though financial institutions are likely to reach settlements with regulators in coming months totaling billions of dollars, according to people close to the Libor investigation. The plaintiffs must prove that banks successfully manipulated interest-rate benchmarks such as the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, and caused the plaintiffs to suffer a loss. Still, some investors and analysts are forecasting huge damages despite the legal hurdles. In a July report, Macquarie Research estimated that banks face potential legal liability of about $176 billion, based on the assumption that Libor was "understated" by 0.4 percentage points in 2008 and 2009. Carlyle Group marketed $25 million deal without license: Kuwaiti firm (AP) A Kuwaiti company suing the Carlyle Group over a $25 million investment that went bad is now accusing the private equity firm of marketing the deal without a license as it seeks to have its case heard in Kuwaiti courts. The latest claim by Kuwait's National Industries Group adds a new twist to its more than two-and-a-half year legal challenge to Carlyle, and could complicate the American company's relationships with other wealthy Mideast investors. NIG's lawsuit focuses on a Carlyle investment fund that was one of the earliest casualties of the financial crisis when it collapsed in 2008. The fund has been the subject of multiple lawsuits against Washington-based Carlyle. Couple in court for disturbing the peace for 'screaming, moaning and swearing during seven-hour sex romps five nights a week' (DM) Jessica Angel and Colin MacKenzie had been issued with an order requiring them to prevent ‘screaming, loud moaning, swearing and raised voices’ after police were called to their flat 20 times in just four months. However, following further complaints from neighbours, the couple were charged under the Environmental Protection Act. They face a £3,000 fine if convicted...Mr MacKenzie, 45, from Sturt, South Australia, said: ‘How can you live in a place where you can’t have sex? It’s ridiculous. Anyway, it’s mostly Jessie. The sex goes from four to seven hours, five nights a week. I’ll probably die of a heart attack – she’s almost killing me.’ German Official Opposes European Debt Purchases (NYT) The president of the German central bank said in an interview published Sunday that he remained staunchly opposed to government bond purchases by the European Central Bank, a position that could make it more difficult to deploy a weapon many economists believe is essential to saving the euro. But in a sign that the mood in Germany could be shifting, Chancellor Angela Merkel adopted a more dovish tone during a separate interview. She told members of her governing coalition to stop talking about Greece leaving the euro. “We are in a decisive phase in the battle against the euro zone debt crisis,” Ms. Merkel told ARD television. “Everyone should weigh their words very carefully.” Fed mulls open season on bond buys to help economy (Reuters) The Federal Reserve is considering a new approach to unconventional monetary policy that would give it more leeway to tailor the scale of its stimulus to changing economic winds. While fresh measures are not assured and the timing of any potential moves are still in question, some officials have said any new bond buying, or quantitative easing, could be open-ended, meaning it would not be bound by a fixed amount or time frame. "I am inclined to think that if the Fed decides on more QE it would be of the open-ended variety," said Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist at JPMorgan and a former Fed economist. BlackRock Bullish On Thai Bonds, Region’s Worst (Bloomberg) BlackRock is bullish on Thai bonds, Asia’s worst-performing in 2012, saying the central bank has room to ease monetary policy as a global slump cools demand for exports from Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy. Former SC Gov. Mark Sanford to wed ex-mistress Maria Belen Chapur (NYDN) "Yes, we are engaged, and I'm both happy and excited for what that means," Sanford said in a statement obtained by CNN. "I have long expressed my feelings for her, she's a wonderful person. My closest friends have met and love her, and I look forward to introducing her to still many more that have yet to do so." The conservative Republican's political aspirations were dashed in 2009 when he disappeared from South Carolina for five days under the pretense that he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. The father of four, who was once thought to be a potential 2012 presidential contender, later admitted that he was actually visiting Chapur, who he professed to be his "soul mate." "I've been unfaithful to my wife," Sanford said at the time. "I developed a relationship with what started as a dear, dear friend from Argentina."