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Opening Bell: 1.26.16

Paulson props up his own firm; AIG plans to slim down; Dimon and Blankfein go from billionaires to millionaires; Puerto Rican man 'plays poker' at his own wake; and more.
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JPMorgan Pays $995 Million to Settle Ambac Lawsuits (Bloomberg)
JPMorgan Chase & Co. agreed to pay almost $1 billion to resolve claims by Ambac Financial Group Inc. that it was duped into insuring mortgage bonds backed by shoddy loans, clearing the way for approval of a larger settlement over similar allegations.

Paulson Pledges Personal Holdings to Back Firm After Assets Fall (Bloomberg)
The billionaire pledged his personal investments in four of his firm’s hedge funds as additional collateral for a credit line Paulson & Co. has had with HSBC Bank USA for at least five years, according to a filing last month with the state of New York. The holdings will also serve as guarantee for a new personal line of credit for Paulson.

AIG Outlines Plans to Slim Down Amid Investor Pressure (WSJ)
American International Group Inc. will sell its broker-dealer network, conduct an initial public offering of its mortgage-insurance unit and more aggressively cut costs, Chief Executive Peter Hancock said in a strategy update Tuesday, as pressure from investor Carl Icahn grows. AIG also said it plans to return at least $25 billion over the next two years to shareholders in the form of share buybacks and dividends, funded by divestitures, operating performance and other things. The amount is higher than some analysts expected and above the $20 billion Mr. Icahn pushed for.

Hedge funds betting against China eye 'Soros moment' (Reuters)
A handful of mainly U.S.-based macro hedge funds have led bets against China's yuan since late last year and the coming weeks should tell how right they are in predicting a devaluation of between 20 and 50 percent. Since at least last September, Texas-based Corriente Partners, which made hundreds of millions of dollars foreseeing Europe's debt crisis, has been accumulating tailored "low delta" options - essentially bets with long odds - that provide for an up to 50 percent fall in the yuan...That has prompted comparisons with the victories of George Soros-led funds over European governments in the early 1990s. Chinese state media on Tuesday warned Soros and other "vicious" speculators against betting on yuan falls.

Dead man's hand: Puerto Rican man 'plays poker' at his own wake (UPI)
The family of Henry Rosario Martinez, 31, contacted the Eternal Light Funeral Home in Barceloneta after his Jan. 19 death and asked that the man's remains be embalmed, dressed and seated at a poker table during his wake. "It's the first time we did this here, but we take it as something normal, because they have done these things in other parts of the island," funeral home owner Jose Mendelez told EFE. Martinez's wake included poker games with the corpse seated at the table and friends and family posing for pictures with the deceased.

Tyco Deal Adds to U.S. Tax Exodus (WSJ)
Johnson Controls, an industrial-systems and battery maker whose Milwaukee roots stretch back to 1885, said Monday it will merge with Tyco International PLC and take on Tyco’s Irish tax address. The deal, valued at roughly $14.4 billion, is a so-called inversion that should allow Johnson Controls to lower its tax rate over time.

Stock market slump has made these execs ex-billionaires (NYP)
Twenty US execs, including GoPro Chief Executive Nick Woodman and Valeant boss Michael Pearson, have fallen out of the coveted 10-figure net worth echelon, according to Forbes, which tracks the net worth of the wealthiest in real time...Other US executives demoted from 10-figure status: Jamie Dimon, chairman and chief executive at JPMorgan Chase and Lloyd Blankfein, chairman and chief executive at Goldman Sachs.

Mohamed El-Erian warns about a day of reckoning (CNBC)
Allianz Chief Economic Adviser Mohamed El-Erian said Tuesday the world economy is at the end of the era of borrowing growth and profits from the future in the form of easy monetary policies. "Either we validate the financial asset prices and growth faster, or alternatively we will slip into a global recession with financial disorder," El-Erian told CNBC's "Squawk Box." He put a timetable of about three years on the outcome. "The path we're on right now — and that we've been on for a while— is ending," the former Pimco co-CEO said, advocating central banks step back and allow economies to determine their own futures.

Sumo Militia Man Dares Chris Christie To Match We'd Pay To See (HP)
Kelly Gneiting, now encamped with the Bundy militia at Malheur National Wildlife Preserve in Oregon, issued one bizarre proposition to Republican hopeful and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie: Win just one of 10 sumo matches against him, and the group will disperse. But if Christie loses all 10, well, ya gotta listen above.

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Opening Bell: 11.21.12

Germany Hints At More Financing (WSJ) Germany on Wednesday signaled its willingness to provide additional financing for the euro zone's bailout fund and accept lower interest on loans to Athens, in order to get the Greek rescue back on track and free the next tranche of about €44 billion ($56.40 billion) in loans for the euro zone's weakest member. Merkel Sees Chance For Greek Deal Monday (Reuters) "I believe there are chances, one doesn't know for sure, but there are chances to get a solution on Monday," Merkel told the Bundestag lower house of parliament in a debate on the German budget. But the longing for one act, one miracle solution, one truth that means all our problems are gone tomorrow...this will not be fulfilled. What was neglected over years, over decades, cannot be taken care of overnight and therefore we will need to continue to move step by step." H-P Says It Was Duped (WSJ) The technology giant said that an internal investigation had revealed "serious accounting improprieties" and "outright misrepresentations" in connection with U.K. software maker Autonomy, which H-P acquired for $11.1 billion in October 2011. "There appears to have been a willful sustained effort" to inflate Autonomy's revenue and profitability, said Chief Executive Meg Whitman. "This was designed to be hidden." Michael Lynch, Autonomy's founder and former CEO, fired back hours later, denying improper accounting and accusing H-P of trying to hide its mismanagement. "We completely reject the allegations," said Mr. Lynch, who left H-P earlier this year. "As soon as there is some flesh put on the bones we will show they are not true." Analysts Had Questioned Autonomy’s Accounting Years Ago (CNBC) Paul Morland, technology research analyst at broking and advisory house Peel Hunt, told CNBC that he had noticed three red flags in Autonomy’s accounts in the years leading up to the HP acquisition: poor cash conversion, an inflated organic growth rate, and the categorizing of hardware sales as software. London Bankers Become Landlords as Rents Hit Record (Bloomberg) Vivek Jeswani became a landlord by accident when Deutsche Bank AG (DBK) transferred him to New York two weeks after he moved into a new home in central London. Now back in the U.K., Jeswani views the apartment in Baker Street, the fictional home of Sherlock Holmes, as one of his best assets and is about to buy another home to expand his rental business. “There are no other investments as attractive and you’ve got some security if you’ve got an asset you can use yourself,” the 36-year-old risk officer at China Construction Bank Corp.’s U.K. unit said. “There’s a good yield over 5 percent and being in central London, you’ve got demand domestically and internationally.” Trading Charges Reach SAC (WSJ) The hedge funds reaped $276 million in profits and losses avoided based on that information, criminal and civil authorities said—far dwarfing that of any previous insider-trading case. The bulk of the trading profits generated by Mr. Martoma was paid to Mr. Cohen, a person close to the hedge fund said. Fed Still Trying To Push Down Rates (WSJ) Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke suggested that the central bank will keep trying to push down long-term interest rates in 2013, as federal tax and spending policies become a more substantial headwind to the U.S. economy. "We will continue to do our best to add monetary-policy support to the recovery," Mr. Bernanke said at the New York Economic Club, answering a question about how the Federal Reserve would respond to impending spending cuts or tax increases that might restrain economic growth. 'Stiletto Surgery' alters pinky toe for better fit (Fox) These days, some women will do just about anything to fit into their favorite pair of high heels – including surgery. A growing number of women are paying thousands of dollars to surgically alter their feet just to make wearing heels a more comfortable experience. Surgical procedures such as shortening toes, receiving foot injections and even completely cutting off pinky toes are on the rise. “Unless you’ve been there, and you can’t find shoes, and you’re in pain, don’t judge,” said Susan Deming, a patient who recently underwent a toe-shortening procedure. Adoboli’s Fate Decided at Wine Bar as UBS Market Bets Unraveled (Bloomberg) On a cool late summer evening last year in London’s financial district, with the euro-zone crisis worsening and Greece tottering on the edge of default, Kweku Adoboli says he asked the three traders who worked with him at UBS AG’s exchange-traded funds desk to join him for a drink. Adoboli said in a post on his Facebook page that he needed “a miracle” as his bets on the market imploded. That night at a wine bar across the street from their office, Adoboli asked John Hughes, the senior trader on the ETF desk, and two junior traders, what to do. The others decided he should take the blame for billions of dollars in losses and an elaborate web of secret trades in what he called an umbrella account that once held $40 million in hidden profits. “I knew I was going to lose my job anyway, I had already resigned myself to that, so fair enough,” the 32-year-old Adoboli testified last month about the meeting, which the other traders deny took place. Jobless Claims in U.S. Decrease (Bloomberg) Fewer Americans filed applications for unemployment benefits last week as damage to the labor market caused by superstorm Sandy began to subside. Jobless claims decreased by 41,000 to 410,000 in the week ended Nov. 17, the Labor Department reported today in Washington. The number of applications matched the median forecast of 48 economists surveyed by Bloomberg. Soros Buying Gold as Record Prices Seen on Stimulus (Bloomberg) The metal will rise every quarter next year and average $1,925 an ounce in the final three months, or 11 percent more than now, according to the median of 16 analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg. Paulson & Co. has a $3.66 billion bet through the SPDR Gold Trust, the biggest gold-backed exchange- traded product, and Soros Fund Management LLC increased its holdings by 49 percent in the third quarter, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings show. 'Cannibal Cop' Gilberto Valle planned to to cook up 'some girl meat' on Thanksgiving (NYDN) The "Cannibal Cop" had his own twist for a Thanksgiving dinner this year — cooking up “some girl meat,” prosecutors revealed Tuesday. Gilberto Valle, 28 — who allegedly kept a database of at least 100 women he plotted to rape, cook and eat — planned the freakish feast with one of his online conspirators earlier this year, prosecutors said. “I’m planning on getting me some girl meat,” he wrote to his pal on Feb. 9. “Really tell me more,” responded the friend. “It’s this November, for Thanksgiving. It’s a long way off but I’m getting the plan in motion now,” Valle wrote.

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: 04.30.12

Falcone Agrees To Step Aside (WSJ) Hedge-fund manager Philip Falcone agreed to step aside eventually as the public face of his LightSquared Inc. venture, a concession that may keep the wireless-telecommunications company from defaulting on its debt, people familiar with the negotiations said. Mr. Falcone's compromise is expected to prompt LightSquared's lenders to approve a one-week extension on a debt-term violations waiver that expires Monday morning, the people said. If a deal is finalized, Mr. Falcone and LightSquared's lenders plan to continue negotiations for a longer extension of somewhere between 18 months and two years, the people said...Mr. Falcone has said he viewed bankruptcy as the "best way" for him to keep control of the company and keep it from creditors he believes want to "take control and flip" the firm. Occupy Wall Street Plans Global Disruption of Status Quo May 1 (Bloomberg) In New York, Occupy Wall Street will join scores of labor organizations observing May 1, traditionally recognized as International Workers’ Day. They plan marches from Union Square to Lower Manhattan and a “pop-up occupation” of Bryant Park on Sixth Avenue, across the street from Bank of America’s Corp.’s 55-story tower. “We call upon people to refrain from shopping, walk out of class, take the day off of work and other creative forms of resistance disrupting the status quo,” organizers said in an April 26 e-mail...Tomorrow, beginning at 8 a.m. in Bryant Park, scheduled events include teach-ins, art performances and a staging area for “direct action and civil disobedience,” such as bank blockades. RBS M&A Bankers Plan Boutique Spin-Off (Reuters) The bank, 82-percent owned by the British government, is exiting mergers and acquisitions as part of a restructuring announced in January aimed at reducing costs and exposure to areas of investment banking deemed risky by the authorities. Sources told Reuters last week that the M&A business would be spun off, with around 45 bankers from RBS joining the new firm led by John McIntyre, currently head of corporate finance for EMEA at the bank. Romney Holds Fund Raiser At John Paulson's House (TDB) FYI: A neighbor who witnessed the event from across the street described it to as a large crowd of “older white people, mostly men,” who started showing up around 7:30 p.m. Thursday. Around 8 p.m., sirens started blaring as more and more people started to show. Hedge Funds Hurt By Volatility (WSJ) All told, U.S.-based funds that bet on and against stocks had a median return of -0.92% from April 1 through April 13, according to data from Morgan Stanley's MS -1.51% prime brokerage, after having returned 1.16% in March. Returns improved as the markets stabilized. Through April 26, the median return was down 0.03% for the month. City Mulls Happy Hour Ban (NYP) “It’s absolutely been discussed,” confirmed a department source. “It goes to show you the spirit with which they operate. Everyone is a child.” High-level conversations have gone beyond merely “throwing pencils on the ceiling and seeing what sticks,” another Health source revealed. Sources said the happy-hour ban is being pushed by the agency’s marathon-running boss, Commissioner Thomas Farley, and is serious enough for one source to say the alcohol lobby had better find itself a good lawyer. Agency spokesman Sam Miller denied existing “plans to pursue any policy around discount-alcohol sale.” Goldman: US Likely Added Only 125,000 Jobs in April (CNBC) The forecast is far lower than the Reuters estimate of 170,000, and the average 177,250 jobs created every month from December to March. Hedge Funds Bet Against Eurozone (FT) “The deeper balance of payments problems in the eurozone remain unresolved, and cannot be resolved by liquidity assistance alone,” noted Brevan Howard, Europe’s biggest global macro hedge fund in its last letter to investors. Shiller: We Are in Age of ‘Late Great Depression’ (CNBC) “Our whole economy has been affected by variations in confidence. Central banks are sort of trusted, but the actions they have often affect people’s confidence by appearance rather than substance. We’re not in the most trusting mood now,” Shiller said. Goldman’s O’Neill Reported Among Candidates for BOE Chief (Bloomberg) When asked in September 2007 if he would be interested in the role at a time when the government was considering whether to reappoint King, O’Neill told John Dawson onBloomberg Television that he couldn’t imagine that “anyone would be daft enough to offer it to me.” He added that he very much enjoyed his then job as head of global economic research at Goldman Sachs. Titanic II Planned by Billionaire Palmer in Chinese Yard (Bloomberg) Australian mining billionaire Clive Palmer plans to build a 21st-century replica of the Titanic and sail it from England to New York accompanied by the Chinese navy by the end of 2016. He has signed a first-stage agreement with Nanjing-based CSC Jinling Shipyard to build the ship as part of a planned fleet of luxury liners, the Gold Coast, Queensland-based businessman said in an e-mailed statement today.

Opening Bell: 08.15.12

Standard Chartered Faces Fed Probes After N.Y. Deal (Bloomberg) Regulators including the U.S. Treasury, Federal Reserve, Justice Department and Manhattan District Attorney declined attempts at a global settlement, said two people familiar with the matter. A coordinated effort was already in progress before New York’s unilateral deal, announced yesterday by financial regulator Benjamin Lawsky, one of the people said. The agreement doesn’t take into account all of the bank’s alleged violations, including those involving nations such as Sudan, said one of the people, who added that September is the earliest a universal deal may be reached. Paulson Steps Up Gold Bet To 44% Of Firm’s Equity Assets (Bloomberg) John Paulson raised his stake in an exchange-traded fund tracking the price of gold while selling other stocks during the second quarter, leaving his $21 billion hedge fund with more than 44 percent of its U.S. traded equities tied to bullion. Paulson & Co. purchased an additional 4.53 million shares of the SPDR Gold Trust, the firm’s largest position, and bought more shares of NovaGold Resources Inc, according to a Form 13F filed yesterday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Goldman Sachs, SkyBridge Among Mitt Romney's Hedge Fund Bundlers (AR) FYI. Brevan Howard Raising Money In U.S. For Currency Hedge Fund (Bloomberg) London-based Brevan Howard filed an Aug. 9 private- placement notice with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to raise an unspecified amount of assets for its Macro FX fund. The $1 billion currency fund is managed by Luke Ding, a former Merrill Lynch & Co. foreign exchange trader who joined Brevan Howard in 2007. Greece Staves Off Default (WSJ) Greece successfully staved off a default on debts owed to the European Central Bank, as more information dribbled out on the parlous state of its economy and banking system. The Greek economy shrank 6.2% year-on-year in the second quarter, European Union statistics agency Eurostat estimated on Tuesday, and senior bankers said more than 20% of loans to the domestic economy are now officially nonperforming. They warned that the problem may overwhelm the sector and derail the country's bailout program. He Whipped, She Snapped (NYP) Frankie Santiago embraced a role as live-in fetish slave to dominating Manhattan investment-banker beau Edward Sonderling, playing out a bondage fantasy similar to college student Anastasia Steele and older Christian Grey in the erotic novel “Fifty Shades of Grey.” But it all took a twisted turn when Santiago, 27, found out Sonderling, 53, had been training his whips on her replacement. The submissive Santiago exploded in a fit of rage, law-enforcement sources said, allegedy shattering Sonderling’s car windshield and bombarding him with dozens of text threats. “If I ever see you with her I will not hold back. I have nothing to lose,” Santiago railed in one text. “I hope she has a disease you catch.” Santiago — who is known in the bondage-domination S&M community as Althea Lyn — was arrested Monday after what sources said was a knock-down, drag-out fight with Sonderling at the East 57th Street apartment where she once did his daily bidding. Santiago and Sonderling — who has the body of a much younger man and is known as King Eddo — were regulars on Manhattan’s BDSM circuit, where Sonderling boasted of being a “whipping aficionado,” said a source who knows the pair. A Horace Mann and Brown graduate, Sonderling runs his own firm, Priority Investors LLC, He declined to comment on Santiago’s arrest and his extracurricular BDSM activities. “I don’t think that I have anything to say about it. Why would I?” he said. Fund Managers Unload Big Banks (WSJ) Some well-known money managers reported significantly reduced stakes in big banks, including J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc., as well as food companies such as Kraft Foods Inc. in the second quarter. Billionaire investor George Soros's Soros Fund Management LLC eliminated positions in J.P. Morgan Chase and Goldman, as well as Citigroup Inc., according to a regulatory filing late Tuesday. The investment company also reported a new stake in retailer Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and a 341,000-share stake in Facebook Inc. Goldman executives win dismissal of mortgage, TARP lawsuit (Reuters) Goldman Sachs Group Inc Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein and other bank officials won the dismissal of a shareholder lawsuit accusing them of tolerating poor mortgage practices and quitting a federal bailout program early to boost executive pay. U.S. District Judge William Pauley in Manhattan said the shareholders failed to show there were "red flags" to put bank directors on notice of "broken controls" in Goldman's mortgage servicing business, including that workers at its Litton unit may have been "robo-signing" documents. Pauley also cited a similar lack of red flags to suggest directors knew Goldman was packaging troubled loans in residential mortgage-backed securities, including loans the bank sold "short" in a bet they would lose value. The judge also said the plaintiffs did not show that directors acted in bad faith in letting Goldman repay $10 billion taken from the Troubled Asset Relief Program early, in June 2009, freeing the bank from restrictions on executive pay. Giuliani: Biden Lacks ‘Mental Capacity’ for VP Job (CNBC) “I've never seen a vice president that has made as many mistakes, said as many stupid things,” he said on “The Kudlow Report.” “I mean, there’s a real fear if, God forbid, he ever had to be entrusted with the presidency, whether he really has the mental capacity to handle it. I mean, this guy just isn’t bright. He’s never been bright. He isn’t bright. And people think, ‘Well, he just talks a little too much.’ Actually, he’s just not very smart.”

Opening Bell: 05.04.12

BofA Sees $5 Billion Collateral Need in Credit Downgrade (Bloomberg) A two-level downgrade of long-term senior debt ratings would have prompted the bank to post about $5.1 billion of collateral tied to derivatives contracts and other trading agreements as of March 31, the Charlotte, North Carolina-based firm said yesterday in a regulatory filing. It would have had to post an additional $1.1 billion of collateral if trading partners opted to tear up contracts in a two-level cut. RBS claims 'pleasing progress' though loss triples (AP) RBS, 82-percent owned by the British government after a massive bailout in the global the financial crisis, posted a 2011 first quarter net loss of £528 million. The lender said losses soared owing to an increase in the value of its outstanding debt to £2.46 billion. "As RBS's credit spreads tightened during the quarter, a charge of £2,456 million was booked for (our) own credit adjustments," RBS said in a statement. But the bank's underlying performance was brighter, with RBS posting a first quarter operating profit of £1.18 billion. RBS also confirmed that it would repay the last of emergency state loans totalling £163 billion but the British government will still own almost all of the bank after a £45.5 billion bailout following the 2008 financial crisis. "The start of 2012 has shown pleasing progress at RBS within the context of a flat economic environment," chief executive Stephen Hester said in the statement. Employers in U.S. Added Fewer Jobs Than Forecast in April (Bloomberg) Payrolls climbed 115,000, the smallest gain in six months, after a revised 154,000 gain in March that was larger than initially estimated, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. The median estimate of 85 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News called for a 160,000 advance. The jobless rate fell to a three-year low of 8.1 percent, and earnings stagnated. Facebook Targets $96 Billion Value (WSJ) With the pricing, Facebook is anticipated to raise as much as $13.6 billion, above earlier expectations of $10 billion. In a regulatory filing, Facebook said the company would seek to sell 337.4 million shares, with about half of those being sold by founders, employees and investors. The only U.S. issuers that have raised more money in an IPO were Visa Inc. at $19.7 billion in 2008 and General Motors Co. at $18.1 billion in 2010. Zuckerberg Facebook IPO to Make Him Richer Than Ballmer (Bloomberg) So that's exciting. Warren Buffett Has 'No Plans To Invest In Facebook IPO' (CNBC) When asked whether the current attention surrounding Internet IPOs reminded him of the tech stock bubble of the late 1990s, the Oracle of Omaha said, “It is not a bubble ... this is not what we were seeing in late 1999 all the way into 2001. We aren’t in any bubble phase of anything.” Inmates Dance, Deputy Fired (OBJ) Some inmates did the worm, others chose the old school robot. Each dance was performed to the beat of hip-hop artist Usher on command from a now-fired Summit County deputy. The inmate prize: use of a jail microwave. The charges are revealed in an internal affairs report released Wednesday. Deputy Dominic Martucci, 35, was fired for violating the department’s policies, including a mandate that inmates be treated humanely. Martucci is accused of ordering five inmates dance to Usher’s Yeah! song and then inviting other deputies to watch during an early evening shift on April 11. The inmates danced their way to regaining use of a microwave that they had lost earlier that day. Fitch CEO: US Downgrade Not Likely Before Election (CNBC) "We currently have the U.S. on a negative outlook, which actually suggests we think there is the potential for a downgrade," Taylor said in an interview. "It's too early to tell whether that will turn into an actual downgrade or not,” he said. “We think we still need to see what's going to happen through the elections and what actions are put in place subsequent to the elections. I think it's very clear that the U.S. does need to do something to deal with the debt problems built up since the financial crisis," he added. New Ripples For Gupta Case (WSJ) Mr. Gupta's criminal trial for securities fraud and conspiracy is scheduled to begin May 21 and expected to last about three weeks. Mr. Gupta has pleaded not guilty. His lawyer, Gary Naftalis, declined to comment for this article but previously has called the accusations "totally baseless." The Manhattan U.S. attorney's office also declined to comment. Federal prosecutors in Manhattan have taken note of the spike in trading in Goldman, which began as the firm's board concluded a special meeting to approve the deal that afternoon, according to people familiar with the matter. Galleon traders also noticed the climbing stock, conversations recorded on government wiretaps show. "Someone had this before us, someone, whatever went on, something happened," Galleon trader Ian Horowitz told Mr. Rajaratnam in a phone call the next morning, caught on tape by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Goldman Readies Low-Cost Bond PLatform (WSJ) Goldman is preparing to roll out a bond-trading platform on which it will charge lower fees than on typical bond trades, according to people familiar with the matter, a move that could help retain customers tempted by rival trading venues being set up by BlackRock Inc. and others. AIG Invests $7.4 Billion at 5.3% to Boost Returns, Adds RMBS (Bloomberg) “We continue to be opportunistic with our investments in structured securities in order to improve yields, increase net investment income and offset the impact of a lower interest rate environment,” Wintrob said. BofA Talks Deal On Ex-Broker Pay (WSJ) The former Merrill brokers left the firm after the 2009 takeover by Bank of America and claim they are owed deferred compensation as a result of the deal. They were emboldened last month by an arbitration ruling ordering the Charlotte, N.C., company to pay more than $11 million to two former brokers with related complaints.

Opening Bell: 01.04.13

SEC Drops Case Against Ex-Berkshire Exec Sokol (Reuters) The U.S. securities regulator has decided not to take action against David Sokol, once considered a possible candidate for the top job at Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, Sokol's lawyer told Reuters. In 2011, Buffett said Sokol violated the company's insider trading rules to score a $3 million windfall profit on shares of U.S. chemicals maker Lubrizol, which rose by nearly a third after Berkshire Hathaway announced it would buy the company. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission began investigating Sokol's investment in Lubrizol shortly after Sokol resigned from Berkshire Hathaway. Sokol's lawyer Barry Wm. Levine told Reuters late on Thursday that he was informed that the SEC had wrapped up its probe and decided not to take action against Sokol. "SEC has terminated its investigation and has concluded not to bring any proceedings against Sokol," said Levine, a lawyer at legal firm Dickstein Shapiro. Sokol has been "completely cleared" as there was no evidence against his client, Levine said. Cohen’s SAC Tops Most Profitable List Amid Insider Probes (Bloomberg) SAC Capital International, Cohen’s flagship fund, was the world’s most-profitable hedge fund in the first 10 months of 2012, earning $789.5 million for Cohen, 56, and his managers, according to Bloomberg Markets’ annual ranking of hedge funds...SAC Capital International is No. 1 not because of performance; it ties for No. 86 on that measure, with a 10 percent return in the Markets ranking of the 100 top-performing funds. Rather, the fund earned the most money because Cohen charges some of the highest fees on Wall Street. While most funds impose a 1 to 2 percent management fee and then take 15 to 20 percent of the profits, Cohen levies 3 percent and as much as 50 percent, according to investors. Geithner's Planned Departure Puts Obama In A Tough Spot (Reuters) The Treasury Department said Geithner would stick to his previously announced schedule to stay until sometime around the Jan. 21 inauguration. Obama chose Geithner to lead the just-ended negotiations with Congress to avert the Dec. 31 fiscal cliff of spending cuts and tax hikes that threatened to push the economy back into recession. But the deal, which preserved most of the Bush-era tax breaks for Americans, sets up a series of crucial fiscal deadlines by delaying automatic spending cuts until March 1 and not increasing the government's borrowing limit. That puts Obama in the tough spot of nominating another Treasury secretary and asking the Senate to approve his choice when lawmakers are in the middle of another budget battle. Egan Jones Says Further US Downgrades Unlikely (CNBC) "This latest round (of negotiations) indicates a sign of health. You have a major ideological clash going on in Congress and many people uncomfortable with it, but it is part of democracy. The more positive light is that we actually have a deal and can move forward," Sean Egan, managing director of Egan-Jones told CNBC on Friday. "We've gotten a lot more comfortable about the U.S. and we probably won't take additional negative actions for the foreseeable future," he added. Almost All of Wall Street Got 2012 Market Calls Wrong (Bloomberg) From John Paulson’s call for a collapse in Europe to Morgan Stanley’s warning that U.S. stocks would decline, Wall Street got little right in its prognosis for the year just ended. Paulson, who manages $19 billion in hedge funds, said the euro would fall apart and bet against the region’s debt. Morgan Stanley predicted the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index would lose 7 percent and Credit Suisse foresaw wider swings in equity prices. All of them proved wrong last year and investors would have done better listening to Goldman Sachs Chief Executive Officer Lloyd C. Blankfein, who said the real risk was being too pessimistic. The ill-timed advice shows that even the largest banks and most-successful investors failed to anticipate how government actions would influence markets. Unprecedented central bank stimulus in the U.S. and Europe sparked a 16 percent gain in the S&P 500 including dividends, led to a 23 percent drop in the Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index, paid investors in Greek debt 78 percent and gave Treasuries a 2.2 percent return even after Warren Buffett called bonds “dangerous.” Fed Divided Over Bond Buys (WSJ) A new fault line has opened up at the Federal Reserve over how long to continue bond-buying programs aimed at spurring stronger economic growth. Minutes released Thursday of the Fed's Dec. 11-12 policy meeting showed that officials were divided. Some wanted to continue the programs through the end of 2013, others wanted to end them well before then and a minority wanted to halt the programs right away. Swiss Bank Pleads Guilty In Probe (WSJ) In the latest blow to Switzerland's centuries-old banking practices, the country's oldest bank pleaded guilty to a criminal conspiracy charge in the U.S. on Thursday and admitted that it helped wealthy Americans for years avoid tens of millions of dollars in taxes by hiding their income from secret accounts abroad. Wegelin & Co., founded in 1741, is the latest Swiss bank to reach a deal with U.S. prosecutors as they crack down on Americans who kept their money in secret accounts overseas and the entities which helped them. Three Wegelin bankers also were charged criminally in the U.S. last year. Subway worker tells customer to 'fight me like a man,' during confrontation over ketchup (WFTV) Luis Martinez said he stopped by a Subway shop in a Walmart on South Semoran Boulevard late Tuesday night to get something to eat. He said he ordered a Philly cheese steak the way he always does. "American cheese, onions and ketchup," said Martinez. Lawrence Ordone was working behind the counter. "He wants ketchup on the Philly cheese steak and I have never put -- we don't even have ketchup at Subway -- I've never put ketchup on anybody's sandwich," said Ordone. Martinez said he didn't want the sandwich without the ketchup and that a man next to him in line offered to buy the sandwich. Ordone said that Martinez mouthed off at the man. Martinez denied saying anything, but neither he or Ordone disputed what they said happened next. "That's when I flew off the handle," said Ordone. "He shoved a chair to the side, like knocked it down to come at me, and I said, 'This is going to be serious,'" said Martinez. "I said, 'Let's go, fight me like a man,'" said Ordone. "I was scared. Next thing, I'm thinking a gun's going to come out," said Martinez. Ordone said he blocked the customer so he couldn't get out. "He threatened to kill me in front of my wife," said Martinez. Martinez called 911, but by the time police got there the Subway worker had already left. Ordone said he was fired from his job Wednesday, and that he is baffled the confrontation started over something as simple as ketchup. "There's ketchup three aisles down. You can go buy your own ketchup, and I promise to God, you can put as much as you want on it and nobody's going to say nothing," said Ordone. Economy Adds 155,000 Jobs (WSJ) Rebuilding following superstorm Sandy, which struck the Northeast in late October, likely added to job growth last month. Nationally, employment in the construction sector advanced by 30,000 jobs. Meanwhile, manufacturing payrolls increased by 25,000 and health-care jobs grew by 45,000. JPMorgan Faces Sanction for Refusing to Provide Madoff Documents (Bloomberg) The Treasury Department’s inspector general has threatened to punish JPMorgan Chase for failing to turn over documents to regulators investigating the bank’s ties to Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. Inspector General Eric Thorson gave the largest U.S. bank a Jan. 11 deadline to cooperate with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency probe or risk sanctions for impeding the agency’s oversight. JPMorgan, according to the Dec. 21 letter, contends the information is protected by attorney-client privilege. Rich Catch a Break With Budget Deal Providing Deductions (Bloomberg) “The increases in taxes and limits to deductions are more favorable than expected,” said Christopher Zander, partner and head of wealth planning at Evercore Partners Inc. (EVR)’s wealth management unit. “They could have been worse for high net-worth taxpayers.” Regulators to ease up on banks to get credit flowing (Reuters) Banks will get more time to build up cash buffers to protect against market shocks under a rule change that could help free up credit for struggling economies, a European regulatory source said. The Basel Committee, made up of banking supervisors from nearly 30 countries, is expected to announce the revision on Sunday to its "liquidity coverage" ratio or LCR, part of efforts to make banks less likely to need taxpayer help again in a crisis. The change comes after heavy pressure from banks and some regulators, who feared Basel's original version would suck up too much liquidity at a time when ailing economies are badly in need of a ready supply of credit to finance growth. 'Stripper' arrested after performance art leads to ruckus in Hallandale (SS) According to police and witnesses, Mena, 25, was first spotted standing and yelling in the middle of A1A outside her condo building along the 1800 block of South Ocean Drive about 10:45 a.m. on Wednesday. Noel von Kauffman, 40, said he was walking along the street when he noticed Mena trying to direct traffic while wearing a tank-top, cut-off jean shorts and tall boots...At some point, Mena picked up a traffic cone and threw it at a car driven by Dieter Heinrich, 49, of Dania Beach, according to an arrest report. The cone broke the car's side mirror, causing about $300 in damages, the report indicated. When Heinrich got out of his car, Mena allegedly spat in his face. Von Kauffman said he jumped in to help Heinrich, who had children in the back seat of his car. Mena scratched von Kauffman's wrist as the two men tried to restrain her and move her away from the busy roadway, according to the police report. After pinning her to the ground, von Kauffman said the woman first tried to say the incident was part of a television show and that everything was being caught on camera. Then she claimed she was a federal agent. Then she said she was friends with Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper and everyone involved would be in trouble, von Kauffman said.

Opening Bell: 1.26.16

Ackman regrets not cutting Valeant, Canadian Pacific; Deutsche Bank, RBS earnings will be bleak; AIG tells Icahn to mind his own biz; 112-year-old woman smokes 30 cigarettes a day; and more.

Opening Bell: 03.16.12

Mayor Bloomberg Visits Goldman Employees After Smith Op-Ed (BW) “The mayor stopped by to make clear that the company is a vital part of the city’s economy, and the kind of unfair attacks that we’re seeing can eventually hurt all New Yorkers,” said Stu Loeser, a spokesman for the mayor. Bloomberg visited the firm Thursday and met with Chief Executive Officer Lloyd C. Blankfein and numerous employees, Loeser said. Italy Said To Pay Morgan Stanley $3.4 Billion (Bloomberg) When Morgan Stanley said in January it had cut its “net exposure” to Italy by $3.4 billion, it didn’t tell investors that the nation paid that entire amount to the bank to exit a bet on interest rates. Italy, the second-most indebted nation in the European Union, paid the money to unwind derivative contracts from the 1990s that had backfired, said a person with direct knowledge of the Treasury’s payment. It was cheaper for Italy to cancel the transactions rather than to renew, said the person, who declined to be identified because the terms were private. Client Slams Goldman Slowness to Give Reassurances (Reuters) PG, a Dutch investment adviser that runs 300 billion euros of assets for more than 4.5 million people in the Netherlands, said it was surprised it took the Wall Street bank more than a day to offer APG any reassurance on points raised in Greg Smith's resignation letter. "We would have expected that a company that faces such a big media backlash over something so core to their business such as client trust would have instantly reached out to those clients to say something," APG spokesman Harmen Geers told Reuters. Banks Desire Assets Tied To AIG Bailout (WSJ) A potential sale of the CDOs by the New York Fed in the coming months, plus the government's recent decision to resume selling some of its AIG stock, could set the stage for the U.S. to recover the bulk of its money from the bailout before the presidential elections this year. Learning From The Spurned And Tipsy Fruit Fly (NYT) They were young males on the make, and they struck out not once, not twice, but a dozen times with a group of attractive females hovering nearby. So they did what so many men do after being repeatedly rejected: they got drunk, using alcohol as a balm for unfulfilled desire. And not one flew off in search of a rotting banana. Fruit flies apparently self-medicate just like many humans do, drowning their sorrows or frustrations for some of the same reasons, scientists reported Thursday. Male flies subjected to what amounted to a long tease — in a glass tube, not a dance club — preferred food spiked with alcohol far more than male flies that were able to mate. Buffett Awards Wall Street-Sized Pay Praised by Dimon (Bloomberg) Warren Buffett, who has said banker greed helped deepen the U.S. financial crisis, attracts the workers he wants with compensation that competes with Wall Street awards. Berkshire gave $17.4 million in 2011 compensation to Thomas P. Nerney, CEO of its United States Liability Insurance Group; $12.4 million to Geico Corp. CEO Tony Nicely and the National Indemnity Co. unit gave $9.26 million to Ajit Jain, according to filings to state regulators. Berkshire, which is set to send its annual-meeting notice to shareholders today, said in last year’s proxy that Buffett’s salary remains $100,000 at his request. St. Patrick's Day Message: Ireland Isn't Greece (CNBC) As large parts of the world turn green to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, the Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny has been flying the green, white and gold flag on a charm offensive around the world. enny is packing in trips to London, China and New York within a couple of weeks in an effort to carry forward the country’s gradual return to economic health, which has been based largely on attracting foreign investment. He opens the New York Stock Exchange on Monday, after visiting at the White House over the weekend. “This is a very important push for Ireland,” Irish businessman Barry Maloney, founder and general partner at venture capital firm Balderton Capital, told CNBC. Kozlowski in NYC work release (NYP) Convicted in 2005 of looting his company, Kozlowski was transferred from an upstate prison to the Lincoln Correctional Facility, a minimum-security site on Manhattan’s 110th Street near Fifth Avenue, on the north border of the park. He leaves every weekday morning to participate in a work-release program, said Peter Cutler, a spokesman for the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. Kozlowski is still serving a prison sentence of 8 1/3 to 25 years, Officials Cool On Yuan-Swap Proposal (WSJ) Amid growing interest in turning London into a trading hub for the Chinese yuan, some bankers have proposed to U.K financial authorities to adopt a tool increasingly used by China's central bank to foster yuan liquidity overseas: bilateral currency-swap agreements. The bankers are pushing for the Bank of England to sign a currency-swap deal withits Chinese counterpart, according to banking executives involved in the discussions. Such a deal, they say, could help foreign banks get hold of yuan and supply the currency to customers. DA grilling two 'hookers' and 'money launderer' in case of alleged madam (NYP) Court transcripts and other records, along with sources familiar with the case, indicate that the two alleged prostitutes and a mysterious “laundry man” — identified only as a 68-year-old Russian-American — have met privately with authorities to save their own hides and clinch a case against Gristina and her suspected cohort, Jaynie Mae Baker. One of the women has admitted privately to having turned tricks for Gristina at her alleged East 78th Street “brothel,” a source said. Prosecutors have engaged in hush-hush negotiations with alleged call girls Mhairiangela “Maz” Bottone, 30, and Catherine DeVries, 31 — who are both charged with prostitution, according to court documents — and with the alleged money launderer, named only as “John Doe” by authorities.