Opening Bell: 1.8.16

China, China, China; Billions; Ratings agencies still suck; "Father And Son Dress In Drag, Rob Convenience Store"; and more.
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The Man Behind China’s Circuit Breaker Gets Grilled (WSJ)
At an emergency meeting convened by China’s cabinet Thursday, the country’s top securities regulator, Xiao Gang, was in the hot seat. The meeting, in the walled Zhongnanhai compound where China’s top leaders live and where few ordinary Chinese have ever set foot, Mr. Xiao was being grilled on an invention he had championed, a circuit-breaker to prevent a free fall in Chinese stocks and protect investors, according to people with knowledge of the gathering. Ironically, the opposite had just happened. The automated trading halt had made a selloff worse as investors raced for the exits when it looked set to kick in. Trading on the Shanghai Stock Exchange lasted only 29 minutes Thursday, the shortest day in the stock market’s 25 years.

Currency Devaluations by Asian Tigers Could Hinder Global Growth (Dealbook)
China’s decision to push the value of its currency lower has opened a new front of worry for global investors: a potential wave of currency devaluations among the so-called Asian tigers — South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan. Such an outcome, say a number of foreign exchange specialists, would put a further damper on global growth expectations, which already are being revised downward as China’s once-booming economy retrenches.

Preposterous Rings True to Hedge Funders at ‘Billions’ Premiere (Bloomberg)
“I was sitting on the edge of my seat a third of the time," said Michael Karsch, chief executive officer and founder of Hunter Peak Investments. “I was really intrigued, really riveted by it."

Ratings Agencies Still Coming Up Short, Years After Crisis (Dealbook)
Eight years after these companies were found to have put profits ahead of principle when they assigned high grades to low-quality debt securities, some of the same dubious practices continue to infect their operations. That’s the message in the most recent regulatory report on the companies from the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Father And Son Dress In Drag, Rob Convenience Store (HP)
A father-son duo armed dressed as elderly women last year to rob a convenience store in Leeds, England. Talk about family bonding. Then 17-year-old Declan Pick wheeled his 38-year-old father Martin into the store. In a scheme that seems more like sketch comedy than serious robbery, the pair disguised themselves in wigs and overcoats, clutching handbags. Seconds after entering, Grandma Martin jumped up from the wheelchair, whipping out a shotgun that had concealed in his lap, under a blanket. The store owner chased them out, and the entire fiasco was caught on tape. A Leeds County Court sentenced Martin Pick on Wednesday to 18 years in prison. Martin's brother Mark, who manned the getaway car, was also sentenced to 16 years.

Mohamed El-Erian: THIS dwarfs worries about China (CNBC)
The bigger issue for financial markets is that central banks are running out of ammo, the Allianz chief economic adviser told CNBC. "Markets are realizing that central banks can no longer repress financial volatility. And they are repricing to new volatility paradigm," he said in a "Squawk Box" interview. To that end, any shocks to the markets will take longer to reverse themselves, said El-Erian, former Pimco co-CEO. "What we're going to see is every time something happens in the world it's going to take longer to restore stability. That's what we're seeing with China today.

Strong U.S. Job Growth Defies Global Pressures (WSJ)
Nonfarm payrolls increased a seasonally adjusted 292,000 in December, the Labor Department said Friday. The unemployment rate, obtained through a separate survey, held steady at 5% last month. The unemployment rate hasn’t been below that mark since 2007.

SNB Suffers Record 23 Billion-Franc Loss on Strong Currency (Bloomberg)
While the SNB doesn’t need to generate a profit for monetary-policy purposes, municipalities have come to rely on an annual handout from the central bank to fund local spending. Their circumstances are already straitened by slower economic growth, brought on by the currency’s ascent from the cap of 1.20 per euro to about 1.09 now.

Massage owner unknowingly helps police bust prostitution ring at his own business (Fox6)
Police say the investigation started after $300 went missing at the massage parlor. According to a criminal complaint, John Sherman went to police in April, to say he was missing $300 from his business "Oriental Massage." Police tracked down a suspect, but had no idea it would lead to a massive investigation...Landry says the thief turned informant told police he stole the money after a massage parlor employee took money from him following a sex act. The man told police customers were getting more than just a massage at "Oriental Massage."

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Opening Bell: 04.13.12

JPMorgan Profit Slips (WSJ) J.P. Morgan reported a profit of $5.38 billion, down from $5.56 billion a year earlier. On a per-share basis, earnings were $1.31, up from $1.28 as the share count outstanding declined. The latest quarter included a net 8-cent per-share loss tied to litigation expenses and changes in the value of the bank's debt. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected a per-share profit of $1.18, excluding debt-related charges. Revenue rose 6.3% to $27.42 billion. Analysts were looking for $24.68 billion. Wells Fargo reports higher first-quarter profit (Reuters) Wells Fargo, the nation's fourth-biggest U.S. bank, said net income was $4.25 billion, or 75 cents a share, in the quarter, compared with $3.76 billion, or 67 cents, a share in the same period a year earlier. The average estimate from analysts was 73 cents per share. JPMorgan Said to Transform Treasury to Prop Trading (Bloomberg) Achilles Macris, hired in 2006 as the CIO’s top executive in London, led an expansion into corporate and mortgage-debt investments with a mandate to generate profits for the New York- based bank, three of the former employees said. Dimon, 56, closely supervised the shift from the CIO’s previous focus on protecting JPMorgan from risks inherent in its banking business, such as interest-rate and currency movements, they said. Some of Macris’s bets are now so large that JPMorgan probably can’t unwind them without losing money or roiling financial markets, the former executives said, based on knowledge gleaned from people inside the bank and dealers at other firms. Bank Bonus That Tops Salary May Be Banned by EU Lawmakers (Bloomberg) Governments and lawmakers in the 27-nation EU are considering rules for lenders that would go far beyond international agreements approved by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision. Denmark, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU, has proposed empowering nations to set surcharges of up to 3 percent across their banking systems. Karas yesterday suggested adding language to the legislation that would ban banker bonuses that exceed fixed pay, following calls from other lawmakers to rein in excessive compensation. IMF Lifts Growth Forecast, Cautiously (WSJ) Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, said the world economy is marked by "a high degree of instability" even though prospects for global growth are better than they were a few months ago. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Ms. Lagarde said the IMF, which marked down its 2012 forecast for global growth in January to 3.3%, has now marked it up to reflect improving conditions in the world economy. But she said the new forecast, to be released next week, remains more pessimistic than the one it made last September, which predicted 4% growth. Europe remains the biggest single risk to the global economy, the former French finance minister said. Hedge Fund Driver Guns DownArmed Robber (NYP) A retired NYPD lieutenant blew away a drugstore bandit yesterday as the suspect tried to gun down three police officers during a foot pursuit, sources said. Thomas Barnes, Barnes — a driver for hedge fund manager Philippe Laffont, was filling his tank at the BP station on East 119th Street and First Avenue at around 11 a.m. when he saw gunman Rudolph Wyatt running from the store, and sprang into action. He crouched behind his hedge-fund boss’ Mercedes SUV and squeezed off three shots, killing Wyatt, 23. The trigger-happy thug — wanted on warrants for two other shootings — lay dead in a pool of blood on the sidewalk wearing a black stocking mask with a wad of stolen cash spilling out of his pocket, witnesses said. “Part of the back of his head was missing. He had a large head wound and there was tons of blood,” said witness John Brecevich, 59, owner of the Original Patsy’s restaurant nearby. “It was a scene straight out of NYPD Blue.” Trustees Aim For MF Execs (NYP) The trustee tasked with clawing back money for burned customers of MF Global is training his sights on the brokerage firm’s executives — a list that likely includes former CEO Jon Corzine. In a statement yesterday, trustee James Giddens said he is considering pursuing claims against “certain responsible individuals” who worked for MF at the time customers’ trading accounts were improperly tapped. Kent Jarrell, a spokesman for Giddens, declined to name names but said the trustee is considering civil suits against “officers, directors or other employees” of both the brokerage firm and the holding company. Fed Officials Differ on Need to Keep Rates Low to 2014 (Bloomberg) William C. Dudley, president of the New York Fed, and Vice Chairman Janet Yellen said the 2014 time-frame is needed to lower unemployment from 8.2 percent. Minneapolis Fed President Narayana Kocherlakota said rising inflation may prompt an interest-rate increase as early as this year, while Philadelphia’s Charles Plosser said policy should hinge on economic performance, not a calendar commitment. Newark Mayor Cory Booker: Race into home fire was a "come to Jesus moment" (CBS) Booker arrived home last night to discover his next-door neighbor's house on fire, and rescued a young woman trapped upstairs by carrying here through the flames, suffering second-degree burns in the process. The mayor's security team discovered the fire and pounded on the door to alert residents, when an elderly woman said that her daughter was trapped upstairs. At first, Newark Police Detective Alex Rodriguez would not let Booker into the burning house. "He basically told me, 'This woman is going to die if we don't help her,' and what can I say to that?," Rodriguez said. "I let him go and without thinking twice, he just ran into the flames and rescued this young lady." Booker said that as he jumped through the kitchen on the second floor, "I actually wasn't thinking. When I got there and couldn't find her in all the smoke, looked behind me and saw the kitchen really erupting with flames all over the ceiling, that's when I had very clear thoughts that I'm not going to get out of this place alive and got ... very religious. He admitted he was "not gentle" with her - "I just sort of threw her over my shoulder and dragged her through the kitchen."

Opening Bell: 04.24.12

Dubai Debtors Go on Hunger Strike (FT) About 20 jailed foreign businessmen have gone on hunger strike in Dubai to protest against lengthy sentences for writing checks that bounced, a criminal offence in the United Arab Emirates. “I’ve exhausted every avenue that I can see,” Peter Margetts, 48, a former property developer, told the Financial Times from a prison pay phone. “I’ve exhausted the legal system, the lawyers have their hands tied here and they’re not going to rock the boat.” Mr. Margetts is one of three British prisoners who started a hunger strike on Sunday. Other jailed businessmen come from Ireland, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Lebanon, India and Pakistan. Many of the hunger strikers fell victim to Dubai’s once-thriving real estate market, struggling to meet their payments when boom turned to bust in 2008. Twelve face sentences of more than 20 years because each bounced check can translate into a jail term of up to three years. Wall Street Promotes Junk Bonds as Europe Erupts (Bloomberg) Morgan Stanley said last week that U.S. high-yield obligations were in a “sweet spot” as borrowers cut their debt loads. JPMorgan said junk yields will fall more than half a percentage point by year-end. Bank of America favors debentures rated in the middle tier of speculative grade. Gains on U.S. high-yield, high-risk bonds, which are little changed since the end of February, are set to accelerate as central banks respond more aggressively to contain Europe’s fiscal imbalances, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan said. While forecasting the default rate will rise this year, Moody’s Investors Service says the figure will stay below historic averages. Facebook's Growth Slows (WSJ) In what is likely to be the last snapshot of its financial condition before the expected May IPO, Facebook disclosed Monday that its first-quarter profit and revenue declined from the final quarter of 2011...The company's first-quarter revenue was $1.06 billion, down 6% from the December quarter. In a regulatory filing, the company blamed the decline on "seasonal trends" in the advertising business and user growth in markets where Facebook generates less revenue per user. CIT Group Swings To A Loss (WSJ) CIT Group, the business lender that emerged from bankruptcy more than two years ago, posted a wider-than-expected loss of $446.5 million in the first quarter as costs tied to debt repayments weighed on earnings. CIT's lending activity increased, though, and its profit margins on loans improved from a year earlier, a trend that should continue as its efforts to slash debt helps reduce its funding costs in the long run. "We made further progress this quarter positioning CIT for profitability and growth," John Thain, the long-time Wall Street executive who took the helm of CIT in 2010, said in a statement. Harbinger Pays Early (AP) Phil Falcone’s Harbinger Capital Partners made a $48 million payment on its $190 million loan from Jefferies Group, avoiding a forced sale of assets of his hedge fund, according to a person familiar with the fund. The payment was made a week early and a half million dollars more than what’s due on April 30. Falcone raised money for the loan by selling some investments, said the person. Father And Son Ran 'Brothel On Wheels' (NYP) A father and son from Queens ran a lucrative — and cruel — brothel on wheels for two decades, using six livery drivers to deliver hookers to hotels and apartments, Manhattan prosecutors said today in announcing the ring’s breakup...Johns on the go could purchase and enjoy a sex act without ever leaving the back seat, officials said of the operation, quoting the price scale at $200 to $500 per customer. Business was good — one woman alone allegedly earned half-a-million dollars for the father and son last year, and the Georges employed five women at the time of the bust, officials said. But as nice as they were to customers, the alleged father and son pimps were nasty to their prostitutes, threatening them, giving them little money so as to keep them helpless and even branding them with tattoos — including a bar code on one woman’s neck, according to officials. At least one of the women had a heart tattoo on her breast with the word “Vee,” which is the dad’s nickname. At least three of the women had tattoos featuring the son’s nickname, “King Koby.” Calpers Scalpers (NYP) The former head of the nation’s biggest pension defrauded funds run by private-equity titan Leon Black’s Apollo Global Management to pay a pal’s placement agencies $20 million, a lawsuit filed yesterday charged. Federico Buenrostro, the CEO of the $235 billion California Public Employees’ Retirement System from 2002 to 2008, teamed up with buddy Alfred Villalobos’ Arvco Capital Research on a scheme to pocket the boatload of fees from Apollo, the Securities and Exchange Commission charged in a civil suit filed in a Nevada federal court. Villalobos was the deputy mayor of Los Angeles in 1993. It is charged that the two ginned up fake “disclosure letters” and sent them to Apollo, making it appear that Calpers OK’d the payment when, in fact, it had not. The two used the fake letters four times, the suit alleges. Judge: DA Can Subpoena Occupy Protester Tweets (NBC) A judge says an Occupy Wall Street protester can't stop prosecutors from getting his tweets as part of a case surrounding his arrest at a demonstration. A Manhattan criminal court judge ruled Friday there are reasonable grounds to believe the information is relevant. The judge also says Malcolm Harris can't legally challenge the subpoena sent to Twitter Inc., not him. Harris was among more than 700 demonstrators arrested Oct. 1 on the Brooklyn Bridge. Wal-Mart Said To Be Subject Of US Criminal Probe (Bloomberg) The Justice Department is investigating potential criminal charges under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, according to the person familiar with the probe who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about it. Wal-Mart is conducting its own review of allegations that its representatives paid local officials in Mexico to get stores opened faster in the early 2000s. Chris Christie Not Happy With NJ Nets Move To Brooklyn (NYDN) As the Nets were preparing their farewell, the Governor of New Jersey was kicking them out the door. “I’m not going to the Nets game tonight and my message to the Nets is ‘Goodbye,’ ” Christie said. “If you don’t want to stay, we don’t want you. Seriously, I’m not going to be in the business of begging people to stay here. That’s one of the most beautiful arenas in America that they’ve had a chance to play in. It’s in one of the country’s most vibrant cities. “They want to leave here and go to Brooklyn? Good riddance. See you later.”

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Opening Bell: 7.25.16

Verizon buys Yahoo for $4.8 billion; Father/son insider trading trial kicks off; Italy says chill; Border patrol agents detain two ‘Pokemon Go’ players; and more.

Opening Bell: 02.11.13

Two Firms, One Trail, In Probe Of Ratings (WSJ) The Justice Department last week went after Standard & Poor's Ratings Services—not rival Moody's Investors Service —with a $5 billion fraud lawsuit. Some former Moody's employees think they know why. The Moody's Corp. unit took careful steps to avoid creating a trove of potentially embarrassing employee messages like those that came back to haunt S&P in the U.S.'s lawsuit, the former employees say. Moody's analysts in recent years had limited access to instant-message programs and were directed by executives to discuss sensitive matters face to face, according to former employees. The crackdown on communications came after a 2005 investigation by then New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer into Moody's ratings on some mortgage-backed deals, the former employees say. Former employees also point to an April 2001 settlement between Moody's and the Justice Department's antitrust division over the destruction of documents amid a civil inquiry by the agency. Moody's pleaded to one count of obstruction of justice and paid a fine of $195,000. Moody's called that situation "an isolated incident" and said it cooperated with the Justice Department's investigation. That settlement helped lay the groundwork for heightened concerns about sensitive documents, former Moody's employees say. Credit Rating Victims Didn’t Know S&P’s Toxic AAA Born of Greed (Bloomberg) When Charles O. Prince III was chief executive officer of Citigroup Inc. from 2003 to 2007, he didn’t know about a surge in mortgage risk that his own investment bankers loaded on to its bank’s books. Because such debt carried top credit ratings from firms such as Standard & Poor’s, few financial executives paid attention to the potential dangers. When Charles O. Prince III was chief executive officer of Citigroup Inc. from 2003 to 2007, he didn’t know about a surge in mortgage risk that his own investment bankers loaded on to its bank’s books. Because such debt carried top credit ratings from firms such as Standard & Poor’s, few financial executives paid attention to the potential dangers. Makeover At Barclays Won't Be Extreme (WSJ) Mr. Jenkins's cuts are likely to be focused on areas where Barclays lags far behind competitors, executives say. That could include parts of the equities sales-and-trading businesses in Asia and continental Europe, according to analysts and people at other banks. Those are businesses in which Mr. Diamond spearheaded an ambitious expansion but where Barclays remains a second-tier player. But other changes are driven more by polishing the bank's tarnished image than they are by the need to boost profits. A few business lines that don't seem "socially useful" are likely to end up on the chopping block, executives say. For example, Barclays plans to retreat at least in part from the lucrative trading of "soft commodities" such as coffee, executives say. That is a concession to mounting criticism that speculative trading in those commodities contributes to food-price inflation. "We're a big player, but does it pass the smell test of what society would think of this?" a senior executive said. Mr. Jenkins is also expected to trumpet plans to dramaticallyscale back Barclays's tax-planning business, in which it advises clients on how to minimize their tax burdens. The bank will no longer help clients put together transactions that have no businesspurpose other than reducing taxes. "Such activity is incompatible with our purpose," Mr. Jenkins will say on Tuesday, according to the extract of his speech. But the bank isn't expected to exit the business altogether. It will continue to offer tax-minimizing advice. People familiar with the matter say the business has been hiring employees recently. Putin Turns Black Gold Into Bullion as Russia Out-Buys World (Bloomberg) Not only has Putin made Russia the world’s largest oil producer, he’s also made it the biggest gold buyer. His central bank has added 570 metric tons of the metal in the past decade, a quarter more than runner-up China, according to IMF data compiled by Bloomberg. The added gold is also almost triple the weight of the Statue of Liberty. White House Warns Coming Austerity Will Hit Economy Hard (Reuters) Automatic government spending cuts due to go into effect March 1 unless Congress acts to prevent them would bite deeply into programs affecting many Americans, such as law enforcement, small business assistance, food safety and tax collection, the White House said on Friday. The administration urged Congress to blunt the effect of the reductions, which the White House said would slash non-defense programs by 9 percent across the board and defense programs by 13 percent, the White House said. "These large and arbitrary cuts will have severe impacts across the government," the administration said in a statement. World's most prolific stripper calls it a day (DM) For two decades, the Liverpudlian father-of-three has been the Usain Bolt of the naked dash. In 1995, he leapt naked on to Fred Talbot’s weather map on daytime TV show This Morning, and a year later he appeared nude on the green during the Open at Royal Lytham. Then, in 2004, he was fined £550 for trespassing after streaking across the pitch at the Super Bowl in Texas – a match watched by 130 million people in 87 countries. For good measure, Mark has also stripped off at Wembley, Wimbledon and Ascot. ‘There’s no major venue or event I haven’t done,’ he says proudly. ‘But I’m nearly 49 now and my children have begged me to stop. It’s time. I’m not ready for my slippers just yet, but gravity’s against me.’ Treasury Pick Lew Faces Grilling on Citi Bonus, Cayman Account (Reuters) Jack Lew, President Barack Obama's pick to be U.S. treasury secretary, is expected to come under fire for the administration's budget policies and a nearly $1 million bonus he received from bailed-out bank Citigroup when he testifies on Wednesday before a Senate panel vetting him for the job. The hearing will briefly become ground zero in the pitched political battle over the federal budget, with Republicans set to attack over what they contend is Lew's devil-may-care attitude to reducing the U.S. budget deficit. "He'll be used as a political ping-pong ball," said Ted Truman, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for InternationalEconomics who served briefly as an adviser to Obama's former treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner. Treasury Eases Off On Bank Rules (WSJ) The proposal, which will be subject to comment before becoming a final rule, is likely to insist that financial institutions gather beneficial ownership information—who is in charge and who profits—on new corporate accounts, officials said. But in a move that could assuage some industry concerns, financial institutions wouldn't have to vet that ownership data for accuracy. Instead, they would rely on the customer to vouch for the information. With a Focus on Its Future, Financial Times Turns 125 (NYT) On Wednesday, The F.T. is celebrating its 125th birthday. The newspaper’s London headquarters along the south bank of the Thames will be lit up in pink, the color of the paper on which it has been printed since shortly after it was founded. There will be a few parties — understated, of course, for these are straitened times in the City of London, and challenging ones for the newspaper industry. Waxing Our Way To The ER (Salon) A new study from the University of California-San Diego reveals that “Emergency room visits due to pubic hair grooming mishaps,” including “lacerations,” increased fivefold between 2002 and 2010, sending an impressive 11,704 pube-scapers to the E.R. The culprits? Scissors and hot wax did some of the damage, but plain-old non-electric-razors accounted for the lion’s share, at 83 percent...The study also revealed that below-the-belt grooming isn’t just for adult ladies anymore – men accounted for 43.3 percent of the injuries, and almost 30 percent of them were girls under the age of 18. To avoid becoming yet another harrowing grooming gone bad statistic, the researchers advise hair removal aficionados to “Pay attention to where you’re placing that razor. Invest in a non-slip bath mat. And don’t shave while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.”

Opening Bell: 09.28.12

Bank Of America Reaches Settlement In Merrill Lynch Acquisition-Related Class Action Litigation (BW) Under terms of the proposed settlement, Bank of America would pay a total of $2.43 billion and institute certain corporate governance policies. Plaintiffs had alleged, among other claims, that Bank of America and certain of its officers made false or misleading statements about the financial health of Bank of America and Merrill Lynch. Bank of America denies the allegations and is entering into this settlement to eliminate the uncertainties, burden and expense of further protracted litigation. Greece Seeks Taxes From Wealthy With Cash Havens in London (NYT) At the request of the Athens government, the British financial authorities recently handed over a detailed list of about 400 Greek individuals who have bought and sold London properties since 2009. The list, closely guarded, has not been publicly disclosed. But Greek officials are examining it to determine whether the people named — who they say include prominent businessmen, bankers, shipping tycoons and professional athletes — have deceived the tax authorities by understating their wealth. Libor Riggers May Be Criminal, Even If Acts Not Illegal at Time (CNBC) Those who took part in the manipulation of the London interbank offered rate (Libor), the key benchmark rate, could face criminal prosecution even though Libor manipulation is not yet a criminal offense. Martin Wheatley, who is advising the U.K. government on what changes could be made to Libor to stop manipulation in the future, said that U.K. regulator the Financial Services Authority (FSA) is considering prosecuting those who took part under “broad principles of conduct.” He also recommended that the government should give the FSA power to prosecute future Libor manipulation. Libor Furor: Key Rate Gets New Scrutiny (WSJ) "There's a concern that if you're going to base financial decisions on a particular interest rate" it should be a measure that responds to changes in market conditions, "and that's not Libor," said Andrew Lo, a finance professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Macquarie Bonuses Whack Profit (WSJ) Macquarie Group may have lost its reputation as the Millionaire’s Factory as profits slumped since the onset of the global financial crisis, but according to Citigroup analysts the bank’s net profit could have been 60% higher last financial year if not for a dramatic rise in bonus payments to staff...Wes Nason estimates that while the bank’s return on equity fell to 6.8% last financial year-–hitting its lowest level since it listed in the first half of fiscal 2012 and compared with a 10-year average of 18.4%—-its average bonus payments almost tripled to A$73,000 a head, up from A$26,000 in 2009. Replacement referee Lance Easley stands by touchdown call (NYDN) Lance Easley has been vilified for awarding the Seattle Seahawks a touchdown on its Hail Mary pass in the closing seconds of Monday night’s game against the Green Bay Packers even though pretty much everyone in the country saw that the pass had been intercepted. “I processed everything properly,” Easley told the Daily News Thursday. “It was supported on video. But the bad thing is, people don’t understand the rules in that whole play. “But that play rarely ever happens, it rarely happens in the field of play and it never happens in an NFL game,” he added. “And here I got stuck in the middle of it.” The call was reviewed on instant replay — and, amazingly, upheld, despite the refs also missing a pass interference infraction by a Seattle player. Since then the 52-year-old Bank of America banker has been swept up in a whirlwind of national outrage — one that forced the NFL to end a seven-week lockout of its unionized refs early Thursday. But Easley said he and his replacements did a good job in their stint in zebra stripes. “I know where I stand,” he said. “Everything I did ... I got support from all the referees and everything, and replay and our league office and anybody else that understands the rules and how those plays function. Spanish Rescue May Throw Crisis Spotlight on Italy (Reuters) Italian government bonds risk being thrown back into the spotlight of the euro zone debt crisis once Spain decides to request aid and secures central bank support for its debt. A partial bailout for Madrid would probably trigger the European Central Bank's bond-buying plan, lowering Spain's borrowing costs and increasing investor appetite for riskier assets in general, including debt issued by Italy. But Italy could then return to the forefront of market concern as the next weak link. "The risks increase that you will get a contagion into Italy," said David Keeble, global head of fixed income strategy at Credit Agricole. Cyber Attacks On Banks Expose Computer Vulnerability (WSJ) Cyber attacks on the biggest U.S. banks, including JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Wells Fargo & Co., have breached some of the nation’s most advanced computer defenses and exposed the vulnerability of its infrastructure, said cybersecurity specialists tracking the assaults. The attack, which a U.S. official yesterday said was waged by a still-unidentified group outside the country, flooded bank websites with traffic, rendering them unavailable to consumers and disrupting transactions for hours at a time. Such a sustained network attack ranks among the worst-case scenarios envisioned by the National Security Agency, according to the U.S. official, who asked not to be identified because he isn’t authorized to speak publicly. The extent of the damage may not be known for weeks or months, said the official, who has access to classified information. Fitch Ratings Cuts China, India 2012 Growth Forecasts (CNBC) In its September Global Economic Outlook, the ratings agency said it now expected China’s economy, the world’s second largest, to grow 7.8 percent this year, down from a forecast of 8 percent made in June. It also lowered its forecast for economic growth in India to 6 percent in the financial year ending in March 2013 from a previous estimate of 6.5 percent. CIT Chief Tries To Rescue Reputation (NYP) John Thain yesterday said he brought up executive compensation at the time his firm was getting bailed out by taxpayers not for selfish reasons but to determine how much control Washington would have over his company. “One of the issues we were worried about at the time was, if you take government money how much say does the government have in how you run your business?” Thain said during an interview on CNBC. Days earlier, Thain was trashed by former bank regulator Sheila Bair, who, in her upcoming book, “Bull By the Horns,” accuses the Wall Street veteran of being fixated on pay during the height of the financial Armageddon. Bair, the former Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. boss, wrote that Thain “was desperate for capital but was worried about restrictions on executive compensation.” “I could not believe it. Where were this guy’s priorities?” she wrote, referring to Thain. The CEO, who was tapped to run the troubled lender in 2010, also addressed during the CNBC interview rumors that CIT was looking to sell itself to a large bank. “It’s absolutely not true,” Thain said yesterday. Canada Cheese-Smuggling Ring Busted (BBC) A Canadian police officer was among three people charged as the country's authorities announced they had busted a major cheese-smuggling ring. A joint US-Canadian investigation found C$200,000 (£125,600) of cheese and other products were illicitly brought over the border into southern Ontario. The smugglers sold large quantities of cheese, which is cheaper in the US, to restaurants, it is alleged. The other two men charged were civilians, one a former police officer. The charges come three days after CBC News first reported the force was conducting an internal investigation into cheese smuggling. A pizzeria owner west of Niagara Falls told CBC that he had been questioned by police over the issue, but assured them he had not bought any contraband dairy. "We get all our stuff legit," said the restaurateur. "We thought it was a joke at first. Who is going to go around trying to sell smuggled cheese?"

Opening Bell: 06.21.13

U.S. Weighs Doubling Leverage Standard for Biggest Banks (Bloomberg) The standard would increase the amount of capital the lenders must hold to 6 percent of total assets, regardless of their risk, according to four people with knowledge of the talks. That’s twice the level set by global banking supervisors. ... "The 3 percent was clearly inadequate, nothing really,” said Simon Johnson, an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a former chief economist for the International Monetary Fund. “Going up to five or six will make the rule be worth something. Having a lot of capital is crucial for banks to be sound. The leverage ratio is a good safety tool because risk-weighting can be gamed by banks so easily.” China steps back from severe cash crunch (FT) China pulled back from the brink of a severe cash crunch on Friday, with money rates falling after reports that the People’s Bank of China, the central bank, had acted to alleviate market stresses. Nevertheless, interbank conditions remained tight and analysts said the PBoC would continue its hard line of recent days to compel financial institutions to pare back their leverage. Sprint Beats Dish’s Latest Bid for Clearwire (DealBook) Sprint Nextel raised its bid for Clearwire to $5 a share on Thursday, hoping to knock out a rival offer from Dish Network. The new offer, which values Clearwire at about $14 billion, is 47 percent higher than Sprint’s last proposal. It is also higher than Dish’s most recent bid of $4.40 a share. Banks Race to Increase Salaries to Beat EU Bonus Caps (IBT) Banks are racing to overhaul their remuneration structures by bumping up fixed salaries ahead of European Union-imposed bonus caps in 2015. According to a prominent employment partner at law firm Pinsent Masons, banks are stuck between having to overhaul remuneration procedures by a certain deadline but without concrete rules, which is likely to result in across-the-board increases in salary. FAA to Relax Rules for Gadgets in Flight (WSJ) The Federal Aviation Administration is expected to relax the ban on using some types of personal-electronic devices at low altitudes, allowing passengers leeway during taxiing and even takeoffs and landings, according to industry officials and draft recommendations prepared by a high-level advisory panel to the agency. For fliers, the new rules would likely mean an end to familiar admonitions to turn off and stow all electronic devices. Cellphone calls are expected to remain off limits, however. War of words erupts after wedding guests gift bride 'cheap and embarrassing' food hamper containing marshmallow fluff and croutons Kathy Mason from Hamilton, Ontario, and her boyfriend, who wished to remain anonymous, decided to create a food hamper for their friends' same-sex marriage and packed it with a mix of 'fun' treats including pasta, olive oil, croutons, biscuits, Marshmallow Fluff and Sour Patch Kids. They attached a carefully worded card to the parcel which read: 'Enjoy . . . Life is delicious.' However, the European newlyweds were less than impressed with the gesture and contacted the couple the next day via text message to ask if they had the receipt so they could get the money back instead. ... 'You ate steak, chicken, booze, and a beautiful venue . . . If anything you should be embarrassed for being so cheap and embarrassing,' the brides said in one message. Creeping mistrust stops euro zone banks lending to peers across bloc (Reuters) In a trend that could reignite fears about the euro and its banks, European Central Bank data shows the share of interbank funding that crosses borders within the euro zone dropped by a third, to just 22.5 percent in April from 34.5 percent at the beginning of 2008. Banks are now lending to other banks across euro zone borders at only about the same rate as when the single currency was first launched, 15 years ago. Greek markets rattled by political disarray (FT) The benchmark 10-year bond yield of Greece rose 75 basis points to 11.6 per cent by late morning in London, while the Athens stock exchange index fell 2.9 per cent to its lowest level since early April. ... Investor sentiment towards Greece is not helped by uncertainty over how to plug a funding gap in the country’s bailout programme. The FT reported on Thursday that the International Monetary Fund might suspend aid to Greece next month unless the eurozone stepped in. Losses loom for investors enmeshed in U.S. mortgage chaos (Reuters) A review of loan documents, property records and the monthly reports made available to investors show that mortgage servicers are reporting individual houses are still in foreclosure long after they have been sold to new buyers or the underlying mortgages have been paid off. ... In one case, Reuters found that Bank of America Corp had been collecting a monthlyservicing fee of $50.73 from investors on a loan that had been paid off nearly two years ago, investor reports show. Bank of America filed a document at a local county office on July 22, 2011 showing that the $162,400 loan on a cream-colored duplex in Greenacres, Florida, owned by a drywall hanger named Roman Pino, had been satisfied and "cancelled." But investors in Pino's loan and more than 6,700 other similar mortgages that are bundled together in a subprime mortgage bond still have not been informed that the loan no longer exists, according to the last investor report in May. Good and Evil Battle Volatility on Summer Solstice (CNBC) "Summer Solstice is upon us: the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere where some religions in the western world believe the sun defeats the forces of evil." Also it's triple witching. Oracle to Leave Nasdaq for the Big Board (DealBook) Oracle, one of the most prominent technology companies listed on the Nasdaq, is defecting to a rival exchange. The company, which has been traded on the Nasdaq since 1986, has applied to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange, it said in a filing on Thursday. The transfer, among the largest ever between the exchanges, represents a significant gain for the Big Board, which has been trying to bolster its technology credentials. FINRA beefs up policing of arbitrators (Reuters) The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority's policy change comes after Reuters asked questions about the background of Demetrio Timban, a Medford, New Jersey-based arbitrator who has become a central figure in a lawsuit between Goldman Sachs Group Inc and a wealthy investor. Timban was indicted by the state of New Jersey for practicing law without a license, although charges were later dropped under a state program to deal with non-violent offences. He was also reprimanded by a Michigan regulator for the New Jersey incident and passing $18,000 in bad checks. Timban said in an interview he had closed his New Jersey office and the check-writing incident was "accidental," as a family member was supposed to wire funds to cover the check. But FINRA said it did not learn of the New Jersey indictment for five months and that Timban failed to tell it about the Michigan problems altogether, while he arbitrated the Goldman case. Brooklyn framer accuses former boss of firing him for being too fat (NYP) The owner of a picture-framing shop in Brooklyn fired a worker because he was too fat to fit in the aisles, a lawsuit claims. Seth Bogadanove, 52, of Bath Beach, is suing Frame It In Brooklyn, in Sunset Park, and owner Jerry Greenberg, claiming he was canned after gaining weight because of medication. “Oh, my God! What happened to you? You got so fat!” the suit says Greenberg told Bogadanove after he returned from a leave. ... But Greenberg told The Post he never hired Bogadanove back, only gave him an opportunity to work from home. He called Bogadonove’s story “ridiculous.” “He was sweating, and he couldn’t make it up stairs,” Greenberg recalled. “But that would never come out of my mouth in my wildest dreams.” Video shows woman tossing perceived rival off cliff (CBS) Surveillance video caught a brutal fight between a woman and her perceived romantic rival in Arequipa, Peru, but it's pretty one-sided. A woman caught her husband walking with a younger woman while they were out on a stroll by a cliff back in January. She is seen grabbing the younger woman by the hair and dragging her off a cliff, where she reportedly plunged about 20 feet. She is okay after the fall - she only sustained some cuts and bruises, was treated at a hospital and released.

Opening Bell: 01.10.13

Deutsche Profits Big On Libor Bets (WSJ) Deutsche Bank made at least €500 million ($654 million) in profit in 2008 from trades pegged to the interest rates under investigation by regulators world-wide, internal bank documents show. The German bank's trading profits resulted from billions of euros in bets related to the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, and other global benchmark rates. ECB Stands Pat On Rates (WSJ) The ECB's Governing Council decided to keep Europe's most important interest rates at their lowest levels since the single currency was introduced in 1999, encouraged by a clear improvement in financial-market sentiment over the past month and by tentative signs of growing confidence in the euro-zone economy. Rivals Clash As Inquiry Into Herbalife Opens (WSJ) Daniel Loeb's hedge fund disclosed Wednesday it owns an 8.2% stake now valued at $350 million in nutrition-supplements company Herbalife Ltd. Mr. Ackman's Pershing Square Capital Management LP has bet more than $1 billion against the company by shorting its stock…The face-off between two high-profile, media-savvy hedge-fund managers highlights the arrival of a new wave of postcrisis financial stars. They tout their positions during television interviews and at conferences, in letters or securities filings and on customized Web pages, often convincing other investors to follow their lead. Their pronouncements move stocks, at times dramatically, and leave companies scrambling to respond. And when they take the opposite sides of the same trade the ensuing battle can captivate the financial world. "One of them is going to be very wrong," said Gregg Hymowitz, founder of the $8.2 billion EnTrust Capital, a longtime investor with both Mr. Ackman and Mr. Loeb's firms. "Ackman thinks it's a complete and utter fraud, and Dan thinks it's a completely legitimate business." Hedgie's Herbalife Bet Counters Ackman (NYP) [In addition to Loeb], Carl Icahn is also believed to have taken a long position in Herbalife, sources said. The possibility of Loeb and Icahn going up against Ackman’s Herbalife short sent investors into a tizzy. “It’s going to be an Ackman sandwich,” one hedge fund manager wailed. Lew Taking Over at Treasury Puts Perennial Aide at Head (Bloomberg) With his penchant for thinking several steps ahead, his organizational drive and his budget expertise, Lew, 57, has been Obama’s consummate aide. Now, he’s Obama’s choice for Treasury secretary, according to a person familiar with the process. Lew faces the prospect of becoming a leader at a critical juncture for the nation’s economic and fiscal future. “As chief of staff you are staff and as Treasury secretary, you are principal -- Jack has to make that transition,” said Ken Duberstein, a chief of staff to former President Ronald Reagan who first met Lew in the 1980s. “It’s not the invisible hand, it is the visible hand.” If confirmed, Lew may need to play that hand as soon as next month, when the administration squares off with Congress over the U.S. debt ceiling. Lew’s job will be all the more difficult because his relations with House Republicans soured during the 2011 battle over the government’s borrowing limit. Government's worst signature will be on America's dollar bills (NYP) Lew’s signature — which looks like a strand of hair gone though a curler treatment — might even be too peculiar to grace our greenbacks, political insiders said. “Whoa! That’s completely unintelligible,” said a Senate finance aide. “This doesn’t look like anyone’s name at all.” She concluded, “Oh my gosh — I’ve never seen a signature like that.” ome social-media users were also quick to poke fun, saying Lew should clean up his squiggle. “HE GOT A CRIZZAZY SIGNATURE!!!!” one Twitter user wrote. Another tweeter quipped, “Looooooo!” But just because his autograph looks it’s penned by a drunken 3-year-old doesn’t mean it isn’t lovable, others said. Some fans created a petition on the White House’s Web site called “Save the Lewpty-Lew!” “We demand Lew’s doodle on every dollar bill in circulation,” the petition read. It had garnered 10 signatures by late yesterday…Asked yesterday if Lew had been practicing to improve his signature, presidential press secretary Jay Carney, said, “Not that I’m aware of.” Cantor Growth Plan Sputters as 41% of Touted Hires Exit (Bloomberg) Chief Executive Officer Howard Lutnick’s drive to turn one of the largest independent U.S. brokerages into a rival to Wall Street’s investment banks has been pocked with dismissals and defections. Forty-one percent of the 158 traders and bankers whose hirings Cantor announced in news releases since 2009 have left, industry records show. In interviews, 19 current and former employees blamed Cantor’s reluctance to commit money to deals and pressure to turn immediate profits. Norfolk 911 calls for 'baby lion' turn up a coiffed dog (HR) The first caller was fairly calm. “I’d like to report a lion sighting,” he said. “Say that again?” a dispatcher responded. And thus began the drama over baby lion sightings in Norfolk on Tuesday. Police said Wednesday that they actually got three 911 calls about the “lion.” The first came at 10:19 a.m. The animal was running on Granby Street, a male voice said. Then a woman took the phone. She sounded anxious as she described the proximity to the zoo. “There was a lion that ran across the street. A baby lion. It was about the size of a Labrador retriever.” It was near Granby and 38th, she said. “It’s roaming loose in the neighborhood.” A second call came five minutes later. “I just saw an animal that looked like a small lion.” It had “the mange and everything,” a man said. He had seen it on Delaware Avenue near Llewellyn Avenue. “I don’t know if it got away from the zoo, or what,” he said. The dispatcher said they already had received a report. “I’m not sure if it actually is a lion or not, but I’ll update the information.” A third call came at 1:19 p.m. “I just saw a baby lion at Colley Avenue and 50th Street,” a man reported. “What kind of animal?” the dispatcher later asked him. “A lion. A baby lion, maybe.” The lion was going to nearby houses. “I don’t think it has caused any problem so far,” said the caller. “OK. You think it’s looking for food?” the dispatcher asked. “I don’t know.” By now, most folks know that the “baby lion” was actually Charles the Monarch, a Labrador-poodle mix owned by Daniel Painter, who lives in Riveriew and has a garden center on Colley Avenue. He has the dog groomed to look like the Old Dominion University mascot. Many people say they see Charles out a lot, especially on Colley. But to someone who hasn’t seen him, he sure doesn’t look like a dog at first. PE King Black Is Hungry For Hostess (NYP) Black’s Apollo Global Management has teamed with veteran food executive C. Dean Metropoulos on a potential bid for bankrupt Hostess Brands’ snacks business, which includes Twinkies, Ding Dongs and Ho Hos…Hostess is in the process of selling off its iconic brands and liquidating the company after a crippling strike by its bakers union forced it to shut down in November. The Irving, Texas-based company plans to hold separate auctions for its bread and snack businesses. Hostess is just a few days away from choosing a so-called stalking horse bidder for its bread brands, including Wonder Bread, Nature’s Pride and Butternut. The snack business will follow suit later. Mortgage Deals Came Just In Time (WSJ) Major banks pushed to complete an $8.5 billion legal settlement with federal regulators this past weekend so they could book the deal's costs in their fourth-quarter results and present a cleaner slate to investors in 2013, according to people familiar with the talks. The timing of the settlement of alleged foreclosure abuses, announced Monday, allowed banks including Bank of America, JPMorgan, Citigroup, and Wells Fargo to take advantage of so-called subsequent-events accounting. The same rules apply to Bank of America's $11.6 billion pact with Fannie Mae over buybacks of questionable mortgage loans. Monday's settlements are "almost the textbook example" of when subsequent-events accounting comes into play, said Robert Willens, an accounting and tax expert. Obama’s 81% New York City Support is Best in 114 Years (Bloomberg) President Barack Obama won more support from New York City in November’s election than any White House candidate in more than 100 years, according to a final tally of votes. Obama beat Republican challenger Mitt Romney by 81 percent to 18 percent in the nation’s largest city, according to a certified vote count released Dec. 31 by the state board of elections. Some New York ballots were counted late in part because of complications caused by Hurricane Sandy. Yum Brands Apologizes For Chicken Probe (WSJ) Yum Brands's China chief executive apologized to consumers after negative publicity surrounding an official probe into chicken purchased from local suppliers caused sales to tumble at the company's KFC chain. Yum failed to address problems quickly and had poor internal communications, Sam Su said in a statement posted on the company's official account on Sina Corp.'s Twitter-like Weibo microblog service. He said the company would strengthen its management and oversight of suppliers. "We feel regretful for all the problems," Mr. Su said in the statement. "I sincerely apologize to the public on behalf of the company." Swiss Banks Welcome Rejection of Germany Tax Accord, Study Shows (Bloomberg) Swiss banks welcome the collapse of an accord with Germany that would have imposed new taxes on German clients in a bid to end a dispute over tax evasion, Ernst & Young said. About 72 percent of 120 Swiss banks surveyed see the demise of the agreement as positive, Ernst & Young said in a report today. How Jawboning Works (WSJ) The clearest example comes from Europe. In July, Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, defused an intensifying crisis of confidence in the euro with two sentences scribbled in the margins of an otherwise routine speech. "Within our mandate, the ECB is ready to do whatever it takes to preserve the euro," he said. "And believe me, it will be enough." That may prove to be the most successful central-bank verbal intervention in history. A few weeks later, the ECB pledged to buy bonds of governments shunned by markets if those governments made belt-tightening commitments accepted by fellow euro-zone countries. No government has sought that help so the ECB hasn't spent a single euro. Yet global anxiety about an imminent euro crisis has abated. Beautiful Existence, Seattle Woman, Plans To Eat Only Starbucks For One Year (HP) A Seattle woman, legally named Beautiful Existence, will eat only food from Starbucks this year. She'll also be only drinking beverages from Starbucks as well, but will include drinks from Tazo Tea and Evolution Fresh since both fall under the Starbucks brand. Beautiful Existence cites several reasons for this endeavor. She explains them on her blog: "So how can eating only one company’s products impact me, anybody? Well Mr. McDonald’s already proved that question years ago with his documentary and Mr. Subway did his take on the loosing weight portion of the food challenges too. But when I watched those guys doing their thing I asked myself “where are the WOMEN challenging themselves in the world?” “Where are the effects being shown on a woman’s culture? A woman’s family & children? A woman’s diet, weight, fashion, checkbook, community and world through challenges?” “Where is HER VOICE on how an international company is directly or indirectly impacting everything from her waistline to her bottom line and every other woman’s, man’s, child’s, societies and planets world with their presence?” So far, Existence has really liked the Turkey Rustico Panini and is trying hard not to eat any of the baked items.

Opening Bell: 06.13.12

Dimon To Fault Controls On Risk (WSJ) Mr. Dimon, scheduled to appear before the Senate Banking Committee on Wednesday morning, intends to apologize for the miscues—a stark departure from his normal shoot-from-the-hip demeanor. But Mr. Dimon will push back on any implication that the incident is lastingly detrimental to the largest U.S. bank by assets. In fact, the New York company expects its second quarter to be "solidly profitable" despite the losses, Mr. Dimon said in an early copy of his prepared remarks. "We will not make light of these losses, but they should be put into perspective," Mr. Dimon is expected to say. "We will lose some of our shareholders' money—and for that, we feel terrible—but no client, customer or taxpayer money was impacted by this incident." Jamie Dimon's Testimony (PDF) "All of these activities come with risk. And just as we have remained focused on serving our clients, we have also remained focused on managing the risks of our business, particularly given today’s considerable global economic and financial volatility. Last, I would like to say that in the face of these recent losses, we have come together as a Firm, acknowledged our mistakes, and committed ourselves to fixing them. We will learn from this incident and my conviction is that we will emerge from this moment a stronger, smarter, better company." Dimon: JPMorgan Traders Took Risks They Didn't Understand (Bloomberg) In testimony prepared for a hearing today, Dimon expressed regret over losses in the bank’s chief investment office, saying that its trading strategy was “poorly conceived and vetted” by senior managers who were “in transition” and not paying adequate attention. Greeks Withdraw $1 Billion A Day Ahead Of Vote (Reuters) Greeks pulled their cash out of the banks and stocked up with food ahead of a cliffhanger election on Sunday that many fear will result in the country being forced out of the euro. Bankers said up to 800 million euros ($1 billion) were leaving major banks daily and retailers said some of the money was being used to buy pasta and canned goods, as fears of returning to the drachma were fanned by rumors that a radical leftist leader may win the election. At Starbucks, Uncertainty Over Mayor's Drink Plan (NYT) As the Bloomberg administration moved ahead on Tuesday with its plan to restrict sales of big sugary drinks in New York, securing a preliminary nod from the city’s Board of Health, it said it is still trying to determine the impact on one popular beverage brand: Starbucks. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s plan, which would limit the size of sweet drinks sold at many establishments to 16 ounces or less, exempts any beverage that contains more than 50 percent milk by volume. Officials in City Hall and in Seattle said they were unsure how those rules might affect the Starbucks family of syrupy, milkshake-style coffee drinks, catnip to thousands of caffeine-addicted New Yorkers who frequent the company’s 190 outlets in Manhattan...The rules would ban large sodas sold at fast-food restaurants, movie theaters and street carts. But the Big Gulp, the supersized soda cup at 7-Eleven, would still be allowed under the proposal, because the proposal would exempt the sale of drinks in groceries or convenience stores. Full-Scale Bailouts for Italy, Spain in 6 Months: Egan-Jones (CNBC) Spain and Italy need a full-scale bailout from the European Union because of their high levels of government debt and the credit quality of their banks, and will likely seek help within the next 6 months, according to Sean Egan, Founding Partner and President of Egan-Jones, an independent ratings agency. Poor credit quality of banks usually goes hand-in-hand with poor government finances as the two institutions are “joined at the hip”, Egan told CNBC Asia’s “Squawk Box” on Wednesday. That’s the case for most countries such as the U.S., the U.K., Switzerland and Ireland; Spain and Italy are no exceptions, he said. “It makes little sense to separate the banks’ credit quality from the governments’ credit quality because quite often, they support each other and that’s certainly the case in Italy and Spain,” he said. “We think that Spain will be back at the table, asking for more than the 100 billion euros ($125 billion) that they just asked for, and we think that Italy will also come to the table within the next 6 months.” Chinese Banks To See Squeeze On Profit (WSJ) In a bid to bring down lending rates and rev up economic growth, China's central bank said last week it would allow banks to double the maximum discount on loans and offer deposit rates that can reach 1.1 times the benchmark level. That could squeeze the minimum spread between loans and deposits from 2.4% to as little as 1.5%. "It's the biggest step towards a market-oriented interest-rate regime since 2004," said Yin Jianfeng, a researcher at government think tank the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, referring to a past easing of controls on lending rates. "Given the global financial tumult and domestic economic slowdown, I'd say it's a really bold move." ING Fined A Record Amount (WSJ) ING Bank has agreed to pay a record penalty of $619 million for illegally moving billions of dollars through the U.S. banking system on behalf of Cuban and Iranian clients and threatening to fire employees if they failed to conceal the origin of the money. The U.S. prohibits certain countries and entities from accessing the U.S. banking system through sanctions enforced by the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control. Banks in Manhattan, which process most of the world's U.S. dollar payments, use "filters" to prevent terrorists, money launderers and other criminals from gaining access. Let's Pizza vending machine ready for U.S. debut (PM) Let's Pizza, a vending machine that creates pizzas from scratch in 2.5 minutes, is about to plant a flag in U.S. soil. The machine was created by Italian Claudio Torghel and is distributed by A1 Concepts, based out of The Netherlands...The machine contains a specially developed bag of flour and a bag of mineral water. Every time you order a pizza, the machine will start making the dough, then shape it into a crust, and top it with organic tomato sauce. Next, one of the toppings is placed on top and the pizza is ready for the oven. Each machine offers four different kinds of pizzas.