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."

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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: 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: 04.24.12

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.”

Opening Bell: 12.13.12

Banker Bonuses Seen Capped at Twice Salary in EU Compromise (Bloomberg) Negotiators from the European Parliament and Cyprus, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU, brokered the draft agreement during a meeting today, said Sharon Bowles, chairwoman of the assembly’s economic and monetary affairs committee. The deal is contingent on compromises being reached on some other parts of an EU law on bank capital. The accord would cap a banker’s bonus at the same level as fixed salary, while giving room for larger awards with shareholder approval, Bowles said in an e-mail after the meeting in Strasbourg, France. A maximum limit would be set forbidding awards of more than twice fixed pay. Rigged Libor With Police Nearby Shows Flaw of Light Touch (Bloomberg) Every morning, from his desk by the bathroom at the far end of Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc’s trading floor overlooking London’s Liverpool Street station, Paul White punched a series of numbers into his computer. White, who joined RBS in 1984, was one of the employees responsible for the firm’s submissions to the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, the global benchmark for more than $300 trillion of contracts, from mortgages and student loans to interest-rate swaps. Behind him sat Neil Danziger, a derivatives trader at the bank since 2002. On the morning of March 27, 2008, Tan Chi Min, Danziger’s boss in Tokyo, told him to make sure the next day’s submission in yen would increase. “We need to bump it way up high, highest among all if possible,” Tan, known by colleagues as “Jimmy,” wrote in an instant message to Danziger, according to a transcript made public by a Singapore court and reviewed by Bloomberg before being sealed by a judge at RBS’s request. The trader typically would have swiveled in his chair, tapped White on the shoulder and relayed the request, people who worked on the trading floor said. Instead, as White was away that day, Danziger input the rate himself...Events like those that took place on RBS’s trading floor, across the road from Bishopsgate police station and Dirty Dicks, a 267-year-old public house, are at the heart of the biggest and longest-running scandal in banking history. Ex-Bear Stearns Employees to Get $10 Million in Settlement (Bloomberg) The settlement will resolve class-action suits filed beginning in 2008 against Bear Stearns and other defendants by former employees of the bank. The employees, participants and beneficiaries of Bear Stearns’s employee stock ownership plan who held shares of the bank’s common stock, claimed risky investments in subprime mortgages caused them to lose money. Fed Extends Bond Buying To 2013 (WSJ) The Federal Reserve, clarifying its intentions for an economy hobbled by uncertainties, for the first time spelled out the unemployment level it would like to see before it raises short-term interest rates. The Fed said Wednesday, at the conclusion of its last policy meeting of the year, that it would enter 2013 with a plan to purchase $85 billion a month of mortgage-backed securities and Treasury securities, part of a continuing attempt to drive down long-term interest rates to encourage borrowing, spending and investing. Barbara Walters asks Chris Christie if he is too 'heavy' to be President (NYDN) “There are people who say that you couldn’t be president because you’re so heavy,” Walters asked, delicately. “What do you say to them?” “That’s ridiculous. I mean, that’s ridiculous,” Christie retorted. “I mean, I don’t know what the basis for that is.” “I think they’re worried about your health,” she said. “Well, I’ve done this job pretty well," he said, "and I think people watched me for the last number of weeks in Hurricane Sandy doing 18-hour days and getting right back up the next day and still being just as effective in the job, so I don’t really think that would be a problem.” [...] Christie has at times turned his famously sharp tongue on those who make issue of his weight – a problem he notes is shared by a large segment of the U.S. population. During a Washington Post forum in August, he said it was “idiotic” for columnists like Michael Kinsley to suggest that being overweight means he is undisciplined. “It is just one of those last remaining vestiges of prejudice and stupidity in our society that you would draw that direct line between those things,” he said. Jobless Claims Drop (WSJ) Jobless claims decreased by 29,000 to a seasonally adjusted 343,000 in the week ended Dec. 8, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires expected 367,000 claims. EU, IMF Agree to Lend Greece 49 Billion Euros (Reuters) "Money will be flowing to Greece as early as next week," Eurogroup Chairman Juncker told a news conference after a meeting of ministers from the single currency bloc. "We are convinced the program is back on a sound track." Fraudster to Hedgies: "Sorry" (NYP) Sam Israel, the hedge-fund manager convicted of running a $450 million Ponzi scheme who faked his own suicide to avoid the slammer, apologized for dragging the industry through the mud. “I am deeply ashamed to have disgraced you all by proxy,” Israel told roughly 150 members of the New York Hedge Fund Roundtable in a letter last week. “I am sorry to have tarnished the business I loved and lived for my entire life.” Israel’s message, dripping with self-pity and regret, was delivered at the end of a presentation last Monday at the posh Princeton Club in Midtown, where hedge fund pros had convened to hear from Guy Lawson, the author of a new book on the financial felon. Cola Brand and Lays Team Up for Snack Flavor in China (AdAge) PepsiCo is taking its global Power of One program to jointly promote beverages and snacks a step further in China, with the marriage of two Pepsi brands in a single product: Pepsi-Cola chicken-flavor Lay's potato chips. Cola chicken is a common recipe in China, with chicken wings tossed into a wok and caramelized in soy sauce, spices and cola. In potato-chip form, the flavor is vaguely similar to barbecue with a sugary aftertaste. If there's any hint of Pepsi, it's fleeting and lacks fizz. Richard Lee, PepsiCo's chief marketing officer in China, said the idea came from a brainstorming session involving teams from marketing and R&D, as well as Pepsi ad agency BBDO, Shanghai. Lay's launches a new flavor every year, and this time the goal was fusion. "We thought it would be really cool to have a cola combined with chicken. ... It's a very popular dish in China," said Mr. Lee, who in 2010 became the first person to be put in charge of marketing and portfolio management for both food and beverage brands in China. "Also it would be very cool to involve one of our most-iconic soft drinks," he added..."We want to celebrate a philosophy [that says] you can find happiness all around you,'" Mr. Lee said.

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.

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: 11.27.12

Greece's Creditors Reach Aid Deal (WSJ) struck a deal in Brussels to cut Greece's debt to a level below 124% of gross domestic product by 2020, officials said. To satisfy IMF concerns that Greece's debt must fall even more to be considered "sustainable," euro-zone ministers agreed to bring the government's debt to under 110% of GDP in 2022. The deal will allow Greece to receive loan payments of about €44 billion ($57 billion) to be paid in three installments early 2013, tied to Greece's implementation of the continuing measures, said Eurogroup president Jean-Claude Juncker. The deal will lower Greece's debt through a mix of interest-rate cuts on loans to Athens, a buyback of Greek debt at sharply discounted prices and the European Central Bank returning profits linked to its holdings of Greek bonds to the Greek government. London Bankers Bracing for Leaner Bonuses Than New York (Bloomberg) nvestment bankers and traders at European banks should expect at least a 15 percent cut in pay this year, while U.S. lenders may leave compensation unchanged, three consultants surveyed by Bloomberg said. That’s because bonus pools at European banks may be reduced by as much as half, while those at U.S. firms, which can cushion the impact of falling fees in the region with earnings from home, may fall 20 percent, they said. “The real split is coming, and we will see the quantum divide this year,” said Tom Gosling, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP in London, referring to the difference in pay between the two financial centers. “U.S. regulators don’t have the same obsession with pay structures that European regulators have.” Dimon Would Be Best to Lead Treasury in Crisis, Buffett Says (Bloomberg) “If we did run into problems in markets, I think he would actually be the best person you could have in the job,” Buffett said in response to a question about Dimon from Charlie Rose, according to the transcript of an interview that was scheduled to air yesterday on PBS. “World leaders would have confidence in him.” [...] Dimon, once dubbed Obama’s “favorite banker” by the New York Times, said in a 2011 CNBC interview that he could never work as Treasury secretary and was “not suited to politics.” Carney Abondons A Haven, Leaping Into British Storm (WSJ) Philipp Hildebrand, the former head of the Swiss National Bank, described Mr. Carney as one who "speaks bluntly and politely." The son of a professor and a teacher, Mr. Carney grew up in Edmonton, the capital of Canada's western province, Alberta. He played hockey as an undergraduate at Harvard. Mr. Carney has close links to Britain, having studied in Oxford University in the early 1990s. He worked for a time in Goldman Sachs' London office...Known as a diplomat, Mr. Carney, who supports the Edmonton Oilers NHL team, in his Ottawa office displays a mock street sign alluding to one of Canada's other pro teams, the Ottawa Senators. He cultivates an everyman image, recently discussing his musical tastes—from AC/DC to the hip-hop group Down with Webster—in local media interviews. Fiscal Cliff Compromise Elusive as Congress Returns (Bloomberg) “There’s still a great deal of ground that has to be covered before they get anywhere near a budget deal, and time is running” short, said Phil English, a former Republican congressman from Pennsylvania and now a lobbyist at Arent Fox LLP in Washington. The Secret Powers Of The Son-In-Law (WSJ) In couples where the husband initially reported being close to his wife's parents, the risk of divorce over the next 16 years was 20% lower than for the group overall. Yet when the wife reported being close to her in-laws, that seemed to have the opposite effect: The risk of divorce with these couples was 20% higher. Dr. Orbuch has a possible explanation: The wife who feels close with her husband's parents may find it difficult to set boundaries and over time may come to see their close relationship with her as meddling. "Because relationships are so important to women, their identity as a wife and mother is central to their being," says Dr. Orbuch, author of the 2012 book "Finding Love Again: 6 Simple Steps to a New and Happy Relationship." "They interpret what their in-laws say and do as interference into their identity as a spouse and parent." Men, for the most part, don't have this problem. Their identity as a father and a husband is often secondary to their identity as a provider, Dr. Orbuch says. As a result, they don't tend to take what their in-laws do so personally. Chicago, Illinois charges woman $105,761 for parking infractions she did not commit (TN) Jennifer Fitzgerald is fighting back against the city, her ex-boyfriend and United Airlines with a lawsuit filed November 2 in Cook County Circuit Court. According to the complaint, the somewhat confusing story starts when her former boyfriend Brandon Preveau, bought a 1999 Chevy Monte Carlo from Fitzgerald's uncle for $600 in 2008. Despite paying all the fees associated with owning a vehicle (registration, title and insurance) he put the vehicle's registration in Fitzgerald's name -- something the West Side Chicago resident claims was done without her knowledge...the couple broke up at the start of 2009 and Preveau took the car with him after their split. He used the Monte Carlo to drive to work at O'Hare Airport where he was employed by United Airlines. Preveau would leave the vehicle in O'Hare parking lot E, a secured outdoor lot surrounded by high chain link fencing, that is open to the flying public but also utilized by airport employees. The parking lot is owned by the city of Chicago and operated by Standard Parking Corporation, but according to the complaint, United Airlines leases spaces in the lot for use by airline employees. Unbeknownst to Fitzgerald, Preveau abandoned the vehicle. According to the complaints, "On or before November 17, 2009, Brandon drove the automobile into the parking lot and never drove it out again." While the car Preveau drove began receiving parking tickets at the O'Hare lot as early as May 23, 2009, the key date for this story is November 17, 2009. On that day the vehicle was issued seven different parking tickets including being in a hazardous and dilapidated condition, no city sticker, broken headlights, missing or cracked windows, expired plates, being an abandoned vehicle and most importantly a violation for parking a vehicle for more than 30 days in a city-owned lot. Intrade, Facing Charges, Won't Take U.S. Bets (WSJ) The online-predictions exchange Intrade—known for offbeat markets on presidential politics and the Academy Awards—said it would no longer accept bets from U.S. residents. The move came just hours after U.S. regulators filed a civil complaint against the firm over its commodities-focused markets. "We are sorry to announce that due to legal and regulatory pressures, Intrade can no longer allow U.S. residents to participate in our real-money prediction markets," the Dublin-based company said in a statement on its website. Intrade said that existing customers must exit their trades and close their accounts. In China, Hidden Risk of 'Shadow Finance' (WSJ) Shadow finance in China totals about 20 trillion yuan, according to Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., or about a third the current size of the country's bank-lending market. In 2008, such informal lending represented only 5% of total bank lending. The sector is lightly regulated and opaque, raising concerns about massive loan defaults amid a softening economy, with ancillary effects on the country's banks. Harvard Doctor Turns Felon After Lure of Insider Trading (Bloomberg) Today, Joseph F. "Chip" Skowron III, 43, is serving a five-year term for insider trading at the federal prison at Minersville, Pennsylvania. At FrontPoint, Skowron lied to his bosses and law enforcement authorities, cost more than 35 people their jobs and stooped to slipping envelopes of cash to an accomplice. FrontPoint is gone. Morgan Stanley, which once owned FrontPoint, is seeking more than $65 million from Skowron, whose net worth a year ago was $22 million. Until he’s a free man, his wife of 16 years will have to care for their four children and Rocky, their golden retriever, on her own...Health care has become America’s sweet spot for insider traders like Skowron. Among researchers, physicians, government officials and corporate executives, the lure of easy money in health-care insider trading has become epidemic. Since 2008, about 400 people were sued by regulators or charged with insider trading; of those, at least 94 passed or received tips involving pharmaceutical, biotechnology or other health-care stocks. Man Arrested For Saying He Had Dynamite in His Luggage at Miami International Airport (NBC) A man was arrested for telling a TACA ticket agent that he had dynamite in his luggage, which prompted the partial evacuation of Concourse J at Miami International Airport on Monday, Miami-Dade Police said. Alejandro Leon Hurtado, 63, a doctor from Guatemala, faces a charge of false report bomb/explosives at airport, the arrest affidavit said. It wasn't immediately known if Hurtado had an attorney. The ticket agent had just accepted Hurtado luggage, when he asked him about whether it contained hazardous materials. Hurtado answered that he had dynamite in the baggage, and the ticket agent asked him again if he had dynamite in his bag, and he replied that he did and started laughing, the affidavit said. "Once the Defendant was told that police were going to be called the Defendant stated that he was joking," the affidavit said. Hurtado admitted he did say he had dynamite in his bag, but that it was a joke. Hurtado was in custody on an immigration hold Monday night, according to online Miami-Dade Corrections records.